What is the Foundation of the Pure Land Dharma Path?
What is the foundation of the Pure Land Dharma Path? It is the power of Amituofo’s vows to deliver sentient beings of the ten directions and the Buddha’s accumulation of the merits and provisions for their rebirth in his Land of Ultimate Bliss. Where are these merits and provisions? They are in the six-character name of Amituofo, which is called the name of infinite merits. This name encompasses all the vows proclaimed by Bodhisattva Dharmakara (Amitabha Buddha before he attained enlightenment) after contemplating for five kalpas, and all the merits and virtues accumulated by his practicing the Bodhisattva Way over countless eons. Amitabha Buddha has granted all these merits and provisions to all sentient beings.. Therefore, every one of us already possesses this virtuous name. However, many of us are unaware that Amitabha has already registered it under our names, and that we should just recite his name single-mindedly for rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. This ignorance causes us to be trapped in the cycle of reincarnation (samsara) until now.
Now that we have obtained the human bodies that are hard to come by, have heard the Dharma, and have encountered the rare and precious name of infinite virtues, we should know that Amituofo has bestowed this name upon us. If we recite Amituofo’s name single-mindedly throughout our lives, we will possess enough merits to free ourselves from samsara, and be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. From there, we will attain enlightenment and be able to return to the Saha World to deliver other sentient beings. Furthermore, this name was given to us by Amituofo ten Kalpas ago, so it is already ours. With this understanding, we will be absolutely sure about our rebirth and not feel apprehensive. This is the first thing a Pure Land practitioner must know. There is an ancient saying: Nothing is truly a matter of life and death, except for life and death itself. It means that other than the cycle of birth and death, there is nothing truly serious in the world.
In this world, things like wealth, fame, good family life, and career success may seem important, but they are really not. After all, these things are fleeting, lasting only a few decades at most. In contrast, the cycle of rebirth in the afterlife is endless, lasting forever. And since the inherent essence of reincarnation is suffering, a very serious matter that must be resolved, this leaves the issue of rebirth in the Land of Bliss with no room for compromise or slackness. By knowing this, we will naturally become part of the group which is karmically ripe to accept Buddha’s teaching and be enlightened.
Let us now look at a gatha in the Verse of Accomplishments of the Eighteenth Vow [in the Infinite Life Sutra]. This gatha is Sakyamuni Buddha’s interpretation of Amituofo’s Eighteenth Vow.
“By the power of that Buddha’s Fundamental Vow,
Those who hear his name and wish to be reborn,
Will all reach his land.
They will naturally attain a state of non-retrogression.”
When Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of “the power of that Buddha’s fundamental vow, he was referring to the 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha.
The 18th Vow says:
“…if [sentient beings of the ten directions] who 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”.
Now that Amitabha Buddha has already attained perfect enlightenment, the vow he made in the causal ground has been fulfilled and the necessary power of merits has been acquired. Hence, the first line in the gatha - By the power of that Buddha’s fundamental vow.。
What is the power, merit, and function of Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow? Shakyamuni Buddha explained that “Upon hearing the Buddha’s name, everyone wishing to be reborn in the Pure Land can be reborn there without exception,” hence the phrase “all will reach his land.” Of course, the word "hearing" should not mean just heard and not retained or remembered, or “in one ear and out the other”. As mentioned earlier, “hearing” includes faith, in other words, “ a complete hearing.”
Why does one wish to be reborn in that land upon hearing about Amitabha's deliverance? Amitabha Buddha has been pleading with us incessantly for ten kalpas, urging us to go to his land. If we are willing to accept his offer, we help fulfill Amitabha’s vow and our aspiration will correspond to his vow. Our aspiration and his vow will then resonate and interconnect, and we will become one with Amituofo. Therefore, when we say “wish to be born there”, it is not a mere wish or desire, but a willingness to accept Amitabha Buddha’s offer. If we are not willing, then there is nothing Amitabha can do to help us.
What is the difference between a wish and a willingness? There is a big difference, a world of difference.
The reason we learn the Dharma is to attain Buddhahood. However, of all the many people who learn the Dharma, how many actually achieve enlightenment? Throughout history, there have been countless individuals who practice using self-power, but those who truly attain Buddhahood are rare, like a unicorn horn. Therefore, although a person may wish to become a Buddha, he may not be able to achieve it because of his incomplete and imperfect practice and merits.
The Pure Land path is the only Dharma path that does not rely on our wishes but on our willingness to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. If we say yes to Amitabha’s compassionate offer in our hearts and recite the Buddha's name, we will naturally be reborn in his land and become a Buddha.
Therefore, the Pure Land Dharma path is not a path for practitioners to beg for rebirth but is a path which Amituofo implores us to take so he can deliver us. It is the Dharma path for us to be delivered by Amituofo.
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Householder Fojin)
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