Who can really practice with a genuine mind?
At the end of Master Shandao’s passage on interpreting the Sincere Mind, he states: For [disavowing] the threefold karma of non-virtuous practices, one must abandon and renounce with a genuine mind. Moreover, for commencing the threefold karma of virtuous practices, one must proceed and persevere with a genuine mind. No matter whether one’s thoughts, speech and actions are within or without, open or hidden, one must be genuine; thus, it is called the Sincere Mind.
In his exegesis, Master Shandao mentions the idea of performing with the Sincere Mind 12 different times. There are at least three implications in this phrase:
1. To sincerely perform a practice, one’s mindset and practice must match one another.
2. His practice must be performed consistently in every single instant, such that it becomes natural, instinctual.
3. In this way, all merits and virtues generated by one’s practice are true and real (genuine) in both self-benefiting and benefiting others; thus, they can lead sentient beings to ultimate purity, particularly rebirth in a Buddha’s Pure Land, like Amitabha’s Land of Bliss.
For the first two criteria, only a bodhisattva of the 48th stage or the 8th (according to the schema of 52 stages or that of the 10 stages respectively), or a bodhisattva of the unmoved stage (which is called avinivartaniya in the Amitabha Sutra), can practice in such a way. Yet only a fully enlightened Buddha can fulfill all three criteria! A Buddhist practitioner must clearly understand this point, otherwise they are unlikely to enter the gate of pristine Pure Land Buddhism.
All real merits and virtues are incorporated into Amitabha’s Name
In Pure Land Buddhism, the sole purpose is to attain rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land, not other Buddha-fields (buddhaksetra). Master Shandao explains how Dharmakara Bodhisattva (a bodhisattva of the 48th stage, and the final rebirth of Amitabha) genuinely benefited himself through becoming the Buddha Amitabha. Yet this self-benefiting was tied to whether Dharmakara could benefit others by having them attain rebirth in his Pure Land. If they could not be benefited by rebirth in his Pure Land, Dharmakara would not choose to become a Buddha.
We can see this in the wording of his Fundamental Vow (the 18th Vow, which reflects Amitabha’s genuineness in self-benefiting (“may I not attain perfect Enlightenment”) and his genuineness in benefiting others (“should [beings] not be born there [in my Pure Land]”).
His deliverance through his Name in his Fundamental Vow therefore “replaces” or “substitutes” the genuine mind of renunciation and genuine mind of aspiration, and the real merits and virtues that sentient beings require for rebirth in the Pure Land. All is contained in the Name—“Namo Amitabha,” and undertaken by Amitabha Buddha. Amitabha incorporates into his Name all real merits and virtues resulting from his pure practices with a genuine mind (including renouncing the defiled land and aspiration towards the Pure Land, causal conditions for our rebirth).
This means that wicked sentient beings will continue to be frustrated if they try to awaken, by themselves, the mind of renunciation from the Three Realms and the mind of aspiration for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. This is because our minds are not unmoving and unchanging; our thoughts, emotions, and willpower constantly fluctuate with external conditions. Any self-generated minds of renunciation and aspiration on our part are not true, not real, and not genuine.
By reciting Amitabha’s Name in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, we pass on this matter of rebirth to Amitabha Buddha himself. Instead of renouncing rebirth in the Six Realms and aspiring to being born in the Land of Bliss through our own power (with a non-genuine mind), we totally rely on the deliverance of Amitabha Buddha through his Vows, which were truly established with a genuine mind and never changed under any circumstance. Such deliverance is also the natural function of his Name because of Amitabha’s fulfillment of his Fundamental Vow.
Amitabha’s vow power of deliverance is an unmoved and unchanging augmentative cause
Sentient beings can and should entrust themselves to Amitabha’s deliverance. They can be reborn in the Land of Bliss through recourse to Amitabha’s vow power as an augmentative cause. Amitabha Buddha is already a fully enlightened Buddha. His Fundamental Vow has already been fulfilled.
Amitabha’s mind of deliverance for sentient beings (including that of renunciation and aspiration) is true and real, unmoving and unchanging under any circumstance. Thus, those who aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land ought to exclusively recite Amitabha’s name. It is known as a “true and real practice,” that is “corresponding to the effect with the respective cause.”
In this manner, by exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name with the aspiration for rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, in accordance with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, it is not difficult for Pure Land aspirants to practice with a genuine mind.
To switch one’s mind from self-power cultivation to other-power deliverance
The whole purpose of the teaching on the Sincere Mind is to emphasize its impossibility for deluded sentient beings. It is also to urge Pure Land aspirants to switch their form of practices from self-powered meditative and non-meditative practices in the threefold karma to the other-powered Amitabha-invocation practices in the threefold karma. In this way, one’s practice matches with one’s mindset in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.
In Praise of Rites of Rebirth written by Master Shandao, he summarizes the meaning of the Sincere Mind: First, the Sincere Mind: to prostrate with reverence before that Buddha in bodily karma, to praise and extol that Buddha in verbal karma, and to exclusively invoke and contemplate that Buddha in mental karma. One’s mind must be true, real and genuine whenever commencing practice in the threefold karma. It is called the Sincere Mind.
This means that in our exclusive practice of Amitabha-invocation in the threefold karma, our practice aligns with our aspiration for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. This mindset of faith and aspiration is the very definition of what it means to practice with a sincere or genuine mind.
Such a mind is known the genuine mind because it lines up with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. In order to deliver beings and receive them to his future Pure Land, Dharmakara cultivated the bodhisattva practices of the threefold karma in his causal ground with a genuine mind. His vow is now fulfilled, so he, as Amitabha, is fully capable of delivering all those who invoke him for rebirth in his land.
It should be noted that the Sincere Mind is a “switch” in faith and aspiration. One renounces the “virtues mixed with poison” generated by oneself through the unreal practices of meditative and non-meditative virtues in the threefold karma, and aspires to the “real merits and virtues” bestowed by Amitabha’s merit-dedication. This is generated through the practitioner’s exclusive practice of Amitabha-invocation in the threefold karma.