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 ---

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

Pure Land Zen
Reply to Hsieh Ch'ing-lien of Chiang-hsi (Kiangsi)

        In the Zen school the most crucial work in developing enlightenment is keeping the attention on a meditation topic [koan]. People who practice Pure Land Buddhism take the buddha-name as their meditation topic [contemplating the question: "Who is the one reciting the buddha-name?"].
        You will not be able to be in accord with these subtle methods if your mind is crude and your energy is unfocused. You must immerse yourself in reflecting back [on the meditation topic]: when your effort peaks and your momentum is exhausted, then there will be a message [communicating enlightenment] from the causal ground.

Unborn Mind
Reply to Tung Hsun-yang Tsung-po of Hu-chou

        Mind is basically unborn: it is born when causal conditions come together. Mind basically does not die: it dies when causal conditions disperse. There seems to be birth and death, but fundamentally there is no going or coming.
        If you can understand this, then you will be at peace through birth and death -- ever still, ever aware.
        If you cannot yet [understand this], then you must wholly abandon your personal existence, and continuously recite the phrase "Amitabha Buddha," and seek birth in the Pure Land.
        Even if the causal conditions [for your existence] have not yet ended, and your life is not yet over, reciting the buddha-name over and over is very beneficial. An ancient said:

The method of reciting the buddha-name is the eternal life of the golden immortals [Taoist deities].

Who is Reciting the Buddha-Name?
Reply to Yu Ta-yen, Layman Yao-sun

        To create faith in the Pure Land, you should concentrate on the basic [Amitabha] Sutra and its commentaries when you read the scriptures, and save the other sutras for afterwards. When you read the commentaries, do not read them through at one stint. It is better to read a little at a time and take many days to finish them. Savor them in detail, and you will deepen your faith in the Pure Land. The ancients said:

Among the most essential methods of cultivating practice  in  the  sea  of  birth  and  death, buddha-remembrance by reciting the buddha-name is number one.
        These were not empty words.
        Also:  Since you have not benefited by recitation aloud, silent recitation, or diamond recitation, but on the contrary, have been injured by them, now you must lightly bring to mind the buddha-name, right when your false thoughts are flying around in confusion.
        Once you can stay with this, then observe who it is who is reciting the buddha-name. Do this for a long time. As thoughts arise, observe: who is reciting the buddha-name?  If thoughts do not arise, just go on observing [who is reciting the buddha-name?]. [As you continue observing], the work of keeping your attention on this, and the words themselves, will both cease, but this cessation will not hinder the work of keeping your attention on [who is reciting the buddha-name?].

Reply to Te-Ch'ing, Hsu Kuang-jung, Layman Huo-ju

        You came asking about such matters as reining in the functioning of the mind, doing contemplation when sitting and when standing, and contemplating the concept and image [of buddha]. All these practices are carried out according to the occasion: there is no fixed routine.
        But to contemplate impermanence all the time is not something that can be done by those who have not finished with sensory entanglements. Even though you cannot contemplate constantly, this is still [valid] meditative work [for you].
        Amidst sensory entanglements, the method of contemplation is hard to perfect. It would be better when you have time off from your studies and from family business to silently recite the buddha-name. What's important is that every syllable be clear and distinct, that every repetition be intimately taken to heart, Then mind will rein itself in.
        If you do this for a long time without giving up, stable  concentration  will  be  achieved:  this  is contemplation.

Finding Lost Mind
Reply to Liu Kuang-shu, Layman Shou-fu, of Hu.kuang

        Ordinary people have let their minds get lost. First they learn how to gather in their minds. Later they find their minds.
        There is not just one method to gather in the mind. Buddha-remembrance through reciting the buddha-name is foremost among such methods in terms of being highly effective and easy to make progress in. An ancient said:

With the other methods of studying the Path, it's like an ant climbing a lofty mountain. With reciting the buddha-name and birth in the Pure Land, it's like [being in a boat] moving along with the current with wind in the sails.
        When thoughts arise  it is not necessary to do anything else to annihilate them: just put your attention on the words "Amitabha Buddha" and keep it there with all your strength.  This is the meditative work of gathering in mind.  Suddenly you will awaken: this is called "finding mind."

