The unified practice of Ch'an and Pure Land is the unified practice of Compassion and Widsom. Pure Land practice allows one to open up the heart, thus developing Compassion; Ch'an practice shows one how to concentrate the mind, thus developing Wisdom. When Compassion and Wisdom combine in a dynamic relationship, our True Mind is realized, our True Heart comes forth, and Enlightenment is assured. This form is practiced in contemporary Ch’an monasteries around the world. The combination of Ch'an and Pure Land has existed since the eighth century C.E. Awakening to one’s true nature shows us how we’re linked with universal compassion and wisdom, and becoming one with universal compassion and wisdom shows us our true nature. There really is no inherent conflict.
Pure Land Hua-T'ou Practice
The Ch'an form which is most widely used in combination with Pure Land is hua-t'ou practice. The term "hua-t'ou" literally means "the head of a thought" and refers to the mind which exists before we turn it into so-called "thought" or "thoughts." Hua-t'ou practice usually centers around a "who?" question such as, "Who is this?" or "Who am I?" Eventually, the question simply becomes, "Who?" The hua-t'ou method produces a sustained meditative inquiry into one's true nature. This sustained meditative inquiry leads to a feeling of "doubt," which in turn intensifies one's meditative inquiry until a breakthrough occurs.
Pure Land hua-t'ou practice generally centers around the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" As in other hua-t'ou practices, the question eventually becomes, "Who?" However, instead of simply asking the question setting up the meditative inquiry, Pure Land hua-t'ou practice adds the practice of Buddha-Recitation. Practitioners are instructed to engage in Buddha-Recitation for several minutes before beginning to ask the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" When the meditative inquiry sparked by the question begins to fade, the practitioners go back to Buddha-Recitation until they are ready to inquire again (It should be noted that anyone who engages in this or any Ch'an-based practice should do so under the guidance of a qualified teacher who can assist the practitioner along the way).
This practice is also known as Self-Nature Buddha Recitation since the realm which is revealed by the mind of meditation is the Pure Land itself. The eminent contemporary Ch'an master Hsuan-Hua addressed this when he said, "As we recite 'Namo Amitabha Buddha' we each create and adorn our own Land of Ultimate Bliss. We each accomplish our own Land of Ultimate Bliss which is certainly not hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands from here. Although it is far away it doesn’t go beyond one thought. It’s not hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands from here; it’s right in our hearts. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is the original true heart, the true mind, of every one of us. If you obtain this heart, you will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If you don’t understand your own original true heart, you will not. The Land of Ultimate Bliss is within our hearts, not outside. Amitabha Buddha and living beings do not discriminate between this and that, for the Land of Ultimate Bliss is not so far away. In one thought, turn the light within. Know that you are the Buddha, and your original Buddhahood is just the Land of Ultimate Bliss."
In the book "Road to Heaven," Bill Porter interviewed Abbot Hsu-Tung of Hsiangchi Temple, the most famous Pure Land temple in China. Venerable Hsu-Tung, when asked about the difference between Zen and Pure Land practice, said the following: "In Zen, we keep asking who's chanting the name of the Buddha. All we think about is where the name of the Buddha is coming from. We keep asking,until we find out who we were before we were born. This is Zen. We sit with one mind. And if the mind runs off somewhere, we follow it wherever it goes, until the mind finally becomes quiet, until there's no Zen to Zen, no question to question, until we reach the stage where we question without questioning and without questioning we keep questioning. We keep questioning, until we finally find an answer, until delusions come to an end, until we can swallow the world, all its rivers and mountains, everything, but the world can't swallow us, until we can ride the tiger, but the tiger can't ride us, until we find out who we really are. This is Zen.
"In Pure land practice, we just chant the name of the Buddha, nothing more. We chant with the mind. We chant without making a sound, and yet the sound is perfectly clear. And when we hear the sound, the chant begins again. It goes around and around. the chant doesn't stop, and the mind doesn't move. The sound arises, we hear the sound, but our mind doesn't move. And when our mind doesn't move, deulsions disapper. And once they're gone, the one mind chants. The result is the same as Zen. Zen means no distinctions. Actually, Pure Land practice includes Zen, and Zen practice includes Pure Land. If you don't practice both, you become one-sided."