Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Jikan » Mon Apr 09, 2012 1:45 pm

In his book Finding our True Home, Thich Nhat Hanh attempts to introduce his readers to Pure Land practice. He does this with the understanding that his readers are likely of a Zen bent, or on the mindfulness wagon, and builds his presentation from there. Here's a representative claim:

The notion that the Pure Land is an exterior reality, a place to be found far away in the western direction, is just for beginners. If we deepen our practice, the Buddha and the Buddha's land become a reality in our mind. Our ancestral teachers have always said this. If we practice well, we can experience Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land wherever we are in the present moment.


TNH goes on to quote and summarize those ancestral teachers (primarily Vietnamese Zen masters).

I'd like to know how contemporary Pure Land practitioners might respond to this approach. Is this a welcome development, a diversion from the teachings, relevant or irrelevant...? What do you think?
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby plwk » Mon Apr 09, 2012 2:22 pm

http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf72.htm#recite
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.

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!

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.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Apr 09, 2012 2:35 pm

It would depend, those who do dual practice of Zen and Pure Land might agree with the concept, but Shinran Shonin - the founder of Shin Buddhism, did not agree with this concept at all.
As I reflect, I find that our attainment of shinjin arises from the heart and mind with which Amida Tathagata selected the Vow, and that the clarification of true mind has been taught for us through the skillful works of compassion of the Great Sage, Sakyamuni. But the monks and laity of this latter age and the religious teachers of these times are floundering in concepts of "self-nature" and "mind-only," and they disparage the true realization of enlightenment in the Pure Land Way. Or lost in the self-power attitude of meditative and non-meditative practices, they are ignorant of true shinjin, which is diamondlike.

Here I, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Sakyamuni, reverently embrace the true teaching of the Buddhas and Tathagatas and look to the essential meaning of the treatises and commentaries of the masters. Fully guided by the beneficent light of the three sutras, I seek in particular to clarify the luminous passage on the "mind that is single." I will pose questions concerning it and then present clear testimony in which explanation is found.

Mindful solely of the depth and vastness of the Buddha's benevolence, I am unconcerned about being personally abused. Let companions who aspire for the Pure Land and all who abhor this defiled world accept or discard what they will of this work, but let them not ridicule the teaching.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
- Shinran Shonin
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Mr. G » Mon Apr 09, 2012 8:23 pm

Early Chinese Pure Land Buddhists like T'an-luan, Tao-ch'o and Shan Tao did not agree with the "mind only" interpretation either. Neither did Honen.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 09, 2012 9:36 pm

I find that the view of a mind only Pure Land is either for non-believers who cannot accept anything beyond their current world view, or for those with faith who can also understand the connection between mind and phenomena. But in the first case, there is little meaning of calling it a Pure Land practice.
"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: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Nighthawk » Tue Apr 10, 2012 12:04 am

From the Shinshu point of view, all self power practices including Zen are defunct practices in the last age so it wouldn't really make sense to mix Zen and Pure Land together.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Apr 10, 2012 3:31 am

The Pure Land is an exterior reality, a place to be found far away in the western direction....


One question that comes to mind is how to interpret this within a Copernican framework...it seems a holdover from a flat-earth cosmology. I figure that a few hundred years ago when practitioners spoke of "the West", they actually meant a fixed geographical location relative to them, but clearly that won't work now.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Nighthawk » Tue Apr 10, 2012 8:23 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
The Pure Land is an exterior reality, a place to be found far away in the western direction....


One question that comes to mind is how to interpret this within a Copernican framework...it seems a holdover from a flat-earth cosmology. I figure that a few hundred years ago when practitioners spoke of "the West", they actually meant a fixed geographical location relative to them, but clearly that won't work now.


Good question :thinking:
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby steveb1 » Tue Apr 10, 2012 9:22 am

Maybe it's a case of the Pure Land being both "here" (immanent) and "more than here" (transcendent) ... ?

Realized Shinjin is the Pure Land "here", in us, immanent.
Realized Buddhahood in the Pure Land is "there", in Amida, in his transcendent realm.

