In the actual Pure Land tradition, that is, not as re-interpreted by other traditions [e.g. Chan (Zen) and Wei-shi (Yogacara; Mind-only)] as skilful means to fit their teachings, the proper practice of Buddha mindfulness which enables birth in Amituofo’s Pure Land is based upon both Self-power (our efforts to generate right faith, aspiration and practice) and Other-power (Amituofo’s compassion to share his merits with us, and to receive us, as stated detailedly in his 48 great vows).
Any temporarily and generally experienced ‘pure mind’ is not perfectly equal to Amituofo’s Pure Land per se if one’s mind is not totally purified yet, while Amituofo’s Pure Land is indeed the embodiment of his totally purified mind. Amituofo’s Pure Land is then a tangible place of fine-material, as explicitly described in the sutras and his vows. Since it is only with skilful forms that Pure Land can be a school for training beings to advance towards Buddhahood, this Pure Land is not the same as the formless state of anyone’s ‘pure mind’; Pure Land is somewhere we can take actual birth in.
Simultaneously, this Pure Land is also mind-only (唯心净土) – as manifested from Amituofo’s fully enlightened mind, created with his perfect compassion, wisdom and merits (弥陀净土); not created by our unenlightened minds. It would thus be arrogant to assume that one can create one’s own lasting ‘mind-only Pure Land’ before becoming a Buddha, without accumulating boundless wisdom and merits like all other Buddhas. Samsara, as we experience now, is also mind-only. All worlds, including those in Samsara and all Purelands, are karmically manifested from individual and collective minds. Samsara is sustained by deluded minds, while Purelands by Buddhas’ minds.
When we have experiences (or ‘glimpses’) of Amituofo’s Pure Land, we are connecting our Buddha-nature with the Buddha-nature of Amituofo in the moment. This resonance is possible because our Buddha-nature and Amituofo’s Buddha-nature are of the same true-nature (自性弥陀). However, mere glimpses via practice, of the ‘equivalent’ of Pure Land due to a relatively more pure state of mind do not guarantee birth in Amituofo’s Pure Land if there is no faith in Amituofo and aspiration (vow) to be born there. This is so as faith and aspiration, along with practice, are key collective causes for Pure Land births. If one has neither faith that a place exists, nor any aspiration to go there, whatever one does (practice) will not lead there. [Emphasis by Master Ou-I on the necessity of the three provisions (of faith, aspiration and practice) for birth in Pure Land can be read below.]
‘Glimpses’ of Pure Land are usually very hard to sustain due to our imperfect practice. If so, by the law of cause and effect, it is impossible for these glimpses alone to lead to birth in Pure Land, which presents immeasurable life and many other unsurpassable benefits. Therefore, we need to be deeply humble and remember that the Other-power of Amituofo plays an immeasurably large part in enabling our births in his Pure Land – because our meagre merits alone are never enough to deserve living in his Pure Land (which is created and sustained by his immeasurable compassion and merits). Technically, only Buddhas have enough merits to live in any Pure Land. As such, we require Amituofo to share his merits with us to enable birth and stay in his Pure Land. Taking deluded pride that we do not need his assistance will instead fortify our illusory ego, which creates obstacles against successful birth in Pure Land.
– Shen Shi’an
Importance of All Three Provisions for Birth in Pureland
Only when we believe in the power of Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) can we have deep faith in the merits of his name. Only when we invoke the name of Amituofo can we have deep faith that the True Nature of our own minds [and Amituofo’s] is actually inconceivable. Only when we have this deep faith can we make great vows [aspirations based on Bodhicitta]. The text of the [Amitabha] sutra says sentient beings must take a vow to be born in the Pure Land. This word “must” points to deep faith. Making vows with deep faith is precisely the Mind of Supreme Enlightenment. In sum, faith and vows are truly the guiding compass to the Pure Land. Relying on faith and vows and consistently invoking the Buddha-name is correct practice.
If your faith and vows are solid and strong, then even when you recite [or practise mindfulness of] the Buddha-name only ten times, or only once, as you are on the brink of death, you are sure to attain birth in the Pure Land. Without faith and vows, even if you recite the Buddha-name until [you achieve a level of concentration the Zen literature describes as] “wind cannot enter you and rain cannot wet you” and “you stand like a silver wall or and iron wall”, you will still not have a way to be born in the Pure Land. Those who cultivate Pure Land practices must realize this truth. The Longer Amitabha [Infinite Life] Sutra also takes vows as essential and is identical in meaning to this section.
– Mind-Seal of the Buddhas
(Master Ou-I: Ninth Patriarch of Chinese Pureland Buddhism)