General Articles Translations

Brief On Chán & Pure Land’s Four Categories 禅净四料简


With Chan [and] without Pure Land [practice], 
[of] ten persons, nine [walk the] wrong roads.
[The] intermediate state [between death and rebirth], if manifesting before [them], 
swiftly [will] they [be] followed [according to their karmic inclinations]. [1]


Without Chan [and] with Pure Land [practice], 
[of] ten thousand cultivators, ten thousand persons [will] go [to Pure Land].
If attaining sight [of] Amitabha Buddha, 
why worry [about] not awakening? [2]


With Chan [and] with Pure Land [practices], 
[cultivators are] similar to tigers bearing horns.
[In their] present lives as humans’ teachers, 
[in their] future lives becoming Buddhas. [3]


Without Chan [and] without Pure Land [practices], 
iron beds and bronze pillars [await them].
[For] ten thousand kalpas and thousands [of] lives, 
[with] no person [to] rely upon. [4]

–  净土宗六祖永明延寿大师 | 

– Pure Land Tradition’s 6th Patriarch Great Master Yongming Yanshou |
Dharma Eye (Fayan) Tradition’s 3rd Patriarch Chan Master Yongming   

‘Chan & Pure Land Brief On Four Categories’, Serving As An Example For Future Generations, For Cultivation And Upholding


The ‘Brief On Four Categories’ is for comparison of choices. Great Master commented upon and explained the innate relation of the Chan and Pure Land traditions. For practitioners, he constructed a rational frame of reference, which had extremely great influence on later generations.

对四料简的诠释,诸家多有不同,以下是简略解释。(详细解说请看印光大师的《净土决疑论》 )

There are many different interpretations on The Brief On Four Categories. The following is a brief explanation. (For a detailed explanation, please study Great Master Yinguang’s ‘The Treatise For Resolution Of Pure Land Doubts’.)


To understand the meaning of the Brief On Four Categories, one must first know what is Chan and Pure Land, what is to ‘have Chan’ and to ‘have Pure Land’? What is Chan? It is our true nature, the Buddha-nature we originally possess, that the Chan tradition calls our original face before our parents were born. What is Pure Land? It is to, with Faith and Aspiration, uphold the name of Buddha, to seek birth in the Pure Land Of Peaceful Nurturing, which is not particular reference to Mind-Only Pure Land, or speaking about Self-nature Amitabha Buddha (which is our unrealised Buddha-nature).


What is to ‘have Chan’? It is when the power of meditative investigation is utmost, such that thinking is silenced and passions ceased, to thoroughly see one’s original face before one’s parents were born, which is the state of understanding one’s mind to see one’s true Nature. What is to ‘have Pure Land’? It is to truly give rise to Bodhicitta, by giving rise to Faith and Aspiration, to uphold the name of Buddha, to seek birth in the Western Pure Land.


If yet to awaken by Chan meditation, or with awakening that is not yet thorough, both of these cannot be named as to ‘have Chan’. If yet to have Faith and Aspiration by mindfulness of Buddha due to particular attachment to Mind-Only Pure Land, or having Faith and Aspiration that is not yet sincere, both of these cannot be named as to ‘have Pure Land’.


The words of Great Master’s ‘Brief On Four Categories’ are brief yet full of meaning, precise and appropriate. Regardless of sentient beings’ spiritual roots, all are able to obtain boundless benefits from it. Those of higher roots and sharper capacities might as well cultivate both Chan and Pure Land. Those of medium and lower roots should steadily guard their position on the Pure Land teachings, by earnestly practising mindfulness of Buddha, always with the Western Pure Land as the final direction and refuge.

Combinations Of Chan & Pure Land Practice
(A Simplified Explanation)

[1] This describes the highly possible great risk of practising meditation misguidedly with Self-Power only, while not connecting to the Other-Power of Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land for securing a safe rebirth to continue practice of the Dharma without interruption or retrogression. Thus, it is dangerous to have only Chan practice.

[2] This describes the great security that Pure Land practice offers, which leads to meeting Amitabha Buddha, to be able to learn the path to enlightenment through him. Thus, it is important and urgent, due to lack of time in this life, to have at least Pure Land practice first, due to its easiness, reliability and safety.

[3] This describes how mastering both Chan and Pure Land practices creates great additional advantages, leading to the ability to share the Dharma with others now, and to definitely become fully enlightened through Pure Land. Thus, it is best to have both practices, although priority still goes to mastering Pure Land practice first, due to reasons stated in [2] and [3].

‘[In this] Dharma-Ending Age, [when the Pure Land path is the only path to liberation], if cultivating Chan [and] Pure [Land practices], first [focus upon mastering] Pure Land [practice], later Chan [practice, with] Pure Land [and] Chan [for] dual cultivation.’ (末法时期,若修禅净,先净后禅,净禅双修。)

That said, when there is Pure Land practice only, there is the essence of Chan practice embedded within at the same time, although when there is traditional Chan practice only, there is no essence of Pure Land practice within at the same time. (See related article below on how the essence of Pure Land practice is already one with the essence of Chan practice.)

[4] This describes the worst-case scenario of doing great evil while not having any Dharma practice, thus being reborn into the hells for a long time without any refuge due to great negative karma. Thus, it is worst to have no practice at all.


Verses On Pure Land & Chán


In this Dharma-Ending Age,
to first cultivate Chán and later Pure Land,
is to upon the Difficult Path add the Easy Path,
which is inverting of the right sequence.


With the Pure Land path easy and the Chán path difficult,
if desiring to have Chán and Pure Land cultivation,
first cultivate Pure Land and later Chán,
to have the Pure Land and Chán paths both cultivated.


Having the Pure Land path thus seeing Buddha,
why worry about not awakening?
First accomplish as powerful tigers,
later as horn-bearing tigers.

Related Article:

Chan & Pure Land’s Dual Cultivation
In The Perfect Penetration Via Mindfulness Of Buddha

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