Overcoming Doubts about Buddha Recitation and Amitabha’s Pure Land
I have often wondered – do we need to be vegetarian to recite these mantras and the Buddha’s name (i.e., Amitofo)? Because some Masters and their students say that you need to be vegetarian for your recitations to be efficacious and that you’re committing bad karma if you’re eating meat.
[Aside: Basically, if you’re a Buddhist, being vegetarian is encouraged. But you can’t force others to be vegetarian – because that’s not right and it’s not nice.
Now if you do eat meat, then at the very least, you should not eat meat from a creature that was killed for your sake – or that you heard or seen being killed.
Don’t know. Maybe it’s because the consciousness of the animal that was killed would have a direct harmful karmic connection to you if you are more closely and directly involved with its death].
In any case, this particular case of Pure Land Buddha recitation, this gentleman, Xixun, was not vegetarian, yet he was still able to be reborn in the Pure Land – because both him and his family members saw multiple signs from Amitabha Buddha.
Now this is an important point. Why? Because of “doubt” about the Pureland’s existence and “doubt” that you have the credentials to be reborn there:
- “Does it really exist?” you ask yourself. That’s why I’m getting together a collection of real life, true case stories of the Pure Land and real people who have been reborn there – to show you guys in detail examples of how it has happened.
- “Do I, an unworthy Buddhist deserve to be born there?” you may be asking yourself. Well, a lot of people have committed a lot more and a lot worse bad karma that you have already been born there!
- “Do I have the credentials to be reborn there? Was my mind still enough when I was reciting Amitabha’s name? Was I focused enough? Did I reach the Buddha recitation samadhi?” For Pure Land, it is precisely because our “self” power is insufficient that we rely on the “other” power of the Buddha himself. In other words, maybe we don’t have the deep concentration of the esteemed Chan and Zen Masters like our heroes – Master Hsu Yun! Maybe we can’t reach the Jhanas/Dhyanas. But for Pure Land, we don’t really need that deep of a meditative ability – all we need is just a little bit of focus – and Amitabha Buddha receives our signal.
Doubt is important to remove for Pure Land Buddha recitation practice because if you don’t wholeheartedly believe that being reborn in the Pure Land is possible AND believe that being reborn in the Pure Land is possible for YOU – then you’ll always have this nagging doubt in your mind – obstructing your confidence and trust in your practice of Buddha recitation.
Doubt can eat into your practice – because then, you will not be performing your recitations with all your heart – you’ll only be reciting perfunctorily – just like going through the motions. Your recitations will then lack faith and conviction and power – cos you don’t really believe in what you’re doing.
But you can’t force yourself to believe either – you need to bring these doubts up to the surface into your consciousness so that you can address them – not keep them buried, and letting them sabotage you subconsciously. To overcome doubts, you can:
- Investigate the evidence and then you will naturally gain your own trust and confidence in the method.
- And practice – practice can put an end to all doubts – especially once you’ve developed some skill – you’ll be able to know for yourself – with no doubts, whatsoever.
You need good roots to be reborn in the Pure Land
The thing that struck me about this story is:
- Even though this man was not vegetarian
- Even though he wasn’t even formally a Buddhist – cos he didn’t take refuge
- And even though he only started reciting Namo Amitofo for a relatively short time
- Even though he was mentally unclear (because another one of the doubts could be, “Maybe I’ll grow so old and demented that I’ll forget how to recite in my most critical time of need!” (but that’s why you can use those Buddha recitation players that help you recite along with even you are asleep!) – he could still recite Amitabha Buddha’s name
and he was still reborn in the Pure Land.
- He had good roots – he had a great store of good karma that he had built up from doing his community work during his lifetime. This good karma came back in spades to help pay the way for his rebirth in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss!
- Faith (faith gets knocked a lot in western Buddhist circles cos of incomplete understanding of the Kalama Sutta these days – so western Buddhists these days think you shouldn’t believe anything unless you’ve personally experienced it – which can be unskilful depending on the circumstance) – this man had signs from Amitabha Buddha himself in the form of multiple dreams
- Supportive Buddha Recitation – his family were reciting with him before, during AND after his death – especially reciting into his ear. What reciting into the dead person’s ear does is – the hearing is thought to be the last sensory organ to stop functioning at death. So for example, when a person is asleep – they can still hear you – and if you ask them a question, sometimes, they’ll answer you. When people are in comas – sometimes, they can still hear what you’re saying too, even though their body looks unconscious. So – reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name in their ear like, “Namo Amitofo, Namo Amitofo, Namo Amitofo… etc” – their fundamental consciousness – their 8th consciousness will still be able to hear it – and their spirit will still be reciting along with you – what you are doing is programming the mind with Buddha recitation – helping them be Mindful of the Buddha even during the process of death. The 8th consciousness is the last consciousness to leave the body at death.
Anyway, here’s the story!
My husband Huang Xixun was chairman of the Baltimore City Taiwanese Association in the United States. He passed away in a very special, auspicious manner. I can only use the word “unfathomable” to describe what happened during that time.
Background of Huang Xixun
- Read very few Buddhist books and
- Practiced Amitabha-recitation only a short time.
