Understanding Pure Land Sect (Part 7)
Types of Buddha Remembrance
As stated in the Sutra, “A single perfectly sincere repetition of the name ‘Amitabha Buddha’ obliterates the grave wrongdoings of eighty trillion eons of birth and death.” The practitioner should believe this statement in deep faith, without worrying how deep is evil Karma in the past life.
Master Tan Luan claimed that the name of Amitabha Buddha itself embodies the Buddha reality for which it stands. To invoke Amitabha’s name is to make present in one’s life the Buddha reality it represents, that is to bring Amitabha’s brilliant and infinite light into one’s life that purifies one’s ignorance and defilements.
For one gate of Buddha remembrance or ‘Nien-fo’ [念佛], there are four types:
1. Buddha Recitation [持名念佛] — It is regarded as the most essential practice for being born in the Pure Land. According to Amitabha Sutra, ” If people are mindful of Buddha at death, they are sure to be born in the Pure Land”
2. Contemplation of the Buddha’s image [觀相念佛] — It is the way of thinking of the Buddha’s image as if remembering and thinking to see one’s mother earnestly. This is the practice of Mahasthama Bodhisattva stipulated in the Surangama Sutra.
3. Contemplation of the forms in the Sukhavati [觀想念佛] — Buddha remembrance through contemplating the Sukhavti is explained in detail in the Contemplation Sutra. There are sixteen ways in contemplating: as detailed later in other section.
4. Buddha remembrance by Real Mark (reality-aspect) [實相念佛] — Though there are different types of Buddha remembrance, they all arrive at the real mark.
Buddha Recitation [持名念佛]
In Buddha-remembrance through reciting the Buddha-name, there is reciting the Buddha-name silently, there is reciting it in a loud voice, and there is diamond recitation. The pace of recitation is at one’s discretion.
When one recites it in a loud voice, it feels like too much exertion. When one recites it silently, it is easy to sink into torpor. It is essential to make the recitation continuous, without dozing off. Uninterrupted recitation is referred to as the ‘diamond recitation’ [金剛念] when one recites it closely and continuously with the sound between one’s lips and teeth. At times, it helps one to coordinate one’s thought with the sound produced by one’s mouth and the same sound perceived by one’s ear or one’s mind as well. When the thought and the sound are clear, the hearing will be clear as well, thus warding of distracting thoughts. It is sometimes called ‘Recitation by reflecting the name’.
The recitation is flexible and can be adapted to one’s state of mind and to one’s physical condition. It is important not to attach oneself to it or cling to this as a fixed rule. If you feel you are expending too much effort, then go ahead and recite silently. If you feel you are sinking into torpor, then go ahead and recite in a loud voice.
Every repetition of the sound should come out of your mouth and enter your ears, and awaken your inherent mind. The important point is to keep the mind concentrated on recitation. The recitation, the recollection, and the hearing should all be very clear and prevent from any intruding thoughts. This is why reciting the Buddha-name is the best means for reining in the mind.
The above method can be applied during walking, standing, sitting or lying down. The only difference when lying down is that the recitation should not be loud because it is not respectful and obstructs breathing too. The schedule for practicing should be determined individually in accordance with the practitioner’s circumstances. A full day recitation is feasible in this manner.
The discipline of the mind helps to reduce the distraction of intruding thoughts and is conducive to peaceful states because it gives the practitioner’s mental faculty a rest, just like ‘ceasing the mind’ in meditation. One should be careful not to cling but let the mind be as unobstructed as space. If there is anxiety, thoughts regarding worldly matters or a wish to finish quickly, that is not proper and genuine practice. Maintaining one’s mind in the recitation mode is essential. If it is for some reason interrupted, the recitation should be taken up again as soon as convenient in a relaxed manner without annoyance. The recitation should be sustained thought after thought to avoid confusion. With diligence, the practitioner can achieve ‘one-pointedness of mind’ [一心不亂] easily and swiftly by this technique.
Contemplation of the Buddha’s Image [觀相念佛]
In addition to the oral recitation of Buddha’s name, one can face Amitabha Buddha’s statue and keep the image of visualization with all the features for a long period of time during walking, standing, sitting or lying all day long. Whether the eyes open or close, and even in the dream, one can contemplate the image in one’s memory, even in the absence of the statue
This method is not easy, as it requires a great deal of energy, a faithful memory and skilful use of expedients. It is generally used as a technique to assist in the practice of Buddha Recitation, so that the practitioner can harness his mind and achieve right thought.
Contemplation of the forms in Sukhavati [觀想念佛]
For those learning to meditate and to contemplate in order to seek rebirth in Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, Contemplation Sutra is a must. In that Sutra, Shakyamuni taught sixteen ways of wonderful meditations and contemplations to Queen Vaidehi, so that she could attain rebirth in the Pure Land within one lifetime. They are:
1. Contemplation of the setting sun
2. Contemplation of water
3. Contemplation of the ground
4. Contemplation of precious trees
5. Contemplation of merit-giving water
6. Contemplation of Sukhavati with precious trees, ground and water
7. Contemplation of the lotus seat
8. Contemplation of the images of the Three Holy Ones
9. Contemplation of the Bodily form of Amitabha Buddha
10. Contemplation of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
11. Contemplation of Mahasthama Bodhisattva
12. Contemplation of Amitabha’s Sukhavati
13. Contemplation of the Three Holy Ones of Sukhavati
14. The superior class of birth in Sukhavati
15. The middle class of birth in Sukhavati
16. The inferior class of birth in Sukhavati
One may visualize only Amitabha Buddha, the Bodhisattvas or else the realm of the Pure Land with its golden ground and wonderful lotus blossoms. If one keeps the object of visualization clearly in mind for a certain period of time, say 24 hours a day, whether walking, standing, lying with eyes open or closed, the Pure Land will always appear before you. The events are generated by the mind and are not attached to any outside phenomena. If one can pursue this method of Buddha remembrance over a long period of time, one will suddenly become enlightened. The Pure Land is then everywhere. Having arrived at this stage, the practitioner is encouraged to attain higher levels of concentration and to experience the joy in the deep mind region. If the mind is purified, the Buddha appears.
