Part IV -  Main Section of the Sutra (cont'd)



3.2   Vowing to achieve rebirth in Pure Land

3.2.1   Supreme causal basis
3.2.2   Special excellence

3.3   Practice

3.3.1   Creating the bodies of the Buddha
3.3.2   Admonition to recite the Buddha’s name


3.2   Vowing to achieve rebirth in Pure Land

There are two parts in this section. The first part reveals the supreme causal basis for rebirth in the Pure Land, and the second part extols the special excellence of the Pure Land.

What is the special excellence of the Pure Land? Sentient beings can be reborn there carrying their karmic load with them, and thereby transcend the Triple World "horizontally". Amitabha's Pure Land is a pure land where saints and ordinary beings dwell together, but it includes all Four Lands (the Land where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, the Land of Expedient Liberation, the Land of Real Reward, and the Land of Eternally Quiescent Light), and reveals the Four Teachings (elementary, common, special, and complete).

Sentient beings who are born in Amitabha's Pure Land purify the Four Lands completely, see the three Buddha-bodies perfectly, and fully arrive at the point where they cannot fall back from their position, from their practice, or their mindfulness. All the people in Amitabha's Pure Land will attain enlightenment in one lifetime.

All these special features of the Pure Land are pointed out in the next two sections of the sutra. One should study them carefully.

3.2.1   Supreme causal basis

Now the first passage:

None of the sentient beings who are born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss ever fall back into a lower realm [i.e., they are Avaivartika]. Many among them have only one more lifetime to go before Buddhahood. Their number is incalculable: they can be spoken of as innumerable.
Chinese

The sutra uses a Sanskrit word "Avaivartika", that means "not falling back" (non-retrogression). There are three senses of this "not falling back" that apply sentient beings in the Pure Land. First, they do not fall back from their position: having entered the holy stream (four levels of sagehood culminating in Arhatship), they do not fall back to the level of gods and men. Second, they do not fall back from their practice: as followers of the Bodhisattva path they continue to work for the salvation of all beings, and do not fall back to the level of the Lesser Vehicles with their concern limited to individual salvation. Third, they do not fall back from their mindfulness: from mind-moment to mind-moment, they flow into the ocean of all-knowledge.

In Amitabha's Pure Land, the ten forms of mindfulness are fully developed, and even those who dwell on its lowest level, and have been born in there bringing along their karmic burdens, do not fall back from their position, from their practice, or from their mindfulness.

According to the doctrines of the non-Pure Land Buddhist scriptures, it is a deviation from the established terminology to speak of skipping stages. It is only in Amitabha's Pure Land of Common Residence, where saints and ordinary beings dwell together, that people are not in any of these stages, and yet in all of them. Such transcendence of names and forms does not exist in any other Buddha-land; this definition of stages and levels, this teaching, does not exist in any other Buddha-land. But how could any of this exist if not for the ultimate reality of the true nature of mind, if not for the special effect of reciting the Buddha-name, if not for the great vows of Amitabha?

In the non-Pure Land Buddhist scriptures, the stage of having only one lifetime to go before enlightenment is generally attributed only to Bodhisattvas. But everyone in the Land of Ultimate Bliss will achieve enlightenmen1 in one lifetime and among them are countless numbers of superlative Bodhisattvas.

Among the teachings given by Sakyamuni Buddha only the Avatamsaka Sutra explains perfect realization of Buddhahood in a single lifetime. The basis for perfect realization is explained in the Chapter on the "Vows of Samantabhadra", which shows the way back to the land called "Peaceful Nurturing" (another name for Amitabha's Pure Land). The Avatamsaka Sutra thus urges the whole assembly in the Flower Store World (cosmos) on toward the Pure Land.

How amazing! Ordinary people in the Pure Land reach the stage of having only one lifetime to go before enlightenment, just like the great Bodhisattvas. What a sublime teaching -- it is truly unfathomable! What was given to us in the Flower Ornament (Avatamsaka) Sutra is here in the Amitabha Sutra. Yet from ancient times until now, few have believed in it, and many have doubted it. Complex writings have been produced, but the truth has been sacrificed. All I can do to set things right is give my heart's blood.

