Passages from the Masters

Major Expositions




9 The Commentary on the Treatise states:

One says the Name of the Tathagata in accord with the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom, and with the significance of the Name, wishing to be in correspondence with it by practicing in accord with reality.

One says the Name of the Tathagata means to say the name of the Tathagata of unhindered light. In accord with the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom: the Buddha’s light is the manifestation of wisdom. This light is completely unhindered in shining throughout the worlds of the ten quarters, and it dispels the darkness of ignorance of the sentient beings of the ten quarters. It is not like the light of the sun, the moon, or a gem, which dispels only the darkness of an enclosure. [In accord] with the significance of the Name, wishing to be in correspondence with it by practicing in accord with reality: the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light dispels all the ignorance of sentient beings and fulfills their aspirations. But if you ask why ignorance still remains and your aspirations are not fulfilled even though you say the Name and are mindful of Amida, it is because you do not practice in accord with reality, because you are not in correspondence with the significance of the Name. Why is your practice not in accord with reality and not in correspondence with the significance of the Name? Because you do not know that the Tathagata is the body of true reality and, further, the body for the sake of beings.

Further, there are three aspects of non-correspondence. In the first, shinjin is not genuine, for at times it appears to exist and at other times not to exist. In the second, shinjin is not single, for it lacks decisiveness. In the third, shinjin is not enduring, for it is disrupted by other thoughts. These three act reciprocally among themselves and mutually give rise to each other. Because shinjin is not genuine, it lacks decisiveness. Because it lacks decisiveness, mindfulness is not enduring. Further, because mindfulness is not enduring, one does not realize shinjin that is decisive. Because one does not realize shinjin that is decisive, the mind is not genuine. The opposite, positive side of this is termed, to be in correspondence [with the significance of the Name] by practicing in accord with reality. For this reason, the author of the Treatise states at the outset, “I, with the mind that is single.”


10 The Hymns to Amida Buddha states:

All sentient beings hear Amida Buddha’s Name of virtues, Realize shinjin and joy, and delight in what they hear For even a single thought-moment. When those of sincere mind- Which has been directed to them – aspire to be born in the Pure Land, they are all enabled to go there. Excepted are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma. Therefore, I offer homage and aspire for birth.


11 The Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra by the Master of Kuang-ming temple states:

[The Buddha’s transcendent powers work] in accord with the intentions has two meanings. First, it means “in accord with the intentions of sentient beings.” All shall be saved in accord with their thoughts and desires. Second, it means “in accord with the will of Amida.” With his five kinds of sight he perceives all being perfectly, and with his six transcendent powers he works freely and without reservation. When he sees a being ready to be saved, in a single thought-moment – neither before nor after – he appears before that being in both body and mind, and with the three wheels of thoughts, words and deeds he brings him to the realization of enlightenment. Thus, the ways in which he benefits beings differ according to their natures.


12 Further, it states:

The five defilements and the five forms of suffering are common throughout the six courses; not a single being has ever been free of them. We are constantly assailed and afflicted by them. If there were a person not afflicted by such suffering, he would not belong to the group of ordinary beings.


13 Further, it states:

The passage from What are these three? to born without fail in that land clearly delineates the three minds and explains that these are the true cause resulting in birth. There are two points elucidated by this passage. First, it shows that the World-honored one’s revealing of benefit in accord with the nature of the practicer is profound in intent and difficult to fathom; thus, if the Buddha had not himself raised the question and presented the point precisely, we should have no way of understanding. Second, it shows that the Tathagata himself answers, setting forth the previously mentioned “three minds.”

The sutra states, The first is sincere (shijo) mind. Shi means true, jo means real. This shows that the understanding and practice of all sentient beings, cultivated through their bodily, verbal, and mental acts, unfailingly take as essential what was performed [by Amida] with a true and real mind. We should not express outwardly signs of wisdom, goodness, or diligence, for inwardly we are possessed of falsity. We are filled with all manner of greed, anger, perversity, deceit, wickedness, and cunning, and it is difficult to put an end to our evil nature. In this we are like poisonous snakes or scorpions. Though we perform practices in the three modes of action, they must be called poisoned good acts or false practices. They cannot be called true, real and sincere action. Firmly setting our minds and undertaking practice in this way- even if we strive to the utmost with body and mind through the twelve periods of the day and night, urgently seeking and urgently acting as though sweeping fire from our heads – must all be called poisoned good acts. To seek birth in the Buddha’s Pure Land by directing the merit of such poisoned practice is completely wrong. Why? Because when, in his causal stage, Amida Buddha was performing practices as a bodhisattva, in every single moment – every single instant – he performed his practices in the three modes of action with a true and real mind. [True practice] depends on this.

