Question: In the Amitabha Sutra, the Buddha addresses his teachings to Good Men and Good Women (善男子, 善女人; Kulaputra and Kuladuhitri) Who are they? [See (Part 1) and (Part 2) for Chinese-English Sutra]
Answer: Generally, men and women who have faith in the Buddha, who learn the Dharma, who also do good are called so. The Kulaputra Sutra (善男子经) from the Samyukta Agamas (杂阿含经) says this:
Those who kill, even up to having wrong views, are called Not-Good Men.
Who is a good man?
Those who do not kill, even up to having right views, are called Good Men.
Expanded, this means those who engage in the Ten Unwholesome Deeds of…
- sexual misconduct
- divisive speech
- harsh speech
- false speech
- idle speech
- wrong views …
are Not-Good Men. Conversely, this means those who abstain from the above, who thus practise the Ten Wholesome Deeds (不杀生、不偷盗、不邪淫、不妄语、不两舌、不恶口、不绮语、不贪欲、不嗔恚、不邪见) are called Good Men. (This of course applies for women too.)
Q: Does this mean that the Amitabha Sutra’s teachings are only for Good Men and Good Women as defined?
A: The teachings are for everyone. In fact, they are all the more precious for those who are not yet very Good Men or Good Women, as they remind them to be better people. In the context of the Amitabha Sutra, when we hear or read of the Buddha addressing the audience as Good Men and Good Women, and if we heed the given advice, without engaging in any of the Ten Unwholesome Deeds in that moment, we are also Good Men and Good Women then.
To be able to truly hear and heed the teachings in the Amitabha Sutra requires some Good Roots (善根) too. We are truly Good Men and Good Women when we are able to deepen these Good Roots, to perpetuate the Ten Wholesome Deeds. When one really heeds the advice, one should also do one’s best to be a better Good Man or Good Woman thereafter. If not, it would be insincere; not really heeding the advice in the first place, which makes one not a true Good Man or Good Women earlier. On a related note, here is what Venerable Master Ou Yi (the Ninth Patriarch of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism) taught:
‘When the sutra speaks of “Good Men and Good Women”, it does not matter whether they are monks and nuns or householders, or whether they are high-ranking or low-ranking or old or young. No matter what your station in life, all you have to do is *hear* the Buddha-name, and the Good Roots you have accumulated over many eons immediately ripen, and all forms of evil and perversity are transformed into virtues.’ (Mind-Seal of the Buddha)
It can be interpreted that to *hear* (as above) is to be truly mindful of Amitabha Buddha’s name with deep faith. When we are mindful of Buddha in the moment, it is impossible to engage in any of the Ten Unwholesome Deeds at the same time – as we can only have one thought in each moment, and that mindfulness of Buddha is mindfulness of purity. Further practice of mindfulness of Buddha further reduces the tendencies of doing the Ten Unwholesome Deeds.
Q: Are all Good Men and Good Women supposed to have no sexual desire (淫欲)?
A: ‘No sexual misconduct’ (不邪淫), as listed in the Ten Wholesome Deeds, is different from ‘no sexual activities’ (不淫). The latter is a rule for monastics, who are supposed to be fully committed to eradicating lust. For them, any form of sexual activity would be sexual misconduct, while for laypersons, sex that abides by the lay precepts is allowable. (A way to lessen or curb lust is to more diligently practise mindfulness of Buddha. As above, when one is properly mindful of Buddha in the moment, defilements, including lust, cannot arise in the same moment.)
However, under ‘no greed’ (不贪欲), as listed in the Ten Wholesome Deeds, the definition disallows greed or desire in the strictest sense, including sexual desire. If you think of carefully, if one fully abides by all the ten conditions which constitute perfect Good Men and Good Women, it would equate to becoming Buddhas – since ‘no greed, no anger, no wrong views’ (不贪欲、不嗔恚、不邪见), as listed means no attachment, aversion and delusion (Three Poisons) at all!
However, the Buddha was, obviously, in the Amitabha Sutra, not addressing Buddhas, but non-Buddhas, who would include us, when we learn about this sutra. The full standards of being Good Men and Good Women should thus be worked towards, while not thinking we have to be perfect Good Men and Good Women in order to practise mindfulness of Buddha. If we are perfect already, there would be no need to practise! An encouraging note by Master Ou Yi says:
‘With his great vows, Amitabha creates the causal basis for sentient beings to multiply their Good Roots, and with his great deeds he creates the conditions for sentient beings to increase their merits [store of goodness].’ (Mind-Seal of the Buddhas)
As such, we need to remember that it is exactly because we are not perfect Good Men and Good Women, that we aspire to be reborn in Pure Land – to train to become perfect. Every time the Buddha calls out to Good Men and Good Women, he is reminding us to be diligent in becoming better men and women! The better we are in conduct, the easier it would be for us to be reborn in Pure Land, as being good helps to fulfill the Three Acts of Merit too, which facilitate birth in Pure Land.
(This is extended at ‘Am I a Good Man or Woman’)