Question: I heard that those who practise recitation of related chants (such as Om Mani Padme Hung) can be born in Amituofo’s Pure Land as long as they dedicate their merits for this purpose (see https://purelanders.com/2011/12/16/some-frequently-asked-pure-land-questions). What about non-Buddhists, e.g. a Christian, if he has the mentality that Pure Land is the same as the Christian concept of heaven, and if he recites the name of ‘Jesus’ and/or ‘Lord (God)’, and dedicates merits to be born in Pure Land? Can he reach Pure Land?
Answer: All Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice are needed for birth in Pure Land. Dedication of merits done properly will have these three elements within, as these merits are possible only with right Practice based on right Faith, and the dedication itself is the expression of right Aspiration for birth in Pure Land.
True Christians (who study Christianity properly) do not think of the heaven they want to go as being similar to Pure Land in its features (or they would not be true Christians), just as true Buddhists do not think of Pure Land as being similar to any heaven (as all heavens are greatly inferior). To know more about the vast differences between heavens and Pure Lands, please see https://purelanders.com/2011/12/15/the-differences-between-heavens-pure-lands. (Please note that is in the context of Buddhism.)
Most Christians do not practise recitation of the name of Jesus and/or God in terms of aiming for calm single-mindedness, though there might be some quality of sincerity. They do not practise dedication of merits too, though there might be some quality of wishing to reach the heaven they believe to exist. In Buddhism, it is impossible to reach a heaven merely by faith if there is inadequate self-generated positive karma to create conditions to deserve rebirth there.
Christian faith is in terms of a creator God (and/or his son) who is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient, but there is no such faith in Buddhism, because such a being was taught by the Buddha to not exist. To know more about why this is so, please see http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/12/did-the-universe-have-a-creator and its related articles. If faith is misplaced, the aspiration and practice that follows will likewise be so. Being thus misaligned from reality, such a person will not be able to reach Pure Land, which is aligned with truth.
The criteria for the Three Provisions for birth in Pure Land is very specific, which Christians do not uphold. To know more about these specific requirements, please see https://purelanders.com/2010/04/01/the-three-provisions-of-faith-aspiration-practice. In short, though Christians might have ‘faith, aspiration and practice’ of some sense in their own terms, they are not appropriate enough for birth in Pure Land. As Pure Land is created by the perfect compassion and wisdom of Amituofo, and taught by the Buddha of his own initiative, it is impossible for unenlightened beings (Buddhists or non-Buddhists) to even ‘accidentally’ happen to have the Three Provisions without first learning about them.
If a Christian, for some strange reason happens to substitute God’s name for his right understanding and Faith in Amituofo, substitutes the right concept of Pure Land with the term ‘heaven’ in his mind, which he aspires to go to, and recites the substituted name ‘properly’ for his Practice, he might be able to reach Pure Land – but only theoretically, and not necessarily practically – because this is only very indirect ‘mindfulness of Amituofo’ theoretically.
Why any Christian would happen or want to do this would be very bizarre indeed. It would be like insisting on calling an apple an orange while actually thinking of an apple. One’s mind is thus most likely confused. With such a mind-state, one cannot reach Pure Land. We also need to note that the core practice to reach Pure Land is via mindfulness of Amituofo’s name for focus. Amituofo also vowed to receive those who are mindful of his name. Using other indirect means of mindfulness (other than related mantras, names of assisting Buddhas and Bodhisattvas) is risky.
Labels aside, if a Christian suddenly agrees with the Pure Land teachings upon hearing them, and all Three Provisions are present on his deathbed, he can indeed be reborn in Pure Land. In that moment before death, he is actually already a Buddhist in principle and practice. The short answer to the question is that anyone who truly has the Three Provisions can reach Pure Land – but they must truly be present in the correct way. This is why it is so central to pay attention to nurturing the Three Provisions in order to be born in Pure Land.
Q: If those of other religions practise all the teachings taught by their saints, such as do all good deeds (e.g. similar to how Buddhist observe the precepts) and do their own prayers, and dedicate all merits accumulated to be reborn in Pure Land or heaven (if they insist that Pure Land is a heaven, only different in name), can they reach Pure Land?
A: If we study the teachings of various religions deeply, we will realise that not all their ‘saints’ teach the same teachings in terms of goodness (good deeds). For example, in Christianity, the Bible says ‘God’ (not that he exists, in the Buddhist perspective) created animals for humans to eat. As such, it is deemed ‘okay’ to kill animals. This directly breaks the first precept in Buddhism. (Much killing creates much negative karma, which hampers birth in Pure Land if there is inadequate repentance in time.) This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other moral differences between the various religions. This is the ‘goodness’ or ‘merits’ department.
When it comes to the truth department, there are even more differences. E.g. No religion other than Buddhism teaches the existence of Pure Land(s) as the Buddha taught. To summarise, in terms of perfect compassion (linked to goodness) and wisdom (linked to truth), again in the Buddhist perspective, all religions fall short of the Buddha’s teachings – which means where they can reach is limited.
No one who is serious and respectful about learning his own religion and Buddhism will insist his religion’s idea of heaven is the same as the Buddhist teaching of Pure Land. Why so? Because no non-Buddhist religion describes a heaven to be just like Pure Land, while the Buddha clearly said Pure Land is beyond any usual heavens. Insisting that Pure Land is the same as a non-Buddhist concept of heaven is thus a serious delusion. Those who are lazy to learn properly often lump different concepts of ‘paradises’ together. (They should see this article to correct their thinking: https://purelanders.com/2011/12/15/the-differences-between-heavens-pure-lands)
To dedicate limited merits based on limited goodness (due to the shortcomings of the measure of goodness, as above for example), and especially erroneous Faith will not lead to Pure Land. For example, if I believe a train will go West when it actually goes North, no matter how much merits I accumulate (do good), and how much I believe (have Faith) and wish (have Aspiration) that it will lead me West, the train will not do so. Even if I keep riding it a thousand times (representing continuous Practice), the destination will never be reached.
To say the differences between Pure Land and the usual concept of heaven are only in name is ridiculous if the meanings of the names are defined differently in the first place. Using the train example again, it is like saying West and North are the same direction, but different in name only, when they are worlds apart. For this reason, we should ‘call a spade a spade’, and not anything else, to prevent further misrepresentation and confusion. There is no other religion that defines the heavens (26 of them) as detailedly as Buddhism, and Pure Land clearly surpasses them. Also, no practitioner of other religions manifest complete auspicious signs of being born in Pure Land.
Once again, ‘anyone who truly has the Three Provisions can reach Pure Land – but they must truly be present in the correct way. This is why it is so central to pay attention to nurturing the Three Provisions in order to be born in Pure Land.’