3.2.2   Special excellence

At this point in the sutra, Buddha gives a specific admonition:

When sentient beings hear these teachings, they must take a vow to be born in this land. Why so? So that they can be together with all these Beings of Superior Goodness.
Chinese

The Arhats and the Bodhisattvas the sutra talks about at the beginning as part of the assembly listening to Buddha expound the sutra can be called "good people". But only those who are at the top level of the causal ground for enlightenment, are called "Beings of Superior Goodness" (Beings of the Highest Virtue). The sutra says "all these Beings of Superior Goodness" because their number is large.

"Being together" expresses the idea that in the Pure Land the ordinary and the holy live together. There are sages of real attainment, who still carry some past impure karma, and sages adept in provisional expedients, with their vows of great compassion, so ordinary people in the Pure Land get to live together with holy sages. There are real saints whose desires have been extinguished, and teachers with skill-in-means whose entanglements have been ended. They differ widely in levels of attainment, and of bliss, but for the time being they are together in the Pure Land.

In our mundane world, on the other hand, those who see and hear such holy sages are few, and among those who do have the good fortune to see or hear them, few have the opportunity to approach them.

When a Buddha is in the world, there may be relatively many holy ones [helping to spread the teaching], but after all they are still rare jewels, and they cannot cover the whole world like the stars of the firmament.

But even though Amitabha's Pure Land is a place where saints and ordinary beings dwell together, their actions and their achievements are different.

Those who have been born in the Pure Land are together due to their transcendental karma and inconceivable deeds. These beings act as one another's teachers, and work in harmony, so that they may end ignorance and delusion and together achieve wondrous enlightenment.

Therefore, the ordinary sentient beings born in the Pure Land, by virtue of not falling back, have in fact transcended many levels of Bodhisattvahood. If we say they are ordinary people, this is wrong, because they are beyond the cycle of rebirth; they are on the verge of enlightenment, and are no different from the great Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. Although they are going to attain Enlightenment in their current lifetime, still, they must be called ordinary people, and they cannot be called One-Life Bodhisattvas. This state of affairs cannot be encompassed by the systems of the non-Pure Land sutras, and has no precedent in Buddha-lands other than Amitabha's Pure Land. Therefore, we must realize that the most urgent task for sentient beings is to cross over to the Common Residence Pure Land Where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together. The Land of Ultimate Bliss, Amitabha's Pure Land, is unique -- it surpasses all the other pure lands.

Only when we comprehend this can we have deep faith in the power of the vows of Amitabha. Only when we believe in the power of Amitabha Buddha can we have deep faith in the virtues of his name. Only when we have deep faith in the recitation of the name of Amitabha can we have deep faith in the True Nature of sentient beings, which has always been inconceivable. Only when we have this deep faith can we make great vows.

The text of the sutra says sentient beings must take a vow to be born in the Pure Land. This word "must" points to deep faith. Making vows with deep faith is precisely the Mind of Supreme Enlightenment.

In sum, faith and vows are truly the guiding compass leading to the Pure Land. Relying on faith and vows and consistently invoking the Buddha-name is correct practice.

If your faith and vows are solid and strong, then even if you recite the Buddha-name only ten times, or only once, as you are on the brink of death, you are sure to attain birth in the Pure Land. Without faith and vows, even if you recite the Buddha-name until you achieve a level of concentration the Zen literature describes as "wind cannot enter you and rain cannot wet you" and "you stand like a silver wall or an iron wall", you will still not have a way to be born in the Pure Land.

Those who cultivate Pure Land practices must realize this truth. The Longer Amitabha Sutra also takes "vows" as essential and is identical in meaning to this sectIon.

3.3   Practice

Now the sutra directly teaches practitioners that reciting the Buddha-name is the way to practice. First it shows the working of cause and effect in creating the bodies of the Buddha, and then it reiterates its admonition to recite the Buddha-name.

