Introduction to Pure Land
Master Chin Kung
The Pure Land Tradition:
The goal of all Buddhist practice is to achieve Enlightenment and
transcend the cycle of Birth and Death - that is, to attain Buddhahood.
In the Mahayana tradition, the precondition for Buddhahood is the Bodhi
Mind, the aspiration to achieve Enlightenment for the benefit of
all sentient beings, oneself included.
Since sentient beings are of different spiritual capacities and
inclinations, many levels of teaching and numerous methods were devised in
order to reach everyone.
Traditionally, the sutras speak of 84,000. I.e., an infinite number,
depending on the circumstances, the times and target audience.
All these methods are expedients - different medicines for different
individuals with different illnesses at different times - but all are
intrinsically perfect and complete. Within each method, the success or
failure of an individual's cultivation depends on his depth of practice
and understanding, that is, on his mind.
Self power, other power :
Throughout history, the Patriarchs have elaborated various systems to
categorize Dharma methods and the sutras in which they are expounded. One
convenient division is into methods based on self-effort (self-power) and
those rely on the assistance of the Buddhas and Budhisattvas
Traditionally, most Buddhist schools and methods take the self-power
approach: progress along the path of Enlightenment is achieved only
through intense and sustained personal effort. Because of the dedication
and effort involved schools of this self-power, self-effort tradition all
have a distinct monastic bias.
The laity has generally played only a supportive role, which the most
spiritually advanced ideally joining the Order of monks and nuns. Best
knowns of these traditions are Theravada and Zen.
Parallel to this, particularly following the development of Mahayana
thought and the rise of any Buddhism, a more flexible tradition eventually
came into being, combine self-power with other-power - the
assistance and support provided by the Buddhas and Budhisattvas to sincere
seekers of the way.
Most representative of this tradition are the Esoteric and Pure Land
schools. However unlike the former (or Zen), Pure Land does not stress the
master-disciple relationship and de-emphasizes the role of sub-schools,
gurus/roshia and rituals. Moreover, the main aim of Pure Land - rebirth
in Buddha land through self effort and the power of Amitabha Buddha's Vows
(rather than attainment of Enlightenment or Buddhahood in the current
lifetime) - is a realistic goal, though to be understood at several
levels. Therein lies the appeal and strength of Pure Land.
Pure Land in a Nutshell
Pure Land, like all Mahayana schools, requires first and foremost the
development of the Bodhi Mind, the aspiration to attain Buddhahood for the
benefit of all sentient beings.
From this starting point, the main tenets of the school can be understood
at the main levels, the transcendental and the popular - depending on the
background and capacities of the cultivator.
In its popular form, i.e. for ordinary practitioners in this spiritually
Degenerate Age, some twenty-six centuries after the demise of the
historical Buddha, Pure Land involves seeking rebirth in the Land of
Amitabha Buddha. This is achieving within one lifetime through the
practice of Amitabha recitation with sincere faith and
vows, leading to one-pointedness of mind or samadhi.
at the popular level, the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha is an ideal
training ground, an ideal environment where the practitioner is reborn
thanks both to his own efforts and the power of Amitabha Buddha's vows. No
longer subject to retrogression, having left Birth and Death behind
forever, the cultivator can now focus all his efforts towards the ultimate
aim of Buddhahood. This aspect of Pure Land is the form under which the
school is popularly known.
At the advanced level, i.e. for cultivators of high spiritual capacity,
the Pure Land method, like other methods, reverts the ordinary, deluded
mind to the Self-nature True Mind. In the process wisdom and Buddhahood
are eventually attained.
high-level form of Pure Land is practiced by those of deep spiritual
"When the mind is pure, the Buddha land is pure ........to recite the
Buddha's name is to recite the Mind."
In its totality, Pure Land reflects the highest teaching of Buddhism as
expressed in the Avatamsaka Sutra: mutual identity and interpenetrating,
the simplest method contains the ultimate and the ultimate is found in the
Faith, Vows and Practices
These three factors are the cornerstones of Pure Land Buddhism. If they
are present, rebirth in the Pure Land is achieved.
Faith means faith in Amitabha Buddha's Vows to rescue all who
recite His name, as well as faith in one's own Self-Nature, which is
intrinsically the same as His (to recite the Buddha's name is to recite
Vows are the determination to be reborn in the Pure Land - in one's pure
mind - so as to be in the position to save oneself and others.
