HUA TOU AND DOUBT
In ancient times, the Patriarchs and Ancestors directly pointed at the mind for realization of self-nature and attainment of Buddhahood. like Bodhidharma who ‘quietened the mind’ and the Sixth Patriarch who only talked about ‘perception of self-nature’, all of them just advocated the outright cognizance (of it) without any more ado. They did not advocate looking into a hua t’ou, but later they discovered that men were becoming unreliable, were not of dogged determination, indulged in playing tricks and boasted of their possession of precious gems which really belonged to others. For this reason, these ancestors were compelled to set up their own sects, each with its own devices; hence, the hua t’ou technique.
There are many hua t’o us, such as: ‘All things are returnable to One, to what is (that) One returnable?’ ‘Before you were born, what was your real face?’ but the hua t’ou: ‘Who is repeating Buddha’s name?’ is widely in use (today).
What is hua t’ou? (lit. word-head). Word is the spoken word and head is that which precedes word. For instance, when one says ‘Amitabha Buddha’, this is a word. Before it is said it is a hua t’ou (or ante-word). That which is called a hua t’ou is the moment before a thought arises. As soon as a thought arises, it becomes a hua wei (lit. word-tail). The moment before a thought arises is called ‘the un-born’. That void which is neither disturbed nor dull, and neither still nor (one-sided) is called ‘the unending’. The unremitting turning of the light inwards on oneself, instant after instant, and exclusive of all other things, is called ‘looking into the hua t’ou’ or ‘taking care of the hua t’ou’.
When one looks into a hua t’ou, the most important thing is to give rise to a doubt. Doubt is the crutch of hua t’ou. For instance, when one is asked: ‘Who is repeating Buddha’s name?’ everybody knows that he himself repeats it, but is it repeated by the mouth or by the mind? If the mouth repeats it, why does not it do so when one sleeps? If the mind repeats it, what does the mind look like? As mind is intangible, one is not clear about it. Consequently some slight feeling of doubt arises about ‘WHO’. This doubt should not be coarse; the finer it is, the better. At all times and in all places, this doubt alone should be looked into unremittingly, like an ever-flowing stream, without giving rise to a second thought. If this doubt persists, do not try to shake it; if it ceases to exist, one should gently give rise to it again. Beginners will find the hua t’ou more effective in some still place than amidst disturbance. However, one should not give rise to a discriminating mind; one should remain indifferent to either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness (of the hua t’ou) and one should take no notice of either stillness or disturbance. Thus, one should work at the training with singleness of mind.
(In the hua t’ou): ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’ emphasis should be laid upon the word ‘Who’, the other words serving only to give a general idea of the whole sentence. For instance (in the questions): ‘Who is wearing this robe and eating rice?’, ‘Who is going to stool and is urinating?’, ‘Who is putting an end to ignorance?’, and ‘Who is able to know and feel?’, as soon as one lays emphasis upon (the word) ‘Who’, while one is walking or standing, sitting or reclining, one will be able to give rise to a doubt without difficulty and without having to use one’s faculty of thought to think and discriminate. Consequently the word ‘Who’ of the hua t’ou is a wonderful technique in Ch’an training. However, one should not repeat the word ‘Who’ or the sentence ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’ like (adherents of the Pure Land School) who repeat the Buddha’s name. Neither should one set one’s thinking and discriminating mind on searching for him who repeats the Buddha’s name. There are some people who unremittingly repeat the sentence: ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’; it would be far better merely to repeat Amitabha Buddha’s name (as do followers of the Pure Land School) for this will give greater merits. There are others who indulge in thinking of a lot of things and seek after everything here and there, and call this the rising of a doubt; they do not know that the more they think, the more their false thinking will increase, just like someone who wants to ascend but is really descending. You should know all this.
Usually beginners give rise to a doubt which is very coarse; it is apt to stop abruptly and to continue again, and seems suddenly familiar and suddenly unfamiliar. This is (certainly) not doubt and can only be their thinking (process). When the mad (wandering) mind has gradually been brought under control, one will be able to apply the brake on the thinking process, and only then can this be called ‘looking into’ (a hua t’ou). Furthermore, little by little, one will gain experience in the training and then, there will be no need to give rise to the doubt which will rise of itself automatically. In reality, at the beginning, there is no effective training at all as there is only (an effort) to put an end to false thinking. When real doubt rises of itself, this can be called true training. This is the moment when one reaches a ‘strategic gateway’ where it is easy to go out of one’s way (as follows).
Firstly, there is the moment when one will experience utter purity and boundless ease and if one fails to be aware of and look into the same, one will slip into a state of dullness. If a learned teacher is present, he will immediately see clearly that the student is in such a state and will strike the meditator with the (usual) flat stick, thus clearing away the confusing dullness; a great many are thereby awakened to the truth.
