Entering the Dharma-Door of Buddha-Remembrance
Restraining All Six Sense‐Roots and Continuing the One Pure Thought
Buddha-remembrance is a dharma-door [Buddhist practice] that benefits all practitioners of three roots [the sharp, the middling, and the dull capacities] and accessible to all of them. It especially suits modern people who are living a busy and stressful life. It is easy to learn and everyone can do it: eighty-year-olds, three-year-olds, college professors, peddlers, and even illiterate grandparents. With enough faith, everyone can more or less benefit from and become responsive to this method, according to everyone’s capacity. If you can get deep into the Buddha dharma [Buddhism] and carefully ponder over it, you may even actually realize your true mind and see your own Buddha-nature through this dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance. A very small number of people, who regard themselves as sharp roots, do not even deign to practice Buddha-remembrance; regrettably, they have missed a great advantage in their cultivation.
Even though anyone can remember the Buddha, due to a person’s capacity and knowledge, there are different levels in the practice. I will briefly discuss the ways of practicing Buddha-remembrance, classified from the easy to the advanced.
Reciting the Buddha-Name when one feels like it
This kind of person is just starting to learn the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance. He does not know why he should remember the Buddha, nor does he know the difference between “Buddha-remembrance” and “reciting the Buddha-name.” He, however, has heard of the benefit of Buddha-remembrance and has tried to learn it from someone, by starting with reciting the Buddha-name. Even though he recites the Buddha-name with his mouth, his mind is occupied with discursive thoughts arising from greed, anger, delusion, pride, and doubt, which are inseparable from his existence. He sometimes attends group practices of Buddha-remembrance; nevertheless, he will not attend when the weather is windy or rainy, or he is not in the mood. In daily life, he recites the Buddha-name silently only when he feels like it; most of the time, he is involved with his own thoughts.
Reciting the Buddha-Name without interruption
This person, having planted the cause of good roots and meritorious deeds in his past lives, has in this lifetime the favorable conditions of the help and guidance from good friends, and he often keeps the company of people who practice Buddha-remembrance. He gradually comes to know the reason why he should remember the Buddha and the benefit of Buddha-remembrance, and he has developed the ability to recite the Buddha-name continually. Sometimes he can fully concentrate on the Buddha-name, at which time he repeatedly recites the Buddha-name in silence.
In some cases, the person does not take the initiative to recite the Buddha-name, but he has the favorable condition that his parents, teachers, or friends were doing group practices of the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance. He may have witnessed a parent, a teacher, or a friend passing away while Buddhist friends recited aloud the Buddha-name at the side of the deceased; he may also have seen the peaceful and auspicious facial expression of the deceased; and he may have been moved by the solemn and comfortable manner of the people who recited the Buddha-name for a person at death. Due to his personal experience, he has accepted Buddha-remembrance as the dharma-door of cultivation. While reciting the Buddha’s name silently all the time, he also seeks to understand the vows and stories of the Buddha or the bodhisattva whose name he recites as well as the sublimity of His body and of His Buddha Land. He has begun to understand the benefit of Buddha-remembrance.
Remembering the Buddha by reciting His name
This person not only knows about the sublimity of the resident’s body and environment in Buddha Lands (Note: usually meant the Ultimate-Bliss Pure Land), but also has deep faith in the existence of the Ultimate-Bliss Pure Land. Besides, he also has deep faith in the forty-eight great vows of Buddha Amitabha as told by Buddha Sakyamuni, The World-Honored One [Bhagavan], and deep in his heart he makes an oath to be reborn in that land. Hence, he is exploring the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance, wishing to enter it in depth. Constantly pondering over and getting deeper in his studies of works on the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance with good, knowledgeable teachers, he has learned the difference between recitation of the Buddha-name and Buddha-remembrance. He has also learned that, at a group practice of reciting the Buddha-name, he should not only do oral recitation, but also mental recitation; not only do mental recitation, but also mental listening; not only mental listening, but also Buddha-remembrance. He has learned that he needs to continue Buddha-remembrance without interruption and that it is important to curtail distracting conditions, not allowing deluded thoughts to interrupt recitation of the Buddha-name and his Buddha-remembrance.
In weekly group practice or your own daily practice, you need to recite diligently the Buddha-name with Buddha-remembrance without interruption. During group practice, you should not sound the Buddha-name too loud lest it should hurt your Chi [energy flow] or health. The essential point is to keep the thought of Buddha-remembrance with recitation of the Buddha-name; as recitation of the Buddha-name is uninterrupted, the thought of Buddha-remembrance is also uninterrupted. When the mind is dull or the discursive thoughts are intruding, recite the Buddha-name with the group in a voice that is neither too loud nor too low and continue with Buddha-remembrance.
In your daily practice, recite the Buddha-name silently, or do mental recitation and mental listening; in other words, you can hear your silent recitation very clearly. Mental recitation and mental listening mean that you recite the Buddha-name silently and hear the sound of the Buddha-name in your mind with such concentration that the sound will be uninterrupted. Only a few people can accomplish this practice. Nevertheless, if you have accomplished this practice, you need to take a step forward and investigate the reason why you need to do mental recitation and mental listening. If you observe and think carefully, you will know that the purpose of mental recitation and mental listening is to dispel deluded thoughts by mental concentration. At this stage, Buddha-remembrance seems to be looming, but not very clear; sometimes, Buddha-remembrance is totally absent, and the mind is just in a state of concentration [samadhi]. Once you are aware of your state of mind by observation, you know whether you need to turn away from it. At this stage, you need to change from mental recitation and mental listening to mental recitation and Buddha-remembrance. While recitation of the Buddha-name in your mind is uninterrupted, you should also keep the pure thought of Buddha-remembrance uninterrupted. When reaching this stage in your cultivation of the dharma-door of
Buddha-remembrance, you probably have received some responsive signs from either the Buddha or a bodhisattva or even seen an apparition of His image. As a result, your confidence is reinforced and will not fade away.
Buddha-Remembrance without Appearance
For a person who can cultivate Buddha-remembrance at the level of no appearance, he must have in his past lives revered and made offerings to The World- Honored One, made offerings to the Three Jewels, planted widely in the fields of fortune, planted deeply his own good roots, and practiced both the Pure Land School methods and meditative concentration without neglecting either one. Besides, he must have been close to good, knowledgeable teachers and not followed just anybody’s words; and he must have been willing to explore and ponder over the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance in order to elevate his level of Buddha-remembrance. Hence, in this lifetime, even though his main practice is the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance, he does not neglect to acquire the knowledge in the practice of meditative concentration. Because he has acquired the fundamental knowledge in both the dharma-door of the Pure Land School and the dharma-door of meditative concentration, his mind, in the course of diligent and continuous learning and practice, has become rather subtle, and he can naturally reach the level of Buddha-remembrance without appearance. When he practices Buddha-remembrance, the Buddha’s name or image does not arise in his mind. Equipped with deep good roots, abundant merit and wisdom, he knows without any doubt that this dharma-door is truly remembrance of the Buddha, and he makes a single-minded decision to enter deep into this practice. He is also confident that after death he will be reborn in a higher grade in the Ultimate-Bliss Pure Land than otherwise possible. This practice is what Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta said in The Surangama Sutra: “Remembering and thinking of the Buddha … Restrain all six sense-roots and continue the one pure thought.” If you can practice, as a supporting practice, bowing down to the Buddha while remembering the Buddha without appearance, you can easily apply this dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance without appearance to your daily life and carry out the practice in both movements and stillness.
If a person has accomplished this dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance and can do it in his daily life, I would say that he has sufficient confidence in the Three Jewels as well as himself, that he will not abandon the Three Jewels in this lifetime, and that he cannot help having some thoughts about transcending the three realms. In your own or group practice, if you practice recitation of the Buddha-name diligently until the Buddha-name does not arise anymore, and you still can meditate single-mindedly on the Buddha without being distracted, then you will understand experientially the meaning of continuation of the one pure thought.
