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 The Contemplation Sutra Spoken by the Buddha

 

The original intention of the Contemplation Sutra spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha is clearly mentioned in the last paragraph. It is spoken in the Chapter on Dissemination – The Buddha further said to Ananda, "Bear these words well in mind. To bear these words in mind means to hold fast to the Name of the Buddha Amitayus." Every Sutra has its “eye”, and the “eye” of the Contemplation Sutra is this text.

This text is not just the core teaching of the Contemplation Sutra; but, also the crystallization, and the main point of the Contemplation Sutra. It is also the guideline, the eye, and the feet of the entire Pure Land teaching. It is basically the same as the Fundamental or the King Vow, of the 48 vows stated in the Infinite Life Sutra. It is also the meaning of “even ten times” in the 18th Vow (reciting for one’s entire life for those of the correct aptitude in this lifetime, and reciting even ten times for those of the correct aptitude near the end-of-life). So, they are basically the same.


Shakyamuni Buddha advises Ananda to disseminate the teaching of “holding the Name of Amitayus (Amitabha)”, which is also explained by Master Shandao to be “always exclusive reciting Amitabha’s name”. Neither of them mentions belief and disbelief. It simply says: always exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name.

Belief can be deep or shallow, doubts are of various kinds. It doesn’t matter. As long as you recite the Name, you are assured of rebirth. Thus, we see that belief is already present in your practice! So, the conclusion of the Contemplation Sutra is “always exclusive recite Amitabha’s name”. This is also the general meaning of the Contemplation Sutra.


Master Shandao also says, “Though Shakyamuni Buddha has spoken of the benefit of attaining rebirth by practicing the meditative and non-meditative virtues, it is understood that, given Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow, Shakyamuni’s intention is that sentient beings should always recite the name of Amitabha Buddha exclusively.

The above text is known as “abandonment of the Path of Importance and establishment of the Path of the Great Vow”, which is stated at the end of the fourth fascicle (The Meaning of Non-Meditative Virtues) to explain the Chapter of Dissemination in the Contemplation Sutra.

It is the conclusive statement of the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra. This conclusion indicates that we should abandon the Path of Importance (self-power meditative and non-meditative virtues), and follow the Path of the Great Vow (exclusive recitation of the Buddha’s Name.)

Though the text is short, the message is strong. It reveals the ultimate meaning of the Pure Land School, like the clearing of clouds to see the sun that shines alone. It is also like the flower that withers and the lotus seeds are produced. This is direct and straightforward, not expedient at all.

This text is the core teaching, the bone marrow, the crystallization of the entire Contemplation Sutra. It is also the principle, guideline, eyes, and feet of the teaching of Pure Land. It is the final destination of the sixteen contemplations depicted in the Sutra.

Flipping the Contemplation Sutra over and over again solely leads people of different aptitudes to one single practice, the exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s Name. It declares that the 18th Vow is the king and fundamental vow out of Amitabha’s 48 vows. It explains the meaning of “even ten times” stipulated in the 18th Vow.

It also matches a saying in the Chapter of Profound Meaning: “All good and evil ordinary beings will not attain rebirth [in the Pure Land] without recourse to the karmic power of Amitabha’s Great Vow as the augmentative cause. It explains how all good and evil ordinary beings can entrust themselves. “Always exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name.”

With this text, Master Shandao indicates that the purpose of the Contemplation Sutra is to lead people of different aptitudes to converging in the 18th Vow. (like all stars accompanying the North Dipper, or all rivers flowing towards the great ocean)If we follow the practice of “always exclusively reciting Amitabha’s Name”, we are assured of reaching the unconditioned land of nirvana.


People may doubt; but, it is clearly stated in the Contemplation Sutra that there are nine levels. Amitabha-recitation is spoken of in the section on rebirth in the lowest level of the low tier. Why is it said that rebirth through Amitabha-recitation transcends all levels and grades of rebirth? Let me explain in four aspects:

1.To embrace those of different capacities – the nine levels in the Contemplation Sutra are for the purpose of including all good and evil ordinary beings. (from the extremely virtuous people practicing Mahayana paths, down to those committing the Five Gravest Transgressions and slandering the Dharma) All can be reborn with recourse to Amitabha’s Vow Power. It does not say that Amitabha-reciters have to be reborn at the lowest level.

The meaning of the nine levels in the Contemplation Sutra is more or less the same as the meaning of the three tiers in the Infinite Life Sutra, just different in folding and unfolding. If Amitabha-reciters must be reborn in the lowest level, why is it spoken in the Infinite Life Sutra that all people in the high, medium and low tiers can be reborn if they always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name?

As ‘always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name’ is spoken for all three tiers, it means that Amitabha-recitation is all embracing. It includes all people of different aptitudes and transcends all levels. Rebirth is not within the context of levels. The nine levels and the three tiers reflect the original aptitudes, virtuous and non-virtuous, of sentient beings.

