Most Venerable Shàndǎo’s ‘Text [On] Right Mindfulness [When] Approaching [Life’s] End [For] Rebirth [In Pure Land]’ /
Great Master Shàndǎo’s ‘Tips [For] Right Mindfulness [When] Approaching [Life’s] End’
▲ [First: Guidance (On) Main Text’s Conditions (Of) Arising: (For The) Great Matter (Of) Birth (And) Death, Seeking Guidance (On Its) Key Methods.]
[Question (1)] Zhīguīzi [i.e. ‘Child Knowing To Return’] asked, ‘[That] great of [the] world’s matters, [is with] none more [great than that of] birth [and] death. [With] one breath not coming, then belonging [to the] next life. [With] one thought [making a] mistake, then falling [into] rebirth.
[Note (1) In the eyes of the Buddha, who is like our spiritual ‘father’ with great loving-kindness and compassion, we are like his spiritually immature ‘children’, who should learn and practise mindfulness of the Buddha’s name (i.e. Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛) well, to know how to return to his Pure Land, which is like our spiritual homeland, where we will most swiftly ‘come home’ to our Buddha-nature. (2) The matter with the greatest importance is to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death, with this most easily accomplished via seeking birth in Pure Land. (3) With the uncertainty of life, the next breath might not come in this very moment. Although physical life ends with breathing’s end, for people with average and mixed karma, there will be a window period, between one thought moment to 49 days, in the bardo (中阴) state, before the consciousness, be it still within the body or outside, takes rebirth. (4) Thus, there should be continual offering of guidance and support-chanting, to encourage the one last thought that arises before rebirth, to correspond with the Buddha to reach his Pure Land. If this one last thought does not correspond, there will be falling back into rebirth elsewhere.]
[Your] disciple, [having] repeatedly received [your] teachings [on the] method of reciting [the] Buddha[‘s name for] rebirth [in Pure Land], its principles [are] extremely clear. [However, I am] also afraid [that] when sickness comes [and] death arrives, [my] mind’s consciousness [might be] scattered [and] confused. [I am also] still worried [about] other people, [who might have] confusions [that] move [them away from] Right Mindfulness, [who then] forget [and] lose [the] pure cause. [I] respectfully hope [that you can] repeat [your] guidance [on the] method of [taking the] return path, so that [we can be] liberated [from the] suffering of sinking [in suffering’s ocean].
[Note (5) A way to practise, to be ready for sickness and death, is to first imagine that one is already sick and dying, before practising mindfulness of Buddha. In a larger sense, this is indeed true, as being caught in this rebirth now is to have a serious sickness, that we are all dying of, as we speak. Thinking this way can help to give rise to greater sincerity for practice, with which the mind will be more focused and clear. When really sick, it is even easier to practise in this way, by first imagining one is dying of the sickness. (6) Right Mindfulness (正念) is to be mindful of the Buddha’s name with profound Faith (深信) and sincere Aspiration (切愿). (7) We are currently physically and spiritually trapped, rising with births and sinking with deaths in suffering’s ocean.]
▲ [Second: Guidance (On) People Approaching (Life’s) End (Of) That (To) Retain (In) Mind: (Be) Mindful (Of) Impermanence, Not Fearing Death; (With) Revulsed Renunciation (Of The) Sahā (World), Joyfully Seek (The Pure Land Of) Ultimate Bliss.]
[Answer (1)] [The] teacher said, ‘Excellent question indeed! All people, [with their] lives ending, desiring [to be] born [in] Pure Land, certainly must not fear death. Constantly [be] mindful [that] this body [is with] much suffering, [with] impure [and] evil karma [of] all kinds intermingling. If attaining renunciation [of] this defiled body, [to] transcend [with] birth [in] Pure Land, [to] receive immeasurable happiness [and] bliss, [to be] liberated [from] births’ [and] deaths’ suffering realms, [this] then is [a] matter that matches [our] intention, like taking off damaged clothes, [to] attain changing [into] precious clothes. [There] should only [be] letting go [of the] body [and] mind, not giving rise [to] attachment [to them]. When all meet [with] having sickness, then [be] mindful [of] impermanence, [and] wholeheartedly wait [for] death [with mindfulness of Buddha].
[Note (8) If there is fear of death, all the more should there be Right Mindfulness of the Buddha’s name with profound Faith and sincere Aspiration, for connecting to the Buddha’s blessings firmly, with which fear will dissipate, with the arising of peace instead. (9) If mindful that this defiled body is a source of great suffering, it will be easy to let go of attachment, to break free from it – with sincere Aspiration to reach Pure Land, to receive a pure, magnificent and indestructible form with great joy.]
▲ [Third: Guidance (On) Family Member’s Methods Of Protection (And) Management: Not Chatting, Not Blindly Consoling; Not Crying, (With The) Same Tune Reciting (The) Buddha(‘s Name).]
Exhort family members and [those] looking [after the] sick person, people [who] come [to] greet, all [who] come before me [to], for me recite [the] Buddha[‘s name. They] must not speak words of present miscellaneous [matters, the] family’s long [and] short matters, also not needing [to have] gentle words [of] consolation, wishes [of] peace [and] bliss, [as] all these [are] florid [and] unbeneficial words.