- He was not a vegetarian and
- Passed away before he could take refuge in the Three Gems.
When my friends heard how he departed, they asked me to write it all down to share with others, so they could take heart and have greater faith in their own rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
Huang Xixun was born in 1934, in Ziguan town of Kaohsiung County, Taiwan. He graduated from National Taiwan University Medical College in 1961 and furthered his studies in the U.S. In 1966, he accepted an offer of employment from the Baltimore Medical Center and was responsible for establishing a “community health center.” The facility was located in the city’s slums, where:
- robbery and similar incidents
happen virtually every day.
Under Xixun’s management, the center was a huge success and was listed as a model for community health centers nationwide. He:
- not only provided medical services to the community, but
- helped numerous juvenile delinquents get their lives back on track.
Diagnosis of Lung Cancer
Xixun had always been healthy and energetic. However, in October 1991, a chest x-ray revealed a large tumor about 2 cm in diameter: It was diagnosed as glandular-type lung cancer. This kind of cancer is very difficult to treat. Normally, the patient has about 3 to 6 months to live following discovery of the tumor.
The Cancer had spread…
We went to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for surgery, only to find that the cancer had already spread to other parts of the chest. The doctor decided to remove the entire left lung and cut off two ribs. As a result, Xixun had to make adjustments in his breathing, speech and movements. The wound remained very painful.
Then came chemotherapy. As the drugs used were highly toxic and had powerful side effects:
- My husband’s stomach hurt intensely, like being stabbed with a knife.
- He also suffered severe vomiting and didn’t feel like eating at all.
That left him with little energy. His life became hell. Though he always had a strong will to live, a few times he even said “perhaps it’s better to die.”
Forced to Retire from his Work Early by his Illness
In the spring of 1992, Xixun had to take early retirement because of his illness.
Gratitude from the Local Community for the Good that he has Done
The announcement prompted a flood of thank-you letters, including a commendation from the governor of Maryland State. The mayor of Baltimore even declared March 12 “Dr. Huang Xixun Day” in the city.
The Cancer Spreads Further to the Brain and Spinal Cord
By October 1993, the cancer had spread to my husband’s brain and spinal cord. The doctors who examined the brain x-ray all shook their heads:
- The surface of his brain was covered with large clusters of innumerable cancer cells. At this point, the disease was virtually untreatable.
However, the doctors decided to open a hole in Xixun’s head, into which they inserted a small tube to inject chemotherapy drugs. They did that 3 to 5 times, but to no avail. So they gave up.
Around Christmas 1993, Xixun underwent radiotherapy treatment. The doctors decided to perform brain irradiation with the highest dosage. However, they told us frankly that radiotherapy would only keep things under control for 2 to 6 months at most. If his condition worsened, they would not be able to repeat the procedure.
Because of the spinal tumor, Xixun could not walk or stand and lost control of his bowel movements. There was nothing more that the doctors or Western medicine could do. What was left was to go home, rest and await his fate.
The blow of the terminal illness on Xixun was indescribable. The surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and their attendant torments made him feel utterly miserable. When he shed tears, we cried with him; when he tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep, so did I. My heart ached to see him suffering so.
Friends Come to Help and Offer Spiritual Support
We had lived in Baltimore for more than 30 years, so we had many Chinese and American friends. When they heard about Xixun’s illness, they came to offer help and spiritual support. Naturally, many people sent us books that discuss religion and the issue of life and death.
Xixun Discovers the Amitabha Sutra
The one book my husband read carefully was the Amitabha Sutra. At the time, the cancer cells had spread to his brain and he was undergoing chemotherapy. His mental functions began to deteriorate; especially in the evenings, the nurse found him giving irrelevant answers to questions. He was no longer able, like normal people, to concentrate during his reading. However, he told me that “every page of the Amitabha Sutra was full of little figures of Amitabha Buddha.”
A Gift of Buddha Images
In December 1993, we received a poster depicting the Three Sacred Beings of the Western Land of Bliss:
- Amitabha Buddha, and
- Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta
and a porcelain statue of Amitabha. We began to make reverences to Amitabha Buddha regularly, every morning and evening. It wasn’t until we read Huang Nianzu’s Record of Heartfelt Thoughts that we became aware of the benefits of reciting Amitabha’s name and the marvelous nature of Pure Land practice.
- We started to remind ourselves to do as much Amitabha-recitation as possible.
- If we didn’t have time, we would listen to the chanting device.
Xixun Promises to Return after he’s been Successful!
I often read the Infinite Life Sutra to my husband. When I reached the part about “undergoing transformational rebirth in the lotus flowers of the jeweled ponds,” I would say to him, “When you arrive in the Western Land of Bliss, you must let us know so we won’t worry. Many people are helping you gain rebirth there. Do you know that?”
He said, “I will let you know. Please rest assured!”
By September 1994, his health had deteriorated. He was often lethargic. When he slept, I would sit next to him and practice Amitabha-recitation. When the American nurses weren’t otherwise occupied, they would sit beside his bed and pray for him.
