Question: If one’s last thought(s) is/are not of Āmítuófó(‘s name: 阿弥陀佛), can one still reach his Pure Land (净土)?
Answer: According to Āmítuófó’s (Amitābha Buddha) 18th vow, ten thoughts (十念) with the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice (信愿行) will be sufficient to connect to him, for birth in his Pure Land. (Śākyamuni Buddha [释迦牟尼佛] also taught in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》that [for the very proficient], it is possible to connect to Āmítuófó with just one thought [一念].)
Unless in terms of the 9th grade of birth (第九品) in Pure Land in the Contemplation Sūtra《观经》, there was no mention in the main Pure Land sūtras that ‘Āmítuófó’ has to be one’s last thoughts to connect to him to reach his Pure Land. However, this does not mean it is alright to have one’s last thoughts not being of Āmítuófó, as we will see. (This article focuses on reach of Pure Land with the simplest skilful means – with mindfulness of Āmítuófó.)
Note that the very last thought is not necessarily that when physically alive, as it can be the thought some time after death, just before rebirth occurs. This is so for most who pass away, who are without immediate rebirth upon physical death. This last thought, which will definitely arise before rebirth creates ‘death [or rather, rebirth] proximate karma’, that links one to a corresponding future life.
For example, one mindful of a ghostly karmic creditor will be reborn as a ghost, while one mindful of Amitābha Buddha will meet Amitābha Buddha, to be received and guided by him to reach his Pure Land, for training to become a Buddha. By the law of karmic cause and effect, it is impossible to be mindful of a last thought not associated with Amitābha Buddha, and yet reach his Pure Land. For example, it is impossible to be mindful of a ghost with reaching of Pure Land as a result. It is also impossible to be mindful of ‘nothing’ and yet reach Pure Land.
Question: If one dies unconscious, how can one have last thoughts of Āmítuófó?
Answer: As dying is the activity of the consciousness delinking from the body, death is always an actively conscious event. Even if dying when seemingly ‘unconscious’ physically, in comatose, sleeping and/or dreaming, last thought(s) will still be on the mind before rebirth occurs.
Question: How can we ensure now, that our last thoughts will be of Āmítuófó, even if unconscious later?
Answer: What has to be done is to learn and practise mindfulness of Buddha well, to be equipped with the Three Provisions sufficiently. According to an interpretation, as Āmítuófó’s 18th vow did not state that (at least) ten thoughts (十念) of him with the Three Provisions have to be last thoughts, these ten thoughts can apply to those in everyday life too. Yet, due to the above explanation on the dynamics of karma, for reaching Pure Land, one’s last thoughts must be similar too.
To combine these two perspectives, when one is able to have these ten thoughts in everyday life well, one’s last thoughts will be similar. According to the 18th vow of Āmítuófó, it essentially says, if ‘the ten directions’ sentient beings, with [utmost] sincere minds and joyful Faith, desire birth [i.e. have Aspiration] in my land, and even with [Practice of] ten [mindful] thoughts…’ (十方众生，至心信乐，欲生我国，乃至十念，若不生者…), they will be born there.
This can be interpreted to mean that Āmítuófó, with his all-knowing wisdom, will be able to know exactly when those with the Three Provisions (as expressed with mindfulness of him before) are departing (as they are already connected to him), and inspire mindfulness of him in time again, as one’s last thoughts. (As in the Contemplation Sūtra, such expression of mindfulness can also be when dying.) This inspiring by Āmítuófó, for example, can be by skilfully using his light of blessings to clear karmic obstacles and to remind mindfulness of him, with which he will appear, to guide and receive to his Pure Land.
Question: How can one be sure now, that one already has these ten thoughts with the provisions to meet the criteria of Āmítuófó’s vow?
Answer: If unsure, one should all the more continue to learn and practise mindfulness of Buddha sincerely and diligently. If sure, all the more will one naturally express the presence of the provisions in everyday life with sincere and diligent practice to remain connected and to deepen connection – until one’s last day and with one’s last thoughts. If this is not being done, one might not have the provisions sufficiently yet. Continual Practice in everyday life also creates much merits to benefit one and all. This increases blessings and lessens obstacles, for everyday life and when departing.
As long as one is already learning and practising as sincerely and diligently as possible, with the assurances above, there is no need to worry about not meeting the criteria of Āmítuófó’s vow. If there is constant worry while not being sincere and diligent, it is to have doubt in Āmítuófó’s vow, which is to lack Faith, which will in turn lessen Aspiration and Practice. This is how all Three Provisions can remain insufficient instead.
Instead of worrying about personal obstacles when departing, to lack Faith in Āmítuófó’s vow is already a key obstacle. The remedy is to have more learning, with which Faith will grow, which will in turn increase Aspiration and Practice. This is how the Three Provisions will become sufficient for clearing all karmic obstacles. There should also be Practice while learning, as direct Practice can increase Faith and Aspiration too.
Is Your Faith And Aspiration Resolute Enough?
When Are The Ten Thoughts In The Pure Land Sūtras?
The Three Provisions
Relationship Of The Three Provisions
Karma Dynamics in Pure Land Practice When Dying / Sleeping
When Can There Be Rebirth In Pure Land?