Buddhism of Wisdom & Faith: Pure Land Principles and Practice
46) Phenomena and Principle
"Noumenon" (principle) is truth, reason, the realm of understanding and Awakening and belongs to the sphere of "essence." "Phenomena" are expedients, practices, deeds, "form," and fall under the heading of "marks." However, at the ultimate level, phenomena are noumenon, essence is mark, and both belong to the same truth-like state, all-illuminating, all-pervading. In cultivation, noumenon and phenomena are the two sides of a coin, interacting with one another and helping one another. With noumenon, we have a basis, a direction, a goal to develop into action. With phenomena, we are able to actualize what we think, demonstrate our understanding, reach our goal and, ultimately, achieve results.
Noumenon is like the eyes that watch the road. Phenomena are like the feet that set out to walk. Without eyes, or with glassy, dim eyes, it is easy to get lost. Without feet, however sharp our eyes, there is no way to reach our destination. To "have" noumenon but not phenomena is like having a map and knowing the way, but refusing to proceed. To "have" phenomena but not noumenon is like setting out on a journey with neither a guide nor a clear itinerary. To have both noumenon and phenomena is not only to know the way perfectly but also to proceed to walk. We cannot fail to reach the City of Lights.
Noumenon and phenomena, essence and marks are thus interdependent. If one factor is missing, success is illusory. However, even though the practitioner may not have experienced Awakening, if he follows the itinerary taught by the sages and cultivates, he, too, can reach the goal and succeed. Sutras, commentaries, biographies, as well as the writings of ancient masters and advice from today's good spiritual advisors -- these constitute the itinerary. If we follow these teachings and put them into practice, we will surely achieve results. Therefore, practice without theory is not necessarily a cause for alarm. Of more concern are those who understand theory but fail to put it into practice. Verbalizing incessantly, they discourse without end about the mysterious and the wonderful, but they do not progress one step during their entire lives.
In truth, however, those who lack practice are not really in possession of theory either. Why is this so? As an analogy, if a person knows his house is on fire, yet remains inside without trying to escape, is he any different from someone who is not aware of the fire? Therefore, the Dharma can help those who are of limited capacity and understanding, but cannot save those who possess mundane intelligence and eloquence but are lacking in practice.
It once happened that a particularly dull-witted disciple of the Buddha named Suddipanthaka was taught only two words, "broom" and "sweep," and was asked to meditate on them. He was so stupid that when he remembered one of the words, he would immediately forget the other. However, thanks to his power of perseverance, never neglecting his cultivation even for a single moment, he ultimately became an Arhat. On the other hand, although Devadatta was more intelligent than most, fully conversant with the Dharma and possessing the five spiritual powers, he ultimately descended to the hells because of his greed for fame and fortune and his lack of true cultivation.
Thus, we can see that even though we may be versed in the Tripitaka, without actual practice, our knowledge and understanding are useless. This is because our karmic obstacles from time immemorial are still intact, not reduced in the slightest. How, then, can we hope to compare with an old, dull-witted kitchen helper, her face covered with soot, who diligently practices Buddha Recitation? One day she will reach one-pointedness of mind and be at peace, ending up seated on a lotus blossom!
Therefore, individuals who spend their entire lives seeking understanding based on reasoning grounded in forms and marks -- hoping to become Buddhist scholars while not truly cultivating -- are surely in the same position as those who can list succulent dishes but must endure hunger pangs, or those who count other people's money while remaining poor and destitute themselves. Buddha Sakyamuni compared those persons to deaf musicians playing violins for the multitude or merchants peddling all kinds of wonderful drugs while forgetting that they themselves are afflicted with many diseases.
Those who are determined to study the Dharma should pay heed to this point.
