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Pure Mind, Pure Land
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Pure Mind, Pure Land

A talk at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Jul. 28th, 2011

Welcome Speech by Host:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. First let’s stand up and express our warmest welcome to the venerable Master, Khenpo Sodargye, and Professor Xue Yu, Director of Centre for the Study of Humanistic Buddhism in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Thanks, please sit down. Tonight our topic is “pure mind, pure land”. We’ll start with the welcome speech by Professor Xue Yu.

Professor Xue Yu: Today we have this wonderful opportunity to gather at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to receive the teaching from the great Master, Khenpo Sodargye. Khenpo’s renowned reputation attracts us all here. As the old saying goes, “It happens once only every thousand years, but offers you much more than the whole thousand years.”

The name of Khenpo Sodargye is known to most of us. Today we have this precious time to receive his great teaching. The teaching will be followed by a question and answer session. Buddhists always say, “Big doubt gives big enlightenment, small doubt gives small enlightenment, and no doubt gives no enlightenment.” Today Khenpo Sodargye comes here to clear our doubts. Please feel free to ask any questions, either about life, relationship, or your dharma practice. As Khenpo mentioned earlier at dinner time, he won’t be afraid by any tough questions, and would be more than happy to offer you good answers.

Now, please give your attention to Khenpo!

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! I’m very happy to be here with all of you, not because I am the speaker, but because of the open and free research atmosphere at your university. I believe the free spirit is a prerequisite for us to seek the truth.

In the morning seminar Professor Xiong, the Dean of Faculty of Arts, said something touched me. She said, “This is not a simple Buddhist seminar. There are so many college students from all over the country who are gathering here. It is more than a simple belief for these students to choose Buddhism.” This is absolutely true. In today’s society, it is very difficult for young people to build up the right belief, especially on campus. The communication and discussion in our seminars are very precious. They will help young people seek the truth, and hence play a crucial role in one’s life perspective.

I. A Brief Explanation of “Pure Mind, Pure Land”

This evening, our topic is about “pure mind, pure land”. What does it mean? Some may think this idea is very shallow, as we know, the true, the good and the beautiful are able to improve external environment. However, in the Mahayana spirit, and especially in tantric point of view, the idea is much deeper than that.

Take the Chinese University of Hong Kong for example. It sits by the mountain and faces the ocean in the front, known as one of the most beautiful campuses in Asia. How can it look like this? It’s the result of collective good karma you bring here. If you had never collected such good karma in the past, such a nice campus would not have existed in your life. Africa is another example: severe famine has broken out these days. More than eleven million people are suffering from starvation every day. As we see on the TV, their life does not seem to be different from that of hungry ghosts. This is also caused by their common karma.

Then we ask, what causes karma? It is never apart from our mind. As Buddha said in Avatamsaka Sutra, sentient beings can see the pure land only with their pure mind. Everything in the world is actually manifested by our mind. For ordinary people, the world seems rough and rugged; however, for a first ground Bodhisattva, there are no ugly things since he has cleared pervasive discrimination of self; then at the eighth ground and above, the Bodhisattva visualizes much purer. Guhyagarbha Tantra analyzes these ideas in a profound way, which takes time for us to really understand.

About ninety-nine years ago, a great scholar in Tibet, Mipham Rinpoche, had deeply explained the theory of “pure mind, pure land” with both exoteric and esoteric view in his Essence of Clear Light. I taught this to some intellectuals more than ten years ago. At that time I developed a deep understanding of “pure mind, pure land”. To get to this point, it requires a combination of the profound Mahayana theory and one’s own dharma practice. Of course, I’m not saying that I had some incredible experience. I just want to share with you that, in Tibetan Buddhism, there are so many essence of wisdom that deserve our hard study.

As Professor Xue Yu said yesterday, there are many Tibetan Buddhism institutes all over the world, like at Harvard University, in Japan and so on. A lot of professors and scholars devote themselves to Tibetan Buddhism research, and seek the profound meaning by both theoretical and practical means. Professor Nick Swann is one good example. He is from England, fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism, and has a very good understanding of Buddhism theory. Not only that, he’s also a dharma practitioner of Sakya lineage. Surprisingly, he communicates with me with fluent Tibetan. I don’t think it’s an easy thing for an Englishman to learn Tibetan so well. As you can see, nowadays in the study of Tibetan Buddhism, scholars are no longer satisfied with just reading a few books.

