Master Huineng (3): Where is Pure Land?

Speaker: Venerable Zhi Tong

FGS Institute of Humanistic Buddhism

I. Introduction

Auspicious greetings and welcome to another new episode of English Dharma Service. My name is Zhi Tong. For the last two episodes, I shared about the life of Master Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan School. Today, I would like to share one of the many teachings recorded in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. The Platform Sutra contains 10 chapters. In the first chapter, Master Huineng recounts the circumstances of his awakening. The following 9 chapters are records of his teachings to many different people both monastics and laity.

The section I’m sharing is from Chapter 3, Resolving the Unresolved. I am also referencing Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s commentary of the Platform Sutra, which is published as The Rabbit’s Horn.

II. How Far Away is the Pure Land?

One day, Master Huineng was invited to a banquet held by a government official named Prefect Wei. After the banquet, Prefect Wei respectfully invited Master Huineng to expound the Dharma. One of the questions that Prefect asked was,

“I often observe monastics and laypeople reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha, vowing to be reborn in the Pure Land of the West. Venerable Master, will their practice lead them to be reborn in the Western Pure Land? Please remove my doubts.”

The patriarch replied, “Listen carefully and I will explain. In the Amitabha Sutra, when the World Honored Ones spoke in Sravasti, he made it clear that this land is not far from here. In terms of distance, the Pure Land of the West is about 108,000 (one hundred eight thousand) miles away. The 108,000 miles is symbolic of the ten unwholesome actions and eight misdeeds. For those who engage in the ten unwholesome actions and the eight wrongs, the pure land is far away. For those with dull aptitude, the Pure Land of the West is distant. However, for those with sharp aptitude, it is near. Though people may have dull or sharp aptitude, the Dharma has no distinctions. As sentient beings can either be ignorant or awakened, the time that it takes for sentient beings to perceive their intrinsic nature is then different. Hence, those who are attached to the form of reciting the Buddha’s name prays to be reborn in the Buddha’s Pure Land. Conversely, those who are awakened seek only to purify their minds. As the Buddha said, ‘The Buddha Land is purified once the mind is purified.’

The Pure Land Practice is one of the most common Buddhist practices. In a way, it is a very simple method of cultivation: one only needs to recite Amitabha Buddha’s name. But it is actually not as easy as it seems. As the Amitbha Sutra says, one needs to chant single-mindedly. This means that we should not be distracted when we are chanting the Buddha’s name. Our body, speech, and mind should be entirely devoted to the practice. What is the purpose of chanting the Buddha’s name? For Pure Land practitioners, it is to be reborn the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. But Master Huineng teaches us that chanting the Buddha’s name is about purifying the mind. Once our mind is free from all afflictions, then naturally right here in the present moment, we are in pure land.

III. A Pure Land State of Mind

Master Huineng continues his explanation,

“Prefect, if those in the East purify their minds, they are free from wrongdoing. Even if someone is from the West, if their mind is not pure, they are at fault. When those in the East commit wrongdoing, they recite the Buddha’s name wishing to be reborn in the West. When those in the West commit wrongdoing, which land will they be reborn in when they recite the Buddha’s name? Ordinary and dull people do not understand intrinsic nature and do not know that there is a Pure Land within them. Therefore, they wish to be reborn in the East or in the West. For an awakened person it is the same wherever they are. That is why the Buddha said, ‘Wherever you live, there is always peace and joy.’

“Prefect, if the mind is not unwholesome, then the West is not far. However, if the mind is unwholesome, then seeking rebirth by reciting the Buddha’s name will be difficult. 

From this section, we can see that the key to chanting the Buddha’s name is the mind. If the mind is filled with unwholesome thoughts and attitudes such as greed, hatred, and ignorance, then no matter how hard we try to chant Amitabha Buddha, rebirth in the Pure Land is not easily achieved.

IV. Overcoming 108,000 Miles

Master Huineng continues to explain,

“Good Dharma friends, I want to now offer you this advice: First, refrain from the ten unwholesome actions; this is the same as traveling one hundred thousand li. Next, abandon the eight misdeeds; this is the same as traveling eight thousand li. If you see intrinsic nature in thought after thought and your practice is always even and upright, then in a snap of your fingers, you will arrive and see Amitabha Buddha. Prefect, if you engage in the ten wholesome actions, what need is there to then wish to be reborn? If you do not cut off the ten unwholesome minds, then which Buddha will be present to welcome you? If you awaken to the Sudden School’s teaching of non-arising, then you will see the West in a split second. 

“Without awakening to this, seeking rebirth by reciting the Buddha’s name is a long journey. How can you get there? I will bring the West here in a split second so that all of you can see it before your eyes. Do you wish to see it?”

The key in Master Huineng’s teaching in this section is to refrain from the ten unwholesome actions and abandon the eight wrongs.

