The Essentials of Ch'an Practice
By Master Xuyun
The Prerequisites and Understanding Necessary to
Begin Ch'an Practise
1. The Objective of Ch'an Practice:
The objective of Ch'an practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating
its impurities and seeing into one's true self-nature. The mind's
impurities are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self-nature is the
wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas
and sentient beings are not different from one another. To experience
this wisdom and virtue, leave, leave behind duality, discrimination,
wrong thinking and attachment. This is Buddhahood. If one cannot
do this, then one remains an ordinary sentient being.
It is because you and I are defiled that we have been
wandering lost and confused through samsara for limitless kalpas;
and that we cannot immediately cast off wrong thinking and see our
original nature. For this reason we must practice Ch'an.
The prerequisite for Ch'an practice is to eradicate
wrong thinking. Shakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject. His
simplest and most direct teaching is the word "stop" from the expression
"stopping is Bodhi." From the time when Bodhidharma transmitted
Ch'an teachings to today, the winds of Ch'an have blown far and
wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among the many things
that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those who came
to study with them, none is more valuable than the saying, "Put-down
all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise."
This expression is truly the prerequisite for the
practice of Ch'an. If you cannot fulfill this requirement, then
not only will you fail to attain the ultimate goal of Ch'an practice,
but you will not even be able to enter the door of Ch'an. How can
you talk of practicing Ch'an if you are entangled by worldly phenomena
with thought after thought arising and passing away?
2. Put Down All entangling conditions
"Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought
arise" is a prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an. Now that we
know this, how do we accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of
superior abilities, can stop all thoughts forever, arrive directly
at the condition of non-arising, and instantly experience Bodhi.
such a person is not entangled by anything.
The next best kind of practitioner users principle
to cut off phenomena and realizes that self-nature is originally
pure. Vexation and bodhi , Samsara and Nirvana -- all are false
names which have nothing to do with one's self-nature. All things
are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or reflections.
Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great
earth itself are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing,
yet never obstructing the original surface. Do not bed captivated
by the arising, abiding, changing and passing away of illusory phenomena,
which give rise to pleasure and aversion, grasping and rejecting.
Give up your whole body, as if you were dead, and the six sense
organs, the six sense objecting. and the six sense organs, the six
sense objects and the six sense consciousness will naturally disperse.
Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the sensations
of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body ---hunger,
cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity,
prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety
and danger--- will no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered
true renunciation --- when you put everything down forever. This
is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena.
When all phenomena are renounced , wrong thoughts
disappear, discrimination does not arise, and attachment is left
behind. When thoughts no longer arise, the brightness of self-nature
manifests itself completely. At this time you will have fulfilled
the necessary conditions for Ch'an practice. Then, further hard
work and sincere practice will enable you to illuminate the mind
and see into your true nature.
3. Everyone Can Instantly Become a Buddha:
Many Ch'an practitioners ask questions about the Dharma.
The Dharma that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you
try to explain things, the true meaning is lost. When you realize
that "one mind" is the Buddha, from that point on there is nothing
more to do. Everything is already complete. All talk about practice
or attainment is demonic deception.
Bodhidharma's "direct pointing at the mind, seeing
into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood" clearly instructs that
all sentient beings are Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized,
one can harmonize with the environment yet remain undefiled. The
mind will remain unified throughout the day, whether walking, standing,
sitting or lying down. This is to already be a Buddha. At this point
there is no need to put forth effort and be diligent. Any action
is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest thought or
word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed
task. Do it by your-self. do not seek outside yourself for it.
All sentient beings --- who wish to avoid rebirth
for eternal kalpas in the four forms of birth and the six paths
of existence; who eternally sink in the sea of suffering; and who
vow to attain Buddhahood and the four virtues of Nirvana (eternity,
joy, self, purity) ----- can immediately attain Buddhahood if they
wholly believe in the sincere words of the Buddha and the patriarchs,
renounce everything, and think neither of beings, made by all the
Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is it a
baseless, empty vow.
The Dharma is exactly that. It has been elucidated
again and again by the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted
us with the truth. They do not deceive us. Unfortunately, sentient
beings are confused and for limitless kalpas they have experienced
birth and death in the sea of suffering, appearing and disappearing,
endlessly taking on new forms of life. dazed and confused, entangled
in the worldly dust of the six senses with their backs to enlightenment,
they are like pure gold in a cesspool. Because of the severity of
the problem, Buddha compassionately taught 84,000 Dharma doors to
accord with the varying karmic roots of sentient beings, so that
sentient beings may use the methods to cure them-selves of 84,000
habits and faults, which include greed, hatred, ignorance and desire.
4. Investigating Ch'an and Contemplating Mind:
Our sect focuses on investigating Ch'an. The purpose
of practicing Ch'an is to "Illuminate the mind and see into one's
true nature." This investigation is also called " Clearly realizing
one's self-mind and completely perceiving one's original nature."
Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma
came to the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have
continually evolved. Most Ch'an practitioners, before the Tang and
Sung dynasties, became enlightened after hearing a word or half
a sentence of the Dharma. The transmission from master to disciple
was the sealing of Mind with Mind. There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday
questions and answers only untied the bonds. It was nothing more
than prescribing the right medicine for the right illness.
After the Sung Dynasty, however, people did not have
such good karmic roots as their predecessors. They could not carry
out what had been said, For example, practitioners were taught to
"Put down everything" and " Not think about good and evil, "but
they could not do it. They could not put down everything, and if
they weren't thinking about good, they were thinking about evil.
Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but to use
poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating
gong an [and hua to].
When one begins looking into a hua to, one must grasp
it tightly, never letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew
its way out of a coffin. It concentrates on one point. It doesn't
try different places and it doesn't stop until it gets through.
Thus, in terms of hua to, the objective is to use one thought to
eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method is a last resort,
just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow. drastic measures
must be taken to cure the patient.
The ancients used gong ans, but later on practitioners
started using hua tos. Some hua tos are: "Who is dragging this corpse
around?" "Before you were born what was your original face?' and,
"Who is reciting Buddha's name?'
In fact, all hua tos are the same. There is nothing
uncommon, strange, or special about them. If you wanted to, you
could say: "Who is reciting the sutras?" "Who is reciting the mantras?
"Who is prostrating to the Buddha? " Who is eating?" "Who is wearing
these clothes?" "Who's walking?" "Who's sleeping?" They're all the
same. The answer to the question "who" is derived from one's Mind.
Mind is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of Mind ; Mind
is the origin of all thoughts. Innumerable dharmas generate from
the Mind ; Mind is the origin of all dharmas. In fact, hua to is
a thought. Before a thought arises, there is the origin of words.
Hence, looking into a hua to is contemplating Mind. There was Mind
before your parents gave birth to you, so looking into your original
face before you were born is contemplating Mind.
Self-nature is Mind. When one turns inward to hear
one's self-nature, one is Turning inward to contemplate Mind. In
the phrase, "Perfectly illuminating pure awareness," pure awareness
is Mind and illumination is contemplation. Mind is Buddha. When
one recites Buddha's name one contemplates Buddha. Contemplating
Buddha is contemplating Mind.
Investigating hua to or "looking into who is reciting
Buddha's name" is contemplating Mind. Hence, contemplating Mind
is illuminating pure awareness. It is also illuminating the Buddha-nature
within oneself. Mind is nature, pure awareness, Buddha. Mind has
no form, no characters, no directions; it cannot be found in any
particular place. It cannot be grasped. Originally, Mind is purity,
universally embracing all Dharma realms. No inn or out, no coming
or going. Originally, Mind is pure Dharmakaya.
When investigating hua to , the practitioner should
first close down all six sense organs and seek where thoughts arise.
Practitioners should concentrate on the hua to until they see the
pure original mind which is apart from thoughts. If one does this
without interruption, the mind becomes fine, quiet tranquil, silently
illuminating. At that moment the five skandhas are empty, body and
mind are extinguished, nothing remains. From that point, walking,
standing, sitting and lying down are all done motionlessly. In time
the practice will deepen, and eventually practitioners will see
their self-nature and become Buddhas and suffering will cease.
A past patriarch named Gaofeng(1238-1295) once said:
"You must contemplate hua to like a falling roof tile sinking endlessly
down into a pond ten thousand feet deep. If in seven days you are
not enlightened, I will give you permission to chop off my head.
"These are the words of an experienced person. He did not speak
lightly. His words are true.
Although many modem day practitioners use hua tos,
few get enlightened. This is because compared to practitioners of
the past, practitioners today have inferior karmic roots and less
merit. Also, practitioners today are not clear about the purpose
and path of hua to. Some practitioners search from east to west
and north to south until they die, but still do not penetrate even
one hua to. They never understand or correctly approach the hua
to. They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect
and attach only to the tail of the words.
hua to is One Mind. This mind is not inside, outside,
or in the middle. On the other hand, it is inside, outside, and
in the middle. It is like the stillness of empty space prevailing
hua to should not be picked up. Neither should it
be pressed down. If you pick it up, your mind will waver and become
unstable. If you press it down you will become drowsy. These approaches
are contrary to the nature of the original mind and are not in accordance
with the Middle Path.
Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts.
