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Master Shandao’s Exegesis on the Deep Mind—Advantages and Disadvantages of the Two Kinds of Practices


What you do is what you believe

What you do is what you believe. For example, when recovering from illness, if you take the medicine prescribed, it implies you believe in your doctor. Conversely, if you say you believe in your doctor, but do not follow his instructions to take the medicine (or seek a second opinion from another doctor, or mix other medicines and treatments), you actually do not believe in your doctor!

Master Shandao was the first to introduce the concept of primary practices and secondary practices to establish faith in Amitabha’s vows of deliverance through his Name. Primary practices indicate that deep faith in Amitabha Buddha is established through the single-minded and exclusive practice of Amitabha-invocation. For secondary practices, practitioners mix Amitabha-recitation with other virtuous practices. Thus, they technically have no faith in Amitabha’s vow of deliverance through his Name.

When choosing between the primary and secondary practices, or the exclusive and mixed practice, one must identify the advantages and disadvantages. These stem from the substance of the two kinds of practice, not from the capabilities or diligence of practitioners.

Master Shandao writes:

If one performs the former exclusive primary practices, one’s heart is always intimate and close to Amitabha Buddha. One cherishes the memory of Amitabha Buddha unceasingly. Hence, it is known as the “uninterrupted mind.”

Master Shandao continues:

If one performs the latter “mixed practices,” one’s heart is constantly interrupted. Even though one may transfer or dedicate the merit of such practices for attaining birth, these are known as distant, mixed practices.

Here ends the explanation of the Deep Mind.

In the few sentences above, we note there are five advantages and five disadvantages in the primary and mixed practices, respectively: namely, intimacy versus remoteness, proximity versus distance, continuity versus discontinuity, non-dedication of merit versus dedication of merit, and purity versus dilution. These are related to the functional capacities of the Dharma body of Amitabha Buddha, as depicted in the explication of the Ninth Contemplation by Master Shandao.

Five Advantages and Disadvantages in Primary and Mixed Practices for Rebirth

In terms of intimacy versus remoteness (the connection of minds), one who undertakes the primary practices is always mindful of Amitabha Buddha, so such practices are called intimate practices. On the other hand, one who chooses miscellaneous practices is disconnected from Amitabha Buddha; for this reason, they are called remote practices.

Considering proximity versus distance (the body’s physical connection): one who undertakes the primary practices is very near to Amitabha Buddha, which is why they are known as proximate practices. However, one who chooses the miscellaneous practices is far away from Amitabha Buddha, so these are known as distant practices.

When it comes to continuity versus discontinuity, one who performs the primary practices is always entwined with Amitabha Buddha; in fact, the two become one entity. For this reason, the primary practices are called continual practices. Meanwhile, one who chooses the miscellaneous practices has created obstructions and interruptions in their connection with Amitabha Buddha. Thus, these are called discontinuous practices.

For non-dedication of merit versus dedication of merit, if one performs the primary practices for rebirth in response to and in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, no merit-dedication is required as far as rebirth is concerned. But if one performs the miscellaneous practices, which do not constitute a direct cause of rebirth, the resulting merits must be dedicated towards the attainment of the Pure Land. Because of this, these are called practices of merit-dedication.

In the case of purity versus dilution, the one who performs the primary practices for rebirth does so exclusively. Thus, the primary practices are pure, while the miscellaneous practices are diluted. The former leads to direct rebirth in the pristine Land of Bliss; the latter, however, does not. Miscellaneous practices encompass the human and celestial vehicles, as well as the three sacred vehicles,* and cover the pure lands in all directions. They are, therefore, diluted.

All exclusive Amitabha-reciters are reborn in the Pure Land

In his In Praise of the Rite of Rebirth, Master Shandao writes: “Of those who undertake primary practices exclusively, ten out of ten, a hundred out of a hundred, will be reborn in the Pure Land.” This benefit of ascertained rebirth is the advantage of primary practice. Since the substance of the miscellaneous practices does not resonate with Amitabha Buddha, very few such practitioners achieve the Three States of Mind. As a result, not one in a thousand attains rebirth.

That’s not to say that all those who undertake secondary practices will fail to attain the Three States of Mind. A looser assessment would be, “of a hundred, perhaps one or two will be reborn.” But a stricter appraisal is “not one in a thousand can achieve rebirth.”

Generally speaking (and taking into consideration the capacities of ordinary beings), the more self-powered practices are mixed with Amitabha-recitation practice, the lower one’s chances of attaining assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss.

Amitabha is formless and beyond the reach of our senses. Our eyes can’t see, our ears can’t hear, and our hands can’t touch; but we can receive the splendid and inconceivable merits and virtues of his Name and accept his deliverance through his Name by exclusive Amitabha-recitation. Amitabha’s deliverance is unconditional, pro-active, and equal for all sentient beings.

* The three sacred vehicles are the arhat vehicle, the pratkeyabuddha vehicle and the bodhisattva vehicle.

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