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Three Acts of Merit (True Causes for Pure Karma)

Introduction:

In the Contemplation Sutra (观无量寿佛经), the Buddha stated that those who wish to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land should cultivate the ‘Three Acts of Merit’ (净业三福/三福业/净业正因) or ‘Three Pure Conditions’, which are also the timeless causes of Buddhahood. They are related to the teaching from the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀经), that one cannot be born in Pure Land through ‘minor good roots, blessings, merits and causal connections’. (不可以少善根、福德、因缘,得生彼国.)

As such, the trio can extend good roots, increasing blessings and merits, and strengthening causal connections. Along with these factors, the key method for successful birth in Pure Land relies on sustained wholehearted mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha, based on having strong Faith in him, having strong Aspiration to meet him and having strong corresponding Practice (of Nianfo). With these interconnected causes and conditions [Three Provisions: Faith, Aspiration and Practice (三资粮: 信愿行) and the Three Acts of Merit (which can also be seen as part of Practice)] in place, reaching Pure Land is further guaranteed.

观无量寿佛经:

欲生彼国者。 当修三福。

一者孝养父母 。奉事师长。慈心不杀。修十善业。
二者受持三归。具足众戒。不犯威仪。
三者发菩提心。深信因果。读诵大乘。劝进行者。

如此三事名为净业。

佛告韦提希。汝今知不。
此三种业乃是过去未来现在。三世诸佛净业正因。

Contemplation Sutra:

Whoever wishes to be born there [in Amituofo’s Pure Land] should practice three acts of merit:

(1) first,

  • caring for one’s parents,
  • attending to one’s teachers and elders,
  • compassionately refraining from killing, and
  • doing the ten good [wholesome] deeds;

[Abstention from:

  1. killing
  2. stealing
  3. sexual misconduct
  4. divisive speech
  5. harsh speech
  6. false speech
  7. idle speech
  8. greed
  9. anger
  10. wrong views]

(2) second,

  • taking the three refuges
  • keeping the various precepts, and
  • refraining from breaking the rules of conduct
  • [harmonious social customs that are not against the precepts]; and

(3) third,

  • awakening aspiration for Enlightenment [Bodhicitta],
  • believing deeply in the law of causality [karma],
  • [reading and] chanting the Mahayana Sutras and
  • encouraging people to follow their teachings.

These three are called the pure karma.”

The Buddha further said to Vaidehi,
“Do you know that these three acts are the pure karma practiced by all the Buddhas
of the past, present and future as the right cause of Enlightenment?”

Above Sutra Sources:

佛说观无量寿佛经
The Sutra on Contemplation of Amitayus Delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha
(Contemplation Sutra)

刘宋西域三藏法师强良耶舍译
Translated into Chinese during the Liu-Sung dynasty by the Tripitaka Master Kalayashas from Central Asia
(and translated from Chinese into English by Hisao Inagaki)

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