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 Characteristics of Pure Land Buddhism – Name-Recitation in Accord with the Fundamental Vow

There are two meanings of the Chinese words ‘ben-yuan’, one is ‘the original cause’ and the other is the ‘fundamental root’. With respect to Amitabha’s vows, the former refers to each of all 48 vows. However, among the 48 vows, if we want to find which vow is fundamental, it only refers to the 18th vow.
This interpretation of the Fundamental Vow is consistent with the commentaries on the Infinite Life Sutra written by the patriarchs of the Pure Land lineage, such as the Chapter on the Easy Path by Nagarjuna Bodhisattva, the Treatise of Rebirth by Vasubandhu Bodhisattva, the Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth by Master Tanluan, the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra and the four other books in five fascicles by Master Shandao. All of them refer only to the 18th vow and no other vow when they speak of the Fundamental Vow. So, whenever we talk about the Fundamental Vow, we refer to the 18th vow.
Ordinary people may misunderstand the definition of the Fundamental Vow because they are not specialized in studying the Pure Land teaching. As an example, there is a Gatha in the Infinite Life Sutra:
By the power of that Buddha’s Fundamental Vow,
Those who hear his Name and wish to be reborn
Will all reach his Land [of Bliss].
They will naturally attain a state of non-retrogression.
It mentions Buddha’s Fundamental Vow. It also mentions ‘those who hear his Name and wish to be reborn, will all reach his Land.’ Which vow out of the 48 talks about this statement? It is, of course, the 18th vow, not the 19th vow. The meaning of the 18th vow is also elaborated in the passage on accomplishment and the passage on circulation in the Infinite Life Sutra.
If a person has not reached a deeper level in the interpretation of the Fundamental Vow, he cannot understand it thoroughly. However, when he reaches that level of interpretation, he can understand even more thoroughly if he is ‘clicked’ on [inspired] a bit by a good and virtuous advisor.

Within the meaning of Amitabha’s 48 Vows there are differences in terms of ‘broadness’, ‘simplicity’, and ‘significance.’
The terms ‘broadness’ generally refers to all 48 vows, while ‘simplicity’ refers to the three vows, namely the 18th, the 11th and the 22nd Vow (as stipulated in the conclusion of the Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth by Master Tanluan). The terms ‘significance’ refers to the 18th Vow only.
Within the 48 vows, the most fundamental and the most important one is the 18th Vow. It is only the 18th Vow that includes the meaning of ‘broadness’ and the meaning of ‘simplicity’.

Based on the Pure Land sutras and treatises, Master Shandao explains the guiding principles and the theology of Pure Land School of Buddhism. In short, it is ‘name-recitation in accordance with the Fundamental Vow, and rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s realm of rewards’. It means, all good and evil ordinary beings can attain rebirth if they merely recite Amitabha’s name in compliance with the Fundamental Vow.

In the 18th Vow, Amitabha Buddha specifically refers to name-recitation when he says “even ten times,”not the other three kinds of Amitabha-invocations: Amitabha-invocation of the Real Mark, Amitabha-invocation of contemplation, and Amitabha-invocation of contemplating images. In the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha personally interprets ‘ten times’ as ‘ten verbal recitations’.
Those who attain rebirth on the lowest level of the lowest tier are sentient beings who commit such evils as the five gravest offenses, the ten evil acts, and all kinds of immorality. Owing to such evil karma, these heavily burdened beings will fall into evil realms and suffer endless agony for many eons. When one of these people is about to die, he may meet a good and virtuous teacher, who consoles him in various ways, teaching him the wonderful Dharma and urging him to be mindful of the Buddha; but , he is too tormented by pain to do so.
The good teacher then advises him, 'If you cannot concentrate on the Buddha in mind, then you should recite [by mouth] instead, 'Homage to Amitayus Buddha' [Na-mo-o-mi-t'o-fo]. In this way, he sincerely and continuously recites ‘Namo Amituofo’ which is deemed to fulfill ‘even ten times’ as stated in the 18th Vow. Because he calls the Buddha's Name, with each repetition, the evil karma which he has committed during eighty kotis of kalpas of Samsara is extinguished.
The invocation mentioned in the statement “he is too tormented by pain to be mindful of the Buddha “, refers to Amitabha-invocation of the Real Mark, Amitabha-invocation of contemplation, and Amitabha-invocation of contemplating images. In this critical circumstance, he can only recite Amitabha’s name. Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow is tailor-made for delivering ‘all sentient beings in the ten directions.”Therefore ,‘even ten times’ must refer to ‘ten verbal recitations,’ otherwise those of the lowest level of the lowest tier will be excluded from the deliverance of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. If the above is the case, it means the 18th vow cannot be in effect. Thus, ‘invocation’ should be the same as ‘recitation.’

