Master Sheng Yen talks from the view-point of the Path of Sages, not from that of a Pure Land practitioner. (All due respects to him, i eve n had the chance in 2003 to give him a personal tour of the Hongwanji) For us Shin Buddhists, once we attain birth in the Pure Land (= attain enlightenment), we also return to not only this Saha world, but also any other worlds we have affinity with to work for the sentient beings there.
Second is Amida's directing of virtue for our return to this world. This is the benefit we receive, the state of benefiting and guiding others. It arises from the Vow of necessary attainment of the rank of succession to Buddhahood, also know as "the Vow of succession to Buddhahood after one lifetime." It may further be called "the Vow of directing virtue for our return to this world." Since this Vow appears in the Commentary on the Treatise, I (Shinran) will not quote it here; see the passages from the Commentary [that follow].
The Treatise on the Pure Land states:
Concerning "the fifth gate of emergence": With great compassion, one observes all sentient beings in pain and affliction, and assuming various transformed bodies to guide them, enters the gardens of birth-and-death and the forests of blind passions; freely sporting there with transcendent powers, one attains the state of teaching and guiding. This is brought about by the directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow; it is called "the fifth gate of emergence."
The Commentary on the Treatise states:
"Directing virtue for return to this world" means that after being born in that land, fulfilling samatha and vipasyana, and gaining the power of compassionate means, one returns and enters the thick forests of birth-and-death, teaches and guides all sentient beings, and brings all to enter the Buddha-way together. Whether with regard to the aspect for going forth or the aspect for return, all is entirely for the sake of bringing sentient beings across the ocean of birth-and-death. Thus it is stated, "It is to fulfil the mind of great compassion, taking the directing of virtue as foremost."
Also, as Tan-luan 曇鸞 wrote:
The Commentary on Vasubandhu's Treatise on the Pure Land states:
Reverently contemplating the Commentary on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages of Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, I find it stated that there are two paths by which bodhisattvas seek the stage of non-retrogression - the path of difficult practice and the path of easy practice.
With the path of difficult practice, it is seeking non-retrogression in this world of five defilements at a time when there is no Buddha that is difficult. This difficulty appears in many ways; I will indicate what is meant by roughly listing several of them.
* The apparent good practiced in non-buddhist ways is confused with the dharma of the bodhisattva.
* The sravaka's concentration on self-benefit diverts a bodhisattva's practice of great compassion.
* Evildoers lacking self-reflection subvert the excellent merits of others.
* The results of good acts undertaken with inverted thinking nullify the bodhisattva's pure practice for enlightenment.
* The path of difficult practice is based solely on self-power and lacks the support of Other Power.
Such problems as these, which may be seen everywhere, are examples of the difficulty. Thus the path of difficult practice may be compared in its hardship to journeying overland on foot.
In the path of easy practice, one aspires to be born in the Pure Land with solely one's entrusting oneself to the Buddha as the cause, and allowing oneself to be carried by the power of the Buddha's Vow, quickly attains birth in the land of purity. Supported by the Buddha's power, one immediately enters the group of the truly settled of the Mahayana. The stage of the truly settled is none other than the stage of non-retrogression. Thus the path of easy practice may be compared in its comfort to being carried over waterways in a ship.
This treatise, the Upadesa on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, indeed holds the ultimate of the Mahayana; it is a sail with which to catch the favorable wind toward non-retrogression.
"Immeasurable Life" is a name of the Tathagata of the Pure Land of happiness. Sakyamuni Buddha, while residing at Rajagrha and Sravasti, taught the assembly about the virtues that adorn the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. The Buddha's Name forms the essence of those sutras. Later, the sage Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, reverently heeding [Sakyamuni] Tathagata's greatly compassionate teaching, composed a gatha of aspiration for birth in the Pure Land based on these sutras.
Also, there is a great misunderstanding by many masters, past and contemporary, to the passage in the Amida Sutra which you quoted below, for there is a version of the commonly used Amida Sutra (Kamarajiva's translation) with an extra 21 Chinese characters.
Master Yüan-chao's Commentary on the Amida Sutra states:
The Tathagata seeks to clarify the excellence of virtue of holding to the Name. First, other good acts are criticized and labeled "small roots of good." If performed without true trust, all meritorious acts - including charity, observance of the precepts, temple construction, making images, worship and chanting, seated meditation, repentance, and ascetic practices - are only small good acts, even though they are directed toward birth with aspiration for the Pure Land. They are not the cause of birth. If one holds steadfast to the Name in accord with this sutra, one will definitely attain birth. We know then that saying the Name is possessed of many roots of good and many merits.
