Thank you for sharing that Bodhi.
I have a question for you or any other Pure Land buddhist: have you ever got any signs about your rebirth on Pure Land? What about your Master, did he got any signs? Do you have faith that you will get them? What other differences do you notice in your life because of doing recitation? How much do you recitate?
I've being doing less recitations because Faith is a major problem, specially for a scientific mind. I have some doubts because one asks some things like: going to a pure land after death seems a crazy idea...could it be real the existence of Amithaba and his Pure Land? What if the Amitabha concept is just an invention so that more people could get acess to buddhism? Isnt Pure Land a later invention and probably not a real teaching of Buddha? Ask that questions to your Master
, the answers could help increase my Faith
About my own experience, i recitate for a few days, then after some weeks i get back to recitation again. On that time, when i come back, coicidence or not i will get 1 or 2 dreams with specific and not probable things that will happen exactly next day (i dream, i wake up and a few hours later that thing will happen). Coincidence or is my mind "opening" because of recitation? I only had this phenomenon happening 2 times to me i think.
Sorry I am currently out of state and so I didnt get time to get online much and therefore got to your question extremely late.
Currently I am following Chan, but you will find it is actually quite common that many Zen School had incorporated Pure Land school together, and it is quite normal for the 2 schools to go hand in hand.
In the Pure Land school, in a way, we emphasize the importance of faith in Buddha Amitabha. As Mahayana Buddhists, we know that there are infinite buddhas from all 10 directions and each of this Buddha had their own Pure Land, while it is possible for one Buddha Land to be more magnificent than others.
Like a Master had said, "One recitation of a Buddha, there is one Buddha in your mind" therefore reciting hundred or thousand of times throughout your life, you are slowly purifying your mind and associate it with the Buddha Amitabha creating an affinity between Buddha Amitabha and yourself and this is in a way, a form of Karma. Most of us after death will take rebirth onto different path in Samsara due to our different Karmic force and habit, but associate our mind with Buddha Amitabha, vowing to take rebirth in his land, and with strong faith will make it possible for you to take birth in the Pure Land because we rely on the Power of Amitabha Buddha, and the power of his vows.
All Chan school, or atleast the majority, will say reciting the Name of Amitabha is infact a form of meditation. One could gain the same benefits from reciting and being mindful of the name of Lord Amitabha as if one is doing sitting meditation. And from what I said from above, we are also associating our mind and creating the affinity with the Buddha Amitabha. These will help us purify our mind and body, and a common quote in Pure Land School "Pure Mind is Pure Land".
I will share with you the experiences I have that are common between Chan and Pure Land school is that, when I do sitting meditation, I experience phenomenons that was taught by shifu that it is the result of the mind and body going through a purifying process, it includes feeling warmth, cold, feeling light as if one is floating, it could also feel as if it weighs as much as a mountain therefore you feel extremely heavy, itchiness, and many more. And through meditation I had felt strange warmth, not the normal like hot feeling but a pleasant warmth going through the whole body, and I also experience the extreme lightness like I am floating, these 2 were also experienced when I do recitation of Amitabha Buddha mindfully with full concentration on his name. I do, however, believe that reciting the name of Buddha Amitabha can only be comparable to the breath counting meditation of Chan to focus the mind, but reciting Amitabha can not enter deep meditative state like Chan Meditation can at advance level where they can awaken their Buddha Nature to attain enlightenment.
The difference though between Pure Land School and Chan school is that, even though it might have some commons on the meditation area, the difference is, Chan is abit more of relying on self-effort alone and strive for enlightenment this very life, so it is much more direct to our Buddha nature but no guaranteeing, while Pure Land school practitioners strongly rely on the Buddha Power to take rebirth in the Western Pure Land, where one will be guaranteed to not fall back to samsara and will definitely attain enlightenment since there wont be any distractions to cultivation because there isn't even the 3 evil paths or even the names of these 3 evil paths exist in pure land.
Many mistaken that Pure Land School is comparable to Christianity's Heaven, this is incorrect view, for one is that Pure Land is not our final destination, we are living in the saha world, but because this land have less means for cultivation and more distractions especially during the Dharma-ending age so we vow to take rebirth in the Western Pure land of Buddha Amitabha, because that Land exist from his great vows where he perfected and became a Buddha, so that land, everything was formed from the Pure Compassionate Mind of Buddha Amitabha, thus beings of that Land will be able to live in pure mind and to hear the wonderful Dharma through the Buddha Amitabha himself teaching the dharma, or even the falling of leaves and every noises evoke Buddha nature. There are birds that exist from the great light of Buddha Amitabha, so therefore when they sing, they also evoke the Buddha nature of the beings in that land. So Pure Land is a place to aide cultivators to attain enlightenment quicker and easier. Secondly, Pure Land is different from heaven, because Beings in Pure Land strive to attain enlightenment and achieve Buddha hood like the Buddha himself, not to become the servants of the Buddha Amitabha. Third is that Pure Land is not a permanent place for us, because after attain enlightenment and practicing Bodhisattva path, we will have to perform the duty of Bodhisattva to save sentient beings.
Sorry I can't answer your question on your dreams, because I truly do not know. But I know when I do recitation of Amitabha Buddha, this might seem like a minor point, but I most of the times experience great bliss while awake which can be the same result of meditation, and even in dream even after i wake up, and I stop having nightmares. This to me just seem like an indication that there is some purifying of mind and it was associated with the Buddha. We might all experience different phenomenons, and what you experience as a result of your cultivation might not be what I had experience.
In the end, I really do not know what to tell you on your faith on the Pure Land School, you will just have to find one that you will be comfortable practicing with. Buddha had spoke of many Mahayana Sutras, but most major Mahayana Sutra didn't appear until much later on, and for many people, they have doubts, and as the Buddha said, it is extremely hard for people then to understand and accept therefore these sutras were kept and protect by the nagas until it was retreat when the right time had come, but I definitely had find truth in mahayana and it worked.
My personal opinion on Pure Land is that, it is a wonderful School and I really believe in it. I really believe it is an easier dharma door for many practitioners in the dharma-ending age with busy life to still be able to cultivate and attain enlightenment after taking rebirth into Pure Land. The reason why it is easier is that it seem like it will not take as much efforts and less time consuming, more convenient because you can recite anywhere at any time whenever you can, and all we need is faith, sincerity, and vow to take rebirth in the Western Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, finally it is easier is because we rely on the power of the Buddha Amitabha to take rebirth in the western Pure Land, even though we do have to put in abit of our own efforts as well.
One can recite the name of Amitabha Buddha 10 times sincerely, even as a serial killer, can still take rebirth in the western Pure Land, that expresses how much we rely on the Buddha power.
Throughout the history of Buddhism, there are many great,wonderful, and extremely wise masters and patriarchs who followed the Pure Land School and encouraged it.
Because of my poor wisdom and little knowledge, I don't dare to say much, but I think it would be great if you can find a master and ask him/her these questions yourself, or you can find and read many great books on Pure Land School written by many masters in "ancient" time or even more recently.
I am sorry if my respond isnt clear or satisfying because of my poor wisdom and lack of knowledge.
I wish you the best.
Amitabha Buddha :]