Fear of Death
Reply to Yuan Kuang-shou, Layman Hsin-yuan of Su-chou

        The fear of death is due to not having awakened to fundamental birthlessness.
        Fundamentally there is no birth, so how can there be death, and how can there be the fear of it?
        But after all, it is not easy to awaken to birthlessness. Right now you must devote yourself sincerely to buddha-remembrance. If you recite the buddha-name for a long time until your mind is unified and undisturbed, then you are sure to awaken.
        Even if you do not awaken, the power of a lifetime of reciting the buddha-name will give you the knowledge when you face death that you are sure to be reborn in the Pure Land after you die.  It will be as if you have wandered in other towns, and then gotten to return to your old home. Amitabha Buddha will reach down to lead you into the Pure Land. Your joy will be boundless: how could there be any fear?

Get to Work
Reply to Layman Chang Shao-hsing

        Arrange for a quiet room and cultivate Pure Land practice there together. This would be the best thing in the world. The room does not have to be very beautiful, just big enough for making offerings to Buddha, walking, sitting, and bowing.
        And it is notnecessary to wait till all the family business is done. Every day there are things to do: you may want to finish them all, but the day will definitely never come that they are all finished.
        Get to work [on remembering buddha] right away --you have already put it off too long!
        In the sea of birth and death, the method of buddha--remembrance through reciting the buddha-name is the best.
        You should devote yourself to it singlemindedly.

The Sutras Never Lie
Reply to Wu Kuang-ning, Layman Po-yang of Hsiu-ning

        [You are bothered by the fact that] the Surangama Sutradistinguishes true and false, but never talks about such things as contemplating the Western Paradise [of Amitabha] and reciting the buddha-name.
        Since this Sutra has no bearing on this, why do you create waves where there is no wind and say it is false? If you say the Sutra is false, then sitting meditation is false, maintaining discipline is false, lecturing on the scriptures is false, and even attaining enlightenment and entering nirvana are false.
        What you should do is singlemindedly recite the buddha-name.  Do not give rise to doubts [about the Sutra].

Worldly and World-Transcending
Reply to Layman Sun Kuang-liang of T'ung-chou

        You  asked  this  question: "According  to  the world-transcending absolute truth, the worldly is identical to the world-transcending, so is it then unnecessary to seek transcendence? Since the true is not outside the false, what's the use of seeking the true?"
        If you do not understand the idea here, then the best thing for you to do would be to singlemindedly recite the buddha-name. When your mindfulness of buddha peaks, you will awaken, and having awakened, there will be nothing to discuss.
        Even if you do not have great awakening, you will still leave this world "Endurance" and be born in the Pure Land. This is transcending the world. Dissolving away mixed mindfulness and purifying correct mindfulness is the absolute truth.
        For now do not concern yourself with transcending or not transcending, or with what's real and what's not. Just do the work [of buddha-remembrance] until your mind is unified: then naturally you will comprehend properly.

Gaining Power
Reply to Layman Wu Ta-ch'e

        Reciting the buddha-name is equivalent to upholding a mantra. After you have gained power by reciting the buddha-name, you will face objects with equanimity. The first gate to liberation is feeling weary [with the mundane world] and becoming detached from it. But how can you handle what's before your eyes in order to get independent of it?   If you keep on reciting the buddha-name for a long time, the time when you accord [with reality] will naturally arrive.

Investigate Right Where You're Standing
Reply to Chang Kuang-ching, Layman Hsing-yuan

        No need to investigate the saying of Yun-men's that you asked about. He was speaking of [Zen, sometimes called] "the separate transmission outside the scriptural teachings."  [Instead,] you should just contemplate this saying of Yun-men's:

You must turn back to what's beneath your own feet and investigate to see what truth it is.
        This investigation will not be difficult, since you believe in reciting the buddha-name. Just observe who the one reciting the buddha-name is. This is investigating what's beneath your feet right where you're standing. Do this for a long time, and it will be as I said in Correcting Errors:no need to worry that you will not attain the ultimate, primal, most subtle thing.

