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 Guiding Principles of Pure Land Buddhism – Aspiration to Rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land

Aspiring to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land is fundamental in Pure Land Buddhism. If we do not aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, we have no need to practice the Pure Land teaching and can learn other schools of Buddhism. Therefore, the primal objective of the Pure Land teaching is aspiration to rebirth in the Land of Bliss. This is one of the guiding principles of Pure Land Buddhism.

All Pure Land aspirants must recite Amitabha’s name for the remainder of their lives. This is a request and an exhortation from Amitabha Buddha.

According to the 18th Vow, ‘the aspiration to be born in my land’ is the substance of Amitabha’s vow made in his causal ground. Since he is now a Buddha, how does Amitabha know when a living being is ready to be saved? It states in the passage of fulfillment [in the Infinite Life Sutra] that one attains rebirth at the same moment one aspires to be reborn in that land.

Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land is the aim of life, the purpose of studying Buddhism, and the guiding principle of Pure Land Buddhism. It is the original intent of both Amitabha Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha. It is also our original intent. Aspiration to rebirth in the Land of Bliss must not be compromised, or left to the vagaries of circumstance. We must be determined in our aspiration to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. We should definitely not seek to be reborn in other pure lands, or to linger in the Saha World. In this way, we accord with what Amitabha Buddha says in his Vow: ‘aspire to be born in my land.’

We recite ‘Namo Amituofo’ for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. To be reborn in the Pure Land, we merely recite ‘Namo Amituofo.’ If we recite Amitabha’s name not in aspiration for rebirth, but for good fortune and blessings, or for rebirth in the human or celestial realms, we will be dragged by the force of our aspiration toward these ends. This, however, is not our intent. Our aspiration is rebirth in the Land of Bliss through every single recitation. By reciting this Name alone, we will naturally be received by Amiatbha Buddha when the time comes, regardless of the state of our mind. We will be transported by the merits and power of this Name and finally enter the Land of Bliss.

All of us are ordinary beings full of greed, hatred and delusion. Though our aspiration to rebirth is in earnest, our mind continues to be shaped by external circumstances. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter the time, place and conditions – under any circumstance and in any emotional state – we can remember the Buddha and recite his Name. Nothing is accomplished if one’s heart in not in the undertaking, so we can only be reborn through aspiration. With aspiration, one will take time to recite Amitabha’s name when busy, and will make the effort to recite quietly in a noisy environment. There is a verse: ‘Water flows through the tightest bamboo slats unimpeded; / white clouds fly past the tallest mountain peak unobstructed.’ This is an appropriate analogy to our teaching on practice.

The so-called ‘Mind of Aspiration to Rebirth’ is simply the wish to be reborn right now. When our karmic connection to this world ends, we will, without a doubt, be reborn in the Land of Bliss without any attachment to this [Saha] world. Of course, it is natural that, right now, we still have some attachments [to this world], but this creates no conflict with our aspiration to rebirth [in the Pure Land]. We are ordinary beings, after all. But at the last moment, when we can no longer hang on to our lives, we will need to make a choice between the two: the Land of Bliss, or the Saha world. At that time, we will select the Buddha’s Land rather than this defiled world because we are Buddhists and Pure Land practitioners [who are prepared to attain rebirth].
The Law of Cause and Effect in the three periods of time, the retribution of good and evil karma and reincarnation within the Six Realms are the most basic beliefs for Buddhists and Pure land practitioners. We also believe that if we are not reborn in the Land of Bliss, we will reincarnate [in this world] in accordance with our individual karma, and even the most intimate friends and family members will never see each other again.

Our minds are perpetually delusive; seldom do they wander anywhere near reality. But with a majority of living beings dwelling in illusion, and only a tiny minority dwelling in reality, how can we hope to be reborn under such conditions? Well…why not?! It can be so! It is called ‘resolute renunciation of the Saha and earnest aspiration for the Land of Bliss’. In the Saha world, we cannot squarely face ourselves and others; thus, we feel our world is defiled and turbid. All of us commit offenses and generate karma. Because of this, we reincarnate endlessly, so we need to aspire to be reborn in the Pure Land. Even if we cannot sincerely handle human relationships and manage our worldly affairs, we can wholeheartedly, sincerely and earnestly aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.

Suffering reincarnation in the Saha World is the most painful extreme known to our minds, while rebirth in the Land of Bliss is the most joyful and desirable extreme, inducing us to take refuge with every thought. It is a frame of mind to aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. What does such a frame of mind look like? It rejoices that we shall not linger, imprisoned, in the Saha World, and exults at our general pardon [bestowed by Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow]. [Those who truly aspire to rebirth] will never forget such grace for the duration of their lives.

