Volume 21, No. 1
Four Pursuiy: Advocacy for Stabilizing People's Minds:
Pursue only what we need.
Do not pursue what we merely want, as it is not important.
Pursue only what we can and should acquire.
Never pursue what we can't and shouldn't acquire.
Chan Master Sheng-yen
|Song of Mind of Niu-t'ou Fa-jung
Commentary by Master Sheng-yen on a seventh-century poem expressing the Chan
understanding of mind. This article is the 31st from a series of lectures given during retreats at the
Chan Center in Elmhurst, New York. These talks were given on December 1st and
26th, 1987 and
were edited by Chris Marano.
||Commentary by Master Sheng-yen
The Four Noble Truths
This is the last of four Sunday afternoon talks by Master
Sheng-yen on the Four
Noble Truths, at the Chan Meditation Center from November 1st to November 22nd,
1998. The talks were translated live by Ven. Guo-gu Shi, transcribed from tape by
Bruce Rickenbacher, and edited by Ernest Heau, with assistance from Lindley Hanlon. Endnotes were added by Ernest
||Lecture by Master Sheng-yen
So if desire is bad, is Buddhism anything like Stoicism?
||by David Berman
This magazine is published quarterly by the Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Culture, Chan
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©Chan Meditation Center
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Founder/Teacher: Shi-fu (Master) Venerable Dr. Sheng-yen
Editors: David Berman, Ernest Heau, Harry Miller, Linda Peer
Managing Editor: Linda Peer
Section Editors: David Berman: practitioners' articles, interviews, etc.
Buffe Laffey: news and upcoming events
Design: Guo-huan / Lawrence Waldron
Copy Editor: John Anello, John Taylor
Other assistance: Nora Ling-yun Shih, Christine Tong
Song of Mind of Niu-t'ou Fa-jung
Commentary by Master Sheng-yen
This article is the 31st from a series of lectures
given during retreats at the Chan Center in Elmhurst, New York. These talks
were given on December 1st and 26th, 1987 and were edited by Chris Marano.
Neither entering nor leaving,
Neither quiet nor noisy.
These two lines of verse speak to enlightened beings as well as to beginning practitioners. The Heart Sutra states, "This voidness of
all dharmas is not born, not destroyed, not impure, not pure, does not increase or decrease." In other words, the coming and going of
dharmas, birth and death, and;. leaving samsara to enter nirvana, are all products of our
It seems relatively easy for people to intellectually accept these concepts. The words are a great source for rationalizations. "You have
vexations? Well, vexations and wisdom are one and the same." "Practice? Why? Ignorance is the same as enlightenment, samsara is
the same as nirvana, and we are already Buddhas." "Don't worry about birth and death. There is no coming and going." That is all
well and good. It works well when someone in a different relationship leaves his or her partner for a new love interest, but what if it is
you who are being rejected. These are wise words when someone else's parents die, but how well would the words work for you if it
were your parents.
Humans have emotions. We are attracted to some things and avoid others. Things do not always go as we would like them to go, and
we suffer. We all have vexations. The words of the Heart Sutra speak of the enlightened condition. For ordinary sentient beings,
replete with discriminating minds and attachment to self, birth and death still exist, vexation and wisdom are different, and practice
leads one from samsara to nirvana. From our point of view this is all true. But, when you actually do leave behind all vexation and attachment to
self, then you realize that vexation and wisdom as well as samsara and nirvana are one and the same. If you arrive at a level where
there is no more clinging to birth and averting death, then you are in nirvana. But if your mind is still influenced by the environment
and you are still governed by karma, then you still reside in samsara.
"Neither entering nor leaving" refers to the deeply enlightened person. Beginning practitioners, however, can also make use of this
principle in their attitude towards practice. As I have said many times, when you are practicing, do not think about achieving
enlightenment or entering samadhi, or leaving behind wandering thoughts or your pain. Do not seek anything. Just stay with the
Beginning practitioners can also make use of the second line of verse: "Neither quiet nor noisy." First-time retreatants at the
Ch'an Center are surprised to discover that we are located in the heart of New York City. If it is peace and quiet you are after, you have come
to the wrong place; that is, if you feel that peace and quiet come from the outside. While we practice, we are bombarded by sounds
from outside -- traffic, subways, children coming and going to school, people coming and going to work, buses stopping and starting right outside our doors
-- and by sounds from inside -- phones ringing, people walking behind you, the clock ticking, people cooking in the kitchen. If you are moved by these sounds, then it will be difficult to concentrate on your
method. But if you attend to your method, then the sounds will not be a bother. Sounds are
everywhere, it is you who must change.
