The eyes and ears of sentient beings are limited in their scope and we have very limited knowledge. Moreover, many Pure Land practitioners have witnessed scenes of the Pure Land whilst in Samadhi, and attained awakening. I recently spoke to a very devout Chinese lady who can neither read nor write and had not even heard of the Pure Land Sutras yet described the Pure Land of her Samadhi exactly as it is recorded!
Of course by speaking of an actual place we are speaking of ‘form’. However as the Zen Master Chu Huang of the 16th century wrote: “Mind equals object: there is no mind beyond objects. Since objects are wholly mind why must we cling to mind and dismiss objects? Those who dismiss objects when they talk of mind have not comprehended mind.”
Pure Land practice is not just about being re-born in a lotus bud in the Land of Ultimate Bliss to live happily ever after. One will have missed the point completely. The cycle of birth and death is an extremely heavy burden. “Life is suffering” spoke the Buddha. Even if, in this lifetime, you are living at ease and have comfort of body and mind, is this not because of causes previously set in motion by your merits attained from good deeds and a pure mind? One must be careful as if one does not continue to plant the seeds of pure karma then the merits will become exhausted and one retrogresses back into the cycle; one gets back on the not-so-merry-go-round of birth and death.
The Buddha knew it was extremely difficult to eliminate all impure karma in this lifetime. It is like putting a bucket under the roof as we do at our temple to catch the rainwater. There always seems to be dust and dirt at the bottom of the bucket even though full of pure rainwater. So it is with our life. Therefore the Buddha spoke to us of Amida Buddha and his powerful vows that whosoever recites his name with a pure concentrated heart-mind is able attain rebirth in the Pure Land. Indeed even as we meditate or recite with one-pointed concentration we are in that moment in Pure Land. Pure Land is but one breath away. Once reborn in the Pure Land we are able to progress in the Dharma and eventually attain Nirvana as Buddhas. Pure Land is not the final destination but one crucial and vital step along the way.
Between us and the Ultimate Bliss of Nirvana and Buddhahood is a fast flowing river with strong currents and counter currents. If we have the strength, perseverance and tenacity to reach the other side we may be able to swim across. In the world we live in the crosscurrents are extremely powerful and the likelihood is we will not make it across. Amidha Buddha and Pure Land is like a powered motorboat that is able to break through the swirl and arrive to meet our Buddha nature.
The last time I went across a fast flowing river here in China I did not ask myself “Do I believe that this boat exists?” I had faith that it did and faith that it would take me across. My motivation to cross the river fuelled my faith; so I got on board. Faith, Vows and Practice become the tri-pod upon which Pure Land Buddhism stands. Our practice is staying on the boat. Does the other side exist? I think I will trust the great Pure Land Masters who have gone before me and continue the journey in practice. Doubt only serves to unsettle the boat and we could get tossed into the river. Firm resolve is a sure way to attain ultimate happiness for ourselves and for all sentient beings.