Seven-day Retreat Talk (Day 6)
by Ch'an Master Sheng-yen
Morning Talk December 4, 1992
There are many reasons practitioners do not attain the Way or derive
much benefit from cultivation of the path. Two big reasons are lack of
determination and perseverance. It's like when you travel to a destination
you've never been to before. It seems far away and to take forever to get
there. People who have never seen their self-nature can be impatient in
their desire to experience it. Beginning practitioners may begin to doubt
that they are on the right path, or that the path even exists. This is
the last full day of the retreat. Don't think that it's the last day for
cultivation though. The purpose of retreat is to better learn how to use
your method of practice and to develop a better attitude to guide your
practice. If you can learn these things, you be able to continue your practice
with few interruptions. We grow on retreats. We increase our faith by becoming
more aware of our shortcomings. How is this? The more we recognize our
undesirable qualities, the less we will hold on to them. Perhaps we'll
replace them with better qualities. It is sometimes said that to generate
bodhi mind, to make vows of continuous practice and to practice well is
easy compared to maintaining a perseverant mind. Therefore, I urge you
to work especially hard today. If the previous days have been difficult,
put it aside. Today is today. It is important that you not give or slacken
in your effort. It is important to complete the retreat. Finishing strongly
helps to develop this perseverant mind. Think of fishermen. Our tools are
methods; their tools are nets. Fishermen cast out their nets, but they
must also drag them back in, whether they have caught fish or not. If they
do not collect their nets, it means they do not intend to fish again. They
finish their work by hauling in their nets. We, too, must finish our work.
You can also think of it as a city maintenance crew. At night they come
along and dig up the road to repair pipes underneath. If they do not finish
their work, they cover up the road so it can be used again. The next night
they continue their work, opening up the road to work on more pipes. Our
cultivation is like this. One retreat will probably not resolve all of
your problems or cure your faults; however, you must complete this period
of repair work. You can always come back on another retreat to continue
your intensive work. If you have a perseverant mind, you will work on yourself
until all problems are resolved. On these retreats, the more faults you
find, the better. It means you are really working. On your last day of
practice, I remind you that working with diligence has nothing to do with
tension. Tension is a self- defeating obstruction. Diligence is uninterrupted
Lunch Talk December 4, 1992
There's only a half day left until the end of retreat. This is plenty
of time to work hard. Enough time. From now until Evening Service there
are six hours. Make every thought and every movement a method of practice.
Make every place at all times a bodhi mandala -- a place for practice.
If you can do this deeply, then even after the retreat ends, all times
and situations will remain opportunities for practice. All thoughts and
actions are practice. Try your best to make good use of every second remaining.
Be acutely aware of
any subtle body movement and thought. Every moment,
stay on your method. After all these days of practice, you should know
what is meant by relaxing body and mind. After doing this, put your mind
on the method. Don't be angry if you cannot accomplish this in every moment.
Do your best from one moment to the next. All you can do is give one hundred
percent of yourself. That is the practice. Regard the retreat as a marathon.
All of you must finish the race, whether you are first or last. This attitude
of perseverance which you are cultivating here will be very useful in your
daily life. Try to always finish what you start. A house is not complete
until the last tile is laid in place.
Evening Talk December 4, 1992
Four Kinds of Prostration
There are four kinds of prostrations. The first kind is for fulfilling
wishes. When we prostrate, we ask the buddhas and bodhisattvas to help
us. We can do this prostration when we encounter difficulties or misfortune.
It can also be done for others. If someone is not doing well, you can prostrate
for the Buddha's help. This prostration can also be used to avoid accidents,
to sickness, or to prolong life. The second kind of prostration is done
out of the sincerity of your heart, not with a seeking mind. You may prostrate
from the depths of our heart in gratitude for the Three Jewels. You can
also prostrate to your teacher, your shih-fu. Shih-fus represent the Three
Jewels, so we prostrate to them with sincerity for their teachings and
guidance. It is important to understand that is you who benefits from such
prostrations, not your shih-fu. Through this act of gratefulness and respect,
we can change ourselves and generate sincerity in our hearts. The third
kind is repentance prostration. For this you need a mind of humility and
a sense of shame. It is impossible to do this if your are filled with arrogance.
Even as you touch your head to the floor, you will still you are right
and others, wrong. Such prostrations can help you to change your character
to being more receptive and honest. You will be more complete, more well-rounded.
It is like washing clothes. Our clothes get dirty over and over, and time
and time again we wash them. As long as we wash them, they stay clean.
Going through the motions of repentance prostrations without admitting
your faults or being open and sincere is like wearing clothes, but never
washing them. They just get dirtier and dirtier. When you find stains on
your clothing, be joyous that they are so clear and easy to spot. It means
that your clothes were relatively clean to begin with. If you never wash
your clothes, you may not notice new stains. There is no need for self-pity
when you find faults in yourself. The more you find, the better. Perhaps
you'll be able to catch them before they arise. Better yet, once you spot
your shortcomings, perhaps you'll be able to change them. The fourth kind
of prostration I call "formless prostration." However, since it's impossible
to immediately arrive at formlessness (no-form), we begin with form and
progress through stages until we get to no-form. Similarly, to get to no-self
-- impermanence -- we start with the self. From there, we contemplate emptiness
until we gradually move to the level of no- self. We do the same with non-attachment,
beginning with contemplation on attachment and working toward our goal.
Formless prostrations come from contemplating the four foundations of mindfulness:
body, sensation, mind and dharmas. No matter which one we contemplate,
we begin with form and end with formlessness. We can consider these four
foundations in the context of the stages of formless prostrations, which
I will now describe. The first stage is when we tell ourselves to do prostrations
and our body obeys our commands. We control the body and consciously ordering
it to prostrate. While doing the prostrations, we are to remain extremely
clear of our movements as well as the sensation. Already, we are contemplating
the first two foundations -- body and sensation. The third foundation,
mind, is also involved because clarity and awareness are the mind itself.
At this point our minds' movement should be fine and subtle, since our
body movements are carried out slowly. In the second stage, we know we
are prostrating and we feel it, but our bodies are moving by themselves.
We no longer have to order or control our bodies. We are now witnesses.
Who is prostrating? The body is prostrating. At this stage, there is no
longer the thought, "I am prostrating;" rather, prostrations are occurring.
At the third stage, others may see you prostrating, but as far as you are
concerned, there are no longer thoughts that you are prostrating or that
prostrations are occurring. Body, mind and sensation are fused: there is
no separation. Like learning to ride a horse, at first there is a rider
and a horse, separate wills wanting to go their own way. As a result, the
ride is bumpy. Experienced riders feel no separation between themselves
and their horses. The horse responds instantly, so that the ride becomes
fluid and uninterrupted. The third level is the stage of formlessness,
but it is not no- self yet. When we perfect the third stage, there are
no influences whatsoever. We are neither affected by internal nor external
conditions. Of course, we must always begin with the first stage. If we
cannot even reach the initial level of a calm and subtly moving mind, then
it will be impossible to progress to the next stages.