- The Patriarch Bodhidharma's Advent in China / 菩提達摩祖師來中國
- The Secret to Controlling Random Thoughts / 控制妄想的祕訣
- On Investigating a Meditation Topic / 參話頭
- The State of Chan Meditation / 參禪的境界
- How Chan Meditation Can Halt the Process of Birth and Death / 坐禪能控制生死
- Cultivation Requires Patience / 修行要忍耐
- Chan Meditation Is the Method for Attaining Enlightenment / 參禪是開悟的方法
- We Won't Be Enlightened Until Our Idle Thoughts Stop! / 妄想不斷不能開悟
- Enlightenment Must Be Certified Before It Counts / 開悟要印證才算數
The Patriarch Bodhidharma's Advent in China
One flower blossoms with five petals, and the fruit will come ripe all by itself.
In a.d. 520 in China, during the ninth month of the initial year of the Putong reign-period of the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, the first Patriarch of the Chan School, Venerable Bodhidharma, arrived in Canton by boat from India. He traveled to Jinling, which is modern Nanjing, and had an interview with Emperor Wu. But the two of them had a misunderstanding, and he left Jinling, heading north to Luoyang. En route, he passed by Dharma Master Shen-guang's (Holy Light) Sutra-lecture gathering. Since time allowed, the Patriarch stopped in to listen. He heard the Dharma Master's eloquence and appreciated that he could make celestial flowers fall from the sky and inspire the earth to send forth golden-hued lotuses. He recognized in Master Shenguang the capacity to be a vessel of the Dharma. Master Shenguang saw the Indian Patriarch Bodhidharma walk into his assembly, and he could not restrain a feeling of superiority and pride. When his lecture was finished, he caught the eye of the Patriarch.
Patriarch Bodhidharma asked him, "Excuse me, Dharma Master, what exactly are you doing here?"
Master Shenguang replied, "I'm explaining Sutras."
"What Sutra are you explaining?" asked Patriarch Bodhidharma.
Master Shenguang impatiently retorted, "Where are you from?"
"I'm from India," answered the Patriarch Bodhidharma.
"Do you mean to tell me they don't explain Sutras in India?"
"Of course they do, but the Sutras they explain are the wordless, true Sutras," replied the Patriarch.
"And what is a wordless, true Sutra?"
The Patriarch replied, "It's simply a piece of blank paper. In the Sutra you're explaining, what's black are the words and what's white is the paper. What in the world are you explaining that for?"
This question angered Master Shenguang, and he replied, "My Sutra lectures teach people to put an end to birth and death!"
Patriarch Bodhidharma asked, "How are you qualified to teach people that? You haven't put an end to your own birth and death yet!"
Master Shenguang reflected, "This dark-skinned monk must certainly be a demon-king who's transformed to come slander the Triple Jewel. I had better put his Dharma-power to the test!" At that, he pulled out his iron recitation beads, which served as a suitable weapon for quelling demons, and swung them hard against the Patriarch Bodhidharma's face. The Patriarch was caught unprepared, and the sudden attack knocked out two of his front teeth. Bodhidharma was a sage who had realized the fruition of the spiritual path, and he reflected, "Whenever a sage's teeth fall to the ground, that place will have a drought for three years." Therefore, out of compassion, he swallowed the two teeth instead of spitting them out. This event was commemorated in the proverb, "One just swallows his loose teeth, blood and all." Bodhidharma said nothing, but simply turned on his heel and left the monastery. He stepped on a reed to ford the Yangtze River and went to Shaolin Monastery on Sung Mountain in Henan Province. There he sat facing a wall for nine years, contemplating the subtleties of Chan principles.
Meanwhile, Master Shenguang felt in rare high spirits, since he considered himself the victor. He had no idea that Patriarch Bodhidharma was cultivating the perfection of "patience under insult." As soon as Patriarch Bodhidharma departed, the Ghost of Impermanence arrived, and said to Master Shenguang, "Are you Shenguang?"
Master Shenguang replied, "That's me. What's up?"
The ghost answered, "I'm under orders from King Yama to invite you to a tea party. King Yama wants to discuss with you how many Sutras you have lectured on, how many you have recited, and how many Sutras you haven't yet explained and recited."
At that, Master Shenguang was scared out of his wits; he knew he was at death's door. He pleaded with the ghost, "Who can put an end to birth and death, and escape King Yama's jurisdiction?"
The Ghost of Impermanence answered, "That bushy-bearded, dark-skinned monk whose two front teeth you just knocked out a moment ago." The answer sparked a feeling of deep regret in Master Shenguang, because he had lost his temper in ignorance and thereby driven away an enlightened sage.
He made a further request of the Ghost of Impermanence, "Would it be possible for me to go find that monk and learn how to put an end to birth and death?"
The Ghost of Impermanence answered sympathetically, "Very well, but do hurry a bit and get the business done and return so that I can turn in my duty-sheet. Otherwise I won't be able to cover for you."
Master Shenguang lost no time in pursuing Patriarch Bodhidharma, travelling by day and by night. He finally reached Sung Mountain and, looking from a distance, saw the Patriarch sitting in meditation facing a wall. Overwhelmed with joy, he rushed up to Patriarch Bodhidharma and bowed with deep reverence. He repented humbly, "Venerable One, please be compassionate and forgive your brash disciple. I didn't know you were a sage who has realized the fruition of the Path. Your disciple made a mistake. Won't you please confer on me the method for resolving the matter of birth and death?"
Patriarch Bodhidharma turned his head around to look at him, then resumed his meditation without saying a single word. Master Shenguang knelt before Patriarch Bodhidharma and did not rise. Thus he knelt for nine years.
Now as we meditate here, investigating Chan, our backs get sore and our legs start to hurt, and we feel we can't take it after only two hours have passed. We may indulge in idle thoughts of food, or something sweet to drink. To sum it up, we can't control the monkey-like thoughts or the "wild stallion of the mind." We'd like nothing better than to jump up and run out the door. Dharma Master Shenguang's sincere request for Dharma led him to forget himself in that search and inspired him to kneel for nine years. I doubt that any of you could kneel for even nine hours, much less nine years.
One day after heavy snow fell two feet deep, Master Shenguang was kneeling as usual in front of Patriarch Bodhidharma. The Patriarch looked up at him, and, impressed by his sincerity in seeking the Dharma, asked him, "What are you doing kneeling here?"
Master Shenguang replied, "I sincerely hope the Venerable One will be compassionate and transmit to me the method for getting free from King Yama."
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, "It's no simple matter to seek the Dharma. Wait until the snow falls red, and then I'll transmit it to you."
Master Shenguang reflected, "Shakyamuni Buddha, while culti-vating the Bodhisattva path in the past, gave up his life in exchange for only half a verse of Dharma." As soon as this thought occurred to him, another idea dawned, and seeing a precept knife hanging on the cliff wall, he seized it and slashed off his left arm. Blood gushed out like a fountain, staining the snow on the ground bright red. He scooped up a handful and took it to show Patriarch Bodhidharma and requested him to transmit the Dharma.
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, "Since you can cut off your own arm for the sake of the Dharma, your sincerity must be genuine." There-upon, he transmitted to Master Shenguang the method of "seeing the nature and becoming a Buddha," the method that points directly to the mind, the special transmission apart from the teachings, the Dharma that words cannot contain. He then changed Master Shen-guang's name to Huike (Wise and Able).
Master Huike said, "My mind is not at peace. Can the Master please quiet it for me?"