Name recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow - The Fundamental Vow is the 18th vow, the root of Amitabha’s 48 Vows
“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.”
“Sentient beings of the ten directions” refers to all good and evil ordinary beings. “Even ten times” means lifespan (extending to as long as one lifetime, limited to as short as ten times, even one time [in recitation], or one thought [in mind]. Those with long life should recite Amitabha’s name as long as they are alive; those with short life should recite as few as ten times, one time, or even one thought.
In short, whoever aspires to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, should exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, and be reborn with recourse to Amitabha’s vow power. Simply speaking, by reciting Amitabha’s name with recourse to Amitabha’s vow, one will be assured of being born in the Land of Bliss. Those who believe this should practice recitation to their fullest capability. The great Fundamental Vow is imbued with Amitabha’s unconditioned kindness, infinite compassion, and universal deliverance.

Quotation from the Chapter on Easy Path – The Fundamental Vow of Amitabha Buddha is as such: If a person thinks of me, he will naturally come to me by reciting my Name, and he is assured to enter the state of non-retrogression immediately, and attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. That is why one should always recollect me.
In the 18th vow, it says ‘even ten times.’ ‘Ten times’ refers to name-recitation. Who adopted this interpretation? The first person was Nagarjuna Bodhisattva. Nagarjuna clearly explained it was name-recitation in the 18th vow, which is also the Fundamental Vow of the 48 vows. Nagarjuna completely identified the Fundamental Vow to be the 18th vow, and name-recitation to be the ‘ten times.’ Based on his statement as evidence, the Pure Land teaching gains the great authority of Nagarjuna’s endorsement. No one would dispute or deny it. “Name-recitation in accordance with the Fundamental Vow” is clearly stated in this paragraph.

The meaning of ‘Amitabha-recitation in accordance with the Fundamental Vow’ is defined and explained by Nagarjuna Bodhisattva in the Chapter on the Easy Path:
“The Fundamental Vow of Amitabha Buddha is as such: If a person thinks of me, he will naturally come to me by reciting my Name, and he is assured to enter the state of non-retrogression immediately, and attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. That is why one should always recollect me.”
“The Fundamental Vow” refers to the 18th vow. “Amitabha-recitation” refers to ‘even ten times’ in the 18th vow. If a person aspires to, or wishes to be reborn, he will “naturally come to me.” Such a person is assured to enter the state of non-retrogression immediately. That is why one should always invoke or think of [Amitabha Buddha].

With respect to the meaning of ‘Amitabha-recitation in accordance with the Fundamental Vow,’ Master Tanluan followed the doctrine of the Easy Path underscored by Nagarjuna Bodhisattva. He wrote in his Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth, “Due to the causal condition of believing the Buddha and aspiration to be reborn in the Pure Land, one can be reborn with recourse to Buddha’s vow power.” ‘Causal condition of the Buddha’ refers to the 18th vow. It is because all good and evil ordinary beings are assured of rebirth, due to the power of Amitabha’s 18th vow, if they aspire to be reborn and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name. ‘With recourse to Buddha’s vow power’ refers to recitation of Amitabha’s name ‘even ten times.’ It is because Amitabha-recitation naturally implies reliance on Buddha’s vow power.

Master Tanluan concludes in the Commentary on the Treatise of Rebirth, “Under the augmentative condition of Amitabha’s vow power, sentient beings who recite Amitabha’s name for ten times can attain rebirth.” Thus we know ‘ten times’ in Amitabha-recitation means attaining rebirth with recourse to Amitabha’s vow power. ‘Causal condition of faith in the Buddha’ means ‘practice based on faith. If we have no faith and no practice, it is not regarded as the ‘causal condition of faith in the Buddha, and also not regarded as ‘with recourse to Amitabha’s vow power.’

Why can those sentient beings who recite Amitabha’s name ten times be reborn? It is because Amitabha-recitation implies making use of Buddha’s vow power as the causal factor and rebirth is attained. It is what they believe, and it is also what they practice. Therefore, the conclusion of the Commentary on the Treatise of rebirth at the end is: “Don’t be foolish! Future learners who hear of [Amitabha’s teaching of] Other-Power (to embrace practitioners of Amitabha-recitation with Amitabha’s vow power), should rely on and put their faith in (Amitabha-recitation). Don’t confine yourself to take limited part of it.”

The merit of rebirth comes from the great Fundamental Vow of Amitabha Buddha, not from the effort of the cowardly and contemptible ordinary beings. Thus, regardless of good or evil aspirants, all are to be reborn through Amitabha-recitation. However, Amitabha-recitation is not exclusionary against other practices,; it just emphasizes the non-reliance of the power through our own practices.
Moreover, as duties and responsibilities of the Pure Land practitioners, we have to be sincere and scrupulous in our relationships and avoid evil and cherish good, hold fasting precept and avoid killing, help the poor and the minority. We should strive to practice the Five Precepts, the Ten Wholesome Deeds and the Six Paramitas, and deeply believe the cause and effect of karma in accord with our conditions and capacity, because these are our moral responsibilities too.
Whoever wishes to be reborn in the Land of bliss must know beforehand that, although the good and evil karma of sentient beings differ in weight, Amitabha Buddha’s mind is equal in his deliverance.
If we realize this, those with good karma will be more grateful to the Buddha and will practice harder for good karma. Those with bad karma will also do good karma because they repent because of Amitabha’s deliverance. So, volition to produce good karma and repaying grace is triggered and initiated by the great compassion of Amitabha.

