Can Evil Karma be Diluted with Buddha Mindfulness?
The Yan Yu Jing (Sutra on the Salt Analogy) explains that if one commits an extremely evil action, it is only necessary that there be enough time to make amends. This is difficult to do if one is old or dying. According to the Amitayurdhyana Sutra (Sutra on the Contemplation of Amitayus Buddha), however, reciting Amita [Amitabha] Buddha’s name helps alleviate the results of serious evil karma [due to Amitabha Buddha’s great compassionate vows to share his bountiful merits with those who are mindful of him. As stated in the same sutra, as excerpted below, even beings who ‘commit such evils as the five gravest offenses’ can be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land if they practise accordingly.]
If one has enough determination – if one cultivates the body [action], practices the precepts, and develops the mind and wisdom – even extremely evil karma will bring only light or indeterminate retribution. This lessening of karmic retribution can be compared to throwing large amounts of salt into a wide river: doing so will not make the water salty. [Likewise, when we practice mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha well, we are connecting to the vast ocean of his merits (pure karma), which dilutes the effects of our evil karma and enables us to be born in his Pure Land.] On the other hand, if one commits smaller offenses and does not know how to cultivate the body, practice the precepts, and develop wisdom, one will certainly get bitter results. This can be compared to puting a small quantity of salt into a small cup: the water will become bitterly salty.
That the results can change depending on one’s actions is strong proof that karma is indeterminate. In the Dharma [teaching] of the Great Vehicle [Mahayana], karma is viewed as empty [of fixed characteristics due to changeability as exemplified by the above analogy of dilution], which means it can change and that one can repent serious offenses; this is what cultivating wisdom means. Therefore, one should not be discouraged by extremely evil karma [created]; one should repent deeply and practice the Buddha Dharma.
– The Way to Buddhahood (Venerable Yinshun)
Can We Counter Evil Tendencies?
Since the nature of one’s last thought (which determines where one is reborn) depends mostly on the habitual tendencies one has in daily life, the everyday practice of good matters a lot. (Even if one does not make it to Pure Land, oneís merits from doing good in everyday life will still bear fruit in other ways.)
The common analogy on the nature of our tendencies is that of a tree that keeps growing while leaning in a certain direction – which will fall in that direction when it is chopped. Likewise, the leanings of oneís mind greatly help to shape the nature of the last thought, while it will be a struggle to reshape it to something else during the last minute.
Those who seem to have done little good (or have even done great evil) but were able to be born in Pure Land must have enough merits (e.g. created in past lives) to encounter the Pure Land teachings in time, to repent, and practise accordingly (with the generation of the right faith and aspiration). Due to the great power of strong negative karma to propel one towards the deepest hells, only the much more powerful merits of Buddha can counter it, to enable one to escape such a horrific rebirth. Only the practice of Buddha mindfulness can avert this.
Can the Evil be Born in Pure Land?
From the Amitayurdhyana [Contemplation] Sutra: The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, ‘Those who attain birth on the lowest level of the lowest grade are the sentient beings who commit such evils as the five gravest offenses [patricide, matricide, killing an Arahant, wounding a Buddha, creating schism in the Sangha], the ten evil acts [killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, tale-bearing, harsh speech, idle talk, craving, aversion, wrong views] and all kinds of immorality. Owing to such evil karma, the fool like this will fall into evil realms and suffer endless agony for many kalpas. When he is about to die, he may meet a good teacher, who consoles him in various ways, teaching him the wonderful Dharma and urging him to be mindful of the Buddha; but he is too tormented by pain to do so. The good teacher then advises him, “If you cannot concentrate on the Buddha, then you should say instead, Homage to Amitayus Buddha.” In this way, he sincerely [thus based upon true repentance] and continuously says “Homage to Amitayus Buddha” [Na-Mo-A-Mi-Tuo-Fo] ten times.
Because he calls the Buddha’s Name, with each repetition, the evil karma which he has committed during eighty kotis of kalpas of Samsara is extinguished. When he comes to die, he sees before him a golden lotus-flower like the disk of the sun, and in an instant he is born within a lotus-bud in the Land of Utmost Bliss. After twelve great kalpas the lotus-bud opens. When the flower opens, Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta teach him with voices of great compassion the method of extinguishing evil karma through the realization of Suchness of all dharmas. Hearing this, he rejoices and immediately awakens aspiration for Enlightenment. Such a person is called one who attains birth on the lowest level of the lowest grade.’