Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Mar 18, 2010 1:10 pm

The question sometimes comes up as to whether Pure Land is compatible with Zen or other meditation-based forms of Buddhism. If we are talking about Jodo Shinshu the answer is usually no, since the two approaches are basically at cross-purposes. But Chinese Pure Land seems a bit different.

Indeed, while going through Shi Wuling's useful little guide "In One Lifetime", I was struck by how closely the practice described resembled a form of meditation -- except with "Amituofo" as an anchor point, rather than the breath, sounds, etc. This seemed particularly true of "silent chanting".

When sitting on the floor with a cushion, you may do so in a full or partial lotus position, or you may cross your legs...Hold your hands on your lap with the back of the right hand resting on the palm of the left hand, and with thumb tips slightly raised and lightly touching. Eyes may be lightly closed or slightly open. If you feel drowsy when your eyes are closed, open them slightly. Posture is very important, so sit upright comfortably without slumping or leaning forward. Hold the head at a slight downward tilt with the chin pulled in just a little. In this position, begin chanting "Amituofo" aloud or silently. Breathe in through the nose, pulling the air down into the deepest part of the lungs while distending the diaphragm and then slowly breathe out through the nose. Breathing should be natural. Try to use your diaphragm to pull the air deeper into your lungs instead of breathing shallowly. In silent chanting, the tip of the tongue lightly touches the back of the upper teeth, and teeth and lips are held as usual.


So is it possible to see this kind of Pure Land as basically another form of meditation? Does anyone here practice both meditation and chanting, whether silent or vocalized? What about meditating with Amitabha as the focus? What might be some important differences? Could chanting produce a kind of absorption state which is analagous in some ways to dhyana?

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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Astus » Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:04 pm

The Pure Land teaching has always had meditation as the central piece of the tradition. What came to be the Jodo and Jodo Shinshu schools in Japan are quite radicals compared to all the others. If you want a more detailed description of the options check Buddhism of Wisdom & Faith: Pure Land Principles and Practice. As for buddha-remembrance practice, this is a really nice text: Taming the Monkey Mind.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby plwk » Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:13 pm

So is it possible to see this kind of Pure Land as basically another form of meditation?

Isn't Pure Land 'buddhanusmrti'? Recollection/contemplation of the Buddha?
http://buddhistfaith.tripod.com/purelan ... s/id6.html
Nembutsu in Japanese Buddhism refers to thinking of a buddha and recitation of the buddha's name. The original Sanskrit term is buddhanusmrti which means "to concentrate and to think of a buddha" or buddhamanasikara which means "to be mindful of a buddha." "Recollection of the Buddha" (along with the Dharma and the Sangha) is one of the oldest practices in Buddhism which developed after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha. This practice continues today in the Theravada tradition. In the Mahayana tradition, "Recollection of the Buddha" developed further in India and Central Asia during the beginning of the Christian era. The increasing distance from the era of Shakyamuni Buddha fueled a desire to see or to encounter a buddha. This desire brought about the development of meditative practices, such as the samadhi of gseeing a buddha". This samadhi of "seeing a buddha", however, further developed into visual contemplation of a buddha's body. As such, in the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, the oldest of the three principal Pure Land sutras, "thinking on the Buddha" (cittotpadyante) appears, but not "uttering praise to Amida Buddha.

In the development of Mahayana in China, it was usual at first "to think" of Amida Buddha. However, in order to better concentrate the mind, recitation of Amida Buddha's name developed. In the Meditation Sutra, it is recommended that people recite aloud "Namu Amida Butsu" ten times. By the time this sutra was composed, the practice of uttering these words was already apparently a central mode of meditating on Amida Buddha. This is why as early as Tan-luan's Hymns in Praise of Amida Buddha these six characters appear on page one as the epigraph, evincing the primacy of reciting this central formula of praise. Again in his Commentary on the Treatise on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wang-sheng-lun chu), Tan-luan declares that the whole spirit and meaning of the the Sutra of Immeasurable Life is contained in the six characters of this short invocation. From that time this practice grew important until, with Shan-tao, it was ultimately considered to be the only really necessary practice. Later Shan-tao declared that these six characters signify taking refuge in Amida Buddha and the practice of the nembutsu. Honen begins his Senchakushu with these words and explains that the nembutsu is foremost among the practices for Birth in the Pure Land.

