If there are beings, who hear of this teaching,
they should aspire, to be born in that [Pure] Land.
– Amitabha Sutra (The Buddha)
Who has been to Amituofo’s Pure Land (Amitabha Buddha’s pure realm manifested from his perfect compassion, wisdom and merits for guiding beings to liberation) and back? How do we know if it really exists?
Well, if someone not particularly special in any way tells us he has returned from Pure Land, we will tend to doubt him. Why so? If he describes Pure Land as it is already described in the sutras taught by the Buddha, we will wonder what is the point of listening to his repeated description. However, if he describes Pure Land in ways not described in the sutras, we will doubt him all the more, since they were not mentioned by the Buddha!
Yet, there are especially great masters, such as the 13th Pure Land Patriarch Great Master Yin Guang, who was able to expound on the Pure Land teachings in detail… because he was, as widely believed, from Pure Land, being a manifestation of Dashizhi (Mahasthamaprapta: Great Strength) Bodhisattva. The best proof of this identity, as revealed after his departure, are his great abilities and efforts to encourage countless to practise the Pure Land teachings effectively.
There are some who have direct glimpses or visions of Pure Land when they practise mindfulness of Buddha well – before being born there. Those who have returned after training would be Bodhisattvas, who will never reveal their identities just for attention, but let their Dharma teachings and exemplary actions speak for their worth instead. This is in line with Sakyamuni Buddha’s strict instructions in the Surangama Sutra (楞严经) below, given out of great compassion and wisdom to guide us away from the ill influences of those who make false claims for selfish gain of fame and fortune, who confuse the masses with corrupted ‘Dharma’ teachings –
‘After my Parinirvana, I decree that all Bodhisattvas and Arhats, are to manifest bodily forms to be born in that midst of the Dharma Ending Age [which is our era now], creating various forms, to liberate all [beings] from the cycle [of birth and death]. Perhaps as sramanas [monastics], white-robed laypersons, human kings, officials, young boys or young girls. As such, even as prostitutes, widows, thieves or butchers, with them working together, praising the Buddha vehicle [for Buddhahood], enabling their bodies and minds to enter samadhi [meditative concentration]. To the end, never personally saying oneself is truly a Bodhisattvas, or truly an Arhats, [which is] leaking the Buddha’s secret [skilful hidden] cause, [by] speaking carelessly to those yet to learn [the Dharma well]. Only with the exception of at the end of life, can there be secret [discreet] bequeathing [to inspire one ‘last’ time]. How can such ones delude or confuse sentient beings, or create great false speech?… Thus as I have said, is named the Buddhas’ speech [teachings]. Not thus as said, is Papiyan’s [Mara: the evil one] speech.’
‘我灭度后, 敕诸菩萨及阿罗汉, 应身生彼末法之中, 作种种形, 度诸轮转。或作沙门白衣居士, 人王宰官, 童男童女, 如是乃至淫女寡妇, 奸偷屠贩, 与其同事, 称赞佛乘, 令其身心入三摩地。终不自言我真菩萨, 真阿罗汉, 泄佛密因, 轻言末学。唯除命终，阴有遗付。云何是人惑乱众生, 成大妄语? … 如我所说，名为佛说。不如此说, 即波旬说。’
Following this rule, when we look around in the ‘spiritual marketplace’ today, those who egoistically self-proclaim to be the ‘greatest teachers’, ‘Arhats’, ‘Bodhisattvas’ or ‘Buddhas’ are straightaway not even proper disciples of the Buddha, much less to say, qualified representatives of his teachings. The limitless manifestations in the flesh as valid skilful means for reaching out include any possible identity other than as enlightened beings. (In the Varjrayana tradition, even though some masters are popularly believed to be manifestations of enlightened beings, they do not claim so personally.)
Back to the opening questions, the truth is, even if there is no Pure Land, mindfulness of Buddha has to, by default, lead to the best rebirth as we create merits that ride upon his boundless merits, as there is no safer or more meritorious subject for mindfulness of, especially on the deathbed, than a Buddha with perfect compassion and wisdom. Amituofo was spoken of by Sakyamuni Buddha in almost 300 interconnected sutras.
Those who practise mindfulness of Buddha very well can depart for Pure Land at will before becoming old, sick or dying; when healthy, young and thus very much alive instead. From ancient history to this modern day, there continues to be increase in already innumerable records of sincere practitioners who have done so. They manifest many classic auspicious signs of birth in Pure Land, such as by departing very blissfully, joyfully citing the arrival of Amituofo (sometimes with accompanying Bodhisattvas). Such passing must karmically lead to that most blissful realm they aspire to reach – his Pure Land.
Some give way advanced yet accurate announcements of their departure dates and times too. This is very powerful evidence for the efficacy of Pure Land practice because for ordinary beings, with the Three Poisons of strong attachment (to samsaric life), aversion (to dying) and delusion (of the afterlife), it is impossible to calmly and clearly know and say when they will depart, if not, as testified by them, due to having been personally informed by Amituofo of when he will arrive to guide them to his Pure Land. These advance notices are also Amituofo’s skilful means to continually inspire us to have greater faith in him, his Pure Land and Pure Land practice!
If there are good men and good women, who hear [learn] of Amita Buddha [Amitabha Buddha; Amituofo], firmly [faithfully] uphold [practise mindfulness of] his name… wholeheartedly [single-mindedly] and without confusion [being scattered], when they approach the end of life, Amita Buddha, with an assembly of noble beings, will appear before them. When their lives [are] end[ing], their minds will not be inverted, and they will immediately attain birth in Amita Buddha’s [Pure] Land of Ultimate Bliss.
– Amitabha Sutra (The Buddha)
其人临命终时, 阿弥陀佛, 与诸圣众, 现在其前。
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