What is given [by Amida] constitutes our aspiration; it is all true and real. Further, what is true and real falls into two types: self-benefiting with a true and real mind and [Amida’s] benefiting others with a true and real mind… Regarding acts in the three modes that are not good, you should unfailingly take as essential the Buddha’s abandoning of them with a true and real mind. And if you perform good in the three modes of action, unfailingly take as essential what the Buddha performed with a true and real mind. It is because a person takes the true and real as essential, whether he be within or without, whether of brightness or darkness, that the term “sincere mind” is applied.

The second is deep mind. Deep mind is the deeply entrusting mind. There are two aspects. One is to believe deeply and decidedly that you are a foolish being of karmic evil caught in birth-and-death, ever sinking and ever wandering in transmigration from innumerable kalpas in the past, with never a condition that would lead to emancipation. The second is to believe deeply and decidedly that Amida Buddha’s Forty-eight Vows grasp sentient beings, and that allowing yourself to be carried by the power of the Vow without any doubt or apprehension, you will attain birth.

Further, it is to believe deeply and decidedly that Sakyamuni Buddha leads people to aspire for the Pure Land by teaching, in the Contemplation Sutra, the three types of meritorious conduct, the nine grades of beings, and the two kinds of good – meditative and nonmeditative – and by verifying and praising Amida’s two kinds of fulfillment, the Buddha’s body and land.

Further, it is to believe deeply and decidedly that, as taught in the Amida Sutra, all the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, give their witness and encourage all foolish beings to attain birth without fail.

May all practicers – persons of deeply entrusting mind – single-heartedly entrust themselves to the Buddha’s words alone and, thinking not of their lives but relying utterly on the practice [of the nembutsu], abandon what the Buddha brings them to abandon, practice what the Buddha brings them to practice, leave what the Buddha brings them to leave. This is called “being in accord with the Buddha’s teaching, being in accord with the Buddha’s intent.” This is “being in accord with [Amida] Buddha’s Vow.” This is to be a “true disciple of the Buddha.”

Further, all practicers who, in accord with the [Contemplation] Sutra, entrust themselves deeply to this practice alone, will never fall into error in guiding other sentient beings. This is because the Buddha is the person in whom great compassion is consummate and perfect, and because his words in the sutra are true. Those apart from the Buddha – those who have yet to reach Buddhahood – are still imperfect in wisdom and practice. They are still in the stage of training, and because the two kinds of hindrance and their residues have not been eradicated, the fulfillment of their aspiration has yet to come about. Such unenlightened beings and sages, though they may have some reckoning of the fundamental intent of the Buddha’s teachings, are still incapable of finally ascertaining it. Although they may clarify it according to some standard, they must ascertain it for themselves through requesting the Buddha’s testimony.

When one is in accord with the Buddha’s intent, he will give his sanction, saying, “So it is, so it is.” If one is not in accord with the Buddha’s intent, he will say, “Concerning what you say, it is not so.” Not giving sanction carries the same meaning as “not to be discussed,” “profitless,” “without benefit.” The Buddha’s bestowing of sanctions means that one is in accord with the Buddha’s right teaching. Every word and pronouncement of the Buddha is the right teaching, the right meaning, the right practice, the right understanding, the right act, the right wisdom. Be the passages brief or extensive, how could those beings – whether bodhisattvas, human beings, or devas – determine whether they are right or wrong? What is taught by the Buddha is the “fully expressed teaching.” What bodhisattvas and others teach is all to be labeled the “teaching not fully expressed.” Reflect on this.

