[Explanation]: Question: [The] Larger Version [Of The] Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》] [states] ten [mindful] thoughts [for rebirth in Pure Land, [while the Treatise On Mindfulness Of Buddha As The] Treasure King [Samādhi]《念佛三昧宝王论》[states] one thought. [Are these when in] ordinary times, [or] when approaching [the] end [of life]?
[Note 1: The Immeasurable Life Sūtra states ten thoughts for rebirth in Pure Land, based upon Āmítuófó’s 18th vow:
‘If I attain Buddhahood, [the] ten directions’ [sentient] beings, [with utmost] sincere hearts [and] joyful faith, desire birth [in] my land, and even [with] ten [mindful] thoughts, if [they should] not [be] born [there, I shall] not attain right awakening. Only excluded [are those who with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions, who] slander [the] right Dharma.’]
[Note 2: However, Śākyamuni Buddha also taught later, in the same sutra, as the vow’s accomplishment text (成就文), that rebirth in Pure Land is also possible with one thought:
‘All sentient beings, [who] hear that [Amitā(bha) Buddha’s] name [‘Āmítuófó’, with the] faithful mind [of] rejoicing, even if [with] one thought, [with the] sincere mind dedicating, aspiring [to be] born [in] that land, [they will] immediately attain rebirth, [and] abide [upon] non-retrogression. Only excluded [are those with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions, who] slander [the] right Dharma.’]
[Note 3: The Five Heinous Transgressions (五逆罪) are: (i) Killing Father (杀父), (ii) Mother (杀母), (iii) Arhat (杀阿罗汉), (iv) Causing Buddha’s body to bleed (出佛身血), and (v) Creating schism in Saṃgha (破和合僧). The Right Dharma (正法) is the Buddha’s teachings, especially the Mindfulness Of Buddha Dharma Door (念佛法门) in this instance.]
[Note 4: As summarised from the Treatise [On] Mindfulness [Of] Buddha [As The] Treasure King Samādhi《念佛三昧宝王论》:
Those who slander the Buddha, destroy sūtras, beat monastics and scold the honourable, with the Five Heavy Transgressions and break the Four Heavy Precepts (of sexual mis/conduct, killing, stealing and lying), all with one thought’s evil karma accomplished, fall into Uninterrupted Hell (无间狱), as swift as an arrow shot.「谤佛毁经，打僧骂尊，五逆四重，皆一念恶业成，堕无间狱，犹如箭射。」
Those now with mindfulness of Buddha born in Pure Land, likewise are with one thought’s good karma accomplished, immediately ascending the Land Of Ultimate Bliss, as swift as the bending of an arm.「今之念佛生于净土，亦一念善业成，即登极乐，犹如屈臂。」
Like with a wax seal stamping on wax, when the seal spoils, the text is formed. Not needing two (or more) moments, how can reaching ten thoughts be needed?「如蜡印印泥，印坏文成。尚不须两念，岂要至十念哉？」
‘Also, [the] Larger Immeasurable Life Sūtra [as in Note 2 above], explains [that with] one thought [of] mindfulness [of] Buddha, all [will] attain rebirth [in Pure Land].’「又大无量寿经，明一念念佛皆得往生。」
The Contemplation Sūtra’s stating of rebirth with ten thoughts is with some reasons. They are for those physically sick and with weak mental power said, who need ten recitations (or more) to support (for firming) their mindfulness.「观经十念，良有以也。盖为遘疾尫羸力微心劣故，须十称弥陀以助其念。」
If the mind is vigorous and not dull, with one thought, there will be rebirth then. This is like planting a fine hair, with it growing swiftly to be luxuriant with a hundred strands around.「若心盛不昧，一念生焉。亦犹栽植丝发其茂百围也。」
(With more recitations towards the end, which can be less than or more than ten, as they eradicate transgressions with Other-power’s support, this makes it easier to firm mindfulness.)]
Answer: [The] ten thoughts [are] common [to these] two times: [for example, with] Early Morning’s Ten Recitations [or during other times in day and night, when not approaching the end of life] belonging [to when in] ordinary times.
[With] ten thoughts attaining birth, and [the] Contemplation Sūtra’s ten thoughts [with] recitation [of Āmítuófó’s] name [being the] same, [they both] belong [to] when approaching [the] end [of life].
[Note 5: As the Contemplation Sūtra states, as the minimal criteria for reaching Pure Land’s Lowest Of The Low Births (下品下生):
‘Thus [with the] sincere heart, enable [the] sound [to] not end, [and] complete ten thoughts, [with] recitation [of] “Námó Āmítuófó” [or just “Āmítuófó”, with the same sincerity, verbally or silently, for reaching his Pure Land]. Reciting [the] Buddha’s name thus, in thought to thought within, [each] eradicates eighty koṭis [of] kalpas’ transgressions of births [and] deaths. When [at the] end of life, [they will] see [a] golden lotus flower, like [the] sun disk, abiding before these persons. As if [in] one thought moment, [there will be] immediate attaining [of] rebirth [in the] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss.’
Note that despite mindfulness up to ten thoughts, it is still in one thought at the end, that there is immediate birth in Pure Land. If the mind is vigorous enough, with only one recitation, it will already be enough to eradicate obstructing transgressions.
[Note 6: Reaching Pure Land with one thought is as if with ‘speed dial’ connection, and with more thoughts as if with ‘manual dial’. Even one thought is able to contain the essence of all Three Provisions (三资粮), with profound Faith (深信), sincere Aspiration (切愿) as true Practice (实行), just as the ten thoughts express them too.]
[With] one thought [attaining birth is] however only restricted [to] when approaching [the] end [of life].
[Note 7: However, this can also be when in ordinary times, when there is sincere Aspiration to reach Pure Land immediately, which makes that moment also that when approaching the end of life, with the two times becoming one then.]
– Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì
(Essential Explanation [Of The] Sūtra [In Which The] Buddha Speaks [Of] Amitā[bha] Buddha)
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an
Next Section: Why All Should Practise Niànfó Diligently Now?
The Method Of Ten Recitations With Counting & The Method Of Early Morning’s Ten Recitations