In Chan Meditation, We Must Pass Through the Gate of Pain

We have come here to practice Chan, not to fritter time away.

Today is New Year's Day, and I bid all of you a Happy New Year. This is, in fact, a worldly sentiment and we who seek to realize world-transcending wisdom should not dwell on such mundane habits. Nonetheless, we should recognize that we are still part of this world, and if we leave the mundane world too far behind, we'll also be leaving people too far behind. That's why I invoked a bit of standard etiquette to give you all my greeting: Happy New Year! I'd also like to recite a verse:
The year 1982 is now close at hand;
All ten directions' cultivators come to practice Chan.
Reverse the light and introspect: contemplate at ease.
At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas,
we will choose sages and worthies.

Since the New Year brings happiness, we can all realize the state of "taking the bliss of Chan as our food," and let our sustenance come from Chan meditation. A person who is genuinely doing the work of Chan has forgotten whether or not he has eaten. He has forgotten whether or not he got dressed. He has forgotten whether or not he slept. When one investigates to the ultimate point, he is no longer aware of heaven above, earth below, or people in between. He has merged completely with empty space. He no longer has any sense of self, others, living beings, or a life span. In this state he fears neither the pain in his legs nor the ache in his back. No matter what comes up, he uses the skill of patience to endure it. Since he has no sense of self, others, living beings, or a life span, who remains to feel pain? Once you pass through the gate of pain, you are no longer aware of any pain. If you don't pass the gate, however, then the pain is still there. If you pass through the gate, then not only does the pain stop, but you also feel very carefree and happy.

The Dharma-door of Chan meditation has no rival in its wondrousness; one attains the state of "taking Chan bliss for food, and being filled with the joy of Dharma." This is the way Chan meditators in ages past could sit for days on end without leaving their benches. Do you suppose their legs hurt? Of course they hurt! But they were able to endure the pain; they could tolerate what others found intolerable; they could endure what others found unendurable. They had the strength and vigorous courage to only advance and never retreat; this is how they succeeded in cultivation.

Chan meditation requires patience; patience is the basic capital of your enlightenment. For example, when we go into business, we need some capital. Only then can our business expand; only then can we hope to earn money. In Chan meditation, we must make it through the gate of pain. Penetrating this gate comes first. Once we're through, a brightly-lit road appears before us, and we travel on it straight ahead to the state where we can "understand our mind and see our nature." Before we pass through the gate, we are in a state where "the mountains have ended, the rivers have vanished, and we doubt there is a road ahead." But then once you pass the gate, your state becomes like "another village appearing, there beyond the bright flowers and shadowy willows."

If I can't renounce death, I'll never gain life.
If I can't renounce what's false, I'll never gain what's true.
If I can't let go of suffering, I'll never attain happiness.

We must use this kind of spirit in our investigation of Chan if we want to have any accomplishment.We have to smash through the gate of trouble and difficulty before we can attain another state of reality. This is why we must concentrate our minds as we meditate. Please pay attention! We have come here to practice Chan, not to fritter time away. Apply yourself to the investigation with genuine determination and true forbearance. We know that nothing in the world comes easily; how can you expect something in return for nothing? Only fools think that way; only they dream such impractical dreams. The only way to success is through your own efforts. We all bring forth our brand-new aspirations at the New Year, hoping to get enlightened, perhaps. Let's all make that our goal ahead, and not stop meditating until we actually reach the enlightened state!

A talk given during a Chan Session from January 1-8, 1982, The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas





一九八二年禪七 一月一日至八日開示於萬佛聖城萬佛寶殿

What Makes One Qualified to Practice Chan Meditation?

You must patiently put up with the tasks you dislike doing. Trials you find unbearable must be borne anyway.

No matter what we do in the world, we can only hope for success after undergoing a period of smelting and refining. Practicing the Dharma-door of Chan meditation is even more difficult. We can make headway only after enduring toil and discipline in every way. Patience is the single most important requisite for meditators. You must patiently put up with the tasks you dislike doing. Unbearable suffering must be patiently endured. With this kind of spirit, you are qualified to practice Chan meditation. If you cannot be this patient, then there's nothing more to say. If your body is sitting in the hall, but your mind is out roaming far beyond the hall, your efforts will be entirely fruitless; you won't achieve any success.