For this reason, I now respectfully urge all those aspirants for birth who have ties with the teaching to entrust themselves deeply to the Buddha’s words – to attend solely to them and devotedly practice what they teach. Do not take up and believe teachings of bodhisattvas that are at variance with the Buddha’s, thereby creating doubts and hindrances, embracing delusions, confusing yourself, and losing the great benefit of birth into the Pure Land…

Sakyamuni guides and urges all foolish beings to the saying of the Name alone and to single practice throughout their lives, so that when death comes, they will be born without fail in the Pure Land. All the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, with the same intent, praise this teaching, urge beings to follow it, and give witness to it. Why? Because their great compassion is the same in essence. What one Buddha teaches is what all Buddhas teach. What all Buddhas teach, one Buddha teaches. As taught in the Amida Sutra, Sakyamuni praises all the various adornments of the land of bliss. Further, urging all foolish beings single-heartedly to practice the saying of the Name alone, for one to seven days, he leads them to attain birth without fail.

The passage that follows states that in each of the ten quarters there are Buddhas countless as the sands of the Ganges, who all in accord say in praise:

Well does Sakyamuni, in this evil age of the five defilements, in this evil world, among evil sentient beings, evil views, evil passions, and in a time when evil acts and lack of faith prevail, teach and praise the Name of Amida, encouraging sentient beings, “If one says the Name, one unfailingly attains birth.”

This is the witness.

Further, the Buddhas throughout the ten quarters, fearing that sentient beings might not accept the teaching of the one Buddha, Sakyamuni, all together with the same intent and at the same time extend their tongues, and covering all the great triple-thousandfold worlds, preach these true and sincere words:

Sentient beings, each of you should accept what Sakyamuni has taught, has praised, has given witness to! It is certain beyond any doubt that when foolish beings – regardless of whether their evil or merit is great or small, or the period of time long or short – just single-heartedly practice the saying of the Name of Amida alone, for up to one hundred years or down to even one or seven days, they unfailingly attain birth.

Thus, what one Buddha teaches, all Buddhas give witness to. This is known as “establishing shinjin through the Buddha”…

Further, right practice is divided in two. First, single-heartedly practicing the saying of the Name of Amida alone – whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining – without regard to the length of time, and without abandoning it from moment to moment: this is called “the act of true settlement,” for it is in accord with the Buddha’s Vow. [Second,] if one engages in worship, sutra-recitation, and so on, these are called “auxiliary acts.” All forms of good other than these two kinds of practice – true and auxiliary – are called “sundry practices”… They are all “irrelevant and sundry practices.”

Hence the term deep mind.

The third is the mind of aspiration for birth and directing of virtue… Again, let the person who seeks to be born with the mind of aspiration and directing of virtue aspire for attainment of birth by unfailingly and decidedly taking as essential the Vow directed to him from the true and real mind. This mind, in its profound entrusting, is like diamond; it is not shaken, confused, defeated, or broken by people of other views, other teachings, different understandings, or different practices. Just be decisively settled, single-heartedly hold to the Vow, and rightly and directly go forward, without paying attention to what others may say. If your heart advances and retreats, and you look back with weak and cowardly thoughts, you will fall from the path and forfeit the great benefit of birth.

Question: People of other understandings and practices, of wrong and sundry practices, may come and confront us, seeking to cast us into confusion. They may raise a variety of doubts and difficulties, saying, “You cannot attain birth,” or “Sentient beings such as yourselves have, since the beginningless past down to this present existence, with bodily, verbal, and mental acts, committed all the ten transgressions, the five grave offenses, the four serious offenses, slander of the dharma, lack of the seed of Buddhahood, violation of precepts, destruction of right views and so on, against all others, whether ordinary beings or sages, and the retribution for these acts has yet to be eliminated or exhausted. This karmic evil will bind you to the three realms and the evil courses. How is it possible that, by performing meritorious deeds and saying the nembutsu for but one lifetime, you will attain the undefiled land of no-birth and realize the stage of nonretrogression forever?”

Answer: The teachings and practices taught by the Buddhas outnumber even particles or grains of sand. The opportunities and conditions of beings [for encountering them] differ according to their hearts and minds. To illustrate, concerning even what ordinary people can see with the eyes and believe, there is light dispersing darkness, space enveloping all things, the earth bearing and nurturing, water bringing forth and nourishing, heat-element ripening and consuming. Such examples are all termed “elements with corresponding functions.” They can be observed with the eye with a thousand differences and a myriad variation. How much more is this so with the inconceivable power of the Buddha-dharma! Does it not benefit us in a variety of ways?

