Pure Land Buddhism in Ten Words: I am a Mortal; the Buddha Wants to Liberate Me
The Mahaparinirvana Sutra reads, “All sentient beings possess Buddha-nature.” However, Master Shandao, in his Commentary on The Visualization Sutra, says, “Because of heavy karmic bonds, their Buddha-nature cannot be manifested.” While the statement from the Mahaparinirvana Sutra takes the stand of the sentient beings’ innate nature, Master Shandao speaks from a stance of objective reality. He focuses on Buddha-nature concealed by afflictions.
Master Shandao values one’s self-reality, and he moves a step further to restore the principle of “All nine levels of rebirth are for mortals”: the upper three levels are for ethical mortals; the middle three are for ordinary mortals; and the lowest three are for wicked mortals. He reckons that beings in samsara are “iniquitous ordinary beings subject to endless rebirth. Since time immemorial, they have died and been reincarnated, without hope of leaving the cycle of rebirth.”
The mortals outlined here are not those defined by other Buddhist schools to be of two categories, the inner mortals and the external mortals. According to Master Shandao, afflictions are like a shadow that follows people who have a physical body. Hence, they are mortals who experience all sorts of suffering and hardship; indeed, they are “iniquitous ordinary beings subject to the endless cycle of rebirth.”
That is to say the nature of mortals is affliction. They live out their lives in the bondage of greed, anger and ignorance, and their insatiable passions and desires drive them – like wind drives a brushfire –to commit evil deeds.
This is what we mean by one’s self-reality – mortals who endure suffering and hardship. Yet, it is exactly this kind of mortal that is the target of Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance, as stated in the various translations of The Infinite Life Sutra. Master Shandao articulates the primal aspiration of Buddhas: “Buddhas, out of great compassion, advise the afflicted beings to seek rebirth in the Pure Land.” In the section of initiation in The Infinite Life Sutra it reads, “With inexhaustible, great compassion, the Tathagata commiserates with the deluded sprouts of the three domains. He thus appears in the world to illuminate the Way and to save multitudes of beings by bestowing upon them true and real benefits.”
“To save” means to liberate them from the fetter of the six realms of Samsara. “Deluded sprouts” is a name for sentient beings, indicating the multitude numerous as blades of grass. “Bestowing” implies giving without conditions.
“True and real benefits” denotes the primal aspiration of Amitabha Buddha, who vowed that beings with faith in His deliverance, and who recite His Name, will receive the benefit of rebirth in His land and become Buddhas.
“Deluded sprouts” is yet another name for afflicted beings. Humans are born with affliction, which is their nature, and we are unable to eliminate suffering by our own efforts. Because of this, Pure Land Buddhism doesn’t advocate the severing of afflictions and attaining enlightenment; instead, its goal is to achieve Buddhahood by rebirth in the Pure Land through faith in the Buddha and the recitation of his Name.
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Householder Jingxing)
 The Intrinsic beings defined by the schools of the Path of Sages are bodhisattvas of the 11th to 40th levels: the Ten Abodes, the Ten Practices, and the Ten Dedications; and the extrinsic beings are bodhisattvas of the lowest levels of the Ten Faiths.
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