Dharma Master Da’an (Abbot of Donglin Monastery) at Chengdu’s Da’ci Monastery (May 2010)
Question: Some say that for the Pure Land Tradition in China, there is only [the Pure Land Tradition’s Second Patriarch] Great Master Shandao [who was a manifestation of Amituofo; Amitabha Buddha], this one person, [who is a Pure Land Patriarch, as the] other 12 Patriarchs all do not focus on cultivating the Pure Land path, and should not be considered as the Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Patriarchs. Is saying so right? They say that the true Pure Land Tradition had already spread to Japan, that after the Tang Dynasty, China has no true Pure Land Tradition. Is this right?
Answer: Can everyone say if this is right or wrong? China’s 13 generations of Patriarchs have gone through the test of time historically. The Patriarchs together cultivated understanding and practice, to realise the nature of their minds, to attain Samadhi (concentration) from mindfulness of Buddha, and at the same time, their virtuous actions from personal practices to transform others were very great, thus by later generations unanimously chosen [to be Patriarchs]. This is not like the Chan Tradition’s kind of lineage, of passing the robe and bowl. Actually, up the 6th [Chan Patriarch] Great Master Huineng, he also did not pass the robe and bowl [further].
That only Great Master Shandao, this one person had enough qualifications to be a Pure Land Patriarch, saying so cannot be established. This is a very one-sided, very rigid [and exaggerated] way of speaking. When we speak of the Buddha’s teachings, (just now) mentioned were the Four Methods Of Teaching [(Four Siddhantas) which accord to the listener’s level:  worldly method (世界悉檀),  individual method (各各为人悉檀),  curative method (对治悉檀) and  (ultimate) method of the first principle (第一义悉檀)] as causes and conditions. These Bodhisattva Patriarchs who came into our world, must respond to sentient beings’ capacities and conditions to establish their teachings to transform them, thus expressing their [various] methods of teaching. This is not a purely objective matter [that we can decide].
For instance, speaking of the Eastern Jin period’s [Pure Land Tradition’s First Patriarch] Great Master Huiyuan, he as the Pure Land Tradition’s First Patriarch, is completely worthy of his namesake. What great matter’s cause and conditions did he accomplish? Since [the period of] the Eastern Han Dynasty’s Ming Emperor, the Pure Land Tradition’s canonical texts, such as the Immeasurable Life Sutra, was already translated seven to eight times [or more]. In addition, was the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra and such. After translation, many of China’s fourfold disciples [of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen] cultivated this Dharma door. However, cultivating practice of this Dharma door did not have great organisational power of influence, and those who attained rebirth [in Pure Land] were also [only] scatteredly seen, within separate records.
Having reached the Eastern Jin Dynasty, since the Pure Land sutras’ translation and cultivation of practice [began in China], two to three hundred years had already passed by, with it brewing a new kind of peak. However, as with the arrival of this peak, it could not turn towards the direction of the whole of society to be [further] popularised, it had a bottleneck. This bottleneck still appeared, [due to lack of] Faith [in the practice], with it being difficult to generate Faith in. The Pure Land sutras, although [they already] detailedly introduced the Western Land Of Ultimate Bliss’ circumstantial and direct rewards’ magnificence, and all kinds of conditions when reborn, our Earth’s people all [still] hoped that there will be proof [of it]. Not handing out proof, many people still had doubt. Having doubt, this Dharma door will be affected, and not be able to be propagated [further].
Thus, facing that period’s problem of needing proof, Great Master Huiyuan established the White Lotus Society, using thirty years to focus upon cultivation of Pure Land Samadhi, putting it into practice, and with 123 persons’ experiences of concentrating single-mindedly upon cultivating this practice, for that period’s Chinese people, this provided proof. Everyone had auspicious signs of rebirth [in Pure Land], many of them when within concentration saw Amituofo, and his Western Land Of Ultimate Bliss, and when approaching the end of life, had extraordinary fragrance fill the room, heavenly music fill the sky, knowing in advance their times of departure. With so many persons religiously putting [mindfulness of Buddha] into practice [successfully], this thus became good proof [of practice]. Moreover, it was with that period’s both assemblies of monastics and laity, with elite public figures in an organisation as proof [of practice], that enabled the Pure Land Dharma door in China to widely be propagated.
