Recitation according to the Buddhas’ Intentions
As was said earlier, in those countries which follow Mahayana Buddhism, Pure Land practitioners are in the majority. Not only do many monks and laymen practice Buddha Recitation, even followers of various cults invoke the name of the Lord of the Western Paradise. Nevertheless, though many recite the Buddha’s name, very few truly understand the goal of recitation. Thus, their recitation is not in accordance with the true intention of the Buddhas.
There are those who, visiting Buddhist temples and monasteries and seeing people engaged in Buddhas Recitation, also join in, without a specific goal. This action, while garnering merits and virtues for the future, is not in accordance with the Buddhas’ true intention.
There are those who practice Buddha Recitation seeking escape from danger and calamities as well as health, happiness and tranquillity for their families and ever-growing success in their careers and business dealings. Such goals, although worthy, are not consonant with the Buddhas’ true intention.
There are those who, faced with hardships and the frustration of their wishes, become despondent. They recite Amitabha Buddha’s name, praying that they will be spared such adversity in their present and future lives, that they will be endowed with beauty and honor, and that everything will turn to their advantage and accord with their wishes. Such goals are of course worthy, but they are not consonant with the Buddhas’ true intention.
There are those who realize that life on earth does not bring any lasting happiness; even the noble, rich powerful and influential are beset by worry and suffering. They hope that through the merits and virtues of Buddha Recitation, they will be reborn in the celestial realms, endowed with longevity and leisure, joy and freedom. Such a goal, although worthy, is not consonant with the Buddhas’ true intention. There are those who, having committed many transgressions, think that they cannot easily be saved in this life. They therefore recite the Buddha’s name, praying that in their next life they will be reborn as a male, leave home to be a high-ranking monk, and become awakened to the Way. Such a goal, while exemplary, is still lacking in wisdom and faith, and is not consonant with the Buddhas’ true intention.
What, then, is the true intention of the Buddhas?
Buddha Sakyamuni clearly recognized that all conditioned dharmas are impermanent, and that all sentient beings have always possessed in full the virtues and wisdom of the Tathagatas (Buddhas). However, because of delusion about their Original Nature, they create evil karma and afflictions and revolve forever in the cycle of Birth and Death. Even if they were to be reborn in the Heavens, once their merits were exhausted, they would descend into the lower realms. For this reason, the real intention of Sakyamuni Buddha is that through the Pure Land method, sentient beings may realize an early escape from the sufferings of Birth and Death.
Throughout countless eons, all Buddhas have accumulated merits and wisdom. Anyone who recites their names will engender immeasurable virtues. Moreover, Buddha Amitabha has made this Vow: Any sentient being who singlemindedly recites His name and seeks rebirth in His Land will, at the final moment, be welcomed and guided to the Pure land, and attain non-retrogression.To exchange the immeasurable virtues accumulated through Buddha Recitation for the small merits and blessings of the realm of gods and men — forfeiting liberation and rebirth in the Pure Land — would be no different from an innocent child bartering an invaluable diamond for a piece of candy. That would be a great waste indeed!
Moreover, the power of Amitabha Buddha’s Vows is so immense that no matter how heavy our karma may be, by reciting His name in all earnestness, we can, in this very lifetime, achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. To seek rebirth, for instance, as an enlightened, high-ranking monk is to lack wisdom and faith. It cannot ensure rebirth in the Pure Land in this very life or attainment of Bodhisattvahood at the stage of non-retrogression. Therefore, the real intention of the Buddhas is for sentient beings to practice Pure Land so that they can be liberated from Birth and Death — and this liberation is to be achieved in one lifetime.
But why do we need to escape the cycle of Birth and Death? It is because, in the wasteland of Birth and Death, we truly undergo immense pain and suffering. If students of Buddhism do not sincerely meditate on this truth of suffering, they cannot achieve results despite all their scholarship, as they do not experience fear and seek liberation. The sutras say:
If the fearful mind does not come easily, the sincere mind cannot spring forth easily.
This is the reason why Sakyamuni Buddha, when preaching the Four Noble Truths to the five monks led by Kaundinya, taught them first the Truth of Suffering. According to this truth, if we meditate on the suffering of the human condition, we will have a clearer idea as to why we must swiftly escape the cycle of Birth and Death.
From the book: