Buddhism teaching

Sincerity in faith and sincere aspiration to the Pure Land teaching

At phys.org

Faith in the Context of Pure Land Teachings

Faith is the essence of all religions. Faith is also important for Buddhism. The Floral Adornment Sutra says that faith is the source of merit and of the virtues of the Way, which nourish all the roots of the other virtues.

As Nagarjuna Bodhisattva said, faith is a quick way through the gate of Pure Land Dharma. Of course, faith, aspiration and practice are the essential references for rebirth in the Pure Land, and this formulation is based on Amitabha’s 18th vow.

It is important to understand how faith is different from belief. Belief is like a best guess, which is based on one’s logical deduction, knowledge and experience. Faith can also be supported by belief, but it is fundamentally an intuitive relationship with metaphysical realities like life after death, or non-physical entities or states of being. It is truly an inconceivable and transformational state of mind and heart.

Shakyamuni Buddha was a historical person in our world, and we know that he existed based on documentary evidence. However, Shakyamuni Buddha also tells us that there is the Land of Bliss far to the west where Amitabha Buddha dwells. As far as the Pure Land teaching is concerned, the belief in the existence of Amitabha Buddha and his Land of Bliss is insufficient. One must have faith in the meaning of the name “Amitabha”, which involves understanding the kind of Buddha that Amitabha is.

Amitabha became a Buddha for the benefit of sentient beings. He wanted them to become Buddhas through rebirth in his domain, the Land of Bliss. As said in his 18th wish:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and happily confide in me, wish to be born in my land and call my name even ten times, shall not be born there, may I will not attain perfect Enlightenment.

In other words, the reason Amitabha Buddha became a Buddha is for our rebirth in his Pure Land through the recitation of his name. Therefore, in Pure Land Buddhism, faith specifically means understanding that we are guaranteed to be reborn in the Land of Bliss through the recitation of Amitabha, using the power of the Amitabha Vow.

If a person does not understand the above upon hearing Amitabha Buddha’s name, he is not considered to be truly “hearing” and he cannot yet attain the benefit of becoming a Buddha-like being in the Land of Blessed by rebirth.

Aspiration in the Context of Pure Land Teachings

Aspiration is a bit different from wish. For example, I want to be a doctor, but I’m not sure I can. As far as the Pure Land teachings are concerned, aspiration means the acceptance of an offer.

In Amitabha’s three deliverance vows – the 18th, 19th and 20th vows – all aspirants of different abilities must “wish” to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. However, only those who keep the 18th vow will achieve assured rebirth by resorting to Amitabha’s vow.

This is because Amitabha Buddha makes an offer to all those seekers “who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me”. If they accept the offer by “calling my name, even 10 times”, Amitabha Buddha promises that “I should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” As Amitabha is already a Buddha now dwelling in the Land of Bliss, seekers are assured that their rebirth is guaranteed, according to his vow.

Amitabha’s offer is proactive and filled with her merits and virtues for rebirth, contrary to the “wish” of seekers following the 19th and 20th vows. Moreover, Amitabha’s offer is open to all sentient beings. It is equal and unconditional; thus, aspirants receive the full benefits, including rebirth.

Sincerity in faith and sincere aspiration in the context of practice

Some seekers may doubt that their sincerity in faith and earnest aspiration are sufficient to be reborn according to the 18th vow. But if we are already reciting Amitabha’s name, that’s no problem! “Sincere” means “authentic”. If we sincerely accept Amitabha’s offer of assured rebirth by reciting his name –Namo Amituofo– the offer is still valid as long as we recite until the end of our lives.

Even if you do not intend to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, or if your faith and aspirations are not genuine or sincere, you can still achieve rebirth through persistent recitation. Amitabha can grant faith and aspiration to even the most recalcitrant sentient being if he recites his name consistently. It is easy and direct to recite Namo Amituofo in your daily life, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down.

That said, since the minds of ordinary beings are always distracted and confused by others, it would be better for them to develop faith and aspiration while learning more about the virgin teaching of the Pure Land, especially in the lineage of Master Shandao, the de facto founder of the Pure Land school. This way they can more easily recite Amitabha’s name with peace of mind in their present life.

It is important to note that we should recite the name of Amitabha in parallel hearing the teaching of the Pure Land. We do not must study, believe or understand the Pure Land teachings before we begin to recite Amitabha’s name. Faith in Amitabha’s deliverance is established in the context of practice, not our understanding.

Although a specific number of recitations is not a requirement for rebirth, it is strongly recommended that true Pure Land practitioners, especially beginners, set a program to develop the habit of reciting Namo Amituofo in their daily life, such as when waking up and before sleeping, before and after meals, etc.

We will discuss the practice of reciting Amitabha in the next article.

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