Master Xu-yun's Sermon
at the Prayer Meeting in Shanghai
on 17 December 1952
Tr. Lu K'uan Yu (Charles Luk)
This Prayer Meeting
for World Peace which began a few days ago is virtually
unique. Today the Dharma-master Wei-fang, Abbot Miao-zhen
and Upasakas Zhao Bo-zhu, Li Si-hao and Fang Cu-hao
have asked me to preach the Dharma. I avail myself
of this occasion to speak of the inter-relation between
the Chan and Pure Land Schools so that beginners can
understand both. Today is the first day set for the
Pure Land practice, which consists of reciting the
Buddha's name. It was decided that Abbot Miao-zhen
should be the speaker but my venerable friend has been
very modest and has asked me to take his place.
This saha world in which we live is a bitter
sea of suffering from which all of us want to escape but to
do so, we must rely on the Buddhadharma. Strictly speaking,
Reality as taught by the Buddhadharma cannot be spoken of for
it is indescribable in word and speech. Therefore, the Surangama
Sutra says. 'The language used has no real meaning [in itself]'.
However, to cope with the great variety of living being's propensities,
countless expedients have been devised to guide them. In China,
the Buddhadharma is divided into the Chan School, the Teaching
School (sutras), the Vinaya School and the Pure Land and Yogacara
Schools. To learned and experienced practitioners, this division
is superfluous because they are already clear about the Dharma-nature
which does not admit differentiation. But beginners hold conflicting
opinions and like to drive the Dharma into sects and schools
which they discriminate between and thereby greatly reduce the
value of the Dharma for enlightening people.
We should know that the hua-tou technique
and the repetition of the Buddha's name are only expedient methods
which are not the ultimate and are useless to those who have
already achieved their goals by efficient training. Why so?
Because they have realized the absolute state in which movement
and stillness are one, like the moon reflected in a thousand
rivers in which it is bright and clear without obstructions.
Obstructions come from floating clouds in the sky and the mud
in water (deluded thoughts). If there are obstructions, the
moon cannot appear in spite of its brightness and its reflection
will not be seen in spite of the clear water.
If we practitioners of the Dharma understand this truth and
are clear about the self-mind which is like the bright moon
in autumn and does not wander outside in search of externals
but turns back its light to illumine itself, without giving
rise to a single thought and without any notion of realization,
then how can there be room for different names and terms? It
is only because for countless aeons we have been clinging to
wrong thoughts, and because of the strong force of habits, that
the Lord Buddha held three hundred assemblies during his forty-nine
years of teaching. But the aim of all expedient methods is to
cure living beings of different ailments caused by desire, anger
and stupidity and perverted habits. If we can keep away from
all this, how can there be differences among living beings?
Hence an ancient said:
'Though there are many expedients for the purpose
They are identical when returned to the source'.
The most popular methods in use today are Chan and Pure Land.
But it is regrettable that many members of the Sangha overlook
the rules of discipline without knowing that the Buddhadharma
is based on discipline (sila), meditation (dhyana)
and wisdom (prajna); it is like a tripod which cannot
stand if one of its legs is lacking. This is so important a
thing that no students of the Buddhadharma should disregard
The Chan transmission began when in the assembly on Vulture
Peak, the World-Honoured One held up a flower, a gesture which
was acknowledged by Mahakasyapa with a smile. This is called
the sealing of mind by mind and is the 'Transmission outside
the Teaching'; it is the foundation of the whole Buddhadharma.
The repetition of Amitabha's name, sutra-reading and concentration
upon mantras are also designed to help us escape from birth
Some say that Chan is a sudden method while the Pure Land and
Mantrayana are gradual ones; it is so, but this is only a difference
in names and terms because in reality all methods lead to the
same result. Hence the Sixth Patriarch said, 'The Dharma is
neither instantaneous nor gradual, but man's awakening may be
slow or quick.'
If all methods are good for practice and if you find one which
suits yen, practice it; but you should never praise one method
and vilify another, thereby giving rise to discrimination. The
most important thing is sila (discipline) which should be strictly
observed. Nowadays there are corrupt monks who not only disregard
the rules of discipline, but who say that to observe them is
also a form of clinging; such an irresponsible statement is
harmful and dangerous to beginners.
The Chan doctrine of the Mind was handed down through Mahakasyapa
and his successors in India and reached China where it was eventually
transmitted to Master Hui-neng, its Sixth (Chinese) Patriarch.
This was the Transmission of the Right Dharma which then flourished
(all over China). The Vinaya-discipline School began with Upali,
who received it from the Lord Buddha who declared that sila
is the teacher of all living beings in the Dharma-ending-age.
After Upagupta, it was divided into
five schools (the Dharmagupta, Sarvastivada, Mahisasaka, Kasyapiya
and Vatsuputriya). In China, Dao-xuan (a celebrated monk of
the Tang Dynasty) of Mount Nan studied the Dharmagupta, wrote
a commentary en it and founded the Vinaya School, becoming its
The Tian-tai School was founded in China by Hui-wen of the Bei-qi
Dynasty (550-78) after he studied Nagarjuna's Madhyamika
Shastra and realised the Mind-ground.
