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Master Shandao’s Exegesis on the Deep Mind, Part Four: The Fifth Kind of Determinant Faith
Deep faith based on Amitabha’s vow (the real), not the delusive mind (the unreal)
Out of the seven kinds of determinant faith, we have so far discussed four: determinant deep faith in aptitude, determinant deep faith in teaching (also known as faith in the Infinite Life Sutra), faith in the Contemplation Sutra, and faith in the Amitabha Sutra.
It is important for all Pure Land aspirants to establish “determinant deep faith,” as stated by Master Shandao. The Contemplation Sutra teaches that if practitioners have firm faith in Amitabha’s deliverance and aspire to rebirth by exclusively reciting his name for the remainder of their lives, they are assured of being received by Amitabha Buddha at the moment of death.
Two other kinds of deep faith—one in aptitude and the other in teaching—are like two sides of the same coin. This is known as “aptitude and teaching in one entity,” or, “Buddha and ordinary beings in one entity.” It is because of the arising of these two kinds of deep faith that we are embraced without being forsaken, and dwell in the state of non-retrogression.
Under such conditions, we are no longer long-term dwellers in the Saha world, but are members of the Dharma assembly in the Land of Bliss, as stated by another eminent Pure Land patriarch, Master Yinguang (1861–1940).
Moreover, as this kind of determinant deep faith is based on Amitabha’s deliverance through his Name—which is real and not subject to change under any circumstances—practitioners are shielded (and, if necessary, rescued) from the temptation to seek out other religions or heterodoxies.
Just as a loyal dog will never recognize another master, or a filial son will never betray his father, so we are moved to keep our eyes exclusively fixed upon Amitabha Buddha and the Land of Bliss.
Establishment of deep faith in the context of a “person”
Master Shandao explains the other three kinds of deep faith in the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra. The fifth kind of deep faith is explained as follows:
Furthermore, I would sincerely hope that all [Pure Land] practitioners can believe, in a single-minded manner, the Buddha’s words alone, and firmly resolve to rely on this practice—even at the cost of their bodily lives: to act upon immediately and to cast aside what the Buddha dispatches one to cast aside; to act upon immediately and practice what the Buddha dispatches one to practice; to act upon immediately and leave behind what the Buddha dispatches one to leave behind. This is known as following to the Buddha’s teachings, following to the Buddha’s intention, and known as following to the Buddha’s vow. It is also known as being a true disciple of the Buddha.
It seems to be simple and straightforward. Almost all Buddhists state that they must believe what the Buddha says in the sutras. However, in the case of Amitabha’s deliverance, they almost always have reservations and doubts. They are not single-minded in placing deep faith in the three Pure Land sutras. It seems that most sentient beings lack the wisdom to believe and understand the extraordinary nature of Amitabha’s teachings.
Because they lack the root of faith, ordinary beings easily succumb to doubts generated by their delusive minds, and defend their position with mundane, worldly arguments. They may seek verification from apparently trustworthy monastics and householders, but not the Buddhas of the Ten Directions, all of whom have testified to Amitabha’s deliverance in the Amitabha Sutra.
The Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha’s intent, and the Buddha’s vow
If the Buddha asks us to cast aside all unreal merits and virtues attained through self-powered meditative and non-meditative practices, we act immediately to cast aside these things, no questions asked.
If the Buddha asks us to practice exclusive Amitabha-recitation for the sake of rebirth in the Land of Bliss, we act immediately to follow this practice, without harboring questions.
If the Buddha asks us to leave behind everything in the defiled land and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, we act to do so without lingering worries.
The fifth kind of deep faith is related to the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha’s intent, and the Buddha’s vow, so those who deeply believe it are said to be true disciples of the Buddha.
As a true Pure Land practitioner, we should act in accordance with Amitabha's Fundamental Vow of deliverance, the lifeline of Pure Land Buddhism. How do we do this? Only by exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name do we truly accord with Amitabha’s teaching, true to the intent and vow.
Faith through devotion and faith through interpretation
As stated in my previous article, there are two types of faith: one is faith through devotion and the other is faith through interpretation. In Pure Land Buddhism, the former is favored over the latter. The fifth kind of determinant deep faith is characterized by devotion, even to the point of self-sacrifice or martyrdom. By taking refuge in Amitabha, we are prepared to combine our lives with the infinite life of Amitabha Buddha.
Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow of deliverance, the lifeline and essence of Pure Land of Buddhism, is the profound teaching expounded and extolled by all Buddhas. Ordinary beings like us cannot easily understand it, although Shakyamuni Buddha used all expedient means available to enlighten us. Though the intellect fails, we simply believe and accept the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance.
By exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name, we automatically encounter Amitabha’s wisdom in the form of light. Both his name and his light will harmonize with each other, facilitating our deep acceptance of this teaching.
A mental model of this phenomenon might look like this: From Amitabha’s perspective, there is the Buddha Name and its profound meaning, while on our side there is faith and practice. When the pairs of Name/meaning and faith/practice are in alignment with each other, then ordinary sentient beings are able to accept this difficult-to-believe teaching.
In the next article, we will continue to discuss the sixth kind of deep faith, which is also found under the Commentary’s section “Establishment of deep faith in the context of a person.”