2.To reveal the splendidness – Why is Amitabha-recitation spoken of in the lowest level in the Contemplation Sutra? It is because those at the lowest level are sinners.

A person who kills, steals, sexually abuses, lies, commits the Five Gravest Transgressions, or the Ten Unwholesome Deeds is extremely evil. He has no way to be salvaged and liberated. Amitabha-recitation is the only way through which he can escape from the Three Wretched Realms, and leave reincarnation within the Six Realms. This is why Amitabha-recitation is spoken of in the lowest level.

Amitabha-recitation is introduced in the section covering rebirth of the lowest level of the low tier so as to reveal the splendidness and vastness of Amitabha-recitation.

It does not mean Amitabha-reciters will fall to the lowest level of rebirth. Conversely, spoken in the lowest level, it reveals that the merits and virtues of Amitabha-recitation transcend that of the Three Meritorious Deeds, rebirth for all nine levels. There is a special meaning behind this. So, Amitabha-recitation transcends rebirth in all levels and grades.

3.To inhibit from committing offenses – though Amitabha-recitation transcends the concept of levels for rebirth through the meditative and non-meditative virtues, the one at the lowest level is evil. Despite this, they can still be reborn through Amitabha-recitation. It is spoken in the section regarding the lowest level, in order to prevent us from committing offenses, and encourage us to practice virtues while reciting Amitabha’s name.

4.To follow other’s intention – Buddha speaks of the Dharma under three circumstances: to follow other’s intention, to follow his own intention, and to follow the intentions of both. That is to say, the Contemplation Sutra was spoken upon the request of Queen Vaidehi, who regarded meditative virtue as the most splendid for rebirth in the Pure Land. Therefore, she requested that Shakyamuni Buddha speak the teaching of contemplative practices and she didn’t become aware of name-recitation practices.

It is also the mentality of people in general that the merits and virtues of meditative practices are considered the most splendid. Next are those of non-meditative practices. Amitabha-recitation is merely reciting by mouth, which is considered inferior.

With great compassion and great wisdom, Shakyamuni Buddha followed Vaidehi’s wish for him to speak of the thirteen kinds of contemplations first. Then he speaks, at his discretion, of the non-meditative virtues of the Three Meritorious Deeds.

Finally, at the lowest level, when all meditative and non-meditative virtues cannot save the practitioner, the Buddha reveals the splendor and absoluteness of Amitabha-recitation. In this way Shakyamuni guides all practitioners of the meditative and non-meditative virtues to finally return to the teaching of Amitabha-recitation.


The Contemplation Sutra is about rebirth in the Pure Land through other-power, the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance through his Fundamental Vow. It is not spoken for the sacred people, but for ordinary people. Because of the Buddha’s power, Vaidehi, an ordinary being, can attain the “perseverance of no-birth”. An evil person with heavy karmic offenses can be reborn in the Land of Bliss. It is because of total reliance on Amitabha’s other-powered Fundamental Vow, not because of reliance on the self-power of an ordinary being, not even a bit.


Comparing and contrasting the Path of Importance and the Path of the Great Vow, we can understand the Contemplation Sutra is for guidance –“to guide those who practice other teachings to switch to the exclusive recitation of the Buddha’s Name.”

We totally rely on Amitabha’s deliverance through his vow power. In so doing, all practitioners can return to the Pure Land School.


The Contemplation Sutra addresses the Path of Importance from the beginning to the end. It talks about the thirteen contemplations of the meditative virtues, and the Three Meritorious Deeds in nine levels of non-meditative virtues. In this respect, it should conclude, at the end of the Chapter on Dissemination, with the meditative virtues through contemplating Amitabha Buddha, and the non-meditative virtues by practicing the Three Meritorious Deeds.

However, Shakyamuni Buddha does not advise us to disseminate the meditative virtues or the non-meditative virtues; but, disseminate the practice of name-recitation, i.e. holding Amitabha’s name. It is also referred to as the “Samadhi of Amitabha-recitation”.


To depart from the Three Wretched Realms and the Six Realms is not easy. However, even people with extremely heavy karmic offenses, no virtues, and practices, can transcend to be reborn in the Land of Bliss by reciting the Buddha’s Name, while they are still alive in the Saha world. It is a matter beyond the knowledge and understanding of ordinary people.

The purpose of the Contemplation Sutra is to reveal Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, set forth for ordinary beings. Through total reliance on Amitabha’s deliverance through his Fundamental Vow, all can be reborn in the Land of Bliss, with no further reincarnations.


“The ten-time recitation” mentioned in the Contemplation Sutra signifies the accomplishment of the karma for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. That is to say, by simple Amitabha-recitation, the karma of assured rebirth is already accomplished. There is no need to count by number, saying that “I have recited ten times” or thinking that “I can be reborn if I recite ten times, and fail to be reborn if I just recite nine times.”