Maybe not too different from Jesus and Heaven. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was immanent/here; yet it was also more than here/transcendent. Thus Christians participate in the Kingdom's immanent aspect here on earth; then participate eternally in the Kingdom's transcendent aspect in Heaven.
Maybe we could say that Pure Land adherents participate in the Pure Land "here", temporally; and participate in the Pure Land "there", posthumously.

I think I grasp the gist of the geophysical/cartographical problem of the "Western" location of the Pure Land. As has been mentioned, in a thoroughly mapped and satellite-scanned world, there is no "undiscovered West". So presumably the Pure Land's "Westerness" is metaphysical rather than physical. It is the "realm" that Amida has made native to his presence and compassion. Such a realm can be real, without being physical/material. I think the Pure Land's "Westerness" only poses a problem if we identify "real" with "material" (in this case, materially geographical).
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Jikan » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:22 pm

steveb1 wrote:Maybe it's a case of the Pure Land being both "here" (immanent) and "more than here" (transcendent) ... ?

Realized Shinjin is the Pure Land "here", in us, immanent.
Realized Buddhahood in the Pure Land is "there", in Amida, in his transcendent realm.

Maybe not too different from Jesus and Heaven. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was immanent/here; yet it was also more than here/transcendent. Thus Christians participate in the Kingdom's immanent aspect here on earth; then participate eternally in the Kingdom's transcendent aspect in Heaven.
Maybe we could say that Pure Land adherents participate in the Pure Land "here", temporally; and participate in the Pure Land "there", posthumously.


This is more or less the gist of what TNH is doing with his book (including the analogy to Christianity). He's not saying there is no posthumous Pure Land, merely that the more interesting (to him) Pure Land is an in-this-world culture of awakening. His book includes a reading of the shorter Amitabha sutra in support of his claim that a literal belief in the Pure Land is "for beginners."

As many have pointed out, this flies in the face of much Pure Land thought, particularly the Japanese schools which emphasize the present as mappo (Honen, Shinran). That said, I'd like to know if, at present, some of their followers may have begun to take a different line on these issues. While the party line is to reject silent meditation as useless these days, we see seated meditation practice at BCA temples now and have for a decade (for instance). I'm asking because there may be reason to think TNH's approach may be (or rather may be becoming) more representative of Pure Land practices in the English-speaking world than those of Honen or Shinran.

I'm not saying this is good or bad, merely that it may be trend. Do you see this or am I totally out to lunch?
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Dodatsu » Tue Apr 10, 2012 2:30 pm

With regards to meditation done in BCA temples, well, it's actually not meditation to attain enlightenment etc, but more of a preparation to Hear the Dharma. In some sense, it's also because of the prevalent view that Buddhists MUST meditate, especially in America. In Japan, meditation is still not done.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
- Shinran Shonin
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Mr. G » Tue Apr 10, 2012 7:15 pm

Astus wrote:...or for those with faith who can also understand the connection between mind and phenomena.


Can you expand on this thought Astus
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Astus » Tue Apr 10, 2012 9:10 pm

The meaning of the mind only teaching is that all phenomena are mental phenomena, thus the concepts of inside and outside are mere terms. So speaking of Pure Land being inside or outside of the mind is pointless. That's it in brief.
"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: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Nighthawk » Tue Apr 10, 2012 11:54 pm

steveb1 wrote:Maybe it's a case of the Pure Land being both "here" (immanent) and "more than here" (transcendent) ... ?

Realized Shinjin is the Pure Land "here", in us, immanent.
Realized Buddhahood in the Pure Land is "there", in Amida, in his transcendent realm.

Maybe not too different from Jesus and Heaven. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was immanent/here; yet it was also more than here/transcendent. Thus Christians participate in the Kingdom's immanent aspect here on earth; then participate eternally in the Kingdom's transcendent aspect in Heaven.
Maybe we could say that Pure Land adherents participate in the Pure Land "here", temporally; and participate in the Pure Land "there", posthumously.

