This is a tentative translation of a discourse by the modern
Ch'an patriarch Master Xuyun (1839-1959), who is also known by his English
name, Empty Cloud.
Essentials of Ch'an Practice
by Master Xuyun translation by Ven. Guo-gu Bhikshu
and Understanding Necessary to Begin Ch'an Practice
1. The Objective of Ch'an Practice:
The objective of Ch'an practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating
its impurities and seeing into one's true self-nature. The mind's impurities
are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self-nature is the wisdom and virtue
of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas and sentient beings
are not different from one another. To experience this wisdom and virtue,
leave, leave behind duality, discrimination, wrong thinking and attachment.
This is Buddhahood. If one cannot do this, then one remains an ordinary
It is because you and I are defiled that we have been wandering lost
and confused through samsara for limitless kalpas; and that we cannot immediately
cast off wrong thinking and see our original nature. For this reason we
must practice Ch'an.
The prerequisite for Ch'an practice is to eradicate wrong thinking.
Shakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject. His simplest and most direct
teaching is the word "stop" from the expression "stopping is Bodhi." From
the time when Bodhidharma transmitted Ch'an teachings to today, the winds
of Ch'an have blown far and wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among
the many things that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those
who came to study with them, none is more valuable than the saying, "Put-down
all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise."
This expression is truly the prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an.
If you cannot fulfill this requirement, then not only will you fail to
attain the ultimate goal of Ch'an practice, but you will not even be able
to enter the door of Ch'an. How can you talk of practicing Ch'an if you
are entangled by worldly phenomena with thought after thought arising and
2. Put Down All entangling conditions
"Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise" is a
prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an. Now that we know this, how do we
accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of superior abilities, can stop
all thoughts forever, arrive directly at the condition of non-arising,
and instantly experience Bodhi. such a person is not entangled by anything.
The next best kind of practitioner users principle to cut off phenomena
and realizes that self-nature is originally pure. Vexation and bodhi ,
Samsara and Nirvana -- all are false names which have nothing to do with
one's self-nature. All things are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or
Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great earth itself
are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing, yet never obstructing
the original surface. Do not bed captivated by the arising, abiding, changing
and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and
aversion, grasping and rejecting. Give up your whole body, as if you were
dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objecting. and the six sense
organs, the six sense objects and the six sense consciousness will naturally
disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the
sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body ---hunger,
cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity,
good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger--- will
no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation
--- when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing
When all phenomena are renounced , wrong thoughts disappear, discrimination
does not arise, and attachment is left behind. When thoughts no longer
arise, the brightness of self-nature manifests itself completely. At this
time you will have fulfilled the necessary conditions for Ch'an practice.
Then, further hard work and sincere practice will enable you to illuminate
the mind and see into your true nature.
3. Everyone Can Instantly Become a Buddha:
Many Ch'an practitioners ask questions about the Dharma. The Dharma
that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you try to explain things,
the true meaning is lost. When you realize that "one mind" is the Buddha,
from that point on there is nothing more to do. Everything is already complete.
All talk about practice or attainment is demonic deception.
Bodhidharma's "direct pointing at the mind, seeing into one's nature
and attaining Buddhahood" clearly instructs that all sentient beings are
Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized, one can harmonize with the
environment yet remain undefiled. The mind will remain unified throughout
the day, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. This is to already
be a Buddha. At this point there is no need to put forth effort and be
diligent. Any action is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest
thought or word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed
task. Do it by your-self. do not seek outside yourself for it.
All sentient beings --- who wish to avoid rebirth for eternal kalpas
in the four forms of birth and the six paths of existence; who eternally
sink in the sea of suffering; and who vow to attain Buddhahood and the
four virtues of Nirvana (eternity, joy, self, purity) ----- can immediately
attain Buddhahood if they wholly believe in the sincere words of the Buddha
and the patriarchs, renounce everything, and think neither of beings, made
by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is
it a baseless, empty vow.
The Dharma is exactly that. It has been elucidated again and again by
the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted us with the truth. They
do not deceive us. Unfortunately, sentient beings are confused and for
limitless kalpas they have experienced birth and death in the sea of suffering,
appearing and disappearing, endlessly taking on new forms of life. dazed
and confused, entangled in the worldly dust of the six senses with their
backs to enlightenment, they are like pure gold in a cesspool. Because
of the severity of the problem, Buddha compassionately taught 84,000 Dharma
doors to accord with the varying karmic roots of sentient beings, so that
sentient beings may use the methods to cure them-selves of 84,000 habits
and faults, which include greed, hatred, ignorance and desire.
4. Investigating Ch'an and Contemplating Mind:
Our sect focuses on investigating Ch'an. The purpose of practicing Ch'an
is to "Illuminate the mind and see into one's true nature." This investigation
is also called " Clearly realizing one's self-mind and completely perceiving
one's original nature."
Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came to
the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually
evolved. Most Ch'an practitioners, before the Tang and Sung dynasties,
became enlightened after hearing a word or half a sentence of the Dharma.
The transmission from master to disciple was the sealing of Mind with Mind.
There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday questions and answers only untied the
bonds. It was nothing more than prescribing the right medicine for the
After the Sung Dynasty, however, people did not have such good karmic
roots as their predecessors. They could not carry out what had been said,
For example, practitioners were taught to "Put down everything" and " Not
think about good and evil, "but they could not do it. They could not put
down everything, and if they weren't thinking about good, they were thinking
about evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but
to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating
gong an [and hua to].
When one begins looking into a hua to, one must grasp it tightly, never
letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin.
It concentrates on one point. It doesn't try different places and it doesn't
stop until it gets through. Thus, in terms of hua to, the objective is
to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method
is a last resort, just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow.
drastic measures must be taken to cure the patient.
The ancients used gong ans, but later on practitioners started using
hua tos. Some hua tos are: "Who is dragging this corpse around?" "Before
you were born what was your original face?' and, "Who is reciting Buddha's
In fact, all hua tos are the same. There is nothing uncommon, strange,
or special about them. If you wanted to, you could say: "Who is reciting
the sutras?" "Who is reciting the mantras? "Who is prostrating to the Buddha?
" Who is eating?" "Who is wearing these clothes?" "Who's walking?" "Who's
sleeping?" They're all the same. The answer to the question "who" is derived
from one's Mind. Mind is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of
Mind ; Mind is the origin of all thoughts. Innumerable dharmas generate
from the Mind ; Mind is the origin of all dharmas. In fact, hua to is a
thought. Before a thought arises, there is the origin of words. Hence,
looking into a hua to is contemplating Mind. There was Mind before your
parents gave birth to you, so looking into your original face before you
were born is contemplating Mind.
Self-nature is Mind. When one turns inward to hear one's self-nature,
one is Turning inward to contemplate Mind. In the phrase, "Perfectly illuminating
pure awareness," pure awareness is Mind and illumination is contemplation.
Mind is Buddha. When one recites Buddha's name one contemplates Buddha.
Contemplating Buddha is contemplating Mind.
Investigating hua to or "looking into who is reciting Buddha's name"
is contemplating Mind. Hence, contemplating Mind is illuminating pure awareness.
It is also illuminating the Buddha-nature within oneself. Mind is nature,
pure awareness, Buddha. Mind has no form, no characters, no directions;
it cannot be found in any particular place. It cannot be grasped. Originally,
Mind is purity, universally embracing all Dharma realms. No inn or out,
no coming or going. Originally, Mind is pure Dharmakaya.
When investigating hua to , the practitioner should first close down
all six sense organs and seek where thoughts arise. Practitioners should
concentrate on the hua to until they see the pure original mind which is
apart from thoughts. If one does this without interruption, the mind becomes
fine, quiet tranquil, silently illuminating. At that moment the five skandhas
are empty, body and mind are extinguished, nothing remains. From that point,
walking, standing, sitting and lying down are all done motionlessly. In
time the practice will deepen, and eventually practitioners will see their
self-nature and become Buddhas and suffering will cease.
A past patriarch named Gaofeng(1238-1295) once said: "You must contemplate
hua to like a falling roof tile sinking endlessly down into a pond ten
thousand feet deep. If in seven days you are not enlightened, I will give
you permission to chop off my head. "These are the words of an experienced
person. He did not speak lightly. His words are true.
Although many modem day practitioners use hua tos, few get enlightened.
This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today
have inferior karmic roots and less merit. Also, practitioners today are
not clear about the purpose and path of hua to. Some practitioners search
from east to west and north to south until they die, but still do not penetrate
even one hua to. They never understand or correctly approach the hua to.
They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect and attach
only to the tail of the words.
Hua to is One Mind. This mind is not inside, outside, or in the middle.
On the other hand, it is inside, outside, and in the middle. It is like
the stillness of empty space prevailing every where.
Hua to should not be picked up. Neither should it be pressed down. If
you pick it up, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you press
it down you will become drowsy. These approaches are contrary to the nature
of the original mind and are not in accordance with the Middle Path.
Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts. They think it is
difficult to tame them. Don't be afraid of wandering thoughts. Do not waste
your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them.
Do not attach to wandering thoughts, do not follow them, and do not try
to get rid of them. As long as you don't string thoughts together, wandering
thoughts will depart by themselves.
Lectures on the Methods of Practice
in the Ch'an Hall
Many people come to ask me for guidance. This makes me feel ashamed.
