Pure Land Study Group Thread

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Fri Oct 09, 2015 4:11 pm

Letter 15
1) Although the mind is what matters most in Buddha Recitation, oral recitation
should not be disparaged. This is because body, speech and mind reinforce one
another. Although the mind may be focussed on Amitabha Buddha, if the body does
not bow respectfully and the mouth does not recite, it is difficult to receive benefits.
For example, even when lifting heavy objects, ordinary people assist themselves by
shouting aloud; how can you not do at least as much when trying to concentrate the
mind and attain samadhi! Thus, the Great Heap Sutra teaches:
To recite loudly is to see a tall Buddha, to recite softly is to see a small
The ancient masters have also said:
Reciting loudly, we see a large, tall body of the Buddha; reciting softly, we
see a small, short body of the Buddha.
Ordinary beings often have lethargic, scattered minds. If they are not “assisted”
by their bodies and mouths, it is difficult for them to achieve one-pointedness of
To me, this passage is a reflection of the Sincere Mind of practice - sincerely devoting oneself to recitation.
2) Only at the level of Ultimate Truth is there no longer birth and extinction.
Except for that, what Buddhist practice is not within the realm of birth and
extinction? Even the practices of the Bodhisattvas at the Equal Enlightenment
stage (who have achieved virtual equality with the Buddhas, destroyed the forty-one
parts of ignorance and attained the forty-one parts of the Secret Store) are not
beyond grasping and rejection, birth and extinction – not to mention Buddha
Recitation as practiced by ordinary beings.

However, while birth and extinction are the roots of Birth and Death, they are
also the very roots of Enlightenment. Birth and extinction depend entirely on
the individual. To gather the six senses together in pure, uninterrupted recitation
is precisely to convert the birth and extinction which abandons Enlightenment
for worldly dusts into the birth and extinction which abandons worldly dusts for
Enlightenment – as you strive to attain the True Thusness Buddha-Nature free of
birth and extinction.
This is a pretty profound statement regarding nonduality and a fundamental turning of mind in response to critics who say that Pure Land is a provisional teaching. Not furthering polemics such as responding to popular statements, I feel he makes a good case.
3) “Only if thought after thought is on the Pure Land can rebirth be achieved,”
refers to the condition of those who will be reborn in the upper lotus grades. If we
hold onto this truth and seek the highest grade of rebirth for ourselves, nothing
could be better. However, if we hold onto it to teach those of moderate and low
capacities, we will greatly hinder their progress.

Why is this so? It is because they may find this method too lofty, resign
themselves to their lowly condition and refuse to cultivate.

Moreover, although Buddha Recitation centers on the mind-consciousness,
it encompasses all other consciousnesses as well. Do the sutras not mention
“gathering the six senses together”? If the six senses are gathered together, the
six consciousnesses will also be gathered together. Even registering the words
“Amitabha Buddha” in the Alaya Consciousness must be achieved through the six
This passage is all about skillful means and the right teachings to meet the capacities of the audience. Again, he touches on the undifferentiated nature of pure mind and the skandhas.
4) The comment “recite the Buddha’s name without a break, so that a knife
cannot cut through” should not give rise to any doubts. However, such doubts arise
simply because you have not yet clearly delineated the boundaries between Zen and
Pure Land and between self-power and other-power.

The Buddha Recitation practitioner relies on the Vow-power of Amitabha
Buddha to escape the Triple Realm and achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. If you do
not vow to achieve rebirth, you certainly cannot have Faith either. Merely reciting
the Buddha’s name, without Faith and Vows, falls in the category of self-power.
Without Faith and Vows, the practitioner cannot merge with the Vow-power of
Amitabha Buddha.

If you can sever all delusions of views and delusions of thought, you may achieve
rebirth in the Pure Land. However, if you have not severed them, or you have failed
to sever them completely, the roots of evil karma remain and you are still subject to
Birth and Death ... You should know that ignoring Faith and Vows while reciting the
Buddha’s name is no different from Zen meditation practice. If you were to achieve
rebirth in the Pure Land under such circumstances, how could Cause and Effect be

Elder Master Ou I has said:
To achieve rebirth in the Pure Land or not depends entirely upon Faith and
Vows; the grade of rebirth (high or low) depends on whether one’s practice of
Buddha Recitation is deep or shallow.
This is a true statement not subject to change.
I think this clarifies an issue that came up earlier in regards to dual practice.
5) Relying on self-power alone, you cannot escape the cycle of rebirth as long as
you still have even a trace of karmic delusion at the time of death – not to mention
if you have a great deal.

Reciting the Buddha’s name to the level of one-pointedness of mind without
Faith and Vows – perhaps a few out of countless individuals may achieve rebirth in
the Pure Land. Thus, you should by no means teach this approach and squander
the good Pure Land roots of future generations. This is because it is difficult to find
even a few cultivators in this whole world who can recite to the point of “extinction
of karma and emptiness of desire” and attain the Tolerance of Non-Birth, by relying
on self-power alone.

Therefore, if everyone followed this approach in cultivation and failed to stress
Faith and Vows, countless sentient beings would drown in the sea of suffering –
their escape route blocked.

A single statement can cause so much harm. Not realizing how arrogant they
are, those who advocate such doctrines consider themselves very perceptive and
profound. Little do they realize that their words are deluded and insane – severing
the “wisdom-life” of the Buddhas and leading sentient beings to err and harbor
doubts. What a great pity indeed!

The Pure Land method should be considered a special Dharma method, not to
be compared with other general teachings of the Buddhas.
Here, he further stresses the importance of Faith and Vows.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Serenity509 » Fri Oct 09, 2015 5:49 pm

PorkChop wrote:This is the beginning of the study group for the book Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land - a collection of letters from Pure Land Patriarch Yin Kuang.
Thank you for starting this thread.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Mon Oct 12, 2015 2:47 pm

Letter 16
Bodhisattvas Fear Causes, Sentient Beings Fear Results
The Lotus Sutra (Chapter 3) states:
There is no peace in the Triple Realm. It is like a burning house, full of
suffering. It is frightening indeed.
Nevertheless, individuals at times achieve awakening through such circumstances
as misfortune or blessings, conflict or harmony, suffering or joy, etc. ... The means
of achieving awakening are not fixed. To the wise, who know how to adapt flexibly
to circumstances and are at peace with their lot, there is no suffering that is not
joy, no conflict that is not harmony, no misfortune that is not a blessing.

Therefore, the wise man is at peace with himself and others, understands human
destiny, does not resent the heavens or blame his fellow beings and is always even-
tempered, peaceful and calm, regardless of circumstances. The ancients had a saying:
In circumstances of wealth and nobility, he is at peace with wealth and nobility;
in circumstances of poverty and deprivation, he is at peace with poverty
and deprivation; in circumstances of rudeness and vulgarity, he is at peace
with rudeness and vulgarity; in circumstances of adversity and misfortune, he
is at peace with adversity and misfortune ...
Although you enjoy performing good deeds, you do not yet understand the
essence of Confucianism and Buddhism and are thus confused and frightened after a
single instance of adversity. Let me cite a few examples to clarify your understanding.

There is nothing in the universe vaster, higher or brighter than Heaven and
Earth, the sun and the moon. However, once the sun has reached its zenith, it
begins to set; once the moon is full, it wanes. Even the high mountains will in time
give way to deep ravines and the vast oceans will be replaced by fields of mulberry.
The human condition is the same: the advance and decline of our fortunes, as well
as other changes, are merely the norm.

From ancient times to the present, who could surpass Confucius in morality and
virtue? Nevertheless, even he was once surrounded by enemies, his life threatened.
On another occasion, he was down to his last reserves while at yet another point
he was getting nowhere in his efforts to travel and disseminate his teachings
throughout the various kingdoms. Worse, his only son died suddenly at the age of

Confucius and others like him were great sages and saints, yet they could
not escape adversity. However, they knew how to live in harmony with their
circumstances and so managed to keep their minds calm and at peace.
This is an excellent teaching on impermanence and learning to have patience & equanimity in the face of ever-changing circumstances in order to avoid grasping at phenomena and to keep one's mind serene.
During our lives, we make all kinds of plans and perform all kinds of tasks but,
in retrospect, they essentially revolve around the issues of food, clothing and the
desire to leave some legacy behind for our children. Yet, as far as food is concerned,
a bowl of soup and some fresh vegetables should suffice; why seek exquisite seafood
and mountain delicacies? As for clothing, a few simple garments should amply
cover our bodies; what is the use of a wardrobe filled with brocade and satin? As
for our children, they can study, till the fields or engage in small business; what is
the use of wealth running into the millions?

Besides, who in the history of China can surpass the Emperor Ch’in Shih Huang
in scheming for fame and fortune for his descendants? This brutal ruler subdued
the six kingdoms, burned books, buried scholars alive and confiscated all weapons
converting them into bells, all for the purpose of keeping the populace ignorant and
powerless and thus preventing insurrection. However, with the uprising of Ch’en
She, heroes sprang up everywhere. The Emperor’s unification scheme did not last
even thirteen years before collapsing, and all his direct descendants were put to
death. The Emperor intended that his children be honored, but, in the end, they
were defeated and lost everything.

Think about it: how many can be as exalted as the Son of Heaven (Emperor),
his wealth extending over the four seas? Yet even he could not ensure lasting wealth
and happiness for his family and clan – not to mention ordinary beings who,
throughout the eons, have committed evil karma as thick as the earth’s crust and as
deep as the oceans! How can they guarantee that their families will flourish forever,
always blessed, never encountering setbacks?
Mike Tyson said once "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." (Actually, I think Joe Louis said it first) There is not any inherent quality in adversity. It all depends on how we react to it. If we stubbornly hold on to our expectations for particular results, then we will only cause more suffering. We must learn to adapt to circumstances and to accept the outcomes of our karma.
You should know that all things in life are intrinsically false, like dreams,
illusions, bubbles, shadows, dew or lightning, the moon reflected in a pond, flowers
in the mirror, flickering mirages in the blazing sun, Gandharva cities – nothing is
true or real. Only the Mind-Nature is everlasting and immutable, encompassing all
past and present. Although it neither changes nor dies, it always follows causes and

If conditions are consonant with awakening and purity, we become Arhats,
Pratyeka Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or Buddhas – the level of achievement depending
on the depth of our virtues. If conditions are consonant with delusion and impurity,
we stray into the realms of gods, humans, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts and hells.
The length of our suffering or happiness depends on the weight of our transgressions
or merits.

Those who are unaware of the Buddha Dharma cannot be faulted, but as a
devout Buddhist, why do you not profit from this painful experience to see life
clearly, abandon delusion for awakening and singlemindedly recite the Buddha’s
name seeking rebirth in the Pure Land – thus escaping Birth and Death and
reaching the four levels of sagehood? Would that not be turning a small misfortune
into a great blessing?

The way out of your predicament is as described. Why do you remain troubled
and confused, daydreaming as though you have lost your mind? If you lose your
life through excessive worry, you will not only wallow in Birth and Death for many
lifetimes, your sick wife and orphaned children will have no means of support.
Thus, all you will do is harm yourself while hurting others at the same time. How
can you be so deluded?
Shinran said once "The nembutsu alone is true and real". In this short life of every-changing circumstances, temporary happiness, and ample delusions - we should hold steadfastly to that which is beyond this world of suffering.
The sutras teach:
Bodhisattvas fear causes, sentient beings fear results.
To avoid the result of suffering, Bodhisattvas destroy evil causes in advance.
Thus, evil karma is eliminated and virtues are accrued in full, up to the time they
become Buddhas. Sentient beings constantly create evil causes but wish to escape
the suffering that results. They are no different from those who fear their own
shadows but continually run for cover under the glare of the sun. How can they
escape their shadows?

Many persons expect huge blessings after performing a few good deeds. When
they encounter adversity, they immediately think that “to do good is to meet with
misfortune; there is no law of Cause and Effect.” From that point on, they regress
from their newly awakened state, turn around and vilify the Buddha Dharma.
These persons do not understand the truths that “Cause and Effect encompass
three lifetimes” and “the mind can change the environment for the better.”

How do Cause and Effect encompass three lifetimes? As an example, in this
lifetime we may perform wholesome or evil deeds, as a result of which we receive
benefits or suffer vicissitudes. This is a case of current requital.

