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 Non-retrogression Achieved in this Lifetime

‘Non-retrogression Achieved in this Lifetime’ means there is no need to wait until the end of life to reach the state of 'non-retrogression'; rather, [the practitioner of exclusive Amitabha-recitation] has been confirmed in the state of non-retrogression at the present moment.

According to the interpretations of the Huayen, Tiantai, Chan, Consciousness-Only and Three Treatises schools of Buddhism, a person can attain non-retrogression only after he is reborn in the Land of Bliss. Our school’s interpretation is not like that. We teach ‘Rebirth of Ordinary Beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards’ and ‘Non-retrogression Achieved in this Lifetime.’ Thus, the accomplishment of the state of non-retrogression has been confirmed at the present moment.
The Infinite Life Sutra says, “Whoever sincerely dedicates and aspires to be reborn in that land will attain rebirth at once and dwell in a state of non-retrogression.” There is no need to wait until after a person is reborn in the Land of Bliss. This is the teaching of achieving [non-retrogression] in this present lifetime, without the lapse of even a day or an hour.

Those who are reborn in the Land of Bliss attain the status of a non-retrogressing bodhisattva. But can this status be attained only after rebirth in the Land of Bliss – or can it be attained in this lifetime, prior to rebirth? Ours is the teaching of non-retrogression achieved in this present lifetime, while still living in the Saha World; thus, we attain the status of a non-retrogressing bodhisattva in advance of our rebirth. This is because our rebirth is assured, and non-retrogression is a consequence of assured rebirth. From the point of view of cause and effect, we can affirm the effect [of rebirth] at the time [we practice exclusive Amitabha-recitation] in the causal ground. Hence, we say that we have already achieved non-retrogression; we have already attained infinite life.

‘Rebirth is attained at present while dwelling in the state of non-retrogression.’ ‘At present’ means right at this moment, without any lapse of days or hours. From the moment that one sincerely dedicates [the merit needed for rebirth through uttering “Namo”], one has already attained rebirth in the reward land, the realm of nirvana, with no danger of retrogression or falling back [to inferior realms].

It is generally taught that the state of non-retrogression can only be attained after rebirth in the Pure Land – or through cultivation by self-power, up to the bodhisattva stages of the first through seventh grounds. However, in the context of pristine Pure Land Buddhism, non-retrogression is attained prior to rebirth in the Land of Bliss; if the cause is certain, then the effect is already accomplished. Because our rebirth is certain [through Amitabha Buddha’s fulfillment of his Fundamental Vow ten kalpas ago], then the effects are accomplished in this present lifetime, prior to our rebirth in the Land of Bliss. In other words, we are already dwelling in the state of non-retrogression, are we not?

“Rebirth Assured in the Present Lifetime” and “Non-retrogression Achieved in this Lifetime” means that one has already attained certain rebirth [in the Land of Bliss]; there is no need to wait until end of life. Likewise, one has attained the state of non-retrogression while still a resident of the Saha World; there is no need to wait until after rebirth [in the Land of Bliss].

Our school is easy and splendid, [because one can achieve] non-retrogression in this lifetime; non-retrogression in the Land of Rewards; non-retrogression in the realm of nirvana; and non-retrogression in the body of the Buddha.

Visualizing the Buddha body is the same as visualizing the Buddha mind. Visualizing the Buddha mind is the same as realizing the unconditional kindness – the single taste of great compassion – of the Buddha who delivers me: an ugly, evil, despicable, inferior, timid and powerless being. This is known as ‘initializing faith’, and refers to the perseverance of ‘no-birth’ in faith, joy and enlightenment [leading to the non-retrogression of faith].
This is similar in meaning to the following paragraph from the Infinite Life Sutra: “[All sentient beings who,] having heard his Name, rejoice in faith, remember him even once and sincerely transfer the merit of virtuous practices to that land, aspiring to be born there, will attain birth and dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression.”

Master Shandao used an analogy of ‘Two Rivers and a White Path’ in the explication of the Three States of Mind. It explains how the practitioner who walks along the white path cannot stop the arising of greed and hatred in his mind. As he has no way of return, he must surely fall into hell. At that moment, he hears the calling of Amitabha Buddha: “Come to me single-mindedly, with right mindfulness; I can protect you. You need not fear falling into the river of water (greed) or river of fire (hatred).”
Upon hearing this thundering call, he is suddenly enlightened and his faith eyes are inconceivably opened. His mind settles as he relaxes into the state of non-retrogression. This is the same state of mind that we experience upon seeing the Buddha or hearing his name, as explained in the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance.