To emerge from one gateway is to emerge from one gateway of blind passion; to enter one gateway according to your opportunities and conditions is to enter one gateway of emancipation- wisdom. In this way, you should undertake practice in accord with your opportunities and conditions and seek emancipation. Why do you obstruct and confuse me with what is not the essential practice corresponding to my conditions? What I desire is the practice corresponding to my conditions; that is not what you seek. What you desire is the practice corresponding to your conditions; that is not what I seek. Each person’s performance of practices in accord with his aspirations unfailingly leads to rapid emancipation.

Practicer, know that if you desire to gain understanding, you will be able to study without obstruction the teaching relevant to the stages of ordinary beings or sages or to the fruit of Buddhahood. If you desire to undertake practice, by all means follow the method of practice corresponding to your conditions. In return for a little effort, you will gain great benefit.

Further, I say to all who aspire for birth in the Pure Land: I will now present a parable for practicers so that their shinjin be protected from attacks by those of wrong or nonbuddhist views and of different opinions. What is the parable?

Suppose there is a traveler journeying one hundred thousand li toward the west, when suddenly, along the way, he comes upon two rivers [in a single channel] – one of fire, extending southward, and one of water, extending north. Each river is one hundred paces across, immeasurably deep, and endless to the north and south. Dividing the fire and water is a single white path four or five inches wide. This path, from the eastern bank to the western bank, is one hundred paces in length. Billows of water surge over the path and flames sweep up to scorch it. Water and fire thus alternate without a break.

Now the traveler has already journeyed deep into the vast and solitary wilderness; there is no one to be seen. But bands of brigands and wild beasts lurk there, and seeing the traveler alone, they vie with each other to kill him. Fearing for his life, the traveler at once flees toward the west, when without warning the great river appears. He reflects, “I can see no end to this river either to north or south. In the middle is a white path, but it is exceedingly narrow. Although the two banks are but slightly separated, how is it possible to cross? Assuredly this day I shall die. If I turn back, brigands and wild beasts will press closer and closer upon me. If I run north or south, beasts and poisonous insects will contend with each other to attack me. If I venture on the path westward, surely I will plunge into the two currents of water and fire.”

There are no words to express the terror and despair that fill him at this point. He thinks further to himself: “If I turn back now, I die. If I remain here, I die. If I go forward, I die. There is no way for me to escape death. Therefore, I choose to go forth, venturing on this path. Since this path exists, it must be possible to cross the rivers.”

When this thought occurs to him, he suddenly hears the encouraging voice of someone on the eastern bank, “O traveler, just resolve to follow this path forward! You will certainly not encounter the grief of death. But if you stay where you are, you will surely die.”

Further, someone on the western bank calls to him, “O traveler, with mind that is single, with right-mindedness, come at once! I will protect you. Have no fear of plunging to grief in the water or fire.” The traveler, having heard the exhortation on his side of the river and the call from the other, immediately acquires firm resolution in body and mind and decisively takes the path, advancing directly without entertaining any doubt or apprehension.

When he has gone but one or two paces, the brigands on the eastern bank call out to him: “O traveler, come back! That path is treacherous and permits no crossing. You are certain to meet your death. None of us address you thus with evil intent.”

The traveler hears the voices calling him, but he gives no backward glance. Thinking only of the path, he advances directly forward with the mind that is single and forthwith reaches the western side, free forever of all afflictions. He meets his good friend, and his joy in boundless. This is the parable.

Now to apply the parable: The eastern bank is the burning house that is this Saha world. The western bank: the precious land of perfect bliss. The brigands and wild beasts calling with treacherous familiarity: a sentient being’s six sense organs, the six forms of consciousness, the six kinds of objects, the five aggregates, and the four elements. The wilderness where no one is to be seen: one constantly joins with evil companions, without ever meeting a true teacher. The two currents of water and fire: sentient being’s greed and desire are likened to water, their anger and hatred to fire. The white path in the middle, four or five inches wide: amidst sentient being’s blind passions of greed and anger, a pure mind that aspires for birth in the Pure Land is awakened. Since the greed and anger are intense, they are like the water and fire. Since the good mind is slight, it is like the white path. Further, billows of water constantly surge over the path: desires arise incessantly to defile the good mind. Flames ceaselessly scorch the path: anger and hatred consume the dharma-treasure of virtue. The traveler follows the path and advances directly westward: turning away from all practices, he advances directly westward. He hears the voice of someone on the eastern bank encouraging and exhorting him, and following the path, advances directly westward: Sakyamuni has already entered nirvana and people of later times cannot meet him. His teachings still remain, however, and we can follow them. They are like that voice. When he has gone one or two paces, the brigands call him back: people of different understandings, different practices or false views, with their own misguided opinions, one after another seek to confuse him, claiming that he is committing evil and will fail. Someone on the western bank calls to him: this is the intent of Amida’s Vow. The traveler forthwith reaches the western side; he meets his good friend, and his joy is boundless: sentient beings long sinking in birth-and-death and for innumerable kalpas lost is transmigration, being bound in delusion by their own karma, have no means of gaining emancipation for themselves. Reverently embracing Sakyamuni’s teaching in his exhortations to advance westward and obeying Amida’s call to us with his compassionate heart, the traveler accepts and accords with the mind of the two honored ones; never giving a thought to the two rivers of water and fire and taking the call of the honored ones to heart at every moment, he entrusts himself to the path of the power of the Vow. After his death, he attains birth in that land and meets the Buddha. How boundless is his joy!

