What is Mixed Practice?

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What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Sun May 28, 2017 7:24 am

In a Pure Land Buddhist context, what is the meaning of mixed practice? Is reciting the Heart Sutra, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, or other common Mahayana Buddhist practices, mixed practice?

This passage from Shandao's parable of the white path, along with other Pure Land Buddhist writings, suggest that any Buddhist practice which we direct toward rebirth into the Pure Land can be a Pure Land practice:
The man proceeding on the path toward the West is comparable to one who directs all of his actions and practices toward the West[ern Paradise].
http://web.mit.edu/stclair/www/shantao.html
Shandao, in addition to reciting the Nianfo, practiced visualization of the Pure Land, and as a Chinese monk, adhered to the five precepts. The Pure Land sutras themselves also speak of dedicating merit toward our future rebirth into the Pure Land, in addition to reciting the Nianfo.

I really appreciate your help in sorting these things out, and I understand there may be differences in interpretation between various Pure Land sects. :thanks:

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Sun May 28, 2017 8:44 am

This article is intended to clear up possible misconceptions related to mixed practice:

30 Misconceptions Of So-Called ‘Pristine’ Pure Land Buddhism
https://purelanders.com/2017/04/17/30-m ... -buddhism/
3] Is it so that Great Master Shandao’s interpretation of the Pure Land teachings is completely different from that of other lineage masters? No, or the whole Chinese Pure Land tradition would not be able to continue to thrive in harmony, with each great master supporting one another’s teachings.

[4] Is it so that to undertake mixed practices is like begging everywhere, without finding a haven? No. This is a false dichotomy (fake division), as mixed practices can and are supposed to support the main practice of Nianfo if dedicated for the same purpose of reaching Pure Land. It is not a case of having either mixed practices or the main practice only.

[5] Is it so that we should depend completely on Amituofo’s power, to stop ‘counting on’ self-power? No, as we are supposed to depend on both Amituofo’s other-power and our self-power, as Pure Land practice is dependent on self-and-other-power working together...

[7] Is it so that those with practices of other schools cannot practise Nianfo? No, as Nianfo practice can be practised by all, for reaching Pure Land, as long as the Three Provisions are there...

[10] Is it so that we do not need to dedicate merits from non-Nianfo practices to reach Pure Land? No, as all merits from all practices, which include Nianfo and non-Nianfo practices should be dedicated for reaching Pure Land...

[20] Is it so that other Buddhist schools’ practices make Pure Land practice complicated and ‘not easy’? No, as the main Pure Land practice is always the Easy Path, even if, as wished, supported by other more complex practices. In fact, having more supportive practices can help attain higher grades of rebirth easier. Not having them makes this more difficult...

[25] Is it so that Great Master Shandao taught that all should only Nianfo exclusively? No, as he never taught that mixed practices should be abandoned, though he did teach the importance of being focused. In fact, mixed practices can support the main practice of Nianfo. No Pure Land Patriarch ever taught to avoid all non-Nianfo practices as supportive practices...

Not that Nianfo by itself is not enough to reach Pure Land, but the natural and diligent creating of more merits from other mixed practices in everyday life also help to lessen suffering for many others, and to lessen personal obstacles on the deathbed. Insisting all to enter Pure Land only by the 18th vow forcibly simplifies Pure Land practice for the more sophisticated, who already practise more than the main practice and do not wish to give up their mixed practices.
https://purelanders.com/2017/04/17/30-m ... -buddhism/
Please keep in mind that the above commentary is based on the three Pure Land sutras, as well as Pure Land masters throughout history.

As one can see in the final emboldened paragraph, the purpose of the article is not to discourage or disparage those who exclusively rely on the Nianfo for their future rebirth into the Pure Land.

Instead, it's to provide encouragement for the "more sophisticated," so that they do not miss out on the benefits of Pure Land practice. May you be happy and well. :anjali:

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Tue Jun 06, 2017 5:32 am

In China and Vietnam, Pure Land Buddhism and devotion to Guanyin are not seen in conflict.

