‘… if there are people who have already vowed, are now vowing, or will be vowing, with the desire to be born in Amitā[bha] Buddha’s land, all these people and others, will all attain non-retrogression for Anuttarā Samyak Saṃbodhi [Buddhahood]…’
– Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛): Amitā[bha] Sūtra (阿弥陀经)
Is it true that hearing the name of Amituofo (阿弥陀佛; Amitā[bha] Buddha) guarantees Buddhahood? As recorded as Vow #47 (Of Immediately Attaining Non-Retrogression’s Ground; 第四十七即得不退转地愿) of Dharmākara Bodhisattva (法蔵菩萨, who became Amituofo) in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra (无量寿经), he did proclaim the following – ‘If I attain Buddhahood, should those other directions’ lands’ all Bodhisattva assemblies, who hear my name [Amituofo], not immediately attain up to non-retrogression, I shall not obtain Right Awakening.’ (设我得佛，他方国土诸菩萨众，闻我名字，不即得至不退转者，不取正觉。)
If read as it is, is this too good to be true? How can simply hearing the name of ‘Amituofo’ lead to non-retrogressible (non-backsliding) progress towards Buddhahood? However, this is truly possible. The key pivoting point, that determines whether the vow will work immediately for us as stated, is in how well do we hear the name of Amituofo. Do we hear it wholeheartedly (or single-mindedly), with deep Faith in Amituofo, sincere Aspiration to reach his Pure Land, and Bodhicitta (i.e. the Bodhisattva aspiration to attain perfect compassion and wisdom for guiding all beings to the same goal of Buddhahood), or merely hear it half-heartedly (or unmindfully) like any other worldly sound?
Faith, Aspiration (Vow) and Practice are the Three Provisions for reaching his Pure Land. With unshakeable Faith and Aspiration, there will definitely be right Practice of further mindfulness of Amituofo’s name, so as to connect to him for further blessings, which definitely lead to his Pure Land, where conditions created and sustained by him ensure non-retrogressible progress in training towards Buddhahood. In this way, by inspiring non-retrogressible Practice to reach his Pure Land, Amituofo can ensure non-retrogression – even before reaching his Pure Land!
Even if Amituofo’s name is not heard with enough mindful understanding to inspire Faith and Aspiration, Vow #47 can still work later. This is so as every experience is registered firmly in our Alaya (or store-house) consciousness. This includes the mindful and not so mindful receiving of Amituofo’s name by hearing, seeing (reading) or thinking. His name becomes a vajra seed – an indestructible cause or potential, for more Faith and Aspiration to blossom from, in this or a future life, which spurs adequate Practice (of mindfulness of Amituofo’s name) to be made. For advanced Bodhisattvas who do not wish to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land yet, they can surely benefit from the vow’s protective blessings with the same mindfulness practice.
For the rest of us, lest our practice is inadequate for strong and constant connection to Amituofo beyond this life, it is safest to aspire to reach his Pure Land when this life ends, so as to fully benefit from his blessings. For Vow #47 to swiftly take full effect upon us, we should have constant diligence in learning about Amituofo, the rest of his 48 great vows, and the nature of his Pure Land, as taught in the sutras – to grow our Faith and Aspiration, while having regular Practice of mindfulness of his name, such that the ‘planting’ of his name into our consciousnesses becomes non-retrogressibly deep. With the Three Provisions bearing non-retrogressible roots, this vow will surely apply to us. Thus, may we be mindful of Amituofo often, and inspire others to do so too! Amituofo!
‘… in that Land Of Ultimate Bliss, beings born there are all Avaivartikas [in the Stage of Non-Retrogression].’
– Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛): Amitā[bha] Sūtra (阿弥陀经)
The Path To Non-Retrogression Starts Now
How Is There Non-Retrogression In Pure Land?
Why We Should Vow To Reach Pure Land
How Are Vows 18, 19 & 20 Of Amituofo (On Faith, Aspiration & Practice) Related?
The safest approach and most ideal outcome would of course be to practise diligently as taught in the Pure Land sutras and be reborn in Amituofo’s Pure Land when our current lives end.
On the other hand, readers should also take note of this:
“The Bodhisattva Maitreya said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, how many non-retrogressive bodhisattvas are there in this world who will be born in that Buddha-land?”
The Buddha replied, “Sixty-seven kotis of non-retrogressive bodhisattvas from this world will be born there. Each of these bodhisattvas has previously made offerings to innumerable Buddhas with almost as much diligence as you did, Maitreya.
Furthermore, bodhisattvas of lesser practices and those who have performed small acts of merit, whose number is beyond calculation, will all be born there.”
From the above quote in the Larger Amitabha Sutra, it is safe to conclude that anyone who is reborn in Amituofo’s Pure Land after this life ends is someone who has made offerings to innumerable Buddhas.
Any reader should of course practise as diligently as possible upon having even the slightest belief or interest in this wonderful teaching.
On the other hand, he or she should also understand that if one is not as accomplished or as diligent as one should or need to in this lifetime,one can still be reborn in Amituofo’s Pureland based on the statement “bodhisattvas of lesser practices and those who have performed small acts of merit…will all be born there”.
The “catch” if any, would be the following:
1) One would take longer than the more diligent ones to achieve swift liberation from common human fears – sickness, old age and death.
2) It would naturally take longer for one to achieve Buddhahood.
It is not likely that most of us, if as average Buddhists, are of the Bodhisattvas who have made offerings to Buddhas almost as diligently as Maitreya Bodhisattva – as he is on the brink of Buddhahood already. As such, most of us should be in the other categories.
That said, to make offerings to many Buddhas, we can visualise doing so, or when making actual offerings to any and every Buddha image we come across.
There is however a more streamlined way to make offerings to all Buddhas – by practising mindfulness of Amituofo (Nianfo), as it is taught in the Amitabha Sutra that all Buddhas are mindfully protective of all who who uphold its teachings, the key being the practice of Nianfo.
How is this an offering to all Buddhas? The best offering we can ever make to all Buddhas is to practise the Dharma well, which is what they all wish of us. Practising Nianfo well, which guarantees reaching Pure Land and thus Buddhahood, it is indeed a great offering to all Buddhas.
On ‘small acts of merit’ practised by Bodhisattvas of lesser practices, we should remember too, that the practice of Nianfo itself also creates merits, and the more one practises, the greater the merits there are, as aligned to and amplified by Amituofo’s merits, which surely together ensures birth in his Pure Land.
Thus, with diligent practice of at least Nianfo, with other supportive practices as much as possible, it will not take long to be liberated from suffering (fears and such), going surely towards Buddhahood now, as we speak.