Question: How do those who aspire to reach Pure Land when well depart? Is it in their sleep?
Answer: It is impossible to pass away while sleeping because ordinary dying and departing for Pure Land are both conscious experiences. This is so as both are the same event of the consciousness leaving the body, making it necessary for the person involved to be conscious. In other words, no one can unconsciously have one’s consciousness ‘sleepwalk’ out of this life into the next.
When we say someone apparently ‘passed away in sleep’, what meant is that the person did not seem to wake up physically to die, perhaps due to heavy medical sedation or being in coma. However, as above, his or her consciousness did consciously leave.
For non-practitioners, this is forced karmically, often with the suffering of attachment, fear and regrets, with no mindful choice of where to be reborn. For good practitioners, this is controlled with mindful choice. Thus, it is a mistake to imagine that all who ‘pass away in sleep’ will have good rebirths. (This is why many wrongly romantise dying with sleeping pills, thinking it is free from pain and suffering.)
Those who departed for Pure Land when well simply mustered and expressed their Three Provisions with true Practice (实行) of Niànfó (念佛), as powered by deep Faith (深信) and sincere Aspiration (切愿). This seems like ‘normal’ Pure Land practice, but the key difference is that their Aspiration is UTMOST sincere, with the clear wish to reach Pure Land NOW; not later, when old, sick or dying.
Once this is expressed adequately, whether physically awake or consciously in an auspicious dream, there will be firm connection to Āmítuófó for reception to reach his Pure Land. The catch is that many practitioners, although sincere, do not wish to depart for Pure Land immediately, especially when well, due to still having subtle worldly attachments. When truly with no better choice later, it is naturally easier to be super sincere then.
Why Do Many Depart For Pure Land Upon Death Instead Of Before Death?
How To Reach Pure Land Sooner Or Later