How can a dying person know how to count ten during recitation? A dying person just knows reciting with singleness of mind, especially those of the lowest level in the low tier, who suffer hell fire severely. How can these people have the spare time to count the number of recitations? So, it is said, “The ten-time recitation” mentioned in the Sutra, explains that the karma of rebirth is already accomplished.”


Generally, there are three parts in the Contemplation Sutra: meditative virtues, non-meditative virtues, and Amitabha-recitation. However, in the Dissemination Chapter at the end, especially in the Text on Advice, it tells us to renounce meditative and non-meditative virtues, and return to Amitabha-recitation.

That is to say, put aside the meditative and non-meditative virtues, and advocate the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation. At the same time, Shakyamuni Buddha also urges Pure Land practitioners to earnestly and exclusively recite Amitaha’s name. He says, “Bear these words well in mind. To bear these words in mind means to hold fast to the Name of Amitabha Buddha.”

So, there is a meaning of “renouncing and advocating” in the Contemplation Sutra, which also means “from unreal to real” (the threefold meaning of “building, revealing, and renouncing”) It is just like the Threefold Analogy of the Lotus Flower in the Tientai School, explaining the relationship between the two teachings of “origin” and “tracking”, and the two teachings of “real” and “expedient” in the Lotus Sutra.

The Threefold Analogy of the Lotus Flower is the analogy of the blossoming process of the lotus flower - “flower bud formed for the sake of lotus seed”, “lotus sprouted while flower blossoms”, and “lotus matured when flower withers.” This analogy is used to express “the expedient teaching built (or formed) for the sake of the real teaching”, “the expedient teaching revealed while the real teaching appears”, and “the real teaching established when the expedient teachings are abandoned”.

The Contemplation Sutra is also unfolded in this manner. That is to say, because of the revelation of the Name being the main or proper cause of rebirth, the Sutra talks about the meditative and non-meditative virtues first, so these virtues are shown to be expedient means, rather than the aim of the Sutra.

After speaking of meditative and non-meditative virtues, the Contemplation Sutra emphasizes the function of the Name, and the merits and virtues of Amitabha-recitation, which is the aim or objective. So, it is “flower bud formed for the sake of lotus seed” and “lotus sprouted while flower blossoms.”

“Lotus matured when flower withers” is expressed in the Chapter of Dissemination and the text of the final advice. This is so the meditative and non-meditative virtues are put aside, so as to advocate the merits and virtues of the Name. At the same time, it also explains that this Name is the main or proper cause of rebirth.


In the beginning of the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha speaks of the meditative and non-meditative virtues. Later, he abandons those two virtues, and emphasizes only Amitabha-recitation as the single practice in the Chapter of Dissemination. It indicates that those two virtues only lead to rebirth for the very“few”. At the same time, Master Shandao sincerely urges and leads the practitioners to recite Amitabha’s Name, which is “abundant” in roots of virtues. He teaches that Amitabha-recitation is not a miscellaneous practice; but, it is an incomparable practice.

Ever since, the ancient monks considered the elaboration on the Chapter of Dissemination, at the end of the Contemplation Sutra, is the beginning of the Amitabha Sutra.


The entire content of the Main Chapter of the Contemplation Sutra talks about the meditative and non-meditative virtues. These two categories of virtues are related to the content of the 19th Vow. However, just as Amitabha-recitation is spoken in the Fundamental Vow, so Amitabha-recitation is said to be “the underlying wish” with respect to the meditative and non-meditative virtues. The complete sentence becomes: It is perceived that, given Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, the Buddha’s underlying wish is that sentient beings recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly.

The above statement explains the Chapter of Dissemination in the Contemplation Sutra. In this chapter, Shakyamuni Buddha proactively tells Ananda, “Bear these words well in mind.” To bear these words in mind means “to hold fast to the Name of the Buddha Amitayus.” “To hold fast to the Name of the Buddha Amitayus" is “holding the Name.” The text in the Sutra is explained in this way by Master Shandao.

In the two fascicles in the Contemplation Sutra, it talks about meditative and non-meditative virtues from the beginning to the end. These are the thirteen contemplations and the Three Meritorious Deeds in nine levels. Why does Shakyamuni Buddha advise Ananda to “hold the Name” at the end, rather than contemplating the Buddha? Master Shandao explains: It is perceived that, given [Amitabha] Buddha’s Fundamental Vow.

“To be perceived” means “Shaykamuni Buddha’s reference to Amitabha Buddha”, “referring the Contemplation Sutra to the Infinite Life Sutra” and “guiding meditative and non-meditative virtues to Amitabha-recitation in the 18th Vow”. Perceiving from here to there, one will understand the original wish, original mind, original intention, and original vow of Amitabha Buddha. It urges sentient beings to always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, not to dedicate the meditative and non-meditative virtues for rebirth. The original intent of Shakyamuni Buddha to speak the Contemplation Sutra extensively is also: It is perceived that, given Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, the Buddha’s underlying wish is that sentient beings recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly.


