Nianfo According to Your Own Roots and Dispositions
Everyone’s intelligence, social standing, and roots and dispositions are different. On a circumstantial ground, there are men and women, old and young, renunciants and laypersons. As far as nianfo is concerned, all these differences are irrelevant. Everyone should practice nianfo according to his or her roots and dispositions: recite the Buddha’s name often if you have the time, less if you do not. One thing we all do the same is nianfo as frequently as our time permits.
Those who are at peace with themselves may maintain a relatively equanimous mind when nianfo. Those who cannot, may throw themselves into a flutter of delusive thoughts. No matter. It is only natural that we would encounter different mindsets since we each have our own inherent capabilities. It is the Buddha who is urging us, pleading with us to nianfo so he can deliver us to his Land of Ultimate Bliss to become Buddhas. He does not mind whether our roots and virtues are superior or inferior as long as we recite his name. Let us focus on nianfo and aspire rebirth into the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Never waiver.
Says Master Shandao:
Whoever can keep mindful of the Buddha until the end of their lives,
Will be reborn in his Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Ten people do, ten will, a hundred people do, all hundred will be reborn to his land.
This statement is brief but categorically and resolutely clear and decisive without any ambiguity. One glance of it will make us feel at ease and reassured.
In his Commentary on the Treatise on Rebirth in the Pure Land, Master Tanluan explains “desiring rebirth in my land” of the Eighteenth Vow in the Infinite Life Sutra this way:
Everyone who desires rebirth will be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
The master’s interpretation combines the essence of the Eighteenth Vow and its Accomplishment in the sutra.
The Eighteenth Vow is the vow of cause and reason that Dharmakara Bodhisattva proclaimed in his causal land. As he became Amitabha Buddha, he fulfilled all his promises. Hence the master stated, “Everyone who desires rebirth will be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.” This brief statement, like that of Master Shandao, is resolute and decisive, clear and assuring, without ambiguity.
Master Tanluan also states:
The Contemplation Sutra reads: Even the one who committed the five abominable transgressions or the ten wickedest offenses, possessing the evilest moral foundation, was reborn into the Buddha-land.
It does not necessarily mean that their evil karmas must bring them down into the Avicci hell; through nianfo, these evil-doers can achieve rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
These statements describe the great compassionate vows of Amitabha Buddha. They do not mean to encourage us to commit evil acts. Absolutely not! The Buddha understands that we iniquitous mortals carry our karmic deeds and suffer the consequences in samsara, life after life. He wants to see all this end. Therefore, a Buddhist who can understand the Buddha’s compassion would not deliberately create evil karmas by committing repugnant transgressions. Even if he did, being soft-hearted, he would fill his mind with remorse and shame.
Additionally, Master Tanluan states:
If one hears the peaceful and tranquil land of bliss, a thought of rebirth will burgeon forth in his mind,
He will be born in that land, entering the state of non-retrogression and assured enlightenment.
These well-said verses are simple and clear, ensuring us that in whomever hears and perceives the Land of Ultimate Bliss to be a realm that is serene and sublime, undefiled and peaceful, a desire for rebirth will arise. Such a person will definitely be reborn in that land and, at that moment, become a bodhisattva, a step on the way to perfect enlightenment.
Here is another statement by Master Tanluan:
Mortals, whose minds are full of vexations,
May also be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss,
No karmas of the three-domains can bind them,
Achieving nirvana without severing afflictions.
How incredible it is!
Mortals, by definition, are vexed and afflicted beings. They belong in the samsara of three-domains and six-realms; no way can they escape without first severing all their evil karmas, let alone be reborn in the Pure Land. Nevertheless, the power of Amitabha Buddha’s vows can free them from their karmic bonds and deliver them to his Land of Ultimate Bliss. They will benefit from the merit of nirvana in the Pure Land. That is why the Master says, “Achieving nirvana without severing afflictions.”
This kind of power and efficacy of nianfo is indeed incredible and inconceivable, something no human mind can comprehend, not even sravakas, or pratyekabuddha, or bodhisattva, because it is the realm of the Buddha. Nor can human languages describe it. All we can do is accept it unconditionally; if we try, we will find “words at a loss, thoughts vanishing.”
It is the law of karma that holds us in samsara. So, how come we can be free of karmic attachments and born into the Pure Land? It is entirely due to nianfo that induces the power of the Buddha’s vows, even though we have not cut loose all of our attachments. Furthermore, reciters will acquire the benefits of nirvana and advance to the rank of the bodhisattva, the so-called “earthling bodhisattvas.”
The above statements by Master Shandao and Master Tanluan explain the “desiring rebirth in my land” of the Eighteenth Vow. To us, rebirth is the sole purpose of life; it is our final resolve that can never be compromised. As Sakyamuni Buddha tells us, “The chance to regain a human body is scarce;” once we lose it, the likelihood is a rebirth in the three wretched realms.
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team; edited by Kevin Orro (Fozhu))
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