If we perform wholesome or evil deeds in this lifetime and receive benefits or
suffer vicissitudes in the next lifetime, it is a case of birth [next lifetime] requital.

If we perform wholesome or evil deeds in this lifetime but only receive benefits
or suffer vicissitudes in the third or fourth lifetime, or even the tenth, hundredth,
or thousandth lifetime, or countless eons in the future – it is a case of future requital.

The time frame of future requital is not fixed. However, to create “causes” is to
create “effects and consequences.” This is a natural occurrence.

In what way can our minds change the environment for the better? Take the
case of a person who has performed evil deeds and should be condemned to the
sufferings of the hells for untold eons. Suppose that individual suddenly becomes
extremely frightened and utterly ashamed, develops the Bodhi Mind, changes his
ways, recites sutras and the Buddha’s name, cultivates personally and enjoins others
to do likewise, seeking rebirth in the Pure Land. Thanks to this change of heart,
the previous karma of hell is dissipated and transmuted into a lesser karma in the
current lifetime. Thus, for example, he may be subject to contempt by others, suffer
a bout of illness, become destitute or meet with unhappy events. After enduring such
minor retribution, that person may escape Birth and Death and enter the “stream
of the sages,” transcending the ordinary world. As the Diamond Sutra states:
If there is anyone who receives and keeps this Sutra but is maligned by others,
such a person has created evil karma in previous lifetimes and should have
descended upon the Evil Paths. As a result of this calumny, however, his past
karma is instantly extinguished and he will attain Supreme Enlightenment.

This is precisely the meaning of the mind changing life and the environment for
the better.
Here the master explains cause and effect and exhorts us to get off the wheel of samsara.
When ordinary beings meet disaster, if they do not resent the heavens, they
blame their fellow-beings. Very few think of repaying their karma and developing
a mind of repentance and reform. You should know that “if you plant melons, you
reap melons, if you plant beans, you reap beans.” This is the natural course of
events. Having sown thorns, do not expect, when the harvest comes, to have wheat
and rice. If those who create evil still enjoy blessings, it is because in previous
lifetimes they amassed great blessings; if not for their transgressions, their blessings
would have been much greater.

It is as if the scion of a wealthy family were to lead a dissipated life, lusting
and gambling, squandering money like so much dirt, without suffering
hunger and cold immediately because of his great fortune. Yet, if he were to
continue in this manner day in and day out, even with a family estate in the
millions, one day he would surely lose all his property and suffer an premature death.

If those who perform wholesome deeds customarily meet with misfortune, it is
because they planted the seeds of transgression deeply in past lifetimes. If not for
their good deeds, their misfortunes would have been much worse.

This is similar to the case of a condemned prisoner, who manages to perform
a small public service while waiting for his sentence to be carried out. Because
of the limited impact of his contribution, he cannot yet be pardoned; therefore
his sentence is merely commuted to a lighter one. If he continues to contribute
to the public good and the sum total of such contributions becomes sizeable, not
only will his previous transgressions be wiped away, he may even receive honors,
high position and noble rank, with his descendants inheriting honors for generations!
More explanations of the vast scale (and seemingly unpredictable nature) of cause and effect. We never know when the seeds of past actions will ripen. This is precisely why we should not get too comfortable in samsara but seek to transcend birth and death.
A superior person should transcend ordinary events and not allow external
circumstances to damage his very life. Suppose his storeroom is overflowing with
gold and jewelry. When renegade soldiers and outlaws come to steal them, he
should abandon his house and escape, rather than risk death in order to hold on to
his riches. This is because gold and jewelry may be precious, but they cannot be
compared to life. If we cannot safeguard both, property should be abandoned and
life preserved.

Now that your wealth and property have been reduced to ashes, it is useless to
worry excessively or cry over their loss. You should adapt to conditions, carry on
and strive to recite the Buddha’s name, seeking rebirth in the Pure Land, so that
you may be spared suffering and enjoy only happiness until the end of time. Thus,
thanks to this catastrophe, you will ultimately attain Buddhahood. Why continue
in delusion – suffering and grieving?

I hope that you will consider my words carefully. You will then get over
your grief, clearing the sky of dark clouds and revealing its brightness, finding
happiness in calamity and exchanging intense heat for a cool, joyous breeze.
Otherwise, if you continue to dwell on your loss and fail to awaken, you will not
escape insanity. Once the Self-Mind is lost, demons will enter. At that time, even if
a thousand Buddhas were to appear on earth, they would have no way of saving you!
Some wise advice on how to see setbacks & tragedies as opportunities for moving on the path towards Buddhahood.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Mon Oct 12, 2015 2:57 pm

Letter 17
The Five Skandas are All Empty!
This old monk, knowing himself to be beset with many karmic obstructions,
would not dare abandon reason for emotion and thus cause others to err. He begs
the reader to take both emotion and reason into account when following his advice,
in order to avoid harmful actions.
This is an important message. We should always be realistic when following the advice of others.
Think this over: the word “samadhi” is translated as correct concentration. It
is the state of dissipation of delusion and emergence of the Truth – tranquil and
bright. How can there be any realm or state within it? Therefore, the Surangama Sutra states:
Perfect attainment of the fruit of Enlightenment is non-attainment of anything.
The Zen practitioner relies only on his own strength (self-power) without
seeking the Buddhas’ assistance. Therefore, when he exerts himself to the limit in
cultivation, the true and the false assail each other, giving rise to many states and
realms that suddenly appear and disappear.

It is as though a heavy rain is abating. The dark clouds disperse, the overcast
sky suddenly clears; things change back and forth without warning. These states
and realms are difficult for those who do not possess transcendental vision to
distinguish. If the cultivator mistakenly considers these manifestations to be true,
he is immediately possessed by “demons,” and becomes insane.
I think this passage accurately points out some of the dangers of relying on Self Power. Instead of just saying "oh we don't have the capacity", it goes into depth pointing out the pitfalls that can beset the Self Power practitioner. Having seen some of this for myself, I think it pretty accurately describes some of the things that can occur during meditation, and the possible ways this can lead someone astray.
On the other hand, when the Pure Land practitioner earnestly recites Buddha
Amitabha’s name and His ten thousand virtues, it is like the sun shining
in the middle of empty space or a walk along a broad, straight path. Not only
are demons and evil spirits nowhere in sight, but deluded thoughts disappear as well.

When it boils down to it, the fact that the Pure Land method is relatively safe & guaranteed is one of the major reasons I practice it.

This old monk, in truth, does have a wonderful secret
teaching, which only he possesses. Since you have requested it today, I have no
qualms about revealing it to all Buddhist followers. What is this wonderful teaching?
It is utter sincerity and profound respect. This secret is known to everyone, yet
obscure to all!

Wishing to eradicate deep-seated karma and repay the kindness of the Buddhas,
I have endeavored, day in and day out, to probe the shining cultivation of the
ancients. I have thus discovered that utter sincerity and profound respect constitute
a wonderful “secret” method that lifts human beings to the realms of the saints,
enabling them to escape Birth and Death. Time and again I have brought these
points to the attention of those who have the right conditions. You should know
that sincerity and respect are not reserved exclusively to students of the Dharma,
but form the basis of all activities that you want to complete to perfection.

Here is a simple teaching that is so vital, yet so easily overlooked by many.

You should know that the most important criteria in dissemination of the
Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings are “timing” and “capacities.”

Those who are well-versed in Buddhism have failed to point out the most
relevant cure for today’s illnesses. Instead, all they do is discourse on lofty, sublime
methods which, generally speaking, are not the right medicine. Sometimes, this
very medicine, however valuable, intensifies the illness. This old monk is like an
inexperienced physician – not only is he unclear about the roots of disease, he does
not know the properties of the medication either. He merely prescribes a panacea
transmitted “secretly” by ancient sages and saints and dispenses it against each
and every symptom, such as falsity or truth, chills or fever. Anyone with faith in the
medicine who tries it will recover. Even those afflicted with “incurable” diseases,
forsaken by the greatest Immortal physicians, will immediately regain strength and
escape death as soon as they take this medicine.

Therefore, I have no hesitation about hanging out my shingle for those who
wish to rescue sentient beings and benefit mankind, advertising this medicine to all
who are ill. I do realize that the remedies prescribed by those Immortal physicians
are miraculous, but I do not advise people to take them – as illnesses stem from
past karma and cannot be cured by physicians, however divine.

True almost 100 years ago and still true today. The most simple & universal teachings are often the most overlooked because they are not considered "high level" or "exotic".

Heavy karmic obstructions, excessive greed and anger, a weak and ailing body,
a fearful, apprehensive mind – these symptoms will, in time, disappear naturally
if you singlemindedly recite the Buddha’s name. The “Avalokitesvara [twenty-fifth]
Chapter” of the Lotus Sutra states:
If ... living beings much given to carnal passion keep in mind and revere the
Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, they will be set free from
their passion. If [those] much given to irascibility [hatred and anger] keep in
mind and revere the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, they will
be set free from their delusion. (B. Kato, et al, The Threefold Lotus Sutra, p.

The same is true of reciting the Buddha’s name. However, you should concentrate
your mind to the utmost and put a stop to “sundry [distracting] thoughts,” doubts
and uncertainties. Whatever you seek will then materialize. As the Bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara has great affinities with sentient beings in the Saha World, you
should, in addition to your regular Pure Land sessions, recite Her name. Alternatively,
you may also recite the Surangama Mantra or the Great Compassion Mantra.

Oh how I hope the first sentence here (how symptoms will in time disappear through recitation). I haven't noticed it in myself. On the contrary, the more I recite, the harder things get. Took some time off from practice over the summer and noticed things completely fall to pieces, so I realize now that I'm in it for the long haul and that I better stick with the practice as it's my only hope.

As far as the rest of this passage, I don't usually do a whole lot of chanting Avalokitesvara's name. Occasionally, here and there maybe. I used to chant the Great Compassion mantra regularly, but not lately. On the other hand, I also follow a single practice school that doesn't advocate such mixing of practices. The sutras say that the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas will protect and become the friend of the Pure Land practitioner, so I would rather stick with a single practice as it better suits my limited capacities.

If you wish to be a Dharma master, lecturing on the sutras in public, you
should first read the original texts, then study the commentaries and subcommentaries.
However, should you discover that your intellect is average and your
understanding not necessarily above others, you should concentrate on Buddha Recitation
rather than wasting time and energy pursuing these non-essential endeavors.

If, on the other hand, you would like to engage in Sutra Recital in accordance
with your limited capacities for the benefits it confers, you should keep the three
karmas of body, speech and mind utterly pure, earnest and sincere, bow to the
Buddhas and sit erect concentrating your mind for a moment or two, before opening
a sutra to read aloud or silently. At that time, you should sit up straight as though
you were facing the Buddhas, listening to their perfect voices, without a single lazy,
discriminating thought. Then, without trying to find the meaning of the sutra, just
recite it in one stretch from beginning to end.

By reciting the sutras in such a manner, if you are of superior spirituality, you
can awaken to the Non-Dual Truth and reach the Dharma of True Mark. Even if you
are dull and of low capacity, you will gain increased merit and wisdom, eradicating
karmic obstructions in the process. The Sixth Patriarch once said:
We can awaken our Mind and see our True Nature just by reciting the Diamond

This quote refers to the practice of Sutra Recital as explained above. It is
therefore called “samatha” (stopping or arresting mental processes). If you follow
these steps, reciting any Mahayana sutra can lead to the opening of the Mind, the
seeing of your True Nature. This does not apply to the Diamond Sutra alone.
You should not use the discriminating mind, trying to understand the meaning
of this sentence, the idea behind that paragraph, as all this belongs to the realm
of deluded thought, reasoning and comparing. Such a mind cannot be in silent
accord with the Buddha Mind, lead to a thorough understanding of the essence of
the sutras or provide the causes and conditions for eradicating transgressions and
creating blessings.

Practicing Sutra Recital with a discriminating mind, if accompanied by reverential
thoughts, may lead to the sowing of a few wholesome karmic seeds. If, on
the other hand, it is accompanied by laziness and arrogant thoughts, it cannot fail
to generate evil consequences from these very same seeds – the resulting suffering
will be immense!