Everyone works so hard --- splitting firewood, hoeing the fields, carrying
soil, moving bricks --- and yet from morning to night not putting down
the thought of practicing the Path. Such determination for the Path is
touching. I, Xuyun, repent my inadequacy on the Path and my lack of virtue.
I am unable to instruct you and can use only a few saying from the ancients
in response to your questions. There are four prerequisites concerning
methods of practice: (1) Deep faith in the law of cause and consequence;
(2) Strict observance of precepts; (3) Immovable faith (4) Choosing a Dharma
door method of practice.
2. Essentials of Ch'an Practice:
Our everyday activities are executed within the Path itself. Is there
anywhere that is not a place for practicing the Path? A Ch'an Hall should
not even be necessary. Furthermore, Ch'an practice is not just sitting
meditation. The Ch'an Hall and Ch'an sitting meditation are for sentient
beings with deep karmic obstructions and shallow wisdom.
When one sits in meditation, one must first know how to regulate the
body and mind. If they are not well regulated, then a small harm will turn
into an illness and a great harm will lead to demonic entanglements. This
would be most pitiable. Walking and sitting meditation in the Ch'an Hall
are for the regulation of body and mind. There are other ways to regulate
the body and mind, but I will talk about these two fundamental methods.
When you sit in the lotus position, you should sit naturally straight.
Do not push the waist forward purposely. Doing so will raise your inner
heat, which later on could result in having sand in the corner of your
eyes, bad breath, uneasy breathing, loss of appetite, and in the worst
case, vomiting blood. If dullness or sleepiness occur, open your eyes wide,
straighten your back and gently move your buttocks from side to side. dullness
will naturally vanish. If you practice with an anxious attitude, you will
have a sense of annoyance. At that time you should put everything down,
including your efforts to practice. Rest for a few minutes. Gradually,
after you recuperate, continue to practice. If you don't do this, as time
goes on you will develop a hot-tempered character, or, in the worst case,
you could go insane or fall into demonic entanglements.
There are many experiences you will encounter when sitting Ch'an, too
many to speak of. However, if you do not attach to them, they will not
interfere with you. This is why the proverb says: "See the extraordinary
yet do not think of it as being extraordinary, and the extraordinary will
retreat." If you encounter or perceive an unpleasant experience, take no
notice of it and have no fear. If you experience something pleasant, take
no notice of it and don't give rise to fondness. The Surangama Sutra says:
" If one does not think he has attained a supra mundane experience, then
this is good. On the other hand, if one thinks he has attained something
supra mundane, then he will attract demons."
3. How to Start the Practice: Distinction Between Host and Guest:
How should one begin to practice? In the Surangama assembly, Kaundinya
the Honored One mentioned the two words "guest" and "dust." This is where
beginners should begin their practice. He said, "A traveler who stops at
an inn may stay overnight or get something to eat. When he is finished
or rested, he packs and continues his journey, for he does not have time
to stay longer. If he were the host, he would have no place to go. Thus
I reason : he who does not stay is called a guest because not staying is
the essence of being a guest. He who stays is called a host. Again, on
a clear day, when the sun rises and the sunlight enters a dark room through
an opening, one can see dust in empty space. The dust is moving but the
space is still. That which is clear and still is called space; that which
is moving is called dust because moving is the essence of being dust."
Guest and dust refer to illusory thoughts, whereas host and space refer
to self-nature. That the permanent host does not follow the guest in his
comings and goings illustrates that permanent self-nature does not follow
illusory thoughts in their fleeting rise and fall. therefore it was said,
"It was said, "If one is unaffected by all things, then there will be no
obstructions even when one is constantly surrounded by things." The moving
dust does not block the clear, still empty space; illusory thoughts which
rise and fall by themselves do not hinder the self-nature of Suchness.
Thus it was said, "If my mind does not arise, all things are blameless."
In such a state of mind, even the guest does not drift with illusory thoughts.
If he understands space and dust, illusory thoughts will no longer be hindrances.
It is said that when one recognizes an enemy, there will be no more enemy
in your mind. If one can investigate and understand all this before starting
to practice, it is unlikely that one will make serious mistakes.
4. Hua tou and doubt
The ancient patriarchs pointed directly at Mind. When one sees self-nature,
one attains Buddhahood. This was the case when Bodhidharma helped his disciple
to calm his mind and when the sixth Patriarch spoke only about seeing self-nature.
All that was necessary was the direct understanding and acceptance of Mind
and nothing else. There was no such thing as investigating hua to. More
recent patriarchs, however, saw that practitioners could not throw themselves
into practice with total dedication and could not instantaneously see their
self-nature. Instead, these people played games and imitated words of wisdom,
showing off other people's treasure and imagining it was theirs. For this
reason, later patriarchs were compelled to set up schools and devise specific
ways to help practitioners, hence the method of investigating hua to.
There are many hua tos, such as "all dharmas return to one, where does
this one return to?" What was my original face before I was born?" and
so on. The most common one, however, is "who is reciting the Buddha's name?"
