The Chan Handbook


The Three Cart Patriarch

The main purpose of meditation is to eradicate all our past evil karma, regain our original wisdom, and bring our good roots to fruition. We must be patient, and that means not being afraid of hardship. When the sages of old sat in meditation, they could sit for thousands of years. I shall now relate a koan as an example.

During the Tang Dynasty, when Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang was on his way to India to obtain sutras, he encountered an old cultivator in meditation. Birds had built nests on his head and his clothes were torn and tattered. Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang rang his bell to bring the old fellow out of samadhi. The old cultivator asked, “Where do you come from?” Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang replied, “I come from the Land of Tang and I am going to India to seek for Sutras. What are you doing here?”

The old cultivator said, “I am waiting for Shakyamuni Buddha to come into the world. Then I am going to help him propagate the Buddhadharma.” Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang said, “Why are you still waiting for the Buddha to come into the world? Shakyamuni Buddha has already passed into Nirvana for more than a thousand years.” The old cultivator said, “Is that a fact! Well, in that case, I will wait for the next Buddha, Maitreya, to come into the world.”

Thereupon, he prepared to go back into samadhi. Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang interrupted him and said, “I have a matter to discuss with you.” The old cultivator replied, “Do not disturb my peace. I do not want to interfere in worldly affairs.”

Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang said, “This is not a personal matter. Although Shakyamuni Buddha has already entered Nirvana, his Dharma is still in the world. I want you to help me spread the Buddhadharma and continue the Buddha’s wisdom life. Now, you go to the Land of Tang and wait for me to return with the sutras, and then we shall propagate the Buddhadharma together. From here, go east and get reborn in the house with the yellow-tiled roof.”

Before Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang set out for India to bring back the sutras, he made a prediction to Emperor Tai Zong saying, “The branches of the pine tree are now pointing to the west. When they point east, that means I have returned with the Sutras.” One day, Emperor Tai Zong noticed that all the tree branches were pointing to the east and he knew that Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang would return soon. When Dharma Master Xuan Zang returned to Chang An, Emperor Tai Zong led all the court officials to the western gate to welcome him. It was a grand reception, and the streets were thronging with people.

When Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang met the Emperor, he immediately said, “Congratulations, Your Majesty, on the birth of a prince.” But the emperor replied, “No. I didn’t have a son while you were away.” The Dharma Master looked into the matter and found that the old cultivator had missed his mark and been reborn in a house with blue tiles, instead of yellow. The blue-tiled house belonged to the Defence Minister Yu Chi Kong. He was now the nephew of Yu Chi Kong. Dharma Master Xuan Zang urged Yu Chi Kong’s nephew to leave home but was rejected. He then pleaded with the Emperor to issue an edict ordering the war minister’s nephew to enter monastic life, explaining, “It is essential that he leaves home. So no matter what conditions he asks for, agree to all of them.”

Immediately, the Emperor issued an edict ordering the war minister’s nephew to leave home. When the nephew of Yu Chi Kong received the imperial command to leave home, he set up three conditions, saying, “My first condition is this. Originally, Buddhism does not permit drinking wine. However, I do not wish to give up drinking wine. I expect that wherever I go, there will be a cart of wine following me.” The Emperor knew that one of the five precepts in Buddhism prohibits consuming alcohol, but then, Master Xuan Zhuang had told him to agree to any conditions that the nephew might have. So the Emperor agreed to the first condition. Encouraged, the nephew continued, “Now for my second condition. I was born in the home of a general and I am used to eating meat. After I become a monk, I must still have fresh meat to eat everyday.”

The Emperor knew for a fact that monastics do not eat meat, but since Master Xuan Zhuang had already told the Emperor to agree with any terms, Tai Zong therefore had to agree to this one as well. The nephew pressed on, “Here is my third condition. All my life, I have been fond of beautiful women. So wherever I go, I must have a cart full of beauties accompanying me.” The Emperor agreed to all three conditions. When Yu Chi Kong’s nephew left home, the entire imperial court gave him a send-off to Da Xing Shan (Great Flourishing Goodness) Monastery to enter monastic life.