3.3.1   Creating the bodies of the Buddha

The sutra reads:

One cannot be born in this land through minor good roots, blessings, virtues and causal connections. If there are good men or good women who hear of Amitabha Buddha, and recite his name singlemindedly and without confusion, for one day or two days or three days or four days or five days or six days or seven days, then when these people are about to die, Amitabha Buddha and his whole assembly will appear before them. When they die, their minds being unified and not chaotic, they will attain rebirth in Amitabha's Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Chinese

Good roots stem from the Bodhi Mind, the direct cause. Other meritorious actions that promote the path, such as charity, discipline, and meditation, bring merits and virtues. They are the conditions that help the Bodhi Mind to develop.

Literalist disciples of the Lesser Vehicle (Shravakas and Pratyeka Buddhas), have few good roots. The meritorious deeds and virtues of human beings and gods, defiled as they are, are also few. These will not enable you to be born in the Pure Land. Only if you have faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name will each and every repetition of the Buddha-name be amply supplied with good roots, merits and virtues. Even if you invoke the Buddha- name in a scattered state of mind, the merits and good roots are still incalculable -- how much the more so when you invoke the Buddha name singlemindedly.

By invoking the Buddha-name, you will bring on a response -- the impression is made and the seal is lifted -- Amitabha and his holy retinue come to you without coming, and extend a hand to lead you off. You, the person practicing Buddha-name recitation, recognize Amitabha in your mind, and you go to the Pure Land without going, placing yourself in a jewel lotus there.

When the sutra speaks of "good men and good women", it does not matter whether you are monks and nuns or householders) whether you are high-ranking or low-ranking) old or young. No matter what your station in life) even if you belong to the Six Planes of Existence and are subject to the Four Modes of Birth) the fact that you are now able to hear the Buddha-name means that the good roots you have accumulated over many eons have ripened and you deserve the appellation "good". This is so even if you have committed the Five Deadly Sins and the Ten Evil Deeds.

"Amitabha Buddha" is the all-inclusive term for the myriad virtues. When you use the name of Amitabha to summon virtue) all the virtues are engendered. Thus, reciting the name of Amitabha is the correct practice, and you do not need to get involved with other practices such as visualization or meditation. Reciting the name of Amitabha is the simplest and most direct method.

If you hear the Buddha-name and believe in it, if you believe in it and make vows, then you are fit to recite the Buddha-name. If you do not have faith and do not make vows, it is as if you never heard [the Buddha-name] at all. Merely hearing the name of Amitabha without faith and vows may become a long-term causal basis for your enlightenment, but it cannot be called the "wisdom that comes from hearing".

Reciting the Buddha-name is a matter of being mindful of the Buddha-name from moment to moment -- thus it is the "wisdom that comes from reflecting on what you heard".

There are two levels of practice in reciting the Buddha-name: reciting the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level and reciting the Buddha-name at the level of inner truth (noumenon).

  1. Reciting the Buddha-name at the phenomenal level means believing that Amitabha exists in his Pure Land in the West, but not yet comprehending that he is a Buddha created by the Mind, and that this Mind is Buddha. It means you resolve to make vows and to seek birth in the Pure Land, like a child longing for its mother and never forgetting her for a moment.
  2. Reciting the Buddha-name at the level of inner truth (noumenon) means believing that Amitabha and his Pure Land in the West are inherent features of our own [pure] Minds, the creation of our own [pure] Minds. It means using the great name of Amitabha, which is inherent in our Minds and the creation of our Minds, as a focal point to concentrate on, so that we never forget it for a moment.

The sutra speaks of reciting the Buddha-name for one to seven days, defining a period of time in which we should achieve singlemindedness. This passage can be interpreted in two ways.

One interpretation is that those with sharp faculties will be able to reach singleminded Buddha- remembrance after one day of invoking the Buddha-name. Those with dull faculties will only be able to reach complete undisturbed Buddha-remembrance after seven days of invoking the Buddha-name. Those of middling faculties may take from two to six days to reach singleminded Buddha-remembrance.

Another interpretation of this passage is that those with sharp faculties will be able to maintain singleminded Buddha-remembrance for seven days, those will dull faculties will only be able to maintain it for a single day, and those of middling faculties may maintain it for from two to six days.

