Āmítuófó’s Mudras When Receiving Beings
Question: The 18th Vow of Amitābha Buddha in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra says that those with the Five Heinous Transgressions, who slander the Dharma cannot reach his Pure Land. However, the Low Grade’s Low Birth in Pure Land, in the Contemplation Sūtra, says that even those with the Five Heinous Transgressions can reach his Pure Land. How do we reconcile these teachings?
Answer: For those unfamiliar with the sections mentioned in the two sūtras, they can be referred to in the ‘Related Sections’ below the following related ‘question and answer’ by Great Master Shàndǎo.
[Why Does The Immeasurable Life Sūtra Exclude Transgressors,
While The Contemplation Sūtra Gathers Them?]
Question: As [stated in the 18th vow of the] 48 vows [of Amitābha Buddha] within, only excluded [are those with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions and] slander the right Dharma, [who will] not attain rebirth [in his Pure Land].
Now [in] this Contemplation Sūtra’s Low Grade’s Low Birth within, [it] removes [those who] slander [the] Dharma, [and] gathers those [with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions]. What is [the] meaning [of this]?
Answer: This meaning [is] with regard to, [as a] restraint door within understood. [As] such, [the] 48 vows within, exclude those [who] slander [the] Dharma [and with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions].
Certainly, [as] these two [kinds] of karma, their obstacles [are] extremely heavy, sentient beings if [having] created [them, will] directly enter Avīci [Hell, to] pass through kalpas [with] cycles [of] terror, without cause [to be] able [to] exit.
Only as [the] Thus Come One fears [that] they create these two faults, [as a] skilful means [with] preventive words, [said that they do] not attain rebirth. [They] likewise are NOT not gathered.
Also, [the] Low Grade’s Low Birth within receives those [with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions and] slandered [the] Dharma. [As] those [with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions] already done, cannot [be] abandoned [to] enable [them to be] reborn [without liberation, there is] still giving rise [to] great compassion [to] gather [them for] rebirth.
Certainly, [for those with the] transgression of slandering [the] Dharma yet [to be] done, also, [as] preventive words, [is it said that] if giving rise [to] slander [of the] Dharma, [this] is the same as not attaining birth. This [is] with regard to [those] yet [to] create [the] karma thus understood. If created, [they are] still gathered [to] attain birth.
Although attaining birth there, [they are in] flowers closed, passing by for many kalpas. These [and] other transgressors when in [the] flowers within, have three kinds [of] obstacles. First, not attaining sight [of] Buddha and all [of the] noble assembly. Second, not attaining hearing [of the] right Dharma. Third, not attaining [the] going through [of the] matter [of] making offerings. Except these, then beyond, [they are] further without all [kinds of] suffering. The sūtra says, [they are] just like bhikṣus [who have] entered [the] bliss of [the] third dhyāna.
[It] should [be] known, [that] although in [the] flowers within [for] many kalpas not blossoming, [they do] not surpass [that] of Avīci Hell within, [for a] long time [of] lasting kalpas receiving all [kinds of] suffering [and] pain. This meaning [is] with regard to, [as a] restraint door, [for] complete understanding.
The Pure Land Tradition’s Second Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo
(Commentary [On The] Contemplation Sūtra [In] Four Fascicles:
Scattered Goodness’ Meaning)
Those with the Five Heinous Transgressions can reach Pure Land if they repent sincerely, and give rise to the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice in time. Mindfulness of Buddha’s name can be practised to express repentance too.
Especially for those with slander of the Pure Land Dharma’s core teachings, there will not even be Faith as the first provision, what more the rest, thus unable to reach Pure Land. If there is sincere repentance, this is then possible.
Although Amitābha Buddha has perfect and great compassion with his Other-power, wishing to guide all beings to his Pure Land, all still have to accord with the laws of karma, by practising as taught accordingly.
As a compassionate and skilful preventive measure to deter beings from creating extremely heavy negative karma, also not sincerely repenting in time, to faithfully receive guidance on mindfulness of Buddha, thus falling into hell, the exclusion of those with the Five Heinous Transgressions and slander of the Dharma from Pure Land was taught.
As a compassionate and skilful remedial measure to encourage and save beings, who had created extremely heavy negative karma to avoid falling into hell, the inclusion of those with the Five Heinous Transgressions and slander of the Dharma for Pure Land who are sincerely repentant was taught.
Those who had created the Five Heinous Transgressions are often with little blessings, which makes it difficult to encounter good-knowing friends to guide them in time. Those who slander the right Dharma are often with little wisdom, which makes it difficult to faithfully receive guidance on mindfulness of Buddha in time.
Those with extremely heavy negative karma, who are able to practise as taught accordingly in time, although rare, definitely do exist, which is why the Buddha taught so. The way to know if those encountered are ready to receive this last ray of hope, is to sincerely guide them as taught. As those with extremely heavy negative karma are rare, we should not assume anyone is of this category, which might create unwillingness to help due to imagined difficulties. However, if truly difficult to help, all the more should that person be helped, to avoid falling into hell, and missing of Pure Land. When encountering those without good-knowing friends, we should do our best to become these persons’ good-knowing friends.
Generally, the more wilfully evil one is now, the more difficult is it to sincerely repent later. Thus, all should at once be sincerely repentant for our karmic faults, to avoid falling into hell, and missing of Pure Land.
The 12 great kalpas mentioned is only 12 days in Pure Land’s time, which is an extremely great ‘discount’ from an indefinitely long time in hell.
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an
How Āmítuófó’s 18th Vow Receives Lowest Grade’s Beings