General Advice
by Grand Master Chu-hung (The Eighth Pureland Patriarch)
From Pure Land Pure Mind
Translated by J.C. Cleary
Edited by Van Hien Study Group

Remembering Buddha

        The Pure Land teaching began with the World Honored One Shakyamuni Buddha, and has been disseminated through the generations of sage worthies.
        They have divided the one gate of buddha-remembrance into four types: buddha-remembrance through reciting the name [of Amitabha Buddha], buddha-remembrance through contemplating the image [of Amitabha  Buddha],  buddha-remembrance  through contemplating the concept [of Buddha], and reality-aspect (real mark) buddha-remembrance.
        Though there are differences among the four types, ultimately  they  all  go  back  to  reality-aspect buddha-remembrance. Moreover, the first three types can be grouped as two:  contemplating the concept, and reciting the name.   [Buddha-remembrance through] contemplating the concept is explained in detail in the Sixteen Contemplations Sutra (Meditation Sutra).Here I will discuss reciting the name. The Amitabha Sutrasays:

If a person recites the name of Amitabha Buddha singlemindedly for [a period of from] one or two up to seven days without allowing anything to confuse the mind, at the end of that person's life Amitabha Buddha and a multitude of holy ones will appear before him. As the person dies, his mind will not be deluded, and he will attain rebirth in Amitabha Buddha's land of ultimate bliss.
        This is the great [scriptural] source from which for myriad  generations  has  come  [the  practice  of] buddha-remembrance by reciting the name, the wondrous teaching personally communicated from the golden mouth [of Buddha]. An ancient worthy said:
As they contemplate the subtleties of the inner truth of phenomena, the minds of sentient beings are mixed [with other concerns than truth]. Since they practice contemplation with mixed minds, the contemplative state of mind is hard to achieve.  The Great Sage [Buddha] took pity on them, and encouraged them to concentrate on the recitation of the buddha-name. Because it is easy to invoke the buddha-name, there starts  to  be  some  continuity  [to  their buddha-remembrance].
        This teaches that the work of buddha-remembrance through reciting the name is most essential for being born in the Pure Land. If by reciting the name one arrives at the reality-aspect, then this has the same efficacy as subtle contemplation. Beings of the highest caliber must not doubt this.
        All you children of Buddha here today, [I tell you this]: in the gate of repentance, everyone must repent -- even the sages of the vehicles of the disciples [sravakas] and the solitary [pratyeka] buddhas, even the great beings of complete  mind  [bodhisattvas],  even  those  of enlightenment equal to the buddhas, all must still repent. Since they all must equally repent, don't they all have to be born in the Pure Land? How much the more so for those at the stage of ordinary mortals and those in the stages of study!
        To all of you here today, disciples and others, whatever plane of existence you are in, I respectfully offer [this teaching] to you: all of you must wholeheartedly invoke the buddha-name, and seek birth in the Pure Land. I hope that Buddha's compassion will extend down specially to you, and gather you in and save you.
 

A General Call to Remember Buddha

The Amitabha Sutrasays:

If people are mindful of buddha, at death they are sure to be born in the Pure Land.
The Sixteen Contemplations Sutra (Meditation Sutra)says:
People in all categories who practice buddha-remembrance are born in the Pure Land.
        Thus with this method of buddha-remembrance, it does not matter whether you are male or female or a monk or nun or layperson, it does not matter whether your social status is high or low, or whether you are virtuous or stupid.   As long as the singleminded [remembrance of buddha] is not confused, all categories of people will go to the Pure Land, according to how much they practice [buddha-remembrance]. So we know that there is not one person in the world unworthy of buddha-remembrance.
        If people are rich and high ranking, receiving the use of  everything  ready-made,  they  should  practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are poor and destitute, with small families and  few  relations,  they  should  practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people have children to remember them at their clan shrines, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are childless, and live alone on their own, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people's children are filial, so they are secure receiving  their  support,  they  should  practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people's children are rebellious, and feel no gratitude or love, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are free from sickness, they should take advantage of their good health to practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are infirm, and closely pressed by impermanence, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are old, and do not have much time left, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are young in years, with spirit still pure and sharp, they should practice buddha remembrance.
        If people are at leisure, without cares to trouble their minds, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are busy, and can only steal a little free time from the press of business, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people have left home [to become monks or nuns], and wander free of outside material considerations, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are living as householders, then knowing that [worldly life is as impermanent as] a house on fire, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are intelligent, and clearly understand the Pure Land, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people are stupid and dull, and can do nothing else, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people maintain discipline, the discipline which is the  order  of the Buddha,  they  should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people read the sutras, the sutras which are the words of the Buddha, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people study Zen, Zen which is the mind of the Buddha, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        If people awaken to the Path, the awakening that must be witnessed by the Buddha, they should practice buddha-remembrance.
        I encourage all people everywhere as a matter of great urgency to practice buddha-remembrance. All categories of people will be born in the Pure Land:  the [lotus] flower will open and they will see Buddha.
        Seeing the Buddha, hearing the Dharma, in the end they will become enlightened. Only then will they know that their own inherent mind was all along fundamentally Buddha.
 