It can [thus] be said, that without [the Pure Land Tradition’s First Patriarch] Great Master Huiyuan, there would be no [Pure Land Tradition’s Second Patriarch] Great Master Shandao. Thus, Great Master Huiyuan was also a Bodhisattva Of Four Reliances [who had realised at least the four fruits for self-liberation], who again came [to manifest in this world]. Having accomplished such a [great] matter, how was he still not qualified enough to be a Pure Land Patriarch? Every Patriarch who came, who was able to accomplish a great matter [of importance], is already very extraordinary. It seems that Great Master Huiyuan did not establish some detailed Pure Land Tradition’s theoretical teachings, [as] only periodically seen were his great skill of easily entering the Samadhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha, with mindfulness [of the name of] Buddha [Amituofo] as his foremost [practice], including his descriptions of some states within Samadhi. As for the theoretical teachings’ completion, awaited for the next Patriarch to accomplish.
Again, with the Pure Land teachings put into practice, passing through Great Master Tanluan and Great Master Daozhuo, having reached Great Master Shandao, were compiled into a complete doctrine. His ‘Commentary On The Contemplation Sutra In Four Fascicles’, from within his five volumes in nine scrolls [of commentaries], completely explained the Pure Land [teachings] from ancient India, on Amituofo’s loving-kindness and compassion, salvation and deliverance, and his fundamental vows being the core, as the Pure Land Tradition’s original intention. Thus, Great Master Shandao is the Second Patriarch. He was qualified enough [as] he completed the one [great] matter of establishing the theoretical teachings. He had his mission [which was this].
In this way later, those like [the Pure Land Tradition’s Third Patriarch] Great Master Chengyuan, [the Pure Land Tradition’s Fourth Patriarch] Great Master Fazhao, [the Pure Land Tradition’s Sixth Patriarch] Great Master Yongming [who was also a manifestation of Amituofo], [the Pure Land Tradition’s Eighth Patriarch] Great Master Lianchi and such, [although] they did not focus on cultivating [only] the Pure Land teachings, they were however [all] with one direction, of being deeply passionate in seeking birth in Pure Land.
Here within, is the background of China throughout history. Cultivation of practice was mainly with the Chan Tradition, scriptural study and meditation practice. This was mainstream, [while] the Pure Land Dharma door, for a long time since, was a Dharma door with the nature of relying upon attaching [to other Dharma doors]. It can even be said, that it was basically, by those with scriptural learning, seen as a comparatively shallow Dharma door, not being the mainstream, and not paid great attention to. Thus, for these Bodhisattva Patriarchs in this world, within this background of China, to propagate the Pure Land Dharma door, they must have skilful and expedient means. What skilful and expedient means? First, they had to manifest, in the Chan Tradition or those of Scriptural Traditions, as thoroughly awakened ones with great and complete understanding. [Then are] they with qualifications to convince the Chan Tradition and Scriptural Traditions’ practitioners to come and cultivate the Pure Land Dharma door.
As Great Master Yongming, he was the Chan Tradition’s Fayan (Dharma Eye) Tradition’s Third Patriarch, who was thoroughly awakened, which in the Chan Tradition is indisputable. Thus, he could guide [all] to “return” to the Land Of Ultimate Bliss, by having their ten thousand goodnesses together returning [or dedicated] to [reaching of] Pure Land. His “Brief On Four Categories Of Chan And Pure Land Practices” was very well composed. [See https://purelanders.com/2009/12/15/brief-on-four-categories] He had the qualifications to say its words. For those of the Dharma-Ending Age’s Chan Tradition and Scriptural Traditions’ practitioners, he pointed out a smooth, broad and great path for departing from [the cycle of] birth and death, by relying upon [Amitabha] Buddha’s power to reach his Western Land Of Ultimate Bliss.
