Question: I came across an event about ‘Pure Land Here & Now’, that claims to offer ‘study’ of the Amitabha Sutra, ‘linking’ it to the practice of mindfulness of breathing, which is supposed to lead to realisation of ‘wonderful things’ around us. I am concerned how this describes the Pure Land practice so inaccurately and superficially. Can you clarify on this?
Answer: Indeed… Sadly, it is a huge recurring mistake, and very unfair, to dilute the actual precious teachings of the genuine Pure Land tradition in such a way, due to severe misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
Incidentally, there is already a very detailed article explaining many negative implications of doing this – ‘Is Pure Land Here Or There, Now Or Later?’ (http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/09/is-pureland-here-or-there-now-or-later) Here are some points to note, based on the mentioned event’s publicity materials:
- In the Amitabha Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha explicitly focused upon and described the tangible existence of an actual Pure Land elsewhere, to the West of our world system, as sustained by the immeasurable compassion, wisdom and meritorious virtues of Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo), for expediting our non-retrogressible (not backsliding) progress towards Buddhahood. In other words, these unequivocal physical attributes of his Pure Land should never be mistaken as a mere metaphors for any contrastingly and drastically limited experiences of momentary peace of mind by any unenlightened person in this world in a retreat.
- If Pure Land is ‘only’ in the here and now, why is our world facing worsening universal problems created by humans’ collectively destructive actions now, that lead to the ongoing climate crisis? ‘Natural’ disasters aside, why are there human-made disasters leading to wars, killing, robbery, rape, starvation, ‘accidents’ and such? We should be mindful that these prevalent catastrophes are not ‘wonderful things’ at all, while only a handful of us have the opportunity to attend a comfortable and carefree (but time-limited) air-conditioned retreat, that barely mimics a ‘Pure Land’. Where is ‘Pure Land’ in the here and now, in this same world we share, for the rest – for millions of suffering victims? To create a true and sustainable Pure Land requires many world cycles of great efforts; not a mere retreat or two, or even one lifetime or two.
- The above attributes of suffering do not exist in Amituofo’s actual Pure Land, which is exactly why we aspire to seek birth there, as encouraged by every single Buddha, as taught clearly in the Amitabha Sutra. Of course, we should do our best to make this world a better place while we are here. However, it should never be loosely imagined or suggested that our efforts can easily make this world a Pure Land in the here and now, thus missing the great value of reaching an actual Pure Land to facilitate the swiftest spiritual progress, before returning better qualified to continue making this world a better place. No Buddha would create a single Pure Land if it is of no use for sentient beings to seek birth in. However, there are countless Pure Lands created, while all Buddhas unanimously recommend Amituofo’s Pure Land the most, to guide us to focus our efforts. If one mistakes it to be here and now in this world, it will never be reached.
- Since the Amitabha Sutra did not focus on Pure Land here and now, it does not do justice to use its name to suggest so. Since the Amitabha Sutra did not focus on meditation of mindfulness of breathing, the publicity material is confusing too. Note that when dying, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most to be mindful of one’s already very weak and subtle breathing. The Amitabha Sutra focuses on encouraging mindfulness of Amituofo’s name as its core practice; not on the breath. Mindfulness of the breath when dying does not lead to birth in any Pure Land, while the Three Provisions of having right Faith, Aspiration and Practice (of mindfulness of Amituofo) are crucial instead.
Is Pure Land Here Or There, Now Or Later?
Some ‘Shaolin’ Showdown (Where Is Pure Land?)
A Zen Master’s Perspective of the Pure Land Teachings
Master Yinguang: Mind-Only Pure Land & Self-Nature Amitabha = Western Pure Land & Amitabha Buddha?
Master Zhuhong: Is Pureland Practice Inferior to Zen Practice?
Master Shengyan: A Zen Master’s Nianfo Advice
Master Yongming: Chan With/out Pureland Practice
Master Ouyi: Mind-Seal of the Buddhas
Beyond the ‘Pure Land’ Here and Now (Is Pure Land Formless or Mind-Only?)
Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith: Pure Land Principles and Practice