Ch'an Newsletter - No. 40, September 1984


Lecture Given By Master Sheng-yen on May 27, 1984

Once, when Shih-fu held a Ch'an retreat in Taiwan, one of the participants was an old Buddhist. He heard Shih-fu say, "There's no Buddha, there's no Bodhisattva, there's no Pure Land, there are no deities. You are not allowed to think of anything like these. You just ask yourself where you came from before your present life, where you're going to after this life, what you are at this moment." The old Buddhist went to Shih-fu and said, "I would like leave this retreat. I don't want to go on any further. For thirty years I've been practicing Buddhism with the support of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And the mainstay of my life is that eventually I can be Buddha - that I can seek this Buddha, can seek the Bodhisattvas. Now you are telling me there's no Buddha, no Bodhisattvas, no Pure Land. I will have lost everything I've had in the last thirty years. There's no way that I can continue with this retreat." So he left.

Apparently he had never read the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment. Or, if he had, he didn't understand it. In this sutra there are indeed Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, the Pure Land. And there are dhyana methods, samadhi methods - you can find everything in this sutra. (The word "dhyana" should have the same meaning here as the word "Ch'an" used in the Ch'an sect.) But when you come to the stage described in the methods of dhyana, at this level there's nothing - no Buddha, no Bodhisattvas, no Pure Land, no samadhi. The dhyana described here is a sudden enlightenment method. For sudden enlightenment method there cannot be attachment. There cannot be dependence, reliance, refuge. As long as there's any dependence, reliance, attachment, there cannot be sudden enlightenment. For sudden enlightenment to be possible you have to leave everything behind, including yourself. Only then is it possible to see your own Buddha nature.

The sutras do talk about Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Pure Land, etc., But at this level of the dhyana practice method, there's no such thing. There are differences because of differences in level. We can use our bodies, the environments in which they live, and our mental activities. All of these things we can use to practice, to attain samadhi, or to do various common virtuous actions which can help us to reach the deity levels. But these methods are not enough to bring us to the highest level of enlightenment. They are not capable of that. Body, mind, environment, can be conceived and used as causes and conditions that help us in our practice. But this is true only from the perspective of the gradual practice method. For the sudden enlightenment method body, mind, environment, can only be conceived as illusory states which are hindrances to our practice, and to our getting into the center of the Ch'an, the dhyana.

Shih-fu says actually there's no such thing as the mind. The mind is only the effect of the environment on us; hence we call this mind illusion. The body is illusory, the environment is illusory, and the effect of the illusory on the mind (the so-called mental processes) is also illusory. Through them we can do either virtuous or unwholesome actions. But Ch'an cannot be acquired through any knowledge, or learning, through God's or Buddha's wisdom, or through your own wisdom. If you think that Buddha's wisdom can help you acquire Ch'an, then you're relying on external conditions. If you think your own wisdom can help you acquire Ch'an, then you're relying on internal conditions. You have to leave behind any dependency. Only then can you get into Ch'an.

Sometimes in Ch'an practice, especially during retreat, some of Shih-fu's students ask him to give them his blessing, because they feel they cannot do the practice well enough by themselves. They think that with Shih-fu's empowerment they can do better. And Shih-fu says, "No problem. Sure, I'll help you." This is the first stage.

After some time, when Shih-fu judges the person to be strong enough, he says, "You have to work on your own. You cannot rely on my help. If I can help you, then it's as if you don't have to eat. I will eat your meal for you and you will still feel satisfied, fulfilled. If that can be done, maybe I can help you in your practice." But basically everyone eats for himself. So people have to depend on themselves for their practice. This is the second stage.

By the third stage, when these people have had some results from the practice, when they feel very reassured, or even proud, they think OK, they can now go their own way. They feel they have attained a certain level. At this point Shih-fu will criticize them, scold them very harshly, tell them they are only playing with demons and ghosts -- they are not even human. Through such methods Shih-fu tries to cut off their dependence on anything at all. With the third stage people become attached to the experience they have had, or the self-confidence they have built up, but any attachment to previous experience is a definite no-no. Past experience should be perceived as only past experience and nothing more. Of course, when we practice and we make progress, that progress comes to us through experience, but some people become very contented with their experience, or hope it will come again and again. This is attachment. So even if the experience does come again, it will probably only be on the same level.

A person must leave behind these experiences. Then if one recurs, and the practitioner ceases to perceive it as a sign of progress, attainment or achievement, he will continue to move forward. Leaving all of your experience behind (anything of the body, mind or environment) would be a state of "non-hindrance." This state of non-hindrance is proper for a beginner. But if one maintains this kind of mentality then it's natural to develop an attitude of dislike for the world, viewing it as a hindrance. One would tend to be very inactive, and this can only be considered an approximate state of Ch'an. It's not the genuine state of Ch'an.

Genuine Ch'an, on the other hand, is not to be attached to anything in or outside your mind; but on the other hand, not to have any aversion to anything within or without the mind. You do not perceive body, mind, world, as something that will help you in your practice. And you do not perceive body, mind, world, as something that will hinder you in your practice. You have no attachment; you have no aversion. Body, mind, world, do exist at this stage, but there's no attachment, no aversion to them. If sentient beings need your help, you will use body, mind, world, to help them. In this case it will be the sentient beings who will benefit from the utilization of the body. If your practice has reached the state wherein you have developed this kind of wisdom, then there's no body, mind, world for you to practice with. If there's anything left it belongs to the sentient beings. Ordinary people think of their body, mind, as their own, to use for their own practice. For the Ch'an cultivator at this level, body, mind, world are not his own for his own use (because they have to be left behind in order to enter the state of Ch'an or dhyana), but body, mind, world, are used for the benefit of sentient beings. With this attitude, the Ch'an practitioner is not inactive, not pessimistic, but rather, very active.

The analogy from the sutra talks of the far-reaching sound of a musical instrument, and the sound comes from the string. There is actually no sound within the instrument, within the string, but the sound is transmitted to the outside. In a familiar way the practitioner has to be separate, apart from body, mind, world for wisdom to manifest; but at the same time it is within the body, mind, world, that the wisdom, and the benefit of wisdom, can be attained for sentient beings. Since body, mind, world are only illusion, and illusion is considered vexation, and since vexation itself is illusory, then vexation is the same as nirvana. The Ch'an practitioner has no aversion to the illusory body, mind, world. Even though he lives in a world seemingly full of vexations, his mind is always unmoving, is always in a quiescent state, in a nirvana state. His mind is still. Or it can be said, there is no mind for him to move - because the so-called "mind moving" is only the consequence of the illusory body, the illusory mind, the illusory world. There's no real mind to be moving.

Up to this point we have been talking about the state of Ch'an practice. Have we ever talked about the method of practice? Yes. Simply not to rely on anything, that itself is the sudden method of practice. If you always find yourself in a state apart from body, mind, world, then this practice. If you still see everything in this world - the red, the green, the good, the bad, the male, the female - then you're not practicing. The question is, which one of us is practicing Ch'an now? If we are now practicing Ch'an, then apart from body, mind, world, can you hear Shih-fu's lecture? Is it necessary to come to hear Shih-fu's lecture? Or is Shih-fu's lecture necessarily given within the body, mind, world? In the beginning of this lecture (August 1984 Newsletter) we mentioned two lines of the Lankavatara Sutra. The first is that "genuine Buddhadharma is apart from the form of any words, any language" - anything we communicate through our eyes, ears, mouth, etc., The second is that "genuine Buddhadharma is apart from any form of mental activity." So what Shih-fu has been saying up to this point is only talking about Ch'an. It's not Ch'an itself. It's garbage. Nonsense.


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