I often receive questions about faith or the Three Minds. People say that they can't firmly believe in the Pure Land or Amida Buddha, and ask me for advice.
In my experience, there are three factors that deepen our faith.
First, you should continue the practice of Nembutsu even if you don't firmly believe in the Pure Land or Amida. It is important to chant "Namu Amida Bu(tsu)" aloud and to listen to the voice.
You are chanting Nembutsu according to the 18th Vow of Amida. When you say, "Namu Amida Bu(tsu)," you are following the Pure Land Path with faith consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, with the practice of Nembutsu, the faith in yourself is growing and someday you will realize that you are in the Light of Amida.
Continue the practice of the Nembutsu even if you have doubts. It’s OK to have doubts.
Second, a kind of relationship deepens our faith. Imagine that you are meeting Amida Buddha in person. In that relationship the issue of the faith is resolved because Amida Buddha is not an object of faith but something that exists in front of you. Even if you don't really meet Him, you might meet Amida and Sakyamuni through reading sutras and have a relationship with them. Such a relationship deepens our faith.
Next, there is a relationship between master and disciple. Honen Shonin realized the meaning of the 18th Vow under the guidance of Master Shan-tao. Shinran Shonin obtained Shinjin in the relationship with Honen Shonin. I think that the relationship between master and disciple is sometimes more important than the doctrine itself. The doctrine can become profound or shallow depending on the relationship in which the doctrine is transferred. If we can have a personal relationship with Honen Shonin or Shinran Shonin, the Pure Land faith will become very strong.
Then, there is a relationship with people in the Pure Land. If we continue the practice of Nembutsu, we can meet not only Amida Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, but also Honen Shonin and Shinran Shonin. Most of Nembutsu followers in Japan believe that they can see deceased family and friends in the Pure Land again. This kind of personal relationship also deepens our faith.
Try to recite the Nembutsu while contemplating these relationships.
The third factor that deepens our faith is understanding. Understanding of one's present position and the direction to go makes our faith firm.
The teachings of Buddhism (the Four Noble Truths, self-attachment, endless circle of transmigration in the six realms, etc.) make us understand where we are now, and how far we are from spiritual awakening. In His teachings, the awakened One, Sakyamuni Buddha, shows us many ways to wake up. Which way should we follow?
When we learn these teachings in association with our real life, we come to understand that the Pure Land Buddhism is the only way we can follow. Although we don't need to be concerned with complicated doctrines, by understanding why we are following the Pure Land Way, we will affirm that it is the only way for us.
The practice of Nembutsu, a kind of relationship, and understanding ourselves and the teachings -- those factors will deepen our faith.☸