30 Misconceptions Of So-Called ‘Pristine’ Pure Land Buddhism

There are some who claim to teach so-called ‘pristine’ Pure Land Buddhism, of the so-called ‘Shandao lineage’. Below are some of their many misconceptions in five of their books, as hereby clarified. The books are not named, to prevent readers from being further confused by them. 

[1] Is is so that the 18th vow of Amituofo is his only fundamental vow? No, as all of his 48 vows are fundamental, working together, including the 19th and 20th vows, for guiding and receiving many kinds of beings to his Pure Land.

[2] Is it so that Buddhas only witnessed teaching of the Amitabha Sutra? No, as there was also the Buddha Of Abundant Treasures bearing witness to Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching in the Lotus Sutra for instance.

[3] Is it so that Great Master Shandao’s interpretation of the Pure Land teachings is completely different from that of other lineage masters? No, or the whole Chinese Pure Land tradition would not be able to continue to thrive in harmony, with each Great Master supporting one another’s teachings.

[4] Is it so that to undertake Mixed Practices is like begging everywhere, without finding a haven? No. This is a false dichotomy (fake division), as Mixed Practices can and are supposed to support the Main Practice of Nianfo (i.e. mindfulness of Amituofo’s name) if dedicated for the same purpose of reaching Pure Land. It is not a case of having either Mixed Practices or the Main Practice only.

[5] Is it so that we should depend completely on Amituofo’s power, to stop ‘counting on’ self-power? No, as we are supposed to depend on both Amituofo’s other-power and our self-power, as Pure Land practice is dependent on self-and-other-power working together.

[6] Is it so that by abandoning self-power, we will be able to depend entirely on other-power? No, as it takes some self-power to learn about and cultivate the Three Provisions, to connect to the other-power.

[7] Is it so that those with practices of other schools cannot practise Nianfo? No, as Nianfo practice can be practised by all, for reaching Pure Land, as long as the Three Provisions are there.

[8] Is it so that those who practise Nianfo should only do it exclusively, and not meditate, chant sutras, mantras, practise repentance and other practices? No, as no Patriarch taught this, while the Patriarchs taught that Mixed Practices can support the Main Practice of Nianfo. Of course, when practising Nianfo, we should be wholehearted.

[9] Is it so that we should dedicate merits to so-and-so before to all beings? No, as it should be the other way round, so as to practise compassion and generosity to all first, which already includes so-and-so, and also creates more merits.

[10] Is it so that we do not need to dedicate merits from non-Nianfo practices to reach Pure Land? No, as all merits from all practices, which include Nianfo and non-Nianfo practices should be dedicated for reaching Pure Land.

[11] Is it so that our Faith in Pure Land can be thought in terms of laying down a bet? No, as such is not true unshakeable Faith, it is still with doubt. Faith can be built up with proper learning and practice.

[12] Is it so that if we cannot Nianfo because of suffering at death, we can still reach Pure Land? No, as the 18th vow and the Amitabha Sutra is clear that all Three Provisions are needed. This is why support-chanting is very helpful in providing guidance. However, Nianfo need not be in terms of verbal chanting, but as mindfulness of Amituofo in the mind.

[13] Is it so that we might be unconscious when dying? No, as the dying process is a mentally conscious one, of the consciousness actively departing from the body. We will be mentally conscious even if physically unconscious.

[14] Is it so that there is no specific standard stated for Nianfo practice? No, as the Amitabha Sutra states to be ‘wholehearted without being scattered’, which is to be utterly sincere.

[15] Is it so that one of those who taught these misconceptions was reborn as a monk for countless lifetimes, went to all heavens, and had studied all Dharma teachings, as self-claimed? No, or this list of obvious misconceptions would not exist. And if all heavens were reached, including the Pure Abodes, which guarantees self-liberation in that lifetime, he would not still be unenlightened, also as contradictorily self-claimed.

[16] Is it so that Great Master Shandao is the founder of the Pure Land tradition, and that only what he taught should be followed? No, as all 13 Chinese Pure Land Patriarchs’ teachings are harmonious together and can be followed. Not understanding this harmony is to misunderstand their teachings. The 12 other Patriarchs following the 1st Patriarch Great Master Huiyuan never disagreed that Great Master Huiyuan should be regarded as the First Patriarch. He was latest praised by the 13th Patriarch Great Master Yinguang too.

[17] Is it so that Great Master Yinguang teach not to have Mixed Practices? No, as he praised them, along with the Main Practice of Nianfo, teaching to dedicate the merits of all of them for the single purpose of reaching Pure Land. Only having many Mixed pPactices yet without the single Main Practice is unwise.

[18] Is it so that the Chinese lineage of Pure Land Patriarchs is not the one approved by the 13th Patriarch? No, as it clearly is, as universally recognised in the Chinese Pure Land tradition. To claim otherwise is divisive in nature, not very different from creating a schism.

[19] Is it so that Great Master Shandao was the only great master who taught the so-called ‘pristine’ Pure Land teachings? No, as all 13 Pure Land Patriarchs did, or they would not be regarded by the Pure Land community as representative enough of the Pure Land tradition to be its Patriarchs. All of them taught according to the climate of their times to guide various beings accordingly. In instances when what they taught are linked to other Buddhist traditions, this demonstrated the Pure Land teachings’ universal nature, thus reaching out to more, yet without discounting their actual teachings. All of their teachings are pristine for reaching of Pure Land.