There are also two categories of singleminded practice (Undisturbed One Mind).

  1. Regardless of whether you recite the Buddha- name at the phenomenal level or the inner truth level, if you invoke the name of Amitabha until you subdue all afflictions (anger, greed, ignorance...) and put an end to Delusions of Views and Thoughts, this is the One Mind at the phenomenal level.
  2. Regardless of whether you recite the Buddha- name at the phenomenal level or the inner truth level, if you invoke the name of Amitabha until your mind opens and you see inherent Buddhahood, this is the One Mind at the level of inner truth.

The One Mind at the phenomenal level is not tainted by Delusions of Views and Thoughts, and the One Mind at the inner truth level is not deluded by the supposed dualisms of essence and form, Nirvana and Samsara, Buddhas and sentient beings. This is "the wisdom that comes from cultivation".

When you are not subject to Delusions of Views and Thoughts at the moment of your death, the response you get is that Amitabha Buddha will appear before you in his Emanation Body, along with his whole retinue of holy ones. Your mind will no longer create the delusions of desire, form, and formlessness characteristic of this mundane world "Endurance", and you will go to be reborn in either the Pure Land Where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, or the Pure Land of Expedient Liberation, in Amitabha's Pure Land.

When you are no longer deluded by dualisms at the moment of your death, the response you get is that Amitabha Buddha will appear before you in his Reward Body, along with his whole retinue of holy ones. Your mind will no longer create the delusions of Samsara and Nirvana, and you will go to be reborn in either the Pure Land of Real Reward, or the Pure Land of Eternally Quiescent Light, in Amitabha's Pure Land.

We must then realize that reciting the name of Amitabha is not only a method that is simple and direct, it is also a method for Sudden Complete Enlightenment. Since, in reciting the Buddha-name, you merge with Buddha from moment to moment, without bothering with visualization or meditation, you immediately witness perfect illumination, with no excess and no lack. Those of the highest faculties cannot go beyond this level, while those of the lowest capabilities are also able to reach it. Of course the way Amitabha appears to people and the level of the Pure Land they are born in is not the same for those of different capacities.

We can say that the method of reciting the name of Amitabha fully encompasses all the varieties of Buddhism, the "Eight Teachings and Five Periods" (i.e., all the teachings of the Buddha's during his lifetime, according to the T'ien- t'ai schema). In so doing, it is the most complete expression of the Buddha's compassionate heart, teaching spontaneously without being asked. What incredible power!

*Question: The Meditation Sutra is devoted to explaining visualization. Why do you say not to bother with visualization?

Answer: This idea comes from the Meditation Sutra itself. Because the superior forms of visualization focusing on the Sambhogakaya of Amitabha are beyond the mental power of ordinary people, that sutra in the thirteenth contemplation also introduces a lower grade of visualizing the form of Amitabha focusing on the Nirmanakaya, that is, the physical form, of Amitabha. However those whose karmic barriers are heavy cannot even focus on Amitabha in that way, so in the sixteenth contemplation, the sutra teaches the method of invoking the name of Amitabha. The Amitabha Sutra concentrates on the Buddha-name-recitation method of the sixteenth contemplation because it is the Dharma-Ending Age, and there are many people with heavy karmic obstructions... -

*Question: Masters like T'ien-ch'i and Tu-feng have proposed meditating on the Zen question, "Who is the one reciting the Buddha-name?" Why do you say that it is not necessary to practice Zen meditation?

Answer: This idea comes from Master T'ien-ch'I himself as well as other masters. Master T'ien-ch'i did not want to stand idly by while people reciting the Buddha- name failed to comprehend the compassion of Sakyamuni in teaching Buddha-name-recitation, so he posed this question to help them wake up to the real sense of reciting the Buddha-name, which is that our True Mind, not our deluded errant mind should do the recitation (i.e., recitation should be singleminded with no deluded errant thoughts). When he taug4t this it was like the dawn returning after a long night.