In the Contemplation Sutra, though it talks at length about the thirteen meditative contemplations, and the non-meditative virtues of the Three Meritorious Deeds in nine levels, it is just a guidance. The eventual aim is to urge us to hold Amitabha’s name.

So, at the end of the Sutra Shakyamuni Buddha tells Ananda: “Bear these words well in mind. To bear these words in mind means to hold fast to the Name of the Buddha Amitayus."

Singly and exclusively, not mixed, holding the Name of the Buddha Amitayus. “To bear these words in mind means to hold fast to the Name of the Buddha Amitayus”.

It does not instruct us to contemplate the marks of Buddha Amitayus. So, the conclusion of the Contemplation Sutra is holding the Name, which is exactly the same objective as the Infinite Life Sutra.


For the sake of guiding all practitioners of other Buddhist teachings, the Contemplation Sutra comprehensively speaks of the thirteen kinds of meditative and non-meditative virtues, the Three Meritorious Deeds, and the Nine Levels in the beginning. However, in the Chapter on Dissemination, it discards all of these as the Buddha tells Ananda, “Bear these words well in mind. To bear these words in mind means to hold fast to the Name of the Buddha Amitayus.”

So, in the Chapter on Dissemination, the teaching to be disseminated is “holding the Name”, not contemplating the Buddha, nor the Three Meritorious Deeds and Nine Levels. Thus, Master Shandao says, “Though preceding passages spoke of the merits of the meditative and non-meditative virtues, the Buddha’s underlying wish is that sentient beings recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly.” That is “Name-recitation in accord with the Fundamental Vow”.


In the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha guides all those who practice the meditative and non-meditative virtues, to practice the exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s Name. With respect to Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, it is Amitabha Buddha’s Name of perfect Enlightenment. What does Amitabha Buddha attain in his perfect Enlightenment?

It is his Name, with immeasurably boundless merits and virtues, is the proper cause, proper practice, and karma of assurance for rebirth of sentient beings in the ten directions.


The entire Contemplation Sutra aims at delivering sentient beings in this world of Fivefold Turbidity, particularly those evil beings suffering from reincarnation. It indicates that ordinary beings are the fundamental and main target of deliverance in the Pure Land teachings. It also explains that, all sentient beings who believe Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, and recite Amitabha’s Name, will be reborn in the Land of Bliss. It is a Sutra, spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha that best suits the aptitude of sentient beings of the Dharma Ending Age. It is a Sutra revealing the light of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow and the way that ordinary beings can be delivered.


Shakyamuni Buddha’s purpose in speaking of the meditative and non-meditative virtues is to reveal the transcendent merits and virtues of the Name of Amitabha Buddha. If he had spoken of the Name of Amitabha Buddha at the start, without speaking of the meditative and non-meditative virtues in the beginning, the audiences would not know which is better, as there is no basis for comparison. By comparing and contrasting, people know the meditative and non-meditative virtues are less splendid than Amitabha-recitation.

On the other hand, it guides those who are used to practicing meditative and non-meditative virtues, to wholeheartedly embrace the exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation and wholeheartedly rely on Amitabha’s deliverance.


All 84,000 teachings can be consolidated into two categories, meditative and non-meditative virtues, which are known as “all teachings on practice” in the Sacred Path.” So, the Contemplation Sutra talks about the Three Meritorious Deeds, the Nine Levels, meditative, and non-meditative virtues first. This is done in order to guide those practitioners on the Sacred Path to return to the practice of Amitabha-recitation on the Pure Land Path, and to attain rebirth in the Pure Land.

Why is Amitabha-recitation expounded for those in the low tier among the nine levels? Its true meaning is - the karmic offenses of those sentient beings with the Five Gravest Transgressions and the Ten Unwholesome Deeds are extremely heavy; therefore, only the merits and virtues attained through Amitabha-recitation can deliver them. The merits and virtues attained through the practices for those in the upper level in the high tier cannot deliver them. Only the Buddha’s Name can. That is why the splendor of the merits and virtues of Amitabha-recitation are revealed here.


The purpose of the sixteen kinds of contemplations is not to get sentient beings to contemplate the adornments of the direct and the circumstantial rewards of the Land of Bliss; but, asks us to know the adornments of the direct rewards and the circumstantial rewards of the Land of Bliss. This is done so that we can arouse admiration and aspire to be reborn there. Hence, we always recite Amitabha’s Name for rebirth. This is the original intent of Shakyamuni Buddha in giving us the Contemplation Sutra.

It is very obvious that Shakyamuni Buddha emphasizes, explains, and instructs us to practice to hold the Name of Amitayus Buddha.


If we unfold the meaning of the Contemplation Sutra in sequence, till the Chapter on Dissemination at the end, there exists a “taste” of “abandonment and establishment”. To abandon means to renounce and discard. To establish means to follow and practice.

