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 Guiding Principle of Pure Land Buddhism – Exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s Name

The following two sentences in the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra are the core teachings of this book.
  • “The Path of the Great Vow is, as written in the Larger Sutra (The Infinite Life Sutra), “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 an augmentative cause.”
  • “Though Shakyamuni Buddha speaks of the benefits of meditative and non-meditative virtues in the 16 contemplations , when he observes and examines the underlying intent of Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, he wishes all sentient beings to single-mindedly and exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name.
The former is the proposition in the beginning of the commentary, and the latter is the conclusion.They are correlated and their meaning is consistent. They indicate that all good and evil beings can be reborn in the Land of Bliss, and they must rely on the karmic power of Amitabha’s Great Vow in the entire process of deliverance.
Amongst all ordinary beings, some are wise, but some are foolish, some are enlightened but some are ignorant, some have faith but some have doubts. There are over thousands different kinds of sentient beings in the mundane world. In what way can they rely on Amitabha Buddha? How can they be equally reborn [in the Land of Bliss]? The conclusive answer given by Master Shandao is simple and clear, concise and precise, that is, to single-mindedly and exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name. ‘Only if single-mindedly and exclusively [recite Amitabha’s name]’ means ‘relying on [Amitabha Buddha].’ Moreover, faith in and gratitude to [Amitabha Buddha] is already within the exclusive practice naturally. Rebirth is thus assured.

With respect to Amitabha’s 48 vows, each of them was made by Amitabha Buddha during his bodhisattva cultivation at causal ground. However, amongst all these vows, only one is fundamental, so it is called the Fundamental Vow. Which one is it? It is the 18th vow. It is because there is one and only one direct cause of rebirth, that is, single-minded and exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name. If there are two or more causes of rebirth, they are not regarded as the direct cause. Why is single-minded and exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name the direct cause of rebirth? It is because single-minded and exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name is [the practice] in accord and aligned with the Fundamental Vow of Amitabha Buddha.

Exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name is in accord with Amitabha’s vow. Amitabha Buddha says, “If you wish to be born in my land, recite my name even ten times.” That is why we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name and aspire to be born in Amitabha’s Pure Land. Therefore, we clearly introduce and outline our guiding principles of Pure Land Buddhism as follows: believe and accept Amitabha’s deliverance, exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, and aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land.

The final conclusion of the Pure Land teachings in the Shandao tradition is exclusive practice of Amitabha recitation. This is because Buddhism is a religion of practice and cultivation. No matter how much, how deeply, or profoundly we talk about the theories, the purpose is after all to practice. What is the practice of Pure Land Buddhism? It is the exclusive, single-minded recitation of ‘Namo Amitabha’.

Master Ouyi has a saying, “The six-character great name is a real Dharma Dharma .Realm. One can transcend transversely all of the bodhisattva stages without any expedient means.” “The six-character great name” is Na-Mo-A- Mi-Tuo-Fo. “Real Dharma Realm” is the “One Buddha Realm”, which is a realm of nirvana.
So, in order to achieve Buddhahood, we only need to exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, without any other expedient means. Subsequently, we can naturally transcend, that is to transcend transversely the bodhisattva stages of the Ten Faiths, the Ten Dwellings, the Ten Practices and the Ten Dedications.

Certainly, we need to fulfill the requirements of ‘faith, aspiration and practice’ in our school. However, what is your faith composed of? What is the essence of faith? What is the principle of faith? We believe that we definitely will be reborn in the Land of Bliss if we aspire to be reborn and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name. Therefore, ‘faith’ is not empty in meaning, and is not a creation of our imagination. Its definition contains an objective certainty, that is, with aspiration to be reborn, rebirth is assured through name-recitation.
If we interpret it in this way and follow the teaching to practice, we aspire to be reborn, and single-mindedly recite Amitabha’s name. Exclusive Amitabha recitation refers to every single recitation initialized by every single thought. This fulfills the requirements of faith, aspiration, and practice.
Of course, if we have not understood this principle, we have to listen and read the teachings of this school. Once we understand thoroughly, we will deeply believe, accept , and strictly follow the teachings for the rest of our lives.
Moreover, once we understand these principles fully, we no longer need to think about what faith is, what aspiration is, or what practice is. Thereafter we simply recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly. Recite while walking, standing, sitting and lying ; under any circumstances, time and place.
Recite whether we are busy or not, whether our mind is distracted or not. Just keep reciting Namo Amitabha. Our understanding , faith , and acceptance prior to the practice of Amitabha recitation , are just expedient means. All of them finally converge as “always exclusively recite Amitabha Buddha’s name.” This is also known as “interpretation ends when practice commences.”

The goal of our school is not to realize Samadhi, and not to subdue our delusive views; but , purely to recite ‘Namo Amitabha.’ That’s it! We need not make any effort to do things that we cannot do, because we are simply ordinary beings .As ordinary beings, we should live in our normal state. We do not need to make any special effort to pursue any higher realm, as it may eventually lead us to suffering and afflictions.

Master Yinguang said, “As ordinary beings, we recite Amitabha’s name with the identity of ordinary beings. We do not study and follow the path of bodhisattvas.” It does not mean the path of bodhisattvas is not good; but, we are simply incapable of practicing it.We may hurt ourselves if we force practices beyond our capabilities.
So, Pure Land practitioners should scrupulously recite Amitabha’s name. They should not speculate about mystical experiences. Their minds should be deadly settled. We are fully aware of the fact that we cannot cut off the Two Delusions of View and Afflictions, and cannot keep our minds in a pure state for a long period of time. Though we are sometimes able to keep it, it can only last for a relatively short time.
It is good if we haven’t any coarse false thinking during Amitabha recitation. It is still good even if we have! This is because assurance of our rebirth [in the Land of Bliss] has already been granted through our exclusive Amitabha recitation. It is similar to the birth of a prince. Though a prince is not a king yet, he will be a king sooner or later because his status of prince remains in effect. So. we merely recite Namo Amitabha, Namo Amitabha…

The Land of Bliss is a realm of unconditioned nirvana, manifested by Amitabha Buddha’s pure and flawless vows and practices. It accords with the Buddha nature. It accords with the truth. It does not violate the realm of truth. It is a realm of brightness with infinite light and splendid truth. It cannot be accessed through our practices of conditioned teachings, merits and virtues. That is why it is said in the Amitabha Sutra: “those of few meritorious virtues and causal conditions cannot be born in that land.”
As the Land of Bliss is a realm of unconditioned nirvana, we must possess the respective cause of unconditioned nirvana in order to be reborn there. This Buddha’s Name is the crystallization of unconditioned and pure meritorious virtues accumulated by Amitabha Buddha. So, in order to enter Amitabha’s reward land, the land of unconditioned nirvana, we need his Great Name.This is because his Name is unconditioned and pure, in the state of no-production and no-extinction. It is the natural law of cause and effect.

As long as we follow the 18th vow, aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, and recite Amitabha’s name even ten times – extending to the end of one’s life, or only ten recitations , or even one recitation at the near end of life , we are assured of rebirth.
We are the kind of people that are capable of reciting Amitabha’s name for our entire lives. If we are deeply inspired by Amitabha’s 18th vow and aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, we naturally strive to recite for the rest of our lives . Under any circumstance ( while walking, standing, sitting and lying,) we always think of Amitabha’s name. Whether it is faith or aspiration, all is covered and included within the practice of reciting Amitabha’s Name.

If we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, we have the Threefold Obedience:
The first obedience is to obey the 18th vow, the great Fundamental Vow made by Amitabha Buddha – obedience to Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow.
If we obey and follow this name, we will be embraced by the unobstructed light of this name – obedience to Amitabha’s light.
Under this circumstance, we obey Amitabha Buddha’s name which accords with his meaning – obedience to the meaning of Amitabha’s name.

Whether we exclusively recite “Namo Amitabha “, or recite “I take refuge in the Tathagata of Unobstructed Light extending throughout the ten directions ”, it accords with the original intent of Amitabha Buddha. It also accords with the 18th vow, the Fundamental Vow of the 48 vows of Amitabha Buddha. As it says in the conclusive statement made by Master Shandao:
“Observing Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, his underlying intention is that sentient beings should always exclusively recite his Name .”

Apart from the Pure Land school of Buddhism, is there any dharma school that we can learn and practice so as to liberate us from the cycle of birth and death? No! Only exclusive recitation of Namo Amitabha is – simple, easy, convenient, splendid and instant.

