Questions and Answers on Chan

Q: When we sit in meditation, what should our mind contemplate?

A: There is no fixed place where the mind should be. You must find how to let your mind not dwell anywhere. If there is a location, your mind will reside there. Find out how to let the mind not reside anywhere and not think of good or bad. That is where you should apply effort. If you concentrate on a place and think of good and bad, then you are still caught up in attachments. In cultivating, we want to remain detached from everything. When there are no more attachments, we will even forget about our own body. If we are not even aware of our own body, what is left to attach to?

Q: Why must we sit in the full lotus position in order to enter samadhi? Are other methods acceptable? Is it all right to just sit still if we cannot bend our legs into that position?

A: It is okay too. This position is the vajra position though, so it is stronger.

Q: Could the Venerable Master please point out the way for me? When someone is meditating, who or what is the meditator?

A: You find out.

Q: What is the difference between entering samadhi and sleeping?

A: Put simply, the posture of entering samadhi is to sit upright with your back straight and not tilt sideways. If your skill reaches the point where your breath stops or your pulse stops, you may appear to be as if dead, but you still have feelings. You can sit for a whole day without moving or for ten days without moving, or even sit for a month without moving. On the other hand, sleeping is different, because your head and body may recline and twist. You have no control over them in sleep. And when asleep, your breathing becomes heavier, so that your exhales and inhales often result in snoring. That is the basic difference between the two.

Q: Please tell us about the lotus posture.

A: The sitting posture itself resembles a lotus. Also, sitting on a lotus all the time symbolizes that ones body is light and concentrated. It also represents the lotus in which the treasury of worlds is located. These are reasons why this sitting position is known as the lotus posture. It is also called the auspicious position.

Q: Is the half-lotus sitting position analogous to a silver pagoda and the full lotus position to a gold pagoda?

A: And, no position, no pagoda.

Q: What is the next step in meditation?

A: The first requirements in meditation are to clear our minds and lessen our desires. A clear mind has no false thinking. Less desire means being less emotional.

Q: What is the primary purpose of meditation?

A: The advantages to meditation are manifold. Whether we study, work, or take care of the house, daily meditation increases our concentration, lessens the pressures of life, and increases our physical health. If we honestly want to develop our wisdom and become liberated, then we must develop this habit. We must be committed to meditation for the long term, so that we can eventually be liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

Q: Is meditation a practice that tends to be more dangerous because one is more prone to being possessed by demons?

A: There are different causes and conditions for this situation, not one. Some people cultivate and become possessed by demons more easily because they are extremely selfish, opinionated, and self-centered. These are the reasons why they cultivate.

Q: Meditators see illusions, as most people would call them. Could you please explain this phenomenon that occurs during meditation?

A: Any phenomenon is illusory and false. What you see are just the fifty kinds of transformations according to the Shurangama Sutra. It would be very sad for you to consider any of these a form of accomplishment.

Q: What are the basics to Chan meditation?

A: The basics are: 1. not being greedy; 2. not being angry; and 3. not being deluded.

Q: Our transcendental meditation instructor taught us to imagine a particular sound.

A: That is a useless exercise, just like putting another head on top of a head or searching for a mule while riding on one.

Q: What happens when we feel pain during meditation?

A: If you are aware of the pain, then take the attitude "the more pain, the better." If you cannot get past this stage, you will always hurt. Do not react to the signals of pain. You have to make it listen to you. You have to be the one in control. It helps to maintain the awareness that our body is not real, that it is a temporary combination of the four elements. In that sense, it is not of any great importance.

We can reflect that if we were to die and go to the hells, we would experience agony in the hells that would be much more painful than this! We should ask ourselves what we can do now, while we are in control. We can decide to just let our body suffer a bit more, knowing that the pain is due to pressure being applied to our energy channels and circulatory system during meditation. We can remind ourselves that once we break through the obstructions, we will no longer experience pain.

Q: What is the difference between prayer and Chan meditation?

A: If you think they are the same, then they are the same. If you think they are different, then they are different.

Q: I often hear people say that our s

A: Here is what the Honorable Ji said about meditation,

The gluttonous get hungry.
The starved become lanky.

Meditation is about stilling our thoughts. You will know when you are having an out-of-body experience during meditation. You also will know when you cannot leave your body. But do not dwell on either of those experiences. I do not think about leaving my body or not leaving my body. I also am careful not to eat too much.

Q: You say that while we are meditating, we should be patient with what we feel. But I find that strange. Can we express our feelings, or should we keep them inside? Sometimes when I stuff them inside, I find that I want to explode afterwards. What should I do?

A: Be patient with them, which means emptying them so that they disappear. It is not about hiding them inside. What is the use of hiding them inside? Why do you need to keep your garbage? Forget them! Things that are supressed can taint us more than anything. As powerful as the atom bomb may be, the power of suppression is even greater. If you are not afraid of exploding into pieces, go ahead and hide them. But I do not recommend it.

