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FAQs on Pure Land Budddhism : When the Mind is Pure, the Land is Pure

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  • NamoAmituofo
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      Frequently Asked Questions on Pure Land Buddhism :
      When the Mind is Pure, the Land is Pure



      It is a common Buddhist custom to greet each other with a cheery "Amituofo!", which happens to be the Chinese name of perhaps the most famous Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism, the central figure of the Pure Land tradition. What is it really about?

      What is Pure Land Buddhism?

      The Pure Land tradition is one of the most popular living schools of Buddhism, which has inspired millions of Buddhists for centuries and continue to do so. The essence of the best known Pure Land tradition teaches that if we are adequately mindful of Amitabha Buddha (an ancient Buddha introduced by the historical Shakyamuni Buddha), we can be reborn into an ideal paradisical world created with his compassion and wisdom. In such a world, one can readily learn the Dharma directly from the enlightened, so as to know how to become a Bodhisattva to benefit others, and become nothing less than a fully enlightened Buddha. Due to the nature of pervasive Dharma in Pure Land, enlightenment is guaranteed. The great beauty of this teaching is its relative simplicity in practice, which does not compromise the profoundity of its ultimate goal in terms of all-encompassing compassion and wisdom.

      Is Pure Land Hard to Believe In?

      The Buddha did "warn" in the Amitabha Sutra (one of the three cardinal Pure Land Sutras) that the Pure Land teaching is very difficult to accept in faith. This is probably because it seems wondrously fantastical at first. However, if one takes the time and effort to study the Pure Land scriptures and commentaries by great masters, one cannot help agreeing that it is probably one of the most skilful means ever devised by the Buddhas to firmly direct beings towards liberation. Since the Buddha reminded us that the Pure Land teachings are not easy to believe, it is crucial to develop an open heart and mind to learn about why they are as credible as they might seem incredible! It is also worth remembering that the Buddhas have absolutely no reason to lie to us, and that there are many case studies of Pure Land practitioners, even in our day and age, who have manifested signs of attaining birth in Pure Land.

      Is Pure Land and Amitabha Buddha Real?

      Pure Lands, being natural worlds blessed by the presence and merits of Buddhas, definitely exist. If an unenlightened human being can create a worldly "paradise" in his community, much more possible is it that the perfect Buddhas can create and sustain spiritual paradises to attract like-minded beings. If a being who does not practise the Dharma can karmically create a living hell for himself by his evil deeds, it is infinitely more possible for the Buddhas who have perfected practice of the Dharma to create living paradises by their boundless merits. Thus did the Buddha teach that billions of Pure Lands exist, which only fail to be perceived by beings whose minds are not pure enough. Amitabha Buddha happens to be one of the countless Buddhas with Pure Lands that the Buddha chose to teach us about, due to its excellence.

      Is Pure Land Just Another Heaven?

      While Pure Land is described as heavenly in its surroundings, it is much more than a typical heavenly realm because every element in it reminds its inhabitants of the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha. It thus has a definite direction of directing its beings towards enlightenment. The lifespan of the beings there is also limitless - due to the continual creation of merits by practising the Dharma, as compared to heavens with long but limited spans of existence. Beings in such heavens also generally have a great tendency to become complacent of needing to learn the Dharma, and eventually fall to the lower realms after the exhaustion of merits.

      What is the Main Principle of Pure Land Buddhism?

      One of the ways to sum up the operating principles of Pure Land Buddhism is by this saying - "Mindfulness of Buddha is the cause, becoming a Buddha is the effect". It is described in the scriptures that even the Bodhisattvas of the highest rank need to be mindful of his/her goal of becoming a Buddha. If so, it is surely wise for us to also be as mindful of the Buddha (and his virtues) as much as possible. Doing so, we will more likely be inspired to become like the Buddha, by emulating his great compassion and wisdom. By way of analogy, a fan's enthusiasm over a superstar is somewhat "practising" mindfulness of the superstar. He might not realise that he either wants to be with the superstar, or wants to be a similar superstar. If he is aware of this, he is likely to consciously learn to become like him - or it would be mere "idol-worship"! Likewise, when practising mindfulness of the Buddha, one ultimately aspires to be with a Buddha (in Pure Land, so as to learn from him) and aspires to become a Buddha.