Merits of different dharma practices are not comparable in superiority, but the one that works for you is superior. Prices of different medicines are not comparable in value, but the one that cures disease is most valuable. Nevertheless, the world here is the Land of Saha; the time now is the dharma-ending era; the aptitude of our own is fool and evil. Out of 84,000 dharma teachings, which one is most wonderful that suits our aptitude, in this world and at this period of time? There is only one – Amitabha-recitation in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.

Even the evil people can eradicate their karmic offenses through Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow, so not to mention the sagely people. Why is Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow so easy and simple, and also so splendid? It is because of the great vows made by Amitabha. Therefore, there is no other teaching that can surpass the teaching of Amitabha-recitation.
As this teaching is simple and easy, perfect and insightful, and more importantly, our rebirth [in the Pure Land] is assured as soon as we have deep faith. On the other side, since it is too easy, ordinary people are extremely difficult to believe.

Name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow is one of the characteristics of Pure Land Buddhism. [The characteristic is] not Buddha-invocation mixed with the Three Studies, not Buddha-invocation mixed with the Six Paramitas, but just name-recitation. Name-recitation complies with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. The power of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow is the Buddha’s power that enables all exclusive Amitabha-reciters to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.
Though they cannot perfectly hold the Five Precepts, or they have false and confused thinking, and no skills and insight, or they have no knowledge to read the profound sutras, or they cannot put forth the Bodhi Mind, or they have not practiced any of the Three Studies and the Six Paramitas, all of them can be reborn [in the Land of Bliss]!
Our rebirth does not rely on our own power, but on Amitabha’s great name with a myriad of virtues. Amitabha’s name contains the merits and virtues that are sufficient to clear our karmic offenses of reincarnation, and to transcend horizontally the Three Domains and the Six Realms leading us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, and to expedite the achievement of Buddhahood in the Land of Bliss.
Because of this, Amitabha’s name enables any sentient being of different aptitude and capacity to be equally and unconditionally reborn in the realm of nirvana in the Land of Bliss. It is known as ‘Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow.’

The ‘Three Tiers’ mentioned in the Infinite Life Sutra does not mean the ‘Three Tiers’ after rebirth [in the Land of Bliss]. It means three kinds of practitioners of different aptitude and capacity [here in this land]. Though there are three kinds [of practitioners], the practice for their rebirth is just one – name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow.
Master Shandao explains this statement in the Infinite Life Sutra, and says, “The Buddha says all sentient beings are different in aptitude and capacity – higher, medium and lower. According to their aptitude and capacity, the Buddha advises them to exclusively recite Amitabha’s name [for rebirth].”
It means all sentient beings are different in aptitude and capacity. If they want to be reborn [in the Land of Bliss], they have to exclusively recite Namo Amituofo.

Though Amitabha makes 48 vows, the fundamental one and the master one is the 18th vow. In this master fundamental vow, it merely says Amitabha-recitation [for rebirth in the Land of Bliss].

If we talk about Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, but do not recite Amitabha’s name, not totally let go and not entirely rely on Amitabha Buddha, and thus practice other teachings for dedication and aspiration, we are not [regarded to follow] the Fundamental Vow.
Though they may recite Amitabha’s name, they think there may be other requirements and conditions [for rebirth], such as: ‘single-minded in law’ and ‘single-minded in practice’ so that they are in excellence and their mind is pure with no attachment. Well, it is not Amitabha-recitation in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.

Scanning our mind carefully, what virtuous roots do we have so as to dedicate [and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss]? Unreal and impure [virtuous roots]! Whatever we do and think is related to the Five Desires. Though we wish to have pure mind, it is unreal like drawing a circle on the surface of water. So, the de facto founder says, “We are sinful and evil ordinary beings in the cycle of rebirth. We have no condition to escape from it.”
If we do not rely on Amitabha’s vow power, we must keep dying one life after the other and reincarnate ever since numerous eons. If we have some [virtuous roots] that can dedicate, it is probably the merits and virtues attained through Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow only. We can distribute these merits and virtues equally to all sentient beings, so that they all aspire to be reborn in the Land of Peace and Joy. They can gain blessings and wisdom in the present life. They will be received [by Amitabha Buddha] at the near end of their lives.

Amitabha Buddha transforms all his merits and virtues into his Name, and dedicates these to sentient beings like us, so this Name consists of all Amitabha’s light [with his merits and virtues]. In this respect, when we recite this name in the form of light with our tiny heart, we will combine with Amitabha’s name and his light. Isn’t meant that our body-light always follows Amitabha’s infinite light that fills up the infinite universe?

