Why Are There Focused & Complete Cultivation Methods? 为何有专圆二修?


‘When speaking of the Pure Land Dharma door, cultivation has “Focused [Cultivation]” and “Complete [Cultivation].” Due to sentient beings’ [spiritual] roots and capacities being different, this caused many [Pure Land] Patriarchs’ establishment of teachings to not be the same.

Note [1]: With the same objective of guiding to Amitabha Buddha’s [i.e. Amituofo] Pure Land, there are no conflicts between the Pure Land Patriarchs’ teaching of various methods of Pure Land cultivation. They appear to differ only due to the need to teach beings with different levels of spiritual capability. What taught thus skilfully accords to the karmic causes and conditions of the masses and individuals there and then.


[The Pure Land Tradition’s Second Patriarch Great Master] Shandao [who was a manifestation of Amituofo] enabled people to [practise] wholehearted upholding of the name [of Amituofo], to not cultivate mixed karma [from mixed practices, due to] fear that people of medium and low [spiritual] roots, [if] with karma mixed, causes their minds to be difficult to unify [for the] one [aspiration of reaching Pure Land], thus teaching them “Focused Cultivation” [of mindfulness of the name of Amituofo; Nianfo].   

Note [2]: For instance, Great Master Shandao focused more on advocating wholehearted Nianfo practice, and less on mixed practices, so as to reach out more to those who are of medium (average) and low (below average) spiritual capabilities, to enable them to focus on the simplest practice to reach Pure Land, without possibly losing their spiritual sense of direction. This does not mean that having mixed practices is not good, as long as the sense of direction is not lost.


[The Pure Land Tradition’s Sixth Patriarch Great Master] Yongming [who was also a manifestation of Amituofo] enabled people with ten thousand [many and various] good [practices] to together cultivate them, for dedicating [their meritorious virtues for rebirth in] Pure Land, [due to] fear that people of high [spiritual] roots’ practices fall to be one-sided [with inadequate Self-power], causing [their] blessings and wisdom to not be able to abide [peacefully on their] Buddha-nature completely, thus teaching them “Complete Cultivation.”’ 

Note [3]: In contrast, Great Master Yongming also focused on advocating that those with mixed practices should dedicate their meritorious virtues for reaching Pure Land, where liberation is guaranteed. This was to reach out to those of high (above average) spiritual capability (and those who imagine so), who might have many mixed practices, yet possibly still not enough to realise liberation.

As all Dharma practices are interconnected, and since the name of Amituofo represents their total essence, well-practised “Focused Cultivation” contains the essence of “Complete Cultivation” (专中有圆), just as well-practised “Complete Cultivation”, being complete, of course contains “Focused Cultivation” (圆中有专).

With these two Great Masters’ approaches together, this is how all beings of low (below average), medium (average) and high (above average) spiritual capabilities can be guided to reach Pure Land. It thus does not make sense to think either is superior or purer than the other. What more, these Masters were both Amituofo’s manifestations, with equally immeasurable compassion and wisdom to guide all to Pure Land with maximum skilful means!

— 净土宗十三祖印光大师

— Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yinguang 
(Second reply letter to a certain Yongjia layperson)

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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