Why is Tibetan Buddhism so attractive? Because it has compelling logics and clear practice stages, as well as the continued pure lineage transmission and supreme piths from lineage masters. Due to these unique characters in many aspects, Tibetan Buddhism is recognized as a treasure of world culture. In recent years, more and more professors and college students in China have been studying Tibetan Buddhism, such as Buddhism logic, the middle way, the great perfection and so on. We are very fortunate that the traditional culture of Buddhism has been well protected due to the poor natural condition of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. As a result, it brings incredible benefits to the whole world, which is also the good karma of sentient beings.

Perhaps some think Tibetan Buddhism is just as simple as a few religious rituals, such as empowerment, consecration, purification, blessing, life release and so on. This is a major misunderstanding. If one really wants to understand Tibetan Buddhism, he or she would better study at a Tibetan Buddhism institute, or a similar dharma center with systematic teaching programs. Only in this way can we taste the flavor of its rigorous doctrine.

Or you may still wonder: are empowerment and blessing not Tibetan Buddhism? They are the special forms, but not the essence of Tibetan Buddhism. Then what is the true meaning of Buddhism? As Bodhisattva Vasubandhu said in Abhidharma Kosa Shastra, the Buddha’s noble dharma only have two types, characterized by doctrine and realization. This is true for both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism.

Nowadays, many Buddhists are only fascinated with the forms of Buddhism, but ignore the true meaning of dharma, even though they had taken refuge so many years ago. Many Buddhism intellectuals are also like this. For example, there are more than twenty college students in our seminar, some of them are limited to a few stories and very superficial theories of Buddhism, and can hardly touch their deep meaning. In fact, if one wants to grasp the true meaning of dharma, instead of only reading certain books, he or she has to continuously study, contemplate, debate and practice for a long time, by following the path of great virtues and monks in the past.

In order to grasp a theory, such as “pure mind, pure land”, it is so profound and especially needs patient and diligent study. It is not only repeated in Tibetan Buddhism, but also in Chinese Buddhism. As described in the chapter of Buddha Land in Vimalakirti Sutra, Sariputra had thought the land of Sakyamuni Buddha was impure, and filled with the five turbidities. However, the Brahma Sikhin from the East Land said, “In my eyes, the land of Sakyamuni Buddha is as pure as the heavenly palace of Isvara.” Sariputra would not believe it, as he saw only hills and hollows, brambles and gravel, and rocks and mountains. During the argument, the Buddha pressed the earth with his toe, and instantly the trimegachiliocosm appeared so pure and with immeasurable merits, as if ornamented with a hundred thousand jewels. Sariputra was so amazed by the Buddha land. Then the Buddha told him, “My Buddha land is always pure like this, it is just that you could not see it.”

Another Chinese Buddhism sutra, The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, says that, “Sentient beings and their lands are the same as the one Dharma-nature. The dungeons of hell and the palaces of heaven are all Pure Land.” Therefore, if we want to really understand the theory of “pure mind, pure land”, we must study Vimalakirti Sutra and The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. It would be even better to study the conceptions of the great web of magical illusion and primordial purity in perfect enlightenment in Tibetan Buddhism. If one follows a qualified master’s guidance and observe his own mind, he can gradually feel that “pure mind, pure land” is not just a theory, but a practical way that will lead one to perceive incredible pure realms.

II. Impure Mind, Impure Land

The teaching is too profound to reveal its essence with just one lesson. Therefore, I want to talk about the key message, which is “impure mind, impure land”.

Why? For example, there is a white sea shell. Healthy people see white; but for a jaundice patient, it is yellow; or even worse, for a blind person, he can see nothing but darkness. So you see, the purity of environment completely depends on our own mind’s perception.

Today, the five turbidities are rampant. One’s mind is filled with greed, anger, and ignorance. Therefore, the bad karma created in this age is incredible, and it will in turn cause external environment a series of imbalances. It is hard to imagine what the most beautiful cities and enjoyable islands will turn out to be in the near future. The previous Vice President of USA, Al Gore Jr., warned people in one of his reports, by investigating the global warming for many years, that if mankind continue to destroy the nature immoderately, many coastal cities will be under the sea level in the near future. Gore didn’t reveal the true cause behind this phenomenon, the Greek philosopher Plato, however, had explained all the details in his accounts of the disappearance of the wonder nation – Atlantis.

In two of his famous dialogue works, Critias and Timaeus, Plato clearly described the existence of Atlantis. In his accounts, more than ten thousand years ago, the current Atlantic ocean was a beautiful and well-developed continent, known as Atlantis. With mild weather and dense forest, the nation was flourishing and wealthy, its people led a stable and happy life. The locals worshiped the Sea God, treated him as the highest Master, by providing him with regular offerings. As time went on, the Atlantians became corrupt. The evil replaced kindness, and greed and wickedness supplanted the natural virtues. The Sea God was angered, decided to punish them with a fatal disaster. In a great earthquake and flood, the whole continent sank into the sea within just one day and one night, and completely vanished under the waves.

