The Amitabha Sutra - The Eightfold Path
. . . the Eightfold Path, as well as other teachings.
The five roots, the five powers, and the seven factors of enlightenment are explainable in general terms. And, being non-specific to any school, they apply to both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. The explanations for the eightfold path, however, differ slightly between the two branches in regards to both the principles and the practice.
The eightfold path has eight components, each of which includes “right.” Right means “with true wisdom.” This is the wisdom that has never been tainted by wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. When wisdom is mingled with selfishness, greed, anger, ignorance, or arrogance, then everything we think, say, and do becomes tainted and thus wrong. No more true wisdom. No more right.
The first component of the eightfold path is right view. Right view is the correct outlook on life and the universe. To have right view, we need to clearly understand the four noble truths. The four truths are composed of two sets of cause and effect, in which the effect precedes its cause. The first set, cause and effect at the worldly level, consists of the first and second truths—the existence of suffering and the cause of suffering. The second set, cause and effect at the supramundane level, consists of the third and fourth truths—the end of suffering and the path that leads to the end of suffering. If we are clear about the principles taught in the sutras, are clear about causes and effects of the universe, we will have right view.
Additionally, in the Pure Land school, the standard for right is to be always mindful of Amitabha Buddha as we strive to be born in the Pure Land. Right view is to believe without a doubt that Amitabha Buddha and the magnificent environment in the Western Pure Land
are just as Sakyamuni Buddha introduced them in the sutras. Clearly, our right view does not come from seeing the Western Pure Land with our own eyes. It comes from our belief in the sutras, which were spoken by Sakyamuni Buddha. We believe in Sakyamuni, knowing
he would not lie to us. We believe that every word Sakyamuni spoke is true. We base our right view on the Pure Land sutras and our wholehearted belief in their teachings.
The second component of the eightfold path is right thought. All thoughts should arise from a mind free of attachments and afflictions.
In the Pure Land school, right thought is Amitabha Buddha. When we are not thinking about Amitabha and the Western Pure Land, we have wandering thoughts, thoughts that continually keep us undergoing the karmic retribution of endless rebirths. We should transform the thoughts and karmas that hold us in samsara to the pure thoughts and karmas of the Western Pure Land. We should think about the Pure Land. Think about Amitabha Buddha and all that he has done to provide us with the ideal environment for learning and practice. This is right thought for Pure Land Buddhists.
The third component in the eightfold path is right speech. Right speech includes not using speech that is false, divisive, harsh, or enticing. It is to speak in a way that is of benefit to those listening. It is to choose the words to be spoken very carefully.
In the Pure Land school, right speech is “Amituofo.” We greet people with “Amituofo.” When someone calls our name, we reply “Amituofo.” When we respond to an email or a text, we write “Amituofo.” This is our right speech. We constantly keep Amitabha Buddha in mind.
The fourth component in the eightfold path is right action. Right action includes no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct. It is to act without attaching to anything and to be careful of one’s behavior, making sure it is proper. It is to act without intermingled wandering thoughts of selfishness, discrimination, or attachment.
In the Pure Land school, right action consists of three distinct karmic actions. They are thinking about Amitabha Buddha, which is a mental activity; chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha, which is a verbal action; and paying respect to Amitabha Buddha, which is a physical action. These are the three right actions of the Pure Land school.
The fifth component is right livelihood. The sutras speak of right livelihood as avoiding occupations that harm others; for example, not dealing in the trading of human beings or the production and sale of weapons, animals, intoxicants, and poisons. Essentially, right livelihood is to work in a way that respects the environment and all the beings in it. To have a livelihood that benefits others is best. If this is not possible, then the goal should be, at the very least, to do no harm.
In the Pure Land school, right livelihood, our true work, is mindfully chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha for the rest of our life and practicing according to the Pure Land teachings. It is setting examples for others with our mental, verbal, and physical actions
by living in a way that will aid and not harm others.
The sixth component is right effort. Right effort is to be diligent in cultivating a virtuous, pure mind. This cultivation can be accomplished through the four right efforts: preventing new evil from arising, ending existing evil, generating new virtues, and enhancing existing virtues. Right effort also enables one to determine what is worthwhile. It is to maintain one’s health, to be joyful, and not push to do what is beyond one’s abilities.
In the Pure Land school, right effort is to delve deeply into our Dharma door and to diligently immerse ourselves in it for a long time. We should strive to achieve constant mindfulness, which will allow us to control our wandering thoughts, afflictions, and residual habits. In this state, although we will not yet have eradicated our afflictions and residual habits, they will
no longer arise.
The seventh component is right mindfulness. One should be mindful in all actions, avoiding those that are bad and doing only those that are good. Right mindfulness lies at the heart of the other seven components of the eightfold path. One’s views, thoughts, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, and concentration cannot be right if one is not mindful, not focused on what one is currently thinking and doing.
In the Pure Land school, our principal practice in right mindfulness is generating the bodhi mind and concentrating on mindfully chanting the buddha-name. Additionally, we have supplemental means of practice. These help us end all wrongdoings and perform good deeds, and accumulate merits and cultivate virtues. We dedicate these merits and virtues to help us be born in the Western Pure Land. We accomplish these good deeds, virtues, and merits by practicing the five precepts, the ten virtuous karmas, the six paramitas, and the initial components of the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment. All of these will help us end
our residual habits and afflictions, strengthen our belief and vow, and single-mindedly make unadulterated progress. This is right mindfulness.
The eighth component is right concentration. Right concentration is to practice one Dharma door for the rest of one’s life and not to keep switching to other methods.
In the Pure Land school, right concentration is focusing on Amitabha Buddha. When our buddha-name chanting is efficacious, we will keep our afflictions and residual habits in check. Through our belief, vow, and chanting we will remain focused and unshaken. We will have established the initial achievement level of our practice: constant mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha.
The thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment can differ from school to school. How each of us understands and practices them depends on our karmic roots, just as these roots determine which school we gravitate to and practice. Regardless of the school we choose, we need to remember that everything in the cycle of rebirth is an illusion. We do not want to be misled by our personal views. And so, we need to attentively practice the first three major components of the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment: the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, and the four bases of supranormal abilities.
As we progress, we will find that we have fewer wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. We will then be able to practice the latter limbs of enlightenment: the five roots, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the eightfold path.
It is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish all components of the seven limbs of enlightenment in one lifetime given that we practice them in sequential order. It would be an incredible achievement for us to complete every one of them in our all too brief human life. This is why transcending the cycle of rebirth through the practice of methods other than Pure Land is so difficult!
The Pure Land method has a rare advantage—it is the easiest to practice. But many find this fact difficult to believe. If we fulfill the three requisites of belief, vow, and practice, then as our practice of the thirty-seven limbs in the Pure Land deepens, we will accomplish them all!
In other words, by concentrating on the name of Amitabha Buddha, we will complete all the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment.
— Chapter 19, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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