The truth is, Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land can be reached instantly – provided that the appropriate provisions are in place. Both in the ancient days and modern times, there are many real life cases of devout Pure Land practitioners, who are able to declare their exact time of departure, way before their calm and composed passing – usually with the manifestations of many wondrous auspicious signs too. This practice of giving an early declaration serves to exemplify control over the moment of death, to prepare family and friends, and to inspire them of the efficacy of Pure Land practice. What makes it even more remarkable is that these practitioners are not always very old, sick or dying.
Why is it then, that many Pure Land practitioners depart only when they are old or sick? This is so as they procrastinate seeking birth in Pure Land. You might wonder why they procrastinate since they already took up the Pure Land practice. It is due to attachment to Samsara – be the subjects loved ones, material things, goals, status, wealth or such. As long as there is substantial attachment that holds one back in Samsara, one cannot take birth in Pureland. The aspiration to reach Pure Land must be stronger than any wish to stay in Samsara. This is also part of what is meant by single-mindedness without confusion.
In brief, we require single-mindedness of the Three Provisions to be born in Pureland – unshakable Faith in the ability to reach Pure Land, unshakeable Aspiration to reach Pure Land and unshakeable Practice to reach Pureland. While many devout Pure Land practitioners have adequate Faith in the reality of Pure Land and Amitabha’s vows to guide them there, most lack Aspiration to seek birth immediately. This is why they are still here! All hope is not lost though – because when they get older or even sick in time to come, it is natural for the Aspiration to strengthen, in turn strengthening Practice – which leads to single-mindedness without confusion. There is no better choice than to practise well then!
If a devout Pure Land practitioner is given a form to fill in, chances are that s/he will tick all three boxes labeled ‘ Do you have Faith in your ability to reach Pureland?  Do you have the Aspiration to reach Pure Land?  Do you Practise to reach Pure Land?’ Despite this, s/he is not in Pure Land now – because these three provisions are inadequate in some ways. As shown above, many do not have enough Aspiration in the moment. In other cases, many do not have enough Faith that Pure Land can be reached instantly. In most cases, all Three Provisions are inadequate to varying extents.
Even when participating in extensive Pure Land retreats, so long as there is inadequate Aspiration to reach Pure Land there and then, one will not take birth – due to a subtle sense of procrastination, due to wanting to settle many other worldly matters first, before departing when comfortably old and retired! This is not to say such retreats are useless, for they offer very important opportunities to practise mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha well. The better practised one is, the likelier is it that one can depart readily and confidently in time to come for Pure Land. In the mean time, there is indeed no need to wait till we are old, sick or dying to practise more diligently – especially since old age and sickness can create more obstacles which hinder ease of practice. As Venerable Master Ou Yi (the Ninth Patriarch of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism) inspiringly said,
‘Why do we have to wait until our life in the mundane world is over before we can be born in the Pure Land’s jewel ponds? All we have to do is to develop Faith and Vows (Aspiration) and recite the Buddha-name (Practice) right now, and the lotus bud in which we will be born in the Pure Land is already in bloom, and the image of the Pure Land’s golden dais [platform] appear before us – at that moment we are no longer inhabitants of this mundane world.’ ‘Amitabha’s vows of compassion are certainly not empty promises.’
Whether it is easy or difficult to reach Pure Land depends all on how adequate you are in your Three Provisions. The general accumulation of merits and wisdom via practice of compassion with study of the Dharma is important too. When all are adequate in the moment, birth in Pure Land is guaranteed. We need to remember too, that the Pure Land method is taught by all Buddhas (as stated in the Amitabha Sutra) to benefit as many beings as possible. It would be foolish to imagine it is a method very difficult to practise, while it would also be foolish to imagine it is a method too simple to practise. It is really both simple and profound!