If we follow the three procedures on abandonment and establishment, adopted by the ancient great teachers, they are so-called: “expedient teachings built (or formed) for the sake of the real teaching”, “the expedient teaching revealed while the real teaching appears”, and “the real teaching established when the expedient teachings are abandoned”.

The reason why we recite Amitabha’s Name, why we have faith, and why we can be reborn in the Land of Bliss, is the reliance on Amitabha’s compassionate deliverance.

Amitabha’s deliverance is like a lotus flower that opens our mind of faith – the flower to be reborn is the mode of manifestation.

So, the Contemplation Sutra praises us and says, “An Amitabha-reciter is a wonderful lotus flower. The process of the blossoming of the wonderful lotus flower is similar to that mentioned above. There are three stages, namely: “flower bud formed for the sake of lotus seed”, “lotus sprouted while flower blossoms”, and “lotus matured when flower withers”


In the Chapter on Dissemination in the Contemplation Sutra, it says, “The Buddha tells Ananda, “Bear these words well in mind. To bear these words in mind means to recite the name of the Buddha Amitayus [Amitabha].” It implies “the real teaching to be established when the expedient teachings are abandoned” and “the lotus to be matured when the flower withers.”

The word “well” in the phrase of “bear these words well in mind” means “respect, reverence, without slighting”, and also “single-minded, no dual mind, no-self, not mixed and not interrupted.”

“Holding the name of the Buddha Amitayus [Amitabha]” is a phrase. “Holding the name” means “holding recitation of the name of Amitayus, and also means “reciting Namo Amituofo”. It is consistent with “even ten times” in the 18th Vow.

In addition, it is consistent with “upon hearing of Amitabha, hold fast the Name”, as said in the Amitabha Sutra. It also means, holding fast the Name for the rest of our life.


Master Shandao was the incarnation of Amitabha Buddha. Therefore, the words spoken by Master Shandao are like those of the Buddha. Because of this, he is the most respected patriarch to interpret the Contemplation Sutra.

His Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra is considered to be the noblest, on the same level as the sutras spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha. Thus, it cannot be altered or amended, even by adding or deleting one word or phrase.

That is to say, the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra written by Master Shandao, is the benchmark for the interpretation of the Contemplation Sutra. Any interpretation of the Contemplation Sutra cannot be opposite or inconsistent with the Commentary written by Master Shandao. Master Shandao speaks as such, we understand it as such, and practice accordingly.

Then, how does Master Shandao explain it? Master Shandao says, “Though Shakyamuni Buddha has spoken of the benefit of attaining rebirth by practicing the meditative and non-meditative virtues, it is understood that, given Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, Shakyamuni’s intention is that sentient beings should always recite the name of Amitabha Buddha exclusively.” It is a short sentence; but, its meaning is very clear.

Shakyamuni Buddha has spoken of the benefit of attaining rebirth by practicing the meditative and non-meditative virtues. These include sixteen contemplations: including the first thirteen contemplations of the meditative virtues, and the Three Meritorious Deeds in nine levels, which are known as “meditative and non-meditative”. These two teachings, as said before, can benefit us if we practice them and dedicate them for our attainment of rebirth.

However, Amitabha Buddha’s original intent is more beneficial, as it reveals the Absolute benefit lying within “always exclusively reciting Amitabha’s Name,” not within the two teachings of meditative and non-meditative virtues.

So, Master Shandao says, “It is understood that, given Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, Shakyamuni’s intention is that sentient beings should always recite the name of Amitabha Buddha exclusively”. Though the Buddha speaks of the sixteen kinds of contemplations and about the teachings of meditative and non-meditative virtues, Amitabha Buddha’s wish is for sentient beings to always exclusively recite his Name.

Always exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name! It is the fundamental wish of Amitabha Buddha. Departing from the roots; branches, trunks, leaves and flowers wither. Having roots, a tree can grow. The roots are the source of all developments and accomplishments.


In the passage on rebirth for those at the lowest level of the low tier, the word “nian” (to think of and mentally invoke) appears six times in five different places. Some of them are crucial. They are the following:

The first place is “to tell him the wonderful Dharma and teach him to think of Amitabha Buddha”;

The second place is “as he is tormented by pain, he cannot invoke a thought of Amitabha Buddha even for a short time”;

The third place is “If he cannot concentrate on Amitabha Buddha, then he should say Amitayus Buddha.”

“Nian” is a kind of mental karma in the three cases above. This means to mentally perceive Amitabha Buddha’s merit and virtues, through remembering the Name of Amitabha Buddha.

The fourth place is “In this way, he sincerely and continuously says 'Homage to Amitayus Buddha' [Na-mo-o-mi-t'o-fo] as few as ten times”;

The fifth place is “Because he calls the Buddha's Name, with each repetition, the evil karma which he has committed during eighty kotis of kalpas in Samsara is extinguished.”

