If our boat full of hope, illusions, and ambition (to get somewhere, to be spiritual, to be perfect, to be enlightened) is capsized, what is that empty boat? When l say meditation is about the meditator, I do not mean that we engage in self-analysis. Once we have assumed our best posture (which should be balanced, easy), we just sit there, we do zazen. When we practice like this, we get acquainted with ourselves, how our lives work, what we are doing with them. If you are new to practice it’s important to realize that simply to sit on that cushion for fifteen minutes is a victory. If we were afraid of being in water and didn’t know how to swim, the first victory would be just to lower ourselves into the water. What we are doing is not re programming ourselves, but freeing ourselves from all programs, by seeing that they are empty of reality. At times, westerners may not be able to shake off their intellectual and dualist thinking thus making it difficult for them to practice Zen Buddhism. Buddha Name RecitationThe Buddha spoke repeatedly of the Pure Abodes in the Pali Canon and taught that the sentient beings of the Pure Abodes were safely beyond the reach of the desire realm, never again to be reborn as a hell-dweller, a hungry ghost, an animal, a god of strife, a human, or an unenlightened god. The Mahayana practice is to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light and life. I once attended a Buddhist Summer Camp in Orlando and after a monk-delivered talk on Buddha Name Recitation, a member of the audience said her practice was to chant One, One, One. Buddhism is flourishing in the Republic of China (Taiwan) as well as in the People’s Republic of China (the mainland) so if we chant the Mandarin Namo Amituo Fo, we will not be chanting alone. Very few people chant Namo Amitabha Buddha, the Sanskrit version, but millions chant Namo Amituo Fo. Moreover, making the effort, every day, to practice Buddha Name Recitation as much as possible by following the four right efforts, samma vayama, helps us to develop the sixth fold of the eightfold path.
The Pure Land or the Pure Abodes is the Pure Lotus Land to which Master Hakuin refers in his Chant in Praise of Zazen. The Buddha mentioned the Pure Land when he discussed the four levels of enlightenment in the Pali canon: the stream winner, the once-returner, the nonreturner and the fully enlightened one. But the Buddha’s multiple references to the Pure Abodes inspired great speculation in the Mahayana school.
The Pure Land is described in the Mahayana sutras as a place that sounds to westerners like the Christian heaven. The real reason is that they viewed the setting sun as symbolic of the ending or relinquishment of sense desire or more broadly, the setting of ignorance. The practice or reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha is reminiscent of the Biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing.” The practice is usually called Buddha Name Recitation or simply Buddha Recitation. Amitabha Buddha is not Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha who announced the Four Noble Truths and taught The Anapanasati Sutta. Some Zen writers have said that the Pure Land school violates the basic principle of Buddhism that there are no two things and that we will never find the Buddha outside ourselves. Accordingly, some Zen scholars equate Pure Land practice with Christian practice: Calling on a Savior to come and save us is reliance on an “other” whereas Zen teaches self-reliance because there is no other. Suffice it to say that even those who think they are reciting the name of someone other than themselves will eventually learn that they have been reciting their own name. When we chant the name of Amitabha Buddha or Amituo Fo, we are merely calling ourselves to ourselves, remembering our ancient vow. Zen as practiced in the States is sometimes called Elite Zen (the exclamation Au Contraire is a joke, stolen from comedian Mark Russell) because its practitioners tend to be middle and upper middle class. This course includes the cultivation of mindfulness through Present Moment Awareness and Silent Present Moment Awareness, loving kindness meditation, the Repentance Gatha, following the precepts, and taking refuge, subjects seldom if ever discussed in American Zen centers. Starting a meditation practice without precepts and without repentance leads to a Zen practice that is not authentic. Responding to a growing veneration for the Buddhas causes the practitioner to praise the Buddhas and to vow to make abundant offerings to them. The sixth vow is to request the Buddha to turn the dharma wheel (to teach the Buddhadharma) and the closely related seventh vow is to request the Buddhas to stay in the world so that the teachings continue. In some countries, the practitioners of Buddha Name Recitation have reduced the practice to Christian-like prayer, asking Amitabha Buddha to help them pass school exams, have many children, etc. After this lengthy introduction to Pure Land practice, we must recall that it is a practice of the world of form.
Thank You Ajahn SumedhoI have been trying to make some sense of my wife’s abrupt passing after a lifetime of perfect health. There are many of these and we all have some of them naturally; some people have them in extra measure.
Sitting tends to have health benefits for many people, though in the course of practice there may be months or even years of health disasters, But again, seeking perfect health is not the way; although by and large, overtime, there will be a beneficial effect on health for most people But no guarantees!
There may be a little more clarity on such matters, but clever people have been known to say and do foolish things.