Secondly, when the state of purity and emptiness appears, if the doubt ceases to exist, this is the unrecordable state in which the meditator is likened to one sitting on a withered tree in a grotto, or to soaking stones with water. When one reaches this state, one should arouse (the doubt) to be immediately followed by one’s awareness and contemplation (of this state). Awareness (of this state) is freedom from illusion; this is wisdom. Contemplation (of this state) wipes out confusion; this is imperturbability. This singleness of mind will be thoroughly still and shining, in its imperturbable absoluteness, spiritual clearness and thorough understanding, like the continuous smoke of a solitary fire. When one reaches this stage, one should be provided with a diamond eye and should refrain from giving rise to anything else, as if one does, one will (simply) add another head upon one’s head.
Formerly, when a monk asked (Master) Chao Chou: ‘what should one do when there is not a thing to bring with self?’ Chao Chou replied: ‘Lay it down.’ The monk said: ‘What shall I lay down when I do not bring a thing with me?’ Chao Chon replied: ‘If you cannot lay it down, carry it away.’ This is exactly the stage (above mentioned) which is like that of a drinker of water who alone knows whether it is cold or warm. This cannot be expressed in words and speeches, and one who reaches this stage will clearly know it. As to one who has not reached it, it will be useless to tell him about it. This is what the (following) lines mean:
TAKING CARE OF A HUA T’0U AND TURNING INWARD THE HEARING TO HEAR THE SELF-NATURE
Someone may ask: ‘How can Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s “method of turning inward the hearing to hear the self-nature” be regarded as Ch’an training?’ I have just talked about looking into the hua t’ou; it means that you should unremittingly and one-pointedly turn the light inwards on ‘that which is not born and does not die’ which is the hua t’ou. To turn inwards one’s hearing to hear the self-nature means also that you should unremittingly and one-pointedly turn inwards your (faculty of) hearing to hear the self-nature. ‘To turn inwards’ is ‘to turn back’. ‘That which is not born and does not die’ is nothing but the self-nature. When hearing and looking follow sound and form in the worldly stream, hearing does not go beyond sound and looking does not go beyond form (appearance), with the obvious differentiation. However, when going against the mundane stream, the meditation is turned inwards to contemplate the self-nature. When ‘hearing’ and ‘looking’ are no longer in pursuit of sound and appearance, they become fundamentally pure and enlightening and do not differ from each other. We should know that what we call ‘looking into the hua t’ou’ and ‘turning inwards the hearing to hear the self-nature’ cannot be effected by means of the eye to look or the ear to hear. If eye and ear are so used, there will be pursuit after sound and form with the result that one will be turned by things (i.e. externals); this is called ‘surrender to the (mundane) stream’. If there is singleness of thought abiding in that ‘which is not born and does not die’, without pursuing sound and form, this is ‘going against the stream’; this is called ‘looking into the hua t’ou’ or ‘turning inwards the hearing to hear the self-nature’.
In the Ch’an training, one should be in earnest in one’s desire to leave the realm of birth and death, and develop a long enduring mind (in one’s striving). If the mind is not earnest it will be impossible to give rise to the doubt, and the striving will be ineffective. Lack of a long enduring mind will result in laziness and the training will not be continuous. Just develop a long enduring mind and the doubt will rise of itself. When doubt rises trouble (klesa) will come to an end of itself. As the ripe moment comes (it will be like) running water which will form a channel.
I will now tell you a story I personally witnessed. In the year K’eng Tsu (1900), when eight world powers sent their expeditionary forces to Peking (after the Boxer rebellion), I followed Emperor Kuang Hsu and Empress Dowager Tz’u Hsi when they fled from the capital. We had to hurry towards Shen Hsi (Shensi) province; each day we walked several tens of miles, and for several days we had no rice to eat. On the road, a peasant offered some creepers of sweet potato to the (hungry) emperor, who found them savory and asked the man what they were. You can imagine that when the emperor who used to put on airs and had an awe-inspiring reputation, had to run some distance he became very hungry. When he ate creepers of sweet potato, he gave up all his airs and awe-inspiring attitude. Why did he walk on foot, become hungry and lay down everything? Because the allied forces wanted his life and he had only one thought, that of running for his life. Later, when peace had been concluded, he returned to the capital, putting on once more his airs with his awe-inspiring reputation. Again he would no longer walk in the street and did not feel hungry. If he did not find some food savory, once more he could not swallow it. Why was he (again) unable to lay down every-thing now? Because the allied forces no longer wanted his life and because his mind was not set on escaping. If he now applied the same mind (previously) set on running for his life to perform his religious duty, was there anything he could not do? This was due to the fact that he did not have a long enduring mind, and as soon as favorable conditions prevailed, his former habits appeared again.
Dear friends, the murderous demon of impermanence is constantly looking for our lives and will never agree to conclude peace with us! Let us hastily develop a long enduring mind to get out of birth and death. Master Yuan Miao of Kao Feng said: ‘If one sets a time limit for success in the Ch’an training, one should act like a man who has fallen to the bottom of a pit one thousand chang deep. His thousand and ten-thousand thoughts are reduced to a single idea on how to escape from the pit. He keeps it up from morning to evening and from evening (to the following) morning, and has no other thought. If he trains in this way and does not realize the truth in three, five or seven days, I shall be guilty of a verbal sin for which I shall fall into the hell where tongues are pulled out.’ The old master was earnest in his great mercy and being apprehensive that we would not develop a long enduring mind, he took this great vow to guarantee (our successes).