I will tell a story. Before a particular monk became a master, he practiced
in a large monastery. No matter how hard he tried, he could not concentrate
for long periods of time. There was just too much noise and commotion.
So, he decided to leave and practice alone in the mountains. When he arrived,
he finally relaxed, "Finally, no more people to disturb my practice.
This will be great." He sat down to meditate. Just as he was relaxing,
a bird started to chirp right above his head. He tried to push it out of
his mind, but he could not. "Too much noise!" He tried to chase the bird
away, but it was no use. Finally, he thought, "It's the trees that draw
the birds, so I'll go where there are no trees." So he walked to
a meadow and began to meditate again. "Ahh, no more birds." But he forgot
about the insects. He would slap the ground and that would quiet them for
a few seconds, but they would soon begin again, and after awhile
it became unbearable. He thought, "This is not a good place for meditation.
Let me go to a place where there are no bugs and birds." He walked until
he found a small pond of water that was fed by a stream. Soon after he
sat down, the frogs started to croak, and behind that noise he could hear
the continual trickle of the stream. He realized that there was no place
that was quiet, and decided to take matters into his own hands. he balled
up small pieces of cloth and stuck them in his ears. now it did not matter
where he sat because he could not hear anything. "Now I'll be able to meditate,"
he thought. He sat for a few minutes, when suddenly, "Where is the sound
of those drums coming from?" When he removed the cloth to listen, the drumming
stopped. As soon as he put the cloth back in his ears, the drumming resumed.
Then he realized the drumming was the sound of his own beating heart. Disgusted,
the monk figured, "I'm just not cut out for meditation. I may as well forget
Later on, a master told him, " The problem is not with sounds, but with
the mind that is influenced by those sounds." As soon as the monk heard
those words, he immediately became enlightened. This is good advise for
all of us. In and of themselves, phenomona are not disturbing. It is the
mind that is moved by phenomena which calls them disturbances. I hope that
you can put this into practice, especially those of you who are sitting
next to the door where the noises are louder. If, however, you agree with
the monk in the story that it is the sounds that are a problem, then let
me know. We can always move you and your cushion to the boiler room.
by Master Sheng-yen
The Four Noble Truths
This is the last of four Sunday afternoon talks by
Master Sheng-yen on the Four Noble Truths, at the Chan Meditation Center,
New York, between November 1 and November 22, 1998. The talks were translated
live by Ven. Guo-gu Shi, transcribed from tape by Bruce Rickenbacher, and
edited by Ernest Heau, with assistance from Lindley Hanlon. Endnotes were
added by Ernest Heau.
click here for the article
"So if desire is bad, is Buddhism
anything like Stoicism?"
The Dharma Lecturer Training Program goes to Stuyvesant High
by David Berman
I came home Thursday to find a message from Guo-yuan Fa Shi: he had
been contacted by a teacher from Stuyvesant High School who was looking
for someone to come talk about Buddhism, and would I give her a call?
I did, and she turned out to be Jennifer Suri, the Assistant Principal
for Social Studies. She had done a web search for local Buddhist organizations,
had made a bunch of phone calls, and I was the only one who had called
her back. She told me that her ninth-graders had just done Buddhism in
their World History class, and had come up with questions that neither
she nor the other teachers could answer, questions like, "What about the
desire to be a good person, what's wrong with that?" and, "If everything
causes suffering then why bother doing anything?", so she had decided to
seek some outside expertise. Might I be available to come speak and answer
some questions? Maybe two, maybe three classes, maybe she could put some
groups together, actually if I could stay till after lunch she could put
the Humanities kids together with one of the other classes in the lecture
hall, but she didn't want to overtax me, that might be too much…
I would have said yes anyway -- after all, this is exactly what the
Dharma Lecturer Training Program is for - but the fact is her enthusiasm
won me completely. Here was a public school teacher who didn't know the
answer, and was doing whatever it took to get it and make it available
to as many students as possible. That, I thought, is a behavior that should
Not only that, this would be an excellent road test for my toddling
skills as a Dharma lecturer. I've spent the last year writing and delivering
little Dharma talks to small, well-behaved groups of sympathetic colleagues
at the Chan Center, but this would be my maiden voyage into the outside
world, and I know ninth-graders. I have taught ninth-graders, and performed
for ninth-graders, and the thing about ninth-graders is they are the most
brutally honest audience in the world. If you bore them, or talk down to
them, or, pardon the expression, aim the wrong end of the bull at them,
their attention is gone in a heartbeat. At the very least, they would let
me know how I'm doing.
I knew from Jennifer that the kids had studied the biography of Siddhartha
Gautama, and had been introduced to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble
Eightfold Path. I also had the impression from Jennifer that the history
textbook might not have done what we would consider justice to all of the
teachings. (It had said that desire was the cause of suffering and left
it at that). I had a week to prepare, and I'd have forty minutes for each
class, so I started outlining, thinking that I'd concentrate on the First
and Second Truths, explaining Suffering, Karma, conditioned arising, the
three root vexations, and the interrelations among them. I ought to be
able to do that in twenty-five minutes, and leave time for questions. I
had already presented twenty-minute lectures on suffering and the cause
of suffering in class, so I opened the My Documents/Chan Teachings/My Writings
sub-folder and took a look at what I'd already written.
It was pretty good! Clear, concise, and key points illuminated with
examples from my personal experience. But as I started to edit with the
Stuyvesant freshmen in mind, everything felt wrong, like I was trying to
move them through the material way too fast, and they would never come
along. My previous lectures now seemed to be skimming over the surface
of the teachings, as if I knew that my audience already knew everything
I was saying, which was of course true. I hadn't really been teaching,
I'd just been demonstrating that I could teach, as if for a panel of judges,
giving answers that were clear, concise, and entirely about me. Yech!
In discussing the Dharma lectures presented in the training program,
the question of who we were addressing had often come up. Was the lecture
pitched at beginners, at Buddhists, at experienced retreatants? Often the
answer had been, "I wrote this lecture for people who know basic Buddhism,
but who may not be clear on all the teachings…", in other words, for people
like ME. We were actually lecturing to our Buddhist classmates week after
week, and we were naturally trying to appeal to the people in front of
us. Now I suddenly had real students to write for, and they were going
to be vastly different from me: they hadn't read all the Chan books, or
heard all of Shifu's talks, or come to the Friday night classes, and I
had to think about how to be informative, and interesting, and helpful
What surfaced in my mind was the lecture Shifu had given to inaugurate
the Dharma Lecturer Training Program. He had spoken about correct views,
and had begun with what you might call "correct overview", a simple, clear
outline of Buddhism as a whole:
Concepts & Ideas
Buddhism consists of the Three Jewels, the Buddha being the source,
the Sangha being the means of transmission, and the Dharma, the teachings,
being the centerpiece. The Dharma consists of Realization (what the Buddha
sees and knows) and Doctrine (what ordinary sentient beings study and practice).
Realization is available to all of us, but is not accessible to language;
what the Buddha sees and knows can't be adequately described. Doctrine,
on the other hand, consists of Concepts and Ideas, which are ways of pointing
in the direction of what the Buddha knows, and which include things like
the Four Noble Truths, and Methods, which are ways of making steps toward
the experience of realization, and which include the Noble Eightfold Path.
If I started by laying this foundation, then everything the students
had learned from their textbook could be placed in a larger context and
understood to have a function, instead of being just a list of technical
terms.And now, as I thought again about explaining suffering and its origins,
my ideas seemed to have a place to land. I was beginning to understand
why Shifu likes to use visual aids, and I was beginning to feel a lot better.
So now I was charging ahead and getting into the nitty-gritty of the
Second Truth with desire and hatred creating the perfect conditions for
the seeds of karma to ripen into more suffering in the soil of fundamental
ignorance, ignorance of what? Of this, and in my mind I'm pointing
at my chart where it says Realization, at which point I realize
that that's just a big blank spot, all I've said about it is that you can't
say anything about it, and is that going to satisfy ninth-grade honors
students? No way! In my mind I see hands shooting up all over the room,
with that straining gesture that says, "Call on me!"