On that day, the monastery’s big bell was rung and the gigantic drum was beaten to welcome him. As soon as he heard the bell and drum, he had a sudden enlightenment and remembered that he was the old cultivator who had promised to help Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang propagate the Buddhadharma. The moment he obtained the knowledge of past lives, he gave up the three carts of wine, meat, and women. He became Patriarch Kui Ji, the Second Patriarch of the Fa Xiang (Dharma Marks) School.

But all his life he was also known as the Three Cart Patriarch. He could read ten lines at a glance and could discern clearly what one hundred people talking at the same time were saying. Patriarch Kui Ji helped Dharma Master Xuan Zhuang translate the discourses of the Dharma Marks School. His skills were unsurpassed. He earned the name ‘Master of One Hundred Discourses’.

When the old cultivator sat in meditation, he could sit for a few thousand years. Here, we sit for only twenty-one hours each day, which is really insignificant by comparison. We must learn to look upon all matters as being trifles and should not be attached to anything. Endure suffering and pain. It is only by enduring a moment of pain that we can achieve everlasting happiness. All of you should be courageous and vigorous and cultivate diligently. In this way, you will be able to overcome all obstacles.

Cast aside birth and death

A long time ago, there was a diligent old cultivator who had attained some success. But then, a state came along to test his samadhi power. What kind of state was it? Whenever he meditated and was about to enter samadhi, a big stone would appear, dangling from a rope above his head. If the rope were to break, he would be smashed into a meat patty. He knew that this was only a state, and he ignored it. This happened every day. The stone would be there, dangling above his head. Because of that, he became very cautious in his meditation and dared not fall asleep. But he also could not enter samadhi.

After a few days, the state changed. Now, there was a rat on the rope from which the stone was dangling. The rat was gnawing on the rope. The rope had been thin to begin with and now that the rat was gnawing at it, the danger of the stone crashing down on the meditator increased dramatically. As a result of this state, the old cultivator dared not meditate there again. Actually, such states are all illusions. No matter what states appear, cultivators should ignore them. We must cast aside life and death. If we live, we live. If we die, we die.

Our resolve should be that we would rather die as a result of cultivating than to live without doing so. If we do not fear death and can put everything down, we will surely gain enlightenment. This old cultivator was afraid of death, and so he did not dare to continue his meditation. Once he stopped meditating, his skill did not improve, and he did not accomplish anything.

Off by a hair’s breadth to start with,
We will miss by a thousand miles in the end.

When we cultivate, no matter what states we encounter, we must have the samadhi power to ignore them. By doing that, we will eventually experience some positive results and will be able to overcome obstacles. Once we have overcome the obstacles, we will receive some good news.

7. Questions and Answers on Chan

Question: When we sit in meditation, what should our mind contemplate?

Venerable Master: There is no fixed place where the mind should be. You must find how to let your mind not dwell anywhere. If there is a location, your mind will reside there. Find out how to let the mind not reside anywhere and not think of good or bad. That is where you should apply effort. If you concentrate on a place and think of good and bad, then you are still caught up in attachments. In cultivating, we want to remain detached from everything. When there are no more attachments, we will even forget about our own body. If we are not even aware of our own body, what is left to attach to?

Question: Why must we sit in the full lotus position in order to enter samadhi? Are other methods acceptable? Is it all right to just sit still if we cannot bend our legs into that position?

Venerable Master: It is okay too. This position is the vajra position though, so it is stronger. Question: Could the Venerable Master please point out the way for me? When someone is meditating, who or what is
the meditator?

Venerable Master: You find out.

Question: What is the difference between entering samadhi and sleeping?

