Their minds constantly and truly dwell on the Way to enlighten all beings.
The first of the Four Great Vows is “Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to help them all.” Always having this thought is “the Way to enlighten all beings.”
This excerpt is about generating the bodhi mind—a mind that constantly abides by the Four Great Vows.
But before we can help others, we must first succeed in our practice. The Four Great Vows not only refer to a great bodhi mind, they also spell out the sequence for our cultivation and attainment. The vows are our guide as well as our driving force.
Cultivation should start with the eradication of afflictions. Following one teacher helps us eradicate afflictions. When we eradicate afflictions completely, Mara’s enmities are no more, and we accomplish meditative concentration and wisdom. We next learn the boundless Dharma doors.
People today forsake the first two of the Four Great vows and start with the third one, “Dharma doors are boundless; I vow to master them all.” Many of them spend only a few days learning and then start telling others that they are incarnates of a certain Buddha or bodhisattva. This is complete nonsense. They are deceiving themselves as well as others.
In the past, when one started to learn Buddhism, one had to first learn the precepts for five years. The precepts refer to the teachings and rules set by the teacher. One had to spend at least five years learning from one teacher before one was able to achieve meditative concentration and wisdom. With this foundation [achievement of meditative concentration and wisdom], one was allowed to learn extensively. In the past, when life was much simpler than today, five years were required for following the teacher’s rules. Today, the living environment is very polluted, more than ten times what it was before. Therefore, if five years were required in the past, fifty years are required for learning the precepts today.
But if we tell everyone to do so for fifty years, then no one will want to learn Buddhism.
Therefore, it is best to mindfully chant “Namo Amituofo” unceasingly, and only after we meet Amitabha Buddha do we learn extensively.
Our cultivation of the Four Great Vows should be divided into two stages. Presently, we cultivate only the vows of “helping innumerable sentient beings” and “ending inexhaustible afflictions.” When we get to the Western Pure Land, we then cultivate the vows of “learning boundless Dharma doors” and “attaining supreme Buddhahood.” This is the correct sequence. If we start with cultivating the last two vows, this will obstruct our Buddha-name chanting practice. This is why it is a matter of immediate urgency to wholeheartedly chant “Amituofo” and seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
To all living beings they were friends,
[who would help] without being asked.
When teaching all beings, the bodhisattvas have this vow of compassion: on their own accord, they become good friends to all beings. When we emulate the bodhisattvas, we should learn to perceive the suitable way and the right time to teach a being. If we do not help this being when the condition is mature, then we would be failing the being. By helping the being when the condition has not matured, we are courting a rebuff.
Every being is different in capacity; additionally, the condition for learning Buddhism is not the same for every being. If a being likes Zen meditation, let the being sincerely cultivate Zen meditation. If a being likes to recite mantras, let the being do so respectfully. All methods are equal, and no one method is superior or inferior to another. To accommodate people with different capacities, the Buddha taught many methods. If a method could help every being, then there would be no need for Sakyamuni Buddha to teach all these methods.
We Pure Land practitioners cannot make people practice the Pure Land method. When someone’s condition has matured, we should voluntarily introduce Buddhism to help the person. There are many stages in learning Buddhism. As the person gradually advances in practice, he or she will naturally find the most direct route—the wondrous Pure Land method. Therefore, to help all beings skillfully and expediently, we should be patient.
The Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra