Why Don’t I Seem to Experience the Benefits of Amitabha Name-Recitation in This Life?
By Master Jinghe
Dear Master Jinghe,
I’m currently baffled by an Amitabha-recitation related issue and I would be grateful if you could enlighten me please.
I understand that the benefits of Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance are boundless and fall into two categories: the benefits in this life and the benefit of rebirth to the Land of Ultimate Bliss after this life.
1. Benefits in this life: Those who recite the name of Amitabha are protected by the Buddha’s light. They generally live a trouble-free life, have their karmic obstacles eliminated, their blessings and wisdom increased, their health improved, and disasters averted. They have an inner peace, feel secure and see a clear direction of where they want to go.
2. The benefits of rebirth: At the end of our lives, Amitabha Buddha manifests himself to greet us personally, embraces us with his light, and lessens our pain and suffering at that stage. We experience great joy, and our minds become clear and filled with the right views. With the power of the Buddha, we are transported onto the lotus flower platform and follow him to arrive at the Land of Ultimate Bliss in a flash. We are then born from the lotus flower afloat a pond of the seven jewels.
I have absolutely no doubt about the benefits of rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss for Amitabha-reciters. However, from personal experience, I find it hard to believe in the worldly benefits of Amitabha- recitation. This is a subject that troubles me.
I have been tormented for years both physically and emotionally. I understand that this is due to my heavy karmic obstacles. My daughter has also been suffering from some mental conditions for years. Although both my daughter and I are Amitabha reciters, we haven’t been able to experience tangible benefits from that practice. Instead, we find our lives filled with more and more afflictions. My daughter's illness has become worse, and my own situation is no less woeful, what with the turmoil where I am living and the impact of the harsh pandemic measures in place. I feel like I am in hell.
I can't help wondering if the worldly benefits of Amitabha recitation have been exaggerated. It is my humble opinion that if we place too much emphasis on the worldly benefits, it can be counterproductive and lead to the wavering of faith among some Amitabha reciters regarding the Buddha’s deliverance.
Namo Amitabha Buddha.
Master Jinghe’s reply:
We Amitabha-reciters are spontaneously protected by the Buddha! However, if after practicing Amitabha-recitation, our existing problems have not improved, or even deteriorated, the correct Dharma view is that the situation would have been a lot worse if we didn't recite the Buddha's name. We have to realize that over countless past lives, we have accumulated heavy karmic offenses which are innumerable, and wronged uncountable karmic creditors. Reciting Namo Amituofo helps lessen our karmic obstacles. Moreover, karmic creditors who have suffered greatly need us to dedicate to them the merits of our recitation.
Sometimes, the grievances which our karmic relatives and creditors harbor towards us cannot be resolved in a short period of time. We need to persevere with our practice of Amitabha-recitation as well as dedicate the merits to them. Therefore, when encountering cases of being possessed by outside spirits or mental illnesses, we Dharma masters always advise the family members to perform the rite in the simplified version of the "Transcendental Deliverance through Amitabha Recitation" compiled by Master Huijing. We encourage them to do this daily and dedicate the merits to their karmic creditors. Do it over a long time with perseverance.
The following is an excerpt from "The Effects of Amitabha-recitation: Eyewitness Accounts" -"Four Kinds of Effects of Amitabha- recitation," for your reference.
From every cause comes an effect; from every action, a reaction. This is the law of nature. Sentient beings’ recitation of Amitabha’s name is the cause, an action. Amitabha’s deliverance is the effect, a reaction. In this case, the reaction is in the form of benefits.
However, some of us have been practicing Amitabha-recitation but cannot feel any effect. Yet, it doesn't mean that there is no benefit at all. There are four kinds of effect, or reaction (benefits):
First, perceptible beneficial effects felt by practicing Amitabha-reciters.
Second, imperceptible beneficial effects not felt by practicing Amitabha-reciters.
Third, those who practiced Amitabha-recitation before, either in this life or in past lives, are able to feel the protection and blessings of the Buddha, helping them to cope with the ups and downs in life better.
Fourth, those who practiced Amitabha-recitation before, either in this life or in past lives, are able to cope with the ups and downs in life better as a result of the Buddha’s protection and blessings, even though they cannot feel them.
The aptitude and karmic conditions of sentient beings vary from person to person, so the Buddha's response to individuals is also different. Whether the benefit is perceptible or not, it is a matter of expediency on the part of the Buddha. He uses different expedient methods to guide us through the ups and downs of life, awakening us towards Bodhi, enabling us to escape suffering completely and attain ultimate bliss.
From the four categories of benefits mentioned above, we see that there are four ways Amitabha delivers and benefits sentient beings, namely by responding in accordance with our wish, by responding contrary to our wish, by responding in a visible manner, and by responding in a hidden manner.
First, by responding in accordance with our wish: The Buddha answers our calls.
Second, by responding contrary to our wish: The Buddha does not answer our calls in the way we want, and we experience the total opposite to our wish.
Third, by responding in a visible manner: the Amitabha-reciter is able to see the Buddha manifesting in front of him and a multitude of sages protecting him.
Fourth, by responding in a hidden manner: the Amitabha-reciter generally experiences more cordial relationships with others, and receives timely help when he needs it without realizing that this is all due to Amitabha’s blessings.
An understanding of these types of effects of Amitabha-recitation helps us deepen our faith in the Buddha. With this understanding we are able to deal with life’s adversities and challenges without a shadow of doubt and frustration. Happiness and gratitude arise as a result.
Although the worldly benefits of Amitabha-recitation are manifestations of cause and effect, Buddhist teachings do not advocate striving for such benefits. However, believing what the Buddha says in the various sutras about the effects of reciting the name of Amitabha will help us to develop faith in the practice of the Pure Land path, and ultimately to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If our practice is simply for the purpose of seeking worldly benefits and our faith is dependent on gaining them, there is a danger that we get obsessed with this and deviate from the right Dharma view. Worse still, we may be misled by certain non-Buddhist sects which propagate worldly benefits as the sole purpose of faith.
Our aspirations to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss will be dashed and we will sink deeper into the six realms of rebirth. Therefore, we should not have presumptuous desires and pursue doggedly worldly benefits of reciting the name of Amitabha.
Although reciting Namo Amituofo naturally gains us worldly benefits, no matter how big those benefits are, when compared with the benefits of rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss they are just a drop in the ocean. The only real benefit to strive for in this world is to be reborn in the Land of Bliss and to become a Buddha. All other things are just dreams and illusions. They are unreal. In the overall scheme of things, even a hundred years of good health and fortune are but fleeting and ephemeral. The most disastrous thing is to miss the boat to be reborn in the Land of Bliss and to get caught forever in the cycle of endless rebirth. The purpose and real benefit of reciting the Buddha's name are to eliminate such misery.
Present worldly benefits only last a few decades—they are limited; the benefits of rebirth in the Land of Bliss are uncountable—they are infinite.
If one can be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the endless cycle of birth and death will be cut off, which means that there’s no more suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death. One will gain immeasurable life, boundless light, boundless compassion, infinite wisdom, and immeasurable supernatural powers. A sense of liberation of the mind and body ensues.
The purpose of practicing Amitabha-recitation is to be reborn in the Pure Land, attaining Buddhahood and delivering sentient beings. It is not in pursuit of happiness after death, nor is it for desiring worldly benefits.
Most people attach great importance to worldly benefits. In order to tailor to the individuals’ capacity and aptitude for faith, Dharma teachings do touch on worldly benefits. However, these benefits are inverted and false. Master Tan Luan said in the Commentary on the Treatise on Rebirth in the Pure Land:
"The merit arises from the various good acts of ordinary beings in the human realm and heavenly beings, and the reward of human and heavenly states of existence [i.e. the cause and effects of such good acts] are inverted and false.”
The intention of Shakyamuni Buddha’s coming to this world is to teach sentient beings to recite the name of Amitabha so that they can be reborn in the Land of Bliss to transcend the endless cycle of birth and death in samsara.
Palms Pressed Together
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Householder Fojin)
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, 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. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
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