Q&A

Is Buddha Mindfulness Enough for Birth in Pure Land & Buddhahood?

 

Question: Does the practice to be born in Pure Land involve only chanting of Amituofo? How about taking refuge in the Triple Gem and living daily life according to the Five Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path? And isn’t it better if one practises the Six Perfections and such too?

Answer: Let us first look at the 18th Vow of Amituofo in the Infinite life Sutra:

设我得佛,十方众生,至心信乐生我国,乃至十,若不生者,不取正觉。唯除五逆,诽谤正法

If, when I attain Buddhahood, beings of the ten directions with complete [utmost/ wholehearted/ single-minded] sincerity [至心], firm faith [确信] and joyful devotion [爱乐] who desire [aspire] to be born in my land, and are mindful [of my Name: Amituofo] for even ten moments should not be born there, may I not attain perfect awakening. Excluded are those who did the five gravest offenses and slandered against the right Dharma [unless they repent and practise in time with the Three Provisions].

As such the Main Practice in the Pure Land tradition is being mindful of Amituofo with strong Faith and Aspiration. Faith, Aspiration and Practice are the Three Provisions (http://purelanders.com/2010/04/01/the-three-provisions-of-faith-aspiration-practice/) for birth in Pure Land. As taught by Master Ou Yi (藕益大师: 9th Chinese Pure Land Patriarch), all other practices are considered Auxiliary Practices:

信愿既具,念佛方为正行,改恶修善皆为助行。

With Faith and Aspiration already complete, recitation of [Amitabha] Buddha’s name [Amituofo] is correctly called the Main Practice [Buddha mindfulness], while correction of evil and cultivation of good are all called Auxiliary Practices.

This is not to say the Auxiliary Practices are unimportant, as they support the Main Practice. When one is weak in the Auxiliary Practices, one’s Main Practice will be correspondingly weaker. The observation of the Five Precepts, the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path and the Six Perfections all fall under Auxiliary Practices as they are teachings for ‘correction of [all] evil and cultivation of [ultimate] good’ – which eventually lead to purification in terms of birth in Pure Land and Buddhahood. To really do so is to take the truest refuge in the Triple Gem. The Auxiliary Practices deal with good and evil while the Main Practice deals with purification, that also in essence includes avoiding of evil and doing of good. Together, these form the three aspects of all Buddhas’ teachings in an interlinked manner. As taught in the Dharmapada (verse 183):

诸恶莫作 To refrain from doing all evil,
众善奉行 To do all good,
自净其意 And to purify the mind,
是诸佛教 These are the teachings of all Buddhas.

When we look at the 18th Vow above, we will realise that there is effort needed to awaken to utmost Faith and Aspiration in order to better the Main Practice of mindfulness of Amituofo. The theoretical way to awaken Faith and Aspiration is via learning of the Pure Land teachings, which are built upon the core or basic teachings of the Buddha, while the practical way is to engage in the Main Practice of Buddha mindfulness and the Auxiliary Practices above. When these are done well, the five gravest offenses which obstruct birth in Pure Land will never be committed. When understood well, the right Dharma will also never be slandered against. Beyond the Three Provisions, Shakyamuni Buddha in the Amita[bha] Sutra also taught this:

舍利弗,不可以少善根福德因缘,得生彼国。

Shariputra, one cannot use few Good Roots, Blessings, Virtues [Merits] and Causal Connections [causes and conditions] to attain birth in that land [Amituofo’s Pure Land].

In a way, this set of criteria is already within the Three Provisions, as it is impossible to have strong Faith, Aspiration and Practice without adequate measure of Good Roots (http://purelanders.com/2011/12/13/why-good-roots-matter/), Blessings, Virtues (cultivated via the Three Acts of Merit: http://purelanders.com/2010/03/15/three-acts-of-merit-true-causes-for-pure-karma/) and Causal Connections (karmic affinity to learn and practise accordingly with the Three Provisions). Vice versa is true too, as it is impossible to have strong Good Roots, Blessings, Virtues and Causal Connections while being inadequate in the Three Provisions. Good Roots, Blessings and Virtues can be cultivated by both the Main and Auxiliary Practices.

