Ch'an Newsletter - No. 29, May 1983

Buddha's Birthday Celebration

The Ch'an Center was filled with good cheer on Buddha's birthday. Children laughed. Food abounded. The day's activities were fun and entertaining, and with the help of Geshe Jamspal's talk, Shih-fu's lecture, and Shih-fu's spirit and help -- the day had special meaning.

Nancy Makso provided the introduction. She reminded us that we were celebration not only Buddha's birthday, but also the fifth anniversary of the Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Culture and the third anniversary of The Ch'an Meditation Center. The center has undergone an amazing transformation from a grease-caked car part shop to a three-floored Buddhist center where a great number may gather and where small groups may practice on seven-day retreats.

After chanting and services were performed, everyone participated in the Bathing the Buddha ceremony. Geshe Jamspal then spoke about the significance of the Buddha's birth.

Later, Shih-fu spoke about the Buddha's birthday. He explained that the actual day of the Buddha's birth is not known. Different cultures and traditions celebrate it at different times. In Theravadan tradition the day is given as the full moon of the fifth solar month. In China the day is usually celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month. However, we are celebrating on the tenth day of the fourth lunar month. This is more convenient for us. More important than historical fact, we need the figure of the Buddha so that we may emulate and follow him and develop Buddha mind. The Buddha is for us; we do not serve the Buddha. It is not necessary that we know the exact date on which the Buddha was born.

The Buddha is always with us. Indeed in Chinese (and Sanskrit) "Tathagata," another name for the Buddha, means "as if has come," but also "as if has gone." The Buddha has left samsara and gone to nirvana, but he has also left nirvana and gone to samsara. For Sakyamuni to be born there was no genuine coming or going. Like the food we have eaten at the center today -- it will not stay with us, but the happy feeling will remain. As a young boy Shih-fu watched earthworms ingest the earth only to spew it out once again. How meaningless, he thought. But people are not so different. Even our bodies will return to the earth.

Our lives are lived in illusion. We seek, attain, and finally lose ourselves. If we understood this, we would not be happy in attainment or sad in loss. We must live out our lives to receive the proper retribution for our past karma. We can't run away. We would only get our due In the next life.

What does the Buddha's being born have to do with us? It was necessary for our sake. In the Lotus Sutra we learn that the Buddha was born through very significant causes and conditions: to help sentient beings who have a karmic connection with him. During his lifetime he helped many people; after he was gone his teaching continued to help us. Two-thousand six-hundred and six years ago the Buddha came. If indeed he had left, he would not be called the Tathagata. So he has not left this world.

The Buddha was born to help us. We must have a deep understanding to celebrate his birth. Buddha said that if we have faith In the three jewels, he is with us. When we make up our Bodhi minds -- at that moment a new Buddha is born. We must have infinite rectitude and respect for the Buddha, otherwise we will not know Buddhadharma. A great number of beings have gotten benefit from his teaching. Everyone here has a karmic connection with the Buddha. We must always be grateful to the Buddha.

After Shih-fu's talk Robert Sperling continued as the master of ceremonies. A few members of the center recited Chinese poetry, and some of the children sang songs. Later there was a grabbag. Everyone who brought a gift received one in exchange, and Shih-fu added some of his own gifts to make sure everyone received a present. All returned home with more than they had when they came.

The Peaceful and the Forceful Method

How does one practice with the 'hua-tou' method? There are two ways. One is the peaceful method, the other is the forceful method. With the same 'hua-tou', there is a great difference between these two methods. For example, if you use the 'hua-tou' -- 'Who am I?' you can ask yourself this question in a very leisurely manner. This method can be useful, especially for one whose temperament is somewhat rough or untamed. Using a very soft voice, gentle attitude, eventually the mind will settle down, become calm and not be as violent or agitated as before.

The other method is a more forceful method. But one must have a very stable, calm mind before one can use this method. Otherwise, harm may be done, because this person can get to the state where he is ready to kill someone. He may become very agitated, banging his head, beating his chest, asking himself 'Who am I?' He is capable of doing anything in that state. So this forceful, violent method cannot be indiscriminately used, or one may become insane. The peaceful method is more appropriate for certain people. But the peaceful method cannot generate very great power. On the other hand, the forceful method can generate great power.

If you practice with the peaceful method, even if you get enlightened, the power that you acquire from this experience will not be as strong as if your method had been the forceful one. How can you tell that the power is not strong ? It may be difficult to tell -- usually, it is only when certain incidents occur that you can recognize that the power you have acquired from your practice is not sufficient. For example, it may happen that somebody is in urgent need of help, but if you were to help him, probably you will get yourself killed. You are someone who has been practicing, has had an enlightenment experience, but since you haven't developed enough power, you may still have a lot of vexations after the enlightenment experience has subsided. You are still attached to your life, you are still afraid of death. Now, you will be hesitant, unable to bring yourself to perform a compassionate act. So when these crucial circumstances arise, especially when one's life and death, fame and fortune, or sexual relationships are involved, one's mind may be clear about the proper course to take, but one's actions may go the other way. For one using the forceful method, if he gets enlightened, since the moment of explosion (the moment of enlightenment) is very powerful, he will derive a lot of power from the experience. Afterwards, he will be capable of bearing great responsibilities, since he has done away with or cut down significantly his attachment to the 'self' through his practice.

But the forceful method is not to be used in one's daily practice. Rather it is to he used only in a retreat, a period of uninterrupted practice. In the beginning of the retreat, the master will tell you to put away all considerations of your body and mind. Forget whether you are feeling physical comfort or physical discomfort. Forget whether you are healthy or sick. Don't be afraid of even death. Regardless of whether you think you have the psychological preparation or not, just put your whole self, your whole being, into the method. Simply drop any thought about your body or mind or anything else. Plunge yourself completely into practicing the 'hua-tou', like Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? While practicing with a very forceful method, if a person can be totally oblivious of problems concerning himself, then he is not afraid of death, at least temporarily. If he gets enlightened, he will have very little fear of death even in non-meditation circumstances. But of course, this forceful method is useful only for one whose mind has already calmed down.

-- a talk given by Shih-fu

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