Question : Is Amitā(bha) Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó) Pure Land difficult to reach? Does having a higher meditative state make it easier? Will this allow choice of which Pure Land to reach?
Answer: The main Pure Land Practice of wholehearted mindfulness of Buddha with deep Faith and sincere Aspiration is already adequate for reaching his Pure Land. This is already the Easy Path Of Practice (易行道), due to connection to Āmítuófó’s Other-Power (他力), who will definitely lift us up to the required meditative state.
This is while there is absolutely no way for us to choose to reach any Pure Land, even if with the highest Self-powered meditation practice alone – as we are still non-Buddhas, who lack the immeasurable meritorious virtues of a Buddha to deserve experience of any Buddha’s Pure Land.
The Three Provisions (三资粮) must be nurtured to reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, which Pure Land practice does directly – while Self-powered (自力) practice does not do this at all. Thus, the true way to definitely and easily reach Pure Land is to sincerely learn and practise the relevant teachings.
Question : Should we realise our spiritual potential with more non-Pure Land practices, to better enable reach of Pure Land? With more challenges overcome, will our achievements be greater?
Answer: There is no reservation of potential via Pure Land practice. In fact, it realises personal potential more fully, through connection to Āmítuófó, whose blessings boost our efforts, while lessening challenges. Wanting to achieve more by oneself when there is ready enlightened help can be an ego trip, which is the opposite of spiritual cultivation.
The Buddha taught many practices but he also taught that in this Dharma-Ending Age, the most skilful is the Pure Land practice: https://purelanders.com/2017/12/30/double-trouble-of-the-evil-period-dharma-ending-age Sincere Pure Land practice by itself will be adequate to reach Pure Land, since it connects directly to the greatest source of help possible – Āmítuófó.
There is no need to give up Self-powered practice, but its limitations in this era should be humbly realised, while the unsurpassable advantages of connecting Self-power to Other-power via Pure Land practice should be learnt too. We must not overestimate our limited Self-power, while underestimating Āmítuófó’s Other-power, which helps us to overcome all obstacles for reaching his Pure Land.
Question : What if a Difficult Path Of Practice (难行道), which does not connect to a Buddha for liberation, is not so difficult for some?
Answer: Perhaps they should experience some realistic suffering, to realise their personal limitations. The real test comes when distressed, sick and/or dying, to know if they are really spiritually strong enough to take only a Difficult Path. Having a comfortable life while facing few obstacles at the moment is not an accurate gauge. Far from being free of negative karma, which can ripen suddenly, and still being unenlightened, such comfort does not last forever.
Difficult Paths’ difficulty is mainly in terms of them not being able to lead to liberation swiftly, ideally by the end of this life – as the Dharma learnt will be forgotten for continual practice in the next life if Pure Land is not reached. Thus, merely finding it ‘not so difficult’ to have some Self-powered meditation practice now, while not securing liberation does not mean it is not ‘difficult’.
In contrast, the Easy Path ensures liberation by the end of this life, and in many cases even before it ends, by departing for Pure Land alive, with the reception and guidance of Āmítuófó – to his Pure Land and in his Pure Land, through which complete liberation of Buddhahood is guaranteed.
Question : If able to have Self-powered meditative bliss, will there be spiritual backsliding? Is it alright to be attached to such bliss?
Answer: Spiritual backsliding can and will occur as long as not enlightened in any way – while to be non-backsliding diligence in Pure Land practice ensures that Pure Land will be reached, where there will be the swiftest non-backsliding progress to Buddhahood.
Here is an example of a regular Self-powered meditator who used to find it very easy to meditate to enjoy various levels of meditative bliss swiftly, who eventually realised the limitations of Self-power when facing the ripening of much negative karma, while lacking supportive conditions: https://purelanders.com/2016/03/30/testimonial-the-importance-of-sincerity-in-nianfo
It is not very difficult to experience meditative bliss when there are conducive conditions. The true challenge is when very sick and dying. Even if one is able to die in a jhānic state, there is still no liberation guaranteed. If reborn in a jhānic heaven, it is possible to become spiritually complacent due to attachment to meditative bliss, and fall in the next life to a lower realm when positive karma exhausts. Attachment to even more refined jhānas (dhyānas) can lead to being trapped in a formless heaven for a very long time, with no way to progress to liberation there, before falling.
This is while deepened Pure Land practice leads towards Samādhi (meditative concentration) From Mindfulness Of Buddha (念佛三昧), which is also called the Precious King Of Samādhis (宝王三昧), through connection with him, giving rise to meditative bliss that surpasses that of all gods, including all levels of jhānic bliss in the form and formless heavens. Such connection can lead to Pure Land too, where complete liberation is guaranteed. This is a reason why mindfulness of Buddha is a supreme meditation practice, as taught by Śākyamuni Buddha: https://purelanders.com/2012/01/16/buddha-mindfulness-is-supreme-meditation
16 ‘Self-Powered’ Misconceptions On Pure Land Practice
Pure Land Practice ‘Vs’ Śamatha & Vipassanā Meditation
Verses On Cessation & Contemplation