Rebirth is assured by practicing with “right mindfulness”
When interpreting the Third Contemplation in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, Master Shandao wrote: “If when a person hears of the Pure Land teaching, he has mixed feelings of regret and delight and is shocked with his hair standing on end, he must have heard and practiced this teaching in his past lives. Now, hearing it again in this life, he thus rejoices in it. If he practices with ‘right mindfulness,’ he will be reborn [in the Land of Bliss].”*
“Right mindfulness” means no doubt and no miscellaneous practices
The last sentence is very important as it highlights the assured rebirth of Pure Land practitioners. However, what is meant by “right mindfulness”? Master Shandao elaborated on this by writing:
“. . . one has to practice with ‘right mindfulness’ as a cause, and not doubt or mix [Amitabha-recitation] with other practices. If it is not so, even though practitioners are reborn [in the Land of Bliss], they will be within a flower bud, thus not yet ‘born,’ or are said to be born in the border land, or to fall in the embryonic palace. Owing to entering the Samadhi of Flower Blossom under the guidance of the Great Compassionate Bodhisattva, all the obstructions of their doubts will eventually be cleared up. The lotus flowers will thus blossom or the doors of the palaces open. Subsequently, they will find their bodies manifesting in splendor, and they can join other bodhisattvas who accompany the Buddha in traveling.”
This interesting paragraph tells us several things:
1. It is difficult to attain rebirth in the Pure Land and there is no assurance of rebirth there if one does not practice with right mindfulness.
2. Not practicing with right mindfulness means practicing with doubt and mixing Amitabha-recitation with other practices.
3. Unless their doubts are cleared up, these practitioners cannot be truly or fully born in the Land of Bliss.
“Right mindfulness” is what all Buddhas protect in the Amitabha Sutra
“Right mindfulness” was further defined by Master Shandao in the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra as “establishing faith in the context of [or through] a person [i.e. the Buddha].” This is actually an elaboration of a passage in the Amitabha Sutra. He states:
“Moreover, the Buddhas in the ten directions are afraid that sentient beings do not believe what Shakyamuni, just one Buddha, says, so they extend their long, broad tongues and, encompassing with them the universe of a thousand million worlds, with the same mind at the same time together, pronounce these words of truth: ‘You sentient beings should believe what Shakyamuni Buddha says, praises, and verifies: for all ordinary beings, regardless of their magnitude of blessings or offenses, regardless of the time spent in Amitabha-recitation, only if they single-mindedly and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name for the remainder of their life, whether it is as long as a hundred years or as short as one to seven days, they will be reborn [in Amitabha’s Pure Land] with no doubt at all.’”
The whole statement is actually equivalent to the following sentence of the Amitabha Sutra: “Sentient beings should accept this sutra titled Praise of Inconceivable Merits and Virtues and Protection of Right Mindfulness by All Buddhas.”
Amitabha’s deliverance regardless of any circumstances
In the statement of “right mindfulness,” there are several points which should be noted:
1. Amitabha’s deliverance is equal and unconditional, regardless of our blessings and offenses, and of the length of time we have spent in Amitabha-recitation practice. Actually, Master Shandao also said his deliverance is regardless of any circumstances at any time and in any place. It is known as the “Three Regardlesses.”
2. Only one practice is taken into account, which is the Name-recitation of Amitabha Buddha, so it is known as “single-minded and exclusive.” We should not mix it with other practices or other Buddhas’ names.
3. The practice of Amitabha-recitation must be sustained for the remainder of one’s life.
Master Shandao clearly explains the definition and the meaning of “right mindfulness” in a plain and simple way that is easy to follow. We do not need to add our own ideas, try to complicate things, or change these words of truth, because all the Buddhas protect us. We must never presume to stray from Pure Land teachings in the Shandao tradition with our own elaborations of the teachings.
We shouldn’t wait until we’re near the end of our lives
Some patriarchs ask Pure Land practitioners to practice right mindfulness near the end of their lives, otherwise they cannot be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land. Actually, according to the statement made by Master Shandao, practitioners need not wait until they’re near the end of their lives. They can resolve to keep practicing in right mindfulness from this moment, and sustain it for the rest of their lives; they will thus certainly be reborn in the Pure Land.
Whenever and wherever we recite Amitabha’s name, Amitabha’s mind is with us intimately, and his body is close to us because his Dharma Body is omnipresent throughout the ten directions. We do not need to worry that Amitabha Buddha will not come near the end of our lives. This is because he never abandons those who exclusively recite his name.
Moreover, sentient beings who recite his name will immediately clear the negative karma they have accumulated over many kalpas. Near the end of their lives, the Buddha and a multitude of sages will automatically welcome them. Last but not least, they will not be impeded from being reborn in the Land of Bliss by any negative, deviant, or evil karmic force.
The intimate and close relationship described above, along with the augmentative cause of Amitabha-recitation, is clearly explained by Master Shandao in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra in the explanation of the Ninth Contemplation.
Life is fragile, and death may come suddenly. There are too many uncertainties and complications near death which may be beyond our control. Take the leap of faith and with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow in mind, sign the will pledging to keep practicing with right mindfulness for life. Amitabha will ensure that the entire matter of rebirth is settled!
*Translation by the author