Universal Encouragement to Buddha-Remembrance

        Studying Buddhism is not a matter of adornments and formalistic practices: the only thing that is important is genuine cultivation of practice. Buddhist laypeople who live at home do not need to dress like monks and nuns. People who keep their hair can make a constant practice of buddha-remembrance: they do not need to abide by the daily schedules of monks and nuns.
        People  who  like  quiet  can  practice  buddha-remembrance [alone] in silence: they do not have to form groups and create associations [for the purpose].
        People who fear untoward events can practice buddha-remembrance [at home] behind closed doors: they do not have to go to temples to hear the scriptures.
        People who know how to read can practice buddha-remembrance according to the scriptural teachings.
        Burning incense [in temples] far and wide is not as good as sitting peacefully in a hall at home practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Serving misguided teachers is not as good as being obedient and filial to one's parents and practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Making widespread connections with deluded friends is not as good as preserving one's purity alone and practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Storing up merit for future lives is not as good as creating  merit  in  the  present  by  practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Making  vows  and  promising  expiation  [of wrongdoings] is not as good as repenting past faults, undergoing  self-renewal  and  practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Studying non-Buddhist books and texts is not as good as  being  totally  illiterate  and  practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Engaging in false talk about the principles of Zen without knowledge is not as good as genuinely main-taining discipline and practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Seeking demonic spiritual powers is not as good as having correct faith in cause and effect and practicing buddha-remembrance.
        To express the essential point, an upright mind annihilates evil. If you practice buddha-remembrance like this, you are called a good person.  If you practice buddha-remembrance while reining in the mind and eliminating scattering, you are called a worthy person. If you practice buddha-remembrance while enlightening your mind and cutting off delusion, you are called a sage.
        I urge people who are completely at leisure to practice buddha-remembrance.   You have finished arranging marriages for your daughters. Your sons and grandsons are taking care of family business. You are secure and at leisure with no concerns.   You should practice buddha-remembrance with your whole mind and your whole strength. Every day recite the buddha-name several thousand times, or even several tens of thousands of times.
        I urge people who are half at leisure and half busy to practice buddha-remembrance. You are half through, half not through: sometimes you are busy, sometimes you are at leisure. Though you are not totally at leisure, when you are busy you should take care of business, and when you  have  free  time,  you  should  practice buddha-remembrance. Every day recite the buddha-name several hundred times, or several thousand times.
        I urge people who are completely busy to practice buddha-remembrance. You are working on government affairs, or else running around taking care of family business. Though you have no free time, you still must steal a bit of free time amidst your busy life and practice buddha-remembrance. Every day recite the buddha-name ten times in the morning, and several hundred times during the day.
 

Essentials for Reading the Sutras

        What is explained in the sutras of the great canon is no more than discipline, concentration, and wisdom.
        In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes.
        One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
        The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
        If you can fully comprehend the practice of discipline, concentration, and wisdom, this in itself is what is called constantly abiding from moment to moment in the scriptural teachings of the great canon, and being mindful of thousands and millions of volumes of sutras.
        We  must  also  recognize  that  this  discipline, concentration, and wisdom are equivalent to the method of buddha-remembrance. How so?
        Discipline means preventing wrongdoing. If you can wholeheartedly practice buddha-remembrance, evil will not dare to enter -- this is discipline.
        Concentration  means  eliminating the scattering [characteristic of ordinary mind]. If you wholeheartedly practice buddha-remembrance, mind does have any other object -- this is concentration.
        Wisdom means clear perception. If you contemplate the sound of the buddha-name with each syllable distinct, and also contemplate that the one who is mindful and the one who is the object of this mindfulness are both unattainable -- this is wisdom.