I think I grasp the gist of the geophysical/cartographical problem of the "Western" location of the Pure Land. As has been mentioned, in a thoroughly mapped and satellite-scanned world, there is no "undiscovered West". So presumably the Pure Land's "Westerness" is metaphysical rather than physical. It is the "realm" that Amida has made native to his presence and compassion. Such a realm can be real, without being physical/material. I think the Pure Land's "Westerness" only poses a problem if we identify "real" with "material" (in this case, materially geographical).


Nice explanation. Thanks Steve.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 11, 2012 2:41 am

steveb1 wrote:I think I grasp the gist of the geophysical/cartographical problem of the "Western" location of the Pure Land. As has been mentioned, in a thoroughly mapped and satellite-scanned world, there is no "undiscovered West". So presumably the Pure Land's "Westerness" is metaphysical rather than physical. It is the "realm" that Amida has made native to his presence and compassion. Such a realm can be real, without being physical/material. I think the Pure Land's "Westerness" only poses a problem if we identify "real" with "material" (in this case, materially geographical).


I think this question has been asked somewhere before -- but isn't rebirth in the Pure Land more or less analogous to the non-returner stage? That might give some added weight to TNH's interpretation, since being a non-returner (anagami) is defined in terms of mind state and not by some set of external circumstances. I mean, ultimately the task at hand has nothing to do with being in this place or that; it's about purification of mind.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:42 am

Jikan wrote:I'd like to know how contemporary Pure Land practitioners might respond to this approach. Is this a welcome development, a diversion from the teachings, relevant or irrelevant...? What do you think?


In my experience it is mostly Chan practitioners who hold such views. Many Chan practitioners also simultaneously do Nianfo practices as well, though they may not see it as a means to being reborn in the pure land.

This is actually necessary, otherwise if you believe that post-mortem Amitabha saves you from all your suffering, then there is no point to sitting on a meditation cushion for years attempting to achieve liberation. Better to just recite the Nianfo and feel content in having a saviour.

I suspect that is part of the reason why in Chinese Buddhism not many people seriously meditate or only do so sporadically (or not at all). If you believe Amitabha will save you, then there is little pressing need to cultivate yourself in meditation.

Thich Nhat Hanh's idea is appropriate to Chan practice as it encourages realistic practice rather than discouraging it. Pure Land practice as it is normally advocated (rebirth in the Pure Land due to Amitabha's grace) negates all need for meditation and yogic attainment.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:46 am

Nighthawk wrote:From the Shinshu point of view, all self power practices including Zen are defunct practices in the last age so it wouldn't really make sense to mix Zen and Pure Land together.


That is their undoing. Without yogic attainment there is not the mental stamina required for true liberation.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:48 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
The Pure Land is an exterior reality, a place to be found far away in the western direction....


One question that comes to mind is how to interpret this within a Copernican framework...it seems a holdover from a flat-earth cosmology. I figure that a few hundred years ago when practitioners spoke of "the West", they actually meant a fixed geographical location relative to them, but clearly that won't work now.


A lot of Japanese in the past believed it was literally out in the west somewhere. Some cults would forcibly put people into boats and cast them off to sea in the western direction wishing them well.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:50 am

Dodatsu wrote:In some sense, it's also because of the prevalent view that Buddhists MUST meditate, especially in America. In Japan, meditation is still not done.


This is definitely a problem and most westerners with an inkling of interest in Buddhism will recognize this. Hence why meditation programs must be implemented, though in the Jodoshinshu context it has no meditation tradition and hence lacks qualified instructors, so people will be likely to abandon it and look elsewhere.
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Re: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pure Land, & Zen practice

Postby Dodatsu » Wed Apr 11, 2012 5:08 am

Huseng wrote:
Dodatsu wrote:In some sense, it's also because of the prevalent view that Buddhists MUST meditate, especially in America. In Japan, meditation is still not done.


This is definitely a problem and most westerners with an inkling of interest in Buddhism will recognize this. Hence why meditation programs must be implemented, though in the Jodoshinshu context it has no meditation tradition and hence lacks qualified instructors, so people will be likely to abandon it and look elsewhere.


That's why at the temples they're told that if they are looking for a qualified instructor of meditation they are welcome to go elsewhere but if they develop an interest in the Shin teachings they're always welcome to come to the temple.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
- Shinran Shonin
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