Master Xu Yun: On the Relationship Between Ch’an & Pure Land Buddhism

Old Master Xu Yun (1840-1959)
Old Master Xu Yun (1840-1959)

Master Xu Yun’s Sermon at the Prayer Meeting in Shanghai 17.12.52

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 it.

The Chan transmission began when, in the assembly on Vulture Peak, the World-Honored 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 and death.

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 you, 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).

Empty Cloud – The Autobiography of a Chinese Zen Master: Translated by (Upasaka Lu Kuan Yu) Charles Luk (1898-1978(, Edited by (Upasaka Wen Shu) Richard Hunn (1949-2006), Element Books, 1988 – Pages 149-150.

Xu Yun Daily Ch’an Lectures (7th Day): Jade Buddha Monastery, Shanghai, February 1953

Dear friends, allow me to congratulate you for the merits you have accumulated in the Chan week which comes to an end today. According to the standing rule, those of you who have experienced and realized the truth should come forward in this hall as did candidates who sat for a scholar’s examination held previously in the Imperial Palace. Today, being the day of posting the list of successful graduates, should be one for congratulations. However, the venerable Abbot has been most compassionate and has decided to continue this Chan meeting for another week so that we can all make additional efforts for further progress (in self-cultivation).

All the Masters who are present here and are old hands in this training, know that it is a wonderful opportunity for co-operation and will not throw away their precious time. But those who are beginners should know that it is difficult to acquire a human body and that the question of birth and death is important. As we have human bodies, we should know that it is difficult to get the chance to hear the Buddhadharma and meet learned teachers. Today you have come to the ‘precious mountain’ and should take advantage of this excellent opportunity to make every possible effort in your self-cultivation in order not to return home empty-handed.

As I have said, our Sect’s Dharma, which was transmitted by the World-Honored One when he held up a flower to show it to the assembly, has been handed down from one generation to another. Although Ananda was a cousin of the Buddha and left home to follow him as an attendant, he did not succeed in attaining the truth in the presence of the World-Honored One. After the Buddha had entered Nirvana, his great disciples assembled in a cave (to compile sutras) but Ananda was not permitted by them to attend the meeting. Mahakasyapa said to him: ‘You have not acquired the World-Honored One’s Mind Seal, so please pull down the banner-pole in front of the door.’ Thereupon, Ananda was thoroughly enlightened. Then Mahakasyapa transmitted to him the Tathagata’s Mind Seal, making him the second Indian Patriarch. The transmission was handed down to following generations, and after the Patriarchs Asvaghosa and Nagarjuna, Chan Master Hui-wen of Tian-tai Mountain in the Bei-qi Dynasty (550-78) after reading (Nagarjuna’s) Madhyamika Shastra, succeeded in realizing his own mind and founded the Tian-tai School.269 At the time, our Chan Sect was very flourishing. Later, when the Tian-tai School fell into decadence, State Master De-shao (a Chan Master) journeyed to Korea (where the only copy of Zhi-yi’s works existed), copied it and returned to revive the Sect.

Empty Cloud – The Autobiography of a Chinese Zen Master: Translated by (Upasaka Lu Kuan Yu) Charles Luk (1898-1978(, Edited by (Upasaka Wen Shu) Richard Hunn (1949-2006), Element Books, 1988 – Pages 183-184.

Ch’an Comment:  The Old Master expresses the Dharma in word, deed and thought, and never deviates from it.  Even these few words weigh a tonne in comparison with the ease with which Xu Yun traverses the world!


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