Out daily life is in constant movement: lots of things going on, lots of people talking, lots of events taking place.
If we find that certain thoughts come up hundreds of times, we know something about ourselves that we didn’t know before.
Suppose you work in an aircraft plant, and you’re told that the government contracts is coming to an end and probably will not be renewed.
One kind are events outside of ourselves, and the other are things within us, such as physical illness.
When we know our minds well and the emotions that our thinking creates, we tend to see better what our lives are about and what needs to be done, which is generally just the next task under our nose.


Even students who have a fair understanding of what they’re doing at times tend to desert basic practice.
Instead, they have devised many different ways to practice this particular form of Buddhism. 1) Whenever we notice our thoughts taking a negative turn, we recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. The sentient beings in the heavenly dharma realms can never fall back into the six worlds, the bottom six realms. The fourth dharma realm, that of the Pure Land or the Pure Abodes, is the lowest of the four heavenly realms, but the step from the fifth to the fourth dharma realm is the second biggest step of all because it is the step from the six worlds to the heavenly realms, it is the step of no return.
Whenever we catch ourselves daydreaming or singing a catchy pop tune in our head, we switch to singing Namo Amituo Fo instead. The Pure Land sect, like Zen, is a Mahayana sect and therefore is practiced primarily in the Mahayana countries of China, Japan, Korea, and most of Viet Nam. However, instead of sitting around singing hosannas to the King as in the Christian heaven, the beings in the Land of Ultimate Bliss are cultivating Buddhahood.
According to the Mahayana sutras, Amitabha Buddha is a prehistoric Buddha, a Buddha of times that were ancient even during the lifetime of the historical Buddha. Some observers conclude that The Pure Land School is for the masses and Zen is for the elite. Even though Pure Land practitioners outnumber Zen practitioners, there are still very few serious Pure Land practitioners. The majority of American Zennies, as they call themselves, are college educated and financially secure. Very few follow the first precept and many ridicule the very idea of vegetarianism, for example, and threaten to leave the meditation group if the subject ever comes up a second time. Not only have they failed to repent of their pre-Zen ways, they have never taken the precepts seriously but they do wear a rakusu as if they have. An unrepentant, precept-shunning Zen practice that further ignores the sutras, that considers prostrations a waste of time, and that scoffs at Pure Land practices is equally lacking in authenticity.
They are recited in The Avatamsaka Sutra by Bodhisattva Samantabhadra and form the basis of an authentic Pure Land practice.
Every Buddhist tradition venerates and respects all Buddhas, so this vow is not unique to the Pure Land.
We do not make abundant offerings just by writing a check payable to a Buddhist organization. So when we recite the Repentance Gatha as a part of our prostration practice, we are practicing the fourth great vow. The true Bodhisattva practices Zen in all its fullness and transfers the merit gained thereby to all sentient beings, universally, without discrimination.
The degeneration of Buddha Name Recitation into mere favor-seeking from a god-like entity is probably the reason why it is not practiced in most Japanese-influenced Zen centers in the States.
Performed with no thought of personal gain, performed as a means for remembering who we are, and performed in the exercise of Right Effort, it adds a valuable dimension to our daily practice. The formless world, the immaterial world, lies beyond the world of form, and it can’t be experienced until we experience the immaterial attainments. At the Zen Center of Los Angeles (ZCLA) I sometimes had the useful ability to see what was being served for dinner two doors away.
If we were expert swimmers the challenge might be whether we can enter our hand into the water at a certain angle as we execute our stroke. Suppose there is something I want very much: perhaps 1 want to marry a certain person, or get an advanced degree, or have my child be healthy and happy. 1 can absolutely trust that in the past year my life is going to be changed, different, yet always just the way it is.
When we’ve been sitting long enough we can see our thoughts as just pure sensory input. We may have what we think of as a better programming; but the point of sitting is not to be run by any program.
Zen considers direct communication between master and pupil to be the best way to impart knowledge. Some try to achieve sudden moments of enlightenment while some decide to follow a gradual process. With daily Buddha Name Recitation, we assure rebirth in The Pure Land, never again to descend into the lower six realms.
2) If we fail to notice that moment and are already awash in negative thoughts, we drop them by reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha. Should they not win full enlightenment at the time of their death, then they will arise in the pure abodes (suddhavasa) to attain full enlightenment there. We take ourselves to the hell worlds, the heavenly realms, the human dharma realm, the animal realm, and so on.