        Thus buddha-remembrance is discipline, concentration, is and wisdom. What need is there to follow texts literally when reading the scriptures?
        Time passes quickly, life does not remain solid forever. I hope all of you will make the work of Pure Land practice your urgent task. Do not think that what I say is false and fail to heed it.
 

A Talk to Householders

        Human life:  mothers and children, husbands and wives. A person's family and dependents are all there due to the nexus of causal factors from past lives. Temporarily they join together, but in the end they must be parted. This in itself is not sad or painful. What is sad and painful is to pass a lifetime in vain, without being mindful  of  buddha,  without  practicing buddha-remembrance.
        Today  let  us  simply  abandon  the  myriad entanglements, turn the light around and reflect back.
        Buddha-remembrance is the most important thing in life. There is not much more to say. Just be concerned with purifying your mindfulness of buddha.
        As you recite the buddha-name, reflect clearly in your mind on every syllable. Be serious every moment: do not let any false thoughts mix in. Every morning and evening as you bow to the buddha-image, make a most earnest vow to seek birth in the Pure Land.
        If you persist in this [throughout your life] until you are on the brink of death, correct mindfulness will appear before you spontaneously, and you will go to be reborn in Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, reborn transformed in the Lotus Treasury World, forever removed from all suffering.
 

To a Sick Person

The ancients had a saying:

Sickness is the best medicine for sentient beings. When sick, a person should be very happy. When everything goes against your will, do not feel afflicted.
Another saying goes:
Life and death are fated. When sick, a person should give rise to great liberation. Let life and death go on, without being afraid.
        Again: The past is like an illusion. The present is like an illusion. The future is like an illusion. Abandon them utterly with all your feelings, and just uphold correct mindfulness. In the midst of your sickness, be peaceful and patient. Do not think restlessly of a quick cure. This is the best prescription for a fast recovery.
        Also: Put aside all your household affairs. Abandon the myriad causes of entanglement. Empty your mind and be mindful of the buddha-name. Do not forget it for a minute, and your karmic barriers will dissolve by themselves. When your karmic barriers have dissolved, naturally you will sleep peacefully at night, and your body and mind will get healthy and strong.
The person practicing buddha-remembrance must vow to abandon this evil world, and be born in [Amitabha's Pure Land,] the land of bliss.
 

To an Elderly Layperson

        The body of form inevitably declines and weakens, but reality-nature never decays or perishes. Remove all entanglements, and purify and unify your mind. Pure mind, pure land -- this is how to achieve birth in the Pure Land, and spontaneously arrive at birthlessness.
 

To a Good Woman on the Brink of Death

        Although the bodies of men and women differ, their luminous real naturedoes not.  Why talk of the five impurities [that afflict bodily life]? All that is important is the one mind.  If you invoke Amitabha with your whole mind, you are sure to be reborn in the land of peace and bliss.
 

The Esoteric Secret
To Ta-t'ung

        The ancients taught us to approach enlightened teachers, and seek spiritual friends, [that is], men and women of knowledge. But enlightened teachers do not have any means to transmit mind or impart secret methods: all they do for people is release sticking points and remove bonds.  This is the esoteric secret.
        Today we just recite the buddha-name with unified mindfulness without confusion. This formulation is the esoteric method for releasing sticking points and removing bonds. This is the grand highway out of birth and death.
        Recite the buddha-name morning and night. Recite it when you are walking and when you are sitting. When your mindfulness [of Buddha] is continuous, then it spontaneously becomes a samadhi,that is, a stable state of concentration. Then you will not seek further elsewhere.
        Also: The mind which has long been in confusion is hard to settle down all at once. If your mindfulness of buddha as you recite the buddha-name is not pure, do not worry. All you have to do is deepen your effort, reciting every syllable of the buddha-name clearly in your mind.
 