If this person can apply himself ever diligently, entering deep into this dharma-door with mindfulness, contemplation, and practice, he will know clearly the following: the image of the Buddha is not the Buddha; the Buddha-name is not the Buddha; the sound of the Buddha-name is not the Buddha; and even the responsive apparition of the Buddha is not the Buddha. The Buddha is one’s mind, for Buddha means the enlightened one. Buddha Sakyamuni who appeared in India over two thousand and five hundred years ago was a manifestation Buddha, a display of His dharma-body [dharmakaya]. The original state [noumenon, dharmakaya] of the
Buddha has no birth and no death; the true Buddha is neither existence nor emptiness and is not apart from existence or emptiness—it is one’s “true mind.” What you are remembering in your practice is actually this one mind, which has no appearance of names, sounds, or images; the Buddha you are remembering is this mind. Then, why is it necessary to employ the appearance of names, sounds, or images to help remember the Buddha? If a person can reach this conclusion through his own reasoning, he will be able to abandon the appearance of names, sounds, and images, and begin to do Buddha-remembrance without appearance. Furthermore, if he can extend this pure thought in his practice from a sitting posture to his daily activities, he will accomplish something in his practice in one to three days. For a very diligent person who practices continuously and experiences it in depth, in one or two months, or even one or two weeks, he will be able to stay in Buddha-remembrance without making himself do so. The pure thought of Buddha-remembrance will continue without stopping like a gushing spring; it will be present automatically without any willful effort.
Even though Buddha-remembrance at this stage is without appearance, you are not remembering all Buddhas in ten directions but only a particular Buddha. Without using any appearance, you know very clearly which Buddha is your object of remembrance. Although this thought of Buddha-remembrance is hard to understand because it has no appearance, it will be easier if you have already accomplished the practice of Buddha-remembrance by reciting the Buddha-name. To help people who practice Buddha-remembrance to enter the state of no appearance quickly, I have devised, as a support, the practice of bowing down to the Buddha while remembering the Buddha without appearance. To learn the details of this practice and for your reference, you can come to our Center and get a copy of my book Buddha-Remembrance without Appearance [Wu Xiang Nian Fo, the Chinese edition, published in 1993].
To cultivate the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance without appearance, you need to reduce or preferably remove any attachment, visualization, doubt, and pride from your mind. If you have attachment, you cannot abandon the appearance of names, sounds, and images; even if you can abandon these appearances, you probably cannot keep the pure thought going. If you do not give up visualization, you might suspect the presence of some ghosts or deities [elite ghosts who have freedom and powers] or hope to get some response from Buddhas and bodhisattvas; hence, you will find it hard to remain settled in the state of Buddha-remembrance without appearance and to continue the pure thought. In addition, if you do not remove your doubt, you might consider Buddha-remembrance without appearance groundless, or this dharma-door not really a Buddha dharma. If you do not remove your doubt, you might choose to delay your practice of this method until its propagation, after ten, twenty, fifty, or even one hundred years, has reached the stage of total maturity; it will be a shame, at that time, if you will be too old to practice or may even have died. Actually, quite a few ancient and contemporary masters have discussed this dharma-door. However, those who circulate Buddhist books in this dharma-ending age neglect to propagate it, because they think this kind of mental state is too difficult to cultivate. On the other hand, a small number of people conveniently interpret the meaning of “Buddha-remembrance” taught by many masters as recitation of the Buddha-name. Consequently, people who would like to practice Buddha-remembrance find themselves confused and unable to advance.
It will be hard for another kind of people to practice this dharma because of their pride. Some of these people value Chan practice above all else and will not abandon it, even though they still cannot find, after practicing ten to twenty years, the “huatou” [a short question in Chan practice]; these are awesome but pathetic practitioners. There are others who bury themselves in the exhaustive studies of Buddhist scriptures in order to become Buddhist scholars, yet, as time goes by, old age soon comes upon them. These two types of people usually do not want to bother with the practice of Buddha-remembrance or to be in the company of people who practice Buddha-remembrance.
We know it is not without reason that the lotus flower is an icon in Buddhism: the lotus flower symbolizes the purity and dignity of the Buddha dharma, but it grows in lowly mud. If a Buddhist student can remove his pride, then it will be easy for him to receive the dharma with humility and to have accomplishments in his cultivation of the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance. Since Ma y 1989, I have been helping people to learn Buddhism through the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance. I perceive that pride can hurt Buddhist students in a deep, wide way. People without pride can receive the dharma easily and cultivate quickly; arrogant people tend to worship authority figures and do not believe in good, knowledgeable teachers who are not famous. Even if a truly good, knowledgeable teacher appears before them, they will not believe in him and hence miss the chance to follow him. Therefore, you must remove your pride if you want to enter deep into the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance.