47) Buddha Recitation -- Essence and Practice
There are two aspects to Buddha Recitation -- essence and practice. According to Elder Master Ou-I:
"Buddha Recitation-practice" means believing that there is a Western Pure Land and a Lord Buddha named Amitabha, but not yet realizing that "this Mind makes Buddha, this Mind is Buddha." It consists of resolutely seeking rebirth in the Pure Land and reciting as earnestly as a lost child longing for his mother, never forgetting her for a single moment.
"Buddha Recitation-essence," on the other hand, means believing and understanding that Lord Amitabha Buddha of the West inherently exists in full within our mind, is created by our mind, and making this sacred name -- inherently existing in full within our mind and created by our mind -- the focus of our recitation, without a moment of neglect."
In other words, "Buddha Recitation-practice" is the method of those who do not understand anything about meaning or essence, who just believe that there is a Land of Ultimate Bliss and a Buddha named Amitabha, and who fervently and earnestly recite the Buddha's name seeking rebirth there.
"Buddha Recitation-essence" is the method of those who practice in an identical manner, but who also deeply realize that the Pure Land and Lord Amitabha Buddha are all in the True Mind, manifested by the pure virtues of the True Mind.
This being so, is there a difference between Buddha Recitation-practice and Buddha Recitation-essence? Of course there is. Those who follow Buddha Recitation-practice see Amitabha Buddha as outside the Mind; therefore, opposing marks of subject-object still exist. Thus, such practice is not yet all-encompassing and complete. Those who practice Buddha Recitation-essence thoroughly understand the True Mind and therefore sever all marks of subject-object -- to recite is Buddha, to recite is Mind, reconciling Mind and Realm.
Let me relate an anecdote. One night, a Master who is a friend of this author dreamed that a yellow-robed monk came to ask him, "You practice Buddha Recitation, but what is Buddha?" Answer "Buddha is Mind." The monk continued, "How about explaining to me what you mean by Buddha is Mind?" In his dream, the author's friend improvised the following stanzas:
Each utterance of the Buddha's name following the rosary is Mind,
Buddha is clearly Mind, why waste time searching for Him?
The Buddha's sea of wisdom reconciles Mind and Realm!
Mind and Buddha are born equal.
To abandon Mind and follow the Buddha is to be still in a dream,
To be attached to the Buddha as Mind is not yet perfect comprehension;
Mind and Buddha are both originally illusory and dreamlike,
To transcend both Buddha and Mind is to arrive at the perfect City of Lights.
The Master understood the essence of Buddha Recitation, reconciling the Buddha's name with the realm of the Mind.
There is one erroneous idea, prevalent among those who lean toward the subtle and the mysterious, which requires clarification. Many of them, emphasizing theory over practice, tend to be attached to the concept of "Amitabha as the Self-Nature, Pure Land as Mind-Only," and reject the existence of the Western Pure Land or rebirth there. These individuals explain the sutra teachings on Pure Land from the viewpoint of principle or essence, saying "Amitabha is our Buddha Nature, the Pure Land is the pure realm of the Mind, why seek it on the outside?" This is the great mistake of those who emphasize mundane, conventional reasoning.
They cling to theory (essence) while neglecting practice, prefer essence to marks, and rely on Ultimate Truth to reject the manifestations of mundane truth -- failing to realize that the two are inseparable.
According to the Treatise on the Awakening of the Faith, the True Mind has two aspects: essence and marks. The aspect of essence is called the Door of True Thusness, the aspect of marks is the Door of Birth and Death. True Thusness is inseparable from Birth and Death; Birth and Death are True Thusness. This is why the Patriarch Asvaghosha called True Thusness the "truth-like Emptiness treasury" and Birth and Death the "truth-like Non-Emptiness treasury." True Thusness and Birth and death have the same truth-like nature.
Take the great ocean as an example. We cannot accept sea water but not waves. If we were to do so, we would be wrong about the manifestations of the ocean and fail to understand truly what the ocean is. Therefore, when we abandon phenomena, noumenon cannot stand by itself; when we reject marks, essence cannot remain stable.