[Note (10) Those who visit the very sick should only offer guidance (开示) and support-chanting (助念). If guidance was already offered, they should simply join in the ongoing support-chanting. All other matters, which are worldly, need not be spoken of, lest they waste precious time and disturb the mind, by stirring up attachment, aversion and delusion. The essential spiritually comforting words and wishes should be included in the guidance text already.]
If [the] sickness [is] serious, at the moments [when life is] going [to] end, family members must not shed tears, cry and emit sounds of sighing [and being] upset, [as these can] confuse [the] mind’s consciousness, [to] lose its Right Mindfulness. Only at the same time [with the] same tune recite [the] Buddha[‘s name]. Waiting [for the] breathing [to be] ended completely, then can [there be] sorrowful crying [elsewhere]. Then, only having [the] mind [with the] slightest attachment [to the] world, then becoming [that with] clinging [and] obstructing, [there will] not [be] attaining [of] liberation.
[Note (11) Once it is certain that death is inevitable, there should not be crying seen, heard or known by the dying person, as attachment and/or aversion will arise, that distracts from wholehearted (i.e. sincere) mindfulness of the Buddha’s name. (12) Post-death grieving should be done away from the body, lest the consciousness sees and hears this, likewise giving rise to attachment and/or aversion.]
▲ [Fourth: Guidance (On) Essentials Of Lotus Friends (With) Recitation (Of The) Buddha(‘s Name For) Support-Chanting: (With) Repeated Admonitions, (For) Reminding (And) Encouraging, Definitely (With) Birth (In The Pure Land Of) Ultimate Bliss.]
If attaining [support] of people [with] clear understanding [of the] Pure Land [teachings] frequently coming [to] encourage, [this is] as extremely great [good] fortune. If [there are] those relying [on them, they will] definitely transcend [with] birth [in Pure Land, with this] then without doubt.’
[Note (13) Examples of clear guidance text that can be offered for repeated encouraging of the dying and deceased can be seen at https://purelanders.com/sign. Examples of a clear sequence of practices for repeated use during and after wakes can be seen at https://purelanders.com/wake.]
▲ [Fifth: Guidance (On Whether) Sick Persons Can Use Medicine (Or Not: It) Can (Be) Used, But (There) Absolutely Must Not (Be) Killing (Of) Living Beings’ Lives For Medicine, (With) Reciting (Of The) Buddha(‘s Name Being The) Best.]
[Question (2)] Also asking, ‘[Of] seeking doctors [for] taking medicine, can [they] still [be] used or not?’
[Answer (2)] Answering, ‘[On] seeking doctors [for] taking medicine, [at] first, [do] not obstruct one another. However, that medicine [is] only able [to] cure sickness, not able [to] cure life. If life, when [it is] ending, how can medicine deal with it?
[Note (14) There should be reasonable seeking of medical advice, unless it has become unreasonable to do so, when the patient is clearly dying, with no more time to waste on empty hopes. Worldly life itself is an existential sickness that we will die from, unless we depart with better spiritual practice, before we are overcome by sickness.]
If killing living beings’ lives for medicine, with [this] seeking bodily peace, this then must not [be done]. I see many [of the] world’s people, because [of] sicknesses, upholding veg[etari]an fasting, then obtaining [a] little healing, again because [of] doctors’ [advice], with [drinking of] alcohol, eating [of] fish [and] meat [to] ‘aid’ [their] medicines, [having] their sicknesses recurring. [With profound] faith know [that the] Buddha’s power can save, [while] alcohol [and] meat [are] without benefits.’
[Note (15) Veg(etari)an fasting is to eat only a near-noon meal a day, thus practising with a purer diet and less greed for food, to create meritorious virtues (功德) too. Consuming of the alcoholic (which might lead to intoxication) and animal products (which come from killing and harming of sentient beings) does the opposite, by giving in to greed and delusion, to create evil karma. Even if there is some ‘healing’, it is unlikely to last long, with more harming in the long run. (16) With sincere mindfulness of the Buddha, if worldly lifespan is yet to exhaust, one can thus swiftly attain full healing in this world. If not, one can thus swiftly attain full healing (and immeasurable life) with birth in Pure Land. However, if unsure of whether life is indeed exhausting, there should only be Aspiration for birth in Pure Land, so that it can be reached, as without this Aspiration, not only will it not be reached, there will be no healing in this world or in Pure Land – if life indeed exhausts.]
▲ [Sixth: Guidance (On) Misfortunes Of Killing Lives (For) Requesting (From) Gods (And) Praying (For) Blessings: Not Only Without Benefits, Furthermore Increasing Transgressions (And) Forming Grievances.]
[Question (3)] Also asking, ‘[Of] seeking gods [to] pray [for] blessings, what [about this]?’
