Question: Is it such that only the virtuous (who have done good) are worthy, and able to chant the name of Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo) with an undisturbed mind to experience his blessings? As I am neither virtuous, nor with undisturbed chanting, is this why I do not experience them?
Answer: In the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀经), Sakyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) addresses all in the audience as good men (善男子) and good women (善女人). This is so as one must have sufficient good (positive; wholesome; skilful) karma in the first place, to be able to hear the precious Pure Land teachings – what more, to be willing to give rise to the right Faith and Aspiration for sincere Practice of mindfulness of Amituofo’s name. This too applies to all who learn through subsequent teachers thereafter, including us now.
Therefore, the fact that you have embraced Pure Land practice means you are already virtuous and worthy enough to practise accordingly. Of course, being non-Buddhas, none of us is perfectly virtuous like the Buddhas yet, which is exactly why we need to practise more sincerely. Among many practices of doing good, Nianfo practice is not only one of them, it is the main practice for Pure Land practitioners. The more you practise sincerely, the more virtuous (or good) you will become in the process of spiritual purification.
While Nianfo with an undisturbed mind is wonderful, one does not have to be perfectly virtuous to achieve this. It is not the immediate goal too. The Amitabha Sutra speaks instead of the goal of being ‘wholehearted without being scattered’ (一心不乱). The true meaning of this is to be ‘utmostly sincere, thus not digressing.’ To digress is to lack sincere Faith in the very Practice of Nianfo, thus not doing it well. Unfortunately, ‘一心不乱’ has often been misinterpreted as demand for a highly concentrated or undisturbed mind.
It is thus the other way round, that the more sincere one is in Nianfo, with great Faith in it, this leads the mind to naturally experience greater peace and bliss, which is concentration without disturbances. It would be a big mistake to instead keep thinking that one is not virtuous (or concentrated) enough in the midst of Nianfo, which makes it less sincere, thus connecting less to Amituofo. When utterly sincere, digression will end, disturbing stray thoughts will dissipate, and Amituofo’s blessings will be connected to and experienced.
To further validate the above, the Eighth Pure Land Patriarch Great Master Lianchi (净土宗八祖莲池大师) also gave the following very encouraging teachings in his ‘Commentary And Notes On The Amitabha Sutra Spoken By The Buddha’ (佛说阿弥陀经疏钞). Note that he was explaining this line in the sutra – ‘One cannot, with few good roots and blessed virtues as cause and conditions, attain birth in that [Pure] Land [of Amituofo].’ (不可以少善根福德因缘得生彼国。):
‘谓欲生彼国，须多善多福。今持名，乃善中之善，福中之福。… 持名为多善根之明证也，证福德者。… 故知执持名号，愿见弥陀，诚多善根，大善根，最胜善根，不可思议善根也。 … 今有一法，直捷简易，即为多善多福，故显持名功德殊。’
‘Speaking of the desire to be born in that [Pure] Land [of Amituofo], which needs much good [roots] and much blessed [virtues], to now uphold the name [of Amituofo], is thereupon the good among [all good], the blessed [virtue] among [all] blessed [virtues]… To uphold the name [of Amituofo] is much good roots’ clear proof [of their existence], proof of [having and also cultivating] blessed virtues… Thus, know that to uphold the name [of Amituofo], with the aspiration to meet Amituofo, indeed is [to have] much good roots, great good roots, most excellent good roots, inconceivable good roots! … Now that there is this one method, that is straight, [clear, swift] and simple, that is [for cultivating] much good [roots] and much blessed [virtues], thus clearly shown is [the practice of] upholding the name’s meritorious virtues’ special, [excellent, outstanding, remarkable, extraordinary, unique and surpassing nature].’
We can take the above to mean that… If we have no sincere Nianfo practice, we will have no good roots and blessed virtues (for reaching Pure Land). If we have little sincere Nianfo practice, we will have little good roots and blessed virtues. If we have much sincere Nianfo practice, we will have much good roots and blessed virtues. Yet, since Amituofo’s Pure Land is the expression of a Buddha’s immeasurable good roots and blessed virtues, as long as we are not Buddhas yet, we cannot enter his Pure Land with our limited good roots and blessed virtues. This is why we need to put in adequate Self-Power (自力), to have utmost sincere Nianfo practice to connect to Amituofo’s unlimited Other-Power (他力). Sincerity is the ‘binding agent’ that hold the Three Provisions (of Faith, Aspiration and Practice) together.
What Is Sincerity In Nianfo?
The True Meaning Of ‘Wholeheartedly Without Being Scattered’ (一心不乱)