Grandmaster Hsu Yun's Meditation
Instructions to His Monks
The following are some of the Grandmaster's
teachings on meditation as given during various retreats at monasteries throughout
China. These instructions were intended for experienced meditators i.e. his monks.
It should also be pointed out that where as the Grandmaster taught and practiced
Chan he also taught and practiced Pure Land Buddhism. The two are not incompatible!
Hsu Yun often referred to the Hua Tou, so a few words of explanation are in order:
literal meaning of Hua-Tou in Chinese Chan is 'word head or sentence head'. It
is the state of mind before the mind is disturbed by thought. This is a clear
state of mind while highly concentrated and focused. Hsu Yun called it "that
moment that is neither disturbed nor dull." He further stated; "The
moment before a thought arises is called the unborn." The Grandmaster said
"it is the unremitting turning of the light inwards on oneself, instant after
instant and exclusive of all other things." At another time he said "it
is the turning of the light inward on that which is not born and does not die."
With that as a background lets look at some of the Hsu Yun's teachings on
"A beginner will not find it easy to hold the Hua Tou well
in his mind, but should not worry about it, he should neither hope for awakening
nor seek wisdom. Sitting in meditation this Chan week is already the attainment
of awakening and wisdom"
The Grandmaster went on to emphasize the importance
"When one looks into the Hua Tou the most important thing is
to give rise to doubt." Doubt is the crutch of hua tou i.e. it is indispensable
to hua tou as crutches are to cripples. This doubt is manifested by questioning
- Who is it, that sits in meditation? Who is repeating the Buddha's name? Who
is wearing this robe and eating this rice? Consequently the word 'Who' of the
hua tou is a wonderful technique in Chan training. However, one should not repeat
the word 'Who' or the sentence 'Who is repeating the Buddha's name?'. Neither
should one set one's discrimination mind on searching for him who repeats the
"When real doubt rises of itself, this can be called true
training." This is the moment when one reaches a 'strategic gateway' where
it is easy to go out of one's way.
Usually beginners give rise to a doubt which
is very coarse; it is apt to stop abruptly and to continue again, and seems suddenly
familiar and suddenly unfamiliar. This is certainly not doubt and can only be
their own thinking process. When the mad wandering mind has gradually been brought
under control, one will be able to apply the brake on the thinking process and
only then can this be called 'looking into the hua tou.' Little by little, one
will gain experience in training and then doubt will arise on it's own. At the
beginning there is no effective training at all, as there is only an effort to
put an end to false thinking.
The Grand Master cautioned; "in our meditation
if we lose sight of the hua tou, while dwelling in stillness, there results an
indistinct void ness where-in there is nothing. Clinging to this state of stillness
is a Chan illness which we should never contract while undergoing our training.
This is the unrecordable dead emptiness." On another occasion he said; "awareness
without contemplation will lead to confusion and instability, and contemplation
without awareness will result in immersion in stagnant water." This unrecordable
dead emptiness is a state where there is little activity of mind - no thoughts.
It is a state where cognition is lost or diminished and the meditator has entered
a trance. It is important that a highly focused state of mind be maintained at
all times. This is the mind that dwells on and in the hua tou it is a union with
that which is "the unborn, undying."
"In the Chan training,
one should be earnest in one's desire to leave the realm of Samsara (birth &
death) and develop a long enduring mind (in one's training). If the mind is not
earnest it will be impossible to give rise to the doubt and the training will
be ineffective. Lack of a long enduring mind will result in laziness and the training
will not be continuous. Just develop a long enduring mind and the doubt will rise
of itself. As the ripe moment comes (it will be like) running water which forms