In the 11th vow, two main points are mentioned. One is dwelling in the assembly of those assured of enlightenment, and the other is reaching the state of extinction [i.e. Nirvana] without fail. Are these two benefits attained after we are born in the Land of Bliss, or before? We can best understand the answer to this question through a quotation by Master Tanluan.
Master Tanluan said that we “attain nirvana without cutting off afflictions.” This means that, before we are reborn in the Land of Bliss, our immeasurable greed, hatred, ignorance, and countless afflictions have not yet been cut off. Nonetheless, we have already attained the state of achieving Nirvana without fail. ‘Achieving Nirvana’ refers to ‘dwelling in the assembly of the assured.’ Complete extinction [i.e. final Nirvana] is attained after rebirth.

‘Assurance of enlightenment’ is ‘Avinivartaniya,’ and is the state of ‘non-retrogression.’ [To achieve] this state of non-retrogression, we need to recite [Amitabha’s name], if only once. (‘If only once’ means at the very end of one’s life, down to just ten recitations, a single recitation, or a single moment of one thought in which one intends to recite his name.)
[The result of] Amitabha-recitation is not limited to the blessings received in the present lifetime, or the merit needed to be reborn in the heavenly or human realms, but is the ‘sincere dedication and aspiration to be reborn in that land.’ [At the time we] dedicate and aspire to be reborn in the land, we immediately attain rebirth, dwell in the state of non-retrogression, and become a denizen of the Land of Bliss.

Apart from [rebirth through] the practice of Amitabha-recitation, the 48 vows and the Infinite Life Sutra speak of attaining Amitabha’s welcome ‘through [the dedication of various merits and virtues contained in] the miscellaneous practices’ by [practitioners of] the Three Tiers. However, the purpose of ‘welcoming through miscellaneous practices’ is to guide [these practitioners] to take refuge in Amitabha-recitation and attain the assurance of rebirth. Though there are various merits and virtues in the practice of the Three Tiers, the practice of reciting Amitabha’s name is mentioned in each tier.
In particular, the accomplishment verse of the 18th vow also states: “All sentient beings who, having heard his Name, rejoice in faith, remember him even once and sincerely transfer the merit of virtuous practices to that land, aspiring to be born there, will attain birth and dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression.”
Even if we recite Amitabha’s name but once at the end of our lives and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, we are [assured] of rebirth and immediately come to dwell in the state of non-retrogression. Isn’t Amitabha-recitation splendid? It transcends all other [practices], as we can attain [rebirth] in the present lifetime.

The Contemplation Sutra says, “You should know that all who invoke the Buddha’s name are like white lotus-flowers among humankind; the Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta become their good friends. They will sit in the place of Enlightenment and be born into the family of the Buddhas.”
It explains that whoever aspires to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name in accord with the 18th vow is a bodhisattva in the state of non-retrogression, and assuredly will reach his destination.

The purpose of studying Buddhism is to gain Buddhahood. If we can achieve the stages of non-retrogression and assurance of Buddhahood, we will not be frightened because we will eventually achieve Buddhahood at some point in the future.
Conversely, if we have not achieved the stage of non-retrogression, we will be fearful of falling back upon encountering evil conditions in one of our future lives – even if we are talented, well-versed in Buddhist scriptures and diligent in practice.
Therefore, among all the stages of a bodhisattva, the most important ones are the first ground (the stage of joy), and the stage of non-retrogression. So long as we enter these stages, we will only move forward and never fall back. Indeed, doesn’t this mean that we can anticipate the achievement of Buddhahood sooner or later?

Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow consists of a myriad of virtues that are freely bestowed upon the name-reciter. Those who recite the name and aspire to be reborn have unquestionably achieved the right causes of rebirth and Buddhahood in this present lifetime. Though they are still ordinary beings dwelling in the Saha World, they will be reborn in the Land of Bliss and proceed towards enlightenment naturally; they have attained the fruition of assured Buddhahood without retrogression.
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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