Question: What if one is seriously ill and already dying? The above seems too much to practise in time for birth in Pure Land?

Answer: While we are alive and well, we should do our best in doing the Main and Auxiliary Practices in as many ways as we can, so that on our deathbeds, we can focus on the Main Practice (which would be the key practical practice then). Of course, if one learns about the Pure Land teachings at the last minute, there might be inadequate time for much Auxiliary Practices. However, the Main Practice of mindfulness of Buddha alone is so powerful that all the necessary factors for birth in Pure Land can still fall into place in time with proper practice, equipping one with adequate Three Provisions, Good Roots, Blessings, Virtues and Causal Connections.

Back to the first question of whether one who aspires for birth in Pure Land should also take refuge in the Triple Gem… To truly practise mindfulness of Amituofo is already the taking of refuge in the essence of all Buddhas’ compassion and wisdom, in the Dharma they teach (with the focus being the teaching of Buddha mindfulness) and in the Arya [noble; enlightened] Sangha (as Amituofo, being a Buddha, represents a perfect Sangha member and leader). In everyday life, the more one practises Buddha mindfulness, the more one naturally takes ever deeper refuge.

On the observation of the Five Precepts (or more advanced precepts such as the Bodhisattva Precepts) of not [1] killing, [2] stealing, [3] having sexual misconduct, [4] lying or [5] taking of intoxicants, when one truly practises mindfulness of Amituofo, it is impossible for one to, at the same time, break any of these precepts by body, speech or mind. The practice of Buddha mindfulness is the detoxification of defilements that urge one to break any precept. In everyday life, the more one practises Buddha mindfulness, the more one naturally observes the precepts.

On the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, this is also covered by the practice of Buddha mindfulness: [1] Right Understanding: Of the practice of Buddha mindfulness at least, which will lead to right Practice that leads to Pure Land, where perfect understanding can be realised. [2] Right Thought: Having the right motivation (ideally based on Bodhicitta) of practising Buddha mindfulness – to be born in  Pure Land, so as to train well there, before returning to guide other beings to liberation. [3] Right Speech: Chanting of the name of Amituofo verbally or silently. [4] Right Action: There is no bodily action needed if one practises Buddha mindfulness stationary. [5] Right Livelihood: The full-time ‘work’ in the moment is to practise Buddha mindfulness. [6] Right Effort: To diligently practise Buddha mindfulness, which covers these four aspects at the same time, at the thought level:

  1. 未生之恶令不生 : Let evil that has not arisen not arise
  2. 已生之恶令之断 : Let evil that has arisen fall away
  3. 未生之善令之生 : Let good that has not arisen arise
  4. 已生之善令增长 : Let good that has arisen perpetuate

[7] Right Mindfulness: Of Buddha’s name being continually and sincerely chanted and heard. [8] Right Concentration: As one advances towards single-mindedness (with or without entering the jhanas) when chanting Buddha’s name, even going towards Samadhi (meditative concentration) of Buddha mindfulness eventually. In everyday life, the more one practises Buddha mindfulness, the more one naturally walks the Noble Eightfold Path. As we can see, the more Buddha mindfulness is practised, the more various other aspects of Dharma practice naturally fall into place. The more other aspects of the Dharma are practised, the easier would it be to practise Buddha mindfulness too.

Beyond the above, what about the practice of other wholesome deeds in general, such as comforting others by listening and advising, and offering a helping hand? These can be covered by practice of the Six Perfections, which will be explained below later. If one cannot help others physically due to various reasons such as oneself being sick, handicapped, dying, or when the others are disconnected due to disinterest, anger and such, one can practise Buddha mindfulness and share the merits of doing so with them, with the wish that they can be helped. Vice versa is also possible, as we can practise Buddha mindfulness and share their merits with the incapacitated.

Question: Is it correct to say Buddha mindfulness leads to becoming Buddhas (念佛成佛)?