Patriarch Bodhidharma answered, "Fetch your mind, and I'll quiet it for you."
Master Huike thought this over for a long time and then said, "I've looked, but my mind cannot be gotten at anywhere."
Patriarch Bodhidharma replied, "I've already quieted it for you!"
Master Huike suddenly experienced a great awakening and became the Second Patriarch of the Chan School. Later, he transmitted the robe and bowl and the Mind Dharma to the Third Patriarch, Great Master Sengcan (Sangha Gem), who then passed it on to the Fourth Patriarch, Great Master Daoxin (Faith in the Path), who further passed it on to the Fifth Patriarch, the Great Master Hungren (Vast Patience). Then it was transmitted to the Sixth Patriarch, the Great Master Huineng (Kind and Capable). At that point, the Chan School divided into two regional groups. It was represented in the North by Venerable Shenxiu (Divine Talent). He advocated "sweeping away the dust and observing the remaining purity," and this was called "the gradual enlightenment method." He wrote the verse:
The body is a Bodhi-tree,
The mind a mirror-stand bright.
Time and again wipe it clean;
Let no dust alight.
The Southern School's representative was Great Master Huineng, who advocated immediate awakening, and this was called "the sudden enlightenment method." His verse says:
Originally there is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor any mirror-stand bright.
Originally there is nothing at all.
Where could the dust alight?
The Southern School later divided into five sects: the Weiyang, the Linji, the Caodong, the Yunmen, and the Fayen.
The Venerable Bodhidharma wrote a verse about this that goes,
My purpose in coming to this land,
Was to transmit the Dharma and rescue confused beings.
One flower blossoms with five petals,
And the fruit will come ripe all by itself.
And as it turned out, when the Sixth Patriarch's era came, the School did divide into five sects. The Dharma was transmitted in China from generation to generation, and now it has come to America. No one has to kneel to request it, however. All you need to do is to cultivate sincerely, and the essential teachings of this Dharma can be yours.
A talk given in December, 1980, during a Chan session
The Secret to Controlling Random Thoughts
Sitting in the lotus posture can eradicate karmic obstacles gathered over limitless eons, end birth and death, and generate limitless merit and virtue.
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas holds several Chan Meditation Sessions each year, each session lasting seven days. Every year when it's time to celebrate Amitabha Buddha's Anniversary, we first hold a seven-day Buddha Recitation Session, and then we hold a Chan Meditation Session for three weeks in a row, lasting a total of twenty-one days. Every year, those who take part come at the start and stay till the finish, so that their merit and virtue is complete. I hope this year's participants will plan to stay for the duration of the session, and not quit halfway through and leave the Chan Hall, or else they'll lose the virtue they have amassed. Having wasted their time, they'll gain no benefit at all.
The posture of meditation is to sit up straight and erect. Straighten your back, hold your head up properly, and don't tip forward or tilt backwards. Lean neither to the left nor to the right. Cross your legs into the full-lotus position, that is, put your left foot on top of your right thigh, then your right foot on top of your left thigh. This is the standard posture for meditation. Because the full-lotus posture makes it easier to enter samadhi, it's known as the "demon-quelling posture" or the "vajra posture." It's also known as the "lotus posture." Sitting this way can eradicate limitless karmic obstacles gathered over eons; it can put an end to birth and death, and generate a limitless amount of merit and virtue.
It's necessary to practice this posture when you first begin to meditate. When the body has been arranged this way, let your nose contemplate your mouth, and let your mouth contemplate your mind. This is the essential secret for controlling your idle thinking. Finally, make your breath harmonious and balanced, neither hurried nor suppressed; let it be natural. Then use the meditation topic of "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" and after a suitable period of time, your meditation will start to take effect.
The work of Chan meditation resembles a mother hen sitting on her nest. As the mother hen is thinking of her eggs, she never leaves the nest; she simply concentrates and keeps the eggs warm. She wouldn't sit on the eggs for five minutes, then run away to do some other business, and later return to sit on the eggs once again, only to run away again five minutes later. The chicks would never hatch at that rate.
The principle we observe in Chan meditation is the same. We must concentrate in each successive minute. Don't fear an aching back or sore legs. Don't be afraid of difficulty or pain. Simply concentrate with single-minded effort. Why? We investigate "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" until "The mountains topple, the waters dry up, the tides recede, and the rocks appear," and it is at that moment that we can get enlightened.
Investigating Chan is also similar to the way dragons nurture their pearls. Dragons watch over their precious pearls at all times; they carefully attend to them at every moment. Therefore these precious pearls glow brighter each day, as the dragons guard them attentively day and night. People who practice Chan meditation are just the same, in that they never allow their minds to ramble with scattered thinking. An ancient worthy said, "When not even a single thought arises, the entire substance comes into view." We can rephrase it to say, "When idle thoughts no longer arise, the entire substance comes into view." When one is free of idle thoughts, then one can have some success.
Meditators don't think about becoming Buddhas, getting enlightened, or gaining wisdom. They simply work hard and cultivate vigorously. When the time comes, they naturally become enlightened. You can't think about when you will get enlightened. If you think like that, you can think to the ends of time, but you'll never get enlightened. If you stay in the Chan Hall, and sit and walk, walk and sit, then after a long time, you'll have a chance to get enlightened. As it's said, "Chan comes with long-time sitting."
Investigating Chan is done the way a cat stalks a mouse. The cat concentrates its energy and focuses its attention, patiently sitting beside the mousehole, waiting for the mouse to appear. As soon as it comes out, the cat pounces on it. The cat cannot slack off; once it becomes distracted, it will no longer be able to concentrate. Chan meditators are the same: at all times, they maintain proper thoughts and avoid idle thoughts. This is basic knowledge for beginners in Chan meditation.
Cultivators should not go running off to the mountains in the south or to the ocean in the north to seek the Way. The Way is right with you at all times. If you can sit in full lotus and concentrate your mind as you investigate Chan, just that is the Way. Don't let your mind hanker after remote mysteries, running outside in search of the Way, for you'll never find it there. You'll be forsaking what's near to search afar; and everywhere you go, you'll be searching for trouble. You'll be causing yourself needless hassle and making your life miserable.
A talk given during a Chan Session in December, 1980
On Investigating a Meditation Topic
To "investigate" means to look, to look for the one who is reciting the Buddha's name.
When we investigate a meditation topic, we examine the question, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" back and forth. It's said that,
When one has a large doubt, then one's enlightenment can be large.
When one has a minor doubt regarding this topic, one's enlightenment will be small;
When one has no doubts about this topic, one will have no enlightenment.
A thoroughgoing investigation of this topic, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" acts as an adamantine sword which can mow down and sever every thought of desire. All that remains is the single thought of the meditation topic; no other thoughts are left. At that moment the resolve for the Way can come forth.
Before a Chan Meditation Session, we always have a Buddha Recitation Session. After the recitation session, we hold the Chan Session; this way we can expect better results. First we recite the Buddha's name, and then we investigate the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" To "investigate" means to look, to look for the one who is reciting the Buddha's name. Is it a ghost? Which ghost is it? Is it a person? Which person is it? Is it me? After I die will I still be able to recite? After I'm put in the coffin, no one will be reciting. Find the final answer to the question "Who?" How about the asker of "Who"? Can you tell who is reciting the Buddha's name? Who is asking? You can't find out. No matter how long you look, you won't find out who it is. If you actually find out "Who?" then you won't have the least bit of idle thinking left. Why do you still have idle thoughts? It's because you haven't found out "Who?"