All matters must come into existence with the proper causes and conditions. Causes and conditions coming together in harmony result in an effect. If we talk about Amitabha's name and his light separately, name is the cause of rebirth (we have the cause of rebirth when we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name) and his light is the condition (practitioners of Amitabha recitation are embraced by Amitabha’s light).
It is similar to a seed and rain water. The Name is the cause,( like a seed), and light is the condition,( like rain water). When the rain of the Light falls in the Alaya Consciousness of ordinary beings, our root of faith will be nurtured. The reward of the causal conditions of hearing Amitabha’s name in the form of light is to arouse faith. It enables us to sustain holding fast to the Name for our entire lives, focused and not confused.
It is the meaning of the following text in the Amitabha Sutra – “if a good man or woman who hears of Amitabha Buddha holds fast to his Name even for one day,… seven days single-mindedly and not confused.” To further expound upon the causal condition, the cause of rebirth is Amitabha recitation by sentient beings. The condition is the Name in the form of the light of Amitabha Buddha. When the cause and condition unite in harmony, t our rebirth is the resulting effect. According to the vow of rebirth through Amitabha-recitation, Amitabha-recitation is the cause and rebirth is the effect.

Light is the name; the name is light. When we believe and accept Amitabha’s deliverance, and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, we will be illuminated and embraced by Amitabha’s infinite, unobstructed and continuous light.

Amitabha Buddha says in the 18th vow, “Should they recite my name and not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.” As Amitabha Buddha has already attained perfect Enlightenment, he has a Buddha Name of perfect Enlightenment, that is, ‘Namo Amitabha’. So, when we recite, we must recite the Buddha name of perfect Enlightenment that enables us to be born there.
This name has the function to embrace the reciter with light, so it is the Buddha name of embracing light. Light and Name are one entity in substance. Light is the Name without sound, and Name is the Light in sound. Name and Light are basically the same.

No matter how deeply we explain the theory of Pure Land Buddhism, how hard we study the Pure Land scriptures, we have just one objective after all: exclusively recite Amitabha’s name. It is also the common objective of the three Pure Land sutras. Therefore , the sole purpose is to attain rebirth through exclusive practice of Amitabha-recitation.

The mind of aspiration to rebirth, does not mean that we have to think- ‘I have to be reborn, I have to be reborn, …’ all the time. Moreover, it does not mean that we have to think of the splendor of the Land of Bliss, or think how Amitabha Buddha contemplated in the five kalpas, and cultivated through countless eons. In a nutshell, it simply means ‘always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name.’

In the parable of the Two Rivers and White Path, Master Shandao said that we merely manage to recite Amitabha’s Name while moving forward along the white path. We need not worry whether our thoughts are good or evil. So, when we recite Amitabha’s Name, do not be troubled by miscellaneous false thoughts .Just keep reciting this Name. This Name is the ultimate truth of the entire teaching of Pure Land Buddhism.

Those who aspire to be reborn should know Amitabha’s Name is faith, faith is Amitabha recitation and Amitabha recitation is rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Amitabha’s Name is perfect and complete in virtues. As ordinary beings are conditioned and not real, so all their own virtues are not perfect and complete. Master Shandao says, “Though ordinary beings wish to have pure mind, they never attain it through their own practices. It is like drawing pictures in water.”
Master Daochuo states that the benefits of Amitabha recitation cover both the present life and the future life, extending from the beginning to the end. Master Shandao also says that there are three karmic connections with Amitabha Buddha during Amitabha recitation - intimate, close, and augmentative.There are also four virtues in Amitabha recitation - praising Buddha, repentance, dedication/aspiration, and adornment of the Pure Land. There are also five honorable praises - good man, wonderful good man, most superior man, man almost extinct, most splendid man. There are also five augmentative causal conditions - eradication of offensive karma, embrace and protection, seeing the Buddha, reception in rebirth, and witness in rebirth.
So, the Contemplation Sutra concludes that discarding the meditative and non-meditative virtues, what aptitude we have, and what teachings we practice, erects the flag of ‘always exclusively reciting Amitabha’s Name’. It clearly reveals faith in Amitabha’s Name. If we know that we are assured of rebirth if we always exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name , faith is naturally contained within our exclusive practice of Amitabha recitation.
With respect to the grace of Amitabha Buddha, there is no way we can ever pay him back even a bit .( Even if we sacrifice our lives - though an ordinary being does not really sacrifice in order to pay back Buddha’s grace). So, what should we do? The answer is: “Always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name”. When we are grateful, or when we are praising, or when we are happy or sad, or when our mind is pure or confused, or when we think vastly and deeply, or when we want to speak a lot, always recite ‘Namo Amitabha’, ‘Namo Amitabha’....
Our ‘aptitude’ has become one entity with Amitabha’s ‘teaching’; so, when we talk about faith or grace, we should know we are Amitabha’s adopted sons. Here’s an ancient saying - A kind father has a filial son, and a friendly brother has respectful siblings. Even if we do our best, it is our duty to do it without any expectation of thankfulness. It is just like the donor gives in order to perform virtuous deeds and the receiver subsequently feels grateful. As we are lay people, that is morality in the human community.
So, when Master Shandao talks about Namo Amitabha, there is a deep and profound meaning behind the statement “always exclusively recite ‘Namo Amitabha.’”

Amitabha’s Name contains direct rewards and circumstantial rewards. Amitabha’s Name includes faith, aspiration, remembering, and invoking Buddha. So, Master Shandao says, “Though Shakyamuni Buddha has spoken of the benefits of attaining rebirth, of practicing the meditative and non-meditative virtues, it is anticipated that, as in Amitabha Buddha’s fundamental vow, his intention is focused on sentient beings, who can recite the name of Amitabha Buddha exclusively in a consistent and persistent manner.”

Those who exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name are certain to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land. This statement is also spoken by the Buddhas in the six directions. They urge us, teach us, and simultaneously guarantee. So, it is the original intent of all Buddhas. It is the reason sentient beings are certainly reborn if they recite Amitabha’s Name. Moreover, when we can hear and believe the wonderful teachings, our lotus flowers blossom there. Thus, all of the bodhisattvas’ vows and the practices in the ten grounds are naturally revealed. The ultimate fruition of Bodhi is attained naturally without the ascetic practices through ten thousand kalpas.

All of Amitabha’s various practices in the causal stages and all of his respective virtues, attained in the fruition ground, are embraced in his Name. Therefore, the six-character Name contains various virtuous teachings and embraces various fundamental virtues. That is the reason we naturally attain all roots of virtues and naturally adorn the Pure Land while reciting his name.

From ordinary beings’ point of view, we think the teachings, the practices and rebirth are easy and splendid. It is, of course, because of the operation of Amitabha’s merits within them. What is the operating principle in the Pure Land teaching? It is all within the Name – Namo Amitabha! The function of rebirth is within the Name, and attainment of enlightenment in the Land of Bliss is also within the Name. Even deliverance of sentient beings in the ten directions , when we return to these worlds from the Land of Bliss, is also within the Name. So, Master Shandao says, “ when we examine Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, it is understood that his underlying wish is: all beings should always exclusively recite his Name.”

“To examine Amitabha Buddha’s Fundamental Vow, it is understood that his underlying wish is that all beings should always exclusively recite his Name.” This statement also explains the hidden meaning of “contemplating the power of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, none of us who encounter this teaching is not benefitted.”
The purpose is to allow sentient beings to recite Amitabha’s Name. So long as we always, exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, we understand this teaching. We might feel that we have received nothing ; but, we are one with the sea of great treasures, merits, and virtues. This is the conclusion reached in the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra written by Master Shandao.

‘Always’ means : when hoping to eradicate disasters and jeopardy, we always exclusively recite Namo Amitabha, when wishing to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, we always exclusively recite Namo Amitabha, and when expediting the achievement of Buddhaood, we always exclusively recite Namo Amitabha. Under any circumstances, we always exclusively recite Namo Amitabha. That is why it is called ‘always.’If we understand this truth deeply, we will naturally make it simple, and uncomplicated . We will naturally recite Amitabha’s name in a beginner’s manner. We Know that, through Amitabha Recitation, all of our questions will naturally be answered. Hence, there is no need to make it sophisticated or complicated in any fashion.

If we do not understand the principle of Amitabha recitation, it is impossible for us to ‘always’ recite Amitabha’s name. ‘Always’ means:there is no change in the teaching for our entire lives ; it remains our sole and simple practice, whenever, wherever, and whatever we are doing.
It is our duty to care for our parents, attend to our teachers and elders, compassionately refrain from killing, practice the Ten Wholesome Deeds, the Five Precepts, the Bodhisattva vows , chant the Mahayana sutras, and encourage people to follow the teachings in accordance with their karmic circumstances.
However, Amitabha Buddha does not require us to pursue these practices in order to attain rebirth. The name is sufficient for all. As ordinary beings in the wicked world of the Five Turbidities, all of our practices are inferior and the lowest in grade. This is due to the fact that they are mixed with greed, hatred and delusion whatever we do or think.

If it is said that faith rather than practice is required for rebirth in the reward land. This faith means faith in Other-Power. That is, faith in the power of Amitabha’s name, as expressed in his Fundamental Vow. Hence, the practice of] ‘always exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name’ fully expresses our Faith.
If we can live our lives in this way, we understand the principle, and have full faith in Buddha’s wisdom as stated in Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. Even if we don’t intellectually understand the principle, it still works, because it reaches Buddha’s wisdom in a ‘submerged’ manner, and it matches with the wonderful Way in a ‘hidden’ manner.
Master Honen said, “As we know that sentient beings certainly attain rebirth through Amitabha recitation, we are naturally sufficient in the Three States of Mind (faith).”
He also said, “If we don’t know the meaning of rebirth by Amitabha recitation, we should learn it ; but , it is alright to know it partially. However, even among those who want to study it intensively, there may only be very few who fully grasp it. This is because ordinary beings do not possess sufficient wisdom. So, don’t merely pursue intellectual interpretation and spend less time in reciting Amitabha’s name.
If ignorant , delusive ordinary beings are in favor of intellectual interpretation, and spend their time studying the definitions of self-power, other power, faith, and doubt, they may fall into the hands of King Yama (Lord of Hell) before they find the answers.This is simply because death can come in a split second.

Our teaching is the Path of Easy Practice, so there is nothing that is so profound and mysterious that it cannot be done. We simply exclusively recite Amitabha’s name - Namo Amituofo, and accept Amitabha’s deliverance. It also means we receive all of the merit and virtues of Amitabha, and achieve the status of rebirth in the Land of Bliss.

‘Always exclusively reciting’ means single-minded in recitation, no alternative or option, and one-pointedness without any other supportive or auxiliary in reliance of Amitabha Buddha. Recitation is single-minded and exclusive in recitation; prostration is also single-minded and exclusive in prostration; offering and praising is also single-minded and exclusive offering and praising.
We don’t rely on other miscellaneous virtues or even other buddhas and bodhisattvas> if we do so, it is not ‘always.’ It is because our principal Buddha in Pure Land teaching is Amitabha.

In Pure Land Buddhism our primary tenets are faith, aspiration and practice. We primarily base these teachings on the three Pure Land sutras and the writings of our patriarchs.However, all of these are understood to be expedient teachings, similar to pre-school education. Once we understand all of these teachings, we can discard them, and simply always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name.
Always practicing exclusive Amitabha recitation does not involve any concepts , any study, or any theory. We simply always recite Amitabha’s name with full reliance on Amitabha Buddha. The following are single-minded and exclusive: Recitation, prostration , offering , and praising.
We don’t rely on other miscellaneous virtues or even other buddhas and bodhisattvas. If we do so, it is not ‘always.’ It is because our principal Buddha in Pure Land teaching is Amitabha.

Master Honen always referred to the following sentence from the chapter on circulation in the Contemplation Sutra : 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."
He also said , “If you don’t believe upon hearing, you are regarded as ‘not hearing’; if you don’t recite Amitabha’s name upon believing, you are regarded as ‘not believing. So, we should always recite Amitabha’s name.” It complies with the meaning of ‘always exclusively recite’, as said in our Shandao Lineage.

When we say. “Always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name.” ‘Always’ refers to time. It means since we have believed and accepted this teaching, we recite single-mindedly without including any other practices , or giving up half way, or diluting it with other Buddha’s names, dharani, or practices of other schools. Thus, It is known as ‘always.’ As said in the Ultimate Truths of our path: Do not doubt, do not interrupt practice, do not dilute (by mixing in other Buddhas or practices). This is the meaning of ‘always.’

Though the virtuous roots and aptitudes of Amitabha reciters vary , it does not impact their capacity for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. (as long as they recite Namo Amitabha exclusively.)
Regardless of their state of mind( pure or not pure) and regardless of their capacity in cultivation, none of that is counted for rebirth in the Land of Bliss. As long as they exclusively recite Amitabha’s name and aspire to be reborn, they are called Amitabha reciters.

No sentient beings will attain rebirth in the Land of Bliss without recourse to the vow power of Amitabha Buddha. It is imperative that we entirely rely on Amitabha Buddha’s Vow Power [to attain rebirth] through the exclusive practice of Amitabha recitation. Even if we take the path of mixed practices and dedicate infinite practice of the Six Paramitas for rebirth in the Land of Bliss, we must also rely on Amitabha Buddha’s vow power. Without his vow power, we have no way to be reborn despite all of our dedication. It is because the cause and keffect do not match. Thus it is said: Even infinite practice of the Six Paramitas is not the direct cause to enter the wonderful reward land. Practitioners must have the mind of dedication and aspiration to rebirth as the cause, plus Amitabha’s vow power as their karmic condition. In this way they can get the reward of rebirth in the Land of Bliss, because of the harmonization of cause and condition.
If we practice Amitabha recitation mixed with miscellaneous cultivation and other practices, practitioners must rely on Amitabha’s vow power for rebirth. The difference is: the former entirely complies with the 18th Vow, and the practitioner will naturally attain the reward body and dwell in the reward land. The latter may not have these results if they dedicate through miscellaneous cultivation and mixed practices.

The meaning of ‘continuation in every Amitabha recitation’ is, ‘not forsaking in every Amitabha recitation.’ A person who aspires to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, believes in and accepts Amitabha’s deliverance through his Fundamental Vow, and exclusively recites Amitabha’s Name. He should always recite his Name hereafter without forsaking. In this respect, it is not necessary to mix any teachings and practices of other schools in cultivation.
If we recite without forsaking, Amitabha Buddha will embrace us without forsaking as well. Amitabha and we, or we and Amitabha are inseparable . If we can continue Amitabha recitation until the end of our lives, ten out of ten, a hundred out of a hundred, a thousand out of a thousand, or ten thousand out of ten thousand will be reborn. It is true to say that ten thousand people will be reborn if there are ten thousand people who practice.

Our bodily movements are primarily walking, standing, sitting or lying down. Master Shandao said, "Not forsaking in every recitation". That means: every person should try their best to recite as many times as possible within their capacity and aptitude. No matter whether they are walking, standing, sitting , or lying down, regardless of how long or short they can recite in terms of time.
Knowing that he should always recite Amitabha’s name exclusively and single-mindedly, he must combine all of his practices, and focus his mind on one – Amitabha recitation. So, he should spend as much of his time as possible reciting this Name whenever it enters his mind.

We always exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name while walking, standing, sitting , and lying, without forsaking. Thus, regardless of how long our life is, we are always abiding by Amitabha’s 18th Vow.
Rebirth is the result of the entire force of merits and virtues within Amitabha’s Name. So, for a person who recites this Name, whether he knows it or not, whether he asks or not, the functional capacity for rebirth is naturally hidden within the Name. Though he does not really know and cannot truly see, he enjoys the same results of these merits and virtues. It is the functional capacity of the Name, and the self-nature of the Name.

Those who believe in Amitabha’s deliverance must be single-minded in the exclusive practice of Amitabha recitation. They recite Amitabha’s name without forsaking. It does not mean that we have to recite in every moment; but, try our best to recite whenever we think of it.

Amitabha’s love is absolutely unconditional. Because of this love, Amitabha is willing to deliver all sentient beings of the ten directions. At the same time, he also possesses the power to deliver instantly and thoroughly all sentient beings of the ten directions.
Amitabha’s love is of great kindness and great compassion. His power can be seen in the 18th Vow that pronounces: if sentient beings of the ten directions who recite my Name even ten times should not be born in my land, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
Given that Amitabha Buddha has accomplished the 18th Vow and attained perfect Enlightenment for ten kalpas, any sentient beings of the ten directions who exclusively recite Amitabha’s name will all be saved and reborn in the Land of Bliss.

Pure Land Buddhism is the Buddha’s teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance. Don’t worry about not having the capacity for practicing any virtue; but , whenever you can, exclusively recite Amitabha’s name. The reason is that rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land is assured by our exclusive practice of Amitabha recitation. It has nothing to do with our capacity for practicing virtues or gaining merits , or the purity of our mind.
Besides, since Amitabha’s deliverance is equal, the status of the delivered individual is not considered. Hence, it does not matter whether we have no wisdom, no knowledge, and no practice, or whether we are kind or evil. We can all be delivered and reborn as long as we aspire to (the Land of Bliss) and dedicate ourselves to recitation of Amitabha’s name.

The Buddha introduced eighty-four thousand approaches to enlightenment. It is impossible for us to learn all of them. If we exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name, however, it is equivalent to having learned innumerable teachings.
Thus, by Amitabha recitation, our rebirth is assured. Once reborn, attainment of Buddhahood is assured. Amitabha recitation results in rebirth, and rebirth results in attainment of Buddhahood. This is known [in the great vows of a bodhisattva] as ‘Above, to seek bodhi’. After that, we will return to the Saha land for transforming sentient beings. This is known as ‘Below, to transform all sentient beings’.
So, it doesn’t matter whether we want to seek bodhi above, or to transform sentient beings below, as long as we exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name, all will be accomplished perfectly and completely.

During our past lifetimes, we have committed karmic offenses such as killing, stealing, adultery, and lying. All of these karmic debts must be repaid before we leave the Saha world. The merits and virtues for the repayment are fully and completely endowed within the Six-Character Great Name.
For this reason, the six-character (six syllables in English) name – Namo Amitabha—is respectfully designated as “the great Name with a myriad of virtues”. If we want to leave the Saha world and to be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha, reciting Amitabha’s name exclusively is more than enough.

Shakyamuni Buddha accomplished all of his vows and practices perfectly and completely through numerous lives by his own power. We do not have that capacity. Even though we wish to cultivate, we do not have the capability to complete it. Nevertheless, if we can exclusively recite Amitabha’s Name, we will reach the Land of Bliss—a realm of unconditioned nirvana, and expedite the achievement of Buddhahood.
All of our afflictions—delusions of views, thoughts, worldly obstructions , and ignorance—will be completely eradicated. Upon attainment of rebirth in the Land of Bliss, we will instantly accomplish realization, once our six organs of sense encounter the six Gunas (or six dusts) of the Land of Bliss, which is a realm of unconditioned nirvana (that cultivates enlightenment).

The Land of Bliss is a realm of unconditioned nirvana. In the realm of nirvana, there are no differences in grade or rank, no creation and annihilation; it is completely pure. This realm of nirvana is also known as the unconditioned realm.
We cannot be reborn in this unconditioned realm if we rely on the merits and virtues that we cultivate in the Saha world in accordance with various circumstances. Master Shandao therefore says, “It’s hard to be reborn there by practicing assorted virtues according to circumstances. The Tathagata therefore selects a key method for us – he teaches us to recite Amitabha’s Name with two-fold exclusivity [i.e. single-mindedly and without deviation].”
From these teachings, we know that exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name is the cause of rebirth in the Land of Bliss—a realm of unconditioned nirvana.

Master Shandao says, “ We are deeply indebted to Shakyamuni for directing us to the West, and Amitabha for his compassionate call. We now trustfully obey the will of the two Buddhas, paying no heed to the rivers of fire and water, having no reservations; but, simply sitting back to ride on Amitabha's freeway of the great vows. We will be reborn in his land after leaving this life, and meet the Buddha. Could there be any greater bliss?
This means, we believe and follow Shakyamuni’s direction and the calling of Amitabha; we don’t need to worry about or pay heed to the rivers of fire and water. In the analogy, “water” refers to human greed and ignorance and “fire” refers to anger and hatred. The ideas or thoughts that arise from our mind are nothing more than manifestations of either one of these two. Even when we recite Amitabha’s name, our mind is still inevitably entangled in greed and hatred. It is good for us to learn about such situations ; but, we don’t need to worry about them. We only need to keep returning to “Namo Amitabha”

During quiet Amitabha recitation, we will generally have fewer miscellaneous thoughts. If our mind is not still, we will have coarse thoughts entering and leaving. So, from time to time, we recite with miscellaneous thoughts. It doesn’t matter! Just keep on reciting without ceasing. We don’t need to worry about the interference of the two rivers [of greed and hatred]. Amitabha recitation itself is the way of boarding Amitabha’s vow ship.

Having studied and practiced almost all of the teachings for a long time, a practitioner has no confidence in his ability to relieve his own afflictions, and to liberate himself from reincarnation. His anxieties cannot be expressed in words.
However, when he hears that Amitabha has vowed to rescue him in the past five eons, continued to cultivate for him through countless eons, completed the Pure Land for him, and has become the king of all buddhas, he suddenly attains hope and sees the light illuminate his darkness. At this time, he is already rescued and delivered by Amitabha Buddha, and he has attained a new life . This is known as ‘delighting in faith’. It is also known as ‘sincerely and joyfully entrusting himself to Amitabha.’
From then on, he exclusively recites ‘Namo Amitabha’ one time, ten times, for one day, for two days, … for seven days, for eight days, for one year, for two years, until the end of his life. Amitabha recitation is realized in his daily living. He takes Amitabha recitation as his only practice [for rebirth], and Amitabha recitation is his life.
Food provides nutrients for his physical body; but, Amitabha recitation provides nutrients for his spirit. Amitabha recitation is his wisdom-life and dharma body. Amitabha recitation is both his hobby and of the utmost importance in his life. Hence, he must be single-minded in exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name. He will recite and recite, without forsaking, under any circumstances, while walking, standing, sitting and lying.

To be reborn in the Land of Bliss, what you need is simply reciting the name - Namo Amitabha. “Recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly and exclusively”. (“single” means focus on one and exclude all others, and “single-minded” means recite exclusively.) Regardless of any circumstance, in any place, at any time, recite the name while walking, standing, sitting, or lying; regardless of the period of time. Just recite the name whenever time is available, and as many times as we can. We don’t count on any other teaching, or any other merits.
In other words, we may have some sorts of merits; but, we don’t rely on them. Although there are many other dharma schools, we don’t mix them with Amitabha recitation. This is known as “Reciting Amitabha’s name single-mindedly and exclusively”.
How do we recite exclusively? Sentient beings should exclusively recite “Namo Amitabha” with their current aptitude (basic spiritual capacity). If you are monastic, recite as a monastic. If you are a householder, just recite as a householder. If your mind is relatively pure with few afflictions, you can recite with relatively pure mind without afflictions. If you are heavily burdened with afflictions and miscellaneous thoughts, you can recite as those who have an aptitude of heavy afflictions and miscellaneous thoughts. Eventually all can be reborn equally in the Land of Bliss. So, it doesn’t matter what kind of aptitude we have, the correct way is to recite Amitabha’s name exclusively.

The Land of Bliss is the Pure Land that Amitabha Budha accomplished through five eons (kalpas in Sanskrit) . In that time, he formulated his 48 Vows, and countless kalpas to practice and accumulate immeasurable meritorious virtues of the bodhisattva. So, there is only one cause of rebirth – exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name. All others are not the direct cause.

The sutra says that the Buddha of Infinite Life is “the king of all buddhas, the noblest amongst all kinds of light”. When we recite Namo Amitabha, it is equivalent to reciting the names of all other buddhas in the ten directions. Isn’t it? It is because, once we have accessed the king, we also access all others. In addition, it is simple and easy to exclusively recite one single name - Amitabha Buddha, and more difficult and complicated to extensively recite the names of various buddhas in the ten directions.

Amitabha makes vows for us, cultivates for us, and constructs the Land of Bliss for us. He dedicates all of his merits and virtues to us at the same time. So, we merely believe and accept Amitabha’s deliverance, and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, without mixing any other practices.
We simply, naturally , and humbly take refuge, and completely rely upon Amitabha by reciting his name without forsaking. Don’t worry whether you aspire or not.

When we think of Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha also thinks of us. It is a fact that we are grateful for Amitabha’s deliverance, so we recite his name gratefully. However, it is not a matter of gratefulness, because gratefulness is already included in Amitabha recitation. We take refuge in and totally rely on Amitabha Buddha; so, there is no gap or condition between Amitabha and us. It is similar to the filial relationship between parents and their children, very intimate and very direct, no need to be substantiated with any condition.

Exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name and aspiring to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land is equal to walking along the White Path between the Two Rivers.

The Buddha’s call is sent through the Six-Character Name. Whenever we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name and aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land, we can hear the call of Amitabha. In other words, Amitabha calls us by means of the Six-Character Name. So, whenever we recite this Six-Character Name, we are answering the call of Amitabha Buddha.

The name of Amitabha is the body of his light and life. Whoever exclusively recites Amitabha’s name will merge with Amitabha Buddha, forming one entity. They are inseparable and fully united. The Contemplation Sutra says, “Every Tathagata has a body of the Dharma realm [Dharmakaya], and enters the mind of each sentient being”. You invoke the Buddha, and the Buddha invokes you. Master Shandao says, “A person can invoke the Buddha, and the Buddha invokes you in return. When a person exclusively thinks of the Buddha, the Buddha knows it.” So, with one thought of the Buddha invoked, one thought from the Buddha will be received in response, and with continuous thoughts of the Buddha invoked, continuous thoughts from the Buddha are received in return.
So long as an ordinary being recites Amitabha’s name, he will get an immediate response from the Buddha. This is the communion of the minds of the Buddha and the practitioner, which does not rely upon any expedient means. It’s just like an archer shooting an arrow at the ground. He will never miss.

