Dharma Master Yingke’s Public Case Of Sooner Birth In Pure Land
Summarising the above, according to the ‘Record Of Pure Land Noble Sages’ (净土圣贤录), in the Song Dynasty, there was Dharma Master Yingke (莹珂法师). Whenever there was wine, he would drink without restraint. [This was despite the precepts not allowing consumption of intoxicants.] One day, he suddenly reflected upon his lack of spiritual practice for purification, and how he might fall into the evil realms [of hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals if reborn with his negative karma].
From a monk, he received a text titled ‘[Pure Land] Rebirth Biographies’ (往生传), as edited by Chan Master Jiezhu (戒珠禅师). As he read it, he was so moved and inspired, that he chose a room, and set a seat to face West [to express his Aspiration to reach Amitabha Buddha’s (Amituofo) Western Pure Land]. Refusing food, he did Nianfo [Practice of mindfulness of the name of ‘Amituofo’, with the right Faith and Aspiration to seek birth there, which was how he could escape from the evil realms].
After three days passed, he dreamt of Amituofo and Guan(shi)yin Bodhisattva, who told him, ‘Your [karmic] lifespan still has ten years, [during which you] should encourage yourself’ [to diligently practise the Dharma. This can be seen to already be confirmation that he will be able to be received and guided to Pure Land ten years later. However], Master Yingke said to Amituofo, that as ‘Jambudvipa [or Samsara here] is defiled by much evil, it is easy to lose right mindfulness.
As such, I aspire to be earlier born in [the Land Of] Peaceful Nurturing [which is Amituofo’s Pure Land], to serve the assembly of sages there.’ The Buddha replied, ‘[As] your Aspiration is such, three days later, [I] will [come to] welcome you [to Pure Land].’ When the day arrived, Master Yingke instructed the masses to recite the Amitabha Sutra. He then said to all, that ‘Amituofo and the noble assembly have all arrived!’ After which, he was peacefully reborn in Pure Land.
 Precepts: In the first place, we should observe the precepts well, to avoid creating negative karma that might direct us to the evil realms, or even create karmic obstacles for successful Nianfo practice. However, if there are obstacles, we should all the more sincerely Nianfo to eradicate them.
 Intoxication: Not only for monastics, the avoidance of intoxicants is an important precept for laypersons in the context of the basic Five Precepts too, as it guards mindfulness, to prevent the accidental and intentional breaking of other precepts under the influence of intoxicants.
 Aspiration: Refusing food and rest will not reach Pure Land if the Three Provisions (of Faith, Aspiration and Practice) are not adequate. Most Nianfo practitioners already have the Provisions to some extent, while lacking Aspiration to depart now. However, when ‘now’ become the final or a desperate moment, it is possible to ‘pump up’ Aspiration (which by default includes Faith) fully.
 Inspiration: Master Yingke’s practice was successful because he was sincere and diligent, also motivated by his strong repentance with a sense of moral shame, and the clear Aspiration to reach Pure Land swiftly, out of fear of being reborn in an evil realm. Just as he was moved and inspired by others’ accounts of reaching Pure Land, we should be just as moved and inspired by his account.
 Hope: Master Yingke must have had strong karmic affinity with Amituofo from past lives, to be able to so swiftly give rise to the Three Provisions upon reading the text. His habit of intoxication was thus an expression of spiritual backsliding in this life, yet reversed in time. Perhaps he was a Bodhisattva who expressed the power of sincere Nianfo, to offer hope for repentant ‘evil’ ones.
 Repentance: It was with connection to Amituofo’s blessings, that diluted Master Yingke’s negative karma, that enabled him to escape from the evil realms. While this might seem ‘unfair’ to some, the truth is, a truly repentant person is already not a truly evil person, while a truly evil person will not be truly repentant, thus unable to connect sincerely to Amituofo.
