Is Assisted Recitation Necessary for Rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss?
Q:Master Yin Guang once said: "At the end of one’s life, no matter how long or since when one has been practicing, he or she must have assisted recitation from relatives and close friends. Then, the right thoughts will arise, and he or she will feel the response from Amitabha Buddha and be delivered to the Western Pure Land." Some members of assisted recitation groups often use the above quote to say that rebirth is not easy without assisted recitation. However, I don't think this aligns with the Pure Land's principles of "rebirth assured while alive, non-retrogression achieved during this lifetime."
A: First off, your understanding is correct.
However, Master Yin Guang was showing his special compassion, and his words were addressed particularly to the dying. For those people, however long or recently they have been cultivating, having family members and lotus friends perform assisted recitation is never a bad thing. It can always help without spoiling one's chances of rebirth; therefore, it is a surefire plan. This will certainly ensure that "the right thoughts will arise, and he or she will feel the response from Amitabha Buddha and be delivered to the Western Pure Land."
However, this doesn't mean that it's the only way. Therefore, Master Yin Guang also said, "This method was invented by Master Shandao in the Tang Dynasty, to state that those who do not recite Amitabha's name during their lifetimes can also be reborn by assisted recitation."
So, what mindset do we keep? When reciting Amitabha's name, we should not gamble our rebirth on help from others, saying, "If no one will assist me at my deathbed, then I will not be reborn." This is not true. Amitabha never said that "sentient beings of the ten directions can be reborn in my land only with assisted recitation," because the chances of assisted recitation exist for some and not for others. The 18th vow doesn't mention assisted recitation either. The only place it is mentioned is the section on the lowest three grades of rebirth in The Contemplation Sutra. According to Master Shandao's explanation, this person encounters the Pure Land teachings for the first time while on his deathbed. However, we encountered the Pure Land teachings long before our time is up, and so, we can assure our rebirth now, without having to wait until we die. This is the benefit of this Dharma method. However, whether or not your rebirth has been determined is entirely up to you. No one else can make you purchase a Pure Land-expressway ticket for you.
So, whose rebirth is not assured? One who always gambles on it the day of his death, saying, "When I am dying, someone will come to help me." This is a very dangerous notion, because rebirth is not assured BEFORE then. Unlike setting an alarm clock for 5 AM to wake up in the morning, you cannot decide the timing of your last day. Moreover, you are betting on so many uncertainties, such as time, karmic relations, wavering mind, and unsettling faith. How can you guarantee rebirth at all?
The Patriarchs always speak according to the circumstances of the situation. As mentioned earlier, Master Yin Guang's words were meant for those who are dying and showed his great compassion. However, if you were to ask him whether or not you need help from assisted recitation, when you recite regularly, he would most certainly rebuke you. One who does recite regularly should be confident in his or her rebirth; this is the karma of assurance.
When helping others with assisted recitation, we, of course, should be thoughtful and kind to the utmost in our plans. If we were to say, "This man has been reciting for several years; why should we help him?", that would be incorrect.
Therefore, we should offer assisted recitation, regardless if the cultivator is a veteran or novice. The leader of the assisted recitation group has a heart of compassion, but it would be wrong for him to say, "It is difficult to be reborn without assisted recitation," for this would be improper. Of course, we don't know the circumstances of the person being helped, so assisted recitation is very beneficial anyways. In short, rebirth is not difficult, especially with assisted recitation, and everyone can achieve it, unless someone does NOT WANT to.
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Eddie Cao)
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