Why should I, as a Pure Land aspirant, feel deep shame and remorse?
Master Shandao said at the beginning of Pratyutpanna Praise« I humbly say to all Pure Land aspirants: you should feel deeply ashamed and remorseful! Shakyamuni Buddha is actually your kind and compassionate parent, who imparts to you various useful teachings in order to arouse your unparalleled faith.»
When I first read this, I was a little shocked. Master Shandao is the de facto founder of the Pure Land School. Why should we, as Pure Land aspirants, feel deep shame and remorse? The following passage from sutra of contemplationon "rebirth for those at the lowest level of the highest level", can give us an answer.
In the passage about “rebirth for those at the lowest level of the highest level,” it says: “They commit various evil acts; but do not slander the more in-depth Mahayana sutras. This passage refers to a foolish person who has done a lot of wrong but feels no remorse.»
In the passage about “rebirth for those at the middle level of the lowest level,” it says: “They violate the five precepts, the eight precepts, or the complete precepts of a monk or nun. A foolish person like this steals the Sangha, takes the monks' belongings, or preaches the Dharma with impure motives, but feels no remorse.»
Many Buddhists learn about Buddhist teachings, Mahayana or Theravada, by listening to the Dharma, reading the scriptures, etc. However, they do not realize that they do not truly believe and accept the teachings. For this reason, they fail to put into practice and respect the teachings; and thus, they do not obtain the expected benefits.
Regarding the recitation of the sutras, in the passage about “rebirth for those at the middle level of the highest level,” it says: “They do not necessarily respect or recite the Mahayana Sutras; but they understand the teachings of the Buddha so well that, even when they hear the supreme truths, they are not dismayed.»
How many Mahayana practitioners today can fully understand the Bodhisattva's teachings and not be dismayed? Generally, their knowledge of the teachings is limited to the literal meaning of the text and their own superficial analysis. They don't really understand the deeper meaning of the sutras.
Without a thorough understanding of the teachings, how can they practice or adhere to them diligently and attain the benefits of the Dharma? However, when they meet a good counselor, who tells them about the Sutras at the end of life, they only remember the titles of the Sutras that they have read before.
Shakyamuni offered us an alternative way of seeing the Buddha
Regarding the observance of the precepts, in the passage about "rebirth for those who are at the middle level of the middle level" it says: They observe the eight abstinences, the precepts of the novice or the complete precepts of the monk or nun, and do not violate any of the rules of conduct for at least one day and one night.
Nowadays, how many Buddhist practitioners can respect the precepts and not violate any rules of conduct in a world so filled with greed and hatred? As said in Ksitigarbha Sutra" AAmong the sentient beings of the Jambudvipa, what they think and what they do can only create negative karma and offenses.»
Master Hongyi was very strict in following the precepts. He humbly said that he could only hold the five precepts of a novice in the three karmas. Can Buddhists today follow Shakyamuni's teachings and practices sufficiently to enable them to see the Buddha and be born in the Land of Bliss?
The answer is Yes! In the sutra of contemplation Shakyamuni proposed an "alternative way" of seeing Amitabha Buddha: reciting Amitabha's name exclusively for the rest of one's life, aspiring to be reborn in Amitabha's Pure Land, and relying fully on the power of the vow to Amitabha. On the other hand, everyone can devote their merit and virtues, if necessary, to this rebirth.
Shakyamuni says that when a disciple is about to die, if he meets a good teacher who advises him to put his palms together and recite “Na-mo-a-mi-tuo-fo» (Homage to Amitabha Buddha), he will be able to extinguish his accumulated karmic offenses, be freed from samsara and achieve rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
Shakyamuni also advises us that all ordinary beings, without worldly or Buddhist virtuous roots, can achieve assured rebirth through the exclusive recitation of Amitabha's name. This, of course, also applies to wisdom sravakas, pratyekabuddhasand the Bodhisattvas.
This is the alarm signal launched by Shakyamuni for all Buddhist practitioners. The underlying reason for providing the various useful teachings of the Three or Five Vehicles is to arouse unparalleled faith: in the Buddhas and in Amitabha's deliverance through the power of his vow.
How can karma allow ordinary beings to open the door to the Pure Land?
Shakyamuni Buddha is actually like our kind and compassionate parent. With a benevolent mind, he divides his body across the Six Realms. He shares the Dharma with every thought according to the circumstances, because it is very difficult to awaken ordinary beings because of their heavy karmic baggage.
Ordinary beings in our defiled earth are unable to recognize the Buddha even if they meet him face to face. Even if they discover the splendid Unconditioned Dharma by reading the Sutras, they unfortunately seek the heavenly and human rewards of rare virtues.
Although some of them can see and hear the rare Dharma of Amitabha's deliverance, they are too careless and lazy to practice Amitabha recitation. As a result, they get no credit. Although they continue to learn Buddhist teachings year after year, life after life, their minds are still full of greed and anger.
Master Shandao said: “Greed, anger and ignorance are the three karmas of body, mouth and mind. How can their negative karma allow ordinary beings to open the door to the Pure Land, within which lies a realm of True Void? Amitabha's Land of Bliss is an unconditioned realm of Nirvana, a realm of true emptiness.
Last but not least, Master Shandao urges all ordinary beings, especially those in the Late Dharma Era, to "share the message with all people who wish to be reborn in the Pure Land, think of the Buddha's compassion, and enter in the assembly of sacred beings together.