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A pure mind

Update: 18/06/2016
Q: What does "Penetration into Dharma nature" in chanting sutras mean?

A pure mind


A: Chanting sutras is divided into 3 levels:


1. Literally reading/chanting the sutras word by word.

2. Discovery of the sutra’s meaning in depth.

3. Right concentration of mind while chanting sutras is called “Penetration into Dharma nature”


The first level is the word-by-word recitation of literary texts in the sutra without understanding its meaning. For example, some people recite a passage in the Amitabha Sutra:”  â€œAt One time, Buddha was in Jetavana garden of Anathapindika …”, but they can’t explain the meanings  when asked about them.


In the past, all the sutras circulated to Vietnam were written in Sino-Vietnamese language, hence it was impossible for those who did not study this language to understand the verse they were chanting. In such situation, how could they practice the Buddhist’s teaching?


Or even when the sutras were translated into Vietnamese, the chanter might not understand the meaning or just understand up to at a shallow level of the sutra due to their limited levels of enlightenment/perception.

For example, there is a paragraph in the Universal Door sutra: "If an evil wind tosses their boats into the land of devil Rakshasa ..."

Many people can chant this paragraph fluently without really knowing its deep meaning of “evil wind”. Chanting at this first level may build up very little merit. That’s why there are many cases that people read/chanted lots of sutra but could not reach the enlightenment or deliverance yet, but left in lots of sufferings.


At the second level, chanters can deeply understand the sutra’s meaning. Buddha often uses examples to profoundly explain Dharma which may be too difficult for most Buddhists to master the whole at once. Instead, they can reach the literal meaning of Buddha’s teaching in the verse only.

For example, the following verse in the Universal Door Sutra:

If a person is to be harmed And is pushed into the large fire pit,

If he recites Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s name,

Fire pit turns into a pool.”  

might be understood in two ways.

The first-leveled chanter may understand that in such situations, he will be saved when reciting the name of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

In the mean time, the second-leveled chanter can understand the profound meaning of 'large fire pit' as the inside fierce anger, a formless flame which may destroy both his body and mind, making him get  out of control and say bad words hurting listeners. Thanks to reciting the name of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, his mind will calm down with mindful introspection to see things are impermanent and unreal, hence, he can easily let go of things.


 There is a Buddhist story of the recitation without understanding the content as follows:

 Every day, a devout shogun diligently chanted the Lotus Sutra , chapter 25- the Universal Door chapter: 

. At the paragraph "If an evil wind tosses their boats into the land of devil Rakshasa ..." he could not understand the meaning of ‘evil wind' because he had never seen it despite his age of 50s and  that unanswered question was still in his mind.

One day, he decided to go to the Pagoda to see the Venerable for the answer:


- Master, could you be kind enough to explain the word “evil wind” in the lotus sutra?

  Immediately, the venerable shouted at him loud enough to startle him:

- How come you, a current shogun can ask me such a silly question?

 The shogun could not restrain his anger by those offensive words, so he drew sword out of its sheath, goggled at the monk, gritted his teeth and roared:

 - Grrrr! You, a Venerable dares criticize me, a General. I will punish you severely.

 At that moment, the Venerable coolly  gazed at the General and said:

 - You want to know what evil wind' means, right? That’s it! Why do you get angry?


Listening to these words, the Shogun felt as if he had petrified and be left speechless because he realized his mistake and truly understood the term evil wind' in Scriptures!


Similarly, we study and practice Dharma every day. However we sometimes get tossed into the land of devil Rakshasas by an evil wind'. During which, our gentle  facial expression turns into rage and we are ready to fight. The inside attachment and greed have deformed our nice appearances. In such case, even women of extraordinary beauties may become as ugly and fierce as a rakshasa and everyone will stay away from them once their utmost anger arises. If we cannot control the arising anger and utter naughty words or take bad actions it will drive us to misery. That is the figurative meaning of “an evil wind tosses us into the land of Rakshasas”.

 At that moment, if we recite "Namo Great Compassionate Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva" to calm it down, it means to say we have used Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva ‘s cooling water of compassion to put out the inside fire of anger. It is the meaning of: "Thanks to reciting Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s name, they (Rakshasas) dare not harm us" at the second level.

Until prayers can understand sutra up to that extent, then they can put its guides into daily life’s practice to get joys and peace for themselves and others.

We will enjoy the  bliss to what extent of our understanding and practicing the sutra. Only when someone understands and manage to practice the teachings at the utmost extent then they get the same virtue as that of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.


The third level is the highest one. Thanks to mastering the sutra’s meaning, the chanter gets the enlightenment with absolute peace, purity, clarity in mind. His/her mind is in right-concentration during chanting.


In ancient times, the Great Master Chih-i,   the Founder of the Saddharma pundarika sect, specialized in chanting the lotus sutra. One day, while reciting the Lotus Sutra, chapter 23: The  Former Deeds of Bodhisattva Bhaiá¹£aj-yaraya, at the paragraph: " Bodhisattva Bhaiá¹£ajya-raya burnt his left hand, right hand, and then the whole body as an offering to Buddha... Buddha praised him:” This is the true merit, the true offering from heart", then the Great Master accessed the right-concentration, seeing himself join the  Buddha’s Dharma talk of Lotus Sutra at Mount Gradhakuta.

If we have read the Lotus Sutra, we would see a paragraph of Buddha’s teaching: "Those who diligently practice with commitment and gain great merit will see me and the monks in the Dharma talk at Mount Gradhakuta mountain. I really do not pass away yet”. Based on that, we can see 2 things:


- Thanks to quiet and calm mind, our mind is identical with the Buddha's and we can be with the Buddha at GradhakutaDharma Talk.


- Each of us has Dharma nature, the innate enlightenment.


When chanting sutra, if our mind is at peace and purity or in other words, if we are able to disregard when false thoughts arise, they will naturally vanish and immediately we can see “Prabhutaratna Buddha’s jewel Stupa” and the stupa’s gate will be opened for us to see the Tathagata inside - our inherent nature.

At that moment, with an absolute purity and quiet mind, our view and our knowledge reach the extremity. There is no separation between our mind and our Buddha nature. It is like the shining sun in clear blue sky without any cloud. So there is a saying:


Buddhas at Mount Gradhakuta are not far away,

They are right in our heart

Each of us has this invisible stupa within us

Follow that direction to practice for enlightenment.

Indeed, Buddha nature stays within our hearts, not somewhere else outside. Whether we go to India to touch the place where Buddha attained enlightenment but without practicing properly, we will never be able to meet with Buddha. We must look into ourselves to see the 'true Buddha'. It is the pure heart of ours. Each of us has innate “Buddha nature”. It’s not necessary to find it anywhere else. Just cultivate and polish our mind, our heart until we can see Buddha there, the enlightenment.


Thus the 3rd level of chanting/reading sutra is to penetrate the inherent purity in our mind, “penetration into Dharma nature in chanting sutras, the highest level.

Thich Minh Thanh


Translated by Dieu Lien Hoa

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