I formed this understanding long ago, but people hesitated to accept it because of their doubts. Recently, I have obtained a copy of the sutra as engraved on a stone monument at Hsiang-yang and find that this text corresponds perfectly with the truth. Thus people have begun to embrace a deep faith. The inscribed text states:
Good sons and daughters, hearing the teaching of Amida Buddha, solely say the Name single-heartedly, without being disturbed by other thoughts. Because one says the Name, all one's evils are eradicated. It is the act of many roots of good, many virtues, and many merits.
(The above quote is found in Yuan-chao's Commentary on the Amida Sutra)
And, in Jodo Shin, the last moment of death is not seen as important as in the other Pure Land schools.
The idea of Amida's coming at the moment of death is for those who seek to gain birth in the Pure Land by doing various practices, for they are practicers of self-power. The moment of death is of central concern to such people, for they have not yet attained true shinjin. We may also speak of Amida's coming at the moment of death in the case of those who, though they have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses throughout their lives, encounter a teacher in the hour of death and are led at the very end to utter the nembutsu.
The practicer of true shinjin, however, abides in the stage of the truly settled, for he or she has already been grasped, never to be abandoned. There is no need to wait in anticipation for the moment of death, no need to rely on Amida's coming. At the time shinjin becomes settled, birth too becomes settled; there is no need for the deathbed rites that prepare one for Amida's coming.
"Right-mindedness," then, is the settling of the shinjin of the universal Primal Vow. Because of the realization of this shinjin, a person necessarily attains the supreme nirvana. Shinjin is the mind that is single; the mind that is single is the diamondlike mind; the diamondlike mind is the mind aspiring for great enlightenment; and this is Other Power that is true Other Power.
There are, in addition, two other types of right-mindedness: that achieved through meditative and that through nonmeditative practices. These are right-mindedness of self-power within Other Power. The terms "meditative good" and "nonmeditative good" are used with reference to birth through various practices and indicate the good practices of self-power within Other Power.
Without awaiting Amida's coming, the practicer of self-power will not attain birth even into the borderland, or the womblike birth, or the realm of indolence. For this reason Amida created the Nineteenth Vow, vowing to appear at the moment of death to welcome people who wish to attain birth by directing the merit of their accumulated good toward the Pure Land. Thus, it is the person endeavoring in meditative or nonmeditative practices who must be concerned about awaiting the moment of death and attaining birth through Amida's coming.
The shinjin of the selected Primal Vow has nothing to do with either "thought" or "no-thought." "Thought" refers to meditation on the color and form of an object; "no-thought" means that no form is conceived and no color visualized, so that there is no thought whatever. These are both teachings of the Path of Sages. The Path of Sages comprises teachings that people who have already attained Buddhahood preach in order to encourage us; it includes such schools as the Busshin, Shingon, Tendai, Kegon, and Sanron, which are said to be the ultimate developments of the Mahayana. The Busshin school is the presently growing Zen school. There are also the accomodated Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, such as the Hosso, Jojitsu, and Kusha. These are all teachings of the Path of Sages. "Accomodated teachings" are those that Buddhas and bodhisattvas, who have already attained Buddhahood, promote by temporarily manifesting themselves in various forms; this is the meaning of the word "accomodated."
The Pure Land teaching also includes doctrines of "thought" and "no-thought," although here "thought" refers to nonmeditative good and "no-thought" to meditative good. "No-thought" in the Pure Land school, then, is quite different from that of the Path of Sages. "No-thought" of the Path of Sages also includes a doctrine of "thought" as visualization. Please ask someone about the full implications of this.
In the Pure Land teaching there are the true and the provisional. The true is the selected Primal Vow. The provisional teaches the good of meditative and nonmeditative practices. The selected Primal Vow is the true essence of the Pure Land way; good practices, whether meditative or nonmeditative, are provisional ways. The true essence of the Pure Land way is the consummation of Mahayana Buddhism; the provisional gateways of expedience include the other Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, accomodated and real.
The teachers of Sakyamuni numbered one hundred and ten; this is stated in the Garland Sutra.
Kencho 3 , Intercalary ninth month, 20th day