The story so far
Let us begin by summarizing the previous two parts of this series. Central to all three parts is the text concerning rebirth in the Pure Land through recitation of Bhaishajyaguru’s name, based on the Pure Land teaching in the Shandao tradition. The text begins:
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.
Shakyamuni Buddha speaks this text for those Buddhist practitioners who have already vowed to be reborn in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss through the dedication of their good roots. They are equivalent to those aspirants at the middle level of the middle tier who take the Three Meritorious Deeds as the proper cause, and the nine-level teachings as the proper practices for rebirth, as taught in the Contemplation Sutra. According to Master Shandao, they are practitioners who seek rebirth through the Path of Importance of the Pure Land teachings adopted by Shakyamuni Buddha.
We have already noted that Amitabha’s is the only Buddha-land recommended by Shakyamuni for aspirants who wish to attain rebirth into the presence of a Buddha, even if they recite Bhaishajyaguru’s name for rebirth in the Pure Land.
A “tricky” sentence follows:
However, upon hearing the Proper Dharma for rebirth, they have not made up their minds.
What is the “Proper Dharma?” According to the Pure Land teaching in the Shandao lineage, it refers to Amitabha’s teaching of deliverance based on his 18th Vow (the Fundamental Vow). Through this teaching, the aspirant can instantly attain assured rebirth through recourse to Amitabha’s vow power as the augmentative cause [the Path of Great Vow of the Pure Land teachings adopted by Amitabha Buddha], and the exclusive practice of Amitabha’s Name [the Proper Karma of Assurance], for the remainder of his or her life.
But until the aspirant makes up their mind to embrace the Three States of Mind as the main or proper cause, and Amitabha-recitation as the main practice for rebirth, they do not attain rebirth assured by Amitabha Buddha in this present lifetime.
It is further stated by Master Shandao that all practices other than the Five Primary Practices are regarded as “miscellaneous practices” for rebirth, including the practices of the Three Meritorious Deeds and the recitation of other buddhas’ names, such as Bhaishajyaguru Buddha, assured rebirth can only be attained when their end of their life draws near.
So, as discussed in the last article, the sentence of “upon hearing the Proper Dharma [for rebirth], they have not made up their minds” should be interpreted and translated as “upon hearing the Proper Dharma [for rebirth], they have not attained assured rebirth.
Why do both Bhaishajyaguru Buddha and Amitabha Buddha not appear before the aspirant?
What will happen when the Bhaishajyaguru-reciter is close to death? The sutra says:
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.
People may wonder why Bhaishajyaguru Buddha does not appear before the Bhaishajyaguru-reciter. Referring to the 12 great vows made by Bhaishajyaguru Buddha and introduced by Shakyamuni Buddha in the sutra, none are related to rebirth in a Pure Land. So, there are no grounds for Bhaishajyaguru Buddha to appear and receive the aspirant.
People may also ask: if the practitioner dedicates their merit and aspires to rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, why doesn’t Amitabha Buddha appear, as promised in his 19th Vow? Actually, Amitabha Buddha did make vows related to “receiving near the end of life” (the 19th Vow), however the aspirant does not recite Amitabha’s Name for rebirth; thus, Amitabha Buddha cannot appear and receive the aspirant.
Who dispatches the eight bodhisattvas? From the names of the eight bodhisattvas, we cannot find the names of Sunlight Bodhisattva and the Moonlight Bodhisattva, so we know these eight bodhisattvas are not likely to be dispatched by Bhaishajyaguru Buddha.
Aspiring to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land as recommended by Shakyamuni Buddha, the practitioner changes his practice of merit-dedication from the self-powered Three Meritorious Deeds (upholding precepts), to the other-powered name-recitation of Bhaishajyaguru Buddha. Is there any advantage for the change of practice for rebirth?
What do the eight bodhisattvas do when they appear before the aspirant?
What do the eight Bodhisattvas come to do?The sutra says:
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.
In the text above, Shakyamuni Buddha says that, upon arrival, the aspirants can be instantly reborn into Amitabha’s Pure Land in the lotus flowers of various colors that will blossom immediately.That is to say, they are reborn by transformation like those aspirants of the highest level in the high tieras taught in the Contemplation Sutra—rather than being reborn by “embryo” and staying inside the lotus bud for seven days before it blossoms, like those aspirants of the middle level in the middle tier.
This factor of a higher level or grade of rebirth may be one of the reasons why the aspirant changes his practice for rebirth from the Three Meritorious Deeds to the recitation of Bhaishajyaguru’s name.
However, is this really the best way to attain rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss? Do we remember the “Proper Dharma” that enables the aspirants to attain assured rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss immediately, as mentioned earlier in the text? In the next part, we will discuss “rebirth through the Proper Dharma,” “rebirth through Amitabha’s great vow power,” “rebirth assured in the present lifetime,” or “rebirth on a basis of equality,” according to the Pure Land teaching of Master Shandao.