If we are unwilling to still our minds by following Master T'ien-ch'i's advice to contemplate "Who is the one reciting the Buddha-name?" in order to recite the Buddha- name with complete concentration, we are taking hold of "a fragment of tile with which to knock on a door to hit out at our own grandparents [our Mind]"; we are rebelling against our own patriarchal teachers and doing evil, rather than obeying them and being good.

*Question: Those who are willing to still their minds by reciting the Buddha-name will be all right, but how can those who are unwilling to still their minds achieve accord with the Buddha's Mind?

Answer: Alas! The reason that Master T'ien-ch'i is asking you to still your minds by reciting the Buddha- name and reach accord with the Buddha's Mind is precisely because you are not yet willing to do so. Since you have not yet developed true faith, it is as though you are wearing thick leather blinders, and cannot see through them. You must realize that those with eyes have no reason to light a lamp when the sun is shining - why should those without eyes struggle to find a lamp in broad daylight?

The Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta (a Pure Land sage) has given us a saying that is like a great mass of fire lighting the Buddha Remembrance Samadhi: "Without using any other expedients than Buddha recitation, you are able to open your own mind." Who dares to touch this saying? How can you not be burned by it?

* Question: When Amitabha Buddha appears to Pure Land practitioners who are on the brink of death, how can they be sure it is not a demon?

Answer: If a Zen follower is not meditating on the Buddha, and yet Buddha suddenly appears unexpectedly, this is called a demon (delusion). A Pure Land practitioner sees the Buddha while focusing on the Buddha. Thus in his case, cause and effect coincide and his mind is in unison with that of the Buddhas. The appearance of the Buddha is therefore not a demon. There is no need to worry about this.

*Question: When the sutra speaks of reciting the Buddha-name singlemindedly for seven days, does this refer to ordinary times, or to the time when we are about to die?

Answer: This refers to ordinary times.

*Question: If we recite the Buddha-name for seven days, singlemindedly and without confusion, but later we again become confused and create bad karma, will we still., achieve birth in the Pure Land?

Answer: A person who has actually managed to recite the Buddha-name singlemindedly will not become' confused or create bad karma again.

*Question: The Longer Amitabha Sutra speaks of attaining birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions of the Buddha-name. The Treatise of the Precious King of Samadhi speaks of attaining birth in the Pure Land through a single repetition of the Buddha-name. Are they referring to ordinary times or to the time when we are about to die?

Answer: Attaining birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions of the Buddha-name applies to both times. If we recite the Buddha-name ten times each morning, this is an ordinary occasion. On the other hand, the Longer Amitabha Sutra speaks of attaining birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions (and this is the same as what the Meditation Sutra says) -- this refers to when we are on the brink of death. As to the passage in the Treatise of the Precious King of Samadhi about attaining birth in the Pure Land through a single repetition of the Buddha-name, this refers to the time when we are facing death.

*Question: If we can attain birth in the Pure Land through ten repetitions of the Buddha name, or even a single repetition, why do we need seven days of reciting the Buddha-name, as the Amitabha Sutra says?

Answer: If we have not done the work of reciting the Buddha-name singlemindedly for seven days during ordinary times, how can we manage to recite ten times or even once when we are on the brink of death?

It would be one chance in a million if someone who had committed many evils were to have a causal basis from past lives ripen as he was on the brink of death, enabling him to meet a spiritual friend, hear his teaching, and develop faith and vows. How could he be so lucky? Master T'ien Ju's book Doubts and Questions about the Pure Land has refuted this idea of waiting till death to practice Buddha recitation in great detail. People these days should read that book.

*Question: If Amitabha's Pure Land is a hundred billion worlds away from here, how can we be reborn there instantly?

Answer: A hundred billion worlds are not beyond one moment of thought, since fundamentally there is nothing outside the True Mind. When we rely on the power of Buddha that is inherent in our own mind, what is so hard about being born in the Pure Land instantly?

It is like a multi-layered scene of mountains and rivers and towers reflected in a mirror: all the layers appear there in the mirror, and in reality there is no near and far. All are reflected at once, appearing without before or after. When the sutra says "West of here, past a hundred billion Buddha-lands, there exists a world called 'Ultimate Bliss"', it is also like this. When the sutra says "In this land there exists a Buddha called Amitabha, who is expounding the Dharma right now", it is also like this.

