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Establishing Deep Faith in Amitabha’s Deliverance in the Context of a Person (the Buddha)
The sixth kind of deep faith
To establish deep faith in Amitabha’s deliverance in the context of “a person (a Buddha),” Master Shandao indicates that, in addition to the fifth kind of deep faith, a Pure Land aspirant should have deep faith in the truths spoken by the Buddha. He states as follows:
Moreover, if all [Pure Land] practitioners can deeply believe and practice in compliance with this sutra [the Contemplation Sutra], they must not be afraid. Why? The Buddha is the one who fulfills wishes with great compassion, and his words are the truth.
Apart from the Buddha, all other beings are incomplete in wisdom and practice. In the course of cultivation, they have not cleared the twofold obstruction of views and afflictions; thus, their fruition and vow-power is not “round” [perfect and complete]. For all these ordinary and sagely beings, though they ponder on the teachings of various Buddhas, their understanding is not final and ultimate. Though it seems to be logical and sensible, they must nevertheless invite the Buddha to verify and confirm their understanding.
If their understanding matches with the Buddha’s intention, it will be endorsed and sealed by his words, “Thus it is; thus it is!” And if it does not, the Buddha will say, “What you have stated is not the meaning as such!” If there is no endorsement and seal from the Buddha, it means there is no point for discussion; if there is no answer from the Buddha, then there are no benefits or advantages. If their understanding is endorsed and sealed, it is in accord with the Buddha’s teaching.
Since the Buddha’s words are right teaching, right meaning, right practice, right interpretation, right karma, and right wisdom, we should not question nor seek advice from bodhisattvas or human and celestial beings as to what is right and what is wrong.
If the Buddha speaks it, it is the ultimate teaching; all words spoken by bodhisattvas and others are called “non-ultimate teachings.” One should know this.
The Buddha is the most trustworthy being, perfect and complete in wisdom and compassion.
Master Shandao has exhorted us so because Shakyamuni Buddha was a historical man who fulfilled all his vows through practice and cultivation. He gained the title of “Buddha,” the enlightened one, by achieving the highest wisdom, greatest compassion, and most penetrating morality, so his words and teachings are regarded as the highest truth.
Master Shandao says: “Apart from the Buddha, all other beings are incomplete in wisdom and practice.” He also writes: “If it is spoken by the Buddha, it is the ultimate teaching; all words spoken by Bodhisattvas and others are called ‘non-ultimate teachings.’ One should know this.” In light of these statements, we should seriously consider the following quotation: “Iniquitous ordinary beings will be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land by reciting Amitabha’s name.” These words were spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha, the only fully enlightened being to have arisen in our current cycle of human history.
Shakyamuni is not the only Buddha who makes such a claim; the same teaching is also spoken and corroborated by all Buddhas in the six directions in the Amitabha Sutra. Because it is taught by the Buddhas, it is the highest truth. It cannot be impaired by anything mortal creatures say. The words of the Buddhas can implant an unwavering faith in open minds.
Nowadays, when an ordinary being pursues truth, enlightenment, or spiritual blessings, they attach themselves to a person—an influential priest, a sophisticated scholar, a soothsayer, a noble monastic, a yogi with paranormal powers, or a sagely master. Some of them are so-called sagely beings, but most are just ordinary beings like ourselves.
In the course of their cultivation, they have not cleared the twofold obstruction of views and afflictions, and have not liberated themselves from the cycle of birth and death within the Six Realms. Furthermore, they have not achieved the stages leading to arhat-ship, or towards bodhisattvahood. They are still in the causal ground (where one practices to fulfill their vows); thus, their power is far from perfect and complete.
Sometimes, they ponder on the meaning contained in the teachings of various Buddhas, and even offer “authoritative” interpretations, but their understanding is not final and ultimate. Though their teachings might be logical and sensible, their interpretations are not trustworthy unless verified and confirmed by a Buddha. So says Master Shandao.
How does an aspirant ask the Buddha for endorsement and verification?
Master Shandao set an example for us. Before disclosing the essential meaning of the Contemplation Sutra, which was destined to be definitive for all time, he called upon all Buddhas of the past, present, and future, and on Shakyamuni Buddha and Amitabha Buddha. He prayed, “Let me visualize all the forms of the Land of Bliss in a dream.”
After he made this request before the Buddha statue, he chanted the Amitabha Sutra three times and recited Amitabha’s name 30,000 times to show his sincerity. That night, he dreamed of all the forms in the Land of Bliss, just as they were manifested in the western sky in the Infinite Life Sutra. With this, he began work on the commentary, and later received other miraculous visions in confirmation of his interpretation of the Buddha’s words.
This is the reason why, at the end of the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao stated: “This commentary is already certified; thus, it must not be altered by a sentence, or even a single word. Future generations should take it as a sutra. One should know this.
Strictly following what the Buddha says in the three Pure Land sutras
Sticking to our primary texts is of particular importance in Pure Land Buddhism, because the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance of sentient beings is extremely profound. We iniquitous, ordinary beings cannot fathom how Amitabha Buddha delivers each individual in the Ten Directions. After all, we have committed myriad karmic offenses over countless eons.
Though we cannot understand completely, it is enough to just believe in the inconceivable power of Amitabha Buddha in the form of the Dharmakaya. Though we are incapable of comprehending fully, it is enough to just believe in the compassion of Amitabha Buddha, who unconditionally and equally delivers all sentient beings.
Master Shandao reminds us to avoid confusion: As the Buddha’s words are right teaching, right meaning, right practice, right interpretation, right karma, and right wisdom, we should not question nor seek advice from bodhisattvas or human and celestial beings as to what is right and what is wrong.
Strictly follow what the Buddha says in the three Pure Land sutras, and all will be accomplished!
Related features from Buddhistdoor Global
Master Shandao’s Exegesis on the Deep Mind, Part One: Determinant Deep Faith Concerning Aptitude
Master Shandao’s Exegesis on the Deep Mind, Part Two: Determinant Deep Faith in the Buddha’s Teachings
The Determinant Faith of the Three Pure Land Sutras
Master Shandao’s Exegesis on the Deep Mind, Part Four: The Fifth Kind of Determinant Faith