down the Myriad Conditions, Let not a Single Thought Arise
A Dharma Talk Given by the Venerable Master Hsu Yun
The goal of investigating Chan is to understand the mind and see the true nature. That is, to remove all the defilements in one's mind and to actually see the image of one's self-nature. Defilements refer to false thoughts and attachments, while the self-nature refers to the Thus Come One's mark of wisdom and virtue. The Thus Come One's mark of wisdom and virtue is embodied within all Buddhas and living beings and is not dual or different. If one is apart from false thoughts and attachments, then one certifies to the Thus Come One's mark of wisdom and virtue and is a Buddha, otherwise one is just a living being. It is because you and I have, from immeasurable kalpas past, been caught in the cycle of birth and death and have been defiled for a long time that we cannot get rid of our false thoughts instantaneously and see our original nature. This is why we have to investigate Chan. Therefore the prerequisite of Chan investigation is to eliminate false thoughts. How could these false thoughts be eliminated? Sakyamuni Buddha had talked a lot about this and the easiest method is none other than the word rest in the saying Rest is Bodhi. The Chan School was transmitted to China by the First Patriarch, Bodhidharma, and was passed down to the Sixth Patriarch. Thereafter, the teaching of Chan spread far and wide and it had a tremendous impact from the past to the present. However, the most important teaching taught by the Venerable Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch is to sstill the myriad conditions and let not a single thought arise. Stilling the myriad conditions means to put down all conditions. Hence, the two phrases put down the myriad conditions, let not a thought arise is truly the prerequisite of investigating Chan. If one fails to meet the requirement of these two phrases, then one will not be able to master the rudiments of Chan, least of all succeed in investigating Chan. How could one talk about investigating Chan when one is covered up and bound by the myriad conditions and one's thoughts are produced and extinguished without interruption?
Put down the myriad conditions, let not a single thought arise is the prerequisite of Chan investigation. Since we know this, how can we achieve it? First, put to rest each and every thought until there is non-production and one will certify to Bodhi instantly without any trouble. Secondly, use principle to deal with all matters and fully understand that the self-nature was originally pure and clear; and that affliction, Bodhi, birth, death and nirvana are all empty names that, by right, have nothing to do with our self-nature. All things and objects are like dreams and illusions, bubbles and shadows. Within the self-nature, our bodies, which are composed of the four elements, and the mountains, rivers and great earth, are just like bubbles that randomly form and vanish in the sea without affecting the original substance. We should not follow along with the production, dwelling, changes and destruction of the myriad illusions and give rise to fondness and dislike, grasping and rejecting. Totally disregarding this body like a dead person, one naturally reduces the effects of the dust of the faculties, consciousness and the mind, thereby eradicating greed, hatred, ignorance and love. Whatever sufferings and enjoyment that this body experiences such as: hunger and cold, satiation and warmth, honor and humiliation, life and death, misfortune and blessings, good or ill luck, slander and praise, gain and loss, safety and danger; when one is not influenced by any of these states, only then is it considered as putting down. If, in putting things down, you put down totally and permanently, then it is known as putting down the myriad conditions. When one has put down the myriad conditions, false thoughts will naturally vanish, discrimination will no longer arise and one will be far apart from attachments. At this point when not a single thought arises, the light of one's self-nature will manifest completely and one will then naturally have fulfilled the requirements for investigating Chan. It is only by diligently applying one's skill in investigation that one has the chance of understanding ones mind and seeing the true-nature.
Recently, many Chan practitioners have come to ask questions. There is actually no Dharma and as soon as it is expressed in words or commented upon, that would not be the true meaning. Always remember that this mind was originally the Buddha. Right from the beginning, it has no substance and is possessed by everyone. Talking about cultivation and certification is just demonic speech. When Bodhidharma came to China, he pointed directly at peoples' minds and they could see their nature and become Buddhas. In this way, he clearly indicated that all living beings on this great earth had the Buddha nature. If one recognizes that this pure and clear self-nature accords with conditions without being defiled; and if during the twelve periods of the day and night, the mind is no different whether walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, then one is a Buddha here and now. One does not need to exert the mind or the body and furthermore, one does not need to do anything or talk and think in the slightest degree. This is why it is said that becoming a Buddha is actually the easiest and most comfortable thing to do. It is within our control and we need not seek external assistance. If all living beings on this great earth do not wish to constantly revolve in the cycle of the four types of rebirth in the six realms of existence and always sink in the sea of sufferings, but instead wish to become Buddhas and attain permanence, joy, true self and purity; then they should truly believe in the Buddha's sincere teachings, put down all things and have no thought of good or evil. Each and everyone can then instantaneously become a Buddha. All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as all Patriarchs through the ages, have vowed to save all living beings. This is not without basis or evidence. They did not make great vows for nothing, nor were they engaging in false speech.
do we want to investigate Chan?
When the mind is not upside down, there is no more confusion.
We humans are born confused and die confused; confused while we are asleep and confused while we are awake. What value is there in this kind of life? So does that mean that we do not want to be human beings anymore? No, but you have to understand where you came from when you were born and where you would go after death. Some may say, "I know how to die; whether by taking drugs or hanging oneself or jumping into rivers, wouldn't I know then?" This is called suicide. Not only would one not be liberated, one's offense karma would increase. Therefore, when we sit in meditation, we have to find a way to ensure that, when it is time for us to die, the body does not suffer from sickness, the mind does not crave (for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep) and the mind is not upside-down, just as if we have entered into Chan samadhi. Whether by passing away with a smile, or be at ease, or with Amitabha Buddha welcoming us with a golden dais, we are certain of our birth and death and would know of its coming in advance. We would know which year, month, day and even the precise time to pass away, and that all the tasks in our life have been completed. Cultivation is just for this purpose! If we do not know this crucial moment, we are certainly confused in our entire life. It does not mean to say that everything is finished after death for we would still be confused in life after life. By being perpetually confused in this way, how pitiful it would be!
The reason we practice sitting meditation and learn Buddhism is because we do not want to be confused. We want to understand our body's chemical plant and how it can be built up so that we can research into the fundamentals of true science. If you seek this science outside of yourself, you are forsaking the roots and going after the branch tips. When you understand your original self, you will then gain great wisdom. Learning Buddhism is simply to learn great wisdom.
The freedom of birth and death, the freedom to come and go
Those who investigate can be the masters of their own birth and death. They can come and go freely without any restriction. As it is said,
My destiny is determined by myself, not by heaven
Even Old Man Yama has no control over you! Why not? It is because you have already transcended the Three Realms.
What does it means by being free to come and go? It is the freedom to be born and die. If you want to live, you can live; if you want to die, you can die, as you wish. Please take note--this kind of death does not mean committing suicide or taking poison.
Our body is like a house, and if we want to go out and travel, we are free to go wherever we want. If we wish, we can have a hundred million transformation bodies to teach living beings throughout empty space and the Dharma Realm. If we do not wish to travel, we can stay in the house and no one will disturb us. We should know that everything in empty space and in the Dharma Realm is included within the Dharma-body. Nothing can go outside the Dharma-body.
All of you have gone to a lot of trouble to come attend the Chan session, and to work non-stop day and night, because you hope to gain freedom and security over birth and death, to control your own life, and to be your own master. That is truly the state of freedom over birth and death.
In investigating Chan, when you reach the state of not knowing that there is the sky above, the earth below, and people in between, and you become one with empty space, there is some hope for enlightenment. Walking and sitting, sitting and walking--these are the key for opening our wisdom.
The great functioning of the entire substance is clearly understood.
If one does not investigate Chan and does not practice sitting meditation, one will not know where one comes from birth and where one will go after death. One who does not know will be born confused and die confused. To live one's life in this manner is indeed pitiful!
A hardworking Chan practitioner, once awakened, recognizes his original face before his parents gave birth to him and suddenly sees everything very clearly. He understands the fine and coarse details of all matter within and without; as well as the great functioning of the entire substance of his mind. When one has attained the state of great creation and manifestation, one will achieve the fruition of Buddhahood in the future and attain unsurpassed, right and equal enlightenment.
By investigating Chan and sitting in meditation, one can gain enlightenment.
How can one be enlightened? Enlightenment is like unlocking a locked door that restricts your entry and exit. You will need a key to unlock the door otherwise you will forever be locked up in the room. So, where is this key? It is right next to you and is very easy to look for. But how are you going to find it? By investigating Chan and sitting in meditation, chanting the Buddhas' names and holding mantras, you are just searching for the key. When would you find it? It depends on your stage of cultivation. If you practice with vigor and fortitude, you will find it very quickly. But if you are lazy and lethargic, you will never find it, not just in this life, but even in the next life you will never find it. This is a very simple principle.
From now onwards, one is not attached to the mark of others and self.
All things come to life when spring returns to the great earth.
Shattering empty space, one is free and at ease.
From now on, without attachments to the mark of others and self,
One encompasses the entire Dharma realm however large it is.
When we investigate Chan, we have the chance to be enlightened. The brightness of our self-nature will shine forth just like when the myriad things come to life when spring returns to the great earth. Empty space is originally without shape. When even this shapeless void has been shattered, one becomes free. From then onwards, one no longer attaches to the mark of others or the mark of self. The Dharma realm may be large but we can still encompass it. Would we not have become great heroes?
By sitting in meditation and entering samadhi, the Dharma-body comes to life.
Sitting in meditation and cultivating samadhi is like feeding our Dharma-body. The physical body needs to be fed, clothed and sleep, and is always busy working to achieve these needs. One cannot go without food, clothes, and sleep for even one day. These three areas cannot be lacking. Everyone is the same in this aspect where not even one of these things can be lacking. But the Dharma-body needs food, clothes and sleep too. Sitting in meditation is to provide the Dharma-body with natural food. By absorbing the true nutrients from empty space, the Dharma-body will grow healthily. When one enters samadhi while sitting in meditation, the Dharma-body is sleeping and resting; if one does not enter into samadhi, the Dharma-body is not sleeping or resting. The Dharma-body's clothing is tolerance. When one enters samadhi, the Dharma-body will come to life. When one meditates long enough, the Dharma-body will taste the flavor of dharma and can absorb the true goodness of empty space. The physical body needs these three items, so does the Dharma-body. When we cultivate, we need to put on the clothes of tolerance everyday, enter into the abode of the Thus Come One (enter samadhi) and rise to the seat of the This Come One. This Dharma-body has to be fed and maintained every day.
Long sitting periods result in Chan which cleanses and purifies the mind.
The aim of sitting in meditation is to open up one's wisdom. To be enlightened is just opening up one's wisdom. With wisdom, one will no longer be confused as in the past. If you sit here without moving and your mind does not wander, you can enter samadhi. When you have samadhi, your wisdom will naturally open up and all your problems will be solved effortlessly.
The Buddha is not very different from an ordinary person, except that He has great wisdom. Great wisdom also means spiritual penetrations whereby the mind and spirit have no obstruction. Wisdom and spiritual penetrations are dual and yet not dual, but they are not the supernatural power of ghosts. Ghostly penetrations arise from using the perceptive minds' deduction. They think that they are intelligent but they are not. Real wisdom does not require thinking. One's knowledge of things comes naturally, and one exercises it freely. When you have wisdom, you fully understand all things; without wisdom, all things become upside-down. Things may be upside-down, yet one is still unaware of this. If one knows one's mistakes, one may still be saved. However, if one was unaware of one's mistakes, this would be real suffering! If we want to leave suffering and gain happiness, we must have wisdom. With wisdom, one need not suffer anymore. If one understands this principle, there will not be any more afflictions. Actually, this reasoning is very simple. However, Chan sitting requires time. As the saying goes:
After we sit for a long time, Chan will appear.
After dwelling somewhere for a long time, we will have affinities.
Investigating Chan actually cleanses and purifies one's mind. Stilling thoughts is to calm down one's thoughts and to get rid of all the defilements. This is exactly what Venerable Master Shen Xiu meant when he said,
Time and again brush it clean,
And let no dust alight.
If you understand this principle, you will then have the determination to practice Chan. Everyone must strive hard and be patient. Though the legs and back may sore and ache, one has to endure the pain. As the saying goes,
If the plum tree did not endure cold that chills to the bone,
How could the fragrance of its blossoms be so sweet?
By concentrating on a focal point, absolutely everything can be accomplished.
The Dharma of sitting meditation is a prerequisite in cultivation. What does "Chan" mean? Chan is not a Chinese term but is derived from the Sanskrit word, Dhyana. This means thought cultivation and is also known as stilling thoughts. As the Chinese like abbreviations, so the word Chan came into being. Hence the Chinese terms: Chan sitting or sitting meditation. As stated in the term, one adopts the sitting posture. Why does one need to sit? To gather one's scattered thoughts. Normally, while one is sitting, the mind wanders. Where does the mind go? The mind indulges in false thinking, anywhere from East to West, South to North. Without having to pay for traveling, one goes on a rocket trip. The false thoughts fly everywhere without restraint. Why is it people do not have wisdom? It is because the mind wanders everywhere. Why does one age day-by-day? It is because the mind rushes to all places. For example, you drive a new car recklessly and aimlessly; it will definitely consume and waste a lot of fuel. Eventually, the car and its parts will be damaged and will give you a lot of problems. This analogy applies to the human body as well. If you do not know how to take good care of it and allow it to act without restraint, it will definitely consume a lot of "fuel". What "fuel" is this? This is your precious mental energy. Regardless of how much "fuel" you top up, you will exhaust it. Take for example people who consume tonics everyday, thinking that they are replenishing their bodies with nutrients. If you do not treasure your mental energy and are self-indulgent, no matter how much tonics you consume, they will never replenish the wasted energy. As the proverb says, "Concentrate on a focal point and absolutely everything can be accomplished." One has to gather one's thoughts and concentrate on a focal point. One will not waste or overdraw one's mental energy then. So, if you know how to drive well, you will not drive around recklessly and meet with an accident, and the car will also last longer. Similarly, if one knows how to take care of one's body, it will not age or even die.