The teaching to “recite Amitabha’s name scrupulously” means to recite his name exclusively, not mix in other cultivations or practices, and not crave the mystical or fantastic, or revere profundities. We should feel that we are foolish and good at nothing except Amitabha recitation. No matter at what time, in what place, or under what circumstance, we earnestly recite the name of Amitabha as the idea arises, and make it a habit. Just recite Amitabha’s name exclusively and single-mindedly. That is the meaning of scrupulous Amitabha recitation.

Amitabha’s name is honored as “the great name of myriad virtues”. It means that our rebirth in the Land of Bliss is not related to our wisdom, not related to our knowledge, not related to our cultivation, not related to our purity in mind, not related to our good or bad karma. What is it related to? It is related to the exclusive practice of Amitabha recitation.
Knowledge, wisdom, and deep understanding of the Buddhist scriptures serve the same purposes: to encourage and convince us to attain assured rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land, through exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name, and to settle ourselves thoroughly in the consistent and persistent practice of Amitabha recitation. Assuming that we are not educated, have little knowledge, and have not thoroughly studied the Buddhist scriptures; but, we have learned that we can be reborn solely by this name. If we thereafter exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, we can still reach the same end.

If you can accomplish the Four Kinds of Mindfulness, you will be able to liberate yourself from reincarnation within the Three Domains and the Six Realms. However, we are unlikely to be able to reach such a high level of accomplishment. As we are aware of the serious limitations of “self-power”, we rely entirely on the “other-power”for liberation. According to our teaching, relying on the “other-power” means to rely on the 18th Vow. As long as we rely on Amitabha’s vow power, our rebirth in the Land of Bliss is assured.
It doesn’t matter whether we still have greed, hatred, illusion, false and scattered thinking, or whether our virtuous conduct is sufficient. Don’t worry about that unnecessarily; just practice continuous Amitabha recitation exclusively.

Those who aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land ought to exclusively recite Amitabha’s name. This is known as ‘true and real practice’, and ‘ linking the effect with the respective cause. In this way, it is not difficult to perform true and real practices.

True and real practice is the same as reciting Amitabha’s name exclusively. Why? We exclusively recite Amitabha’s name in response to Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. Abiding by Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, all functions, merits, virtues, and necessities required for rebirth are already contained in his Name. We possess all of these merits and virtues for rebirth when we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name.
Hence, we Amitabha reciters do not feel that we are accumulating or cultivating merits and virtues for rebirth in the Land of Bliss; we simply follow and abide by the 18th Vow, in which Amitabha Buddha instructed us to recite his name “even ten times”. Accordingly, we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name for the remainder of our lives(up to our entire lifespan), or down to just reciting ten times, one time, or even one thought. So, on our side, our practice is “acting according to suchness”, which is “not practicing” [those for accumulation of meritorious virtues]. This kind of “practice without practicing” is actually the real practice according to suchness, and the true practice.
Let’s draw an analogy. We can cross a river from one side to the other by riding in a boat. Although we can not swim from shore to shore, we do reach the other side of the river, because we rely on the sailing function of the boat, not our own physical abilities. We are simply on board the boat that sails to the destination.
We stay on the ship as a passenger. That means we do all our living in the ship, and we will arrive ashore naturally. From our point of view, we do not swim to get onshore. So, Amitabha recitation is really a ‘true and real practice’, which is a ‘practice without practicing.’

We cannot search and imagine the realm of emptiness. As Master Daochuo says, “According to the Mahayana teachings, our mind cannot be triggered by the teaching of Real Mark and True Suchness, the Foremost Meaning of Emptiness.” According to the Theravada teachings, we are not qualified, whether monastics or householders, to enter the sagely stream by clearing the delusion of view, or further to Anagamin (the Third Fruition), Arhat (the Fourth Fruition) who cut off the Upper Five Afflictions and clear the Lower Five Afflictions.
Though we are exactly people of this kind, if we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, we are regarded as truly practicing in alignment with the true practice. So, the teaching of our school is truly splendid and easy.

Nowadays, some people advocate remembering and invoking the Buddha;but, they do not equate these to name recitation. They assert that Buddhas have no shape, no sound, no language, no words, and no symbol; so , genuine Buddha invocation is not name recitation. In their view, genuine Buddha invocation is invocation of the substance, merits, and virtues of Buddha.
However, we do not interpret in that way. This single name, by itself, contains all the merits and virtues that Amitabha Buddha has practiced and achieved in his causal ground. The great vow power of Amitabha is already contained in this single name. As long as we exclusively recite Amitabha’s name persistently, the merits and virtues of recollecting the Buddha are already there within the Name.

If we ordinary beings do not exclusively recite Amitabha’s name; but, pursue proficiency in “invoking and recollecting” the Buddha, the merits and virtues that we can attain will be as little as a drop of water in the ocean.
It is because the Buddha’s realm is beyond our imaginations, not to mention invocation and recollection. Amitabha Buddha took five eons to realize his 48 vows, and countless eons to cultivate and accumulate immeasurable merits and virtues. What method can we use to recollect him?
Amitabha’s compassion is unfathomable. What method can we use to recollect him? We should always recite Amitabha’s name in order to cover all Amitabha’s immeasurable, infinite , inconceivable merits and virtues.

“A wonderful substance with a myriad of virtues is the Six Character Great Name; with as many merits and virtues as there are sands in the Ganges. All of these are available in the single practice of Name recitation.” (quote by Master Honen)
A myriad of virtues means the virtues attained in a myriad of practices of the Six Paramitas, of the 84,000 teachings and of all scriptures in the Three Canons and the Twelve Divisions. Where is the substance of a myriad of virtues? It is all in the six-character name.
This six-character name contains merits and virtues as numerous as the sands in the Ganges. The practitioner is merely required to recite orally and single-mindedly: Namo Amituofo, then he will attain the merits and virtues as great as the Ganges sand.

Master Honen says, “With one recitation in accordance with the great vow, the ultimate truth of a myriad of practices is accomplished. The three-character name achieved in Buddhahood is the source of all virtues.” The great vow refers to Amitabha’s 18th Vow. Accomplishment of the 18th Vow means the accomplishment of the virtues of his name. So, his name is the ultimate and supreme destination of a myriad of practices. If we recite his name, we will naturally possess a myriad of virtues.
The three-character name achieved in Buddhahood refers to the characters – A, Mita, and Bha. It is the source of all varieties of virtues. We merely recite it and we will naturally receive them.

The aptitude of all sentient beings can be divided generally into three tiers: “the upper tier”, “the middle tier”, and “the lower tier”. For further sub-division, it can be grouped to the nine levels, eighty-one levels, or even immeasurable levels…. However, in spite of the differences in aptitude—be it the higher or the lower, the intention of Amitabha’s original vow is to have us recite his name exclusively.
Having a superior aptitude and practicing the teachings of other Dharma schools do not cause acceleration of attainment of Buddhahood in the Land of Bliss; being low in aptitude does not cause deferment of realization or lead to a lower status after rebirth. It is because all functions are included in the name. Amitabha’s deliverance of sentient beings is proactive and equal without any discrimination.

The three tiers are used to explain the aptitudes of sentient beings and are aimed at guiding practitioners back to name recitation in accordance with the Fundamental Vow.
When Master Shandao explains the meaning of the three tiers in his works, “The Teachings of Contemplation and Recitation”, he says, “The aptitude and capacity of all sentient beings are different, which can be classified into the high, medium, and low tiers. The Buddha urges them to exclusively recite the name of the Infinite Life Buddha according to their aptitude and capacity. The Buddha and a multitude of sagely beings will come to receive them actively when their lives are close to death, and all of them will attain rebirth”. It indicates that the aptitude of sentient beings can be classified into high, medium and low.
As far as the teaching is concerned, the same teaching is applicable to different tiers of aptitude. So it has a guiding function to lead sentient beings of all the three tiers to reciting Amitabha’s name. For practitioners of the high tier, no sense of superiority is produced because they are not practicing an exclusive high-tier teaching. For practitioners of the low tier, no sense of inferiority is produced because they are not excluded from the chance of rebirth.
According to the explanation of Master Shandao, practitioners of the high tier are not superior, and practitioners of the low tier are not inferior. All are entitled to rebirth. It is truly a teaching that covers all three tiers, and will receive both people with great capacity and those of lesser ability. It is just as Master Ouyi says, “those of the highest level in the high tier cannot exceed its boundary, and those of the lowest level in the low tier are able to reach its region.”
So, the intention of the introduction of the three tiers is mainly to guide us back to exclusive recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s Name.

