Question: There are so many images of Āmítuófó (Amitābha Buddha). Which is the closest to the original?
Answer: There is no ‘standard’ correct picture of Āmítuófó, other than that portrayed in the sūtras in terms of text. However, his manifestations will be very magnificent and radiate golden light. Āmítuófó will manifest in a form familiar to you, in order to guide you. But he will also manifest more magnificently than usual, to give your greater confidence, so that you know his appearance is not due to your habitual mere imagination.
Q: I wish to have a clear picture, for focus upon during chanting. Is this a must?
A: There is no need to visualise the Buddha during Niànfó practice (mindfulness of Āmítuófó using his name). You just need to be mindful of his name wholeheartedly (with the right Faith and Aspiration). The actual methods of detailed visualisation of Āmítuófó, as recorded in the sūtras, is very challenging for following to the dot. If you try to visualise Āmítuófó while chanting his name, your mind is actually toggling quickly and repeatedly between parts of his form and parts of his name. This easily makes the mindfulness scattered instead of focused. This are some reasons why the Pure Land Patriarchs advocate mindfulness of Āmítuófó using his name. If we cannot even practise this most skilful and basic of methods well, we should not attempt a more complex practice.
Q: During the moments of departure from this life, if many beings appear, how would I know who is the right one to follow?
A: Āmítuófó will appear when your Three Provisions (Faith, Aspiration and Practice) are adequate, while you Niànfó with utmost sincerity, as wholeheartedly as you can. When you do so, any illusory or even possibly demonic forms will disappear – due to connection to the great protective blessings of Āmítuófó. The one left, while you continue to Niànfó sincerely, will be Āmítuófó! Do not follow anyone else, even other ‘familiar’ beings.
Q: If who appears to be ‘loved ones’ could very possibly be our karmic creditors (evil spirits) who have read our minds to take on forms to trick us, is it not possible for them to take on the form of Āmítuófó to lead us astray?
A: In the very first place, if we are already diligently mindful of Āmítuófó, we will minimise the chances of evil beings reading our minds to know who are the worldly people we pine to see – as there are no such persons on our minds. This means we will not even see any guises of evil beings in the first place.
If we are mindful of Āmítuófó only later, with the Three Provisions rising, all evil beings and guises of evil beings, if they are around, will have to back off or disappear due to the protective blessings of Āmítuófó encompassing the one who is mindful of Āmítuófó – which act as a radiating shield that keeps external negative influences away. This happens even before Āmítuófó appears, as his light is already around us all the time, awaiting for our connection. With this connection, greed, hatred and delusion are suspended too, and there is great calmness and clarity of mind.
There and then, even evil beings who attempted to manifest as Āmítuófó will have their fake forms fade away. As long as the Three Provisions are there, the one who appears and remains beckoning will be Āmítuófó, because no one else is capable of manifesting as Āmítuófó in the presence of someone with right mindfulness of him. So long as our mindfulness of Āmítuófó remains unbroken, it is impossible to be misled by evil beings. The tricks of evil beings are usually in terms of wanting us to stop Niànfó, by distracting us, to give rise to greed (i.e. attachment to loved ones) or to give rise to fear (i.e. aversion of threatening beings). Once we stop Niànfó, the Three Provisions will no longer be present, and we will not be able to connect to Āmítuófó. To summarise, we just need to Niànfó (which expresses all the Three Provisions) all the way until we are embraced by Āmítuófó’s blessings and step onto his Pure Land! If one is more capable, one can also call out to all beings, be they genuine manifestations of loved ones or evil beings, to Niànfó together, so as to reach Pure Land together!
Q: If there is no connection to Āmítuófó yet, after death, what will happen?
A: Just make the firm resolution to adhere to the practice of continual Niànfó to ‘pump up’ your Three Provisions – until there is connection eventually. Even if it takes some time. Whether within or beyond 49 days (the duration within which rebirth usually happens), just do that. Do not wander around or keep wondering if Āmítuófó will come. All these are expressions of lack of Faith, Aspiration and Practice! Even if forced by karma to be reborn elsewhere before connecting to Āmítuófó, you should still be firm in continual Niànfó, which can help you to easier recall this practice in a future life. However, we should not think it will take a long time to connect to Āmítuófó. With enough Niànfó practice when well and alive now, connection will be faster than you expect!
Some Frequently Asked Pure Land Questions