Back to My Documents/Chan Teachings/My Writings to look at the Four
Pillars of the Dharma lecture. Can I say anything useful about impermanence,
emptiness and no-self in five minutes? Because if I can't, I'd better not
bring it up. But if I don't, then there's no foundation: without impermanence,
emptiness and selflessness, fundamental ignorance sounds like an Asian
version of original sin; without a correct view of ignorance, there's no
context for understanding vexation, how it arises, and who's responsible
for it; and without all that, the First Noble Truth is going to sound like
a bad case of pessimism. I still had a lot of work to do. I needed to step
What did I want them to know? I wanted them to understand suffering--that
suffering is not a characteristic of reality, like a law of physics, but
a symptom of a dysfunction, a mistake, a dissonance between the mind of
awareness and the phenomena that arise. I wanted them to understand the
cause of suffering--what the dysfunction is, and especially, where it can
be found. And I wanted them to understand something about the importance
of practice--that so much of Buddhism is concerned with what we actually
do, both in the world and in the mind, and the power this activity has.
So what if I taught them to meditate? Sure, right after I spend two
minutes on emptiness I'll spend two minutes on silent illumination. No,
really, what if I teach them a simple method, awareness of the weight against
the chair, and have them practice for five minutes? Eyes closed, no moving
allowed. Simple instruction on recognizing wandering thought and moving
back to the method. How many of them, during that five minutes, will give
rise to the desire to be doing something else? There's suffering and its
cause in a nutshell. How many will be able to recognize that they weren't
suffering while on the method, only while off it? There's the possibility
of cessation, and the whole experience is the path, and no matter what
happens it will illustrate impermanence…
And I realized there was something else that I wanted--I wanted to demonstrate
the truth of these Truths--I wanted to avoid putting the kids in the position
of having to believe or disbelieve anything I say. This was in a sutra,
and it was in my notes…the green spiral-bound notebook, the first one I
brought to the Center…here it is. The Kalama Sutra:
Do not believe in anything
It is accepted
It is written
in religious books.
It is spoken
by teachers or elders.
It is handed
down in tradition.
But if, after analysis, it is found to accord with reason, and to result
in the common good, then accept it, and live up to it. (italics
This was the teaching that, more than any other, had opened the door of
Buddhism for me. Now, of course, there are many teachings that are important
to me --teachings on ethics, phenomenology, epistemology - but what first
got my attention was the invitation to come in and bring all my faculties
with me, to be, not a follower, but a participant. Maybe it would appeal
to others as well.
The following Friday, October 20th, 9:30am. I had arrived
at 9, had been duly impressed by the security I had had to get through,
had found Jennifer in the social studies office, and had been shown to
the classroom, armed with markers. The room was a real lecture hall, with
theatre seating equipped with foldout desks facing a wall of white boards;
I was busily filling them. The selection from the Kalama Sutra came
first, then Shifu's outlined overview of Buddhism, then the Four Noble
Truths as a dual system of cause and effect with an arrow pointing to karma,
then an expansion of suffering and cause, then the three root vexations
with a short list of their attendant branches, and finally the four sentences
that express the Four Seals. Whew. I was still writing when they started
"Mr. Kaufman's class, please take notes. Mr. Harris' class, take notes
if you want." (Applause and laughter from Mr. Harris' class; groans from
Mr. Kaufman's.) Excellent--I have an example of suffering before I even
get started. Then Jennifer introduced me as, among other things, a real
live Buddhist, and off we went.
The first class, I'd have to say, went fine. If I were scoring it I'd
have to deduct a few tenths for time management and for organization. I
started by asking them questions about what they knew, and it had the intended
effect of getting them involved--the class was very lively, with lots of
questions, which I was still answering as the bell rang and the morning
announcements came over the p.a.- but it also had the effect of bumping
me off my outline here and there. I didn't quite get to impermanence and
emptiness, but near the end I got a question about the non-existence of
self that gave me the opportunity to talk a little about the Buddha's view.
I described self-centeredness as being like living in a lighthouse, and
looking out at everything from within the tower. Then I challenged them
to imagine the world without their lighthouse. "Then what's your viewpoint?"
"No viewpoint. View, but no point." It was tangible enough to chew on,
and quite a few of them left the class still chewing.