The purpose of investigating Chan is to smelt a Vajra-indestructible body. Since you have your heart set on smelting a Vajra-body, you should go ahead and endure as much suffering as you can put up with. Because, as the saying goes,
Enduring suffering ends suffering; Enjoying blessings uses up blessings.

As for the things we like to do, we should do them with even more alacrity, and not fail to fulfill the intent that brought us to the Chan Hall in the first place. Everyone should take note of this!





Attachment to States Leads to Demonic Possession

Cultivators of Chan should be free of greed and attachment.

This method of Chan meditation requires that as we meditate, we adopt a down-to-earth attitude. We have to cultivate with our "nose to the grindstone," so to speak. We have to be courageous as we advance. We absolutely may not retreat. With this persevering attitude, we are qualified to be called true Chan meditators.

As we meditate Chan-style, we use patience to overcome all pain. If our legs hurt, we pay no attention. If our back aches, we pay it no mind. If you really want to get enlightened, you have to be patient. If you can't be patient, then you can't get enlightened. The patience that I am talking about includes patience with hunger, patience with thirst, cold, and pain. You have to endure all these different trials. If you can endure them, then you can break through attachment to a self. If you have no attachment to a self, then when you look inside to contemplate your mind, you won't find it. When you look outside to contemplate your body, your body is also gone. When you look afar at all the different things in the universe, none of those things exist either. That's the time when "inside you find no body and mind, and outside you find no world." This is a state of emptiness.

This emptiness, however, is not something to become attached to. If you still hang on to an emptiness, then you are still clinging. Only if you can get rid of emptiness as well, can you become one with, and the same as, the Dharma Realm. You will not be different in any way from empty space. When this state reaches an ultimate point, you'll attain samadhi. Within samadhi, you are not confused and muddled; you are extremely clear and sharp. We call it a state of being "Thus, thus unmoving; understanding, and constantly aware." It's not that when I sit in meditation, I chart out a plan, I have a motive, and I'm greedy for a state to occur. If you have these vain thoughts, you'll be disturbed by demons.

In the Vajra Sutra it says,
All appearances are false.
If you can see all appearances as false,
Then you'll see the Tathagata.

Therefore, people who meditate cannot attach to states, nor do they want to get greedily attached to spiritual powers. As soon as you have an attachment, you can be possessed by a demon. Nor do you want to be greedy for and attach to phony fame and profit. Otherwise, you can easily run afoul of cults, or join the followers of demons, and that's something you should fear to the extreme. Cultivators of Chan should be unattached and free of greed. That's why we say,
When the Buddha comes, slay the Buddha; When the demons come, slay the demons.

Use your royal Vajra-jeweled sword (wisdom) to slice through everything. Don't crave good states, and even less should you crave bad states. By no means should you crave tiny states and assume that they are signs of spiritual skill. If you do, you will surely go down the wrong road. You must not be careless at all.

During the period of our meditation retreat, you must forget yourself, forget other people, forget about time and space. That is to say, "Sweep out all dharmas. Leave all marks and attachments behind." Don't attach yourself to anything; put everything down. At that time you will be able to enter into states of the Four Dhyana Heavens.









The States of the Four Dhyana Heavens

When not even one thought arises, the entire substance appears. But when the six sense organs suddenly move, you're covered by clouds.

When you as a Chan cultivator enter into a state where you forget yourself and forget others, you have reached the stage of the First Dhyana, which is called the Stage of the Happiness of Leaving Birth. At this stage, you have broken away from the attachments of living beings and experience the feeling of "taking Dhyana bliss as food and being filled with the joy of Dharma." In this samadhi, your breath will have stopped; you will no longer inhale or exhale. There is a unique happiness that is wonderful and inexpressible. This happiness is one that most people never experience.

The Second Dhyana is called the Stage of the Happiness of Producing Samadhi. In this samadhi, you experience the greatest joy. When you're sitting, you don't want to eat or drink. Your pulse has stopped. You're just like a dead person, but you still have thoughts and you are aware that you are sitting in meditation.

The Third Dhyana is the Stage of the Wonderful Bliss of Leaving Happiness. In this stage of samadhi, you leave the happiness of "taking Dhyana bliss as food and being filled with the joy of Dharma" and attain a kind of wonderful bliss that is impossible to describe. It's subtle and inconceivable. In this particular state, your thoughts have stopped. You have no thoughts. It's been described as: "When not even one thought arises, the entire substance appears. But when the six sense organs suddenly move, you're covered by clouds."