[Answer (3)] Answering, ‘[As] human life’s length, when born [is] already fixed, which false ghosts [and] gods [can] extend it? If [with] confused faith [in the] evil, killing [and] harming sentient beings, [for] making offerings [to] ghosts [and] gods, [this] only increases transgressive karma, diminishing lifespan instead. [With] lifespan, if ending, how can minor ghosts deal with it? In vain personally panic-stricken, entirely without that aiding [then, you] must [and] should [be] cautious of [this. You] should, with this text, [have it] pasted before [your] eyes, [to] constantly see it, [to] avoid causing, [when] approaching danger, forgetting [and] losing [of this].’
[Note (17) Our lifespans have default lengths upon birth due to the karma carried over from our past lives, which will not be changed, unless increased or deceased later, with creating of more good or evil karma respectively after birth. (18) As average ghosts and gods have relatively little meritorious virtues, when compared with mindfulness of Buddha, making proper offerings to them will not create much meritorious virtues for lengthening lifespans, what more with improper offerings derived from cruel shortening of other sentient beings’ lifespans, which creates much evil karma instead, that also shortens one’s lifespan.]
▲ [Seventh: Guidance (On) Support-Chanting’s Causes (And) Conditions, Durations, Power (And) Function: All Persons (And) Others, When Approaching (Life’s) End (With) Reciting (Of The) Buddha(‘s Name, Will) All Attain Rebirth (In Pure Land).]
[Question (4)] Also asking, ‘[If] throughout life, [there are] people [who have] not yet recited [the] Buddha[‘s name, [can they] still attain [its] usefulness or not?’
[Answer (4)] Answering, ‘[With] this method, [when] monastics [and] laypersons, people [who have] yet [to] recite [the] Buddha[‘s name] use it, [they will] all attain rebirth [in Pure Land, as this is] definite without doubt. I often see [the] world’s people in ordinary times reciting [the] Buddha[‘s name], prostrating, praising, [and] giving rise [to the] Aspiration [to] seek birth [in the] Western [Pure Land, who] are extremely diligent, earnest [and] sincere. Up until approaching [of] sickness, yet also fearful [of] death, [with] all not speaking [of and] touching [on the] matter of [seeking] rebirth [in Pure Land for] liberation.
Waiting until breathing [has] vanished, [with] life [has] ended, [and the] consciousness thrown [into] dark realms, then beginning [to have] ten [or more] recitations. [This is] just like [after a] thief leaving, [then] closing [the] door. How [can this] aid [the] matter [of reaching Pure Land then]?
[Note (19) The above practices of offering guidance and support-chanting should be done once there is sickness, not only when sickness has ended, with the arrival of death, as this might be too late, if the consciousness has already quickly taken rebirth to elsewhere. Of course, even after death, there should still be offering of guidance and support-chanting, as the consciousnesses might still be around, for up to 49 days. Even if being reborn in Pure Land, the meritorious virtues created and dedicated can lead to a higher grade of birth there. Even if already reborn elsewhere, the meritorious virtues created and dedicated can lead to less suffering there, and expedite swifter rebirth to a better realm.]
[Note (20) Only three kinds of sentient beings have swift rebirths – those with great good, evil and pure karma – in higher realms, lower realms and Pure Land respectively. In terms of the Pure Land teachings’ key objective, if still falling short of reaching Pure Land, even reaching a better human or heavenly realm is still not good enough. Thus, these are considered failures, as non-retrogressible progress towards Buddhahood is not attained, with fall from these realms possible later, thus still being trapped in the cycle of birth and death.]
▲ [Eighth: Guidance (On The) Great Matter (Of) Death’s Door: (With) One Thought (Making A) Mistake, (With) Long Kalpas Receiving Suffering; (For) Liberation (From) Birth (And) Death, (There) Should (Be) Personal Reciting (Of The) Buddha(‘s Name).]
[Of the] great matter [of] death [and] life, [there] must be oneself putting [in] efforts, then attaining [liberation]. If [with] one thought [making a] mistake, passing through kalpas [to] receive suffering, which person [can] replace one another? Contemplate this, contemplate this! If, when without [other] matters [to do, you] should with this Dharma [teaching be] diligent, [for] receiving [and] upholding [the Buddha’s name, as] this [is practice] for [the] great matter [of rebirth in Pure Land for liberation from birth and death, when] approaching [life’s] end.’
[Note (21) Whether rebirth in Pure Land is accomplished or not pivots upon the nature of the one last thought before taking rebirth, be this before death comes, at the moment of death, or after death, in the bardo state. Although there is the possibility of having the window period of the bardo state for the average practitioner, there should not be laxity in sincere and regular practice now – for if there is habitual laxity now, there might be habitual laxity later too, leading to the thought of having proper practice arising too late, or not at all. Thus, practice of mindfulness of Buddha in everyday life is to prepare for our final moment, which can arrive at any time, to more fruitfully condition our successful final practice here.]
Pure Land Tradition’s 2nd Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo
(Recorded [In] Lóngshū’s Pure Land Text’s Second Appendix)
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an
The Three Great Essentials When Approaching The End Of Life
Lóngshū’s Pure Land Text
When Can There Be Rebirth In Pure Land?