The Chan Handbook


4a. How to Investigate Chan, Sitting Meditation

The vajra posture quells demons. When sitting in Chan, make sure your posture is correct. A correct posture benefits both body and mind. Without it, sitting in Chan loses its meaning. When we sit in meditation, we need to first relax the body and mind. Do not become tense. It would be ideal to sit in full lotus, which is the basic posture. To sit in full lotus, first put the left foot over the right thigh, and then move the right foot over the left leg. This is also called the vajra position, which means it is firm and unmoving.

All the Buddhas of the past attained Buddhahood by sitting in the vajra position. In this sitting posture, we can subdue demons from the heavens and counter those of externalist ways. When they see us in this position, they surrender and retreat, not daring to come forward and create trouble. Once we are sitting in the full-lotus posture, our eyes should contemplate the tip of our nose and not look left and right.

The eyes contemplate the nose.
The nose contemplates the mouth.
The mouth contemplates the heart.

This way, we can gather in our body and mind. The mind is like a monkey or a wild horse, and you must tie it up so it does not run away. It is said,

Concentration brings results that are efficacious.
Being scattered, results in nothing at all.

We need to sit properly, keeping our back straight and our head up. Do not lean forward, backward, or to the left or right. Sit firmly, being as stable as a large bell, the kind that does not sway or move. Do not be like a small bell’s clapper that swings back and forth. Full lotus is the proper posture for sitting in Chan. Beginners in Chan meditation who are not used to it may experience pain in their legs and may get a backache. Do not worry. Just grit your teeth and be patient for a while, and those sensations will naturally subside. The saying goes, “With long sitting, there is Chan.” So, keep at it and you will naturally attain the flavor of Chan.

Full-lotus posture makes it easy to enter samadhi.

Full-lotus posture is another name for the vajra posture just described. By placing our left foot on top of our right thigh and then placing our right foot on our left thigh, we achieve full-lotus position. The left foot belongs to yang while the right foot belongs to yin. When assuming this meditation posture, the left foot, which is yang, is placed first, so that it is under, while the right foot, which is yin, is placed second on top. This balance of yin and yang can be seen in the taiji symbol, which depicts the absolute, from which comes primal beginning, and then from primal beginning, the two primary forces of yin and yang are shown symbolically as intertwined fish.

For those who prefer, it is also acceptable to put the left foot below and the right foot on top. The Dharma is not fixed and can be adapted according to a person’s preference. It is not necessary to attach rigidly to the particulars of the sitting posture. I am teaching the classic method, where the left foot goes on the right thigh and the right foot on the left thigh. It is not a fixed rule that you have to sit in this position. In conclusion, lotus posture facilitates entry into samadhi. It makes it much easier to do so.

If we could enter samadhi while walking, it would not be necessary to sit. The state of samadhi is devoid of false thoughts. When the mind does not entertain a single thought, then it will not be defiled by even a single speck of dust. When our mind entertains no thoughts and is not defiled by even a speck of dust, then we can continue to develop our skill while walking, standing, sitting, and reclining. At that point, we will not be limited to the sitting posture alone.

Once your legs no longer ache, you have really begun investigating Chan. When you first learn how to sit in full lotus posture, if your legs feel stiff and painful, you may sit in a more comfortable manner. Thereafter, you should learn to sit in half lotus position. Then when your legs do not feel so painful, you can learn to sit in full lotus position. When your legs no longer ache, you have really begun investigating Chan. That marks the actual beginning. Basically, Chan investigation is intentionally looking for something to do when one has nothing to do. For instance, a cultivator who has eaten his fill, slept enough, is warmly clothed and has nothing else to do, will then investigate Chan. Getting good at it, we can then roam and play in the world.

Sit straight without leaning.

The basic posture of sitting meditation requires us to hold our body upright. We must sit straight and not allow ourselves to lean this way or that. However, you should not force yourself. It must come naturally. Turn the tip of your tongue back and let the underside of your tongue touch the roof of your mouth. Then swallow your saliva. When it flows into your stomach, it can balance your energy and blood.

Sweet dew cures many illnesses.

