FEATURES|COLUMNS|Teachings of Amitabha
The Two-stage Assured Rebirth of an Exclusive Amitabha-reciter
“Our exclusive practice” means “Amitabha’s light-embracing without forsaking”
In the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha says, ”The beings who will be born in the highest level of the high tier are those [. . .] who wish to be born in that country and set forth the Threefold State of Mind whereby they are at once destined to be born there. What is the Threefold State of Mind, you may ask? First is the Sincere Mind; second is the Deep Mind; third is the Merit-transference Rebirth-aspiration Mind. Those who acquire the Threefold State of Mind shall be assuredly reborn into that land immediately.”
The statement is important and exciting to all Pure Land aspirants because Shakyamuni Buddha tells us the way to attain assured rebirth of the highest grade immediately: we must set forth the Threefold State of Mind.
However, after reading these articles about the Three States of Mind, some Pure Land practitioners may doubt: “OK, fine. I now clearly understand and accept the concept of the Three States of Mind, and I have decided to exclusively recite Amitabha’s name for the rest of my life. However, why am I still here, and not reborn immediately in the Land of Bliss, as stated in the sutra?”
Master Huijing explains this as follows: As an exclusive Amitabha-reciter, we do not need to have our rebirth verified through various kinds of auspicious signs; nor do we need to uphold Amitabha’s name at the very end of our lives, or receive special assistance from other people in reciting Amitabha’s name at our deathbed, etc. This is so because our status of being a citizen of the Land of Bliss has already been obtained in the present life—at the moment we have faith in assured rebirth through the other-power practice of exclusive Amitabha-recitation. That is the moment of “setting forth the Threefold State of Mind.”
In the Contemplation Sutra, it says, “The light of Amitabha permeates all worlds, always embracing those who recite his name, without forsaking them.” Master Shandao elaborates this statement in his book Dharma School of Contemplation and Recitation as follows: For those who exclusively recite Namo Amitabha Buddha, that Buddha’s light always shines on them, protecting and embracing them without forsaking; it does not shine upon and embrace those who perform miscellaneous and assorted practices.
“Exclusive practice” on the side of practitioner equals “light embracing and not forsaking” on the side of Amitabha Buddha. That is the reason why Amitabha’s deliverance is immediate and our rebirth is assured, as promised and guaranteed by Amitabha Buddha in his Fundamental Vow.
Immediate Assured Rebirth: the first stage
Master Huijing further explains: This can be regarded as “rebirth in first stage,” because we are already one of the sagely multitudes of the Land of Bliss, and our lotus seeds have started to grow and blossom [in preparation for our birthday in the Land of Bliss!] Rebirth after the last breath of our physical body is regarded as “rebirth in the second stage.” In the second stage, the suffering of the physical body is terminated because we have been forever liberated from reincarnation within the Six Realms.
It can be also said that rebirth in the first stage is the cause, while that in the second stage is the effect. The two stages are interrelated and interdependent in terms of cause and effect. This is the realization of the importance of “exclusive Amitabha-recitation in accordance with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.” In this way, iniquitous ordinary beings like ourselves can be assured of rebirth in the reward land, while the great of matter of assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss, and our status of attaining non-retrogression, is accomplished in the present lifetime.
Master Huijing says: So long as we have faith in, and acceptance of, the deliverance by Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow; aspire to be reborn in his Pure Land of Nirvana; and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name of a myriad of virtues, then we naturally possess the merits and virtues sufficient for achieving the unsurpassed Buddhahood. So, our teaching is called “ordinary beings qualified to be bodhisattvas.”
Though we are iniquitous mortals full of greed, hatred, and delusion, subject to false views and miscellaneous thoughts as numerous as motes of dust; and though we are defiled with delusions and evil habitual behaviors, we are no longer ordinary beings subject to the endless cycle of reincarnation, but sages of the Land of Bliss. This is because we are assured of rebirth in the realm of Nirvana.
Master Yinguang’s famous saying about “ordinary beings qualified to be bodhisattvas”
Master Yinguang said, “If we earnestly wish to leave the cycle of birth and death and can believe [in Amitabha’s deliverance] without a single thought of doubt, then we are no longer permanent residents of the Saha World but honorable guests in the Land of Bliss—even though we are still living in the Saha World and have yet to be reborn in the Pure Land.”
According to Master Yinguang, we must earnestly wish to leave the cycle of birth-and-death. We know this is a world of endured sufferings, a world of darkness and ignorance where sentient beings commit karmic offenses and suffer reincarnation within the Six Realms; by its very nature, this is a realm of flaws and defects. So, we must sincerely aspire to leave this Saha World and be reborn in the Land of Bliss. And because of his Fundamental Vow, we need not doubt Amitabha’s compassion, or his ability to deliver us to the Pure Land.
Though our physical body is still alive in the Saha World and our mind is full of afflictions, we are assured of rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Thus, we are no longer ordinary beings trapped in the cycle of birth and death. We are qualified and entitled to be reborn in the Pure Land. Once we have settled on this course—rebirth in the Land of Bliss—we are always embraced and protected by Amitabha’s light and have ended forever the cycle of reincarnation. At we draw our last breath, we are certain of being received by Amitabha Buddha and entering his reward land of Nirvana.
This concept is not difficult to believe and accept if we follow the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance through his Fundamental Vow—the 18th Vow.
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