This is because of the prominent role which Guanyin plays in the Pure Land sutras. It's often taught that, if you recite the name of Guanyin instead of Amida's name, you can still be reborn in the Pure Land.

Also, please keep in mind that, in early versions of the Infinite Life Sutra, Guanyin is set to replace Amida in the future as Buddha of the Pure Land, when Amida passes into Parinirvana:
http://www3.nccu.edu.tw/~ckeng/doc/Nattier_PureLand.pdf

The Sutra of the Prophecy of Avalokiteśvara also says that Guanyin is future Buddha of the Pure Land, after Amida passes into final Nirvana:
http://www.sutrasmantras.info/sutra07.html

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by DGA » Tue Jun 06, 2017 10:42 pm

The simple answer is that Pure Land practice has a somewhat different rationale and context in Japanese Buddhism than elsewhere. That's OK. Vietnamese Buddhism offers many viable paths, as do Korean and Chinese Buddhisms. One of the messages of the Lotus Sutra is that the Buddha leads all beings to Buddhahood by appropriate means.

This is why 1. we have a plenitude of varying, and viable, paths and 2. it is important not to make a habit of disparaging other practitioners or schools who approach things differently for their own reasons. This isn't an evangelical or missionary project.

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Admin_PC » Tue Jun 06, 2017 11:09 pm

DGA wrote:The simple answer is that Pure Land practice has a somewhat different rationale and context in Japanese Buddhism than elsewhere. That's OK. Vietnamese Buddhism offers many viable paths, as do Korean and Chinese Buddhisms.
Brings up an interesting point in regards to the article posted earlier. The article did not take into account the loss of ShanTao's writings from the general corpus of mainland east-asian Buddhist knowledge, dating to the Song dynasty. So point #3 is fairly easy to dismiss as ShanTao was remembered in name-only for the most part in mainland east-asian Buddhism, from the Song dynasty onward.
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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by DGA » Wed Jun 07, 2017 1:30 am

Admin_PC wrote:
DGA wrote:The simple answer is that Pure Land practice has a somewhat different rationale and context in Japanese Buddhism than elsewhere. That's OK. Vietnamese Buddhism offers many viable paths, as do Korean and Chinese Buddhisms.
Brings up an interesting point in regards to the article posted earlier. The article did not take into account the loss of ShanTao's writings from the general corpus of mainland east-asian Buddhist knowledge, dating to the Song dynasty. So point #3 is fairly easy to dismiss as ShanTao was remembered in name-only for the most part in mainland east-asian Buddhism, from the Song dynasty onward.
That's a straightforward and sensible explanation for the difference since it's a straight line from the writings of Shan Tao to Honen and Shinran.

Namu Amida Butsu!

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by rory » Wed Jun 07, 2017 4:00 am

Let's also remember that Pure Land was and is today a part of Tendai practice in Japan; it has preserved all the many varieties: esoteric, meditation, visualization, contemplative, vocal....

Also Guanyin has her own Pure Land, it's Mt. Potalaka (check the Avatamsaka Sutra) in Japan during the feudal period, many would set off south in a boat to make for her land and this mountain (Mt. Putuo).

Calling on Kannon-sama and wishing to be born in her pure land is equally effective. It is only with the very popular Honen, Shinran, Dogen, Nichiren all Tendai monks who left Mt. Hiei that single practice became the norm in Japanese Buddhism.
gassho
Rory
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Sun Jun 11, 2017 12:48 pm

I am interested in practicing whatever is common for lay people in Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism.

There is sort of a general Mahayana Buddhism in China and Vietnam, especially due to the mutual influence of Pure Land and Ch'an, where people may not be exclusively devoted to just one Buddha or just one form of practice.

For example, Dharma master Yin-shun encouraged devotion to Amitabha to prepare for death, and devotion to Medicine Buddha to alleviate calamity and prolong life, depending on whatever the individual finds more suitable to their own practice.

Dharma Master Sheng-yen was a disciple of Master Yin-shun, and one can see in his Youtube videos a broad acceptance and approval of a wide variety of practices and teachings, all for the purpose of better engaging the lay people in Buddhism.

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Mon Jun 12, 2017 8:43 am

I have a heartfelt connection to Guanyin that I don't quite feel the same for Amida. I've mentioned this in the past on this forum.

Is it possible to have a karmic connection to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva? How does one know that they have a karmic connection like that? I appreciate your help. :thanks:

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by rory » Mon Jun 12, 2017 11:08 pm

Dharma Flower wrote:I have a heartfelt connection to Guanyin that I don't quite feel the same for Amida. I've mentioned this in the past on this forum.

Is it possible to have a karmic connection to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva? How does one know that they have a karmic connection like that? I appreciate your help. :thanks:
Of course it is, the buddhas and bodhisattvas you know: Amida, Guanyin, Jizo/Dizang/Kshitigarbha/ Địa Tạng, have made vows to help beings in this Saha world, especially, so that's the karmic connection! Kstitigarbha's is with Hell realms, also filled with humans.

Here is famous Ch. 25, about Guanyin, from the Lotus Sutra;
Guanshiyin is pure and sagely.
In times of suffering, agony, danger, and death,
He is our refuge and protector.

Complete with all merit and virtue,
His kind eyes watching living beings,
He is endowed with massive blessings, limitless as the sea.
Therefore we should reverently worship him.
http://www.buddhistdoor.com/OldWeb/reso ... otus25.htm

If you feel a pull to say a less popular bodhisattva it may be due to devotion in a previous life, but don't refine on that. It's perfectly fine and normal to be devoted to Guanyin, she is popular the world over. Most Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists look to Guanyin for help in this life and Amida for help when dying, so your feelings are quite common. Frankly you don't even have to pray to Amida as in the modern era the thinking is that if you pray to Guanyin to go to the Pure Land at death you will go to the Western Pure Land. Earlier the thinking was that Guanyin's Pure Land of Mt. Potalaka was in the South of this Saha world so it was even easier to get to than Amida's Pure Land.
I have deep faith in Guanyin!
gassho
Rory
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Tue Jun 13, 2017 8:11 am

rory wrote:
If you feel a pull to say a less popular bodhisattva it may be due to devotion in a previous life, but don't refine on that. It's perfectly fine and normal to be devoted to Guanyin, she is popular the world over. Most Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists look to Guanyin for help in this life and Amida for help when dying, so your feelings are quite common. Frankly you don't even have to pray to Amida as in the modern era the thinking is that if you pray to Guanyin to go to the Pure Land at death you will go to the Western Pure Land. Earlier the thinking was that Guanyin's Pure Land of Mt. Potalaka was in the South of this Saha world so it was even easier to get to than Amida's Pure Land.
I have deep faith in Guanyin!
gassho
Rory
Thank you for your response. As for what to do after death, I like the idea of continuing to be reborn into this world like a ferryman-like Bodhisattva, in order to emulate the example of Guanyin.

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by rory » Wed Jun 14, 2017 4:44 am

Thank you for your response. As for what to do after death, I like the idea of continuing to be reborn into this world like a ferryman-like Bodhisattva, in order to emulate the example of Guanyin.
I'm happy to explain, but you are confused, Guanyin takes on appearances in this world to help beings but she is not born here, she does if from her Pure Land.
Ch'an people wish to be reborn in this Saha world (though they must spend an awful lot of time purifying their karma and are optimistic that they will be born in good circs: education, money, hearing the Dharma etc)

Pure Landers make vows and are born in the various Pure Lands and then help people in this world from there No way am I ever coming back, i've had a good birth and want to go forward without retrogression, there is NO guarantee if you are not born into a pure land.

You are free to do as you wish, but if ultimately you do not wish to be born in a Pure Land then this forum is really not for you or to express such sentiments as we encourage one another's faith here .
with gassho
Rory
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by shaunc » Wed Jun 14, 2017 6:10 am

I truly hope that this is my last spin around planet earth and my next stop is in the western pureland.
If there's any boddhisatvaing to be done, I'd like to do it in this life.