Holding aloft a flower as an indication to the assembly of the mind-to-mind seal.
Shakyamuni Buddha initiated Chan investigation by when he held aloft a flower at the Vulture Peak Assembly to indicate the transmission of the subtle and wonderful mind seal Dharma door. At that time, Patriarch Mahakasyapa understood the intention of the Buddha, and smiled broadly. From then on, the mind seal Dharma door of the Buddhas and Patriarchs was transmitted. Actually, Patriarch Mahakasyapa was already over a hundred years old and because he practiced Dhuta very vigorously, he would not smile ordinarily. On this occasion, he smiled as a gesture of having received the Buddha's mind-to-mind seal.
Only quiet contemplation can give rise to Chan.
Chan is translated as stilling the thoughts because you will only realize Chan if you still your thoughts. Samadhi means not moving. Not moving is samadhi. If you move, then there is no samadhi.
By taking Dharma bliss as food, Chan samadhi will manifest. When you cultivate the Way, you practice sitting meditation. In Chan sitting, you need to sit down. It is only when you sit down that your skill will manifest. It should not be the case that as soon as you sit in meditation, you fall asleep. This is not Chan sitting; this is Chan sleeping. Sleeping is not Chan and neither is it samadhi. In Chan, you cannot sleep. The bliss of Chan samadhi is different from sleeping when once you enter samadhi. When you are sleeping, you have already lost your senses and spiritual awareness. Without any awareness, you sleep confusedly, not knowing anything at all. Entering samadhi requires one to sit in an upright posture. One sits with a straight back and holds the head straight without nodding or tilting the neck.
What is meant by samadhi power? Samadhi has a certain power that supports and maintains your body in an upright posture so that you don't lean forward or tilt backward. This means you have obtained Chan samadhi. In the midst of samadhi, there is a particular joy that is inexplicable and indescribable, and that surpasses the imagination. Because it surpasses what your mind can imagine, it is said that
The path of words and speech is cut off
The place of the mind's activity is extinguished
You will achieve this kind of Chan samadhi bliss that is continuous and unceasing.
When you have the bliss of Chan samadhi, you will give rise to a courageous and vigorous mind. This is not an ordinary courageous and vigorous mind but a greatly courageous and vigorous mind that has, within it, a great Chan samadhi joy. This kind of courage and vigor is extremely strong and powerful. Any other forces cannot overcome this type of power.
Thought cultivation reduces false thinking.
Chan sitting is also known as thought cultivation. From these three characters, we know that it is impossible not to have false thinking during Chan sitting. There is definitely false thinking, just like ripples or waves on a water surface. Why are there ripples or waves? It is because there is wind. When we meditate, why do false thoughts arise? It is because our self-nature still contains falsehood. This falsehood is like the wind, and false thoughts are just like ripples and waves on water.
Now when you practice meditation, you need to silence your thoughts, and that means having to stop the false winds. Thought cultivation aims to reduce false thoughts and stop the ripples in the mind. Silencing means to cease movement; thoughts refer to thinking and deliberation. When you cease thinking and deliberating, you can give rise to samadhi power. As samadhi power develops, with time, wisdom will manifest; and with wisdom, your mind can illuminate the true nature of all Dharmas, that is,
When not a single thought arises, the entire substance manifests
When the mind is stilled to the ultimate point when not a single of shred of false thinking remains, you will be able to enter samadhi and your original wisdom will thus manifest. You will then truly understand the fundamental principle of your existence as a human being and will not be moved by external things. When the myriad external conditions do not move your mind, you can then be considered as
Thus, thus unmoving
Absolutely clear and constantly understanding
At this time, the eight winds of praise and ridicule; sorrow and joy; gain and loss; defamation and eulogy, will not be able to move your mind.
People may praise you or ridicule you. When you meet with a suffering (adverse) state or a joyful (favorable) state, you should continue to maintain an attitude of:
In favorable or adverse conditions, advance vigorously,
Suffering and joy do not move the mind.
Gain refers to things that benefit one, loss refers to things that harm one; defamation means to slander; eulogy is to commend or glorify one's name. If one could Not be blown over by the eight winds, one sits erect on the purple-golden lotus. Not being blown about by the eight winds is the result of thought cultivation or silencing the mind. By not being moved by external factors, one can then understand how to practice sitting meditation.
The Power of Knowing and Seeing Sudden Enlightenment to the Unproduced.
Investigating Chan refers to non-movement of the mind and thoughts and this means silence. The Chan door is a method that progresses upwards just like a knife that is thrust right through. Because its investigation is apart from the mind-consciousness, it is called ending the mind. This mind includes conscious activities. If all the activities of the false mind could be stopped, only then it would be considered as silencing the thoughts. In this way, one has the Power of Knowing and Seeing Sudden Enlightenment to the Unproduced and gains Patience to the Non-Production of Dharmas. One then certifies to the four practices of warmth, summit, patience and first in the world.
1. Warmth: This means to sit until one feels a bit of warm energy.
2. Summit: This means one's practice has reached the peak.
3. Patience: At this point, it is extremely difficult to be patient but one still has to be patient.
4. First in the World: One becomes a world-transcending great hero.
If one desires to attain these four stages, one first needs to know how to silence the mind, that is, not moving the mind-consciousness. Our thoughts are like waves and ripples that cannot be calm. Sitting meditation aims to stop the mind-consciousness from moving, until it stops naturally. Once stopped, that is the silent mind. When it is silenced to the ultimate point, wisdom arises; when wisdom arises, one becomes self-illuminating. As it is said,
When silence reaches an ultimate point, the light penetrates everywhere.
This is the Power of Knowing and Seeing Sudden Enlightenment to the Unproduced. If one could end the mind-consciousness, one would then obtain the Power of Knowing and Seeing the Unproduced and could achieve great wisdom.
The Flavor of Lightness and Tranquility is Infinitely Wonderful.
What is the flavor of Chan? It is the joy of realizing Chan samadhi, and of obtaining a feeling of lightness and tranquility. This sort of experience is infinitely wonderful and cannot be thought of or described in words. One has to experience this state personally in order to accept it. It is just like a person who drinks water. Only he himself knows whether it is hot or cold and the experience cannot be described. If all of you want to know whether the flavor of Chan is sweet or bitter, you will have to work very hard at investigating Chan. When you have reached a certain state, you will naturally know the flavor. Therefore, you have to investigate, and when you have investigated until the truth emerges, then you will experience the flavor of Chan. Chan is not to be spoken of but is to be investigated. This is why the Chan sect does not teach using words or literature but is transmitted outside the Teaching. It is a Dharma-door that points directly at the human mind so that one sees his self-nature and attains Buddhahood. When a person who investigates Chan has reached a high level of attainment, he will never give rise to anger and will not fight or contend with others because he has attained the state of Non-contending Samadhi. He will not pursue fame nor gain because he looks upon wealth as being dewdrops among the flowers, and he looks upon official status as being frost on the roof tiles that vanish without a trace in no time.
The Ten Benefits of Chan
There are ten benefits of investigating Chan. The first is called Rite of Peaceful Dwelling. When you sit in meditation and investigate Chan everyday, you have certain deportment. This deportment is a rite. When you investigate Chan day after day, month after month, year after year, hour after hour, and instant after instant, there is a fixed rite. For example, you practice running meditation. When it is time to do running meditation in the Chan hall, someone shouts, "Quicken the steps!" That means to run. You run till you perspire and almost pass out; you are not aware of the heavens above, the earth below and people in between. That is, you are unaware of your self, and fundamentally, there is no longer a self. When you have run till this stage where there is no notion of self and others, you are contemplating at ease. There is no longer any self or others. Since there is no self, there is no false thinking; with no people, there are no false thoughts of others. At this moment, you are contemplating at ease. Neither in emptiness nor in form does one see the Thus Come One. The Buddha does not fall into the categories of emptiness or existence, which means He is neither empty nor does He have substance. Therefore, if you realize that the Dharma-body of the Thus Come One is neither empty nor have substance, then you have seen the Dharma-body of the Thus Come One. This is the Rite of Peaceful Dwelling.
The second benefit is called the State of Kind Conduct. This does not necessarily mean to treat others well. When it is necessary to use kindness, you should use kindness and compassion to teach and cross over the other person. This is called the Door of Gathering In. When you meet with any type of living being whom you need to scold or hit in order for him to be enlightened, then you should use this kind and compassionate heart to scold or hit him until he is awakened. Or you may hit him with an incense board so that he will be awakened. In the Chan Hall, there are often cases of people being hit. However, this kind of hitting is different from ordinary hitting for the intention here is to enable that person to be awakened. This is for his own good because we hope that he will observe the rules and to get rid of his false thoughts. Therefore, this is known as the State of Kind Conduct.
The third is called without the heat of regret. The heat of regret is an affliction. In regretting, the mind gives rise to affliction and this is heat. Without afflictions - this is the third benefit.
The fourth is to safeguard all the faculties. This means safeguarding the six faculties. Why do you need to safeguard the six faculties? If you do not, they will run away. The eyes will run away with the dust of forms; the ears will run away with the dust of sounds; the nose will run away with the dust of smells; the tongue will run away with the dust of tastes; the body will run away with the dust of touch; and the mind will run away with the dust of dharmas. This is why you have to safeguard the six faculties until they emit light that shakes the earth. Why do they emit light? Light is emitted because there are no more false thoughts and the original wisdom manifests. Because the wisdom light illuminates the trichiliocosm, it is said that the doors of the six faculties emit light that shakes the earth.
Fifthly, a person who investigates Chan will obtain the joy of Chan as food and be filled with Dharma joy. This is called obtaining the joy of non-eating. Even though one does not eat anything, one is joyful. If there is anyone of you who investigates Chan to the point that you do not feel hungry even without eating and yet give rise to a mind of happiness, this means you have obtained the fifth benefit. This is known as obtaining the joy of non-eating. Despite not consuming any food, one is happy so long as one could investigate Chan.
The sixth benefit is to be apart from love and desire. To be apart from the mind of love and desire is to have a clear and pure mind. Love and desire are defilements and defilements result in birth and death. Why do ordinary human beings like us experience birth and death? It is because we have not cut off love and desire. Why do ordinary people revolve continuously in the Six Paths, never ending birth and death? It is because they have a mind of love and desire, and their love and desire can never be cut off. If you cannot cut off love and desire, you cannot end birth and death. When birth and death do not end, you will revolve continuously in the Six Paths. If people who investigate Chan can be apart from the mind of love and desire, then the doors of Hell will be closed and they will not fall into the hells. This is the sixth benefit.
The seventh benefit is Chan cultivation will be not void. What does that mean? It means it is only to be feared that you do not cultivate. If you do cultivate, you will not pass the time in vain. When you sit in meditation for an hour, your wisdom life will lengthen by an hour; when you meditate for two hours, your wisdom life will extend by two hours. If you investigate Chan every hour, every instant, every day, every month and every year, you will definitely give rise to great wisdom. Hence, Chan cultivation will not be void, for so long as you cultivate, you will not pass the time in vain.
The eighth benefit is called liberation from demonic karma. You can be liberated from the karmic power of demons. When you are free from karmic obstructions of demons, no demon can obstruct you in any way.
The ninth benefit is to dwell peacefully in the Buddha's realm. If you can investigate constantly, this means you have obtained the ninth benefit and you are dwelling peacefully in the Buddha's realm.
The tenth benefit is complete liberation. It is the benefit that everyone hopes for. Complete liberation means to be without obstructions. If there are no obstructions, one obtains the clear and pure Dharma-body. This is the tenth benefit of investigating Chan.
How to Investigate Chan
The Vajra Posture Quells Heavenly Demons.
When sitting in Chan, make sure your posture is correct. A correct posture benefits both body and mind. Without it, sitting in Chan loses its meaning. When you sit in meditation, first relax the body and mind. Don't tense up. It would be ideal to sit in full lotus, which is the basic posture. To sit in full lotus, first put the left foot over the right thigh, and then move the right foot over the left leg. This is also called the vajra position, which means it is firm and unmoving. All the Buddhas of the past attained Buddhahood by sitting in the vajra position. In this sitting posture, one can subdue the heavenly demons and counter the externalists. When they see you in this position, they surrender and retreat, not daring to come forward and create trouble.
Once you are sitting in the full-lotus posture, your eyes should contemplate the tip of your nose and not look left and right. As the saying goes,
The eyes contemplate the nose; the nose contemplates the mouth; and the mouth contemplates the heart.
This way, you can gather in your body and mind. The mind is like a monkey or a wild horse, and you must tie it up so it won't run away. It is said,
When one is concentrated, there is an efficacious result. When one is scattered, there is nothing.
You should sit properly, with the back straight and your head up. Don't lean forwards, backwards, or to the left or right. Sit firm and steady like a large bell, not swaying or moving. Don't be like the bell clapper that swings back and forth. Full lotus is the proper posture for sitting in Chan. Beginners in Chan meditation who are not used to it may experience pain in their legs and soreness in the back. Don't worry. Just grit your teeth and be patient for a while, and these sensations will naturally subside. It is said, "With long sitting, there is Chan." You will naturally attain the flavor of Chan.
The full-lotus position makes it easy to enter samadhi.