DIFFICULTY AND EASINESS IN CH’AN TRAINING
There is difficulty and easiness in the Ch’an training, both for beginners and for old practicers.
DIFFICULTY FOR BEGINNERS: THE REMISS MIND
The most common defects of a beginner lie in his inability to lay down his habits of false thinking; of (self-indulgence in) ignorance caused by pride and jealousy; of(self-inflicted) obstructions caused by concupiscence, anger, stupidity and love; of laziness and gluttony; and of (attachment to) right and wrong, to selfness and otherness. With a belly (breast) filled with all the above (defects), how can he be responsive to the truth? Others are young gentlemen who are unable to get rid of their habits and are incapable of the least condescension and of enduring the smallest trouble; how can they undergo the training in performance of their religious duties? They never think of our original teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, and of His standing when He left home. Some people who know a little literature, use their knowledge of it to interpret the ancients’ sayings, boast of their unequalled abilities and regard themselves as superiors. When seriously ill, they cannot bear their sufferings with patience. When they are about to die, they lose their heads and realize that their usual knowledge is useless. Thus their repentance will be tardy.
Some are serious in their religious duties but do not know where to begin their training. Others are afraid of false thinking and are unable to put an end to it. So they worry about it all day long and blame their karmic obstructions for it, thus falling away in their religious enthusiasm. Some want to resist false thinking to the death by angrily clenching their fists to keep up their spirits and by thrusting out their chests and widely opening their eyes as if there is really something very important to do. They want to fight to a finish against their false thinking; not only will they fail to drive it away but they will thereby vomit blood or become insane. There are people who are afraid of falling into voidness but they do not know they are thus giving rise to the ‘demon’. Consequently, they can neither wipe out voidness nor attain awakening. There are those who set their minds on the quest of awakening and who do not know that to seek awakening and to desire Buddhahood are nothing but a great falsehood; they do not know that gravel cannot be turned into rice and they will thus wait until the year of the donkey for their awakening.
There are (also) those who can manage to sit (in meditation) during the time one or two incense sticks take to burn and thereby experience some joy, but this is only likened to the blind black tortoise which stretched its head through the hole of a floating log. It is just a rare chance and not (the result of) true training. Moreover, the demon of joy has already slipped into their minds. There are cases of the enjoyable state of purity and cleanness realizable in stillness but not realizable in disturbance and for this reason meditators avoid disturbing conditions and look for quiet places. They do not realize that they have already agreed to become servants of the demon of both stillness and disturbance.
There are many cases like the above. It is really difficult for beginners to know the correct method of training; awareness without contemplation will lead to confusion and instability, and contemplation without awareness will result in immersion in stagnant water.
EASINESS FOR BEGINNERS: LAYING DOWN OF (THE BURDEN OF) THINKING AND GIVING RISE TO A SINGLE THOUGHT
Although the training seems difficult, it becomes very easy once its method is known. Where does easiness lie for beginners? There is nothing ingenious in it because it lies in ‘laying down’. Laying down what? (The burden of) distress (klesa) caused by ignorance. How does one lay it down? You have all been at the bedside of a dead man. If you try to scold him a few times, he will not be excited. If you give him a few strokes of the staff he will not strike back. Formerly he indulged in ignorance but now he cannot do so any more. Formerly he longed for reputation and wealth but now he no longer wants it. Formerly he was contaminated by habits but now he is free from them. Now he does not make distinctions and lays down everything. Dear friends, please look at all this. When we have breathed our last, this physical body of ours will become a corpse. Because we cherish this body, we are unable to lay down everything, with the resultant creation of self and other, right and wrong, like and dislike, and acceptance and rejection. If we only regard this body as a corpse, we will not cherish it and will certainly not consider it as ours. (If so) is there anything we cannot lay down?
We only have to lay down everything, day and night, no matter whether we walk, stand, sit or recline, in the midst of either stillness or disturbance, and whether busy or not; throughout our bodies, within and without, there should be only a doubt, a uniform, harmonizing and continuous doubt, unmixed with any other thought, in other words, a hua t’ou which is likened to a long sword leaning against the sky, which we will use to cut down a demon or Buddha should either appear. Thus we will not fear false thinking; who then will disturb us; who will distinguish between disturbance and stillness and who will cling to existence and non-existence? If there be fear of false thinking, this fear will increase false thinking. If there be awareness of purity, this purity will immediately be impure. If there be fear of falling into non-existence, there will immediately be a fall into existence. If there be desire to attain Buddhahood, there will immediately be a fall into the way of demons. (For this reason) it is said: ‘The carrying of water and fetching of firewood are nothing but the wonderful Truth. The hoeing of fields and the cultivation of soil are entirely ch’an potentialities.’ This does not mean that only the crossing of legs for sitting in meditation can be regarded as Ch’an training in the performance of one’s religious duty.