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The distinction between right practice and practice of sundry good acts may be clarified using a fivefold contrast:

(1) Intimate versus distant. “Intimate” means that persons who perform the truly determining act and the auxiliary actions are in a relationship with Amida Buddha of great closeness and intimacy. Shandao states:

When sentient beings give rise to practice and constantly say Amida Buddha’s name with their lips, Amida hears them. When they constantly worship and revere Amida Buddha with their bodies, Amida sees them. When they constantly think on Amida Buddha with heart and mind, Amida apprehends them. When sentient beings are mindful of Amida, Amida is mindful of them. The acts of the Buddha and being in each of the three modalities—bodily, verbal and mental—are mutually inseparable. This is what is meant by “intimate.”

“Distant” refers to the performance of sundry good acts. When sentient being do not say Amida Buddha’s name, Amida does not hear them. When they do not worship Amida Buddha with their bodies, Amida does not see them. When they do not think on Amida Buddha with heart and mind, Amida does not apprehend them. When sentient beings are not mindful of the Buddha, the Buddha is not mindful of them. The acts of the Buddha and beings in the three modalities always stand isolated from each other. This is characterized as “distant.”

(2) Near versus separated. “Near” means that persons who perform the truly determining act and the auxiliary actions are right beside Amida Buddha. Shandao states in his commentary, “When sentient beings aspire to see Amida Buddha, Amida, in response to their thoughts, appears before their eyes. Hence, ‘near.’” “Separated” refers to the practice of sundry other good acts. When sentient beings do not aspire to see Amida Buddha, Amida does not appear before them…

(3) Uninterrupted versus discontinuous. “Uninterrupted” means that persons who perform the truly determining act and the auxiliary actions are mindful of Amida Buddha without interruption… “Discontinuous” means that persons who perform sundry good acts always interrupt their mindfulness of Amida Buddha…

(4) No necessity of directing one’s merit versus the necessity of directing merit. For persons who perform the truly determining act of saying the name and the auxiliary actions focused on Amida Buddha, these naturally become acts resulting in birth in the pure land even though the practitioners do not undertake the directing of the merits toward that end. Hence Shandao states:

The Contemplation Sutra states, “Performing ten voicings of the Buddha’s name.” Such utterance of “namu-amida-butsu” is possessed of both the aspiration and the practice that are requisite for fulfilling the path—both accomplished tenfold. How does this come about? “Namu” manifests the taking of refuge in Amida’s vow. It signifies awakening aspiration for birth and turning one’s heart to the pure land. “Amida-butsu” manifests the practice. Because the nembutsu possesses this meaning, persons who say it unfailingly attain birth.

“The necessity of directing one’s merit” means that, for persons who perform sundry good acts, these acts become the cause resulting in birth in the pure land only when they deliberately undertake to direct the resulting merits thus. If they do not purposely direct their merits towards birth in the pure land, their good acts do not become the cause for attainment of birth there…

(5) Authentic versus commingled. “Authentic” means that, for persons who perform the truly determining act and the auxiliary actions, these are purely the practice for birth in the land of bliss. “Commingled” means that the acts are not practices purely for birth in the land of bliss. They are common to birth into the realms of human beings and devas, and also into the conditions of the three vehicles. They are also common to birth into the various pure lands of the buddhas throughout the ten quarters. Hence such practice is said to be “commingled.” Consequently, practitioners who aspire for Amida’s land in the western quarter should abandon practice of sundry good acts and perform the truly determining act of saying the name.