Below is the introduction in ‘The Pure Land Passport’
How To Use This Passport
The approach of death is eventual for everyone, unless we attain enlightenment in this single lifetime, which is not easy at all. What makes it more troubling is that death can strike suddenly, at any moment.
Thus, it is of utmost importance and urgency to prepare how to handle the dying moments – for ourselves, family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers. ‘Death skills’ are just as, if not more indispensable, than many other life skills.
It is especially crucial, right before and after death, to exert right efforts for facilitating smooth and blissful transitions to good rebirths – the best of which are in Āmítuófó’s [Amitā(bha) Buddha] Pure Land.
To prevent possible conflicts of interests in ‘death management’, agreeable readers are encouraged to write and sign their names on the first page, before appointing trustworthy family members and friends to use this book as an instructional guide. This wish should be announced to others who might be involved as well.
Who is Āmítuófó? He is a Buddha, whose name is recommended by every Buddha as the best subject for mindfulness, so as to reach his Pure Land.
Who is a Buddha? A Buddha is a supremely enlightened being, who has awakened to perfect compassion and wisdom for alleviating the suffering of all beings and guiding them to blissful liberation identical to his.
What is mindfulness? In its simplest form, it is to wholeheartedly (single-mindedly) focus on reciting a Buddha’s name, verbally or silently, to develop calm, clear and blissful connection.
What is a Pure Land? It is a magnificent and blissful school created by a Buddha for guiding beings to the goal of True Happiness that all Buddhas attained.
As a skilful means to spur interest, this handy book is titled ‘The Pure Land Passport’ – not because it is really required for entry into Pure Land, but since there is a misconception that one’s usually passport-sized certification booklet received upon taking the Threefold Refuge in the Triple Gem (of the Buddhas, Dharma and Saṅgha) has to be clasped in the hands upon death to reach Pure Land. Of course, this is not the case, as true refuge is in the heart and mind, ultimately needing no documental validation.
That said, merely having taken refuge is not enough for reaching Pure Land. What really required is to give rise to the Three Provisions of unshakeable Faith in Āmítuófó, unwavering Aspiration (Vow) to reach his Pure Land, and the utmost sincere Practice of mindfulness of his name. With utmost sincerity that holds the provisions together and other instructions here, we can surely guide one another to Pure Land!
As further defined in the fifth section of this book, ‘The Three Provisions For Rebirth In Pure Land’ form the true ‘passport’ for Pure Land, with the Three Essentials as supports.
Yet, for the Three Provisions to be powerful, a strong sense of refuge is needed. Even if refuge was not ceremonially taken before the end of life, there should be a genuine sense of faithful refuge in Āmítuófó, who also stands for the Triple Gem in a 3-in-1 way, representing all Buddhas, the Dharma and the Saṅgha.
Before focusing on details, in the second section on ‘Guidance Before Support-Chanting’, is counterintuitive yet critical advice on prioritisation of saving one’s spiritual life over the physical in times of great uncertainty, for a win-win situation. As a cautionary note, the reverse could be lose-lose instead.
In the third section is a translation of the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng’s essay titled ‘The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death [For Birth In Pure Land]’. While many teachers have taught at length on various, and sometimes very elaborate ways to assist the dying to reach Pure Land, what most remarkable about Great Master Yìnguāng’s advice is its concise yet clear nature.
So essential are the streamlined essentials mentioned (with bold text for quick emergency reference) that any less would be in lack, and any more but a bonus. This is thus followed by the fourth section with additional ‘Important Guidelines: Before Dying, During Dying And After Dying’, which include the Three Provisions and Three Essentials in spirit.
The words of the Buddhist Patriarch closest to us in history (1861-1940) offer us a sense of timely relevance. The gravitas of his sincere advice on the grave matter of life, death and rebirth is unmistakable too. As such, we must pay close attention, to better master the instructions for helping one and all.
Essential as the Three Essentials may be for supporting others, for ourselves, may our Three Provisions already be adequate through diligent learning and Practice, as we cannot guarantee we will receive support from others. Our Provisions alone should ideally be all that are essential!
Among other auspicious signs, the most powerful proof of being well-accomplished in the Three Provisions is, as in many wonderful real-life cases, to be able to know and tell in advance, the time of one’s departure for Pure Land.
Such confidence is possible only when practitioners have already received ‘appointment bookings’ from Āmítuófó on when he will be arriving to guide them to his Pure Land.
Historically, the number of such calm, clear and accurate announcements, which show total absence of attachment to this transient life, aversion to death, and delusion of where they are going to is amazingly and assuringly high.
Lest it be mistaken, the Pure Land Practice of being mindful of Āmítuófó is not only for our last moments, but for benefiting everyone in everyday life too. It is the fine-tuning of ourselves towards our Buddha-nature and the Buddha’s blessings, through which we naturally become attuned to the fuller avoidance of all evils, the greater doing of all good, and the more thorough purification of our minds.
It is with ongoing regular Practice too, that we fortify our Three Provisions now, to be more skilled and prepared for the moment of departure.
We sincerely hope you will appreciate this book, and benefit from our efforts to create a definitive translation of Great Master Yìnguāng’s important essay.
We would be most grateful for any suggestions for further improvement. Queries on the Pure Land teachings are also welcomed, along with subscription requests for our free weekly Pure Land newsletter.
There is also a companion course using this book called ‘Destination Pureland: How To Have The Best Rebirth’, that further illuminates upon these contents. Do join us for the next run. As our final wish, may we swiftly reach Pure Land, and return to swiftly guide all to Buddhahood!
Shen Shi’an, MA (Buddhist Studies)
Chief Translator & Author (TDE Team)