How To Have Thought Of Being Reborn In Pure Land? 如何作往生想?


– 净土宗十三祖印光大师

[O]nly [the] one method [of] upholding [the] name, gathers [all spiritual] capacities most universally, [and is the] most easy to start [practising], not leading [to or] giving rise [to] demonic matters.

– Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng

This expression, on ‘having [the] thought [of being] reborn [in Pure Land]’ (作往生想) was taught by the Pure Land Tradition’s 2nd Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo (净土宗二祖善导大师) in his ‘Commentary [On The] Contemplation Sūtra [In] Four Fascicles: Concentrated Goodness’ Meaning)《观经四帖疏》(定善义). As it is within the 12th of 16 contemplations, which are visualisation practices, they should ideally be practised sequentially and completely, with strict adherence to their very detailed instructions. The relevant part in the sūtra (as taught by Śākyamuni Buddha; 释迦牟尼佛) and Great Master’s commentary on it are as follows –

经:「… 当起自心,生于西方极乐世界,于莲华中,结跏趺坐,作莲华合想,作莲华开想。

Sūtra: ‘… [You] should give rise, personally [with the] mind, [to be] born in [the] Western Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss, in [a] lotus flower within, [in the] full lotus posture seated. Have [the] lotus flower’s closing contemplated, [and] have [the] lotus flower blossoming contemplated.

莲华开时,有五百色光来照身想。眼目开想,见佛菩萨满虚空中,水鸟树林及与诸佛,所出音声,皆演妙法… 」

When [the] lotus flower blossoms, have five hundred colours’ lights, coming [to] illuminate [the] body contemplated. [With] eyes open contemplating, seeing [the] Buddha [and] Bodhisattvas filling empty space within. [The] waters, birds, groves and all Buddhas, their produced sounds, all expound [the] wonderful Dharma…’

疏:「… 正明凝心入观,即当作自往生想。即有其

Commentary: ‘… [On] right [and] clear concentration [of the] mind [to] enter contemplation, [this is] then [to] have [the] thought [of being] reborn. [There] are then these nine [steps]:

明自生想 ;

[is] clear thought [of] oneself [being] born;

二明向西想 ;

Second [is] clear thought [of going] towards [the] West[ern Pure Land];

明坐华想 ;

Third [is] clear thought [of] sitting [upon a lotus] flower;

明华合想 ;

Fourth [is] clear thought [of the] flower closing;

明华开想 ;

Fifth [is] clear thought [of the] flower blossoming;

明宝光来照身想 ;

Sixth [is] clear thought [of] treasure lights coming [to] illuminate [upon one’s] body;

明既蒙光照,作眼开想 ;

Seventh [is] clear thought [of] then receiving [the] lights’ illumination, having opening [of one’s] eyes;

明眼目既开,作见佛菩萨想 ;

Eighth [is] clear thought [of one’s] eyes then opening, having sight [of] Buddhas [and] Bodhisattvas;


Ninth [is] clear thought [of] listening [to the] Dharma.’

However, as the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师) reminded, the 2nd Patriarch also taught that, ‘[As the] Dharma-Ending [Age’s] sentient beings, [are with] consciousnesses [that] “fly” [all over, with] minds [that are] coarse, [while the] states [to contemplate or visualise are] refined, contemplation [or visualisation is] difficult [to] accomplish. [It] is with [the] great sage’s [i.e. Śākyamuni Buddha] compassionate empathy, [that he] especially encouraged focus [upon] upholding [the] name [of Amitābha Buddha; 阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó]. With reciting [of the] name easy thus, [with it in] continual succession [is] immediate birth [in Pure Land].’ (末法众生,神识飞扬,心粗境细,观难成就。是以大圣悲怜,特劝专持名号。以称名易故,相续即生。)

As going to sleep nightly is a form of ‘minor death’ (小死), with some characteristics similar to dying, it is skilful to use these recurring moments when going to sleep, to practise mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name mentally, to express the same ‘thought of being reborn in Pure Land’ (往生想). Note that there should be no extensive verbal recitation when lying flat on the bed as it can be bad for health, as reminded by Great Master Yìnguāng. If the mind is visually active and distracted, the above steps of contemplation can be considered too. Of course, these practices should be practised when wide awake too, so as to increase mindfulness for firmer connection; not only when going to sleep. With priority as advised above, mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name should be the Main Practice (正行).

Practising the above when going to sleep helps us especially, to get used to regularly letting go of worldly burdens of the day transpired, and of the day to come, to have some revulsed renunciation of the Sahā World (厌离娑婆), while nurturing joyful seeking of birth in the Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss (欣求极乐). It allows more peaceful and restful sleep, thus feeling fresher upon awaking. If not waking up in this world, there should be rising from a lotus in Pure Land! Cultivating this pure lifelong habit with practice, it will be much easier to swiftly let go of worldly attachments when it is truly time to depart. Conversely, those neither used to readily letting go, nor giving rise to the sincere aspiration to reach Pure Land might have to strive harder on the deathbed, even when offered guidance and support-chanting.


– 净土宗十三祖印光大师

If desiring [to] do visualisation,
[one] must [be] familiar [with] study [of the] Contemplation Sūtra.

– Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng

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