The Amitabha Sutra - Sakyamuni Buddha’s Assurance
Updated: May 27, 2022
I have seen this benefit, and so I speak these words.
If sentient beings hear what I say, they must make a vow
to be born in that land.
Sakyamuni Buddha telling Sariputra “I have seen this benefit” was to reassure those listening to this teaching, as well as all those who would encounter it in the future. Although those in the assembly had not seen the advantages of being born in the Pure Land, Sakyamuni had.
And having seen those benefits, Sakyamuni told us that good men or good women who hear of Amitabha Buddha and then chant his name single-mindedly and without confusion for one to seven days will receive a remarkable outcome. This outcome refers to horizontal transcendence.
In contrast, other Buddhist schools practice vertical transcendence, which requires that those who wish to transcend the suffering in samsara must go through the step-by-step progression in their practice and cultivation. This is akin to a worm attempting to escape from within a bamboo stalk by breaking through each segment joint in turn as it slowly crawls upward. Only when the worm has pierced the very last joint is it, finally, free.
Horizontal transcendence, the easier way, is akin to the worm just chewing through the side of the bamboo stalk right where it is. Much more quickly, the worm is free!
How does this apply to Pure Land practitioners?
Using horizontal transcendence, we can be born in the Pure Land in our current lifetime whatever our present level of cultivation. We may receive this excellent result if, at the end of our life, our mind is not chaotic or deluded and we chant Amitabha Buddha’s name. But what if we are still deluded? Then, once again, we will encounter the very same stumbling block that has hampered us for uncountable lifetimes. If we are deluded at the end of our life, our seeds of residual habits, including greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance will arise uncontrollably. All these residual habits are amassed in our store consciousness.
This consciousness is the first of the eight consciousnesses to enter a mother’s womb at the moment of conception. By the time the fetus is fully developed, it has all the eight consciousnesses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, mental awareness, thinking mind, and store. When a person is dying, the first seven consciousnesses gradually cease to function. Finally, only the store consciousness remains functioning. In most cases, usually within eight hours after death, it will leave the body.
While eight hours is the usual amount of time required for the store consciousness to withdraw from the body, there are instances where more time is taken. Some people are very attached to their body and do not want to let go, and so the store consciousness may not leave until twelve or fourteen hours after death. In some instances, the store consciousness may not leave for several days! Others may even be chanting for them, but by being extremely attached to their bodies, they are obstructed from being born in the Western Pure Land. Intensely deluded, these people are their own obstructions.
Clearly, we need to ensure that we are not deluded at the time of death. To accomplish this, we need to live simply, end wrongdoings, and cultivate wisdom and good fortune. Then, at the end of our life, clearheaded and without fear, we will be able to be steadfast in our belief and our vow, and mindfully chant the buddha-name. Amitabha Buddha will come to guide us to the Pure Land.
This is why Sakyamuni Buddha spoke of the necessity of a mind that is unified and not chaotic. With such a unified, non-deluded mind, we can, through horizontal transcendence, be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss while bringing along our residual karmas. Sakyamuni Buddha saw this benefit and urged—for the second time—that we “make a vow to be born in that land.”
As Great Master Ouyi wrote, “It is my humble hope that no matter whether you are a layperson or a monk or nun, no matter whether you are smart or stupid, you will adopt a positive attitude toward this simple, direct, Sudden Perfect Pure Land teaching. Do not look upon it as difficult and shrink away from it. Do not look upon it as easy and become complacent and not try hard enough. Do not look upon it as shallow and despise it. Do not look upon it as profound and not dare to accept it as your task.”
— Chapter 35, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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