Once, while reciting a sutra, the Patriarch Chih I [founder of the T’ien T’ai
school] suddenly experienced a Great Awakening and silently entered samadhi.
If he had had a discriminating mind at that time, how could he possibly have
succeeded in such a manner?

Another master was copying the Lotus Sutra, completely oblivious to the ten
thousand conditions (i.e., everything). He was still at his desk writing long after the
sun had set when his disciple walked in and said:
“It is so late already, how can you, Master, still be copying the sutra?”
The monk was startled to discover that it was so dark he could not even see his hand!

Whether reciting the sutras, meditating, chanting mantras or reciting the
Buddha’s name, as long as you do it with this level of concentration and persevere
for a long time, one day you will understand all and everything and experience a
Great Awakening (awaken to the Way).

Here are some important lessons on the practices of sutra recitation & transcription. I like the practice myself, usually the Amitabha Sutra. I usually do it in English though, because I have a little trouble with the kanbun (Japanese pronunciation of Chinese characters) version traditionally practiced by the Japanese Pure Land schools (I just can't keep up - they go too fast). While I agree with the idea that we shouldn't discursively ponder the deep meanings of the sutras, if the words are not words we understand, then the practice is just a bunch of random sounds so their order is not important. That is why I will probably continue to practice the English translation, until I fully understand the kanbun.

If you have not succeeded in extinguishing evil karma and developing wisdom,
you should consider Sutra Recital as your main objective and sutra study as
secondary. Otherwise, you will waste months and years pursuing such studies.

Even if you were to understand the sutras to the point of pushing away the clouds
and revealing the shining moon, sliding open the shutters and admiring the green
mountains, it would merely increase your stock of rationalizations and arguments
at the “edge of the lips and the tip of the tongue.” What relationship does that
bear to the issue of Birth and Death? When the last day of the twelfth month has
come and death is waiting, you could not use the least bit of such knowledge!

If you can follow the Sutra Recital method described above, the various karmas
of greed, anger and desire/grasping will gradually disappear and you will develop
wisdom. Otherwise, not only will you fail to derive any true benefits, there is
the possibility that the power of evil karma accumulated from time immemorial
will lead you to develop wrong views and reject Cause and Effect. All the while,
the afflictions of lust, killing, stealing and lying will come to the fore one after
another like a raging fire. You may even sometimes mistake yourself for a Mahayana
luminary, thinking that nothing should be an obstacle, using the Sixth Patriarch’s
teaching “if the mind is pure, what need is there to keep the precepts,” to justify
your actions, claiming that “to break the precepts without breaking the precepts is
true keeping of the precepts.”

There are many such hazards along the path of cultivation, making the True
Dharma very difficult to attain! For this reason, the various Patriarchs have generally
advocated cultivation of the Pure Land method, relying on the compassionate
power of Amitabha Buddha to extinguish evil karmic power, so that it will not flare

You should therefore take Buddha Recitation as your principal practice and
Sutra Recital as an auxiliary method. You can recite the Avatamsaka Sutra, the
Lotus Sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Parinirvana Sutra, the
Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, etc. one after another or you can limit yourself
to one sutra. In either case, you should follow the principles I explained earlier.
If you are indifferent and lack restraint and respect, discriminating feelings and
views will surely rob you of great benefits. Your evil karma will then know no bounds!

I think this is excellent practice advice for a deluded fool, wrestling with evil karma, such as myself. I will try to follow it as best as I can from here on out.

I used to think that you and your friend were thorough believers in the Pure
Land method. However, when I saw the draft of your letter seeking advice from
Hsu Chun, I learned of your intention to recite mantras and investigate the
Precept-keeping (Discipline) method. You also said: “I have not seen anything
mentioned in Pure Land as lofty and sublime as the blessings and virtues derived
from reciting mantras; therefore, my mind is undecided and I do not know whether
or not I should follow Pure Land.”

Look at yourself and see what your capacities are. Why do you wish to
understand and penetrate all Dharma methods in such a manner? I only fear that
such confusion and indecisiveness will, in time, unsettle and cloud your mind.

Here's an important teaching on being distracted and not settling into a practice, but instead being enamored with shopping around.

You should know that while reciting mantras brings limitless blessings and virtue,
reciting the Buddha’s name also has unimaginable power! Do you not recall this
passage from the Meditation Sutra:
Even those who have committed the Five Grave Offenses or the Ten Evil
Acts, may, on the verge of death, when the marks of the hells appear, recite
the Buddha’s name a few times, and be reborn immediately in the Pure Land.

Do you not also realize that in the Avatamsaka Assembly, even those Bodhisattvas
who have attained the Equal Enlightenment stage (i.e., virtual equality with
the Buddhas) must still make the Ten Great Vows, dedicating the merits to rebirth
in the Pure Land, so as to perfect the fruit of Enlightenment? Moreover, if the
Pure Land were not a lofty, transcendental method, why would the Buddhas and
Patriarchs, in countless sutras and commentaries, have all carefully and earnestly
recommended its cultivation?

In truth, Mahayana methods are all complete, perfect and sublime; it is only
because sentient beings differ in conditions and capacities, some high level and mature,
others low level and wanting, that the benefits derived from these methods are
different. When the Patriarch Shan Tao – believed to be an incarnation of Amitabha
Buddha – was teaching “uninterrupted practice,” he was concerned that cultivators
were unsettled in mind and will. He therefore wrote:
Even if the sages of the Four Fruits, the Bodhisattvas at the stages of the
Ten Abodes, Ten Practices, Ten Dedications and Ten Grounds, as well as the
Buddhas of the ten directions who fill the empty space of the Dharma Realm,
should all appear – their bodies emitting rays of light – and request you to
abandon the Pure Land method, offering to transmit a loftier method to you,
do not dare to follow their words. This is because, having previously resolved
with utmost determination to follow the Pure Land method, you cannot go
back on your Vows.

The Patriarch Shan Tao uttered these words because he anticipated that those
of future generations would “stand on one mountain while dreaming of the other,”
having no true position. However, these golden words were not followed even by
those who venerated him as their direct teacher – much less by those who have
not heard or understood them! To be exposed to a method so well adapted to the
conditions and capacities of sentient beings and yet to abandon it for the murky
path of karmic consciousness – practicing neither Zen nor Pure Land – is this not
incitement by evil karma accumulated from time immemorial? What a pity indeed!

These are some important words from 2 of the Pure Land patriarchs about dreaming of loftier methods. The wisdom in these words should not be overlooked. All methods are complete. We should not be worried about higher/loftier methods. It is the cultivation based on our capacities that is important, not the loftiness of the method.

The Non-Dual Truth represents No-Self and No-Dharma.

No-Self (emptiness of self) means true understanding that the five skandas, which
together represent body and mind, are all born of causes and conditions. When these
come apart, body and mind immediately disappear. There is no real “self” as master.

No-Dharma (emptiness of all phenomena) means true understanding that the five
skandas are empty [not only because they are aggregates] but by their very nature.

Thus, the Heart Sutra states:
Thus, the Boddhisattva Avalokitesvara illumined the five skandas and saw
that they were empty.

The truth of Emptiness of all Dharmas is precisely the True Mark, attained
through eradication of delusion. Therefore, the Heart Sutra continues:
Thus, the Boddhisattva Avalokitesvara overcame all ills and suffering.

Furthermore, the principle that the Dharma-body – while being the basis of all
marks – is completely apart from such marks as birth, extinction, impermanence,
permanence, existence and emptiness, conforms very much to the Truth. Hence the
name “True Mark.”

This True Mark is common to sentient beings and Buddhas, but ordinary
humans, as well as followers of the Two Vehicles, deludedly reject it and therefore
cannot take advantage of it. It is as though you had a diamond sewn into the hem
of your shirt but, unaware of it, must endure poverty and deprivation.

To awaken to the Way (experience a Great Awakening) is to be in a state
of thorough understanding, like the clouds dissipating to expose the moon, the
shutters thrown open to reveal the mountain range; it is like someone with clear vision
recognizing the way home, or a tramp unexpectedly discovering a treasure trove.

To achieve Enlightenment is like following a well-trodden path home, dusting
off your feet and sitting down to rest; it is like taking treasures from the trove to
spend as you wish.

Once truly awakened to the Way, an ordinary being endowed with the Bodhi
Mind achieves a level of insight and understanding equal to that of the Buddhas. As
far as attaining Enlightenment is concerned, the Bodhisattvas of the first “ground”
do not know the comings and goings of those of the next “ground.” Understanding
the meaning of awakening to the Way and attainment of Enlightenment, you
naturally do not become arrogant toward those at a higher level, nor do you develop
a mind of retrogression. Rather, your determination to achieve rebirth in the Pure
Land cannot be restrained, not even by ten thousand buffaloes!

Here we see teachings on Emptiness and the Heart Sutra. This passage really shows how Pure Land fits into the greater picture of Mahayana philosophy - how it's not just superstition in a higher being. He finishes some words on how we should be humble and full of determination.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Mon Oct 12, 2015 3:00 pm

Letter 18
Buddha Recitation and Mantras
The Pure Land practitioner may recite mantras as well as the Buddha’s name.
However, he should make a clear distinction between the main and the subsidiary
practice – in which case the subsidiary practice naturally points to the main
practice. If, on the other hand, he is careless and considers the two practices to be
equal, even the main practice is no longer the main practice!

The Ten-Thousand-Arm Avalokitesvara Mantra (Cundi Dharani) is neither
more nor less efficacious than the Great Compassion Mantra. If the mind is utterly
sincere, each and every Dharma method elicits a wonderful response; if the mind is
not utterly sincere, no method is effective.

A single recitation of the Buddha’s name encompasses all the teachings of the
Tripitaka. It includes all methods in full without omitting a single method.
I think this passage is a good lesson on both sincerity of practice and specialization - not getting distracted by too many methods. Auxiliary methods are fine, but it must be clear which practice is primary, lest one gets distracted.

The last paragraph seems to echo Honen's statement that can be found in Promise of Amida- that the recitation of the Buddha's name contains all the teachings of the entire Buddhist canon. Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith has a statement in the Practice section talking about how Recitation of the Buddha's name represents the Lotus Blossom Samadhi of Chapter 24 of the Lotus Sutra and contains all 3 truths described by TienTai philosophy (relative, ultimate, inseparability of the 2).
Only those who are well-versed in all Buddhist traditions and teachings can
be true Buddha Recitation practitioners. On the other hand, the dull, who are
ignorant of everything but how to follow instructions sincerely, can also become
true practitioners. Outside of these two groups, the correctness of practice depends
on the cultivator’s diligence and on whether or not he is practicing in accordance
with the teachings.
I'm wondering if this is a weakness in the translation, because the "Only" in the first sentence directly contradicts the second sentence. It should probably read "Of the wise, only those who are well-versed in all Buddhist traditions...".

This passage does make a great point however - it's those that truly dedicate themselves to the Pure Land path that succeed. As Shinran would say, it is only these practitioners who truly receive Shinjin.
Even if no one else in the whole world obtains results, you should not develop a single thought of doubt.
While this may sound counter-intuitive to those who only go by solid evidence, this is a very important point. Doubt eats away at our practice like a corrosive acid. Best to trust fully to receive the best benefit, at the very least we shouldn't let other's experiences determine our own faith in a practice.
If you continually inquire about the results other practitioners obtain, it means
that you lack complete faith in the Buddha’s words – and thus your practice
certainly cannot bring results. The wise must not abandon the words of the
Buddhas to follow those of human beings. Those who have no firm position and are
only guided by the results of others are greatly to be pitied!
This is exactly why we take refuge in the Buddhas and not random people.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Tue Oct 13, 2015 2:09 pm

Letter 19
Mind-Only Pure Land
The main tenets of the Pure Land method are Faith, Vows and Practice. Like a three-legged incense burner, if it lacks one leg, it cannot stand. You have diligently practiced Buddha Recitation and have no more doubts about the first criterion of Faith. However, you seem to be attached to the idea that there is a dichotomy between Vows and Practice. You therefore cannot have complete understanding
and synthesis.

Thus, within the unimpeded, perfect and wonderful Dharma, there suddenly arise numerous impediments and obstacles, causing the bright moon, adorned with ten thousand halos, of Elder Masters Ch’e Wu, Chien Mi and Ou I to pull apart and divide. All this is due simply to a fine silk thread before your eyes. How regrettable!

The true Pure Land practitioner always fully combines the three criteria of Faith, Vows and Practice during recitation. He is like an infant longing for his mother. When, lonely and crying, he searches for her, he certainly never lacks Faith or the desire (Vow) to see her. Therefore, why do you ask whether “Vows and Practice come separately or together”? Why do you say such things as “with Vows, it is difficult to focus the mind completely,” or “in Buddha Recitation, one can neither have Vows and Practice concurrently nor non-concurrently”? This is creating problems where there are none!
This is pretty deep when you think about it. Proper recitation involves Faith in the teaching, it involves the Vow to be reborn in the Pure Land, and it represents Practice - the Right Act of nianfo/nembutsu. It reminds me of some of the statements of ShanTao, Honen, and/or Shinran, where true sincerity represents the true mind of faith, rather than just mouthing some syllables. This is how one receives Shinjin or Anjin, developing the Three-fold Mind.
Let me ask you this question: Can you really reach the stage of “no Buddha outside Mind, no Mind outside Buddha” without utmost earnestness? Can you really reach that stage without Faith and Vows? While Elder Masters Ch’e Wu and Chien Mi may differ in words, their ideas actually reinforce and complement one another. To reduce them to a question of “whether Vows and Practice are separate or together” is to lack the eye of discernment in the Dharma!
He really drives the point home with this inquiry.
As for the words of Elder Master Ou I, they represent a Dharma medicine intended for those cultivators who, following Zen practice, meditate on the Self-Nature Amitabha and the Mind-Only Pure Land. They are not cultivating in accordance with Pure Land tenets, but merely seek an undisturbed mind as the ultimate goal. This aim is something external to the Pure Land method; why do you bring it up here and compare it to the criteria of complete Faith and Vows of genuine cultivation – thus creating opportunities for confusion?
Here we see that not all teachings about the Pure Land are consistent with the doctrines of the Pure Land masters. Master Ou I is responsible for the great commentary on the Amitabha Sutra found in the book "Mind Seal of the Buddhas". While I've found that commentary invaluable, his intent was to focus on "True Mark" recitation and the practice of observing one's Original Mind/True Nature. Sometimes we must prioritize or contextualize the words of specific masters when they seem to contradict the Pure Land teachings of the school(s) we follow. That doesn't mean that those masters are wrong, but that some masters have a different goal and thus a different understanding of the teachings.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Tue Oct 13, 2015 5:59 pm

Letter 20
Do Not Mistake a Thief for Your Son!
Greed, anger and delusion are afflictions common to everyone. However, if you
are aware that they are diseases, their power should not be overwhelming. They are
like thieves who have broken into the house. If the owner mistakes them for members
of the household, all the valuables in the house will be stolen. If, on the other hand,
he recognizes the thieves as such and immediately chases them away, his valuables
will be safeguarded and he will be at peace. In this connection, the ancients have
Fear not the early arising of thoughts [greed, anger, delusion, etc.]; fear only
the late awareness of them as such.
When greed, anger and delusion arise, as long as you recognize them for what
they are, these thoughts will immediately be destroyed. If, however, you take them
for the true masters of your household, it is no different from mistaking a thief for
your son. How can your riches not be squandered and lost?
I wish this teaching made me feel better. A lot of times I see anger or greed rising up like a great wave and washing over me, often feeling helpless in regards to resisting against reacting from it. I guess there's something to be said for being aware that you have a problem, but not having the self restraint to let it go is humbling to say the least. I can agree with the assessment in this passage that if we're unaware or if we see such reactions as positive, then we're that much worse off.
Your Buddha Recitation is not earnest because you have not learned to recognize
the Saha World as a place of suffering and the Western Pure Land as a realm of
joy. You should think thus: “It is difficult to obtain a human rebirth, it is difficult
to be reborn in a ’central land,’ it is difficult to hear the Dharma and even more
difficult to encounter and learn about the Pure Land method. If I do not recite
the Buddha’s name singlemindedly now, once the ghost of impermanence arrives,
I am bound to descend upon the three Evil Paths in accordance with the heavy
evil karma of this life or of past lives, subject to long periods of suffering, with no
liberation in sight.” If you keep these thoughts constantly in mind, you will awaken
and be earnest.
This passage is very similar to the opening of Promise of Amida, which says that viewing the Saha World as a place of suffering is necessary for practicing the Pure Land path. It also echoes similar statements by Shan-Tao in the Ojoraisan. Of course, I see this not as the physical world so much as the experiential world of a life driven by greed, anger, and ignorance.
Moreover, you should think about the sufferings of the various hells and develop
the Bodhi Mind. The Bodhi Mind is the Mind striving to benefit oneself and others.
Once this Mind develops, it is like a tool which has been electrified; it acquires
tremendous power and speed. No ordinary virtues of good roots can compare with
it in severing karmic obstructions and increasing merits and wisdom.
Regardless of your stance on the various hells, this passage makes a lot of sense. The Bodhi Mind (Bodhicitta), the aspiration for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, is the distinguishing trait of Mahayana and is necessary for Complete Perfect Awakening (SammyakSamBodhi). Shinran teaches that we receive the Bodhi Mind as soon as we have full acceptance of our birth in the Pure Land (ShinJin), with the understanding that we will come back to aide sentient beings (Genso Eko). This idea of receiving Bodhi Mind is a bit different in the Pure Land path than the Self-Powered Path of Sages, where the Bodhi Mind is something one generates. Either way, it is an essential step on our path to Buddhahood.
You are swayed by the environment and external circumstances because your
cultivation is still shallow. Therefore, whenever you are affected by feelings of anger
or joy, or have evil or wholesome thoughts, such states of mind show clearly on
your face. If your mind is filled with correct thoughts, all afflictions will decrease
naturally. Therefore, although he may be dwelling in the prison of Birth and Death,
the true cultivator always trains himself strenuously. As a result, afflictions and
karmic habits are gradually eliminated. This is true cultivation. In this way the
mind becomes master of itself, thus escaping the influence and control of external
I probably need this first sentence tatooed on my forehead. Again, I defer to Shinran, who says when we accept Shinjin, we have a profound turning of mind, and the ice of afflictions (kleshas) melts into the cool waters of Enlightenment. I've experienced enough in my life to realize that this is something I am not able to generate on my own, so I rely on the power of the original (primal) vow.
Laymen like yourself, residing at home [unlike monks and nuns] can practice
as you wish. You may recite the Buddha’s name sitting, standing, kneeling or
circumambulating the altar, etc. but you should not be attached to any set ways.

If you become attached to a fixed position, your body may tire easily and
your mind may find it difficult to merge with the Mind of the Buddhas. To reap
benefits, you should make allowances for your health or habits and skillfully select
the practice that fits your circumstances.
This is something else I have to remind myself from time to time. Often, life gets in the way and I'm not able to recite in front of my altar. Even though I recite throughout the day, i still feel somewhat guilty, like I haven't done anything.
Traditionally, Pure Land practitioners circumambulate the altar at the beginning
of a Buddha Recitation session, then sit down and, finally, kneel. However, if you feel
tired when circumambulating or kneeling, you should sit down and recite. If you become
drowsy while seated, you can circumambulate the altar or recite standing up,
waiting for the drowsiness to go away before sitting down again. When reciting, it is
better to determine the length of the session with a clock rather than fingering a rosary,
as doing so may make it difficult to focus the mind and keep it empty and pure.
This passage is interesting, as I've only done circumambulation at the Amitabha Society (Ven Chin Kung) center and it wasn't at the beginning, typically at the end of each hour (services were very long). I like the idea of rotating through different positions while reciting, because during long recitation sessions in a cross-legged position usually turn my legs numb & it's distracting. I'd never heard the thing about the clock. I usually use a Jodo Shu 60,000 juzu, which makes 1000 recitations fairly easy once you get the hang of it (just one larger cycle).

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Tue Oct 13, 2015 6:04 pm

Letter 21
Buddhism and the Tao

The first part of this letter almost seems to be sarcasm. Ven Yin Kuang seems to be putting this Taoist master on a pedestal, even comparing his teachings to the Great Vow of Amitabha, and he refers to himself as a lowly monk with a faulty understanding of the Dharma. I'm not really sure the purpose of the first paragraph.
I venture to think that, in their essence, Buddhism and Taoism spring from
the same source. However, their various schools differ greatly in their practices
today. Buddhism teaches us, first of all, to practice the Four Foundations of
Mindfulness, that is, to contemplate the body as impure, all feelings as suffering,
the [ordinary] mind as impermanent and all phenomena as devoid of self. When we
realize that body, feelings, mind and phenomena are impure, the source of suffering,
impermanent, without self, false, dream-like and illusory, the True Thusness Nature
will manifest itself.

Buddhism encompasses all methods and dharmas. Not only does it clearly
explain the issues of body, mind and life, it does not neglect the small issues of
human morality, such as “filiality, respect for elders, loyalty, faith, propriety, justice,
decency and shame.” An exception is the practice of “balancing energy currents,”
about which not a single word is said in the Buddha Dharma. Not only that,
Buddhism forbids the practice entirely. This is because while Taoism regards the
preservation of body and mind as an ideal, Buddhism, on the contrary, teaches that
body and mind are intrinsically false, born of conditions, disappearing also through
conditions. They are not the Self-Nature True Mind.
Here Ven Yin Kuang discusses some very important differences between Taoism and Buddhism. Not to be sectarian, but this was important for me as well. I very much liked the book the Tao De Jing in high school, but when actually approaching Taoism, with its formulas for immortality and its heavy reliance I Ching numerology, I really didn't find the wisdom that seemed to be expressed so beautifully in the book. On the other hand, I did find that wisdom (and more) in the writings of Buddhism.
From your letter, it seems that you already know that “Immortals” have a
definite life-span while the Buddha’s life is without limit. Therefore, now that you
are advanced in age, you should diligently practice the Pure Land method. Keep
your investigation of Zen and other teachings to a minimum, as these methods are
broad and profound and not easy to study. Even if you were to reach the ultimate
source, you would still need to return to the Pure Land method to resolve the
problem of Birth and Death in this very lifetime.
I feel like he's giving this advice to me personally as well.
You should read the Pure Land sutras and commentaries without delay and
practice in accordance with their teachings – with deep faith in the words of the
Buddhas and Patriarchs. Do not develop doubts when you encounter something you
cannot yet understand. If you are utterly sincere in your Faith, Vows and Practice,
you will naturally be able to rely on the compassionate power of Amitabha Buddha
to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. Once reborn you will be close to Amitabha
Buddha, in the company of the Ocean-Wide Assembly and gradually attain the
fruit of Non-Birth and the rank of a One-Life Bodhisattva. At that time, looking
back at your original intention of becoming an Immortal in the assembly of the
Lord Brahma, and comparing it to your current status, you will discover that the
two are as different as a dark ravine from the blue yonder!
This is really good advice for those of us who hit roadblocks and want to walk away when something doesn't make sense, especially the first 2 sentences. The later part could be re-applied for any of us who may have prior spiritual goals that fall short of complete perfect awakening and Buddhahood.
“Sarira” is a Sanskrit word translated as “relics”, “remains of the body.” It
also means “miraculous remains,” which are the crystallization of the cultivation
of precepts, concentration and wisdom and not the result of “balancing energy
currents.” It is the symbolic mark of the cultivator who has reached the state of
union between Mind and Buddha. However, Buddhist relics do not come only from
the transformation of flesh, bones and hair during cremation, but also derive from
many other circumstances.

