Question: Is going Pure Land selfish, versus returning to Samsara?
Answer: We should understand Pure Land accurately as the best Dharma school for training us to be Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, as run by a Buddha (Amituofo), whose efforts are endorsed by all other Buddhas, who also recommend us to be born there. Just as we would not think a child going to school is being selfish, being born in Pure Land is not either. It is with further and better education in school that the child can be fully equipped with the necessary skills to be o0f benefit to society, instead of possibly ending up as a social problem, a burden to society. Likewise, entering Pure Land is for education – that is spiritual in nature, for perfecting compassion and wisdom to better guide other beings to liberation upon return to Samsara. Going is for returning better!
Some might argue that Samsara is the best ‘school’ for spiritual practice, as it poses the most challenges. However, if this is so, we would not be sending our children to school, since the ‘university of real life’, with its hard knocks, temptations and distractions is the so-called best ‘school’? Of course, it is only sensible for children to enrol in an environment where there is systematic learning first, before entering society. Samsara is actually the toughest school, and the reality is that, relatively speaking, not many fare well without good spiritual schooling. Even if they fare reasonably well, they can do even much better (and faster) by going Pure Land for further training with the best teachers in the environment with the most skilful teaching aids.
Therefore, to seek birth in Pure Land is not selfish. In fact, it is an expression of selflessness when driven by Bodhicitta – this aspiration would be based on wanting to enter the best Dharma school for the best training for best helping of all beings in Samsara. The misconception that seeking birth in Pure Land is selfish arises from the idea that the stay there is permanent (as an end in itself) or that it would take a long time to return to Samsara. Both ideas are wrong as no skilful schooling process (as a means) takes forever, and the best school takes the least time for training its students. It is stated in the Infinite Life Sutra that it is possible to return to Samsara at any time, as one wishes, even if one has yet to complete training, just as it is to return to Pure Land at any time – but one must reach there first.
The real selfishness is to be lacking in wisdom, being impetuous with misplaced courage, to assume one is ready to return to Samsara as one is, without the further proper training that all great Bodhisattvas encourage. This is selfish because not only might one not be truly capable of guiding other beings to liberation, one might need more guidance from others under more tedious teaching and learning circumstances! Returning to Samsara unprepared also means entering more deeply into the Dharma-ending Age, where it will be harder to learn and practise the Dharma, which endangers the continuity and growth of spiritual life. Generally speaking, in any age away from the Buddha’s time, it becomes increasingly dangerous, which is why seeking birth in Pure Land is always worthy.
Returning to Samsara unenlightened (in contrast to returning from Pure Land enlightened) also makes ones susceptible to the recurring problem of three lifetimes (see second related article below), merely going through cyclical rebirths with a false sense of spiritual progress. There is also karmic uncertainty – one might be born in a worse condition, that makes it more difficult to practise the Dharma. Even being born in conditions that are samsarically excellent might lead to spiritual complacency. Due to the interruption of death, most will forget the Dharma learnt in past lives too. It is precisely due to all these problems that make liberation in Samsara, much more difficult, much more guiding others with our severe limitations. This is exactly why Pure Land was created, to bypass these obstacles.
Some believe that if one already has a good Dharma teacher in Samsara, who also vows to keep returning to Samsara, it would be safe to return to continue learning from this teacher. However, the above obstacles (Dharma-ending age, negative karma and forgetfulness) still exist, and can obstruct one from finding the teacher. The same obstacles exist for the teacher if he or she is not a highly accomplished practitioner. There are some recognised as tulkus (reborn masters) who show some reluctance in furthering Dharma learning and practice, probably due to having forgotten their past lives. If this is possible even for some tulkus, it is much more so for most ordinary practitioners, who will have no one deliberately searching for them, to spiritually re-educate and nurture them in their next lives.
The Fastest Way To Buddhahood Is Via Birth In Pure Land
Are You ‘Recycling’ Yourself Every Three Lifetimes?