The First Day
The Venerable Wei Fang, abbot (of this monastery), is very compassionate indeed, and the chief monks are also earnest in their efforts to spread the Dharma. In addition, all the laymen (upasakas) here are keen in their studies of the truth and have come to sit in meditation during this Ch’an week. All have asked me to preside over the meeting and this is really an unsurpassable (co-operating) cause. However, for the last few years, I have been ill and am, therefore, unable to give long lectures.
The World Honored One spent over forty years in expounding the Dharma, exoterically and esoterically, and his teaching is found in the twelve divisions of the Mahayana canon in the Tripitaka. If I am asked to give lectures, the most I can do is to pick up words already spoken by the Buddha and Masters.
As to the Dharma of our sect, when the Buddha ascended to his seat for the last time, he held up and showed to the assembly a golden flower of sandalwood, offered to him by the king of the eighteen Brahmalokas (Mahabrahma Devaraja). All men and gods (devas) who were present, did not understand the Buddha’s (meaning). Only Mahakasyapa (acknowledged it with a) broad smile. Thereupon the World Honored One declared to him: “I have the treasure of the correct Dharma eye, Nirvana’s wonderful mind and the formless Reality which I now transmit to you. This was the transmission outside of teaching, which did not make use of scriptures and was the unsurpassed Dharma door of direct realization.”
Those who came afterwards, got confused about it and (wrongly) called it Ch’an (Dhyana in Sanskrit and Zen in Japanese). We should know that over twenty kinds of Ch’an are enumerated in the Mahaprajna-paramita Sutra, but none of them is the final one.
The Ch’an of our sect does not set up (progressive) stages and is, therefore, the unsurpassed one. (Its aim) is the direct realization leading to the perception of the (self-) nature and attainment of Buddhahood. Therefore, it has nothing to do with the sitting or not sitting in meditation during a Ch’an week. However, on account of living beings’ dull roots and due to their numerous false thoughts, ancient masters devised expediencies to guide them. Since the time of Mahakasyapa up to now, there have been sixty to seventy generations. In the Tang and Sung dynasties (619-1278), the Ch’an sect spread to every part of the country and how it prospered at the time! At present, it has reached the bottom of its decadence (and) only those monasteries like Chin Shan, Kao Min and Pao Kuan, can still manage to present some appearance. This is why men of outstanding ability are now so rarely found and even the holding of Ch’an weeks has only a name but lacks its spirit.
When the Seventh AncestorHsing Szu of Ch’ing Yuan Mountain asked the Sixth Patriarch: “What should one do in order not to fall into the progressive stages?” the Patriarch asked: “What did you practice of late?” Hsing Szu replied: “I did not even practice the Noble Truths.” The Patriarch asked: “Then falling into what progressive stages?” Hsing Szu replied: “Even the Noble Truths are not practiced, where are the progressive stages?” The Sixth Patriarch had a high opinion of Hsing Szu.
Because of our inferior roots, the great masters were obliged to use expediencies and to instruct their followers to hold (and examine into) a sentence called hua t’ou. As Buddhists (of the Pure Land School) who used to repeat the Buddha’s name (in their practice) were numerous, the great masters instructed them to hold (and examine into the hua t’ou): “Who is the repeater of the Buddha’s name?” Nowadays, this expedient is adopted in Ch’an training all over the country. However, many are not clear about it and merely repeat without interruption the sentence: “Who is the repeater of the Buddha’s name?” Thus they are repeaters of the hua t’ou, and are not investigators of the hua t’ou(‘s meaning). To investigate is to inquire into. For this reason, the four Chinese characters “chao ku hua t’ou” are prominently exhibited in all Ch’an halls. “Chao” is to turn inward the light, and “ku” is to care for. These (two characters together) mean “to turn inward the light on the self-nature”. This is to turn inward our minds which are prone to wander outside, and this is called investigation of the hua t’ou. “Who is the repeater of the Buddha’s name?” is a sentence. Before this sentence is uttered, it is called a hua t’ou (lit. sentence’s head). As soon as it is uttered, it becomes the sentence’s tail (hua wei). In our inquiry into the hua t’ou, this (word) “Who” should be examined: What is it before it arises? For instance, I am repeating the Buddha’s name in this hall. Suddenly someone asks me: “Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?” I reply: “It is I.” The questioner asks again: “If you are the repeater of the Buddha’s name, do you repeat it with your mouth or with your mind? If you repeat it with your mouth, why don’t you repeat it when you sleep? If you repeat it with your mind, why don’t you repeat it after your death?” This question will cause a doubt to arise (in our minds) and it is here that we should inquire into this doubt. We should endeavour to know where this “Who” comes from and what it looks like. Our minute examination should be turned inward and this is also called “the turning inward of the hearing to hear the self-nature.”
When offering incense and circumambulating in the hall, one’s neck should touch the (back of the wide) collar of the robe, one’s feet should follow closely the preceding walker, one’s mind should be set at rest and one should not look to the right or to the left. With a single mind, the hua t’ou should be well cared for.
When sitting in meditation, the chest should not be pushed forward. The prana (vital energy) should neither be brought upward nor pressed down, and should be left in its natural Condition. However, the six sense organs should be brought under control, and all thoughts should be brought to an end. Only the hua t’ou should be gripped and the grip should never loosen. The hua t’ou should not be coarse for it will float up and cannot be brought down. Neither should it be fine, for it will become blurred with the resultant fall into the void. In both cases, no result can be achieved.
If the hua tou is properly looked after, the training will become easier and all former habits will be brought automatically to an end. A beginner will not find it easy to hold the hua t’ou well (in his mind), but he should not worry about it. He should neither hope for awakening nor seek wisdom, for the purpose of this sitting in meditation in the Ch’an week is already the attainment of awakening and wisdom. If he develops a mind in pursuit of these ends, he puts another head upon his own head.
Now we know that we should give rise only to a sentence called hua t’ou which we should care for. If thoughts arise, let them rise and if we disregard them, they will vanish. This is why it is said: “One should not be afraid of rising thoughts but only of the delay in being aware of them.” If thoughts arise, let our awareness of them nail the hua t’ou to them. If the hua t’ou escapes from our grip, we should immediately bring it back again.
The first sitting in meditation can be likened to a battle against rising thoughts. Gradually the hua t’ou will be well gripped and it will be easy to hold it uninterruptedly during the whole time an incense stick takes to burn. We can.expect good results when it does not escape from our grip any more.
The foregoing are only empty words; now let us exert our efforts in the training.