 Backsliding: Just as it was wise for Master Yingke to recognise his potential for spiritual backsliding, we too should be aware of our potential for this same problem. If we do not practise Nianfo to be liberated from Samsara in this lifetime, we will remain stuck here, for indefinite lives, to create more negative karma that further traps us.
 Readiness: When the Three Provisions are adequate, Amituofo will definitely arrive to receive and guide us to Pure Land there and then, as was the case for Master Yingke, without going through the usual process of ageing, sickness and dying. Since when we are ready depends on us, our worldly lifespans can be shortened at will and with ease, through Amituofo’s blessings, to sooner have immeasurable life in his Pure Land. Of course, we should fulfil our responsibilities first.
Dharma Master Zijue’s Public Case Of Later Birth In Pure Land
Summarising the above, also according to the ‘Record Of Pure Land Noble Sages’ (净土圣贤录), earlier, in the Tang Dynasty, there was Dharma Master Zijue (自觉法师), [who was in many ways the opposite of Dharma Master Yingke (above) in everyday practice]. He was diligent and learned in the precepts, sutras and their commentaries, with profound and refined understanding of them. He even once successfully prayed for rain during drought. Thus able to gather support, he built a monastery with a 49-foot Guan(shi)yin Bodhisattva image.Before the image, he sincerely aspired to be earlier born in Pure Land. In the middle of that night, he saw two beams of golden light, with Amituofo descending between, along with Guan(shi)yin and Dashizhi (Great Strength) Bodhisattvas on his left and right. Lowering his golden arm, Amituofo touched his crown and told him, ‘Guard [your] Aspiration [to reach Pure Land and do] not change [it, with] benefiting sentient beings as [your] foremost [task, as when to reach the] treasure pond [in Pure Land] where [you will be] born, [it is] at your discretion, as you aspire.’
In the year 795, on the 15th night of the 2nd month, a god half-appeared in a cloud to look at and inform the Master, that his date for reaching Pure Land is coming, to which the Master raised his hands to thank him [for conveying the message]. On the 14th day of the 6th month, before the Guan(shi)yin Bodhisattva image, he sat in the lotus posture and departed for Pure Land.
 Progress: Despite already being very well-learned and well-practised in the Dharma, Master Zijue still aspired to reach Pure Land, to expedite his progress to Buddhahood in the most skilful way possible. If even the usually not so virtuous, such as Master Yingke aspired to reach Pure Land in his last days, what more the usually much more virtuous, such as Master Zijue in everyday life?
 Assurance: Although perhaps not as dramatically as these Masters’ experiences, we too can experience various kinds of auspicious signs, through which Amituofo compassionately consoles and encourages, assuring that we are practising in the right direction to reach his Pure Land.
 Mission: As Master Zijue was already very spiritually capable, (in contrast to Dharma Master Yingke, whom Amituofo readily agreed to guide to Pure Land), Amituofo encouraged him to remain in this world first, to continue guiding others, while assuring that he will definitely reach Pure Land later. Yet, as mentioned by Amituofo himself, he still let him choose when to reach his Pure Land.
 Compassion: Respectively, guiding to Pure Land sooner and later were equal expressions of Amituofo’s great compassion, in the first case, for protecting Master Yingke and those he might harm, and in the second case, for supporting Master Zijue and those he can help. Amituofo also gave early assurance to both, as they were very sincere in connecting to him. We should all do our best to help more to reach Pure Land now, where we will master how best to help all later.
 Proof: Although Master Zijue was informed by a messenger god that his day of departure for Pure Land would be soon, being well-practised, he could, as informed by Amituofo, choose exactly when, where and how to depart. Being informed by a god also proved his virtuous character, which deserved protection even by the gods. These two public cases of Master Yingke and Master Zijue help to inspire our Faith in the efficacy of Nianfo, as they displayed its greatest proof – of being able to know (and tell) in advance, the time of arrival of Amituofo, (for departure to Pure Land) (预知时至). This continual phenomenon is also Amituofo’s compassionate skilful means to inspire our Faith!
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