Question: Do Pure Land practitioners need to engage in much Dharma study (learning), contemplation (reflection) and (general) practice (including meditation) [闻思修]? Or will engaging in the chanting of Amituofo’s [Amitabha Buddha] name be enough?
Answer: Some form of study, contemplation and practice is always needed for advancing in any Buddhist tradition. As we know, the Three Provisions needed for successful birth in Pureland are Faith, Aspiration and Practice. Since Dharma study, contemplation and practices [of related teachings] help to strengthen these provisions, it would be good to engage in them. However, there are some factors to note.
- For the more intellectually-inclined, and less Faith-inclined, increase of study and contemplation (of general and Pure Land teachings) can help increase Faith, which would help increase Aspiration, which would help increase (and inspire) the core Practice.
- For the less intellectually-inclined, and more Faith-inclined, much study and contemplation (of general and Pure Land teachings) might not be needed – if they already have sufficient Faith, which sustains, or is able, to increase Aspiration and the core Practice.
- In both cases above, the core Practice refers to mindfulness of Amituofo via silent and/or verbal recitation of his name. As we might have noticed, for some, sticking to the core Practice is sufficient for them, while some require more than the core Practice. If the more intellectually-inclined are ‘forced’ to stick to only the core Practice (e.g. chanting; without any thinking), they are likely to become frustrated, just as when the less intellectually-inclined are when ‘forced’ to stick to more wordy study and complex contemplation.
- The quality and/or quantity of the Three Provisions do not always depend on the amount of study and contemplation done. The X-factor involved here is one’s karmic affinity with the Pure Land teachings, for there are some who are not intellectually-inclined, who might not be well-versed in the general Dharma, yet are able to be proficient Pure Land practitioners. Conversely, there are some who are intellectually-inclined, who are well-versed in the general Dharma, who however find it difficult to increase Faith in the Pure Land teachings.
- There is also the need to be mindful of not being overly intellectually or faith inclined – lest one is so intellectual (self-power inclined) and lacking in Faith, that one does not embark on the true core Practice (as actual Practice can help to increase Faith), lest one is so faithful (other-power inclined) but lacking in intellectual understanding, that one’s Faith is actually blind and shaky.
- The Middle Path is thus needed for checks and balances due to individuals’ different conditions – to be adequate in the intellectual and faithful aspects, in utilising self and other-power. It does take mindfulness and honesty to discern which category one slants towards. What one assumes what one does not need might be what is needed most. However, the Pure Land method, being relatively simple in application yet profound in outcome, is the widest path of Dharma practice possible, that can be walked by those of various inclinations.
- Sometimes, neglected under the category of Practice, is the Practice of the Three Acts of Merit, which are listed at http://purelanders.com/2010/03/15/three-acts-of-merit-true-causes-for-pure-karma/. That said, mindfulness of Amituofo creates much merits in itself too, though it is best to be well-rounded in ways through which we practise the doing of good. Just as the Three Provisions are really intertwined in an all-in-one and one-in-all way, true Dharma study, contemplation and practice are likewise too, embedded within one another. (True Faith has true Aspiration and Practice within; true Aspiration has true Faith and Practice within; true Practice has true Faith and Aspiration within.)
- How does meditation come into the picture for Pure Land practitioners? For Chinese Pure Land practice, it is less commonly practised, because the general practice of meditation is based on self-power alone. This is in contrast with the core Practice of mindfulness of Amituofo, which is based on both self and other power, the combination of which is essential for successful birth in Pure Land. (In Tibetan Pure Land practice, there is meditation involving visualisation.) For more on how general meditation can help or hamper, as seen from the Pure Land perspective, please see the article at http://purelanders.com/2009/09/14/pureland-practice-with-samatha-vipassana-meditation/. It is important to note too, that mindfulness of Amituofo done properly is also a meditative form of practice, from which one can derive calm concentration and penetrative insight.
[Continues at ‘Three Acts of Merit Vs Buddha Mindfulness‘]