Question: How do we know if the deceased has reached Pure Land?
Answer: The following is a list of classic signs, that can occur more or less in sequence, or even concurrently, as experienced by the departing and/or support-chanters. Although seldom verified to all be experienced by all present, the more are these signs experienced by more people, the more possible is it that the deceased has reached Pure Land. Conversely, the less these signs are, the less possible is this so.
That said, some signs below are by themselves already conclusive, such as (i), which is the most powerful proof of successful practice, and (vii). Note that some of these signs can occur after passing, not only during passing. As such, it is not that all hope is lost after physical passing if there are no signs, for more can be done, with the BGRAAM system at purelanders.com/wake.
Auspicious Signs Of Rebirth In Pure Land (往生瑞相)
(i) Knowing in advance (and declaring) the time of Buddha’s arrival (to receive and guide to Pure Land, followed by departing on time) (预知时至)
(ii) Sight of Amitābha Buddha (and accompanying Bodhisattvas) (见弥陀佛)
(iii) Extraordinary fragrance filling the room (异香满室)
(iv) Sight of Buddha’s golden light (见佛金光)
(v) Sight of lotus flower throne (见莲花台)
(vi) Heavenly music filling the sky (天乐盈空)
(vii) Only with head’s crown warm (after departure) (头顶独热)
(viii) Gentle suppleness of body and mind (身心柔软)
(ix) Facial appearance as if alive (面相如生)
(x) Vivid vision or dream of deceased in Pure Land (梦见往生)
[For (vii), there are these subtleties to note.
(a) The crown not being warm now might become warm later, even after physical death.
(b) The crown being warm now might mean the consciousness is about to depart, or has just departed.
(c) The crown not being warm now might mean the consciousness has already departed some time ago.
(d) The crown not being warm at any point before and after death can still have the departed but yet to be reborn consciousness guided with support-chanting to reach Pure Land.
(e) The crown should only be touched at the end of substantial support-chanting extending beyond physical death, when needing to handle the body, so as to avoid distracting the consciousness. Touching at this moment can also stimulate the consciousness, if still present, to depart from there. However, even if the crown is not warm, (d) should be remembered, so as to not be disheartened, to not give up helping.]
Question: As it would be wonderful (1) to have personal assurance of having done fruitful support-chanting, (2) and to be able to inspire others on the deceased’s successful practice, what should be done if there is lack of clear auspicious signs, that the deceased has reached Pure Land?
Answer: For the direct answer, see the Main Solution. To expand on the question, there are four possibilities – when it comes to having reached Pure Land or not.
 Actually Reached : Yet ‘Without’ Signs
(i) Not all who have reached Pure Land manifest clear auspicious signs of so, as there might be no wish or perceived need to do so.
(ii) Even if there were signs, they could had been missed due to unmindfulness, misunderstanding or lack of understanding.
In short, the ‘lack’ of signs might not mean one has not reached Pure Land. This situation is equivalent to that in the original question. To resolve this uncertainty, see the Main Solution.
 Definitely Reached : As With Signs
(i) If there was a significantly substantial combination of clear auspicious signs, that the deceased has reached Pure Land, there is then no problem at all. The more indisputable signs that corroborate each other there are, the more conclusive each sign becomes.
(ii) However, some auspicious signs, such as ‘extraordinary fragrance filling the room’ can be due to personal sincere practice, not due to good practice of the deceased. (The assurance here though, is that it means one had practised support-chanting well, in the hope of inspiring the deceased to do so too.)
 Perhaps Not Reached : As Without Signs
There might be some ‘signs’, but still seemingly inadequate to be conclusive, perhaps due to ambiguity of what was experienced, suspecting it to be due to personal imagination or confirmation bias. This situation is equivalent to that in the original question. To resolve this uncertainty, see the Main Solution.
Instead of wondering fruitlessly and worrying endlessly on the whereabouts of the deceased, if truly concerned, one might as well practise accordingly to resolve the doubt once and for all.
 Definitely Not Reached : As With ‘Signs’
This would pertain to presence of signs of haunting, which express worldly attachment to people, places, things or matters. To resolve this, there should be more sincere offering of guidance with support-chanting done, adapting the BGRAAM system fully.
