Question: In the Pure Land teachings, it is taught that repentance with mindfulness of Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) can lead to birth in his Pure Land. What happens to one’s negative karma? How does karma operate in this case?
Answer: Here is an analogy to explain… Imagine a dark cloud, which represents strong negative karma about to bear fruit (by leading to a thunderstorm) at the moment of death, leading to a less fortunate rebirth.
When we repent for our negative karma and Nianfo (practise mindfulness of Amituofo) sincerely, connecting our Self-power to his Other-power, Amituofo’s much more powerful ‘wind’ of pure karma (i.e. merits) comes to ‘blow’ the cloud aside, suspending the negative karma from bearing effect then.
Riding upon his blessings, upon reaching Pure Land, any remnant negative karmic seeds are not given fertile conditions to ripen at all, in this way becoming disempowered and disabled for good, while only the positive and pure seeds will be nurtured to grow fully until blossoming into enlightenment.
In case this seems simplistic and ‘too easily’ achievable by all presently unrepentant evil persons, this detailed article explains the karmic dynamics of the last thought in detail, showing why it is not always so: ‘Why Your Last Thought Matters So Much’: https://purelanders.com/2013/10/28/why-your-last-thought-matters-so-much.
Q: Is Buddhist deathbed repentance similar to the idea of repentance to ‘God’ for forgiveness?
A: In Buddhist practice, there is no repentance towards any Buddha specifically (unless one has done wrong to a Buddha), although the Repentance Verse: https://purelanders.com/2019/03/13/samantabhadra-bodhisattvas-repentance-practice is usually recited before a Buddha image to express sincerity, by inviting all Buddhas to bear witness.
Repentance is simply the clear recognition and regret for one’s misdeeds, and the resolution to make amends accordingly, to never ever repeat the mistakes again. (Repentance can also be practised with mindfulness of Buddha directly.)
In this sense, birth in Pure Land is not through Amituofo’s forgiveness of us at all. He does not even need to forgive as he bears no grudge against anyone, and he does not control the natural law of karma. (If we do not practise repentance, we are being unforgiving to ourselves, as we are sabotaging ourselves karmically with our misdeeds, that will have rebounding negative effects.)
For the guilt-ridden, repentance done properly enables better Nianfo, to connect to Amituofo’s blessings with more ease, with giving rise of the Three Provisions. These provisions are specific in definition: https://purelanders.com/2010/04/01/the-three-provisions-of-faith-aspiration-practice. They are not with simplistic or blind faith, that is unlikely to bring anyone to any heavenly plane or Pure Land due to these reasons: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2013/11/are-buddhas-omnipotent-omnibenevolent-omniscient (This article explains why there is no almighty deity with perfect compassion and wisdom.)
In short, there is no god who is like Amituofo (who is a ‘Teacher Of Humans And Gods’) as the power of merits and guidance of unenlightened gods believed in (if they do exist) is weak in comparison and inadequate for helping many. (Birth in a typical heavenly plane does not guarantee enlightenment too, while being prone to spiritual retrogression.) This is unlike Amituofo’s vows and ability to always be able to share his boundless merits and offer guidance for receiving countless beings at any time to his Pure Land, where non-retrogressible progress towards enlightenment is guaranteed.
The Differences Between Heaven(s) & Pure Land(s)
Can God-Believers Reach Pure Land?