The significance of the Buddha’s response to Queen Vaidehi’s request
In examining the literal meaning of the title of the Contemplation Sutra, we may have the mistaken impression that the sutra was taught for those who practice meditation/contemplation to achieve rebirth in the Land of Bliss. In the preface of the sutra, Queen Vaidehi says to the Buddha: “. . . I wish to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss of Amitabha Buddha. I beseech you, World-Honored One, to teach me how to contemplate that land and attain samadhi.”
The Buddha promises to teach her, but reminds Queen Vaidehi that she is an ordinary being without the divine eye, and as such, unable to visualize and see distant realms. However, the Buddha says he can enable her to perceive the Land of Bliss through his expedient powers. In the Ninth Contemplation, he reveals that Amitabha Buddha has the same expedient powers to enable all future sentient beings (especially those born after Shakyamuni Buddha entered nirvana) to “see” Amitabha by invoking or reciting his name.
This point is of central importance and bears repeating: through his expedient powers, Amitabha Buddha can enable everyone to “see” him. Amitabha Buddha will appear before and embrace all sentient beings who invoke his name. This happens naturally when we recite—Amitabha Buddha will enter our mind and appear there before us, even if we cannot see him with our physical eyes. (Some practitioners are able to perceive the Buddha with their physical eyes, but such a blessing occurs only through the Buddha’s power and at the Buddha’s discretion. We need not and should not seek to induce such an experience.) Moreover, Amitabha can receive beings of all aptitudes and capacities into the Land of Bliss if they entrust themselves to his deliverance and exclusively recite his name, as promised in his 18th Vow.
Thus, the main theme of the Contemplation Sutra is not rebirth for meditative practitioners who practice self-powered Buddha-contemplation, but rebirth for non-meditative practitioners through Buddha-powered Amitabha-recitation.
The Contemplation Sutra is spoken to ordinary beings, not sages
Master Shandao clearly observed that the Buddha uttered the Contemplation Sutra for ordinary beings, not sages. In a hypothetical Q&A in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, he writes:
Question: . . . How do you know the World-Honored One speaks to ordinary beings and not sages [in the Contemplation Sutra]? Could this be a personal judgment based on your own sentiments? Is there proof from the teachings of the Holy One?
Answer: The defilements of sentient beings are heavy and their wisdom is shallow and limited. The wisdom of the Holy One is great and vast, so how can we guess at his meaning based on our own limited and biased judgments? Now I will extract the Buddha’s words one by one for clarification. Here are 10 paragraphs offered as proof:
First, the Contemplation Sutra says: “The Buddha said to Queen Vaidehi, ‘I shall describe it to you in detail with various illustrations, so that all ordinary people in the future who wish to practice pure karma may also be born in that Western Land of Bliss.’” This is the first proof.
Second, the sutra says: “I, the Tathagata, shall discourse on pure karma for the sake of all sentient beings of the future who are afflicted by the enemy, evil passions.” This is the second proof.
Third, it says: “I, the Tathagata, shall now teach you, Vaidehi, and all sentient beings of the future, how to visualize the Western Land of Bliss.” This is the third proof.
Fourth, it says: “Queen Vaidehi said to the Buddha, ‘World-Honored One, through the Buddha’s power, even I have now been able to see that land. But after the Buddha’s passing, sentient beings will become defiled and evil, and be oppressed by the five kinds of suffering. How then will those beings be able to see the land of that Buddha?’” This is the fourth proof.
Fifth, it is explained in the Contemplation of the Sun, from the sentence “The Buddha said to Queen Vaidehi, ‘You and other sentient beings should concentrate with one-pointed attention,’” to the sentence “‘all sentient beings except those born blind—that is, all those with the faculty of sight—should look at the setting sun.’” This is the fifth proof.
Sixth, it says in the Contemplation of the Ground: “The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘Keep these words of the Buddha in mind, and expound this method of contemplating the ground for the benefit of the multitude of future beings who will seek emancipation from suffering.’” This is the sixth proof.
Seventh, it says in the Contemplation of the Flower Throne: “Queen Vaidehi told the Buddha, ‘Through your power I have been able to see Amitabha and the two Bodhisattvas, but how can sentient beings of the future see them?’” This is the seventh proof.
Eighth, the answer to the preceding request says: “The Buddha told Vaidehi, ‘You and all sentient beings who wish to see that Buddha should think of him.’” This is the eighth proof.
Ninth, it says in the Contemplation of the Image: “The Buddha told Queen Vaidehi, ‘Buddhas, Tathagatas enter into the minds of all sentient beings; for this reason, you should think of the Buddha.’” This is the ninth proof.
Tenth, it says in the section on the nine levels, each of them calls “for various sentient beings.” This is the tenth proof.
The above 10 paragraphs prove that the Tathagata taught these 16 contemplations for sentient beings adrift and sinking in the ocean of suffering—not for Theravada and Mahayana sages. With these words as evidence, how can my argument be deceitful?
Do not neglect this important sutra, which is taught especially for us
Master Shandao offers very strong evidence that the Contemplation Sutra was spoken directly to ordinary beings—especially those born after the Buddha entered nirvana—and not to sagely beings. This is the only sutra that offers sentient beings of all capacities a direct path to liberation through rebirth in Amitabha Buddha’s Land of Bliss. We should all read it thoroughly and listen to the sacred teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha if we wish to achieve ultimate liberation from rebirth in samsara and the realization of Buddhahood.
Karmic Circumstance—Who Is Entitled to be Reborn in the Pure Land? (Buddhistdoor Global)
A Comparison of the Two Ways of Seeing Amitabha Buddha and Attaining Rebirth in His Pure Land (Buddhistdoor Global)
How to See Amitabha Buddha and Attain Rebirth in the Pure Land Through Name-recitation (Buddhistdoor Global)
Two Ways to See Amitabha Buddha (Buddhistdoor Global)
Shakyamuni Buddha’s Responses to the Three Requests of Queen Vaidehi (Buddhistdoor Global)