What is meant by hua to? Hua means the spoken word; to means the head
or beginning, so hua to means that which is before the spoken word. for
example, reciting Amitabha Buddha is a hua, and hua to is that which precedes
one's reciting the Buddha's name. The hua to is that moment before the
thought arises. Once the thought arises, it is already the tail of the
hua. The moment before the thought has arisen is called non-arising. When
one's mind is not distracted, is not dull, is not attached to quiescence,
or has not fallen into a state of nothingness, it is called non-perishing.
Single-mindedly and uninterruptedly, turning inward and illuminating the
state of non-arising and non-perishing is called investigating the hua
to, to taking care of the hua to.
To investigate the hua-t', one must first generate doubt. doubt is like
a walking cane for the method of investigating hua to. what is meant by
doubt? For example, one may ask, :who is reciting the Buddha's name?" Everyone
knows that it is he himself who is reciting the name, but is he using his
mouth or mind? If it is his mouth, then after the person dies and the mouth
still exists, how come the dead person is unable to recite Buddha's name?
If it is the mind, then what is the mind like? It cannot be known. Thus
there is something one does not understand, and this gives rise to a slight
doubt regarding the question of " who."
This doubt should never be coarse. The finer it is the better. At all
times and in all places, one should single-mindedly watch and keep this
doubt, and keep it going like a fine stream of water. Do not get distracted
by any other thought. When the doubt is there, do not disturb it. When
the doubt is no longer there, gently give rise to it again. Beginners will
find that it is more effective to use this method when stationary rather
than when moving; but you should not have a discriminating attitude. Regardless
of whether your practice is effective or not or whether you are stationary
or moving, just single-mindedly use the method and practice.
In the hua to, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" The emphases should
be on the word "who." The other words serve to provide a general idea,
just like in asking, "Who is dressing?" "Who is eating?" "Who in moving
their bowels?" "Who is urinating?" "Who is ignorantly fighting for an ego?"
"Who is being aware?" "Regardless of whether one is walking, standing,
sitting, or reclining, the word "who" is direct and immediate. Not having
to rely on repetitive thinking, conjecture, or attention, it is easy to
give rise to a sense of doubt.
Hence, hua to's involving the word "who " are wonderful methods for
methods for practicing Ch'an. But the idea is not to repeat, " Who is reciting
Buddha's name?" like one might repeat the Buddha's name itself; nor is
it right to use reasoning to come up with an answer to the question, thinking
that this is what is meant by having doubt. There are people who uninterruptedly
repeat the phrase, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" They would accumulate
more merit and virtue if they repeatedly recited Amitabha Buddha's name
instead. There are others who let their minds wander, thinking that is
the meaning of having doubt, and they end up more involved in illusory
thoughts. This is like trying to ascend but descending instead. Be aware
The doubt that is generated by a beginning practitioner tends to be
coarse, intermittent and irregular. This does not truly qualify as a state
of doubt. It can only be called thoughts. Gradually, after the wild thoughts
settle and one has more control, the process can be called can (pronounced
ts'an which means to investigate or look into). As one's cultivation gets
smoother, the doubt naturally arises without one's actively inducing it
to. At this point one is not aware of where one is sitting. One is not
aware of the existence of a body or mind or environment. Only the doubt
is there. This is a true state of doubt.
Realistically speaking, the initial stage cannot be considered cultivation.
One is merely engaging in illusory thoughts. Only when true doubt arises
by itself can it be called true cultivation. This moment is a crucial juncture,
and it is easy for the practitioner to deviate from the right path:
(1) At this moment it is clear and pure and there is an unlimited sense
of lightness and peace. However if one fails to fully maintain one's awareness
and illumination (awareness is wisdom, not delusion; illumination is samadhi,
not disorder), one will fall into a light state of mental dullness. If
there is an open-eyed person around, he will be able to tell right away
that the practitioner is in this mental state and hit him with the incense
stick, dispersing all clouds and fog. Many people become enlightened this
(2) At this moment it is clear and pure, empty and vacuous. If it isn't,
then the doubt is lost. Then it is "no content," meaning one is not making
an effort to practice anymore. This is what is meant by "the cliff with
dry wood" or "the rock soaking in cold water. " In this situation the practitioner
has to " bring up." "Bring up" means to develop awareness and illumination.
It is different from earlier times when the doubt was coarse. Now it has
to be extremely fine --- one thought, uninterrupted and extremely subtle.
With utter clarity, it is illuminating and quiescent, unmoving yet fully
aware. Like the smoke from a fire that is about to go out, it is a narrow
stream without interruption. When one's practice reaches this point, it
is necessary to have a diamond eye in the sense that one should not try
to "bring up" anymore. To "bring up" at this point would be like putting
a head on top of one's head.
