The Deliverance of Amitabha Buddha – On-site Q&A
The Deliverance of Amitabha Buddha
By Master Jingzong
Questions and Answers
What does "Namo Amitabha Buddha" mean?
A: "Namo Amitabha Buddha" is a Sanskrit transliteration. It comprises three words – "Namo," "Amitabha," and "Buddha." "Namo" means that I entrust my life. "Amitabha" is infinite light and infinite life. "Buddha" is the awakened one. Together it means I entrust my life to the awakened one who has infinite light and infinite life.
"Infinite light and life" is the existing form of the truth itself. The truth is universally equal and constant. It can exterminate darkness and falsehood, guide people with light, and give sentient beings enlightened lives. Amitabha Buddha is of the same body as the truth. He also manifests the truth, which is too abstruse for sentient beings, in his Buddha name. So his name is the embodiment of the truth. It is a symbol and manifestation of the truth. It represents the truth itself. To recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" is to entrust our lives to the truth, to touch the truth, to accept the guidance given by the light of the truth, and to obtain an awakened life abiding in the truth. These are the functions and benefits that derive spontaneously from Amitabha's making of vows in the causal ground and his attainment of Buddhahood in the achievement ground.
How can we receive Amitabha Buddha's deliverance? Should we rely on our own virtuous deeds?
A: We only need to have faith in and accept Amitabha's deliverance, single-mindedly recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha," and aspire to rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Then we'll surely be delivered there. Virtuous deeds of sentient beings are praiseworthy, but by relying on our good deeds we can only be reborn as a human or celestial being. We would remain within the cycle of rebirth. It's absolutely impossible to be reborn in Amitabha's Pure Land. This is because no matter how diligent we perform virtuous actions, we are always perplexed and impure, afflicted by attachment to self, and ignorant of the truth. As sentient beings remain in falsehood and delusion, their virtuous deeds have merit in this world only, and are totally incompatible with the Land of Bliss – a realm of absolute truth. Such deeds are insubstantial, toxic virtuousness.
Whether they are good or evil, those who recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" will assuredly be reborn in the Pure Land. Will sentient beings therefore indulge in vices and commit wrongdoings?
A: No. Because first, Buddhism generally encourages us to forsake evil and do good. Second, the recitation of "Namo Amitabha Buddha" can convert the unwholesome into the wholesome, like light dispersing the darkness. Anyone who is unable to accept the guidance of the truth simply goes further and further down the path of negative karma.
Reciting "Namo Amitabha Buddha" provides so much merit and benefit in the present and future lives. Long-deceased ancestors as well as animals and hell beings can be reborn in the Pure Land. That is incredible. Are there any supporting facts?
A: There are many ancient and modern examples throughout the world. China and Japan have collected many cases of people, animals, ghosts and hell-beings attaining rebirth in the Pure Land. They are recorded as "Rebirth Biographies." Truth must withstand the test of facts. Without factual evidence, Buddhism would be false and deceptive. In China, Pure Land followers account for the great majority of Buddhists. They mostly acquire strong faith not from an understanding of the profound philosophy of the Dharma, but because of their personal experience of benefits from name-recitation. Since modern media are well developed, there are many reports of rebirth through recitation and benefits for the present lifetime. I've personally experienced many cases. Hongyuan Monastery has published seven volumes of Records of the Effects of Amitabha-Recitation, and one volume of The Rebirth of Animals in Buddha-Realms.
Weren't animals created by God for humans to eat?
A: That's completely mistaken. It is indeed a typical indication of humans' self-centeredness and excessive slaughter of other species, and has caused great harm to the world and mankind. From the Buddhist perspective, all sentient beings have Buddha-nature. They take various life forms because they suffered delusion and created different karma. But in their Buddha-natured lives, they are entirely equal. They all have the opportunity to attain Buddhahood. The viewpoint that humankind is superior and may casually command or kill other lives is not tenable in terms of fact, morality and benevolence.
What is the difference between Amitabha's deliverance and God's salvation?
A: Any kind of salvation is precious and moving. In brief, there are ten differences between the two.
Different spaces. God's salvation is limited to the Earth. Amitabha's deliverance permeates all worlds of the ten directions.
Different time frames. God's salvation is subject to a deadline – the last judgment. Amitabha's deliverance continues through the indefinite future.
Different scope. God's salvation is directed only at humans. Amitabha's deliverance embraces all sentient beings of the Six Realms – deities, humans, asuras, hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals.
Different probabilities. With God's salvation, each person has only one chance. In Amitabha's deliverance, there are countless opportunities for everyone. Even if one is not delivered in the present lifetime and falls into the Three Wretched Realms, Amitabha Buddha will always follow and rescue him, or have him be reborn as a human to attain deliverance. God's salvation is incomplete. Some people will fall into the hellfire forever – beyond salvation. But Amitabha delivers all beings without exception, even if they are already in hell because of karmic offenses. So from the viewpoint of infinite time, every sentient being has a 100% chance of deliverance to the Land of Bliss.
Different roles. God is a savior as well as a judge. Amitabha Buddha is purely a deliverer, not a judging authority. He compassionately sympathizes with sentient beings who suffer from negative karma. The more negative karma and suffering a person has, the more Amitabha Buddha tries to deliver her. He pledges even to deliver all beings who sink into Avici Hell for an incalculable time.
Different levels of difficulty. God's salvation stresses faith only, and seems to lack specific, clear and easy means. Anyone who has no such faith or fails to adhere to the faith will not cross its threshold. With Amitabha's deliverance, we can recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" at any time, in any place. Recitation is convenient and easy. It enables ignorant sentient beings to interface and communicate with Amitabha Buddha and enjoy the protection of his light, regardless of whether they understand and believe the teaching, or whether their faith is deep or superficial.
Different benefits. God saves people to heaven. That realm is not of the same body as the truth, because the creatures can never be equal with the Creator. Sentient beings delivered to the Land of Bliss by Amitabha Buddha all become Buddhas on an equal basis. Ultimately, they are of the same entity as the truth, undifferentiated from it. It's the truth realm of absolute equality.
Different compassions. From the foregoing, God's salvation reflects a relatively limited benevolence, while Amitabha's deliverance is motivated by his great, infinite compassion.
Different underlying principles. God's salvation is based on creationism. God created the world and mankind; human beings violated his will and committed sins; he loves his creation, so he saves them. Amitabha's deliverance is based on Buddha-nature and the Law of Dependent Origination. All sentient beings have Buddha-nature; Buddha-nature is pure, equal, and of one, undivided unity. It's truth itself. There is no creator or creature. Sentient beings are ignorant of their Buddha-nature, so they create negative karma and suffer hardship and calamities. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are awake to their Buddha-nature and therefore attain liberation and freedom. They have pity on us for our delusion, negative conduct and suffering, and spontaneously reveal equal, vast compassion, longing to deliver us.
Different realizations. If we say, "Love is truth," the depth and breadth of love depend on the extent to which the truth is realized. It is clear that the love of God (Lord, divinities) in theistic religions is not comparable with Amitabha's compassion. The former's limited realization of the truth results in conjectural perceptions, like admiring flowers in the mist. Their doctrines can hardly stand reasonable challenge. By contrast, the great awakening in Buddhism can generate infinite compassion. Its principles and actions can both stand questioning.