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Wed Jun 14, 2017 11:55 am

rory wrote: You are free to do as you wish, but if ultimately you do not wish to be born in a Pure Land then this forum is really not for you or to express such sentiments as we encourage one another's faith here .
with gassho
Rory
Please allow me to provide some details from The Infinite Life Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the Buddha-lands of other quarters who visit my land should not ultimately and unfailingly reach the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after One More Life, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment...

The Buddha said to Ananda, "All the bodhisattvas in the land of Amitayus will ultimately attain the Stage of Becoming a Buddha After One More Life.
http://web.mit.edu/stclair/www/larger.html
According to the above passages, one does not instantly attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land. It is instead a training ground for Bodhisattvas who will still have at least "one more life," one more rebirth into the saha world, before attaining Buddhahood.

The Infinite Life Sutra also says that some Bodhisattvas choose to be reborn more times than one more life after going to the Pure Land:
The Buddha said to Ananda, "All the bodhisattvas in the land of Amitayus will ultimately attain the Stage of Becoming a Buddha After One More Life. Excepted are those who have made original vows for the sake of sentient beings, resolving to cultivate the merit of realizing their great vows to save all sentient beings.
http://web.mit.edu/stclair/www/larger.html

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Admin_PC » Wed Jun 14, 2017 1:52 pm

I don't think anyone is arguing for instantaneous Buddhahood in the Pure Land.
What is being disputed is that people in the Pure Land somehow don't help sentient beings in this world.
Larger Sukhavati Sutra wrote:22. After I become a Buddha, if Bodhisattvas from other Buddha Lands who are reborn in my land should eventually fail to be in the holy position of waiting to attain Buddhahood in their next life, I would not attain the perfect enlightenment. Excepted are Bodhisattvas who choose not to be in that position because of their original vows. For the sake of delivering all sentient beings, they don their armor of great vows and develop their roots of virtue. They visit Buddha Lands, train in the Bodhisattva Way, and make offerings to Buddha-Tathāgatas [in worlds] in the ten directions. They develop and transform as many sentient beings as the sands of the Ganges, setting them on the Way to the unsurpassed bodhi. Transcending the regular course through the Bodhisattva Grounds, they currently cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.
Bodhisattvas from the Pure Land are free to help beings in other realms if they so wish as Bodhisattvas.

The whole point of Pure Land is attaining the state of avinivartanīya:
Rulu's definition wrote:avinivartanīya (阿鞞跋致). The spiritual level from which a Bodhisattva will never regress (不退). Bodhisattvas with the first six or more of the ten faithful minds will never regress from faith; Bodhisattvas at the seventh and higher levels of abiding will never abandon the Mahāyāna; Bodhisattvas on the first and higher Bodhisattva grounds will never lose their spiritual realization; Bodhisattvas on the eighth and higher Bodhisattva grounds will never lose their mindfulness, and their progress will be effortless (see stages of the Bodhisattva Way).
Thus we can see, this is significant progress along the Bodhisattva path. It means one will never fall back into states of woe and will definitely continue on towards complete perfect awakening. This is guaranteed as per the following sutras:
The Shorter Sukhavati Sutra wrote:“Furthermore, Śāriputra, sentient beings reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss are at the spiritual level of avinivartanīya. Many among them are in the holy position of waiting to attain Buddhahood in their next life. Their numbers are so large that they are unknowable by calculation, and can be reckoned only in terms of measureless, limitless asaṁkhyeyas. Śāriputra, sentient beings that have heard [of that land] should resolve to be reborn in that land. Why? To be in the same place together with people of superior virtues. Śāriputra, no one with the condition of few roots of goodness and a meager store of merits can be reborn in that land.
furthermore
The Shorter Sukhavati Sutra wrote:“Śāriputra, what is your opinion? Why is this sūtra called a sūtra protected and remembered by all Buddhas? Śāriputra, if there are good men and good women who have heard and upheld this sūtra, and have heard Buddhas’ names, they are protected and remembered by all Buddhas. They will never regress from their resolve to attain anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi. Therefore, Śāriputra, you all should believe and accept my words and other Buddhas’ words. If there are those who have resolved, are now resolving, or will resolve to be reborn in Amitābha Buddha’s land, they will never regress from their resolve to attain anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi, whether they have already been reborn, are now being reborn, or will be reborn in that land. Therefore, Śāriputra, if, among good men and good women, there are those who believe [my words], they should resolve to be reborn in that land.
For the low rebirth in the low rank, according to the Visualization Sutra:
Buddha Pronounces the Sūtra of Visualization of Amitāyus Buddha wrote:When the lotus flower opens, Bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Great Might Arrived, with tones of great compassion, will expound to him the true reality of dharmas and the Dharma for expunging sins. Having heard the teachings, he will be delighted and immediately activate the bodhi mind. This is called a low rebirth in the low rank.