Practice generally means reciting the Buddha's name to the point where
one's Mind and that of Amitabha Buddha are in unison - i.e. to the
point of singlemindness. Samadhi and wisdom are then
Please note that all Buddhist teachings are expedients, dividing the one
and indivisible Truth into many parts.
Faith, Vows and Practice, although three are really one.
Thus it can be said that rebirth in the Pure Land depends on three
conditions, two conditions (Faith or Vows) or even one condition (Faith),
as the one contains all and all is contained in the one.
The formula to be used depends on the audience and the times. The aim is
to enable sentient beings to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land as a
steppingstone towards Buddhahood.
Transference of Merit
Central to the Pure Land tradition is the figure of the Bodhisattva
Dharmakara, the future Amitabha Buddha, who came to exemplify the
Bodhisattva ideal and the doctrine of dedication of merit. This merit
transference is the source of the vow-power, or other-power in Pure Land
idea of the Buddha being able to impart his power to others marks one of
those epoch-making deviations which set off the Mahayana from so-called
.....original Buddhism.....The Mahayanist accumulates stocks of merit not
only for the material of their own enlightenment but for the general
cultivation of merit which can be shared equally by their fellow-beings,
animate or inanimate. This is the true meaning of Parinamara that is
turning one's merit over to others for their spiritual interest.
rationale for such conduct, which on the surface appears to run counter to
the laws of Cause and Effect, may be explained in the following passage
concerning one of the three Pure Land sages, the Bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara (Kuan Yin):
Some of us may ask whether the effect of karma may be reverted by
repeating the name of Kuan-yin. This question is tie up with that rebirth
in [the Pure Land] and it may be answered by saying that invocation of
Kuan-Yin's name forms another cause which will right away offset the
previous karma. We know for example that if there is a dark, heavy cloud
above, the chances are that it will rain. But we also know that if a
strong wind should blow, the cloud will be carried away somewhere else and
will not feel the rain. Similarly, the addition of one big factor can
alter the whole cause of karma.
It is only be accepting the idea of life as one whole that both
Theravadins and Mahayanists can advocate the practice of transference of
merit to others. With the case of Kuan-yin then, by reciting Her name we
identify ourselves with Her and as a result of this identification Her
merit flow over to us. These merits which are now ours then counterbalance
our bad karma and save us from calamity. This law of Cause and Effect
still stands good. All karma has overshadowed the weaker one...
of transference of merit, which presupposes a receptive mind on the part
of the cultivator, is emphasized in Pure Land.
Faith and Mind
Faith is an important component of Pure Land Buddhism. However wisdom or
Mind also plays a crucial, if less visible role. This interrelationship is
clearly illustrated in the Meditation Sutra:
The worst sinner, guilty of matricide and parricide, etc. may still
achieve rebirth in the Pure Land if, on the verge of death, he recites the
Buddha's name one to ten times with utmost faith and sincerity.
This passage can be understood at two levels. At the level of everyday
life, just as the worst criminal once genuinely reformed is no longer a
threat to society and may be pardoned, the sinner once truly repent may,
through the Vow-power of Amitabha Buddha, achieve rebirth in the Pure Land
- albeit at the lowest grade.
Thus Pure Land offers hope to everyone; yet at the same time, the law of
Cause and effect remains valid.
Therefore, once the sinner repents and recites the Buddha's name with
utmost sincerity and one pointedness of mind, for that moment he becomes
an awakened person silently merging into the stream of the Sages - Can
Enlightenment and Buddhahood then be that far away? As the Meditation
Sutra states: "the Land of Amitabha Buddha is not far from here!"
The Teachings of Great Master Yin Kuang
Whether one is a layperson or has left the home-life, one should respect
elders and be harmonious to those surrounding you. One should endure what
others cannot achieve. One should take others' difficulties unto oneself
and help them succeed in their undertakings.
While sitting quietly, one should often reflect upon one's own faults, and
when chatting with friends, one should not discuss the rights and wrongs
In every action one makes, whether dressing or eating, from dawn to dusk
'till dawn, one should not cease to recite the Buddha's name. Aside from
Buddha name recitation, whether reciting quietly or silently, one should
not give rise to other improper thoughts. If wandering thoughts appear,
one should immediately dismiss them.
Constantly maintain a humble and repentful heart; even if one has upheld
true cultivation, one should still feel one's practice is shallow and
One should mind one's own business and not business of others. Only look
after the good examples of others instead of bad ones. One should see
oneself as mundane and everyone else as Bodhisattvas.
If one can cultivate according to these teachings, one is sure to reach
the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Source : http://www.amtbweb.org
Update : 01-12-2001