Here, the word “nian” as stated in “ten times in sufficiency”, and the two words “nian” as stated in “with each repetition” is not considered to be mental karma, but oral karma – recite Namo Amituofo by mouth. It is not mental karma, such as perceiving or recollecting. So, the first three “nian”, in the first three places, have different meanings from the last three in the other two places, though the words are the same.


What kinds of sentient beings belong in the low tier? It refers to those who commit all evil offenses without any virtuous karma. The other two tiers, the high and the middle, are those with more virtuous karma and less evil karma. For example, those at the lowest level of the middle tier and those at the middle level in the middle tier dedicate their mundane virtues, and the Buddhist virtues, respectively for rebirth.

However, those in the low tier have only evil karma, it is impossible for them to dedicate any merit and virtue through their self-powered practices for rebirth. Therefore, they must rely on Amitabha-recitation at the end, in order to acquire Amitabha’s deliverance, to be exempted from jeopardy in hell, to leave the Three Domains and the Six Realms, and even to be reborn to achieve Buddhahood. This is also the reason Amitabha-recitation is mentioned in the lowest three levels among the nine levels of rebirth.

Among the passages in the Contemplation Sutra, though Amitabha-recitation is not mentioned in the high tier and in the middle tier, this doesn’t mean that Amitabha-recitation is not an appropriate practice for them. Why?

In the second fascicle of the Infinite Life Sutra, Amitabha-recitation is mentioned for rebirth for those in the high tier, rebirth for the middle tier, and rebirth for the low tier. The three tiers in the Great Sutra and the nine levels in the Contemplation Sutra are more or less the same in content. As Amitabha-recitation is mentioned in all three tiers in the Great Sutra, it is understood that Amitabha-recitation is appropriate for those in the high tier and middle tier in the Contemplation Sutra.

Thus, it is concluded that Amitabha-recitation is recommended for all nine levels.


Why is Amitabha-recitation explained in the passage on rebirth for those in the low tier, and not for those in high tier? It is because those in the low tier are extremely evil. They cannot be delivered by the merits and virtues of practicing filial love to parents and mundane kindness and compassion (like those at the lowest level in the middle tier.) They cannot be delivered by the merit and virtues of practicing the Eight and Fasting Precepts, Sramanera Precepts, and Bhikshu Precepts for one day and one night, (like those at the middle level in the middle tier). They cannot be delivered by the merit and virtues of practicing the Bhikshu Precepts for their whole lives. (like those at the highest level in middle tier.)

They cannot be delivered by the merit and virtues of setting forth the Bodhi Mind, (like those at the lowest level in high tier). They cannot be delivered by the merit and virtues of understanding the Foremost Truth,( like those at the middle level in the high tier.) They cannot be delivered by the merit and virtues of reciting and practicing the sutras, (like those at the highest level in the high tier). Only the merit and virtues that transcend those in the high tier and middle tier can deliver extremely evil sentient beings. This is the reason why it is necessary to speak of the merit and virtues of Amitabha-recitation in the low tier.

There is no other way that can deliver the extremely evil person, except Amitabha-recitation. This indicates that the teaching of Amitabha-recitation is easy-to-practice; but, splendid in rewards. It is the foremost, the unsurpassed, the noblest, and most respected. Thus, no other teaching is comparable.


In the passage on “rebirth for those in the lowest level in the low tier” [in the Contemplation Sutra], faith and aspiration are not mentioned. Only the practice of name-recitation is mentioned. Regarding mind, “sincere mind” is mentioned, and followed with “continuous recitation”. This implies that “sincere mind” means “continuous recitation”. There is nothing mysterious or particularly deep in its meaning.

From this point of view, the passage on “rebirth for those in the lowest level in the low tier” reveals “sincerely and joyfully entrust” and “aspire to be reborn” from the 18th Vow. Thus, faith and aspiration return to the practice of exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s Name - “even ten times”.


What do sentient beings of the lowest level in the low tier rely on, so that they can clear their karmic offenses of birth-and-death in the past 8 billion eons, escape from hell, and even be reborn in the Land of Bliss? The sutra tells us to” rely upon exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s Name”.

Because “that person is too tormented by pain to be mindful of the Buddha”, he has no faith nor aspiration at all. Thus, it reveals that faith and aspiration return to Name-recitation – assured rebirth through Amitabha-recitation. It is what he believes and what he aspires to. In other words, he believes in assured rebirth through Amitabha-recitation and aspires to be reborn through the method of Amitabha-recitation.

From the meaning of rebirth for the lowest level in the low tier, we know that faith and aspiration return to the practice of “reciting even ten times”. We also know that faith and aspiration are only an expediency leading to the practice of Name-recitation. Moreover, when Master Shandao (the incarnation of Amitabha Buddha) explains the 18th Vow, he sometimes omits faith, or omits aspiration, and sometimes omits both of them; but, he always underscores exclusive practice of recitation of Amitabha’s Name.


The passage on the highest level in the low tier, lets us know rebirth is assured by each recitation of Amitabha’s Name. The passage on the middle level in the low tier, lets us know the reason for the above stems from Amitabha’s Name.

