Buddhism as an Education

The path to Enlightenment

Namo Amitabha

In the past few years there was a theory being circulated that said a person with remaining karma could not attain birth into the Pure Land. This greatly shocked and panicked Pure Land practitioner. When I went to Los Angeles in1984, I was asked if this was really true. On hearing the question, I smiled and said, “If it were true that no person with remaining karma could be born into the Pure Land, then the only person there would be Buddha Amitabha. --- Ven. Master Chin Kung ---

Answers to Questions
by Grand Master Chu-hung (The Eighth Pureland Patriarch)
From Pure Land Pure Mind
Translated by J.C. Cleary
Edited by Van Hien Study Group

1. Before and After
To Ku Kuang-yin

        The ancients already had [Zen], the direct pointing of the special transmission. Later they practiced Pure Land methods, wishing to be born in the Pure Land. Were the Pure Land practices created by vows after enlightenment? Or are [Zen and Pure Land] practices done together before enlightenment?
        If they are cultivated together, this means a dishonest mind, a mind on a path that diverges [from the selflessness of enlightenment]: how could this meditation work be unified?   If [Pure Land methods are used] after enlightenment, by that time all sensory realms are the Flower Treasury World, all places are the Lotus Land, everything is alright everywhere: so why would there be bliss only with birth in the Western Paradise?

       True faith in the Pure Land and determination to be born there are not a matter of after enlightenment or before enlightenment. Though they make studying Zen their task, nothing prevents those who devote themselves to Zen, without managing to awaken, from making a vow to be born in the Pure Land. Because they cannot avoid being subject to future existence, and in the end will be born again, [for them to seek birth in the Pure Land] is not dishonest mind or mind on a divergent path.
        As for those who have already awakened, an ancient said, "Do you imagine that with a single awakening you can equal the buddhas?" This is why Samantabhadra still makes vows, even as one of the protagonists of the Avatamsaka Sutra,for whom all sensory realms are the Flower Treasury World and all places are the Lotus Land. This is why even Samantabhadra will surely persevere, seeking birth in the Land of Peace and Bliss.
        Since even those who are already awakened act like this, it is obviously also the way to act for those who are not yet awakened.

2. Zen and Pure Land

       In studying Zen the important thing is "One mind unborn."  In reciting the buddha-name the important thing is that pure mindfulness [of buddha] be continuous.
        Investigating the method of reciting the buddha-name, the intent is for wondrous awakening and birth in the Pure Land. When reciting the buddha-name, mind and buddha are clear and distinct.
        When studying Zen, both [mind and buddha] are cut off.  Because they are cut off, the power of Zen meditation gradually prevails, and the power of buddha-name recitation gradually weakens. So then, later on, how can one achieve both [Zen] enlightenment and birth in the Pure Land?

        "One mind unborn" is Zen; it's not "studying Zen." Heightening mindfulness and subduing doubts is called "studying." This is what the Surangama Sutrameans with sayings like "Take this mind and investigate over and over again.
        Both reciting the buddha-name and studying Zen involve mindfulness: there is no contradiction between them.

3. Working with Mind
To Prefectural Governor Ch'ien Kuang-chan

        I have let this mind go for a long time already. Although I gather it in and try to hold it by reciting the buddha-name, I only can do this for a little while, and then I lose it again. How can I preserve [mindfulness of buddha]?

        A land that has been in rebellion for a long time cannot be won back with a single battle. It is a matter of firmness and courage and not retreating. When the mind ground opens up to illumination, then naturally once [this state] is attained, it is attained forever.

        As soon as I put the chains on the monkey [of my restless mind], I gradually sink into a torpor. When I wake up and set it going again, it immediately scatters in confusion. How can I subdue it?

        Stillness will cure scattering in confusion. When the scattering goes away, this gives rise to torpor. Wakefulness will cure torpor. When the torpor goes away, this gives rise to scattering. By maintaining both "stopping" [of false thoughts] and "observing" [the workings of mind], torpor and scattering both recede.
        Right now you simply must recite the buddha-name with purity and illumination. Purity means reciting the buddha-name without any other thoughts. Illumination means reflecting back as you recite the buddha-name. Purity is "stopping." Illumination is "observing." Unify your mindfulness of buddha through buddha-name recitation, and stopping and observing are both present.

[A sutra says:]

Seeking mind in the seven places, mind is not inside or outside or in between.
        The Second Patriarch [of Zen] asked how to pacify mind [and when Bodhidharma told him to bring his mind forth, he had to admit] mind could not be found. [Bodhidharma then told him,] "I have pacified your mind."
        This is not the realm of ordinary people. Now I want to abide face to face with this realm. How should I be mindful?

        Don't be concerned with seven places or eight places or pacifying or not pacifying or face to face or not face to face. Just singlemindedly recite the buddha-name. A man of old said, "Go straight to supreme enlightenment without being concerned about any right or wrong."

