Comparative Studies

Is Pure Land Practice Inferior to Zen Practice?

From Master Zhuhung (Eight Chinese Pureland Patriarch):

 The Pure Land Master T’ien-ju said this:

These days followers of Zen look down upon those who cultivate Pure Land practices as ignorant men and women. But in so doing they are not [as they think, only] looking down on [so-called] ‘ignorant men and women.’ Rather, they are looking down on [the great bodhisattvas] Manjushri and Samantabhadra, and [the bodhisattva-philosophers] Ashvaghosha and Nagarjuna [who all advocated Pure Land methods].

What an incisive comment! For those who still do not believe this, I give some references, so that they may have proof that this is not false. In the Sutra Contemplating the Samadhi of Buddha,a verse of Manjushri Bodhisattva says:

I vow that when my life is ending,
I will remove all barriers,
see Amitabha Buddha face to face,
and go to be born in the land of peace and bliss.

In the lower Ornament (Avatamsaka) Sutra’s chapter on vows, the verse of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva says:

I vow that when I am about to die,
I will remove all barriers,
and see Amitabha Buddha face to face,
and go to be born in the land of peace and bliss.

In the Treatise wakening of Faith, Ashvaghosha Bodhisattva taught that the most excellent method is to concentrate on reciting the buddha-name, and thus achieve birth in the Pure Land, from which there is never any regression.In the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha tells Great Wisdom:

The bhikshu Great Virtue,
here called Nagarjuna,
having attained the first stage [of bodhisattvas, called] “Joy,”
will be born in the land of peace and bliss.

Here I have briefly cited four great bodhisattvas. Other cases of bodhisattvas cultivating the Pure Land are too numerous to record.

1. [The founder of Pure Land Buddhism in China,] Dharma Master Hui-yuan of Lu-shan, awakened to the profound meaning of great transcendent wisdom, and was called the bodhisattva who protects the Dharma in the East. He recited the buddha-name and viewed the buddha-image and went to be born in the Pure Land.

2. The great teacher Chih-i of T’ien-t’ai subtly awakened to the Lotus Sutra. He taught contemplation, and became the grand ancestral teacher of the [T’ien-t’ai] school for myriad generations. He faced the West, elucidated the ten kinds of doubts [about the Pure Land], wrote a commentary on the sixteen contemplations [of Amitabha Buddha], and fully discussed the Pure Land.

3. The great [Zen] teacher Pai-chang, who was the legitimate heir to whom [Zen master] Ma-tsu transmitted the Path, and whom all the Zen communities in China take as their source, prayed for sick monks and held funerals for dead monks so that they might return to the Pure Land.

4. The national teacher Ch’ing-liang, who succeeded to the position of patriarch of the Huayen school, and who was acclaimed as an incarnation of Manjushri, taught that Amitabha is [a form of the universal illuminator Buddha] Vairochana. He also wrote a commentary on the Contemplation of Amitabha Sutra (Meditation Sutra), and propagated Pure Land techniques widely.

5. Zen teacher Yen-shou of Yung-ming attained unobstructed eloquence [as seen in his encyclopedic masterpiece the source Mirror]. He was a pillar of the Zen school and practiced the [Zen master Lin-chi’s meditation plan of] the “four choices.” He always extolled the Pure Land and was born there among the highest class.

6. Zen teacher Ssu-hsin Hsin was the successor to Huang–lung when the influence of his school was in full flourish. Yet he was very keen on Pure Land practice and wrote a text urging people to recite the buddha-name, to enable them to arouse their faith.

7. Zen teacher Chen-hsieh Liao succeeded Master Ch’un of Tan-hsia in the Ts’ao-tung school. When he became very well known, he came out of seclusion to help restore [the school, which was in] decline. He concentrated on the Pure Land, and wrote a Pure Land collection that circulated widely in the world.

8. Zen master Tz’u-shou Shen synthesized the five teachings in a verse in [his work] stories of Virtuous Women of the Great Land.He said that the quickest and most direct method of cultivating practice is Pure Land. He established a Pure Land teaching center and earnestly encouraged his congregation [to recite the buddha-name].

9. Zen master Yuan-chao Pen continued the Path of T’ien-i and extended the school of Hsueh-tou. The thunder of his teaching shook the earth, and he was teacher and model to two dynasties. He practiced Pure Land along with Zen.

10. Zen master Chung-feng Pen got the Dharma from old man Kao-feng. His students looked up to him as the [Zen school’s] central figure of the age. He said: Zen is Pure Land Zen. Pure Land is Zen Pure Land. Chung-feng composed a set of a hundred poems called thoughts of the Pure Land to encourage people to recite the buddha-name.

The foregoing are ten venerable adepts [of Zen who advocated Pure Land practice]. Other Zen adapts and Dharma Masters and Vinaya Masters who cultivated the Pure Land are too numerous to record. The Amitabha Sutra, the Sutra of Infinite Life (Longer Amitabba Sutra), the Sixteen Contemplations Sutra (Meditation Sutra), the Drum Voice King Sutra, Vasubhandu’s Treatise on Birth in the Pure Land: these are sutras and treatises that concentrate on expounding the Pure Land. Other sutras and treatises that contain some mention of the Pure Land are too numerous to note. I hope you will investigate each and every one of these people, read their words, and consider their ideas. I hope this will put an end to your doubts and give you a decisive intention [to recite the buddha-name]. This would be most fortunate!

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!