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How is Dedication Related to Rebirth in the Land of Bliss?
No dedication required for rebirth in the Pure Land through the primary practices
Why is it important to differentiate between the Mind of Merit-dedication and Rebirth-aspiration (Dedication-aspiration Mind) in Pure Land Buddhism, and the mind of merit-dedication in traditional Mahayana Buddhism? It is because such differentiation is vital in ensuring rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
If we correctly understand and generate the Three States of Mind, we will certainly be reborn in the Land of Bliss. According to the Contemplation Sutra: “If sentient beings make a determined aspiration to be born in that land and generate the Three States of Mind, they will be born there at once. What are the three states? They are: first, the Sincere Mind; second, the Deep Mind; and third, the Dedication-aspiration Mind. Those who have these three kinds of mind will certainly be born there.”
Master Shandao says that such practitioners take the Three States of Mind as the primary cause of rebirth in the Pure Land and Amitabha-invocation (which includes the Five Primary Practices) as their main practice. Thus, the success rate of rebirth in the Pure Land is 100 per cent, their rebirth being assured by Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.
Regarding the Five Primary Practices, in addition to the primary practice of Amitabha-recitation, Master Shandao identifies four other primary practices that focus exclusively on Amitabha Buddha and the Land of Bliss. These are: reciting the Pure Land sutras, contemplating Amitabha and the Land of Bliss, making prostrations to Amitabha, and verbally praising and making offerings to Amitabha. If one performs these Five Primary Practices, one’s heart is always united with Amitabha and one’s mindfulness of him and the Land of Bliss is unceasing; hence, such practices are said to be “uninterrupted.”
In the explication of the Five Primary Practices, Master Shandao says: “To recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly and without variation, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, whether for long or short periods—that is the karma of assurance. It is so because it accords with Amitabha Buddha’s vow.” The other four primary practices are the “supportive” karma of assured rebirth.
Dedication required for rebirth through miscellaneous practices
Master Shandao also points out that all forms of practice other than the Five Primary Practices are called “miscellaneous practices.” If one who wishes to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land performs the miscellaneous practice of invocation of other Buddhas apart from Amitabha, one’s mind is constantly interrupted. Even though one may dedicate the merit of this or other miscellaneous practices to attaining rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land, they are all “disassociated” and mixed practices.
By adopting any of the primary practices in order to attain rebirth in the Pure Land, we need not dedicate our merit to that end. However, if we recite Buddhist sutras other than the three Pure Land sutras and contemplate other pure lands besides the Land of Bliss, and if we prostrate to other Buddhas, recite another Buddha’s name, or praise and make offering to other Buddhas, we will have to dedicate the merit attained through such miscellaneous practices if want to be reborn in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss.
The invocation of other Buddhas is a practice based on “other-power.” Nonetheless, in terms of attaining rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, one must dedicate the accumulated merit from this Buddha-invocation to that end. Thus, the need for dedication is actually one of the five drawbacks of practicing Buddha-invocation instead of exclusive Amitabha-invocation, as pointed out by Master Shandao. The other drawbacks are: rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land is not definitely assured; the path to such rebirth is indirect; one’s mindfulness is interrupted; and the causes of rebirth are disassociated.
Low chance of rebirth through the dedication of “self-powered” practices
Pure Land practitioners who follow Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings to practice meditative and non-meditative virtues must dedicate all the merit and virtue attained through these “self-powered” practices when they aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. What is their chance of rebirth in the Land of Bliss as compared with those doing the miscellaneous practice of Buddha-invocation? It is even lower.
In the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao says: “Moreover, amongst the Three Meritorious Deeds, a person who practices only the mundane virtues can be reborn [in the Pure Land] if he dedicates [his practice accordingly]; a person who practices only the virtues of the disciplinary precepts can be reborn [in the Pure Land] if he dedicates; and a person who practices only the virtues of the bodhisattva practices can be reborn [in the Pure Land] if he dedicates. Or, a person who practices the first two virtues can be reborn [in the Pure Land] if he dedicates; a person who practices only the first and the last virtues can be reborn [in the Pure Land] if he dedicates; and a person who practices all three virtues can be reborn [in the Pure Land] if he dedicates [accordingly].”
Reading this paragraph, we get the impression that Amitabha Buddha does not care which virtues we practice. As long as the practitioner dedicates their merit, there is the possibility for them to be reborn in the Land of Bliss (although they are not assured of rebirth there with 100 per cent certainty). However, in The Praise of the Rites of Rebirth, Master Shandao explicitly points out that the chance of rebirth in the Pure Land through miscellaneous practices is only 0.1 to 0.4 per cent. Such practitioners are not likely to be reborn there even if they dedicate their merit to that end.
No chance of rebirth through the dedication of worldly wholesome deeds
In the explication of the Sincere Mind in the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao says: “Even if we settle ourselves and commence our practice, earnestly and diligently endeavoring with body and mind, striving without a moment’s rest as if our very heads had caught fire, it is still called ‘virtue mixed with poison.’ If we wish to dedicate such practice mixed with poison and aspire to [be reborn in] the Pure Land of the Buddha, it is certainly impossible.”
In other words, if we practice the worldly virtues, which are mixed with the Three Poisons, and dedicate the resulting merit to rebirth in the Pure Land, it is certainly impossible to be reborn there. The chance of rebirth in the Land of Bliss in this scenario is zero.
One last remark . . . Apart from the probability of rebirth in the Pure Land, there is another big difference between rebirth through exclusive Amitabha-invocation (no dedication required) and rebirth through miscellaneous practices (dedication required). In the former, practitioners of all aptitudes will be directly born in the reward realm (birth by manifestation), while in the latter, practitioners will be reborn in closed lotus buds and remain there for an indefinite period before the buds “blossom” (birth by womb).