The Amitabha Sutra - Vow to Be Born in the Pure Land
When sentient beings hear these teachings,
they must take a vow to be born in this land.
Why so? So that they can be together
with all these Beings of Superior Goodness.
This is the first time in the sutra that Sakyamuni Buddha advised, “When sentient beings hear these teachings, they must take a vow to be born in this land.”
In this short sutra, he urged us not once but three times to make a vow to be born in the Pure Land. Why so many times? Because this vow is of vital importance. Vow, belief, and practice are like the legs of a three legged stool. Without any one leg, the stool cannot stand; without the vow, birth in the Pure Land cannot take place. And so, Sakyamuni repeatedly said in the sutra that those who hear it should vow to be born in this land.
When we truly vow and sincerely practice according to the Amitabha Sutra, we will develop the bodhi mind to cultivate ourselves and help all beings. As we mindfully chant the buddha-name, we will no longer be affected by our surroundings, our desires, or by others’ opinions. Chanting mindfully requires a degree of concentration and stability, and for this we need genuine vows and unwavering belief.
How do we develop our vow and belief?
We develop them by learning and practicing the Pure Land teachings and progressing step by step. Additionally, just like the legs of that stool, our belief, vow, and practice need to be balanced for all three are equally important.
Sakyamuni Buddha next told Sariputra that beings born in the Pure Land would “be together with all these Beings of Superior Goodness.” These beings have eliminated greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance. They practice the ten virtuous karmas, the six paramitas, and the ten great vows of Samantabhadra. Surrounded by such accomplished beings in that land, how could we not practice diligently and progress smoothly toward buddhahood?
And yet, despite knowing about the beings and the environment in the Pure Land, are we practicing diligently to go there? Great Master Ouyi said that practitioners who are not, lack belief in this Dharma door. Although they study and chant, they remain half convinced and half in doubt. Instead of believing in the utmost importance of fulfilling their vow to be born in the Pure Land, and hence spending time on it, they prefer spending time in satisfying their desires and indulging their senses. Too often, they choose these over mindful buddha-name chanting. A tragic mistake.
Great Master Ouyi was deeply distressed about this. He was not distressed with people not having opportunities to hear this sutra. That happens because they have overwhelming karmic obstacles. The master was concerned about the people who do have the opportunity to hear the sutra but let the opportunity slip by. They waste the chance to practice according to the teachings. Their belief and vow are not strong enough. And so such people, ruled by their afflictions and residual habits, continue to commit the ten evil karmas.
If we genuinely believe this Dharma door—if we sincerely vow to be born in the Pure Land—we will stop committing the ten evil karmas. We will practice the ten virtuous karmas. Why? Because with true belief, we will do everything possible to fulfil our vow and join “the Beings of Superior Goodness” in the Western Pure Land.
— Chapter 31, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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