Regarding rebirth at “the nine levels”, I do think it exists. As far as our teaching is concerned, however, rebirth at the nine levels is equivalent to “rebirth in the womb” as told in the Infinite Life Sutra.
The nine levels are not mentioned in the 48 vows, and not either in the Infinite Life Sutra. This Sutra, however, does mention “rebirth in the womb”. By this observation, we can derive that rebirth at the nine levels means rebirth in the womb, just using different terms or nomenclature.
We know that the section on “rebirth in the womb” has not talked about rebirth at the three levels of the low tier, because that is a general classification. For further elaboration, it can be subdivided into nine levels, eighty-one levels, or immeasurable levels.

Regarding the three tiers mentioned in the text, the Infinite Life Sutra Emphasizes that even though the aptitudes and capacities of sentient beings are different, all of them have to rely entirely on the merits and virtues of Amitabha’s Name for rebirth in the Land of Bliss, and to attain equally the status of the buddha in one more lifetime.
If the superior beings rely on their superior wisdom and practices, and the other two kinds of beings rely on the practices of their own levels, and if they do not completely let go the tightly-held merits and virtues attained through their self-powered practices, and do not rely entirely on the merits and virtues of Amitabha’s name, their rebirth in the Land of Bliss will, of course, end up with different levels and classes.
So, the purpose of Shakyamuni Buddha’s discourse on the three tiers and nine levels is to reveal that, although there are sentient beings whose aptitude and capacity can be categorized into the three tiers and nine levels, all of them have to rely on Amitabha Buddha, and converge at the single-minded and exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name. This is the only way to transcend the three tiers and nine levels; otherwise, falling into its scope is unavoidable—that means rebirth inside the bud as said in the Infinite Life Sutra. The result is unable to bloom, being prevented from seeing the Buddha and listening to his teachings for 500 years.

With respect to the relationship between Amitabha recitation and “the nine levels”, Master Shandao offers us in Dharma School of Contemplation and Recitation some expedient guidance.
The first expedient guidance is that if a person recites Amitabha’s name 30,000 times and above every day, he is regarded as a member of the upper level in the high tier. This guidance is provided mainly for those who are on the sagely path, facilitating them to recite Amitabha’s name exclusively.
The second expedient guidance is returning to the all-time definitive Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, which states “Although the preceding passages spoke of the merits of the meditative and non-meditative virtues, the Buddha’s underlying wish is that sentient beings will recite Amitabha’s name single-mindedly”. Returning to the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra and reciting Amitabha’s name exclusively transcends all of the practices at the nine levels.

We don’t think of ourselves as incarnate beings in the lowest level of the lowest tier; but, in fact, the seeds of the Ten Evil Deeds and the Five Gravest Transgressions were planted in our hearts.
Those seeds live in seclusion when the environment for germination is lacking. Once the conditions ripen, we will do the Ten Evil Deeds and the Five Gravest Transgressions. So, Master Shandao advises us to take the dharma as a mirror to reflect ourselves, so that we will see our true colors and clearly know that we are iniquitous beings who don’t have any karmic conditions for emancipation.
Thus, we must honestly rely on Amitabha’s deliverance, and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, in order to attain a firm and never abandoned status of guaranteed rebirth in the present life.
So, this school of teaching provides us with great ease of mind and great satisfaction. It allows us to repent inwardly from time to time and be thankful for the Buddha’s grace by recitation of Amitabha’s name single-mindedly—just as Master Shandao has taught.

Why does Master Shandao say that those who recite Amitabha’s name 30,000 times per day are at the highest level of the high tier? For practitioners of this school, this helps to prevent sloth and complacency. The 18th Vow says “even ten recitations”, and Master Shandao interprets this as “reciting the pre-eminent name “Namo Amituofo”, and also “invocations after invocations without forsaking”.
Since the meaning of the 18th Vow is reciting the pre-eminent name Namo Amituofo continuously without forsaking, Master Shandao puts those who recite 30,000 times per day on the highest level of the high tier, so as to encourage people to recite and never give up.
What is the intention of saying this? It is to encourage and urge people forward with Amitabha-recitation. To a person who is occupied with nothing all day, he will not slacken. Thinking of the high ranking while being occupied with nothing, he is motivated to recite the name 30,000 times a day. To a person who is very busy, he will also squeeze in some time and sit down quietly for reciting Amitabha’s name when he thinks of getting into the highest rank by reciting 30,000 times.
After rebirth, however, is he really at the rank at the highest level of the high tier? Actually, everyone reborn there surpasses the highest level of the high tier. If we understand this principle, and know that the intention of Master Shandao’s interpretation is to urge us not to be slothful, we should try our best to recite as many as we can without forsaking, and not to slacken. In brief, we should make an effort to digest the essence of the master’s words.

In the Infinite Life Sutra, only Amitabha recitation is mentioned, not any other teaching. In the Circulation Section of the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha also tells us to hold fast to the Name, not other practices. In the Smaller Sutra, hold fast to the Name is highlighted as the main cause of rebirth. So, all three Pure Land sutras are consistent as they stress the single practice of Amitabha recitation.(not any other miscellaneous practices and teachings)
To prevent us from practicing miscellaneous teachings, Master Shandao tells us, being the one at the highest level in the high tier, to recite Amitabha’s name 30,000 times a day, so as to hold firmly to the exclusive practice of the one teaching , as said in the three Pure Land sutras.
If a person at leisure can recite 30,000 times a day, he has no time to practice other teachings ; if one is really busy, he can also hold firmly to one single practice because he hasn’t enough time to recite 30,000.( because he has no spare time to practice other teachings)
If it is the case that, the three states of mind (the sincere mind, the joyful entrustment, and the aspiration in the 18th Vow) – the sincere mind, the deep mind and the mind of dedication and aspiration in the Contemplation Sutra, the Fourfold cultivation (respectful practice, unmixed practice, uninterrupted practice, sustained practice) and the Five Kinds of Invocation (the Five Primary Practices) are consolidated into one Name – Namo Amituofo. All are referred to as single-minded and exclusive Amitabha recitation.

The karma of assurance is explained from the side of the Buddha; but , it can also be interpreted from the side of sentient beings. On the Buddha’s side, name recitation, not any other kinds of practices and teachings, is chosen by Amitabha Buddha to be the main cause of rebirth. So, it is the “chosen” karma of assurance.
On our side, by merely reciting Amitabha’s name, we are abiding by Amitabha’s 18th vow and following the instruction stated therein, we are also assured of rebirth. So, it is the “determinant” karma of assurance.

A true reciting is not merely reciting by mouth, but reciting by body. To recite by body means to remember Amitabha, to think of Amitabha, which is to apply the teachings in practice. The purpose of the teachings in Buddhist scriptures is to facilitate readers to practice accordingly.
Reciting sutras certainly has merits and virtues; but, the original purpose of the sutras is not merely for reading. It is rather, through reading, facilitate readers to understand the teachings, and subsequently observe and practice the teachings accordingly.
Hence, once we have read the three Pure Land sutras, we can put them aside and then recite the Name single-mindedly and exclusively. Just like Master Honen in his old age, he no longer recited the sutras—not even a single one; but, focused on the practice of Amitabha recitation. He only recited “Namo Amituofo” exclusively. That’s an example of becoming more and more focused.

A person who exclusively recites Amitabha’s name is assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Of course, there must be a motive, or a purpose, for him to exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, i.e., being tired of and willing to depart from the Saha world and aspiring to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. With this in mind, he exclusively recites Amitabha’s name.
Once he has this motive and recites the Name, whether he has sufficient understanding of Amitabha’s deliverance is no longer critical. His rebirth is assured because he has already satisfied the conditions for rebirth: being tired of and willing to depart from the Land of Saha, aspiring to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, and exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name.

We recite Amitabha Buddha’s name because we want to get away from the sufferings of the disgusting Land of Saha, and enter the Land of Bliss that does not have any kind of suffering. Hence, the target destination of every Amitabha reciter is the Land of Bliss.
Then, by what means can we achieve this?The answer is by exclusive recitation of “Namo Amituofo” with exclusive reliance on Amitabha Buddha. Do not take any side roads or waste time on circumvention.