From Practicing the Practice to Practicing the Principle—the Ordinary Mind Being the Buddha’s Mind
This dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance, without using names and appearances, is not yet in true reality [dharmata]. The term “Buddha-Remembrance without Appearance” has been made up mainly to contrast against the appearances of all worldly phenomena, because this method abandons the appearance of names, sounds, and images.
Although true reality has no appearance, absence of appearances is not necessarily true reality. The difference between the two lies in the fact that no-appearance is only relative to appearance and can be recognized with worldly knowledge; for example, not only Buddha-remembrance without appearance has no appearance, but also pristine awareness, sentient beings in the formless realm, the vacant space, etc. On the other hand, worldly understanding cannot know true reality; for example, true suchness [bhuta-tathata], Buddha-nature, bodhi, and nirvana are also in this category.
The so-called true reality in Mahayana Buddhism does not mean just absence of appearances. It actually means the non-duality of emptiness and existence: with appearance but apart from appearance as well as no-appearance without removing appearance; neither of the two extremes of emptiness and existence, yet not separated from the two extremes of emptiness and existence—this is the meaning of the middle way. If even those who have recognized their true minds but have not seen their Buddha-natures still cannot see this truth, how can ordinary people comprehend it by thinking with their conscious minds? Even though Buddha-remembrance without appearance is still not true reality, one really can have, from ancient times down to this modern day, this mental state. I have named this practice “Buddha-Remembrance without Appearance” based on a quote from chapter four of The Great Jewel Heap Sutras [The Ratnakuta Sutras] that “no appearance means no physical body or its functions, no names, no sentences, or no indications;” my aim is to propagate this dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance for benefiting people who practice Buddha-remembrance or Chan meditation in this dharma-ending age.
Although this dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance has no appearance, it is only a method on the cause ground. Suppose you have accomplished this dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance, and the thought of Buddha-remembrance is gushing like spring water, but the experience of dharma joy, with the passage of time, will lighten, become customary, fade out, and finally disappear. If you continue with the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance, it will come upon a time when you suddenly have a flash of reflection, “Who is remembering the Buddha?” Or, you may come upon a good, knowledgeable teacher who asks you coolly, “Who is remembering the Buddha?” At that moment, you immediately lose your sense of the four directions as if you have fallen headfirst into a barrel of black paint. From then on, you continuously contemplate the sense of doubt [about this question], like holding a delicious, hot dumpling in your mouth, which is totally stuck, and you cannot swallow it or spit it out. At this time, with your solid training in Buddha-remembrance without appearance, you can contemplate deeply without using languages or words. One of these days, you will suddenly realize, “None of these is I: the physical body, its perceptions and sensations, and the deluded mind or consciousness; only the true mind without a single thought is really I.” And you accept your realization without any hesitation. From then on, you know the source of life of all beings, can see your true mind that the naked eye cannot see, and you will no longer take pristine awareness for the true mind.
As if finding their noses they thought they had lost, some people might burst into laughter, some might weep with ecstasy, while others might remain inscrutable, staying calmly in their realization of the true mind. From then on, you feel relaxed and peaceful, with clarity in mind and body. This kind of experience is due to an instant severance of the view of a self, which then leads to the severance of doubt, which in turn leads to the severance of non-Buddhist views on certain prohibitive rules. Upon severance of these three fetters, the practice of Buddha-remembrance without appearance has become a result ground practice; the level of the practitioner, however, is only equivalent to that of “entering the stream [the First Fruit]” of the sound-hearers [sravaka]. “Entering the holy stream” means it is not yet the holy fruit [of arhatship]. Therefore, you are not yet a holy being and are still attached to the extreme side of emptiness, taking emptiness for real, because even though you have recognized your true mind, you have not yet seen your Buddha-nature, nor entered true reality. Therefore, you need to strive to see your Buddha-nature so as to enter the level of Buddha-remembrance in true reality.
Buddha-Remembrance in true reality
It is rare to see Buddhist students accomplish Buddha-remembrance without appearance by practicing the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance. Granted, students who practice Buddha-remembrance without appearance can contemplate their true minds, and, as a result, recognize their true minds (Note: coming to realization) and cut the three fetters, and all of these things are quite remarkable. However, a good, knowledgeable teacher, after validating a student’s realization, normally only advises the student to maintain his realization. Nothing much happens afterwards between the teacher and the student—a shameful waste of time and resources. In fact, as long as you have not seen your Buddha-nature, you still need to work hard contemplating on Buddha-remembrance. If the student doing Buddha-remembrance, now on the result ground, understands the significance of what he lacks, he should drop all worldly conditions to look for a good, knowledgeable teacher [maybe different from the first teacher]. If the student is fortunate enough to come across one, the teacher, after listening to his view of realization, examining his realization experience, and observing his spiritual capacity, might slap him once, throw him an apple, or wave a fist in front of his eyes. If the student still cannot see his Buddha-nature, the teacher might assign him some dharma words to contemplate.
