Located in Sunnyvale, California – one of the major cities comprising Silicon Valley – is the Amitabha Buddhist Society of USA. Although a seeming anachronism within a progressive, tech-savvy town, the Amitabha Buddhist Society of USA has filled a niche for those seeking flexible and easily accessible Buddhist education. The quaint location on the corner of South Bernardo Avenue and Blair Street was founded in 1989 by Venerable Master Chin Kung and is a non-profit organization wholly operated by volunteers with entirely donated funds. While the society has adapted to contemporary American life remarkably well, its practices remain deeply rooted in its traditional precepts. Having immigrated from China in the 1980’s, Master Chin Kung gives lectures primarily in Mandarin, often providing translations for universal comprehension. In an effort to expand their reach, the society also has well updated social media pages and a website that is offered in both full Mandarin and English containing schedules, background information, and basic tenets and practices.
The society has devoted itself to teaching the Pure Land Study, a method of cultivation created by Shakyamuni Buddha nearly twenty-five hundred years ago. This method is intended to target those who wish to attain Buddhahood within one lifetime and is quoted as being the “fastest and easiest way for anyone who wishes to transform this life’s pain, suffering, misery and misfortune into a life of happiness, fulfillment and prosperity with direction and purpose.” Along with scheduled group meditation sessions titled “Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha”, the society also provides a robust schedule for “Whole Day Chanting”, where the community gathers to recite mantras all day long to extend their mindfulness of Buddhist practice. Additionally, the organization provides complementary resources such as books and CD’s in order to propagate Buddhist teachings.
Venerable Master Chin Kung, formerly known as Yae-Hong Hsu prior to being ordained as a monk, was born in Lujiang County, Anhui Province, China in 1927. The province of Anhui is the twelfth most populous region in China, with roughly eighty-nine percent of people identifying as devout Buddhists or Taoists. It comes as no surprise, then, that Master Chin Kung chose to immerse himself into the Buddhist faith as he relocated to Taiwan in 1949. Here, Master Chin Kung built a strong acumen within Buddhism and philosophy, working under the guidance of Professor Tung-Mei Fang, Master Jia Chang, and Elder Teacher Mr. Bing-Nan Lee. These years of fellowship generated an ultimate interest in becoming ordained, a goal Master Chin Kung achieved in 1959. Since his ordination in Taiwan, Master Chin Kung has dedicated his life to the teachings of Buddha, embarking on an unassailable mission to disseminate his teachings, beginning in Taiwan, then expanding abroad.
Since the beginning of his career, Master Kung has lectured extensively on various sutras and commentaries, primarily on The Flower Adornment Sutra, The Lotus Sutra, The Surangama Sutra, The Complete Enlightenment Sutra, The Platform Sutra, The Diamond Sutra, and The Five Sutras and One Commentary of Pure Land Study. He has also emerged as a venerated leader within Buddhist education, founding the Hwa Dzan Monastery, the Hwa Dzan Buddhist Library, the Hwa Dzan Lecture Hall, and the Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation. Perhaps this level of success and widespread diffusion is due to Master Chin Kung’s incorporation of modern technology, “including, but not limited, to real time web broadcasting”, and “lectures recorded on audio, video tapes, CDs, and DVDs for wide distribution.” In addition to this, the Master has taken it upon himself to ensure the printing and distribution of Buddhist texts, portraits, and pictures of various buddhas and bodhisattvas free of charge. Recent years have seen Master Chin Kung hone in on his teachings, emphasizing the Infinite Life Sutra and the Pure Land cultivation method of Being Mindful of Amitabha while ultimately seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Pure Land Buddhism, also referred to as Amidism in English, is a broad extension of Mahayana Buddhism with origins in Central Asia and India. Prior to its arrival in China as early as 147 CE, the Pure Land Sutras were circulated by famous Mahayana teachers, such as Nagarjuna. Predicated on the Buddhist ideals of the bodhisattva, the Pure Land practice posits that humanity is incapable of attaining the Dharma, and as such, necessitates the powerful outside influence of Amitabha Buddha. In many tales, Amitabha is an affluent king who renounces his throne upon being introduced to Buddhist teachings. After accumulating great karma in various lifetimes, Amitabha attains Buddhahood and acquires a buddhaksetra – or “buddha-field” – known as Sukhavati. This land is situated in the “uttermost west”, a realm far removed from our own and is known for its wide acceptance of all people. It is said in his nineteenth vow that those who call upon his name – known as Mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha – will be granted rebirth there. Additionally, by virtue of these very vows, Amitabha has made himself and his exponent bodhisattvas and buddhas available for those who call upon him, continually returning to earth to teach and provide aid for enlightenment.