When sitting in Chan with our tongue rolled back so its underside touches the roof of our mouth, we may generate a lot of saliva. We should swallow it. That saliva is called sweet dew. Why? After we practice Chan sitting for an extended period of time, our saliva becomes sweet. Although it may not be as sweet and thick as sugar or honey, it still has a faint sweetness. When we regularly swallow that sweet dew, we will not feel hungry or thirsty, even without food or drink. When a person’s practice reaches the stage where he is not aware of walking, standing, sitting or reclining, his skill merges with every movement, and he is in samadhi in every instant. This is descibed thus:

The Naga remains in stillness always,
There is never a moment of non-stillness.

The sweet dew we swallow can cure numerous illnesses, strengthen us physically, and help us open our wisdom. But we must practice diligently without interruption.

Why is it that cultivators do not wish to talk much? They need to concentrate on their practice. No matter what they are doing, be it gathering firewood, fetching water, welcoming guests and seeing them off, or traveling about, they are always practicing hard. When our skill reaches maturity, then even without any volitional effort, we will still continue to practice hard. Even without volitional effort, we will be investigating “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” When we investigate to the point that we are not moved by wind or rain, our skill will become such that wind and rain cannot encroach upon us. Of course, this sort of skill is not accomplished overnight. That is why, at all times, we have to be mindful of the present.

Sweet dew is also referred to as “our own drink” and is recognized as a medicine. It is an elixir that enhances longevity. It is a medicine that brings liberation from birth and death. It is a tonic for escaping the cycle of rebirth in the six realms of existence. Everyone has this medicine but most refuse to take it. Most people ignore the root and are attracted by branch tips. In other words, they search high and low outside. This sweet-dew tonic originates from our self-nature.

If we constantly apply effort in our practice, our saliva becomes sweet, even sweeter than honey. When that medicine takes effect, the body will undergo changes internally. Those who have not experienced this benefit in cultivation do not know what I am talking about. Those who have experienced it will be ever-diligent. They will not put off cultivation or take breaks. We must be persistent in our practice and constantly guard it. Practice should not be erratic, such that we:

Fish for three days,
and then dry the net for two.
Heat something for one day,
and then let it get cold for ten.
Pluck a lotus blossom today,
and then pick a peony tomorrow.

We need firm sincerity and honest determination. We must constantly practice hard in order to progress on the Path. To progress one day and then retreat the next is a waste of time.

Eyes contemplate nose.
Nose contemplates mouth.
Mouth contemplates heart.

When sitting in meditation, sit up straight and erect. Do not lean backwards or forwards and do not lower your head. Keep the head upright. The eyes should look at the nose to see if the nostrils are pointing upwards or downwards. Pay close attention to it. The nose should watch the mouth. But, you wonder, does the nose have eyes? By focusing on the mouth, the nose will gradually develop eyes. The more you focus the nose on the mouth, the sooner the nose will actually see the mouth. The nose contemplates the mouth, and the mouth inquires of the heart. Inquire into whether your own heart is black, white, yellow or red. What kind of heart is it?

Go ahead and inquire into that. If you discover that it is black, then you have to turn the black heart into a white one. When you see your black heart turning white day-by-day until it becomes a treasury of brilliant light that integrates with the Dharma Realm, then you can know you are gaining a little skill. Do not breathe through your mouth. Breathe through your nose. Sometimes the nasal passages are blocked which makes breathing through the nose difficult. However, if you can breathe through your nose, when you inhale, bring the breath down to just behind the navel, not below it. That place is empty and is without anything. In fact, from the beginning there has never been anything there. That is the place where your breath has to stop.

Sometimes people who practice will ask, “Do you know how to catch your breath?” That is a very important question. If you can catch your breath, then your external breathing becomes an internal breathing. That internal breathing replaces the external breathing. This is why a practitioner with sufficient skill does not breath externally. That external breathing has stopped, but the internal breathing functions. With internal breathing there is no exhalation through the nose or mouth, but all the pores on the body are breathing. A person who is breathing internally appears to be dead, but actually he has not died. He does not breathe externally, but the internal breathing comes alive.

At that time, when your eyes see forms, inside there is nothing, because all forms have been emptied. The ears hear sounds but the mind does not know. When you contemplate your mind, the mind is also empty. Looking out for forms, forms vanish; looking afar at objects, they too become empty. But at this point, you should not think that you are great. You have merely activated an initial expedient and are experiencing the state of lightness and ease. Do not mistake a thief for your own son. Do not mistake where you are in your practice, thinking that you are already very great.

