Faith, Vows and Practice
Letters from Patriarch Yin Kuang
Translated by Master Thich Thien Tam
Faith, Vows and Practice
The main tenets of Pure Land are Faith, Vows and Practice.
Faith: You should believe that the Saha World is filled with the Eight Sufferings; believe that the Western Pure Land is filled with immense joy; believe that as ordinary beings full of evil karma, you cannot, realistically, rely on your own
strength (self-power) alone to eliminate delusion completely, realize the Truth and escape Birth and Death in this very lifetime; believe that Amitabha Buddha has made a profound and lofty Vow – any sentient being who recites His name [with utmost faith and sincerity] seeking rebirth in His land will, at the time of death, be received and guided to the Pure Land.
Vows: You should aspire to transcend this world and achieve rebirth in that blissful Land as soon as possible.
Practice: You should practice Buddha Recitation in all earnestness and sincerity, without a moment’s lapse, paying respect and reciting morning and evening before your altar. You can establish an intensive or a leisurely schedule depending on your
Letter to all followers (VN ed., p. 145)
Faith, Vows and Practice form the cornerstone of Pure Land. If these three conditions are fulfilled, rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss will be achieved. You should pay particular attention to Faith and Vows, and wish wholeheartedly to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land … [and not as a celestial being or a Dharma Master, however awakened, as these are still within the realm of Birth and Death]. Only then will your Faith and Vows reach Amitabha Buddha so that His Compassionate Vow may embrace you. In this connection, Elder Master Ou I has said:
Achieving rebirth in the Pure Land depends entirely on Faith and Vows, while the level of rebirth depends on the depth of practice.
This is a truth as solid as steel – even if a thousand Buddhas were to appear on earth, it would not change. Only by firmly believing in this truth will you have a destiny in the Western Pure Land.
Another letter to the layman Kao Shao-lin. (Chinese ed. Vol. I, p. 55)
Cultivate, Do Not Verbalize
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 it, constantly meditating on it, oblivious to the passage of time, be it days or months, until he 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 Vi-sualization 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 a 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 at 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!
Letter to the layman Fan Ku-nung. (Chinese ed. Vol. I, p. 174)
Quoted from PURE-LAND ZEN ZEN PURE-LAND Letters from Patriarch Yin Kuang