For example, once upon a time, an Elder Master, while bathing, suddenly
obtained some relics. A Zen Master, having a tonsure, saw his hair turn into a string
of relics. There are instances of relics emerging from the mouths of practitioners
earnestly reciting the Buddha’s name. A printer setting the text of a famous
Pure Land commentary saw relics among the wooden typefaces. A laywoman
embroidering Buddhist images and sutras found relics under her needle point. In
another case, a practitioner who had returned from afar and was wholeheartedly
paying respect before his altar, suddenly saw relics emerging from one of the
statues. These accounts demonstrate that relics are due to the power of cultivation
[not internal energy currents].
In the west we don't seem to put a whole bunch of stock in relics, although the recent Buddhist Relics Tour did seem to gain some fame. I've always wonder about some of these accounts. My particular favorites are practitioners such as Kuya, who was said to have images of Amida floating out of his mouth with every recitation of the Buddha's name.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Kuan Yin) has, since time without beginning,
been a Buddha with the name of True Dharma Light. While residing in the Land
of Eternal Stillness, because of Her boundless concern and compassion, She also
appears in all lands and realms. Standing beside Amitabha Buddha, She also
manifests Herself everywhere, as Buddha, Bodhisattva, Arhat, Pratyeka Buddha,
or takes the form of various beings along the Six Paths in the Dharma Realm of the
ten directions. She accomplishes whatever deeds are of benefit to sentient beings
and takes whatever form is necessary to rescue them and teach them the Dharma.

P’u T’o Mountain is the place associated with this Bodhisattva. In order to
provide sentient beings with a focal point to express their sincerity, the Bodhisattva
manifested Her Parinirvana (earthly demise) on this mountain.

This does not mean that the Bodhisattva resides only on P’u T’o Mountain and
not elsewhere. As an analogy, the single moon in the sky appears in ten thousand
rivers and lakes. From the oceans to the tiniest dewdrops, wherever there is limpid
water, the moon appears. However, if the water is turbid or muddy, the image of the
moon will be blurred or hidden. Our Mind-Nature is similar to the water. If sentient
beings concentrate singlemindedly on the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, She employs
all kinds of expedients, favorable or unfavorable, hidden or overt, to bring them
benefits. If, on the other hand, the cultivator is not utterly sincere and singleminded
in his recitation, his “mind water” will be turbid and it will be difficult for him to
obtain a response. The meaning of this is very profound. If you read the section
on P’u T’o Mountain in my compendium of letters you will understand this yourself.

The Bodhisattva, in the causal stage, “visualized” (concentrated on) the nature
of hearing and thus attained perfect, all-pervading power. In the result stage (as a
Bodhisattva), She visualizes the voices of sentient beings calling upon Her and goes
to their rescue – hence the name “Regarder of the Cries of the World.” Moreover,
the Bodhisattva’s methods are boundless and all-encompassing. She preaches every
kind of method to teach and transform sentient beings in accordance with their
individual capacities and nature, without insisting on any particular Dharma
method. Therefore, Her approach is called “all-sided.”
This passage includes some really interesting teachings on Avalokitesvara/Guan Yin. Avalokitesvara is very important to Pure Land Buddhism, but not only limited to Pure Land, as the bodhisattva is venerated in many forms of Buddhism. I like what this has to say about the "mind water" of the cultivator needing to be still before being able to "reflect" the response/benefits. Pretty profound teaching actually.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Wed Oct 14, 2015 2:18 pm

Letter 22
Cultivate, Do Not Verbalize!
The tenets of the Pure Land method are Faith, Vows and Practice. Only with
true Faith and earnest Vows can Practice be assiduous and pure. The common
disease of sentient beings is to be diligent and earnest when catastrophe strikes but
lax and remiss in normal times.

However, living in this current period is no different from lying peacefully on
a huge pile of dried wood under which a fire has already started. Though it has
not yet reached the body, in no time flames and smoke will cover everything,
leaving no possibility of escape. If you are indifferent or careless, remiss in seeking
help through reciting the Buddha’s name, your understanding and perception are
shallow indeed!
I may need to print this out and hang it on my wall to remind me to practice...
When cultivating various Dharma methods, you must reach the level of
“development of true practice, perfection of understanding” before you can receive
real benefits. This is not unique to the Visualization Method of Pure Land. In Zen,
a meaningless koan (kung an) becomes the “very life and mind” of the cultivator; he
puts his entire mind and thought into it, constantly meditating on it, oblivious to
the passage of time, be it days or months, until he reaches the point of extinguishing
all discriminating, delusive views with respect to internal and external realms. Only
then does he achieve Great Awakening. Is this not “development of true practice,
perfection of understanding”?
This is an interesting passage endorsing exclusive practice. I think the reasoning is sound. Trying to be a "Jack of all trades" often ends up limiting my progress. When I focus and specialize, then I see results.
The word “development” should be understood here as “[developing to] the
utmost.” Only by striving to the utmost can the cultivator forget altogether about
body, mind and the world around him, remaining completely still and tranquil, as
though of one hue.
Another endorsement for single minded practice and encouragement towards ardent striving...
If your cultivation has not reached the highest level, you may practice Visualization
and Recitation, but you will still be making the distinction between
subject and object (yourself and the Buddhas). You will be engaged in an entirely
mundane, ordinary activity, entirely within the realm of discriminatory views and
understanding. How can you, then, achieve true benefits? That is why, when the
ancients were in meditation, their mind and thoughts were like withered trees.
Thus, their lofty conduct was known far and wide and later generations continue to
admire and esteem them. These benefits are all due to the single word “utmost.”
I really have no idea what this passage is on about. Seems to be talking against performing Visualization and Recitation. Is this referring to them mixed (ie performed together)? Is this referring to them as separate practices? Even with the dualism between subject and object, I still don't see how this is an "entirely mundane, ordinary activity". I'm not sure if I'm missing something, if there's a problem with the translation, or if I really don't agree. I feel that single minded cultivation with Faith is hardly mundane. Maybe he's criticising insincere practice?
People today prefer empty talk; few care to cultivate. Pure Land should include
both theory and practice, with a definite emphasis on practice. Why? It is because
for the person who thoroughly comprehends theory, all of practice is theory –
practicing all day at the phenomenal level is practicing at the noumenon level.
Quick reminder... In the context of this book, noumenon refers to "the theoretical" and phenomenal refers to the "practice in accord with Cause and Effect". So here, he seems to be stating the opposite of the previous, confusing passage. In other words, sincere practice doesn't require understanding of advanced theories.
When those who lack clear understanding of noumenon and phenomena hear the
words “practice at the noumenal level,” they consider the meaning to be profound
and sublime. They also find it consonant with their lazy, lethargic minds, which
loathe the effort and difficulties of Buddha Recitation. Thus, they immediately
grasp at noumenon and abandon the phenomenal. Little do they realize that when
the phenomenal aspect is abandoned, noumenon becomes hollow and meaningless
as well! I hope that you will explain cultivation at both the phenomenal and
noumenal levels to everyone, counselling them accordingly. The benefits will be
great indeed!
I think this is a good warning, reminding us not to be too much in our heads, enamored with advanced theories, and neglecting practice.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Wed Oct 14, 2015 2:23 pm

Letter 23
This Mind is the Buddha
There are, in general, four methods of Pure Land practice: oral recitation (Holding
the Name), contemplation of a Buddha image, Visualization (contemplation
by thought) and True Mark Recitation.
This scheme doesn't quite square away with ShanTao's teachings, but the 4 methods of practice are common in most mainland asian interpretations of Pure Land. I'm fairly sure that these are the same four methods that show up in Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith.
Among the four methods, oral recitation has the broadest appeal. It is not only
easy to practice, it does not lead to “demonic events.”
Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith talks a lot about "demonic events". To modern readers, they'd be more like "nuisance events". Impermanence was listed as one of these demons or gods. In this case, what they're talking about is something that arises with no intended cause driving it. When a Zen meditator is trying to do Zazen and suddenly sees images of Buddhas, these are examples of a "demonic event" - something arising without an intended cause by the meditator. The Zen meditator is not trying to see Buddhas, they are just trying to observe their mind. This may be the reason for the quote "if you see Buddha on the road, kill him" - it's just a distraction from one's intended purpose. If one is reciting the Buddha's name and/or trying to visualize Amida or the Pure Land, if the practitioner then sees these things, it is not considered a "demonic event" - because that was the explicit goal of the practitioner.
If you wish to practice the Visualization method, you should carefully read
the Meditation Sutra and clearly understand such principles as “This Mind is the
Buddha,” “If the mind is pure, the Buddha appears,” “All realms and states are
Mind-Only, there should be no attachment to them.” Once you understand that
realms and states do not come from the outside and avoid developing attachments
to them, these states then become more sublime and the mind grows purer and
more focussed. If you reach that point, the benefits of Visualization are significant.

On the other hand, if you are unfamiliar with the realms visualized and have
not comprehended the essence of the Dharma, but are over-eager to see
[auspicious] realms, everything is delusion. Not only are you not in communion
with the Buddhas, you even begin to create the causes of demonic events
(hallucinate). This is because the more eager you are to see realms, the more
agitated and deluded your mind becomes.

Since from the outset, you have failed to apply your mind correctly, you will
not be able to realize that these realms are demonic apparitions. Therefore, you
are overcome with joy; your thoughts and feelings are not peaceful and calm.
Taking advantage of this, demons will cloud your mind and plunder your Self-
Nature. At that point, even if a living Buddha were to appear, He would have no
way of rescuing you!
Far be it for me to criticize, but while the first paragraph is in the sutras, the emphasis placed on it is usually associated with Zen/Chan interpretations. The last 2 paragraphs don't really agree with either the Visualization Sutra nor the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra, which (from the outset) encourage the practitioner to want to Visualize the Buddha Land and the Buddha. The Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra stresses that the Buddha you visualize will answer your questions and set you on the right path, so I'm really not sure the fear he's trying to instill in the last 2 paragraphs is warranted. Visions of the Pure Land based on recitation is called Nembutsu/Nianfo Samadhi, it is an auxiliary goal of many forms of Pure Land, and generally considered an auspicious sign. I wonder if he's just being overly cautious here. It seems like a lot of Chinese masters like to instill fear about overly-harsh repercussions, such as in the case of a recent video (that I'll post next week) where a master says someone who loves to eat barbecue earns themselves a ticket to Avici hell for it. It's not a teaching style I'm fond of, because it often directly contradicts the sutras they're trying to comment on.
You should, therefore, take your capacities and circumstances into consideration
and not aim for what is too lofty and beyond your reach – seeking benefits only to
receive harm. The Patriarch Shan Tao has said:
“Sentient beings in the Dharma-Ending Age have agitated, inverted minds.
Visualizing lofty realms with such coarse minds is certainly difficult to accomplish!”
Therefore, the Great Sage [Buddha Sakyamuni] took pity and specifically
recommended oral recitation because He feared that those who were not skillful in
using their minds would be lost in demonic realms.
Kind of going back to the earlier point, ShanTao is saying people don't have the capability to have visions, and Ven Yin Kuang takes that an extra step further warning of demonic visions. Honen's stance (and the stance of many of his students who had similar experiences) is that the visualizations can arise naturally from recitation. I'm not sure if ShanTao had the same experience (finding a full English translation of his commentary on the Visualization Sutra has been almost impossible), but it wouldn't surprise me if he had. ShanTao was known to practice the Visualizations in his younger days (evident in his KanNenBoMon 観念法門 - Method of Contemplation on Amida. He apparently reached samadhi with the visualization method, but turned to recommending recitation in his later days, which he also achieved samadhi with. There is not one word of warning against demons in Shantao's earlier work (linked above).
Cultivation through oral recitation is very easy. To achieve rebirth in the
Pure Land, you need only ensure that singleminded thought follows singleminded
thought. Moreover, utmost sincerity and earnestness are also wonderful methods to
treat the deluded mind and demonic realms.

You should think this over carefully and strive with all your mental strength to
Now I'm wondering if his warnings about demons are just to keep the recipient of the letter focused on recitation, because of its guaranteed effect of birth in the Pure Land. Rather than risk the practitioner being unsuccessful at Visualization and not ensuring their birth in the Pure Land, I think Ven Yin Kuang used fear to guide the student in the guaranteed direction. This is very similar to the selection of recitation as the Right Practice in Honen's doctrine (ShanTao's later doctrine as well).

Of course if anybody thinks I'm off-base with any of these statements, feel free to comment, I would love to discuss it.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Thu Oct 15, 2015 1:40 pm

Letter 24
The Bodhi Mind
I just received your letter and am glad to learn that you have finally recovered
from your long illness! The great issue of Birth and Death, the swiftness with which
the ghost of impermanence can strike – these are things which we have all heard
of and fear, but only when we have actually had a near-death experience, do these
realities truly hit home.