Heat, Summit, Patience,
First in the World

When sitting in meditation, the underside of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth. This is the point where the two channels of ren and du connect. When these two channels are clear, then the circulation of energy and blood is also clear, and one feels at ease. When there is saliva in the mouth, swallow it into the stomach. Doing this frequently is just like using sweet dew to water and nourish a young Bodhi sprout. After sitting for some time, a warm energy fills the body and it may become very hot. At this stage, certain changes begin to occur.

1. Heat is the first stage. This warmth originates at the cinnabar, the point just behind the navel, spreads to the whole body, and then circulates back to the cinnabar. This warm energy circulates like that again and again during the stage of heat.

2. Summit is the second stage. When you have experienced the warmth for some time, during which your body’s chemical plant has done the necessary experiments, you will then reach the summit. At the summit, you feel as if there is something at the top of your head, yet there appears to be nothing there. If you say there is something, you cannot see it or touch it. You only experience this feeling at the top of your head, and you will invariably feel it is indescribable.

3. Patience is the third stage. After the summit stage, you begin to experience an unbearable feeling. No matter how unbearable this feeling is, you have to endure it. This is known as the stage of patience. After the summit stage comes the stage of patience. It is very difficult to pass the stage of patience because of the discomfort associated with the top of your head. It seems as if there is something trying to drill a hole through to the outside. At this point, you have to be very patient. As time goes by, the drill penetrates through and emerges from the top of your head, just like a little bird that has been set free from its cage. And like a freed bird, you will feel exceptionally happy.

4. First in the World is the fourth stage. Getting free is called being foremost in the world. This can refer to having the world’s foremost patience. It is also known as being the World’s Number One Great Personage, or the World’s Number One Great Hero. Being peerless, you are known as Number One in the World. Even so, you will still have to be
careful and continue to cultivate everyday.

Subduing guest-dust afflictions is like letting muddy water settle.

When we sit in Chan, we have to cleanse our mind and reduce our desires. This is the first step in cultivation. Cleansing the mind refers to subduing afflictions, which are transient, like a guest who does not stay, like particles of dust that fly about.

Our turbid afflictions make us like a jar of muddy water. If we keep shaking the jar, the water will remain murky and we will not be able to see the bottom of the jar clearly. But if, after we pour the muddy water into a jar, we do not disturb the jar, then the mud and silt will settle to the bottom. This is the first step in subduing guest-dust afflictions. Sitting properly in meditation for even one ksana (a moment) generates more merit than building as many pagodas of the seven jewels as there are sand grains in the Ganges River. That is because by sitting in meditation, we can subdue our guest-dust afflictions and allow the silt of the five desires to settle down.

A clear mind is as a still pool
that can reflect the moon.
A calm will is as a bright sky
without a trace of clouds.

Investigate Chan while walking,
standing, sitting and reclining.

Chan sitting cannot be considered fun. It involves enduring a lot of hardship. We begin our first sit at three o’clock in the morning and we continue sitting and walking right up to twelve o’clock midnight. Our rest period at night is only three hours long. In the afternoon there is also a onehour optional rest period.

During Chan investigation, we have to forget about the body, the mind, the world, and everything else. Even the self must no longer exist. Everything becomes empty. When we reach the state of true emptiness, wonderful existence will appear. Everybody must pay attention to this! During cultivation, do not talk unnecessarily. Try not to have false thoughts. Take care not to be lazy or stop to rest. We should treasure every minute and every second.

As it is said,
A moment passed is a moment less of life.

Therefore, we have to investigate Chan while walking, standing, sitting, and reclining. Cultivating Chan at all times, we have to constantly pay attention to our investigation. The more we investigate, the more transparent and bright we become.

Concentrate! Persevere!
When we investigate Chan, we should not fear backaches and pain in our legs. We must draw on our vajra will and use patience and perseverance to investigate Chan. We must constantly persevere and be firm and uncompromising in our resolve. In every moment, we must practice hard.

In the past, virtuous elders in the monastic Sangha, having practiced sitting meditation for many years, continued to sit. This shows that cultivation is not so simple and easy. We must endure. We cannot pluck a lotus blossom today and pick a peony tomorrow. We should not think that by sitting for a day we can become enlightened. We need to understand the importance of patience when practicing Chan sitting.

How do we concentrate? Well, imagine the intensity with which a young girl pursues a boy she likes, or how a boy chases a girl. That is how concentrated we should be in meditation. If we can be that determined and intent on our investigation of Chan, so that we are ever-mindful of the present, then there is no reason why we cannot succeed.

