Question: Why should we only dedicate meritorious virtues (i.e. merits) for birth in Pure Land?
Answer: Below is the answer by the Pure Land Traditionʼs 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng, in his letter to layperson Chén Xīzhōu, with extra explanatory notes on it.
Also, without exception, [for] prostration, study [with] recitation [of] Mahāyāna sūtras, and doing [of] all matters [that] have benefits for [the] world [and its] people, with all these [good (i.e. wholesome, skilful, positive) karma and meritorious virtues, they must be] dedicated [for birth in the] Western [Pure Land].
Note: All worldly and world-transcending good and purification practices done should be dedicated only for birth in Pure Land. Even after helping one or many for a worldly matter, the meritorious virtues from doing so should also be dedicated for all beings to reach Pure Land. This is a practice to increase compassion and generosity, while fortifying personal aspiration to reach Pure Land.
[There] must not [be] only with mindfulness [of] Buddha [for] dedication [of its meritorious virtues to be born in the] Western [Pure Land, with] the rest [of other] meritorious virtues, separately for dedication, [for] worldly blessed rewards, [as this] thus [is with] mindfulness [that is] not unified [as] one, [which] then [makes it] difficult [to be] reborn [in Pure Land].
Note: There must not be separation of dedication of meritorious virtues for the purpose of reaching Pure Land, versus for worldly purposes, as there cannot be two ultimate purposes in this life that are contradictory in nature, with the first being a world-transcending goal, versus the latter being many worldly goals. However, as below, dedication only for the world-transcending goal of reaching Pure Land can still encompass, and not compromise certain worldly goals.
[It] must [be] known, [that to] truly [be] able [to be] mindful [of] Buddha, [and] not seek worldly blessed rewards, [this] yet personally attains worldly blessed rewards (such [as] long life without sickness, [the] family clan [being] peaceful [and] safe, [with] descendants [i.e. children and grandchildren] flourishing, all conditions as wished, all matters auspicious and others).
Note: With the ultimate purpose in this life to reach Pure Land, and all meritorious virtues dedicated for this purpose, these meritorious virtues will also bear rewards in this life naturally, to lessen suffering and increase joy in worldly responsibilities, which facilitates smooth attaining of the ultimate purpose. As the purpose is clearly to reach Pure Land, these meritorious virtues will not ripen in ways that distract from it. Dedicating meritorious virtues only for worldly blessed rewards might squander them quickly, instead of using them skilfully, for the best benefits in this life, and for reaching Pure Land.
If seeking worldly blessed rewards, not willing [to] dedicate [for] rebirth [in Pure Land], thus [will] what attained [be] worldly blessed rewards, [which] instead are inferior.
Note: There should not be shortsightedness, to seek only worldly blessed rewards, which are not as lasting, blissful and pure, as the immeasurable rewards experienced upon reaching Pure Land, through which the supreme world-transcending reward of Buddhahood can be attained.
Moreover, [with the] mind [or heart] not focused single-mindedly [or wholeheartedly], rebirth [in Pure Land is] then difficult [to be] certain.
Note: There should be wholehearted sincerity in our thoughts, words deeds, all ultimately dedicated for rebirth in Pure Land.
Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng
Letter to layperson Chén Xīzhōu
Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an