Verses [On] Encouragement [To] Ride
[By] oneself without [a] raft, desiring [to] save those drowning, [with] one another together sinking, [thus] without aid for [this] matter.
[With] oneself riding Āmítuófó’s ship of great vows, also encouraging others [to] ride [it], together ascend [on the] other shore.
[In this] Dharma-Ending Age, [for] completely bound ordinary beings, [to be] self-delivered [and to] deliver others, [it is] only [with] dependence [on] this method.
Great Master Zhìzhě (Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land):
Thus, the Perfection Of Wisdom Treatise says, ‘For completely bound ordinary beings, who have the mind of great compassion, and aspire for birth in this evil period, to save suffering sentient beings, this is not possible. Why is this so? Afflictions of this evil period’s world are powerful. Personally without the power of patience, the mind will, with conditions be transformed, thus by sounds and forms bound. Personally falling into the three paths, how is one able to save sentient beings? If attaining birth within the human realm, the sagely path is difficult to attain. One might, by generosity, upholding of precepts and cultivation of blessings, attain birth within the human realm, to become a country’s king or great official, with wealth, honour and ease. Even if one meets good-knowing friends, one may not be willing to have faith in them, or benefit from them. With greed and delusion unrestrained, extensively creating all kinds of transgressions, riding on this evil karma, once entering the three paths, passes through immeasurable kalpas. Departing from the hells, one receives a poor and lowly body. If not coming across good-knowing friends, one will still fall into the hells. Thus reborn, so far as to this present day, everyone is like so.’ This is named the Path Of Difficult Practice.
Thus, the Vimalakīrti Sūtra says, ‘[If your] personal sickness is not able to be relieved, how moreover, [are you] able to relieve all sick persons?’ Moreover, the Perfection Of Wisdom Treatise says, ‘For example, there are two persons, each having relatives, by waters being drowned. One person, feeling anxious, directly enters the water to save them. Due to being without the power of expedient means, with one another, they all sink. One other person has expedient means, and goes to get a boat. Riding on it to receive and save, all attain liberation from the adversity of being drowned by water. Newly aspiring Bodhisattvas are likewise so, yet to attain the power of patience, and not able to save sentient beings. Due to this, they constantly need to be near Buddha[s]. After attaining the Patience Of Non-Birth, then are they able to save sentient beings, like the one who attained the boat.’
Moreover, like a baby bird, with wings not yet developed, who can only lean on trees and stick to branches, he is not able to go far. With the feathers and quills accomplished, then is he able to fly to the sky, with ease and without obstructions.’ Ordinary beings without power, can only, with focused mindfulness of Amitā[bha] Buddha [Amituofo], enable accomplishment of Samādhi. With this karma thus accomplished, when approaching the end of life with gathered mindfulness, they will attain birth [in his Pure Land]. Definitely and without doubt, they will see Amitā[bha] Buddha. After realising the Patience Of Non-Birth, they return to the three spheres, riding on the boat of Patience Of Non-Birth, to save suffering sentient beings, extensively practise generosity, and accomplish the Buddha’s activities, at will and with ease. Thus, the Treatise says, ‘Travelling freely with ease in the hells, practitioners born in that [Pure] Land, after attaining the Patience Of Non-Birth, return to enter the lands of birth and death, for teaching and transforming hell-beings, to save [these and other] suffering sentient beings.’ With these causes and conditions, seek birth in [that] Pure Land [of Amitā(bha) Buddha, and aspire to understand its teachings. Thus, the Ten Abodes Vibhāṣā Treatise names this the Path Of Easy Practice.
Dharma Master Thich Thien Tam
(Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith: Pure Land Principles And Practice):
What are the conditions that would allow us to save sentient beings? They are, of course, merit, virtue, wisdom, eloquence, spiritual power and auspicious features and bearing. (Do we have these qualities to any degree?) Particularly, severing afflictions and delusions and developing wisdom, so that we are not led astray by mundane things, is no easy matter! The ancients have said, “Severing Delusions of Views is as difficult as preventing water from running down a mountain forty miles high.” If it is so difficult to rid ourselves of Delusions of Views, how much more difficult it is to sever Delusions of Thought, Delusions of “Dust and Sand,” and ignorance.
Delusions of Views, simply put, are the afflictions connected with seeing and grasping at the coarse level. Delusions of Thought are afflictions at the subtle level. For countless eons, the infectious filth of greed, anger and delusion, as well as countless other erroneous views, have been instilled in our mind-consciousness. Can we really manage, in the short span of this life, to do away with them all? Today’s cultivators, in general, have few blessings and shallow wisdom. Just reciting the words “Amitabha Buddha [Amituofo]” in an accomplished manner is ‘difficult’ enough. Why even mention such distant goals as saving sentient beings at will?
For this reason, the immediate necessity is to seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land, first rescuing ourselves from the cycle of Birth and Death and then relying upon the auspicious environment of that Land to practice vigorously. We should wait until we have achieved Enlightenment and developed wisdom, eloquence, spiritual powers and auspicious features before returning to the Saha World to rescue sentient beings. Only then will we have some freedom of action.
Nevertheless, considering the responsibility and the compassionate mind of the cultivator, we should not completely reject all attempts to save sentient beings in our current life. In truth, however, our present altruistic attempts can only be within the framework of “according to one’s means and conditions.” This is not unlike the case of someone who, having fallen into the river of delusion, tries his best to reach the shore, all the while shouting to others, exhorting them to do likewise.
Do Pure Land Aspirants Forsake Other Beings?