Some think of the Atlantis described by Plato as a story in Arabian nights, while others have no doubts in Plato’s accounts, but are bothered by the lack of evidence. For centuries, many archeologists have been trying to prove its existence, but in vain. Until February 2009, the British media announced that the England aeronautical engineer Bernie Bamford found a piece of seabed resembling a city ruin at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, when browsing the 3D map of the ocean floor using Google Ocean. This shocking discovery cheered up archeologists all over the world. If it is a real city ruin, it is very likely to be the sunken Atlantis.

The reason I mentioned the Atlantis story today is not to make you believe its existence, but let you know that, if our human beings collect more and more bad karma, we will also walk toward extinction. Another example is the ancient Rome Empire. Initially the people worshiped simplism and nobleness, however, with the increase of economic power, they gradually turned to luxury and carnalism, which became the mainstream of the whole society. At last, the social morality sank, marking the beginning of the fall of the ancient Roman Empire.

There are countless incidents like this in the history, and should cause our reflection. If we continue this way, then sooner or later, the fairyland on earth as moonlight in its groves of pine and stones of crystal in its brooks will turn into the miserable scene of hundred mountains without a bird and thousand paths without a footprint. It absolutely deserves our attention!

III. Two Serious Issues Mankind Faces Today

We discussed spiritual and ecological environmental protections in recent seminars. These two topics are fundamentally connected to people’s attitude and behavior. Without realizing this, it will not work regardless how strongly we advocate.

If one wants to perform good deeds and abstain from bad ones, to me there are two fundamental things. What are they? One is to believe rebirth, i.e., the existence of previous and next life; second is to stop killing. Today, many people do not believe rebirth and not recognize the consequences of killing animals, which are two urgent issues to be addressed.

Ignorance of Rebirth

Nowadays, it is regretful that most people have no idea about the existence of previous and next life. Yesterday when I was on the ship and passed by the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, many people explained to me its advanced technology. Also from the ship I saw those magnificent buildings on campus, just like the Chinese University. However, at that time a thought occurred to me, “Regardless the education received by the people there, unless they accept the idea of rebirth, the advanced technology is still meaningless.” Of course, I don’t have any hostility toward the University of Science & Technology, but just my natural thoughts.

Actually not only the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, almost every university in the world, so is the Chinese University of Hong Kong. When I first stepped on the campus, I was impressed by the energy of young students. But when I got into their minds, pity and compassion immediately arose. Why? That is because they will not accept their previous and after lives, although they clearly exist. They blindly believe there is only one life, which lasts for nearly one hundred years. Such an outlook on life is very superficial. With it, they certainly will not have the right values. Many people think they can only live for a few decades, then the value of life is nothing but enjoyment. They believe money is happiness, and will spend the whole life running after it, which is completely wrong. It is a big regret to have these values in your life, regardless if you are a scholar or professor.

Theoretically, mankind is more intelligent than animals. However, if one does not know the existence of previous and after life, even for some Buddhists, he is not different from animals by only pursuing food and clothes. Nowadays, many people try to achieve their goals unscrupulously. The fundamental cause is their lack of belief in the existence of afterlife. Otherwise, they’ll worry about the consequences of bad karma. Why? It is the same as one would not drink poison, no matter how thirsty. Similarly, no matter how desirable it is for this life, one won’t take it at the cost of bad karma, since it will cause more suffering in their afterlife.

Influenced by the current culture and education, many people have doubt about the existence of afterlife, or even worse, completely refuse to accept the truth. So I wish all of you to do more research on the topic of rebirth. In fact, it is not as difficult as the realization of the nature of mind, or the emptiness beyond any extremes and conceptions. We can confidentially find the truth by following the logics of epistemologist Dharmarkirti. I had translated a book, Treatise of Previous and Next Life, written by a great virtue in Tibet. The author combined logic in Buddhism with modern science, and provided many theories that can prove the existence of previous and after life.

I remember in 2009, US also reported a case on rebirth. A little boy, named James, said that his previous life was a World War II pilot, who died after his plane was attacked by the Japanese. James particularly liked plane models and was amazingly familiar with plane structure. He also had nightmares about airplane crash frequently. He talked about his previous life and the way he died vividly with a lot of details, which were confirmed by other surviving pilots of World War II. Later James was able to meet his sister of previous life, Anne, aged 84. They seemed to have known each other for a long time, and Anne was sure that James was her brother’s rebirth. Rumor said Hollywood directors have the plan to make the story into a movie. If there’s a nice movie of the story, I believe many people will be deeply touched and reconsider their view of life.


