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The Determinant Faith of the Three Pure Land Sutras

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The joy and relief of enlightenment

Embracing the two kinds of determinant faith in aptitude and in the teachings (as taught by Master Shandao in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra) is a serious decision for a Buddhist practitioner. It is, in fact, a spiritual crossroads: to take the path of easy practice (total reliance on the Buddha’s power) or the path of difficult practice (partial or total reliance on self-power). The consequences of this choice are profound, and will directly influence the practitioner’s ability to leave the conditioned world of suffering (birth, sickness, old age, and death) and attain rebirth in the unconditioned realm of nirvana.

It should be a clear-cut decision because it involves joyfully entrusting to Amitabha’s Vow of Deliverance, attaining rebirth in the splendid realm of nirvana, and becoming equal to the Buddha in wisdom and blessings. As the Amitabha Sutra says: “One cannot attain rebirth in that [pure] land with few roots of virtue and limited meritorious blessings.

As discussed in the exegesis of the Sincere Mind, we know that an ordinary being cannot accumulate and dedicate unreal merits and virtues through self-power practice and expect to attain rebirth in the Land of Bliss. In other words, to attain rebirth an ordinary being must rely completely on Amitabha’s real merits and virtues, which are dedicated by the Buddha to all Amitabha-reciters of the Ten Directions.

Upon deciding to take the easy path and placing faith in Amitabha’s power to bring about one’s rebirth in the Land of Bliss, an aspirant will sometimes experience spontaneous emotion. It may feel like a brief flash of enlightened awareness, an upwelling of great joy, or relief from an oppressive level of personal stress. In such moments, one’s doubts about Amitabha’s deliverance (which naturally arise from our self-power, calculating minds) are swept away by the true and real light of Amitabha Buddha.

Brightness dispels darkness. Through “Namo Amitabha,” our darkened minds are illuminated instantly. Doubt becomes faith. The mind of self-power transforms into the mind of other-power. Our calculative and self-centered hearts become just and generous. If ignorance or doubt does not exist in the mind, one will be at ease, secure and contented.

With the invocation of the Buddha in the form of “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” we live under the embrace of Amitabha’s light for the rest of our lives. Though we cannot cut off the Three Poisons and still are attached to the Five Sensual Desires, we need not bother about them; we just keep reciting Amitabha’s name, loving others and living as usual.

Amitabha-reciters receive Amitabha’s splendid light, which contains Amitabha’s merits and virtues and compassionate love; naturally, they will share the same with others. They receive Amitabha’s great forgiveness and thus forgive others, too. They constantly receive Amitabha’s generous help, and so exert themselves to assist those in need.

The third kind of determinant deep faith

Following his explanation of the two kinds of determinant faith in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao writes:

Further, it [determinant faith] is to believe deeply and decisively that Sakyamuni Buddha leads people to aspire toward the Pure Land by teaching, in the Contemplation Sutra, the Three Meritorious Deeds (three types of meritorious conduct), the nine levels of beings, and the two kinds of virtues, meditative and non-meditative. He also accomplishes this by verifying and praising Amitabha’s two kinds of fulfillment—direct reward and circumstantial reward—which arouse our admiration and aspiration.

It should be noted that the second kind of determinant faith is based on the Infinite Life Sutra, while the third kind is based on the Contemplation Sutra.

In the Infinite Life Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha introduces the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance to both sagely and ordinary beings in the Ten Directions. However, in the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha speaks of Amitabha’s deliverance specifically for ordinary beings in our Saha World.

The latter follow Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching of the Three Meritorious Deeds (three types of meritorious conduct), the nine levels of beings, and the two kinds of virtues (meditative and non-meditative), but aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land, like Queen Vaidehi.

Subsequently, Shakyamuni Buddha tells his listeners how to switch their state of mind and action in order to attain rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Master Shandao calls it the Path of Importance:

The Path of Importance is the two teachings of meditative virtue and non-meditative virtue, as expounded in the Contemplation Sutra. Meditative virtue means to still one’s anxiety by ceasing all thought, and non-meditative virtue means to eliminate evil and nurture goodness. This is the path if one dedicates these two virtues and aspires to be reborn [in the Pure Land].

Having said that, Master Shandao points out the theme of this sutra is the same as the other two Pure Land sutras, the Infinite Life Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra. He says in the commentary on the Ninth Contemplation:

The 48 Vows of the Infinite Life Sutra explain only that exclusive recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name leads to rebirth in the Land of Bliss.

The Amitabha Sutra shows that, whether for a day or seven days, recitation of Amitabha’s name results in rebirth. Moreover, all Buddhas of the Ten Directions, as many as the sands in the Ganges, sincerely validate this truth.

Thus, the passages on meditative and non-meditative virtues in this sutra [the Contemplation Sutra] underscore only that exclusive name-recitation leads to rebirth.

The fourth kind of determinant deep faith

The commentary goes on to state: Further, it is to believe deeply and decidedly that various Buddhas of the Ten Directions, as many as sands of Ganges, urge all sentient beings to resolve the issue of rebirth.

The teaching of deliverance by Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow is spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha for all sentient beings within the Six Realms in the Saha World, no matter if they are monastic or householder, Buddhists or non-Buddhists, heavenly or hell beings. Master Shandao calls this teaching the Path of the Great Vow:

All good and evil ordinary beings will not attain rebirth [in the Pure Land] without recourse to the karmic power of Amitabha’s Great Vow as an augmentative cause.

This statement is unanimously verified by all Buddhas in the Ten Directions. As this is the teaching of deliverance through Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, only Buddhas with perfect wisdom and compassion can possibly testify to its veracity.

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part One
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Two
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Three
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Four
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Five
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part One: Determinant Deep Faith Concerning Aptitude
Master Shandao’s Exegesis of the Sincere Mind, Part Two: Determinant Deep Faith in the Buddha’s Teachings
Capturing the Core Essence of the Shandao Lineage’s Pure Land Teachings

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