Question: Is it advisable to not think so much about whether to be reborn in Amituofo’s Pure Land or not, and simply entrust my afterlife’s destination to the Buddha or Bodhisattva I am mindful of?
Answer: Some advocate this idea of leaving options open, to let the enlightened guide us to wherever they think is the most suitable for us, even if it is back to Samsara. One might be thinking along this line – ‘If I should go to Pure Land for further spiritual training, please guide me there, or if I might be of use in helping others in Samsara, please guide me back here.’ This might seem to be a good idea at first, but it is not really so. It is wonderful to have Bodhicitta, to aspire to guide all to Buddhahood, but we have to nurture Bodhicitta fully too, and Pure Land is the best place to do so.
In the Amitabha Sutra, all Buddhas encourage birth in Pure Land. However, we have to personally decide where we wish to go. It is impossible, even for the enlightened, to decide for us. For instance, Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) or Guanyin Pusa (Bodhisattva) cannot ‘send’ us to Pure Land if we lack the wholehearted aspiration to go there. Such aspiration is key, as the second aspect of the Three Provisions (Faith, Aspiration, Practice) for ensuring birth in Pure Land. This aspiration has to be mindfully given rise to. Being ambivalent about going somewhere, how will we reach there for sure?
Continual uncertainty about whether to go Pure Land or not is dangerous as death can arrive at any moment. What appears to be having an open-ended ‘see how it goes’ attitude actually reveals confusion and indecisiveness in the mind, with possible attachment to Samsara’s temptations, along with lack of understanding about the unsurpassable benefits of reaching Pure Land – which together becomes unwillingness to go Pure Land in the guise of being open to other options. However, for those remaining deluded in this way, the only outcome would be falling back into Samsara.
The lack of unequivocal determined aspiration to reach Pure Land makes it impossible to reach Pure Land. While it is possible to some extent, for the Buddha or Bodhisattva we are mindful of on our deathbeds to manifest and urge us to give rise to the aspiration to go Pure Land, a lifelong hesitant or reluctant attitude might be so strong a force of habit that we are unable to reverse it to become resolute and enthusiastic aspiration in time, even with guidance of the enlightened – before the winds of karma sweep us back into the whirl of Samsara, which is less conducive for speedy progress to liberation.
The truth is, the moment you are uncertain of your aspiration to reach Pure Land is the moment you should be certain you should go there. This is because such uncertainty clearly shows that you are not yet an accomplished practitioner, who would be doubtless about where to go, and requiring no assistance of any enlightened one to guide you there. You would already have adequate control. Not being accomplished, rebirth in Samsara is the most dangerous place, easy to lose your way in, in contrast to Pure Land, which is the safest place, where enlightenment is attainable with the best guidance.
If there is no clear aspiration to reach Pure Land, there will be return to Samsara by default. Even if there was some mindfulness of a Buddha or Bodhisattva on the deathbed, upon rebirth in Samsara, there will not be continual mindfulness of the enlightened – due to existential forgetfulness and Samsara being full of distractions. Again, this is in contrast with birth in Pure Land, upon which there will be continuous mindfulness of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha due to its pure environment, as sustained by Amituofo. How can there be ambivalence when it comes to the opening question then?
Beyond guiding beings there and to it, even Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas on the brink of Buddhahood like Samantabhadra (普贤菩萨) personally aspire to reach Pure Land. (Of course, he had already reached it, which is how he completed his Bodhisattva training.) Who are we then, to imagine we are already truly ready to re-enter Samsara as we are to help other beings ‘very effectively’, without similar training. Thus said, may we dedicate our regular practice of mindfulness of Buddha with crystal clear aspiration for birth in Pure Land. Not doing so, our practice would not be sincere enough.