and finally, the initial provision from Vow 22 of the Larger Sukhavati Sutra as quoted above.

Vowing to be reborn in the Saha world based solely on one's karma, without achieving avinivartanīya is considered a crap shoot in regards to staying on the path towards complete perfect awakening. Whatever the circumstances of one's birth after the Pure Land, one will definitely continue towards complete perfect awakening:
Rulu's definition wrote: anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi (阿耨多羅三藐三菩提). The unsurpassed, equally perfect enlightenment (無上正等正覺). Anuttara means unsurpassed; samyak is derived from the stem samyañc, which means same or identical; saṁbodhi means perfect enlightenment. Equally means that the perfect enlightenment of all Buddhas is the same. The third epithet of a Buddha is Samyak-Saṁbuddha, the Equally, Perfectly Enlightened One.
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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by rory » Wed Jun 14, 2017 10:00 pm

Thank you Admin_PC for providing all the textual evidence and proof;

Dharma Flower is confused; you have one more life as a Bodhisattva in the Pure Land, you spend it there, you are not reborn in the Saha world, you can become a Buddha by practising as a bodhisattva in the Pure Land.

The entire point of the Pure Land is to be born there and stay there in a non-retrogressive state, so you can go to higher grades of bodhisattvahood. And help others. You can do both.

And once you are a Buddha you don't practice as a Bodhisattva (Buddhas usually make vows and have their own worlds, where they stay), which is why the assumption is that most of us will remain at the stage of Bodhisattvas in the Pure Land and help suffering beings in the Saha world or as Admin_PC showed in other lands, places.

So this is what you need to decide if you wish to return to the Saha world for rebirth or remain in the Pure Land with assurance.
gassho
Rory
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Thu Jun 15, 2017 1:50 am

Admin_PC wrote: What is being disputed is that people in the Pure Land somehow don't help sentient beings in this world.
I don't remember making that claim, so I am sorry for causing any possible confusion. When the Infinite Life Sutra says "after one more life," where is that life to be, in the Pure Land or in the saha world? I am only interested in better understanding what the text itself is intending to say, since I might be misunderstanding the meaning. I appreciate your help. :thanks:

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Thu Jun 15, 2017 1:59 am

rory wrote: Dharma Flower is confused
I might not be confused if I am repeating the teachings of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.
Life in Pure Land will end when the Stage of Becoming Buddhas After One More Life is attained, whereupon one will leave Pure Land, to choose a suitable place in the human realm to manifest walking the last portion of the Bodhisattva path towards Buddhahood. Buddhahood is not manifested in Pure Land, as it is always manifested where there are unenlightened beings to whom great compassion and wisdom can be expressed to inspire and guide them to enlightenment.
http://purelanders.com/2011/12/18/is-li ... d-eternal/
In this video, Master Sheng-Yen that the Pure Land is a training ground for Bodhisattvas, who must then return to this world to attain Buddhahood. He says that only in the human realm can one fully attain Buddhahood:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ExLydYBL7E

I am sorry if I am misrepresenting these teachings.

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Dharma Flower » Thu Jun 15, 2017 2:08 am

I think we might just be encountering a difference of how Pure Land Buddhism is interpreted between different sects and traditions of Pure Land Buddhism.

