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Can Rebirth in the Pure Land Be Attained by Reciting the Names of Buddhas Other than Amitabha? (Part One)
Concerning Bhaisajyaguru-reciters who aspire to be reborn in the Pure Land
Shakyamuni Buddha introduced many buddhas and their pure lands in various sutras and encouraged us to aspire to be reborn in these purified realms. However, it is interesting to note that, of all the buddha-lands in the Ten Directions, it is in Amitabha Buddha’s Land of Bliss alone in which Shakyamuni Buddha wholeheartedly urged us to aspire to be reborn. Moreover, it is only for rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land that Shakyamuni Buddha gave detailed methods of practice—including the direct method of assured rebirth in this present lifetime.
Nevertheless, many Buddhists think that they can be reborn in the Buddha-land of the Medicine Master Buddha (Bhaisajyaguru), known as the Land of Vaidurya Light, by reciting the name of the Medicine Master Buddha. However, if we carefully read the relevant text in the Sutra of the Merit and Virtue of the Past Vows of Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata, we find that such is not the case.
Let’s read the original text of the sutra, translated by the Buddhist Text Translation Society:
Moreover, Manjushri, there may be those among the fourfold assembly of Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas and Upasikas, as well as other good men and women of pure faith, who accept and uphold the eight precepts either for one year or for three months, practicing and studying them.
With these good roots, they may vow to be born in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss where the Buddha of Limitless Life [i.e. Amitayus/Amitabha] dwells, to hear the Proper Dharma, but their resolve may not be firm.* [Upon hearing the Proper Dharma, they are not assured of attaining rebirth.]
However, if they hear the name of the World Honored One, Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata, then as the end of their lives draws near, before them will appear eight great Bodhisattvas, whose names are: Manjushri Bodhisattva, The Bodhisattva Who Observes the Sounds of the World, Great Strength Bodhisattva, Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva, Jeweled Udumbara Flower Bodhisattva, Medicine King Bodhisattva, Medicine Superior Bodhisattva, and Maitreya Bodhisattva.
Those eight great Bodhisattvas will appear in space to show them the way, and they will naturally be reborn by transformation in that land, amid precious flowers of a myriad colors.
Comparing Bhaiṣajyaguru-recitation practice with Amitabha-recitation practice
The first paragraph notes that those who aspire to the Pure Land are the fourfold assembly of the sangha, as well as good men and women of pure faith who accept and uphold the Eight Precepts. Thus, this sutra and its teachings are addressed to devoted Buddhists who aspire to rebirth in Amitabha’s Land, and who have knowledge of the Dharma and rigorous enough moral discipline to formally accept the precepts from a teacher or lineage holder.
When compared with the Contemplation Sutra, we see that this kind of aspirant is equivalent to those at the middle level of the middle tier in the Fifteenth Contemplation. It should also be noted that, in the Contemplation Sutra, it is only the highest of the nine levels of aspirants who possess the “transcendental root of virtue in Buddhist Dharma” attained through their “self-powered” practices of the Three Meritorious Deeds, including holding the precepts.
By comparing exclusive Bhaisajyaguru-recitation practice with exclusive Amitabha-recitation practice, we find that practitioners of the latter are simply those “sentient beings of the Ten Directions” who entrust themselves to Amitabha’s deliverance through the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation, in accordance with Amitabha’s 18th Vow.
In other words, sentient beings that entrust to Amitabha’s deliverance can be non-Buddhists with only worldly or mundane roots of virtue (like those aspirants of the lowest level in the middle tier), and those in the low tiers who haven’t any transcendental or mundane roots of virtue, as explained by Master Shandao in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra.
So as far as conditions for rebirth are concerned, Amitabha-recitation practice imposes only the most minimal “conditions” (i.e. aspiration for rebirth, and exclusive practice), while Bhaisajyaguru-recitation practice is confined to those who have attained the Buddhist roots of virtue.
Why do Bhaisajyaguru-reciters vow to be reborn Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land?
In the second paragraph, it is interesting to note that the practitioner makes a vow to attain rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, rather than Bhaisajyaguru’s Land of Vaidurya Light, although he recites the name of Bhaisajyaguru Buddha for rebirth in his buddha-land. Why?
First of all, referring to the 12 great vows made by Bhaisajyaguru Buddha and introduced by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Sutra of the Merit and Virtue of the Past Vows of Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata, none is related to “rebirth through Buddha-mindfulness or name-recitation.” So, how can a Pure Land practitioner recite Bhaisajyaguru Buddha’s name to attain direct rebirth in his buddha-land with recourse to Bhaisajyaguru Buddha’s vow power? The answer is that one cannot as such would violate the law of cause and effect.
However, Amitabha Buddha’s 18th Vow does not. This vow of “rebirth through Buddha-mindfulness or name-recitation” is unique among all buddhas in the Ten Directions, as spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha. That is the reason why all Buddhas in the Six Directions unequivocally urge Pure Land practitioners to believe and aspire to rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss over all other buddha-lands.
Moreover, as a Buddhist with pure faith, a Pure-Land aspirant must follow Shakyamuni Buddha’s earnest advice and aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land, even though he recites Bhaiṣajyaguru’s name as his general practice, rather than reciting Amitabha’s name as per Amitabha’s 18th Vow.
* The original text is “to hear the Proper Dharma, but their resolve may not be firm.” In order to reflect the correct meaning of the text in Chinese, I’d like to translate it in different words as follows: Upon hearing the Proper Dharma, they are not assured of attaining rebirth. We will continue in the next article.
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