The full-lotus position refers to placing the left foot on top of your right thigh and then place your right foot on your left thigh. This is because the left foot belongs to yang while the right foot belongs to yin. When one sits in meditation, the left foot, which is yang, is on top while the right foot, which is yin, is below. This is also evident from the taiji symbol, which depicts Finality giving rise to the Great Primal Beginning, and the Great Primal Beginning generating the two primary forces (yin fish and yang fish). For the sake of convenience, it is also acceptable to put the left foot below and the right foot on top. The Dharma is not fixed and can be adapted according to one's preference. It is not necessary to attach to a particular sitting posture. By teaching you to place the left foot on your right is just a method. It is not a fixed rule that you have to sit in this position. In conclusion, to sit in lotus position is to teach you how to enter samadhi more easily. If you could enter samadhi while walking, it would not be necessary to sit. The state of samadhi is devoid of false thoughts. When the mind does not give rise to a single thought, then it will not defiled by even a single speck of dust. If your mind does not give rise to a single thought and is not defiled by a single speck of dust while walking, standing, sitting and sleeping, then that means you are working hard. It does not mean that you can work hard only by sitting.
If the legs do not hurt, then that is really investigating Chan.
When you first learn how to sit in full-lotus and your legs feel stiff and painful, you may sit in a more comfortable manner. Thereafter, you should learn to sit in half-lotus position. Then when your legs do not feel so painful, you can then learn to sit in full-lotus position. When your legs no longer hurt, then that is the actual beginning of investigating Chan. Basically, Chan investigation is intentionally looking for something to do when one has nothing to do. For instance, a cultivator, having eaten his fill, slept enough, warmly clothed and has nothing else to do, will then investigate Chan and roam and play in the world.
Sitting straight and erect without tilting.
The basic posture of sitting meditation requires one to hold the body upright. You must sit straight and erect without tilting or leaning. However, you should not force yourself but you must do it naturally. Let the tip of the tongue touch the roof of your mouth and swallow the saliva. When it flows into the stomach, it can balance your energy and blood.
The sweet dew can cure numerous illnesses.
When you are sitting in Chan and your tongue touches the roof of your mouth, you may produce a lot of saliva, which may be swallowed. This is called sweet dew. Why? Because when you have practiced Chan sitting for a long period of time, the saliva becomes sweet. Although it may not be as sweet and thick as sugar or honey, it still has a faint sweetness. When a person frequently consumes this sweet dew, he will not feel hungry or thirsty even without food or drink. When one reaches that stage where one is not aware of walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, one's skill merges with every movement and is in samadhi in every instant. As the saying goes, Naga remains in stillness always, without a moment of non-stillness.
The sweet dew can cure numerous illnesses, strengthen the body and open up your wisdom, but you have to practice diligently without interruption. Why is it that cultivators do not wish to talk too much? It is because they have to practice hard. Regardless of whether they are gathering firewood or fetching water, receiving or sending guests off, or traveling to and from, they are always practicing hard. When one's skill reaches maturity, even if one does not want to apply effort, one will still continue to practice hard; and even if one does not want to investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" one will still investigate. When one has investigated to the point of not being moved by the wind or rain, one's skill has succeeded until the wind and rain cannot enter. Of course, this sort of skill is not accomplished overnight. Hence, at all times, one has to be mindful of the present.
Sweet dew is also called "one's own drink". These three words, when strung together (in Chinese), read as the character "medicine". This is the medicine for longevity, the medicine of liberation from birth and death and the medicine for escaping from the cycle of rebirth in the six realms of existence. Everyone has this medicine but refuses to take it. Everyone forsakes the root and chases after the tip, searching high and low outside. This medicine is what we originally have in our self-nature. If one constantly applies effort, one's saliva becomes sweet, even sweeter than honey. When the medicine takes effect, the body will undergo changes internally. If one has not experienced the benefit of cultivation, one does not know. However, if one has experienced it, one will not put off cultivation or take breaks. One should be persistent in upholding this practice and constantly guard it. It should not be the case that you fish for three days and dry the fishing net for two days, or be warm for one day and be cold for ten days, or take a fancy to the lotus today and the peony the next day. One needs firm sincerity and determination, and constantly practice hard in order to progress on the Path. If one progresses one day and retreats the next, it is a waste of time.
The eyes contemplate the nose, the nose contemplates the mouth and the mouth contemplates the heart.
When sitting in meditation, sit up straight and erect. Don't lean backwards or forwards and don't lower your head. Keep the head upright. The eyes should look at the nose to see if it is pointing upwards or downwards and one has to watch clearly. The nose should watch the mouth, but then does the nose have eyes? When it watches the mouth, then it will gradually develop eyes. The more you ask it to watch, the nose will eventually see the mouth. In this way, the nose contemplates the mouth and the mouth will ask the heart. Ask your own heart whether it is black, white, yellow or red. Is this heart of yours green, yellow, red, white or black? What kind of a heart is it? Go ahead and ask it.
If it is black, then you have to turn this black heart into white. When you see your black heart turning color day-by-day, turning white and then becoming a great brightness treasury that integrates with the Dharma-realm, at this point you have some skill. Do not use the mouth to breathe in or out as the nose can be used for this purpose. Some people with blocked noses may face difficulty in breathing through the nose. However, if you can breathe through the nose, when you inhale, bring the breath down to the back of the navel, not below it. That place is empty and is without anything. In fact, it has not a thing originally. This is the place where your breath has to stop at.
Many people ask this question, "Do you know how to catch your breath?" This is a very important question. If you can catch your breath, then the external breathing is the internal breathing, and the internal breathing is just the external breathing. This is why a person who has realized the Path does not breath externally as this breathing has stopped, but the internal breathing keeps functioning. There is no exhalation through the nose or mouth, but all the pores on the body are breathing. This person appears to be dead, but actually he has not died. In this way, he does not breathe externally but the internal breathing comes alive. At this time, when your eyes see forms, inside there is nothing as all forms have been emptied. The ears hear sounds but the mind does not know. When you contemplate your mind, the mind is also empty. Looking out for forms, forms vanish; looking afar at objects, they too become empty. But at this point, you should not think that you are great. This is only a prior expedient and is merely a state of lightness and ease. You should not acknowledge a thief for your son, thinking that you are already very great.
Warmth, Summit, Patience, First in the World
When sitting in meditation the tongue touches the roof of the mouth. This is the point where the two veins of ren and du cross. When these two veins are clear, then the energy and blood circulation are also clear, and one feels at ease. When there is saliva in the mouth, swallow it into the stomach. Doing this frequently is just like using sweet dew to water and nourish this young Bodhi shoot. After sitting for some time, a warm energy fills the body and it may become very hot. At this stage, a certain effect takes place. The first stage is warmth. This warmth originates from the stomach and spreads to the whole body, and then circulates back to the stomach. This warm energy circulates in this way for a few rounds; this is the stage of warmth. When you have experienced the warmth for some time, during which your body's chemical plant has done the necessary experiments, you will then reach the summit. At the summit, you feel as if there is something at the top of your head, yet it is like there is nothing. If you say there is something, you cannot see it or touch it. You only experience this feeling at the top of your head and you will invariably feel that there is an ineffable state about it. This is known as the summit.
After the summit stage, you begin to feel unbearable. No matter how unbearable this feeling is, you have to endure it. This is known as the stage of patience. After the summit stage comes the stage of patience. It is very difficult to pass the stage of patience for you will feel that your head is very uncomfortable. It seems as if there is something trying to drill a hole out. At this point, you have to very patient. As time goes by, the drill penetrates through and emerges from the top of your head, just like a little bird that is set free from its cage - exceptionally happy. This is called the world's foremost patience; hence this is called Number One in the World, or the World's Number One Great Personage, or the World's Number One Great Hero. As you are peerless, you are called Number One in the World. Even when you have become Number One in the World, you will still have to be careful and continue to cultivate everyday.
By subduing the guest dust, the five desires settle to the bottom.
When you sit in Chan, you have to cleanse your mind and reduce your desires. This is the first step in cultivation. Cleansing the mind refers to settling down the guest dust. Just like a bowl of turbid water: if you keep shaking the bowl, the water will remain murky and you will not be able to see the bottom clearly. If you pour the turbid water into a deep container and not disturb it, the sand and dust will settle to the bottom. This is the first step to subdue the guest dust of afflictions. If we can sit in meditation for even one ksana (a moment), it exceeds the merit of building as many pagodas of the seven jewels as there are sand grains in the Ganges River. Because in this ksana of sitting in meditation, one can subdue the guest dust and cause the sand and dust of the five desires to settle to the bottom, it is said that,
When the mind is clear, it is like water reflecting the moon.
When the intent is still, it is like a cloudless sky.
Investigating Chan while walking, standing, sitting and sleeping.
Chan sitting is not a fun activity for one has to endure a lot of hardship. From 2 o'clock in the morning, we begin our sit, and we sit right up to 12 o'clock midnight before going to sleep. In between, there is only an hour of break. During Chan investigation, we have to forget about the body, the mind, the world and everything else, that is, the self no longer exists. This means everything becomes empty. When we reach the state of true emptiness, we will give rise to wonderful existence. Everybody must pay attention to this! During cultivation, one should not talk unnecessarily, one should not have false thoughts, and one should not be lazy and take rests. One should treasure every minute and every second. As the saying goes, An inch of time is an inch of life. Therefore, we have to investigate Chan while walking, standing, sitting and sleeping. Cultivating Chan at all times, we have to constantly pay attention to our investigation. The more we investigate, the more transparent and bright we become.
With single-minded concentration, be persevering and unyielding.
When we investigate Chan, we should not fear backache and pain in the legs. We must draw on our vajra determination and use our patience and perseverance to investigate Chan. We must constantly persevere and be firm and unyielding. In every moment, we must practice hard. In the past, the Greatly Virtuous High Sanghans had practiced sitting meditation for many years and they still continued to sit. This shows that cultivation is not so simple and easy as if we were to take a fancy to the peony today and the lotus tomorrow, thinking that just sitting for a day could enlighten us. Therefore, everyone should bring forth a mind of patience when practicing Chan sitting.
How can we become single-minded? It is just like a girl chasing after a boy, or the other way round. We should have that kind of single-mindedness. If we can use this kind of determination and intent to investigate Chan, and be ever mindful of the present, there is no reason why we cannot succeed.
Sit like a bell, walk like the breeze.
In investigating Chan, one cultivates samadhi. The Dharma door of Chan investigation is neither conditional nor non-conditional. Superficially, Chan investigation appears to be non-conditional. Actually, when one investigates Chan, one is helping to increase the proper energy in the Dharma Realm. If everyone investigates Chan, there will be no wars in this world.
Although it is said that when one sits for along time, one will have Chan, in actual Chan investigation, one does not achieve Chan only through sitting. One can investigate Chan while standing, walking or sleeping. Therefore, in walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, one can still investigate Chan. A hardworking cultivator is not bothered with worldly affairs, but holds the meditation topic at every moment. By being mindful of the present, one investigates "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" By investigating until the mountains disappear and the waters vanish, that is investigating to the ultimate point; one walks, stands, sits and sleeps with awesome deportment.
Sit like a bell: Sit down firmly. Don't be like a pendulum that swings to and fro. Sit erect and upright, with the eyes contemplating the nose, the nose contemplating the mouth and the mouth contemplating the heart. With the tongue touching the roof of your mouth, you swallow the saliva as it is secreted.
Walk like the breeze: When running incense, run like the wind and let the wind blow until there is no heaven above, no earth below and no people in between. When one is working hard, there is no mark of others and therefore, there is no heaven above, no earth below and no people in between. While we are strolling, we should walk like a breeze without causing any ripples.
Stand like a pine tree: While standing, maintain a straight back and stand upright, just like the big pine tree.
Sleep like a bow: While sleeping, support your cheek with your hand and sleep on the right side, in an auspicious sleeping posture.
The Great Master Yong Jia said, "Walking is Chan, sitting is also Chan. In speech or silence, in movement or stillness, my body is at ease. Even if I were to be confronted at knife's point, I would be constantly calm. If I were to be given poison, I would still be unruffled." The First Patriarch, Bodhidharma, was poisoned on six occasions by externalists. Even though he knew very well that it was poison, he still consumed it. Thus, we know that he has no mark of self and looks upon birth and death as a trivial matter.
When one works hard, the heavens shake and the earth moves, and ghosts and spirits weep. Even the demon kings are shocked. When one works hard, the demon kings cannot exert their power and so they are shocked. If we could practice diligently for twenty-one hours and work hard every second, we would surely cause the heavens to shake and the earth to move. When we practice non-conditional Dharmas, we begin with conditional Dharmas. We should not be afraid of the hardships of running incense and sitting incense. Running incense is conditional while sitting incense is non-conditional. Hence, the saying,
Within the unconditioned, there are conditions,
Within conditions, there is the unconditioned.
It is conditional and also unconditional.
The conditioned is unconditioned,
The unconditioned is conditioned.
When your skill increases by the day, your afflictions decrease correspondingly.
Sitting in Chan is like being a horse trainer or a monkey trainer. It is not easy. Although it is not easy, one still has to sit regardless of how difficult it is. In this world, whatever you want to do is not easy and requires a lot of effort. Chan sitting is also like that. It requires a good deal of hard work and effort. If you could restrict your mad mind and wild nature, and ignorance and false thoughts to a single location, then your skill will increase day by day and your afflictions will decrease correspondingly.
Sitting in meditation is like reeling off silk and peeling cocoons.