        [A Buddhist maxim says that] taking care of one's life and making a living does not go against ultimate reality. The Buddha Dharma is dedicated to universal salvation, without regard for one's own skin, but [even though I try to practice Buddhism], my concern for taking care of my own life is still present to some degree.  How can I reconcile this [apparent contradiction]?

        If we go all the way to the transcendent level,not only do taking care of one's life and making a living not go against ultimate reality, but neither do killing and robbing and sexual excess and lying. If we talk in terms of the worldly level,to have some degree [of self-concern] is a constant principle of worldly life, and does not block the Path. But cheating and avarice are not permissible.

4. Pressed by Suffering
To Layman Chu Hsi-tsung

        When pressed by suffering, how can we be mindful of buddha, how can we recite the buddha-name?

        Confucius spoke of not going against humane standards even when hungry, hurried and upset. Though this work of not going against [necessary standards when hard-pressed] is not easy to perfect all at once, if you work at it without stopping, finally it will become spontaneous.
        Likewise, if you practice buddha-name recitation for a long, long time, suddenly you will have insight. Then the Path will be present there right in the midst of suffering and joy, of adversity and ease. As the saying goes, "Coughing, spitting, shrugging the shoulders: none of it is not the meaning of Zen." It is just a matter of bringing it to full ripeness.

        [Is it true that] we [mere ordinary sentient beings] cannot achieve the contemplation of the special characteristics of a buddha, which are so great and far-reaching?

        The ancient worthies thought that since the minds of sentient beings are very mixed, it is hard for them to perfect the contemplation of the concept [of buddha, with all its inconceivable attributes].
        [Consequently], the great sages took pity [on ordinary people], and urged them to devote themselves to reciting the buddha-name.
        So now for the time being, you should recite the buddha-name, and put aside contemplation of the concept [of buddha], and not discuss it.

5. Unifying the Mind
To Layman Chiang Kuang-hui

        [According to the Sutra,  if one recites the buddha-name] with mind unified without confusion for one to seven days, one will be born in the Pure Land. What if mind is unified [in buddha-remembrance] for one to seven days, but after this one loses this unity again: can one still be born in the Pure Land or not?

        After you have been able to unify mind [in buddha-remembrance], mind will be less scattered, and will surely never again become totally scattered.
        This can be compared to [the case of Confucius's favorite disciple,] Yen Hui, who went three months without offending against [the prime Confucian virtue of] humaneness. After these three months were over, one can hardly say that Yen Hui became an evil man [again, though there might have been slight transgressions thereafter].
        Though falsity may spring up in the mind of the kind of person [who has unified his or her mind on buddha-remembrance for one to seven days], it will be like a speck of snow on a red-hot stove. Probably [if this happens] the merit [of that person's buddha-remembrance] was a bit thin to begin with.

6. Everyday Practice
To Layman Wu Kuang-yin

        A person who cultivates practice maintains his efforts and makes it his duty [to do so] and solidifies his basic position.  Suppose there is some carnal craving and weakness, but the person holds back and sits peacefully and reins in his mind and recites the buddha-name: can he still find the Path and be born in the Pure Land?

        If he is truly able to unify his mind [on buddha-remembrance] and remain unmoved, then he can.

        [As I understand it,] what is important in reciting the buddha-name is continuous mindfulness [of buddha] from moment to moment. This much is certain. But there are times when one is not comporting oneself with formality of bearing, but instead seems disrespectful -- for example when one takes off one's headgear and loosens one's clothing, when one lies naked in the bath, or when one is relieving oneself. At such times should one recite the buddha-name or not?

        Silent recitation of the buddha-name is alright at such times.

        Suppose there are two people. One eats meat but does not neglect to recite the buddha-name.  One is a vegetarian but never recites the buddha-name. Which is better?

        Both are defective. The one who recites the buddha-name is a little better, better than the one who does not know that buddha exists.

        In reciting the buddha-name [one can say] "Amitabha Buddha" or "Hail to Amitabha Buddha." There is a slight difference here: one version is fuller, one simpler. The text of the Sutra just speaks of reciting the buddha-name, which seems to indicate only the shorter form. But these days in the Buddhist community everyone follows the longer form. Ultimately, which is correct? Which form do you yourself use?

        I use the shorter form when reciting to myself and the longer form when reciting along with the assembly.

        One of your enlightening aphorisms is:

Recite the buddha-name to the end of your days, and you are creating good fortune for the future.
        But if our minds are focused on winning good fortune as we are creating good fortune, then they are not on the buddha-name. If we pick up one but let the other go, can this be called [reciting the buddha-name] with unified mind without confusion?

        The clear mirror is originally empty. Things appear as they come, but this does not obstruct the mirror's emptiness.
        When people only work for the future so that they will welcome it, and work for the past because they are stuck on it, these are sicknesses.

[For the following answers, the questions were not recorded.]