It is also like this when a person who has developed faith and vows and recited the Buddha-name is about to die, and Amitabha and all his assembly of saints appear before that person. It is also like this when the person dies without his or her mind falling into delusion, and the person is immediately born in Amitabha's Land of Ultimate Bliss.

We must recognize that every word in the sutra is reflected in the Great-Perfect- Wisdom-Mirror of the Ocean-Seal Samadhi.

*Question: Reciting the Buddha-name is a partial practice, an auxiliary practice. Why do you call it a principal practice?

Answer: Basing ourselves on the One Mind, we speak of faith, vows, and practice. There is however no order of precedence here, nor is naming three aspects a set definition. Without vows and practice, we cannot speak of true faith. Without practice and faith, we cannot speak of true vows. Without faith and vows, we cannot speak of true practice.

Relying fully on our faith and our vows, we recite the Buddha-name. Thus faith, vows, and practice seem to be three things, but all three are fully present in every repetition of the Buddha-name. This is why reciting the Buddha- name is called the cause and condition for numerous good roots, merits and virtues. The Meditation Sutra means this when it says that by invoking the Buddha-name, from moment to moment we are clearing away the bad karma of eighty million eons of birth and death. Without great merits, virtues and good roots, how could we clear away bad karma on such a grand scale?

*Question: With the intensity that comes from reciting the Buddha-name on the brink of death, we can clear away a lot of bad karma. Can we achieve the same result in ordinary times if we invoke the Buddha-name singlemindedly?

Answer: When the sun comes out, all darkness disappears. When we invoke the great name of Amitabha, myriad evil deeds are wiped away.

*Question: Can we also clear away bad karma if we invoke the Buddha-name with a scattered mind?

Answer: The merit and virtue of the Buddha-name are inconceivable, so how could they not clear away bad karma? But reciting the Buddha-name with a scattered mind does not guarantee being reborn in the Pure Land, since the good roots created by a diffuse, scattered recitation are no match for the evils that have accumulated from time without beginning.

We must understand that all of space could not contain our accumulated evils, if they took on physical form. Every repetition of the Buddha-name might wipe away the bad karma of eighty millions eons of birth and death, but even if we recited the Buddha-name day and night for a hundred years, the amount of bad karma which would be wiped out is like the amount of dirt under a fingernail, while the amount of bad karma remaining is like all the dirt on earth.

The only way to eliminate all bad karma is to recite the Buddha-name to the point of singleminded concentration. . This is like a powerful warrior breaking out of an encirclement, so even three armies cannot hem him in any more. In all instances however, invoking the Buddha- name is a seed for becoming enlightened. It is like an indestructible diamond.

When Sakyamuni Buddha was in the world, there was an old man who asked to become a monk. The congregation of five hundred monks all said the old man was lacking in good roots. Buddha however said: ".countless ages ago this man was being pursued by a tiger, and cried out 'Nam Mo Amltabha Buddha!' Now the good roots from that occasion have become ripe: he has met me and found the path. This is not something that followers of the Lesser Vehicle can perceive." This story, together with the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, show, that even those who invoke the Buddha-name in scattered, confused state of mind have planted the seed of Buddhahood. How can we not believe them?

It is my humble hope that no matter whether you are a layperson or a monk or nun, no matter whether you are smart or stupid, you will adopt a positive attitude toward this simple, direct, Sudden Perfect Pure Land teaching. Do not look upon it as difficult and shrink away from it. Do not look upon it as easy and become complacent and not try hard enough. Do not look upon it as shallow and despise it. Do not look upon it as profound and not dare to accept it as your task.

The name of Amitabha which we recite is truly inconceivable. But the True Mind of those who recite it is also truly inconceivable. If you recite the Buddha-name once, you are inconceivable for the time the sound of it lasts. If you recite it ten or a hundred or a thousand or a million times, or countless times, you are inconceivable all the while the sound of your recitation lasts.

