Translations

Why Benefits Of Niànfó Surpass Those Of Reciting Sūtras, Prostration With Repentance & Other Dharma Ceremonies? 为何念佛利益多于诵经拜忏做水陆?

保病荐亡,今人率以诵经、拜忏、做水陆为事。

[For offering] blessings [to the] sick [and] delivering [the] deceased, people nowadays often [do so] with reciting [of] sūtras, prostration [with] repentance [prayers, and] conducting [of the] Water [And] Land [Dharma Assembly; 水陆法会], as [Buddhist] ceremonies.

光与知友言,皆令念佛。

[I, Yìn]guāng, with close friends say, [that] all [should be] enabled [to be focused on] mindfulness [of Amitā(bha)] Buddha[‘s name: Āmítuófó; 阿弥陀佛].

以念佛利益,多于诵经、拜忏、做水陆多多矣。

With mindfulness [of] Buddha’s [i.e. Niànfó] benefits, [they are] more than [those from] reciting [of] sūtras, prostration [with] repentance [prayers, and] conducting [of the] Water [And] Land [Dharma Assembly, surpassing them by] very much.

何以故?诵经则不识字者不能诵,即识字而快如流水,稍钝之口舌,亦不能诵。

Why is [this] thus? [With] reciting [of] sūtras, thus [are there] those [who do] not recognise [some] words, [who are] not able [to] recite [them]. Even if [they] recognise [the] words, yet [some recite as] fast as flowing water, [while some others with] slightly slower mouths [and] tongues, [thus] also not able [to] recite [together].

懒坯虽能,亦不肯诵,则成有名无实矣。

[Those who are] very lazy, although able [to recite], also [are] not willing [to] recite, thus [with the ceremony] becoming existing [in] name [only], without [having] real [benefits].

拜忏做水陆,亦可例推。

[For] prostration [with] repentance [prayers and conducting [of the] Water [And] Land [Dharma Assembly, they] also can [by the above] example [be similarly] inferred.

念佛则无一人不能念者。

[With] mindfulness [of] Buddha, thus [is it] without one person who [is] not able [to] recite.

即懒坯不肯念,而大家一口同音念,彼不塞其耳,则一句佛号,固已历历明明灌于心中。

Even if [those who are] very lazy [are] not willing [to] recite, yet [with] everyone’s one voice together reciting, those [who do] not block their ears, thus [will have the] one line [of the] Buddha’s name, definitely then, distinctly [and] clearly, irrigating into [the fields of their] minds within.

虽不念,与念亦无异也。

Although not reciting, with reciting, [these are] also without [much] difference [as there is some mindful listening].

如染香人,身有香气。非特欲香,有不期然而然者。

Like [a] person perfumed [by] incense, [the] body has fragrance. [Although] not especially desiring [to have the] fragrance, with no expectation [of] so yet [having] so.

为亲眷保安荐亡者,皆不可不知。

For relatives, [to] ensure peace [and to] deliver deceased ones, all must not not know [this].

[Note: The above perspectives on reciting of sūtras, prostration with repentance prayers, and conducting of the Water And Land Dharma Assembly are generally true for many of their ‘participants’ who do not understand them much, thus only half-heartedly ‘participating’ in them. This is while learned and experienced practitioners can still practise them efficiently.

Even so, mindfulness of Buddha is definitely the easiest and most skilful means for guiding all kinds of participants to practise together, including the sick, dying and deceased, for the direct and best results. Blessings can be created to aid recovery, and the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice to reach Pure Land can be expressed.

Synergising many factors of practice at once, it can create meritorious virtues, express repentance with reverence, and offer guidance, encompassing all the benefits of the above practices. Even the most elaborate Water And Land Dharma Assembly ultimately aims to deliver all beings to Pure Land, which guided mindfulness of Buddha already does.

These reasons and more are why Great Master Yìnguāng taught as he did. As he wrote in ‘One Letter [As A] Common Reply’《一函遍复》, ‘[It] must [be] known [that when] conducting Buddhist ceremonies [for delivering the deceased], only [the] meritorious virtues [from] mindfulness [of] Buddha [are the] most great.’ (须知做佛事,唯念佛功德最大。)]

净土宗十三祖印光大师
(复黄涵之居士书一)

Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng
(First reply letter to layperson Huáng Hánzhī)

Namo Amituofo : Translation and note by Shen Shi’an

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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