The below (BRPAM) should be sincerely practised after recent and ample offering of words for guidance with support-chanting, with the structure of BGRAAM. If practised with utmost sincerity, even if with enquiry about those departed for some time, BRPAM will start work.
[Note that this method that utilises mainly reverent prayer and sincere mindfulness of Buddha is based upon that used by the Brahmin woman (婆罗门女) in the Kṣitigarbha Sūtra《地藏经》.]
(i) Bow before an image of Āmítuófó.
(ii) Recite the Repentance Verse (忏悔文) on behalf of oneself and the deceased.
(iii) Pray to Āmítuófó by stating:
‘Your disciple has been sincerely offering words of guidance with support-chanting for ______ (name of the deceased), but am still uncertain of his/his whereabouts, on whether he/she has reached your precious Pure Land or not. With your great skilful means, may you most compassionately and most wisely let me know if he/she is safe, and what I should further do. With great gratitude, thank you. Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’
(iv) Recite the name of Āmítuófó until you feel that is adequate, even if it takes longer time, to help calm and clarify the mind, to fully express sincerity.
(v) Dedicate Merits to all beings, including the deceased.
(If there are difficult decisions to make, the same BRPAM practice can be done, with changes to the prayer’s wording:
‘Your disciple has been having much difficulty on the issue of ________, uncertain of what to do. With your great skilful means, may you most compassionately and most wisely let me know your precious advice, on what I should do. With great gratitude, thank you. Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…’)
The assurance and advice can arise in the midst of practice or after in everyday life. Why should we ask Āmítuófó for assurance and advice directly, instead of asking the deceased?
(a) This is so as the deceased might already be reborn elsewhere, and/or is unable to communicate. If in a higher realm that is not Pure Land, with indulgence in pleasures, there might be no response due to distraction. If in a lower realm, with much suffering, there might be no response due to distraction too. As such, there might be no answer from him/her. In contrast, Āmítuófó is already fully liberated and all-knowing.
[(1) If the deceased is already reborn in Pure Land, this would be ideal.
(2) If the deceased is already reborn in a higher realm, the meritorious virtues from the above practice can condition karmic connection for birth in Pure Land in a future life.
(3) If the deceased is already reborn in a lower realm, the meritorious virtues from the above practice can lessen suffering, and facilitate swifter departure for a better rebirth.
(4) If the deceased is not yet reborn, the BGRAAM system should be further practised.]
(b) Also, other unseen beings such as gods and ghosts who read our minds might trick us into thinking they are the deceased, offering inaccurate answers to confuse and/or console. This is a reason why proper Buddhists should never seek the assurance and advice of mediums and fortune-tellers, as some of them could be employing spirits to read our minds, who are not the ones concerned. Thus, even if with some vague sense of accuracy pertaining to past details (read from our minds), what stated about the present (and future) is uncertain due to their lack of further knowledge on the deceased.
(c) Seeking answers through (Chinese or Tibetan) ‘Buddhist’ divination systems should be a last resort, and due to shortage of time during emergencies. Drawn lots might be inaccurate if the system used is incomplete, not comprehensive enough to offer the right answer, and/or if not sincere enough to connect for the right answer due to haste. There is also the possibility of developing addiction for quick ‘solutions’, while not developing wisdom for the long run, which contrasts with BRPAM.
With the above Main Solution of BRPAM used instead, which centres around mindfulness of Buddha, there is time taken throughout to express sincerity, to eradicate karmic obstacles (消业障) and cultivate meritorious virtues (修功德), to gain calmness and clarity of mind. This helps to ‘open wisdom’ (开智慧) by connecting one’s Buddha-nature to the Buddha’s blessings, helping calm and clear assurance and advice to arise, from both the side of the Buddha and one’s own side combined.
Such assurance and advice will thus be the best possible available, from the Buddha himself, as understood with one’s calm and clear mind. If this effect is absent, BRPAM should be repeated, practised even more sincerely, for deeper connection with Āmítuófó, for a more resonating answer.
Although unmistakable signs might be yearned for, for them to be genuine, they should not be pined for in the midst of practice, as greed, being impure, might override sincerity, thus making the practice to connect to Āmítuófó unfruitful.
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