Once a monk asked Ch'an master Zhaozhou, "What should one do when not
one thing comes?" Zhaozhou replied, "Put it down." The monk asked, "If
not one thing comes, what does one put down?" Zhaozhou replied, "If it
cannot be put down, take it up." This dialogue refers precisely to this
kind of situation. The true flavor of this state cannot be described. Like
someone drinking water, only he knows how cool or warm it is. If a person
reaches this state, he will naturally understand. If he is not at this
state, no explanation will be adequate. To a sword master you should offer
a sword; do not bother showing your poetry to someone who is not a poet.
5. Taking Care of hua tou and Turning Inward to Hear One's Self-nature:
Someone might ask, "How is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara's method of turning
inward to hear self-nature considered investigating Ch'an?" I have previously
explained that taking care of hua to is being, moment after moment, with
only one thought, single-mindedly shining the light inward on "that which
is not born and not destroyed." Inward illumination is reflection. Self-nature
is that which is not born and not destroyed. When "hearing" and "illuminating"
follow sound and form in the worldly stream, hearing does not go beyond
sound and seeing does not go beyond form. However, when one turns inward
and contemplates self-nature against the worldly stream, and does not pursue
sound and form then he becomes pure and transparent. At that time "hearing"
and "illuminating" are not two different things.
Thus we should know that taking care of the hua to and turning inward
to hear self-nature does not mean using our eyes to see and our ears to
hear. If we use our ears to hear or our eyes to see, then we are chasing
sound and form. As a result we will be affected by them. This is called
submission to the worldly stream. If one practices with one thought only,
single-mindedly abiding in that which is not born and not destroyed, not
chasing after sound and form, with no wandering thoughts, then one is going
against the stream. This is also called taking care of the hua to or turning
inward to hear one's self-nature. This is not to say you should close your
eyes tightly or cover your ears. Just do not generate a mind of seeking
after sound and form.
6. Determined to Leave samsara and Generating a Persevering Mind:
In Ch'an training the most important thing is to have an earnestness
to leave birth and death and to generate a persevering mind. If there is
no earnestness to leave birth and death, then one cannot generate the "great
doubt" and practice will not be effective. If there is no perseverance
in one's mind, the result will be laziness, like a man who practices for
one day and rests for ten. The practice will be incomplete and when great
doubt arises, vexations will come to an end by themselves. When the time
comes, the melon will naturally depart from the vine.
I will tell you a story. During the Ching dynasty in the year of Geng
Ze (1900) when the eight world powers sent their armies to Peking, the
Emperor Guang Xu fled westward from Peking to Shanxi province. Everyday
he walked tens of miles. for several days he had no food to eat. On the
road, a peasant offered him sweet potato stems. after he ate them, he asked
the peasant what they were because they tasted so good. Think about the
emperor's usual awe-inspiring demeanor and his arrogance! How long do you
think he could continue to maintain his imperial attitude after so long
a journey on foot? do you think he had ever gone hungry? Do you think he
ever had to eat sweet potato stems? At that time he gave up all of his
airs. After all, he had walked quite a distance and had eaten stems to
keep from starving. Why was he able to put down everything at that time?
Because the allied armies wanted his life and his only thought was to save
himself. But when peace prevailed and he returned to Peking, once again
he became proud and arrogant. He didn't have to run anymore. He no longer
had longer had to eat any food that might displease him. Why was he unable
to put down everything at that time? Because the allied armies no longer
wanted his life. If the emperor always had an attitude of running for his
life and if he could turn such an attitude toward the path of practice,
there would be nothing he could not accomplish. It's a pity he did not
have a persevering mind. When favorable circumstances returned, so did
his former habits.
Fellow practitioners! Time is passing, never to return. It is constantly
looking for our lives. It is more frightening than the allied armies. Time
will never compromise or make peace with us. Let us generate a mind of
perseverance immediately in order to escape from birth and death! Master
Gaofeng (1238-1295) once said, "concerning the practice, one should act
like a stone dropping into the deepest part of the pool --- ten thousand
feet deep --- continuously and persistently dropping without interruption
toward the bottom. If one can practice like this without stopping, continuously
for seven days and still be unable to cut off one's wandering, illusory
thoughts and vexations, I, Gaofeng, will have my tongue pulled out for
cows to plow on forever. "He continued by saying, "When one practices Ch'an,
one should set out a certain time for success, like a man who has fallen
into a pit a thousand feet deep. All his tens of thousands of thoughts
are reduced to one --- escape from the pit. If one can really practice
from morning to dusk and from night to day without a second thought, and
if he does not attain complete enlightenment within three, five, or seven
days, I shall be committing a great lie for which I shall have my tongue
pulled out for cows to plow on forever." This old master had great compassion.