Second group, 10:20 to11:00. I tried a different tack--get through the
outline in twenty minutes and save the questions for the end. The lecture
was better, clearer, simpler, more complete, but there was much less participation,
and although I didn't lose them, I didn't have as much fun with them as
with the first group. Jennifer said it was the kids that were different;
maybe so, but I'd like to have found that out from them.
At lunch (which, by the way, was a disgrace--public school lunches must
be the only things in this country that haven't changed since 1965) a teacher
sought my opinion. She had a student, a Buddhist, who was terribly offended
that Buddhist beads, malas, had become a fashion item, and what did I think?
Did they have a religious significance, she asked, pointing to mine, and
was it offensive to wear them as mere jewelry? Now, I had been waiting
all morning for some smart-aleck fifteen-year-old to ask me a question
I couldn't answer, but I was completely unprepared for the fact that I
didn't know the meaning of my own beads. Do they have a religious significance?
A history? A story? I have no idea. So this is what I said, and I hope
it's not offensive to those who are better Buddhists than I. I said that
some people use them like rosaries, to keep track of practices like repeating
the Buddha's name, but that I don't do those practices, so I guess it would
be correct to say that I wear them as mere jewelry. As far as their current
popularity is concerned, if I notice myself becoming offended at someone
else's fashion sense, Buddhism has taught me to consider that a vexation
arising in me, and as long as they wear them on their wrists, and not through
holes in their lips or eyelids, I don't let it bother me.
In the midst of this another teacher had joined us, and now he said
oh, he wished he'd known, was there any way I could talk to his class too?
What would that mean? When would I be finished? 2:10? Sure, why not, I
was feeling pretty good, like I'd had two good rehearsals, and I was looking
forward to the main event, my double period from noon to 1:25.
It worked just right. The forty minute classes that morning had forced
me to organize the material in my mind for maximum clarity, and I now had
a much better idea what the students' understanding was, so I knew where
to start, and what I had to cover carefully, and the extra time meant that
I could afford to answer questions without worrying about the bell. We
meditated, I talked about impermanence in the thought-stream, they asked
about ideas from Hinduism and the Greeks (I had to take a pass on Hinduism);
we had a great time.
But to my surprise, the best one was the last one, the add-on. Maybe
it was the students, or maybe I was just tired enough to be loose, I don't
know, but I went from "Buddhism" to "no-self" in twenty minutes flat and
didn't lose a kid. I fielded a lot of interesting questions. ("If there's
no God in Buddhism, who's my dad prostrating to every morning?") I got
a big round of applause. A lot of them thanked me afterwards; I thanked
them back. Jennifer asked me to come back next year, and she gave me an
official Stuyvesant mug.
Now, looking back from the vantage point of two weeks later, I wish
I had expressed my gratitude better, to all of them. I have to admit that
at the time I was focused on how well I was doing for them; now, I'm much
more aware of what the whole experience did for me. I did so much learning
in only five hours: about managing the presentation of Dharma on the one
hand and the students' needs and preferences on the other; about being
nimble enough to take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities they
gave me to teach them. But there were also so many opportunities for me
to practice: with my preference for one student and aversion to another;
with my attachments, to my lesson plan, to my experience in the previous
class; with my habitual desire to fascinate, and have the audience like
me. In our sitting we distinguish between daily practice and periodic,
intensive practice; this was like a one-day teaching retreat, during which
I experienced teaching as practice much more intensively than I ever had
in the Friday classes, or in my daily teaching. For that, I send my gratitude
to all the students and teachers at Stuyvesant High, to all my colleagues
in the Dharma Lecturer Training Program, to Guo-yuan Fa Shi and the Sangha
at the Chan Meditation Center, and to Shifu, from whom the Dharma so generously
Retreat Report for #'s 13
How poor, I think. Only 14 till now. What a small number. Many things
happened on these retreats. #13 was full of little occurrences of the slow,
beautiful eating away of the personality, and opening up to the unbelievable
beauty of what. I don't really know of what? But all this happened a long
time ago. Today I think: Who cares? I just want to fill the gap. I don't
want to neglect writing these two retreat reports. I want to keep things
in order, and not give up. So I'll blend all this with right now. It is
correct to do so. Right now- and then- is the same. There are two forces
only. One is so beautiful. It is the rising of freedom. The force of the
eternally good, deep, encompassing flow of huge love and beauty. The other
is fear, out of which cruelty comes, the cruelty of stopping. The first
is very simple. It is what it is. Very simple. The second - its nature
is to get very complicated, because it is ashamed of itself, so it hides
in different guises. That's all there is, folks.