If a person who practices Buddha-remembrance can exert his best efforts in contemplation, then it is only a matter of conditions and timing that he may come upon some event: something hot or cold, a fall to the ground, a dog’s bark, a red flower or green leaves, or feeling of joy or sorrow, and that he will suddenly see his Buddha-nature with one corresponding thought, thus cracking his ignorance once more. At this moment, he comes to discover that his Buddha-nature is present everywhere [within scope of his observation], and he feels so funny that he touches his own head and laughs at his own stupidity. Buddha-nature is right in front of his eyes, but he was not aware of it before. He wants to look around everywhere and touch things to explore the ubiquity of Buddha-nature.
Some people might come to a break-through in their contemplation, while doing sitting meditation; after capturing a corresponding thought, they carefully experience the ubiquity of Buddha-nature, while listening to surrounding sounds. Even after the sitting session, they still can experience its presence. At this moment, they come to understand the significance of practicing Chan and Pure Land together and the mutual responsiveness between them. The experience of a Buddhist student at this stage can be described as staying in luminous awareness, distant from deluded thoughts, languages, words, rules of analyses, or worldly establishments; it is hard to describe, but can only be summarized into one word, “enlightenment.” This is the state of “one mind in principle,” and seeing the origin of all Buddhas is virtually seeing all Buddhas in dharmakaya. From then on, for seven days or even seventy days, he lives in the clarity of awareness, without feeling either drowsy or chaotic; deluded thoughts do not arise in daily activities, because no thought is applicable; instead, he is clearly aware of the true emptiness and true presence of his Buddha-nature in the sense-objects such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and mental contents. Lying in bed from night into daybreak, he finds himself sleepless and clearly aware; sometimes, he sleeps and wakes up at three or four o’clock in the morning, fully refreshed. He will rise and wash up, offer incense and bow down to the Buddha, and will say to himself, “Actually, I have never bowed down to the Buddha!” From then on, he will see that the body, the mind, and the physical world are illusory, and the realness of these objects previously perceived will be no more. When he reads the first meaning scriptures, he will experience an affinity with them as never before, because they are speaking of the state of his mind. If he mentions his experience to others, however, people might think that he is only quoting from profound first meaning scriptures, and they might advise him, “Don’t pursue the names and terms in the doctrine. You should make an effort to do solid practice.” It would be hard to decide whether to laugh off the advice as a joke or weep for the ignorant speaker. I will not describe in detail the experience of other beneficial virtues, which can only be known after one’s personal validation.
The Mind Opening without Using Expedient Methods
The afore-mentioned are the stages of progress for most people who contemplate Buddha-remembrance [seeing one’s Buddha-nature coming after recognizing one’s true mind]. Nevertheless, it is possible for a person with sharp roots to see his Buddha-nature at the same time when he recognizes his true mind with a corresponding thought, or to see Buddha’s dharmakaya without the help from a good, knowledgeable teacher. The section “Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta on Perfect Mastery of Buddha-Remembrance” in The Surangama Sutra states: “If sentient beings use their minds to remember and think of the Buddha, at present or in the future, they definitely will see the Buddha.” “In the future” means that their practice of the “one mind in principle” [noumenon] will be accomplished in the next life and that they will see the Buddha then. Furthermore, “will see the Buddha” means seeing one’s own self-nature Buddha, seeing the “dharmakayas of all Buddhas,” and seeing the dharmakayas of all sentient beings; it does not mean seeing a manifestation of Buddha out of one’s mental responsiveness. At this moment, the cultivator will suddenly realize that “The dharmakayas of all Buddhas are this way, and the original faces of all sentient beings are this way too.” If he who practices Buddha-remembrance also contemplates Chan, he will say, “Knowing where the venerable dharma master Guang Qin [1892-1986] from Tucheng, Taiwan, stood is like having received thirty strokes of good caning.”
The entire process of contemplation or cultivation of Buddha-remembrance in true reality, from the rising of a sense of doubt until the seeing of one’s Buddha-nature, is a demonstration of how “the mind opens without using expedient methods” [stated in The Surangama Sutra.] Why do you need some expedient methods? The reason is that your method of Buddha-remembrance without appearance responds well to true reality, which also has no appearance. With this background, you can spontaneously practice Chan without having to learn it; you can spontaneously contemplate a “huatou” without having to learn it; you can spontaneously be filled up with an oppressive sense of doubt without any head-breaking struggle; and your mind will naturally open even without the help of a good, knowledgeable teacher. The process of the opening of one’s mind takes as little as one day or as long as over ten years, or it may be delayed to the next life. The statement in the Sutra that “At present or in the future they definitely will see the Buddha” means realization may arrive sooner or later, but your mind definitely will open.
Because of the opening of your mind and seeing your Buddha-nature, thereafter, when you practice Buddha-remembrance, whether you recite the Buddha-name, use visualization, or do it without appearance, all are Buddha-remembrance in true reality. Why is that so? The answer is that true reality is apart from all appearances but is with all appearances. True reality is neither emptiness nor existence, but is simultaneously emptiness as well as existence. You are now in a position to use the saying “A sounding of the Buddha-name includes both the practice [phenomenon] and the principle [noumenon, reality],” because you have thoroughly understood both the practice and the reality of Buddha-remembrance, and you are now qualified to help others, as conditions permit, cultivate the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance. Your practice of Buddha-remembrance at this stage is a totally different experience, different from the Buddha-remembrance before “the mind opened.” Buddha-remembrance has become remembrance of the mind with the mind, or using your true mind to remember Buddha’s true mind; the subject that can remember and the object that is remembered are only one mind. [Editorial note: Although the mind that can remember is deluded, it is nevertheless produced by the true mind and is part of the functions of the true mind. Therefore, to a realized person, what can remember and what is remembered are not two things.] An important difference is that the Buddha has perfected meditative concentration and wisdom but we all have not, and that the Buddha has perfected merit and wisdom but we all have not. Looking ahead, even though you will never undertake the three evil life journeys [of animals, ghosts, or hell beings], the Way toward Buddhahood is still long. You might feel ashamed as you practice Buddha-remembrance, and when you think about fellow Buddhists who have not attained this level, you cannot help feeling compassion for them and would like to help them to reach this level by stages.
If those who have reached this level wish to be reborn at the top grade of the highest level in the Ultimate-Bliss Pure Land, they definitely will be accepted by Buddha Amitabha. Before death, they will receive a comforting sign, and immediately after death, they will be seated on a diamond [vajra] platform and reborn in the Ultimate-Bliss Pure Land. Upon seeing The World-Honored Amitabha, they will suddenly realize “patience with the dharmas of no-birth,” and they will be able to travel instantly to various kinds of Buddha lands in ten directions and pay homage and make offerings to innumerable Buddhas. After they have received, each in his turn, registration for Buddhahood by Buddhas, they will return to the Ultimate-Bliss Pure Land, and then receive hundreds of thousands of measureless dharani, the door of overall retention.
A person who practices Buddha-remembrance at this level has received a great many benefits of virtues and liberation. For example, when he is insulted in public, he will be able to ignore it, truly without any anger or animosity in his heart. Nevertheless, a Buddhist student should not become complacent; in addition to helping other people to do Buddha-remembrance, he should continue to cultivate the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance in its broad sense. The main direction of his cultivation is to acquire the seed-wisdom knowledge and practice the four basic levels of meditative concentration. This son of the Buddha has already entered true reality, and with his afflictions reduced, he can progress in meditation ten times or a thousand times faster than others. Once he has mastered the four basic levels of dhyana, he ought to progress to the four levels of advanced meditation that transcend the three-realms: reflection dhyana, forging dhyana, mastery dhyana, and cultivation dhyana. All these practices are in the area of concentration [samadhi], which in turn can produce hundreds of thousands of samadhi on his way toward Buddhahood, for the benefit of innumerable sentient beings. Do not be satisfied with the level of Buddha-remembrance in true reality and do not stop moving forward.
