The Reconciliation of Zen and Pure Land Buddhism
Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma
quite pleased to follow Rev. Thich Tam Tue after his beautiful
lecture last Sunday on Amitabha Buddha. It seems so odd
that Pure Land and Zen should be reconciled, since their
philosophic basis and their view on life vary so much. But
in China, Korea and Vietnam, these two schools did come
to form a syncretic, holistic view of Buddhism. And this
is the topic that I have chosen to speak on today.
I should mention a little about the history of Buddhism
in Vietnam. Buddhism came to Vietnam from India by sea in
the first century of the common era, during the time of
King Asoka, India's great Buddhist emperor. They brought,
of course, Hinayana Buddhism, today known as Theravada Buddhism.
Two hundred years later a Chinese community was well established.
From a description of a Chinese convert, who wrote that
the monks wore saffron robes, shaved their heads and ate
only one meal a day, it is clear that Theravadan monks were
serving their community.
know, Bodhidharma came from India to China in 520 C.E. and
introduced Zen (or the meditation school) to them. In the
latter part of the sixth century (580 C.E.) a monk came
from India, bringing Zen to Vietnam. His name was Vinitaruci
(Ty ni da lu chi in Vietnamese). Two hundred fifty years
later a Chinese monk entered Vietnam to fulfill his Bodhisattva
vows, to save all living beings. This school became known
as Vo Ngon Thong school. The third Zen school arrived at
the beginning of the eleventh century and was known by its
founder's name, Thao Duong. This school was a union of Zen
and Pure Land.
the seventeenth century when Lam Te Buddhism reached Vietnam.
The founding master of this school is the famous Lin Chi,
better known by his Japanese name, Rinzai. This school became
known by the Vietnamese master who popularized the school,
Lieu Quan. It became the most important school in Central
Vietnam, and all Buddhist monks ordained at this temple
are in the Lieu-Quan lineage line. Now, the lineage line
does not necessarily tell you what their practice is. For
example, Rev. Thich Tam-Thien's (Kusala) practice has a
lot of Theravada elements in it. Rev. Thich Tam-An (Ruja)
is totally a Theravada practice. Rev. Thich Tam-Tue (Rev.
Tri Ratna Priya) practices more of the Zen-Pure Land tradition.
Probably the only disciples here who practice primarily
the Lieu-Quan form of Buddhism are myself, Thich Tam-Tri
(Vajra) and Br. Jnana (Lynn). This mixed practice is typical
of Vietnamese Buddhism itself where monks of different traditions
practice together in the same temples: Theravada, Pure Land
and Zen, with a little tantra mixed in for good measure.
This is, I believe, also common in China and Korea.
rate, the lineage of this temple is Lieu-Quan, a totally
Zen tradition, coming directly from Lin Chi of China. It
was popularized by monks who felt that Zen had become too
polluted by Pure Land, and who wanted to revert to pure
Thien or Zen.
Thich Nhat-Hanh says of the Thien school in his book Lotus
in a Sea of Fire:
the history of Vietnamese Buddhism, Thien is by far the
most important sect. The practice of Thien is by no means
easy. It requires a profound and powerful inner life, long
and persistent training, and a strong firm will. The attitude
of Thien toward the search for truth and its view of the
problem of living in this world are extremely liberal. Thien
does nor recognize any dogma or belief that would hold back
man's progress in acquiring knowledge or in his daily life.
Thien differs from Orthodox religions in that it is not
conditioned by any set of beliefs. In other words, Thien
is an attitude or methodology for arriving at knowledge
and action. For Thien the techniques of right eating and
drinking, of right breathing and right concentration and
meditation, are far more vital than mere beliefs. A person
who practices Zen meditation does not have to rely on beliefs
of hell, Nirvana, rebirth or causality; he has only to rely
on the reality of his body, his psychology, biology, and
his own past experiences of the instruction of Zen masters
who have preceded him. His aim is to attain, to penetrate
, to see. Once he has attained satori (insight) his action
will conform by itself to reality."
you see, this temple was founded by a man who identified
himself as a Zen monk. In fact, I did not learn much of
Pure Land until the refugees arrived from Vietnam. Dr. Thien-An,
understanding Americans, taught us pure Zen, and that was
his point of departure. To the Vietnamese, his point of
departure was Amitabha Buddha and Pure Land thought. Now
how could such divergent attitudes be found in one man and
taught by him?
Zen is more a methodology than a system of thought, although
it certainly does have a system of thought, the self-power
of Zen, contains the other power of Pure Land. Once you
have self power, you must have other power. After all, the
Recitation of the Buddha's name is used as a concentration
exercise. This is where Chinese/ Vietnamese Pure Land differs
from Japanese forms. The Vietnamese Pure Land adherents
also meditate whenever they have the time to, whereas Jodosinshu
says that meditation is a mere psychological trick, where
you think you are capable of saving yourself. They say we
must drop meditation and all thoughts of saving ourselves,
and rely only upon Buddha Amitabha to save us. Their practice
is to realize exactly who and what they are, without any
rosy constructs placed upon their realization.
practice is to devoid everything in your mind, does it matter
is you use a koan, shikentaza or recreating the Buddha in
your mind? All of these techniques work if they are done
with great diligence and bring the meditator to the same
point, to the satori experience (that is to insight, which
Theravadans praise so much.)
you begin Pure Land practice, you think of the Buddha and
his Pure Land as being apart from you. But as you practice
it, slowly you come to realize that you and Amitabha are
one and the same. You can experience the Pure Land right
here and now.
instance, the great Japanese Zen man, D. T. Suzuki was fascinated
by Pure Land. He studied it and translated their writings
in to English. He came to the conclusion that Zen and Pure
Land Buddhism are the same. And Dr. Thien-An certainly believed