Generally, it is not a must to be vegetarian to go to Pure Land, as this is not stated explicitly in the key Pure Land sutras. However it can also be interpreted that to ‘compassionately refrain from killing’ (慈心不杀) as part of the Three Acts of Merits (See http://purelanders.com/2010/03/15/three-acts-of-merit-true-causes-for-pure-karma/), which are required for birth in Pure Land, when expanded and practised fully implies vegetarianism – since killing of animals is done by others only when there is demand for their meat.
As such, it is of course best to be vegetarian – as this reduces creation of negative karma while vegetarianism itself is a practice of compassion that and helps accumulate merits for a smoother rebirth in Pure Land. Thus, the encouragement of relatives and friends to be vegetarian, including during their last days is wise – because they would need all the merits they can gather then, while the last thing needed would be negative karma from heavy meat-eating bearing fruit.
For newcomers to the Pure Land teachings, vegetarianism is usually less emphasised, lest this puts off meat-lovers and distracts them from the core teachings – though it should be encouraged skilfully in good time too – at least, in terms of meat reduction. We need to remember that on one hand, those of the lowest grade of birth, who have done great evil, such as killing of many sentient beings, mostly might not be able to turn vegetarian in time for substantial periods of time to accumulate much merits through this means. However, if they repent their misdeeds and practise mindfulness of Amituofo with proper faith and aspiration, they still can be born in Pure Land with their other existing merits. On the other hand, those bound for the highest grades of birth must have accumulated much merits and have given rise to Bodhicitta. It is a Bodhisattva precept (according to the Brahma Jala Sutra) to be vegetarian too.
As Master Yinguang (the 13th Patriarch of Pure Land Buddhism) advised, ‘Practitioners of Buddha mindfulness ought to be full vegetarians. If this is not possible, one should uphold the 6 or 10 vegetarian [precept] days [when the 8 precepts are encouraged to be observed]. The 8th, 14th, 15th, 23rd, 29th, 30th [of the lunar month] are the 6 vegetarian[precept] days, with the addition of the 1st, 18th, 24th, 28th being the 10 vegetarian[precept] days. When a month has lesser days, one should uphold vegetarianism the day before. Also, the 1st, 5th and 9th lunar months are called the vegetarian [precept] months, which are appropriate for full vegetarianism, for the creating of various merits [which are useful for aiding our birth in Pure Land]. The gradual reduction towards the permanent abstinence of meat is considered reasonable. Though one might not have given up meat totally yet, one should buy [only] available meat [of already slaughtered animals], and ensure to refrain from killing sentient beings at home [which counters 慈心不杀 (compassionately refrain from killing)].
If one craves for meat on the deathbed, and let this disturb one’s mind, it would be difficult to be born in Pure Land. For heavy killers or meat-eaters, there are some cases of animals manifesting as vengeful spirits when they are on their deathbeds. Sometimes, these are actual karmic debtees, while some cases might be the manifestation of suppressed guilt and fear. It can be a mix of both too. When this happens, one should repent sincerely and continue diligent personal practice of Buddha mindfulness, and encourage any beings present to do the same, so as to protect oneself from harm and focus on the common goal of being born in Pure Land. Any ‘help-chanting’ (support-chanting) Buddhist friends should aid accordingly by practising together too.
Can Deathbed Vegetarians Reach Pure Land?