The original Pure Land Study that is taught at the Amitabha Buddhist Society was originally comprised of “Three Sutras and One Treatise”. Over time, however, due to the faith’s natural expansion and intertwined socio-political immersion, two additional teachings were added to complete the study.
- The Infinite Life Sutra:
- The Infinite Life Sutra is the longest of the three original texts and serves as the primary text of Pure Land Buddhism. This sutra begins with the aforementioned description of Buddha Amitabha’s past life in which he was a king who renounced his kingdom to become a bodhisattva. Under the guidance of another buddha, Amitabha journeys to various buddha lands and meditates for five eons, ultimately taking great vows to save all sentient beings and creating the Pure Land. The Sutra then takes a considerable amount of time recounting the Pure Land in great detail and how individuals are able to attain rebirth there.
- The Visualization Sutra:
- This sutra explains the theory and the method of cultivation in the Pure Land School, primarily focusing on meditations involving complex “contemplations” or visualizations. Aside from attempting to visualize various aspects of the Pure Land in detail, the sutra also outlines the Nine Levels of rebirth in the Pure Land, categorized in various “grades”.
- The Amitabha Sutra:
- The Amitabha Sutra is the shortest of the three original Pure Land sutras, yet is by no means any less significant. This sutra describes the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss and goes into depth on how to be reborn into that land, chiefly through mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha.
- The Rebirth Treatise
- Also known as The Treatise of the Pure Land, this work is a commentary by Bodhisattva Vasubandhu on the Amitabha Sutra. Consisting of verse and prose sections, the twenty-four stanzas hail the Pure Land and encourage the notions of rebirth and enlightenment.
- The Practices and Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra
- The fifth important text of the Pure Land Study was added by lay practitioner Wei Yuan during the Qing Dynasty. This is but a mere chapter of the “80-fascicle” Flower Adornment Sutra.
- The Chapter of the Perfect and Complete Realization of Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta
- Yet another chapter added to the Pure Land Study is the Perfect and Complete Realization of Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta. This excerpt, although only containing 244 Chinese words, encapsulates the most important teachings of the Pure Land School such as demonstrating the concise method of Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha.
As a whole, the Amitabha Buddhist Society of USA provides easily accessible resources for those interested in converting to the faith while concomitantly providing an environment of cultivation for traditional, lifelong adherents. The Pure Land Study is found predominantly in Eastern and Central Asia, having pervasive roots in Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Buddhism. The Amitabha Buddhist Society, founded by Chinese immigrants, has an affinity for the Chinese precepts, all the while encouraging enlightenment for all. The plethora of information used in lectures and education is provided to all individuals who may be interested through multi-language materials, yet an effort is made to serve its immediate community in Sunnyvale, California. All this in mind, the organization strives to live up to its goal “to achieve peace and harmony among all people, all beings and the environment in the universe without bias against those of different race, nationality and religion.”
“Inception.” Amtb-Usa, Amitabha Buddhist Society of USA, 2018.
“Founder.” Amtb-Usa, Amitabha Buddhist Society of USA, 2018.
Inagaki, Hisao, and Harold Stewart. The Three Pure Land Sutras. Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2003.