Freezing and Starving are Tests to Endure

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua


Here in the “ice-box” three days have quickly passed. On the first day, someone thought, “I can’t take it. I am cold because there’s no heater and hungry because we only eat one meal a day. All day we sit and walk, sit and walk, reciting, “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” and the more I recite, the colder and hungrier I get. I really can’t take it.”  But for two days he took what he couln’t take, afraid that the rest of us would call him a coward if he left; and now on the third day, he finds it much easier. “It’s not important if I’m a little chilly, and a little hunger doesn’t matter.” It’s all a test of your fortitude.

You haven’t run off but instead have recited the Buddha’s name, and accordingly your good roots have grown. I know that there are some who already have seen light, flowers, and the Buddha. Some have seen Amitabha Buddha rub the tops of their heads and transmit predictions of Buddhahood to them. “Really?” you ask. “Why haven’t I seen this?” How can you ask such a question! You should ask yourself whether or not you have singlemindedly and sincerely applied effort which would cause such states to manifest. “Oh,” you say, “it’s too much suffering—suffering so that I think I’m going to die.” If that’s the case, then give up your life. What do you want your life for anyway? It is said,

If you can’t let go at death you won’t obtain a good rebirth;
If you can’t let go of the false, you won’t obtain the true.

If you only wish to enjoy yourself, you’ll have no share in the transcendental Dharma. If you wish to obtain the transcendental Dharma, to return to the root and go back to the source, then you have to undergo a bit of suffering and view worldly dharmas as less important. Don’t look upon trivial problems as being so weighty.

I remember a poem Upasika Phuong wrote when she was at home with nothing to do. She gave herself a job and wrote:

Alone and still I gaze from the balcony
At wave tops capped with flowers of white water
And pounding surf below, startling the gulls.
The water swells into waves and the waves subside
And disappear: defiled conditions cease.
Return to the root; go straight back to the source.
You’re free to roam at will.

Silent, as if entering samadhi, she saw the ocean waves wearing white flower caps and heard the roaring surf which frightened the seagulls into flight. The water swelling into waves is an analogy for afflictions arising in the self-nature, and the waves returning to the water represents our afflictions, however heavy they are, being transformed into the Bodhi self-nature. It is causing the defiled conditions to cease, letting go of all worldly dharmas. At this time you may return to the root, go back to the source, and view your own original face, free to do whatever you wish. But now, before we have returned, we must follow the rules and earnestly recite the Buddha’s name until, with undeviating singlemindedness, we perfect the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. We will then be free to roam at will.

There’s an old saying, “In the coldest weather, the pines are the last to lose their green.” San Francisco has never had such cold weather; it’s been under twenty degrees and most people are staying indoors with their heaters turned up. We aren’t going outside either, but instead of a heater, we have turned on the coolers! Pine trees may be the last to be harmed, but we are proving that we are vajra. Some of you could be comfortable at home, but have chosen to come here to recite the Buddha’s name, cultivate, and endure the bitterness instead. This is very rare and has proved that you have a little bit of sincerity which has moved Amitabha Buddha. He certainly will help yout out; when you are about to die, he will guide you to rebirth in the Western Land.

Here in San Francisco, Amitabha Buddha has entered the Vajra Samadhi and made the earth firm and solid. We should enter the Vajra Samadhi, too, and cause the earth foundation of San Francisco to be as indestructible as vajra. Didn’t I say last night that it wasn’t that there couldn’t be an earthquake, but rather that the earth was not permitted to quake? Amitabha Buddha is the one who is not permitting the earth to quake because his is the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and any place his name is sincerely recited is a part of the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If you don’t believe me, wait until the fourth of January and see!

December 10, 1972
Day #3 of Buddha Recitation Retreat


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