Knowing that we would probably be unable to generate such a persevering
mind, he made two great vows to guarantee our success.
7. Enlightenment and Practice
The patriarch, Hanshan (1546-1623), once said, "There are practitioners
who get enlightened first and then start their cultivation, and those who
practice first and then get enlightened. However, there are two kinds of
enlightenment: insight through reason and insight through experience. If
a person realizes Mind by following the teachings of the Buddha and the
patriarchs, it is considered insight through reason. One with such an experience
will only have a conceptual understanding. In all circumstances he will
still be powerless. The mind of the practitioner and the environment are
separate and do not reach totality. Therefore, his experience is an obstruction.
It is called simulated Prajna and is not real practice.
"On the other hand, those who become enlightened through practice stick
to their methods in a straightforward manner until they force themselves
into a corner. suddenly their last conceptual thought disappears and they
completely realize Mind. It is like seeing your father at a cross road
there is no doubt. It is like drinking water: only the person drinking
knows if it is warm or cold. There is no way to express it. This is real
practice and enlightenment. Afterward, the practitioner will still have
t deal with different mental states that arise in accordance with his experience.
He will still have to get rid of strong karmic obstructions and wandering
and emotional thoughts, leaving only pure Mind. This is enlightenment by
"concerning true enlightenment experiences, there are deep and shallow
ones. If one puts effort in following the fundamental principle, destroys
the nest of the eighth consciousness and overturns the dark caves of ignorance,
then one head directly for enlightenment. There is no other way. Those
who achieve this have extremely sharp karmic roots and experience deep
"Those who practice gradually experience shallow enlightenment. The
worst case is when someone attains little and is satisfied. One should
not take illusions, like shadows created by light, for enlightenment. Why?
Because they do not chop down the root of the eighth consciousness. The
experiences these people have are manifestations of their own consciousness.
Believing such an experience to be real is like mistaking a thief for your
son. an ancient said, 'Because cultivators believe that the activities
of their consciousness are real, they do not recognize what is real. This
is the reason for their transmigration through innumerable kalpas of birth
and death. Ignorant people take consciousness for their true selves. 'Therefore,
you must pass through this gate.
"On the other hand, there are those who experience sudden enlightenment
and cultivate gradually. Although these people have experience deep enlightenment,
they still have habitual tendencies that they cannot eliminate immediately.
At this point , progress depends on circumstance. It all depends on the
clarity of their practice in different situations. They have to use their
enlightened principle to illuminate these situations. while passing through
them they can check their minds. If they can melt away one percent of the
external appearances, then they will have gained one percent of their Dharmakaya.
By eliminating one percent of their wandering thoughts, one percent of
their original wisdom will manifest. This is how one can strengthen one's
Listening to Hanshan's words, we can see that it is not important whether
someone is enlightened or not. Those who understand enlightenment either
through reason or experience have to continue their practice and follow
it through. The difference is that those who are enlightened first and
then cultivate are like old horses who are familiar with the road. They
will not go the wrong way. It is much easier than cultivating first and
then getting enlightened.
Those who are enlightened are rooted and are not like those who understand
enlightenment through reason. People with the latter understanding are
shaky. Their experience is superficial. those who are enlightened through
experience are more likely to derive benefit form their practice. Even
at the age of eighty, the elder master Zhaozhou (778-897) still traveled.
For forty years, the master used his mind without any wanderings; he only
investigated the word "nothingness." He is a great model. Do you doubt
that the master was enlightened? He truly reminds us not to be satisfied
when we have little and not to praise ourselves highly.
There are those who, after reading a few sutras or collections of talks
of Ch'an masters, say things like, "The mind is the Buddha," and , "It
is throughout the three periods and ten directions." Their words have nothing
to do with the fundamental principle. They firmly believe that they are
ancient Buddhas who have come back again. When they meet people, they praise
themselves and say that they have attained complete enlightenment. Blind
followers will even brag for them. It is like mistaking fish eyes for pearls.
They do not know the difference between the real and the false. They mix
things up. It not only makes people lose faith; it also gives rise to criticism.
The reason the Ch'an sect is not flourishing is mainly because of the faults
of these crazy people. I hope you can be diligent in your practice. Do
not start something false. Do not speak about Ch'an with empty words. You
must investigate seriously and attain real enlightenment. In the future
you can propagate the Dharma and be a great master, like a dragon or an
elephant in the animal kingdom, and help Ch'an Buddhism to flourish.
8. Investigating Ch'an and Reciting Buddha's Name
Those who recite Buddha's name usually criticize those who investigate
Ch'an and those who investigate Ch'an usually slander those who recite
Buddha's name. They seem to oppose each other like enemies. Some of them
even wish that the others would die. This is a terrible thing to have happen
in Buddhism. There is a saying which goes something like this: "A family
in harmony will succeed in everything, whereas a family in decline is sure
to argue. "With all of this fighting among brothers, it is no wonder that
others laugh at us and look down at us.