Answer: It is perhaps clearer to say Buddha mindfulness is part of the path towards becoming Buddhas – that is useful in the beginning, in the middle and towards the end of the process. We need to note that even the great Bodhisattvas on the brink of Buddhahood practise Buddha mindfulness to be constantly aligned with their ultimate goal of Buddhahood.

In a way, it is also correct to say Buddha mindfulness leads to Buddhahood, as Buddha mindfulness can lead to Pure Land, where we can definitely become Buddhas. Yet, Buddha mindfulness by itself is inadequate for Buddhahood – because it alone does not constitute the whole of Bodhisattva practice that is needed for Buddhahood in terms of using body, speech and mind to fully help other beings. Buddha mindfulness is however, crucial in guiding us to be born in Pure Land, where the above practices can be fulfilled much more skilfully.

There are many ways to summarise the Bodhisattva practices – such as the Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (http://purelanders.com/2009/12/03/418/), the Six Perfections, and the Three Acts of Merit when fully expanded. The Six Perfections are conventionally practised this way:

  1. Generosity: Sharing of truth, wealth, comfort (fearlessness), time and effort with all.
  2. Morality: Upholding of good conduct to benefit all.
  3. Patience: Training of endurance to overcome challenges (difficulties) to protect all.
  4. Energy: Exerting of enthusiastic efforts to fulfill the worthy for all.
  5. Concentration: Focusing of mind for single-pointed strength to attain Wisdom for all.
  6. Wisdom: Realising of insight into the truths of life and the universe to help all.

Perhaps the idea that Buddha mindfulness is adequate for becoming a Buddha arose from this set of teachings below by Master Ou Yi, which link to the Six Perfections:

真能念佛,放下身心世界,即大布施。
In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
letting go of attachment to one’s body, mind and the world
is the great Perfection of Giving (Generosity).

真能念佛,不复起贪嗔痴,即大持戒。
In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
not giving rise to any thought of greed, hatred or ignorance
is the great Perfection of Morality.

真能念佛,不计是非人我,即大忍辱。
In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
not being attached to conflicts or hearsay of others and oneself
is the Great Perfection of Patience.

真能念佛,不稍间断夾杂,即大精進。
In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
having neither a slight break of continuity of mindfulness nor confused thoughts between
is the Great Perfection of Effort (Diligence).

真能念佛,不复妄想驰逐,即大禪定。
In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
neither giving rise to, driven by nor chasing after stray thoughts
is the Great Perfection of Concentration.

真能念佛,不為他歧所惑,即大智慧。
In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
not being tempted by any delusion
is the Great Perfection of Wisdom.

This set of teachings does not contradict what was mentioned earlier as the conventional way of practsing the Six Perfections, as they ought to be practised at the mind level first, which would naturally lead to verbal and physical actualisation at the speech and action level. In fact, it is ideal if mindfulness of Buddha is present while actualising the Six Perfections via body and speech.

However, again, when one is dying or for some other reason unable to practise the Six Perfections conventionally, one can still practise Buddha mindfulness to do one’s best in aligning to the Six Perfections and more importantly, to the Three Provisions (which can be simultaneous, as shown above). Once Pure Land is reached, the Perfections can be further practised and perfected via helping countless other beings in need with countless skilful means.

Using another perspective based on the above verses, ‘真能念佛, 已经成佛 (In true mindfulness of the Buddha, one already is a Buddha.)’ When we are able to practise true mindfulness of Buddha perfectly, as according to Master Ou Yi’s instructions, we would truly have fulfilled the Six Perfections, which means we would already be Buddhas! Before so, we are technically incapable of being perfectly mindful of Buddha, as only Buddhas can be perfectly mindful of other Buddhas. Our Main Practice is thus to do our best to align our Self-power with Amituofo’s Other-power through mindfulness of his name, so as to be born in his Pure Land.

Related Articles:
Should Pureland Practitioners Just Practise Mindfulness of Buddha?
http://purelanders.com/2010/03/24/should-pureland-practitioners-just-practise-buddha-mindfulness/ (Part 1)
http://purelanders.com/2010/04/01/three-acts-of-merit-vs-mindfulness-of-buddha/ (Part 2)

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!