Why Iniquitous Mortals Could be Reborn in the Pure Land by Reciting the Buddha’s Name?
Question: Nature’s Law of Causation says: “Virtue has its rewards, evil its retributions.” Yet, the Pure Land Buddhism says that if an iniquitous man once recites the Amitabha Buddha’s name, he would no longer bear the retributive justice but secure a rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Is this fair? Is this violating the law of cause and effect?
With regard to the question, is it fair? It is! Is it in accordance to the law of causation? Absolutely!
It is true that every act in the universe conforms to the rule of cause-and-effect. However, there are two kinds of Causation: Self-Effort, and His-Effort.
The causation of Self-Effort is what we normally understand: “We reap what we sow!” That is, if you do good, you will be rewarded; if you do evil, you will be punished. We thus say: “Virtue has its rewards, evil its retributions.” Rewards or retributions will take place in the future when the predestined conditions are present and ripe. It is like, when people drank alcohol, it was they who got drunk, not us; when we ate to our fill, it was not others who felt full. When we broke the laws, we alone face judgement and punishments; it was not others who have to suffer for us the consequences. Hence, we say, “one must suffer from one’s own actions, and there is no substitution.” That is what we mean by “Self-Effort Causation”.
The causation of His-effort is this: “He reaps what we sow”, that is, He bears the consequences of our evil doings. The basis for this is the Four Grand Vows pledged by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to bring forth the Bodhi resolve to enduring the transgressions and afflictions of all sentient beings of the ten directions, and deliver them out of the cycle of rebirth. This is what we mean by, “He reaps what we sow”, or “He bears our evil doings.”
The “He” in “His-Effort” generally represents Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In Pure Land Buddhism, “He” refers solely to Amitabha Buddha.
The Forty-Eight Vows enunciated by Amitabha Buddha extend to all sentient beings in the ten directions. To realize His Vows, the Buddha spent a multitude of countless eons to carry out the Ten-thousand Ways of Bodhisattva on our behalf to cultivate and accumulate for us the virtues and merits. This is called “His-effort” – All of the efforts, which are the causes, are made by Amitabha Buddha, and the rewards, which are the consequences, are received by us with faith in the Buddha. In this regard, it is absolutely fair; it does not violate the law of Causation.
In The Infinite Life Sutra, there are statements which explain the “His-effort” causation: “I bear others’ evil doings.” For instance, the statement:
“Uninvited, he becomes a friend to multitude of beings and shoulders their heavy karmic burden.”
This passage of the sutra presents how Bodhisattvas fulfill their Four Grand Vows by practicing the Six Transcendent Prajna. Normally, one can make friends with people if they share a platform of common interests, as the saying goes: “things of the same kind group together, people of the same interests fit together.” Our Saha world is a world of five turbidities (the kalpa, views, afflictions, living beings, and life span), of which the turbidities, views and afflictions are the most fundamental. There is not a single individual who has no afflictions; everyone’s afflictions are caused by greed, anger and ignorance. While we are wrong-doing mortals, Amitabha Buddha is the Sage of sages, and King of all Buddhas. He will never dislike and avoid us. He will come to be our friends, and carry our heavy karmic obstacles. That is the meaning of: “Uninvited, he becomes a friend to multitude of beings and shoulders their heavy karmic burden.”
There is a Christian story about a man who was enjoying good life in heaven. Looking back on life on earth, he finds that he and God were an indivisible part, and in every step he took in life, there were four footprints, except one period of time where there were only two and that was when he lived in deprivation. So, he complained to God: “When I was in extreme hardship, why did you left me, and did not share the most difficult time of my life?”
God replied: “In your most difficult time, I carried you on my back. Those pair of footprints were mine.”
Although this is a Christian parable, its content of teaching is in The Infinite Life Sutra: “– for the multitude of beings, he shoulders their heavy karmic burden.” If even Christianity has such teachings, surely it exists in Buddhism, especially since the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas bring forth Bodhi-resolve with awakened great compassion and fathomless empathy to treating all sentient beings as their own selves.
Says also The Sutra:
“He looks upon sentient beings as His own self.”
Amitabha Buddha looks upon us iniquitous beings as his own self – which is the message of “Sharing the entity of sentient beings, He shows great compassion.”
It may be said that we sentient beings and Amitabha Buddha share one entity. Since we are Amitabha Buddha Himself, our innumerous transgressions and karmic obstacles which we have committed and accumulated across immeasurable eons are not only our problems but also those of the Buddha’s, and our sufferings in the cycle of rebirth are also the Buddha’s sufferings. Therefore, if we think deeply of this Dharma directive: “He looks upon the sentient beings as his own self”, there will arise in our mind a profound gratitude for the Buddha’s infinite compassion, which deeply touches our heart. We will feel comfort and Dharma joy, knowing that if we accept Amitabha Buddha’s offering of his infinite virtues and merits, we will no longer be bound in the endless cycle of birth and death.
In The Infinite Life Sutra, in the verses of solemn vows Amitabha Buddha says:
“If I should not become a great benefactor
In lives to come for immeasurable kalpas
To save the poor and the afflicted everywhere,
May I not attain perfect enlightenment.”
In lives to come for immeasurable eons, generation after generation, Amitabha Buddha will be offering material things, financial aid, Dharma wisdom, virtues, or merits to us sentient beings, including to those who are poverty-stricken, wisdom-stricken, and impoverished in the samsara of the six realms.
