“Right mindfulness” means “no doubt in mind and no assortment in practice”
In the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni teaches his followers how to aspire to rebirth in the Land of Bliss and practice for assured rebirth. The clue to their assured rebirth is “merit-dedication and rebirth-aspiration with singleness of mind,” as stated by Master Shandao in the Chapter of Profound Meaning in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra.
Illustrated with a famous parable called the Two Rivers and a White Path, Master Shandao explains the meaning of “merit-dedication and rebirth-aspiration with singleness of mind:” it is “right mindfulness” with singleness of mind.
What is meant by “right mindfulness?” Master Shandao explains it in the Third Contemplation in two simple phrases—no doubt in mind, and no assortment in practice. In positive terms, it means faith in mind and exclusivity in practice.
Actually, faith and exclusivity are interrelated. If a Pure Land aspirant has deep faith in Amitabha’s deliverance (that is, rebirth in the Land of Bliss through his Name, as stated in his Fundamental Vow), then his practice of “other-power” Amitabha-recitation must be exclusive. Exclusive “other-powered” practice signifies full reliance on Amitabha’s vow power. Thus, rebirth is assured or 100 per cent guaranteed by Amitabha Buddha.
Conversely, if a Pure Land aspirant has doubt in Amitabha’s deliverance, his practice of “other-power” Amitabha-recitation will be mixed with other “self-powered” practices, like taking precepts, meditation, and so on. Merit from these assorted practices will be dedicated towards rebirth in the Land of Bliss. As these assorted practices for rebirth involve both the “Buddha’s power” and “our own power,” they do not comply with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. Thus, rebirth is not assured or guaranteed by Amitabha Buddha.
Rebirth assured by Amitabha Buddha is 100 per cent guaranteed
It is interesting to note that our world is called the Saha World, or “Patient Endurance.” What is endured? Ours is a world of relativity (i.e. without absolutes), in which everything is conditioned (i.e. subject to change), and all phenomena are impermanent (i.e. cannot be predicted). Thus in our world, nothing is absolute, 100 per cent guaranteed and assured.
When Master Shandao says the practice of Amitabha-recitation for Pure Land rebirth is the “principal karma of assurance,” it must be understood from the side of Amitabha Buddha, who has accomplished his Fundamental Vow. Because of his accomplished Vow, he has the total capacity to deliver and receive all exclusive Amitabha-reciters into his Land of Bliss. Apart from Amitabha Buddha, no other Buddha or Bodhisattva could accomplish our rebirth into Amitabha’s Pure Land with 100 per cent assurance.
The lotus flower forever blossoms, only if we have faith on Amitabha’s wisdom
A verse composed by a Pure Land patriarch Master Fazhao (747–821) illustrates how, when a person begins to recite Amitabha’s name in aspiration to rebirth, a lotus flower begins to grow in the Land of Bliss.
When one person recites Amitabha’s Name in this world
One lotus flower is born in the West
Provided that he does not give up the practice [for rebirth]
This flower will come to welcome you.
If we have deep and determinant faith in Amitabha’s wisdom (i.e. in deliverance through his Name, and in the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation for rebirth), our flower immediately begins to grow in the Land of Bliss. Once it blossoms, it remains forever. Amitabha Buddha will bring the lotus flower to receive us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss when our life in this world ends.
The Contemplation Sutra says, “The light of Amitabha permeates all worlds, always embracing those who recite his name, and not forsaking them.” Master Shandao explains this statement in his book Dharma School of Contemplation and Recitation as follows: for those who exclusively recite Namo Amitabha Buddha, that Buddha’s light always shines on them, protecting and embracing them without forsaking; it does not shine upon and embrace those who perform miscellaneous and assorted practices.
“Exclusive practice” on the side of practitioner equals “light embracing and not forsaking” on the side of Amitabha Buddha. That is the reason why Amitabha’s deliverance is immediate and our rebirth is assured, as promised and guaranteed by Amitabha Buddha in his Fundamental Vow.
However, if a practitioner has doubt in mind and assortment in practice, his lotus flower is not yet open but is still a bud. Amitabha’s light does not shine upon and embrace him as he performs miscellaneous and assorted practices, as stated by Master Shandao above. So, his rebirth is not guaranteed, certain, or assured.
He may have a second chance to attain rebirth in his life provided that he can uphold the “right mindfulness” and recite Amitabha’s name 10 times, or even one time at the critical moment near the end of life. But although he can be reborn in the Land of Bliss, if he still harbors doubt about the efficacy of rebirth through Amitabha’s name, then it is likely to be a “womb rebirth” in which he dwells (without suffering) in the closed bud of his lotus flower.
Once his doubt is expunged, the lotus will open and blossom. This is poetically described in the Infinite Life Sutra. However, if he misses the chance to attain rebirth at the end of his life, he will have to wait till his next life or a future life.
Amitabha-recitation in accordance with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow is the singular and unique practice for assured rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss. It is the highest and unsurpassed practice selected by Amitabha Buddha for sentient beings of the 10 directions that aspire to be reborn in his Land. So, it is called the “principal karma of assurance,” as taught by Master Shandao. Since rebirth is thus assured, it is said that rebirth is achieved in the present lifetime.
But we must remember that, as ordinary beings, we are born with the Six Fundamental Vexations, including doubt. Master Shandao says in the parable of the “Two Rivers and a White Path” that a pure aspiration for rebirth arises from within sentient beings’ evil passions of greed and anger. Put another way, our vexations are the “dirty” mud in which our “pure” lotus flower grows.
A person whosincerely practices exclusive Amitabha-recitation is assured of rebirth, even if he is occasionally troubled by vexations, including unwanted doubts and passions in his daily life. We will discuss this matter in the next article.