Because the nembutsu is written with six characters (na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu) it is also called the "name of six Chinese characters" (rokuji-myogo) or simply the "name" (myogo). In most forms of Buddhism there is the practice of reciting "the name" (myogo) of the Buddha. It is unclear precisely what the original Sanskrit term for "the name" (namadheya) connoted. It was T'an-luan who first gave prominent emphasis to this term. Tan-luan's explanation is that there is a direct connection between "the name" and "the body" of the Buddha. Later, Shan-tao focused on the eighteenth vow of the Sutra of Immeasurable Life and referred to the practice of nembutsu recitation as "the name." Honen, under Shan-tao's influence, focused on the recitation of the nembutsu recommended in the Meditation Sutra.

Yes and also on another level, this is what many would relate to in Chinese Mahayana context as the dual practice of Ch'an and Pure Land Dharma Doors. See this excerpt:
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf51.htm#practices
The first category of cultivators comprises those who engage primarily in Buddha Recitation but practice Zen as well. They are said to practice Zen-Pure Land also called dual practice of Zen and Pure Land.
Here, rebirth in the Pure Land is the principal goal, while seeing the True Nature and becoming enlightened to the Way is a secondary matter which depends on the individual practitioner's good roots and conditions.

Does anyone here practice both meditation and chanting, whether silent or vocalized?
What about meditating with Amitabha as the focus?

Yup, have been doing that informally for years and recently in late January, joined a local reputable Ch'an centre to formalise my experience of Ch'an in complementing my Pure Land practice.
I can relate totally to what Ven Wuling stated in that excerpt because much of what she stated is what I had learned from the centre (differing in small details) and normally I would maintain this method in silence: (in reconciling their breath focus method with my practice of nian fo)
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf52.htm#variants
3. Breath-by-Breath Recitation
This technique consists of reciting silently or softly, with each breath, inhaling or exhaling, accompanied by one recitation of the Buddha's name. Since life is linked to breath, if we take advantage of breath while practicing Buddha Recitation, we will not be apart from Buddha Amitabha in life and at the time of death, when breath has stopped, we will be immediately reborn in the Pure Land.
The practitioner should remember, however that once he has mastered this technique, he should recite aloud as well as silently. In this way, the power of recitation will be strengthened and the will to be reborn in the Pure Land more easily developed. Otherwise, his resolve will not be earnest and he might "stray" into the practice of the "Five Meditations to calm the mind" of the Theravada tradition.

What might be some important differences?

The most important difference, in my estimation is this and below excerpt aptly explains it:
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf51.htm#practices
If we were to use Buddha Recitation to discover the Mind-Ground and awaken to our Original Nature, the Pure Land method would be no different from other methods.
However, when we rely on Buddha Recitation to seek rebirth in the Pure Land, this method has unique characteristics.
Ancient masters have said:
Birth [in the Pure Land] is definitely birth; however, return [to the Pure Land] is, in truth, no return. This is True Realization of realms, not of beings.
Return is definitely return; however, birth is, in truth, No-Birth. This is True Realization of beings, not of realms.
Return is, in reality, no return; birth is also, in truth, no birth. This is True Realization of both realms and beings.
Return is definitely return; birth is definitely birth. This is not True Realization of realms and beings.

These four statements explain the Four True Realizations of Pure Land teachings. True Realization means thorough comprehension of essence, or noumenon. Since the whole Dharma Realm (cosmos) is only Mind, sentient beings and realms are illusory [see Glossary, "Illusion"]. If we conceive that there are sentient beings achieving rebirth in the Pure Land and that there are realms to go back to, we are still attached to beings and dharmas and are still making a distinction between here and there. This is not True Realization, i.e., not a complete understanding of essence and noumenon. The reverse is called True Realization. The ancients have summarized the idea in the following stanza:
Recitation is equal to non-recitation, No-Birth is Birth,
[Having reached that stage] do not bother to move even half a step,
You have arrived at the Enlightened capital city.

True Realization of beings and realms [No. 3] is the ultimate goal of Pure Land practitioners. Nevertheless, the doctrine taught in the Three Pure Land sutras and the Commentary on Rebirth is No. 4 ( "not True Realization of realms and beings"), which is consonant with seeking rebirth in the Pure Land. This is because Buddha Sakyamuni knew that common mortals in this world of the Five Turbidities, especially in this Dharma-Ending Age, would have heavy and deep karmic obstructions; establishing a realm of marks [the Pure Land], enabling them to anchor their minds and cultivate, would be difficult enough -- not to mention abandoning all marks!