They think it is difficult to tame them. Don't be afraid of wandering
thoughts. Do not waste your energy trying to repress them. All you
have to do is recognize them. Do not attach to wandering thoughts,
do not follow them, and do not try to get rid of them. As long as
you don't string thoughts together, wandering thoughts will depart
Lectures on the Methods of Practise in the Ch'an Hall
Many people come to ask me for guidance. This makes
me feel ashamed. Everyone works so hard --- splitting firewood,
hoeing the fields, carrying soil, moving bricks --- and yet from
morning to night not putting down the thought of practicing the
Path. Such determination for the Path is touching. I, Xuyun, repent
my inadequacy on the Path and my lack of virtue. I am unable to
instruct you and can use only a few saying from the ancients in
response to your questions. There are four prerequisites concerning
methods of practice: (1) Deep faith in the law of cause and consequence;
(2) Strict observance of precepts; (3) Immovable faith (4) Choosing
a Dharma door method of practice.
2. Essentials of Ch'an Practice:
Our everyday activities are executed within the Path
itself. Is there anywhere that is not a place for practicing the
Path? A Ch'an Hall should not even be necessary. Furthermore, Ch'an
practice is not just sitting meditation. The Ch'an Hall and Ch'an
sitting meditation are for sentient beings with deep karmic obstructions
and shallow wisdom.
When one sits in meditation, one must first know how
to regulate the body and mind. If they are not well regulated, then
a small harm will turn into an illness and a great harm will lead
to demonic entanglements. This would be most pitiable. Walking and
sitting meditation in the Ch'an Hall are for the regulation of body
and mind. There are other ways to regulate the body and mind, but
I will talk about these two fundamental methods.
When you sit in the lotus position, you should sit
naturally straight. Do not push the waist forward purposely. Doing
so will raise your inner heat, which later on could result in having
sand in the corner of your eyes, bad breath, uneasy breathing, loss
of appetite, and in the worst case, vomiting blood. If dullness
or sleepiness occur, open your eyes wide, straighten your back and
gently move your buttocks from side to side. dullness will naturally
vanish. If you practice with an anxious attitude, you will have
a sense of annoyance. At that time you should put everything down,
including your efforts to practice. Rest for a few minutes. Gradually,
after you recuperate, continue to practice. If you don't do this,
as time goes on you will develop a hot-tempered character, or, in
the worst case, you could go insane or fall into demonic entanglements.
There are many experiences you will encounter when
sitting Ch'an, too many to speak of. However, if you do not attach
to them, they will not interfere with you. This is why the proverb
says: "See the extraordinary yet do not think of it as being extraordinary,
and the extraordinary will retreat." If you encounter or perceive
an unpleasant experience, take no notice of it and have no fear.
If you experience something pleasant, take no notice of it and don't
give rise to fondness. The Surangama Sutra says: " If one does not
think he has attained a supra mundane experience, then this is good.
On the other hand, if one thinks he has attained something supra
mundane, then he will attract demons."
3. How to Start the Practice: Distinction Between
Host and Guest:
How should one begin to practice? In the Surangama
assembly, Kaundinya the Honored One mentioned the two words "guest"
and "dust." This is where beginners should begin their practice.
He said, "A traveler who stops at an inn may stay overnight or get
something to eat. When he is finished or rested, he packs and continues
his journey, for he does not have time to stay longer. If he were
the host, he would have no place to go. Thus I reason : he who does
not stay is called a guest because not staying is the essence of
being a guest. He who stays is called a host. Again, on a clear
day, when the sun rises and the sunlight enters a dark room through
an opening, one can see dust in empty space. The dust is moving
but the space is still. That which is clear and still is called
space; that which is moving is called dust because moving is the
essence of being dust." Guest and dust refer to illusory thoughts,
whereas host and space refer to self-nature. That the permanent
host does not follow the guest in his comings and goings illustrates
that permanent self-nature does not follow illusory thoughts in
their fleeting rise and fall. therefore it was said, "It was said,
"If one is unaffected by all things, then there will be no obstructions
even when one is constantly surrounded by things." The moving dust
does not block the clear, still empty space; illusory thoughts which
rise and fall by themselves do not hinder the self-nature of Suchness.
Thus it was said, "If my mind does not arise, all things are blameless."
In such a state of mind, even the guest does not drift with illusory
thoughts. If he understands space and dust, illusory thoughts will
no longer be hindrances. It is said that when one recognizes an
enemy, there will be no more enemy in your mind. If one can investigate
and understand all this before starting to practice, it is unlikely
that one will make serious mistakes.
4. Hua tos and doubt
The ancient patriarchs pointed directly at Mind. When
one sees self-nature, one attains Buddhahood. This was the case
when Bodhidharma helped his disciple to calm his mind and when the
sixth Patriarch spoke only about seeing self-nature. All that was
necessary was the direct understanding and acceptance of Mind and
nothing else. There was no such thing as investigating hua to. More
recent patriarchs, however, saw that practitioners could not throw
themselves into practice with total dedication and could not instantaneously
see their self-nature. Instead, these people played games and imitated
words of wisdom, showing off other people's treasure and imagining
it was theirs. For this reason, later patriarchs were compelled
to set up schools and devise specific ways to help practitioners,
hence the method of investigating hua to.