Clearing up Doubts
Some people might criticize, “This article is about Buddha-remembrance, so it should not discuss Chan.” This concern calls for discussion on how to make twists and turns [adjustments] in order to elevate one’s level of Buddha-remembrance. First, a person practicing
Buddha-remembrance by reciting the Buddha-name does not have to stay at the stage of mental recitation and mental listening, and he can change his practice to mental recitation of the Buddha-name with Buddha-remembrance. Next, anyone who can do mental recitation of the Buddha-name with Buddha-remembrance can change his practice to Buddha-remembrance without appearance, abandoning all appearances. Some people are troubled if the Buddha-name does not appear when they try to practice Buddha-remembrance, for they do not know how to make adjustments. Furthermore, when one’s thought of Buddha-remembrance is uninterrupted like the gushing spring water, one should change to contemplating Buddha-remembrance; this change from practicing the practice to practicing the principle is also making a turn. We have often seen people who have insufficient knowledge or have rejected Chan cultivation become troubled, cringe, and remain at the level of Buddha-remembrance without appearance. Missing the conditions for “seeing the Buddha,” they cannot enter the experience of Buddha-remembrance in true reality. It is a shame that they also lose the opportunity to have the favorable retribution of being reborn in the highest grade in the Ultimate-Bliss Pure Land. These are the disadvantages of insufficient knowledge and lack of adjustments in one’s practice.
Even though there are 84,000 dharma-doors of liberation in Buddhism, the cultivation of each dharma-door eventually will arrive at the first meaning truth (true reality), whether you practice mantra recitation and visualization of the Secret School, the concentration [samatha] and insight [vipasyana] meditation of the Tiantai School, the Chan contemplation of the Chan School, or the Buddha-remembrance of the Pure Land School, etc. In any dharma-door, the essence of the final stage of its cultivation, which under certain conditions leads to the realization of the first meaning, is nothing but Chan. However, the cultivation of each dharma-door, from its beginning to its end, must involve some twists and turns. In other words, you progress from a distracted mind to a unified mind with power of concentration; given the power of concentration, you can contemplate and come to see the empty nature of your true mind, i.e., to recognize your true mind (a realization); and from having recognized your true mind and seeing what cannot be seen, you continue to contemplate and then come to see your Buddha-nature, the presence of true reality. Such unfolding of wisdom in the process can benefit others.
In the course of making adjustments, various methods of cultivation may seem different, but the principle is the same. In other words, Chan is not exclusive to the Chan School, and it actually exists in the final stage of each dharma-door of liberation. The aim of long-time cultivation before the final stage is to strengthen your power of concentration and knowledge. Once you have enough power of concentration and knowledge, you will know when to make turns. As certain conditions come to maturity, Chan will appear.
To put it simply, liberation comes from the guideline “Restraining the mind is holding the moral precepts; holding the precepts will produce concentration; and concentration will give rise to wisdom;” the principle of turning is to go from appearance to no appearance, and from skillful expedients to true reality. Once you have entered true reality, then you know there is no appearance without removing appearance. Therefore, the Tiantai School says, “The principle and the phenomena are not two;” the Chan School says, “The color of a mountain is nothing but the pure body [dharmakaya], and the sound of a brook is the broad, long tongue [of the Buddha];” the Pure Land School says, “A sounding of the Buddha-name includes both the phenomenon and the principle.” Hence, the principle and guideline of adjustments are common to all Buddhist schools or sects. This principle is true in the Pure Land School and all other Schools. The difference is in the appearance of the dharma-door, yet the principle and guideline are not different. With this understanding, you will be able to select among various dharma-doors of liberation, so that you will quickly enter the Way.
For a beginner in the dharma-door of Buddha-remembrance, it would help to receive the benefit of regular group practices and of studying the works of a good, knowledgeable teacher, in conjunction with his own practice of Buddha-remembrance by reciting the Buddha-name. In the course of diligent cultivation, aiming to reach the stage of Buddha-remembrance without appearances, a few people might experience certain responsive signs: seeing light, smelling fragrance, seeing the golden image of the Buddha, etc. Even though these signs are enjoyable, do not get attached to them. An extremely small group of people (one in ten thousand) might even see, in their meditation, the Buddha speaking the dharma, guiding them. In that case, you need to verify those teachings against the Three Dharma-Seals and the Four Dharmas to Depend Upon and do not follow those teachings if they are not in agreement with the Three Seals or the Four Dharmas. Another group of people, when they become versed in Buddha-remembrance without appearance, might experience relaxation, coolness, joyfulness, compassion, dwindling of pride, entering into samadhi, etc. You need not be alarmed by these signs of a concentrated mind, and you should continue to deepen your practice.
