All teachings in the Tripitaka (Buddhist Canon) are tools to induce sentient beings to sever attachment. To those attached to Emptiness, Buddha Sakyamuni taught Existence to break that grasp. To those attached to Existence, He taught Emptiness so as to loosen that grasp. To those grasping at both Emptiness and Existence, He taught "neither Emptiness nor Existence" to break that grasp. Lastly, to those grasping at "neither Emptiness nor Existence," He taught both Emptiness and Existence to break that attachment. (1)

In short, the purpose is to draw all sentient beings away from attachments. That is the Buddhist teaching of salvation. There is no other way to return to the source [the Mind], though there are many different expedient methods. We Buddhist students and practitioners should not become attached to these methods. When thoughts arise in our mind discriminating between what method is right and what method is wrong, that is against the purpose of the Buddhas and is a deviation from the Buddhist path.

For example, when Buddha Sakyamuni taught the Dharma of Emptiness, His message was not that it was the opposite of Existence, but rather that it was Truth and Reality. What are Truth and Reality? Let me quote the T'ien T'ai Patriarch Chih I: 

When one dharma is empty, then all dharmas are empty; there is no separate Non-Emptiness. Without Non-Emptiness to contrast with Emptiness, Emptiness itself is unattainable [i.e., does not exist].

Similarly, when Buddha Sakyamuni taught Existence, this was not the opposite of Emptiness, but was rather to say: 

When one dharma exists, then all dharmas exist; there is no separate Non-Existence. Without Non-Existence to contrast with Existence, Existence itself is unattainable.

We should understand the true meaning of Emptiness and Existence. Nothing we say about Emptiness or Existence is attainable (i.e., truly valid). And since this is so, why are we still attached to them?

The Great Master Han-Shan thoroughly understood the goal of the Buddhas. In tune with the minds of the Patriarchs, he spread the Dharma (teaching), grasping at neither Emptiness nor Existence, neither Non-Emptiness nor Non-Existence -- thereby manifesting the Middle Way. Thus, he promoted the cultivation of both Zen and Pure Land, pointing to the non-duality of Emptiness and Existence. That teaching is "Wonderful Enlightenment" (see Glossary).

When practicing Zen, at the beginning of cultivation the expedient of Emptiness is used. But Zen does not mean Emptiness, nor does it mean Existence. Pure Land uses the expedient of Existence at the start of practice, but Pure Land does not mean Existence nor does it mean Emptiness. When Sakyamuni Buddha spoke of Emptiness and Existence, it was to reach human beings of different capacities. The Dharma itself transcends Emptiness and Existence. All methods taught by Buddha Sakyamuni are like prescriptions; since people suffer from different diseases, they need many kinds of prescriptions. It does not matter whether the medicine is expensive or cheap. As long as it is effective, it is a good medicine .

Those who practice Zen or Pure Land should all understand this truth: "all Dharma methods are equal and none is superior or inferior." No one who really understands the deep meaning of the Dharma can have the kind of obstinate prejudice that sees inferiority and superiority between the various Buddhist methods. No one with that kind of obstinate prejudice can gain any real benefit from the Dharma.

For example, the Zen school teaches meditation on a "hua-t'ou" (wato). Hua-t'ou means "before words," before a single thought rises up in one's mind.(2) What is there before a single thought rises up? It is No Thought. No thought is one's own Pure Mind, one's own Buddha Nature, one's own Original Face. Meditating on a hua-t'ou does not mean repeating it, because the repetition of a hua-t'ou is also a great false thought. Rather, to recognize one's own Original Face is the purpose of a hua-t'ou.

The Pure Land school teaches Buddha Recitation -- the repetition of Amitabha Buddha's name. However, it does not teach merely to recite by mouth, like a parrot mindlessly squawking out words. Buddha Recitation centered on the mind is real Buddha Recitation. This is because Mind is Buddha, Buddha is Mind. As the sutras state: "The Mind, Buddhas and Sentient Beings are undifferentiated and equal." Outside of Mind, there is no Buddha, outside of Buddha, there is no Mind. Buddha is Mind, Mind is Buddha. If a practitioner recites the Buddha's name in this manner, he will gradually arrive at the stage where there is neither Mind as subject nor Buddha as object. And there is neither a subject reciting nor an object of recitation. This is the stage before the arising of a single thought. This is the hua-t'ou and this is one's own Original Face. If the practitioner can really understand the Dharma as transcending subject and object, what difference is there between Zen and Pure Land?

Ever since Sakyamuni Buddha held up a flower and the Elder Mahakasyapa smiled, the method of Mind-to-Mind transmission, "without a word and outside the Teachings [of the Buddhist Canon]," has been the traditional way to pass the succession from patriarch to patriarch in the Zen school. (3)Since Bodhidharma came from the West (i.e., India), there has been continuous transmission, up to and including the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-Neng. In later generations, each Zen patriarch relied on his own techniques to train his students and followers. There are many methods, such as using Mind to seal Mind, meditating on a hua-t'ou, exploring one's Original Face, pondering "who is the one reciting the Buddha's name," or meditating on the single word "Wu" ("no") or on any of the other 1700 kung-ans (koans). However, the only purpose of all these teachings is to allow the practitioner to let go of everything, from body to mind, remove all false thought and rid himself of grasping and attachment. A practitioner who simply repeats a hua-t'ou or meditates on a kung-an without understanding its real purpose would be wasting his time and energy.

The Dharma of Pure Land, taught by Sakyamuni Buddha without being requested, (4) expresses His great compassion. The magnificent realm and adornments of the Western Pure Land are described in detail in the Amitabha Sutra. The Pure Land Dharma is extolled by all Buddhas in the Ten Directions and cultivated by Bodhisattvas and Patriarchs. For example, the great Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara (Kuan-Yin), Mahasthamaprapta (Ta Shih Chih), Manjusri, and Samantabhadra all advocated and followed Pure Land. In ancient India, the Patriarchs Asvaghosa, Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, among others, all promoted Pure Land teachings. After the Dharma was transmitted to China, many Zen masters and great patriarchs promoted Pure Land. How perfect and lofty is the wonderful Dharma of Pure Land, taught by Sakyamuni Buddha and extolled by all Buddhas throughout the Ten Directions! We, on the other hand, are merely ordinary beings who have not yet broken away from ignorance and defilement. Yet, surprisingly, there are arrogant individuals who look down on this Pure Land Dharma.

The Avatamsaka Sutra includes a well-known episode concerning the youth Sudhana who journeyed to visit fifty-three Virtuous Teachers. The first one he met, the monk Cloud of Virtue, introduced him to the very important teaching of Pure Land. From there, Sudhana continued his visits until he had covered all fifty-three Teachers, the last of whom was the great Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. The latter also taught him the wonderful Pure Land Dharma method. Thus, we should understand that Pure Land is crucial in this Dharma-Ending Age. As disciples of the Buddhas, we should begin practicing this Dharma as early as possible.

In summary, Pure Land is Zen, Zen is Pure Land. In the past, all Buddhas throughout the Ten Directions relied on these two methods to practice and attain Buddhahood. All Buddhas in the present are likewise dependent on them to practice and attain Buddhahood. The same is true for all Buddhas in the future. These two Dharma methods are specially set forth in the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and the Surangama Sutra, along with many other sutras that exhort people to study and practice. 

Master Lok To 
New York: May 1993