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Capturing the Core Essence of the Shandao Lineage’s Pure Land Teachings

Cassiopeia A. From

Abandoning the self and taking refuge in the Buddha

The explication of the Sincere Mind and the two kinds of determinant deep faith (as mentioned in the exposition of the Deep Mind in Master Shandao’s Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra) is aiming at a single concept. For rebirth in the Land of Bliss, an aspirant should abandon all self-powered practices (meditative and non-meditative) and should take refuge in other-power; that is, in deliverance by Amitabha Buddha.

In my previous seven articles on the Sincere Mind and the Deep Mind, the explications listed seem complicated and perhaps do not seem to be directly related to rebirth in the Land of Bliss. However, Master Shandao reminds us to clearly know and deeply believe that the Pure Land teaching of deliverance was initiated by the compassionate Bodhisattva Dharmakara (the former incarnation of Amitabha Buddha), who made 48 great vows to deliver all sentient beings. Dharmakara vowed that all beings can leave the world of birth and death and be reborn in his Pure Land by invoking his name. Otherwise, he would not attain perfect enlightenment and become a Buddha.

In other words, Bodhisattva Dharmakara’s attainment of Buddhahood depended on whether he could truly deliver name-reciters to his Pure Land. Thus, Bodhisattva Dharmakara tied his achievement of Buddhahood (his life) with each individual’s rebirth in his Pure Land (their life). This resulted in two lives tied together in one entity. If he could not receive and deliver name-reciters to his pure land, he would not become a Buddha. It was a very deep, serious and unrivaled vow that no Buddha had ever made.

The Infinite Life Sutra testifies that Bodhisattva Dharmakara has indeed become Amitabha Buddha. For his part, he has accomplished his vows of deliverance, particularly the 18th Vow. Now it is our turn. On the part of sentient beings, aspirants who wish to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land should simply follow and exclusively practice what Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow states: that name-invocation (reciting “Namo Amitabha Buddha” with the threefold karma) assures them of rebirth in the Land of Bliss through recourse to Amitabha’s vow power.

It is important to know that the Name indicates the real and permanent existence of Amitabha Buddha, so it represents Amitabha himself in the form of infinite and unimpeded light illuminating and embracing Amitabha-reciters in the Ten Directions. Name-recitation is the way that we connect with Amitabha Buddha and “summon” his splendid and real merits and virtues in the form of light.

The great Name incorporates the abundant roots of virtues and real merits that can transform ordinary beings into sagely beings. It also provides the only and sufficient conditions for an Amitabha-reciter, even a novice reciter at the very end of his life, to be reborn in the resplendent Land of Bliss, a realm of unconditioned nirvana.

By practicing in his causal ground the mind of renunciation and the mind of aspiration (the Genuine Mind), Amitabha Buddha has achieved the ability to liberate sentient beings from the world of samsara and receive them into the Land of Bliss. These functions are incorporated into his glorious six-character Name; they are the natural outcome of Dharmakara’s attainment of Buddhahood and our recitation of Amitabha’s name. They are the result of the union of his life and our lives—the “one entity” mentioned earlier.

Abiding by the Fundamental Vow accomplished by Amitabha Buddha, Pure Land aspirants who exclusively recite Amitabha’s name for the rest of their lives are assured of rebirth in the Land of Bliss. It is because their practice of name-recitation perfectly matches with the meaning of the Name: rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Like the Law of Cause and Effect, it is natural and certain.

Our recitation of Amitabha’s name is equal to our union with Amitabha Buddha. In addition, because the name of Amitabha Buddha is also a form of light, when we recite his Name, his light embraces us. It is therefore said: “the aptitude (of sentient beings) is one with the teaching (of Amitabha).”

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One-page summary of the Pure Land teachings of the Shandao lineage

I was asked to write a brief summary of the teachings of Pure Land Buddhism in the Shandao lineage. My dear Dharma friend Householder Jingxing in Norway volunteered to write it for me. This one-page summary starts with the two kinds of determinant deep faith, the core teaching of Pure Land Buddhism. I have the great pleasure of sharing this summary with all of those who have a great karmic connection to Amitabha Buddha in this lifetime. It runs as follows:

Firmly believing that we are ordinary, iniquitous beings who have committed the ten evil deeds and five damning acts, we abandon all forms of practice based upon the accumulation of merits, the perfection of virtues, or the mastery of wisdom, for extricating ourselves from the painful cycle of birth and death is utterly beyond our capacities. This is the first kind of deep faith.

Understanding that Amitabha Buddha made his 48 Vows especially for such flawed beings, we turn our lives over to the merciful compassion of the Buddha’s 18th Vow—the Fundamental Vow—which clearly states that all who recite his name in aspiration for the Land of Bliss will indeed, without fail, be reborn in that land. This is the second kind of deep faith.

With these two types of faith as our basis—the abandonment of self-power and the embrace of other-power—we resolve to exclusively recite Namo Amitabha Buddha for the remainder of our lives without concern for such miscellaneous matters as the profundity of our concentration, the purity of our hearts, or the perfection of our faith. Indeed, there is no faith to be sought apart from exclusive recitation of Namo Amitabha Buddha.

Practicing in this way, we maintain our aspiration to the Land of Bliss until the karma binding us to this life is expired and we receive Amitabha’s welcome. Thus reborn on a basis of equality in the Pure Land, we joyfully anticipate our speedy attainment of Buddhahood, our return to the Saha and other worlds for the benefit of others, and the deliverance of all sentient beings.
Namo Amitabha Buddha!

Thanks to Householder Jingxing, and homage to Namo Amitabha!

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part One
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Two
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Three
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Four
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Five
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part One: Determinant Deep Faith Concerning Aptitude
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Two: Determinant Deep Faith in the Buddha’s Teachings

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