This question of "Who" can be sought for a great eon. When you see those meditation adepts sitting absolutely still, it's because they are working on finding the "Who." Their search for this one word brings them to a state of concentration where not even one idle thought arises. Suddenly at that point, they can get enlightened and, in the midst of darkness, bring forth bright light that shows them absolutely everything. It's said,
When one is confused, an entire library of books is too few;
But when one is enlightened, even a single word is too many.
This expresses the principle we use to investigate the meditation topic. Anyone who can be entirely free of idle thoughts is a person with skill. Anyone who entertains idle thoughts is someone whose spiritual skill is still immature. This is the central idea underlying the practice of Chan meditation.
The skill of Chan meditation comes from concentrating the mind and looking into the topic, so that when walking, sitting, and reclining, you are investigating at all times. To sum it up, you must work at it constantly. Don't pass up this opportunity to investigate. This is why during the Chan session no one bows to the Buddha, recites Sutras, does ceremonies, or eats in the formal style. At lunchtime we take our meal, then we hurry back to the meditation hall and continue to meditate. When one has to go to the bathroom, one takes care of business and then returns immediately to the hall to continue to meditate. We don't want to waste even one minute or second of the session, because who knows in which minute or second we'll become enlightened? This is why we treasure every moment of time.
As it's said, "Do not depart from this!" Don't depart from what? Don't depart from the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" This "Who" is a wisdom-sword that cuts through the seven emotions and six desires. Once you've gotten rid of your faults and habits for good, your fundamental nature can appear. Once your fundamental nature appears, the fruition of Bodhi will be accomplished.
As we work at Chan, we must maintain a practical attitude regarding the surrounding states. We must not lose sight of our principles. Bear in mind that pain is the forerunner of pleasure. As I often tell you,
To endure suffering is to end suffering;
To enjoy blessings exhausts blessings.
The ancients said,
Disasters bring blessings along;
Blessings usher in catastrophes.
This means that following a run of bad luck we often encounter very lucky events. Disasters often follow lucky events. The phenomena of the world come in pairs of opposites.
Who knows how much evil karma we've created in the past? For this reason, we must endure the retribution. If we can work hard at our meditation and courageously advance, then when we've patiently endured our karmic retribution to its end, we can accomplish our work in the Way. Pay heed to this, all of you! No matter whether we encounter states that please us or states that go against the grain, we must patiently endure them all. Even the ones we can't endure, we still need to endure.
Cultivating the Way is simply a matter of gaining the ability to endure. As it's said, "Patience is a priceless jewel." You can experience true happiness only if you can bear up under all situations. As martial artists know, when an inexperienced fighter steps onto the mat to spar, he often forgets the moves he has just learned. Once the match is over, he recalls his techniques, but it's too late. Cultivating Chan is the same way. When a situation comes up, you have to endure it; you have to be willing to suffer a loss. Grit your teeth, and when you make it through the gate of difficulty, you'll gain a bit of self-mastery.
Chan meditation requires that you cultivate this same way morning and evening. In the morning you should practice Chan meditation, and in the evening you also must practice Chan meditation. When you cultivate long enough, you'll naturally succeed. But you must be patient. If your back aches, pay it no mind. If your legs hurt, pay them no attention. Simply turn your thoughts to single-minded investigation of "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" This method will prevent you from indulging in random thoughts, and it will help you gather back your body and mind. You must make them pure, until not even one idle thought arises. When your mind no longer leaves the topic, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" and you can bring up these words over and over, when you don't forget them for even an instant, then you'll have realized the aim of your effort.
To investigate the meditation topic is one idle thought; our scattered thoughts are a great many idle thoughts. Employing the method of fighting fire with fire, we use one idle thought to stop the many idle thoughts. Slowly, one by one, we bring these random thoughts under control and eradicate them, so they no longer arise. At that time, no matter what situation appears, you won't 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, magnannimous, 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.
A talk given during a Chan Session in December, 1980
The State of Chan Meditation
Sit in meditation until "Inside you have no body and mind, and outside there is no world."
If you can sit in meditation until your state is such that "inside you have no body and mind," outside you have no world, and afar there are no objects," then you can realize the state of "no trace of self, no trace of others, no trace of living beings, and no trace of life spans." This state is also described as, "Thoughts of the past cannot be obtained, thoughts of the present cannot be obtained, and thoughts of the future cannot be obtained." Even if you reach this level of attainment, it still cannot be considered actual skill; it's not really very special. Suppose you can sit still for one hour, ten hours, one month, or ten months. That's only a sign that you have had a bit of response in your work, that you've attained a state of "lightness and ease." You must keep up your practice of meditation continuously, past the stage of "lightness and ease," to actually reach the level of the First Dhyana concentration.
The Heaven of the First Dhyana is known as "the stage of happiness that leaves living beings behind." It means that you have reached a stage of happiness beyond that which living beings enjoy. When you are at this stage in your meditation, you quickly enter samadhi-concentration. In this samadhi, your breathing stops, and you no longer inhale nor exhale; the breath neither comes nor goes. You're like a turtle hibernating in the winter, with its head drawn back into its shell. The external breathing come to rest, while the internal breathing comes alive; this is a phenomenon experienced by creatures in winter hibernation. When Chan meditators enter samadhi, their breath stops, but as soon as they leave samadhi, their breathing returns to normal. Please attend to this point, everyone! When you reach this stage, you cannot have the false thought, "Oh! I believe my breath has stopped!" As soon as that thought occurs to you, your breath starts right up again, immediately. You can't be careless, or else you'll lose your chance and have to start all over again.
From the stage of the First Dhyana, if you can make vigorous progress, you enter into the stage of the Second Dhyana Heaven. This stage is known as "the stage of happiness that brings concentration." When one is constantly in this samadhi, it brings along a quality of happiness which is completely unparalleled and indescribable. It's known as "taking the joy of Chan as your food, and being filled with the bliss of the Dharma." When you meditate at the stage of the Second Dhyana, "the stage of happiness that brings concentration," not only does your breathing stop, but your pulse stops as well. Please note that "stop" does not mean it's cut off for good,; when you leave this state of concentration, the pulse returns to normal.
If you continue to vigorously cultivate Chan concentration past the Second Dhyana, then you may enter the stage of the Third Dhyana Heaven. This is known as "the stage of bliss beyond happiness." That is to say, you leave coarse happiness behind and reach a level of subtle bliss that is most wonderful. In this stage of bliss beyond happiness, when you enter the state of concentration, not only do both breath and pulse stop, but also the thoughts in your mind stop, and you appear to be just like a dead person. When your thoughts stop, then you obviously have no more idle thinking.
Your breathing comes to rest, and your blood receives no more oxygen, so it stops circulating. When your heart no longer beats, then your pulse stops. At this time you entertain no further scattered thoughts. It's as if the breath were the wind, the pulse were the waves, and the thoughts of the mind were the water. If there is no wind, then there are no waves, and the water is naturally calm. As the saying goes, "The wind is calm and the waves are still." This is a temporary experience which occurs in samadhi. It's not as final as death. You can recover your normal breathing and pulse any time you please.