As you can see, when Great Master Lianchi [came, it was] at the end of the Ming Dynasty. Also [then], from the Tang and Song Dynasties since, [as] the Chan Tradition was very prosperous, Great Master Lianchi was also in the Chan Tradition awakened. [The Pure Land Tradition’s Ninth Patriarch] Great Master Ouyi also was in the Chan Tradition awakened, moreover with scriptural learning and meditation practice very clearly realised. Thereafter, with their statuses of being great experts in all [Dharma] fields, to thus propagate the Pure Land Dharma door, they had much power to convince, and much power of influence. Of this kind of Patriarchs, how can they not have [done] enough to be model [examples, to be the] Pure Land Tradition’s Patriarchs?
Thus, saying so, that only Great Master Shandao was qualified enough [as a Pure Land Patriarch, that the] other 12 Patriarchs are all not qualified enough, these words spoken are too lacking in standard [or substance]. If you say so, actually, you are, towards the Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Patriarchs, with this kind of belittling [and slighting], it can be said, to criticise (as a matter of principle), to all be of slander of the Dharma and slander of the Sangha, that [might] sever [other] people’s Dharma body’s wisdom lives [if they are accordingly misled].
Especially those who say that the true Pure Land Tradition had gone to Japan, that after the Tang Dynasty, there is no more Pure Land Tradition [in China], this is even more baseless speak and absurd talk. They all say so, that the Japanese created a so-called “three countries’ seven Patriarchs’ lineage system, as if saying that after Nagarjuna [Bodhisattva], Vasubandhu [Bodhisattva], [the teachings were then transmitted] to [Great Master] Tanluan, [Great Master] Daozhuo and [Great Master] Shandao, who transmitted them to Yuanxin, Faran (Honen), etc. On these things, we can just take a look and smile, [as] it is not a must to discuss with them too much [on this]. However, if we all are to accept this way of saying, there is fundamentally no reason of any kind [to do so].
Of itself, Japan’s “Pure Land ‘True’ Tradition” (Jodo Shinshu) [was said to] rely upon Great Master Shandao and Great Master Tanluan’s ideologies for practice. Thus, [if so], we do not need to propagate their Japanese Shinshu’s fundamental vow Dharma door. [As] our native land’s ideology is already complete, there is no need to want “imported goods.” However, we to others must be respectful, also not needing to criticise them. Why? Because when the Buddha’s teachings are in whichever country, with whichever people’s manifesting of forms, they have to respond to sentient beings’ [spiritual] roots and capacities. It may be that Shinshu’s fundamental vow’s method suits Japan, its island nation’s people’s mentality, which pays more attention to Faith of attaining salvation, [while] towards discipline through the precepts not paying much attention. Towards common [or general] paths [of practice], they sometimes are not very able to integrate [with them harmoniously], as with other [matters] like such. We know that they are of an island nation’s mentality, and it may be with this way, that is able to benefit sentient beings [there. Thus], we too do not want to criticise them.
In Mainland China [however, and some other countries], the Great Vehicle’s [Mahayana] Buddhist teachings’ atmosphere is very strong [and rich. As] China has the Confucian teachings’ spirit, we have to pass on the Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist’s three schools of thought’s cultural essence [where harmonious in nature]. We have to strengthen understanding of [how to] uphold the precepts, [as] the 13 Chinese Patriarchs all have strict regard towards upholding of the precepts. Although it is not [by] relying on upholding of precepts [that] rebirth [in Pure Land is attained], however, upholding of precepts is able to effectively [aid the] effect of connecting to [Amitabha] Buddha’s power, help us establish the root of Faith, and raise our grade of rebirth [in Pure Land]. [It is] especially with discipline of the precepts, [that determines the] Buddha’s teachings’ lifespan [in our world, as it is a] banner [or form of] the Buddha’s teachings, [that signifies its existence. If] the Buddha’s discipline of precepts does not exist, the Buddha’s teachings will from this Earth, in advance die out. How can we as the Buddha’s disciples [then], not respect the discipline of precepts, and not earnestly practise what was advocated? Thus, regarding the two viewpoints raised just now [in the questions], we think they are both not right.