[20] Is it so that other Buddhist schools’ practices make Pure Land practice complicated and ‘not easy’? No, as the main Pure Land practice is always the Easy Path, even if, as wished, supported by other more complex practices. In fact, having more supportive practices can help attain higher grades of rebirth easier. Not having them makes this more difficult.

[21] Is it so that having Mixed Practices along with the Main Practice of Nianfo means not having wholehearted Nianfo to reach Pure Land? No, of course not, as the Main Practice should never be forsaken, while having also Mixed Practices never meant to forsake the Main Practice; but to support it.

[22] Is it so that the 20th vow of Amituofo does not receive beings to his Pure Land in this lifetime? No, it does receive beings of medium spiritual roots in this lifetime too. [All beings of lower, medium and higher roots roots can reach Pure Land in this lifetime via Vow #18, 20 and 19 respectively, as long as they are able to give rise to the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice in time. These vows have overlapping principles too.]

[23] Is it so that the Easy Path is only in terms of the 18th vow of Amituofo? No, as the Easy Path is in terms of all Pure Land practices for reaching Pure Land, as encompassed by the 19th and 20th vows too.

[24] Is it so that giving rise to Bodhicitta, performing wholesome deeds and such do not connect to Amituofo’s 19th vow? No, they do, if dedicated for reaching Pure Land.

[25] Is it so that Great Master Shandao taught that all should only Nianfo exclusively? No, as he never taught that Mixed Practices should be abandoned, though he did teach the importance of being focused. In fact, Mixed Practices can support the Main Practice of Nianfo. No Pure Land Patriarch ever taught to avoid all non-Nianfo practices as Supportive Practices.

[26] Is it so that no Buddha other than Amituofo created a Pure Land for us? All Pure Lands were created by all Buddhas for unenlightened sentient beings.

[27] Is it so that the 18th and 19th vows operate mutually exclusively? No, they can operate together with overlapping principles.

[28] Is it so that Amituofo attained Buddhahood mainly for those who practise according to the 18th vow? No, as he has perfect compassion for all beings, he receives beings of all spiritual roots via the 19th and 20th vows too, which are more for those of the higher and medium spiritual roots (while the 18th vow is applicable to all, including those of lower roots).

[29] Is it so that it does not matter if one believes in Pure Land practice’s principles, as long as the name of Amituofo is called, to be born in Pure Land? No, as lack of belief is the lack of Faith, the very first of the Three Provisions.

[30] Is it so that rebirth in Pure Land cannot be attained unless there is practice with great diligence to eliminate all stray thoughts? No, as what matters is having wholehearted Nianfo powered by the true Faith and sincere Aspiration.

Summary: The misconceptions above cause needless and harmful divisiveness in the Buddhist and Pure Land community, by insisting that only what one master taught is pristine, while what all others teach is not pure. Here is a brief summation of some of the major mistakes.

[A] With Main Practice & With Mixed Practices: The Pure Land Patriarchs taught in terms of having the Main Practice (of Nianfo) and Mixed Practices (of non-Nianfo that are supportive of the Main Practice). Although the terms they use might be slightly different, they are essentially the same in meaning.

[B] Without Main Practice & With Mixed Practices: None of them taught to abandon the Main Practice, to have only Mixed Practices. (Main Practice by itself is adequate for reaching Pure Land, while Mixed Practices by themselves only are of course inadequate for reaching Pure Land.)

[C] With Main Practice & Without Mixed Practices: None of them taught to abandon Mixed Practices entirely, to have only the Main Practice in an absolutely exclusive way – unless one is running out of time.

[D] Without Main Practice & Without Mixed Practices: For the sake of completion in this list, of course, none of them taught to abandon both Main Practice and Mixed Practices.

Conclusion: There is false dichotomy that when one has Mixed Practices, one will not have the Main Practice of Nianfo. While it is good to ensure the Main Practice is done well, to insist on focusing only on it discourages others from practising further to attain higher grades of birth in Pure Land.

Not that Nianfo (with the Three Provisions) by itself is not enough to reach Pure Land, but the natural and diligent creating of more merits from other Mixed Practices in everyday life also help to lessen suffering for many others, and to lessen personal obstacles on the deathbed. Insisting all to enter Pure Land only by the 18th vow forcibly simplifies Pure Land practice for the more sophisticated, who already practise more than the Main Practice and do not wish to give up their Mixed Practices.

There is occasional flip-flopping of viewpoints (in past and newer books) too, along with selective quotation and misinterpretation of that quoted to fit the one-sided misconceptions above. There is also inconsistency in speaking of the Three Provisions, at times speaking of just one provision or two (such as just wishing to be reborn in Pure Land, or just chanting the name of Amituofo), without connecting all three together and defining them properly. This makes such ‘Pure Land teachings’ not only not pristine, but dangerously inaccurate. (This list will continue to be extended and shared upon discovery of more mistakes.)

Related Articles:

Is Great Master Shandao The Only Pure Land Patriarch?

Biography Of The First Patriarch Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition Great Master Huiyuan

Further Questioning So-Called ‘Pristine’ Pure Land Buddhism


Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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