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Three Kinds of Deficient Faith in Pure Land Buddhism
The mismatch between the “Name” and “meaning”
Master Tanluan explained in the Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth: “What is meant by the idea that some do not practice in accord with the truth, so that the ‘Name’ [name-recitation] and its ‘meaning’ [aspiration for rebirth] do not match one another? This means they do not know that the Tathagata is the body of real form [or true Dharma body], and also the body of deliverance for sentient beings. Besides, there are three kinds of mismatches:
1. Faith is not genuine or pristine because it sometimes exists, and sometimes not.
2. Faith is not singular because it is undetermined.
3. Faith is not continuous because the recitation is interrupted by other thoughts.”
“Do not practice in accord with the truth” refers to the Law of Cause and Effect and means that the cause and the respective outcome do not match with each other. Taking Amitabha’s 18th Vow as an example, if we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name and take this as the cause, then we must be reborn in the Land of Bliss as the natural outcome. This is known as “such an effect with such a cause.” The two match with each other.
The certainty of this cause-and-effect relationship is based on the fulfilment of the Fundamental Vow by Amitabha Buddha. So it is “real” in the sense of not being subject to change under any circumstance. Thus, our rebirth (the effect) is naturally assured by name-recitation (the matching, corresponding, or respective cause).
Why can’t people practice name-recitation in accordance with the truth? It is because they haven’t yet understood the awesome, unimpeded, and inconceivable Buddha-power (the concept of the “independent action of the Name”), and therefore cannot entrust themselves to Amitabha’s deliverance through his Name. Moreover, it is because they do not realize the Buddha Mind is so compassionate that Amitabha’s deliverance is absolutely universal and unconditional (the concept of “achievement solely by Amitabha-recitation”).
Since some Pure Land practitioners do not practice in accord with the truth, “Name” (practicing name-recitation), and “meaning” (the functions powered by Amitabha’s Name, such as his deliverance) do not match each other. Because of this, these practitioners experience three kinds of “mismatches” because of the three kinds of deficiency in faith, as pointed out by Master Tanluan.
Faith that is not genuine or pristine
Let’s first address the faith that is not genuine or pristine because it sometimes exists and sometimes does not. This means that faith some practitioners have in name-recitation is not genuine, so they sometimes practice name-recitation (Other-power practice or reliance on Buddha-power) and sometimes practice meditation, observance of precepts, recitation of sutras and dharanis, and other miscellaneous virtues (self-powered practices or reliance on self-power). This is regarded as not recognizing the true Dharma body of the Buddha, or having doubt in Buddha-power.
This concept is thoroughly elaborated on in the explication of the Sincere Mind, the first of the Three States of Mind as listed by Master Shandao in the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra. Ordinary beings do not recognize that their self-powered practices are impure and their merits and virtues are unreal. They also do not know that, through the practice of name-recitation, they will automatically receive Amitabha’s real and pure merits and virtues. All these were cultivated by Amitabha for eons and are unconditionally dedicated by Amitabha to those who recite his name.
The cause of impure and unreal merits and virtues do not match the outcome of rebirth in the pure and real Land of Bliss. If we mix in our unreal and impure merits and virtues generated from our self-powered practice in this defiled world, it will dilute the effect of the purity of name-recitation. So one of the key teachings of the Pure Land school is to not dilute Amitabha-recitation by mixing it with miscellaneous practices.
Faith that is not singular
The second mismatch is that faith is not singular because it is irresolute or undetermined. This means that, though devotees may recognize they need to rely on Buddha-power in the matter of rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, they may not have determined whom they should rely on. They may harbor doubts about why they have to revere one single Buddha, Amitabha, for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Subsequently, they may not exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, but recite the names of many other buddhas. This means that their faith in Amitabha’s deliverance is hesitant and weak.
Master Shandao discusses this concept in his explication of the Deep Mind. The practitioner must have resolute faith in Amitabha’s vows of deliverance. He must be single-minded in the exclusive practice of Amitabha-invocation and may also include the reading of sutras, prostrating, making offerings, and other rituals. Though pure and real, the merits and virtues of other buddhas do not match with rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, so one of the attributes of the Pure Land school is to not dilute Amitabha-recitation by mixing in the names of other Buddhas.
Faith that is interrupted
The third mismatch is that faith is interrupted because the recitation is disturbed by miscellaneous and false thoughts. Some devotees may believe and accept Amitabha’s deliverance, and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name for rebirth in the Land of Bliss, however they cannot sustain their faith and practice until the end of their lives. This concept is the core teaching of the Mind of Dedication and Aspiration, the third of the Three States of Mind.
Faith, aspiration, and practice may be interrupted, suspended, or even replaced due to many factors, as pointed out by Master Shandao. In such a case, Amitabha-mindfulness is always interrupted, and one’s faith and aspiration are not fixed or can even be lost. As a result, rebirth in the Land of Bliss is not assured because of disturbances and interferences by other thoughts under miscellaneous circumstances.
My faith is single-minded
Conversely, if one’s faith is genuine, singular, and uninterrupted, one’s practice in Amitabha-recitation must be sole, exclusive, and sustained until the end of life. This is the meaning of “My faith is single-minded,” stipulated in Master Tanluan’s Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth.
Faith in Amitabha’s deliverance is not an empty word or an abstract idea. Faith in Amitabha’s deliverance must be justified, established, and realized by our practice through exclusive Amitabha-recitation.
For instance, if one can always exclusively Amitabha’s name for rebirth in the Land of Bliss for the remainder of one’s life, even if the name is only recited 10 times, one is regarded as having deep faith and earnest aspiration already. This is because the Name (Amitabha-recitation practice) and its meaning (rebirth in the Land of Bliss) match each other, in accordance with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.