Finding Dharma Seals in Pure land practice – Part 1 of 2

The Dharma Seal is a set of Buddhist tenets that helps to authenticate whether a particular teaching or practice is Buddhist. It has been more than 2500 years since the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni enter parinirvana. During this period, many people benefited from association with Buddhism; either spiritually or materially.

Some of these people shared their knowledge with pure intention, hoping that others can also enjoy Dharma happiness. Some people produced fictitious teachings and practices to gain material benefits. Even today, unscrupulous or deluded people continue to preach fake dharma to win donations from clueless people.

Fake dharma not only result in people donating to a lost cause; when we practice them, we delude our mind further. In the long run, we ruin ourselves spiritually and further ourselves from enlightenment.

Therefore it is critical that we equip ourselves with the knowledge, to distinguish whether a teacher or a practice or a teaching is Buddhist in nature. Here’s the 4 Dharma Seal (Mahayana principle) and an example of my personal interpretation of the Pure Land practice.

Four Dharma Seal(四法印)

  • Everything conditioned is impermanent.
  • Everything influenced by delusion is suffering.
  • All things are empty and selfless.
  • Nirvana is peace

Everything conditioned is impermanent.

I think the entire Pure land practice constantly reminds its followers about the impermanent nature of life. Many people are attracted to Pure land practice because it promises a beautiful afterlife. I think subconsciously, its followers must have embraced the notion that death is inevitable.

Moreover, pure land practices also emphasize the renouncement and letting go of rebirth in Samsara. This is inline with Buddhist goal of escaping Samsara.

Although the practice sounds simple, it is not everybody’s cup of tea to engage in a practice that basically prepares one for death. I also notice some people (especially non practitioners) who are extremely uncomfortable with the imagery of Amitabha Buddha. They simply do not want to be reminded of death. Some even mistakenly believe that Amitabha Buddha is a Buddhist death god. They dare not pay homage to Amitabha; fearing that they may unwittingly remind Amitabha to “take them away”

In an ironic twist, Amitabha Buddha is also the Buddha of infinite life. That means deathlessness (Aka Enlightenment). When Amitabha assumes the form of bestower of longevity, then he gains fans from the death fearing group.

This sweet irony is not lost to all, some sharp witted people may realise the wisdom in the message when they are introduced to this duality.

Everything influenced by delusion is suffering

Foremost, pure land practice emphasize the importance of achieving a focused and non deluded mind. (一心不乱) Embedded in this goal is the subconscious emphasis that delusion is bad. For me, this is attacking the root cause of suffering. Seasoned practitioners reported feeling a sense of contented happiness in their progress.

One important tip about recitation practice is that we have to “LOOK INWARD” The whole thing about Buddhist practice is about cultivating our mind. Instead of hunting for an external god or Buddha, we should rely on the power of Amitabha Buddha as an aid to realise our inner Buddha quality. This reliance is built upon strong faith. With faith, one can let go of doubts and worries. Then by focusing on the name recitation practice, the mind is stilled and becomes bright. This is followed by gaining of wisdom. In this respect, if we practice correctly, then we should be able to observe a lessening of craving and aversion. The simple contentment happiness will emerge. When wisdom emerge,ignorance will be cast off.

In one of my favorite story, a Thai monk Acharn Mun “tricked” an uneducated village to mentally recite “Buddho”that is synchronised with their breathing. Many villagers obtained realisation even though they had never heard about Buddha. (it is really all about practice)

May all be well and happy.

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