The tenets of the Pure Land method are Faith, Vows and Practice. Only with true Faith and earnest Vows can Practice be assiduous and pure. The common disease of sentient beings is to be diligent and earnest when catastrophe strikes but lax and remiss in normal times.
However, living in this current period is no different from lying peacefully on a huge pile of dried wood under which a fire has already started. Though it has not yet reached the body, in no time flames and smoke will cover everything, leaving no possibility of escape. If you are indifferent or careless, remiss in seeking help through reciting the Buddha’s name, your understanding and perception are shallow indeed!
When cultivating various Dharma methods, you must reach the level of “development of true practice, perfection of understanding” before you can receive real benefits. This is not unique to the Visualization Method of Pure Land. In Zen, a meaningless koan (kung an) becomes the “very life and mind” of the cultivator; he puts his entire mind and thought into constantly mediating on it, oblivious to the passage of time, be it days or months, until it reaches the point of extinguishing all discriminating, delusive views with respect to internal and external realms. Only then does he achieve Great Awakening. Is this not “development of true practice, perfection of understanding”?
The Sixth Patriarch of Zen has said:
Simply by reading the Diamond Sutra, we can illumine our Mind and see our True Nature.
Is this not also “development of true practice, perfection of understanding”?
The word “development” should be understood here as “[developing to] the utmost.” Only by striving to the utmost can the cultivator forget altogether about body, mind and the world around him, remaining completely still and tranquil, as though of one hue.
If your cultivation has not reached the highest level, you may practice Visualization and Recitation, but you will still be making the distinction between subject and object (yourself and the Buddhas). You will be engaged in an entirely mundane, ordinary activity, entirely within the realm of discriminatory views and understanding. How can you, then, achieve true benefits? That is why, when the ancients were in meditation, their mind and thoughts were like withered trees. Thus, their lofty conduct was known far and wide and later generations continue to admire and esteem them. These benefits are all due to the single word “utmost.”
People today prefer empty talk; few care to cultivate. Pure Land should include both theory and practice, with definite emphasis on practice. Why? It is because for the person who thoroughly comprehends theory, all of practice is theory—practicing all day at the phenomenal level is practicing at the noumenon level.
When those who lack clear understanding of noumenon and phenomena hear the words “practice at the noumenal level,” they consider the meaning to be profound and sublime. They also find it consonant with their lazy, lethargic minds, which loathe the effort and difficulties of Buddha Recitation. Thus, they immediately grasp t noumenon and abandon the phenomenal. Little do they realize that when the phenomenal aspect is abandoned, noumenon becomes hollow and meaningless as well! I hope that you will explain cultivation at both the phenomenal and noumenal levels to everyone, counselling them accordingly. The benefits will be great indeed!