Emptying Body and Mind
To Wang Chih-ti

        If your mind is empty, then your karma is emptied. If your body is empty, then your sickness is emptied. If there is any doubt, you should wholeheartedly abandon it.
        The sutra says, "Whatever has form is empty falsity." Belonging to the realm of empty falsity, [forms] are like optical illusions, like bubbles on water, like things in a dream. How can you think they exist [in any absolute sense]?
        Reduce your thoughts and worries, curb your annoyance and anger, regulate your drinking and eating, be careful in your conduct. Every hour, every minute, simply  make  buddha-remembrance  your meditation topic.
        Don't neglect it!
        Then enlightened awareness will always be present, and you will be fully awake and undimmed.
 

Too Many Concerns
To Ming Ta-hsiao

        You have too many concerns that preoccupy your mind too urgently. That's why you develop all these illnesses.
        Just work continuously [on buddha-remembrance] without any breaks, without mixing in any other thoughts. This is the work [for you].  Excessive austerities are not needed.
        False thoughts are powerful, but after a long struggle they will submit. Have no doubts about this.
 

Do Not Concern Yourself
To Wu Ta-chun

        Do not concern yourself with whether or not you will become enlightened.
        Do  not concern  yourself with existence and non-existence, with inside and outside and in-between.
        Do  not  concern  yourself  with  "stopping" [shammata/samatha]and "observing" [vipashyana/vipasyana].
        Do not concern yourself with whether [this method of reciting the buddha-name] is the same or not the same as other Buddhist methods.
        If the feeling of doubt does not arise, do not concern yourself with who it is or who it is not [who is reciting the buddha-name]. Simply go on reciting the buddha-name with unified mind and unified intent without a break, pure and unmixed.
 

Mindfulness of Buddha is the Medicine
To Yu Kuang-hui

An ancient said:

Mixed mindfulness is the disease.  Mindfulness of buddha is the medicine.
        When buddha-remembrance is correct, it cures mixed mindfulness. If you cannot cure it, it is because your mindfulness is not keen.
        When miscellaneous thoughts arise, then use your mind to increase your effort to be mindful of buddha. When your spirit is unified and undivided on every syllable [of the buddha-name], miscellaneous thoughts will cease by themselves.
 

Penetrate Through
To Wang Kuang-ti

        Nothing is better than simply reciting the phrase "Amitabha Buddha." Recite it with your whole mind, with your whole strength, without any other thoughts at all.
        This  is  equivalent  to  the [Zen  method  of contemplating] the meditation topic "No." You do not need to keep in mind "No" or any other meditation topic.
        If you purify and unify your buddha-remembrance, and penetrate through in your recitation of the buddha-name, you will penetrate through in all places.
 

The Place Where Buddhas are Chosen
To Kuang-ch'i

        The Zen master Layman P'ang said in verse:

From the ten directions we gather together
Each and every one of us learns not-doing
This is the place where buddhas are chosen
Minds empty, having made the grade,
we return home.
        If you cannot yet empty your mind, for the time being diligently practice buddha-remembrance. When it becomes continuous from moment to moment without a stop, then your mind will spontaneously empty out.
 

Why Are You So Afraid?
To Wu Kuang-shou

        If you do not doubt birth and death, if you do not doubt the public cases [koans] of the ancient worthies, then why are you so afraid? Why has the arrow of anxiety entered your mind? Of this it is said, "The one who does not doubt still has doubts."
        In olden times two monks had committed adultery and murder, but after a single word from [the enlightened layman] Vimalakirti, their wrongdoings were totally dissolved away.[1]

        If you could be like those two monks right now, we would not have to talk about it. Since you are not this way, there is another method. The sutra says:

Reciting the buddha-name wholeheartedly once wipes away the serious sins of eight billion eons of birth and death.[2]
        If you recite the buddha-name sincerely eighteen thousand times, all your sins will be wiped away. The evils which you have committed will then be like the clouds blown away by the wind, like the frost melted by the sun, like a drop of water thrown into the ocean, like a snowflake on a red-hot stove: cleansed away utterly and obliterated without a trace.
 

