FEATURES|COLUMNS|Teachings of Amitabha
All Teachings Return to Amitabha’s Name
Faith comes from the Name
Most Pure Land practitioners know that faith, aspiration, and practice are the three necessary components for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. However, many of them may not fully understand that these originate from Amitabha’s 18th Vow, also known as the “Vow of Rebirth through Amitabha-Recitation.”
As rebirth in the Pure Land is the goal of all Pure Land practitioners, they want to know what faith, aspiration and practice are, and how they can attain these three components that enable them to be reborn in the Pure Land.
First of all, where does faith come from? In the text of fulfillment of the 18th Vow in the Infinite Life Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha gives us an answer. It says, “Having heard his Name, [they] rejoice in faith.” So, faith comes from the Name!
Moreover, if we always recite Amitabha’s Name in aspiration for rebirth in our daily life, we must have faith in the Name, otherwise we would not recite.
Why do people rejoice upon hearing his Name?
Some Pure Land practitioners are puzzled when seeking faith and aspiration. They think they have to make a great effort to believe with sincerity, and to aspire in earnestness; but where does sincere faith and earnest aspiration come from? It comes from hearing (and believing in) the Name, which is actually one with Amitabha Buddha’s infinite light and life!
Amitabha Buddha says in his vows: “When I attain perfect Enlightenment (become a Buddha), I will dedicate my merits of infinite light and life to sentient beings of the ten directions.” This is also the reason why the Pure Land aspirant rejoices upon hearing.
If a Pure Land aspirant does not know he will receive Amitabha’s inconceivable merits and virtues of infinite light and life, how can they rejoice upon hearing his Name? If he does not understand how he is benefitted by the Name, he will not be concerned with whether or not Amitabha became a Buddha.
Referring to the 18th Vow, Amitabha Buddha asks us to recite his Name for rebirth in his land, otherwise he will not attain perfect Enlightenment. Now, he is a Buddha presently residing in the Western Land of Bliss, which means his Name must contain all the merits and virtues necessary for our rebirth. For this reason, a Pure Land practitioner rejoices upon hearing his Name.
But if a Pure Land practitioner has doubt—“Can I really be reborn just by reciting his Name”—how can he rejoice upon hearing the Name? It shows that he does not yet truly have faith. Thus, he may also hesitate to aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss because he does not understand that Amitabha’s Name contains all merits and virtues necessary for rebirth.
Pure Land is a teaching of “other-powered” deliverance, not a teaching of “self-powered” cultivation
Many Pure Land aspirants do not rejoice upon hearing the Name because they experience doubt and worry. They do not understand that Amitabha-recitation is an “other-powered” practice, through which they receive Amtabha’s unsurpassed merits and virtues. Neither do they understand that Amitabha’s 18th Vow is a teaching of deliverance, not cultivation.
Instead, they regard Pure Land Buddhism as a teaching of cultivation that requires diligent effort. Thus, they treat Amitabha-recitation as a “self-powered” practice, believing it to be an expedient means for them to cultivate their virtuous root.
A Pure Land practitioner who has doubts and worries about rebirth in the Pure Land through Amitabha-recitation is regarded as not “hearing the Name.” They do not know that the Name contains unsurpassed and real merits and virtues that enable the practitioner to attain rebirth through Amitabha-recitation. How can he rejoice if he is filled with worries and doubts?
“Hearing the Name” means that we believe in the real merits and virtues of the Name, and that it can assure us of rebirth in the Land of Bliss by always reciting it. As a result, we naturally rejoice in faith. This faith in Amitabha’s deliverance is not produced by our own effort. Our deep faith is based on Amitabha Buddha’s fulfillment of his 18th Vow (as Dharmakara Bodhisattva, Amitabha’s final human incarnation). It is the functional power of Amitabha’s Name.
With inconceivable merits and virtues dedicated to us by Amitabha Buddha, we are embraced and protected and our minds are settled during Name-recitation. Thus, we can entrust ourselves sincerely and joyfully to Amitabha’s deliverance, as stated in Amitabha’s 18th Vow.
It is similar to a seed that germinates when it encounters sunlight, water, and the nutrients of the soil. With Amitabha’s vow power as the causal condition, our faith in Amitabha’s deliverance through his Name is naturally consolidated.
Name, faith and Amitabha-recitation are in one entity, but in different names
As explained in the Ninth Contemplation in the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha tells us Amitabha’s Name is actually Amitabha Buddha in the form of light permeating the worlds of the ten directions. The Buddha, with inconceivable merits and virtues, can enter the minds of all those who recite his Name. These merits and virtues are nutrients that naturally nourish the Buddha-nature of the Amitabha-reciter, and change him from an iniquitous, ordinary being in this world, to a pure lotus flower in that world.
Amitabha’s vow-power and his Name are one entity, but called by different names. Belief in Amitabha’s vow-power is the same as belief in Amitabha’s Name. Belief in Amitabha’s Name means belief in Amitabha-recitation. Name is faith, faith is Amitabha-recitation. If we believe in our heart and accept Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, we will naturally utter the Name in aspiration for rebirth.
When talking about the Three States of Mind, the three essentials of rebirth—faith, aspiration and practice—and all things relating to rebirth, it is important to remember that they are not conditions of rebirth, but gifts from Amitabha Buddha. It is through these gifts that we can be reborn in his Pure Land. All Pure Land teachings finally return to Amitabha’s Name, which is the substance of the three Pure Land Sutras.