7. Work on the Root
Reply to Layman Chiang of Yu-yao

      To cut off the root for living people is truly hard. If there is contemplation that is not pure, this means you are dealing with the superficial level. If you investigate back into where desirous thoughts arise, this is dealing with the root.
        Right now you must investigate the one reciting the buddha-name. This is mindfulness of Buddha by reciting the buddha-name. For now concentrate on reciting the name.  You may contemplate buddha when you are bowing to the buddha-image.

8. Unified Mind
Reply to Layman Kung Kuang-ch'i

       No matter whether monk or householder, people should hold to the recitation of the buddha-name, so that their minds are unified and unconfused.
        Reciting "Amitabha Buddha" is the way to enter into [this state of mental focus]. If you recite just "Amitabha," do not be careless and look past it.
        Reflecting back on "Who is the person reciting the buddha-name?"has the same intent as studying Zen.
        You can read all the Great Vehicle scriptures, and then you'll see that they all view correct mindfulness as the paramount thing.

9. Pure Land, Zen, and the Scriptures
Reply to Ta-ching

       You need not falsely seek the meaning of the scriptural teachings and the meaning of the Zen school. Just carefully recite the Buddha-name. Recite it till your mind is unified and unconfused, and then you will naturally awaken.

10. Prepare for the Future
Reply to Layman Chiang

       After the transformation of the Body [in death], there will be more transformations of the body. You have not yet managed not to Be subject to future existence, so it is important for you to seek birth in the Pure Land.

11. Rebirth Transformed
Reply to Kuang-ch'iao

       An ancient said:

I would rather be among the lowest class living in the Pure Land, than be conceived again in the human world.
        If you are tired of the troubles of physical incarnation, just  carefully  recite  the  buddha-name.    If you singlemindedly recite the Buddha-name, you will be Born transformed in a lotus flower [in the Pure Land].

12. Singleminded
Replies to an unknown questioner

        When one singlemindedly invokes the Buddha-name, if one is also attached to seeking birth in the Pure Land, doesn't this verge on having one's attention divided?

        Seeking birth in the Pure Land should be done when you make your vows in the morning and the evening. When  you  are  invoking  the  Buddha-name,  be singleminded and unify your attention. You must not harbor [any other thoughts] mixed in.
        The situation is comparable to someone studying for the examinations. Reading texts and writing essays is his work.  What is the reason he reads texts and writes essays? He wants to pass the examinations and Become a degree-holder. This is what he hopes for.

13. Practical Advice
Replies to unknown questions by unknown questioners

       If you sit upright to recite the Buddha-name, I'm afraid your mind will Be hard to gather in. It would be better to  walk around [while you recite the buddha-name].
        To come to grips with [the meditation case] "Who is the one reciting the buddha-name?"you must have true doubt arise. If true doubt does not arise, just go on silently reciting the buddha-name for awhile.
        Though the power of his vows [to be born in the Pure Land] may not be deep, a man who has stable meditative concentration [as in Zen] can still go to the Pure Land.
        But for someone who cultivates Pure Land practice, then faith, vows, and practice are like the three legs of a tripod: it will not do if one is lacking.
        [At the end of the Dharma-Ending Age], whenever a single Blade of grass is raised, it immediately becomes a spearpoint that can kill people.
        In this period all forms of the Dharma have already perished:  all that is left for people's salvation is the phrase "Amitabha Buddha." If a person is able to have complete mindfulness of this phrase, then he can Be a teacher to the world.

14. Everyone Must Cultivate the Pure Land

       The Pure Land Master T'ien-ju said this:

These days followers of Zen look down upon those who cultivate Pure Land practices as ignorant men and women. But in so doing they are not [as they think, only] looking down on [so-called] "ignorant men and women." Rather, they are looking down on [the great bodhisattvas] Manjushri and Samantabhadra, and [the bodhisattva-philosophers] Ashvaghosha and Nagarjuna [who all advocated Pure Land methods].
        What an incisive comment! For those who still do not believe this, I give some references, so that they may have proof that this is not false.

        In the Sutra Contemplating the Samadhi of Buddha,a verse of Manjushri Bodhisattva says:

I vow that when my life is ending, I will remove all barriers, see Amitabha Buddha face to face, and go to be born in the land of peace and bliss.
        In the Flower Ornament (Avatamsaka) Sutra'schapter on vows, the verse of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva says:
I vow that when I am about to die, I will remove all barriers, and see Amitabha Buddha face to face, and go to be born in the land of peace and bliss.
        In the Treatise Awakening of Faith,Ashvaghosha Bodhisattva taught that the most excellent method is to concentrate on reciting the buddha-name, and thus achieve birth in the Pure Land, from which there is never any regression.

        In the Lankavatara Sutra,Buddha tells Great Wisdom:

The bhikshu Great Virtue, here called Nagarjuna, having attained the first stage [of bodhisattvas, called] "Joy," will be born in the land of peace and bliss.
        Here I have briefly cited four great bodhisattvas. Other cases of bodhisattvas cultivating the Pure Land are too numerous to record.

