Question: As the Three Blessings (三福) in the Contemplation Sūtra《观经》are taught to be causes for rebirth in Pure Land, how are they connected to the Three Provisions (三资粮) in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》and the Amitābha Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, which are also causes for the same purpose?
Answer: The Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration (i.e. Vow) and Practice (信愿行) form the core criteria already sufficient for reaching Pure Land. The Three Blessings are possible extensions of the third provision of Practice (行), in terms of being more Supportive Practices (助行), which can result in attaining higher grades of birth in Pure Land.
As Chán Master Tiānrú (天如禅师) taught in ‘Pure Land Doubts And Questions’《净土或问》, ‘Provided that [each Practice is] with [the] power of dedication [with] Faith (信) [and] Aspiration (愿), none [are] not born [in Pure Land].’ (资之以信愿回向之力，无不生也。) However, as below, if only by themselves, such Supportive Practices would have to be done perfectly for attaining this goal.
Note that with Supportive Practices, Faith and Aspiration as the first two provisions (信愿) remain focused for reaching Pure Land, while Aspiration and Practice(s) (愿行/行愿) as the last two provisions can be extended in focus.
For example, one might have Practices and Vows (行愿) based upon Universal Virtue Bodhisattva’s Ten Great Vows (普贤菩萨十大愿) too. (Note that the Bodhisattva’s conclusive Tenth Vow is to personally reach Pure Land and to guide all to it. Even as a Great Bodhisattva, he also practises mindfulness of Buddha and urges all to do so.)
The Three Blessings list some methods of reaching Pure Land with accumulating and dedicating of meritorious virtues accordingly. Self-powered (自力) practices however, have to be done perfectly, to be able to eradicate heavy negative karma and afflictions, while amassing much merits for reaching Pure Land. This means one has to become a perfect Buddha to reach Pure Land, if using Self-power alone, while non-Buddhas should use their Self-power to connect to Buddha’s Other-power (他力) to reach Pure Land.
Therefore, as the Pure Land Tradition’s Ninth Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì (净土宗九祖蕅益大师) taught in ‘Spirit Peak Tradition’s Treatise’《灵峰宗论》, ‘[With] Faith [and] Aspiration already complete, mindfulness [of] Buddha[‘s name: Āmítuófó is] then as [the] Main Practice, [while] correction [of] evil [and] cultivation [of] good [are] all as Supportive Practices.’ (信愿既具，念佛方为正行，改恶修善皆为助行。)
(Note that mindfulness of Buddha also encompasses correction of evil and cultivation of good in essence by purifying the mind directly, which in turn purifies speech and deeds. Thus, the Great Master was above highlighting other Practice methods being Supportive Practices.)
Thus, mindfulness of Buddha’s name (念佛) should be the Main Practice (正行), with this Practice focused upon with more sincere diligence. This is so as mindfulness of Buddha’s named directly connects limited Self-power with the Buddha’s great Other-power, to be adequate for reaching his Pure Land.
Interconnectedly, with the Main Practice done well, Supportive Practices will be further naturally inspired to be done well too, should time and energy allow. One should not overstretch to have many Supportive Practices, while neglecting the Main Practice. One should also not be lazy to practise only the minimal Main Practice, when one can do more.
The Three Provisions
The Contemplation Sūtra’s Three Blessings
Universal Virtue’s Practices’ And Vows’ Chapter