Two meanings of “even” in Amitabha’s 18th Vow
“Even” is a word of flexibility that includes different kinds of people with different aptitudes. It is similar to the phrase “for one day . . . for seven days” from the Amitabha Sutra. “Even 10 times” gives aspirants the greatest flexibility so that anyone can be reborn through reciting Amitabha’s Name.
Master Huijing says: “There are two meanings of ‘even’ in the phrase ‘even 10 times.’” They are as follows:
1. “Even” refers to those who come across the teaching in the present lifetime. Their rebirth is assured if they exclusively practice name-recitation throughout the remainder of this life.
2. “Even” also refers to those who come across the teaching near the end of their life. Their rebirth is assured if they recite Namo Amituofo just 10 times, or one time, or even one thought.
In other words, for those who wish to solve the great matter of birth and death, if they can deeply believe, accept, and genuinely entrust themselves to Amitabha’s deliverance through his Name, and aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, their rebirth is assured if they exclusively practice Amitabha-recitation until the end of their life.
For rebirth in the Land of Bliss, Amitabha does not take into account the virtues and offenses of Pure Land aspirants, nor how long they have practiced, nor how many times they recite Nianfo (“Namo Amituofo”). Amitabha’s deliverance is equal and unconditional, and is effective regardless of the circumstances of sentient beings.
Speaking of Amitabha’s teaching on deliverance is an extremely difficult task
Master Shandao says in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra:
To recite Amitabha’s Name single-mindedly and without variation, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, whether for long or short periods, is the karma of assurance. It is so because it accords with Amitabha’s 18th Vow.
This statement explains that all factors are irrelevant as far as rebirth is concerned: no matter if a person is Buddhist or a non-Buddhist, a practitioner of meditative virtues or of non-meditative virtues, a monastic or a householder, wise or slow-witted, wholesome or unwholesome, and so on.
Referring to the meaning of “even 10 times” in the 18th Vow, any person is immediately assured of rebirth by simply exclusively reciting Namo Amituofo for the rest of one’s life. The Pure Land teaching is easy to practice, but its reward (rebirth in a Buddha’s realm) is inconceivably splendid and thus difficult to believe.
How difficult is it to believe Amitabha’s 18th Vow? Shakyamuni Buddha says in the Amitabha Sutra:
Having attained the highest, perfect Enlightenment, I have, for the sake of all sentient beings in the world, delivered this teaching [of Amitabha’s deliverance], which is so hard for them to believe and accept. This is indeed an extremely difficult task.
In other words, ordinary beings like us are difficult to teach, as far as Amitabha’s teaching of deliverance through his Name is concerned.
Can a Pure Land practitioner who doubts Amitabha’s 18th Vow be reborn?
What happens if an aspirant has doubts and cannot be firmly determined to deeply believe in Amitabha’s 18th Vow, to sincerely entrust and accept his deliverance, and does not exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name for the rest of his life? He may attain rebirth in other ways, but he is not assured of rebirth!
Amitabha Buddha made another two vows of deliverance to accommodate those aspirants who wish to use their own ways to seek rebirth, rather than the method suggested in the 18th Vow. These are the 19th Vow and the 20th Vow, which read as follows:
(19) If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions, who awaken aspiration for Enlightenment, do various meritorious deeds and sincerely desire to be born in my land, should not, at their death, see me appear before them surrounded by a multitude of sacred beings, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
(20) If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions who, having heard my Name, concentrate their thoughts on my land, cultivate roots of virtue, and sincerely transfer their merit toward my land with a desire to be born there, should not eventually fulfill their reward, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
Both scenarios involve an aspirant’s mindset of relying on “self-power” for rebirth; in other words, the power of their own virtues through cultivation, rather than entrusting themselves to “other-power” for rebirth—that is, the power of Amitabha’s Name or the vow power of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow (the 18th Vow).
Aspirants who rely on “self-power” are not assured of rebirth by Amitabha
Amitabha Buddha does not promise or assure their rebirth. Instead, he promises practitioners of the 19th Vow that he will appear before them at their death, and promises practitioners of the 20th Vow that they will eventually realize the rewards of their cultivation.
In other words, these aspirants are not assured of rebirth in their present lifetime, but near the end of their life, even if they sincerely dedicate their merit and virtues for rebirth.
Moreover, the passage on “rebirth by womb” in the Infinite Life Sutra addresses the situation of Pure Land aspirants who have “doubts” about Amitabha’s deliverance through the 18th Vow:
1. They do various meritorious deeds aspiring for rebirth in that land while having doubt in the Buddha’s wisdom.
2. They doubt the Buddha’s wisdom, but believe in retribution for evil and reward for virtue instead, so they aspire for rebirth in that land by cultivating a stock of merit.
Those aspirants can be reborn in the Land of Bliss within a lotus bud (also known as “womblike birth”), although their flowers will not bloom until their doubts in Amitabha’s deliverance through his Name are cleared away.
Technically speaking, although they can be reborn, their rebirth is not assured in the present life. For one who steadfastly harbours doubt, their chance of rebirth near the end of life is less than one or two out of a hundred, or three or four out of a thousand, as stated by Master Shandao.
Related features from BDG
Sincerity in Faith and Earnest Aspiration in the Pure Land Teaching
Follow What Shakyamuni Buddha Says in the Pure Land Sutras for Rebirth
Can Those Who Commit the Five Gravest Transgressions and Slander the Right Dharma be Reborn in the Pure Land?