        [The founder of Pure Land Buddhism in China,] Dharma Master Hui-yuan of Lu-shan, awakened to the profound meaning of great transcendent wisdom, and was called the bodhisattva who protects the Dharma in the East.  He recited the buddha-name and viewed the buddha-image and went to be born in the Pure Land.
        The great teacher Chih-i of T'ien-t'ai subtly awakened to the Lotus Sutra.He taught contemplation, and became the grand ancestral teacher of the [T'ien-t'ai] school for myriad generations. He faced the West, elucidated the ten kinds of doubts [about the Pure Land], wrote a commentary on the sixteen contemplations [of Amitabha Buddha], and fully discussed the Pure Land.
        The great [Zen] teacher Pai-chang, who was the legitimate heir to whom [Zen master] Ma-tsu transmitted the Path, and whom all the Zen communities in China take as their source, prayed for sick monks and held funerals for dead monks so that they might return to the Pure Land.
        The national teacher Ch'ing-liang, who succeeded to the position of patriarch of the Huayen school, and who was acclaimed as an incarnation of Manjushri, taught that Amitabha is [a form of the universal illuminator Buddha] Vairochana. He also wrote a commentary on the Contemplation of Amitabha Sutra (Meditation Sutra),and propagated Pure Land techniques widely.
        Zen  teacher  Yen-shou  of Yung-ming  attained unobstructed eloquence [as seen in his encyclopedic masterpiece the Source Mirror]. He was a pillar of the Zen school and practiced the [Zen master Lin-chi's meditation plan of] the "four choices." He always extolled the Pure Land and was born there among the highest class.
        Zen teacher Ssu-hsin Hsin was the successor to Huang--lung when the influence of his school was in full flourish. Yet he was very keen on Pure Land practice and wrote a text urging people to recite the buddha-name, to enable them to arouse their faith.
        Zen teacher Chen-hsieh Liao succeeded Master Ch'un of Tan-hsia in the Ts'ao-tung school. When he became very well known, he came out of seclusion to help restore [the school, which was in] decline. He concentrated on the Pure Land, and wrote a Pure Land collection that circulated widely in the world.
        Zen master Tz'u-shou Shen synthesized the five teachings in a verse in [his work] Stories of Virtuous Women of the Great Land. He said that the quickest and most direct method of cultivating practice is Pure Land. He established a Pure Land teaching center and earnestly encouraged his congregation [to recite the buddha-name].
        Zen master Yuan-chao Pen continued the Path of T'ien-i and extended the school of Hsueh-tou.  The thunder of his teaching shook the earth, and he was teacher and model to two dynasties. He practiced Pure Land along with Zen.
        Zen master Chung-feng Pen got the Dharma from old man Kao-feng. His students looked up to him as the [Zen school's] central figure of the age. He said:

Zen is Pure Land Zen. Pure Land is Zen Pure Land.
        Chung-feng composed a set of a hundred poems called Thoughts of the Pure Land to encourage people to recite the buddha-name.
        The foregoing are ten venerable adepts [of Zen who advocated Pure Land practice].  Other Zen adepts and Dharma Masters and Vinaya Masters who cultivated the Pure Land are too numerous to record.
        The Amitabha Sutra, the Sutra of Infinite Life (Longer Amitabba Sutra), the Sixteen Contemplations Sutra(Meditation Sutra),  the Drum  Voice King Sutra, Vasubhandu's Treatise on Birth in the Pure Land:these are sutras and treatises that concentrate on expounding the Pure Land. Other sutras and treatises that contain some mention of the Pure Land are too numerous to note Š
        I hope you will investigate each and every one of these people, read their words, and consider their ideas. I hope this will put an end to your doubts and give you a decisive intention [to recite the buddha-name]. This would be most fortunate!

15. Considering Suffering as Happiness

       The flies in the privy are suffering exceedingly, from the point of view of dogs and sheep, but the flies do not recognize this as suffering, and think of it as happiness.
        The dogs and sheep out in the open are suffering exceedingly, from the point of view of human beings, but the dogs and sheep do not recognize this as suffering, and think of it as happiness.
        The human beings in the world are suffering exceedingly, from the point of view of the devas in heaven, but they do not recognize this as suffering, and think of it as happiness.
        If we push our reasoning far enough, it is also like this for the devas in regard to suffering and happiness.
        If we realize this, not even ten thousand oxen can pull us back from seeking birth in the Pure Land.

16. Reciting the Buddha-Name Mindfully

       Those of the world's people who have a bit of innate intelligence look down on reciting the buddha-name as a device for [those ignorant of the Dharma]. They just see ignorant men and women reciting the buddha-name with their mouths, while their minds are miles away. They do not know that such people are said to be [merely] repeating the buddha-name [verbally], not reciting it mindfully.
      Reciting the buddha-name proceeds from the mind.The mind remembers [buddha] and does not forget. That's why it is called buddha-remembrance, or reciting the buddha-name mindfully.
        Let us take a Confucian parallel. True Confucians think back to Confucius every moment: if they depart from Confucius, are they not still close to him?
        These days some people are thinking of the five desires every moment, and they do not consider this wrong: instead, they think mindfulness of buddha is wrong. Alas! It is better to be ignorant than to waste a lifetime like this. What a pity that intelligent people can do this --others may be ignorant, but they cannot [delude themselves like this].