With respect to Buddha’s virtues, they have no form, no sound, no symbol and no word. It cannot be conceived by sravakas, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattvas. However, Amitabha Buddha transforms all his real-form-in-no-form merits into ‘Namo Amituofo’ that can be expressed in form, spoken in sound and written in words and symbols. He allows us to see with our eyes, to hear with our ears, and to recite with our mouth. It is a method selected by Amitabha Buddha for us [to practice] in his Fundamental Vow. It is because of Amitabha-recitation with respect to the Fundamental Vow, all sentient beings in the ten directions can be thoroughly delivered. So, it’s fine for all sentient beings in the ten directions to [attain rebirth by] mere recitation of [Amitabha’s] name.

Referring to the paragraph of the accomplishment of the 18th vow, the sentence of ‘knowing the Fundamental Vow is serious and real’ links up the two sides - Amitabha’s functional power of achieving Buddhahood and the reason why sentient beings are reborn there. Because that Buddha achieves Buddhahood, his vows are fulfilled, thus not unreal; because his vows are fulfilled and real, [sentient beings] are certainly to be reborn if they recite [his name].

Every Buddha has his own fundamental vow in order to achieve Buddhahood. Different from all other Buddhas, Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow is unique. All Buddhas in the ten directions have no such vow because Amitabha’s fundamental vow surpasses theirs. So, after Amitabha achieved his Buddhahood, his power accomplished in his fundamental vow is exceptionally great and splendid, deep and vast.

We are ordinary beings full of greed, hatred and delusion. We cannot subdue even a tiny bit of afflictions, so it is pointless to say to cut them off. However, if we can recite the six-character great name, we can be reborn in the Land of Bliss, a realm of unconditioned nirvana. It is totally not because of our effort, or the power generated from our practices. We need not make use of any of these, but entirely rely on the meritorious ‘virtues’ of the ‘teaching’ – the ‘teaching’ refers to Amitabha Buddha.

The Easy Path is so-called ‘easy’ because of name-recitation in accord with Amiatbha’s Fundamental Vow. If it is not name-recitation in accord with Amiatbha’s Fundamental Vow, it cannot be said to be ‘easy’. Not just easy, but ‘easiness’ itself consists of splendid merits and virtues at the same time. It is because we have been pre-qualified to attain the state of non-retrogression though we cannot be reborn in the Land of Bliss at present. So, it is said to be easy in practice, but the merits and virtues attained are remarkable.

Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow is the practice selected by Amitabha Buddha. It is splendid, and is also easy in the sense that all sentient beings are to be equally reborn in [Amitabha’s] reward land. Regardless the slow-witted, the stupid, the inferior and the illiterate, all can [recite Amitabha’s name]. So, Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow is easy and splendid.

If we talk about Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, but do not mention reciting Amitabha’s name, not completely letting go, and not entirely relying on [Amitabha], and practice other virtues and dedicate [for rebirth], it is not [the meaning of] Fundamental Vow. Though reciting Amitabha’s name, we have some other requirements or conditions [for rebirth], for instance, single-minded in law (absolute), single-minded in phenomena (relativity), proficiency in practice, purity in mind. In this case, it is not Amitabha-recitation in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.

It does not matter you are sagely or ordinary being, good or evil, as long as you exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, your rebirth is assured in this lifetime. In the process, you don’t need to be proficient in the practices while sleeping or you are awake; you are not required to cut off the delusions in views and delusion, or to achieve the single-minded state in law and in phenomena. To attain assured rebirth, you don’t need all these.
What you need is Amitabha-recitation only. It is natural, not forceful, to be delivered by [Amitabha] Buddha, and to attain rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Why is it possible? It is because of all merit and virtues come from Amitabha’s 18th Vow. It is the power of Amitabha’s merit and virtues and of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.

The main cause of rebirth and the principal karma of assured rebirth is [the exclusive practice of] Amitabha-recitation. Whether we give in charity, or how much we give is not related to rebirth. Whether we purely hold the precepts is not related to rebirth. Whether we have achieved a certain realm of existence in meditation, whether we have false and miscellaneous thoughts during Amitabha-recitation, whether our mind is pure… all these are not related to rebirth. Whether we have wisdom of great and perfect mirror, whether we realize the true mind and see the nature are not related to rebirth. Whether we have set forth the Bodhi Mind or practice the Six Paramitas with a myriad of practices is also not related to rebirth. What is related to rebirth [in the Land of Bliss]? It’s Amitabha-recitation.

