Faith As Foremost Of Meritorious Virtues 信为功德之首


Of all misgivings, [the] misgiving [of] doubt is [the] most extreme. 

Note [1]: Doubt in the Buddha’s teachings (Buddhadharma) is the most extreme misgiving as it is the lack of Faith in their universal truths, thus possibly going against them in thought, word and deed, to cause oneself and others much suffering indefinitely. Thus, the misgiving of doubt in the good and pure can give rise to all other misgivings.

An example of doubt is to not believe in the workings of the law of karma, in terms of moral cause and effect. This might lead to speech and actions that harm others, that in turn harm oneself later.

Naturally arising yet unresolved doubts about the Pure Land teachings also make it impossible to properly nurture the very first of the Three Provisions, of Faith, Aspiration and Practice, that are necessary for reaching Pure Land. As not reaching it is to miss the swiftest path to Buddhahood, doubt here is an extreme misgiving indeed.


Of all meritorious virtues, Faith is their foremost.  

Note [2]: The primary Faith to have is, that all sentient beings, including ourselves and others, have Buddha-nature (佛性), which is our fundamental and greatest potential to actualise, for benefiting ourselves and all others. It is with this Faith that we are motivated to, ‘[of] all evils not do [them, of] all good practise [them, and to] personally purify [y]our minds’ (诸恶莫作,众善奉行,自净其意).

General Faith in the Buddha’s teachings is the foremost of meritorious virtues as it is how we will be motivated to learn, practise, realise and share them – for the welfare of one and all, leading to Buddhahood. Thus, from the meritorious virtue of Faith in the worthiness of the good and pure, arises all other meritorious virtues.

As Virtues’ Foremost (Xiánshǒu) Bodhisattva (贤首菩萨) in Avataṃsaka Sūtra《华严经》taught, ‘Faith as [the first, head or] origin [of the] path [to Buddhahood, the] mother [of] meritorious virtues, [that] nurtures all good Dharma [practices].’ (信为道元功德母,长养一切诸善法。)

It is with Faith, that there is first openness and interest in learning the Dharma, which leads to its practice. Paradoxically, there must be some Faith that the Dharma can answer doubts about it, that it is continually learnt and actively enquired upon, thus transforming the darkness of false doubts to the brightness of true Faith. Faith might be shaky at first, but through diligent learning with enquiry, contemplation and practice, it can be stabilised, to become firm and immovable.

As Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva (龙树菩萨) taught in the Treatise On Perfection Of Great Wisdom《大智度论》, ‘[The] Buddha’s Dharma [teachings are] like [the] great ocean [in breadth of scope and depth of profundity], only [by] Faith [are they] able [to be] entered.’ (佛法如大海,唯信能入。)

This teaching being in the Treatise On Perfection Of Great Wisdom is very significant as it reminds us, that even to perfectly realise Great Wisdom, some Faith has to be developed first. Interconnectedly, as Faith should arise before wisdom, it is thus wise (i.e. with wisdom) to give rise to Faith.

The great importance of Faith applies to the Pure Land teachings too, for they are, as taught by Śākyamuni Buddha in the Amitābha Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, ‘difficult to believe Dharma teachings’ (难信之法). Thus, there must be more efforts to learn them, including by active enquiry, followed by sincere practice.


[With] Faith, thus [is there] no doubt, [and with] no doubt, thus [is there] direct acceptance [of responsibilities].  

Note [3]: With right Faith in the Dharma [and our Buddha-nature], there will be sincere taking up of what we should do appropriately.


[With] direct acceptance [of] responsibilities, thus [is there] not abandoning [of] oneself [to] despair.  

Note [4]: When we wholeheartedly take on our worldly and spiritual responsibilities, we will no longer relinquish hope in ourselves, by being caught up in useless self-pitying misery.


Not abandoning [of] oneself [to] despair, thus [is there] not daring [to] abandon others [to] despair. 

Note [5]: When we wholeheartedly take on our worldly and spiritual responsibilities, we will also naturally extend them, to not relinquish hope in others, by letting them be caught up in useless self-pitying misery that we used to be caught up in.


First Possible Translation: [With] this, always not slighting [anyone], therefore with common etiquette [for the] Four Assemblies [of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, for learning and practising the Buddha’s teachings harmoniously together], swiftly purified [are the] six [sense] roots [of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind].

Note [6]: When we all harmoniously respect one another’s Buddha-nature, we will be able to better help one another to have more supportive conditions for Dharma learning and practice, to swiftly purify our body and mind.

Second Possible Translation: Constantly Not Slighting [Bodhisattva], due to this, openly prostrated [to the] Four Assemblies [of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, and] swiftly purified [his] six [sense] roots [of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind].

Note [7]: In the Lotus Sūtra (法华经), Constantly Not Slighting Bodhisattva (常不轻菩萨) expressed reverence to everyone he met, including those who did not appreciate it, by saying, ‘[As] I deeply respect you [and all] others, [I do] not dare [to] slight [i.e. belittle; disdain; despise you]. Why is this [so]? [As] you [and all] others, [when] practising [the] Bodhisattva path, will attain [to] become Buddhas.’ (我深敬汝等,不敢轻慢。所以者何。汝等皆行菩萨道,当得作佛。) This is true as all sentient beings have Buddha-nature. 

Near the end of his life, he heard the Lotus Sūtra, upheld it and attained purity of his six roots (六根), increased his lifespan, and taught the Lotus Sūtra to many, including those who slighted him, causing many to advance towards Buddhahood. He also met many Buddhas later, continued teaching the Lotus Sūtra to many, and accumulated meritorious virtues to become Śākyamuni Buddha.

Thus, the two possible translations above remind us that not slighting any, while reverencing all, can swiftly lead to the six roots’ purification. Since there is recognition of Buddha-nature in oneself and others, there will also be direct acceptance of responsibilities, to not abandon oneself and others to despair.


Thus, [in] this way, [with] Faith as direction, for example, [it is] like [when the] sun rising first shines [upon] high mountains, why wait [for] 40 years [of this life, or even less, to] weed out [doubt, to only] then enter [the ocean of the] Buddha’s wisdom?  

Note [8]: As the light of great wisdom first shines from the direction of true Faith to dispel the darkness of ignorance and delusion, it is wise itself, to swiftly clarify little and great doubts, to not procrastinate the weeding of doubts, so as to swiftly realise greater wisdom. (Recall too, as in Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva’s teaching above, on how the Buddha’s wisdom is by Faith entered.)

– 净土宗九祖蕅益大师 

– Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì
(Spirit Peak [School’s] Essential Treatise: 
Scroll 2 Of 4: Dharma Words [Section] 4: Guidance [For] Xùshēng)

Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

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