Dear master, I read the following sentences from Pure Land narratives but don’t understand what it means. I know Vietnamese but just don’t understand the concept why Zen masters all switched over to Pure Land.
Could you please expound on these?
“Of the 13 patriarchs of the Pure Land School, there are seven who are accomplished Chan Masters.
Cheng Yuan 承遠, Yong Ming 永明, Lian Chi 蓮池, Ou Yi 藕益, Xing Ce 行策, Sheng An
省庵 and Che Wu 徹悟.
Why did they get enlightened through the Chan Dharma Door but chose not to teach Chan but instead decided to propagate Pure Land? Three reasons were given:
1. Dharma Door aspect: Chan is most appropriate for those with superior superior roots, those with middle and inferior roots have no chance to penetrate this Dharma Door (“Phi thượng thượng căn, thận vật khinh hứa” – Tổ ngữ). In contrast, Pure Land can be appropriate for all three types of roots. Those with superior roots who cultivate Pure Land can see their nature, attain the Buddha recitation samadhi, and will be reborn onto the superior grade at the end of their life. Even for those with extremely inferior roots, if they can recite the Buddha’s name, they too can carry their karma along with their rebirth, and attain irreversibility. Upon rebirth, they can draw near Amitabha Buddha, have sagely companions, live for limitless kalpas. Therefore there is no need to worry about not seeing one’s self nature and certify to the sagely positions! Because of they will for sure obtain these tremendous benefits that the patriarchs promoted the Pure Land School.
2. Time aspect: During the Proper Dharma Age, the overwhelming majority of those who practiced certified to the fruitions. Those who did not planted the Chan seeds for future practices. During the Dharma Semblance Age, few people can awaken to the Way. During the Dharma Ending Age, as is said in the Great Accumulation Sutra: “One hundred million of hundred million people practice, it’s rare that one person awaken to the Way”. One may awaken to the Way, but one does not necessarily certify to the positions, one’s afflictions are still prevalent, while revolving in the wheel one is confused by the retributions, therefore nine out of ten will regress. As a result, from the end of the Dharma Semblance Age to the Dharma Ending Age, the good knowing advisers gradually change directions and started teaching Pure Land. At those times the Chan School was still popular, the patriarchs therefore devised expedients: first they obtained awakening through Chan, and then started propagating Pure Land, in order to persuade the people at those times.
3. Potential and conditions aspect: From the onset of the Dharma Ending Age, the majority of the people are of middle to inferior roots. In order to benefit living beings in their lifetime, the Bodhisattvas need to accord with their potential by advocating Pure Land. The other Schools also need to be cultivated, however it is no longer of primordial importance, because they fail to provide universal and great benefits to living beings.
The wise and honored ones from the other Schools understand this too well. They therefore still propagate their own doctrine while leaning toward Pure Land. Just like a Chan Master said: “Those who practice the Cao Dong Chan School are secretly practicing Pure Land, because Pure Land makes it easier to see the Buddha than Chan” (Ðộng hạ nhất tông giai cụ mật tu, dĩ Tịnh Ðộ kiến Phật vưu giản vị ư Tông môn).
Another Dharma Master advocated the Tian Tai School and recited the Buddha’s name. At the end of his life, he recited a verse of encouragement to the Great Assembly:
Because of reciting the Buddha’s name,
I get to see the Pure Land.
This is a true response!
The Great Assembly should recite ever more vigorously!
I am not qualified to adequately comment on the teachings of the patriarchs and venerated sanghans. However, since you asked, I’ll try to present my limited views and shallow understanding.
Concerning the three reasons why Chan patriarchs decided to propagate Pure Land instead of Chan, I do not necessarily agree with all the reasons listed. First because some was lost in the translation from Chinese into Vietnamese. Another reason is the teachings were for another time and culture and therefore the language used is not that clear to the modern day cultivators. I’ll try to present my view in a more direct and concise manner:
1. Dharma Door: I agree that Pure Land is more suitable to a wider range of potentials than Chan which is most appropriate for those with superior roots only. I also agree with the rest as well. It is the reasons that are often provided too. Personally, I’d like to add that the real reason that the above-mentioned patriarchs teach Pure Land instead of Chan is out of their great compassion. Clearly, teaching Pure Land means that they have to teach more pupils. It is a lot more trouble than those of us who do not have to teach can ever imagine.
2. Times: I differ from your quote here. In this Dharma Ending Age, living beings no longer are able to cultivate in a sustained fashion. Chan requires long periods of vigorous cultivation and few are able to do it any more. For example, our Chan Qi typically goes from 3 am until midnight for seven days. Few people are able to keep up with it. The majority is simply scared and would not dare go anywhere near it. In contrast, reciting the Buddha’s name is not as demanding and therefore more suitable to the masses.
3. Potential and conditions: Granted that we are not as blessed in this day and age. I am not so sure about the claim that Chan practitioners secretly practice Pure Land. I’ll submit to you that it is very unlikely to obtain liberation this lifetime for the majority of us. Therefore the patriarchs urge us to seek rebirth as soon as possible so as to get out of the sea of birth and death. Another very important reason why they advocate rebirth to the Pure Land is because we can then attain irreversibility. As long as as we still revolve in the wheel, we often regress in our cultivation.
I wholeheartedly agree with the patriarchs. In fact, those who are truly blessed will understand the importance of maximizing their chances of obtaining rebirth this very lifetime.