17. Repentance

       There was a man carrying out the Pure Land method of repentance [by doing prostrations].
        A monk said to him, "Doesn't it say in the scriptures that if you want to repent, sit upright and be mindful of reality? How can you be so naive, with this repeated bowing?"
        The man asked, "What is reality?"
        The monk said, "When the mind does not create falsity, this is reality."
        The man then asked, "What is mind? What is falsity? What can control the mind?"
        The monk had no reply.

        The man who had been doing the repentance ritual said, "I have heard that in repentance, inner truth is the main thing, and particular practices are aids. Even if one is mindful of reality, if actions of body, mind, and mouth are very carefully controlled, it does not interfere.
        "What's the reason? People at the elementary stage of practice are not yet able to accord with reality itself, and must depend on other causal factors to aid them. In the Lotus Sutra [Buddha Shakyamuni] says:

I use other skillful means to help reveal the supreme truth.
"The Awakening of Faith Treatisesays:
If sentient beings in the age of the End of the Dharma are to practice this Dharma, there is the fear they will not always encounter an enlightened being [to instruct them]. The Tathagata, the World Honored One, had a different method [for them]: he taught them to be mindful of the buddha by reciting the buddha-name and to seek birth in the Pure Land.
        "Thus we know that Dharma Master Tz'u-yun's method of Pure Land repentance [by doing prostrations] has set the standard for ancient and modern, and is most refined and effective on an intimate level. It is equipped with both inner truth and phenomenal expression, like all the glorious forms of repentance in the Lotus Sutra. Both humans and devas join to honor it. It is a great precious lamp in the dark street of the Last Age of the Dharma.
        "[Tell me, your reverence,] did Buddha not say that making a living and working do not go against reality?"
        The monk said, "That's right."
        The man said, "If so, then [do you mean to say] that practicing repentance through making prostrations is not as good as making a living [in this respect]?"
        Again the monk had no reply.

18. Studying Zen and Reciting the Buddha-Name

       In the first two reign-periods of the present dynasty, Hung-wu [1368-1403] and Yung-lo [1403-1424], there were three great Zen masters: K'ung-ku, T'ien-ch'i, and Tu--feng.
        In regard to reciting the buddha-name, Tien-ch'i and Tu-feng taught people to contemplate [the koan] "Who is the one reciting the buddha-name?" K'ung-ku told people to just keep reciting the buddha-name and they would have a gateway to enlightenment. T'ien-ch'i and Tu-feng taught according to what was appropriate for the situation and the mentality of the times, and both were right. K'ung-ku spoke of simply reciting the buddha-name, and sanctioned that, but he did not say that studying Zen is wrong.
        I  have  already  explained this briefly in my commentaries, but there are still some people with doubts. They think that in studying Zen the main thing is seeing reality-nature,  whereas  in  simply  reciting  the buddha-name, what is important is birth in the Pure Land. So they want to reject studying Zen and specialize in reciting the buddha-name. They say that the sutras only speak of reciting the buddha-name, and say nothing about studying Zen.
        This theory is quite reasonable, and those who practice accordingly will surely be born in the Pure Land. But to keep Pure Land practice and reject Zen will not do. This is because a person who recites the buddha-name and [through studying Zen] sees reality-nature, is born among the top class in the Pure Land: how can he worry that he will not be born there?  Therefore in my commentaries I preserve both [Pure Land and Zen perspectives] for people to choose from. Please have no doubts about this.
        But if people take this word "Who?" and use it to depress their energy, and think that this is investigating the one reciting the buddha-name, they are very much misguided and mistaken, and they will commit a great wrong.

19. Reciting the Buddha-Name Does Not Obstruct Studying Zen

       The ancients said that studying Zen does not obstruct reciting  the  buddha-name  and  that  reciting  the buddha-name does not obstruct studying Zen. But they also said that one cannot study both. Nevertheless, there have been those who combined Zen and Pure Land, like Yuan-chao Pen, Chen-hsieh Liao, Yung-ming Yen-shou, Huang-lung Hsin, Tz'u-shou Shen, and others.  These were all great craftsmen of the Zen school who kept in mind the Pure Land without obstructing their Zen.
        Thus we know that nothing prevents people who study Zen and who investigate inherent mind moment to moment from taking vows to be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss when their lives here are over.
        Why is this? Though one may have an awakening by studying Zen, if one is as yet unable to abide in the eternal quiescent light like the buddhas, and is still not free of subsequent existence like the arhats, then when this physical body is used up, one is sure to be reborn. How can being born in the human world and approaching enlightened teachers here be as good as being born in a lotus flower [of the Pure Land] and being near to Amitabha?
        Therefore, not only does reciting the buddha-name not obstruct studying Zen, in reality it is beneficial for studying Zen.