There are many hua tos, such as "all dharmas return
to one, where does this one return to?" What was my original face
before I was born?" and so on. The most common one, however, is
"who is reciting the Buddha's name?"
What is meant by hua to? Hua means the spoken word;
to means the head or beginning, so hua to means that which is before
the spoken word. for example, reciting Amitabha Buddha is a hua,
and hua to is that which precedes one's reciting the Buddha's name.
The hua to is that moment before the thought arises. Once the thought
arises, it is already the tail of the hua. The moment before the
thought has arisen is called non-arising. When one's mind is not
distracted, is not dull, is not attached to quiescence, or has not
fallen into a state of nothingness, it is called non-perishing.
Single-mindedly and uninterruptedly, turning inward and illuminating
the state of non-arising and non-perishing is called investigating
the hua to, to taking care of the hua to.
To investigate the hua-t', one must first generate
doubt. doubt is like a walking cane for the method of investigating
hua to. what is meant by doubt? For example, one may ask, :who is
reciting the Buddha's name?" Everyone knows that it is he himself
who is reciting the name, but is he using his mouth or mind? If
it is his mouth, then after the person dies and the mouth still
exists, how come the dead person is unable to recite Buddha's name?
If it is the mind, then what is the mind like? It cannot be known.
Thus there is something one does not understand, and this gives
rise to a slight doubt regarding the question of " who."
This doubt should never be coarse. The finer it is
the better. At all times and in all places, one should single-mindedly
watch and keep this doubt, and keep it going like a fine stream
of water. Do not get distracted by any other thought. When the doubt
is there, do not disturb it. When the doubt is no longer there,
gently give rise to it again. Beginners will find that it is more
effective to use this method when stationary rather than when moving;
but you should not have a discriminating attitude. Regardless of
whether your practice is effective or not or whether you are stationary
or moving, just single-mindedly use the method and practice.
In the hua to, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?"
The emphases should be on the word "who." The other words serve
to provide a general idea, just like in asking, "Who is dressing?"
"Who is eating?" "Who in moving their bowels?" "Who is urinating?"
"Who is ignorantly fighting for an ego?" "Who is being aware?" "Regardless
of whether one is walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, the
word "who" is direct and immediate. Not having to rely on repetitive
thinking, conjecture, or attention, it is easy to give rise to a
sense of doubt.
Hence, hua to's involving the word "who " are wonderful
methods for methods for practicing Ch'an. But the idea is not to
repeat, " Who is reciting Buddha's name?" like one might repeat
the Buddha's name itself; nor is it right to use reasoning to come
up with an answer to the question, thinking that this is what is
meant by having doubt. There are people who uninterruptedly repeat
the phrase, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" They would accumulate
more merit and virtue if they repeatedly recited Amitabha Buddha's
name instead. There are others who let their minds wander, thinking
that is the meaning of having doubt, and they end up more involved
in illusory thoughts. This is like trying to ascend but descending
instead. Be aware of this.
The doubt that is generated by a beginning practitioner
tends to be coarse, intermittent and irregular. This does not truly
qualify as a state of doubt. It can only be called thoughts. Gradually,
after the wild thoughts settle and one has more control, the process
can be called can (pronounced ts'an which means to investigate or
look into). As one's cultivation gets smoother, the doubt naturally
arises without one's actively inducing it to. At this point one
is not aware of where one is sitting. One is not aware of the existence
of a body or mind or environment. Only the doubt is there. This
is a true state of doubt.
Realistically speaking, the initial stage cannot be
considered cultivation. One is merely engaging in illusory thoughts.
Only when true doubt arises by itself can it be called true cultivation.
This moment is a crucial juncture, and it is easy for the practitioner
to deviate from the right path:
(1) At this moment it is clear and pure and there
is an unlimited sense of lightness and peace. However if one fails
to fully maintain one's awareness and illumination (awareness is
wisdom, not delusion; illumination is samadhi, not disorder), one
will fall into a light state of mental dullness. If there is an
open-eyed person around, he will be able to tell right away that
the practitioner is in this mental state and hit him with the incense
stick, dispersing all clouds and fog. Many people become enlightened
(2) At this moment it is clear and pure, empty and
vacuous. If it isn't, then the doubt is lost. Then it is "no content,"
meaning one is not making an effort to practice anymore. This is
what is meant by "the cliff with dry wood" or "the rock soaking
in cold water. " In this situation the practitioner has to " bring
up." "Bring up" means to develop awareness and illumination. It
is different from earlier times when the doubt was coarse. Now it
has to be extremely fine --- one thought, uninterrupted and extremely
subtle. With utter clarity, it is illuminating and quiescent, unmoving
yet fully aware. Like the smoke from a fire that is about to go
out, it is a narrow stream without interruption. When one's practice
reaches this point, it is necessary to have a diamond eye in the
sense that one should not try to "bring up" anymore. To "bring up"
at this point would be like putting a head on top of one's head.
