The Platform Sutra
August 29, 2012
The Platform Sutra
When considering the Platform Sutra, the idea of the Middle Way in understanding the interplay between understanding and insight, meditation and wisdom, is key. “If there is a lamp there is light; if there is no lamp there is no light. The lamp is the substance of light; the light is the function of the lamp. Thus, although they have two names, in substance there are not two. Meditation and wisdom are also like this.” (Yampolsky, 1967, pg. 137) The chanting of Pure Land Buddhism is sometimes considered an ‘easy’ form which can seem superstitious or just a cultural accretion that some seem to distain. “Merely chanting with the lips is nothing more than recitation of the Buddha’s name. Chanting with a one-pointed mind is true chanting. Just mouthing the words without mindfulness, absorbed in habitual thinking, will do no real good for your practice.” (Boep Joeng, 2006, pg. 70) When we believe that the Pure Land is somewhere outside ourselves that we desire to be, we do not benefit from chanting the name of the Amitabha Buddha, just as when we sit in meditation to escape from our world or ourselves we do not benefit ourselves, but only when we sit in one pointed attention do we gain from the practice. The Platform Sutra exhorts us to practice, saying that to recite the Dharma without practice is “like an illusion or phantom.” (Yampolsky, 1967, pg 146) Yet the Buddha himself declared: “The Pure Land of the Western Paradise is far, far from here. You must pass 100,000 lands, and even 8,000 more regions, in order to reach it.” (Boep Joeng, 2006, pg. 74) Here, he uses metaphors of distance and space to illustrate the illusory distance between relative reality and ultimate reality that we currently perceive. The Buddha also expresses that “The Pure Land of the Western Paradise is not a faraway place. Why? Because the very mind of sentient beings is the place of Amita Buddha.” (Boep Joeng, 2006, pg. 74) “Whether we appreciate it or not, we are ceaselessly invoking...” (Loori, 2009, pg 23) our litany of thoughts of what we want or do not want, what we think and feel, and our judgments and opinions. What should we invoke, then? It is our choice to invoke vow and practice that vow. (Loori, 2009) In several places in the Platform Sutra, disciples ask the Master to resolve their doubts or transmit knowledge to them. (Yampolsky, 1967) The Platform Sutra teaches that practice while walking or sitting, speaking or silent, moving or still, the practitioner is at peace. (Yampolsky, 1967) In the Zen story about Lung T’an who lived for many years with T’ien Huang. The student felt that he was not progressing on the path could keep silent no longer when he said to his master: ‘I have been with you for years, but you have never transmitted anything to me. I beg you to treat me with more compassion.” (Nhat Hanh, 1995, pg 71) The Master responded to the student with true compassion by pointing out what their interactions had been like over the years, helping him to understand that the day-to-day activities that the student had been taking for granted had been performed by the Master with true awareness and equanimity and had illustrated the teachings for him. (Nhat Hanh, 1995) The Pure Land was right there all along, but the student had not looked with the eyes of the Buddha. When a teacher asked a student “Where did you come from when you were born and where will you go when you die?” the student thought about it. The master smiled and said, “In the length of a thought, the clouds have crossed a thousand miles.” (Nhat Hanh, 1995) Nhat Hanh (1995) goes on to explain that the authentic mind seal is transmitted in every moment. If we observe the way the master walks, eats, speaks, and perform each act of daily life, we will be receiving the transmission of the Dharma continuously. This transmission, according to Nhat Hanh (1995) is available to each disciple in every moment;...
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