It contradicts the natural principle if a person always ponders the following questions or others like it: what is self-power? What is other-power? What is faith? What is doubt? …… It is natural only if the person discards all of those questions without hesitation, and keeps reciting the Name all the time, according to the knowledge that “rebirth is attained by name recitation”.

As long as we exclusively recite the six-character name of ‘Namo Amituofo’ for the rest of our lives, even just ten times or one time [at the end of life], we have the augmentative cause to attain rebirth , by relying on Amitabha’s great karmic vow power. We don’t need to do anything for rebirth other than Amitabha recitation.
Just recite Amitabha’s name—recite in the capacity of an ordinary being and in the manner of our present aptitude; don’t attempt to add anything to the practice of Amitabha recitation.
The meaning of “adding” includes: thinking of a standard to measure the intensity of recitation, or asking such questions as “Can I be reborn if I recite in this way?” These are “add-ons”.
The practice of Amitabha recitation itself is boarding the boat of Amitabha Buddha, relying on the power of Amitabha, and accepting the augmentative cause for rebirth offered by Amitabha. In that way, rebirth is assured.

Experience or feeling is individual, one to one; it is common, not all to all. Experience or feeling is just at one time, under a certain circumstance; it is not permanent and general. So, Master Shandao says, “Though an ordinary being sets forth the pure mind, it is just like drawing on the surface of water.”
Ultimately, we set aside all of our experiences and feelings in Amitabha recitation leaving only the six-character great name ‘Namo Amituofo’, ‘ Namo Amituofo’ in our mind and our mouth.
It is because ordinary beings are unreal, and our mind is also shifted. Only the recitation of ‘Namo Amituofo’ is real. So, there is an ancient saying, ”All worldly matters are false, only the Buddha is true.” All feelings of joy, excitement, regret, grace, or words of thanks should be discarded, and converted to ‘Namo Amituofo’, ‘Namo Amituofo’.. continuous name recitation.

The experiences of “one thought” have a common point: to realize that the great compassionate deliverance of Amitabha is readily available, despite time, place, and people. The deliverance exists at any time in any place, and under any circumstance. Just aspire to be reborn by reciting Amitabha’s name [as long as one can]—up to the rest of one’s life or down to even one thought, anyone can be saved and delivered for rebirth.
Nevertheless, the experience of “one thought” is difficult to attain, and it won’t suit the aptitude of sentient beings in the ten directions. “Even ten times of name recitation” is easier. It matches with the principle of Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, and it aligns with the aptitude of sentient beings in the ten directions. Furthermore, after your experience of “one thought”—unless you are close to death and your mind is unchanged and uninterrupted—your mind of aspiration to be reborn may relapse, and once your recitation stops, you are no longer aligned with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow, and your rebirth is uncertain.
In this respect, all those who aspire to be reborn in the Pure Land should take the easy way and discard the difficult one, follow the Fundamental Vow, and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name.
Although not having the experience of “one thought”, we can also be reborn in Amitabha’s reward land. It truly accommodates people of all three roots of virtues, including both the sharp and the dull in aptitude. Everyone can do it, and their merits and virtues are equal.
For that reason, Master Shandao (the incarnated body of Amitabha) and Master Honen (the incarnated body of Mahasthamaprapta) never taught or guided others with their own experiences throughout their lives. They only advised and guided people to aspire after that land and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name from up to the rest of life and down to even one thought, which is really in accordance with Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow. Those who learn should learn this; those who believe should believe in this; those who practice should practice this. You can see these teachings in all of the books written by Master Shandao and Master Honen.
If Amitabha takes the experience of “one thought” as the benchmark of rebirth, there will be few sentient beings in the ten directions who can attain rebirth, and many who cannot. So, Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow does not take it as the benchmark for rebirth, and set “aspire to be reborn, recite even ten times” as the benchmarks for rebirth.

“Always exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name”, as explained by Master Shandao, carries the meaning of allowing Amitabha Buddha at all times to deliver at His discretion. It is because the six-character great name of “Namo Amituofo” is endowed with all merits and virtues that can deliver all sentient beings in the ten directions. Any sentient being who allows Amitabha Buddha at all times to deliver at His discretion, and exclusively recites Amitabha’s name, will naturally receive all Amitabha’s merits and virtues. It is not necessary for him to dedicate the “self-powered practice of buddha-contemplation” or “self-powered name-recitation” for [Amitabha’s] deliverance.

We should recite Amitabha’s name with no doubt, no interruption, and no mixed practice. It is easy and we all can do it. Why? Because we all have a mouth and can speak. From now on, change your habit from gossiping to reciting ‘”Namo Amituofo, Namo Amituofo, Namo Amituofo...”
Sentient beings have lots of thoughts and conceive many ideas. We can change these false thoughts of afflictions by reciting “Namo Amituofo, Namo Amituofo, Namo Amituofo...” in our mind. By doing so, we shall have fewer false thoughts, and feel more relaxed and comfortable.

Master Shandao says, “ “The practice of invocation of Amitabha’s name single-heartedly and continuously without forsaking it for a second—whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, or whether for a long or short period of time—is called "the principal karma of assurance, as it accords with Amitabha Buddha’s vow.” “Continuous invocation without forsaking for a second” means exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name.
Recite the Name as soon as you wake in the morning, and recite continuously without forsaking for the rest of day (in the form of walking-recitation, prostration-recitation, or sitting-recitation.)Regardless of location, time and circumstance, we can recite vocally, or silently This is known as “continuous invocation without forsaking for a second”.
Master Shandao told us that recitation in this manner is called "the principal karma of assurance". Out of those who practice in this way, a hundred out of a hundred, a thousand out of a thousand, and ten thousand out of ten thousand attain rebirth. The saying that “ten thousand can go if there are ten thousand who practice it” is true. Why? Because “it accords with Amitabha Buddha’s vow”. It is because Amitabha recitation itself means relying on Amitabha’s vow power. With Amitabha’s vow power, we are 100% assured of rebirth in the Land of Bliss.

Master Shandao says in “In Praise of Dharma Practices”
The Land of Bliss is a realm of unconditioned nirvana;
It’s hard to be reborn there by practicing assorted virtues according to circumstances. The Tathagata selects the key method –
He teaches us to recite Amitabha’s name with two-fold exclusivity.
The Land of Bliss is a realm of unconditioned nirvana, in which relative concepts like “senior”,“junior”, “high”, or “low” levels do not exist; neither do the ideas of you and me, one and the other, beloved and enemies, good and bad. All kinds of delusions in view and afflictions, worldly obstructions, and ignorance are cut away. All illusory phenomena are like stage performances. They cannot ever hinder and interfere in this realm. Hence, it is called “unconditioned nirvana”.
The nirvana there is the unsurpassed one, and it is also the reward land of Amitabha, a reward Buddha.
It’s difficult to be reborn there by practicing assorted virtues attained according to worldly circumstances. In order to be reborn in such a realm, one must fulfill the cause of rebirth in nirvana, and then gain access to it. Assorted virtues attained according to worldly circumstances are not aligned with the reward of nirvana. The so-called “assorted virtues attained according to worldly circumstances” refer to those various kinds of practices that are performed in accordance with one’s karmic circumstance, or one’s preference. If we dedicate those assorted virtues for rebirth, there is no way for us to enter the unconditioned reward land of nirvana, which is Amitabha Buddha’s reward land.
The Tathagatas selected the key method. Shakyamuni Buddha and Amitabha Buddha screened and selected the one and only cause of entering the realm of unconditioned nirvana for us–reciting Amitabha’s name. Moreover, reciting Amitabha’s name is the proper cause of rebirth. Apart from this, there is no second cause. It is unique. Hence, it is called “two-fold exclusivity”.

Though we may have virtuous practices apart from Amitabha-recitation, such as: filial love to parents, serving teachers, being sincere and scrupulous in human relationships, getting rid of evil and practicing good, and other worldly virtues, or even practicing meditative virtues, they do not increase the chance of attaining rebirth in the Land of Bliss. So, we do not rely on or dedicate all of these virtues , because the great name of a myriad of virtues is wholly sufficient to enable us to be reborn there.
So, it is fine to follow our capacity and aptitude in reciting this Name (Namo Amituofo) for rebirth. Don’t rely on any virtuous practice other than Amitabha recitation.

The Amitabha Sutra says, “The aim of listening to Shakyamuni Buddha speak of Amitabha” is to allow us to believe and accept the teaching of Amitabha’s deliverance, and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name.
That is why Master Honen says, “if you do not believe upon hearing , you have not listened to what was said. If you do not recite Amitabha’s name upon believing, you have not believed in Amitabha’s deliverance. So, we should always recite Amitabha’s name.”
If you have heard the teaching, but you do not believe; it is the same as having never heard it. If you say you believe this teaching, but you do not recite “Namo Amituofo” single-mindedly and exclusively; it is the same as not believing it. After all, we should recite “Namo Amituofo” single-mindedly and exclusively.