In addition, I came across in recent years a few Buddhist students, whose minds, from contemplating either Chan or Buddha-remembrance, reached the state of no languages, words, or deluded thoughts, and they boldly acknowledged this mental state as the true self [the true mind]. Furthermore, they presented their findings to a presumably good, knowledgeable teacher who, not knowing that this mind was still the deluded mind, then validated them as having realized. We should investigate carefully whether the mental state of no languages, words, or deluded thoughts could be the true mind, because animals can be in that state, and practitioners, with pristine awareness in meditative concentration, can also be in that state. In addition, if that mental state those students experienced had been their true minds, they would have received the benefit of liberating virtues from recognizing the true mind. To understand the subtleties of this aspect, you need the help of a truly good, knowledgeable teacher; you need him to guide your learning, so that you can move in the right direction. Do not take the pristine awareness for the true mind because it has no thoughts, nor take the experience of seeing flowers (projected by the mind) in meditation as a sign of realization. Otherwise, your misunderstanding will prevent you from recognizing the emptiness of your true mind, not to mention entering true reality, the experience of emptiness and existence being non-dual.
It would be best if a cultivator can have a truly good, knowledgeable teacher to guide him in contemplating Buddha-remembrance. A truly good, knowledgeable teacher is one who has already entered the level of Buddha-remembrance in true reality, has seen his Buddha-nature without losing it, has true understanding of the first meaning, has skillful means to teach students to go from appearances to no appearance, and has expedient means to guide the student to true reality. Such a good, knowledgeable teacher is not necessarily well known, but he can first direct the cultivation of a person practicing Buddha-remembrance, and then examine his experiences. It is important that a person contemplating Buddha-remembrance does not mistake the deluded mind for his true mind, or mistake the deluded awareness for true awareness; only a truly good, knowledgeable teacher is able to lead him to the level of Buddha-remembrance in true reality, eliminating his attachment to certain hallowing experiences in meditation. Fortunately, the number of good, knowledgeable teachers in Taiwan is on the rise, and they are not hard to find. The important thing for fellow cultivators of Buddha-remembrance is to establish their confidence, reduce pride, generate the bodhi mind [enlightenment mind, aspiration for Buddhahood], and carry out the bodhisattva conduct. Otherwise, even if a good, knowledgeable teacher appears before them, they will miss the opportunity.
What I have discussed in this article is the procedure of Buddha-remembrance, from practicing the practice of reciting the Buddha-name to practicing the principle [after seeing one’s Buddha-nature], all in five stages. It is hard to accomplish Buddha-remembrance without appearance; however, it is not too hard if you practice diligently, using skillful means and advancing in steps. Buddha-remembrance in true reality is beyond the hope of most people, yet it is not impossible. If you have accomplished Buddha-remembrance without appearance on your own, then constantly protect your mindfulness, remove your pride, bring forth the great mind of a bodhisattva, and pray to the Buddha on your knees for directing you to the conditions and whereabouts of a good, knowledgeable teacher. One of these days, the conditions may arise for you to meet your teacher, who might help you solve your problem with just a few words. If you have not yet met a good, knowledgeable teacher, it is because causes and conditions have not been fulfilled. Do not be discouraged; rather, you need to contemplate mindfully by yourself. Even if you cannot see a teacher in this lifetime, at least you can be reborn in a human form and will definitely see the Buddha in the future.
If you are of the generic nature of a bodhisattva, after becoming versed in Buddha-remembrance without appearance, oftentimes, in two or three years you can realize on your own from self-cultivation, see true reality, and find validation of your realization in numerous scriptures and their commentaries. However, if you do not bring forth the great mind of a bodhisattva and remove your pride and timidity, it is not right for you to ask for the experience of Buddha-remembrance in true reality. In conclusion, I would sincerely like to share an encouragement prayer with all fellow Buddhists: Let us hope pervasively that all Buddhists do Buddha-remembrance, thinking of the Buddha; that they all will see the Buddha at present or in the future; and that their minds are vast for the benefit of all sentient beings.
An article in Chinese by Venerable Pings
published in Ci Yun Magazine, 1991
Translated into English in 2010