Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra belongs to the class of Sutras spoken without formal request. It describes in detail the supremely beautiful adornments of the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. Living beings of the ten directions need only recite Amitabha Buddha's name, practicing even just the Dharma of Ten Recitations, in order to be assured of rebirth in that land. When the Buddhadharma becomes extinct in the Saha World, this Sutra will be the last to disappear. The first to go will be the Shurangama Sutra, the Sutra most feared by heavenly demons and other religions, all of whom would like to see every existing copy of it burned to ashes. The Shurangama Sutra catches the reflections of the “li mei” and “wang liang” ghosts who, unable to hide, hate it with vengeance. Scholars who are without sufficient common sense fall in with the demons. This is truly pitiable. The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra may be compared to a great magnet, and the living beings of the ten directions are like iron filings; all the filings, without exception, are drawn to the magnet.
Now, upon the completion of the English translation, I have added these words as a brief introduction.
Gold Mountain Shramana Tripitaka Master Hua explains the path of self-cultivation as it has never been explained before. Where other Buddhist Masters merely recite texts, the Venerable Master illuminates the Way so that those who hear are crystal clear about its meaning. Where other Buddhist Masters explain texts with the intellectual juggling of manifold lists and technical discriminations which easily confuse an audience, the Venerable Master picks out the essentials which reveal the methods to eradicate suffering. Where other Buddhist Masters repeat interpretations learnd by rote, the Venerable Master speaks directly to the conditions around him, showing one man how to free himself from the grip of arrogance and conceit, instructing another how to relieve the suffering of chronic illness; showing one how to shake off the bonds of heavy emotional attachments, instructing others on the way to recovver from the pain of loss; showing one how to be patient and peaceful in the face of slander, scoldings, and beatings; showing others how, ultimately, to put an end to the unbroken cycle of birth and death. To the degree that those who seek his instruction are capable of understanding, to that degree the Venerable Master explains the Dharma, showing those of limited understanding how to be free from the suffering of excessive greed and anger, or how to transform stupidity into wisdom, and guiding those whose
capacity is great to put an end to the last traces of birth and death. Never trapped in convention, the Venerable Master’s teaching covers the whole spectrum, leading beings from the hells, through all the intermediate realms of mind, and establishing them in the wonderful enlightenment of Buddhahood.
Where scholars worry about sources and chronology, discriminate the goods and bads of secondary sources, and try to organize an attendant host of biographical and bibliographical minutiae, the Venerable Master deals directly with the ultimate meaning of the primary texts. Although he teaches with unassuming simplicity, when he speaks people spontaneously change for the good and come to understand the profound and mysterious. His teaching is so thorough that it affects everything, but none of those who seek his instruction lans on him. When he seems to be doing nothing, his influence is felt everywhere, and when no one is aware of him, he fills everyone with happiness.
His teaching transcends teaching. How is it that he has come to be able to teach in a way that is so unlike the ways of others? It is because he has cultivated the path to enlightenment and because he has cultivated the path to tnlightenment and has arrived at the goal that what he ways can be believed. This is what makes him different from everyone else who talks about self-cultivation, and this is why you should read this book. You may wonder about the particulars of his cultivation of the Way. There is much too much to present here, and so a general summary will have to suffice.
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua (also named An Tz’u and To Lun) was born on the sixteenth day of the third month, lunar calendar, in 1908. His father, Pai Fu-hai was a farmer in the Shuang-ch’eng District of Northeastern China. The Master was the youngest of eight children. His mother often recited the name of Amitabha Buddha, and in a dream one night shortly before the Master was born, she saw amitabha Buddha emitting a light which illumined
the entire world. When she awoke, her room was filled with a rare fragrance.
Because the Master’s home was in the countryside where there were few people, he did not become aware of death until he was eleven years old. When he did, it stunned him. While walking with some friends in a pasture, he came upon the body of a dead baby. the Master did not understand why the baby was lying still on the ground and asked his friends, who simply said, “She’s dead.” Puzzled, he returned home and asked his mother what exactly death was. “All people, whether rich or poor, must die,” she said, “either from old age, sickness, or accidentally.” “How does one free oneself from death?” the Master asked insistently.
At that time there was a visitor in his home who answered the Master’s question by saying, “It is only through cultivation of the Way, awakening to one’s own mind and seeing one’s fundamental nature that one can gain liberation from the continous cycle of birth and death in the six paths.”
On hearing his the Master wished immediately to leave the home-life and being cultivation, but his mother told him that he must wait, for she needed him to care for her in her old age. He complied with her wishes, serving both his parents with the greatest devotion; his filial piety earned him the name “Filial Son Pai.” He did, however, take refuge with the Triple Jewel, boring to the Venerable Master Ch’ang Chih as his teacher. Although the Master had but a few years of formal schooling, he is extremely well-educated. Possessed of a photographics memory, he was able to memorize the Four Books and the Five Classics of Chinese lieterature in an amazingly short time. Moreover, in addition to his mastery of the Buddhist Canon, he is well versed in the study of medicine, physiognomy, and astrology.
