[Having] received [your] personally written letter, [to] know [that your] daily recitation [practice of mindfulness of Amitā(bha) Buddha’s name – ‘Āmítuófó’ is] focused [and] diligent, [there is] joyous consolation without compare.
Note : What brings the greatest joy to Buddhist teachers, and even the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, is that we endeavour constantly in our regular Dharma learning and practice, to progress towards Buddhahood for the benefit of one and all.
What [you] said [to be] black shadows, [are] not Buddhas’ [or] Bodhisattvas’ shadows, also not [ghostly] enemies’ [i.e. enemy (karmic) creditors: 怨(亲)家债主] manifested shadows.
Note : Floaters that might be seen with the eyes, and shadows cast by things due to moving light sources should not be mistaken as such black shadows, which refer to sentient beings’ presence.
With Buddhas [and] Bodhisattvas [who have] already manifested, [they are] definitely clear [and bright], able [to] see their facial features [and] other [aspects].
Note : Enlightened beings are clear and radiant, while unfortunate sentient beings tend to look dull (i.e. blurred) and/or dark.
[And if they are ghostly] enemies, [they] will appear [with] their [dreadful and/or] fearful forms [to frighten you].
Note : Since karmic creditors are decidedly displeased or even angry, they should appear accordingly, in more clearly scary forms to scare. Yet, one might still be scared of shadow beings without intention to scare, due to lack of understanding and readiness when encountering them. Even if the encountered are neither really scary nor malicious, this does not mean that they will never become angry, as unskilful responses might lead them to become new karmic creditors.
Note : Generally, the clearer their forms, the stronger the affinity is, and the scarier their forms, the more negative the affinity is. Even seeing clear yet not scary forms might be dangerous, as they can change. Familiar forms might be manifested by reading one’s mind to trick too. The solution for all these potential dangers is to be mindful of Buddha for protection.
These shadow [beings are] probably lonely [wandering] spirits [of sentient beings from your] past lives, [with whom you] have [karmic] affinity, [who] hope they [can] rely [upon the] power [of] mindfulness [of] Buddha [and/or] recitation [of] sūtras, to attain rebirth [in a] good realm.
Note : If there is no affinity, there would had been be no way to encounter them at all, what more to see them. If there is no such affinity traceable in this life, it must then be due to affinity from past lives. They might have seen your practice of mindfulness of Buddha, thus hoping to benefit from it to have a good rebirth, the best of which being reach of his Pure Land.
Note : Just like human beings, some spirits might approach due to the three poisons – out of greed to attempt to take over the body (though difficult), out of hatred to scare (and cause a negative rebirth), and out of delusion, (curious to see what is happening to the living and dying).
Note : It should not be thought that practice of mindfulness of Buddha leads to such encounters, as most practitioners never have them, while those who used to be ‘sensitive’, who already have these experiences due to their affinities will experience less of them after practice. This means to not practise is ‘worse’, as they might continue manifesting through life, even when dying. Even non-practitioners who never had such encounters when living can suddenly have them when dying.
Note : As there are many unseen beings around, including those in the bardo state, not encountering them does not mean they are not there, but that affinities are not aligned, or have changed. This is why there should be continual sincere practice, with dedication of merits (meritorious virtues) with all beings. It ought to be remembered that mindfulness of Buddha is the safest spiritual practice possible as it connects to the mindful protection of all Buddhas, as stated in the Amitā(bha) Sūtra (阿弥陀经).
[You] should, for them, after [Buddha name and/or sūtra] recitation [sessions and] dedication [of meritorious virtues], also focus [on] dedication for [them, to] enable them [to] eradicate [their] evil karma, grow [their] good roots, [and] rely [upon] Buddha’s power [of] loving-kindness, [to be] reborn [in his] West[ern Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss], thus for them having benefits, so as [to] not let down [their] once painstaking efforts [of] manifesting [as] shadows [to express need for help].
Note : (Although sūtra recitation before practising the below is not a must, the most suitable for chanting due to its concise nature is the Amitā(bha) Sūtra, for introducing Āmítuófó and his Pure Land.) To most greatly benefit spirit beings, before offering merits to relieve their suffering, the following words of guidance for practice, (which can be uttered or thought aloud), should be offered, (to give rise to the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice), so that they know how to be sincerely mindful of Buddha, thus connecting to him:
‘Please be mindful of Āmítuófó’s name now, so that you can reach his Pure Land – where there is no more suffering, where there is only bliss. Please do not be attached to your past life. Please recite as sincerely as you can as this is the only way to have the best rebirth before it is too late. Please continue until you see Āmítuófó come to guide you to his Pure Land. Please follow only Āmítuófó and no one else. Let us recite sincerely now. Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’
Note : Even if a wandering spirit is seen more accidentally than purposely, there is still affinity, and thus opportunity to help. If a spirit is an actual karmic creditor, all the more should there be help, to resolve the karmic debt. (In a sense, once one feels frightened by seeing a shadow being who means no harm, to that extent, that being can be perceived as a minor karmic creditor.) May all beings seen and unseen mindfully protect and guide one another with mindfulness of Buddha, for benefiting all now, and for reaching Pure Land.
Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng
(Third reply letter to layperson Yáng Fódiǎn [Part 1])
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an