Q: Will you please help me with my meditation so that I can understand the principles of Buddhism even better, as well as those of other religions that I am studying?

A: By sitting in meditation, we learn to take a beating. Sitting in meditation can be as painful as being beaten. This applies to the hours when we are not actually sitting as well. We ought to be patient when people hit us or yell at us. In general, we can meditate well and sleep in a sitting position when we are unaffected by the eight kinds of emotions.

Q: I am so stupid! 1) I cannot penetrate my own mind. 2) If I am not careful, I fall asleep when I meditate. How do I overcome these two problems?

A: It is not so easy to penetrate the mind, especially in only two or three days. It is better to be asleep than to be having false thoughts.

Q: Is meditation and the "investigation of Dhyana" the same thing, or are they two different things?

A: Although the terms are different, they mean the same. If we really understand the investigation of Dhyana, then we will not be confused any longer.

Q: Venerable Master, please tell us the difference between our rules and the rules in the meditation centers of China.

A: Obviously there are lots of differences. But here we must assert our independence and uniqueness. We only choose what is good and we discard what is wrong. We intend to reform the parts of Buddhism that only cause problems and bring no benefit. Food: Meditators in China require three meals a day: porridge for breakfast, a full lunch, and stuffed buns for an evening snack. Beatings: Every meditator has to be beaten in China. The proctor beats the participants one by one. You are beaten whether you act correctly or otherwise. The harder you are hit, the more the monastery gets to show how strict its rules are.

Gaoming Monastery, for example, is famous for its beatings. Sometimes they break their incense board while beating people. None of you have been beaten yet this year. You have been hit in the past. I am probably more compassionate this year, and your karmic obstacles are lighter too. These are some of the differences. Those monks in China are really scary. They allow no trace of a smile on their face at all, looking as stern as Sangarama Bodhisattva. Were you to go into their Chan Halls, you would be too scared to even lift your head. It would be like a mouse seeing a cat.

We do not beat people for no reason here. I am pleasant and I give you talks every day as if I were babysitting. Yet you still have to suffer while you adjust to the sitting posture of meditation. Why do I think that letting you suffer is all right? People in this country have a tremendous amount of blessings. If I do not make you suffer a bit, you will not develop any major commitment to cultivating. You give up wearing nice clothes, eating good food, living in a nice house, and you forego all kinds of luxuries to come and suffer here. This is the very best way to get rid of arrogance, so that we can honestly cultivate and become liberated from birth and death.

Rules: Also, you absolutely cannot stretch out your legs in the meditation halls of China. You will definitely get hit that way. They will not be a bit polite. The head of the hall gets beaten too if he violates the rules. For instance, if the head of the hall snoozes on occasion, the proctor will have to kneel on his right knee before hitting him, which is different than the posture he assumes in hitting the rest of the group.

Also, there is a certain way to hold one’s teacup, because the cup has no handle. You have to place your thumb on the rim of the cup and use the rest of hand to hold the cup from the bottom. With your cup in hand, you extend your arm to let the attendant pour you tea. After you are done with the tea, you place the cup in front of you and the attendant will take it away. This is done in complete silence. We drink ginseng tea here, so our rules are substandard. We can study these rules and improve upon them over time. But we do not have to imitate China for sure. The rules have to fit the culture here.

Meditators in China absolutely cannot go outside the hall to drink tea, to sit down, to stand around, and to chat. They return to the Chan hall for walking meditation immediately after their meal. They do not waste one second of their time. They do not do anything else at all in between. They do not go to rinse their mouths and or do some stretching after eating. We will change these little problems gradually, so that we stay on the right track.

Q: Is a demon that appears during one’s meditation a creation of the mind? If it is made from the mind alone, is that the same kind of demon that you talked about earlier?

A: When you have offended demons outside of you, the demons in you will also act up. There is not just one kind of demon and not just one kind of ghost. There are heavenly demons, earth demons, spiritual demons, ghostly demons, demons who are people, demons made from the mind, and demons that are created by external states. There is not just one kind, but many kinds.

Q: I studied transcendental meditation. While meditating, I would listen to a sound and visualize a scene by the ocean. In the beginning, I could concentrate very well and was in a pleasant state. However, after a period of time, things became more and more blurry and confusing. I do not know if this is a good way to meditate.

A: Any wish to listen for a sound is a type of false thinking. This type of meditation is not transcendental in the truest sense, which is to be natural and free of greed, seeking, or anticipation. The exercise you describe involves wanting, and with wanting, you transcend nothing.

Q: So we should not think about anything?

A: A hundred things occur because one thought moves.
Ten thousand things cease when thought stops.
Quieting the mind brings real success.
Ending selfish desires creates real blessings.