When you continue to apply vigorous effort in Chan meditation past the Third Dhyana Heaven, you can enter the stage of the Fourth Dhyana, known as "the pure stage free of thoughts." You have now left behind the wonderful bliss of the Third Dhyana, and the mind is pure. With the breath, pulse, and thoughts stopped and left behind, the pure, inherent, wonderful Nature of True Suchness manifests. This state should not make you feel special; it is only the Fourth Dhyana and not a sign of having realized the fruition of the Way. It is still the state of an ordinary person. Because you have not cut off all desire, if you make vigorous progress in cultivating the deviant concentration of externalist sects, you will enter the Heaven of No-thought and enjoy a state of bliss. If instead you cultivate proper concentration, then you can enter the Five Heavens of No Further Return. Only then have you actually reached the state of certifying to Sagehood.
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 have merely cut through eighty-eight levels of Delusions of Views in the Triple Realm. You must still pass through seven more births and deaths. Don't assume that the First Fruition brings one to Nirvana. 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 as 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.
Pay special attention to this point, everyone! Don't say that you've realized what you haven't realized, or that you've obtained a state you haven't actually obtained. To say such things breaks the precept against false speech. In the future, people who say such things will fall into the hells where tongues are ripped out. Whether or not you believe my words is up to you. I'm simply giving you advance warning. In Buddhist circles you can find people who claim to be already enlightened. To make this claim is wrong! Even if you're enlightened, you can't boast, "Did you know that I'm enlightened? I have the Five Spiritual Eyes and the Six Psychic Powers!" Don't advertise yourself. It's totally meaningless.
Even Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do not advertise themselves. When it becomes known that a certain person is a Bodhisattva, or that a certain person is a Buddha who has come into the world by transformation, those people will promptly leave. During the Tang Dynasty there were two such Great Masters: Hanshan (Cold Mountain) and Shide (The Foundling). Great Master Hanshan was Manjushri Bodhisattva's transformation, and Shide was Samantabhadra Bodhisattva's transformation. The two were the best of friends. Great Master Shide was an orphan, found on the roadside by the Abbot Fenggan of Guoqing (National Purity) Monastery and raised in the monastery. He worked in the kitchen boiling the water. He would pack leftover rice and vegetables into a bamboo crock and save them for Great Master Hanshan, who lived in Moonlight Cave behind the monastery. Great Master Hanshan came down to Guoqing Monastery every day to get the offering of leftovers. Since the two fellow-cultivators constantly joked and laughed together, the other monks thought they were fools and left them alone. Nobody knew they were actually Bodhisattvas' transformations who had come into the world playfully to take across living beings who were ready to be saved.
One day the Magistrate Lu Qiuyin visited Abbot Fenggan (who was the transformation of Amitabha Buddha) and asked, "Venerable Sir, in the past, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas often sent their transformations into the world. Do they still come to the world or not?" Abbot Fenggan said, "Yes, they do! It's only that we don't recognize them. Right now, the monk who boils water in the kitchen at Guoqing Monastery on Tiantai (Heavenly Vista) Mountain is the transformation of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. His fellow cultivator is Hanshan, who in reality is Manjushri Bodhisattva. Who claims that they no longer appear in the world?" Lu Qiuyin was delighted by this news, and took his leave. He headed directly for Guoqing Monastery, intending to pay sincere homage to the two Bodhisattvas, Hanshan and Shide.
When he arrived at Guoqing Monastery, the guest prefect recognized him as an honored guest and received him with all due courtesy. When he heard that the Magistrate wished to see Hanshan and Shide, the prefect thought it quite strange. He couldn't understand why the Magistrate was interested in meeting those two fools. Although he was puzzled, he led the Magistrate into the kitchen, where Hanshan and Shide were talking and laughing hysterically, looking truly comical. The Magistrate Lu Qiuyin, nonetheless, made very sincere bows to the two of them, and then stated with utmost reverence, "Disciple Lu Qiuyin asks the two Bodhisattvas for their compassionate regard; please give instructions to this confused mortal."
Great Master Shide asked him, "What are you doing?" The Magistrate replied, "Abbot Fenggan said that you two are the transformations of Manjushri and Samantabhadra Bodhisattvas. I came out especially to bow to you and to earnestly seek your instructions." Great Master Shide heard this reply and stepped backwards. He said, "Fenggan has been prattling. Fenggan is a tattletale! He's the transformation of Amitabha Buddha! Why didn't you bow to him instead of coming to bother us?" As he spoke, he continued to walk backwards out the door of the temple and all the way to the front of Moonlight Cave in the face of Tiantai Mountain. The two men vanished right into the rock wall of the mountain.
The Magistrate watched in amazement as the two Bodhisattvas hid themselves, and he felt deep disappointment. He thought, "I must quickly go bow to Amitabha!" But by the time he returned to the Abbot's place, Abbot Fenggan had already entered the stillness of Nirvana. The Magistrate had mistaken what was before his very eyes. This is known as "Being face to face with Guanshiyin, yet failing to recognize him." Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is also here in the Chan Hall with us now, but I don't want to tell you who he is, for fear that once you know, you'll drive him away.
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980
How Chan Meditation Can Halt the Process of Birth and Death
You can go off to rebirth at any time you choose; you are free to come and go as you please.
In the final years of the Northern Song Dynasty in China, there lived a great hero named 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 practice penmanship. Since the family was too poor to afford pens, 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. The King of Kang set up his capital at Hangzhou and named it the Southern Song Dynasty, calling himself Emperor Gao. He appointed Qin Kuai as Prime Minister. At that time, the literati 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 Kuai 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 the army 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 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 Kuai sent a message reading "No grounds necessary," which was a command to imprison both Yue Fei and his son. As he approached the executioner's block, Yue Fei suddenly realized the meaning hidden in Master 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 Kuai. Yue Fei was executed at Fengbo Pagoda.
Qin Kuai asked the executioner what Yue Fei's final words had been. The executioner said, "I heard him say, have met my end today, only because I didn't heed the advice of Chan Master Daoyue of Gold Mountain.'" Qin Kuai flew into a rage and ordered Heli to hurry to Gold Mountain Monastery and arrest Master Daoyue. But the day before, while in Chan samadhi, Master Daoyue had foreseen 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.
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 skill in Chan meditation, they could come and go as they pleased, without any restrictions.
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980
Cultivation Requires Patience
For cultivators, it's important to be able to endure cold and heat, wind and rain, hunber and thirst,
and insults and beatings.
In the past, when Shakyamuni Buddha was cultivating blessings and wisdom, he passed through three great asamkhyeya (a limitless number of) eons before he accomplished Proper Enlightenment. As the saying goes, "Don't assume a good deed is too small to do and fail to do it; don't assume a bad deed is too small to matter and do it." When Shakyamuni Buddha was practicing the Bodhisattva Path, he didn't overlook a good deed even as small as a strand of hair, nor did he do an evil deed as tiny as a mote of dust. Therefore his merit and virtue and his blessings and wisdom were made perfect, and he became known as the Doubly Perfect Honored One.
Please pay attention to this, all of you! Although a good deed may be small, you should still make a point of cultivating that deed, because "Grains of sand accumulated over time can grow into a pagoda." Over time you will have created a great deal of goodness. If one does evil deeds, even trivial ones, they can also accumulate from few to many and can become great evil. In such a case, one will never succeed in cultivating the Way. Cultivation is nothing more than "doing no evil and respectfully performing all good deeds." If you can avoid doing any evil deed, then your blessings will increase daily. If you can do all good deeds, then your wisdom will increase daily. Even though it increases, you still must continue to cultivate without cease; only then can you meet success.