Further, all practicers always have this understanding and always dwell in this aspiration when performing practice in the three modes of action, whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, regardless of the time, whether day or night; hence it is called the mind of aspiration for birth and directing virtue.

Moreover, concerning directing of virtue: after being born in that land, one now awakens great compassion and reenters birth-and-death to teach and guide sentient beings; this too is “directing virtue.” Since one already possesses the three minds, there is no practice that is not fulfilled. With aspiration and practice already fulfilled, any assertion that one is not born is clearly baseless. These three minds apply also to meditative good acts. Reflect on this.


14 Further, [Shan-tao] states [in Hymns on the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence]:

Reverently I say to fellow practicers who aspire for birth: You should all deeply repent! Sakyamuni Tathagata is truly our compassionate father and mother. With a variety of compassionate means he leads us to awaken the supreme shinjin.


15 The Newly Compiled Chen-yüan Era Catalog of Scriptures, fascicle eleven states:

The Collection of Liturgical Passages from Various Sutras (two fascicles), compiled by Chih- sheng, monk of the West Ch’ung-fu temple during the T’ang dynasty. In accordance with an Imperial order of the twenty-third day, tenth month, Chen-yüan 15 [800 A.D.], it was newly added [to the Tripitaka]. In collecting liturgies from various sutras for the first fascicle of the Collection of Liturgical Passages, Chih-sheng took, for the Contemplation Sutra, the hymns of the midday chanting from Shan-tao’s Hymns of Birth in the Pure Land. The second fascicle is labeled, “Collected and recorded by Bhiksu Shan-tao.”

To make a selection of essential passages from the Collection of Liturgical Passages:

Second [of the three minds] is deep mind, which is true and real shinjin. One truly knows oneself to be a foolish being full of blind passions, with scant roots of good, transmigrating in the three realms and unable to emerge from this burning house. And further, one truly knows now, without so much as a single thought of doubt, that Amida’s universal Primal Vow decisively enables all to attain birth, including those who say the Name even down to ten times, or even but hear it. Hence it is called “deep mind”…

When people have been able to hear The Name of Amida Buddha, Rejoice, and attain the mind that is single, They will all attain birth in the Pure Land.



16 It is stated in Essentials for Attaining Birth:

The “Chapter on Entrance into the Dharma-realm” states,

Suppose there is a person who possesses a potion that renders him indestructible, so that his foes and adversaries are denied any means of harming him. The bodhisattva-mahasattva is like this. When he has gained the dharma-elixir of indestructibility – the mind aspiring for enlightenment – no blind passions, no maras or adversaries, are able to defeat him. A man who wears the ornament of gems that keeps one from drowning can enter into deep waters without sinking and expiring. One who has acquired the gem that prevents drowning – the mind aspiring for enlightenment – enters the ocean of birth-and-death but does not sink or succumb. As a diamond may be immersed in water for one hundred thousand kalpas without destruction or alteration, so is the mind aspiring for enlightenment, which may be submerged in all the karma of blind passions in birth-and-death for endless kalpas, and yet cannot be damaged or destroyed.


17 Further, it states:

Although I too am within Amida’s grasp, blind passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see [the light]; nevertheless, great compassion untiringly and constantly illumines me.


18 Hence, whether with regard to practice or to shinjin, there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of his pure Vow-mind. It is not that there is no cause or that there is some other cause. Reflect on this.