Luminous Awareness
Reply to Layman Chin Kuang-chu

        In your questions you spoke of "the final crucial barrier," "the most profound meaning," "accord with the fundamental ground," "directly pointing out this matter." Crucial, profound, fundamental, direct -- these are all important questions. But it is just a matter of considering what is close at hand.  Apart from this luminous awareness blazing up, everything is unimportant, shallow, peripheral, circuitous.
        This [luminous awareness] is where the mindfulness in buddha-remembrance arises. When you see through it, I guarantee that you will complete the great matter [of enlightenment].
        After you read this, you must not start thinking and pondering  and trying to  figure  it  out,  seeking comprehension through rationalizations. If you do this, you will lose it.  Just investigate from moment to moment. When you have really accumulated power for a long time, you will spontaneously get it: only then will you witness enlightenment.

Simple and Economical and Direct
To Sun Kuang-i, Layman Wu-kao of Chia-hsing

        Let me add a brief note to your daily lessons.
        Since at present you are still occupied with your studies for the official examinations, in your Pure Land work the important thing is to be simple and economical and direct. A lot of complications will not do. You do not have any spare time to recite Kuan-yin's vows or the Diamond Sutra,so  just  recite  the  buddha-name consistently. There is still quite a bit of merit in this.

Medicine and Disease
To Chang Pai-hu Kuang-t'ien

        False mindfulness is the disease.  Mindfulness of buddha is the medicine.
        A longterm sickness cannot be cured by a little bit of medicine.  A great accumulation of falsity cannot be removed by a short period of mindfulness [of buddha]. The principle is the same [in both cases].
         Don't worry about those false thoughts flying around in confusion: what's important is to recite the buddha-name intently. Every syllable should be clear and distinct, with every repetition following on the last.[1]
        Maintain the recitation with your utmost strength: only then will you become qualified to go toward [the Pure Land]. Of this we say, "Truly accumulate power for a long time, and one morning you will empty out." It is like grinding down a pestle until it becomes a needle, like forging iron into steel. This is certainly no lie.
        There are many gates for entering the Path, but this gate [of buddha-remembrance] is the quickest and most direct. You must not neglect it!

Reply to Wu Ta-chou, Layman Chi-li of Hui-chou

        You do not need to worry about how deep your evil karma is or how dull your basic nature is. The sutra says:

A single perfectly sincere repetition of the name "Amitabha Buddha" obliterates the grave wrongdoings of eighty trillion eons of birth and death."[2]
        Why worry that your [evil] karma is too deep?

        An ancient sage also said:

There is a shortcut to cultivating practice: it is just reciting "Amitabha Buddha." Why worry that your basic nature is too dull?
        When you see your friends, tell them this.

A Moment of Mindfulness
To Layman Liu Lo-yang of Su-chou

        For a long time I have respectfully urged you to devote yourself to reciting the buddha-name and seeking birth in the Pure Land.
        This Path is the most primal and the most subtle and wondrous. It is also the simplest. Because it is simple, those of high intelligence overlook it.
        Birth and death are not apart from a single moment of mindfulness. Consequently, all the myriad worldly and world-transcending teachings and methods are not apart from a single moment of mindfulness.
        Right now take this moment of mindfulness, and be mindful of buddha, remember buddha, recite the buddha-name.  How close and cutting!  What pure essential energy, so solid and real! If you see through where this mindfulness arises, this is the Amitabha of our inherent nature.  This is the meaning of the patriarch coming from the West, [the meaning of Zen].
        Even if you do not awaken, if you take advantage of the power of this mindfulness [of buddha], you will be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Cutting off birth and death "horizontally" [by rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land], not being subject to cyclical existence, in the end you will awaken to great enlightenment.[3]
        My dear old man, I hope you will put aside the myriad things entangling you, and recite the buddha-name and keep your attention on buddha twenty-four hours a day. This is my hope for you.