If common human beings of this Dharma-Ending Age cultivate while grasping at marks (i.e., the Pure Land), their Practice and Vows will be more earnest and the final result of rebirth in the Pure land easier to achieve. Once reborn in the Pure Land, why worry about not attaining the state of No-Birth and No-Mark?

For those who are not of the highest capacity or endowed with a sharp mind, hastening to achieve lofty goals and engaging in cultivation without marks leaves the mind with no anchor. Earnestness and sincerity are then difficult to develop. If their Vows are not earnest, how can they achieve rebirth in the Pure Land, and without rebirth in that Land, how can they escape Birth and Death? This is an instance of "haste makes waste," climbing high but landing low, wanting to be clever and ending up clumsy and awkward!

Many who like to voice lofty principles frequently reject the Pure Land method in these terms: "To recite the Buddha's name seeking rebirth in the Pure Land is to grasp at marks, seeking the Dharma outside the Mind, failing to understand that all dharmas are Mind-Only." These individuals, seeking the subtle and the lofty, are in reality shallow and superficial! This is because they do not understand that if the Saha World is Mind-Only, then the Western Pure Land is also Mind-Only, and nothing can be found outside the True Mind. Thus, to recite Amitabha Buddha's name is to recite the Buddha of our own Nature and Mind; to be reborn in the Pure Land is to return to the realm of our own Mind -- not to an outside realm! Since neither the Saha World nor the Pure Land is outside the Mind, how can remaining in the Saha World, enduring samsara, scorched and burned by the fire of the Five Turbidities, be compared with returning to the tranquil and blissful Pure Land -- the pure and cool realm of freedom?

We should realize that the ones truly in a position to honor the Mind-Only Pure Land are those who have attained the Dharma-Nature-Body, always free and at ease in all circumstances. At that time, whether in the Saha World or in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, they are in a "pure land," in the state of Mind-Only -- in the state of liberation. Otherwise, though they may discourse endlessly on the mystery and loftiness of the Pure Land, they cannot escape bewilderment and delusion in the "bardo stage," and, following their karma, revolving in the cycle of Birth and Death!

Could chanting produce a kind of absorption state which is analagous in some ways to dhyana?
See:The Four Types of Samadhi
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Devotee » Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:30 pm

The nuns/monks at our temple advise mantra or Buddha-name recitation as a practice for Zen. I was taught that essentially, when one cannot do techniques such as mindfulness of the breath, breath-counting, koans, or what they call "the meditation on compassion" (similar to Metta in Theravada), silent recitation of Buddha-names or mantras (such as the Medicine Buddha mantra or Heart Sutra) can overcome obstacles and prepare one for other techniques of Zen. This reminds me of Tibetan Buddhism, where a beginner recites one single mantra 100,000 times before progressing. We were told too, that if a student cannot (due to heavy karma or lack of wisdom) easily adapt to Zen, one should have faith that recitation will at least collect the help of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

We were warned though, not to become attached to the technique (praising one technique while disparaging others) or to attach to possible effects such as seeing lights and visions, apparitions, etc.
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Namu Butsu » Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:43 pm

Very interesting thread. I enjoy reading about Chinese Pure Land Buddhism. Many people who practice Jodo Shinshu and Jodo Shu practice Zazen, but not in order to gain enlightenment. Taitetsu Unno said that if meditation would be used for anything in Jodo Shinshu, it would be for deep hearing (hearing the call of Amida in our hearts). Dr. Alfred Bloom has written that meditation is fine as long as there is no goal. This is similar to shikintaza.

I am fascrinated by the methods of Chinese Pure Land forms. Also in some Tibetan traditions there are obviously meditations or visualizations of Amida and the Pure Land.


Plwk I enjoyed your post. It does seem that recitation of nembutsu is meditation in of itself even though there is no goal. It is recollection of the Primal Vow of Buddha Amida :)

:bow:
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"Just say the nembutsu and be liberated" Shinran Shonin
"However hard it may be to bid farewell to this world, when the conditions that bind us to this saha [samsara] realm run out, we are powerless to do anything as the final hour arrives and we are swept away to that Land." -A Record in Lament of Divergences
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby catmoon » Mon Mar 22, 2010 9:53 am

Fascinating. It looks like the advice on dealing with meditation hindrances is going to be very useful.

Thanks for the posts!
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Mar 22, 2010 10:26 am

Good thread.

In short: Yes, I practice chanting, and other forms of meditation too, which are more commonly associated with Chan. One of the most common combos is to recite up to the point where one has some depth and concentration, and then turn to the question of: "Who recites?" This is the "word-head" (hua-tou) form of Chan (often called Koan in Jp, but Gong'an in Chinese is a bit different).

This is probably one of the most common forms of meditation in Chinese Buddhism. Though just straight out Pureland recitation is more common, as it takes some depth to get to the point of the question.
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Mar 22, 2010 8:20 pm

Thanks for the great responses -- there is a lot here to consider! From the discussion, I notice (broadly speaking) two strands of thought. One sees Pure Land as a kind of stepping stone to Ch'an meditation, as Venerable Huifeng suggested -- build concentration through the recitation practice and then, when ready, address the huatou. This is probably a naive thing to say, but the approach sounds almost like a version of samatha-vipassana, with Buddha-remembrance taking the place of breath counting.

The other sees Pure Land more as an alternative to Ch'an -- the "easy" versus the "hard" path. And this, to me, raises the question: why would anyone choose the hard path? After all, the Pure Land teachers stress that the practice is all-inclusive. Not simply meaning that those of low capacities should choose this option, but that those of high capacities should as well. According to the excerpt Plwk gave us above, rebirth in the Pure Land makes it pointless to worry about attaining the state of No-Birth and No-Mark. So what need is there for a more "advanced" form of practice?

I have a couple more follow-up questions:

If Pure Land is about "establishing a realm of marks", how does this happen exactly? Do we start simply with the practice of reciting and then gradually faith develops, or do we start with a strong faith and then our recitation practice grows out of that? Where does the faith come from if we don't have it already?

To Namu Butsu I wanted to ask this:

You wrote that according to Taitetsu Unno the function of meditation would be "deep hearing", that is, hearing the call of Amida within our own mind/heart. But since meditation has to be done without expectations, it would seem that this hearing is not something we can consciously will into being. That is, we can't sit down with the anticipation that deep hearing is going to occur. So what do we do instead? Is it something that happens naturally and spontaneously, and is meditation just providing an opportunity for it to arise (in a way, like standing in a field provides an opportunity to get hit by lightning)?


Namaste,
LE
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby catmoon » Mon Mar 22, 2010 10:24 pm

I don't have a Zen teacher, but I have had cats around almost all my life.

A cat can do an odd thing. It can remain on the brink of action indefinitely. So you watch the cat and meditate upon "Who is about to meow?"

When they finally do meow (they don't every time) the poor meditator is liable to engage in spontaneous levitation. They always catch you exactly on the unexpected moment.

Ok I've never actually done this :D but kitties make pretty fair meditation and compassion teachers.
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby plwk » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:09 am

...rebirth in the Pure Land makes it pointless to worry about attaining the state of No-Birth and No-Mark. So what need is there for a more "advanced" form of practice?

Perhaps, I am seeing this question on two levels:
Level One:
When one takes up Pure Land practice, it should be according to the Buddha's intention, not our mundane ones. So when one takes up according to how the Buddha meant it to be, we get the Buddha results. When one complicates it with one's own mundane/samsaric reasons, then the end result is often muddled and when one don't see how they have muddled it up, often the Dharma Door is slandered as useless and pointless but upon a simple investigation would have yielded some answers on the 'failures'.
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf12.htm#intent
There are those who, visiting Buddhist temples and monasteries and seeing people engaged in Buddhas Recitation, also join in, without a specific goal. This action, while garnering merits and virtues for the future, is not in accordance with the Buddhas' true intention.

There are those who practice Buddha Recitation seeking escape from danger and calamities as well as health, happiness and tranquillity for their families and ever-growing success in their careers and business dealings. Such goals, although worthy, are not consonant with the Buddhas' true intention.

There are those who, faced with hardships and the frustration of their wishes, become despondent. They recite Amitabha Buddha's name, praying that they will be spared such adversity in their present and future lives, that they will be endowed with beauty and honor, and that everything will turn to their advantage and accord with their wishes. Such goals are of course worthy, but they are not consonant with the Buddhas' true intention.

There are those who realize that life on earth does not bring any lasting happiness; even the noble, rich powerful and influential are beset by worry and suffering. They hope that through the merits and virtues of Buddha Recitation, they will be reborn in the celestial realms, endowed with longevity and leisure, joy and freedom. Such a goal, although worthy, is not consonant with the Buddhas' true intention.

