Question: If the Pure Land practice of mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) name (i.e. 念佛: Niànfó) is, as taught in the (Mahāsaṃnipāta) ‘Sūtra Of The Great Assembly’《大集经》, already ‘unsurpassable, profound and wonderful meditation‘ (无上深妙禅), how should we look at this statement by the Pure Land Tradition’s 6th Patriarch Great Master Yǒngmíng (净土宗六祖永明大师) in the ‘Brief On Chan And Pure Land’s Four Categories’《四料简》, that ‘Without Chán, to have Pure Land practice, of ten thousand cultivators, ten thousand people will go to Pure Land. If attaining sight of Amitābha Buddha, why worry about not awakening?’ (无禅有净土，万修万人去，若得见弥陀，何愁不开悟？) As ‘Chán’ literally means ‘meditation’, how can one who has Pure Land practice be without Chán practice?
Answer: Niànfó is indeed already unsurpassable (无上) meditation, as it surpasses conventional meditation practices (禅修), that include cessation (止) and contemplation (观), by linking our limited Self-power (自力) to Āmítuófó’s immeasurably profound (深) and wonderful (妙) Other-power (他力), for expediting attainment of the unsurpassable, profound and wonderful (无上深妙) fruit (果) of Buddhahood. (See ‘Related Article’ below on how Niànfó includes cessation and contemplation.) In contrast, ‘Chán’ (禅) mentioned in the Brief refers to the Chán Tradition’s (禅宗) various solely self-powered Chán meditation (参禅) methods to awaken.
To summarise the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng’s (净土宗六祖印光大师) explanation, to ‘have Chán’ (有禅) practice, [which is opposite of to be ‘without Chán’ (无禅)], is to be awakened (开悟) through Chán meditative practices; not merely to practise them.
This is while to ‘have Pure Land practice’ (有净土) is to give rise to profound Faith (深信) and sincere Aspiration (切愿), to have the true Practice (实行) of upholding the name of Buddha (持佛名号), for seeking birth in his Pure Land (求生净土). Even before reaching Pure Land, since the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice are being nurtured, this can be called to ‘have Pure Land’ (有净土), as it will be reached in good time.
Looking at that line from the Brief again, with the above understanding, it says that even if without any Chán practice, thus not awakened at all, as long as the Three Provisions are present, of all who cultivate accordingly, all will be able to reach Pure Land, where Āmítuófó will be met, from whom all can directly learn from, for as long as needed. Thus, there is no need to worry about not awakening at all. In fact, swift and full awakening is guaranteed. Thus, the essence of Chán practice, for awakening, is already within the essence of Pure Land practice. This is perhaps the greatest assurance the Brief offers, to most ordinary beings – like us.
Mindfulness Of Buddha As Unsurpassable Meditation
Brief On Chan & Pure Land’s Four Categories
Verses On Cessation & Contemplation