Sit like a big bell.
Walk like a light breeze.

By investigating Chan, we cultivate samadhi. Chan investigation is neither conditional nor unconditional. Superficially, Chan investigation appears to be unconditional. Actually, when we investigate Chan, we are helping to increase the proper energy in the Dharma Realm. If everyone investigated Chan, there would be no wars in this world. It is said that:

Sitting for a long time, we will gain Chan.

But Chan investigation is not only done while sitting. We can investigate Chan while standing, walking, or reclining as well. A hardworking cultivator does not allow mundane matters to bother him. He holds the meditation topic at every moment. Remaining ever in the present, we investigate, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” When, through our investigation, the mountains disappear and the waters vanish, then in that ultimate state, we will naturally exhibit awesome deportment in our walking, standing, sitting, and reclining.

1. Sit like a bell. Sit solidly. Do not be like a pendulum that swings to and fro. Sit erect and upright, with the eyes contemplating the nose, the nose contemplating the mouth and the mouth contemplating the heart. With the underside of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, you swallow the saliva as it is secreted.

2. Walk like a breeze. During the short running period, run like the wind. Let that wind blow to the point that the heavens above disappear, the very earth dissolves, and all people in between are gone. When one is working hard, there is no mark of others and therefore, there is no heaven above, no earth below and no people in between. During the longer walking periods, we should walk like a breeze without causing any ripples.

3. Stand like an evergreen. While standing, keep your back straight. Stand upright, just like a lofty evergreen tree. 4. Recline like a bow. When lying down, assume the auspicious reclining posture. Lie on your right side with your right hand under your right cheek and your left hand resting along your left side. The Great Master Yong Jia said,

In speech or silence, in movement or stillness,
My body is at ease.
Even if someone drew a knife on me,
I would remain calm.
Even if someone poisoned me,
I would not get upset.

Master Bodhidharma, the first patriarch in China, was poisoned on six occasions by externalists. Even though he knew very well that it was poison, he still consumed it. Thus, we know that he was devoid of self and could look lightly on birth and death. When cultivators work hard, the heavens shake and the earth quakes, and ghosts and spirits weep. Even the demon kings are shocked. By working hard in our practice, we can keep the demon kings from being able to exert their power. That shocks them. If we could practice diligently for these twenty-one hours-a-day and work hard every second, we would surely cause the heavens to shake and the earth to quake.

In practicing to reach unconditional dharmas, we begin with conditional dharmas. We should not be afraid of the toil of the running periods and the sitting periods. Running can be likened to the conditional while sitting can be likened to the unconditional. Hence, the saying,

Within the unconditioned are conditions.
Within conditions lies the unconditioned.
What is conditional is also unconditional.
The conditioned is unconditioned.
The unconditioned is conditioned.

As skill increases,
afflictions decrease.

Sitting in Chan is like being a horse trainer or a monkey trainer. It is not easy. Although it is not easy, we still have to sit regardless of how difficult it is. In this world, whatever you want to do is not easy and requires a lot of effort. Chan sitting is also like that. It requires a good deal of hard work and effort. If we could restrain our mad mind and calm our wild nature, and if we could confine ignorance and false thoughts to a single location, then our skill would increase day-by-day and our afflictions would decrease correspondingly.

Sitting in meditation is like unraveling a silken cocoon.

When we sit in meditation, we are as if unraveling the silk from a cocoon. We are like silkworms encased in a cocoon, caught in the six desires and bound by the seven emotions, which are joy, anger, sorrow, fear, emotional love, hatred, and desire. Although these seven emotions cannot be eradicated immediately, they should be reduced bit-by-bit.

1. Joy. We should not be excessively happy to the point of laughing as if we had gone mad.

2. Anger. Furthermore, we should not display anger. As it is said,

The fire of ignorance, blazing like the stars,
will consume a forest of merit and virtue.
Firewood collected over a thousand days
can be burned up by a single spark.

If your mind is calm when you sit in Chan, then you will feel very peaceful. However, if you indulge in anger, you will be afflicted with a hundred types of illnesses. The bones and joints in your whole body will be very painful. The fire of anger will have burned down the Bodhi tree.

3. Sorrow. We should not allow ourselves to become overly sad.

4. Fear. With fear in the mind, we cannot achieve righteousness.

5. Emotional love. Suppose we see someone or something beautiful and react with craving and desire. Suppose we notice that others have nice things and we crave such things ourselves. Such craving comes from thoughts that are caught up in emotional love and greed.

6. Hatred. Hatred is the opposite of emotional love. Extreme love often turns into hatred.

7. Desire. This includes even thoughts of desire, and especially those that are unruly, not in accord with the Way. These seven emotions have to be eradicated bit-by-bit. Hence, in our practice, it is necessary to be continually cleansing the mind. When the seven emotions have been reduced to the point of disappearing, then there will be nothing left. At that point, we will be constantly in samadhi. Whether we are walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, we will be investigating Chan and practicing hard. It is then that we will recognize our original face and know whether our nostrils are pointing up or down.

Sit perfectly still.
Sitting perfectly still for even an instant,
Generates more merit than
Building pagodas of the seven gems
In number like the Ganges’ sands.

An instant includes numberless great kalpas. Numberless big kalpas are not beyond the present thought. The present thought does not go beyond numberless great kalpas. If we could sit perfectly still for even a split second, then there would be no mark of people, self, others, and a lifespan. Not a single thought would arise and all conditions would cease.

At that point in time, one compresses numberless great kalpas into a single thought, and one expands a single thought to include numberless great kalpas. But even if we can sit still for a split second, or half an hour, or for three hours or five hours, or even for seven days, and nights, we still have to keep on sitting. Then, we come to realize that inside there is no body and mind, and outside there is no world. This kind of merit and virtue is greater than that of building seven-jeweled pagodas numbering like Ganges’ sands.

Why is that so? It is because the merit and virtue of building pagodas have form and will cease to exist eventually. If you could reach the state of having no mark of body and mind, and no mark of the world, then at that moment, your own prajna wisdom will emerge. This type of wisdom is such that one looks but does not see, hears but does not listen, and smells but takes in no scent. Nevertheless, one’s enlightened awareness remains.

If we could, in an instant, or in a very short span of time, have no mark of others, no mark of self, no mark of living beings, and no mark of a lifespan, then we would be in accord with our inherent Buddha nature. The inherent Buddha nature can illuminate the true nature of all Dharmas. It does not come into being or cease to be. It is not defiled and not pure. It neither increases nor diminishes. The sunshine of our inherent wisdom cannot shine through because we are covered by ignorance. The dark clouds of ignorance plunge us into obscurity. As a result, we are unable to discern right from wrong and vice versa. We recognize a thief for a son and are always engaged in upside-down false thinking. This is why we keep roaming about in birth and death, unable to extricate ourselves from it.

4b. How to Investigate Chan, the Meditation Topic

Fighting poison with poison, a false thought stops false thoughts.

When investigating Chan, we use a meditation topic, an inquiry into what precedes the state of no thought. The most common meditation topic is “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” The inquiry into “who?” is sustained, just as though we were using a drill to pierce a hole through the mind. When we find out “who”, then we will be enlightened. However, we cannot deduce this by using our imagination. We cannot investigate it with our mind consciousness. Instead, we have to explore and search for where we have never been and what we have never known. Sometimes a breakthrough in the investigation brings sudden enlightenment. Space is shattered and the five skandhas disintegrate. This is described in the Heart Sutra:

“When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound prajna paramita, he illuminated the five skandas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty. Shariputra! Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. So too are all feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.”

When our investigation leads to the disintegration of the five skandhas, then we will not be influenced by the six sense objects. That is the first step to accomplishing Buddhahood. However, we still have to work very hard. Furthermore, you should know that Chan investigation is different from vigorously chanting the Buddha’s name. We do not incessantly chant, “Who is mindful of the Buddha? Who is mindful of the Buddha? Who is mindful of the Buddha,” as if we were shouting for help. Investigating the meditation topic has to be done slowly, as we carefully search for our self-nature. As it is said,

Investigating brings awakening.
Awakening requires investigating.

Actually, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” is also a false thought, but it is a case of using poison to fight poison. We use one false thought to stop all false thoughts.

Go with care. Avoid demonic possession.

The meditation topic we investigate is one false thought. Our mind is full of many scattered thoughts. By using the method of fighting poision with poison, we use one false thought to stop all our many false thoughts. Slowly, one by one, we eradicate false thoughts, so they no longer have influence on us. At that time, no matter what state arises, we will not be deluded by it. We will distinguish things clearly and not become possessed by demons. The ancients said, “It would be better to go without enlightenment for a thousand lifetimes, than to be possessed by a demon
for even a single day.”