Therefore, Amitabha Buddha’s charity is not only monetary but also Dharmic. In life, Amitabha Buddha grants us a comfortable living; in the end, Amitabha Buddha delivers us out of the six-realms cycle of rebirth.
Amitabha Buddha also says:
“If I am unable to put an end to all sufferings and impoverishments and bring about peace
and happiness for sentient beings, I shall not be Buddha, the Dharma King of all saviors.”
He is saying that if He is not totally resolved with the impartial love, infinite compassion and unsurpassed power to deliver sentient beings out of affliction and misery, He would not be Dharma King. Since He has become Buddha, His love and benevolence for sentient beings is complete and absolute. As He sees them as his own self, He has the ability to deliver any and every sentient being.
He also says:
“I will open the Dharma storehouse for the multitude,
and endow them all with treasures of virtues and merits.”
What is the “Dharma storehouse”, that Amitabha Buddha has built for us? The “Dharma storehouse” is a symbol of the store of Amitabha Buddha’s virtues and merits, and is open to us; once we have accepted it, it will let us be free from the cycle of birth and death, and reborn in His Land of Ultimate Bliss. That is the meaning of Amitabha Buddha’s message. Other than the Buddha’s Dharma storehouse, all of others’ are neither satisfactory nor perfect. Because Amitabha Buddha treats us sentient beings as his own self, everything he has done and accomplished are equivalent to what we have done and accomplished; everything he possesses are what we possess.
Says also in The Sutra:
“(Amitabha Buddha) devoted himself solely to the pursuit of the pure Dharma, thereby benefiting a multitude of beings.”
After He solemnly pledged the Forty-Eight Vows, Amitabha Buddha devoted inconceivable and innumerable kalpas to cultivate immeasurable virtuous practices of the Bodhisattva path. All the merits and virtues He has since accumulated are “Pure Dharma”. What is “Pure Dharma”? Pure means not defiled, not contaminated by greed, anger, inanity, or egocentrism, and is of three-fold Emptiness. There is no delusive views or thoughts, no defiled sense objects, and no delusion of ignorance. Therefore, pure Dharma is the way to Buddhahood, and the Nirvana.
Amitabha Buddha has accomplished the Pure Dharma in order to bestow on us iniquitous mortals. If we did not know, nothing would happen. But, if we have heard and accepted the Buddha’s Pure Dharma, all our transgressions and sufferings will naturally vanish, and we will be liberated from the cycle of rebirth, and become Buddhas. Where is Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Dharma? It is right in His title and name: “Namo Amitabha”, even though it involves only six characters, it is the very body of Pure Dharma, the crystallization of all His virtues and merits. As long as we persistently recite His name, we will be reborn in His Pure Land, and become Buddhas.
Amitabha Buddha also says:
“(To) let sentient beings accomplish merits and virtues.”
What sort of merits and virtues is Amitabha Buddha letting us accomplish? – it is the merits and virtues required to attain Buddhahood.
It is not possible to rely on our own efforts to be free of the cycle of rebirth for we do not possess the power. What we are capable of accomplishing are evil karmas and transgressions. However, if we accept and recite the six-character name of the Buddha, we will naturally be free, and become Buddhas. That is the He-effort Causality – “He bears our evil doings.”
In Taiwan, the richest person was Wang Yongqing, and who inherited his vast wealth after he passed away? His children, of course. Is it fair? Certainly, because those children were his blood and flesh. By the same token, even though we do not perform His achievements, we possess Amitabha Buddha’s merits and virtues, exactly because the Buddha sees us as his blood and flesh, his own self.
In The Sutra of Amitabha as Spoken by the Buddha, there mentioned “Birds of the same fate”, which is a two-headed bird, that is, two lives sharing the same body. If one is dumb and incapable, so long the other is smart and good at hunting and gathering, the dumb one would share everything the smart possesses. The above description appropriately explains “His-effort I receive” or “I reap what He sows”.
Says The Sutra of Miscellaneous Metaphor, the Bodhisattvas avows: “By storing up great virtues and merits to benefit sentient beings, I will grant and fulfill the requests of all sentient beings: if they ask for a head grant them my head, if they ask for an eye grant them my eye. There is nothing which cannot be granted” Based on His testimony, our rebirth by reciting His name thus shedding our karmic consequences is natural and in accord with the law of causality.
However, a true Buddhist and reciter will not take advantage of the Buddha’s endorsing and deliberately do things as he or she pleases and desires. It is impossible and against reasoning and judgement because if a person who desires a rebirth in the Land of Bliss would know that the six-realm cycle of birth and death is full of afflictions and sufferings, and only a rebirth in the Land of Bliss offers the liberation out of the samsara. Would such a Buddha reciter deliberately commit karmic causes? Of course not.
Then again, the innate character of iniquitous beings is full of greed and anger, not a single thought or emotion deviates from avarice, rage and ignorance. We will thus inevitably commit karmic follies but in our conscience, there will arise a feeling of penitence and tenderness.
Therefore, everyone whose heart is touched by the compassion and empathy of Amitabha Buddha will develop love and fondness for others. Such an undergoing of a change is natural because of the Buddha’s benevolence and power.
(Excerpts from the Dharma Discourse at the One-day Recitation Assembly on March 10, 2013)
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