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Sincerity in Faith and Earnest Aspiration in the Pure Land Teaching


Faith in the context of the Pure Land teachings

Faith is the essence of all religions. Faith is also important to Buddhism. The Flower Adornment Sutra says that faith is the source of merit and virtues of the Way, which nourish all roots of other virtues.

As Nagarjuna Bodhisattva said, faith is an expedient means to step through the Pure Land Dharma gate. Of course, faith, aspiration, and practice are the essential credentials for rebirth in the Pure Land, and this formulation is based on Amitabha’s 18th Vow.

It is important to understand how faith is different from belief. Belief is like a best guess, which is based on one’s logical deduction, knowledge, and experience. Faith can also be supported by belief, but it is fundamentally an intuitive relationship to metaphysical realities like life-after-death, or non-physical entities or states of being. It is truly an inconceivable and transformational state of the mind and heart.

Shakyamuni Buddha was a historical person in our world, and we know that he existed based on documentary evidence. However, Shakyamuni Buddha also tells us that there exists the Land of Bliss, far in the West where Amitabha Buddha dwells. As far as the Pure Land teaching is concerned, belief in the existence of Amitabha Buddha and his Land of Bliss is insufficient. One must have faith in the meaning of the name “Amitabha,” which involves understanding the kind of buddha that is Amitabha.

Amitabha became a buddha for the sake of sentient beings. He wanted them to become buddhas through rebirth in his domain, the Land of Bliss. As said in his 18th Vow:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”

In other words, the reason why Amitabha Buddha became a buddha is for our rebirth in his Pure Land through recitation of his name. Therefore, in Pure Land Buddhism, faith means specifically understanding that we are assured of rebirth in the Land of Bliss through Amitabha-recitation, with recourse to Amitabha’s vow power.

If a person doesn’t understand the above upon hearing Amitabha Buddha’s name, he is not regarded as truly “hearing,” and he cannot yet attain the benefit of becoming a buddha-like being in the Land of Bliss through rebirth.

Aspiration in the context of the Pure Land teachings

Aspiration is a bit different from wishing. For instance, I wish to be a doctor, but I am not certain whether I can do it. With respect to the Pure Land teachings, aspiration means the acceptance of an offer.

In Amitabha’s three vows of deliverance—the 18th, 19th and 20th Vows—all aspirants of different aptitudes must “wish” to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. However, only those who abide by the 18th Vow will attain assured rebirth with recourse to Amitabha’s vow.

This is because Amitabha Buddha makes an offer to all those aspirants “who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me.” If they accept the offer by “calling my Name, even 10 times,” Amitabha Buddha promises that “should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” As Amitabha is already a buddha now dwelling in the Land of Bliss, aspirants are assured that their rebirth is guaranteed, according to his vow.

Amitabha’s offer is pro-active and replete with his merit and virtues for rebirth, unlike the “wish” of aspirants who follow the 19th and 20th Vows. Moreover, Amitabha’s offer is open to all sentient beings. It is equal and unconditional; thus, aspirants receive the whole package of benefits, including rebirth.

Sincerity in faith and earnest aspiration in the context of practice

Some aspirants may doubt whether their sincerity in faith and earnest aspiration is enough for rebirth according to the 18th Vow. But if we are already reciting Amitabha’s name, this is not an issue! “Sincere” means “genuine.” If we sincerely accept Amitabha’s offer of assured rebirth by reciting his name—Namo Amituofo—the offer is always valid so long as we recite until the end of our life.

Even if you have no intention to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, or your faith and aspiration are not genuine or sincere, you can still realize rebirth through persistent recitation. Amitabha can bestow faith and aspiration upon even the most recalcitrant sentient being if they only consistently recite his name. It is easy and straightforward to recite Namo Amituofo in your daily life, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down.

Having said that, as the minds of ordinary beings are always distracted and confused by others, it would be better for them to develop faith and aspiration while learning more about the pristine Pure Land teaching, particularly in the lineage of Master Shandao, the de facto founder of Pure Land school. In this way, they can more easily recite Amitabha’s name with peace of mind in their present life.

It is important to note that we should recite Amitabha’s name in parallel with hearing the Pure Land teaching. We do not need to study, believe, or understand the Pure Land teachings before we begin to recite Amitabha’s name. Faith in Amitabha’s deliverance is established in the context of practice, not from our understanding.

Although a specific number of recitations is not a requirement for rebirth, it is highly recommended that genuine Pure Land practitioners, particularly beginners, set a schedule to develop the habit of reciting Namo Amituofo in their daily live, such as upon waking up and before sleeping, before and after meals, and so on.

We will discuss the practice of Amitabha-recitation in the next article.

Related features from BDG

Follow What Shakyamuni Buddha Says in the Pure Land Sutras for Rebirth
Can Those Who Commit the Five Gravest Transgressions and Slander the Right Dharma be Reborn in the Pure Land?
The Meaning of “Even 10 Times” in Amitabha’s 18th Vow

More from Teachings of Amitabha by Alan Kwan

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Chatura Tenuware
Chatura Tenuware
1 year ago


Chatura Tenuware
Chatura Tenuware
1 year ago

I joined this page a few months ago. I am very happy to see your articles. But why can’t you see the first posts you wrote on this page? Why can’t see articles written before 24.12.2013 in the section reserved for you? They are also worth reading if possible. Amituofo! 🙏