A great many individuals, educated in mundane ways, become afflicted with the disease of grasping at the "Truth of Emptiness" when they study Mahayana sutras, particularly those that expound the Prajna Paramita truth, which they do not fully understand. Thus, they explain sutras which elucidate phenomena and marks, such as the Pure Land Sutras or the Ksitigarbha (Earth Store Bodhisattva) Sutra, from the viewpoint of noumenon and principle. They mistake these "marks" sutras as expedients to guide those of limited capacities. However, in truth, they are the mistaken ones! In this connection, I will quote a few passages from the sutras, to destroy this attachment to Emptiness.
As stated in the Heart Sutra:
There is no wisdom, and there is no attainment whatsoever. Because there is nothing to be attained, a Bodhisattva relying on Prajnaparamita has no obstruction in his mind. Because there is no obstruction he has no fear, and he passes far beyond all confused imaginations and reaches ultimate Nirvana. The Buddhas in the past, present and future, also, by relying on the Prajnaparamita, "have" attained Supreme Enlightenment. (Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada, The Buddhist Liturgy p. 47)
At first, Buddha Sakyamuni, in accord with Ultimate Truth, said "there is no attainment whatsoever." Then, in accord with conventional truth, He said "the Buddhas in the past, present and future have attained Supreme Enlightenment." Seeing "attainment" is attachment to existence. Seeing "non-attainment" is to err in the direction of attachment to emptiness. Therefore, cultivators should thoroughly understand the deep meaning behind the sutras and enter the Middle Way.
In the Diamond Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha stated:
Who sees Me by form,
Who seeks Me in sound,
Perverted are his footsteps upon the Way;
For he cannot perceive the Tathagata.
(A. F. Price, tr. "The Diamond Sutra," p. 65. In The Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui Neng.)
However, the Lord Buddha then continued:
Subhuti, do not think the opposite either that when the Tathagata attained Supreme Enlightenment it was not by means of his possession of the thirty-two marks of physical excellence. Do not think that. Should you think that, then when you begin the practice of seeking to attain supreme enlightenment you would think that all systems of phenomena and all conceptions about phenomena are to be cut off and rejected [thus falling into nihilism]. Do not think that. And why? Because when a disciple practices seeking to attain supreme enlightenment, he should neither grasp after such arbitrary conceptions of phenomena nor reject them. (Wai-tao, tr., "The Diamond Sutra," in Goddard, ea., A Buddhist Bible, p. 103-4.)
First, Buddha Sakyamuni taught that we should not follow sounds, forms and marks in seeking the Way. After that, he reminded us that at the same time, we should not abandon sounds, forms and marks, nor should we destroy all dharmas. Thus, we can see that the Way belongs neither to "forms" nor to "emptiness." Clinging to either aspect is misguided. A famous Zen monk once said:
Thirty years ago, when this old monk had not yet entered the Order, he perceived rivers as rivers and mountains as mountains. After meeting good spiritual advisors who taught him how to cultivate, he saw rivers as not-rivers and mountains as not-mountains. Now that he has seen the Way and reached the state of still emptiness, he realizes that rivers have always been rivers and mountains have always been mountains.
A Zen poet, Su Tung P'o, expressed the same idea:
The sound of the stream is the Buddhas' vast long tongue,
The shape of the mountain is intrinsically the pure Dharma body.
The meaning of the poem is that forms, marks and sounds are intrinsically the Great Way. We should understand them with a non-discriminating mind, neither clinging to them nor rejecting them to seek Enlightenment in the realm of hollow emptiness [which is contrary to True Emptiness]. Therefore, the phrase, "Self-Nature Amitabha, Mind-Only Pure Land" is not a denial of the Pure Land or Amitabha Buddha, but is rather an expression that gathers marks toward essence, brings "function" toward nature, to manifest the ultimate truth of the Void. In this ultimate truth, even Buddhas do not exist, let alone other dharmas.
The ancients have said:
Although theory can be understood in a flash, practice should be carried out step by step.