The Ten Unwholesome Actions are:

  1. Destroying life
  2. Taking what is not given
  3. Wrong conduct in regard to sensual pleasures
  4. False speech
  5. Slanderous speech
  6. Harsh Speech
  7. Idle Chatter
  8. Covetousness
  9. Ill Will
  10. Wrong view

Instead, we should strive for the Ten Wholesome Actions:

  1. Abstain from destroying life
  2. Abstain from taking what is not given
  3. Abstain from wrong conduct in regard to sensual pleasures
  4. Abstain from false speech
  5. Abstain from slanderous speech
  6. Abstain from harsh speech
  7. Abstain from idle chatter
  8. Being free from covetousness
  9. Being free from ill will
  10. Right view

If you would like to learn more about the Ten Wholesome Deeds, some of our previous Dharma talks give detailed explanations of this practice.

The Eight Misdeeds are:

  1. Wrong View
  2. Wrong Thought
  3. Wrong Speech
  4. Wrong Action
  5. Wrong Livelihood
  6. Wrong Effort
  7. Wrong Mindfulness
  8. Wrong Meditative Concentration

The opposite of the Eight Misdeeds is the Noble Eightfold Path, which are:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Thought
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Meditative Concentration

If you would like to learn more about the Noble Eightfold Path, a few of our previous Dharma talks focused on this topic.

The Western Pure Land is one hundred and eight thousand miles away from us. If we engage in the Ten Unwholesome Deeds and Eight Misdeeds, then we are only traveling further and further away from the Pure Land. However, when we practice the Ten Wholesome Deeds, we have overcome one hundred thousand miles. When we practice the Noble Eightfold Path, we overcome the last eight thousand miles. These are practices that we can do right here in the human world. We don’t need to travel to any other place to practice. Therefore, isn’t pure land right here in this human world?

V. Seeing the Pure Land

Let us continue listening to Master Huineng’s teaching. He asks the assembly if they wish to see the Western Pure land.

The assembly all bowed and said, “If we can see the Pure Land of the West right here, then there will be no need for us to wish to be born there. Venerable Master, be so kind as to show us the West so that we all may see it.”

The patriarch said, “Everyone, our body is like a gated city. The eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are the gates. There are five gates outside, while inside is the gate of the mind. The mind is the land and one’s nature is the king. The king resides upon the land. When one’s nature is present, the king is present. When one’s nature leaves, the king is gone. When one’s nature is present, the body and mind exist. When one’s nature is gone, the body and mind deteriorate. The Buddha is found within one’s own nature; do not look outside for it. When intrinsic nature is deluded, one is a sentient being. When intrinsic nature is awakened, one is a Buddha. Kindness and compassion is Avalokitesvara. Joy and equanimity is Mahasthamaprapta. The capacity for purity is Sakyamuni. Being even and upright is Amitabha. The distinction between others and self is Mount Sumeru. Greed and desire are seawater. Afflictions are the waves. Cruelty is an evil dragon. Illusions are ghosts and spirits. Worries are fish and turtles. Greed and anger is hell. Ignorance is the animal realm. 

“Good Dharma friends, constantly engage in the ten wholesome actions and heaven is among us. Remove the distinction between others and self and Mount Sumeru crashes down. Remove greed and desire and the seawater dries up. Without affliction, waves will subside. Remove cruelty and the fish and dragons vanish. From within the mind, awaken to the nature of the Tathagata and a great radiance will shine upon the Six Sense Organs and purify them, and put an end to the six heavens of the desire realm. Our intrinsic nature shines inside, and the three poisons as well as the wrongdoings of hell and all others are eliminated. The clarity inside and out is no different from the West. If you do not cultivate in this way, how will you get there?” 

After the assembly heard the teachings, they understood and saw their intrinsic nature. They all paid homage to the patriarch and said together, “Wonderful! We wish that all sentient beings could hear this and awaken at once.” 

In this section, Master Huineng further explains how we can realize Pure Land. Besides practicing the Ten Wholesome Action, we should also

  1. Remove the distinction between self and others
  2. Remove greed and desire
  3. Remove afflictions
  4. Remove cruelty

In this way, we will be able to eliminate the Three Poisons and light will shine upon our intrinsic nature. Naturally, we will reach the Pure Land

V. Conclusion

The patriarch concluded,”Good Dharma friends, if you wish to practice these teachings, you may do so in your home and do not have to be in a temple. If you practice at home, you are like one in the East with a wholesome mind. If you are in a temple but do not practice, you are like one in the West with an unwholesome mind. The pure mind is the intrinsic nature of the West.” 

In this section, Master Huineng tells us that the location of our cultivation is not so important. Our mind remains to be the most vital location of our cultivation. Hence, no matter where we are, be it at home, at work, even when we are cooking, cleaning, talking to people, whether we are alone or with others, as long as our minds are clear and pure, we are in pure land.

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of English Dharma Service. Next week, I will share the second part of this teaching. The assembly wishes to know the ways to practice at home, and Master Huineng answered with the famous “Formless Gatha.” Stay tuned to next week’s episode on Master Huineng. Before I end, I would also like to share that the Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Services Channel has partnered with Nan Tien Institute in Australia. Every Sunday, Nan Tien Institute holds the Communities of Practice, a short session of weekly connection, Dharma and community. Led by Venerable Juewei and experienced facilitators from the community, participants have a “Mindful Check-In” together, exchange sharing in smaller groups, and close each session with a dedication of merits. We will be featuring these wonderful episodes on our channel. Stay tuned to find out more!

May you find joy and inspiration from the Dharma. Omitofo.