But the world! You'll ask. What about all this tremendous thing around
us, going far beyond imagination! What about this?!
Yes, I ask this question too: What about this?
Venerable Thich Thanh Tu, a master from Viet Nam, gave a Dharma
talk at the Chan Center on Nov. 1.On Sunday November 5 the Youth Group
to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see the Cloud Gate Dance Theater of
Taiwan, a Buddhist dance group which is performing as part of BAM's Art
and Spirituality series.
On Nov. 11, 2000, Nancy Makso, who has been a practitioner at the Chan
Center for 21 years, taught a Beginning Meditation Class in New Canaan,
CT. If you are interested in future classes please contact <ContekAlice@aol.com>
On Dec 18 Master Sheng-yen received a National Cultural and Art Award
and honorarium from the "Executive Yuen," a government organization in
Taiwan. This is the fourth year this award has been given. It is given
to four people in recognition of their contribution to education, culture
and the arts in Taiwan. Master Sheng-yen is the first religious leader
to have ever been given such honor by Taiwanese government.
Master Sheng-yen received the award in part because of his inclusion
in the UN's Millennium Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders
last August. Taiwan has been excluded from the UN for the last thirty years,
and despite that Master Sheng-yen was included in this historic religious
summit because of his stature as a religious leader. The award includes
an honorarium of $20,000 US, which Master Sheng-yen will donate to a foundation
Westerner's Dharma Gathering Friday October 20th, 2000
As always, the welcome back party for Shi-fu drew a crowd. Around 50-60
people came not only to welcome Shi-fu back to N.Y., but also to hear Shi-fu's
Dharma talk and spend some time with fellow Dharma students and friends.
It is always impressive to see the broad diversity of people who attend
the Chan Center.
In his Dharma talk, Shi-fu spoke on the importance of using both method
and concept in our practice. The basis of successful method being to relax
the body and mind, Shi-fu emphasized the two key points of relaxation -
the eyeballs and the lower abdomen. After the group practiced relaxing
these two key points, Shi-fu spoke about the importance of concept. One
point Shi-fu emphasized here was that during practice, by letting go of
wandering thoughts and returning to our method, we are putting down the
self. Why is this? Because the notion of self is just wandering thoughts.
Bill pointed out that we can sometimes feel like we are observing our wandering
thoughts, while at the same time identifying with the observing, and asked
Shi-fu to explain this. Shi-fu explained that even this "observing" is
actually wandering thoughts, just more uniform wandering thoughts. Shi-fu
told us that because they are so uniform (and thus subtle), we really need
to see their nature directly through our own meditation. Shi-fu also reminded
us that we can use both method and concept to practice during our daily
life as well as "on the cushion."
Our gratitude as always to the volunteers who put the event together
and kept it running smoothly.
Dharma Lecturer Training Program Reaches Out
The Dharma Lecturer Training Program, the effort Master Sheng-yen inaugurated
last year to prepare speakers to lecture in the community at large on Dharma
subjects, is already bearing fruit. On Friday, October 20th,
Guoyuan Fa Shi sent Center-member David Berman to Stuyvesant High School
in downtown Manhattan to teach the basics of Buddhism to their ninth-grade
history and humanities students.
The Chan Center had been initially contacted by Jennifer Suri, the Assistant
Principal for Social Studies at Stuyvesant, after several teachers reported
to her that they had received questions from their students about Buddhism
they couldn't answer. They decided to seek outside expertise, and called
the Center after doing a web search for local Buddhist organizations.
Ms. Suri indicated that Buddhism was part of the world history curriculum,
and that the students had read a biography of Siddhartha Gautama, and had
been introduced to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path,
but that when they started asking philosophical questions about desire
and pervasive suffering, the teachers called for help.
David reported that the day of teaching went very well. He taught three
forty-minute classes and one double-period of an hour and a half, starting
with a structural overview of Buddhism, covering the Four Noble Truths,
and including a brief period of meditation. "The kids were great," he said.