Just before he passes on, he has an amazing dream
12 days before he passed away, Xixun was unable to eat anything. He couldn’t even swallow water. He had written an instruction: “If and when I cannot eat on my own, I do not want to be fed by artificial means. Do not use artificial methods to prolong my life.”
On October 10, Xixun was sleeping around 7 p.m. and I was reciting Amitabha’s name beside him. I asked Amitabha Buddha to help him pass away peacefully, without obstruction, and to receive him into the Western Land of Bliss. When he woke up about half an hour later, he told me he had dreamt of Amitabha Buddha. He said, “Amitabha told me that he knew I was a good person. He said I had saved many lives and done many good deeds. Many Bodhisattvas and people were now venerating the Buddha, reciting Amitabha’s name and dedicating merit on my behalf. When the time came, he would certainly come receive me.”
When Xixun said these words, he was at ease and confident, no longer afraid he might not be able to go to the Land of Bliss. I too was most grateful for Amitabha Buddha’s great compassion as well as his promise to Xixun of deliverance.
- My husband did not experience much pain in the final 10 days.
- During the last 3 days, he was unable to speak, but his mind was clear.
We recited Amitabha’s name in his ear and asked him to recite along with us in his heart.
I asked him, “Did you recite with us?” He nodded.
I asked again, “Is Amitabha here yet?” He shook his head.
Xixun Passes Away
About 4 p.m. on October 14, I tried to massage Xixun. I found that his hands and feet were cold; his breathing was also very weak. When I massaged his head, it turned – and he passed away.
Our son and I quickly chanted Amitabha’s name aloud in Xixun’s ear – so he could follow us in recitation. I found that his head was hot.
About half an hour later, I went outside to offer incense to Amitabha Buddha and to ask him and the Bodhisattvas to come and lead Xixun to the Pure Land.
Amazing Things Then Happened
Around 8 o’clock, I was reciting Amitabha’s name with my eyes closed.
- A bright beam of shifting, multi-colored light suddenly appeared before me and enveloped Xixun’s bed.
I felt a strong force sucking me to the outside. Afraid to open my eyes or to think of anything else, I recited Amitabha’s name wholeheartedly. My eyes were closed, but I could see everything clearly.
- The Buddha light contained pale-pink, light-purple, gold and light-blue colors. The strongest, most dazzling color was white. This light resembled the sparkle of the highest-quality diamonds. The entire beam of Buddha light was like an intricately woven pattern, ever-changing and multi-colored.
We recited Amitabha’s name until about 2:30 am the next morning. 7 or 8 others joined us in doing so.
As I recited with my eyes closed:
- A big, white lotus suddenly appeared in front of me.
- Then Xixun’s golden transformation body emerged. I only saw the upper body (sitting posture), but his features were very clear. He seemed much younger, as though in his thirties. He looked proper and solemn. He was attractive in appearance, like the very image of a Buddha.
Premonitory Dreams Prior
- Back on January 16, 1994, his 60th birthday, my husband had dreamt of the Western Land of Bliss while taking a nap. “The whole world is full of light,” he said. “The trees emit light, the ground gives off light and the sky is also full of light. This place makes people feel very happy; it looks splendid, beautiful.”
- On March Xixun saw Amitabha Buddha in a dream. Amitabha told him not to fear death. He said death was just like deep sleep and it was not painful at all. As Xixun was a doctor, he had seen many cancer patients undergo agonizing deaths. Amitabha Buddha, with his great mercy and compassion, untied this psychological knot for Xixun.
- At first my husband was reluctant to leave us. During this period, he dreamt of Amitabha again. The Buddha asked him, “Are you ready to come?” Xixun said, “I have not made up my mind.”
He encountered Amitabha in his dreams a few more times after that. Each time, though, he did not give the Buddha a definite answer.
- One day in early September, my husband dreamt that Amitabha Buddha held a grand welcoming party for him. The next day he told me, “Last night’s welcoming party was simply amazing. The Bodhisattvas and lotus flowers were so beautiful. Amitabha told me there were about 500 Bodhisattvas at the gathering.” He went on, “The Western Pure Land is truly magnificent. I have to go there. I don’t need to think about it anymore.”
After his dream of the welcoming assembly, Xixun often saw the Three Sacred Beings of the Land of Bliss approach him from the picture frame, with many Bodhisattvas following Amitabha Buddha. He also often saw a halo above my head and our son’s head when we were reciting Amitabha’s name.
He lived Longer than Expected
When the cancer cells were found to have spread to Xixun’s brain in November 1993, the doctors said he would at most have two or three months to live. Yet he lived for nearly a year.
Reflecting on all these remarkable things, I can only use the word “miracle” to describe them. Somehow, in this vast universe, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are looking after and blessing us. Perhaps we can say that Xixun had come to deliver us. If he did not get sick, my son and I would never have come into contact with the Dharma, and we would not have made so many enthusiastic and selfless Buddhist friends. They are mentors sent by Amitabha Buddha to help us. From the bottom of my heart, I thank Amitabha Buddha and all these kind people who assisted us.
Source: (Shi Cui’e, Buddhist Wisdom News of America, Vol. 37)
Cited from: http://www.purelandbuddhism.org/ea/337