Just as there are differences of interpretation between single practice and mixed practice, there are differences of interpretation as to whether someone must return to the saha world to attain Buddhahood after being reborn in the Pure Land.

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Re: What is Mixed Practice?

Post by Admin_PC » Thu Jun 15, 2017 4:26 am

Dharma Flower wrote:
Admin_PC wrote: What is being disputed is that people in the Pure Land somehow don't help sentient beings in this world.
I don't remember making that claim, so I am sorry for causing any possible confusion. When the Infinite Life Sutra says "after one more life," where is that life to be, in the Pure Land or in the saha world? I am only interested in better understanding what the text itself is intending to say, since I might be misunderstanding the meaning. I appreciate your help. :thanks:
Re-read what I quoted in red.
The Infinite Life (Larger Sukhavati) Sutra itself says that "after one more life" is not set in stone.
Here is another translation of the 22nd vow:
BDK Translation wrote:22. If, when I attain buddhahood, bodhisattvas in the buddha lands of
the other directions who visit my land should not ultimately and unfailingly
reach the stage of becoming a buddha after one more life, may I not attain
perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who wish to teach and guide sentient
beings in accordance with their original vows. For they will wear the
armor of great vows, accumulate merit, deliver all beings from birth and
death, visit buddha lands to perform the bodhisattva practices, make offerings
to buddha tathāgatas throughout the ten directions, enlighten countless
sentient beings as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River, and establish
them in highest, perfect enlightenment. Such bodhisattvas transcend the
course of practice of ordinary bodhisattvas, manifest the practices of all the
bodhisattva stages, and cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra.
It's an exception to the "one more life" statement. Those following lives can be anywhere, BUT they will not be in a state of retrogression, they will continue to progress towards Buddhahood, and they will do so with their faculties and wisdoms as told in my earlier post.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sheng-Yen's only partially right (he's not really a Pure Land expert after all and was known to have said "no true Chan follower would ever rely on another Buddha") - Buddhas must be born as humans in order to exhibit the standard, archetypal displays of a Supreme Nirmanakaya Buddha. According to various other Mahayana & Vajrayana sources, Buddhas actually become Supremely Awakened in the Pure Land of Akanistha. Regardless, the acts of a Buddha's life in the human realm are merely a display in Mahayana. The Mahayana position is that Shakyamuni himself was actually awakened in the distant past, his life here on earth just acting out a play (he says so explicitly in the Lotus Sutra). The story of the Naga princess of the Lotus Sutra also reinforces this idea.

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Shantao's main practice however was recitation, not visualization. The idea that he taught nembutsu, but practiced something else is not verified by his writings:
Jodo Shu Research Institute wrote:Consequently, Shan-tao asserted that the recitation of the nembutsu referred to in the Meditation Sutra corresponds to the intent referred to in the original vow (hongan) expounded in the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wu-liang-shou ching). For that reason he defined it as the practice essential to attaining birth in the Pure Land. He regarded the various visualization practices expounded in the Meditation Sutra as auxiliary to nembutsu recitation. In this way, Shan-tao brought a new stage of development to the idea that an ordinary deluded person can attain salvation through the Pure Land teachings.

At the very end of the Meditation Sutra, Shakyamuni says to his disciple Ananda, "You must uphold these words. To uphold them is to uphold the name of Amida Buddha." Shan-tao interpreted this passage to mean that Shakyamuni was recommending not just the mental visualization of Amida Buddha, but especially the verbal recitation of Amida Buddha's name. Shan-tao explains this in the last part of his Commentary on the Meditation Sutra as follows:
Shantao's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra (Taisho 1753) wrote:Although this sutra has carefully expounded the thirteen visualizations of the Pure Land and the nine levels of practice proper for the nine levels of beings, its most important explanation is reserved for the last lines of this sutra. It concerns the very heart of Amida Buddha's vow; that one must recite the name, the nembutsu.(T. 365, 12:346b)
月影の いたらぬ里は なけれども 眺むる人の 心にぞすむ
法然上人

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