However, the Buddha may not respond to such a mind. The great master Shan Tao commented that. “The intelligence and the spirit of sentient beings in the Dharma-ending age are unsteady. Their thoughts are coarse. They cannot bring their meditation to completion (in response to the appearance of Buddha), because the mind region we are speaking of is very subtle.” Those who contemplate in Buddha remembrance should understand their own nature and character, and not holding an attitude in seeking to make the events happen. The benefit of contemplation is great, even there is lack of response in the events.
Buddha Remembrance by Real Mark [實相念佛]
It was commented that Pure Land is one’s own mind, Amitabha is one’s own nature.” When one uses one’s original Buddha-mind for Buddha remembrance, Pure Land is not outside one’s own mind and Amitabha is not outside one’s own nature, which is both principle [理] and action [事] i.e. perfect manifestation of nature [性] and form [相]. In this manner, the practitioner will gradually arrive at the stage where there is neither mind (as subject) nor Buddha (as object). And there is neither a subject nor an object of recitation. This is a stage before the rising of a single thought.
For Buddha remembrance by Real Mark, one will not fall into duality. One has to understand the nature of mind as single thought and as unobstructed space, transcending time. When one’s thought is firmly concentrated on Amitabha, it reaches out in ten directions. Reciting Buddha with a focused mind enables the practitioner to see the Buddha and to become Buddha transcending time. While seeking rebirth in Pure Land, the practitioner is converting sentient beings because in reality mind is both Buddha and sentient beings. They are all the same in nature because of non-duality. Similarly, manifestation of Pure Land takes place in one’s mind. At such time, the manifestations of one’s mind become the manifestations of Buddha: my mind is Buddha-mind and Buddha-mind is my mind, thereby becoming unified. This is just one, undifferentiated substance. For this reason, it is said that “the Mind, Buddhas and sentient beings are no different from one another.”
Buddha Remembrance by Real Mark sounds complicated, as we sentient beings have delusive thoughts and obstructive barriers to separate us from our intuitive insight so that we cannot understand infinity, non-duality, Real Mark, etc.
More Ways of Buddha Recitation
Apart from reciting in a loud voice [高聲念] , low voice [默念] and diamond recitation [金剛念] as discussed in section 91.1.1, there are other types of recitation.
Breath-by-breath Recitation [調息念]
One technique is the breathing recitation, which is the simplest and the most convenient. It consists of reciting silently or softly, with each breath, inhaling or exhaling, accompanied by one recitation of the Buddha’s name. The practitioner is required to say the first four syllables of the invocation of ‘Namo Amitabha’, i.e. “Na-mo-a-mi’, while inhaling and the last two syllables, i.e. ‘To-fo’, while exhaling. Thus, as long as he is able to breathe, he will utter the name of Amitabha. Eventually, he will invoke the name of Amitabha at all times. When he is going to die taking his last breath, he may naturally deliver his final invocation of Buddha’s name, and give rebirth in the Western Pure Land to see Amitabha Buddha.
Intuitive Recitation or Enlightened and Illuminating Recitation [覺照念]
While reciting, one perceives inwards one’s self-nature so as to reflect that Buddha and I are the same in nature. Reciting Buddha is actually reciting self-mind, and the Pure Land is within one’s mind. It is a combined method for Chan and Pure Land practice. One can see the self-nature more easily.
Non-intermittent Recitation or Continuously Linked Recitation [追頂念]
With this technique, the practitioner recites softly and rapidly, each word following the one immediately before, each phrase closely following the previous phrase, so that any false thought is no way to interrupt the recitation in one’s mind. This method is a bit intense, but effective to subdue the delusive thought temporarily, particularly when the mind is in the state of confusion and wandering.
Bowing Recitation [禮拜念]
While reciting, one bows to the Buddha, so that the body (by bowing), the mouth (by oral recitation) and the mind (focusing word by word) can be purified in the practice. This is an effective practice to eradicate the bad Karma, but the practitioners may be tired easily.
Ten-times-a-round Recitation or Recording Ten Recitation [記十念]
Counting is sometimes used in recitation. Counting can be dispensed when the practitioner is concentrated and occupied in recitation, but he/she can resume counting whenever necessary. While moving about, the practitioner should be using beads.
For reciting every ten times of Buddha’s name, the practitioner moves one bead. Since one has to count by heart and recite by mouth simultaneously, one has no spare time to think of anything.
Sometimes, the beads may not be necessary to help the practitioner in counting.
This technique is excellent and expedient, forcing the practitioner to concentrate his mind by removing errant thoughts.
Ten-breath Recitation [十口氣念]
For the busy practitioners, they can take a breath and recite the Buddha’s name as many times as possible. Then they take the second breath and repeat reciting. In such a way, the practitioners take ten breaths in every practice in the morning and in evening. It is said in the Sutras that the practitioner must be reborn in the Pure Land.
Recitation in Regular Practice [定課念]
One has to be consistent and persistent in reciting Buddha. It is preferred to recite on a regular basis, so that it is part of our daily living, like eating and sleeping.