      How Does Birth in Pure Land Work?

      The Buddhas discovered that the most traumatic moment of our lives is actually a pivotal point in determining the destination of our next birth - on our deathbeds - since the nature of our last thoughts will link us to a rebirth of corresponding nature. This is thus a powerful opportunity for directing ourselves to Pure Land, an ideal world for furthering and perfecting our practice of the Dharma. However, this does not means Pure Land Buddhism focuses only on last minute deathbed practice, since how we conduct our lives greatly influences the nature of our last thoughts. For instance if one is habitually angry, one might pass away with great hatred, directing one to an unfortunate realm with pervasive negativity. But if one practises mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha well in daily life, one is more likely to be peacefully mindful of him upon departure, and thus arrive in his Pure Land.

      Is Pure Land Buddhism Only for the Dying?

      Pure Land Buddhism is for those very much young and alive too! As taught by the Pure Land masters, if we practise mindfulness of the Buddha well in this life, it is possible to catch glimpses of Pure Land in our world - for as long as our purity of mind sustains. This is because "when the mind is pure, the land (the world as perceived) is pure". Such inspirational experiences can alter the course of our lives for the better once and for all - when we experience the reality of the Pure Land teachings. All the inevitable suffering of this world then becomes "inconsequential" as we have increased faith in our ability to reach Pure Land, where purity of mind is more easily sustained. The Pure Land teachings do not forsake this world as in the compasionate spirit of the Buddhas, beings in Pure Land are encouraged to return to help teach all beings the path to enlightenment. The emphasis on the importance of having good spiritual roots and cultivating merits as provisions to deserve birth in Pure Land also ensures we do our best to make this world a living Pure Land by our every thought, word and deed. Surely, it is not right to desecrate this world while expecting to deserve a better one.

      How to Practise Pure Land Buddhism?

      Very concisely, one needs to cultivate great faith, aspiration and practice for birth in Pure Land to be possible. We need faith that the Pure Land teachings are true, great aspiration to be born there (to be enlightened, so as to better help all beings), and practise the foundational teachings of Buddhism such as the observation of morality (by the precepts). But most of all, to practise mindfulness of the Buddha by mindful verbal or silent recitation of Amitabha Buddha's name (or remembrance of his virtues). Doing so, we learn to awaken our Buddha-nature (potential to become Buddhas) and function more as a Buddha is likely to - with compassion and wisdom. When mindfulness of the Buddha is practised well, calmness and concentration will arise, which then allows for the realisation of wisdom. It is stated in Amitabha Sutra that if one can be steadily mindful of Amitabha Buddha with uninterrupted one-pointedness for one's final ten thoughts, birth is Pure Land will be assured. It is most wise to habitually practise in everyday life to ensure that these ten pure thoughts will be possible! One should dedicate time daily to study the Pure Land teachings and practise mindfulness of the Buddha as much as possible.

      How Pure Land Practice Leads to Buddhahood

      Below are instructional verses by Venerable Ou Yi, the Ninth Chinese Patriarch of Pure Land Buddhism (蕅益大师), which illustrate how mindfulness of the Buddha perfected remarkably fulfills all the six perfections - which lead to nothing less than Buddhahood.

      Practice of the Six Perfections by Mindfulness of the Buddha:

      真能念佛,放下身心世界,即大布施。
      In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
      letting go of attachment to one's body, mind and the world
      is the great Perfection of Giving.


      真能念佛,不负起贪嗔痴,即大持戒。

      In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
      not giving rise to any thought of greed, hatred or ignorance
      is the great Perfection of Morality.


      真能念佛,不计是非人我,即大忍辱。
      In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
      not being attached to conflicts or hearsay of others and oneself
      is the Great Perfection of Patience.


      真能念佛,不间断不夾杂,即大精進。
      In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
      having neither a slight break of continuity of mindfulness nor any confused thoughts in between
      is the Great Perfection of Effort.


      真能念佛,不
      妄想驰逐,即大禪定。
      In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
      neither giving rise to, driven by nor chasing after stray thoughts
      is the Great Perfection of Concentration.


      真能念佛,不為他歧所惑,即大智慧。

      In true mindfulness of the Buddha,
      not being tempted by any delusion
      is the Great Perfection of Wisdom.

      - Shen Shi'an

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