Investigating Ch'an, reciting Buddha's name, and other methods are all
teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. The original Path is not separate from
these methods. It is only because of the different karmic roots and mentalities
of sentient beings that different methods are taught. It is like giving
different antidotes for different poisons. Later on, patriarchs divided
Buddha's teaching into different sects corresponding to different theories.
Because the needs of people differ at different times, patriarchs propagated
the Dharma in different ways.
If an individual practices a method that fits his character, then regardless
of which Dharma door he uses., he can penetrate the Path. Actually, there
are no superior and inferior Dharma doors. Furthermore, Dharma doors are
interconnected. all are perfect and without obstruction. For example, when
one recites the Buddha's name to the point of one-mindedness, is this not
investigating Ch'an? When one investigates Ch'an to the point of no separation
between the investigator and that which is being investigated, is this
not reciting the real characteristic of the Buddha? Ch'an is not other
than the Ch'an within the Pure Land and Pure Land is not other than the
Pure Land within Ch'an. Ch'an and pure Land are mutually enriching, and
they function together.
However, there are people who favor one view over another, and from
these distinctions arise different ideas and opinions, which can unfortunately
lead to praising oneself while slandering others. Such people are like
fire and water. They cannot exist together. they have misunderstood the
intention of the patriarchs who started the different sects. These people
are unintentionally responsible for damaging, slandering and endangering
Buddhism. Is this not sad and pitiable?
I hope that all of us , no matter which dharma door we practice, understand
the Buddha's principle of not discriminating and not arguing. We should
have the mind of helping one another so that we may save this ship which
floats amidst dangerous and violent waves.
9. The Two Kinds of difficulty and Ease with Practitioners experience
There are two kinds of difficulty and ease practitioners face on the
Path, and which they experience depends primarily on the shallowness or
depth of their practice. The first kind of difficulty and ease is associated
with beginners, while the second kind corresponds to advanced practitioners.
The symptoms of the common beginner's disease are: incapability of putting
down wandering thoughts, habitual tendencies, ignorance, arrogance, jealousy,
greed, anger, stupidity, desire, laziness, gluttony, and discrimination
between self and other. All these fill big bellies. How can this be in
accordance with the Path?
There are other kinds of people who are born into wealthy and noble
families. Never forgetting their habitual tendencies and bad influences,
they cannot endure one bit of difficulty or withstand any hardship. How
can these people practice the Path? They do not consider the status of
our original teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, when he decided to become a monk.
There are other people who know a few words but do not understand that
the ancients were actually tests to evaluate practitioners' levels of understanding.
These people think they are smart. Every day they scrutinize the recorded
sayings and writings, talk about Mind and Buddha, explain and interpret
the teachings of the ancients. Talking about food but not eating it, counting
the treasure of others and not owning it themselves, they think they are
extraordinary people. They become incredibly arrogant. But when these people
become seriously ill, they will cry out for help; and at the end of their
lives they will panic and become bewildered. At that time, what they have
learned and understood will be useless, and it will be too late to regret.
There are other people who misunderstand the saying, " Originally we
are Buddhas." These people say that the original self is complete and that
there is no need for rectification. All day long they loaf about with nothing
to do, following their emotions, wasting their time. These people praise
themselves as eminent people and conform to causes and conditions. In the
future these people will suffer greatly.
Then there are people who have determined minds to practice, but who
do not know where to begin their endeavors, or who are afraid of wandering
thoughts. Unable to get rid of their thoughts, they abide inn vexation
all day long, thinking about and mourning their heavy karmic obstructions.
Because of this their determined minds backslide.
There are also those people who want to battle till death with their
wandering thoughts. Furiously, they tense up their fists and push out their
chests and eyes. It seems like they are involved in something big. Ready
to die in battle against their wandering thoughts, they do not realize
that wandering thoughts cannot be defeated. These people end up vomiting
blood or going insane.
There are people who fear falling into emptiness. Little do they know
that demons have arisen in their minds. They can neither empty their minds
nor get enlightened. And there are those who strongly seek enlightenment,
not understanding that seeking enlightenment and wanting to attain Buddhahood
are all grave wandering thoughts. One cannot cook sand hoping to eat rice.
They can seek until the year of the donkey and they still won't get enlightened.
sometimes people become elated when occasionally they sit through a couple
of peaceful sittings. These situations are like a blind turtle whose head
happens to pass through a small hole in a piece of wood floating in the
middle of the ocean. It is not the result of real practice. In their elation
these people have served to add another obstruction.
There are those who dwell in false purity during meditation and enjoy
themselves. Since they cannot maintain a peaceful mind within activity
, they avoid noisy places and spend their days soaking in stale water.
