Pure land, a Buddhist heaven?

Amitabha Buddha (Chinese artwork)

The Pure-land practice in Mahayana Buddhism focus their practice on a Celestial Buddha named Amitabha Buddha.

Followers of this school believe that concentrated faith, focused intention plus remembrance of this Buddha, will ensure a rebirth in His paradise (Western Paradise). Beings reborn in this paradise will remain there and gain Enlightenment there. They will be tutored by Great Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha. They are also free to visit other Buddha(s) for training. There will be no more sufferings.

This seems too good to be true. One might be tempted to conclude that Amitabha Buddha seems like the Ultimate God being. Have faith in Him and one will gain entrance into Paradise.

Is this practice really Buddhist?

The purpose of rebirth in a Buddha’s pure-land such as the Amitabha Buddha’s western paradise; is to become enlightened. With this motivation, we should understand correctly that the primary objective of this practice is still about cultivation for enlightenment.

Let’s check out the most popular pureland scripture, “The Buddha speak of Amitabha sutra”.(佛说阿弥陀经)

I guess the burning question in mind is whether Pure-land practice accords with the teachings of karma? Does Amitabha Buddha absolves all our sins or bad karma, thus allowing us to be reborn in the western paradise?
Since Shakyamuni Buddha taught Karma, it would be super weird if we have any Buddhist practice that sideline the importance of Karma. Isn’t it?

不可以少善根福德因缘,得生彼国
(One cannot be born in this land through minor good roots, blessings, virtues and causal connections.  )

Buddha speaks of Amitabha Sutra

According to the scripture, one cannot be reborn in the Western paradise if one is lacking the followings:

  1. Good Roots -Inherent quality that leads to happiness (Enlightenment). This would mean that one must have good inner mind qualities such as loving kindness and compassion etc. It also means that one is not heavily tainted by Greed, Hatred and ignorance.
  2. Blessings – To have good blessings would mean that one must have done many good and wise deeds. (Refer to the Mangala Sutta, especially the last verse)
  3. Virtues – This mean one must possess morality and be virtuous.
  4. Causal connections – Cause and effect. This means one must have the correct karma.

If we look at the above, it becomes clear that Pure-land practice is not a “Cheat” code to be applied to our life. We cannot intentionally live a bad and evil life and then expect to cheat Karma with this practice.

Therefore, Karma is not being sidelined. The ideal of good actions reaps good results still applies.

How much of the above qualities do we need to have? Must we become a saint before we can go to the western paradise?

This wonderful Mahayana practice make it simple. That is why it gained such a huge followings in China and Japan. The trick about Buddhist practice boils down to mind training. If we practice mind training, then all our defilements will automatically be reduced. Naturally, that will help us gain rebirth in the Western Paradise.

Pure Land practice focus on being mindful of Amitabha Buddha.To achieve that, one recite the Buddha’s name at every moment 24 hours a day. Recalling the above verse in the sutra, we will not tolerate bad thoughts or mental state. Without bad thoughts or mental states, our actions and speech will be good!

Wonderful isn’t it?

May all be well and happy.