You should, therefore, develop the great Bodhi Mind and refer to your own
circumstances to counsel your family, your friends and all who have the right
conditions. Only in this manner can the benefits spread far and wide.
I've always thought of Buddha Name recitation as a meditation on death. It's a constant reminder that we won't always be here, in our current situation.

Developing the Bodhi Mind (bodhicitta) is a great thing. Bodhi Mind is guaranteed to those born in the lowest grade of the lowest level according to the Visualization Sutra, but cultivating it in this life is a great thing.
You wrote that you suffered from overexertion as a result of reciting the
Buddha’s name too rapidly and hurriedly. This is, of course, because your were not
skillful. Buddha Recitation should be practiced according to one’s strength; it can
be done silently or audibly, softly or loudly. Why did you insist on reciting in such
a loud voice that you became exhausted and fell ill?
This has happened to me before. Not so much from reciting too fast, but jumping into long sessions to quickly. It happens to me if/when I meditate too, but with Buddha Name recitation it comes on a little more slowly, so it's easier to dial it back when I start overdoing it.
Although the immediate cause of your grave illness was shortness of breath,
if you look deeper, the underlying cause must really have been the force of evil
karma accumulated from time immemorial. Your diligent Buddha Recitation
must have transformed future karma into current karma, heavy karma into light
karma. You should not grow discouraged or develop doubts. Who knows how
many eons of transgressions along the three Evil Paths have been erased by
this single illness! The Buddhas’ power is difficult to imagine, their compassion
is difficult to repay! You should rejoice, feel great remorse and develop stronger faith.
Part of me agrees with the outlook that suffering from practice is the result of unskillful actions coming to fruition, but part of me says that suffering in your practice is the same type of thing that the Buddha used to tease the Jains about. Who knows? I know that to be able to deal with my daily life, I can't overdo it in practice. I'm not at a point yet where I can renounce my daily life, too many people depending on me. Finding my own pace in practice has actually been rewarding, so I highly recommend it. I do recognize the initial point regarding one's mindset in relation to their health. I have no reason to believe that habitual patterns don't affect health.
From now on, you should cultivate diligently and counsel others to practice
Buddha Recitation, so that those near and far may achieve rebirth in the Western
Pure Land. This is precisely the way to avoid ingratitude toward the Buddhas,
who, through your illness, have awakened you.
Online forums are about the closest thing I can get to this advice. :) If I was closer to a temple locally, I think I'd try to help out a bit. It's the least I can do for the benefit I feel I've received in my life.
There is no need to come to P’u T’o Mountain, considering the travel expenses
involved. Reciting the Buddha’s name at home will bring progress and results just
as easily, while saving money and preserving your health. Is it not better that way?
This reminds me of Joseph Campbell's statements on pilgrimages. When you find your sacred spot inside of you, or realize that your goal is an internal process rather than an external location, what need is there to travel? Certainly we don't need to move our physical location to get to the Pure Land, as the requirements for getting there are Faith, Vows, and Practice. I can doubt all I want on a flight to Las Vegas, but the plane will still get me there; I can not say the same for the Pure Land.

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Re: Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land Study Group

Post by Admin_PC » Fri Oct 16, 2015 6:23 pm

Letter 25
I see from your letter that you have developed faith and wish to take refuge
in the Buddhas and their teachings. When taking refuge in the Triple Jewel,
however, you should cease all evil actions, perform wholesome deeds, fulfill your
moral obligations, develop Faith and Vows and practice Buddha Recitation, seeking
rebirth in the Pure Land. You should also refrain from killing, protect sentient
beings and be vegetarian several days a month. If you cannot yet eat frugally all
the time, at least do not be too demanding in your diet. In this way, you will not
go counter to the compassionate Mind of the Buddhas.
This seems to be the standard formula for Pure Land Buddhism, especially of the mainland asian variety. Other schools still aspire for this, even if they don't emphasize it or demand success at carrying out these recommendations.
Mind-Nature is like a tree; when consumed by the fire of afflictions, it withers
and dries up. Once you have wisdom, afflictions will not arise and the tree of the
Mind-Nature grows naturally healthy and verdant.
Pure Land also teaches that Buddha Name Recitation can cool the afflictions when we are incapable of wisdom.
If you wish to receive the five lay precepts, you should, first of all, examine your
mind. If you believe that you can keep the precepts without transgressing, you
may ask the layman Hua San about self-administration of the precepts before your
altar; he will be glad to instruct you.
This self-examination is required for all forms of Pure Land Buddhism, even the most Other-Power-oriented schools. I think many of them recognize an inability to keep such precepts without transgressing, that's why not all schools stress taking precepts. We can not take our deluded nature on faith however, we must see it for ourselves.
Having now returned to the Dharma, you should read my compendium of letters
carefully and follow closely the teachings described therein. Only then will you avoid
being deceived by misguided persons into seeking merits and blessings in future lives
or trying to become an Immortal through the practice of balancing energy currents.
If you truly understand the teachings set out in my compendium, no externalist
can cause you to vacillate. Do not doubt the words in the compendium. You should
realize that they are based on the essence of the sutras or the enlightened words of
the Patriarchs and other Dharma teachers. I did not invent these teachings. If you
reflect carefully upon what I have just said, you will receive great benefits.
This is why it is so important to meet a good Dharma friend (kalyanamitra) and receive true teachings.
Your aspirations are as lofty as the heavens, while your will is as low as the
ground. Although you claim to follow my teachings, you are, in fact, merely
pursuing your own biased views. Faith constitutes the very basic of Pure Land
teaching. With solid Faith, even those guilty of the Five Transgressions and the
Ten Evil Deeds can achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. Without solid Faith, even
those fully versed in the various schools and teachings have no hope of escaping
Birth and Death – unless they have severed all delusive karma.
This passage clearly illustrates why so many Pure Land schools emphasize faith. I know for myself, the phrase "aspirations ... as lofty as the heavens, while ... will is as low as the ground" definitely applies to me.
You are not yet versed in the various schools and teachings. Therefore, you
cannot rely on your own strength (self-power) to eradicate karmic delusion and
transcend Birth and Death. Now, if you do not believe that the power of the
Buddhas and the virtues of the Self-Nature are boundless, how can you achieve
I feel like he's talking to me directly. When you don't have reliance on the Buddhas, nor true understanding of the boundless virtues of one's own nature, you don't have much.
You should know that no one who seeks rebirth in the Pure Land with deep
and earnest Faith and Vows will fail to achieve it. Buddha Recitation is the perfect
shortcut to escape from the wasteland of Birth and Death. You do not even realize
the loftiness of this method, yet harbor the ambition to study the treatise Awakening
of the Faith. Although this treatise presents the essence of the Dharma, it is
not too helpful for those of limited capacities and shallow roots. Even if you study
and understand it thoroughly, severing all doubts, once you begin practicing, you
must still follow the method of reciting the Buddha’s name seeking rebirth in the
Pure Land. This is the only prudent, safe course. As for the Consciousness, Zen and
Sutra Studies schools, how can you expect to grasp all their subtlety and profundity?
I think some people find it foolish that Pure Land practitioners don't shoot for the highest practices for Awakening in this life. My theory is that is because they have no clue at the profundity of other methods. After thousands of hours of practice, sure even the most difficult of skills seems easy. So when masters who've practiced for thousands of hours say that realizing one's True Nature is easy, this land is the Pure Land, or that we are all already Enlightened; people new to the Dharma take these statements at face value without considering the thousands of hours of practice. The above statement is a good example of this.
Your mind has such high aspirations but you do not know how to adjust
their loftiness to your capacities! Yet you also think that “with humble, limited
capacities, it is difficult to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land; to avoid sinking into
the Three Evil Realms is enough cause for rejoicing.” Little do you realize that
without rebirth in the Pure Land, you will, in the future, descend upon the three
Evil Paths [hells, hungry ghosts, animality]. Ideas such as yours fail to conform to
the teachings of the Buddhas and are contrary to my own advice. How can you then
say that you are “following my words and singlemindedly reciting the Buddha’s
This statement shows us how important it is to not only find the method to correspond with our capacities, but to embrace it as the teaching that will lead us out of Samsara without harboring doubts in the effectiveness of the method. Just looking for future worldly benefits is not proper motivation to engage with Dharma practice. Most westerners don't even believe in an afterlife, let alone hell, so some of this advice probably just falls flat of its intended impact. But I can say from experience that chasing down a method outside of one's capacities can lead one to miserable experiences and so can being lazy and not putting in the work. Finding the right method to concentrate on and singlemindedly pursuing it can be very rewarding.
You are currently engaged in an ordinary profession and do not yet have a
lofty, magnanimous character. Thus, such high determination will only make others
sigh and laugh. You should completely abandon your ambition to become a great
scholar, concentrating instead on studying the Pure Land sutras. Reread the letters
I sent to Kao Shao-lin and Miss Hsu and practice accordingly. You should not look
at your humble, limited capacities and consider rebirth in the Western Pure Land as
too lofty and beyond your reach. You should cling to the Buddha’s name as to your
life and mind, holding fast all times without letting go. Moreover, you should keep
your thoughts and actions in conformity with the tenets of Buddhism, that is, put
a stop to all evil actions and practice all wholesome deeds. In addition, if you still
have spare time, you may recite sutras and mantras, but always keep in mind the
need for utter sincerity. Do not rush to fathom meaning and substance. If you rush
to understand everything at the outset and do not concentrate on utterly sincere
recitation of the Buddha’s name and the sutras, even thorough understanding will
bring no true benefits – not to mention that, to begin with, understanding is difficult.

As far as the Consciousness, Zen and Sutra Studies methods are concerned, even
if you pursue them all your life, you will find it difficult to grasp their profound
essence. Even if you do, you will still have to sever delusive karma completely to
escape Birth and Death. When speaking of this, I fear that your dream will not
come true and will remain just that – a dream!
Again, the first few sentences & last paragraph warn people against assuming they can accomplish anything with no clue of the requirements for the loftier goals. The middle part stresses the importance of practice in combination with understanding. Understanding without practice will bring no true benefits.
You have not read my compendium carefully enough and, therefore, your words
rise as high as the Milky Way and then descend to the depths of the ocean. In
the compendium, I frequently refer to the sutras and commentaries that should
be read, how to go about reading them and the difficulty of benefitting from the
Consciousness, Zen and Sutra Studies methods. This is because the Pure Land
method calls upon the compassionate power of Amitabha Buddha (other-power),
while other methods rely on self-power, self-cultivation alone.
The beginning of this section is a recap, the end of this section introduces an explanation - the concept of Self Power versus Other Power.
You admit that human beings have a limited life-span and that your own real
strength is limited. Why, then, continue to pursue such lofty ambitions? If you can
become a great scholar, it will be a great honor for Buddhism. My only fear is that
if you do not succeed and do not have firm faith in the Pure Land method either,
you will fail on both accounts. Furthermore, if you do accrue some limited virtues
in this life, in the next life you will certainly be reborn within the cycle of worldly
blessings and merits. Think this over: among the wealthy and noble, how many can
avoid creating evil karma?
I think he makes a valid point here. The goal is to escape Samsara and the 3 poisons of craving, aversion, and delusion - not to become more infatuated with them.
Sakyamuni Buddha taught a great many sutras and mantras. No one can recite
and uphold them all. Therefore, ancient masters selected only a few important ones
for use in daily recitation. [Among these important sutras and mantras are the
Heart Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, the Longer Repentance Liturgy, the Surangama
Mantra, the Great Compassion Mantra, the Ten Mantras.] Regardless of which
sutra or mantra is recited, to be in accord with the tenets of Pure Land you should
include recitation of the Buddha’s name and dedicate the merits to rebirth in the
Pure Land ... You should know that the very words “Amitabha Buddha,” if recited
to the level of one-pointedness of mind, have ample power to lead sentient beings
to Buddhahood. Do you really think that reciting the Amitabha Sutra and the
Buddha’s name cannot eliminate “fixed karma”?
This is another great point. The first few sentences really reinforce the idea that one should pick a method and stick with it. The latter part is basically my practice in a nutshell.
The Dharma is like money. It is up to the individual to use it wisely. To those
with money, many courses of action are open. If you can concentrate on cultivating
one method, whatever you wish will be fulfilled. Why insist upon reciting this
mantra or that sutra to accrue this or that merit, but not other merits? If you
follow my instructions in a flexible way, you will naturally “understand one thing
and penetrate one hundred things.” If not, even if I speak at length, your mind will
not be focussed and you will not obtain any benefits!
Another recommendation for sticking with one method...
It is taught in the sutras:
There are two types of heroes in this world: those who do not commit transgressions
and those who, having done so, are capable of repentance.
The word “repentance” should spring from the depth of the mind. If you do not
truly repent and change your ways, whatever you say is useless. It is like reading the
label on a medicine bottle but refusing to take the medicine. How can your illness be
cured? If you take the medicine according to instructions, the disease will certainly
be cured – with body and mind calm and at peace. I only fear for those who,
lacking strong and determined will, put things out in the sun to warm for one day
and then let them freeze for ten days. All they get is empty fame and no true benefits!
I'm kind of a fan of "repentance" and try to do it frequently. I don't think of it as Catholic confession, where you ask the priest to intervene to God on your behalf and grant you forgiveness of your sins. I look at it more as a recognition that I don't like some of the things I do from time to time, that I have a lot of work to do, that I'm not perfect, that I can't do it all on my own, that I need help... Then again, when I do "repentance", I devote equal time to aspiring to do certain things better, and more time still to expressing gratitude for all the blessings in my life.

