How to Investigate Chan - The Meditation Topic


Fighting poison with poison, a false thought stops false thoughts


When investigating Chan, we use a meditation topic, an inquiry into what precedes the state of no thought. The most common meditation topic is "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" The inquiry into "who?" is sustained, just as though we were using a drill to pierce a hole through the mind. When we find out "who", then we will be enlightened. However, we cannot deduce this by using our imagination. We cannot investigate it with our mind consciousness. Instead, we have to explore and search for where we have never been and what we have never known. Sometimes a breakthrough in the investigation brings sudden enlightenment. Space is shattered and the five skandhas disintegrate. This is described in the Heart Sutra:

"When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound prajna paramita, he illuminated the five skandas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty. Shariputra! Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. So too are all feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness."

When our investigation leads to the disintegration of the five skandhas, then we will not be influenced by the six sense objects. That is the first step to accomplishing Buddhahood. However, we still have to work very hard. Furthermore, you should know that Chan investigation is different from vigorously chanting the Buddha’s name. We do not incessantly chant, "Who is mindful of the Buddha? Who is mindful of the Buddha? Who is mindful of the Buddha," as if we were shouting for help. Investigating the meditation topic has to be done slowly, as we carefully search for our self-nature. As it is said,

Investigating brings awakening.
Awakening requires investigating.

Actually, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" is also a false thought, but it is a case of using poison to fight poison. We use one false thought to stop all false thoughts.


Go with care. Avoid demonic possession


The meditation topic we investigate is one false thought. Our mind is full of many scattered thoughts. By using the method of fighting poision with poison, we use one false thought to stop all our many false thoughts. Slowly, one by one, we eradicate false thoughts, so they no longer have influence on us. At that time, no matter what state arises, we will not be deluded by it. We will distinguish things clearly and not become possessed by demons. The ancients said, "It would be better to go without enlightenment for a thousand lifetimes, than to be possessed by a demon for even a single day."

As we cultivate Chan meditation, we must be cautious and circumspect, and not get carried away. We must be proper, magnanimous, and forthright, so that demons have no chance to trouble us. Idle thoughts open the door to demons, but the meditation topic is the Dharma-treasure that exorcises those demons.


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Concentrate on a single meditation topic


In Chan meditation, we can investigate a few meditation topics such as "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" or "What was my original face before my parents gave birth to me?" or "What is it that we can do without?". If all of you can investigate single-mindedly, you will definitely obtain benefits.


Let not a single thought arise. Be mindful of the present


Investigation is similar to drilling wood; you do not stop until the drill makes a hole all the way through the wood. If you stop halfway, then all your earlier efforts will be to no avail. The first priority in Chan meditation is patience. When you can be entirely patient, then you can reach a state of "not even one thought arising". When not even one thought arises, you can get enlightened. As the saying goes, "Take one more step from the very top of a hundred- foot pole." At that time, when you can take yet another step from the very top of a hundred-foot pole, the worlds throughout the ten directions manifest in their entirety. To gain success, however, you must apply yourself constantly, in thought after thought, without any laziness or slacking off.


Be as a cat is when stalking a mouse. Be as a dragon is when guarding its pearl


Investigating Chan is just like using a drill to create a hole. You must keep on drilling until you have broken through. Drilling through is known as "breaking the fundamental investigation". Having drilled a hole through, brightness will be revealed. In this dark house, without any windows and doors, you have to use a drill to make a hole. When a hole has been made, light will shine in. When you are still ignorant and do not understand anything, it is just like being in a dark room without windows and doors. If, in using this skill to investigate Chan, you succeed in drilling through, light will shine in. This is investigating Chan.

There is another analogy. Meditation is just like "a cat stalking a mouse." When a cat stalks a mouse, it watches the mouse-hole intently. The moment the mouse comes out, the cat pounces on it and grabs it with its paw. The mouse has no way of escaping. What is the ‘mouse’? It represents your ignorance. When you emit light, it is similar to a cat that has caught the mouse.

Yet there is another analogy. It is like "a dragon nurturing its pearl." A dragon never strays from his gem. When two dragons fight over a pearl, they treat it as even more precious than their own lives. Hence, a dragon will think of ways and means to protect its pearl. In the same way, a Chan investigator is like a dragon that nurtures its pearl constantly in thought after thought. This is called contemplating at ease. If you can contemplate at ease, you are ever mindful of the present. However, if you cannot contemplate at ease, that means you are running away! What happens when you run away? It means you give in to false thoughts. As soon as you have false thoughts, you will not be at ease. When you do not have false thoughts, then you are at ease.

Let me give you another example. What is meditation like? It is like "a hen brooding over her eggs." When the hen broods over her eggs, she thinks, "I am here sitting on the eggs. When the time comes, the chicks will hatch. Little chicks will definitely appear." When you investigate Chan, it is similar to a hen brooding over her eggs. You reflect, "Oh! One day I will be enlightened. When I practice for one day, my self-nature will shine forth a bit of light. If I practice everyday, then my wisdom light will shine forth constantly. Eventually, I will want to be the same as the Buddha, not in the least bit different." When you investigate in this way, you are just like the hen brooding over her eggs, and one day you will succeed! This is Chan investigation.


Our meditation topic works like the Headband-tightening Mantra


When we sit in meditation, we have to catch the little monkey. The human mind is like a wild horse. Our thoughts are as restless and naughty as a monkey. If we don’t catch that monkey, it will just keep giving us the runaround. Our essence and spirit will be scattered and our energy source will become depleted to exhaustion. The energy source of the self-nature is very precious. If it is depleted by the monkey for no rhyme or reason, then it is really not worth it. Now, we need to train the horse to obey instructions and tame the monkey so that it will be obedient. This means you have to tame the wild-horse mind and monkey-like thoughts. How do you do it? You need to tie on a golden headband and then chant the Headband-tightening Mantra.

In the novel Journey to the West, as soon as Xuan Zhuang, the Tang monk, chanted the Headband-tightening Mantra, the monkey-god, Sun Wu Kong, became very obedient. What is our Headband-tightening Mantra? The inquiry into ‘who’ in our meditation topic "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" will work. Use it and the monkey-like thoughts will become obedient. Since the monkey in our mind does not know who that ‘who’ is, it will concentrate single-mindedly to search for it. Once our monkey-like thoughts quiet down, our mind will attentively concentrate in its search and our thoughts will no longer give us the runaround. If you can catch the monkey and tame it, then your skill is almost there!


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If you are apart from this, you have gone amiss


Investigating Chan goes beyond the hard work we do while sitting in meditation. We have to work hard while walking, standing, sitting, or reclining. Sitting meditation provides the opportunity to concentration on the focal point of our meditation topic. Then, while walking, standing, sitting, and reclining, we continue to investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" The entire verse reads,

Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down,
do not be apart from this.
If you are apart from this,
you have gone amiss.

What is this? It refers to our investigation of our meditation
topic, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"


Sweep away all dharmas. Separate from all marks


Those who do not understand the method of Chan investigation may treat it like chanting the Buddha’s name, thinking that the more you chant the better it is. That would be a mistake. Inquiry into the meditation topic is not done by chanting it. The best way is to stretch the resonance of the inquiry so that it lasts for a few hours without ending. That inquiry could even continue for eighty-thousand great kalpas without interruption. That would truly be investigating Chan. Why do we investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" The word "who" is basically superfluous, but we are like monkeys, always looking around for something to do. With the word "who" acting as a shield can deflect all those idle thoughts.

This Dharma-door uses poison to fight poison. Only when we are free of all random thoughts can we be said to be diligently wiping the mirror of our mind clean at all times. To investigate Chan simply means to diligently wipe the mirror of the mind clean. Why must we keep wiping it clean? We must do that to keep the mind from attracting dust. This is the Dharma-door of "sweeping away all dharmas, and separating from all marks."

If you do not use Dharma-selecting vision so that you recognize true Dharma, then you do not really know how to investigate. If you do not learn how to investigate, your efforts will just be wasted. That is because if you fail to recognize proper Dharma, you may well end up following deviant dharmas. That is why Dharma-selecting vision is so important.


Contemplate at ease to find wisdom


Investigating Chan means learning to contemplate. What are we to contemplate? Contemplate your illuminating prajna. I am teaching you to be mindful of the present and to contemplate yourself, not to contemplate others. Contemplate whether you are here or not? If you are here, then you can sit and investigate Chan, working hard at cultivation. If you are not here, then you are indulging in false thinking and are daydreaming. Even though you are physically in the Chan hall, your mind has gone to New York sightseeing, or to Italy for a holiday. Your mind goes everywhere, climbing on conditions. Hence, you are not at ease.

To contemplate at ease is to be a Bodhisattva. Not contemplating at ease, you are an ordinary person. To contemplate at ease is to experience the divine. If you do not contemplate at ease, you may end up enduring the hells. If you contemplate at ease and your mind does not escape, then you can practice profound prajna paramita. By physically investigating Chan continuously without cease, you are also practicing profound prajna, and discovering your wisdom. Once you activate your inherent great wisdom, then you can reach the other shore.

The secret to Chan investigation is to focus on it day and night. Focus on what? "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" Investigate this today and again tomorrow. Even though you practice profound prajna paramita in the Chan hall everyday, you may not taste the flavor of Chan right away. It takes a long time to accomplish that. Only when you have gained sufficient skill in practicing profound prajna paramita will you be able to illuminate the five skandhas and see that they are all empty.


When we gain the One, all things are done


The secret of investigating Chan is to gain one-pointed focus. As the saying goes,

When Heaven attains the One,
it becomes pure;
When Earth attains the One,
it becomes peaceful;
When a person attains the One,
he becomes a sage.
When all things attain the One,
they all abide in their destiny.

This is why the One is the beginning of all things. However, it is still not the ultimate Dharma. It is said,

When you obtain the One,
all things are done.

But if you attach to the One, then you will fall into two or three, and that is not true emptiness. What is true emptiness? It is Zero. The Zero is formed by making a circle. It is neither big nor small, neither inside nor outside, has no beginning and no end and cannot be enumerated. However, all numbers are not apart from it. Cultivation starts with cultivating the One until you return to Zero. From Zero uncountable functions come forth. Although it is said that "when you obtain the One, all things are done", at the stage of Zero, there is not a single thing. At that point,

When not one Dharma is established,
the myriad conditions are empty.

That is the ultimate liberation!


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如何參禪 - 關於參話頭


以毒攻毒,以妄制妄


參禪要參話頭。話頭,即是話語剛開頭,不是話尾。即是一念未生之前的一個預兆。最普的話頭,是「念佛是誰?」這個「誰?」字,要把它拉長來參,細玩其味,就像一把金剛鑽,要往心裏頭鑽出一個窟窿來。找到是誰便開悟,但這不能靠想像揣測,或在心意識上參,而是要細細探索到你從未到過,從未知道的領域上。一旦破本參,豁然開悟,虛空粉碎,五蘊皆空。此即是《般若波羅蜜多心經》上所說的,「觀自在菩薩,行深般若波羅蜜多時,照見五蘊皆空,度一切苦厄。舍利子!色不異空,空不異色,色即是空,空即是色。受想行識,亦復如是。」

參到了這個境界,五蘊皆空,六塵不染,才是成佛的第一步,但必須要下一番苦功。又要知道,參禪不同拼命念佛,不是拼命口念「念佛是誰?念佛是誰?念佛是誰?」好像叫救命似的。參話頭,是要慢條斯理,細心在自性上摸索。所謂「參悟」,參即是悟,悟必要參。其實「念佛是誰?」也是一個妄想,但這是以毒攻毒,以一妄制諸妄,以一念息萬念的法門。


不可一日著魔


參話頭是一個妄想,雜念是多個妄想。用以毒攻毒的辦法,所以用參話頭的妄想來控制多個妄想,慢慢將妄想一個一個消滅,不再起作用。這時,無論什麼境界來了,都不會迷惑,分析清楚,就不會走火入魔。古德說,「寧可千生不悟,不可一日著魔。」修禪定要謹慎小心,不可偏差,正大光明,不要給魔找機會。雜念是替魔開門,而參話頭即是驅魔的法寶。


一個話頭專心參究


參禪可以參「念佛是誰?」或「父母未生我前本來面目」或「什麼是不能沒有?」這幾個話頭,你們能專心一致參究,必能得到好處。



一念不生念茲在茲


「參」好像用錐子來錐木頭一樣,不透不停止,不可半途而廢,前功盡棄。參禪第一要忍耐,忍耐到最高峰,就能一念不生;一念不生,就能開悟。所謂「百尺竿頭,更進一步」,在百尺竿頭上,再向前邁進一步,這時,十方世界現全身。但是這個法門要念茲在茲才有效,不能放鬆,不能放逸。


參禪如貓捕鼠、龍養珠


參禪這個「參」,就好像用這麼一個錐子錐窟窿似的,錐不透一定要錐,錐透了這叫破本參;把這窟窿錐透了,露出光明來了。在這個黑暗的屋子裏邊,窗戶門都沒有,就用這個錐子鑽窟窿,鑽出來一個窟窿,就透進來光明了。這就是你在一個愚癡人的時候,什麼也不明白,就等於在一個黑暗的屋子裏一樣,沒有窗戶也沒有門。你用這個參禪的功夫,參透了就透進光明來了,這是參禪。

又有一比喻,就像「如貓捕鼠」,像貓捉老鼠似的,在那兒看著,看著,瞪著眼睛看進那個老鼠洞,這麼看著,看著,老鼠一出來,上去一爪把這老鼠給叼住了,老鼠沒有法子跑了。什麼叫老鼠?就是你那個無明。你透出光明了,把老鼠給捉住了,這如貓捕鼠。

又有一個比喻,好像「龍養珠」似的。龍最放不下的就是那一粒珠。兩個龍搶那一粒珠子。這個龍珠比牠生命還寶貴,所以牠總要想方法保護這個珠子。參禪的人,也就這樣子,好像龍保養那個珠子一樣,念茲在茲,這就是觀自在。你若能觀自在,這就念茲在茲;你若不能觀自在,那就跑了!什麼叫跑了?就是打妄想。你一打妄想,就不自在了;你不打妄想,那個時候就是自在。

我現在再給你舉一個例子,像什麼呢?「如雞孵卵」,像雞菢小雞子那樣子的。雞菢小雞子就這麼想﹕「我在這兒啊,這小雞子到時候一定會出來的,一定會有一個小的小雞子現出來。」你參禪也是這樣子,就像那個老母雞菢小雞子似的。你看,「喔!有一天我會開悟的。我用一天功,我自性就會現出一點光明;我天天用功,天天就會現出智慧光明來。總有一天我要和佛是一樣的,無二無別的。」你這麼參來參去,就像那個老母雞菢小雞子一樣的,你有一天就會成功啦!這是參禪。


參話頭是緊箍咒


坐禪要抓著小猴子,人心像野馬,意像猿猴;若不把他抓回來,他就時時到處跑,精神分散,將能源耗費。自性的能源很寶貴,若無緣無故被小猴子浪費了,很不值得。現在要令野馬不再不守規矩,令小猴子老老實實,要將心馬意猿猴管著他。如何管呢?要用金箍拴著牠,給牠念緊箍咒,如〈西遊記〉裏,唐僧一給孫悟空念上緊箍咒,猴子便老實了。

什麼是我們的緊箍咒?就是參話頭「念佛是誰?」想找找「誰」?小猴子便老實了。因為牠不知道是「誰」,故牠便專心致志去找,既能心平氣和注目凝神去找,牠就不到處跑。你若能抓著猴子,使牠老實了,你的功夫就差不多啦!


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離了這個便是錯過


參禪,不是單單坐禪時才用功,而是行住坐臥都要用功,只不過坐禪期間更要專一。行,也參「念佛是誰」;住,也參「念佛是誰」;坐、臥,也是參「念佛是誰」。所謂「行住坐臥,不離這個。離了這個,便是錯過」。「這個」,是什麼呢?即是「念佛是誰」,要參這個話頭。


掃一切法離一切相


參禪這法門你若不認識,不明白,而像念佛號似的,以為念得越多越好,這是錯誤。不需要念得多,最好能拉長長聲,念幾個鐘頭也念不完,甚至參八萬大劫也不間斷,這才是真正參禪。

為什麼要參「念佛是誰?」這「誰」字本來也是多餘,但因為我們人就像猴子,總要找事做,找東找西。若有個「誰」字擋著,那些妄想也就沒有了,這是以毒攻毒的法門,沒有妄想才是「時時勤拂拭」,參禪就是勤拂拭。為什麼要勤拂拭?勿使惹塵埃。這是「掃一切法,離一切相」的法門。

若沒有擇法眼,不認識真法,就不會參,不會參就是白費功夫。若不認識正法,就會跟邪法跑,故擇法眼是最重要的。


觀自在是天堂


參禪的「參」,就是觀。觀什麼?觀照般若。教你念茲在茲觀自在,不是觀他在。觀觀自己在不在?自己在,就能參禪打坐,用功修行;若是不在,在那兒打妄想,想入非非,那就身在禪堂,心跑到紐約去觀光,或是到意大利去旅行,到處去攀緣,所以就不自在了觀自在就是菩薩,觀不自在就是凡夫;觀自在是天堂,觀不自在是地獄。如果觀自在,心未跑出,才能行深般若波羅蜜。此身在參禪的時候,繼續不斷的參,綿綿密密的參,這才算是行深般若,找到智慧。得到大智慧,才能到達彼岸。

參禪的密訣,就是朝也思,夕也思,思什麼?思「念佛是誰?」今天也參,明天也參,天天在禪堂裏行深般若波羅蜜多時,不是在短期能嘗到禪的味道。要經過長時間才可以。有了行深般若波羅蜜多時的功夫,才能照見五蘊皆空。


得一萬事畢


參禪,秘訣在專一其心,所謂「天得一以清,地得一以寧,人得一以聖。萬物得一,各正性命」,故「一」為萬物之始,但還不是究竟法。雖云「得一萬事畢」,但若在這個一生出執著,便落二、落三,猶不是真空。什麼是真空?就是零。這個零,像個圓圈,是無大無小、非內非外、無始無終,不落於數,但所有數目都未曾離開它。修行,要從一修回到零。從這個零,能發生無量無邊的作用,雖云「得一萬事畢」;但到了這個零,連一事也無,這時,「一法不立,萬慮皆空」,是究竟解脫!