There are those who, having committed many transgressions, think that they cannot easily be saved in this life. They therefore recite the Buddha's name, praying that in their next life they will be reborn as a male, leave home to be a high-ranking monk, and become awakened to the Way. Such a goal, while exemplary, is still lacking in wisdom and faith, and is not consonant with the Buddhas' true intention

The intention of the Buddhas?
Buddha Sakyamuni clearly recognized that all conditioned dharmas are impermanent, and that all sentient beings have always possessed in full the virtues and wisdom of the Tathagatas (Buddhas). However, because of delusion about their Original Nature, they create evil karma and afflictions and revolve forever in the cycle of Birth and Death. Even if they were to be reborn in the Heavens, once their merits were exhausted, they would descend into the lower realms. For this reason, the real intention of Sakyamuni Buddha is that through the Pure Land method, sentient beings may realize an early escape from the sufferings of Birth and Death.

Throughout countless eons, all Buddhas have accumulated merits and wisdom. Anyone who recites their names will engender immeasurable virtues. Moreover, Buddha Amitabha has made this Vow: Any sentient being who singlemindedly recites His name and seeks rebirth in His Land will, at the final moment, be welcomed and guided to the Pure land, and attain non-retrogression. To exchange the immeasurable virtues accumulated through Buddha Recitation for the small merits and blessings of the realm of gods and men -- forfeiting liberation and rebirth in the Pure Land -- would be no different from an innocent child bartering an invaluable diamond for a piece of candy. That would be a great waste indeed!

Moreover, the power of Amitabha Buddha's Vows is so immense that no matter how heavy our karma may be, by reciting His name in all earnestness, we can, in this very lifetime, achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. To seek rebirth, for instance, as an enlightened, high-ranking monk is to lack wisdom and faith. It cannot ensure rebirth in the Pure Land in this very life or attainment of Bodhisattvahood at the stage of non-retrogression. Therefore, the real intention of the Buddhas is for sentient beings to practice Pure Land so that they can be liberated from Birth and Death -- and this liberation is to be achieved in one lifetime.

But why do we need to escape the cycle of Birth and Death? It is because, in the wasteland of Birth and Death, we truly undergo immense pain and suffering. If students of Buddhism do not sincerely meditate on this truth of suffering, they cannot achieve results despite all their scholarship, as they do not experience fear and seek liberation. The sutras say:
If the fearful mind does not come easily, the sincere mind cannot spring forth easily.
This is the reason why Sakyamuni Buddha, when preaching the Four Noble Truths to the five monks led by Kaundinya, taught them first the Truth of Suffering. According to this truth, if we meditate on the suffering of the human condition, we will have a clearer idea as to why we must swiftly escape the cycle of Birth and Death.

The second level:
Every Dharma Door has the goal of achieving the Final Goal and so it is quite pointless to compare one with another Dharma Door's standard of how that goal is to be gained. Words like 'advance' or 'simple' is perceived by sentient's capacity, affinities plus their respective causes and conditions rather than the Dharma Door per se. If that Dharma Door works for you, fine.
See this:
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf32.htm#points
Question IV:
The purpose of Buddha Recitation is to sever the mind of delusion, put an end to afflictions and reach the state of No-Thought (No Recitation). This being the case, we need only keep the mind pure, and we will progress gradually toward the realm of No-Thought. Where is the need to expend time and effort in Buddha Recitation?
Answer:
The aim of the Pure Land method is the Buddha Recitation Samadhi, achieving, in totality, our Self-Nature Amitabha -- the realm of the "Ever-Silent Illuminating Pure Land." However, the most urgent and immediate aim is rebirth in the Pure Land. This ensures an end to transmigration, and then, through the excellent environment of the Land of Bliss, progress in cultivation and swift attainment of Buddhahood. For this reason, Pure Land cultivators should recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. This is the principal approach of Pure Land; it does not consist of rapidly reaching the realm of No-Thought and becoming enlightened to our Original Nature, as in Zen.

However, while working toward that goal, the practitioner should recite until he reaches the state of one-pointedness of mind. Thus, although he does not seek the realm of "No-Thought," that realm will nevertheless appear naturally. Moreover, it will appear that much sooner, thanks to the virtues accumulated through Buddha Recitation, which help to erase bad karma swiftly. Here we can see a new ray of light, a new vista: to achieve "No-Thought" swiftly, to become enlightened to the Original Nature speedily, we should recite the Buddha's name all the more.

Probing deeper, if we have the roots and the temperament of Mahayana followers, we should understand that the ultimate goal of Buddha Recitation is to achieve Buddhahood. If we understand that goal to be merely the elimination of deluded thoughts, we have already strayed into the "Five Meditations to calm the mind" approach of the Theravada tradition.