Amitabha Buddha is known as Amitabha Buddha with the Body of Stores of Dharma Realm. It means all merit and virtues, including those of the Five Precepts, of the Ten Wholesome Deeds, of the Sravakas, of the Prateyabuddha, of the small sages of the Three Benevolences, of the great sages of the Ten Grounds and of all Buddhas, are all stored in the Dharma Realm, so he is called Amitabha Buddha with the Body of Stores of Dharma Realm.
Name-recitation can solicit the merit and virtue of the Buddha naturally, and receive it because the Buddha’s name and the Buddha’s virtue are in one entity, interchangeable and inseparable. It is just like switching on and off the light, it must be bright all over naturally, not forcefully and not deliberately. We merely recite the Buddha’s name, then we naturally get the Buddha’s virtues within it, and Buddha’s virtues become our virtues.

We ordinary beings simply move our mouth (and lips) in reciting ‘Namo Amituofo’, and hence it turns out to be the direct cause of rebirth, as we have the merits and virtues in possession, and the credentials or provisions necessary for rebirth. This name is very common, but consists of all Amitabha’s merit and virtues, including those given by Amitabha [promised in the 18th Vow] - ‘should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.’ So, verbal recitation is the ‘virtue of teachings.’
Amitabha cultivates immeasurable merit and virtues in his bodhisattva practices in his causal ground in countless eons, and accomplishes this name with perfect Enlightenment. His aim is to allow sentient beings in the ten directions to recite his Name and to be reborn in his land. So, it is said, “Virtues of practice [given by Amitabha] is the effect of verbal recitation [practices of sentient beings]; name-recitation is possible [for sentient beings to practice] because of [Amitabha’s] full and complete virtues.”

Amitabha’s body substance and his name are always together. If we separate Amitabha’s body substance, we have no six-character great name. It is because this great name is formed by [Amitabha’s] body substance. Leaving this name alone, there has no Amitabha Buddha.
Think about it: Without this name, how can we get in contact with Amitabha? How can we interact with Amitabha?
Amitabha Buddha exists grandly and broadly wherever and whenever in universe. However, if we do not have his name, we cannot communicate with him. Just like the omnipresent electromagnetic wave, if we have no conductor, no frequency channel and no on/off switch, we cannot be connected online. So, it is said to be ‘no name without substance; no substance without name.’

The meaning of ‘loss in mindfulness and recitation in name’: because of the retribution of evil karma, a person suffers near the end-of-life. When he learns about [the Pure Land] teachings from a good friend, he cannot be mindful due to severe suffering. Under this circumstance, he recites Amitabha’s name. As his name-recitation is said to be ‘sufficiently fulfill the ten recitations,’ the heavy karma in the past 8 billion eons that causes this iniquitous being is eliminated, and he cannot be reborn in the pure Land of Bliss.
Though he recites verbally, it is not the credit resulted from the three karma of the practitioner (reciter). Nevertheless, he can be reborn by Amitabha-recitation. It reveals that the merit necessary and power to enable rebirth should be entirely on the side of Amitabha Buddha, not on the side of the sentient beings (reciter).
So, sentient beings who nearly fall in the hells, but simply recite Amitabha’s name, will be delivered and reborn in the Pure Land because of merits of Amitabha’s name and Amitabha’s vow power. It is so-called ‘entire Buddha’s power, absolute other-power, no self-power.’

Amitabha Buddha has accomplished [his vow] that provides an easy method for us to be reborn [in the Pure Land], which is Amitabha-recitation. So, name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow is the characteristic of Pure Land School.
For name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow, we rely entirely on Buddha’s power, and it is nothing to do with our three karmic practices. It does not rely on our intentional acts, or not depend on the grade of merit and virtues. It does not rely on all these, but on mere recitation of Amitabha’s name. Merit and virtues of the name alone will be sufficient to enable us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss naturally. So, as long as we recite Amitabha’s name, the name itself is sufficient to reach the Land of Bliss. It is known as ‘sole manipulation by the name, sole achievement through Amitabha-recitation.’

Though Buddha’s mind is equal, our aptitude varies, for instance, some close and some distant in relationship. Though Amitabha’s vows can be extended to ‘cover’ the three kinds of people with different karmic relationships, he only embraces and receives those who recite his name.

Name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow: To exclusively recite Amitabha’s name is based on Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. So, name-recitation in accord with the Fudamental Vow is the characteristic of the Pure Land teaching.

Name-recitation is Amitabha’s original intent, and is a demand on us, and the specification set by Amitabha in his Fundamental Vow. This demand exerts no pressure on us. It simply let us know there has no ‘door board’ [preventing us from rebirth].

The great six-character name – Namo Amituofo is inconceivable. It is a teaching beyond the difference between enlightenment and ignorance, good and evil, belief and doubt, self and other (Buddha). It is a teaching that follows Amitabha’s great vow – all those who recite Amitabha’s name must be received and reborn in the Land of Bliss.

