Question: Do you allow sit-ins for one lesson in your Pure Land courses: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/category/06, especially towards the end?
Answer: Actually, no. This is because we took many lessons in each course to build up understanding of the basic yet core Pure Land principles, to be ready for what to be learnt in the later advanced lessons. As these core principles will not be repeated, so as to save time, newcomers might mistaken that taught to be either very complicated or simplistic, thus giving rise to confusion or disinterest. This is not fair to the Buddha’s teachings.
It is thus best to attend each course from beginning to end, with as little absenteeism as possible, lest some key concepts are missed. Some ‘gatecrashers’ misunderstand the teachings, yet while thinking they do understand. They might turn away and never return to learn more. As taught by Sakyamuni Buddha in the Amitabha Sutra, the Pure Land teachings are extremely difficult to cultivate faith in. This is why they should be learnt systematically and comprehensively, instead of randomly and incompletely. The last thing we want to do is jeopardise one’s journey to Pure Land.
This is also why participation in Pureland Practice Fellowship is allowed only after attending at least one Pure Land course from my side. There are instances of newcomers coming in without permission, without Pure Land knowledge, who sit unsure of why we practise Nianfo and how to Nianfo. They feel bored or confused, and never return – even after encouraging them to attend a course later, which they also do not do – because they have jumped to the wrong conclusion that Pure Land practice is just boring Nianfo, thus not worth learning! Of course, nothing can be further from the truth. This is how a person’s path to Pure Land can end before it even starts properly.
However, there is a skilful means for those who want to come only once at first, even if for a sponsored course. They have to personally pay the fee for the whole course – such that they feel that to get their money’s worth, they will be motivated to attend the missed lessons during the next round. In this way, they will still go through the whole course eventually. However, those who just want to come for only one lesson are usually reluctant to do this. This is why we should actively urge and even accompany family and friends to come to class from start to end. Sometimes, even letting them know you sponsored their spaces can urge them to be regular and attentive in class.