QUESTION: If everyone is equal in the assuredness of their place in Pureland, does this not discourage people from efforts to behave nobly (e.g. following the Noble Eightfold Path)? How does this relate to the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths?
SHORT ANSWER: The eightfold path is a natural outcome of true faith and nobody enters the Pureland without faith.
LONG ANSWER: In my understanding, the Eightfold Path is a description of the life of an enlightened person. In Other Power spirituality we have faith in the saving grace of such people. The more faith we have, the more our life comes naturally under their influence and inspiration and, naturally, the closer one's life then approximates to the Eightfold Path.
The idea that the Eightfold Path is a way to arrive at enlightenment, however, is a mistake. The Buddha did not become Buddha by following the Eightfold Path. He discovered the Eightfold Path by becoming enlightened. The Eightfold Path is an outcome, not a means. We do not have the ability to follow the Eightfold Path by our self-direction. The actions of deluded beings are deluded.
The correct understanding of the Four Truths is as follows. They are correctly called Four Truths for Noble Ones.
1. Dukkha is a truth for noble ones. This means that noble ones are not free from dukkha. Noble ones are noble precisely because they accept and face dukkha rather than running away from it.
2. Dukkha-Sumudaya is a truth for noble ones. This means that for noble ones things (emotions, thoughts, impulses, etc.) come up. For ordinary beings this leads them into distractive, escapist, ego-centred or self-destructive behaviours. However, noble ones are capable of unhooking themselves and handling the emotions differently.
3. Dukkha-Sumudaya-Nirodha is a truth for noble ones. This means that noble ones are able to handle the emotions that come up. They are able to do so because they have faith and so do not panic. They trust that all is well.
4. Marga is a truth for noble ones. This means that the outcome of the above three steps is that noble ones are on the path.
The correct understanding of entering the Pure Land is as follows. Every Buddha has a "Buddha field" or "Pure Land". This is he field of influence of that Buddha's great merit, just like the magnetic field around a magnet. When we enter such a field we get magenised too. We become little magnets. In order to enter such a field we have to turn our hearts toward a Buddha. The Buddha who is said to be most accepting is Amida. This is because of the nature of the vows hat he made. Therefore, Pureland Buddhists turn to Amida and have faith in his saving power and thereby enter into his field. All who do so will eventually, naturally, walk upon the Eightfold Path. There is nothing discouraging about entering the Buddha field of Amida Tathagata.