20. Great Filial Piety that Transcends the World

      Filial piety means children serving and supporting their parents [emotionally and materially] and making them secure. Great filial piety means establishing one's resolve to carry out the Path [of enlightenment] and make it manifest.  The greatest filial piety is to urge [one's parents to  practice] the method of reciting the buddha-name, and enable them to be born in the Pure Land.
        I was born late [in my parents' lives]. I had just heard of the Buddha Dharma when the grief of their passing was upon me, and I was left with the extreme pain that lasts till the end of one's days, [the pain of losing one's parents when young]. I wanted to do something to help them, but there was no way.
        I respectfully tell this to all of you. If your parents are still [alive] at home, do not wait too long to encourage them to recite the buddha-name. If your parents are dead, recite the buddha-name [on their behalf] for three years, or if this is impossible, for a solid year, or else for forty-nine days. Any [of these options] will do. Filial children who wish to repay the benevolence of their parents' efforts should know this.

21. Enlightened People Should Go to the Pure Land

       Some people ask this question: "I cultivate Pure Land practice, but the Zen people say, 'Just awaken to your own inherent buddha, and you are finished. What need is there to seek outside for some other buddha and vow to be born in the Pure Land?' What about this idea?"
        [Answer:] I think that [what the Zen people say] is really the highest form of instruction, but if you hold to it rigidly, you can go wrong.
        Let me explain with a comparison. Suppose there was a person of outstanding enlightenment, the same as Yen Hui [the best disciple of Confucius]. Suppose further that a hundred miles away there was a sage like Confucius expounding the Path, surrounded by seventy philosophers and three thousand worthy followers. Would there not surely be some extra advantage for the person of outstanding enlightenment, having heard of their renown, to go and see them? Would it be proper for him to be smug about his own enlightenment and refuse to go see [the sage and his worthy entourage]?
        Even if you have gotten some measure of awakening, if you do not vow to go to the Pure Land, I guarantee that you are not yet [fully] enlightened. As [Master] Tien--ju said [in a similar case]:

You are not yet enlightened. If you were enlightened, no force no matter how great could pull you back from being born in the Pure Land.
        How profound these words are!

22. One Cannot Deny that the Pure Land Exists

        Some people say that the Pure Land is nothing but mind, that there is no Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss beyond the trillions of worlds of the cosmos.  This talk of mind-only has its source in the words of the sutras, and is true, not false. But those who quote it in this sense are misunderstanding its meaning.
        Mind equals objects: there are no objects beyond mind.  Objects equal mind: 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.
        Some people also say that the Pure Land which is seen at the moment of death is entirely in the dying person's own mind, so there is no Pure Land.
        [People with this opinion] fail to consider this.  It would be right to say this is the dying person's own mind if he alone saw that which is seen at the moment of death by those who recite the buddha-name and are born in the Pure Land: the Pure Land, along with the congregation of saints coming to greet him, the heavenly music, unearthly perfume, the banners and towers and the rest of it. But everyone there at the time [of the death] sees it: they hear the heavenly music fading away toward the West, and the room fills with unearthly perfume which does not dissipate for several days. Since the heavenly music does not proceed toward any other direction, but toward the west, and after the person is dead, the perfume remains, can it be said that there is no Pure Land? ...
        Let me ask [the person who thinks Pure Land is mind-only], "When hell appears to you at the moment of death., is this not mind?" "It is mind." "Does the person fall into hell?" "Yes, he falls into hell."  [I would say] "Then it is obvious that since the person falls into hell, hell exists. Is it then only the Pure Land that does not exist? When the mind manifests hell, the person falls into a hell that really exists. When the mind manifests the Pure Land, isn't the person born in a Pure Land that really exists?" [As the saying goes]:

Better you should speak of existence on the scale of the polar mountain, than speak of nonexistence to the extent of a mustard seed.
        Don't do it!

23. Pure Land Wherever You Are

        Some say, "It's not that I don't believe in the Pure Land, nor do I denigrate going to the Pure Land. But where I go is different from other people. If there is a buddha in the east, I go to the east. If there is a buddha in the west, I go to the west. I'll go in any direction, north, south, east, west, up or down, to heaven or to hell: as long as there is a buddha there, I'll go there. I am not like [Chih-i of] T'ien-t'ai, [Yen-shou of] Yung-ming, and the others who sought the Pure Land exclusively in the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the West."
        These words are very lofty, their meaning is very profound, their truth is very abstruse, but they cannot be taken as a standard that can be followed. The sutra gives a metaphor: "Those whose wings are weak can only stick close to the branch."  Thus we know that only those whose wings are fully formed, whose bodies are strong and whose energy is high, can soar beyond the skies, and fly across all points of the compass.  This is not something that those who have first developed the aspiration for enlightenment are capable of.

        When the World Honored One taught Vaideshi the method of the sixteen contemplations, and told her that she must first hang up the drum at sunset, to solidify her will for the Western Paradise; when the ancient worthies [spoke of] not forgetting the Western Paradise whether sitting or lying down -- surely they knew that there are buddha-lands everywhere.  A person of great liberation can go where he wishes. But if we are not this way, we must respectfully follow Buddha's commands [and seek the Pure Land in the west].

24. The Power of Vows

       Every morning Lu Wen-cheng paid homage to Buddha and made this vow:  "If they do not believe in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, may my family perish. I hope that generation after generation my sons and grandsons will hold official rank and uphold the Buddha Dharma." The later offspring of the Lu family, like Lu Kung-chu, Lu Hao-wen, and Lu Yung-chung were all famous men of high rank who served Buddha.
        Now Lu Wen-cheng just made a vow for good in the human world, and it was answered with what he wished for generation after generation without end.  A great world-transcending vow to seek birth in the Pure Land would be even more [efficacious]. The fulfillment of Lu Wen-cheng's vow depended on his descendants, and he could not know whether he would get his wish or not. A vow to seek birth in the Pure Land will be fulfilled with oneself. Thus one will know that if he does not achieve the Pure Land, it is because his own purity and sincerity were not perfect.
        In the old days there was a noble family that was supporting a monk. They asked the monk, "After you die, would you be willing to be reborn in our family?" The monk laughed [implying consent], and subsequently was born into that family. In recent times Lord Fan, the border commander, was also [the reincarnation of] a monk his father had supported.

        Both stories illustrate how laughing consent given once can lead to incarnation in a powerful family. So how could it be that long accumulated purity and sincerity will not lead to birth in the Pure Land? Cause and effect surely work this way. There's no room for discussion [on this point].

25. All Classes Go to the Pure Land

        There was once a man who despised the Pure Land [as the easy route to salvation] and did not cultivate it [maintaining that Zen was the way for superior people]. He said, "My type enters office by passing the examinations. How could we purchase official rank?"
        Another man answered, "This analogy is wrong. There are nine grades of those who arrive in the Pure Land. Why don't you take the highest: why are you willing to be in the lowest grade? Here we have three hundred people taking the Pure Land 'examination,' and they can be divided into high, middle, and low, and into the nine grades. Why don't you take first prize among them? Why are you willing to be last on the list?
        "Being born in the top grade is taking first prize on the Pure Land 'examination.' There is a verse that praises such people:

With faith, vows, and practice fully developed,
Profoundly understanding the principles of the truth,
The Pure Land is wherever they go
As they witness birthlessness.
        "In the Zen school such people [are said to have] great penetration and great enlightenment. These are the ones spoken of in the verse [by the Zen adept Layman P'ang]:
Mind empty, having passed the test, they return home."
        [Hearing this], the man [who had denigrated the Pure Land] looked defeated and said, "This has melted my doubts."

26. One Hundred Thousand Repetitions of "Amitabha" in a Single Day and Night

        Tradition has it that the Great Teacher Yen-shou of Yung-ming recited the buddha-name a hundred thousand times in a day and a night.
        I once attempted this myself. From the dawn of one day to the dawn of the next, continuing every minute for twenty-four hours, I just barely managed a hundred thousand repetitions. I recited "Amitabha Buddha." If I had been reciting "Hail to Amitabha Buddha," I would not have reached the full number. I did not stop while drinking or eating or dressing or undressing. If there had been the least interruption, I would not have reached the full number. I did not sleep or speak at all: if I had, I would not have reached the full number. [My recitation of the buddha-name] was hurried and pressed, as if chasing someone down a road. There was no time for reciting with careful attention.  If I had recited with careful attention, I would not have reached the full number.
        Therefore we know that the story of reciting the buddha-name a hundred thousand times in a day and a night was probably meant to suggest the idea of not departing from buddha-name recitation even for an instant; it was not meant to give a set figure of a hundred thousand repetitions.
        I am afraid that if those who recite the buddha-name with the mind of faith were to hold to this [number literally as a set standard], it would become a sickness. Thus, to inform you all, I relate the experiment that I undertook.
        Some may say that reciting the buddha-name a hundred thousand times in a day and a night is something that the Great Master Yen-shou did in the midst of Zen concentration. If so, this is not something I would know about.