Of course, this kind of stories was very popular in India, Tibet, and even the entire world. Unfortunately, most people prefer to blind themselves despite the facts, and won’t accept the truth. Even for some Buddhists, they just keep repeating rebirth, afterlife or such kind of words in their mouth, and never seriously prepare for it. Therefore, I’d like to stress this topic in today’s talk, wish all of us to pay more attention to it.

Killing of Animals

There is another thing, which has been mentioned earlier, is the horrifying killing of animals. Most people can’t accept the behavior of killing people, but take animal killing for granted. There are even some religions that support it. It is absolutely a misleading.

The 21st century is one of the cruelest centuries of animal killing. Driven by all kinds of desires, and supported by the advanced technology, our killing behaviors are causing unprecedented extinctions for the living things, in water, sky, and on land. If human beings keep doing this, can our Mother Earth sustain more in the near future? This question deserves our consideration.

Some may think, “Why shouldn’t human kill animals? Animals are lower level of life, and should be the food for higher level of human life.” This idea is very unreasonable. There is no difference between animal’s life and our life. We want to stay alive, and we fear death, so do animals. Why should we have rights to kill them? In mankind history, two World Wars broke out in the last century and cost more than ten million and fifty million lives respectively. For mankind, these two wars were the bloodiest catastrophes in our history. However, in the 21st century, although human beings are away from such sufferings, much more horrible disasters are falling onto animals.

Actually, the unequal treatments by labeling higher and lower levels also happened to humans. Like the trades of Negro slaves several centuries ago, Negro slaves were treated as commodities instead of human beings. They were sold on docks and in markets, and numerous deals were completed in one day. Such situations continued for more than 400 years. The famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (or Life Among the Lowly), faithfully described the miserable lives of Negro slaves being badly oppressed by slave owners. This book was the best-selling novel in the 19th century. In the first year of its publication, 300,000 copies were sold in the US, next to the Bible.

The way that slave owners treated their slave in those times is just as how people treat animals in this age. Slaver owners thought slaves were inferior race and could be traded or even killed at will. During transportations, huge amounts of slaves were cramped in crowded cabins, with stagnant air, bad food and drink, and rampant contagious diseases. Once becoming sick, slaves were immediately thrown into sea and eaten by fish. Sometimes hundreds, hundreds of slaves were thrown into sea altogether. Such tragedies continued from 15th till 19th century, officially ended at the Brussels conference, where the Act of Abolition of Slavery was passed in 1890.

Therefore, in the past four hundred years, many people thought it was fair enough for the superior white people slaving or killing the inferior black people. The American Nobel Prize winner Martin Luther King had appealed in his famous speech, I Have A Dream, that the whites have to realize the racial equality with the blacks. Later on, the previous South African president Mandela was also fighting against racialism, and calling for the equality between the white and black people.

Similarly, we should treat animals in the same way. On earth, they have an equal right to live with us. So mankind should not deprive them of their precious lives just to satisfy our desire for food. Unfortunately, every time I mention human’s suffering, such as Wenchuan and Yushu earthquake, many audiences are deeply moved into tears; but when talking about the suffering of animals, especially the terrible massacre in slaughterhouses, many people seems having no such feeling at all.

I recently attended World Care & Love Forum, and the committee proposed to name July 17th “the World Care Day”. The Chinese pronunciation of July 17th entails the meaning of giving a kiss. So on this day, every one should kiss the old and the young, friends and relatives around him or her. On the forum I also appealed that, not only the people around us, we should also kiss the animals around us. Even if one can’t be vegetarian, or keep releasing animals into the wild, at least he or she should do this on this particular day. But unfortunately, very little response was received. Few people would like to speak out for the rights of animals. In the West, some scholars such as Peter Singer also advocate liberating animals, but not much people are paying attention and there’s no apparent changes on behaviors.

Actually, if we want to save the Earth and mankind, we should start with the cultivation of compassion. Without compassion in one’s heart, all kinds of disasters would happen frequently in the future. As Dr. Toynbee said, “To solve the social problem of the 21st century, we have to rely on the teaching of Confucius, Mencius and Mahayana Buddhism.” The Japanese philosopher and thinker, Daisaku Ikeda, also believe that, the fundamental cause of the external environmental crisis is the internal spiritual crisis, which is the limitless devilish desire hidden deeply in humanity.

