All those people who have vowed, or are vowing, or will vow to be born in the land of Amitabha Buddha reach the level where they do not turn back from complete, unexcelled enlightenment, whether in their past lives, their present lives, or their future lives. Therefore; all good men and good women, if they have faith, must make a vow to be born in that land.http://www.buddhasutra.com/files/amidasutra.htm
The idea of rebirth in Sukhavati had been criticized as a form of escapism. This is because it appears to be telling us to focus on our afterlife. But if we read commentaries by great masters, we will understand that they all allude to experiencing a Pureland in the present.
Pureland may sound like a very distant place. This distance is twofold. The distance of time and place. Distance of time refers to our inability to grasp the possibility of nirvana in the present moment. Distance of place/space refers to our inability to perceive our current life as nirvana.
The above two “distances” had existed since the Buddha’s time. Unenlightened disciples had wondered for more than 2500 years, “what is enlightenment like?” “How does the cessation of suffering feel like?”
The attainment of Pureland is actually the attainment of enlightenment. Although, not the ultimate enlightenment yet, the sutra had been quite concise in explaining that there will be no lower realms and the attainment is non-reversible. One is a non-returner.
Therefore, Pureland practices are not just for the afterlife. It can help us attain enlightenment in this very life. Modern Pureland practitioners had begun to advocate the practice of realizing Pureland in this life and in this society.
This is again twofold. First of all, we want to cultivate and practice until we achieve a Pureland in our mind/heart. That means we possess goodness, engage in meritorious deeds, remove negativities from our minds. For example, we remove violent thoughts and promote loving kindness instead. We remove fear and enmity and promote peace and harmony. Through individual practices, we influence our families, friends, and societies, perhaps even the world. In that manner, the distance between us and the Pureland will be pulled closer.
This word appears in the sutra as 阿耨多罗三藐三菩提. This refers to the perfected enlightenment of a Samyaksam Buddha. For example, Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Mahayana doctrine, this enlightenment is the only one worth striving for because, like Shakyamuni Buddha, one will benefit countless beings.
When one vows to be reborn in Pureland, one’s path is leading towards such enlightenment.
But the modernistic approach will be more proactive. We do not pray to Buddha as if He is some God sitting in a remote heaven, who only appears at our death bed to bring us to a Pureland. And then we practice in that safe heaven until we become a Samyaksam Buddha. (like in an incubator?)
In our modern approach, we should understand that death happens at every moment in our minds. If we practice meditation and mindfulness, we understand how our noisy thoughts of insecurities, fears, hostilities, jealousy, lust, cravings, etc are “fermenting”. They arise and then disappear, or they lead to another new thought. These arising and disappearing (fermenting) thoughts are life and death.
In that manner, one moment we are a kind person and in the next, we snapped and become a total bitch? That’s how one persona die and another is reborn.
The cessations of all these noisy fermentation is Pureland.
Thus rebirth into Pureland, can also happen now.
In the modernist approach, aspiring to be like Buddha is no longer limited to just prayers to a statue on the altar. We read the autobiography of Shakyamuni Buddha and various past Buddhist masters. From their life, we have a treasury of life experiences to learn from. We understand how they face adversities and overcome challenges with their unwavering compassion, kindness, and wisdom. Although we are imperfect now, there is nothing stopping us from trying our best to live like them.
If we approach Pueland practice in this manner, then vowing to be reborn in Pureland is no longer a distant task. We do not think that rebirth in Pureland will happen only upon our physical death. Thus, vowing to be reborn is Pureland becomes a very purposeful and dynamic commitment in this very life!
May all be well and happy.
May the pandemic end.