Rebirth attained exclusively through Amitabha-recitation
As discussed in my previous article*, all practitioners of Pure Land Buddhism should understand and believe in the concept of the independent action of “Namo Amitabha,” otherwise they will be unable to settle their minds with complete faith in the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. “The independent action of Amitabha’s name” is expressed from the point of view of Amitabha’s proactive deliverance. But from the point of view of aspirants for rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, it means that all wishes, like rebirth in the Land of Bliss, can be fulfilled. This can be termed “all goals achieved solely through Amitabha-recitation.” These two expressions are just like two sides of a coin.
The Name “Namo Amitabha” is actually the Dharma Body of Amitabha Buddha, which is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. The Name “Namo Amitabha” works independently for our rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land as it is all-sufficient in terms of merits and virtues because of Amitabha’s fulfillment of his Fundamental Vow. Moreover, all benefits accrued in this life (before rebirth) and in our future life (after rebirth), through the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation, occur naturally and spontaneously, independent of any self-generated merit or virtue on our part.
Amitabha-recitation is easy to practice, almost effortlessly so compared with other practices in Buddhism. Yet the reward is splendid in the extreme—rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land, a realm of unconditioned nirvana. While this may seem to be unreasonable and to violate the Law of Cause and Effect, which, all things being equal, correlates reward with the effort we invest, Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow transcends the Law of Karma with its own inexorable logic.
Adding other practices is not required
Practitioners of Pure Land Buddhism should note that it is not Amitabha-recitation combined with upholding the Five Precepts that enables us to be reborn (although upholding the precepts is the basic moral responsibility of all Buddhists). Neither is it Amitabha-recitation mixed with proficiency in dhyana meditation that enables us to be reborn (although meditation is a basic Buddhist practice to cultivate our mind). In pristine Pure Land Buddhism, precepts and meditation are NOT directly related to rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Only Amitabha-recitation is taken into account in this regard.
Moreover, it is not Amitabha-recitation plus wisdom (the study and comprehension of profound Buddhist sutras and teachings) that enables us to be reborn. It is not Amitabha-recitation combined with the Bodhi Mind (the Four Great Vows) that enables our rebirth. Why is this so? Because Amitabha’s name contains all the wisdom and Bodhi Mind necessary for our rebirth. For details, we can refer to Amitabha’s 22nd, 25th, 29th, and 30th Vows. Only Amitabha-recitation is taken into account for rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
Thus, from the perspective of the Pure Land practitioner, no other Buddhist practices are required beyond the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation to facilitate our deliverance through Amitabha. In accordance with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, all that aspirants need to do to ensure rebirth is to exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name. Amitabha’s deliverance, based on his Fundamental Vow, is unconditional, equal, and sovereign. This point bears repeating: we rely on Amitabha’s vow power contained in his Name for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. We merely recite his name—Namo Amitabha—and we effortlessly attain rebirth through the independent action of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.
Exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation is the main practice of nianfo (Buddha-invocation or Buddha-mindfulness in Chinese), which is unique to Pure Land Buddhism and different from other forms of nianfo practiced in other schools of Buddhism. No other supplementary, complementary, or additional practices are required for rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss because Amitabha-recitation is all-inclusive, all-embracing, and all-sufficient. Master Shandao, the de facto founder of Pure Land Buddhism, identifies Amitabha-recitation as the karma of assured rebirth because it accords with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.
Drawbacks of mixing other practices with Amitabha-recitation
Some people may argue: “OK, I’ll recite Amitabha’s name, but I see no harm in adding other virtuous practices. In fact, that should be better than merely reciting the name. It’s true that pristine Pure Land Buddhists treat those virtuous practices as the daily duties and responsibilities of a human being, but I think virtuous practices may be helpful in expediting rebirth in the Land of Bliss, and perhaps attaining a higher level of rebirth.”
So why is mixing or combining other Buddhist practices with Amitabha-recitation not recommended? Firstly, Amitahba-recitation is the only practice specified by Amitabha Buddha in his Fundamental Vow; he names no other practice. Any practice that varies from Amitabha’s teaching of deliverance is regarded as doubting Amitabha’s vow power and wisdom, which is detrimental for rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
Secondly, other Buddhist practices are unnecessary because Amitabha-recitation alone is more than sufficient to enable the aspirant to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. Only Amitabha’s supreme merits and virtues are required for rebirth in the Pure Land; any other merits and virtues are incompatible and considered impurities that lower the chance of rebirth and postpone the opening of the lotus flower in which the aspirant is reborn.
In his commentary on the Ninth Contemplation in the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao says: “For all the other various practices, although they are virtuous they are incomparable to Buddha-invocation [Amitabha-recitation in Pure Land Buddhism]. That is the reason why the independent action of Buddha-invocation is widely extoled everywhere in various sutras.”
Pure Land Buddhism is a teaching of deliverance from the side of Amitabha Buddha, not a teaching of cultivation. In pristine Pure Land Buddhism, rebirth is achieved solely through the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation, which relies on the independent action of Amitabha’s name—Namo Amitabha! Rebirth in the Land of Bliss through Amitabha-recitation means that all our wishes are fulfilled (in terms of both wisdom and blessings), all our goals are achieved (all goals in the practices of the Five Vehicles) and all benefits (in our present life and the future life) are attained solely through Amitabha-recitation.