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16 ‘Self-Powered’ Misconceptions On Pure Land Practice

The following questions express common misconceptions on Pure Land practice. They arise due to much assumptions, along with little understanding, that more than limited Self-power is needed for the practice to be fruitful.

Question [1]: Is it difficult to reach Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó) Pure Land?

Answer: It is so only if lacking proper learning and nurturing of the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice (信愿行). With them, it is the Easy Path Of Practice (易行道), as named by Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva (龙树菩萨).

Question [2]: Is the path to Pure Land a vertical path?
Answer: It is a horizontal path of exit from the Three Spheres of desire, form and formlessness (横出三界), a direct shortcut to where liberation is guaranteed, not a vertical path out (竖出), which is a long and Difficult Path Of Practice (难行道), subject to much spiritual backsliding in this and many other lifetimes.

Question [3]: Is Pure Land not within the Three Spheres? 
Answer: While some teach that it is at the highest of the form heavens, which share some yet limited similar characteristics, according to teachings of the Chinese Pure Land tradition, as it is a Buddha’s fully purified realm, it is more of outside the Three Spheres (出三界).

Question [4]: Can Pure Land be reached by ordinary Self-powered meditation?
Answer: As it is a supremely blissful pure realm fully created, sustained and karmically deserved by a fully liberated Buddha, only by combining your Self-powered (自力) practice with the Other-power (他力) of Āmítuófó’s vows and blessings through the Three Provisions can it be reached.

Question [5]: Why can’t I focus on self-reliance to reach Pure Land? 
Answer: With self-reliance, which is only Self-powered, this can reach Pure Land only if you are already a Buddha. Prior to that, just like great Arhats and Bodhisattvas, you will need to connect to Āmítuófó’s to enter his Pure Land, as you currently lack the immeasurable meritorious virtues that he has, to be able to experience it.

Question [6]: Is there need for some self-enlightenment to reach Pure Land? 
Answer: There is no need for any level of enlightenment to enter Pure Land; not even as stream-winners, while the Three Provisions for connecting to Āmítuófó will suffice. As above, even if an Arhat or Bodhisattva does not connect to Āmítuófó, it cannot be entered. While having accomplished more supportive practices leads to higher grades of birth there within Pure Land, they can all be perfectly accomplished by reaching Pure Land.

Question [7]: What if I still prefer self-reliance?
Answer: Due to the above, to ‘reach’ a Pure Land only by self-reliance, you will have to spend immeasurable lifetimes to complete cultivating of the path to Buddhahood first, before creating your own Pure Land. Yet, to learn how, the swiftest way is to through reaching Āmítuófó’s Pure Land first.

Question [8]: Isn’t self-reliance fundamental in Dharma practice?
Answer: Yes it is. However, to overly focus only on self-reliance is a form of arrogance, to be too full of self-attachment and lacking in humility. If your self-reliance can lead to liberation, experience or creation of Pure Land easily, why are you still trapped here in this Dharma-Ending Age?

Question [9]: What if I am more comfortable with self-reliant meditation? 
Answer: For liberation, there should be freedom from attachment to self. Since Āmítuófó’s Other-power is selfless, awaiting for you to connect, why hesitate with your fullness of ‘self’? Connecting Self-power to Other-power does not give up self-reliance; it is to become spiritually empowered.

Question [10]: Isn’t self-reliant meditation needed too?
Answer: The main Self and Other-powered Pure Land practice of wholehearted mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name with deep Faith and sincere Aspiration is already unsurpassable meditation, as this connects to a supreme Buddha, for the supreme benefits of reaching his Pure Land, to also become supreme.

Question [11]: How does the main Pure Land practice also include Śamatha meditation?  
Answer: With Faith and Aspiration upholding Āmítuófó’s name, ensuring that it is without stray thoughts, this is cultivation of cessation (修止) – Śamatha meditation with the most ideal subject, for the nurturing of ultimate calmness (i.e. peace and bliss) and meritorious virtues.

Question [12]: How does the main Pure Land practice also include Vipassanā meditation?  
 While practising as above, also listening to Āmítuófó’s upheld name at the same time, with clarity that is distinct, this is cultivation of contemplation (修观) – Vipassanā meditation with the most ideal subject, for the nurturing of ultimate clarity (i.e. insight or wisdom) and meritorious virtues .

Question [13]: What if I practise only self-reliant meditation?
Answer: When dying, can you be calmly mindful of your erratic and fading breathing, or be clearly mindful of your confused thoughts and painful sensations? Even if you can, will you be liberated? If not, and also not reborn in Pure Land due to lack of practice, how will you remember to practise the Dharma in your next life?

Question [14]: What if the main Pure Land practice seems inferior?
Answer: As it connects your greatest potential, as your unawakened Buddha-nature, to Āmítuófó’s already fully awakened Buddha-nature, for the supreme support for awakening, this is ultimate self-actualisation, that operates with selfless harmony! What practice can be superior to this?

Question [15]: Does this mean other practices are inferior? 
Answer: No. However, as the Buddha taught, in this Dharma-Ending Age, the Pure Land path is the most suitable for the liberation of most beings. This is attested by countless cases of its sincere practitioners, who depart amidst calm, clear and consistent auspicious signs, which continue to be unparalleled.

Question [16]: Is there any final advice on misconceptions?
Answer: Never misunderstand the Easy Path that is dual-powered by Self-power and Other-power (自他二力), which is thus a horizontal path of escape, to be its opposite – a Difficult Path that is only a Self-powered vertical path. Doubt in the worth of the Pure Land teachings with false assumptions insidiously erodes the first provision of Faith, without which the other two provisions cannot arise.

The solution is to keep learning and practising sincerely. Please do justice to yourself and the Buddha’s Pure Land teachings with proper learning from specialised teachers who are also sincere practitioners. If not, there might be slander of the precious Dharma heard, which obstructs many from this swiftest path to Buddhahood. Negative karma from sharing such slander is immeasurable too.

Related Articles:

Is Mindfulness Of Amituofo Enough To Reach His Pure Land?
Why Is The Pure Land Dharma Door Supreme? 为何念佛是第一法门?
Why Slander Of Pure Land Teachings Is Especially Grave

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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