Here in the Chan Meditation Hall, as we walk and sit, sit and walk, using our method of cultivation, we are doing precisely that: cultivating both blessings and wisdom. How are we cultivating blessings? We do so by refraining from all manner of evil deeds. How are we cultivating wisdom? We do so by offering up all manner of good deeds. In these ways our blessing-reward is made perfect, and our wisdom is also made perfect. Once this is done, very quickly we accomplish Buddhahood, without having to pass through three great asamkhyeya eons until the work reaches completion.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was a cultivator in ages past, he often went down dead-end roads without realizing it. He was very patient, however, and never gave up. He maintained his vigorous advance, continuing to diligently cultivate precepts, concentration, and wisdom and put to rest, greed, hatred, and stupidity. Finally, he arrived at Buddhahood.
As we now cultivate the Buddhadharma, we are luckier than Shakyamuni Buddha was, because we have the example of the Proper Path that he set for us. We need only walk the Way as he did, and we can quickly realize our goal: The Pure Land on the Other Shore.
In one of his past lives, Shakyamuni Buddha was "Never Slighting Bodhisattva," who cultivated the ascetic practice of patient endurance. Whenever he met someone, he would always bow to him and say, "I don't dare slight you, for you will one day become a Buddha." Some people detested this behavior, so on occasion he had to endure curses and beatings while he bowed.
One time, as he practiced the Bodhisattva Path, he bowed to a person who promptly kicked out two of his teeth. He still was not disheartened, however, but continued to persevere in his ascetic practice of bowing. After this experience, he grew a bit more prudent and moved off to a discreet distance before making his bow and shouting out, "I don't dare slight you, for you will one day become a Buddha!" His bow done and his speech made, he would then quickly depart, and those who wanted to beat him up wouldn't be able to catch him.
Never Slighting Bodhisattva used the spirit of "having no sense of self" to cultivate blessings and wisdom. Who told him to cultivate in that way? Nobody told him to, he simply enjoyed cultivating this practice. Although it brought him curses and beatings, he never felt anger or hatred in return. Thus he illustrates the method used to cultivate the Dharma-door of the Perfection (Paramita) of Patience under Insult.
Patience is the most important Dharma-door for cultivators. When you encounter a situation that doesn't go your way, you must bear up under it and yield to it. Don't fight with anyone. If you can cultivate, but you can't be patient and you freely let your temper go at any time, you'll burn to ashes all the merit and virtue that you cultivated through such painstaking, bitter effort.
We should ask ourselves honestly, "Do I have the patience required to bow to others, then get a beating in return, and still not feel hatred?" If you can do this, you count as a true disciple of the Buddha. If you can't, then by all means, collect your body and mind, and make vigorous progress in your cultivation. Otherwise, you have simply wasted all your precious time without gaining anything from your work.
For cultivators, it's important to be able to endure cold and heat, wind and rain, hunger and thirst, and insults and beatings. Imitate the spirit of Never Slighting Bodhisattva: "No matter who treats me badly, I will not feel anger or hatred towards them. I will treat all people sincerely and influence them naturally with that sincerity. In this way their hostility will be transformed into friendliness, their swords changed to plowshares."
Cultivators are working to get rid of all traces of self. When one is free of all traces of self, then one can endure any state whatsoever; and when situations arise, one's mind will not be disturbed. We want to regard ourselves as not different from empty space. We cultivate alike through both favorable and adverse situations. In other words, favorable situations do not make us happy, and adverse situations do not make us sad. We want to clearly recognize the arising of both favorable and adverse states. If we can remain "Thus, thus, unmoving," then situations will not disturb us. If we can "understand and be constantly clear," then we will be able to turn around the situations that arise.
When Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated in ages past, he specialized in the Dharma-door of patience, so he became known as the Patient Immortal. One day, without provocation, he was dismembered by King Kali. Even so, he felt no hatred towards the king. Instead, he pitied the king for his ignorance. He said, "In the future when I become a Buddha, I will take you across first." Upon hearing those words, King Kali felt deep remorse and requested to take refuge with the Patient Immortal. In a later reincarnation, he was the Venerable Ajnata-kaundinya, one of the first five Bhikshus who realized the fruition of Arhatship upon hearing the Buddha expound the three turnings of the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths.
Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, cultivated the skill of patience to the ultimate point, so that there was absolutely no way to stir him to anger. As the Buddha's disciples, we should learn the skill of patience from our teacher. In short, patience is the most important of all methods of cultivation, and cannot be ignored or overlooked.
The ancients said, "Be patient for a moment, and the storm will subside. Retreat a step backward, and the sea and sky will open up in all their vastness." That is why we say that "patience is a jewel beyond price." I don't care who tears down the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I still won't be attached, get angry, or feel hatred. If everyone could think the same way as I do, then the world would know peace.
Patience is something cultivators cannot be without. Only with the power of patience can we cultivate. Without patience, all talk of cultivation is in vain. The principle I discussed today is quite ordinary-sounding and very flavorless. However, it is true Dharma, proper Dharma, wonderful Dharma, the rarest of Dharma. Although it is quite ordinary, the Way comes forth from the most ordinary places. The Way is something that people walk on with their feet. This unconditioned Dharma is difficult to encounter even once in a million eons, so don't overlook what's right before your eyes. If you mistake it for the sound of the wind blowing by your ears and pay it no heed, then you'll regret it later, but to no avail. If you can use the message that I have given to you today, then no matter what state appears, you won't get afflicted or upset. If you can use wisdom to judge the situation, then no matter what kind of problem comes your way, you'll sever it with a single stroke of the sword, like a knife cutting through butter. You won't ever feel troubled. Finally, I hope all of you will truly work hard, investigate Chan, and find out, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" If you haven't found out yet, don't rest until you do!
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980
Chan Meditation Is the Method for Attaining Enlightenment
To reach success with the method of investigating the meditation topic, we must work at it for a long time.
When Buddhism spread to China, it developed into the Five Schools: the Chan School, the Teachings School, the Vinaya School, the Pure Land School, and the Secret School. The Chan School investigates Chan samadhi (meditative concentration); the Teachings School studies the doctrines; the Vinaya School studies the moral precepts; the Pure Land School practices Buddha recitation; and the Secret School recites mantras. We are now holding a Chan session, so for the time being, we discuss only the principles of Chan meditation and not the other four schools.
Chan translates as "thought-cultivation," because one is always contemplating the matter of meditation. What matter is that? It is simply the meditation topic one is investigating. We look into the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" This single sentence is the topic in our investigation of Chan. In fact, investigating this topic is another kind of idle thinking. This method is known as "fighting fire with fire." We set one idle thought in action to wipe out many idle thoughts. To reach success with this method, we must work at it for a long time. A saying goes, "After long-term cultivation, there will be Chan."
"Investigation" is similar to drilling wood: you don't stop until the drill bit makes a hole all the way through the wood. If you stop halfway, then 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 top of the 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. A verse in the Song of Enlightenment says:
When you suddenly awaken to the Chan of the Tathagatas,
Then the Six Paramitas and the Myriad Practices are complete within your substance.
In a dream, very clearly, you perceive all the Six Realms of Rebirth.
When you awaken, then you see all as empty and void, and not one bit of the universe exists at all.
