◎ 清 • 沈中旭
Qīng [Dynasty’s] Shěn Zhōngxù
Shěn Zhōngxù, [with his] style [name] Qǐbái, [was a] Wúxiàn person. [When] young, [he was] bold [and] unconstrained, anxious [to help] people [with] their difficulties. Soon after, with [his] name [as a] doctor, [he] increased [his] joyful giving. [From] those poor, not taking [their money, giving them] medicine directly, perhaps [also] giving them money [and] grain.
[Note 1: This is great practice of generosity, with offering of general help, to heal and even to feed. Although good, these deeds are still not good enough as the existential problems of impending death and rebirth persist.]
[At] 25 years [of age, when he] lost [his] spouse, [he did] not again marry, [as he] sincerely cultivated pure karma. [Of] all passed [by] monastic quarters, streets [and] bridges beneath, [he would] everywhere write [the] Western [Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss’] Buddha’s name and words [of] admonition, [to] encourage people [to be] mindful [of] Buddha.
[Note 2: To cultivate pure karma is to practise to be born in Pure Land. Whether young or old, male or female, single or married, all can practise accordingly.]
[Note 3: The ‘broadcasting’ of Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) name everywhere is also for planting the vajra seed (金刚种子) of affinity with Āmítuófó within everyone’s minds. When conditions lead to fruition sooner or later, those with this indestructible affinity will be able to further connect with him, to reach his Pure Land, for the swiftest progress towards Buddhahood.]
[When] encountering [those] having dangerous sicknesses, [he would] always, [with] uneasiness [and] worry say, ‘[As your] transgressions [are] deep, my power [is] not able [to] save you, how [can I help?’ When the] sick person sheds tears, resolutely with request, [he] then says, ‘[As you] have no [more] choice, you must [be] mindful [of] Buddha. [Of the] Western [Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss’ Āmítuófó[‘s name, if you are] able [to, with your utmost] sincere mind mindfully recite [it even] once, [this will] eradicate 80 koṭis [of] kalpas’ transgressions of births [and] deaths. [Are] you able [to] believe [this or] not?’
[Note 4: As all sicknesses are from negative karma manifested, all serious sicknesses are from extremely negative karma manifested. As ordinary beings with limited Self-power (自力) thus cannot eradicate it easily, there must be connection to the Buddha’s immeasurable Other-power (他力) for help.]
[Note 5: As taught in the Contemplation Sūtra《观经》, each utmost sincere recitation of Āmítuófó’s name is able to eradicate 80 koṭis of kalpas’ transgressions of births and deaths. However, according to the Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì (净土宗九祖蕅益大师), this barely scratches the dirt off the surface of the great earth, which represents the bulk of negative karma we have. As such, there must be more sincere practice in everyday life, for there to be greater transformative effects.]
[When] this person respectfully agrees, [he] says, ‘[Are] you able [to be] mindful [of his name or] not?’ [When] this person again respectfully agrees, [he] says, ‘[If] sincere thus, [your] sickness can [be] helped.’ Thereupon prescribing medicine, also often [with it] having special efficaciousness. Thereby, those [who] took refuge [in the] Buddha [were] extremely many.
[Note 6: The good doctor very skilfully guided the desperately sick to be sincerely mindful of Buddha. Although connecting his patients to Āmítuófó, who is the ‘Unsurpassable Great King Of Healers’ (无上大医王), he also offers them the best physical medicine. This is so as if one’s sickness is serious, there should be more efforts to heal it swiftly – with both physical medicine and spiritual medicine (i.e. sincere mindfulness of Buddha). When both kinds of medicine are taken, they can thus amplify each other’s effects.]
[Note 7: Only when physical medicine is deemed totally useless should there be taking of spiritual medicine only. The direct forgoing of reasonable physical medicine while taking only spiritual medicine is thus dangerous and reckless, as death might arrive before healing does.]
[Note 8: It must be noted that healing’s effects in this defiled world, even if complete, are not lasting, while complete and truly lasting healing is possible only upon reaching Pure Land. Thus, there must not be short-sightedness, to keep craving for healing despite the impermanence of this life, even when already seriously sick and possibly dying.
As taught by the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师), when with these conditions, there should only be practice with sincere Aspiration to reach Pure Land. If there is departure then, Pure Land will be reached, with healing there. (If healing is still possible here, so be it.) If without sincere Aspiration to reach Pure Land, and if healing is no longer possible here, there will be neither healing nor birth in Pure Land.]
[When] Zhōngxù, [at] more than 70 years [old] had sickness, his adopted son instructed [the] gatekeeper [to] reject people, [and] not open [the gate]. [Thus, when] he departed, [it was] without those knowing [the] conditions. However, until now, Chéngxī people state [that for] several decades since, [when] those [with] white clothes [i.e. laypersons] within cultivate pure karma, [they] will definitely [be] with Zhōngxù as [their] leader addressed. (Two Groves’ Laypersons’ Later Collection)
[Note 9: Although offering of guidance (开示) and support-chanting (助念) are important for the dying, especially for beginners, the rejection of visitors was probably first instructed by Zhōngxù for his privacy, to easier focus on mindfulness of Buddha in peace. This would also express confidence in his own practice.]
[Note 10: In conclusion, he was such an influential and good example when alive, that the lay Pure Land community saw him as their leader, even long after his departure.]
(Record [Of] Pure Land’s Noble Sages):
卷八 • 往生居士第七
Scroll Eight: Seventh [Section On] Reborn Laypersons
Compiled [by] Péng Xīsù
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an
What Attitude To Have When Severely Sick?