To a Buddhist Layperson

        Firmly uphold the five precepts,[3] and singlemindedly practice buddha-remembrance. Be filial and care for your parents, [to be sure,] but I still urge you to unify your mind and practice buddha-remembrance. Vow that both mother and son will be born together in the Pure Land. Pass your days according to circumstances.  If people come with offerings, accept them, but do not go about soliciting donors.   Do not form associations for buddha-remembrance.   Keep to what's proper and cultivate practice.  Then you will be a man of great goodness, a true Buddhist layman, in this age of the end of the Dharma (Dharma-Ending Age).
 

Ambition
To Mr. Shih of Weng-men on Tung-t'ing Mountain, who seeks to become an official in a future life

        Though it may be good to be an official, if having been an official, in a future life you fall from [that position], you will experience measureless suffering.[4] You must singlemindedly practice buddha-remembrance and seek birth in the Pure Land. Even if you were to ascend to the highest rank of officialdom, it is not as good as ascending to the Lotus Treasury World among the nine classes of beings [born in the Pure Land].  Practicing buddha-remembrance and seeking birth in the Pure Land is far, far superior to being an official.
 

Being Near a True Buddha
To Mr. Shih of Xu-men on Tung-t'ing Mountain,  who seeks to become a monk in a future life

        Though being a monk is good, if a monk does not cultivate practice, in his future life he will fall from [that position], and receive measureless suffering.[5]
        You  must  singlemindedly  practice  buddha--remembrance and seek birth in the Pure Land.
        Being near false images of carved and decorated metal and wood is not as good as being near the true Buddha who is preaching the Dharma right now.
        It is far, far better to be a monk in the Pure Land than to be a monk here is this world.
 

To Students

        These days many people like to talk about studying enlightenment and finally comprehending birth and death. They do not realize that in this world complete enlightenment is extremely difficult. They think of it as [direct, sudden] "vertical" transcendence of the Triple World [of desire, form, and formless states].
        But even [someone who has overcome desire and reached the stage of] a "once-returner"[6] still has to go [to his death] and come back once more [through rebirth]: how much the more so, for an ordinary person! Most of the sentient beings in this world will have to be reborn in the West [in the Pure Land] first before they can be completely enlightened.  The [Pure Land] gate to the West is called "horizontal" transcendence:[7] not one in ten thousand misses it.
 

Notes
[1] This passage refers to astory in which Vimalakirti reassured two monks that they had committed adultery and "murder" involuntarily, without intent. Therefore, since their minds were not polluted, they could repent their transgressions and remain within the Order.

[2] All evil karma results, ultimately, from delusion, the antithesis of enlightenment. Correct practice leads to awakening and enlightenment and thus dissolves away evil karma. It is as though a house were biarded up for ten thousand years. As soon as a window is opened, eons of darkness disappear in a split second.

The dissolution of evil karma through buddha-remembrance can be explained in another way:

A non-indivudualistic interpretation of the law of karma is provided by the doctrine of parinamanaor "turning over" of merits. According to this doctrine, the merits which one person has acquired by the performance of good action, can, if he so wishes, be transferred to another ... By sincerely invoking his name, we identify ourselves with Amitabha. As a result of this identification, a portion of his merits is transferred to us. These merits, which are now ours, are sufficient not only to counterbalance the effects of our evil actions but also to ensure our rebirth in the Pure Land. The law of karma has not been suspended for our benefit. All that has happened is that a more powerful karma has cancelled out one that was weaker. (Sangharakshita, A survey of Buddhism,p.375)
[3] See Glossary, "Five Precepts."

[4] See Glossary, "Third Lifetime."

[5] A monk or nun who does not cultivate while receiving offerings from the laity has betrayed the latter's trust and, in effect, stolen the offerings. He has, therefore, incurred immense suffering for the future. The Buddha reffered to such monks or nuns as "bald-headed thieves."

[6] See Glossary, "Once-Returner."

[7] "Horizontal" and "vertical" are figures of speech, which can readily be understood through the following example. Suppose we have a worm, born inside a stalk of bamboo. To escape, it can take the "hard way" and crawl all the way to the top of the stalk. Alternatively, it can look for or poke a hole near its current location and escape "horizontally" into the big, wide world. The horizontal escape, for sentient beings, is to seek rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.