Once a monk asked Ch'an master Zhaozhou, "What should
one do when not one thing comes?" Zhaozhou replied, "Put it down."
The monk asked, "If not one thing comes, what does one put down?"
Zhaozhou replied, "If it cannot be put down, take it up." This dialogue
refers precisely to this kind of situation. The true flavor of this
state cannot be described. Like someone drinking water, only he
knows how cool or warm it is. If a person reaches this state, he
will naturally understand. If he is not at this state, no explanation
will be adequate. To a sword master you should offer a sword; do
not bother showing your poetry to someone who is not a poet.
5. Taking Care of hua to and Turning Inward to Hear
Someone might ask, "How is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara's
method of turning inward to hear self-nature considered investigating
Ch'an?" I have previously explained that taking care of hua to is
being, moment after moment, with only one thought, single-mindedly
shining the light inward on "that which is not born and not destroyed."
Inward illumination is reflection. Self-nature is that which is
not born and not destroyed. When "hearing" and "illuminating" follow
sound and form in the worldly stream, hearing does not go beyond
sound and seeing does not go beyond form. However, when one turns
inward and contemplates self-nature against the worldly stream,
and does not pursue sound and form then he becomes pure and transparent.
At that time "hearing" and "illuminating" are not two different
Thus we should know that taking care of the hua to
and turning inward to hear self-nature does not mean using our eyes
to see and our ears to hear. If we use our ears to hear or our eyes
to see, then we are chasing sound and form. As a result we will
be affected by them. This is called submission to the worldly stream.
If one practices with one thought only, single-mindedly abiding
in that which is not born and not destroyed, not chasing after sound
and form, with no wandering thoughts, then one is going against
the stream. This is also called taking care of the hua to or turning
inward to hear one's self-nature. This is not to say you should
close your eyes tightly or cover your ears. Just do not generate
a mind of seeking after sound and form
6. Determined to Leave samsara and Generating a Persevering
In Ch'an training the most important thing is to have
an earnestness to leave birth and death and to generate a persevering
mind. If there is no earnestness to leave birth and death, then
one cannot generate the "great doubt" and practice will not be effective.
If there is no perseverance in one's mind, the result will be laziness,
like a man who practices for one day and rests for ten. The practice
will be incomplete and when great doubt arises, vexations will come
to an end by themselves. When the time comes, the melon will naturally
depart from the vine.
I will tell you a story. During the Ching dynasty
in the year of Geng Ze (1900) when the eight world powers sent their
armies to Peking, the Emperor Guang Xu fled westward from Peking
to Shanxi province. Everyday he walked tens of miles. for several
days he had no food to eat. On the road, a peasant offered him sweet
potato stems. after he ate them, he asked the peasant what they
were because they tasted so good. Think about the emperor's usual
awe-inspiring demeanor and his arrogance! How long do you think
he could continue to maintain his imperial attitude after so long
a journey on foot? do you think he had ever gone hungry? Do you
think he ever had to eat sweet potato stems? At that time he gave
up all of his airs. After all, he had walked quite a distance and
had eaten stems to keep from starving. Why was he able to put down
everything at that time? Because the allied armies wanted his life
and his only thought was to save himself. But when peace prevailed
and he returned to Peking, once again he became proud and arrogant.
He didn't have to run anymore. He no longer had longer had to eat
any food that might displease him. Why was he unable to put down
everything at that time? Because the allied armies no longer wanted
his life. If the emperor always had an attitude of running for his
life and if he could turn such an attitude toward the path of practice,
there would be nothing he could not accomplish. It's a pity he did
not have a persevering mind. When favorable circumstances returned,
so did his former habits.
Fellow practitioners! Time is passing, never to return.
It is constantly looking for our lives. It is more frightening than
the allied armies. Time will never compromise or make peace with
us. Let us generate a mind of perseverance immediately in order
to escape from birth and death! Master Gaofeng (1238-1295) once
said, "concerning the practice, one should act like a stone dropping
into the deepest part of the pool --- ten thousand feet deep ---
continuously and persistently dropping without interruption toward
the bottom. If one can practice like this without stopping, continuously
for seven days and still be unable to cut off one's wandering, illusory
thoughts and vexations, I, Gaofeng, will have my tongue pulled out
for cows to plow on forever. "He continued by saying, "When one
practices Ch'an, one should set out a certain time for success,
like a man who has fallen into a pit a thousand feet deep. All his
tens of thousands of thoughts are reduced to one --- escape from
the pit. If one can really practice from morning to dusk and from
night to day without a second thought, and if he does not attain
complete enlightenment within three, five, or seven days, I shall
be committing a great lie for which I shall have my tongue pulled
out for cows to plow on forever." This old master had great compassion.