When we sit in meditation, we are reeling off silk and peeling cocoons. We are like silkworms encased in a cocoon, bound by the seven emotions (joy, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hatred, desire) and six desires. Although these seven emotions cannot be eradicated immediately, they should be reduced bit-by-bit.
1. Joy: One should not be excessively happy to the point of laughing as if one has gone mad.
2. Anger: Furthermore, one should not give rise to anger. As it is said,
Fires, the size of stars, may burn down your forest of merit and virtue" and Firewood collected over a thousand days is burnt up in an instant.
If your mind is calm when you sit in Chan, then you will feel very peaceful. However, as soon as you give rise to anger, you will be afflicted with a hundred types of illnesses. The bones and joints in your whole body will be very painful because the fire of anger has burnt down the Bodhi tree.
3. Sorrow: One should not be overly sad without restraint.
4. Fear: With fear in the mind, one cannot achieve righteousness.
5. Love: When one sees beautiful forms, love and desire arise. When one sees that others have got nice things, one wishes to acquire them for oneself. These are thoughts of greed and love.
6. Hatred: Hatred is the opposite of love. When one loves to the extreme, it turns into hatred.
7. Desire: This includes all thoughts of desire, which are not in accordance with the Path.
These seven emotions have to be eradicated bit-by-bit, hence it is necessary to always cleanse the mind. When the seven emotions have been reduced to the utmost, there will be nothing left. At this point, one is constantly in samadhi. Whether one is walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, one is investigating Chan and practicing hard. This is the time when one has already recognized one's original face and knows whether one's nostrils are pointing up or down.
Surpassing the building of pagodas of the seven gems in number like the Ganges' sands.
If one can sit perfectly still for even a split second (ksana), One's merit surpasses that of building pagodas of the seven gems in number like the Ganges' sands.
A split second includes an immeasurable number of big kalpas. The immeasurable number of big kalpas is not apart from the present thought. The present thought does not go beyond the immeasurable number of big kalpas. If one could sit perfectly still for even a split second, then there would be no mark of people, self, others and a lifespan. Without even a shred of false thought, not a single thought arises and all conditions are put down. At this point in time, one compresses the immeasurable number of kalpas into a single thought, and one extends a single thought to the equivalent of an immeasurable number of kalpas. If one could sit still for a split second, or half an hour, or for 3 hours or 5 hours, or even for 7 days and nights, one still has to carry on sitting. At this point, one realizes that inside there is no body and mind, and outside there is no world. This kind of merit and virtue is greater than that of building seven-jeweled pagodas as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges River.
Why is this so? It is because the merit and virtue of building pagodas have form and will cease to exist eventually. If you could reach the state of having no mark of body and mind, and no mark of the world, then at this moment, your own prajna wisdom will emerge. This type of wisdom is such that one looks and does not see, hears but does not listen, and smells but there is no scent. Nevertheless the nature of one's Bodhi-awareness remains.
If we could, in an instant, or in a very short spend of time, have no mark of others, no mark of self, no mark of living beings, and no mark of a lifespan, then we are in accord with our inherent Buddha nature. The inherent Buddha nature can illuminate the true nature of all Dharmas. It is not produced and not destroyed; not defiled and not pure; and neither increases or diminishes. It is because we are covered by ignorance that our inherent sunshine (wisdom) cannot shine through. Obscured by dark clouds, we are plunged into darkness. As a result, we are unable to discern right from wrong and vice versa. We recognize a thief for a son and are always engaged in upside-down false thinking. This is why we keep roaming about in birth and death, unable to extricate ourselves from it.
Investigating the meditation topic
Counteracting poison with poison, controlling false thinking with false thinking.
When investigating Chan, you have to investigate a meditation topic. The hua tou is the beginning of a phrase and not the tail end. It is the sign that precedes the state of "when not a single thought arises." The most common meditation topic is "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" This word "who" - you have to stretch it and investigate it in detail, just like using a diamond drill to drill a hole through the mind. When you find out the "who", then you are enlightened. However, you cannot deduce this by using your imagination or investigate it at the level of your mind consciousness. Instead, you have to explore and search for the place where you have never been to or known about. Once you have broken through the fundamental investigation, you will be suddenly enlightened. Empty space is shattered and the five skandhas are emptied. This is what is described in the Heart Sutra, "When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound prajna paramita, he illuminated the five skandas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty. Shariputra! Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. So too are all feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness."
When your investigation has reached this state where your five skandhas are emptied and you are not defiled by the six dusts, this is the first step to accomplishing Buddhahood. However, you still have to work very hard. Furthermore, you should know that Chan investigation is different from vigorously chanting the Buddha's name. You should not desperately chant, Who is mindful of the Buddha? Who is mindful of the Buddha? Who is mindful of the Buddha", as if you are shouting for help. Investigating the meditation topic has to be done slowly as you have to carefully search for your self-nature. As it is said, Investigate-awakening: investigating is awakening, awakening requires investigating. Actually, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" is also a false thought, but this is counteracting poison with poison and using one false thought to control all false thoughts. This is the Dharma door of using one thought to extinguish the myriad thoughts.
Not to be possessed by demons for even a single day.
To investigate the meditation topic is one idle thought; our scattered thoughts are a great many idle thoughts. By using the method of counteracting poison with poison, we use one idle thought to stop the myriad false thoughts. Slowly eradicate the false thoughts one by one so that they are rendered ineffective. At that time, regardless of whatever states that arise, you will not be deluded by it. You will discriminate clearly and not become possessed by demons. The ancients said, It would be better to go without enlightenment for a thousand lifetimes. Than to be possessed by a demon for even a single day. As we cultivate Chan meditation, we must be cautious and circumspect, and not get carried away. We must be proper, magnanimous, and forthright, so that demons have no chance to trouble us. Idle thoughts open the door to demons, but the meditation topic is the Dharma-treasure that exorcises those demons.
Single-mindedly investigating a single meditation topic.
In Chan meditation, we can investigate a few meditation topics such as "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" or "What was my original face before my parents gave birth to me?" or "What is it that could not be without?" If all of you can investigate single-mindedly, you will definitely obtain benefits.
Let not a single thought arise, be mindful of the present.
"Investigation" is similar to drilling wood; you don't stop until the drill bit makes a hole all the way through the wood it is drilled through. If you stop halfway, then all your earlier efforts will all have been in vain. The first priority in Chan meditation is patience. When you can be patient to the extreme point, then you can reach a state of "not even one thought arising". When not even one thought arises, you can get enlightened. As the saying goes, Take one more step from the very top of a hundred-foot pole. At that time, when you can take yet another step from the very top of a hundred-foot pole, "the worlds throughout the ten directions manifest in their entirety." To gain success, however, you must apply yourself constantly, in thought after thought, without any laziness or slacking off.
Investigating Chan is like the cat stalking a mouse or a dragon nurturing its pearl.
Investigating Chan is just like using a drill bit to create a hole. You must keep on drilling until you have broken through. Drilling through is known as "breaking the fundamental investigation." Having drilled a hole through, brightness will be revealed. In this dark house, without any windows and doors, you have to use a drill to make a hole. When a hole has been made, light will shine in. When you are still ignorant and do not understand anything, it is just like being in a dark room without windows and doors. If, in using this skill to investigate Chan, you succeed in drilling through, light will shine in. This is investigating Chan.
There is another analogy. Meditation is just like a cat stalking a mouse. When a cat stalks a mouse, it watches the mouse-hole intently. The moment the mouse comes out, it pounces on it and grabs it with its paw. The mouse has no way of escaping. What is the mouse? It represents your ignorance. When you emit light, it is similar to a cat that has caught the mouse.
There is yet another analogy. It is like a dragon nurturing its pearl. A dragon never strays from his gem. When two dragons fight over a pearl, they treat it as even more precious than their own lives. Hence, a dragon will think of ways and means to protect its pearl. In the same way, a Chan investigator is like a dragon that nurtures its pearl constantly in thought after thought. This is called contemplating at ease. If you can contemplate at ease, you are ever mindful of the present. However, if you cannot contemplate at ease, that means you are running away! What does it mean by "running away?" It means giving rise to false thoughts. As soon as you have false thoughts, you will not be at ease. When you don't have false thoughts, then you are at ease.
Let me give you another example. What is meditation like? It is like a hen brooding over her eggs. When the hen broods over her eggs, she thinks, "I am here sitting on the eggs. When the time comes, the chicks will hatch. Little chicks will definitely appear." When you investigate Chan, it is similar to a hen brooding over her eggs. You see, "Oh! One day I will be enlightened. When I practice for one day, my self-nature will shine forth a bit of light. If I practice everyday, then my wisdom light will shine forth constantly. Eventually, I will want to be the same as the Buddha, not in the least bit different." When you investigate in this way, you are just like the hen brooding over her eggs and one day you will succeed! This is Chan investigation.
Investigating the meditation topic is to recite the "Headband Tightening Mantra."
When you sit in meditation, you have to catch the little monkey. A person's mind is like a wild horse and one's thoughts are just like a monkey. If you don't catch it back, it will always run around. Your essence and spirit will be scattered and your energy source will be exhausted. The energy source of the self-nature is very precious. If it is depleted by the monkey for no rhyme or reason, then it is really not worth it. Now, you need to train the horse to obey instructions and tame the monkey so that it will be obedient. This means you have to control the "wild horse" and "monkey" of your mind. How do you do it? You need to use a golden headband to tie it up and then chant the "Headband Tightening Mantra." This is just like in the story, Journey to the West, whereby as soon as the Tang monk chanted the "Headband Tightening Mantra", the monkey god, Sun Wu Kong, became very obedient.
What is our "Headband Tightening Mantra"? When you try to find the "who" while investigating the meditation topic, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" then the monkey will become obedient. Because it does not know the "who", it will concentrate single-mindedly to search for it. Since it could calmly and attentively concentrate in its search, it would not run around. If you could catch the monkey and tame it, then your skill is almost there!
When you are apart from this, then you have missed it.
Investigating Chan does not mean working hard only when you are sitting in meditation. You have to work hard while walking, standing, sitting or sleeping. It is just that when you are sitting in meditation, you have to concentrate even more. While walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" It is said, Walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, do not be part from this. When you are apart from this, then you have missed it. What is "this"? It means investigating the meditation topic, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"
Sweep away all dharmas and separate from all marks.
If you do not know this Dharma-door of Chan investigation, you may misunderstand and treat it like chanting the Buddha's name, thinking that the more you chant the better it is. This is a mistake. It does not require one to chant a lot. The best way is to stretch the sound so that it lasts for a few hours without ending, even to the extent of investigating for eighty thousand great kalpas without interruption. This is truly investigating Chan.
Why do we have to investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" The word "who" is basically superfluous, but we are like monkeys, always looking around for something to do. If there is the word "who" acting as a shield, then all those idle thoughts will disappear. This Dharma-door uses poison to fight poison. Only when we are free of all random thoughts are we "diligently wiping it clean at all times." To investigate Chan simply means to diligently wipe (the mirror of the mind) clean. Why do we want to diligently wipe it clean? It's so that it will not get dusty. This is the Dharma-door of "sweeping away all Dharmas, and separating from all marks." If you don't have the Dharma-selecting Eye and you don't recognize the true Dharma, then you won't know how to investigate. If you don't know how to investigate, then you are just wasting your effort. If you don't recognize the proper Dharma, then you'll follow after deviant Dharmas. That's why the Dharma-selecting Eye is so important.
When you contemplate at ease, it is heaven.
The word "investigate" in investigating Chan means to contemplate. What are we contemplating? Contemplating and illuminating prajna. I am teaching you to be mindful of the present and to contemplate yourself, not to contemplate others. Contemplate if you are here or not? If you are here, then you can sit and investigate Chan, working hard at cultivation. If you are not here, then you are indulging in false thinking and are daydreaming. Even though your body is in the Chan hall, your mind has gone to New York sightseeing or to Italy for a holiday, gone everywhere to climb on conditions. Hence, you are not at ease.
If you contemplate at ease, you are a Bodhisattva; if you do not contemplate at ease, you are an ordinary person. If you contemplate at ease, it is heaven; if you do not contemplate at ease, then it is hell. If you contemplate at ease and your mind does not run out, then you can practice the profound prajna paramita. When this body investigates Chan continuously without interruption, then you are considered to be practicing the profound prajna, having found wisdom. When you have obtained great wisdom, then you can reach the other shore.
The secret to Chan investigation is to think of it day and night. Think about what? Think: "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" Investigate this today and the next day. When you practice the profound prajna paramita in the Chan hall everyday, you will not be able to taste the flavor of Chan in a short period. It takes a long time to accomplish that. When you have obtained the skill of practicing the profound prajna paramita, only then you will be able to illuminate the five skandhas and see that they are all empty.
When you obtain the One, all things are done.
The secret of investigating Chan is to be single-minded. As the saying goes,
When Heaven attains the One, it becomes pure;
When Earth attains the One, it becomes peaceful;
When a person attains the One, he becomes a sage.
When the ten thousand things attain the One, they all abide in their destiny.
This is why the One is the beginning of all things. However, it is still not the ultimate Dharma. Although it is said that "when you obtain the One, all things are done," if you attach to the One, then you will fall into two or three and this is not true emptiness. What is true emptiness? It is Zero. This Zero is like a circle. It is neither big nor small, neither inside nor outside, has no beginning and no end and cannot be enumerated. However, all numbers are not apart from it. Cultivation starts with cultivating the One until you return to Zero. This Zero can give rise to immeasurable and limitless functions. Although it is said that "when you obtain the One, all things are done," at the stage of Zero, there is not a single thing. At this point, When not one Dharma is established, the myriad conditions are empty. This is the ultimate liberation!