As we cultivate Chan meditation, we must be cautious and circumspect, and not get carried away. We must be proper, magnanimous, and forthright, so that demons have no chance to trouble us. Idle thoughts open the door to demons, but the meditation topic is the Dharma-treasure that exorcises those demons.

Concentrate on a single meditation topic.

In Chan meditation, we can investigate a few meditation topics such as “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” or “What was my original face before my parents gave birth to me?” or “What is it that we can do without?”
If all of you can investigate single-mindedly, you will definitely obtain benefits.

Let not a single thought arise.
Be mindful of the present.

Investigation is similar to drilling wood; you do not stop until the drill makes a hole all the way through the wood. If you stop halfway, then all your earlier efforts will be to no avail. The first priority in Chan meditation is patience. When you can be entirely patient, then you can reach a state of “not even one thought arising”. When not even one thought arises, you can get enlightened. As the saying goes, “Take one more step from the very top of a hundred- foot pole.” At that time, when you can take yet another step from the very top of a hundred-foot pole, the worlds throughout the ten directions manifest in their entirety. To gain success, however, you must apply yourself constantly, in thought after thought, without any laziness or slacking off.

Be as a cat is when stalking a mouse.
Be as a dragon is when guarding its pearl.

Investigating Chan is just like using a drill to create a hole. You must keep on drilling until you have broken through. Drilling through is known as “breaking the fundamental investigation”. Having drilled a hole through, brightness will be revealed. In this dark house, without any windows and doors, you have to use a drill to make a hole. When a hole has been made, light will shine in. When you are still ignorant and do not understand anything, it is just like being in a dark room without windows and doors. If, in using this skill to investigate Chan, you succeed in drilling through, light will shine in. This is investigating Chan.

There is another analogy. Meditation is just like “a cat stalking a mouse.” When a cat stalks a mouse, it watches the mouse-hole intently. The moment the mouse comes out, the cat pounces on it and grabs it with its paw. The mouse has no way of escaping. What is the ‘mouse’? It represents your ignorance. When you emit light, it is similar to a cat that has caught the mouse.

Yet there is another analogy. It is like “a dragon nurturing its pearl.” A dragon never strays from his gem. When two dragons fight over a pearl, they treat it as even more precious than their own lives. Hence, a dragon will think of ways and means to protect its pearl. In the same way, a Chan investigator is like a dragon that nurtures its pearl constantly in thought after thought. This is called contemplating at ease. If you can contemplate at ease, you are ever mindful of the present. However, if you cannot contemplate at ease, that means you are running away! What happens when you run away? It means you give in to false thoughts. As soon as you have false thoughts, you will not be at ease. When you do not have false thoughts, then you are at ease.

Let me give you another example. What is meditation like? It is like “a hen brooding over her eggs.” When the hen broods over her eggs, she thinks, “I am here sitting on the eggs. When the time comes, the chicks will hatch. Little chicks will definitely appear.” When you investigate Chan, it is similar to a hen brooding over her eggs. You reflect, “Oh! One day I will be enlightened. When I practice for one day, my self-nature will shine forth a bit of light. If I practice everyday, then my wisdom light will shine forth constantly. Eventually, I will want to be the same as the Buddha, not in the least bit different.” When you investigate in this way, you are just like the hen brooding over her eggs, and one day you will succeed! This is Chan investigation.

Our meditation topic works like the Headband-tightening Mantra.

When we sit in meditation, we have to catch the little monkey. The human mind is like a wild horse. Our thoughts are as restless and naughty as a monkey. If we don’t catch that monkey, it will just keep giving us the runaround. Our essence and spirit will be scattered and our energy source will become depleted to exhaustion. The energy source of the self-nature is very precious. If it is depleted by the monkey for no rhyme or reason, then it is really not worth it. Now, we need to train the horse to obey instructions and tame the monkey so that it will be obedient. This means you have to tame the wild-horse mind and monkey-like thoughts. How do you do it? You need to tie on a golden headband and then chant the Headband-tightening Mantra.

In the novel Journey to the West, as soon as Xuan Zhuang, the Tang monk, chanted the Headband-tightening Mantra, the monkey-god, Sun Wu Kong, became very obedient. What is our Headband-tightening Mantra? The inquiry into ‘who’ in our meditation topic “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” will work. Use it and the monkey-like thoughts will become obedient. Since the monkey in our mind does not know who that ‘who’ is, it will concentrate single-mindedly to search for it. Once our monkey-like thoughts quiet down, our mind will attentively concentrate in its search and our thoughts will no longer give us the runaround. If you can catch the monkey and tame it, then your skill is almost there!

