Reciting the buddha-name functions as a powerful antidote to those great enemies of clear awareness that Buddhists have traditionally labeled “oblivion” and “scattering.” “Oblivion” refers to the tendency of the human mind when not occupied by its habitual thoughts to sink into a state of torpor and sleepy nescience. “Scattering” is the other pole of ordinary mental life, where the consciousness flies off in all directions pursuing objects of thought and desire.
Through the centuries, those who practice it have found that buddha-name recitation is a much more beneficial use of mind than the ordinary run of hopes and fears that would otherwise preoccupy their minds. Calm focus replaces agitation and anxiety, producing a most invigorating saving of energy. “Mixed mindfulness is the disease. Mindfulness of buddha is the medicine.”
According to the Pure Land teaching, all sorts of evil karma are dissolved by reciting the buddha-name wholeheartedly and single-mindedly. What is karma? In Buddhist terms, “karma” means “deeds,” “actions.” Through sequences of cause and effect, what we do and what those we interact with do determines our experience and shapes our perceptions, which in turn guides our further actions.
Habitual patterns of perception and behavior build up and acquire momentum. Now we are in the grips of “karmic consciousness,” so-called because it is a state of mind at once the result of past deeds and the source of future deeds. This is the existential trap from which all forms of Buddhist practice aim to extricate us.
According to the Pure Land teaching, buddha-name recitation is more effective for this purpose than any other practice, and can be carried out by anyone. The key is being single-minded, focusing the mind totally on Amitabha, and thus interrupting the onward flow of karmic consciousness. This is where Zen and Pure Land meet.
All Classes Go to the Pure Land
Buddha-name recitation enables all classes of people to attain birth in the Pure Land, from the most virtuous Buddhist saints, to those who are incapable of meritorious actions and do not develop the aspiration for enlightenment.
In Pure Land terminology, ‘nine classes” go to the Pure Land. The highest class are those who achieve the traditional goals of Buddhism–that is, who free themselves from desire, observe the precepts, and practice the six perfections of giving, discipline, forbearance, energetic progress, meditation and wisdom. The lowest class who go to the Pure Land are those who keep on, as wayward human animals, piling up evil karma and committing all kinds of sins: even they can attain birth in the Pure Land, if only they focus their minds and recite the buddha-name.
Buddha-name recitation in itself dissolves away evil karma, no matter how serious – so say the Pure Land teachings. Infinity lies latent in the gaps within moment-to-moment mundanity – in the Zen formulation. But above all it is the power of Amitabha that makes birth in the Pure Land possible for sinners as well as saints, because Amitabha has vowed to save all who faithfully and single-mindedly invoke his name.
Quoted from Pure Land Pure Mind translated by J.C. Cleary