The Second Day
To sit in meditation during a Ch’an week is the best method which sets a time limit for realizing the truth by personal experience. This method was not used in ancient times for the ancients had sharp roots (and did not require it). It has gradually been put into use since the Sung dynasty (fell in 1278). In the Ch’ing dynasty (1662-1910), it was brought into vogue and the Emperor Yung Cheng used to hold frequent Ch’an weeks in the imperial palace. He entertained the highest regard for the Sect and his own attainment of Ch’an samadhi was excellent. Over ten persons realized the truth under the imperial auspices and Master T’ien Hui Ch’e of the Kao Min monastery at Yang Chou attained enlightenment during these meetings (in the palace). The emperor also revised and improved for observance the rules and regulations of the Sect, which flourished and produced so many men of ability. The (strict observance of) rules and regulations is, therefore, of paramount importance.
This method of setting a time limit for personal experience of the truth is likened to a scholars’ examination. The candidates sit for it and write their compositions according to the subjects, for each of which a time limit is set. The subject of our Ch’an week is Ch’an meditation. For this reason, this hall is called the Ch’an hall. Ch’an is dhyana in Sanscrit and means “unperturbed abstraction”. There are various kinds of Ch’an, such as the Mahayana and Hinayana Ch’ans, the material and immaterial Ch’ans, the Sravakas’ and the Heretics’ Ch’an. Ours is the unsurpassed Ch’an. If one succeeds in seeing through the doubt (mentioned yesterday) and in sitting on and cracking the life-root, one will be similar to the Tathagata.
For this reason, a Ch’an hall is also called a Buddha’s selecting place. It is called a Prajna hall. The Dharma taught in this hall is the Wu Wei Dharma. Wu Wei means “not doing”. In other words, not a (single) thing can be gained and not a (single) thing can be done. If there be doing (samskrta), it will produce birth and death. If there is gain, there will be loss. For this reason, the sutra says: “There are only words and expressions which have no real meaning.” The recitation of sutras and the holding of confessional services pertain to doing (samskrta) and are only expediencies used in the teaching school.
As to our Sect, its teaching consists in the direct (self-) cognizance for which words and expressions have no room. Formerly, a student called on the old master Nan Chuan and asked him: “What is Tao?” Nan Chuan replied: “The ordinary mind is the truth.” Every day, we wear robes and eat rice; we go out to work and return to rest; all our actions are performed according to the truth. It is because we bind ourselves in every situation that we fail to realize that the self-mind is Buddha.
When Ch’an Master Fa Ch’ang of Ta Mei Mountain called for the first time on Ma Tsu, he asked the latter: “What is Buddha?” Ma Tsu replied: “Mind is Buddha.” Thereupon, Ta Mei was completely enlightened. He left Ma Tsu and proceeded to the Szu Ming district where he lived in a hermitage formerly belonging to Mei Tsu Chen.
In the Chen Yuan reign (A.D. 785-804) of the T’ang dynasty, a monk who was a disciple of Yen Kuan and went to the mountain to collect branches of trees for making staffs, lost his way and arrived at the hut. He asked Ta Mei: “How long have you stayed here?” Ta Mei replied: “I see only four mountains which are blue and yellow.” The monk said: “Please show me the mountain track so that I can get out of here.” Ta Mei replied: “Follow the stream.”
Upon his return the monk reported what he saw in the mountain to Yen Kuan who said: “I once saw a monk in Chiang Hsi province) but I have had no news of him since. Is it not that monk?”
Then Yen Kuan sent the monk (to the mountain) to invite Ta Mei to come (to his place). In reply, Ta Mei sent the following poem.
A withered log in the cold forestDoes not change heart for several springs,The woodcutter will not look at it.How can a stranger hunt it?A lotus pond yields boundless store of clothing:More fir cones drop from pines than you can eat.When worldly men discover where you liveYou move your thatched hut far into the hills.
Ma Tsu heard of Ta Mei’s stay on the mountain and sent a monk to ask him this question: ‘What did you obtain when you called on the great master Ma Tsu and what prompted you to stayhere?” Ta Mei replied: “The great master told me that mind was Buddha and that is why I came to stay here.” The monk said: “The great master’s Buddha Dharma is different now.” Ta Mei asked: “What is it now?’” The monk replied: “He says it is neither mind nor Buddha.” Ta Mei said: “That old man is causing confusion in the minds of others and all this will have no end. Let him say that it is neither mind nor Buddha. As far as I am concerned, Mind is Buddha.”