However, if there weren’t any further elaboration in the passage on the lowest level in the low tier, people might misunderstand and believe that it’s fine to recite Amitabha’s Name only once.

In the passage on the lowest level in the low tier, it says “to recite continuously.” Because of this we know we should recite Amitabha’s Name continuously, as long as we live. Simply speaking, we believe rebirth can be attained through one recitation.

Never the less, we practice as many recitations as possible for the remainder of our lives, as said by Master Honen.


Ten recitations of Amitabha’s Name, as mentioned in the passage on the lowest level in the low tier, are the karmic cause of rebirth in the Land of Bliss. However, each recitation can fully accomplish rebirth. It is not restricted to the number “ten.”


Taking those in the lowest level of the low tier as an example, the Buddha reveals that Amitabha-recitation is the simplest and easiest method. Yet its rewards are most splendid and supreme. Though a practitioner has no merits within the three karmas, the dharma body of Amitabha solely possesses the merits that exceed those attained through meditative and non-meditative practices. He does not require the practitioner to do anything except accept his deliverance and recite his Name. This is the kind of Amitabha-recitation known as Name-recitation in accordance with the Fundamental Vow.


When those of the lowest level in the low tier, who bear heavy offenses, are frightened, in pain, or angry; if they merely recite Amitabha’s Name ten times, they can change their destinies, say goodbye to the Land of Saha, and ascend to the Land of Bliss.

Thus, it is deduced that: regardless who you are, at what time, at what place, under any circumstances, with what state of mind, or how many times you recite. You can simply recite Amitabha’s Name and attain rebirth, naturally attain all necessary merits and virtues, functional capacity, and actions through Amitabha-recitation.


In regard to the passage on rebirth for the lowest level in the low tier, this person has accumulated profoundly negative karma, and the time is near the end-of-life. At this time the practice is merely the ten-time Amitabha-recitation. Even a person of this kind can be saved and delivered. He leaves the Six Realms and attains rebirth in the Land of Bliss. This means there are none who cannot be reborn!

So, the main theme of the passage on rebirth for the lowest level in the low tier is to reveal the content of faith, and assured rebirth in the present lifetime. Why? Right now, we have already seen that we are people with the same aptitude as those of the lowest level in the low tier. We do not need to wait until the near - end - of- life, when we are almost ready to fall into one of the various hells, we can take refuge in Amitabha right now! We can believe and accept his deliverance, aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, and exclusively recite his Name. Doesn’t this mean that our rebirth is already assured?


Why did Master Shandao omit faith and aspiration in his explanation of the Fundamental Vow? Is there any evidence in accordance with the Sutra? The passage about rebirth for those at the lowest level in the low tier [in the Contemplation Sutra] contains important evidence.

Though joyful faith and aspiration for rebirth are mentioned, people may not be educated, have no wisdom, and be lacking understanding and belief. They may also be children or parrots who have no idea what faith and aspiration are; but, they can still attain direct rebirth through Amitabha-recitation.

This indicates that, as long as we exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name, Amitabha ‘s vow power will naturally guide us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. As said in the Infinite Life Sutra - “It rejects no one, but naturally and unfailingly attracts beings.”

What does playing “tug of war” with Amitabha Buddha mean? We play the game this way -“Oh, Amitabha Buddha, I am sorry, I cannot go with you now. I have my beloved husband and children in the Saha World”, or “Amitabha Buddha, I am sorry.

I have a lot of enemies and debtors in the world. My husband treats me ill, and bullies me. He owes me a lot. I want to see how he suffers in future. After that, I will go for rebirth.” This indecisiveness leaves Amitabha Buddha no alternative, but to wait until you are ready.


People of the lowest level in the low tier come across all kinds of unwholesome circumstances, until they are near their end-of-life. At that time, if their karmic conditions allow, they may encounter the teaching of Amitabha-recitation.

Amitabha-recitation provides unsurpassed merit and virtues. That person may be full of fear and pain; so, he has no time to think, or perform any merits and virtues to dedicate for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. At that time, he is so frightened that he can do nothing, but open his mouth and recite “Namo Amituofo”. Just those words already contain all of the functional capacity necessary, in terms of rebirth-aspiration and merit-dedication. In the same way, when we recite “Namo Amituofo”, we have already aspired to be reborn in the Western Land of Bliss.


Bodhisattvas are superior in virtuous roots; however, they cannot eradicate heavy offenses even though they practice various kinds of teachings. By the simple exclusive recitation of Namo Amitabha, one can eradicate heavy offenses, and be transcendentally reborn in the Pure Land. If even Bodhisattvas cannot eradicate heavy offenses on their own, how can those at the lowest level in the low tier (who are lacking virtuous roots, and threatened by suffering near the end-of-life), possibly be reborn without exclusively reciting Amitabha’s Name?