Where's the Reality?
To Layman P'eng Chun-chu of Chiang-yin

        Few people live much past seventy -- how long can our lives possibly last? Now in this evening time [of your life], you better put aside all your worries and concerns, and see through this world. It's like a play. Where's the reality?
        Just pass the time with the one sound: "Amitabha Buddha." Make the world of ultimate bliss in the west your own home. [Think to yourself]: "If I recite the buddha-name and practice buddha-remembrance now, later I will be born in the Western Paradise. How fortunate!" Generate great joy, and stop feeling vexed and afflicted.
        If you encounter things that do not go as you wish, immediately push your mind to this one sound, the buddha-name, and quickly focus on reciting it. Turn the light around [onto the source of your own awareness] and reflect back. [mink to yourself:] "[In essence] I am an inhabitant of the world of Amitabha Buddha. Why then do I have the same views and consciousness as a worldly person, creating feelings of anger and joy one after another?"
        Singlemindedly recite the buddha-name. This is the peaceful, blissful Dharma-gate of great liberation for people who live in wisdom.

Break Through Delusion
To Chu Kuang-chen, Layman Hsi-tsung, of Chia-hsing

        This is the way people are in the world. When they encounter pleasing situations, they feel happy and content. When they encounter situations that go against them, they feel worried and endangered.
        Nevertheless, pleasing things should not be considered lucky, and adversity should not be considered unlucky. If you are sunk in things that your conceptual mind considers convenient, the intention of transcending the world will never arise. If you are sad and do not get what you aim for, then you will grow weary of the fetters of the world of physical existence, and therefore seek to transcend the world.
        Thus, when the myriad sufferings extend before you, just contemplate them with correct wisdom.
        [Ask yourself]: Where does suffering come from? It is born from physical existence. Where does physical existence come from? From karma. Where does karma come from? It is born from delusion. On the basis of delusion, you create karma.  On the basis of karma, physical existence forms.  On the basis of physical existence, you incur suffering. Just manage to break through delusion, and all of this is empty and still.
        You may venture to ask, "What is the method for breaking through delusion?"
        Just go to the fundamental meditation point and understand: Who is the one reciting the buddha-name? Who is the one mindful of buddha?
        Take hold of your doubts over this, take hold and defeat them: then all delusion will be smashed. Think this over! Don't neglect it!

Three Cures

        I hear news that you are sick, so now I will explain three methods [to cure yourself].
        The first is called "the cure by opposites."
        Since your sickness comes from overwork and anxiety, you should use leisure to cure overwork, and relaxation to cure anxiety.
        Leisure does not mean being lazy and indifferent. What I mean by "leisure" is doing away with all entanglements, and being like a newborn child, with the conceptual mind not operating.
        Relaxation does not mean dissipation and lack of proper restraint. What I mean by "relaxation" is to know that the world of physical existence is like an illusion, like a dream; to go along with it according to circumstances, not being deceived by objects; and to abandon all your concerns about whether you will recover from your present illness or not, and whether you will live or die.
        The second method is called "temperance."
        Temperance is a matter of regulating what you drink and eat, and being careful with what medicines you take. Regulating what you drink and eat goes without saying. It is not right to take too many medicines.  Some medicines may injure your stomach before they cure you, so that you cannot swallow any food, and there is a danger of ulcers.  You should discuss {any use of medicine] with an expert.
        The third method is called "correct mindfulness."
        This is what I talked to you about before: suffering comes from physical existence, physical existence comes from karma, and so on. Sickness is one form of suffering: the basis upon which it develops is the same.
        You  must  work  carefully  and  continuously, investigating day and night [how suffering arises].
        If you cannot find out, just put your attention on the question, Who is the one reciting the buddha-name?This is the basic koan, the fundamental meditation point in reciting the buddha-name.
        Turn the light around and observe for yourself, until you know the ultimate locus of this mindfulness of buddha.  Then delusion will spontaneously break up. When delusion breaks up, that which develops from it is obliterated the same way.
        You should work hard to carry out these three methods.

Throw Everything into the Ocean

        You must believe that everything is due to past causes. Throw everything into the ocean: not only favorable events and adversities, and your failures and successes, but even life and death.
        Do not be worried or afraid. Gather up your body and mind, turn your awareness around and reflect within on the fundamental meditation point: Who is reciting the buddha-name?This is the most important thing to remember!

