Question: Should we prepare to reach Pure Land only when older, above a certain age? What about urging the young to be prepared too?
Answer: We should be prepared as young as possible with proper learning and practice, and prepare others as young as possible too – because death can happen suddenly, at any time for the individual, despite general statistics being less so for the young. This is attested by the fact that throughout our lives as we speak, there are many around us who die younger that expected.
Q: Other than sincere Nianfo, should we visualise any attribute of Pure Land (e.g. a lotus) to reach it?
A: There is no need to do so. With sincere Nianfo, an actual lotus will be brought by Amituofo for birth in Pure Land, even without any visualisation. No Pure Land sutra or Patriarch taught to practise ‘simultaneous’ Nianfo and visualisation – as this is impossible. The practices of Nianfo and visualisation are meant to be practised separately, while Nianfo is already adequate, to be focused upon as the main practice. Visualisation practice was also taught to be difficult from as early as the era of the Pure Land Tradition’s 2nd Patriarch Great Master Shandao to the era of the 13th Patriarch Great Master Yinguang. As such, not only should these two different practices not be mixed together at the same time, visualisation is best avoided, lest it wastes precious time trying to practise it when dying, when the little time left should be spent on sincere Nianfo.
Also, in basic Theravada Abhidharma and Mahayana Yogacara teachings, it is clear that in each thought-moment, there can only be one thought. When there is the name of Amituofo sincerely on the mind, it should occupy the moment fully, with nothing else. Toggling to and fro between his name and his visualised image is to be scatter-minded; lacking wholeheartedness (single-mindedness). When approaching death, there is only need to Nianfo with utmost sincerity, as powered by right Faith and firm Aspiration, ideally with support of support-chanters to help keep us on track. As the main practice of Nianfo is meant to be skilfully streamlined and simple, it should be kept so, instead of needlessly complicating it, which can make it that much harder to reach Pure Land.
Q: Is everything experienced in Samsara karmically borrowed, to be returned?
A: As there is no lender, there is no borrower or the borrowed. Our experiences are instead karmically earned through our personal efforts. With wholesome efforts, good seeds are planted to earn good fruits. With unwholesome efforts, bad seeds are planted to earn bad fruits. As these fruits naturally arise dependently on the causes (seeds) of karma and conducive conditions (for their bearing) present, they too naturally fall (or cease) when these causes and conditions are no longer present. Thus, what experienced is not borrowed from anyone/thing or returned to anyone/thing.
Q: Is it that every rebirth back in Samsara means restarting from zero spiritually?
A: No, as we have changing but nevertheless continuums of karma linked to our previous lives, we are reborn with various predispositions and fortunateness, though they continue to change over time due to present efforts that create new karma and changing conditions. Our past unripened good and bad karma is thus present, not discounted to zero. However, most of us will forget our past lives, and have to relearn to practise the Dharma. Even if predispositions for the Dharma are there, as they can change, it is dangerous to return to Samsara before reaching Pure Land for training first.
Q: Must we consciously reject happiness in everyday life when we practise Nianfo?
A: There is no need to as long as we do not crave endlessly for worldly happiness while forgetting our Aspiration to reach Pure Land. Great Master Yinguang taught that merits from Nianfo should all be dedicated to reaching of Pure Land (to express this Aspiration), while blessings from Nianfo will naturally unfold in our lives in good measure, even without wishing for so. This is so as our lives must be alright for Pure Land to be easier reached.
Q: Can I reach Pure Land?
A: There is no need to wonder about this at all. What you need to do now instead, is to tell yourself that you MUST reach Pure Land, which requires giving rise to the Three Provisions (of Faith, Aspiration and Practice) adequately. To do so, you MUST have the resolution to keep learning the Pure Land teachings systematically and comprehensively, according to the Buddha’s teachings in the sutras and the Pure Land Patriarchs’ explanations, so as to give rise to true Faith, which will motivate you to have sincere Aspiration. With both of these provisions, your third provision of Practice will be powered by wholehearted, diligent and regular Nianfo with Amituofo’s name. When this is done, your question is naturally answered with a clear ‘YES.’ In short, when right efforts are exerted to give rise to the Three Provisions, of course Pure Land will be reached. If you have to ask your question now, this might be uncertain, for now. However, it can become ‘YES’ by doing the above.
Q: When dying, how do we have right mindfulness to let go of the past, to reach Pure Land?
A: This can be done by increasing our Three Provisions now, as mentioned in Q above. When it is time to depart, there is only the need to muster utmost sincerity, which binds the Three Provisions together, to fully pump them up. Resolute Aspiration to reach Pure Land is central then, as for it to be there, Faith would already be there. With such joyful Aspiration, there will be no attachment to Samsara, and Practice of Nianfo will be there. With peaceful abiding on the name of Amituofo, and abiding on nothing else, including the past or future in terms of Samsara, Amituofo will surely be connected to. Right mindfulness is simply mindfulness of only Amituofo’s name. When our minds are wholeheartedly occupied with Amituofo’s name from moment to moment, there will be no space for stray thoughts. If the mind strays off, simply come back to Amituofo’s name immediately, remembering that straying off means staying stuck in Samsara indefinitely, life after life. Once the provisions are sufficient, Amituofo will instantly arrive to guide us to his Pure Land.