Venerable Master: Put simply, the posture of entering samadhi is to sit upright with your back straight and not tilt sideways. If your skill reaches the point where your breath stops or your pulse stops, you may appear to be as if dead, but you still have feelings. You can sit for a whole day without moving or for ten days without moving, or even sit for a month without moving. On the other hand, sleeping is different, because your head and body may recline and twist. You have no control over them in sleep. And when asleep, your breathing becomes heavier, so that your exhales and inhales often result in snoring. That is the basic difference
between the two.

Question: Please tell us about the lotus posture.

Venerable Master: The sitting posture itself resembles a lotus. Also, sitting on a lotus all the time symbolizes that ones body is light and concentrated. It also represents the lotus in which the treasury of worlds is located. These are reasons why this sitting position is known as the lotus posture. It is also called the auspicious position.

Question: Is the half-lotus sitting position analogous to a silver pagoda and the full lotus position to a gold pagoda?

Venerable Master: And, no position, no pagoda.

Question: What is the next step in meditation?

Venerable Master: The first requirements in meditation are to clear our minds and lessen our desires. A clear mind has no false thinking. Less desire means being less emotional.

Question: What is the primary purpose of meditation?

Venerable Master: The advantages to meditation are manifold. Whether we study, work, or take care of the house, daily meditation increases our concentration, lessens the pressures of life, and increases our physical health. If we honestly want to develop our wisdom and become liberated, then we must develop this habit. We must be committed to meditation for the long term, so that we can eventually be liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

Question: Is meditation a practice that tends to be more dangerous because one is more prone to being possessed by demons?

Venerable Master: There are different causes and conditions for this situation, not one. Some people cultivate and become possessed by demons more easily because they are extremely selfish, opinionated, and self-centered. These are the reasons why they cultivate.

Question: Meditators see illusions, as most people would call them. Could you please explain this phenomenon that occurs during meditation?

Venerable Master: Any phenomenon is illusory and false. What you see are just the fifty kinds of transformations according to the Shurangama Sutra. It would be very sad for you to consider any of these a form of accomplishment.

Question: What are the basics to Chan meditation?

Venerable Master: The basics are: 1. not being greedy; 2. not being angry; and 3. not being deluded.

Question: Our transcendental meditation instructor taught us to imagine a particular sound.

Venerable Master: That is a useless exercise, just like putting another head on top of a head or searching for a mule while riding on one.

Question: What happens when we feel pain during meditation?

Venerable Master: If you are aware of the pain, then take the attitude “the more pain, the better.” If you cannot get past this stage, you will always hurt. Do not react to the signals of pain. You have to make it listen to you. You have to be the one in control. It helps to maintain the awareness that our body is not real, that it is a temporary combination of the four elements. In that sense, it is not of any great importance.

We can reflect that if we were to die and go to the hells, we would experience agony in the hells that would be much more painful than this! We should ask ourselves what we can do now, while we are in control. We can decide to just let our body suffer a bit more, knowing that the pain is due to pressure being applied to our energy channels and circulatory system during meditation. We can remind ourselves that once we break through the obstructions, we will no longer experience pain.

Question: What is the difference between prayer and Chan meditation?

Venerable Master: If you think they are the same, then they are the same. If you think they are different, then they are different.

Question: I often hear people say that our s

Venerable Master: Here is what the Honorable Ji said about meditation,

The gluttonous get hungry.
The starved become lanky.

Meditation is about stilling our thoughts. You will know when you are having an out-of-body experience during meditation. You also will know when you cannot leave your body. But do not dwell on either of those experiences. I do not think about leaving my body or not leaving my body. I also am careful not to eat too much.

Question: You say that while we are meditating, we should be patient with what we feel. But I find that strange. Can we express our feelings, or should we keep them inside? Sometimes when I stuff them inside, I find that I want to explode afterwards. What should I do?

