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Three Deficiencies in Faith Leading to Non-exclusive Practice of Name-recitation
People do not believe in or understand Amitabha’s “True Mark Body” and “Body of Necessity”
As discussed in my previous article, doubts about Amitabha’s teaching of deliverance can be grouped into two aspects, one is doubt about the Buddha’s wisdom, which refers to the unimpeded power of Amitabha’s Name. The other is doubt about the Buddha’s compassion, which refers to his unconditional deliverance of all sentient beings in the ten directions.
Apart from making his 18th Vow, Amitabha Buddha made the 19th and 20th Vows to accommodate those aspirants who doubt the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion respectively, so that all can eventually attain rebirth in the Land of Bliss as long as they dedicate merit and aspire to be reborn on hearing of Amitabha’s Name or his Land.
Master Tanluan, an eminent Pure Land patriarch in China, says in his Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth that Pure Land aspirants cannot always exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name for rebirth, because they do not believe or understand:
1. “True Mark Body,” or Dharma-realm Body (Dharmakaya), which refers to Amitabha’s vow-power and unsurpassed wisdom. This body appears in the form of light and is unimpeded, embracing all those who recite his Name. Amitabha’s Name is his Body, and his light—all three in one entity.
2. “Body of Necessity,” or Reward Body (Sambhogakaya), which refers to Amitabha’s unconditional compassion to deliver all sentient beings equally through the dedication of his merit and virtue to them.
This schema provides an alternative way to interpret and understand the two aspects of doubt of Amitabha’s deliverance by his Name, as stated in his 18th Vow.
The text about the Three Negations of Faith versus Non-exclusive Practice
The related text in the Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth reads as follows:
With respect to . . . “[Amitabha’s] Name” and its “functional meaning,” one wishes to practice [Name-recitation] as such, so that “Name” and its “functional meaning” match. This means that the Name itself is the Tathagata of Unimpeded Light that can shatter all the kinds of ignorance of sentient beings, and satisfy their wishes and aspirations.
However, there are some aspirants who recite and recollect the Name, but cannot eradicate their ignorance and cannot fulfil their wishes.
Why? It is because they do not practice [Name-recitation] as such, so that ‘“Name” and its “functional meaning” do not match.
What is meant by “not practicing [Name-recitation] as such, so that ‘Name’ and its ‘functional meaning’ do not match?”
It means they do not believe or understand the Tathagata’s True Mark Body and also his Body of Necessity. Besides this, there are three other kinds of “non-matching”:
1. Faith is not pristine, thus [the practice of Name-recitation] is sometimes active, and sometimes not.
2. Faith is not singular, thus [the practice of Name-recitation] is not exclusively determined as of yet.
3. Faith is not sustained, thus [the practice of Name-recitation] is interrupted with other practices.
“Functional meaning” of the Name refers to the benefits endowed by the Name, and also its natural function, power, or capacity as it is recited. Amitabha Buddha has another name, which is the Tathgatha of Unimpeded Light. This title underscores his power of clearing all kinds of ignorance without any obstruction. This is what is meant by the “functional meaning” of the Name.
“Non-matching of the Name and its functional meaning” means “Non-exclusivity in the practice of Name-recitation”
If the reciter, upon hearing of Amitabha Buddha’s Name, whole-heartedly and sincerely believes, and humbly accepts, without any second thought, doubt or query—and with no hesitation, equivocation, or excuse, then this kind of faith is regarded as “pristine.” In other words, the practitioner has simply heard and believed what the Buddha says.
Put another way: if the Buddha asks me to practice as such, then I follow and practice as such, straightforwardly without any doubt. This is pristine faith. It is a kind of sincerity and genuineness, similar to the Sincere Mind as mentioned in the Contemplation Sutra.
In the case of Name-recitation, the Buddha says Amitabha’s Name is his Dharma Body in the form of light, containing wisdom and virtue that can clear all kinds of ignorance, including karmic obstructions and afflictions. Thus do I believe and practice as such. This is known as “matching of the Name and its functional meaning.”
However, if faith is not pristine, one will not 100 per cent believe in the Name and its functional meaning that clears all kinds of ignorance. Thus, one will seek other practices to “compensate for the shortcomings” of Name-recitation. In other words, one may not practice Name-recitation exclusively in order to clear all ignorance.
This means that one sometimes recites the Name and sometimes does not. As a result, the Name cannot FULLY clear all kinds of ignorance, because the practice of Name-recitation is interrupted with other practices. In Pure Land teaching, this is known as “mixed practice,” or utilizing “miscellaneous practices.”
Similarly, if faith is NOT singular, one has not determined to rely with singleness of mind on Amitabha’s Name to clear all kinds of ignorance, thus one will not practice Name-recitation as such. This means that one sometimes singularly recites the Name of Amitabha Buddha and sometimes recites names of other Buddhas, or practice other virtues to clear ignorance.
As a result, one may not practice Name-recitation exclusively in order to clear all ignorance. As the practice of Name-recitation is changed and is interrupted with other practices, it is NOT exclusive. So, if faith is singular, the practice of Name-recitation will be single-minded and exclusive. It is a kind of faith similar to the Deep Mind, as mentioned in the Contemplation Sutra.
Last but not least, even if faith is pristine and singular, if faith is not sustained the practice of Name-recitation will be interrupted with other practices. Thus, the functional meaning of the Name is interrupted, so the clearing of all kinds of ignorance, including karmic obstructions and afflictions, is interrupted, too.
So if faith is sustained, the practice of Name-recitation will be uninterrupted. It is a kind of faith similar to the Mind of Merit-dedication and Rebirth-aspiration as mentioned in the Contemplation Sutra.
Of course, it should be noted that when we speak of “clearing all kinds of ignorance,” we should not take this to mean that a kind of “enlightenment” is attained through Name-recitation once and forever. It is because we are still iniquitous, ordinary beings with a physical body and sensual organs, full of false thoughts and afflictions, and even with a practice of Name-recitation we will still suffer the retributive effects of our evil karma before we die in this lifetime.
Nevertheless, we should have a firm belief in the functional meaning of the Name, clearing all kinds of ignorance, provided that our faith in the Name, as a mind form, is pristine, singular, and sustained, and our Name-recitation, as a practice form, is always active, determined, and uninterrupted. It is known as matching of the Name and its functional meaning, also matching in mind form and practice form, or matching of fullness in faith and exclusivity in practice.
In a nutshell, the key factor for assurance of rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss is “merit-dedication and rebirth-aspiration with singleness in mind,” which means “taking refuge in Amitabha Buddha.” This means to “always and exclusively recite his Name” on the way HOME to the Pure Land!
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