In the Amitabha Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha earnestly and repeatedly advises sentient beings to aspire to rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Never does he urge them to seek the recompense of heavenly or human realms – only rebirth in the Land of Bliss, and that alone.
Moreover, Shakyamuni Buddha repeats again and again that the fundamental aim of his life is to urge sentient beings to seek rebirth in the Land of Bliss. This is the original intent of Shakyamuni Buddha.
In the Infinite Life Sutra, the paragraph revealing the original intent of Shakyamuni Buddha runs as follows: “As the Tathagata, I regard beings of the three worlds with boundless great compassion. The reason for my appearance in the world is to reveal teachings of the Way and save multitudes of beings by endowing them with true benefits.”
Buddha Shakyamuni, and all Buddhas of the ten directions, have the same aim when they appear in the mundane worlds. That is, they instruct us to recite Amitabha’s name so as to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. This is the only teaching through which we [ordinary beings] can attain true benefits.

For a follower of the Pure Land teaching, aspiration to rebirth must be genuine. It does not mean to aspire now, but not aspire later. Furthermore, if one exclusively recites Amitabha’s name [in aspiration for the Land of Bliss] – not for the “samsara” recompense of humans or celestial beings – then one is always [in a state of oneness] with Amitabha Buddha. This is known as the oneness of aptitude [of sentient beings] and teaching [of Amitabha Buddha].

To be reborn in the Land of Bliss, karmic conditions are very important. In Praise of Pratyutpanna, Master Shandao writes, “If the Good Advisor, Shakyamuni Buddha, does not teach us to recite [the name of] Amitabha Buddha, how can we be reborn in Amitabha’s country?”
[In addition,] if we don’t single-mindedly aspire to rebirth, then rebirth becomes uncertain. It is taught that ‘beings who recite [Amitabha’s] name are assured of rebirth.’ This is true, so long as [the karmic condition of] ‘aspiration’ is present. Excepted are animals, like parrots, who are not capable of single-minded aspiration. [If karmic conditions are ripe,] they, too, will naturally be reborn. As stated in the sutra: “The forces that draw sentient beings to rebirth in that land are natural, spontaneous.”

If you aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land and exclusively recite his name, but after some months or years change your mind, it shows that your aspiration is not yet determined. Your lotus flower in the Pure Land will then wither. [Should your aspiration remain undetermined,] you have only established a karmic connection [with Amitabha Buddha]. Your deliverance must wait for a future lifetime.
‘Those to be delivered in this life’ are assured of rebirth in the present; they attain rebirth ‘immediately’ and dwell in the state of non-retrogression. ‘Those having a karmic connection’ must wait for a future life in which to attain rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land.

Our aspiration to be reborn in the Land of Bliss is in earnest. We don’t need other people to encourage and push us. We naturally want to recite Amitabha’s name. This is because we know that this world is deceptive and unreal; only the Land of Bliss and Amitabha Buddha are real and true. Thus, we naturally aspire to rebirth with every thought, and invoke Amitabha Buddha with every thought.

For any Pure Land aspirant, as long as he aspires to be reborn in that land, he is embraced and protected by Amitabha’s light first (to be embraced by light means to be protected), then appear, welcome and receive him to the Land of Bliss at the near end of his life later.
So, it is said in the 18th Vow – wish to be born in my land. From the point of view of Amitabha Budda, it is a calling of Amitabha’s compassionate mind. He guarantees that he will welcome and receive us to the Land of Bliss. He guarantees all practitioners of Amitabha-recitation are definitely reborn in the Land of Bliss.
Amitabha-recitation is the cause of rebirth, and rebirth is the reward. For such a cause comes such an effect. So, the 18th Vow is called the Vow of Rebirth through Amitabha-recitation.

‘Aspiration to be reborn’ is taken into account on the top of ‘sentient beings who recite are certainly to be reborn’. If the practitioner is not single-minded in aspiration to rebirth, he is not certain to be reborn because his aspiration is not single-minded. For animals like parrots, they have no problem in single-minded aspiration, so they can be naturally reborn – it naturally leads to that land with no violation [to the law of nature].

Amitabha Buddha accomplishes his 48 vows through contemplative practices in five eons, and he continues to cultivate the immeasurable meritorious virtues of the bodhisattva practices in inconceivable and innumerable kalpas. Why does Amitabha Buddha work so hard for such a long time? What is his purpose? He has only one reason – it is simply because YOU wish to be reborn in MY Land of Bliss!
Thus, we follow in accord with Amitabha’s vow and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. In that case, Amitabha’s vow and our aspiration are matching. Moreover, whenever, wherever and whatever we do, Amitabha is always with us. There is a saying: There has a thousand moons in water if there are a thousand rivers; the sky is ten thousand miles high if there is no cloud within ten thousand miles high in the sky. Wherever we go, the moon shadow always follows without abandoning us.

Due to different causal conditions of sentient beings in this world, they come across different scenes near the end-of-life, so it is not impossible to rely on one symptom as the standard to justify whether a sentient being is reborn in the Land of Bliss. If there were a standard or benchmark, it may have just one way to justify – aspiration to Amitabha’s Pure Land through exclusive Amitabha-recitation.
For such a person, he can be reborn in the Land of Bliss whether he dies naturally or in illness, in a car or plane accident. There is a parable in the Buddhist scripture - like a tree that always inclines to the west is cut down, in what direction does it fall? It must fall to the west. For such a cause, such an effect comes.

We set forth the mind of aspiration [to rebirth], so we fulfill Buddhas’ wish. Though we have greed, hatred, ignorance, false views and miscellaneous thoughts in our mind, we have Amitabha-recitation in our mind that is most valuable. This faith in Amitabha-recitation is as non-destructive as diamond. Amitabha Buddha will come to receive us when time comes, as said at the end of the Avatamsaka Sutra.
When a person nearly dies, his body will leave, his dependents will leave, his liquid assets will leave and his fixed assets will leave too. Only the mind of aspiration does not leave him alone because this mind of aspiration is aligned with the mind of Amitabha Buddha.

All worldly matters are unreal. Only Buddha is real. ‘Buddha’ here refers to Amitabha Buddha. Only Amitabha Buddha, only the Land of Bliss permanently exists. They are pure without contamination. So, when we invoke, we recite the Buddha. When we take refuge, we go to the Pure Land.
When recite the Buddha, we invoke him too. It means that Amitabha Buddha is the one that we recite. When we take refuge, we go to the Pure Land. It means that the pure Land of Bliss is the settlement place that we aim to go. Amitabha Buddha is the one that our life should rely on, and the Land of Bliss is our homeland of joy and peace.

‘Wish to be reborn in my land’ is the calling from Amitabha Buddha to us. From the standpoint of Amitabha Buddha, he calls sentient beings in the ten directions - no matter we are sagely or ordinary beings, good or bad, monastic or householder, male or female, old or young, smart or slow-witted, benevolent or selfish. [He always] calls these sentient beings to aspire, by all means, to be reborn in the Land of Bliss in this present lifetime, and do not wait for future lives.

Shakyamuni Buddha urges us to aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss three times in the Amitabha Sutra. So, we know aspiration to Amitabha’s Pure Land is very important. Though there are three times in this sutra, ‘three’ means infinite in number because he patiently urges us one time after the other, and continuously reminds and leads us wherever and whenever we are. He welcomes all of us aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, but matters if we do not aspire to rebirth. It reveals Shakyamuni’s sincerity and earnestness in the matter of our rebirth.
So, when we read the Amitabha Sutra, we should appreciate Shakyamuni’s compassionate intent [of urging us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss]. If we abide by Shakyamuni’s compassionate intent, it means we abide by Amitabha’s original intent, and fulfill Amitabha’s wish too. It is because Amitabha Buddha makes vows to practice the virtues [for cultivation] for us, and to deliver all sentient beings in the ten directions. He cannot bear leaving any sentient being alone and let him or her reincarnate in the Saha World.

We all know we must die once we were born. [After birth], a person eventually die sooner or later. As long as our body is still alive, we must suffer from afflictions, and attachment to this or that. Nevertheless, we know, from the bottom of our heart, that we will be reborn [in the Land of Bliss] at last. So, the Three States of Mind is actually a single mind.
When Master Shandao explained the 18th Vow, he does not talk about ‘to sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves’, and he simply says, “If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who aspire to be born in my land, and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.”
He translates the Three States of Mind into ‘aspiration to rebirth’. In short, the Three States of Mind is the mind of aspiration to rebirth in the Land of Bliss.

If an Amitabha-reciter is earnest to aspire to be reborn, he does not need anyone to urge him, but keeps reciting at any time in any place under any circumstances. Nothing can prevent him from reciting Amitabha’s name. Regardless of his occupation, duties and responsibilities, he can recite. As he is earnest in aspiration, he will consider Amitabha-recitation is the most important thing in his life. Instead, if he is not earnest in aspiration, he will consider the five sensual desires are the most important things in his life.
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Master Huijing

Master Huijing

Master Jingzong

Master Jingzong

Guiding Principles

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