If you are apart from this,
you have gone amiss.

Investigating Chan goes beyond the hard work we do while sitting in meditation. We have to work hard while walking, standing, sitting, or reclining. Sitting meditation provides the opportunity to concentration on the focal point of our meditation topic. Then, while walking, standing, sitting, and reclining, we continue to investigate “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” The entire verse reads,

Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down,
do not be apart from this.
If you are apart from this,
you have gone amiss.

What is this? It refers to our investigation of our meditation
topic, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”

Sweep away all dharmas.
Separate from all marks.

Those who do not understand the method of Chan investigation may treat it like chanting the Buddha’s name, thinking that the more you chant the better it is. That would be a mistake. Inquiry into the meditation topic is not done by chanting it. The best way is to stretch the resonance of the inquiry so that it lasts for a few hours without ending. That inquiry could even continue for eighty-thousand great kalpas without interruption. That would truly be investigating Chan. Why do we investigate “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” The word “who” is basically superfluous, but we are like monkeys, always looking around for something to do. With the word “who” acting as a shield can deflect all those idle thoughts.

This Dharma-door uses poison to fight poison. Only when we are free of all random thoughts can we be said to be diligently wiping the mirror of our mind clean at all times. To investigate Chan simply means to diligently wipe the mirror of the mind clean. Why must we keep wiping it clean? We must do that to keep the mind from attracting dust. This is the Dharma-door of “sweeping away all dharmas, and separating from all marks.”

If you do not use Dharma-selecting vision so that you recognize true Dharma, then you do not really know how to investigate. If you do not learn how to investigate, your efforts will just be wasted. That is because if you fail to recognize proper Dharma, you may well end up following
deviant dharmas. That is why Dharma-selecting vision is so important.

Contemplate at ease to find wisdom.

Investigating Chan means learning to contemplate. What are we to contemplate? Contemplate your illuminating prajna. I am teaching you to be mindful of the present and to contemplate yourself, not to contemplate others. Contemplate whether you are here or not? If you are here, then you can sit and investigate Chan, working hard at cultivation. If you are not here, then you are indulging in false thinking and are daydreaming. Even though you are physically in the Chan hall, your mind has gone to New York sightseeing, or to Italy for a holiday. Your mind goes everywhere, climbing on conditions. Hence, you are not at ease.

To contemplate at ease is to be a Bodhisattva. Not contemplating at ease, you are an ordinary person. To contemplate at ease is to experience the divine. If you do not contemplate at ease, you may end up enduring the hells. If you contemplate at ease and your mind does not escape, then you can practice profound prajna paramita. By physically investigating Chan continuously without cease, you are also practicing profound prajna, and discovering your wisdom. Once you activate your inherent great wisdom, then you can reach the other shore.

The secret to Chan investigation is to focus on it day and night. Focus on what? “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” Investigate this today and again tomorrow. Even though you practice profound prajna paramita in the Chan hall everyday, you may not taste the flavor of Chan right away. It takes a long time to accomplish that. Only when you have gained sufficient skill in practicing profound prajna paramita will you be able to illuminate the five skandhas and see that they are all empty.

When we gain the One,
all things are done.

The secret of investigating Chan is to gain one-pointed focus. As the saying goes,

When Heaven attains the One,
it becomes pure;
When Earth attains the One,
it becomes peaceful;
When a person attains the One,
he becomes a sage.
When all things attain the One,
they all abide in their destiny.

This is why the One is the beginning of all things. However, it is still not the ultimate Dharma. It is said,

When you obtain the One,
all things are done.

But if you attach to the One, then you will fall into two or three, and that is not true emptiness. What is true emptiness? It is Zero. The Zero is formed by making a circle. It is neither big nor small, neither inside nor outside, has no beginning and no end and cannot be enumerated. However, all numbers are not apart from it. Cultivation starts with cultivating the One until you return to Zero. From Zero uncountable functions come forth. Although it is said that “when you obtain the One, all things are done”, at the stage of Zero, there is not a single thing. At that point,

When not one Dharma is established,
the myriad conditions are empty.

That is the ultimate liberation!

Contents      < Previous     Next >

Pages:  1    2    3    4    5    6    

return to top