Nowadays, people’s desires are terrifying. They would eat any kind of animals, regardless if they are in sky, in water, or on land. This is exactly the so-called devilish desire. The people living by the sea find it very difficult to have one meal without seafood. They never think about how their own happiness is built upon the suffering of other living beings. We should question that, such human race are moving forward or reverse? It deserves everyone’s contemplation.

Some may protest, “If we can’t eat animals, neither can we eat plants, since they have life too.” This thought is not correct. Buddha had explained the definition of killing in Nirvana Sutra, which is to destroy the five aggregates of sentient beings. Although plants can grow and die, can respond to stimuli, they don’ have five aggregates, which is a fundamental difference for animals. On the other hand, the life of animals is exactly the same as that of human beings. We fear death, so do animals. When facing life threats, we will pay anything in exchange for life, so will animals. Therefore, why shouldn’t we treat animals equally?

Chinese Buddhism has been advocating vegetarianism a long time ago, which exactly follows the essence of Mahayana. I myself is learning Tibetan Buddhism, but deeply rejoice this tradition, not only because it manifests the spirits of Mahayana, but also because it has significant meanings to global warming. The previous Vice President of the US, Gore, warned people in his An Inconvenient Truth that, we only have ten years to address the global warming issue. Then what should we do exactly? The key is to adopt vegetarianism, because meat is the main reason for global warming. Dr. Pachauri, the Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Nobel Prize winner in 2007, also appealed the public by saying, “Don’t eat meat, ride a bicycle, be frugal—that’s how you can help stall global warming.”

I learned that some college students are interested in going vegetarian, which is a very good phenomenon. Being vegetarian is also good to your health. Usually people think no meat would unbalance nutrition. Actually, yaks eat only grass and pigs don’t eat meat, both of them have enough nutrition, so why not human beings? Furthermore, if eating certain animal’s meat, you’ll be indirectly infected by all the diseases that the animal carries. Aren’t you afraid?

Besides health reasons, vegan diet efficiently benefits our environment. As reported, adopting a vegan diet for one day, we automatically help grow 180 trees. Such an easy action will effectively protect the Earth, what else would keep us from doing it? This evening we have hundreds of people here. If all of you eat meat, then several pigs are not enough for one meal. Or according Hong Kong’s tradition of eating seafood, how many sentient beings are killed for one meal? If one’s life is based on the destruction of other sentient being’s life, then it’s better not to live any longer. My words may seem too harsh, but it is exactly the truth. If I’m going to kill you for my living, obviously it is unfair to you.

Mankind has been seeking world peace throughout history. Actually to achieve this goal, one should know that in this world, there’re not just humans, but also other living things. From archeologists’ point of view, animals came here earlier than human beings, so the earth is not just for humans, and it also provides living space for other animals. We need peace among people, so is true between people and animals. If people continue to kill animals, destroy forests and squander resources without any restriction, how can we expect world peace? Can it be true peace simply for the countries to get along and not to fight among each other?

IV. To realize the goal of “pure mind, pure land”, one should start with himself.

Therefore, in order to realize “pure mind, pure land”, all of us should fundamentally change our old minds. Otherwise, no matter how strongly we advocate, a simple slogan will not help. As Buddha said in Agama Sutra, the mind of killing and hurting is the cause of environment deterioration. With killing and hurting in our mind, we’ll bring the world endless natural calamities and man-made misfortunes. Furthermore, what’s waiting for us after death? It’s the rebirth of hell beings, hungry ghosts or animals. Nobody would like three lower realms. We live in this world not longer than one hundred years, so it doesn’t make sense to create heavily evil karma in such a short life and to experience miserable sufferings for eons in afterlife.

Therefore, one’s future happiness depends on one’s own mind. There’s a famous saying in Tibet, which is “Good mind offers you bright future, while ill mind offers you dark future.” As Buddha often repeat in sutras, “Everything is created by your own mind.” Why? Because good mind gathers lots of “positive energy”, and thus project you a beautiful world; on the contrary, bad mind gathers “negative energy” and bring you endless sufferings.

The well-known Japanese research, The Hidden Messages in Water, sufficiently supports this message. Some thought this is unbelievable, but this is exactly the truth. If you study deeply, you’ll find mind has very important effects on environment. The world is pretty or not is directly related to people’s mind. Both East and West philosophers recognized this fact. As said in The Awakening of Faith In Mahayana, “Three realms are all illusions created by mind.”

Therefore, to purify our land, we need first purify our own mind. Only good mind and good deeds can change our world to be more beautiful, with the sun getting splendid and flowers bright-colored. Otherwise, if everybody is creating bad karmas, then there’s no way for outside environment to be peaceful. The world needs all of us to care. You, I, he, and everyone shall shoulder this mission.

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