The Five Gravest Transgressions are the most serious among all offenses. If a person commits these, he/she must fall into Avici Hell and suffer endlessly. However, if he/she can follow the instruction of a good advisor to dedicate and recite Amitabha’s Name near the end-of-life, he/she can clear all offenses, and attain rebirth in the Land of Bliss.

This means, he/she can transcend laterally the Three Domains, and dwell in the state of non-retrogression, and attain the status of a Buddha-to-be. (as said in the passage on rebirth for those in the lowest level in the low tier in the Contemplation Sutra.) This shows us that the functional capacity of Name-recitation is extraordinary and incomparable.


The offense of slandering the correct Dharma is very heavy, exceeding the Five Gravest Transgressions. Only reciting Namo Amitabha Buddha can eradicate it. By reciting Namo Amitabha Buddha, heavy offenses can be eradicated, not to mention the light ones. If a person doesn’t recite Namo Amitabha Buddha, neither the light nor the heavy offenses can be eradicated.

A grain of sand is light; yet, it can sink to the bottom of the sea. A heavy rock on ship board can reach the shore.


If even an evil person can attain rebirth through ten recitations near the end-of-life, who else cannot be reborn? It is because you can’t be more evil than those who commit the Five Gravest Transgressions and the Ten Unwholesome Deeds. For this reason, we shouldn’t be so critical of ourselves when we begin Amitabha-recitation. By reciting up to ten times we are assured of rebirth!

So, the passage on rebirth for those at the lowest level in the low tier inspires faith in us that: “regardless of their blessings and offenses, regardless of their proficiency and skill in practice, all sentient beings can be reborn as long as they recite Amitabha’s Name.”


Those whose aptitude places them in the lowest level in the low tier are regarded as evil people. They don’t begin Amitabha-recitation until they are near the end-of-life, not like us who recite Amitabha’s Name at present. In terms of the number of recitations, they need only recite ten times at most. However, we observe laws, practice virtues, and accumulate merits. We may commit offenses; but, they are not as heavy as the Five Gravest Transgressions. Furthermore, we have already begun to exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name and aspired to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land. Therefore, we will recite many more than ten times, probably hundreds, thousands, even millions of recitations.

So, those who are “evil, near the end-of-life, and ten times” can be reborn. Those who are “good in the present life and recite many times” are not mentioned.


For a person at the lowest level in the low tier, as described in the Contemplation Sutra, his three kinds of bodily, verbal and mental karma are useless and functionless, because: he cannot quietly listen to this Name, or silently perceive this principle, or recite the Name consistently. However, if he recites “Namo Amituofo”, “Namo Amituofo” in a hurry, he can still be reborn.

Rebirth is within the six-character Name – Namo Amituofo; but, it is not dependent on our meritorious practices, benevolence, nor our ability to cultivate, not at all.

That those of no virtues in the three karmas can be reborn is the reason why this teaching is special, rare, easy and splendid. Thus, our teaching aims at returning to this Name, and we say it is “absolute other-power” – total reliance on Amitabha’s deliverance. What we do is just recite Amitabha’s Name.

Though we may go deeper into understanding the profound sutras, or becoming wiser and more benevolent, we must all recite “Namo Amituofo” at the end, if we wish to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land. The fact is, our understanding of the sutras and our knowledge are useless and functionless here.


Among ordinary beings, there are those that are kind and those that are wicked. The extremely wicked people are those who slander the right Dharma and have no virtuous roots. They serve as an example to illustrate that the targets of Amitabha’s deliverance are those who commit karmic offenses for their entire lives, including those who slander the right Dharma and have no virtuous roots. It boundlessly comforts all kind and wicked ordinary beings.

This example illustrates that, if even those who slander the right Dharma and have no virtuous roots can be delivered by Amitabha Buddha, liberated from Avici Hell, and reborn in the Pure Land of Bliss, doesn’t it mean that anyone can be reborn? So, all people can be delivered by Amitabha Buddha, and they are “qualified” for rebirth. This point is very important. If we did not differentiate and clarify this point, we would never be sure whether we are included in Amitabha’s compassionate deliverance.

The importance is related to the fundamental spirit and characteristics of the Pure Land School - comprehensive deliverance to ten thousand kinds of people, with all levels of aptitude, and peace and joy in easy practice. Without these, we ordinary beings in the turbid world have no way to be liberated. The nature of great kindness and compassion, giving happiness, and eradicating suffering practically vanishes.


With respect to the entire Contemplation Sutra, the passage about rebirth for those at the lowest level in the low tier is very important. With respect to the entire Pure Land School, the passage about rebirth for those at the lowest level in the low tier is the essence of the Pure Land School, and the ultimate meaning of Amitabha’s 18th Vow.

Only the passage on rebirth for those at the lowest level in the low tier can reveal Amitabha’s great kindness, great compassion, great vow, and great power. Among sentient beings in the ten directions, none is excluded from deliverance. By including those at the lowest level in the low tier, we are shown that all Amitabha reciters are included.

 

    

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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