In the paragraph on the “Accomplishment of Amitabha’s 18th Vow” in the Infinite Life Sutra, it says:
All sentient beings who having heard his Name, rejoice in faith, remember him even once and sincerely transfer the merit of virtuous practice to that land, aspiring to be born there, will immediately attain birth and dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression.
According to this passage, a person should rejoice in faith upon hearing Amitabha’s Name as stated in the 18th Vow, so rejoicing is directly related to our faith in Amitabha’s Name. What is so special about the Name? The answer is that Amitabha’s unsurpassed merit and virtues are contained within his Name, which can be acquired through our practice of name-recitation.
Because of this, we should know the practice of Amitabha-recitation in the Pure Land teaching is different from the practices in other bodhisattva teachings.
Firstly, the practice of Amitabha-recitation is for the sole purpose of rebirth, based on the assurance of Amitabha Buddha in his 18th Vow, also known as the Fundamental Vow.
Secondly, the practice of Amitabha-recitation for rebirth is focused on the Name, where all of Amitabha’s merit and virtues are contained.
Thirdly, the practice of Amitabha-recitation must be sincere, which means exclusive, and characterized by singleness of mind, which means wholehearted. If one has doubt in Amitabha’s deliverance through his Name, one’s practice of Amitabha-recitation will be mixed with other miscellaneous practices.
Fourthly, the practice of Amitabha-recitation is not a “self-powered” cultivation of merit and virtues. Rather, it allows us to receive Amitabha’s merit and virtues, which enable us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. In this way, we are absolutely assured of rebirth and immediately come to dwell in the State of Non-retrogression. Hence, when we recite Amitabha’s Name in accordance with the 18th Vow, we must understand that we are like a drowning person who is suddenly rescued, or a person with a terminal disease who is cured by a skilled physician.
Although we rejoice in faith in Amitabha’s deliverance, we must be humble and respectful in the practice of Amitabha-recitation. We must swallow our pride and realize that everything is accomplished through the Buddha’s initiative. Due to our grave karmic offenses, we should fall into the Three Wretched Realms to suffer for long kalpas in the Land of Saha after death. Moreover, we are not qualified to inhabit Amitabha’s splendid and joyous Buddha-land because we lack the merits and virtues to be reborn there.
However, Amitabha Buddha is so compassionate and generous that he gives us, free of charge, his abundant merits and virtues so that we can clear all our karmic debts in the Land of Saha and attain easy rebirth in his Land of Bliss. This is a matter of the utmost significance! Isn’t it a cause for boundless joy?
Amitabha’s Name enables Name-reciters to attain assured rebirth in the Pure Land
The Infinite Life Sutra says:
Such a person who is humble and respectful hears
And upholds it, and rejoices so greatly as to dance.
Arrogant, corrupt, and indolent people
are difficult to believe and accept this teaching.
The Pure Land teaching is Amitabha’s teaching of deliverance. Amitabha Buddha is the one who delivers and we are the ones to be delivered, so we must be humble and confess that we are utterly helpless in exiting the cycle of birth and death through our own efforts. At the same time, we must be respectful and grateful in accepting Amitabha’s unconditional deliverance through the power of his Name – Namo Amituofo.
Conversely, if a person takes the Pure Land teaching as one of many forms of “self-powered” cultivation, using it to accumulate merit and virtues, they cannot be said to be sincere and single-minded in reciting Amitabha’s Name. How can they rejoice in faith so greatly as to dance?
Strictly speaking, buddha-recitation is a teaching of dedicating a buddha’s merit and virtues through their names. All buddhas have a threefold body in the Dharma realm, so they can transfer their merit and virtues to those name-reciters. Thus, by reciting a buddha’s name, a person receives merit and virtues that can assist, support, protect, and deliver him. However, because buddhas have different vows and practices in the causal ground, the functional powers of their names vary.
Amitabha’s Name has the greatest functional power of all the buddhas’ names. This is because, as stated in Amitabha’s 18th Vow, the Name enables reciters (including hell-beings) to attain assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss, where buddhahood is speedily attained. Of course, all buddhas’ names can clear the karmic offenses of sentient beings, but none of them issue in the same transcendent outcome as the recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s Name. Amitabha’s 18th Vow is unique among the vows of all the buddhas of the ten directions; he is the only buddha who can resolve for me, in this present lifetime, the grave matter of birth and death within the Six Realms.
On rejoicing and joy
Shakyamuni Buddha also affirms this point, telling Maitreya Bodhisattva:
If there are people who hear the Name of that buddha, rejoice so greatly as to dance, and remember him even once, then you should know that they have gained great benefit by receiving the unsurpassed virtue.
“Great benefits” refers to the present attainment of the state of non-retrogression and assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Rejoicing occurs upon first hearing the Name and understanding the profundity of Amitabha’s deliverance. But as we pass the months and years of a life of spent in exclusive recitation, we should not expect to live in a constant state of rejoicing. Just let your emotions be as they are. We should not seek for ecstatic feelings or anticipate joyful experiences as a result of reciting Amitabha’s Name.
As Master Tanluan says in his Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth, one should practice Amitabha-recitation “as such,” or “as it is.” This means to let recitation be plain and simple. From our unenlightened perspective, recitation will seem to be nothing special, like sunbathing or breathing. This is perfectly natural. Just let the Name work by itself.