3.3.2   Admonition to recite the Buddha’s name

In the next passage in the sutra, Buddha reiterates his advice:

I have seen this benefit, and so I speak these words. If sentient beings hear what I say, they must make a vow to be born in that land.
Chinese

Buddha says, "I have seen this benefit." The vision of the Buddha is the ultimate in clarity. The benefit he has seen is that through reciting the Buddha-name, sentient beings can transcend the world of the Five Corruptions, be reborn within the Four Lands, and reach the level where they do not backslide. This benefit is brought about by the inconceivable merit of the Buddha- name.

With reference to what happens when we die, this benefit is that our minds do not fall into delusion and error. In this polluted world, if we rely solely on self-effort in our practice, it is extremely hard to gain power over the crucial juncture of birth and death.

If there is the least bit of bad karma that you have not cleared away by the time you are about to die, you will plunge into an untoward rebirth -- this applies no matter whether you have ignorantly cultivated a misguided practice and trusted in your deluded intellect, or whether you have had some profound awakenings and your conduct has been consistent and correct. As the Pure Land Patriarch Yung-ming said, "Nine out of ten people who practice Zen meditation miss the road: scenes of delusion appear before them at death, and in an instant they follow them off." This is truly a chilling prospect! Even Arhats become deluded again as they emerge from the womb, and even Bodhisattvas can become benighted between death and a subsequent rebirth. Here, at the point of death, how can you forcibly act the master? If you expect to be so lucky, you are a fool.

The only way out is to have faith, vows, recite the Buddha-name and rely on other-power. Amitabha's vows of compassion are certainly not empty promises. If we have faith and vows and recite the Buddha-name, when we die Amitabha and the assembly of saints will appear before us to lead us away. That way we will not fail, and we will easily be reborn in the Pure Land.

Buddha saw that sentient beings' greatest suffering is to fall into confusion at the moment of death, and so he vouchsafed this Pure Land teaching to us. This is why he urged us again and again to take vows: because vows can guide us.

*Question: If Buddha is a creation of the Mind, if Buddha is the Mind, why do you not speak of our own inherent Buddha as supreme? Why do you insist that another Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, is better?

Answer: This Pure Land teaching is all a matter of comprehending that Amitabha Buddha is precisely our own Buddha Nature, our Mind. If we mistakenly refer to the Buddha as "other", we would fall into one form of delusive view. If we were to overemphasize our own inherent Buddha, this would be another form of delusive view. Both are wrong.

Through our invoking the Buddha-name both at the phenomenal level and at the level of inner truth (noumenon), Amitabha and the assembly of saints appears before us: this is our inherent True Nature becoming manifest. Also, we are born in the Pure Land and see Amitabha and hear his teaching: this is perfecting the body of wisdom of our True Nature. This is not awakening through something other than ourselves.

The Pure Land teaching is profound and wondrous. It destroys all sophistry and cuts off all delusive views. Only those with the wisdom of Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna, Chih-i and Yung-ming can take it up completely. Those of worldly intelligence, the followers of Confucianism and the devotees of Zen, may try to figure it out to the limit of their powers, but the more they think about it, the farther off they get. In terms of being able to reach the wisdom of the Buddhas and mesh with the wonders of the Path, such intellectuals are not as good as ordinary men and women who recite the Buddha-name in all sincerity.

"I have seen this benefit and so I speak these words". Buddha's eye and Buddha's voice clearly affirm j this truth, so how can we dare to go against it? Shouldn't we accept it?

This concludes the commentary on the main body of the sutra. ,

The Pure Land method of developing faith and vows and reciting the Buddha-name both perfectly subsumes and perfectly surpasses all other Buddhist methods. Vertically, it intermingles with all the Buddhist teachings; horizontally, it stands apart from them.

Buddha spontaneously gave this Pure Land teaching without being asked. Who is worthy to extol it and transmit it? Only when a Buddha communicates with a Buddha is it possible to fully express the absolute reality of all the teachings. This Amitabha Sutra is about a Buddha-realm, and it can only be transmitted from Buddha to Buddha.