Amitabha’s deliverance is unconditional. It is not “Amitabha-recitation combined with holding precepts” that enables us to be reborn (in the Land of Bliss). It is not “Amitabha-recitation with proficient meditation” that enables us to be reborn. It is not “Amitabha-recitation plus wisdom” (study and understand all profound sutras and teachings) that enables us to be reborn. It is not “Amitabha-recitation with Bodhi Mind” (the Four Great Vows) that enables us to be reborn.
For rebirth, we rely on Amitabha’s vow power -- rely on the Buddha power of his Name. As long as we recite his name, we can be reborn. Pure Land Buddhism, hence, is “Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow”. We rely on the vow power of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow for rebirth.

The 18th Vow is the Fundamental Vow, also known as the Vow of Name-Recitation. Why is the Name-Recitation of the Fundamental Vow? It is because ‘Name is the same as substance.’ The six-character great Name is Amitabha Buddha himself. Whoever encounters this Name will be amalgamated with Amitabha Buddha, so it is known as ‘aptitude and the teaching are in one entity.’

The 19th Vow talks about to awaken aspiration for Enlightenment and to perform various meritorious deeds: the Five Precepts are meritorious deeds, so are the Ten Wholesome Deeds, the Three Studies, the Six Paramitas, the Four Noble Truths, and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination; they are all examples of meritorious deeds. Each of them has its karmic consequential fruition brought about by different karmic causes. Hence, if the practitioners do not dedicate those karmic deeds for rebirth, they will, of course, not be reborn in the Land of Bliss. [On the other side, we should know that] the direct cause of rebirth in the Land of Bliss, as stated in the 18th Vow, is Amitabha-recitation.

The meaning of ‘even [recite] ten times’ is that no matter you recite [Amitabha’s Name] in your entire life, or you have just encountered this [Pure Land] teaching at the hour of death, during which you only afford to recite ten times, once, or even silently in mind, you can be reborn [in the Land of Bliss]. This matches the saying that “To have faith [in Amitabha’s deliverance] and believe in rebirth [by holding fast to his Name] even with one recitation, and to practice diligently by reciting as many as possible in the entire life”. That is “Name-recitation in accordance with the Fundamental Vow”.

Rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land is the reward, and the respective cause is faith and Amitabha-recitation. Faith does not reside on faith itself, but the belief in “rebirth is assured if we recite Amitabha’s name for the remainder of our life, even as short as ten recitations, one recitation, and one thought”. So, the cause of rebirth is Amitabha-recitation, and faith is the belief in Amitabha-recitation.
In conclusion, the direct cause of rebirth is Amitabha-recitation, which is stipulated in the Fundamental Vow. Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow is the backbone of our Pure Land School.

The aptitude of each individual is different; but if they know [their own] “aptitude” and [the Buddha’s] “teaching” through their personal experience and do not change their faith, then, it can be said that they have “deep faith in aptitude and teaching”.
“Deep faith” implies ‘unchanged’. For those who realize deeply will not change, and for those who realize shallowly will not change too. The most essential part is aspiration to rebirth and recitation of the name, and deep belief in the fact that “anyone who aspires to be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha and exclusively recite his name will be assured rebirth”.
Hence, even though he has not learnt any tenet of Pure Land Buddhism, he can still attain rebirth as long as he exclusively recite Amitabha’s name and aspires to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land. Even though he has not heard of any teaching of Master Shandao, or thought about the connotations of deep faith in aptitude and deep faith in the teaching, he can still attain rebirth as long as he exclusively recite Amitabha’s name and aspires to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land.
Thus, the most essential part of rebirth is aspiration to rebirth and recitation of the name. Master Shandao says, “Sentient beings who recite Amitabha’s name attain assured rebirth.”

Our teaching has specific definitions about diligence and arrogance, which are different from those of the Sacred Path. For practitioners of our school, “diligence” means name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow. If you are not practicing name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow, you are considered as “slacking” even you practice various virtues diligently day and night with the Bodhi Mind, and accumulate merits and virtues.
Master Shandao says, “[The practitioner] should not appear in the form of diligence, benevolence and kindness in the practices, and bear an internal mind of deceit and hypocrisy, of greed and hatred, of evil views and false thoughts, or of hundreds of cunning tricks and fraudulent ideas. As it is difficult to be intruded [in his mind] to change these wicked inherent qualities, all his acts are the same as those done by serpents and scorpions.Though he commences [to practice] in the threefold karma, it is called ‘virtues mixed with poisons’, also called ‘untrue and unreal practices’, and not called ‘real karma.’
Even if we settle ourselves and commence our practice, earnestly and diligently endeavoring with body and mind, striving without a moment’s rest as if our very heads had caught fire, it is still called ‘virtue mixed with poison.’
So, the Infinite Life Sutra writes, “Such a person respectfully worships, hears and upholds it, and rejoices so greatly as to dance. Arrogant, corrupt and indolent people cannot readily believe and accept this teaching. “
If a person can respectfully worship and uphold it, he is regarded to be ‘diligent’. If he doesn’t believe in this teaching, he is regarded to be ‘slacking’, no matter how hard he works. Why? Being arrogant is the answer. Practicing various merits and virtues with arrogance in mind, he is regarded, from the perspective of our school’s teaching, to be slacking, not diligent.

