Special Topics

Chan and Pure Land (I)

The Practice Method of Chan 

There are two categories of Chan practice methods. The first category is by use of the Five Methods for Stilling the Mind, which is to first stabilize the mind, and then progress toward liberation.

The second category of method is by use of the Huatou method from the Chinese Chan tradition, to totally crash the delusionary mind; in that moment self-attachment disappears, and wisdom manifests; such is enlightenment.

To practice Chan, we must first relax the body, the brain, and the emotion, and then our mind can become still. I often teach people a simple relaxation method, which is to pay attention to one’s own breathing. This can bring relief when one is tense or gripped with troubling thoughts. This method is sufficient for use in normal daily life, but if you want to continue on and go deeper, you need to ask a teacher for guidance.

The Practice Method of Pure Land

Pure Land or reciting Buddha’s name has developed into a standalone school of tradition uniquely in China and Japan. It emphasizes faith, vow, and practice. Its practice methods again include two categories. The first one is recitation of Buddha’s name with concentration, and the second one involves the cultivation of three virtuous acts, including the arousing of Bodhicitta – the inspiration to attain ultimate enlightenment and to help others do so before oneself.

“Faith” is faith in the vow of the Amitabha Buddha, which is that anyone who believes in and vows to be reborn to the pure land of the Amitabha can reach there. The practice method is to recite “Amitabhaya” or “Namo Amitabhaya” with concentration; you must listen to your own recitation of the Buddha’s name, to place your mind continually on the sacred grand name. This is actually similar to the method of observing one’s own breathing that I have just mentioned.

Yet, besides reciting Buddha's name, one needs to purify one's actions in this world – the actions of body, speech, and mind, so as to cultivate three kinds of virtuous acts. Otherwise one is not qualified to go to the Pure Land. And of course, if one does not have sufficiently strong faith, relying only on the vow and the compassion of the Buddha to be born into the western pure land, one would not be able to immediately see the Amitabha Buddha.

The essence of Buddhism is to learn from Buddha and to attain Buddhahood. In order to attain Buddhahood, one has to start from being a bodhisattva. Being a bodhisattva is to disregard one’s own enjoyment and help alleviate the suffering of sentient beings. Therefore, in pursuing rebirth to the pure land, the first thing one must do is to give rise to such altruistic Bodhicitta.

Many Chinese mistakenly regard the Pure Land method to be just the recitation of Buddha's name. In fact, it is also necessary to be engaged in the enterprise of compassionate reliefs. That is to say, it is a more dependable path to first take good care of this world we are in, and then seek going to the Pure Land.

The European and American westerners have so far been receptive to the method and idea of Chan, but they have more difficulty accepting the teachings of the Pure Land School. This is because they already have the concept and belief of Heaven in the Christian faith, which seems to bare similarity to the Buddhist Pure Land. But by my explanation of the Pure Land ideas, I believe it would be accessible to the westerners. Reciting Buddha's name can calm the mind down, reduce bodily suffering, and bring about wisdom. It can relieve vexations, clear obstacles, and resolve conflicts. Therefore, although reciting Buddha's name can lead to the rebirth into the western Pure Land, one can recite Buddha's name not necessarily for that reason.

Once, there was an old woman grumbling of her daughter-in-law. She often complained about her son and daughter-in-law. Her daughter-in-law was sick of her complaint, and in turn often griped about the mother-in-law's stubbornness and lack of appreciation, to the point of wanting to ask her to move out. Eventually, the two of them separately came to see me. I told the mother-in-law that she should stop nagging her son and daughter-in-law, that the more she nagged the worse her luck would get. Instead, she should chant Amitabhaya; the more she does the wiser and happier she would get.

When the daughter-in-law came to me to complain about her mother-in-law, I also advised her to refrain from frequent complaint, and instead recite Buddha's name. Later on, the two of them were able to get along just fine because they both were into chanting Buddha's name. So this method is pretty useful!

The final phrase in Dharma Drum Mountain's Common Endeavor of Buddhists is “chant ‘Amitabha Buddha’without end”.  Instead of speaking ill of others or talking nonsense, if you use the time to recite “Amitabha Buddha”, you will be popular and have great wisdom, and vexations will be no more! Thus, the method of reciting Buddha’s name from the Pure Land School is very beneficial.


Extended Reading:

The Practice Method of Chan and Pure Land (II)



The Direction for Dharma Drum Mountain


Shujen, Yeh (葉姝蓁)

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