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Master Shandao’s Exegesis on the Deep Mind: Faith Established in Context of Practice, Part Two
The Principal Karma of Assured Rebirth in Primary Practice
If we believe that deep faith and earnest aspiration are pre-requisites that we must establish through our interpretation of scripture, and that sustain our resolve to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, we will have very little chance of gaining rebirth. This is because faith, aspiration, interpretation, and determination generated from our ever-changing minds always fluctuate. Thus, they are not reliable and our rebirth is not assured.
However, if we entrust ourselves to Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow of deliverance through devotion—or establish faith in Amitabha’s deliverance through the practice of Amitabha-recitation—it is much easier to attain assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Why? It is because Amitabha Buddha has fulfilled his vows of deliverance, and has accomplished the inconceivable power to assure the rebirth of all who practice exclusive Amitabha-recitation.
Master Shandao writes:
Further, the primary or right practices are divided into two. First, single-heartedly and without variation practice the exclusive invocation of Amitabha’s name, whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, whether for long or short periods of time, and without forsaking it for even the space of a thought. This is called "the principal karma of assurance." It is so because it accords with Amitabha Buddha’s vow.
There are 48 vows made by Amitabha Buddha in the causal ground. The 18th Vow is directly related to assured rebirth through exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name: If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
In the paragraph of the fulfilment of the 18th Vow in the Infinite Life Sutra, it says, “Upon hearing his Name, one is joyful to believe in [his Name].” Hearing Amitabha Buddha is hearing his Name. So, upon hearing Amitabha Buddha, we call or recite his Name for the sake of rebirth. It means we believe and accept Amitabha’s Name, and are “holding fast the Name” as stated in the Amitabha Sutra.
The guiding principles of Pure Land Buddhism are: “Faith in and acceptance of Amitabha’s deliverance; aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land; and exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name.” An Amitabha-reciter who believes in the Buddha and his deliverance must recite Namo Amitabha Buddha without forsaking it under any circumstance, while walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. Due to differences in capacity and aptitude, practitioners’ chosen forms of recitation practice may vary (sitting recitation, walking recitation, recitation while performing prostrations, and so on). But the basics are the same: recitation after recitation, without forsaking the Name.
Amitabha’s Vow, also known as the Fundamental Vow, was fulfilled 10 kalpas ago. In other words, he has accomplished the power to deliver all sentient beings who call his name in the hopes of reaching his land. Since Amitabha is a Buddha, his vow power is real (never changing), and he never breaches the promise of the Fundamental Vow.
If we follow his instructions for practice and recite his Name exclusively in the aspiration to be reborn in the Pure Land, such a rebirth is assured. That is the reason why Amitabha-recitation is called the “principal karma of assurance.”
The Secondary Karma of Rebirth in Primary Practice
Master Shandao further writes:
[Second,] if one engages in prostrations, sutra-recitation, and so on, these are called "secondary karma [actions]."
These other four kinds of primary practices: sutra-recitation, contemplation, prostration, praising and making offering, are known as secondary karma. Though these acts are not mentioned in the Fundamental Vow and not directly related to assured rebirth, they serve to support the principal karma of assurance.
Master Shandao defines the miscellaneous practices again here and writes:
Apart from the exclusive primary and secondary practices, all other virtuous practices are regarded as miscellaneous/mixed practices.
As a pristine Pure Land practitioner, one should exclusively practice Amitabha-recitation, without mixing in any other type of Buddha-invocation, or any other meditative or non-meditative practice. This means to have pure aspiration to rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
Deliverance through His Name
Generally, there are four ways that Buddhas deliver sentient beings:
1. Through paranormal powers (mind);
2. Light (body);
3. Preaching (mouth); and
4. His Name.
Amitabha’s vow power and his Name are actually the same thing. Belief in his vow power is no different from belief in his Name. Belief in his Name means belief in Amitabha-recitation. So, the Name, faith (deep belief), Amitabha-recitation are basically one entity but with different names. Name is faith, and faith is Amitabha-recitation. If we believe and accept Amitabha’s deliverance through his Name, as stated in the Fundamental Vow, we will naturally utter Amitabha’s Name.
Amitabha Buddha mainly delivers sentient beings through his Name. Amitabha Buddha’s Name, in the form of immeasurable and unimpeded light shining over all the worlds in the ten directions, consists of boundless and inconceivable merit and virtues. So, his Name is also called the Name of Light.
Name of Light
When we exclusively recite his name, Amitabha Buddha’s light will perpetually embrace and receive us, without ever forsaking us. Embracing and receiving means protection and deliverance. Without forsaking means never abandoning us, and at the end of our lives, receiving us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.
Amitabha Buddha delivers sentient beings with his Name, so we should believe in and accept his deliverance by exclusively reciting his Name.
Faith in Amitabha’s deliverance is not based on our fleeting emotions, and it cannot be manufactured through our delusive minds. Faith in Amitabha’s deliverance should be established on something beyond us that is something real and truly existent. For sentient beings living in this unreal and defiled world called Saha, the only real and substantive entity is Amitabha’s Name of Light.
By reciting the Amitabha’s Name, we put real faith and aspiration in Amitabha’s real vow power of deliverance, and are embraced and protected by Amitabha’s real light. In addition, we are assured of rebirth in the real reward land, the Land of Bliss established by Amitabha Buddha, a real Buddha. Namo Amitabha Buddha!