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 The Great Liberation of Life


       We nianfo[1] every day, reciting “Namo Amitabha Buddha”. What does “Namo” mean? It means entrustment of life. It also means “aspiration and dedication to the Pure Land.” For example, when we buy fish to set them free, the basket of fish we bought belongs to us; hence, their lives—entrusting their lives to me. They are under my control because I spent the money.

       The same with Amitabha Buddha coming to the Saha land, the Buddha puts his six-character-name[2] on sentient beings and claims, “They belong to me: From now on, I will manage your life.” That is the meaning of Namo, the way of Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance. We are the fish in the basket, the Buddha buys it with his money, and the Buddha owns our lives. Then again, what merits do the fish possess to deserve to be free? Wouldn’t other fish wonder: why them not me?

       Because of my yuan[3]

       When we buy animals from the market to set them free, we impose no conditions on them. The quantity we buy is just based on the money we have. Think about it. If there are five baskets of fish, and we have enough money, would we buy four? We would not buy the fifth basket just because the fish is not good looking, would we? To the liberator, the fish is always beautiful to behold. Snakes may not be favorite creatures to many, but some people would liberate them all the same.

       Our purpose in buying fish is to set them free, regardless of their physical appearances, for in our eyes all life is perfect and precious. Similarly, in the eye of Amitabha Buddha, there is no distinction between good and evil, only lives. When we buy fish to release them, would we judge which ones are good, which ones are wicked? No, we wouldn’t. We have no notion of discrimination. As long as they are lives and we have the budget, we will buy and release them all!

       Does Amitabha Buddha have enough meritorious wealth? (Yes, he does.) Then, when Amitabha Buddha comes to the Saha land, would he only liberate a selected few but not all beings? If he only liberates males, what would females think? If only ordained monks, what about lay-Buddhists? If only the intelligent, what would the rest do?

        Beseeching the Liberation, Reciting the Buddha

      Amitabha Buddha liberates us, fulfills our wishes, and grants us a lotus-transformed birth in the lake of seven-jewels and eight-virtues in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. It is the Buddha’s Great Liberation of Life, discriminating against no men or women, monks or lay-Buddhists, guilty or innocent, good or evil. No bias, no favoritism. Same as when we buy animals to set them free, we would not be discriminating against them so long we have the money.

       Amitabha Buddha has infinite meritorious wealth. He manifests himself in the Saha land and all the dharma-lands of the ten directions to liberate sentient beings. It is the equal and universal liberation of life. Therefore, the way of Pure Land Buddhism is nianfo, reciting “Namo Amitabha Buddha.” As mentioned above, “Namo” means life entrustment — “Amitabha Buddha, please liberate me.” Suppose one day you go to the market, and a fish nearby suddenly speaks to you, “Mister, please set me free.” And suppose the fish could cry out your name and plead with you. For sure, you would do everything you could, even selling your house, to fulfill its will.

       In the Saha World, King Yama is the fishmonger, and we are that speaking fish. When Amitabha Buddha comes to free us, and we cry out: “Amitabha, please liberate me.” If the Buddha turned his face and walked away, would he be Amitabha Buddha? No, of course not. Amitabha Buddha carries the magical Mani Orb; his six-character-name is empowered with great merits to deliver us. If we encounter the Buddha, we will not “pass him by in vain.”[4] If we never encounter him, that is too bad. Therefore, the Pure Land way is not one for cultivation. Consider those fish or big turtles next to it: They regained freedom and returned to nature with the help of their liberator; yet, they did not cultivate any merit or virtue to deserve such kindness. We are like those fish and turtles, and we are fortunate to have met a compassionate benefactor who has the money to set us free.

       When we set lives free, we should understand the true meaning. All of us were brought into this world by our past karmic forces, chained up, and marked for sale, just like those animals in the market. Wicked ones are priced higher, like the giant turtle. Regardless of how high the price tag is, Amitabha Buddha’s six-character-name pays it in full. When we beseech “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” we understand Namo is life entrustment, for liberation and entrustment of life mean the same thing. Nianfo is to implore the Buddha to save our lives, to liberate us from samsara.

       Do not worry and think: “Amitabha Buddha, I recite your name hundreds and thousands of times daily, and I have been calling out for your help to deliver me, but you haven’t heard it yet.” If that were true, such a Buddha’s name would not be worth reciting. Amitabha Buddha tells us: “The reason you can recite Namo Amituofo is that I am here to liberate you, and I have already paid with a check for your life long ago.” In fact, Amitabha Buddha put down the deposit for our lives ten kalpas ago.

       I learned a valuable lesson when we were freeing birds at Folin Temple. I think some of the birds might have been incarnated bodhisattvas. Someone brought a cage of birds to the temple to release.  We took the cage to the top of the hill, and as we recited Namo Amitabha Buddha for the birds. After we opened the cage, a few of them quickly flew out, but several clumsy ones stayed inside the cage. We turned the cage up and down, left and right, trying to get them out. But they stubbornly refused, and kept flying away from the cage door. And we couldn’t get these dumb birds out no matter what we did.

       I then realized this was a manifestation. Amitabha Buddha’s six-character-name opened the gate of the three-domain[5] cage long ago, but we kept circling inside, not wanting to get out. Those slow-witted birds are just like you and me. After ten kalpas, we finally practice nianfo and still wonder: “How do I achieve rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss?” The question should be: What would you expect the rebirth to be! The gate has been open, but you obstinately remain inside no matter how hard Amitabha Buddha tries to drive you out. Did we finally get those dumb birds out of the cage? We did: I had to put in my hand to catch those birds — “never forsake” — and set them free.

       We are those deluded birds.

       In conclusion, Pure Land Buddhism is the ultimate way of Liberation of Life.



(Translated and edited by the Pure Land School Translation Team)


[1] Nianfo in Chinese pinyin: Nian means to recite or to be mindful of, Fo is the Buddha; nianfo means Buddha-recitation and/or Buddha-remembrance. In Japanese, it is nembutsu or nenbutsu. Nianfo and nembutsu may be used as a noun or verb; both also mean the Buddha-reciter(s).

[2] The six-character name in Chinese pinyin: Na-mo A-mi-tuo-fo; fo means buddha.

[3] Yuan , in Chinese pinyin means the subsidiary cause, the predestined condition(s) or relationship, or as “a co-operating cause, the concurrent occasion of an event as distinguished from its proximate cause (Max Müller 1894).”

[4] In the Gatha and Treatise on the Rebirth in the Sutra of the Infinite Life (Vasubandhu Bodhisattva), there is a verse of “adornment of the virtue of sustaining without futility” that says: “Contemplating the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow, I see no one who encounters it passes it by in vain; it quickly brings to fullness and perfection the great treasure ocean of virtues.

[5] In Buddhist cosmology, the three domains/triple-world (Trailokya) or the three planes of existence of samsara are Kamaloka, the world of desire, populated by beings in hells, animals, hungry ghosts, humans, and celestial beings in the six lowest heavens; Rupaloka, the world of form, free of baser desires, populated with eighteen heavens by dhyana-dwelling for well-practiced in dhyana (Chan meditation) sage-like beings; and Arupyadhatu, the world of formlessness, a non-corporeal realm populated with four heavens, the rebirth destination for practitioners of the four stages.

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