Question: As Vow #18, #19 and #20 of Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) seem somewhat similar yet different, can you compare and contrast them for better appreciation of their intricacies?
Answer: The overall significance of these 3 great Vows is immeasurably great, as they express the very means to attain birth in Amituofo’s Pure Land, which leads to immeasurable benefits for expediting our progress towards Buddhahood for the sake of all beings.
To realise the relationship between Vow #18, #19 and #20, let us first look at each of them fully below. Please note that the Vows listed are from ‘The Immeasurable Life Sutra (As Spoken By The Buddha)’ (佛说无量寿经), as translated by Cao-Wei Dynasty’s Tripitaka Master Samghavarman of India (曹魏天竺三藏康僧铠) from Sanskrit into Chinese, and from Chinese into English with notes by Upasaka Shen Shi’an (优婆塞沈时安).
[This version of the said sutra is the one historically used and endorsed by all Patriarchs of the Pure Land Tradition, up to the 13th Patriarch Great Master Yinguang (印光大师), who firmly admonished against the use of compiled versions of this sutra. If such edited versions are used, the important original structure and contents of Amituofo’s mindfully deliberated Vows, as below, will be mixed up, altered and/or lost. Please see http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/09/can-we-use-edited-or-compiled-sutras for more on whether we should use edited or compiled ‘sutras’.]
[a] The text in red is the name of each Vow
(given by Great Master Lianchi, the 8th Patriarch of the Pure Land Tradition).
[b] The text in blue is the key focus of each Vow.
[c] The text in green are the other practices for each Vow.
[d] The text in purple is common to all 3 Vows.
 Vow [Of] All [Attaining] Birth [In] My Land [With] Ten Thoughts [Of Mindfulness]
If I attain Buddhahood, [the] ten directions’ [sentient] beings, [with] (utmost) sincere hearts (minds) [and] joyful faith, desire birth [in] my land, and even [with] ten thoughts [of mindfulness], if [they should] not [be] born [there, I shall] not attain right awakening. Only excluded [are those who with the] five rebellious [misgivings, and those who] slander [the] right Dharma.
[Note: The last line are words of caution to remind all to avoid doing of evil, and to repent if they were done. It is indeed true that those with such serious misgivings (of patricide, matricide, murder of an Arhat, wounding of a Buddha and/or causing schism in the Sangha) cannot make it to Pure Land, as such extremely evil beings are karmically misaligned, far away from Pure Land, while being aligned to Avici Hell by default, including those who have slandered especially the Pure Land Dharma (teaching), who naturally do not ‘desire birth’ in Pure Land, thus not having the provision of Aspiration needed in the Vow.
However, this also means that all who have sincerely repented for such misgivings in time can still utilise this Vow by giving rise to all 3 Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice to reach Pure Land. With proper repentance, they are no longer spiritually rebellious ones or Dharma slanderers excluded in the Vow. The key repentance Practice is via sincere mindfulness of Amituofo’s name itself, which expresses such Faith and Aspiration, as Amituofo is capable of sharing his great merits with the repentant to lighten their misgivings and guide them to his Pure Land. This is evident in the Contemplation Sutra, in its section on the lowest grades of birth in Pure Land.]
 Vow [Of] Encouraging Cultivation [For] Me [To] Receive [And] Guide All
If I attain Buddhahood, [the] ten directions’ [sentient] beings, [who] give rise [to] Bodhicitta, cultivate all meritorious virtues, [with] (utmost) sincere hearts (minds) vow, [and] desire birth [in] my land, when approaching [the] end [of] life, if [I should not,] with [a] great assembly surround [and] appear before them, [I shall] not attain right awakening.
 Vow [Of All With] Continual [Connected] Mindfulness Definitely Attaining Rebirth
If I attain Buddhahood, [the] ten directions’ [sentient] beings, [who] hear (are mindful of) my Name (Amituofo), [are] continually mindful [of] my land, plant many roots of virtues, [with] (utmost) sincere hearts (minds) dedicate [them, and] desire birth [in] my land, [should] not attain [this] fruit as wished, [I shall] not attain right awakening.
As Amituofo is now indeed a Buddha, as taught by Sakyamuni Buddha, all of his 48 great Vows are functioning perfectly as we speak. Let us now insert the key requisites of the 3 great Vows for reaching his Pure Land into a chart for easier comparison and contrast.
 The bracketed numbers show the sequence of the words in the Vows,
and the common colours their interconnections.
 Every Vow includes the 3 Provisions of Faith (信), Aspiration (愿) and Practice (行).
 信 (Faith) is added as a default requisite for Vows #19 and #20,
as it is impossible to have Aspiration and Practice without Faith.
 Comparing the number of requisites of Faith, Aspiration and Practice respectively:
Vow #18: 1,1,1; Vow #19: 1,3,1; Vow #20: 1,1,4.
There is more weightage on Faith, Aspiration and Practice respectively.
Vow #18’s requisites are easier to meet than Vow #20’s,
which are easier to meet than Vow #19’s.
 All 3 Vows require the basic Aspiration of 欲生我国.
 Vow #18 emphasises on having utmost sincere and joyful Faith –
(1) 至心信乐. The other practice needed is (3) 乃至十念.
 Vow #19 emphasises on giving rise to utmost sincere Aspiration (with Bodhicitta) –
(3) 至心发愿. The other practices needed are (1) 发菩提心, (2) 修诸功德.
 Vow #20 emphasises on the Practice of utmost sincere dedication (of much merits) –
(4) 至心回向. The other practices needed are (1) 闻我名号，(2) 系念我国，(3) 植众德本.
 For Vow #18, (3) 乃至十念 can be seen as equivalent to
(1) 闻我名号 and (2) 系念我国 in Vow #20,
though the easiest way to give rise to the 十念
is in terms of (1) 闻我名号, which is (信愿)持名念佛.
 For Vow #19, (2) 修诸功德 can be seen as equivalent to
(3) 植众德本 in Vow #20, except that Vow #19’s Practice is definitely based on Bodhicitta,
while Vow #20’s Practice can be based on Bodhicitta too.
 Vow #18 is most skilful for receiving those of Lower Roots (下根),
being weightier on joyful Faith (重信).
 Vow #19 is most skilful for receiving those of Higher Roots (上根),
being weightier on great Aspiration (重愿).
 Vow #20 is most skilful for receiving those of Medium Roots (中根),
being weightier on much personal Practice (重行).
 ,  and  show how the 3 great Vows shape
the Dharma Door of Mindfulness of Amituofo
to universally cover the three roots, receiving all of sharp and dull roots.
(念佛法门, 三根普被, 利顿全收)
 We can use these 3 great Vows to gauge our present situation,
to ensure we can reach Amituofo’s Pure Land,
and also to aspire to higher grades of birth
by meeting their more challenging requisites accordingly.
Please note that these notes have yet to define the terms in each Vow in full detail. All the 48 great Vows of Amituofo are shared in greater detail in this annual course:
Namo Amituofo : Shen Shi’an
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