Entering the Pure Land With a Feeble and Fragile Mind
In Master Shandao’s Praising the Dharma Practices a verse reads: “The incomparable and solemnest Sakyamuni Buddha, hear this request from my fragile mind and please enter my Dharma-site”.
In plain language, it may read: “I humbly plead with the incomparable and solemnest Sakyamuni Buddha, hear the prayers of my feeble and fragile mind, and enter the Dharma-site.” The phrase of “feeble and fragile mind” is mentioned several times by Master Shandao in his writing.
When I first read it, I had questions. Normally, when we invite Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions to come to our Dharma-site, we always express our utmost sincerity, and chant: “The Buddhas will show themselves at our utmost sincere request.” Yet, here the master says “a feeble mind”.
“A feeble mind” is an insignificant and inadequate mind; it does not show much sincerity or solemnity. Some learned masters explain it to mean modesty, nothing else. But I think there is more to it.
Then I thought about another place mentioning “feeble”.
In his well-known parable of “A White Path Between Two Rivers” in the Commentary on the Visualization Sutra. Master Shandao says, between the two raging rivers of fire and water that are approximately one-hundred paces wide each, there is a narrow white path about four to five inches wide. Towards the end of the parable, he says, “A good mind is a feeble mind, like the narrow white path”. The master likened a good but feeble mind to a narrow and tenuous path.
The word “feeble” in the above two phrases offers a clue into its deep and profound meanings.
The Pure Land path, from the standpoint of Amitabha Buddha, is created basically for mortals as explained by Master Shandao’s careful vocabulary.
Mortal beings’ minds are full of fakeness and deception; even if they try to act with honesty and sincerity, their minds at best are “feeble and fragile”. Because that is the habitual way mortals’ minds have been operating over countless eons and ages. If they are ever inspired by the serenity and completeness of Buddha’s mind, and want to show their own sincerity, it is unlikely that they would be capable of it.
Due to karmic obstacles, the degree of sincerity a mortal may display is quite limited. Because the mind of a mortal can never be a truthful mind, it is a weak and insignificant mind.
It is said that in every of our brief thoughts, there are sixty instants, and of each instant there are one hundred emanations and terminations. With such a rapidly thought-changing mind, how many virtuous thoughts could our mortal minds sprout?
The truth is probably far beyond our comprehension. Otherwise the Sutra of the Primal Vow of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva wouldn’t read: “Of the sentient beings of Jambudvipa not a single thought and behavior is not a karmic transgression.” Master Daochuo also wouldn’t have said: “The rising of evil thoughts of sentient beings is like brewing tornadoes and tempests.” Contrary to our evil behaviors, our good minds are negligible like diminutive breezes and drizzles, and Master Shandao wouldn’t have said: “Even having developed a virtuous mind, it is no more than making a ripple in the water.” Which is not to say that we mortals cannot develop a virtuous mind, but when we do, it is no more than a ripple in the water, disappearing promptly to nothing.
Occasionally, we mortals may display meritorious behaviors, but it is not pure goodness. Often, it is mixed with the poisons of greed, loathing, and falsehood. Master Shandao calls such a meritorious behavior “good mixed with poisons”, not “truly good behavior”.
Even we “Buddha reciters” are unable to be rid of the banality of our minds. All mortal’s minds are burdened with endless mundane affairs, and all our thoughts are mostly vulgar rather than transcendent. Particularly in this generation, people are impetuous and stressed, busy working at a rapid pace and under great pressure. In this bustling world full of turmoil, our minds aspiring rebirth to the Land of Bliss and reciting whole-heartedly the Buddha Name are so weak and inadequate.
Which is why Master Shandao speaks the parable of the two rivers, the billowing water-river of greed and the raging fire-river of anger, each about 100 paces wide, but the white path of Nianfo is only four or five inches wide. As the practitioner walks, the waves of water and fire surge across the white path. Isn't this just like reciting the Buddha's name with greedy thoughts and seeking rebirth in the Pure Land with an afflicted mind?
To the practitioners of Self-power, the cause is feeble, so the effect is negligible. Like a farmer sowing his lot, if the seeds are defective, his harvest would be poor. But to the practitioners of the Other-power, the feeble cause leads to grandest outcomes.
From the standpoint of mortals, reciting the Buddha’s name seems like an insignificant cause, but from the standpoint of the Buddha our feeble faith in recitation cannot hinder Amitabha Buddha’s power and light of deliverance that takes in all Buddha reciters. Therefore, the consequence is enormous and far beyond our comprehension, because this consequence does not depend on the individual person’s actions and faith, but rather the inevitable circumstances of Yuan.
Like touching some object, a blade or a stone, the consequential injuries depend on the force and the way with which the hand touches the object. If the object is a live electric wire, it matters not how light or how little we touch it, the subsequent injuries would be grave. And if it is a high voltage wire, even if we do not directly touch it but get close enough, we could be electrocuted. That is what we mean by dependency on external circumstantial conditions.
Or, like fire, how wildly or how fast it burns depends on the circumstantial materials. If the burning material is paper or wood, that’s one thing, but what if the burning material is fuel like gasoline? A tiny spark may trigger a tremendous explosion. The degree of combustion depends on the object burned.
The same with Nianfo and rebirth.
Because the power of Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow is inconceivable, it far surpasses the powers of all other buddhas. He is seeking with his Buddha-sight, “whoever is reciting my name?” and listening with his Buddha-hearing, “whoever is thinking of my name?” The Buddha is omniscient; he knows every sound and every thought of every reciter.
Even if the ordinary person unintentionally thinks of the name of Amitabha Buddha, or inadvertently utters “Amitabha Buddha”; or a child pretends to be a monk, closes his palms and chants once “Namo Amitabha Buddha”, the Buddha will, nevertheless, hear it and follow the accidental chanter and embrace him with his light, no matter how vague or unintelligible the chant may be. Because it is resolved by the Buddha’s fundamental vow.
Master Shandao said: “All those sentient beings, good and evil, who are reborn in the Land of Bliss rely on the power of Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow as the Augmentative Yuan.”
Ancient masters interpret the “augmentative Yuan” as the “strengthening of the awakened mind”. That is, through the external influence the functioning of the awakened mind is strengthened. Thus, the power of Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow functions like an amplifier in that our weak minds are strengthened many folds, endowed by all his virtues and merits, and we enter the ocean of his great vows, towards Buddhahood.
As Nagarjuna Bodhisattva teaches us:
Because if one is mindful of
The Buddha of infinite power of virtues and merits,
He will immediately enter the stage of assurance,
And so, I am always persistently reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name.
We mere mortals may thus be content with a fragile mind, a negligible good mind like the narrow white path; and, by relying on the Buddha’s augmentative Yuan, with our feeble minds we can enter the Pure Land and expeditiously attain Buddhahood.
(Translated and edited by the Pure Land School Translation Team)
 Nian-Fo in Chinese pinyin. Nian means to recite and Fo is the Buddha. Nianfo means Buddha recitation or name-recitation, that is, reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name.
 Yuan means conviction, reliance, but with Buddhists especially it means 'a co-operating cause, the concurrent occasion of an event as distinguished from its proximate cause'
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings