Dharma Master Yingke’s Public Case Of Sooner Birth In Pure Land
[From the Song Dynasty], [Dharma Master] Yingke was of unclear place of birth. He studied at River Zha’s Mount Yao. Of wine and meat, he did not pick them out [i.e. he drank and ate them with no restraint, though monastic precepts forbid so].
One day, he suddenly became mindful that his purification practices were in lack, moreover [possible to] fall into the evil realms [of hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals, due to his negative karma]. From a monastic living together, he took Chan Master Jiezhu’s edited book ‘Biographies Of Pure Land Rebirths’ to read.
Greatly moved and inspired, he chose a room, in which he faced the West to arrange a seat [to express his Aspiration to reach the Western Pure Land]. Refusing food, he practised mindfulness of Buddha [with profound Faith and sincere Aspiration, as it was the way to escape from a negative rebirth].
Passing three days later, he dreamt that [Amitabha] Buddha and the great Bodhisattva [Guanyin] told him, ‘Your lifespan still has ten years. For the time being, you should encourage yourself [to continue practice].’ [This can be seen to already be confirmation that he will be able to be received and guided to Pure Land later.]
Yingke said to the Buddha, ‘Jambudvipa is defiled and evil, easy to lose right mindfulness. What I aspire is to earlier be born in the Land Of Peaceful Nurturing, to receive and serve all its noble ones.’
The Buddha said, ‘As your Aspiration is such, three days later, I will come to welcome you.’
When the date arrived, he ordered the assembly [of monastics] to recite the Amita[bha] Sutra. Saying the Buddha and the noble assembly have together arrived, he peacefully departed. (Buddhist Patriarchs’ Gathered Records)
 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
[From the Tang Dynasty, which is before the Song Dynasty], [Dharma Master] Zijue was from Boling’s Wangdu County. When young, he renounced the household life at Kaiyuan Monastery. In Zhide’s second year, he went to Linshou County’s Chanfa Monastery to study the Vinaya [i.e. monastic discipline], Sutras [i.e. scriptures] and Sastras [i.e. treatises]. Toiling diligently for nine years, with all of his learning refined. [He was in many ways the opposite of Dharma Master Yingke (above) in everyday practice.]
In Dali’s first year, he went to Pingshan County’s border. Encountering Mount Chonglin Court, he resided there, picking fruits and vegetables, eating only one meal a day.
One year, there was a great drought. Hengyang’s provincial governor Duke Zhang, hearing his diligent strife, personally entered the mountain, to invite him to request for rain. Zijue sincerely prayed to the naga gods. As great rain immediately fell, Duke Zhang paid great respect to honour him.
Initially he desired to cast an image of the great compassionate [Guanyin] Bodhisattva. In addition, he built a Buddhist monastery. With what benefactors gave gathered together, the casted image made was 49 [Chinese] feet [i.e. 16.3 metres] tall, with a pure form, that was upright and magnificent. While that year’s grain ripened, the monastery was also accordingly accomplished.
Thereupon before the altar, he made a vow, aspiring to receive holy [Other-]power, to earlier be born in Pure Land.
At midnight [or between 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.], he saw two rays of golden light, with Amita[bha] Buddha [i.e. Amituofo] between. Descending from within the lights, were the two great Bodhisattvas [Guanyin and Dashizhi] on his left and right [respectively]. The Buddha lowered his golden arm to touch Zijue’s crown and said, ‘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, is at your discretion, [as] you aspire.’
On Zhenyuan’s 11th year’s (795) 2nd month while gazing at the night sky, seen was a heavenly being’s half body manifesting within the clouds, who looked down and said to Zijue, ‘The master’s date of “return” to the West[ern Pure Land] has reached.’ Zijue raised his hands in thanks.
On the 6th month’s 14th day, promptly before the Guanyin Bodhisattva image, he sat in the lotus posture and departed.
Zijue’s casted image of the great compassionate one, frequently had remarkable signs of sympathetic responses. Reaching Zhou Dynasty’s Xiande’s early years, there were imperial orders that all bronze images were to be destroyed. Reaching this image, the workmen suddenly died. Later, Song [Dynasty’s] Emperor Taizu ordered recasting of it within the monastery. (Song’s Record Of Great Monastics, Buddhist Patriarchs’ Gathered Records)
 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 now to help more to reach Pure Land, 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!
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an
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