Unlike the earth, where cultivation is not always easy, practicing zazen and other forms of cultivation is easy in the Pure Land where everyone is a cultivator. Here is my non-scholarly theory of why they called the Pure Land the Western Paradise: It is known that the ancient Chinese preferred to build their homes facing the south to derive maximum benefit from the sun. Amitabha Buddha vowed to help all sentient beings to awaken if they would but call upon his name. Ch’an Master Hsuan Hua encourages Pure Land practice because it doesn’t conflict with Zen practice in any way. Most are heavily into meditation and know little about the Buddhist sutras, the Precepts, and Buddhist practice in general. When we perform prostrations, we are bowing to our true selves; we are venerating and respecting all Buddhas.


Enlightenment is not pursued for self-gratification because such a pursuit merely strengthens the delusive belief in an independent self. If we want to wake up, we repeat and practice the ten vows of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra every day. The product of practice or the point of practice or what practice is about is not to be always calm and collected.
When we simplify the situation, when we take away the externals and remove ourselves from the ringing phone, the television, the people who visit us, the dog who needs a walk, we get a chance—which is absolutely the most valuable thing there is—to face ourselves. But when we practice in this way, becoming aware of everything that enters our life (whether internal or external), our life begins to transform. There is no person on earth whom we can completely rely on, though we can certainly love others and enjoy them.
And we can see ourselves moving through the stages preliminary to that at first we feel our thoughts are real, and out of that we create the self-centered emotions, and out of that we create the barrier to seeing life as it is; because if we are caught in self-centerd emotions we can’t see people or situations clearly. So whether we have been sitting five years or twenty years or are just beginning, it is important to sit with great, meticulous care. Every attempt is made to lead the pupil away from his rational and intellectual faculties thus making him aware of his own Buddha-nature.
Turning to Buddha Name Recitation whenever we can remember to do so gradually clears out the mental cobwebs created by the onslaught of pop culture. As practitioners, we might as well awaken to the pure abodes, the Pure Land, the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Facing south, they knew that the Pacific was to their left and straight ahead so they assumed the Pure Land was to their right. Such observations are made by those who recite the Hsin Hsin Ming and still cling to their opinions.
Amitabha Buddha is our true Buddha nature; when we practice Pure Land chanting, we are reciting our true name, remembering our beginningless beginning.
Practicing prostrations, introduced in Advanced Zen, is therefore practicing the first great vow of Pure Land practice.
To practice authentic Zen, not just a bare, meditation-only stripped down Zen that ignores the need to follow the precepts, and so on, is to practice for the benefit of all sentient beings.
But just contemplating this desire begins to clarify it, and the practice basis of our life alters as we do so.
And we gain strength and insight and even live at times in the enlightened state, which simply means experiencing life as it is. When our actions are based on our false thought systems (which are based on our conditioning), they are poorly based.
4) If we notice that our thoughts are wholesome, we maintain those wholesome thoughts by reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha.
So our daily practice can represent our making of abundant offerings to the Buddha in fulfillment of the third vow.
The practitioner who desires to practice Zen in all of its fullness for the benefit of all sentient beings is a Bodhisattva, a Buddha-to-be, one who has developed the Bodhi Mind. We begin to comprehend that our frantic desire to get better, to “get somewhere,” is illusion itself, and the source of suffering. Thus, when we perform Buddha Name Recitation, we are practicing the second great vow of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.
We may also make abundant offerings to the Buddhas at our home zendo altar or the altar of our local Zen center in a more mundane way. Those who ignore the fullness of Zen practice are ignorant of the benefits to all sentient beings that would accrue if they would only fulfill the Ten Great Vows. There’s nothing wrong with our self-centered thoughts except that when we identify with them, our view of reality is blocked.
And if we let this happen over a period of time, we often become physically sick or mentally depressed.
Of course, we have to have life-centered thoughts: how to follow a recipe, how to put on a roof, how to plan our vacation. If we can recite the name of Amitabha Buddha while performing prostrations, we are simultaneously practicing the first and second vows of the ten great vows. We are also making the ninth vow when we recite the third line of the Three General Resolutions.
And so before we know it we’ve forgotten all about this moment, and we’ve drifted off into thinking about something: our boyfriend, our girlfriend, our child, our boss, our current fear . Be specific in your labeling: not just “thinking, thinking” or “worrying, worrying”, but a specific label.
We don’t have to force ourselves to get rid of them  When they quiet down, we return to the experience of the body and the breath, over and over and over.
Our understanding grows over the years, but at any point we are perfect in being what we are.
There’s nothing sinful about such fantasizing except that when we’re lost in that, we’ve lost something else. Suppose your living space has just been demolished by an earthquake, and you are about to lose an arm and all your life’s savings. And if the thoughts are tumbling out so far that you can’t find anything except confusion, then just label the foggy mess “confuson.” But if you persist in trying to find a separate thought, sooner or later you will. That’s all you have to do, absolutely all you have to do: experience that, and just stay with it.



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