Mindfulness to Cure Sickness

        Mindfulness  of  buddha  through  reciting  the buddha-name is not merely illuminating mind. It also cures all sicknesses. If there are people urging you to enter into Taoist magical arts, do not believe them. [If you do] I'm afraid you will lose your correct knowledge. I'm making a special point of telling you this in advance.

No Time Left for Minor Matters

        Your illness has reached the stage where it is very dangerous. You should take everything you want to say, write it all down in a letter, and send it to your sons and your mother, so that there are no concerns left in your breast, and you can singlemindedly practice correct mindfulness.[4]
        If you had been able to believe fully in the method of reciting the buddha-name in the days gone by, then [by now] you would be able to reflect inwardly in the mind's eye on the buddha-name in perfect clarity without any interruption.
        Then it would be alright even if you were to go today or tomorrow, or alright if you lived to be a hundred and twenty.
        These are crucial words. We have been friends our whole lives. Now that you are at this point, you have no time left for any other minor matters. You should not long for life and fear death, and miss the great matter [of enlightenment].

Since You are Sick
To Layman Wang Ta-cho

        Since you are sick, you should take all your outside concerns, and your concerns for your body and physical health, and wholeheartedly abandon them -- make yourself totally empty.
        If there is anything you cannot [completely] put aside, I urge you to put it aside for the time being, and deal with it later. When false thoughts blaze up uncontrollably, you must recite the buddha-name a few times and subdue them.
        Worldly glory and wealth and rank are things that do not last more than a little while. Likewise, difficulties and pains are things that do not last more than a little while. Before long they are gone.
        All sorts of things that happen are due to past causes. They are not things that our human power can do anything about.  Wholeheartedly abandon them, and singlemindedly recite the buddha-name. I urge you to do this!

To Illuminate Mind
To Layman Ch'in Ming-chung

        There are countless gates to the Dharma: what's important is to illuminate mind. Of the essential gates for illuminating mind, none equals reciting the buddha-name.
        When you have spare time from your reading and writing, or when your mind is troubled, sit quietly and recite the buddha-name. This is very beneficial.
        When your mindfulness is on buddha, mixed mindfulness retreats and stops. With mind empty, objects are quiescent: what will you do with the subtle wonder?
        I hope you will not neglect this by taking it too casually.

Open Up the Darkness
To Ch'in Kuang-liang, Layman Jen-nan of Wu-chiang

        The saying goes, "Open up the darkness, and release the karmic bonds."
        If you understand, then the darkness is the light, and the karmic bonds are nothing but liberation.
        If you do not understand, then constantly gather in the mind and recite the buddha-name. After a long time you will become quiet and steady, and you will spontaneously be able to generate wisdom.

Pure Land and Zen Methods
To Wu Kuang-i, Layman Nien-tz'u of Nan-ch'eng

        There are many ways to enter the Path, but for directness and simplicity, none matches reciting the buddha-name.
        The method of buddha-remembrance through reciting the buddha-name brings salvation to those of the most excellent capacities, and reaches down to the most stupid and dull. In sum, it is the Path that reaches from high to low. Do not be shaken or confused by vulgar views [that Pure Land is only for those of lesser abilities].
        Since ancient times, the venerable adepts [of the Zen school] have taught people to contemplate meditation topics [koans], to arouse the feeling of doubt, and thus proceed to great awakening. Some contemplate the word "No." Some contemplate "The myriad things return to one: what does the one return to?"  The meditation topics are quite diverse, and there are quite enough of them.
        Now I will try to compare [Zen and Pure Land methods].
        Take for example [the koan] "The myriad things return to one: what does the one return to?" This is very similar to [the koan] "Who is the one reciting the buddha-name?" If you can break through at this "Who?" then you will not have to ask anyone else what the one returns to: you will spontaneously comprehend.
        This was precisely what the ancients meant when they said that those who recite the buddha-name and wish to study Zen should not concentrate on any other meditation topic but this.
        Recite the buddha-name several times, turn the light around and observe yourself: who is the one reciting the buddha-name?  If you employ your mind like this, without forgetting, without any other help, after a long time you are sure to have insight.
        If you cannot do this, it is also alright simply to recite the buddha-name. Keep your mindfulness from leaving buddha, and buddha from leaving your mindfulness. When your mindfulness [of buddha] peaks, your mind empties: you will get a response and link up with the Path, and buddha will appear before you. According to the inner pattern, it must be so.