Knowing that we would probably be unable to generate such a persevering
mind, he made two great vows to guarantee our success.
7. Enlightenment and Practice
The patriarch, Hanshan (1546-1623), once said (in
this document), "There are practitioners who get enlightened first
and then start their cultivation, and those who practice first and
then get enlightened. However, there are two kinds of enlightenment:
insight through reason and insight through experience. If a person
realizes Mind by following the teachings of the Buddha and the patriarchs,
it is considered insight through reason. One with such an experience
will only have a conceptual understanding. In all circumstances
he will still be powerless. The mind of the practitioner and the
environment are separate and do not reach totality. Therefore, his
experience is an obstruction. It is called simulated Prajna and
is not real practice.
"On the other hand, those who become enlightened through
practice stick to their methods in a straightforward manner until
they force themselves into a corner. suddenly their last conceptual
thought disappears and they completely realize Mind. It is like
seeing your father at a cross road there is no doubt. It is like
drinking water: only the person drinking knows if it is warm or
cold. There is no way to express it. This is real practice and enlightenment.
Afterward, the practitioner will still have t deal with different
mental states that arise in accordance with his experience. He will
still have to get rid of strong karmic obstructions and wandering
and emotional thoughts, leaving only pure Mind. This is enlightenment
"concerning true enlightenment experiences, there
are deep and shallow ones. If one puts effort in following the fundamental
principle, destroys the nest of the eighth consciousness and overturns
the dark caves of ignorance, then one head directly for enlightenment.
There is no other way. Those who achieve this have extremely sharp
karmic roots and experience deep enlightenment.
"Those who practice gradually experience shallow enlightenment.
The worst case is when someone attains little and is satisfied.
One should not take illusions, like shadows created by light, for
enlightenment. Why? Because they do not chop down the root of the
eighth consciousness. The experiences these people have are manifestations
of their own consciousness. Believing such an experience to be real
is like mistaking a thief for your son. an ancient said, 'Because
cultivators believe that the activities of their consciousness are
real, they do not recognize what is real. This is the reason for
their transmigration through innumerable kalpas of birth and death.
Ignorant people take consciousness for their true selves. 'Therefore,
you must pass through this gate.
"On the other hand, there are those who experience
sudden enlightenment and cultivate gradually. Although these people
have experience deep enlightenment, they still have habitual tendencies
that they cannot eliminate immediately. At this point , progress
depends on circumstance. It all depends on the clarity of their
practice in different situations. They have to use their enlightened
principle to illuminate these situations. while passing through
them they can check their minds. If they can melt away one percent
of the external appearances, then they will have gained one percent
of their Dharmakaya. By eliminating one percent of their wandering
thoughts, one percent of their original wisdom will manifest. This
is how one can strengthen one's experience."
Listening to Hanshan's words, we can see that it is
not important whether someone is enlightened or not. Those who understand
enlightenment either through reason or experience have to continue
their practice and follow it through. The difference is that those
who are enlightened first and then cultivate are like old horses
who are familiar with the road. They will not go the wrong way.
It is much easier than cultivating first and then getting enlightened.
Those who are enlightened are rooted and are not like
those who understand enlightenment through reason. People with the
latter understanding are shaky. Their experience is superficial.
those who are enlightened through experience are more likely to
derive benefit form their practice. Even at the age of eighty, the
elder master Zhaozhou (778-897) still traveled. For forty years,
the master used his mind without any wanderings; he only investigated
the word "nothingness." He is a great model. Do you doubt that the
master was enlightened? He truly reminds us not to be satisfied
when we have little and not to praise ourselves highly.
There are those who, after reading a few sutras or
collections of talks of Ch'an masters, say things like, "The mind
is the Buddha," and , "It is throughout the three periods and ten
directions." Their words have nothing to do with the fundamental
principle. They firmly believe that they are ancient Buddhas who
have come back again. When they meet people, they praise themselves
and say that they have attained complete enlightenment. Blind followers
will even brag for them. It is like mistaking fish eyes for pearls.
They do not know the difference between the real and the false.
They mix things up. It not only makes people lose faith; it also
gives rise to criticism. The reason the Ch'an sect is not flourishing
is mainly because of the faults of these crazy people. I hope you
can be diligent in your practice. Do not start something false.
Do not speak about Ch'an with empty words. You must investigate
seriously and attain real enlightenment. In the future you can propagate
the Dharma and be a great master, like a dragon or an elephant in
the animal kingdom, and help Ch'an Buddhism to flourish.
8. Investigating Ch'an and Reciting Buddha's Name
Those who recite Buddha's name usually criticize those
who investigate Ch'an and those who investigate Ch'an usually slander
those who recite Buddha's name. They seem to oppose each other like
enemies. Some of them even wish that the others would die. This
is a terrible thing to have happen in Buddhism. There is a saying
which goes something like this: "A family in harmony will succeed
in everything, whereas a family in decline is sure to argue. "With
all of this fighting among brothers, it is no wonder that others
laugh at us and look down at us.