"I presented lots of difficult information and they stuck with it, and
came up with interesting, challenging questions. I'm very impressed with
Jennifer and the program at Stuyvesant High." Ms. Suri and the other teachers
also seemed very pleased. They have invited David back next year, and expressed
the hope that this can become an annual event.
On October 24, 200, the first Tuesday evening sitting practice
took place at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pinebush, NY. This will
be an ongoing group practice, and consists of meditation, exercises, walking
meditation and a Dharma discussion period. The group is led by Guo-yuan
Fa Shi and all are welcome to attend.
Master Sheng-yen represents the Chan Tradition in the conference
"Buddhism in the Catskills" at Hartwick College
by Rebecca Li
Master Sheng-yen gave a Dharma talk at Hartwick College in Oneonta,
NY on October 26 at 7:30 p.m., as one of the twelve speakers on Buddhism
invited to participate in the College's semester-long conference "Buddhism
in the Catskills". Master Sheng-yen was invited to represent the Chinese
Chan tradition. There were also representatives from the Japanese Zen,
Tibetan, and Theravadin traditions in the Catskills area. At the request
of the program coordinator, Dr. Huntington, Master Sheng-yen gave a brief
overview of the characteristics, goals and methods of practice in Chinese
Chan. Approximately 90 students, faculty, and staff of the College as well
as members of the surrounding community attended the lecture.
Shi-fu started his talk by telling two famous stories about the early
lineage masters in the Chinese Chan tradition. The first story was an exchange
between the second lineage master, Huike, and the first lineage master,
Bodhidharma, on calming the mind. Huike said to Bodhidharma that his mind
was not calm, and asked for a method to calm it. Bodhidharma answer that
if Huike would show him his mind, Bodhidharma would help him. Huike looked
for his mind, and then said that he could not find it. Bodhidharma responded,
"Then I have calmed your mind already." This is how Huike was enlightened.
The second story was an exchange between the fourth lineage master,
Daoxin, and his master, the third lineage master Sengcan, on how to attain
liberation. Daoxin asked, "What is the method for liberation?" Sengcan
looked at Daoxin for some time and then asked, "Who is binding you?" Daoxin
said, "No one is binding me." Sengcan said, "Since no noe os binding you,
aren't you liberated?" This is how Daoxin was enlightened.
Shi-fu pointed out that these two stories summarized the causes of our
suffering and how suffering can be extinguished. The first story shows
us that contradictions and struggle within ourselves create tremendous
suffering in our lives. Once we realize that all such contradictions within
ourselves are nothing but emotional afflictions and thoughts, outside which
there is no permanent mind to speak of, we can be liberated from suffering.
The second story shows us that the environment by itself does not make
us suffer, but because we cannot master our own minds we allow the environment
to influence and bother us. As a result, we feel that we are bound by the
environment and thus not free. Once we realize that the environment need
not bother us, we are liberated.
Master Sheng-yen then discussed the goals and methods of practice in
Chan. The goal of practice is to eliminate contradictions and struggles
within oneself and conflict between the self and the environment. Before
introducing the two main methods of Chan practice, hua-tou and silent illumination,
Master Sheng-yen pointed out that, in order to use a method of practice
effectively, it is important to relax the body and mind and clear the mind
of wandering and scattered thoughts.
After describing each of the two methods briefly, Shi-fu invited the
audience to try practicing either one of the methods. Everyone followed
the instructions closely, and after applying the methods for five minutes
the audience reported that they enjoyed the meditation. Shi-fu pointed
out that while it was relatively easy to describe the methods, liberation
usually requires a long period of diligent practice. It is also important
to seek the guidance of a teacher.
Finally, Shi-fu discussed three levels of the fruits of practice. First,
one becomes free from the small self and will no longer experience internal
contradictions and struggles within. The second level is the unified self.
One becomes unified with the environment and no longer discriminates among
the elements in the environment. Both of these are joyful experiences,
and as one attains the unified self one is filled with love but can also
become prideful. Therefore, one must transcend the unified self and move
on to the third stage, no-self, where one puts down all self-centered thoughts.