With that, the book is finished...

The Vows of Samantabhadra from the Avatamsaka Sutra wrote:I vow that when my life approaches its end,
all obstacles will be swept away;
I will see Amitabha Buddha,
And be born in his Land of Ultimate Bliss and Peace.

When reborn in the Western Land,
I will perfect and completely fulfill
Without exception these Great Vows,
To delight and benefit all beings.


Realms of worlds in empty space might reach an end,
And living beings, karma and afflictions be extinguished;
But they will never be exhausted,
And neither will my vows.

The Vows of Samantabhadra

Dedication of Merit

May the merit and virtue
accrued from this work
adorn Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land,
repay the four great kindnesses above,
and relieve the suffering of
those on the three paths below.
May those who see or hear of these efforts
generate Bodhi-mind,
spend their lives devoted to the Buddha Dharma,
and finally be reborn together in
the land of Ultimate Bliss.
Homage to Amitabha Buddha!





Note: This is the final week of the book discussion of Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land. Next week, the plan is to start discussing "Raft from the Other Shore" by Sho-On Hattori. If there are any other books people would like to cover, please leave a comment.

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A Raft From the Other Shore study group - Part 1: Beginnings

Post by Admin_PC » Fri Oct 23, 2015 3:15 pm

The first few paragraphs detail the birth of Honen in rather poetic terms. He was born on April 7, 1133 in present-day Okayama prefecture to Uruma no Tokikuni and his wife. He was named Seishi-maru, after Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta (DaiSeishi Bosatsu). As with many biographies, there weren't video cameras around, so we never quite know how accurate they are or whether they dip into what would be considered "hagiography".
In 1141, when Seishi-maru was nine years old, his father was fatally wounded by Akashi no Sada-akira. Sada-akira was a local official sent by the lord of the province, the Emperor Horikawa, to govern the area. At the moment of death, Tokikuni said to his son, "Don't hate the enemy but become a monk and pray for me and for your deliverance." This tragedy opened up a channel of religious awareness for Seishi-maru.
If true, this must have had a tremendous impact on Honen. It really sets the stage for everything that happens later in his life: from his dedicated quest to find the way out of suffering, to his challenge to authority, to his tireless dedication towards propagating the teachings.
Seishi-maru was sent to his uncle's temple to carry out the final words of his father. His uncle, Kangaku, was a younger brother of his mother and was the head priest of Bodai-ji temple located about sixty-five miles north of Seishi-maru's birthplace. It was there that Seishi-maru began
to study the Buddha's teachings. While teaching Buddhism to him, Kangaku realized that Seishi-maru had great ability and potential to learn more, so he decided to send him to Mt. Hiei, the center of Buddhist study in those days.
Here we see the beginnings of Honen's quest for the truth. Bodaiji temple in Okayama is currently famous for a very large Ginkgo tree. Rumor has it that Honen himself planted this tree. Here's a blog site with a number of pictures of this beautiful temple.

I don't have exact dates, but it seems that Honen went to this temple for 4 years. This would basically equate to his "middle school" experience. I imagine during this time he learned Chinese characters and began to read the sutras. He would've also had basic teachings on Buddhist doctrine and practice. Overnight, it must've seemed like his childhood was over, but he seems to have thrived in this environment - being quick to grasp the studies


Just realized that I'm not going to be able to do this chapter-by-chapter, due to the fact that I don't have the book in electronic copy, which means I have to type a lot more by hand. I'll be doing the book section-by-section, which will be a lot more manageable. I'm hoping this will lead to a more frequent posting schedule, but it's early to tell.

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Raft from the Other Shore Study Group - Part 2

Post by Admin_PC » Sat Oct 31, 2015 6:41 pm

Part 2 - Within the Buddhist Establishment
In 1145, at the age of thirteen, Seishi-maru was sent to Mt. Hiei. First, he studied with Jiho-bo Genko in the north valley of the western section of the mountain. Then two years later he became a disciple of Koen at Kudoku-in temple. Seishi-maru was ordained by Koen and studied the Tendai Buddhism of Mt. Hiei under him. But Seishi-maru was not satisfied with this, and in 1150, at the age of eighteen, he left Koen and went to study with Jigem-bo Eiku in the Kurodani valley of the same area. There Seishi-maru was named Honen-bo Genku by Eiku and began earnestly to search for the way of religious salvation.
Just some links to get an idea of places being referenced:

Mt. Hiei

Kudoku-in temple

Kurodani Valley Gorge

Jodo Shu Research Institute has already done the leg work for the background on Honen's teachers.
Honen's Training wrote:Little is known about Genko (fl. mid-twelfth century), Honen's first teacher of Tendai Buddhism. His lodging temple on Mt. Hiei was located at Kitadani in the area of Western Hiei. According to the Honen shonin gyojoezu, Honen studied basic Tendai doctrine, especially the Shikyogi (attributed to Chih-i, T.1929, 46), under Genko for two years.

Koen (?-1169) is famous as the author of the Fusoryakki, a history of Japan. On Mt. Hiei, he lived at the Kudoku-in of Otani in the area of Eastern Hiei. Honen studied with Koen the major works of the Chinese T'ien-t'ai founder Chih-i (Jp. Chigi): the Fa-hua hsuan-i (Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra), the Fa-hua wen-chu (Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra) and the Mo-ho chih-kuan (Great Calming and Insight), as well as both exoteric and esoteric Tendai teachings.

Among the thirteen different schools of Tendai esotericism, Honen is said to have received from Koen the teaching of the Sanmai lineage. Of the ten different schools of Tendai exotericism, Honen received from Koen the teaching of the Sugiu line. Kokaku was the founder of the Sugiu lineage, which became the main stream of the Eshin school. One of Kokaku's disciples was Koen, who is said to have transmitted the Sugiu teachings to Honen. What is significant here is that while the authorship of some of Kokaku's works is in question, it is possible that the notion of realizing enlightenment in a single moment that appears in these texts exerted an influence on Honen.

Honen studied under Koen for three years. Then in 1150, when he was eighteen, he retired to Kurodani in the area of Western Hiei. The Kurodani area of Mt. Hiei was at this time the site of a major bessho, a place where monks withdrew from involvement in temple affairs to devote themselves to religious practice. Monks living in seclusion at such places were known as bessho hijiri. The Kurodani bessho was an important site of nembutsu practices, and in moving there, Honen, at a very young age, rejected the prospect of a career in the clerical establishment or in performing ritual services for wealthy aristocratic patrons.

Three possible reasons can be imagined for Honen's decision. First, his move to Kurodani may have implied criticism of the monastic corruption that prevailed on Mt. Hiei. As mentioned previously, at this time, the highest clerical ranks were monopolized by the aristocracy, and in addition, Enryakuji maintained warrior monks, so that the mountain became the scene of frequent strife. Second, his move might have been in response to the personal blow Honen received from the scattering of his family following the death of his father, Uruma no Tokikuni. Eiku, under whom Honen practiced at Kurodani, encouraged him to persevere in his Buddhist practice and studies in the face of his family misfortune.(HDZ. 787) Thirdly, Honen's seclusion was by no means an unprecedented act. For example, Eiku had done the same thing, and so had Ryonin, Eiku's teacher. Ryonin had, at the age of twenty-one, entered the Jogyodo on Mt. Hiei as a doshu, a lower class of monks assigned to a temple who were responsible for performing services, cleaning, and other routine functions. At twenty-three, however, he left Mt. Hiei and secluded himself at Ohara in Kyoto, a bessho devoted to nembutsu practices. Ryonin's decision to follow the path of a nembutsu hijiri influenced his disciple Eiku who himself retired to the Kurodani bessho. Thus Ryonin, Eiku and Honen all belonged to a tradition of monks who fled the worldliness of Mt. Hiei into bessho where they could devote themselves to nembutsu practice.

It is possible that Honen studied three aspects of Tendai Buddhism under Eiku: the exoteric teachings, the esoteric teachings, and the precepts for perfect and immediate enlightenment.

Regarding Tendai exoteric teachings, Eiku had inherited from Ryonin the teaching of the Ohara school, a minor line of the Eshin school. Ryonin, as mentioned earlier, is recorded as the founder of the Yuzu Nembutsu Sect. His works include a commentary on the Fa-hua hsuan-i and treatises on Buddhist ritual, including the ohara school of shomyo (Buddhist hymns). Ryonin's extant works do not give us a clear sense of his understanding of the exoteric teachings but his work on shomyo is definitive. This and the founding of the Yuzu Nembutsu movement were his two great accomplishments. If one enumerates the points in common between Ryonin and Honen, one can see the influence the former had on the latter. In following the tradition of his lineage, Honen followed in the footsteps of Ryonin by retiring from the world (Ryonin at age twenty-three and Honen at eighteen); by becoming nembutsu hijiri intent on spreading the teaching of the nembutsu to the common people; by performing a practice that gave verbal utterance to his faith (shomyo in Ryonin's case and the recited nembutsu in Honen's); by starting his own religious movement; and finally in experiencing a religious conversion (Ryonin experienced his religious conversion at forty-six, and Honen at forty-three).

Eiku may also have taught Honen Tendai esoteric teachings. Ryonin had received instruction in esoteric Tendai Buddhism from Eii of whom little is known. However, the Renge school, one of the thirteen schools of Tendai esotericism, is said to have been founded by a monk called Eii. If this Eii was the same person as Ryonin's teacher, it is possible that both Ryonin and Eiku inherited the esoteric teachings of the Renge school. A central doctrine of the Renge school was the concept of innate enlightenment (hongaku) which was significantly rejected by Honen.