"Suddenly" here means that you immediately understand a principle. As it's said, "We may awaken to the truth of a principle suddenly, but we must cultivate the specifics gradually." The specifics must be cultivated one step at a time, yet the principle may be awakened to all of a sudden. For instance, after enlightenment, we know there is a well nearby from which we can draw water. Before our enlightenment, we may have heard the sound of the wellpulley and rope for a long time, and yet not have known where the well was located. This analogy explains where the Buddha-nature comes from. How do we realize this Buddha-nature? There is no other method to realize it: it can only be realized through Chan meditation.
Bodhisattvas use the Six Paramitas as their method of cultivation. They are: (1) giving, which takes stinginess across; (2) moral precepts, which take across transgressions; (3) patience, which takes across hatred; (4) vigor, which takes across laxness; (5) Chan concentration, which takes across scatteredness, and (6) wisdom, which takes across stupidity. Only when these Six Paramitas have been cultivated to perfection can one become enlightened.
We are all now living in the midst of a dream. A verse goes,
In life it's all a dream;
In death, a dream as well.
Dreaming, we enjoy glory and wealth;
Awake, we're back in the gutters.
We dream every day,
Unaware that the dream takes no longer than a quick supper.
If we fail to wake up to our present dream,
Then we've dreamt through it all in vain.
In the dream, we see very clearly there are six paths of rebirth, (which are the heavens, the realms of humans, asuras, animals, and hungry ghosts, and the hells). Once we awaken, however, and get enlightened, then the entire trichiliocosm no longer exists. Why not? Because we are no longer attached to it. When we are no longer attached, then all the myriad creatures in existence completely return to their origin. How could any further trace of self exist? How could any traces of others, of living beings, or of a life span remain? None of these exist any longer. Some people, after they learn that the four traces can be made to disappear, won't dare cultivate any longer. They get upset at the idea of there being no more people, living beings, or life spans. They exclaim, "If there is no more work left to do, I will be out of a job!"
Is it certain that you need to go to work? That idea only insures that you will continue to be upside-down forever. If you can cultivate to the state of being free of the four traces and you can actually "Sweep out all dharmas, and leave all traces behind," then you'll certify to the realization of a principle, which is the ultimate reality of all dharmas. It's called,
Don't set up even a single dharma;
Empty out all the myriad things.
This does not refer to glibly discussing this principle on an intellectual level. Rather, you must actually certify to and attain this state. At that time, for you, there will be no further suffering; there will be only happiness.
For those of us here in the world, if we aren't attached to fame, then we're attached to profit. If we aren't attached to wealth, then we're attached to sex. So we find ourselves unable to see through things, unable to put things down. We may want to do so, but in the end, we still can't let them go. Why can't we let them go? Because our smart bugs and our intellectual cleverness are acting up. Due to them, we miss many prime opportunities. We let them slip through our fingers, and, before our very eyes, we fail to recognize Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. Even though Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is right before our eyes, we still go running all over looking for him elsewhere; thus we are controlled by our upside-down, idle thinking.
The word "investigation" in the phrase "investigating Chan" means "to contemplate." What is there to contemplate? We use contemplative Prajna. This means to contemplate our own presence in thought after thought. It does not mean to contemplate others' presence. We should contemplate whether or not we are fully here. If we are, then we have the ability to investigate Chan and meditate, and we can use our skill in cultivation. But if we are not here, and are indulging in idle thoughts instead, our mind scatters to the wind. Then even though our body may be present in the Chan hall, our mind has run off to New York for a bit of sight-seeing, or perhaps run off to Rome for a holiday. Our mind has gone out to climb the social ladder, so, as a result, we lack self-presence; we are "not here."
When we learn to contemplate with self-presence, we can become Bodhisattvas. When we contemplate without self-presence, we are only ordinary humans. When we contemplate with self-presence, we are in the heavens. If we contemplate without self-presence, then we are in the hells. But if we can contemplate with self-presence without our thoughts running away, then we can practice the profound Prajna Paramita. Being here, with our bodies present in the Chan hall, our minds continue the investigation without cease. We investigate without interruption. Only this counts as "practicing the profound Prajna Paramita" and finding wisdom. Only after we have attained great wisdom can we really reach the other shore.
The secret formula for investigating Chan is to stick to it day and night. Keep thinking it over. Think about, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" We contemplate today and contemplate tomorrow, and every day we are in the Chan Hall, practicing the profound Prajna Paramita. We cannot expect to taste the actual flavor of Chan in a short period of time. Only after long practice can we know its real taste. When we have the skill of practicing the profound Prajna Paramita, then we can contemplate the Five Aggregates (Skandhas) as empty.
The Five Aggregates are also called the Five Shadows. Aggregates means "heaps" or "gatherings." "Shadows" means "blockages" or "coverings." Why have we failed to obtain self-mastery and liberation? Because we are covered over by the Five Aggregates, which are form, feelings, thoughts, activities, and consciousness.
1. The Aggregate of Form. "Obstructing objects" are forms; things with shape and features are forms. Before we have emptied out the form aggregate, we are likely to see forms and be confused by them, or hear sounds and be confused by them, or smell scents and be confused by them, or taste flavors and be confused by them, or feel sensations and be confused by them. If we can empty out the Aggregate of Form, then we can realize a state of there being "no mind inside, no body outside, and no things beyond."
Forms include the many colors, all of which can dim our eyes, so that we can't see clearly. They make us just like blind people. In the Classic of the Way and Its Virtue, it is said,
The five colors blind the eyes;
The five musical notes deafen the ears;
The five flavors dull the palate.
All such states result from being confused by the Aggregate of Form. If we can break through the Aggregate of Form and see that the mountains, the rivers, the earth itself, and all the buildings on it are empty, then none of these troubles will exist. Thus we say that before the Aggregate of Form has been emptied out, one will still be attached to forms. As long as one is attached to forms, one has not broken through the Delusions of Views.
Delusions of Views refers to experiencing greed and love for the states we encounter. States here refer to pretty forms. When beautiful things appear before us, we may experience feelings of love and craving for them and become attached to them. There are eighty-eight categories of Delusions of Views, and if one severs them completely, one then realizes the first stage of Arhatship. Cultivators of the Way first sever these eighty-eight categories of Delusions of Views in the Triple Realm, and then continue to sever eighty-one categories of Delusions of Thoughts in the Triple Realm.
Delusions of Thoughts refers to letting confusion over certain principles lead us to discriminating thinking. That is, we don't clearly understand certain principles. When one severs the eighty-one categories of Delusions of Thoughts within the Triple Realm, one then realizes the Fourth Stage of Arhatship.
2. The Aggregate of Feelings. This refers to the feelings that we experience. For instance, a certain situation may arise; we accept it without even thinking about it, and we feel it's a comfortable state. An example would be when we eat some delicious food and its flavor makes us feel quite pleasant. This is what we mean by feelings. Or if we wear a fine piece of clothing and it makes us feel quite attractive, this is also a typical feeling. Or if we live in a nice house that we feel looks quite handsome, this is a feeling. Or if we ride in a fancy automobile and we feel quite comfortable, this is also a feeling. In general, all experiences that the body accepts and enjoys are considered to be the Aggregate of Feelings at work.
3. The Aggregate of Thoughts. This refers to our thinking processes. When our five sense organs perceive the five sense objects, a variety of idle thoughts arise. Many ideas suddenly come to mind and then are suddenly gone: ideas of forms, ideas of feelings.
4. The Aggregate of Activities. This refers to a process of shifting and flowing. The Aggregate of Activities leads us to come and go, to go and come without end in a constant, ceaseless, flowing pattern. Our idle thoughts compel us to impulsively do good or do evil, and such thoughts then manifest in our actions and our words.
5. The Aggregate of Consciousness. This refers to the process of discrimination. As soon as a situation appears, we begin to discriminate in our thoughts about that situation. For example, when we see something beautiful, we have thoughts of fondness towards it; and when we hear ugly sounds, we have thoughts of dislike for those sounds. All such discriminations are part of this Aggregate.
If someone can break through these Five Aggregates, he can then cross beyond all suffering and difficulty. Such a person will undergo no further disasters and troubles. Why do disasters and troubles beset us? Because we are still attached to a self and to dharmas; because these two attachments have not been emptied out.
The Song of Enlightenment by Great Master Yongjia says,
The Five Aggregates are mere floating clouds, aimlessly drifting back and forth.
And the Three Poisons are only bubbles of foam, rising and sinking on the tides.
The Five Aggregates, in fact, have no nature of their own, just like clouds floating in space. Very spontaneously they appear, and spontaneously they disappear. If we fail to understand this principle and let ourselves be covered over by the Aggregates, we will be neither free nor liberated. We should be skillful in cultivation, so that when the Five Aggregates arise, we can break through them. When they come, they come on their own, and when they go, they are free to leave on their own. We need not pay attention to them. Nor do we need to attach to them. Greed, anger, and stupidity are just like bubbles of foam on the water; they basically have no real substance. Born of themselves, they vanish of themselves; and if we don't attach to them, they cease to exist. The Song of Enlightenment by Great Master Yongjia also says,
Realize Ultimate Reality, and people and dharmas no longer exist.
In that instant we eradicate the karma of the Relentless Hells.
If I am deceiving living beings,
May I fall into the hells where tongues are ripped out, for endless eons.
"Ultimate Reality" here means the state wherein "there are no traces, yet nothing lacks traces"; a state wherein we can "sweep out all dharmas and leave all traces behind." One is said to have "returned to the origin and realized the purity of his inherent nature." In such a state, there are no further people or things that can be known: both of these are gone for good. One no longer maintains attachments to people or to dharmas. Then one is said to have realized the principle and substance of Ultimate Reality. Then in a split second one can wipe away completely all the karma that destines one for the Relentless Hells. Karma gathered from countless eons in the past can be wiped away completely, without a trace. Great Master Yongjia says, "If I am deceiving people with lies, then I am perfectly willing to fall into the hells where tongues are ripped out and suffer for an eternity of time."
As we sit in the Chan hall, we must actually go and cultivate. Our work is just like reeling silk off a cocoon. We must be patient and proceed gradually. Only then can we avoid tangling the thread. We may not try to get clever and invent shortcuts, nor use a scientific, improved method to get enlightened. That amounts to mere idle thinking. If science could bring us enlightenment, then the scientists would not forever be painting themselves into corners, but would long ago have become enlightened; and nobody else after that would ever get a chance at it! We needn't build castles in the air, but need only follow the tried-and-true procedures: cultivate hard and look into "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" Be patient when your back aches and your legs hurt. When your patience has reached maturity, you will spontaneously become enlightened. A saying goes,
If they hadn't endured the bone-chilling cold,
How could the plum blossoms smell so sweet?
Please attend to this, everyone! Don't be so clever that your cleverness obstructs you. Don't be too smart for your own good. Know that each bit of work yields a bit of skill. Cultivation requires true skill, not mere lip service. To be able to talk about cultivation without really being able to do it is useless. Paying lip service not only does not advance your enlightenment, it becomes an obstruction instead. Thus a saying goes, "Only in silence is it actually Chan."
A beam of spiritual light flashes throughout heaven and earth, illuminating it totally. You become identical with all Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time. Why have we failed to realize the Buddha's Three Bodies, Four Modes of Wisdom, Five Eyes, and Six Spiritual Powers? Because our worldly idle thinking is simply too dense. It obstructs our wisdom. Idle thinking takes our light away and turns it into ignorance. All day long we do nothing but indulge in delusion, create bad karma, and receive the retribution of unending rounds of birth and death.
The Three Bodies are the Dharma-body, the Reward-body, and the Response-body. The Four Modes of Wisdom are the Wisdom That Accomplishes What Should Be Done, the Wisdom of Wondrous Contemplation, the Wisdom of Equal Nature, and the All-Encompassing, Mirror-like Wisdom. The Five Eyes are the Heavenly-eye, the Flesh-eye (which is not our human eyes), the Dharma-eye,the Wisdom-eye, and the Buddha-eye. The Six Spiritual Powers are the Power of the Heavenly-eye, the Power of the Heavenly-ear, the Power of Knowing Others' Thoughts, the Power of Knowing Past Lives, the Power of Spiritual Travel, and the Power of the Ending of Outflows. When someone puts an end to all idle thinking, he or she can realize states such as these. In fact, this is not an esoteric principle, but a very natural phenomenon that arises from actual spiritual skill. We need not consider these states strange or unusual, for they are quite natural.
From beginningless time in the past until now we have been covered over by ignorance and have not heard the instructions of a Good and Wise Advisor. We don't know the meaning of "understanding the mind and seeing the nature." Nor do we know the meaning of "returning to the origin." The purpose of cultivating Chan meditation is to understand the mind and see the nature, to return to the origin and go back to the source. We can then obtain liberation and be free of impediments and obstructions. We can leave distorted dream-thinking far behind and attain Ultimate Nirvana.
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980
We Won't Be Enlightened Until Our Idle Thoughts Stop!
Not even a single minute or second should be wasted; we must cultivate vigorously at all times.
The goal of investigating Chan meditation is to develop wisdom and to seek liberation. We must concentrate our minds and investigate the question, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" When we can investigate this question to the ultimate point, then we forget all idle thoughts whatsoever. We forget about eating, sleeping, and dressing, even to the point of forgetting to go to the bathroom. At this stage, the wind may blow, but it won't touch us; the rain may fall, but it won't get us wet; we are intensely and unceasingly asking the question "Who?"
This single thought is just like vajra; it is so durable and solid that nothing can break it up. We are not aware of the heavens above, the earth below, or the people in between. Our state is free of the traces of self, others, living beings, and life spans. Then we reach the point of there being "no body or mind inside and no world outside." We have united in substance with the entire universe and have become one with all things.
In ancient times there were lofty Sangha members of great virtue whose cultivation reached a level where "not even a single thought arose." A saying captures that state: "They eat all day long, yet don't know they have consumed a single morsel; they get dressed each day, but aren't aware of having put on a single stitch." They've arrived at a state of "no self and no others." Where is there any time left for them to indulge in idle thinking? They felt that if they wasted even a single moment, they could miss their chance to become enlightened. For this reason we must give our very lives to the investigation of "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" We should never rest until we find out who it is. Finding out "Who" is the very best method for controlling our idle thoughts.
In China's Yangzhou County, at Gaomin Monastery, there lived an elder monk named Miaodu, who cultivated Chan meditation to the point that, "When walking, he wasn't aware of walking; when sitting, he wasn't aware of sitting; when standing, he wasn't aware of standing; when reclining, he wasn't aware of reclining." He thought of nothing at all, except "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" One day, he needed to relieve himself. Because he was unceasingly investigating the question of "Who?" he walked by mistake into the Hall of the Heavenly Kings and assumed that the seat in front of Weitou Bodhisattva was the toilet. Just as he was about to relieve himself, he looked up and saw the image of Weitou Bodhisattva glaring at him with his Jewelled Pestle raised up high, and it scared him awake. Aware that he had made a mistake, he quickly bowed to Weitou Bodhisattva to repent and seek forgiveness from the Bodhisattva.