This shows how the ancients were competent and concise. Because of our inferior roots and perverted thinking, the masters taught us to hold a hua t’ou (in our minds) and they were obliged to use this expedient. Master Yung Chia said: “After the elimination of the ego and dharma, the attainment of reality will destroy the Avici hell in a moment (ksana). If I tell a lie to deceive living beings, I will consent to fall into the hell where the tongue is pulled out (as punishment for my verbal sin).” Master Yuan Miao of Kao Feng said: “Ch’an training is like throwing into a deep pond a tile which sinks to the bottom.” When we hold a hua t’ou, we must look into it until we reach its “bottom” and “crack” it. Master Yuan Miao also swore: “If someone holding a hua t’ou without giving rise to a second thought, fails to realize the truth, I will be (ready) to fall into the hell where the tongue is pulled out.” The sole reason why (we do not succeed in our practice) is because our faith (in the hua t’ou) is not deep enough and because we do not put an end to our (wrong) thinking. If we are firmly determined to escape from the round of births and deaths, a sentence of the hua t’ou will never escape from our grip. Master Kuei Shan said: “If in every reincarnation we (can hold it firmly) without backsliding, the Buddha stage can be expected.”
All beginners are inclined to give rise to all kinds of (false) thoughts; they have a pain in the legs and do not know how to undergo the training. The truth is that they should be firm in their determination to escape from the round of births and deaths. They should stick to the hua t’ou and no matter whether they walk, stand, sit or lie, they should grasp it. From morning to evening, they should look into this (word) “Who” until it becomes as clear as “the autumn moon reflected in a limpid pool”. It should be clearly (and closely) inquired into and should be neither blurred nor unsteady. (If this can be achieved) why worry about the Buddha stage which seems unattainable?
If the hua t’ou becomes blurred, you can open your eyes wide and raise your chest gently; this will raise your spirits. At the same time, it should not be held too loosely, nor should it be too fine, because if it is too fine, it will cause a fall into emptiness and dullness. If you fall into emptiness, you will perceive only stillness and will experience liveliness. At this moment, the hua t’ou should not be allowed to escape from your grip so that you can take a step forward after you have reached “the top of the pole.” Otherwise, you will fall into dull emptiness and will never attain the ultimate.
If it is loosely gripped, you will be easily assailed by false thoughts. If false thoughts arise, they will be difficult to suppress.
Therefore, coarseness should be tempered with fineness and fineness with coarseness to succeed in the training and to realize the sameness of the mutable and immutable.
Formerly I was at Chin Shin and other monasteries and when the Karmadana received the incense sticks which he had ordered (previously), his two feet ran with great speed as if he flew (in the air) and the monks who followed him were also good runners. As soon as the signal was given, all of them looked like automata. (Thus) how could wrong thoughts arise (in their minds)? At present (although) we also walk (after sitting in meditation), what a great difference there is between then and now!
When you sit in meditation, you should not push up the hua t’ou for this will cause its dimness. You should not hold it in your chest for it causes pain in the chest. Neither should you press it down, for it will expand the belly and will cause your fall into the realm of the five aggregates (skandhas) resulting in all kinds of defect. With serenity and self-possession, only the word “Who” should be looked into with the same care with which a hen sits on her egg and a cat pounces on a mouse. When the hua t’ou is efficiently held, the life-root will automatically be cut off.
This method is obviously not an easy one for beginners, but you must exert yourselves unceasingly. Now I give you an example. Self-cultivation is likened to making fire with a piece of flint. We must know the method of producing a fire and if we do not know it, we will never light a fire even if we break the flint in pieces. The method consists in using a bit of tinder and a steel. The tinder is held under the flint and the steel strikes the upper part of the flint so as to direct the spark to the tinder which will catch it. This is the only method of starting a fire (with a flint).
Although we know quite well that Mind is Buddha, we are still unable to accept this as a fact. For this reason, a sentence of the hua t’ou has been used as the fire-starting-steel. It was just the same when formerly the World Honored One became thoroughly enlightened after gazing at the stars at night. We are not clear about the self-nature because we do not know how to start a fire. Our fundamental self-nature and the Buddha do not differ from each other. It is only because of our perverted thinking that we are (still) not liberated. So the Buddha is still Buddha and we are still ourselves. Now as we know the method, if we could inquire into it, it would indeed be an unsurpassing co-operating cause! I hope that everyone here will, by exerting himself take a step forward from the top of a hundred-foot pole and will be elected (Buddha) in this hall so that he can pay the debt of gratitude he owes to the Buddha high above and deliver living beings here below. If the Buddha Dharma does not produce men of ability, it is because no one is willing to exert himself. Our heart is full of sadness when we talk about this (situation). If we really have deep faith in the words uttered under oath by Masters Yung Chia and Yuan Miao, we are sure we will also realize the truth. Now is the time to exert yourselves!