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    Letters from

    Patriarch Yin Kuang

    Translated by Master Thich Thi`en Tam, et alForrest G. Smith, consulting editor


    New York - San Francisco - Toronto

  • Note to the reader. This is an electronic version of the book Pure-LandZen, Zen Pure-Land (second edition 1993), which is a translation of selectedpassages from the letters of Elder Master Yin Kuang, the Thirteenth Patriarch ofPure Land. The original Chinese titles are Yin Kuang Fa Shih Wen Chao and YinKuang Ta Shih Chia Yen Lu.Except for the two pictures of Master Yin Kuang, nothing has been added orchanged. However, the notes to the letters and the Glossary prepared by theVan Hien Study Group as well as the Appendix (The Practices and Vows of theBodhisattva Samantabhadra) were left out, but will hopefully be added later on.

    T.G., May 2005

    reprinted and donated for free distribution by The Corporate Body of the BuddhaEducational Foundation, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.


    p. 3 About the authorp. 5 Prefacep. 8 Introduction

    The Pure Land Tradition

    p. 17 TranslationsLetters from Patriarch Yin Kuang25 letters on General Buddhism,Zen and Pure Land, Pure Land Practice

  • The supreme and endless blessings of Samantabhadras deeds,I now universally transfer.May every living being, drowning and adrift,Soon return to the Land of Limitless Light!

    The Vows of Samantabhadra

  • About the author

    The life of the Pure Land Patriarch Yin Kuang (1861-1940) covers a mosteventful period for East Asia and parallels the Sino-Japanese War, the ChineseRevolution of 1911 and two world wars.

    The revolution of 1911 that toppled the Manchu dynasty and established theRepublic of China also brought in its wake a number of problems for theBuddhist sangha [clergy]. Following the political revolution, an intellectualclimate was ushered in that was unfriendly to the interests of Buddhism ...The attack and criticism against Buddhism ... resulted in a number of discri-minatory measures, such as special taxes and contributions being levied ontemples, monasteries being appropriated for use as barracks and police stati-ons, tenants on temple lands being encouraged not to pay rent, and Buddhistimages being destroyed ... (Kenneth Chen, Buddhism in China, p. 455ff.)

    Against this backdrop, two eminent monks rose to lead the resurgence of Bud-dhism: Master Tai Hsu, who was instrumental in the revival of the Mind-Onlyschool and Master Yin Kuang, later to become the Thirteenth Patriarch of PureLand.

    The monk mainly responsible for instilling new life and meaning to ... [thepractice of Buddha Recitation and chanting of sutras was Master] Yin Kuang... who, after his conversion to Pure Land pietism, concentrated on living a pu-re religious life based on faith, devotion and holiness ... [Master] Yin Kuangcarried on his teachings mainly in the provinces of Kiangsu and Chekiang,where he gained numerous followers and disciples ... These efforts by [Master]Yin Kuang and his followers brought about an extensive revival of the Pu-re Land school. Lotus Societies, Nien-fo [Buddha Recitation] Societies, andothers of a similar nature sprang up all over China. (Ibid.)

    The compendium of Master Yin Kuangs letters excerpts of which aretranslated in this book represents a broad cross-section of the Masters thoughtand forms a prized collection of inspirational writings cherished throughout theMahayana world. Scarcely a Chinese temple can be found anywhere without severaldifferent editions of these letters.

    Dieu PhungMinh ThanhP.D. Leigh

    Festival ofAmitabha BuddhaShepherd ParkHartford, CT: 1992


  • Patriarch Yin Kuang (1861-1940)


  • Preface

    After the demise of the historical Buddha, His teachings spread in two maindirections, southward (Theravada tradition) and eastward into China, Vietnam, Ko-rea, Japan (Mahayana tradition). In East Asia, these teachings developed into tendifferent schools, several of which remained important to this day: Zen, Tantric andPure Land. Pure Land is by far the most widespread form of Buddhism in East Asia.

    All these schools teach the same basic truth: Do not what is evil, do what isgood, keep the mind pure. True to this spirit, the Pure Land approach is simpleand straightforward. Through mindfulness of the Buddha (i.e. Buddha Recitation),the practitioner can calm his mind and achieve samadhi and wisdom. Thus rebornin the Pure Land (i.e., in his pure Mind), he will eventually attain Buddhahood.This is also the core teaching, the very essence, of Zen and all other Mahayanaschools. As D.T. Suzuki has pointed out, the psychological effects of the repetitionof the holy name are close to the effects of Zen meditation.