There are two kinds of Samadhi: one is the Samadhi of Buddha-invocation in the Sacred Path that takes Buddha-invocation as an expedient means to reach this meditative state; and the other is “name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow”. “
Name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow” is the Samadhi of Buddha-invocation by itself. Even though the reciter’s mind is still having afflictions like greed, hatred, delusion, and scattered, not reaching the state of stillness, he is still regarded to be in the state of Samadhi.
The reason is that he follows Amitabha’s 18th Vow, knowing that rebirth is assured by name-recitation and, hence, believing in and accepting Amitabha’s deliverance, and exclusively reciting the name of Amitabha.Buddha-invocation in this manner, by itself, is Samadhi.

The saying that “ten-time recitation of the Name fulfills the aspiration and practices” doesn’t mean fulfillment is achieved at the time of your recitation. It is the Name that you recite possesses the aspiration and practices [required for rebirth]. You recite because you believe in the Name. Hence, recitation of the Name for ten times will certainly fulfill the aspiration and practices.
It is just like that a flowing stream can make things, but it doesn’t mean that the stream make things wet only when it is flowing. By itself, water has a function of making things wet. Because a flowing stream has this function too, it can make things wet.

Why Amitabha-recitation is the “karma of assurance”? There is only one reason: it accords with Amitabha’s 18th Vow. So, it is called the teaching of the Fundamental Vow. Our Amitabha-recitation is known as ‘Name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow’.

Amitabha-recitation is the designated practice specified in Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. Other practices are not designated in Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, so Master Shandao says, “Given [Amitabha] Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, Shakyamuni’s intention is that sentient beings should always recite the name of Amitabha Buddha exclusively.” No other practices are mentioned.
In other words, apart from reciting Amitabha’ name, no other [practices] is mentioned in the Fundamental Vow. Always exclusively recite, and do not mix with any other practice. So, one of the characteristics of our teachings is Amitabha-recitation in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.

Amitabha Buddha sets forth great vows in the causal ground (as a bodhisattva in the past) and establishes his Pure Land. His primary purpose is to deliver all kinds of good and evil ordinary beings, so as to liberate them from reincarnation within the Six Realms, to be reborn in his reward land and to expedite and realize the Prefect Enlightenment.
In order to reach this goal, Amitabha accomplishes his great Name of a myriad of virtues that all sentient beings can recite in practice. He vows: if those who recite my name cannot be reborn, I vow not to become a Buddha. It is fundamental great vow made by that Buddha, so it is called the Fundamental Vow.
Pure Land School stresses the name-recitation is the principal method of rebirth, the only practice known as the “karma of assurance”. It is because name-recitation is specified and designated in Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.
Above all, abiding by the vow of that Buddha, we certainly attain assured rebirth [in the Land of Bliss] with recourse to the vow power of that Buddha.

Under any circumstance, we can and we should recite Amitabha’s name at any time in any place. Though our life is short and death comes in a sudden, we can be reborn by reciting Amitabha’s name, even one time. Hence, we know rebirth [in the Land of Bliss] is not the result of our cumulative merits in name-recitation, not our effort in name-recitation, but is the power of Amitabha’s name and his Fundamental Vow that allows us to believe and accept his teaching [of deliverance].

The pure Land of Bliss is a world of no affliction of greed, hatred and delusion. It is a reward land, a realm of unconditioned nirvana resulted by Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. So, it is impossible for all ordinary beings, even those in the Three Vehicles with various virtues to be reborn under any causal condition.
With this respect, the only cause of rebirth is Amitabha-recitation in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, known as ‘such an effect with such a cause’. There is no any other main cause apart from Amitabha-recitation in accord with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.

The aim of Pure Land Buddhism is very clear – to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, which is a land of reward. The method is very simple to practice – Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow. Everybody can practice, and everybody can get reward. It really serves all sentient beings of the three capacities (i.e. the superior, medium and inferior), including the sharp and the slow-witted. It is told that ten thousand people who practice this eventually go there.
Whether that person is a man or woman, aged or young, wise or unwise, kind or unkind, he or she can recite the Name, whereas Amitabha-recitation, by itself, relies on the power of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, so that the practitioner is protected and blessed by Amitabha’s light in the present life, and will be received by Amitabha at the time of death. So, as long as we follow the practice of Amitabha-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow, our rebirth is assured by that time.

A person who recites [Amitabha’s name] without interruption till the end of his life is assured of rebirth with a successful rate of ten out of ten, a hundred out of a hundred, and a thousand out of a thousand. If a person gives up such a splendid, yet easy teaching, Master Shandao would worry for him and exclaim, “His chance of rebirth is less than one or two out of a hundred, or three to five out of a thousand.”
In other words, if we follow the Fundamental Vow to recite Amitabha’s name, we will certainly attain assured rebirth; if we don’t, we will not.

