Three different kinds of mixed practices
Having discussed the importance of the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation for assured rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, we have the question: can Pure Land aspirants be reborn if they undertake mixed or miscellaneous practices? Well, it depends. According to the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao identified three different kinds of mixed or miscellaneous practices.
1. Invocations of other Buddhas, according to the explication of the Deep Mind
Although it is an indirect rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, practitioners can be reborn through sincere dedication or transference of merit and aspiration to attain rebirth if they have invoked other Buddhas.
If they entrust themselves to the Buddha’s power (“other-power”), but do not invoke Amitabha Buddha exclusively, it implies that their faith in Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, the 18th Vow, for their deliverance is not yet decisive, determined, and finalized, as discussed in my previous articles.*
With the five disadvantages of miscellaneous practices of Buddha-invocation discussed in my last article, “Amitabha-invocation Should Not Be Mixed With Other Buddha-invocations,” this way of attaining rebirth is considered to be “accommodative.” It means Amitabha Buddha will accommodate and receive them to his Pure Land though the karma of rebirth is not direct.
2. Practices for worldly merit and virtues with impure mind, according to the explication of the Sincere Mind
Aspirants or practitioners cannot dedicate the merit and virtues of impure practice to attain rebirth in the Pure Land, because ordinary beings are full of greed, hatred, and delusion, and their virtuous practices do not resonate with the Land of Bliss, an unconditioned realm of nirvana. This interpretation is straightforward and easy to understand.
If practitioners seek rebirth through practices of “self-power,” rather than the practice of Amitabha-recitation, “other-power,” it means they have no faith in Amitabha’s deliverance. Thus their faith is not genuine, as discussed in my previous article “Amitabha-invocation Should Not Be Mixed With Other Buddha-invocations.” The validity of this statement can also be verified by the Amitabha Sutra, which says, “One cannot attain rebirth with few virtuous roots and little merits as causal conditions.”** This refers to the impure karmic practices in themundane world.
3. Meditative and non-meditative virtues with the aspiration to be reborn in the Land of Bliss
In the Chapter of the Profound Meaning, Master Shandao said that it is possible if aspirants dedicate the two virtues, meditative and non-meditative, and aspire to be, they will be reborn in the Pure Land.
Master Shandao also says in the explication of the Nine Levels of Aspirants*** that rebirth is possible if practitioners dedicate their merit and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. In other words, despite any other practices they do, as long as they dedicate their merit and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, they can be. It should be noted that their rebirth is attained, not because of achievements in their practices, but because of their aspiration to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.
This is explained more clearly when Master Shandao concludes his teaching on the Three States of Mind. He says, “As one has the Three States of Mind,**** [rebirth] cannot be achieved without practicing [Amitabha-recitation]. If one has aspiration, signified by one’s Three States of Mind, and the practice, but cannot be reborn, it does not make sense at all.”*****
He also makes a conclusive statement at the end of his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra: “Though preceding passages spoke of the merits of the meditative and non-meditative virtues [by Shakyamuni Buddha], [Amitabha] Buddha’s underlying wish is that sentient beings recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly.”******
Thus, Master Shandao indicates that, for all those who have taken the Three Meritorious Deeds and the meditative virtues as the primary cause, with the aspiration of rebirth at the Nine Levels as the primary practice, if they change their minds and decide to take Amitabha-recitation as the primary practice, with the Three States of Mind as the primary cause, they will be assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
Master Shandao hoped to encourage all aspirants to change their primary practices from the two virtues, to Amitabha-recitation. Subsequently, Amitabha Buddha will skillfully embrace them, and appear before them at the time of death.
Strictly speaking, those aspirants who undertake mixed or miscellaneous practices are not said to be “entitled” or “qualified” to be reborn. They deserve to be reborn simply because they have the Three States of Mind, which is actually the same as the mind of Amitabha-recitation. Hence rebirth from this kind of mixed or miscellaneous practice results not from the merit of their practices, but from the embrace of Amitabha Buddha through Amitabha-recitation subsequent to their establishment of the Three States of Mind.
For example, if a person cannot accomplish something through his own efforts, then switches to a reliance on the King’s power, he would easily complete the task. Though we watch him finish the job, the result actually came entirely from the power of the King. According to this explication, in terms of appearances, both miscellaneous practice and Amitabha-recitation can lead to rebirth. Nevertheless, when we consider substance, only recitation results in rebirth.
A comment of Master Honen, based on Master Shandao’s teachings, exhorted us to recite the Buddha-Name (Amitabha), and to give up the mixed practices that cannot assure us of attaining rebirth in the Pure Land.
To conclude, the miscellaneous practices may not hinder rebirth in the Pure Land, but rebirth of the practitioners is not assured. Therefore, we must choose the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation and hold fast to his Name, so that rebirth in the Pure Land is assured, according to Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.
** Translation by the author
*** Nine Levels of Aspirants refers to the ranks of those who aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss: the highest, medium, and lowest in the upper tier, the highest, medium, and the lowest in the middle tier, and highest, medium, and the lowest in the lower tier.
**** Sincere Mind, Deep Mind (Faith), and the Dedication-Aspiration Mind
***** Translation by the author
****** Translation by the author