    This notwithstanding, the main emphasis of the Pure Land school lies elsewhere.Pure Land provides a safety net, a refuge of last resort for everyone, through thecompassion of Amitabha Buddha through His Vows. Taken together, these twoconcepts of the Pure Land as Mind and as a transcendental land effectivelybrought ... within the reach of all men the deliverance taught by Sakyamuni (AllanA. Andrews).

    But why do we have to purify the mind and seek deliverance? It is because inthe wasteland of Birth and Death, subject to the three poisons of greed, anger anddelusion, we all undergo suffering the ultimate suffering being, of course, death.Echoing this conclusion, a well-known American professor made this observationabout the motivation of Western Buddhists:

    Probably the majority of non-Orientals who become practicing Buddhistsdo so because of an overriding need for relief from suffering. Sometimes thesuffering is physical, but more often it is emotional and often psychosoma-tic. The individual practicing meditation, chanting, or any kind of Buddhistself-cultivation is motivated by a need for symptomatic relief, mitigationof anxiety and depression, reduction of hostility ... (Emma McCloy Layman,Buddhism in America, p. 269)

    This is precisely why Buddha Sakyamuni, when preaching the Four NobleTruths to Kaundinya and his friends, taught them first the Truth of Suffering. Theletters of Master Yin Kuang address this issue squarely. If you are suffering andif you realistically discover that you have only average motivation, fortitude andself-discipline, then Pure Land is for you. Pure Land is about suffering and theliberation from suffering.


  • This book consists of excerpts of selected letters by the Patriarch Yin Kuang[...]. Each letter can be considered a unit in itself [...]. Please note that in this text,the expressions Buddha Recitation and Buddhas name refer specifically toAmitabha Buddha. [...]

    Here, then, are the letters of the Patriarch Yin Kuang. We hope the Westernreader will enjoy and benefit from them, as several generations of Eastern readershave. As a Zen Master has written in another context, read them once, read themtwice and look for the same thing that Bodhidharma brought to China: look forthe print of the Mind.

    Van Hien Study GroupFestival of SamantabhadraNew York: 1992


  • There shall be no distinction, no regard to male or female, good or bad, exalted orlowly; none shall fail to be in his Land of Purity after having called, with completefaith, on Amida Buddha.

    Honen Shonin (as quoted inPure Land Buddhist Painting)

  • Introduction

    The Pure Land Tradition

    The goal of all Buddhist practice is to achieve Enlightenment and transcendthe cycle of Birth and Death that is, to attain Buddhahood. In the Mahayanatradition, the precondition for Buddhahood is the Bodhi Mind, the aspiration toachieve Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, oneself included.1

    Since sentient beings are of different spiritual capacities and inclinations, manylevels of teaching and numerous methods were devised in order to reach everyone.Traditionally, the sutras speak of 84,000, i.e., an infinite number of methods,depending on the circumstances, the times and the target audience. All thesemethods are expedients different medicines for different individuals with differentillnesses at different times but all are intrinsically perfect and complete.2 Withineach method, the success or failure of an individuals cultivation depends on hisdepth of practice and understanding, that is, on his mind.

    A) Self-power, other-power

    Throughout history, the Patriarchs have elaborated various systems to categorizeDharma methods and the sutras in which they are expounded. One convenientdivision is into methods based on self-effort (self-power) and those that rely on theassistance of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (other-power).3

    Traditionally, most Buddhist schools and methods take the self-power approach:progress along the path of Enlightenment is achieved only through intense andsustained personal effort.4 Because of the dedication and effort involved, schools ofthis self-power, self-effort tradition all have a distinct monastic bias. The laity hasgenerally played only a supportive role, with the most spiritually advanced ideallyjoining the Order of monks and nuns. Best known of these traditions are Theravadaand Zen.

    Parallel to this, particularly following the development of Mahayana thoughtand the rise of lay Buddhism, a more flexible tradition eventually arose, combiningself-power with other-power the assistance and support provided by the Buddhasand Bodhisattvas to sincere seekers of the Way. Most representative of this traditionare the Esoteric and Pure Land schools. However, unlike the former (or Zen), PureLand does not stress the master-disciple relationship and de-emphasizes the roleof sub-schools, roshis/gurus and rituals. Moreover, the main aim of Pure Land rebirth in the Lan


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