Investigating Ch'an, reciting Buddha's name, and other
methods are all teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. The original Path
is not separate from these methods. It is only because of the different
karmic roots and mentalities of sentient beings that different methods
are taught. It is like giving different antidotes for different
poisons. Later on, patriarchs divided Buddha's teaching into different
sects corresponding to different theories. Because the needs of
people differ at different times, patriarchs propagated the Dharma
in different ways.
If an individual practices a method that fits his
character, then regardless of which Dharma door he uses., he can
penetrate the Path. Actually, there are no superior and inferior
Dharma doors. Furthermore, Dharma doors are interconnected. all
are perfect and without obstruction. For example, when one recites
the Buddha's name to the point of one-mindedness, is this not investigating
Ch'an? When one investigates Ch'an to the point of no separation
between the investigator and that which is being investigated, is
this not reciting the real characteristic of the Buddha? Ch'an is
not other than the Ch'an within the Pure Land and Pure Land is not
other than the Pure Land within Ch'an. Ch'an and pure Land are mutually
enriching, and they function together.
However, there are people who favor one view over
another, and from these distinctions arise different ideas and opinions,
which can unfortunately lead to praising oneself while slandering
others. Such people are like fire and water. They cannot exist together.
they have misunderstood the intention of the patriarchs who started
the different sects. These people are unintentionally responsible
for damaging, slandering and endangering Buddhism. Is this not sad
I hope that all of us , no matter which dharma door
we practice, understand the Buddha's principle of not discriminating
and not arguing. We should have the mind of helping one another
so that we may save this ship which floats amidst dangerous and
9. The Two Kinds of difficulty and Ease which Practitioners
There are two kinds of difficulty and ease practitioners
face on the Path, and which they experience depends primarily on
the shallowness or depth of their practice. The first kind of difficulty
and ease is associated with beginners, while the second kind corresponds
to advanced practitioners.
The symptoms of the common beginner's disease are:
incapability of putting down wandering thoughts, habitual tendencies,
ignorance, arrogance, jealousy, greed, anger, stupidity, desire,
laziness, gluttony, and discrimination between self and other. All
these fill big bellies. How can this be in accordance with the Path?
There are other kinds of people who are born into
wealthy and noble families. Never forgetting their habitual tendencies
and bad influences, they cannot endure one bit of difficulty or
withstand any hardship. How can these people practice the Path?
They do not consider the status of our original teacher, Shakyamuni
Buddha, when he decided to become a monk.
There are other people who know a few words but do
not understand that the ancients were actually tests to evaluate
practitioners' levels of understanding. These people think they
are smart. Every day they scrutinize the recorded sayings and writings,
talk about Mind and Buddha, explain and interpret the teachings
of the ancients. Talking about food but not eating it, counting
the treasure of others and not owning it themselves, they think
they are extraordinary people. They become incredibly arrogant.
But when these people become seriously ill, they will cry out for
help; and at the end of their lives they will panic and become bewildered.
At that time, what they have learned and understood will be useless,
and it will be too late to regret.
There are other people who misunderstand the saying,
" Originally we are Buddhas." These people say that the original
self is complete and that there is no need for rectification. All
day long they loaf about with nothing to do, following their emotions,
wasting their time. These people praise themselves as eminent people
and conform to causes and conditions. In the future these people
will suffer greatly.
Then there are people who have determined minds to
practice, but who do not know where to begin their endeavors, or
who are afraid of wandering thoughts. Unable to get rid of their
thoughts, they abide inn vexation all day long, thinking about and
mourning their heavy karmic obstructions. Because of this their
determined minds backslide.
There are also those people who want to battle till
death with their wandering thoughts. Furiously, they tense up their
fists and push out their chests and eyes. It seems like they are
involved in something big. Ready to die in battle against their
wandering thoughts, they do not realize that wandering thoughts
cannot be defeated. These people end up vomiting blood or going
There are people who fear falling into emptiness.
Little do they know that demons have arisen in their minds. They
can neither empty their minds nor get enlightened. And there are
those who strongly seek enlightenment, not understanding that seeking
enlightenment and wanting to attain Buddhahood are all grave wandering
thoughts. One cannot cook sand hoping to eat rice. They can seek
until the year of the donkey and they still won't get enlightened.
sometimes people become elated when occasionally they sit through
a couple of peaceful sittings. These situations are like a blind
turtle whose head happens to pass through a small hole in a piece
of wood floating in the middle of the ocean. It is not the result
of real practice. In their elation these people have served to add
There are those who dwell in false purity during meditation
and enjoy themselves. Since they cannot maintain a peaceful mind
within activity , they avoid noisy places and spend their days soaking
in stale water. There are numerous examples of this. for beginners,
it is very difficult to find entrance to the Path. If there is illumination
without awareness, then it's like sitting in stale water waiting
Even though this practice is hard, once you find entrance
to the path, it becomes easier. What is the easiest way for beginners?