Even in Zen, which is said to be a "direct method," as long as we have to sit in meditation, or gather our mind, or meditate on a koan or enter and exit samadhi, we are still within the sphere of expedients. Moreover, in the metaphysical realm, there are many levels of attainment. Not until we have reached the stage of non-cultivation can we dispense with expedients and really proclaim that all dharmas are empty. If we have not reached that stage, even a small thing like a mote of dust is real; we still feel warm near a fire or cold in the midst of frost and we still feel pain when a small thorn pricks our body -- how, then, can we say that all dharmas are non-existent and void?
Therefore, those who like to advance lofty and wonderful propositions, such as "Amitabha is the Self-Nature, the Pure Land is Mind Only," and go on to reject the actual practice of Buddha Recitation will find themselves in the predicament of "destroying the boat before stepping ashore." There is no way such persons can avoid drowning. On the contrary, since ancient times, those who have thoroughly understood essence have always paid particular attention to practice -- because practice symbolizes essence.
The ancients have said:
Only those endowed with wisdom can reconcile the essence and marks of Buddha Recitation and truly understand it in an exhaustive manner. Otherwise, we had better grasp at marks in our cultivation; the more we do so, the more effective our practice will be.
This is because the more we cling to forms, the more earnest is our determination to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. Once reborn there, we will surely be awakened to the True Mark. The subject of phenomena and noumenon, essence and marks can be discussed ad infinitum . However, if we can understand it, we understand everything. I sincerely hope that fellow cultivators will skillfully reflect on this question to avoid being misled while treading the Way.
When the author had reached this point in the manuscript, a visiting lay Buddhist asked, "I have heard a number of fairly accomplished Zen Masters say, 'The intelligent should just concentrate their minds and have pure thoughts, without wasting their time and effort to follow the illusion of Buddha Recitation. Let us leave the vehicle empty so that it can run light, not weigh it down with excess baggage!' I have heard such reasoning but do not know how to reply. I wish you could elucidate the matter."
Answer: The aim of Zen is True Thusness Samadhi. The goal of Pure Land is the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. True Thusness Samadhi is like gold bullion, while Buddha Recitation Samadhi is similar to gold necklaces, bracelets, and other pieces of jewelry. All contain the basic metal gold. Therefore, when we have attained Buddha Recitation Samadhi, we have attained True Thusness Samadhi as well. True Thusness Samadhi centers on wisdom; Buddha Recitation Samadhi encompasses not only wisdom but merit and virtue as well. This is because the Pure Land practitioner not only bases himself on pure one-pointedness of mind, he receives the virtues derived from reciting the Buddha's name in addition. However, neither True Thusness Samadhi nor Buddha Recitation Samadhi can be attained in one lifetime; they are the results of many eons of continuous practice. This is particularly true in this Dharma-Ending Age.
Thus, while Buddha Recitation Samadhi is the aim of the Pure Land method, it is not the primary one. The principal and essential goal is to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land within one lifetime so as to reach the stage of non-retrogression. This is what sets Pure Land apart from other schools and gives it its name.
This is precisely why many Zen Masters, having awakened to the Way but realizing that Supreme Enlightenment is still far away, change direction and adopt Buddha Recitation seeking rebirth in the Pure Land. Although painstaking, reciting the Buddha's name and bowing to images of the Buddhas bring additional merits and virtues, a result of the cultivation of the two karmas of body and speech.
Take the example of a truck returning to the capital from the mountain town of Dalat. If, after discharging its cargo, the truck returns empty, it will, of course, be lighter. However, if it can load up with vegetables and other produce, the truck will not only be back in the capital, its owners will, in addition, have a cargo of produce. Earning additional merits and blessings through the diligent and painstaking efforts of Buddha Recitation is a natural cause and effect occurrence -- where is the loss? However, any hardship, if it does occur, will only be felt in the beginning stages of Buddha Recitation. When recitation has become second nature, reaching the level of No-Mind, all hardship will have vanished!
