(Original letter to Elder Master Yin Kuang)
It took some ten years of Buddha Recitation for me to know something of its wonderful meaning. I venture to think that the Pure Land Method, as taught in such writings as your Pure Land letters, is, in general, an expedient for ordinary people of limited capacities. However, if people like ourselves, who are fully literate and accustomed to exercising our minds, follow this method, we certainly cannot be reborn in the Pure Land! According to my limited understanding, those who recite the Buddha’s name seeking rebirth in the Pure Land, should first understand “who is reciting the Buddha’s name,” because only when we discover the real Master will Buddha Recitation have meaning and rebirth be assured. This does not apply only to Buddha Recitation. Anyone who recites sutras or chants mantras should also follow this path.
Nowadays, those who teach Buddha Recitation say that we should recite in a mature way with an utterly focused, “as-if-dead” mind in order to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. Do they not realize that if we are not clear as to “who is reciting the Buddha’s name,” we cannot recite in a mature way with an “as-if-dead” mind? Even if we were to recite one hundred thousand times each day, such recitation would have no relationship to the issue of Birth and Death.
Some people even add that “ancient Masters generally concentrate on oral recitation rather than meditation on the Buddha’s name.” I, on the contrary, would say, “the ancients practiced oral recitation only after they had achieved success in meditation – those of limited capacities should not try to emulate them.” It is really too bad that, these days, nine out of ten practitioners fail to understand this point. I always do my utmost to caution people about this, but some laymen even think that I have wrong views. Understanding of the subtle meaning of the Dharma has sunk to such depths that we can only lament and deplore the situation!
I am baring my heart to you today, and would beg you, Master, to certify my understanding and expand on this truth. This is for the benefit of everyone, and certainly not this writer alone.
I cannot exhaust my praise nor commend you and your friends enough for the thoughts behind your letter! You have very good intentions, wishing everyone to see your Original Nature so as to achieve rebirth in the upper lotus grades. The Meditation Sutra teaches:
Recite the Mahayana sutras, understand the Supreme Meaning, develop the Bodhi mind, counsel and exhort others to cultivate.
This certainly must be your intention.
Nevertheless, the Dharma should be adapted to the level of the listener. If through failure to examine his level, you administer the wrong remedy, you will be no different from an incompetent physician who kills his patients with the wrong medicine. You should know that although the two Dharma methods, Pure Land and Zen have the same root and the same source, their methods of cultivation are different.
The main tenet of Zen is to see one’s Original Nature, while the teachings of Pure Land are Faith, Vows and Reciting the Buddha’s name to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. If most people today were of high capacities, your words would indeed be extremely beneficial. However, on close examination, those of high capacities are few and far between, while those of moderate and low capacities form the vast majority. This being the case, failing to teach people to develop Faith and Vows seeking rebirth in the Pure Land, advising them to meditate on the Buddha’s name [as a koan] is utterly detrimental.
This is because, while awakening to the Way through meditation on the Buddha’s name would be a fortunate development, an utterly sincere Vow for rebirth in the Pure Land would still be necessary.
Meanwhile, if meditation is unsuccessful and the mind constantly grasps at the koan “who is reciting the Buddha’s name,” correspondence between the practitioner and the Buddha will be extremely difficult to realize and the benefit of the “welcoming and escorting” Vow will be lost.
Those who really know “who is reciting the Buddha’s name” are precisely those who have already awakened and clearly seen their True Nature. Nowadays, how many practitioners can meditate to the point of awakening to the Way (Great Awakening)?
However, let us not speak about others. Even you and your friends have not reached that level. How do I know? It is because if you had, you would never have dared to make such statements as these in your letter: “the Pure Land method is an expedient for ordinary people of limited capabilities …; not knowing who is reciting the Buddha’s name is not reciting in a mature way with an as-if-dead mind …’ reciting a hundred thousand times a day has not relationship to the issue of Birth and Death …; the ancients practiced oral recitation only after they had achieved success in meditation—those of limited capacities should not try to emulate them … “
In truth, while your intention is to benefit yourself and others equally, through your words you have not only erred yourself, you have led others astray as well. From now on, please desist from such talk. Otherwise, you will slam the door on and bury the all-embracing method of the Buddhas to rescue sentient beings everywhere—preventing this method from being known far and wide. Such a transgression is tantamount to vilifying the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha. You should be careful indeed!
Since your understanding of the Dharma is not skillfully adapted to people’s capacities, in that you attempt to bring a high-level Dharma to everyone, it is, in the end, a one-sided (biased) attachment—and a great mistake! Not realizing this, you think that you have correctly understood the subtle meaning of the Dharma and therefore seek my certification. This monk, although lowly and not erudite, would not dare to commend, acquiesce in and support such a request, which would cause all of us to fall into the error of vilifying the Three Treasures!
If you do not believe the words of this old monk, let us part ways once and for all. I would not dare try forcing others to abandon their own ideas and understanding to follow my lowly thoughts. It is only because of your letter that I have reluctantly offered some frank though limited views.
I hope that you will reflect deeply on this letter.