Buddhist Syncretism
Chan/Self Power & Pure Land/Other Power
Self Power and Other Power as Yin-Yang Symbol with Bodhidharma on the left and Amitabha on the right
A scale with "faith" on one side and "works" on the other
DVD: To the Land of Bliss
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Photo of Hsu Tung
Before Hsu-tung moved to China’s most famous Pure Land temple, he had been the abbot of Tamaopeng Hermitage, the most renowned Zen temple in the Chungnan Mountains. I asked him about the difference between Zen and Pure Land practice.
Hsu-tung: 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.
Chan: From Named to Namelss (Dao); Pure Land: From Nameless to Named (Dao)
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, delusions disappear. 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 practice. If you don’t practice both, you become one-sided. (R2H: 95)
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Photo of the main Foguangshan temple in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Fo Guang Shan (FGS) (Chinese: 佛光山; pinyin: Fo guang shan; lit. ‘Buddha’s Light Mountain’) is an international Chinese Mahayana Buddhist organization and monastic order based in Taiwan that practices Humanistic Buddhism. The headquarters, Fo Guang Shan Monastery is located in Dashu District, Kaohsiung, and is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. The organization is also one of the largest charity organizations in Taiwan. The organization’s counterpart for laypeople is known as the Buddha’s Light International Association.

Founded in 1967 by Hsing Yun, the order promotes Humanistic Buddhism and is known for its efforts in the modernization of Chinese Buddhism. The order is famous for its use of technology and its temples are often furnished with the latest equipment. Hsing Yun’s stated position for Fo Guang Shan is that it is an “amalgam of all Eight Schools of Chinese Buddhism” (Chinese: 八宗兼弘; pinyin: bazong jianhong). The Fo Guang Shan order has an associated college, Fo Guang University, which offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in both Buddhist Studies and secular fields.

In Taiwan, Hsing Yun is popularly referred to as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” and Fo Guang Shan is considered one of the “Four Great Mountains” or four major Buddhist organizations of Taiwanese Buddhism, along with Dharma Drum Mountain, Tzu Chi, and Chung Tai Shan. (Wikipedia/Fo Guang Shan)
Photo of Foguangshan in Naperville
Yin-Yang synmbol with heaven and earth
Photo of Master Yang
We arrived at Master Yang’s room on the east wing [of Pahsienkung Taoist temple]. ... Master Yang had been meditating, and he didn’t bother to uncross his legs. ... I asked him about cultivating the Tao. ...
Cartoon of Zhuangzi with a butterfly
Q: What difference do you see between Buddhism and Taoism in terms of practice?
Yang: Buddhists and Taoists walk the same path. They just dream different dreams. Essentially Buddhism and Taoism are the same. Their sacred texts talk about the same things. It’s just that Taoism emphasizes life, and Buddhism emphasizes nature. But people who truly cultivate cultivate both. In terms of actual practice, Buddhism is somewhat better than Taoism. Even though Taoists talk about cultivating the mind, they often have a harder time suppressing feelings of pride. But to cultivate either of them successfully is very hard. (R2H: 214-8)
Laozi, Confucius and Bodhidharma with the Chinese characters for the "Unity of the Three Teachings" (sanjiao heyi)
The Unity of the Three Teachings at Fung Loy Kok Temple in Toronto
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Essay 2 ~ Buddhism
Realizing Harmony with the Totality of Space-Time

Although numerous schools of Chinese Buddhism had developed by the end of the Tang dynasty (618-907), most were fatally weakened by the collapse of the Tang with the exception of the Chan and Pure Land traditions, which gradually merged into a generic form of Buddhism that continues to represent mainstream Chinese Buddhism to this day. While both approaches pursue the same ultimate goal — realizing harmony with the totality of space-time (i.e., nirvana) — Chan’s emphasis on “self power” (reaching enlightenment through one’s own efforts) and Pure Land’s focus on “other power” (relying on the spiritual power of buddhas and bodhisattvas) would appear to be mutually exclusive. Discuss the relationship between these two approaches and explain why they can — or cannot — be harmoniously integrated into a coherent and comprehensive approach to Buddhism that is consistent with the teachings of the historical Buddha. Your paper must include references to Guo Jun’s Essential Chan Buddhism and at least four academic sources. For more details, see the Essay 2 Rubric.