Q: So, is transcendental meditation good or bad? It is now very popular in many countries around the word!

A: Novel ways to meditate were created for those who cannot sit in the full lotus position. The fact is that we must learn to sit in full lotus to meditate. It is impossible to say that one has attained the Way without having sat in full lotus.

Q: The thing I am most sorry about is not having enough time to meditate.

A: You must spare some time in your busy schedule and not waste it emersing yourself in confusion. You could cultivate at anytime and anywhere, not just by sitting there with your eyes closed.

Q: Where did Guanshiyin Bodhisattva come from?

A: Ask yourself where you came from.

Q: While meditating in the last several days, the pain in my legs has intensified, especially in my left knee. This pain gradually rolled into a ball and stayed on my kneecap. When the pain heightened yesterday, it exploded and became a clean and warm energy that is yellow. It went from my knee to my ribs and to the upper part of my body. This warmth did not make me drowsy, but happy and comfortable. Later I saw a throne surrounded by white lotuses. The edges to them seemed blurry, but their centers had purple buds like an inverted wine glass with a wide rim. They would suddenly change into mountains of gems, the bright lights of which are unprecedented.

At times, they would also look like European castles or lotus diases like those upon which Bodhisattvas sit. There was a flat-headed snake that climbed to the top of the throne. Sometimes the scenes were transparent like a movie and would just flash by so I could not remember them well. I only remember that I seemed to be walking along on the seashore by myself. No one else was in sight. The place was quiet, beautiful, and charming. There was only the sound of seagulls that occasionally broke the silence. Now, I want to know if this was real or was it a result of my discriminating consciousness?

A: Visions of Buddhas or flowers are not real when you have tried to visualize them and want to see them. Anything that you want to see is not real. The only significant state that is real is the one before a single thought occurs, though even that can be illusory at times. It is best not to encounter any state during meditation. There is nothing at all, just emptiness. Do not be shocked or happy. Reactions such as shock or happiness can cause you to become possessed by demons, as in the fifty skandha states listed in the Shurangama Sutra.

Q: Why should we meditate as we study the Buddhadharma?

A: We meditate so that we can study a countless number of sutras and open the boundless wisdom inherent in our self-nature. There are countless Dharma doors in our nature, but people tend to disregard the foundation and chase after the superficialities. We look for answers outside of ourselves, failing to realize that we should reflect.

Q: Please tell us again about the difference between entering samadhi and sleeping.

A: During samadhi, a person remains very aware while sitting straight up. His body does not move around and his head does not nod or tilt. This is the state of being still and yet always reflecting, reflecting and yet being always still. When asleep, you are not at all aware, you snore thunderously, and your position is completely the opposite of the stillness of samadhi.

Q: "It is better to study nothing for a day than to seek knowledge for a thousand days." What does this quite mean?

A: "Not knowing when to quit the studying of different terms, we only trap ourselves by counting sand in the sea." Who is seeking knowledge for a thousand days? Who is studying nothing for a day? We should not keep on doing others’ laundry.

Q: A kind of "Contemporary Chan" is popular now. I hear people achieve rather quick re

A: I am old fashioned and do not understand this contemporary question.

Q: While meditating, what should we be contemplating?

A: Nothing specific. "Let your mind be nowhere." If there is anything specific, then you would be dwelling there. Dwell nowhere.

Q: Is there any difference between your method of meditation and that of Ajahn Sumedho? If so, how are they different?

A: "There is only one path at the source, but there are many expedient entries." We are all people. Our faces look different. We all have minds, but we do not all think the same. You cannot make everyone uniform in every respect. The same principle applies here.

Q: Please briefly introduce meditation as it is taught at Gold Mountain Monastery.

A: You will find out when you come toGold Mountain Monastery. To begin with, we train ourselves to sit in the full lotus position. This position is called the vajra position, which can subdue demons.

Q: You just talked about how the full lotus posture is equivalent to a gold pagoda and a half lotus position is equivalent to a silver pagoda. Now, will you please discuss meditation?

A: Do not be too anxious. You will only bite off more than you can chew. If you cannot sit in full lotus yet, sit in half lotus. The faster you want to go, the slower you will get where you want to go. Study one day at a time. You cannot graduate from college right away.

Q: How do we ask "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"

A: You should investigate, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" instead of asking it. Investigation is like drilling a hole. We will understand when we drill through. Before you do, you will not understand by asking the question. This method takes us to the point where language ceases to function and the mind stops thinking. No one can describe it. What others tell you is not it.

Q: It is generally said that the precepts help us enter samadhi and develop wisdom. Why does the Chan school only talk about cultivating a balance of samadhi and wisdom until we perfect our enlightenment and conduct?

A: They can say whatever they want. It is also okay for some to talk only about precepts, or samadhi, or wisdom. It is not definite. It all depends on each individual’s goals and principles. There is no set standard.