The States of Chan
The States of the Four Dhyanas.
The process of investigating Chan is similar to studying. You go from primary school to secondary school, to college and then to a research institute. After passing these four stages, you can then obtain a Doctorate qualification. The Dharma-door of Chan investigation is also like that. It is divided into four steps, that is, the four states of Chan. These are briefly described below:
The First Dhyana is known as the Stage of Happiness That Leaves Living Beings Behind. This means to leave the connections with all living beings and obtain another type of happiness. This happiness is different from that of ordinary beings. Rather, it is contained within the skill of your self-nature. When you reach the state of the First Dhyana, your breathing stops. The external breathing stops while the internal breathing comes alive, just like the principle of winter hibernation. There is no longer any talking. At this time, your mind is as clear as water and as bright as a mirror. It illuminates the fundamental substance of your self-nature, and you know that you are sitting in meditation.
The Second Dhyana is known as the Stage of the Happiness of Producing Samadhi. In this samadhi, one gives rise to happiness that is beyond comparison. It's known as "taking the joy of Chan as your food, and being filled with the bliss of Dharma." When you obtain such happiness, you will not feel hungry. Therefore, you can go without food or drink for many days and you will still be all right. But you cannot be attached to this state. If you are attached, all your efforts will be wasted and you will enter a demonic state. You must be very cautious. At the stage of the Second Dhyana, not only does your breathing stop, but your pulse stops as well. When you leave this state of concentration, your pulse returns to normal.
The Third Dhyana is known as the Stage of the Wonderful Bliss of Leaving Happiness. That is to say, you leave the happiness of the Second Dhyana and you reach a level of subtle bliss that is most wonderful. You will feel that everything is the Buddhadharma and that all things are blissful. In this stage of the Third Dhyana, when you enter the state of concentration, not only do your breathing and pulse stop, but the thoughts in your mind also stop. At this time, you have no thought of good or bad and no thought of right or wrong. This means that you have no more idle thoughts. However, you must not think that you are very special for this is just a process. You are still a long way from ending birth and death.
The Fourth Dhyana is known as the Stage of the Purity of Renouncing Thought. At this stage, even the thought of happiness is gone, as you have already discarded it. You have reached the pure state of nothing whatsoever, which is the stage of neither conditioned nor unconditioned. The Fourth Dhyana is a stage where a Chan investigator has to undergo and there is nothing special about this. Do not be mistaken that you have achieved the fruition of the Way. If you think like that, then you are making the same mistake as the Unlearned Bhiksu and will fall into the hells.
The state of the Fourth Dhyana is still at the stage of a common mortal. If you make vigorous progress, you will certify to the state of the Five Heavens of No Further Return. Only then have you actually reached the state of certifying to Sagehood. However, at this stage, you have still not ended birth and death. You have to transcend the Triple Realm in order to end the cycle of birth and death. You have to be clear on this point and not be confused.
As an Arhat of the First Fruition, you are free of idle thoughts not only when you are in samadhi, but also when you are walking, standing, sitting, or reclining. You have no attachments left. When you attain the First Fruition, you must still pass through seven more births and deaths. Don't assume that the First Fruition brings one to Nirvana. You have merely cut through eighty-eight levels of Delusions of Views in the Triple Realm. The minds of Arhats of the First Fruition are not swayed, no matter what sight meets their eyes. They are free of all thoughts when facing situations. They have only the thought of the Way as they cultivate Chan single-mindedly. Even if very attractive states appear to them, such as a lovely woman or a handsome man, their minds will not be moved. At this level, they experience no greed for wealth, sex, fame, food, or sleep. They are indifferent to all of these desires. Only when one reaches this level of skill can he be called, "One who has realized the fruition." An Arhat of the First Fruition makes no sound with his feet when he walks. His feet are an inch or so above the earth. Why? People who have attained the fruition are possessed of kindness and compassion. They are extremely concerned about not harming small insects as they walk, so they prefer to travel in the air.
Merging with the Great Void, suddenly you penetrate right through.
Here in the Chan Hall, as you work in your cultivation, you should apply effort until you are unaware of heaven above, people in between and earth below. If heaven, earth and people have all disappeared, and north, south, east and west are forgotten, then right at that point, when not even a single thought comes forth, the entire substance can manifest. You will obtain the great functioning of the entire substance. However, if you indulge in idle thoughts all day long, there will certainly be no response to your efforts. Thus, you have to work to the point where not a single thought arises, and when you walk, you are not aware that you are walking. When you stand, you aren't aware that you are standing. When you sit, you are unconscious of sitting. When you lie down, you aren't conscious of lying down. You have no conscious awareness of walking, standing, sitting and lying down. At this point,
You eat, but you are not aware of consuming a single grain of rice.
You dress, but you are unaware of putting on a single stitch.
The "you" that exists at that point merges with space. When you can unite with space, then suddenly you penetrate right through and instantly understand all things. This is the state of sudden enlightenment.
Sudden enlightenment is a result of daily cultivation. When you get a response from your daily efforts, you can suddenly be enlightened. If you normally don't cultivate, then you can never gain sudden enlightenment. Similarly, after a child is born, he is steeped in words and sounds everyday. When the time comes, he is naturally able to talk. When he utters his very first word, it is analogous to the enlightenment experience. Then when the time comes, he will naturally be able to walk, and that first step he takes is also like the enlightenment experience. How can he take his first step? It is because he has been observing how adults walk everyday. Being steeped in that environment, very naturally he'll be able to walk. Cultivation works the same way. We cultivate today, we cultivate tomorrow, we cultivate back and forth until our skills elicit a response. Then, when not a single thought is produced and our idle thoughts are dispelled, we'll be enlightened.
This form of enlightenment may be due to cultivating diligently everyday and every moment in this lifetime. When your skill matures, you will be enlightened. This enlightenment is due to diligent cultivation in this lifetime. At this point, someone might say, "I have seen a person who did not cultivate hard at all, and yet not long after coming to the Chan hall, he became enlightened. What is the reason?" This case is unique. Although this person did not cultivate hard in this lifetime, he had been cultivating hard in his previous lives. Not only did he cultivate, but also he had cultivated in each and every moment. However, he was just a little short of enlightenment. In this lifetime, when he encountered this state again, he became enlightened.
Although sudden enlightenment is instantaneous, it still depends on all the good roots one has carefully and continually nurtured in past lives. It is just like a farmer planting a field. In the spring, he sows the seeds. In the summer, he weeds and hoes. Then in the autumn, there are crops to harvest. If one does not sow the seeds in spring, how does one reap the harvests when autumn comes? As the saying goes, One share of plowing and weeding done yields one share of harvest. We, cultivators of the Way, are the same. Regardless of whether we are enlightened or not, we should still be courageous and vigorous in our cultivation. We should energetically stride forward. Then we have hope of gathering our harvest in the final moment and recognize our original face.
When sitting in meditation, do not seek for spiritual penetrations.
When sitting in meditation, do not seek for spiritual penetrations or for any efficacious result. First, make your body clean without any sicknesses. In this way, no deviant energy will be able to penetrate your boundary. If you are constantly filled with great proper energy and have an indomitable spirit, you will naturally give rise to proper knowledge and proper views. Your conduct and actions will accord with principle. This is the benefit of sitting in meditation.
If, in every instant, your state of mind does not give rise to ripples such that you are without afflictions, without mark of right and wrong and without mark of people and self, then you are applying effort and this is the efficacious result of sitting in meditation. As for the efficacy of investigating Chan, you can experience it for yourself. You can return the light and illuminate within and ask yourself, "Am I still as gluttonous as I was before practicing Chan sitting? Am I still as materialistic as before? Have I corrected my improper habits and shortcomings? If I meet with unreasonable circumstances or matters that go against my wishes, do thoughts of affliction still arise?" If the answers are "yes", then I can tell you that you have not progressed much from sitting in Chan. If you can reduce past bad habits and shortcomings, then you have some good news on your cultivation skill.
You can examine yourself as follows: (1) Let us take a look at eating, for instance. If you could eat both tasty and non-tasty food with the same state of mind, then you would have chased away the greedy ghost. (2) Performing tasks: Is it the case that I will do whatever that is of benefit to me and that I will not do anything that does not benefit myself? Am I very lazy and am I always seeking ease and comfort? If so, your skill in Chan samadhi has not improved. If you could change and be willing to do whatever that would benefit others, and focus on being of service to the multitudes while not paying attention to your own personal matters, then you could get rid of the lazy ghost. (3) If you could become more energetic day-by-day and were not dazed, then you could chase away the sleepy ghost.
If you could chase away the greedy ghost, lazy ghost and sleepy ghost, this is the preliminary skill of Chan meditation. In this way, your spirit and temperament will definitely be greatly different from the past and you will be a greatly changed person. As the saying goes, In the same temple but a different god. It can also be said In the same temple but a different ghost. In the past, you were a ghost king, but now you are a Bodhisattva. Perhaps, you had an evil heart in the past, but now you have the heart of a Bodhisattva.
Demonic power causes you to think of retreating.
All of you should realize that cultivating the spiritual path is not an easy matter. If you decide to cultivate, then demons will come around. They'll not come from only one direction; they'll come from all directions at once. There are demons of sickness, demons of vexation, demons in the heavens, human demons, and also demonic ghosts. There are demonesses as well. Demons appear, from places that you don't expect, to disturb you so that your resolve will waver and your cultivation will falter. They use many tricks to seduce and tempt you. They also threaten you so that you'll retreat in fear. They hope your samadhi- power will vanish and your resolve for the spiritual path will disappear.
States may be false or true.
Just about the time you've meditated to the point of success, the demons appear to test your resolve and to challenge your work in the spiritual path. They may appear as a very beautiful woman or a handsome man who comes to seduce you. If the sight doesn't disturb you, then you pass your test. But if you are distracted by this illusion, you will fall. Right there is the critical moment; just that is the test. So I exhort you at all costs, don't fail this test; because once you fall, you will regret it forever. When states arise to challenge your resolve, you should test the state to see whether or not it's true. What's your method of testing? It is very simple. Just recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. Recite with single-minded, unwavering concentration. If it is a false state, then gradually it will disappear and then vanish. If it is a true state, then the longer you recite, the clearer the state will grow. Chan meditators who do not understand this method will fall into the demons' traps. They'll fall among the demons and their work in the spiritual path will be scattered and lost. Some cultivators will lose their opportunity for enlightenment after they join the demons.
As soon as you cultivate the spiritual path, demons will appear.
When I was young, I heard someone say, "As soon as you cultivate the spiritual path, demons will appear." I didn't believe it and arrogantly said, "I'm not afraid of demons at all! Witches, ghosts, and goblins don't frighten me in the least." I thought that it didn't matter what I said. Who could have guessed that soon after my boast, a demon would show up? What kind of demon was it? It was a demon of sickness, which made me so ill that I lost consciousness for seven or eight days. I lapsed into a total coma. Only then did I realize that my skill was far from the mark and that I had failed my test. Maybe I wasn't afraid of witches, ghosts or goblins, or even celestial demons and heretics. But I was afraid, as it turned out, of sickness demons. I couldn't subdue them; I couldn't handle them; I couldn't endure their attack. So we cultivators of the spiritual path cannot claim proudly that we fear nothing. As soon as we become self-satisfied and arrogant, troubles come seeking for us.
Well, how should cultivators of the spiritual path be, then? We should maintain a humble and circumspect attitude, and be as cautious as if we were treading on the brink of a deep abyss, or as if we were standing on thin ice. At all times, we should be prudent and careful. We should pay attention and stay alert. Only then can we really cultivate the spiritual path. To sum it up, talk less and meditate more. This is the fundamental requisite of cultivation.
If we see things and awaken to them, we can leap out of the mundane world.
When cultivators of the spiritual path actually gain some accomplishment, they get it with someone's help. Who helps them? Demons bring cultivators to accomplishment. This is just like a knife being honed on a whetstone, so that it becomes very sharp. When a cultivator realizes the light of wisdom, it is with the help of the demons. These demons can be regarded as Dharma-protectors. There is a saying:
If we see things and awaken to them, we can leap out of the mundane world.
If we see things and they confuse us, we'll fall back on the wheel of transmigration.
If you have samadhi power, you shouldn't fear the demons.
If you can awaken to and understand states as they appear, then you can leap out of the world. If you do not awaken and are instead confused by states as they occur, then you may fall right into the hells. So cultivators of the spiritual path shouldn't fear that demons may come forth. Only be afraid that your own concentration power will be insufficient to withstand them. The demons come to help you along. They test you to see whether or not your spiritual skill is genuine, to see whether or not your samadhi-power can endure them. If you have skill and samadhi, then no matter what demon comes, he won't be able to shake you.
By not hurrying or slackening, one will then succeed.
When practicing Chan meditation, you should not be too hurried and neither should you slack off. If you are too hurried, you are overdoing it, and if you slacken, you are not applying enough effort. Cultivating the spiritual path refers to cultivating the middle way, neither hurrying nor slackening. As the saying goes, Hurrying is too tight, slackening is too loose. By not hurrying or slackening, one will then succeed. If we applied effort in this way everyday and in every moment, without hurrying or slackening, in time to come, our skill would generate a response. When this happens, we will achieve an inconceivable state. Those of you who have attained this state should not be overly happy, and those who have not, should not be unduly worried. If you are overly happy, the demon of happiness will come and disrupt your samadhi power, causing you to laugh and smile unnaturally all day long. If somebody asks what you are laughing about, you do not know. If you do not know why you are laughing, that means you have gone mad. The demon of madness has entered your body. Conversely, if you are excessively worried and depressed, the demon of sadness will come and disrupt your samadhi power, causing you to sob and cry unnaturally all day long. If someone asks you what you are crying for, you reply, Living beings are suffering too much! They are too pitiful! I wish to cross over all living beings. If you can't even cross over yourself, how are you able to cross over others? This just shows that the demon of sadness has entered your body.