27. Why Don't We Read of People Who Were Enlightened Through Reciting the Buddha-Name?

        Someone asked, "In the books we see many who attained enlightenment from studying Zen.  Why are those who attain enlightenment from reciting the buddha-name so rare that we never hear of them?"
        Alas! There are indeed such people, but you have never read of them.
        Now those people who study Zen and find the inner truth never make noise and promote themselves. Only after the devas and nagas [dragons] push them forward do they become famous in their own time and thereafter.
        Ts'ao-ch'i [Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen] had the mind-seal of [the Fifth Patriarch] Huang-mei, but if he had not commented about the wind and the flag [telling two arguing monks, "It is not the wind that is moving, or the flag that is moving, but your minds that are moving"] he would have [remained unknown] as a netminder for a hunter, and that's all.
        Ch'ing-su  received  the  secret  prediction  [of enlightenment] from Tz'u-ming, but if he had not unexpectedly met him at a lichee tree [and exchanged words that let Tz'u-ming discern his attainments], he would have been an old man at ease in the Zen community, and that's all. How would you have known of him?
        The same is true for those who recite the buddha-name with a genuine mind.  Their will goes beyond this world as they seek the Pure Land with pure refinement, reciting the buddha-name every moment as if saving themselves when their heads are on fire. Thus they awaken to the Amitabha of inherent nature and comprehend the Pure Land of mind-only. If they hide themselves away their whole lives and do not come forward, you would have no way to know of them.
        Anyone who is in the top class born in the Pure Land is a person who has attained enlightenment. [If you want examples  of enlightenment  through  buddha-name recitation], you should read the biographies of those who have gone to the Pure Land.

28. One Slip, a Hundred Slips

        An ancient said:

If you do not practice in this lifetime, one slip is a hundred slips.
        From one slip to a hundred slips: how is it that there are so many slips, that it comes to this many? The sutra says:
It is hard to leave the evil planes of existence [in hell, as a hungry ghost, as an animal], and attain a human body. Having gotten a human body, it is hard to encounter the teaching of enlightenment, the Buddha Dharma.
        This being so, it is especially hard to encounter the Dharma-gate of reciting the buddha-name and to believe in it and accept it.
        According to what the sutra says, an ant may have gone on being reborn as an ant ever since the time of the Seven Buddhas of antiquity, without escaping from an ant's body. Who knows when it will attain a human body, when it will encounter the Buddha Dharma, and when it will encounter the method of reciting the buddha-name and believe in it and accept it? This is not only a hundred slips, but a thousand slips, ten thousand slips, an endless number of slips. What pain!

29. Three Difficulties for Pure Land Belief

        Someone posed this question: "Shakyamuni Buddha touched the ground with his toe, and immediately it became a golden world. If Buddha has such powers, why does he not immediately transform this world of ours, the world called Endurance, with its earth and rocks and mountains, with its places filled with filth and with evil, into a land of ultimate bliss, adorned with all manner of precious jewels, and let sentient beings quickly advance to the far reaches of millions and billions of buddha-lands?"
        Alas!   Buddha cannot deliver beings without the causal conditions for enlightenment.  You know this, don't you? Pure causal conditions bring about pure lands. If the minds of sentient beings are not pure, even though the Pure Land exists, how can they get to be born in it?
        For example, beings who practice the ten virtues are born as devas, and change hell into heaven. Even though the Tathagata extends his golden arm to pull them up, those sentient beings who practice the ten evils can never ascend to his inner palace.
        Therefore, when Buddha drew back his spiritual powers, the momentary golden world turned back into the world of Endurance it had been before.

        Someone asked, "In the sutras it is said that one repetition of the buddha-name made with complete sincerity wipes away the sins of eighty trillion eons of birth and death. Does this refer to the level of things and events, or to the level of inner truth?"

The sutra says:

Invoke the buddha-name once, and [you have] already become buddha [for that moment].
It also says:
Pay homage to buddha once, and one's feet arrive at the diamond realm, and an atom of dust becomes the seat of a wheel-turning king.
        Right now there is no need to talk about things and events and inner truth. We should just focus on the two words complete sincerity.
        Just worry that your mind will not be in a state of complete sincerity; [if it is], don't worry that sins will not be wiped away. If it is like this in the event, it will be like this in inner truth; if it is like this in inner truth, it will be like this in the event. What is there to doubt?


        Someone else asked, "One person earnestly recites the buddha-name his whole life, but on the brink of death regresses for a moment, and consequently does not get to go to the Pure Land. One person piles up evil his whole life, but on the brink of death aspires to enlightenment and recites the buddha-name, and consequently gets to go to the Pure Land. Why should the good person lose and the evil person gain?"
        Ah! Only one person in a million accumulates evil his whole life and then achieves correct mindfulness on the brink of death. Without the roots of goodness from past lives, on his deathbed he will be harried by pain and suffering and plunged into darkness and confusion: how would he be able to generate correct mindfulness? Again, among good people, only one in a million regresses on the brink of death. If there is such a person, it must be that his lifelong buddha-name recitation was done casually and in vain: it was not pure and earnest. "Pure" means that his mind was not chaotic and mixed [with other concerns as he recited the buddha-name].  "Earnest" means that there were no mental interruptions or breaks [to his recitation]. So [if his recitation was pure and earnest], how could any regression occur?
        This being so, those who do evil should come to their senses quickly, and not falsely imagine that they will have this kind of undeserved good fortune on the brink of death. Those who seek the Pure Land with a genuine mind should be ever more pure and earnest, and not worry that on the brink of death they will regress.

Namo Amitabha

Life’s most awesome event is death, and death comes to all without regard to wealth, beauty, intelligence or fame. Death is inevitable, but how you die—terrified and confused, or with confidence and spiritual mastery—is within your control.