Why is it that the goal of Buddha Recitation is to become a Buddha? It is because as soon as we begin reciting, the past, present and future have lost their distinctions, marks exist but they have been left behind, form is emptiness, thought is the same as No-Thought, the realm of the Original Nature "apart from thought" of the Tathagata has been penetrated. This state is Buddhahood. What else could it be?

If we were to think that to recite is to remain attached to the "conditioned" (mundane dharmas subject to Birth and Death), then, when Buddha Sakyamuni displayed such concrete marks as eating a meal, donning a robe, conversing, preaching the Dharma, walking, standing, lying down, or sitting up, was He not attached to the conditioned and therefore not a Tathagata?

Moreover, if we were to think that reciting the Buddha's name is not yet No-Thought, then, when high-ranking Zen masters are meditating on a koan, preaching the Dharma, or, at times, reciting sutras, genuflecting, seeking repentance, or circumambulating, (all actions having marks), are they therefore not practicing Zen?

We should know that the essence of the "unconditioned" is to "practice all conditioned dharmas without seeing the mark of practice." The same is true of No-Thought. It does not mean that entirely eliminating all actions and words is the unconditioned, the No-Thought! Because they fail to understand this truth, some persons who are attached to the teaching of Emptiness think: Buddha Recitation is like a moving vehicle carrying an added heavy load, impure gold with traces of lead, rice mixed with sand, not light, pure and unmixed. How wrong can they be!

However, reciting to the point of "not reciting," is the sphere of those of the highest capacities. I merely raise the issue to reply to a point of doubt. As far as most of us are concerned, making the effort to recite the Buddha's name in an accomplished manner is already a very worthwhile thing!
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby plwk » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:13 am

If Pure Land is about "establishing a realm of marks", how does this happen exactly?

One level here...
Phenomena & Principle
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf72.htm#recite
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.

Another level....
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf72.htm#recite
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.[63]

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.

Yet another level....
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf73.htm#external
The realms and manifestations summarized above are called "external realms."
Some might ask, "To see Buddhas and lotus blossoms -- is it not to see demonic apparitions?"
Answer:
If cause and effect coincide, these are not "demonic realms." This is because the Pure Land method belongs to the Dharma Door of Existence; when Pure Land practitioners first set out to cultivate, they enter the Way through forms and marks and seek to view the celestial scenes of the Western Pure Land. When they actually witness these auspicious scenes, it is only a matter of effects corresponding to causes. If cause and effect are in accord, how can these be "demonic realms"?

In the Zen School, on the other hand, the practitioner enters the Way through the Dharma Door of Emptiness. Right from the beginning of his cultivation he wipes out all marks -- even the marks of the Buddhas or the Dharma are destroyed. The Zen practitioner does not seek to view the Buddhas or the lotus blossoms, yet the marks of the Buddhas or the lotus blossoms appear to him. Therefore, cause and effect do not correspond. For something to appear without a corresponding cause is indeed the realm of the demons. Thus, the Zen practitioner always holds the sword of wisdom aloft. If the demons come, he kills the demons, if the Buddha comes, he kills the Buddha -- to enter the realm of True Emptiness is not to tolerate a single mark.

A caveat: we are only talking here about novice cultivators. High-level Zen practitioners do sometimes see various marks which are not demonic realms. When their minds become enlightened, Zen Masters who have practiced meditation for many eons can see evil as well as transcendental realms, including the pure and defiled lands of the ten directions. This is because all worlds are within the light of the True Mind. On the other hand, despite what we have said earlier, Buddha Recitation practitioners sometimes see various marks which are "demonic realms," as will be explained later.

In short, when we refer to "internal" and "external" realms, we are speaking at the level of beginning cultivators. For those who have attained the Way, Mind is realm, realm is Mind, the ten thousand dharmas and ourselves have but one common Nature. There is no inside or outside at all.
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby plwk » Tue Mar 23, 2010 2:05 pm

Do we start simply with the practice of reciting and then gradually faith develops, or do we start with a strong faith and then our recitation practice grows out of that?
It can be both, again, according to sentient beings' capacity, some will start with the former method and also some will approach via the latter method as seen by myself in people whom I know.
Faith Vows & Practice

Where does the faith come from if we don't have it already?
The Bodhi Mind
See this excerpt from 'The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra"
http://www.purifymind.com/PureLandSutra.htm
"Furthermore, Sariputra, if there is a good son or good daughter, whether having already heard this, or shall hear it, or who is now hearing it:-- once hearing this Sutra, profoundly is there born an understanding faith.
Once there is born an understanding faith, a certainty about the accumulations of merit residing in the ten directions with the Buddha World Honored Ones whose number is like the sands of ten Ganges Rivers, and they practice as instructed, all will be firmly in the supremely unexcelled bodhi.
Attaining irreversibility in it, all will certainly be born in the Infinite Lifespan Buddha's blissful realm, that purified Buddha land.

