To bless others by conveying Tathagata’s boundless compassion, constitutes true repayment of the Buddha’s Grace. -Shandao-
The teaching of Pure Land or Jodo Buddhism originated in India and developed into a practical form of belief in China. This teaching attracted the popular masses with its offer of a simple way to salvation through reciting of the Name of Amitabha Buddha. The faith and practice of recitation allowed the individual to be born in the Pure Land, from which state he would be assured of the achievement of Nirvana or enlightenment. The Pure Land in Buddhist teaching was established by Amitabha Buddha, with His great vows to save all beings, as a result of the infinite merit he acquired through ages of practicing compassion. Tan-luan (476-542) popularized the Pure Land teaching by joining it to the theory of the decline of the Buddha-Dharma, and he was followed by Tao-cho’o (562-645) and Shandao (613-681). Shandao was a celebrated scholar and an active promoter of Jodo Buddhism in the T’ang Dynasty. Due to his holy life and compassion toward others he was often been called a transformation of Amitabha Buddha. His name is immortal in the history of Pure Land doctrine because of his elaborate views presented in them on the nature of Amitabha Buddha and His Pure Land. Beside the four volumes of commentary on the said sutra, he composed the following four treatises and hymnals: Ojo-raisan-ge , Hoji-san, Kannen-homon, Hanju-san. All of his writings were based on the strict self introspection and awareness of the fragility and facility of human nature. Most of them were in the form of poems or hymns which directly appealed to the religious sentiments of the people in those days. He also encouraged the followers to draw a mandala diagram to help them understand the significance of Pure Land. Always exceedingly pure of nature, he put tremendous effort into creating solemn rituals in their religious practices with beautifully composed poems and music, which easily infused the teachings into the hearts of contemporary people. Analyzing the pure land teaching in the method of meditation, attitude, and conditions of practice, he established a comprehensive religious life as follow:
1. Three states of mind: a. True mind – genuine and sincere mind b. Deep mind- true mind of deep faith c. Hearty desire to be born in the Pure Land.
2. Five Right Practices: a. Chanting the Sutra b. Meditating on the Buddha c. Worshiping the Buddha d. Uttering the Name e. Worship and veneration.
3. Four ways of Exercise: a. Reverently b. Wholeheartedly c. Continuously d. Throughout the life-time
These were all exclusively directed towards Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land alone. Among them, the fourth Right Practice, the utterance of His Name, was specifically designated as the Right Assurance or “decisive practice for birth into the Pure Land” in accordance with the original vow of the Buddha. He interpreted the words “even with ten thoughts” in the supreme Eighteenth Vow in his own way to mean “even unto ten times utterance.” He meant the utterance could be innumerable or even ten time or a single utterance whatever it may be. The number of utterances was, however, not essential, but the quality of it was of great importance. Although the Amitayurdhyana Sutra describes the varieties of meditation on the characteristic distinguishing marks and virtues of Amitabha Buddha, as we as the utterance of His name, the latter is the real essence of the Sutra in view of the Supreme Vow. Shandao was a rare combination of Saint, mystic artist, poet, orator and even architect. Through his great effort and untiring demonstration of compassion, Nembutsu became popular among the people with the belief that the utterance of Buddha’s Name was the most excellent and the easiest way for the ordinary man to be born into Pure Land and attain enlightenment. He clarified the fact that Amitabha’s Pure Land was the true Land of Reward, and developed a comprehensive interpretation of religious life, with the understand of human nature and universal deliverance. The Pure Land teaching thus condensed by Shandawith the decisive practice of Nembutsu was handed down by Saint Honen and bore magnificent fruit in Japan five hundred years later. He returned to the Pure Land at the age of sixty-eight reciting with his last breath the Name of Amitabha. Namu Amida Butsu (Jodo Mission Dendo Series No. 14, Published by Hawaii Council of Jodo Missions)