Many people confuse Chan with Pure Land Buddhism — after all, if you meditate and also recite the Buddha’s name, doesn’t that just mix the two practices together? Actually, these kinds of questions are superfluous. If you only ever have one Dharma in your mind, as soon as another Dharma enters, whatever you had becomes delusive and distracted thought, and any Dharma you practice becomes the same. Without a pure mind, any true practice becomes something other than Dharma. Chan places the mind at the core of everything. If the mind is very clear, then the world’s ‘dust’ and delusion will be left behind and the true enlightened mind will come forth. Another way of saying it is, when you meditate, it’s not your body but your mind that’s meditating. When delusive thoughts arise, it’s the mind that knows; when the mind is clear, it knows it is free of delusive thoughts. The mind never had any ‘internal’ or ‘external,’ and it’s the same mind that knows this to be true. If you can observe your mind in this way in every moment, noticing whether you’ve deviated from this principle — if the mind in motion or at rest doesn’t get influenced by anything external or internal, physical or mental — then you can say it’s abiding in the meditative stillness of its own essence. This is what the sutras call taking good care of your thoughts. If you continue to carefully protect your mind after reaching this level, if the senses of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind — the six roots — merge together in the end, then you’ve surpassed the ordinary way of seeing and can now see your essence, your own buddha nature. You will discover that everything was already there within you to begin with and there is no differentiation, no impurities. At this point you see all form without giving rise to action or differentiation. This is called great emptiness, or when the five aggregates become completely empty, or merging (with phenomena) without becoming scattered. At this point, away from all form, you’ll naturally realize that all ordinary appearances are illusory reality. You could also say that in the end, it’s Amitabha’s self-nature reciting his own name, and not your mind reciting to an external deity. Amitabha is your own mind and your mind is Amitabha. Even if you don’t recite his name, Amitabha has been in your mind from the very beginning. Whoever understands this will realize the truth of self and Amitabha being one and the same.
All practices in the Pure Land school are anchored in the recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name along with visualizing the Buddha or in front of a statue of the Buddha. Everyone will go through this stage of their practice, whether it involves the methods of audible or silent recitation, vajra recitation, visualizing the Buddha on the crown of your head, enlightened illumination, visualization, prostrating to the Buddha or the Ten Recitations Method. Whichever method you use, they are all skillful means. The goal of all of them is to merge your mind with the name of the Buddha, so that you’re reciting with your whole mind. This method becomes the state of reciting without reciting. At this stage, even as distracting thoughts are thrust into your consciousness (nearing death) by the dissolution of the four elements (earth, water, fire, and wind), this will not affect your mind, because the intensity of your recitation has already penetrated your stream of consciousness. You will remain undisturbed by any state you may encounter. This is also described as brushing off all remaining dust, the correct way of mindfulness for facing death. At this point you can add your vows, just like Buddha Amitabha, who, in the sutras, says: “If vowing to be reborn in a Pure Land, one should make vows as such, And why is this so? This can allow all those great, good people to gather in the same place.” In other words, reciting the Buddha’s name can bring your mind to one-pointed focus and at your passing you will be received by the Buddha himself; so you should definitely make vows.
Chan Master Zhao Zhou said, “After reciting the Buddha’s name one time, rinse your mouth out for three days.” The point is to be single-minded in your concentration. Yet, it says in the Siliaojian (of Chan Master Yongming Yanshou), “With Chan but no Pure Land, nine out of ten people will tarry or be delayed. When the hidden realm appears before you, follow it as soon as you glimpse it.” Whether practicing Chan or Pure Land Buddhism, everything depends on the mind. If the mind can settle, any Dharma can liberate. There is no need to differentiate countless practice methods based on individual afflictions, delusive thoughts, root senses or life circumstances. Whether it’s observing the origin of thoughts in Chan meditation or reciting the Buddha’s name to understand who Buddha is, all comes from your own mind: they are two paths to the same destination. If you can singlemindedly return to the mind’s original nature and liberate the six senses, there will be nothing to differentiate between Chan and Pure Land. Whether you achieve liberation or fall into the lower realms depends entirely on your mind.
From Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche