To Hold Fast to Amitabha’s Name is to Have a Myriad of Good roots and Merits
Listening to one chanting of Namo Amituofo does not entail “Hearing the name of Amituofo”. No, that is not the meaning of the phrase “Sentient beings of the ten directions hearing the name of the Buddha” at the beginning of the Eighteenth Vow.
Rather, it is about listening to a good Buddhist teacher interpreting the connotation of Amitabha Buddha’s Eighteenth Vow of delivering sentient beings of the ten directions, the ins and outs, the cause and effect, and thus keeping faith wholeheartedly in Amitabha Buddha. Keeping faith wholeheartedly means “believing in the salvation of Amitabha Buddha” and “aspiring to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss,” and thereafter, “reciting the name solely and constantly.” It is also called “holding fast to the name of Amituofo” firmly, desiring rebirth to the Buddha, resolutely, and never faltering.
When one keeps faith wholeheartedly in Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance, one naturally recites the name of Amitabha Buddha. Therefore, the so-called “having a myriad of good roots of potentiality and merits”is “hearing Amitabha Buddha, and holding fast to the name.” It is the same as saying that although rebirth to the Land of Ultimate Bliss requires many good roots and merits, Amitabha Buddha has already prepared them for us; all we need to do is to have faith and recite his name, and we will have all the good roots and merits necessary to be born in his land. So, from this point of view, the many good roots and merits are not accumulated by us, but by Amitabha Buddha, and we only need to recite his name and wish to be born in his pure land. Therefore, Master Lianchi said: “To chant the name of Amitabha Buddha is the best of all goodness and the blessing of all blessings.” Master Ouyi also explained, “As long as one has faith in Amitabha Buddha, aspires to be born in his land, and holds the name firmly, then each chant is full of good roots and merits.” All we have to do is “recite Amitabha Buddha’s name exclusively.”
The passage, “Rebirth in that land cannot be achieved with only a few causal good roots and merits,” was translated from the Sanskrit text, The Amitabha Sutra by Kumarajiva of the Yao-Qin dynasty. Recently, another English translation of the Sanskrit text in 1894 by F. Max Muller was discovered. Let us pay special attention to his translation of the text in English:
Beings are not born in that Buddha country of the Tathagata Amitabha
as a reward and result of good work performed in this present life.
This simply says that the way to be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss is to rely not on our meritorious work in this life but on the virtues and merits of Amitabha Buddha. The translation of Kumarajiva, the “causal good roots of potentiality and merits” in the Sanskrit text, is expressed by only two words: “good work.”
It does not mean that we need not do any good work other than reciting Amitabha and desiring rebirth. In fact, we should do meritorious work whenever we can. For instance, we have the inherent duties to observe filial piety to our parents and to serve our teachers. Also, we must practice the Six Pāramitās as much as we can. The only thing to keep in mind is that rebirth to the Land of Ultimate Bliss relies on the virtues and merits of Amitabha Buddha, because however much good work we do in life, that work cannot be considered to be enough virtuous merits or good roots alone. Only Amitabha Buddha’s virtues and merits are the most extraordinary and inconceivable.
The Land of Ultimate Bliss that we aspire to be reborn into is accomplished by the purest and truest Buddha’s virtues and merits. It is the nirvana realm of neither arise nor perish, and no-Being no-Non-Being. So how could rebirth be possible for ordinary mortals, full of greed, wrath, and ignorance? Because, cause and effect do not coincide and do not correspond. Only by Amitabha Buddha’s selfless and pure virtue and merit can we enter the Land of Ultimate Bliss. That’s why The Amitabha Sutra says that after “hearing of Amitabha Buddha,” we “hold fast to his name.” Why? When Amitabha Buddha builds up the Land of Ultimate Bliss, he must complete the merits for our rebirth and then dedicate it to us. So The Sutra of the Infinite Life says:
Should I not become a great benefactor,
In lives to come for immeasurable kalpas,
To universally relieve the suffering of impoverishment,
May I not attain perfect enlightenment.
We ordinary mortals in the mundane world are suffering all sorts of immiseration and sorrow, and still, after death, we transmigrate to evil realms to suffer even worse anguish and pain; such woe is unspeakable. Therefore, Amitabha Buddha pledges to be a great benefactor to equally and indiscriminately save the poor and the afflicted everywhere, which is why the Buddha’s other title is the “master of all great benefactors.” We can share Amitabha Buddha’s immeasurable merits if we recite his name, and we will be reborn in his Land of Ultimate Bliss. That is the power of Amitabha Buddha, the power of his compassionate vow.
There are three other passages in The Sutra of the Infinite Life regarding Amitabha Buddha’s vow and his compassionate deliverance, which read:
I shall open and widely distribute the Dharma treasure-house for many,
Enabling sentient beings to acquire merits and virtues.
Without being asked, he offers beings the way to liberation.
It is for us that Amitabha Buddha opens the Dharma storehouse and endows us with his merits and virtues so we can be freed from the Saha World and be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss to be Buddhas. Therefore, the Dharma path of our Pure Land Buddhism is about Amitabha’s deliverance, our faith in his deliverance, and reciting his name constantly and exclusively.
(Translated by the Pure Land School of Translation Team;
edited by Kevin Orro (Fozhu))
 Six Pāramitās: Perfections of charity dāna, precepts śīla, forbearance kşāti, endeavor vīrya, meditation dhyāna, and wisdom prajna.
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