Do not be moved by sounds.
When we sit in meditation, we should not be moved by sounds or be turned by forms. Some people may have cultivated for a long time but when states arise, they attach to them. This is wrong. One should hear and not listen, see and not perceive. Not listening and not perceiving -- this is known as not being moved by states.
Do not harbor thoughts of hatred and love.
As all Dharmas are the Buddhadharma, how could there be some Dharmas that we like and some that we dislike? In investigating Chan, we should apply effort in this very aspect. We should not harbor thoughts of hatred and love, but should instead apply effort with a mind of equanimity. Just like a spring pond that does not have any ripples, dirt and particles naturally settle to the bottom and the water becomes clear and clean. Investigating Chan is also like that. If we do not have any false thoughts, the Dharma-body will manifest. These few lines of Dharma are very important. I hope that all of you will cultivate according to this principle, for if you do, you will very quickly open your wisdom. As the saying goes, What is spoken is the Dharma, what is practiced is the Way. If we understand the Dharma and yet not cultivate the Way, we will not arrive anywhere.
In whatever kind of states, we must be thus, thus unmoving.
When we sit in meditation, all kinds of different states may arise. Regardless of whether it is a wholesome state or an unwholesome one, we should not pay too much attention to it. If you do, you will be turned by the state; but if you don't, then you have turned the state around. Sometimes, Chan cultivators may feel as if they are as large as empty space; and at other times, they may feel that they are even smaller than a speck of dust. There are occasions when they feel as though their bodies no longer exist and they do not know where they have gone. Sometimes, they may feel unbearably cold and at other times, they may feel unbearably hot. Sometimes, they experience a state whereby their bodies seem harder and stronger than vajra; while at other times, their bodies may feel as soft and light as cotton. Sometimes, they may feel their bodies charged with certain energy that is similar to electricity activating a machine; while at other times, they may feel that they are emitting bright light. In a nutshell, such states are boundless and endless, but one should not be attached to them. If you attach to them, then you will enter a demonic state; but if you don't, you won't have any problem. The Shurangama Sutra says that whatever states arise, if you do not discriminate and instead act as if nothing has happened, you'll be fine. However, if you think that you are fantastic to be able to experience such a terrific state, you will fall into demonic possession. Whatever states you encounter, maintain an attitude of thus, thus unmoving, and exercise your samadhi power that is perfectly clear and constantly bright. You will then be able to turn the state around instead of being turned by the state.
Koans of Chan
The story of the golden pagoda and the silver pagoda.
As long as the cultivator can sit in the full lotus posture, he will be able to give rise to precept power, samadhi power and wisdom power. If you could sit in full lotus, all the Vajra Dharma-protectors will come forth to protect you. All the demon kings will keep far away from you and all the hungry ghosts will bow to you.
Here is a koan. In China, whenever somebody died or if there were any special occasions, a monk would be invited to recite sutras. This is known as sutra-hustling and the monk is known as a sutra-hustling monk. There was a monk who chanted sutras for a living. Once, he went to chant sutras for somebody. Usually, sutra chanting was performed in the night. By the time he finished his chanting, it was probably almost midnight. When he passed through a village, a dog barked at him. A couple was staying in the house from where the dog was barking. The lady said, "Take a look and see who is it. Is it a thief trying to steal something?" Her husband looked out of the window and said, "Hey! Who's that? The sutra-hustling ghost! Sutra-hustling ghost!" The monk wondered, "Why did they call me a sutra-hustling ghost?" He was actually a sutra-reciting monk, yet they called him a sutra-hustling ghost. So he walked on, thinking of returning to his temple. Then it started to rain. There was a bridge nearby and so he took shelter below the bridge and began to sit in meditation. He pulled his legs into full-lotus position. Just at that instant, two ghosts emerged from the river. The ghosts looked really ugly. When humans see ghosts, they are always frightened. Since the monk was meditating, he was not afraid when he saw the two ghosts. Because he often chanted sutras to cross over ghosts, he was always thinking of ghosts. Hence, when he actually met with one, he was not afraid and he carried on meditating.
These two ghosts started bowing to him. They kept on bowing to him for almost twenty minutes, or perhaps half an hour. Then his legs began to hurt and he could not endure it any longer and so he eased out of full-lotus position into half-lotus. Then he heard the two ghosts talking, "Hey, just now we were bowing to a golden pagoda. How did it become a silver one?" As pagodas contain the Buddha's shariras or the Buddha's real-body, so when ghosts see a pagoda, they must bow and pay respect. After the pagoda had become a silver one, one of the ghosts said, "There are also shariras in this silver pagoda, so we still got to bow and pay respect!" The two ghosts started bowing again, though it had transformed from a golden pagoda to a silver pagoda. After sitting for some time in the half-lotus position, his legs began to hurt again. Probably after about half an hour, he could not endure it any longer. Still, the rain had not stopped for if the rain stopped, he would have left. Now, he was no longer sitting in half-lotus position but was stretching his legs and sitting in a casual position. These two ghosts took a peek and exclaimed, "Oh! This is neither a golden pagoda nor a silver pagoda. It is just a mound of mud. Let's destroy this mound of mud!" As soon as he heard that the ghosts were going to hit him, he quickly pulled his legs together and sat in a full-lotus position again. The ghosts saw that it became a golden pagoda again and remarked, "Oh! What an inconceivable state! Let's bow again." So, they started bowing to the pagoda again.
Then he thought to himself, "Oh, full lotus position is a golden pagoda, half lotus is a silver pagoda and sitting anyway you please is a mound of mud." A mound of mud refers to a human being and the ghosts called him a mound of mud. This is very strange. From that time on, the monk gave rise to the Bodhi heart and no longer went around sutra-hustling or chanting sutras for people. He practiced meditation in his temple, always in a full-lotus position. After sitting for a time, he became enlightened. He thought, "My enlightenment was actually due to the help of the ghosts. If I had not met the two ghosts, I would not have become enlightened today." So after that, he called himself the Dhyana Master Pressured by Ghosts. The ghosts forced him into cultivating.
The Dharma of Freedom from Death
The Chan sect has a verse that says,
The myriad Dharmas return to One and One returns to the origin.
Shen Guang did not understand this and chased Bodhidharma away.
Kneeling for nine years at Bear's Ear Mountain,
All for the sake of avoiding King Yama.
This story proves that seeking the Dharma is not an easy task; a spirit of sacrificing one's body for the sake of the Dharma is needed to attain enlightenment.
After traveling by boat from India to China, Bodhidharma came ashore at Guangzhou and went to Jing Ling (Nanjing). Passing by the place where Dharma Master Shen Guang was lecturing the sutras, Bodhidharma went in and asked him, "What are you doing here?"
Shen Guang answered "I am lecturing on the sutras."
Bodhidharma asked again, "Why are you explaining the sutras?"
Shen Guang replied, "For ending birth and death."
Bodhidharma said, "The Dharma in essence cannot be put into words; there's no Dharma to be spoken of. As to the sutras you lecture, the inked areas are words and the blank areas are paper. How can this end birth and death?"
When Shen Guang heard this, he exclaimed angrily, "You devil! How dare you slander the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha - this is outrageous!" Upon saying that, he struck at Patriarch Bodhidharma's face with his metal chanting beads!
Bodhidharma was caught unprepared and two of his front teeth were broken. He thought to himself, "If I spit the teeth on the ground, then this place will suffer three years of great drought (when the teeth of a certified sage fall to the ground, the heavens will mete out punishment, and people in this region will suffer rainless days." Bodhidharma did not wish to let this region's people go through the suffering of drought, so he swallowed the two teeth into his stomach. Therefore, there is a saying, "If someone knocks out the teeth of an arhat, the arhat swallows them."
Bodhidharma practiced the paramita of patience under insult. Without a word, he left Shen Guang's preaching place. He crossed the Yangtze River and headed towards Song Mountain in Henan Province. At this time, the Ghost of Impermanence, under the orders of King Yama, came to invite Shen Guang to a gathering.
He asked Shen Guang, "Are you Shen Guang?"
Sheng Guan replied, "Yes."
The Ghost of Impermanence said, "King Yama invites you over for tea."
Hearing this, Shen Guang replied, "When I lecture on the sutras, the heavens rain down flowers, and golden lotuses well forth from the earth. I still have to die?"
The Ghost of Impermanence said, "Of course you have to die!"
Shen Guang questioned, "Who in this world is free from death?"
The Ghost of Impermanence told him, "Only the black-faced monk whose teeth you knocked out is free from death."
Sheng Guan then implored the Ghost of Impermanence saying, "Lay-person of Impermanence, could you be compassionate and speak to Yama King, to let me go and find the dark-faced monk so that I can learn the Dharma-door of ending birth and death?"
The Ghost of Impermanence agreed to his request. Shen Guang then traveled day and night to the north to catch up with Bodhidharma. Finally, he arrived at Bear's Ear Mountain and saw Bodhidharma sitting in a cave facing the wall in meditation.
He bowed to Bodhidharma in repentance. After nine years of kneeling, he obtained the Dharma of Freedom from Death and became the Second Patriarch of the Chan Sect.
Enlightenment must be certified before it counts.
Before the time of the Buddha Awesome Voice, any person could get enlightened, and he wouldn't need to be certified by another person. But after the time of the Buddha Awesome Voice, someone who feels he is enlightened must be certified by a Patriarch or an enlightened Good and Wise Advisor for it to really count. For example, The Shurangama Sutra lists the stories of twenty-five Sages who describe their perfect enlightenments and who request Shakyamuni Buddha to certify their attainments.
I will now tell a story of such a certification. In the Tang Dynasty of China, there was a Great Master called Yongjia (Eternal Excellence) who was born in Yongjia county of Zhejiang Province. Because he stayed in Yongjia all his life, people gave him the name of Great Master Yongjia. After he left the home-life, he studied the teachings of the Tian Tai School and cultivated meditative contemplation. One day, while reading The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, he suddenly got enlightened. Soon after, he met a disciple of the Sixth Patriarch named Chan Master Xuance (Mystic Law) and told him the story. Master Xuance suggested that he go to Cao Creek to study under the Sixth Patriarch and to request certification of his enlightenment. To do otherwise, to claim that one has become enlightened by oneself without benefit of a teacher, would make one a follower of the externalists who believe in spontaneity.
When he arrived at Nanhua Monastery in Cao Creek, the Sixth Patriarch was meditating. Master Yongjia, full of pride, strode over to the front of the Patriarch's meditation seat. Without even making a half-bow or full-bow, he simply grasped his tin staff, walked three times around the Patriarch's seat, then stood and rapped his staff on the ground.
The Sixth Patriarch said, "Shramanas (monks) ought to possess the Three Thousand Modes of Awesome Deportment, and the Eighty Thousand Subtle Manners. Only when one's behavior is impeccable does one merit the name Shramana. [Shramana means 'diligent and putting to rest.' A Shramana 'diligently cultivates precepts, concentration, and wisdom, and puts to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity.'] Where do you, O Virtuous One, come from? And why are you so arrogant?"
Master Yongjia answered, "Birth and death is the only important thing, and impermanence comes with haste."
The Sixth Patriarch said, "Then why don't you embody birthlessness; why don't you understand no-haste?"
Master Yongjia answered, "The embodiment originally was not subject to birth. When you understand, then there is no further haste."
The Sixth Patriarch said, "You have really grasped the idea of birthlessness."
Master Yongjia said, "Do you mean to say that birthlessness is an idea?"
The Sixth Patriarch said, "If it isn't an idea, then how can you distinguish it?"
Master Yongjia said, "Making distinctions is not an idea, either."
You are so right! You are so right!" said the Sixth Patriarch, and thereupon certified him and made him his Dharma heir.
After Great Master Yongjia was certified by the Sixth Patriarch, he planned to return immediately to Kaiyuan (Primary Source) Temple in Yongjia. The Sixth Patriarch asked him to stay for one night, but the next morning, he went right back to Yongjia. Because he had enlightened to the truth of the Buddhadharma in just a single evening, people of that time nicknamed him, "The Monk Who Became Enlightened Overnight." Afterwards, he energetically propagated the Sudden Teaching of the Chan School and is most noted for his Song of Enlightenment of more than fifty stanzas, which explains the state of sudden enlightenment. The Song is a masterpiece that will long endure and has become required reading for Buddhists.
How Chan Meditation Can Halt the Process of Birth and Death
In the final years of the Northern Song Dynasty in China, there lived a national hero, Yue Fei. His father passed away when he was young. His mother was worthy and wise. Mother and son had only each other to rely upon for support. She taught her young son to read and write. Since the family was too poor to afford brushes, ink and paper, he practiced writing characters in the sand, and eventually became an accomplished calligrapher. Yue Fei entered military service at an early age. His mother tattooed on his back the slogan, "Give your all in service to the country." He never forgot his great vow to save his country's people.
This was the era when the Tartars (the Jin Dynasty) invaded the Song Dynasty and captured the capital of Bianjing (Kaifeng). They kidnapped the two Emperors Hui and Qin and took them to the North. Duke Kang established the Southern Song Dynasty in Hangzhou and proclaimed himself Emperor Gaozong. He appointed Qin Hui as his Prime Minister. At that time, the scholars advocated peace, while the military advocated going to war with the Tartars. General Yue Fei gave the Tartars a devastating defeat at the town of Zhuxian (close to Bianjing) and planned to attack their capital towards Yellow Dragon (near Jilin Nongan). Unfortunately, Qin Hui was jealous and so issued twelve false summonses commanding him to return to the capital. Yue Fei's credo was "loyal subjects are patriots to the end." Thus he led his troops back to the capital. En route he passed by Gold Mountain Monastery, in the middle of the Yangtze River, where he stopped to pay his respects to Chan Master Daoyue (Joy of the Way).
The monk urged him not to return to the capital, but to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way at Gold Mountain Monastery in Zhenjiang. That way, he could avoid all political scandals and conflict. Yue Fei did not take the matter of birth and death seriously, feeling instead that the duty of a military man was to follow orders. He did not follow the philosophy that, "When the general is in the field, he can choose not to follow the emperor's commands." Thus, he rejected Master Daoyue's wise suggestion.
Before he left, Master Daoyue wrote him a verse that said,
Before the New Year's Day, be very cautious of heaven's tears;
A gift with two dots beneath it will harm you grievously.
Yue Fei returned to Hangzhou and Qin Hui sent a message reading "No grounds necessary," which was a summon to imprison both Yue Fei and his son. As he approached the executioner's block, Yue Fei suddenly realized the meaning hidden in Venerable Daoyue's verse. On New Year's Eve, which fell on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth lunar month that year, the heavens poured forth a heavy rain. Hearing the rain as he sat in jail, Yue Fei knew his death was at hand; the prophecy in the Chan Master's verse was about to be fulfilled. When you write two dots beneath the word 'gift', you get the word "Qin", the name of Prime Minister Qin Hui. Yue Fei was executed at Fengbo Pagoda.
Qin Hui asked the executioner what Yue Fei's final words had been. The executioner said, "I heard him say, 'I have met my end today, only because I didn't heed the advice of Chan Master Daoyue of Gold Mountain.'" Qin Hui flew into a rage and ordered Heli to hurry to Gold Mountain Monastery to arrest Master Daoyue. But the day before, while in Chan samadhi, Master Daoyue had forseen this situation and had written another verse, which said,
Heli is coming from the South,
But I am going to the West.
If my strength in the Dharma were not sufficient,
I would surely have fallen into the villain's hands.
After he wrote this verse, he entered the stillness of Nirvana. When Heli reached the temple the next day, Master Daoyue had already entered Nirvana. Heli had no choice but to return to the capital and make a report.
This story proves that when you have perfected the skill of Chan meditation, you can control your own birth and death. You can go off to rebirth at any time you choose. You are in control of the process, and it is a very natural matter. Chan Masters of the past all possessed this ability. They could be born and die as they wished. In the Tang Dynasty, there was a Chan Master named Deng Yinfeng (Hidden Summit) who entered Nirvana while standing on his head. The contemporary monk, the Living Buddha of Gold Mountain, entered Nirvana while standing up. Due to their skills in Chan meditation, they could come and go as they pleased, without any restrictions.
An old monk in meditation is worth ten thousand taels of gold.
Venerable Master Wei Shan once said, "An old monk in meditation is worth ten thousand taels of gold." Premier Tang Pei Xiu knew that leaving the home-life was good, but due to his position as premier, he could not leave the home-life. Instead, he built a great temple that could accommodate two thousand monks cultivating together. At that time, many left-home people heard of the new Way Place at Hunan and flocked there to draw near and learn from Venerable Master Wei Shan who taught Chan meditation and gave talks on the precepts and the Vinaya everyday.
Pei Xiu, knowing that he was not destined for monkhood, sent his son to the temple to become a monk. This son was a Hanlin scholar - a graduate of the country's highest institution of learning. Venerable Master Wei Shan, on seeing this Hanlin scholar leave the home-life, named him Fa Hai and assigned him to fetch water. At that time, there were often a few thousand occupants at the temple and this job was not easy. There was no tap water and water had to be drawn from the wells from morning till night without stop. Fa Hai woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning, and while the Great Assembly was doing the morning recitation, he had already started fetching water. He fetched water like this for a few years and did not do any other tasks; he did not even attend any sutra chanting or meditation session. Being a Han Lin scholar, fetching water for the Great Assembly might have seemed unfair to him but he never complained and just did his best.
One day, it so happened that he had some free time. As he had never known what sort of lessons left-home people actually studied, he sneaked into the Chan Hall and took a peep. He saw some monks sitting in an upright posture and some sitting with their heads lowered and snoring in their sleep. Others had their eyes open and were looking around everywhere. Fa Hai thought, "I carry water everyday, work myself to exhaustion and here they are, some sleeping while sitting and others looking around with their eyes wide open. All these monks, how are they worthy of my offering?!" So he complained within his heart. Fa Hai harbored these thoughts and although he did not tell anyone, Master Wei Shan knew what was up. He called Fa Hai to the Abbot's Room and said, "You have stayed in this temple for a few years already and now you complain that the monks are not fit to receive offerings from you. Now, the temple will not keep you anymore. You can pack your things and go!"
Since Fa Hai was driven out of the temple, he went to bid farewell to his teacher, Chan Master Lingyou, and asked him, "Master, I have no money. Where can I go?" Chan Master Lingyou then gave him eight and a half coins and told him, "You can go wherever you wish. When you have finished using the eight and a half coins, then stay at that place. Do not stop till you have finished using the money." At the time, eight and a half coins was equivalent to eighty-five dollars now, which was not much. While on the road, Fa Hai did not dare to use any of the money. He begged for alms along the way and traveled from Hunan to Jiangsu Province. Later, he passed by Zhenjiang and saw an island in the Yangtze River. There was a mountain on the island. Fa Hai wished to take a look at the mountain and so waved at the ferryman and asked for the price of the ferry trip. The ferryman asked for exactly eight and a half coins - no more, no less! When Fa Hai arrived at the mountain, he found that it was not very high but was very serene and quiet. So he decided to settle down there. Later, he discovered a cave in the mountain. In the cave, there were a few jars filled with gold. This was the reason the mountain was later renamed as Gold Mountain. Fa Hai used the gold to build a temple and continued his Chan practice there.
Since then, Gold Mountain's atmosphere of cultivation was exceptionally good, and it produced many patriarchs. The Abbot Fa Hai mentioned in China's famous Tale of the White Snake was this same person. At that time, he had not yet received the full precepts and was still a novice monk, but he was already a founding patriarch.
Venerable Master Wei Shan's famous words, "An old monk in meditation is worth ten thousand taels of gold," is referring to Fa Hai. Fa Hai felt that the monks were not fit to accept his offerings but this was not true. Why not? It is because when a person sits in meditation, at the point of ultimate stillness, the light penetrates everywhere. It is also said,
If one can sit perfectly still for even a split second (ksana),
One's merit surpasses that of building pagodas of the seven gems in number like the Ganges' sands
That is the reason it is worth ten thousand taels of gold. Hence, we Chan practitioners should not take Chan cultivation lightly. A student of Buddhism who hopes to attain Buddhahood must practice Chan meditation. Practice diligently and don't be afraid when your legs hurt and your back aches. It is only in this way that you will accomplish it. Thus the ancient saying,
If the plum tree did not endure cold that chills to the bone,
How could the fragrance of its blossoms be so sweet?
Venerable Master Wei Shan's mind does not move
Venerable Master Wei Shan of the Tang Dynasty cultivated the Way on Wei Mountain of Hunan Province. There, he gained the samadhi power of sitting perfectly still for a split second. He was detached completely from all manner of wealth, relatives, friends and the five sensual desires. Although Venerable Master Wei Shan did not seek fame and fortune, everyone came to know about his cultivation as time went by. As a result, many people came to give offerings and to draw near him with the hope of seeking blessings and wisdom. His good reputation even spread to the ears of Premier Pei Xiu, who then went to call upon him. On the mountain, the Premier saw that there was only a simple hut without even a bed. There was only a sitting cushion and the old venerable simply sat there. When people came, he did not move and when people left, he didn't bother either. He ignored all visitors, neither receiving them nor seeing them off.
Pei Xiu thought, "This old cultivator does not even have a temple. Since I am wealthy, I might as well make an offering to him by building a temple!" He then ordered his followers to take out three hundred taels of silver. However, Venerable Master Wei Shan neither accepted it nor rejected it. There was a pile of grass in the hut and so Pei Xiu hid the silver in it. At that time, three hundred taels of silver were equivalent to about three million dollars now.
Three years later, Pei Xiu thought, "The temple should be completed by now. Let's go and take a look!" When he arrived at the mountain, he found that there was nothing but the same old hut. No temple had been built. Pei Xiu then had a false thought, "I gave him money, yet he did not use it to build a temple and he still appears impoverished. Who knows where the money has gone?" Thereupon, he asked Venerable Master Wei Shan, "Chan Master! Where is the money that I gave you to build a temple?" Venerable Master Wei Shan replied, "Look for it where you left it." Pei Xiu walked to the pile of grass and found that the money was left there untouched. Then Pei Xiu had another false thought, "This old cultivator is really lazy. I gave him money and yet he does not even know how to use it. Why is it that the more he cultivates, the mores stupid he becomes?" At this point, Venerable Master Wei Shan told him, "Since you think that I don't know how to use money, you had better take it back and spend it on other things. I do not want to build temples with forms."
Pei Xiu then realized that this Chan master had some substance, and so resolved to build a temple for him. Though he had built the temple, he did not know that nurturing the wisdom of his own mind was incomparable to Venerable Master Wei Shan building an inner temple of wisdom. If a person could silence his mind and not give rise to false thoughts of the five desires, then that is really considered true cultivation. Chan practitioners should learn from Venerable Master Wei Shan and not be moved by the sight of money.
Do not be attached to states.
While meditating, the elements of earth, water, fire and wind can all enter samadhi. They can enter the samadhi of emptiness or the samadhi of no non-thought. While in samadhi, do not be attached to states and do not give rise to ignorance and afflictions, otherwise these will obstruct your opportunity of attaining enlightenment.
Now, I shall tell you a koan as an illustration.
In the past, there was an old cultivator who wanted to be born in the Heaven of No Non-thought (the highest heaven in the formless realm), and so he cultivated the samadhi of no non-thought. He was cultivating samadhi at the seaside and was just about to enter the samadhi of no non-thought when the fish that were playing in the water made so much noise that he could not enter samadhi. When he opened his eyes, the fish immediately swam away. He then continued meditating, and just when he was about to enter samadhi, the fish swam back again. This happened many times and caused the old cultivator to feel terribly frustrated. He then gave rise to hatred and thought, "I wish I could turn into an eagle and eat up all the fish in the water!" His hatred scared the fish away and they dared not come again. The old cultivator finally managed to enter the samadhi of no non-thought, and was reborn in the Heaven of No Non-thought where he enjoyed eighty thousand Great Kalpas of heavenly bliss.
It was because he had once given rise to hatred and wished that he could become an eagle to eat the fish, when his heavenly blessings were exhausted, he immediately fell into the animal realm as a fish-eating eagle. It was only when Sakyamuni Buddha had attained Buddhahood, and later expounded the Dharma to him, that he was able to discard the body of an eagle and be reborn as a human being. He then cultivated under the Buddha and attained Arhatship. This is why cultivators should not casually give rise to thoughts of hatred, as false thoughts will surely receive retribution.
In the Shurangama Sutra, there is an elder named Moonlight Pure Youth who specialized in cultivating water samadhi. He contemplated water and when he entered the samadhi of water-radiance, his body would turn into water. Once, when Moonlight Pure Youth Elder was in the water-radiance samadhi, his young disciple came to look for him. Upon entering his room, he saw only a puddle of water on the floor. The mischievous disciple then picked up a small stone and threw it into the water. When Moonlight Pure Youth Elder came out of samadhi, he felt uncomfortable in his stomach and, upon investigation, discovered that there was a small stone inside it. He called his disciple and questioned him and found that he had thrown a stone into the water puddle when he was in samadhi. Thereupon, he instructed his disciple to wait for him to enter samadhi again and then enter the room to retrieve the stone.
Based on this, we can see that as long as a cultivator practices with single-minded concentration and vigor, he will surely succeed. Cultivation requires one to be single-mindedly focused in order to be effective. If your mind is firm and determined, you will definitely receive a response from the Dharma.
Chan Meditation - It is Hard! It is Easy!
"Hard! Hard! Hard! Like placing ten baskets of sesame seeds on a tree." These are the words of Mr Pang Gong. He felt that cultivation was not easy. If it was not backache, then it was pain in the legs. Cultivators are entangled in all sorts of pains and illnesses that make it hard to be at ease. It is with great difficulty that one manages to make a little progress. However, once we let down our guard, all our past efforts would have been wasted.
That was why he said, "Hard! Hard! Hard! Like placing ten baskets of sesame seeds on a tree." Nevertheless, to what extent is the difficulty? It is like placing ten baskets of sesame seeds on a tree. Ten baskets of sesame seeds is not a small number and to place them on a tree without falling is not an easy thing to do. Pang Gong had a relative who heard this and asked, "If it is so difficult, then I suppose there's no way to cultivate?"
However, Mrs Pang replied, "Easy! Easy! Easy! The intention of coming from the west can be found on the tips of a hundred blades of grass." It is actually very easy. All the mountains, rivers, flowers, grass and trees, speak of the intention of the Patriarch's coming from the west. This is why it is said to be very easy. What difficulty is there?