Why did this happen? Because Chan Master Miaodu had concentrated his mind and devoted his entire attention to investigating the word "Who." That was his sole concern, and as a result, he mistook the Hall of the Heavenly Kings for the bathroom. Someone may think, "I should imitate Chan Master Miaodu and not go to the bathroom to relieve myself, but instead go in front of Guanyin's altar." If you did that intentionally, you would be 108,000 miles away from the Way. You should know that Chan Master Miaodu was not imitating anyone else. Rather, he was single-mindedly contemplating, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" Because his attention was devoted entirely to this question, he committed such an error. If you, on the other hand, set out deliberately to make that error, you are making a grave mistake. You shouldn't even think about doing such a thing.
It's said that "Being off by a hairsbreadth at the start will lead you astray by a thousand miles in the end." Some people are sitting in the meditation hall having idle thoughts: "How come the bell still hasn't been rung? When it rings, I'm going to stretch my legs and rest my back." Or we may wonder, "Isn't it lunchtime yet? I'm hungry as can be." Someone may even be counting the remaining time: "Twelve days have gone by, and we have nine more days to go until the merit and virtue is complete. I hope the time will pass quickly, so we can get this suffering over with." When people join a Chan Session, they ought to wish that the time would last, to give them more chances to get enlightened. Another person, as he sits, looks like someone sitting on a pincushion. He can't be still for a minute, but either changes his legs around or stretches them out to rest his back. Other people may be entering samadhi, but this guy is thinking up a storm; his idle thoughts are several layers thick. If one carries on like this, then what is the point of joining a Chan Session in the first place? Why maintain this pretense? It would be better off simply not coming in the first place; one would save oneself a lot of trouble that way.
Know, however, that we should hang the question of birth and death right between our eyebrows, so that when our eyes are open we are looking directly at it, and even with our eyes closed we cannot forget this question. We must work and cultivate in each consecutive thought; only then can we end birth and death. You, on the other hand, are not thinking about birth and death in each consecutive thought as you sit in the Chan hall. You're constantly indulging in idle thinking. You fear only that if your idle thoughts are too few, you'll take a loss! How pathetic!
People who know how to apply themselves don't indulge in idle thoughts for even an instant. It's said that, "Until we actually understand the great matter, we should be as if attending the funeral of our parents." Before we have resolved the important matter of birth and death, we should be as sorrowful as if our parents had died. In the meditation hall, we cannot let the slightest fraction of time slip by. We cannot let up for an instant. We must work hard at our cultivation at all times. When we apply effort to an intense level, there will naturally be a response. When there is a response, our skill will touch the Way. Even if you are already enlightened, you must continue to persevere and advance. Don't be lazy; don't get trapped at the "Transformation City" and stop making progress. Such ideas are the stumbling blocks of cultivation.
If we know clearly that idle thoughts cannot be realized, why do we still indulge in them? If we know very well that they are merely idle thoughts, why don't we simply clean them up? Most people have this problem of knowing something is wrong but going ahead and doing it anyway. The truth is that we still can't see through things or put them down. We are attached to this and that, attached to men or to women, and as a result, we waste all our precious time.
The time spent in the meditation session is most valuable; it is a rare opportunity that is hard to meet. During this retreat, I urge you to throw your idle thoughts out past cloud nine! Give your mind a chance to be clean and pure; concentrate on asking "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" without interruption. All of you should work hard and investigate! Investigate! Investigate!
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980
Enlightenment Must Be Certified Before It Counts
People who claim enlightenment have to stand up to the test; otherwise, they are simply telling a great lie and will fall into the Relentless Hells.
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'll now tell the 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 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 his story. Master Xuance suggested that he go to Tsao 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 believed in spontaneity.
When he arrived at Nanhua Monastery in Tsao 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, and 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 birthless-ness; 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, which explains the state of sudden enlightenment. The Song is a masterpiece that will long endure and has become required reading for Buddhists.
Judging from the outside, we seem to be working hard at our cultivation here in the Chan Hall; but in reality, we are indulging in idle thinking and are not working hard at all. We may be thinking, "This is the Age of Science, and there ought to be a scientific way to get enlightened," and so we cogitate back and forth in a very unscientific way, like a fool prattling about dreams.
People who claim enlightenment have to stand up to the test; otherwise, they are simply telling a great lie and will fall into the Relentless Hells. This retribution awaits any individual who advertises that he is enlightened and has realized sagehood. I hope that all of you will take careful note of this and not speak carelessly, or else you will undergo that kind of retribution.
We wake up very early and don't rest until very late. Why do we cultivate so arduously? Because one extra minute of meditation gives us an extra minute of opportunity to get enlightened. Even though we're gathered together in the meditation hall to concentrate on the question, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" and we cannot say that no one is concentrating on his task, those who really want to get enlightened and obtain benefit are certainly in the minority. Most people are not serious or enthusiastic about meditation; they merely go through the motions and waste time. If you spend your retreat like this, you won't get enlightened even to the ends of the future. My hope is for many people to get enlightened in this country, so that they can help Buddhism in the future.
We must not talk during the Chan retreat, nor should we indulge in idle thoughts. Apply effort with sincerity; only then can you attain a response and uncover your wisdom. Once you have wisdom, you won't be upside-down. Only if you aren't upside-down can you teach living beings. If you yourself haven't yet figured out the true principles, how can you teach others? That would simply be a case of the blind leading the blind, which is very dangerous.
Chan meditators are like farmers who sow in the spring; arduously weed, water, hoe, and fertilize in the summer; and harvest in the autumn, so that they can be full and warm in the winter. A farmer's year-long expectation is to be amply fed and warmly clothed. Investigating Chan is the same: we must carefully guard our thoughts and watch over ourselves at all times. As we walk and sit in the Chan hall, we should know whether or not we are applying effort. In general, whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, we should cultivate diligently. We can use whatever method we feel is right for us; there is no restriction. For example, if we feel that investigating the meditation topic is not suitable for us, we can recite the Buddha's name or cultivate the method of "stopping and contemplating." Only with a method that is appropriate for us can we succeed.
No matter which method we use, we must concentrate and get rid of all idle thoughts. When we concentrate to the ultimate point, there will be good news. If we have a profusion of idle thoughts, then no matter what method we use, it won't work for us. People who truly apply themselves don't even know when they are walking and sitting; how much less could they engage in idle thoughts? All they know is the question, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" They keep investigating it in their minds without ever forgetting it. They're unaware of thirst, hunger, or feeling hot or cold. Why don't they know these things? It's because they are concentrating single-mindedly. They aren't aware of stiffness in their back or pain in their legs; they have no thoughts at all, except for "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" They are constantly raising the question and letting it go; dropping it, only to pick it up again. They use this skill ceaselessly, in thought after thought, at all times. When their effort reaches an extreme, they may bump into something and suddenly get enlightened.
Why haven't you been suddenly enlightened? It's because you aren't concentrated, and you don't know how to "understand your mind and see your nature." You don't know the state of returning to the origin. You don't know where your hometown is. You prefer instead to be the prodigal son who wanders adrift in foreign lands. In the end, I still say the same thing: investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" until you reach a state where, "The mountains end, the waters dry up, and you fear there is nowhere left to go; there, beyond the dark willows and the bright flowers, you'll find another village."
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980