For sentient beings living in the world of the Five Turbidities after the Buddha’s nirvana, they are framed by the thieves of afflictions, and are tortured by the Five Sufferings. It is excruciating, like a drowned person sinking down and floating up unceasingly. It is Amitabha Buddha who made and accomplished the Fundamental Vow to rescue those people in acute situations. It is known as ‘Ordinary beings are right targets of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow [of deliverance].’
In other words, the prime purpose of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow is to deliver sentient beings, who suffer from the thieves of afflictions in the world of the Five Turbidities after the Buddha’s nirvana. If Amitabha does not take the deliverance of those suffered beings as top priority, his compassionate vow is not perfect and complete enough, thus sentient beings will continue to suffer without any chance to be liberated.
Nevertheless, that Amitabha’s compassionate vow and practice in countless eons, and his calling ten eons ago shows his top priority in rescuing those iniquitous beings.

A person at the point of death, who can just afford to have ten or five recitations [of the name of Amitabha], or just one recitation before his last breath, can be reborn [in the Land of Bliss] too. With such an example, it manifests that those who have a short life, not reciting much, and even those who perform evil acts, having little knowledge about Buddhism are also allowed to be reborn. Not to mention those, like us, who have been practicing the Buddhist teachings and reciting many times in this life, and those who have a long life, reciting “Namo Amituofo” all the time. How come we cannot get reborn?
By saying “even ten recitations”, “even one recitation”, “embracing ‘many’ with ‘few’”, “embracing ‘good’ with ‘evil’”, “embracing ‘a long life’ with ‘a short life’”, it manifests that everyone has the same opportunity and hope for rebirth. This also reveals that the extreme compassion of Amitabha Buddha, and his infinite wisdom. He enables sentient beings like us to be emancipated from reincarnation in the Three Domains and the Six Realms, and to attain rebirth in Amitabha’s reward land by “recitation of Amitabha’s name only”.

Studying this [Pure Land] teaching, we have to clearly know that our status of assured rebirth is confirmed once we recite the Name. We are now the people having been saved by Amitabha Buddha.

If we don’t know the reason in the Fundamental Vow, and misconceive name-recitation merely as an effort made by sentient beings out of their own devotion, we cannot kindle our faith, as it doesn’t happen by accident. For the sake of establishing the right faith and find out the source of origin, we emphasize the notion of “recitation of Amitabha’s name in accord with the Fundamental Vow”, and also advocate that the Fundamental Vow of that Buddha is the source of origin of Amitabha-recitation by sentient beings, while Amitabha-recitation, in turn, is realization of the Fundamental Vow. Sentient beings and the Buddha feel and respond to each other, and this aligns with the principle of cause and effect. Hence, rebirth is assured and nobody will fail. That comes the saying “ten thousand out of ten thousand practitioners succeed in rebirth.”

The Land of Bliss is a Pure Land of unconditioned nirvana, a reward of Bodhisattva Dharmakara in his fulfillment of 48 vows made in causal ground. It is also accomplished through the accumulation of his boundless virtuous bodhisattva practices in countless eons. The causal conditions and the merits of various virtuous practices possessed by all ordinary beings, even the sagely practitioners of the Three Vehicles cannot enable us to be reborn there. The only cause of rebirth is name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow, because this single name consists of boundless, immeasurable and inconceivable merits and virtues.

Amitabha-recitation is extremely easy that any person can perform at any time and in any place. On the contrary, other practices do not cater for anyone to perform, but those who are sharp-witted with superior capacities, or particularly designated.
The deliverance of Amitabha, however, is equal and universal to all sentient beings. He therefore specifies the easy-to-practice Amitabha-recitation in his Fundamental Vow.

Whoever you are, a man or a woman, aged or young, healthy or sick, near death or being alive, even animal, beings with transitional body, or even ghosts and hell beings, all can be reborn if you recite Amitabha’s name.
There is no taboo for name-recitation. We can do it at any time in any place. We can recite while we are doing some other things at the same time. It is to say, we can recite in daytime or in the evening, in a palace hall or in a living room, bedroom, or bathroom, in clean or dirty place. We can recite whatever we do and whenever we want.
Reciting Amitabha’s name is easy in the ways above, yet it doesn’t diminish its merits and virtues. It is because the Name that we recite is of a myriad of virtues. The Name itself is the body of Amitabha Buddha. So, whenever we think of reciting, and move our lips to recite, the functional power of Amitabha Buddha is instantly revealed. It is said that among all easy practices, none is easier than name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow.

A person who truly merges himself with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow will behave as follows: to recite Amitabha’s name without forsaking, to comply with Amitabha’s 18th Vow, to aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss without changing his mind. He also thinks that only the Land of Bliss and Amitabha Buddha is real. When we admire reality, we naturally recite ‘Namo Amituofo’ all the times.
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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