Why does Amitabha Buddha specify name recitation as the practice, and not other practices in his Fundamental Vow? Master Honen had a precise and concise explanation in Chapter 3 “The Fundamental Vow” of his book The Collection on Selection.
For the embrace and deliverance of all sentient beings based on equality and compassion, Bhiksu Dharmakara, the former body of Amitabha Buddha, did not consider any other practice, but only name recitation in his Fundamental Vow.
This is because of “equality and compassion”, as well as “embrace and deliverance of all”. So, irrespective of one’s status as a householder or monastic, a member of the elite or the illiterate, a man or woman, the elderly or the young, the rich or the poor, the superior or the inferior, all can be equally reborn in the reward land and enjoy the same immeasurable life and light, if they always exclusively recite Amitabha’s name.

“All phenomena are unreal (impermanent and conditioned), only Buddha is real.” All worldly matters in a myriad of forms are impermanent, so we should not fix our minds on any of them. The minds of ordinary beings are also impermanent, false, assorted, and afflicted. None of our thoughts are real, so we cannot settle our minds.
That is why, if we don’t recite Amitabha’s name, our thoughts must be impermanent, false, assorted and afflicted. Instead of having miscellaneous false thoughts and afflictions due to ignorance, or even being attacked by vicious ghosts, why don’t we fix our minds on Amitabha’s name on which they can be pacified and settled, and we can always be accompanied by the Buddha?
A person who aspires to rebirth must admire reality, purity, and light, and keep away from impermanence, defilement, and darkness. So, it is natural to fix our minds on Amitabha’s name, as ‘only Buddha is real’, and renounce miscellaneous false thoughts. In so doing, our minds will always incline to wholesomeness, truth and purity, and admire reality and light.
Ordinary beings are accustomed to settled habits. Our mind is strong in attachment to the Five Desires of the secular world, but weak in thinking of Amitabha’s name. So, we must always be alert and not be capricious. We should use as much time as possible to recite Amitabha’s name, except sleeping or working. People with speech impairments should always be mindful of the Buddha, and think of the grace of the Buddha.
These are the reasons why aspirants should always single-mindedly and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, no matter under what circumstance or in what time, whether they have faith or doubt in self-power or other-power.

A person who believes and accepts Amitabha’s deliverance and aspires to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land will certainly take his own false thoughts coolly, and care much more seriously about recitation of Amitabha’s name. Due to his mindfulness of this, he naturally recites “Namo Amituofo, Namo Amituofo…” at whatever time and in whatever place.
Even though no voice is heard, his lips keep moving all the time regardless of where, or what he is doing. He keeps the same way no matter if he is in the main hall of a Buddhist temple, or in a bathroom or a bedroom.

An Amitabha reciter who truly aspires to be reborn and exclusively recites the Buddha’s name can be reborn,the same as all other reciters, even if he recites Amitabha’s name while watching TV. Due to his habitual behavior, his mind of rebirth aspiration will gradually dilute his hobbies though he is still watching TV and reading the newspaper during Amitabha recitation.
Amitabha recitation will gradually adjust the habitual behavior of a practitioner. Some people may commence Amitabha recitation for two hours, then a longer time , and shorter time in various acts related to the Five Desires.
For instance, a housewife is used to watching a particular TV program every day. When the program is about to start, she will stop talking on the phone, and set aside the household work , then be concentrated on watching the TV program. However, one day, her neighbor tells her suddenly that her son is hurt in a car accident, and the condition is acute. At that time, she is in no mood for watching TV, and rushes to the hospital. She does not care about the scenes along the road because her mind is fixed on her son. The situation is similar to the mind of rebirth-aspiration, without forsaking it in every thought.

Amitabha Buddha knows every individual is different in spiritual capacity and aptitude. Monastic people, for instance, are ‘professional’ practitioners. They have more time to practice Amitabha recitation as they have no burden of family, and no worries concerning the future. This allows their minds to be relatively pure during Amitabha recitation. Whereas householders of varied occupations have family members of different ages, so they are inevitably distracted and worried, particularly if they have heavy debts during a financial crisis. Amitabha Buddha knows all about these situations.
Hence, Amitabha Buddha says, “You can exclusively recite My Name in accordance with your own aptitude and capacity. When time (near end-of-life) comes, I will come with Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta and a multitude of pure bodhisattvas, accompanied by a musical band playing a grand march, to welcome and receive you to the Land of Bliss. If the time has not yet come, I will surround and protect you with my light, follow you and stay at your head. I am always with you.”

As Amitabha reciters, our practice focuses on just one Buddha’s name. We start to recite this Buddha’s name in the beginning of the year, and end it on New Year’s Eve. We recite ‘Namo Amituofo’ at funerals as well as at weddings. So, it never changes.
Our Pure Land teaching is unique and incomparable. What we recite is ‘Namo Amituofo’. When we prostrate, our fundamental Buddha is ‘Namo Amituofo. When we make offerings, we also recite “Namo Amituofo.”
What we praise, extol and introduce to others is also ‘Namo Amituofo,’ and what we pay respect to is ‘Namo Amituofo,’ and nothing else.

A person who exclusively recites Amitabha’s name, understands the principle of matching aptitude and teaching, and believes it without any doubt. He is regarded as ‘understanding and believing the Buddha’s wisdom’. If he is puzzled and lacks understanding, but keeps exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name without mixing any miscellaneous practices, it is known as ‘aligned with the wonderful truth without being aware’.
These two kinds of people are always embraced by Amitabha’s light forever. As they are embraced, they will never retrogress, reincarnate, be chased by karmic creditors and enemies, or obstructed by heterodox demons.

If you can accept that you can be assured of rebirth through exclusive Amitabha-recitation, and then you recite Amitabha’s name for the rest of your life, you are 100 percent assured to be reborn. This is because it is the teaching of ‘other-power.’ We may not know Amitabha Buddha begs us with joined palms to aspire to be reborn. Since 10 eons ago, Amitabha has begged us to recite his Name with the mind of renunciation of the Saha World, and aspire to be reborn in Sukhavati?
The name is now naturally functioning and fully available, to enable us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. So, if we recite Namo Amitabha, we have thrown away the concept of ‘self-power’ and ‘other-power’, and questionsabout faith and doubt, because faith is naturally within the practice of name-recitation.

Reciting Namo Amitabha with singleness of mind, also includes exclusivity. Master Honen said, “Exclusive name-recitation of Amitabha Buddha (with singleness of mind )naturally encompasses the Three States of Mind.
Though you may not know, it naturally contains the Three States of Mind. Why? It is because the name ‘Namo Amituofo’ itself has this kind of function.

Reciting Amitabha’s Name enables us to be reborn. If we know this point while reciting, faith is already within our practice. Though we may not know this principle thoroughly, if we just keep reciting until the end of this life, we are assured of rebirth. Why? It is because Amitabha Buddha is empowering our practice.

Patriarchs of all schools and sects are eventually led to the Pure Land teachings. Master Zhizhe of the Tientai Sect was a typical example. Many awakened patriarchs of the Chan Sect are similarly brought to the Pure Land teachings.
It is just like driving on a highway. Everyone starts his journey from his own location and drives on the rural road, then on suburban roads, then urban roads, and reaches the intersection on the highway. Once he is on the highway, he must follow that road to his destination with no detours. It is similar for all practitioners who finally reach the Pure Land path.
However, if he can directly take the exclusive practice of Amitabha’s name, it is the same as bypassing all other roads to directly enter the highway, without spending time and effort in re-routings.

When Amitabha reciters gather together, they have no other practices; but, just saying Namo Amituofo, Namo Amituofo,…. It is because they know everything is unreal and conditioned in the world, and all of our actions are karma. Just like a drama, the actors enter , perform, and exit . Only this Name – Namo Amituofo is true, real, lasting, having an absolute value.

Amitabha recitation is the one requirement for rebirth that Amitabha gave to sentient beings. So, the Larger Sutra says: ‘even ten times’, also says: ‘always exclusively recollecting / invoking Amitayus Buddha’. It is also the conclusion of the Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra: always exclusively reciting Amitabha’s Name’.

Amitabha Buddha is a stored body in the Dharma realm. It is so-called because all Buddhas’ merits and virtues in the ten directions are fully and perfectly stored in the one single body of Amitabha Buddha. So, by exclusively reciting Amitabha’s name, it is the same as reciting the names of all Buddhas of the ten directions in the three periods of time. This is known as ‘taking one for all, without missing anything.’

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