Eiku is also regarded as the founder of the Kurodani school of teachings concerning the "precepts for perfect and immediate enlightenment" (endon kai), the Mahayana precepts established by Saicho (767-822), the founder of the Japanese Tendai Sect, on the basis of the Fan-wang ching. Eiku is said to have inherited a transmission concerning these precepts that began with Saicho, Ennin (794-864) and Choi (also called Ryoji, fl. 899) eventually passing to Zennin (1067-1139) and Eiku's teacher Ryonin. Within this lineage, three works interpreting the precepts of perfect and immediate enlightenment survive: the Fusatsu ryakusaho (attributed to Ryonin), the Endonkaiho hizo taikoshu and the Endonkai kikigaki, both attributed to Eiku. It is altogether possible it was from Eiku that Honen inherited these teachings concerning the Mahayana precepts. Furthermore, these teachings become significant when we see that Honen, while rejecting them as a practice for birth in the Pure Land in establishing his own doctrine, continued to maintain them throughout his life.
As we can see above, Honen's training was extensive and his pursuit was tireless.
Honen's main concern was not to achieve high social status as was that of many priests in those days. According to biographies of Honen, however, he did attain a high reputation as a monk of great learning on Mt. Hiei. But this was not what he was seeking. What he wanted was to find the way of universal salvation, the way through which everyone together can attain final liberation in the Pure Land.
We can validation of these thoughts in the quote from the JSRI above. Honen was not concerned with worldly matters. His main focus was on the Dharma.
In 1156, at the age of twenty-four, Honen went to Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, to learn more about Buddhism and to find this way of universal salvation. In route, he visited the Shaka-do hall at Seiryo-ji temple in Saga, a western suburb of kyoto, to pray for success in finding this way. At the Shaka-do Hall was enshrined a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. This statue had been brought there from China by Chonen of Todai-ji temple in Nara in 987 and was worshipped by everyone as a sacred image. In Nara, he visited the great temples such as Kofuku-ji and Todai-ji, as well as the great scholar-priests such as Kanga of the Sanron school (San-lun), Zoshun of the Hosso school (Fa-hsiang), and Keiga of the Kegon school (Hua-yen).
For some background on some of these sites:

Seiryo-ji temple in Saga
The Shakado at Seiryo-ji
The Seiryoji Shaka, a copy of the lost Udayana Buddha

Kofuku-ji temple in Nara

Todai-ji temple in Nara

For some background on some of these schools:

The Sanron School

The Hosso School

The Kegon School

The Six Sects of Nara

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Re: Raft from the Other Shore Study Group - Part 2

Post by steveb1 » Sun Nov 01, 2015 4:17 am

Thanks for all the info and the beautiful photos.

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Re: Raft from the Other Shore Study Group - Part 2

Post by Nosta » Tue Nov 03, 2015 7:34 pm

Good information and pictures ;). Thanks!

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Re: Raft from the Other Shore Study Group - Part 2

Post by Admin_PC » Tue Nov 03, 2015 7:54 pm

Got a couple of replies when I posted this somewhere else that I thought might add to the info provided and hopefully add to the discussion as well...
Raft from the Other Shore bases its biography of Honen Shonin on the most comprehensive biography, which is in 48 pictorial scrolls (incidentally, the most voluminous set of scrolls and designated a National Treasure of Japan, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Cate ... in_Version) and compiled about 100 years after Honen's death (translated into English in 1925 by Coates and Ishizuka http://www.jstor.org/stable/223722?seq= ... b_contents << here's a review). It's considered the most authoritative biography and Jodo Shu Research Institute has been updating and will republish it some time in the near future.

All that being said, the point I wanted to bring was that of the many biographies on Honen Shonin, one of the earliest, Ichigo monogatari 一期物語 (Story of [Honen Shonin's] Life) written only a few years after his death, states that Honen Shonin went to Mount Hiei at age 15 and that his father Tokikuni died after Honen Shonin was already at Hiei (if I remember correctly, age 18 but don't quote me on this). All the others are based on another early (if not earliest) biography Genku Shonin shi nikki (A Personal Account of Priest Genku [Honen Shonin]; which I incidentally studied and translated for my MA thesis in another lifetime and which appears in the journal Japanese Religions ("A Study and Translation of an Early Honen Biography, 1997)).

Whether Tokikuni passed away when Honen Shonin was 9 or 18 is not as important as the impact that the news of his passing most likely had on Honen Shonin. Some scholars argue that it seems hardly likely that a samurai's only son would be sent to the monastery -- again, the more important point is that Honen Shonin had some deep spiritual experience that made him seek a way to save all beings.

You probably already know of this article by the late Professor Alan Andrews on the JSRI site but just in case -- http://www.jsri.jp/English/Jodoshu/conf ... drews.html
For a long time, the earliest biography of Honen Shonin had been "Genku Shonin Shi Nikki" and this biography was famous because it was said to be quoted by Shinran Shonin in 1256 on his "Saiho Shinansho." But in 1917, at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto, a handwriting copy of Honen's biography was discovered. The title of this biography is "Honen Shonin Denki" and because it was found at Daigoji Temple, this biography has been called "Daigo-bon(book)".

The person who copied this "Honen Shonin Denki" was Gien (1558-1626), a scholarly Shingon Priest. Although his copy was not so accurate (many errors (kind of typos), many scholars confirmed that the original of this copy must have be written on "early Kamakura Period." Also the author of this biography has been considered to be "Seikanbo Genchi" whose name was appeared under the title, saying "This was based on what Seikanbo heard and saw." Therefore, Daigo-bon is now recognized as the earliest (oldest) biography of Honen Shonin.

This Daigo-bon biography consists of six random parts (chapters); "Ichigo Monogatari" "Zenshobo to no Mondo" "Sanjin Ryoken no koto" "Betsu-Denki" "Grinju Nikki" and "Sanmai Hottokuki."

They are very interesting but among them ,it is Betsu-Denki that said Honen Shonin went up to the Mount Hihei at the age of 15.

"Just before going to Mout Hiei, Honen Shonin stopped by at his father's place to say farewell. Then his compassionate father confessed , "I have an enemy. If you heard I was killed by the enemy, please pray for me."

Then he went up to the mountain. It happened when he was 15 years old. Under the guidance of Jigenbo Eiku, Honen Shonin received precepts and ordination. During the time, his (compassionate) father was attacked and killed. Honen Shonin was so schooled to know this news and asked Master Eiku for the permission if Honen can leave the place. This is how Honen Shonin started to live in seclusion. "

This was a rough translation from Betsu-Denki. This episode was excellently explained by Takeshi Umehara . (Because it is so interesting,)I think this can be translated into English sooner or later.

By the way, some parts of Honen Shonin Denki (In Japanese) can be found at

http://labo.wikidharma.org/index.php/%E ... D%E8%A8%98

I felt so grateful.....Daigo-bon is available online!
I just wanted to give more information on a different story of Honen Shonin.

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Raft from the Other Shore Study Group - Part 3

Post by Admin_PC » Sat Nov 07, 2015 5:52 pm

Part 3 - Breaking Away
Honen described his life of seeking for "the way" as follows: "Essentially Buddhism includes observation of precepts (sila), realization of concentration (samadhi), and attainment of wisdom (prajna). But I cannot accomplish these three-fold requirements. Is there any other way by which even I could be liberated? I visited many temples and priests, but no one gave me a satisfactory answer. So once again I have come back to the library at Kurodani to study harder than ever to find the way of salvation."
After studying with all of the earlier mentioned Buddhist masters, it's interesting that Honen still came back to the Tripitaka to study. The humility displayed by Honen here is truly amazing given his stature in the community before leaving Hiei.
He read all of the Buddhist scriptures (Tripitaka) three times and Shan-tao's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra five times. It was Shan-tao's text which finally revealed to him the way of universal salvation. This way is the practice of nembutsu. This realization occured when he was forty-three years old.
I know that Jodo Shu teachings encourage one to return to one's ignorant (bonpu) self, but I envy the opportunity to be able to read the whole canon and Shan-tao's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra. Wish I had the ability to read Chinese.
The nembutsu had been practice before Honen at Mt. Hiei and in Nara, but it had only secondary meaning as a religious discipline. No one regarded the nembutsu as an independent practice. They considered it to be one of many disciplines. It was Honen that established the nembutsu as an absolutely independent practice.
I'm curious if Kuya's teachings included a lot more than nembutsu practice?
Certainly from the JSRI page on the early masters, it doesn't seem like his teachings stressed much more than the nembutsu:

Honen definitely deserves credit for founding an entire formal school sheerly on the basis of nembutsu as an independent practice.
After realizing the truth of the nembutsu, Honen left Mt. Hiei for Kyoto and began to spread the teaching of the nembutsu there. In the spring of 1175, he founded Jodo Shu, or the Pure Land Denomination, in Japan. The center of his teaching was at Yoshimizu, where Chion-in, the Head Temple of Jodo Shu, now stands.
For some background on some of these locations:

The Inn of Yoshimizu

Chion-In Official site

Chion-in wiki


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Raft from the Other Shore Study Group - Part 4

Post by Admin_PC » Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:09 pm

Part 4 - A Path for all
Honen's teaching attracted many people. Those who came to Honen's center to listen to his teachings included not only priests and nobles, but also warriors, an ex-robber, fishermen and even prostitutes.
Honen really laid the blueprint for ministerial outreach in Japan. He taught anybody who wanted to listen.
Among the priests attracted to Honen's teaching, Shoku, Shoko, and Shinran are important, because they later developed denominations of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. Shoku (1177-1247) became Honen's disciple in 1190 at the age of fourteen when Honen was fifty-eight. He studied Pure Land Buddhism under the guidance of Honen for twenty-three years and is respected as the founder of the Seizan branch of Jodo Shu. Shoko (1162-1238) came to study with Honen in 1197 when he was thirty-six years of age. After learning and succeeding to Honen's teaching, he went to Kyushu and spread the dharma of the nembutsu. He is considered the second patriarch of Jodo Shu, Honen being the first. Shinran (1173-1262) became a disciple of Honen in 1201 at the age of twenty-nine. He is regarded as the founder of Jodoshin-shu, or the True Pure Land Denomination.
Shoku, founder of the Seizan branch of Jodo Shu was one of Honen's only close disciples who was not exiled. He was well versed in the entire Buddhist canon and classified the Pure Land teachings in such a way that his teachings were recognized by the Tendai establishment on Mount Hiei. He's one of many of Honen's whose writings I would love to read some day.

Shoko represents the main Chinzei branch of Jodo Shu, which he established in Kyushu. He remained very faithful to Honen's teachings, but he too wrote important works that I'd love to read some day.

Of these 3, Shinran is probably the most well-known as the founder of Jodo Shin Shu, the largest school of Buddhism in Japan.
The Japanese imperial family's association with Honen occurred when Honen was requested to conduct the ceremony of taking the Buddhist precepts by three emperors: Goshirakawa, Takakura, and Gotoba. Among the nobility who were drawn to Honen's teaching, Kujo Kanezane was a well-known and important figure. He held various positions in the aristocratic government of the Heian period and became prime minister in 1189. Kanezane had a chance to participate in the ceremony of taking the precepts from Honen about five times. he was also instrumental in getting the place of Honen's exile changed from Tosa to Sanuki province. Further, it was Kanezane who requested Honen to write a book about the nembutsu, which became the Senchaku Hongan Nembutsu-shu (Passages on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow), the basic text of Honen's nembutsu thought.
Interestingly, Gotoba mentioned above is the same one that exiled Honen and his Nembutsu disciples.
Kumagai Naozane illustrates the type of warrior influenced by Honen. He was a brave warrior and had killed many people. His great fear was of going to hell after death. However, when he heard Honen's sermon that even a sinful man could attain salvation through the teaching of the nembutsu, he was moved to tears and became Honen's disciple. Masako, wife of warrior Minamoto no Yoritomo, who founded the Kamakura government, was also a follower of Honen.
Growing up in a military family, I often don't feel a lot in common with other western converts to Buddhism. My values are often different, as are my priorities. Kumagai Naozane (aka Rensei), fictionally depicted in the Heike Monogatari epic, is one of those that I look up to. His determination in vowing to be reborn in the highest grade of the highest level in Sukhavati so he could immediately come back to help sentient beings is really admirable after a life of so much brutality.
Among Honen's lay followers, there was a fortune teller named Awanosuke. He was said to be a stupid but faithful devotee of the nembutsu and is considered to be the inventor of the double-stranded juzu (rosary), instead of the usual single-stranded juzu, which is popular among Jodo Shu followers. One day Honen asked Shoko, "Which nembutsu practice is better Awanosuke's or Honen's?" Shoko replied, "Of course, Honen's nembutsu practice is better than Awanosuke's." Upon hearing this, Honen reproved him, saying, "How long have you been studying the meaning of the nembutsu? There is not the slightest difference between the two, because both of us have the same intention of wanting to attain Birth in the Buddha's Pure Land." This story indicates that the value of the nembutsu lies beyond the grasp of intellectual ability.
There are a lot of funny anecdotes about Awanosuke, such as that he had multiple wives and was a bit of a womanizer and a fast-talking swindler. It's no wonder that Shoko would have a hard time comparing Awanosuke to his beloved teacher.

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Re: Raft from the Other Shore Study Group - Part 4

Post by steveb1 » Wed Nov 18, 2015 8:37 am

PorkChop, thanks for thie interesting information, osme of which I had not been familiar.


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