Then there's Shinjin
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 24, 2010 12:49 pm

Plwk,

Thank you :). These are great readings.

How did your own faith develop? What brought you to this "dharma door?" and how have things progressed since then? If you don't mind discussing, I'd be interested in hearing about your experience.
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Namu Butsu » Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:40 pm

To Namu Butsu I wanted to ask this:

You wrote that according to Taitetsu Unno the function of meditation would be "deep hearing", that is, hearing the call of Amida within our own mind/heart. But since meditation has to be done without expectations, it would seem that this hearing is not something we can consciously will into being. That is, we can't sit down with the anticipation that deep hearing is going to occur. So what do we do instead? Is it something that happens naturally and spontaneously, and is meditation just providing an opportunity for it to arise (in a way, like standing in a field provides an opportunity to get hit by lightning)?


I think what Taitetsu Unno was saying was about hypothetically using meditation to emphasize Deep hearing. It comes from the heart of true and real life. It is something that happends naturally as Shin buddhism is known for natural awakening. It is like seeking to not be seperated or isolated from life and others (which this separation makes us sad and fearful), and yet finding that you were never separated and that there is no seeker only that which is Sought, so it all works from the cosmos itself, because the cosmos is interdependence, everything is working itself out, nothing to do really,, I think this is why Shinran said Just say the nembutsu and be liberated (which he quoted honen). But you better not ask me question on this, its best to ask Andreas or someone else who experiences Amida Buddha as a living reality here and now.

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"Just say the nembutsu and be liberated" Shinran Shonin
"However hard it may be to bid farewell to this world, when the conditions that bind us to this saha [samsara] realm run out, we are powerless to do anything as the final hour arrives and we are swept away to that Land." -A Record in Lament of Divergences
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Huifeng » Fri Mar 26, 2010 3:49 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Thanks for the great responses -- there is a lot here to consider! From the discussion, I notice (broadly speaking) two strands of thought. One sees Pure Land as a kind of stepping stone to Ch'an meditation, as Venerable Huifeng suggested -- build concentration through the recitation practice and then, when ready, address the huatou. This is probably a naive thing to say, but the approach sounds almost like a version of samatha-vipassana, with Buddha-remembrance taking the place of breath counting.


Hmmm, probably not that naive, at all! To quote someone else, with much experience of Chan and Pureland, and also Samatha-Vipasyana:
Ven Dharmamitra's intro to his translation of Tiantai Samatha-Vipasyana Check out the comments on p. 12, and the middle of p. 17.

The other sees Pure Land more as an alternative to Ch'an -- the "easy" versus the "hard" path. And this, to me, raises the question: why would anyone choose the hard path? After all, the Pure Land teachers stress that the practice is all-inclusive. Not simply meaning that those of low capacities should choose this option, but that those of high capacities should as well. According to the excerpt Plwk gave us above, rebirth in the Pure Land makes it pointless to worry about attaining the state of No-Birth and No-Mark. So what need is there for a more "advanced" form of practice?


Because the "hard path" leads to Buddha-hood, the "easy path" just leads to another place where practicing the "hard path" can be done in a better environment, with a Buddha as teacher. Hence the idea of "take rebirth in the Pureland" where one will "realize the unborn". Two different steps, not the same. Of course, once the first is attained, then the second is (almost) guaranteed. The "hard path" is faster. You can then get about your turning of the Dharma wheel.

I have a couple more follow-up questions:

If Pure Land is about "establishing a realm of marks", how does this happen exactly? Do we start simply with the practice of reciting and then gradually faith develops, or do we start with a strong faith and then our recitation practice grows out of that? Where does the faith come from if we don't have it already?


The difference is that of Chinese hermeneutics: the "existence" schools, versus the "non-existence" schools. These are related to forms of perceptions. The Pureland practice is based on generating perceptions, through visualization etc. of the Pureland, and these visualizations are a great aid to arising all number of powerful mental states, which lead to concentration, compassion and so on. Still, as "perceptions" which are created by the mind, they are not "reality" per se. One still needs to have insight into those perceptions, ie. that those perceptions too are unreal. The "non-existence" schools tend to work with just straight away generating deep states which are free from these conceptualizing perceptions. (The two words are related.) However, there is the danger that one will simply enter a state which is insentient, mindless, like a dead lump of wood, rather than a state which is pure cognition, but free from false perceptions and conceptualizations. The "hard path" is thus more risky, but it is much faster if done correctly.