Venerable Master: Be patient with them, which means emptying them so that they disappear. It is not about hiding them inside. What is the use of hiding them inside? Why do you need to keep your garbage? Forget them! Things that are supressed can taint us more than anything. As powerful as the atom bomb may be, the power of suppression is even greater. If you are not afraid of exploding into pieces, go ahead and hide them. But I do not recommend it.

Question: Will you please help me with my meditation so that I can understand the principles of Buddhism even better, as well as those of other religions that I am studying?

Venerable Master: By sitting in meditation, we learn to take a beating. Sitting in meditation can be as painful as being beaten. This applies to the hours when we are not actually sitting as well. We ought to be patient when people hit us or yell at us. In general, we can meditate well and sleep in a sitting position when we are unaffected by the eight kinds of

Question: I am so stupid! 1) I cannot penetrate my own mind. 2) If I am not careful, I fall asleep when I meditate. How do I overcome these two problems?

Venerable Master: It is not so easy to penetrate the mind, especially in only two or three days. It is better to be asleep than to be having false thoughts.

Question: Is meditation and the “investigation of Dhyana” the same thing, or are they two different things?

Venerable Master: Although the terms are different, they mean the same. If we really understand the investigation of Dhyana, then we will not be confused any longer.

Question: Venerable Master, please tell us the difference between our rules and the rules in the meditation centers of China.

Venerable Master: Obviously there are lots of differences. But here we must assert our independence and uniqueness. We only choose what is good and we discard what is wrong. We intend to reform the parts of Buddhism that only cause problems and bring no benefit. Food: Meditators in China require three meals a day: porridge for breakfast, a full lunch, and stuffed buns for an evening snack. Beatings: Every meditator has to be beaten in China. The proctor beats the participants one by one. You are beaten whether you act correctly or otherwise. The harder you are hit, the more the monastery gets to show how strict its rules are.

Gaoming Monastery, for example, is famous for its beatings. Sometimes they break their incense board while beating people. None of you have been beaten yet this year. You have been hit in the past. I am probably more compassionate this year, and your karmic obstacles are lighter too. These are some of the differences. Those monks in China are really scary. They allow no trace of a smile on their face at all, looking as stern as Sangarama Bodhisattva. Were you to go into their Chan Halls, you would be too scared to even lift your head. It would be like a mouse seeing a cat.

We do not beat people for no reason here. I am pleasant and I give you talks every day as if I were babysitting. Yet you still have to suffer while you adjust to the sitting posture of meditation. Why do I think that letting you suffer is all right? People in this country have a tremendous amount of blessings. If I do not make you suffer a bit, you will not develop any major commitment to cultivating. You give up wearing nice clothes, eating good food, living in a nice house, and you forego all kinds of luxuries to come and suffer here. This is the very best way to get rid of arrogance, so that we can honestly cultivate and become liberated from birth and death.

Rules: Also, you absolutely cannot stretch out your legs in the meditation halls of China. You will definitely get hit that way. They will not be a bit polite. The head of the hall gets beaten too if he violates the rules. For instance, if the head of the hall snoozes on occasion, the proctor will have to kneel on his right knee before hitting him, which is different than the posture he assumes in hitting the rest of the group.

Also, there is a certain way to hold one’s teacup, because the cup has no handle. You have to place your thumb on the rim of the cup and use the rest of hand to hold the cup from the bottom. With your cup in hand, you extend your arm to let the attendant pour you tea. After you are done with the tea, you place the cup in front of you and the attendant will take it away. This is done in complete silence. We drink ginseng tea here, so our rules are substandard. We can study these rules and improve upon them over time. But we do not have to imitate China for sure. The rules have to fit the culture here.

Meditators in China absolutely cannot go outside the hall to drink tea, to sit down, to stand around, and to chat. They return to the Chan hall for walking meditation immediately after their meal. They do not waste one second of their time. They do not do anything else at all in between. They do not go to rinse their mouths and or do some stretching after eating. We will change these little problems gradually, so that we stay on the right track.

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