We hope that Mainland Chinese practitioners of pure karma [for birth in Pure Land], will still accord with the Chinese 13 Patriarchs’ ideologies for practice. Every Patriarch during different periods responded to capacities [of the beings then] to speak the Dharma, manifesting forms each with their specialities. Such did Great Master Shandao do during the prosperous Tang, at the end of the Sui Dynasty and the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, which was China’s best period [in history]. When the Chinese people’s blessed virtues and wisdom were the most profound, he could, [beginning] from Faith, get straight to the point [when teaching]. Thereafter, with the mind of revulsed renunciation [from the cycle of birth and death] able to arise, and thereafter with one direction, of being deeply passionate in mindfulness of Amituofo, and reciting of Amituojing (Amitabha Sutra). Ah! Those who attained rebirth [in Pure Land then] were truly many.
However, having reached now, to use this kind of method [above], whether it is to be widespread, this needs considering. Now, in Mainland China, the Chinese people, almost for a hundred years, were without Confucian culture as foundation, [due to war and chaos, such that] even being a good human is not done well. With the mind very warped, full of deceptiveness and pretence, and with so-called [personal] success and benefits as life goals, their minds are very ignorant. If you directly tell them to learn about the Pure Land Dharma door, they might find it difficult to attain Faith. Not only not believing, they [might] even assume you have blind faith, and laugh loudly [at you. Thus], under these circumstances, we have to draw support from Confucian culture [which is generally secular, to] first enable them to become better humans. Thus, the Pure Karma Of Three Blessings must be taught [See https://purelanders.com/2010/03/15/three-acts-of-merit-true-causes-for-pure-karma]. [After] your worldly blessed virtues are well accomplished, then are you able to develop world-transcending wisdom, and with world-transcending wisdom developed, this is when Prajna wisdom arises. Then, regarding this one Dharma door for rebirth in Pure Land, and Amituofo’s power of vows to save and deliver, will your Faith arise, [along] with [your] power of vow [or Aspiration to be born there].
Thus, I feel that, during this period, [the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch] Great Master Yinguang’s ideology is even more agreeable [to today’s beings’] capacities – which is to propagate both Confucianism [where agreeable] and Buddhism. [As] expressed in his four lines, “[With] kindness [in] human relationships, [to the] utmost fulfil [one’s] part [responsibly], end evil [thoughts], maintain sincerity, [integrity and respect, of] all evils not do [them, and for] all good fulfil [them].” This is worldly good [or wholesome] Dharma being transmitted. [For] world-transcending good Dharma, it is “Truly for [transcending the cycle of] birth and death, give rise to the Bodhi mind (Bodhicitta), with profound (or deep) Faith and sincere Aspiration, uphold [Practice of mindfulness of] Buddha’s name [i.e. Amituofo].” [These are the Pure Land Tradition’s 12th Patriarch] Great Master Chewu’s four lines, with its 16 words as the [Pure Land] Tradition’s guiding principle.
I think, with my personal shallow perception, that in this period, we should use these eight lines as the two wings for propagating the Pure Land Dharma door. Then will we be able to benefit even more sentient beings. Awaiting for when these two wings [are strong], especially when reaching the second state, [then] can Great Master Shandao’s ideology be concentrated upon, at the same time also with Great Master Lianchi, Great Master Ouyi, and Great Master Chewu’s ideologies harmonised together. I even feel that, regarding the Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s propagation, it must be with the 13 Patriarchs’ [teachings together, with] complete synthesis when looking at them. Thus, to say that only Great Master Shandao, as one person [is a Pure Land Patriarch, with the] others not qualified enough [to be Patriarchs], saying so is extremely absurd. We should not listen to [such].
(This translation was originally published here.)
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Biography Of The First Patriarch Of Chinese Pure Land Tradition Great Master Huiyuan
Biography Of The Second Patriarch Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition Great Master Shandao
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Verse On Buddha’s Words & Patriarchs’ Teachings