To Wang Chih-ti, Tzu-ou Hsiao-lien of T'ai-ts'ang

        Your family has practiced [Buddhism] for generations and is full of virtue. So why have you been afflicted with this severe illness? Can it be that there is no past karma to make it so? The origin of sickness usually comes from killing living beings. That's why I emphasize releasing living beings.
        There is another thing I want to explain to you now. The merit of having a monk from outside perform rites of repentance for you is poles apart from the merit of doing repentance for yourself in your inner mind.[5]
        Therefore I hope you will empty your mind, and put an end to all entangling circumstances. With your mind empty, concentrate your mindfulness on the sound "Amitabha Buddha."
        As it is said, for buddha-remembrance through buddha-name recitation, it is not necessary to move the mouth and tongue. Just reflect back in silence with the mind's eye, so that each and every syllable [of the buddha-name] is distinct and clear, and the repetitions continue one after another.  Go on from morning to evening  and  from  evening  to  morning,  from mind-moment to mind-moment without interruption. If you are in pain, be patient and endure it: pay singleminded attention to your recitation of the buddha-name. The Sutra says:

One wholehearted invocation of the buddha-name wipes out the sins of eighty trillion eons of birth and death.
        This is why the merit earned [by this] is poles apart [from hiring monks to perform rituals for you].

[1] See also Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith,sect. 30.4.

[2] All evil karma results, ultimately, from delusion, the antithesis of enlightenment. Correct practice leads to awakening and enlightenment and thus dissolves away evil karma. It is as though a house were biarded up for ten thousand years. As soon as a window is opened, eons of darkness disappear in a split second.

The dissolution of evil karma through buddha-remembrance can be explained in another way:

A non-indivudualistic interpretation of the law of karma is provided by the doctrine of parinamanaor "turning over" of merits. According to this doctrine, the merits which one person has acquired by the performance of good action, can, if he so wishes, be transferred to another ... By sincerely invoking his name, we identify ourselves with Amitabha. As a result of this identification, a portion of his merits is transferred to us. These merits, which are now ours, are sufficient not only to counterbalance the effects of our evil actions but also to ensure our rebirth in the Pure Land. The law of karma has not been suspended for our benefit. All that has happened is that a more powerful karma has cancelled out one that was weaker. (Sangharakshita, A survey of Buddhism,p.375)
[3]Three factors, faith, vows and practice, are the cornerstones of Pure Land Buddhism. If there are present, rebirth in the Pure Land is assured. Faithmeans faith in Amitabha Buddha's Vows to rescue all who recite His name, as well as faith in one's own Self-Nature, which is intrinsically the same as His(to recite the Buddha's name is to recite the Mind). Vowsare the determination to be reborn in the Pure Land -- in one's pure mind -- so as to be in the position to save oneself and others. Practicegenerally means reciting the Buddha's name to the point where one's mind and that of Amitabha Buddha are in unison -- i.e., to the point of singlemindedness. Samadhi and wisdom are then achieved.

Please note that all Buddhists teachings are expedients, dividing the one and the indivisible Truth into many parts. Faith, vows and practice, although three, are really one. Thus, it can be said that rebirth in the Pure Land depends on three conditions or two conditions(faith and vows) or even one condition(faith), as the one contains all and all are contained in the one. The formula to be used depends on the audience and the times. The aim is to enable sentient beings to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land as a steppingstone toward Buddhahood.

[4] According to Buddhist teachings, if there were another obstruction as strong as love-attachment, no cultivator could ever hope to attain Buddhahood.

[5] To be truly effective in dedicating merit to others, the practitioner must be utterly sincere and singleminded in his recitation. Even so, the sutras teach that the recipient can only obtain a small part of this merit. Futhermore, since the crucial conditions of sincerity and singlemindedness are seldom achieved in full, most intercessions are, at best, partially effective and can seldom erase a lifetime of bad karma. Thus, it is imperative for the practitioner himself to cultivate, and not rely entirely on monks and nuns.

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.