One could have faith first, or afterwards. Either way is okay. The "existence" practice relies on a number of mental states, which is rather gradual in approach. Whatever works to generate those powerful positive states of mind - all of it is good!

To Namu Butsu I wanted to ask this:

You wrote that according to Taitetsu Unno the function of meditation would be "deep hearing", that is, hearing the call of Amida within our own mind/heart. But since meditation has to be done without expectations, it would seem that this hearing is not something we can consciously will into being. That is, we can't sit down with the anticipation that deep hearing is going to occur. So what do we do instead? Is it something that happens naturally and spontaneously, and is meditation just providing an opportunity for it to arise (in a way, like standing in a field provides an opportunity to get hit by lightning)?

Namaste,
LE


I can't say much about this. From what little I know, there are some differences between my own practice of Chinese style Pureland, and that of Japanese schools.

In Chinese Pureland, the idea is that one should recite with powerful intention for rebirth in the Pureland. It is a very important element of the practice. No sort of "guarantee through Amitabha's compassion" - we still have to do the work!
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Andreas Ludwig » Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:38 am

Because the "hard path" leads to Buddha-hood, the "easy path" just leads to another place where practicing the "hard path" can be done in a better environment, with a Buddha as teacher.


Not according to the teachings of Jodo Shinshu, though so I wouldn't generalize this view as the PL POV. The easy path, boarding the ship of the Great Vow, is leading directly to Buddha-hood and "the Buddha and his land of bliss are essentially one and the same reality, these terms merely designating different functions or aspects of the Dharmakaya."

Shinran taught it's all falling together: you get shinjin in this life and that's the assurance of Buddha-hood and when you die you become a Buddha immediately and instantly return to this world to act as a Buddha. There's neither a place nor time to wait once you are 'born'. To say the path of sages is the fast way to Buddha-hood while the 'easy path' (which is not as easy as it sounds) is a way to a place where one has to wait/work for Buddha-hood is ignoring an important Pure Land school and thinker.

Gassho

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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Huifeng » Fri Mar 26, 2010 11:31 am

Thanks, Andreas, for that correction. As I say above, my take is kind of a general Chinese Pureland one.
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Fri Mar 26, 2010 8:52 pm

plwk wrote:Every Dharma Door has the goal of achieving the Final Goal and so it is quite pointless to compare one with another Dharma Door's standard of how that goal is to be gained. Words like 'advance' or 'simple' is perceived by sentient's capacity, affinities plus their respective causes and conditions rather than the Dharma Door per se. If that Dharma Door works for you, fine.


Very nicely stated! :bow:
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 07, 2010 5:24 am

Huifeng wrote: To quote someone else, with much experience of Chan and Pureland, and also Samatha-Vipasyana:
Ven Dharmamitra's intro to his translation of Tiantai Samatha-Vipasyana Check out the comments on p. 12, and the middle of p. 17.


Very interesting read -- thank you, Venerable. After looking over the (rather daunting) list of prerequisite conditions provided by Master Zhiyi, I'm beginning to see why the "easy path" may be needed!

Namaste,

LE
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Re: Pure Land as a meditation practice?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Apr 07, 2010 7:10 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Huifeng wrote: To quote someone else, with much experience of Chan and Pureland, and also Samatha-Vipasyana:
Ven Dharmamitra's intro to his translation of Tiantai Samatha-Vipasyana Check out the comments on p. 12, and the middle of p. 17.


Very interesting read -- thank you, Venerable. After looking over the (rather daunting) list of prerequisite conditions provided by Master Zhiyi, I'm beginning to see why the "easy path" may be needed!

Namaste,

LE


Well, kind of. The problem is, is that for even most Chinese Pureland practitioners, they'll still say that Buddha recitation is a form of samadhi, and so to have some real depth in it, one basically has to go along with a similar situation to that outlined by Master Zhiyi. (His outline is not really for a particular method, but is rather applicable to any method of meditation.) I like Master Zhiyi, he is to the point, and doesn't sort of give promises of fast attainment or easy ways to the goal. You can also see from what he outlines, and this has been a common idea in most of Buddhist throughout it's history (with the possible exception of some more modern movements), is that depth of meditational attainment really requires full-time participation and application. Not too many short-cuts.
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