The Fourth Dhyana is the Stage of the Purity of Renouncing Thought. When you reach this state, not only are your thoughts stopped, they are eliminated entirely. At this time, you attain an extremely pure and wonderfully subtle joy. However, the state of the Fourth Dhyana is still at the stage of a common mortal. You have not yet realized fruition of your cultivation. Do not assume you are a special person, because you're still far from realizing the fruition. You should still work hard at your cultivation and meditate diligently, because if you can advance, you'll reach the state of the Five Heavens of No Return. That's when you enter the Dharma-nature stream of sages.

There was a person known as the Unlearned Bhikshu, who had cultivated to the stage of the Fourth Dhyana, but mistakenly assumed that he had realized the fruition of Arhatship. He went about announcing that he had realized the fruition. Because he did not have a thorough understanding of the Buddhadharma, he uttered a major lie and later fell into the uninterrupted hells.







The Secret to Success in Chan Meditation

You should apply effort within your own nature and not seek outside.

Chan translates as "stilling the thought." It also means "thought cultivation." "Thought" refers to investigating the meditation topic. "Stilling the thought" means, "At all times, wipe it clean, and let no dust alight." "Thought cultivation" is done by means of raising the meditation topic in thought after thought and never forgetting it. As it is said, "We do it in the morning, and we also do it in the evening." You should apply effort within your own nature and not seek outside. If you follow after any external state, it is easy to go astray. Only states that arise from your own nature are true states. I hope all of you will note this point clearly. Otherwise, you will be tricked by the demon king and end up as one of his followers.

This Dharma-door of "stilling the thought" requires that you apply continuous, unrelenting effort, without any interruption. In your meditation, you should as concentrated as a mother hen sitting on her eggs. You should also be as careful as a dragon guarding its pearl. Furthermore, you must be as patient as a cat waiting outside a mousehole. Chan meditation requires determination, sincerity, and perseverance. You cannot be arrogant and assume that you're higher and better than everyone else. If you have thoughts like these, that means a demon of insanity has possessed you, and your skill will never advance.

When you cultivate Chan, you should not indulge in idle thoughts. When you have idle thoughts, you don't gain any benefit, and you waste a tremendous amount of time. Sitting in Chan requires patience and perseverance. The secret of success in Chan meditation is patience; whatever you cannot endure, you must still endure. If you can endure to the ultimate point, then suddenly you can penetrate through and experience the clarity of enlightenment. If you lack patience and cannot endure bitterness and fatigue, then you will surrender to the states that you encounter. To give in like that is a great mistake; it is the great taboo in Chan meditation!





The Vajra-King Jeweled Sword Cuts Through Idle Thoughts

Why can't we become Buddhas? It's simply be-cause of our idle thoughts and attachments.

Idle thoughts are a stumbling block to getting enlightened. Investigating "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" is a Vajra-king jeweled sword which can cut through all idle thoughts. When Shakyamuni Buddha first accomplished Right Enlightenment beneath the Bodhi Tree, he said, "How strange, how strange! All living beings, without exception, possess the wisdom and virtuous characteristics of the Tathagata (the Buddha). It is because of their idle thoughts and attachments that they cannot certify to them." The Buddha clearly told us why we can't become Buddhas. It's simply because of our idle thoughts and attachments. So we must break through these idle thoughts and attachments. How do we break through them? We use the word "Who?" We drill down into it, drilling until the truth is brought to light. That's when we succeed.

When we meditate, we are investigating the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" At all times, in the ocean of our consciousness, we look into this question without cease. After doing this for a long time, there will naturally be good news. It's said,
After we sit for a long time, Chan will appear.
After dwelling somewhere for a long time, we will have affinities.

After sitting for a long enough time, we will experience the states of Chan. And when we live somewhere long enough, we develop affinities with our neighbors. We will share a harmonious relation-ship and live peacefully together. When we have investigated Chan to the point that our skill is close to perfection, not only will we be free of idle thoughts, but our temper will also be smaller, our afflictions will be fewer, our personality will be noble, and our mind capacity will also be great. At that time, wisdom will come forth. We will understand how to tell right from wrong. We will be able to clearly discriminate between good and evil. We will have washed clean our greed, hatred, and stupidity, so that only the light of precepts, concentration, and wisdom remains, revealing that the Five Aggregates are all empty.