When he was nineteen years old his mother died. After receiving the shramanera precepts from his master, he took up the practice of sitting by his mother’s grave, observing a mourning period of three years. He lived in an A-frame hut made from sorghum stalks where he cultivated dhyana samadhi and recited the name of Amitabha Buddha, ate only one meal a day, and never lay down to sleep. Occasionally he would enter samadhi for weeks at a time, never rising from his seat.
One night the residents of the nearlby village saw that the Master’s hut was on fire. A blazing light shot up into the air for some ten yards, making the area around the hut as bright as broad daylight. Many people rushed to the graveyard, shouting as they went, “The filial son’s hut has caught fire!” and soon there were hundreds of people there to lend assistance with buckets of water. When they arrived, however, they found the hut unburned; the Master was sitting absorbed in meditation. On one occasion, the Sixth Patriarch, Great Master Hui Neng of the T’ang dynasty, came to the Master’s hut and told him that in the future he would go to the West where he would meet many people with whom he had affinities and thereby establish the Dharma, causing it to flourish.
After the Second World War the Master travelled three thousand miles to Nan Hua Monastery in Canton Province to pay his respects to the Venerable Master Hsu Yun, who was then one hundred and nine years old. During his journey he resided at P’u T’ou Mountain, the Bodhimanda of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, where he received the complete bhikshu precepts. When he arrived at Nan Hua the two masters greeted one another; the Venerable Master Hsu Yun recognised the Master’s attainment and transmitted the wonderful mind seal to him, making him the Ninth patriarch of the Wei Yang Lineage, and asked him to serve as the Director of the Nan Hua Institute for the Study of the Vinaya. In 1950 he resigned his post at Nan Hua Monastery and journeyed to Hong Kong where he lived in a mountain side cave in
the New Territories. He stayed in the cave until the large influx of Sangha members fleeing the mainland required his help in establishing new monasteries and temples throughout Hong Kong. He personally established two temples and a lecture hall and helped to bring about the construction of many others. He dwelt in Hong Kong for twelve years, during which many people were influenced by his arduous cultivation and awesome manner to take refuge with the Triple Jewel and support the propagation of the Buddhadharma.
In 1962 he carried the Buddha’s Dharma banner farther west to the shores of America where he took up residence in San Franscisco and patiently waited for past causes to ripen and bear their fruit. In the beginning of the year 1968 the Master declared that the flower of Buddhism would bloom that year in America with five petals; in the summer of that year the Master conducted the Shurangama Sutra Dharma Assembly which lasted 96 days – five of the people who attended that session left the home-life and became bhikshus and bhikshunis under the Master’s guidance. Since that time the Master has conducted many Dharma assemblies, and delivered lectures on the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, the Great Compassion Heart Dharani Sutra, and the Dharma Blossom Sutra.
In June 1971 the Master commenced a Dharma Assembly on the king of sutras, the Avatamsaka Sutra. With such tireless vigor the Master has firmly planted the roots of Dharma in western soil so that it can become self-perpetuating. He has spent many hours every day explaining the teachings and their application in cultivation, steeping his disciples in the nectar of Dharma that they might carry on the Buddha’s teaching.
The miraculous events that have taken place in the Master’s life are far too numerous to relate in this brief sketch. He has freed many from the burdens of disease and other afflictions, and his followers number in the tens of thousands. His steadfast cultivation of bitter practices, the moral prohibitions, and the six paramitas, paired with his unwavering samadhi and profound knowledge of the teachings serve as a model for living beings throughout the entire Dharmarealm.
One of the best indications of a person’s character is the quality of the people who surround him. Over a period of seven years bhikshuni Heng Yin, who translated the Venerable Master’s explanation of the Amitabha Sutra, has been one of the leading disciples to study at the Venerable Master’s feet, and has been one of his chief translators.
While translating the Master’s commentary to the Amitabha Sutra, she made an exhaustive study of the Sutra’s Sanskrit text in order to expand her frame of reference and to insure accuracy in her work. She has already translated the Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra with a commentary by the Venerable Master which has recently been published. she has been one of the outstanding students to sit at the Master’s feet, and she is exceptionally knowledgeable about all aspects of the Buddhist doctrine; her ability to quickly memorize whole books reveals an uncommonly penetrating intelligence which she applies to this work. She has translated many shorter works, and is currently completing work on two more sutras with lengthy commentaries.
More than having attained a deep knowledge of the doctrine, she actaully cultivates the principles contained therein. Her meditation, mantric practices, and her in-depth study of the teaching school, joined with the ascetice practices of never lying down to sleep and taking only one meal a day, make her unique even among Buddhist adepts.
Her accomplishments pay tribute to the Venerable Master, her teacher, whose lofty example continues to be the standard and guide for Buddhism as it expands and flourishes in the West.
The translator of the text of the Amitabha Sutra is Upasaka I Kuo-jung, a senior lay disciple in the four-fold assembly of cultivators at Gold Mountain Monastery. He has studied with the Venerable Master daily for nearly a decade. Also one o fthe Venerable Master’s chief translators, he has investigated a large portion of the Buddhist canon under the Master’s tutelage, and has been a guiding in fluence in the work of the Buddhist Text Translation Society (BTTS). He has translated several other works, among them the Heart Sutra with Verse Without a Stand by the Venerable Master. He holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Washington, and is a Candidate for Ph.D. at University of California, Berkeley.
Bhiksu Heng Kuan