Question: As someone died instantly in an accident recently, it made me wonder… What if my negative karma is so strong, that even with diligent practice of Dharma in everyday life, it is not enough to prevent similar sudden demise, resulting in not even having a split-second of Nianfo (practice of mindfulness of Amituofo’s name) before death? Will I return to Samsara? If so, what can I do now, to remind myself to continue nianfo practice in my next life?
Answer: As taught in the ‘Understanding Amituofo via the Amitabha Sutra’ course: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2017/12/understanding-amituofo-via-the-amitabha-sutra-20th-run, one of the benefits from diligent and sincere Nianfo practice is that one will not have sudden death. This is due to sufficient connection to the great protective blessings of Amituofo, combined with regular personal positive karma created, that keeps any existing strong negative karma (that is being diluted) from ripening abruptly.
Indeed, anyone who does not muster the Three Provisions (Faith, Aspiration, Practice: https://purelanders.com/2018/02/08/the-three-provisions) in time will return to Samsara instead of making it to Pure Land. It is possible for negative karma to be so strong (e.g. in terms of distracting pain and afflictions) that it becomes difficult to Nianfo when dying. Despite this, the point is to simply do our best, with utmost sincerity riding upon unwavering Faith and strong Aspiration, and not stop doing so – even right on the brink of death. If one, when dying, imagines oneself to have strong negative karma that might obstruct Nianfo, and thus becomes lax in doing so, of course, this person will not make it to Pure Land.
The truth is, we do not know for sure how negative our karma actually is or will be, even while dying. The only thing that matters then is to do our best in Nianfo. We should also not imagine that once we are physically dead, all hope is lost if we have yet to Nianfo properly. For the average person who did not do great evil or good, while there is some attachment to the life that just transpired, one will not be reborn instantly. Still in the body or in the bardo (intermediate) state, one should still continue to practise Nianfo, with or without support-chanting’s availability. This should be done until Amituofo is connected to, and comes to receive one to Pure Land. To forgo or forget to Nianfo in the bardo state is dangerous as the winds of karma might simply sweep one away sooner than expected to the next samsaric rebirth. Also, since we do not know how strong our negative karma is and whether it might bear fruit via a sudden dying process, all the more should we practise Nianfo diligently now, as Nianfo helps to create positive karma to dilute negative karma, thus increasing our hopes of being able to have fewer karmic obstacles that might obstruct Nianfo when passing away. We should remember that Nianfo done well is very powerful – because it connects to a great Other-power, the blessings of Amituofo. Even if there is some shaky confidence about the quality of one’s efforts when dying, there should always be firm faith in Amituofo’s willingness to receive us despite our imperfect but nevertheless sincere efforts with enough of the Three Provisions.
It is mentioned in the Contemplation Sutra, that even those who had created immense negative karma of the worst kind can make it to Pure Land, if they repent for their mistakes and Nianfo sincerely (with the Three Provisions) in time. However, this also means these past evil-doers do have some positive karma surfacing in time in the first place, to be able to remember or learn about Nianfo before dying. This should be seen as triply assuring to us if we already know how to Nianfo in time, do practise it diligently and sincerely, and have not done great evils in this lifetime. All the more are we able to reach Pure Land with continual diligent and sincere practice.
To remind oneself to continue Nianfo practice in the next life if one does not make it to Pure Land in the immediate, there is only one way – through continual diligent and sincere learning and practice of the Pure Land teachings now – so as to create strong and lasting imprints of them in our minds. It is however not wise to think too far, to console ourselves with the possibility of reaching Pure Land in another life after the next – because that is thinking too far and might create excuses to procrastinate strengthening of one’s present practice now. It is much wiser to simply become resolute in the Three Provisions in this lifetime through down-to-earth practice – to reach Pure Land by the end of this life. If we procrastinate fortifying the provisions in this lifetime, we are likely to continue procrastination in the next, which further ‘weakens’ our affinity with Amituofo and his Pure Land, making it harder to reach. Perhaps, this is what happened in our past lives! We must not procrastinate any more!
What If There Is ‘No Time’ To Nianfo Due To Sudden Death?