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Encounter With Indescribable Fragrance At Nanshansi

第三十二严饰超诸天人愿:

设我得佛,自地以上,至于虚空,宫殿楼观,池流华树,
国中所有一切万物,皆以无量杂宝,百千种香,
而共合成。严饰奇妙,超诸天人。
其香普薰十方世界,菩萨闻者,皆修佛行。
若不尔者,不取正觉。

[32] Vow of Majestic Adornments Surpassing that of Gods and Humans:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, from the ground to above, as far as to the sky, palaces, pavilions [towers], ponds, streams, flowers, trees, and all myriad objects in my land, will altogether be composed of immeasurable variegated treasures and a hundred thousand kinds of fragrances. These marvellously (wonderfully) majestic adornments surpass everything heavenly and human. Their fragrances universally pervade worlds of the ten directions, and when Bodhisattvas smell them, they all cultivate Buddhas’ practices. If it is not so, I shall not attain right awakening.

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Amituofo! I am inspired to share my humble experience at Hainan Island after encountering Vow #32 during our Monday lesson on Amituofo’s 48 Great Vows: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2012/08/course-the-48-great-vows-of-amituofo-boundless-blessings-for-this-life-the-next-part-2-of-2nd-run

I visited Nanshan Temple (南山寺) in June 2008 and was pleasantly surprised that a very beautiful Jinyu (gold and jade) Guanyin Bodhisattva statue (金玉观音) was allowed to be viewed and paid homage to by devotees. As the chamber displaying it was going to be closed for the day in an hour’s time, wasting no time, my friend and I hurried into it, opening our eyes and hearts wide to absorb the wonder of this encounter. As the 138 relics found in this beautiful statue were also on display, we were indeed very blessed to be able to see them. We were to return to Singapore the next morning.

I was awe-stuck by the beauty and magnificence of the image and quickly prostrated to it, followed by circumambulating for as long as I could before the volunteers guided us away to make way for others to express their reverence. While circumambulating, I was in a blessed state, feeling grateful for this rare opportunity. There were no negative thoughts on my mind, or any stressful thinking of problems, or planning where to go next after leaving the temple, what to eat, etc. It was simply pure bliss just to be there, to be present and savouring every single moment there! As I admired the Guanyin image, I whispered to myself that I want to be like her, with all the good spiritual qualities to help others.

Just then, an indescribable fragrance filled the air. The fragrance was very unique and sweet, not of flowers, barks, seeds or perfumes/musk. I enjoyed the fragrance while it lasted and in the next moment, I was ushered away. As I did my final prostrations to Guanyin Bodhisattva, I told myself that the fragrance did not come from the group of people who was circumambulating with me. If it was, I should have noticed it from the very beginning and not much later.

At that time, as I have not learnt about Amituofo and his 48 Great Vows, I did not know about Vow #32. Determined to find the source of the fragrance, I went to the side stores in the chamber selling crystal bracelets to ask what incense they were burning, as I would like to buy some. The attendants looked puzzled and asked, ‘What fragrance?’ and replied that no incense was used in this chamber. As I insisted that I encountered that unique fragrance, they went to ask their supervisor, who asked the manager on duty, but all of them said the same thing – that they were in the chamber the whole day and smelled no fragrance, and that there was no incense used there. My friend had an incredulous look on her face when she pulled me aside, saying she did not smell any fragrance either.

To make up for the trouble they went through to find the answer for me, I was ‘paiseh’ (embarrassed), and bought a bracelet before leaving the chamber as it was already closing time. The visit to Nanshan Temple was a most memorable experience! I had thought that the bracelet was the only thing that would remind me of the wonderful fragrance I encountered that day, but now I know better – that Vow #32 is the constant reminder. How wonderful to learn the Dharma! Thanks, Shi’an for the lessons we learn in all your sessions!

Amituofo! Jac

Notes:
[1] As Guanyin Bodhisattva is an assistant Bodhisattva of Amituofo residing in his Pure Land, she is one of the Three Saints of Western Paradise. Mindfulness of her virtues in terms of aspiring to be like her is also a form of mindfulness of Buddha, as her qualities of perfect compassion and wisdom are also those of Buddhahood, especially since she is a manifestation of an ancient Buddha. Aspiring to emulate her in the moment is to be aligned to Bodhicitta, the aspiration to be a Bodhisattva, and eventually, a Buddha.

[2] The fragrance mentioned in Vow #32 is truly extraordinary, as it represents the inconceivable and immeasurable merits of Amituofo. So special is it that we will know it is not from this world itself, or even any heaven. This is why the source of it can never be found here, try as we might.

[3] As the fragrance represents the sweetness of goodness (virtues) and purity, when there is significant alignment to purity of mind in the moment, there is the possibility of smelling this indescribable fragrance, that seeps over to and permeates our world (and all other worlds) from Pure Land as a skilful means of Amituofo, as radiated by him to inspire and encourage all to walk the Bodhisattva path.

[4] Even though we might lack karmic affinity to see Amituofo’s full form or even light in the moment, we might have enough merits to experience his meritorious fragrance – but only when the conditions are right. This is why it is common that only oneself or a few others present experience it at any one point in time in a place, as it is rare that everyone is simultaneously in tune to their Buddha-nature. In Pure Land, this fragrance can be experienced in its entirety all the time, as its environment naturally keeps all present attuned to their Buddha-nature all the time.

[5] The occasional experience of this fragrance in this world should urge us to be continually diligent in tuning ourselves to our Buddha-nature as much as we can, via mindfulness of Buddha and other practices aligned towards Buddhahood – until we reach Pure Land and Buddhahood. It should not lead to pride or complacency as the fact that it is not experienced all the time means we are not tuned to our Buddha-nature and Amituofo all the time.

However, when we practise mindfulness of Buddha, we should not crave to experience this fragrance or any other special experience, as such craving distracts us from wholehearted (sincere) mindfulness of Buddha. The more wholeheartedly we practise, with less expectations, the more likely will it be experienced naturally, as a sign of encouragement that we are advancing on the right path.

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