48) One-Pointedness of Mind -- Theory and Practice
The practitioner of Buddha Recitation should strive earnestly to achieve a dual goal. Intemally, he should eliminate all marks of right and wrong, mine and yours, becoming oblivious to body and mind. Extemally, he should completely sever the marks of Emptiness, form and the Six Dusts, to the point where he no longer grasps at external realms -- only the sacred name of Amitabha Buddha remains before him.
This utmost exertion of effort was best described by the ancients with the following image:
In front of him are ferocious tigers, behind a pack of wolves, on the left a high mountainside, on the right a deep precipice. In such a situation, in which direction should the practitioner escape?
The Pure Land School expresses the same idea with the words:
The seven jeweled lotus pond is in front of him, the cauldron of boiling oil above the fire pit is behind him; the Buddha Recitation practitioner should proceed straight ahead.
If the practitioner does not see any sign of progress, it is because he himself lacks strong will and is lazy. In this connection, an Elder Master once sternly admonished the assembly:
The way people today seek the Dharma is cause for lamentation,
Still outside the door, they are puzzled in so many ways!
Thinking they have reached the Sage-Emperor's jade city,
They have in fact stopped mid-way, at the mountain pass!
If the practitioner exerts the utmost effort without interruption, he will, in time, arrive at the realm of one-pointedness of mind. This sphere of undivided attentiveness has two levels, superficial and subtle, called the level of phenomena and the level of noumenon.
What is one-pointedness of mind at the level of phenomena?
When the practitioner gives undivided attention to the sacred name of Amitabha Buddha, all sundry thoughts are, in time, eliminated. Whether he is reclining or sitting, walking or standing, only the sacred name appears before him. At that point, he has reached the realm of one-pointedness of mind at the level of phenomena. This is the concentration realm of the Pure Land practitioner, equivalent to the level of "phenomena-concentration" in Zen.
What is one-pointedness of mind at the noumenon level?
If we go a step beyond the level of phenomena and exert our utmost efforts, one day our mind will be completely empty, we will completely escape the dust of the senses and become awakened to the True Mark. At that time, the present moment is the Western Pure Land -- and this does not contradict the specific existence of the Land of Ultimate Bliss; our nature is Amitabha Buddha -- and this does not contradict the specific existence of the Lord Amitabha Buddha. This is the realm of "one-pointedness of mind, noumenon level," the realm of "concentration-wisdom being one and thus" of the Pure Land practitioner. This stage is equivalent to the level of Great Awakening in Zen.
Elder Master Ou-I elucidated the question of one-pointedness of mind in the following way:
Regardless of whether we practice recitation at the noumenon or phenomena level, if we recite to the point where afflictions are subdued and Delusions of Views and Delusions of Thought no longer arise, this is the realm of one-pointedness of mind at the level of phenomena. Regardless of whether we practice at the noumenon or phenomena level, if we recite to the point where the mind is awakened and we clearly see the original Buddha Nature, this is the realm of one-pointedness of mind at the noumenon level. At the level of phenomena, we are no longer disturbed by delusions of view and delusions of thought; at the noumenon level we are no longer disturbed by dualities (that is, existence/non-existence, extinction/permanence, etc.).
Thus, one-pointedness of mind is not an easy thing for people today to achieve, even at the level of phenomena, let alone at the level of noumenon. However, thanks to the virtues obtained through recitation and earnest practice, each utterance erases one part of delusion and engenders one part of merit and wisdom, gradually and naturally leading us to rebirth in an auspicious realm. If we practice in that manner over a long period of time, why worry about not reaching the stage where each thought awakens and enlightens, leading to auspicious realms? This idea is expressed in the phrase "each time a new thought arises, a new realm appears."
Therefore, even though we possess only the limited capacities of sentient beings in the Dharma-Ending Age, if we truly exert ourselves, one-pointedness of mind, both at the phenomena and noumenon levels, is not necessarily beyond our reach.