Du-shun [d, 640] studied the Avatamsaka Sutra and subsequently
founded the Hua-yan School, which was later called the Xian-shou
School after its Third Patriarch.
Hui-yuan [Id. 416] founded the Pure Land School which was handed
down through its Nine Patriarchs. Its Sixth Patriarch, Yan-shou
Yong-ming [d. 975] and three succeeding ones were enlightened
Chan Masters who spread the Pure Land doctrine, and the two
schools [Chan and Pure Land] intermingled like milk and water.
In spite of the division of the Buddhadharma into different
schools, these do not stray from the underlying meaning revealed
by the Buddha when he held a flower aloft. Thus we realize that
Chan and Pure Land are closely related and that the ancients
were painstaking when they taught the Buddhadharrna.
The Yogacara (Mi-zong) Schooi was introduced in China by Vajrabodhi
(who arrived there in 619). It was spread by Amogha [d. 774]
and then flourished thanks to the efforts of Chan Master Yi-xing
The above expedient methods of teaching the Buddhadharma are
mutually complementary and should never be categorized as separate
denominations, contrary and hostile to one another, for this
would run counter to the intentions of the Buddhas and Patriarchs.
An ancient said that they are but like yellow leaves given to
children to prevent them from crying.
People who do not understand the real reason for sayings
such as Chao-zhou's 'I do not like hearing the word 'Buddha'
or 'If I mistakenly utter the Buddha's name but once,
I shall rinse my mouth out for three days,' are unaware of the
compassionate heart he had when teaching his disciples to disengage
themselves from illusory 'Buddhas' and quote him to vilify the
Pure Land method as the concern of ignorant old women Again,
some people regard the Chan practice as the occupation of heretical
seekers of emptiness. In short, they pretend that they are always
right whereas others are always wrong.
This sort of controversy is endless and not only contradicts
the good intention of the Buddha and Patriarchs in setting up
convenient methods of teaching the Dharma, but it also furnishes
outsiders with a good pretext to criticize and hinder it. The
consequences being so great, I especially draw the attention
of experienced devotees as well as beginners to this unfortunate
state of things so that they can put an end to it; if it is
allowed to continue, it will strangle the Buddhadharma to death.
We should know that all methods lead to the same result. Students
of Buddhism should read and reread Chan Master Yong-ming's works
Zong Jing Lu and Wan Shan Tong Gui Ji. Students of the Pure Land School should read and understand well
the chapter on Mahastharna's means of perfection in the Surangama
Sutra, and so recognize the self-natured
Pure Land by keeping from delusion and turning to the inner
reality without wandering in search of externals. If we comprehend
this truth we can, while not straying from it, speak of either
Chan or Pure Land, of either East or West, both of which are
reachable, and of either 'existence' or 'non-existence' which
will no longer hinder us. This is the moment when either 'form'
or 'smell' are but the Profound Mean, the Self-natured Amitabha
and the Pure Land which is but Mind, all of which will be attainable
in a place where there are not too many creepers [i.e.. expedient
methods which, in Chan terminology, are likened to creepers'
which hide the trunk of the tree and should never be clung to
in quest of the latter, or self-nature].
The Surangama Sutra says, 'Just wipe out all worldly feelings
and passions, beyond which nothing can be interpreted as holy'.
If we can do so and thereby cut off all false thoughts, attachments
and habits, we shall be Bodhisattvas, Patriarchs and Buddhas;
otherwise we shall continue to be living beings.
Reciters of the Buddha's name should never cling to that name
for it can become as harmful as poison. We now recite the Buddha's
name because our habits are deeply rooted from time without
beginning and our thoughts cannot be easily stopped. So we use
his name as a prop in our striving to wipe out all rising thoughts
until they eventually vanish completely and give way to the
Pure Land which will then manifest itself. So why should we
seek it from outside?
3. Hua-tou is the mind before it
is stirred by a thought. The technique was devised by enlightened
Masters who taught their disciples to concentrate their attention
on the mind for the purpose of stopping all thought to realize
singleness of mind for the perception of their self-nature.
4. Quoted frorn Manjusri's Long
Gatha in the Surangama Sutra. (See The Secrets of
Chinese Medítation, page 34, and The Surangama Sutra,
5. See Chan and Zen Teaching,
Third Series, Part 1, The Altar Sutra.
6. The Fourth Patriarch of the Chan
sect in India. See Chan and Zen Teaching, Second Series,
7. Otherwise known as Fa-zang (643-712).
He was a prolific commentator on the Hua-yan.
8. Both works explain the inter-relationship
of al! methods of practice and their common aim, i.e. the realization
of Bodhi, despite their classification into different schools.