At this time, someone asked the daughter how she felt about applying effort in cultivation. Miss Pang said, "It's neither hard nor easy. Eat when you are hungry and sleep when you are tired." The three of them had different views, but the underlying principle is the same. Mr Pang, Mrs Pang and Miss Pang are part of the same family and yet they have different opinions. Here, people have come from all directions to attend this meditation retreat and similarly, everyone has got his own views. Therefore, the only way is to talk less and apply effort in your cultivation instead.
Neither coming nor going
When I was in Manchuria, China, I had a fellow cultivator who was originally a bandit. Once, when he was robbing someone's valuables, he was beaten and injured in his shoulder. He did not recover even after more than half a year. At that time, he became repentant and realized his past wrongdoings. He decided to change his evil character and embrace goodness and so he made a vow, "If my injuries recover within a week, I will go to my parents' graves and observe filial piety." After a week, his injuries miraculously recovered. He then fulfilled his vow by spending three years observing filial piety beside his parents' graves. As he was able to turn over a new leaf, his master gave him the name, Filial Son You.
Before Filial Son You left for his parents' graves, he bowed to Dharma Master Zongyi as his master. This Dharma Master had extremely virtuous conduct and gained the respect of many. He even possessed spiritual penetrations. When Filial Son You started learning meditation and applying effort, demonic obstacles transformed into a fire dragon that clasped tightly around his waist and burnt him until he was red and painful. Just when he was being harassed by the demon, his master immediately subdued the fire dragon. This dragon then took refuge under him and became Filial Son You's Dharma Protector.
While Filial Son You had been at his parents' graves for about two and a half years, endless rainstorms flooded the fields and destroyed many crops. Thereupon, Filial Son You made a vow, "If the sky clears in three days, I shall cut my own flesh as an offering to the heavens." Sure enough, the heavens accorded with his wish, and the skies cleared in less than three days. Filial Son You then cut his own flesh to offer to the heavens. When the nearby residents and county officials heard about Filial Son's offering, they came in droves and praised him without end. At this time, a little bird came flying and singing, "Do more good deeds! Do more good deeds! Doing good deeds is so good!" The little bird accompanied Filial Son You for about three weeks before flying away. This sort of state is truly inconceivable!
When Filial Son You had completed observing three years of filial piety at his parents' graves, he began preaching at the local branch of the Way Virtue Society and taught living beings how to practice the Bodhisattva Path. Filial Son You was twenty-one years old when he vowed to uphold his filial duties. At that time, I was in my teens and was also observing filial piety at my mother's grave. This was why we admired each other.
One day, we happened to meet and we observed each other in silence for a long time. Filial Son You asked, "Who are you?"
I answered, "You should know who you are, but I do not know who I am."
Filial Son You asked again, "Where do you come from?"
I replied, "I come from where I came from."
I then asked him, "Where are you going?"
He only answered, "I have nowhere to go."
Filial Son You could not answer my question.
There is no place to come from and no place to go to, and so there is neither coming nor going. There is neither coming nor going, and yet there is coming and going. Coming is coming from the place that we came from, and going is going to the place that we are going. One of the Buddha's ten names is 'Tathagata' (Thus Come One). The Diamond Sutra says, "The Tathagata does not come from anywhere, nor does he go anywhere. Therefore he is called the Tathagata."
The Three Cart Patriarch
The main purpose of meditation is to eradicate all your past evil karma, regain your original wisdom and bring your good roots to accomplishment. This is why when you sit in meditation, you must have patience and that means not being afraid of hardship. When the ancient sages sat in meditation, they could sit for thousands of years. I shall now relate a koan as an example.
During the Tang Dynasty, when Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang was on his way to India to obtain sutras, he encountered an old cultivator in meditation. Birds had built nests on his head and his clothes were torn and tattered. Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang rang his bell to bring him out of samadhi. The old cultivator asked, "Where do you come from?" Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang replied, "I come from the Tang Dynasty and I am going to India to seek for sutras. What are you doing here?" The old cultivator said, "I'm waiting for Shakyamuni Buddha to come into the world. Then I'm going to help him propagate the Buddhadharma." Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said, "Why are you still waiting for the Buddha to come into the world? Shakyamuni Buddha had already passed into Nirvana for more than a thousand years." The old cultivator said, "Is that true? In that case, I'll wait for Maitreya Honored Buddha to come into the world." Thereupon, he prepared to go back into samadhi again.
Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said to him, "I have a matter to discuss with you." The old cultivator replied, "Don't disturb my peace. I don't want to interfere in worldly affairs." Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said, "This is not a personal matter. Although Shakyamuni Buddha has already entered Nirvana, his Dharma is still in the world. I want you to help me spread the Buddhadharma and continue the Buddha's wisdom life. Now, you go the Great Tang Dynasty and wait for me to return with the sutras and then we shall propagate the Buddhadharma together. From here, walk to the east and get reborn in the house with the yellow-tiled roof."
Before Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang set out for India to bring back the sutras, he made a prediction to Emperor Tai Zong saying, "The branches of the pine tree are now pointing to the west. When they point east, that means I have returned with the sutras." One day, Emperor Tai Zong noticed that all the tree branches were pointing to the east and therefore knew that Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang would return soon. When Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang returned to Chang An, Emperor Tai Zong led all the court officials to the western gate to welcome him. It was a grand reception and the streets were thronging with people. When Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang met the Emperor, he immediately said, "Congratulations, Your Majesty, on the birth of a prince." But the emperor said, "No. I didn't have a son while you were away. There is still the same Crown Prince." The Dharma Master looked into the matter and realised that the old cultivator had gotten off the track and been reborn in the house of the Defence Minister Yu Ch'ih Kung instead. He was now the nephew of Yu Ch'ih Kung (his left-home Dharma name was Kuei Chih). Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang urged Yu Ch'ih Kung's nephew to leave home but was rejected. He then pleaded with the Emperor to issue an edict ordering him to leave home and said, "If only he leaves home, no matter what conditions he asks for, agree to all of them." Immediately, the Emperor issued an edict ordering him to leave home.
When the nephew of Yu Ch'ih Kung received the imperial command to leave home, he set up three conditions saying, "The first condition is: Originally, Buddhism does not permit drinking wine. However, I don't wish to give up drinking wine. I hope that wherever I go, there will be a cart of wine following me." The Emperor knew that one of the five precepts in Buddhism is to prohibit drinking wine but then Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang had told him to agree to any conditions that the nephew might have. So the Emperor agreed to the first condition. "The second condition is: I was born in the home of a general and I am used to eating meat. From now on, I must have fresh meat to eat everyday." In fact, left-home people don't eat meat but since Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang had already told the Emperor to agree with any conditions, Tai Zong therefore had to agree with the second condition. "The third condition is: Ever since I was born, I was fond of beautiful women. So wherever I go, I must have a cart full of beauties accompanying me." The Emperor agreed to all his three conditions.
When Yu Ch'ih Kung's nephew left home, the entire imperial court sent him off to the Da Xing Shan (Great Flourishing Goodness) Monastery to leave the home life. On that day, the temple's big bell was rung and the gigantic drum was beaten to welcome him. As soon as he heard the bell and drum, he had a sudden enlightenment and remembered that he was the Old Cultivator who had promised to help Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang propagate the Buddhadharma. The moment he obtained the knowledge of past lives, he gave up the three carts of wine, meat and women. This was why Patriarch Kuei Ch'ih, who was the Second Patriarch of the Fa Xiang (Dharma Mark) Sect, was also known as the Three Cart Patriarch. He could read ten lines at a glance and could listen to one hundred people talking at the same time. Patriarch Kuei Ch'ih helped Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang to translate the discourses of the Fa Xiang Sect and his services were unsurpassed. He was named "Master of One Hundred Discourses." When the Old Cultivator sat in meditation, he could sit for a few thousand years. Here, we sit for only twenty-one hours everyday, which is really insignificant. This is why we must look upon all matters as being trifles and should not be attached to anything. Endure suffering and pain. It is only by enduring a moment of pain that you can achieve everlasting happiness. All of you should be courageous and vigorous and cultivate diligently. In this way, you will be able to overcome all obstacles.
Cast Aside Birth and Death
A long time ago, there was a diligent old cultivator who had attained some success. At this time, a state came along to test his samadhi power. What kind of state was it? Whenever he meditated and was about to enter samadhi, the state would appear. There was a big stone dangling from a rope above his head. If the rope were to break, he would be smashed into a meat patty. He knew that this was only a state and he ignored it. This happened everyday with the stone dangling above his head. He became very cautious and dare not fall asleep and neither could he enter samadhi.
After a few days, the state changed. Now, there was a rat on the rope that was tied to the stone and it was chewing on the rope. In fact, this rope was already quite thin, and with the stone tied to it, it was very dangerous. Now with a rat chewing on it, it was even more dangerous. As a result of this, the old cultivator dared not meditate there again.
Actually, such states are all illusions. No matter what states appear, cultivators should ignore them. You must cast aside life and death. If you live, you will live and if you die, you will die. I would rather die as a result of cultivating rather than to live without doing so. If you do not fear death and can put everything down, you will surely gain enlightenment. The old cultivator was afraid of death and so he did not dare to meditate. By refraining from meditation, his skill did not improve and he did not accomplish anything. As the saying goes,
By missing by a hairsbreadth, you are off by a thousand miles.
When we cultivate, no matter what states we encounter, we must have the samadhi power to ignore them. We will then have some result and will be able to overcome these obstacles. Once you have overcome them, you will receive some good news.
Questions and Answers on Chan
Question: When sitting in meditation, what should the mind contemplate?
Venerable Master: There is no fixed location. You should give rise to a mind that does not reside anywhere. If there is a location, your mind will reside there. When the mind does not reside anywhere and does not think of good or bad, this is the place that you should apply effort. If you concentrate at one place and think of good and bad, those are just attachments. Cultivating is to be detached from everything. When there are no more attachments, you will even forget about your own body. If you don't even have a body, what else more is there to attach to?
Question: What is the difference between entering samadhi and sleeping?
Venerable Master: Put simply, the posture of entering samadhi is to sit upright with your back straight as a pen and not tilt sideways. Whether your breath stops or your pulse stops, you appear to be like a dead person but you still have feelings. You can sit for a whole day without moving or ten days without moving, or even to the extent of sitting for a month without moving. On the other hand, the sleeping posture is different because your head and body might twist and turn anyhow and you have no control over them. When you exhale and inhale, there is sound and your breathing is like a thunderclap. The difference lies here.
Verses on Chan and Chan Potentials
Ode to the Secret of Chan Samadhi
Innocent and vivacious with no thoughts deviant,
Subduing the mind and leaving all marks is the key.
When the great earth is despondent, all approaches are destroyed.
When empty space is smashed, all discriminations cease.
spiritual light alone shines upon the Dharma Realm brilliantly,
The pearl of wisdom envelops and nurtures Muni.
Not defiled and not pure; no coming and no going;
When the pulse stops and thoughts end, the wild nature comes to rest.
City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
The Boundless Sky and Vast Earth
When all is silent and sounds are no more,
The myriad conditions are instantly put to rest.
In the midst of the boundless sky and vast earth,
The Dharma realm is of one substance.
do we come from, and where do we go?
There is neither this nor that.
Within it all is the wonderful truth,
Whoever is wise will naturally grasp it.
27 December 1956
Topple Mount Sumeru
When Mount Sumeru is toppled, obstructions are removed.
The sea of our nature is clear and pure with no waves.
Thoroughly understanding our original true face,
Prajna is constantly bright and the myriad Dharmas are thus.
Verse for starting the Chan session, Gold Mountain Chan Monastery
5 December 1971
Together we learn about the Unconditioned
Benevolent Ones of the ten directions gather together.
Single-mindedly, they come here to learn about the Unconditioned.
This is actually the place for selecting Buddhas.
Whoever awakens thoroughly will pass the examination and return.
Verse for starting the Chan session, Buddhist Lecture Hall
Spring returns to the great earth
All things come to life when spring returns to the great earth.
Shattering empty space, one is free and at ease.
From now on, without attachments to the mark of others and self,
One encompasses the entire Dharma realm however large it is.
Verse for starting the 98-day Chan session, Buddhist Lecture Hall
15 October 1970
Picture of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua sitting in meditation
Stilling the thoughts is Chan.
Maha Prajna is the Bodhi sprout.
Nurturing and watering it with diligence and vigor,
One awakens to the Patience of Non-production and arrives at the Dragon Flower Assembly.
Playing the flute without apertures
Overturning heaven and earth during the Chan session,
Plucking the stars and changing the moon are not strange matters.
In front of the shadow-less mountain, turn your head and take a look.
The true person is constantly playing the flute without apertures.
Without Happiness and Without Worries
When you are enlightened, do not be happy.
If you have not yet awakened, also do not worry.
Just continue to apply effort diligently,
I will hold your hand and roam about with you freely.
Verse for ending the Chan session, Gold Mountain Chan Monastery
18 February 1972
Sowing the Seeds of Vajra
In the past, seeds of vajra were sown.
Today, they have sprouted into Bodhi shoots.
Immediately awakening to the fruit of right enlightenment,
One arrives directly at the home of the Dharma King.
Verse for starting the Chan session, Buddhist Lecture Hall
12 September 1970
Picking up and Putting Down
Pick it up, put it down. Who's mindful of the Buddha? Ha! Ha! Ha!
Put it down; take it up. Who's the Buddha mindful of? Hee! Hee! Hee!
It is not you, and it is not me. Between you and me, there are too many people.
It is also you, and it is also me. Because when Mt. Sumeru is smashed down, there isn't anybody.
Verse for starting the Chan session, Gold Mountain Chan Monastery
11 March 1972
Copyright © 2002 Dharma Realm Buddhist Association