The Larger Sutra states: “If, when I attain buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, with sincere mind entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land, and saying my name even but ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment.” In his Methods of Contemplation on Amida Buddha, Shandao interprets this passage in a paraphrase: “If, when I attain buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters aspire to be born in my land and say my name even ten times, entrusting themselves to the power of my vow, and yet should not attain birth, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment…”

Each buddha makes two kinds of vows, those common to all and those specific to themselves. Those in common are the four universal vows. The specific are, for example, the five hundred great vows of Shakyamuni or the twelve superior vows of Medicine-Teacher Buddha. The forty-eight vows are the specific vows of Amida…

The Larger Sutra of Amida Buddha states: “The buddha World-Sovereign [Lokeshvararaja] selected qualities from the good and bad of the devas and humans in all the twenty-one billion buddha-lands and from the comeliness and disagreeableness of the lands themselves in order that bodhisattvaDharma-Repository [Dharmakara] might select the vows for what he desired in his heart…”

The term “select” in this passage implies adopting, on the one hand, and discarding, on the other. The bodhisattva Dharma-Repository [who became Amida Buddha] discarded the reprehensible qualities of the humans and devas of the twenty-one billion pure lands of the buddhas and adopted their good qualities; he discarded the disagreeable qualities of the lands and adopted their comeliness…

The meaning of selection and adoption may be discussed with regard to each of the forty-eight vows… Concerning the eighteenth vow of birth through the nembutsu, among the lands of the various buddhas, there is one for which charity is the practice resulting in birth there, and another for which it is the observance of precepts. There is a land for which patience is the practice for birth there, another for which it is perseverance, another for which it is meditation, and yet another for which it is wisdom… There are lands for which erecting stupa-towers and creating buddha-images, or alms-giving to mendicants, or filial piety and veneration of teachers and elders are each the practice resulting in birth there…

 

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Thus, a variety of practices result in birth in the different lands; it is impossible to state them in detail. The bodhisattva Dharma-Repository selected out and discarded the various practices mentioned above—charity, precepts, filial piety and so on—and selected out and adopted the wholehearted saying of the Buddha’s name. Hence the term “selection…”