The Prayer Meeting in Shanghai on 17 December 1952
Translated by Lu K’uan Yu or Charles Luk.
This Prayer Meeting for World Peace which began a few days ago is virtually unique. Today the Dharma-master Wei-fang, Abbot Miao-zhen and Upasakas Zhao Bo-zhu, Li Si-hao and Fang Cu-hao have asked me to preach the Dharma. I avail myself of this occasion to speak of the inter-relation between the Chan and Pure Land Schools so that beginners can understand both. Today is the first day set for the Pure Land practice, which consists of reciting the Buddha’s name. It was decided that Abbot Miao-zhen should be the speaker but my venerable friend has been very modest and has asked me to take his place.
This saha world in which we live is a bitter sea of suffering from which all of us want to escape but to do so, we must rely on the Buddhadharma. Strictly speaking, reality as taught by the Buddhadharma cannot be spoken of for it is indescribable in word and speech. Therefore, the Surangama Sutra says. ‘The language used has no real meaning (in itself). However, to cope with the great variety of living being’s propensities, countless expedients have been devised to guide them. In China, the Buddhadharma is divided into the Chan School, the Teaching School (of the sutras), the Vinaya School and the Pure Land and Yogacara Schools. To learned and experienced practitioners, this division is superfluous because they are already clear about the Dharma-nature which does not admit differentiation. But beginners hold conflicting opinions and like to drive the Dharma into sects and schools which they discriminate between and thereby greatly reduce the value of the Dharma for enlightening people.
We should know that the Huatou technique is the mind before it is stirred by a thought. The technique was devised by enlightened Masters who taught their disciples to concentrate their attention on the mind for the purpose of stopping all thought to realize singleness of mind for the perception of their self-nature, and the repetition of the Buddha’s name are only expedient methods which are not the ultimate and are useless to those who have already achieved their goals by efficient training. Why so? Because they have realized the absolute state in which movement and stillness are one, like the moon reflected in a thousand rivers in which it is bright and clear without obstructions. Obstructions come from floating clouds in the sky and the mud in water (deluded thoughts). If there are obstructions, the moon cannot appear in spite of its brightness and its reflection will not be seen in spite of the clear water.
If we practitioners of the Dharma understand this truth and are clear about the self-mind which is like the bright moon in autumn and does not wander outside in search of externals but turns back its light to illumine itself, without giving rise to a single thought and without any notion of realization, then how can there be room for different names and terms? It is only because for countless aeons we have been clinging to wrong thoughts, and because of the strong force of habits, that the Lord Buddha held three hundred assemblies during his forty-nine years of teaching. But the aim of all expedient methods is to cure living beings of different ailments caused by desire, anger and stupidity and perverted habits. If we can keep away from all this, how can there be differences among living beings? Hence an ancient said:
‘Though there are many expedients for the purpose They are identical when returned to the source’.(Quoted frorn Manjusri’s Long Gatha in the Surangama Sutra).
The most popular methods in use today are Chan and Pure Land. But it is regrettable that many members of the Sangha overlook the rules of discipline without knowing that the Buddhadharma is based on discipline (sila), meditation (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna); it is like a tripod which cannot stand if one of its legs is lacking. This is so important a thing that no students of the Buddhadharma should disregard it.
The Chan transmission began when in the assembly on Vulture Peak, the World-Honoured One held up a flower, a gesture which was acknowledged by Mahakasyapa with a smile. This is called the sealing of mind by mind and is the ‘Transmission outside the Teaching’; it is the foundation of the whole Buddhadharma. The repetition of Amitabha’s name, sutra-reading and concentration upon mantras are also designed to help us escape from birth and death.
Some say that Chan is a sudden method while the Pure Land and Mantrayana are gradual ones; it is so, but this is only a difference in names and terms because in reality all methods lead to the same result. Hence the Sixth Patriarch said, ‘The Dharma is neither instantaneous nor gradual, but man’s awakening may be slow or quick.’ If all methods are good for practice and if you find one which suits you practice it; but you should never praise one method and vilify another, thereby giving rise to discrimination. The most important thing is sila (discipline) which should be strictly observed. Nowadays there are corrupt monks who not only disregard the rules of discipline, but who say that to observe them is also a form of clinging; such an irresponsible statement is harmful and dangerous to beginners.
The Chan doctrine of the Mind was handed down through Mahakasyapa and his successors in India and reached China where it was eventually transmitted to Master Hui-neng, its Sixth (Chinese) Patriarch. This was the Transmission of the Right Dharma which then flourished (all over China). The Vinaya-discipline School began with Upali, who received it from the Lord Buddha who declared that sila is the teacher of all living beings in the Dharma-ending-age. After Upagupta the Fourth Patriarch of the Chan sect in India it was divided into five schools (the Dharmagupta, Sarvastivada, Mahisasaka, Kasyapiya and Vatsuputriya). In China, Dao-xuan (a celebrated monk of the Tang Dynasty) of Mount Nan studied the Dharmagupta, wrote a commentary en it and founded the Vinaya School, becoming its first Chinese Patriarch.
The Tian-tai School was founded in China by Hui-wen of the Bei-qi Dynasty (550-78) after he studied Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika Shastra and realised the Mind-ground.
Du-shun (died 640) studied the Avatamsaka Sutra and subsequently founded the Hua-yan School, which was later called the Xian-shou School after its Third Patriarch, otherwise known as Fa-zang (643-712). He was a prolific commentator on the Hua-yan.
Hui-yuan founded the Pure Land School which was handed down through its Nine Patriarchs. Its Sixth Patriarch, Yan-shou Yong-ming and three succeeding ones were enlightened Chan Masters who spread the Pure Land doctrine, and the two schools (Chan & Pure Land) intermingled like milk and water. In spite of the division of the Buddhadharma into different schools, these do not stray from the underlying meaning revealed by the Buddha when he held a flower aloft. Thus we realize that Chan and Pure Land are closely related and that the ancients were painstaking when they taught the Buddhadharrna.
The Mizhong (Yogacara) School was introduced in China by Vajrabodhi (who arrived there in 619). It was spread by Amogha and then flourished thanks to the efforts of Chan Master Yi-xing (672-717).
The above expedient methods of teaching the Buddhadharma are mutually complementary and should never be categorized as separate denominations, contrary and hostile to one another, for this would run counter to the intentions of the Buddhas and Patriarchs. An ancient said that they are but like yellow leaves given to children to prevent them from crying.
People who do not understand the real reason for sayings such as Chao-zhou’s ‘I do not like hearing the word ‘Buddha’ or ‘If I mistakenly utter the Buddha’s name but once, I shall rinse my mouth out for three days,’ are unaware of the compassionate heart he had when teaching his disciples to disengage themselves from illusory ‘Buddhas’ and quote him to vilify the Pure Land method as the concern of ignorant old women Again, some people regard the Chan practice as the occupation of heretical seekers of emptiness. In short, they pretend that they are always right whereas others are always wrong.
This sort of controversy is endless and not only contradicts the good intention of the Buddha and Patriarchs in setting up convenient methods of teaching the Dharma, but it also furnishes outsiders with a good pretext to criticize and hinder it. The consequences being so great, I especially draw the attention of experienced devotees as well as beginners to this unfortunate state of things so that they can put an end to it; if it is allowed to continue, it will strangle the Buddhadharma to death.
We should know that all methods lead to the same result. Students of Buddhism should read and reread Chan Master Yong-ming’s works Zong Jing Lu and Wan Shan Tong Gui Ji. Students of the Pure Land School should read and understand well the chapter on Mahastharna’s means of perfection in the Surangama Sutra. Both works explain the inter-relationship of all methods of practice and their common aim, i.e. the realization of Bodhi, despite their classification into different schools, and so recognize the self-natured Pure Land by keeping from delusion and turning to the inner reality without wandering in search of externals. If we comprehend this truth we can, while not straying from it, speak of either Chan or Pure Land, of either East or West, both of which are reachable, and of either ‘existence’ or ‘non-existence’ which will no longer hinder us. This is the moment when either ‘form’ or ‘smell’ are but the Profound Mean, the Self-natured Amitabha and the Pure Land which is but Mind, all of which will be attainable in a place where there are not too many creepers (expedient methods which, in Chan terminology, are likened to creepers; which hide the trunk of the tree and should never be clung to in quest of the latter, or self-nature).
The Surangama Sutra says, ‘Just wipe out all worldly feelings and passions, beyond which nothing can be interpreted as holy’. If we can do so and thereby cut off all false thoughts, attachments and habits, we shall be Bodhisattvas, Patriarchs and Buddhas; otherwise we shall continue to be living beings.
Reciters of the Buddha’s name should never cling to that name for it can become as harmful as poison. We now recite the Buddha’s name because our habits are deeply rooted from time without beginning and our thoughts cannot be easily stopped. So we use his name as a prop in our striving to wipe out all rising thoughts until they eventually vanish completely and give way to the Pure Land which will then manifest itself. So why should we seek it from outside?