There are numerous examples of this. for beginners, it is very difficult
to find entrance to the Path. If there is illumination without awareness,
then it's like sitting in stale water waiting to die.
Even though this practice is hard, once you find entrance to the path,
it becomes easier. What is the easiest way for beginners? There is nothing
special other than being able to "put it down." put what down? Put down
all vexations arising from ignorance. Fellow practitioners, once this body
of ours stops breathing, it becomes a corpse. The main reason we cannot
put it down is because we place too much importance on it. Because of this,
we give rise to the idea of self and other, right and wrong, love and hate,
gain and loss. If we can have a firm belief that this body of ours is like
a corpse, not to cherish it or look upon it as being ourselves, then what
is there that we cannot put down? we must learn to put it down anywhere,
anytime, whether walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, whether in motion
or still, whether resting or active. we have to hold onto the doubt of
the hua to internally, and externally, and externally ignore everything.
Continuously keep this up, calmly and peacefully, without a moment of extraneous
thought, like a long sword extending into the sky. If anything comes in
contact with the sharp edge, it will be extinguished without a trace or
sound. If one could do this, would he still be afraid of wandering thoughts?
What could harm him? Who is it that would be distinguishing between movement
and stillness? Who is it that would be attached to existence or emptiness?
If there are fears of wandering thoughts, then you have already added
another wandering thought. If you feel you are pure, then you are already
defiled. If you are afraid of falling into emptiness, then you are already
dwelling in existence. If you want to become a Buddha, then you have to
know is the entrance to the Path. afterward, carrying water and gathering
firewood are not separate from the wonderful Path. Hoeing and planting
fields are all Ch'an opportunities (Ch'an ji). Practicing the Path is not
limited to sitting cross-legged throughout the day.
What difficulties are encountered by advanced practitioners? Although
some have practiced until the emergence of genuine doubt and possess both
awareness and illumination, they are still bound by birth and death. Those
who have neither awareness nor illumination fall into false emptiness.
To arrive at either of these situations is truly hard. After reaching this
point , many people cannot detach themselves further. They stand at the
top of a ten thousand foot pole unable to advance. Some people, having
progressed to this stage and being skilled in practice, and having sidestepped
situations they cannot solve, think that they have already eradicated ignorance.
They believe that their practice has reached home. Actually, these people
are living in the wave of ignorance and do not even know it. When these
people encounter a situation that they cannot solve --- where they must
be their own master --- they just give up. This is a pity.
There are others who reach real doubt, gain a little wisdom from the
experience of emptiness, and understand a few ancient gong ans; and then
they give up the great doubt because they think they are completely enlightened.
These people compose poems and gathas, act arrogantly and call themselves
virtuous men of the Path. Not only do they fool themselves, they also mislead
others. They are creating bad karma. In other cases there are those who
mistake the words of Bodhidharma, "To isolate from external conditions,
internally the mind becomes still, like a wall, and one can enter the Path,
" or the Sixth Patriarch's, "Not thinking of good or evil, at this time
what is your original face, venerable Ming?" They think that meditating
by rotten wood or by large boulders is the ultimate principle. These people
take the illusory city as their treasured palace. They take the temporally
guest house as their home. This i s what the gong an of the old woman who
burned down the hut to reprimand one such living corpse refers to.
What is the easy way for these advanced practitioners? Do not be proud
and do not quit in the middle of cultivation. In the midst of well-meshed
continuous practice, you have to be even finer. While practicing in a cautious
and attentive manner, you have to be more careful. When the time comes,
the bottom of the barrel will naturally drop off. If you cannot do this,
then find a virtuous teacher to pry off the nails of the barrel and pull
out the joints.
Master cold Mountain once chanted: "On the peak of the highest mountain,
the four directions expand to infinity. Sitting in silence, no one knows.
The solitary moon shines on the cold spring. Here inn the spring there
is no moon. is high in the sky. Though I'm humming this song, in the song
there is no Ch'an. "The first two lines of this song reveal that the appearance
of real nature does not belong to anything. The whole world is filled with
bright and pure light without any obstructions. The third line speaks of
the real body of Suchness. Surely, ordinary people cannot know this. Even
the Buddhas of the three periods do not know where I abide. Therefore,
no one can know the path. The three lines beginning with, "The solitary
moon shines on the cold spring," is an expedient example of the level of
Master Cold Mountain's practice. The last two lines are mentioned because
he is afraid that we will "mistake the finger for the moon." He especially
warns us that words and language are not Ch'an.
I have said too much and have interrupted your practice. It is like
pulling vines. The more one pulls, the more they tangle together. whenever
there are words, there is no real meaning. when the ancient virtuous masters
guided their students, either they used sticks or shouted. There were not
so many words. However, the present cannot be compared with the past. One
has no choice but to point a finger at the moon. After all, which is the
finger? Which is the moon? Investigate!