At the end of the talk, Shi-fu opened the floor for questions. Participants
eagerly sought explanation of the difference between liberation and enlightenment,
guidance on how to find a good teacher and how to decide which method to
use, as well as clarification on certain concepts taught by ancient Chan
masters. Many participants were delighted to find out that there is a Chan
retreat center in the Catskills and inquired about the activities in Pine
Bush and at the Chan Center in Elmhurst.
We are grateful to Dr. Huntington and Hartwick College for organizing
and hosting this meaningful event. Also many thanks to George Devine who
volunteered to do the driving.
My trip to Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY was one in which I will always
remember. I drove Guo-Yuan Fa Shi, Rebecca, and Master Sheng-Yen by van
from Dharma Drum Retreat Center to Hartwick College for a Dharma talk.
When we arrived we were welcomed for dinner with several College staff.
During Shi-fu's lecture the audience was so quiet you could hear a pin
drop. Shi-fu sprinkled bits of humor in his talk which delighted his listeners,
in Rebecca Li's very lively translation.
The event was recorded and videotaped and may possibly be seen sometime
in the future on public TV.
When we arrived back at the Dharma Drum Center at 12:15 A.M., Shi-fu
looked at the van's clock, then looked at me and gave me the "thumbs up"
sign, which I returned with a great smile. Driving Shi-fu was a wonderful
experience for this new student. I took Refuge last night. A new life for
me has begun.
George Devine (Chang He)
Year 2000 DDMBA Fund Raiser Convention
On Oct. 27 over 160 people from 12 states and Toronto, Canada, came
to the Dharma Drum Retreat Center for the "Year 2000 DDMBA Fund Raiser
Convention." All of the participants help raise funds for the many activities
of the Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association. Highlights of the two
and a half day event included a speech by Master Sheng-yen to give encouragement
and to strengthen and awaken people's clouded minds. Dr. Yeung-Pei conducted
workshops on "Five, Fourfold Attitudes and Actions" and "Say Kind Words,
Do Kind Things." Guo-yuan Fa Shi led a "Water Bowl Walking Meditation."
In this meditation, participants each carried an empty bowl from the meditation
hall to the pond where they filled them about 90% full. They carried the
bowls of water back with careful concentration, and placed them on the
alter in the meditation hall in offering to the Buddha. Participants also
engaged in a "Smiling Exercise." Recognizing how difficult it is for 160
people to live together without conflict, the fundraisers were asked to
try to smile at all times, as an aid to maintaining a compassionate and
un-self centered attitude. This was quite successful. The event came to
a perfect ending with "Gratitude Prostration" and "Transmission of the
Lamp of Mind" ceremonies.
Huatou Retreat and Dharma Transmission
From Nov. 25th to Dec. 2nd Master Sheng-yen conducted
a huatou retreat at the Dharma Drum Meditation Center. There were fifty-two
participants, including retreatants from Poland, Canada, Luxemburg, Switzerland,
the UK and Indonesia. This was the first retreat in the newly renovated
Chan Hall. At the end of the retreat Shih-fu conducted a Dharma transmission
ceremony for two long time disciples, Simon Child who is part of the Western
Chan Fellowship in the UK, and Max Kalin who is head of the Dharma Drum
group in Switzerland. This transmission allows these two practitioners
to teach Chan independently.
Public Lecture by venerable Thich Thanh-Tu at Chan
On November 1st, Venerable Thich Thanh-Tu and 10 of his disciples visited
Master Sheng-yen at Chan Meditation Center and held a public lecture. There
were one hundred audience who listened to his profound teaching. Venerable
Thich Thanh-Tu is a living legend among the Buddhists of Vietnam. The Master
has seven monasteries across Vietnam, as well as chapters through out Australia,
USA, Canada and Europe. He has over seven hundred left-home disciples.
His lineage is called Bamboo Forest teaching.
His public lecture outflowed with profound teaching based on the second
and the sixth patriarch of the Chan tradition. He introduced practice methods
which emphasize the principle of how to calm one's mind, and the non-duality
concept of the sixth patriach. In closing, the Master compassionately encouraged
everyone to practice diligently, and eventually, all can reach the ultimate
The aboot of Chan Meditation Center -- Guo-yuan Fa Shi, expressed sincere
thanks to Venerable Thich Thanh-Tu for providing us with such a comprehensive