Ch'an Newsletter - No. 23, August 1982

Are you hoping to gain something from the practice of meditation, such as eliminating your faults and vexations? Shih-fu addressed this question on a recent retreat:

Discovering Your Faults

The purpose of cultivation is not to seek anything, but to discover the faults in our character and behavior. By opening ourselves to self-investigation, we hope to find out where our problems lie, and if, after searching within ourselves, we can see these faults and problems, this in itself is the fruit of the practice. A woman on the last retreat said that the more she tries to get away from her faults, the stronger they seem to become. And the more she thinks about it, and wonders why she can't get rid of them, the more she gets disgusted with herself. She said, "Probably I just don't have the ability to practice meditation. A good practitioner is able to throw out their problems while practicing, and I'm not." At that time, I was standing up, and the light above cast a shadow of my body on the wall. I asked: "When I am standing still, is the shadow moving?" She said, "No." Then I walked slowly away, and the shadow followed me along. I walked quickly and the shadow kept pace with me. No matter how I tried, I could not get rid of it. Only if you turn the light out, or make your body disappear, will your shadow go away. Just like the shadow, our problems stick to our "self." Wherever there is a self, there must also be problems. But if you were to say, then, "I want to throw away my 'self'," that "I" who wants to get rid of the self indicates that the self is still there. This would amount to the self trying to throw awav the self, which is impossible to accomplish. It would be just like trying to get rid of the shadow if your body is still there. If there is a subject, there is definitely an object. This being the case, is cultivation of any use? Of course it is, since we cultivate to discover our problems. Recognizing your problems shows you have made progress. Desiring to rid yourself of these problems may he a good sign, but actually that is not how we should approach it. The method of practice does not consist in throwing them out, but rather in decreasing the sense of self until it becomes so light that the problems will naturally disappear.

However, you cannot be overanxious to achieve fast results. According to Buddha Dharma, the experience of enlightenment may occur after a very short time. But to completely eliminate all your problems and purify yourself of all vexations takes three great incalculable aeons. Since our life is only a few decades long, we cannot be expected to attain all that within one single lifetime. Perhaps some people may feel: "Well, if I can't attain it in this life, it doesn't really seem worth it to practice." Actually, from the time of Sakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment (about 2600 years ago), no one else has attained Buddhahood. All the rest of us are just following his example, practicing. You should just concentrate on cultivating your own field. Of course you can try to calculate how much fruit you will attain from your labors, but it won't be accurate, and there's no need to do that. Just worry about planting the seeds, and definitely you will reap the harvest.

Don't Look for Suffering

If you have gotten a "result" on the retreat, of course that is very good. But even if you just passed the week in pain and suffering, you have still gotten something out of the retreat. At least you are eliminating karmic obstructions. There is one person here who, when she hears this kind of talk about getting rid of karmic obstructions, sits down with the attitude that she wants to melt away her karmic obstructions by purposely sitting there in pain. When she sees someone else with heavy karmic obstructions, she wants to take them upon herself and melt them away right there in her legs. This is a wrong attitude. Others have their own karmic obstruction - how can you melt them away for them? Melting away karmic obstructions is not to be done by looking for suffering or hardship. Pain will come by itself; to look for it is wrong. If you were to go seeking out suffering and pain, it would be like being arrested for beating up somebody on the street. Before you got to the courthouse, you first slapped yourself on the face a few times. And when the judge sentenced you to such and such punishment, you turned around and said, "No need. I just finished slapping myself. I've already been punished enough!" Hitting yourself is your own business, it has nothing to do with the judge. You must still receive the retribution for your evil actions through the court, according to the legal process, no matter how hard you hit yourself. Thus it is useless to punish yourself. The purpose of cultivation is to train our mind, not to experience suffering. But if, in order to practice, pain and suffering come of themselves, we have to accept it. So although we should not be afraid of suffering, as it tends to eliminate karmic obstructions, neither should we go out and look for it. Otherwise, it may even happen that the karmic obstructions will increase instead of being melted away.

Spoken by Master Sheng-Yen
during retreat, July 2 - 9, 1982

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