There is nothing special other than being able to "put it down."
put what down? Put down all vexations arising from ignorance. Fellow
practitioners, once this body of ours stops breathing, it becomes
a corpse. The main reason we cannot put it down is because we place
too much importance on it. Because of this, we give rise to the
idea of self and other, right and wrong, love and hate, gain and
loss. If we can have a firm belief that this body of ours is like
a corpse, not to cherish it or look upon it as being ourselves,
then what is there that we cannot put down? we must learn to put
it down anywhere, anytime, whether walking, standing, sitting or
sleeping, whether in motion or still, whether resting or active.
we have to hold onto the doubt of the hua to internally, and externally,
and externally ignore everything. Continuously keep this up, calmly
and peacefully, without a moment of extraneous thought, like a long
sword extending into the sky. If anything comes in contact with
the sharp edge, it will be extinguished without a trace or sound.
If one could do this, would he still be afraid of wandering thoughts?
What could harm him? Who is it that would be distinguishing between
movement and stillness? Who is it that would be attached to existence
If there are fears of wandering thoughts, then you
have already added another wandering thought. If you feel you are
pure, then you are already defiled. If you are afraid of falling
into emptiness, then you are already dwelling in existence. If you
want to become a Buddha, then you have to know is the entrance to
the Path. afterward, carrying water and gathering firewood are not
separate from the wonderful Path. Hoeing and planting fields are
all Ch'an opportunities (Ch'an ji). Practicing the Path is not limited
to sitting cross-legged throughout the day.
What difficulties are encountered by advanced practitioners?
Although some have practiced until the emergence of genuine doubt
and possess both awareness and illumination, they are still bound
by birth and death. Those who have neither awareness nor illumination
fall into false emptiness. To arrive at either of these situations
is truly hard. After reaching this point , many people cannot detach
themselves further. They stand at the top of a ten thousand foot
pole unable to advance. Some people, having progressed to this stage
and being skilled in practice, and having sidestepped situations
they cannot solve, think that they have already eradicated ignorance.
They believe that their practice has reached home. Actually, these
people are living in the wave of ignorance and do not even know
it. When these people encounter a situation that they cannot solve
--- where they must be their own master --- they just give up. This
is a pity.
There are others who reach real doubt, gain a little
wisdom from the experience of emptiness, and understand a few ancient
gong ans; and then they give up the great doubt because they think
they are completely enlightened. These people compose poems and
gathas, act arrogantly and call themselves virtuous men of the Path.
Not only do they fool themselves, they also mislead others. They
are creating bad karma. In other cases there are those who mistake
the words of Bodhidharma, "To isolate from external conditions,
internally the mind becomes still, like a wall, and one can enter
the Path, " or the Sixth Patriarch's, "Not thinking of good or evil,
at this time what is your original face, venerable Ming?" They think
that meditating by rotten wood or by large boulders is the ultimate
principle. These people take the illusory city as their treasured
palace. They take the temporally guest house as their home. This
i s what the gong an of the old woman who burned down the hut to
reprimand one such living corpse refers to.
What is the easy way for these advanced practitioners?
Do not be proud and do not quit in the middle of cultivation. In
the midst of well-meshed continuous practice, you have to be even
finer. While practicing in a cautious and attentive manner, you
have to be more careful. When the time comes, the bottom of the
barrel will naturally drop off. If you cannot do this, then find
a virtuous teacher to pry off the nails of the barrel and pull out
Master cold Mountain once chanted: "On the peak of
the highest mountain, the four directions expand to infinity. Sitting
in silence, no one knows. The solitary moon shines on the cold spring.
Here inn the spring there is no moon. is high in the sky. Though
I'm humming this song, in the song there is no Ch'an. "The first
two lines of this song reveal that the appearance of real nature
does not belong to anything. The whole world is filled with bright
and pure light without any obstructions. The third line speaks of
the real body of Suchness. Surely, ordinary people cannot know this.
Even the Buddhas of the three periods do not know where I abide.
Therefore, no one can know the path. The three lines beginning with,
"The solitary moon shines on the cold spring," is an expedient example
of the level of Master Cold Mountain's practice. The last two lines
are mentioned because he is afraid that we will "mistake the finger
for the moon." He especially warns us that words and language are
I have said too much and have interrupted your practice.
It is like pulling vines. The more one pulls, the more they tangle
together. whenever there are words, there is no real meaning. when
the ancient virtuous masters guided their students, either they
used sticks or shouted. There were not so many words. However, the
present cannot be compared with the past. One has no choice but
to point a finger at the moon. After all, which is the finger? Which
is the moon? Investigate!
Translated by Ven. Guo-gu Bhikshu