The Chan Handbook


Question: Is a demon that appears during one’s meditation a creation of the mind? If it is made from the mind alone, is that the same kind of demon that you talked about earlier?

Venerable Master: When you have offended demons outside of you, the demons in you will also act up. There is not just one kind of demon and not just one kind of ghost. There are heavenly demons, earth demons, spiritual demons, ghostly demons, demons who are people, demons made from the mind, and demons that are created by external states. There is not just one kind, but many kinds.

Question: I studied transcendental meditation. While meditating, I would listen to a sound and visualize a scene by the ocean. In the beginning, I could concentrate very well and was in a pleasant state. However, after a period of time, things became more and more blurry and confusing. I do not know if this is a good way to meditate.

Venerable Master: Any wish to listen for a sound is a type of false thinking. This type of meditation is not transcendental in the truest sense, which is to be natural and free of greed, seeking, or anticipation. The exercise you describe involves wanting, and with wanting, you transcend

Question: So we should not think about anything?

Venerable Master:
A hundred things occur because one thought moves.
Ten thousand things cease when thought stops.
Quieting the mind brings real success.
Ending selfish desires creates real blessings.

Question: So, is transcendental meditation good or bad? It is now very popular in many countries around the word!

Venerable Master: Novel ways to meditate were created for those who cannot sit in the full lotus position. The fact is that we must learn to sit in full lotus to meditate. It is impossible to say that one has attained the Way without having sat in full lotus.

Question: The thing I am most sorry about is not having enough time to meditate.

Venerable Master: You must spare some time in your busy schedule and not waste it emersing yourself in confusion. You could cultivate at anytime and anywhere, not just by sitting there with your eyes closed.

Question: Where did Guanshiyin Bodhisattva come from?

Venerable Master: Ask yourself where you came from.

Question: While meditating in the last several days, the pain in my legs has intensified, especially in my left knee. This pain gradually rolled into a ball and stayed on my kneecap. When the pain heightened yesterday, it exploded and became a clean and warm energy that is yellow. It went from my knee to my ribs and to the upper part of my body. This warmth did not make me drowsy, but happy and comfortable. Later I saw a throne surrounded by white lotuses. The edges to them seemed blurry, but their centers had purple buds like an inverted wine glass with a wide rim. They would suddenly change into mountains of gems, the bright lights of which are unprecedented.

At times, they would also look like European castles or lotus diases like those upon which Bodhisattvas sit. There was a flat-headed snake that climbed to the top of the throne. Sometimes the scenes were transparent like a movie and would just flash by so I could not remember them well. I only remember that I seemed to be walking along on the seashore by myself. No one else was in sight. The place was quiet, beautiful, and charming. There was only the sound of seagulls that occasionally broke the silence. Now, I want to know if this was real or was it a result of my discriminating consciousness?

Venerable Master: Visions of Buddhas or flowers are not real when you have tried to visualize them and want to see them. Anything that you want to see is not real. The only significant state that is real is the one before a single thought occurs, though even that can be illusory at times. It is best not to encounter any state during meditation. There is nothing at all, just emptiness. Do not be shocked or happy. Reactions such as shock or happiness can cause you to become possessed by demons, as in the fifty skandha states listed in the Shurangama Sutra.

Question: Why should we meditate as we study the Buddhadharma?

Venerable Master: We meditate so that we can study a countless number of sutras and open the boundless wisdom inherent in our self-nature. There are countless Dharma doors in our nature, but people tend to disregard the foundation and chase after the superficialities. We look for answers outside of ourselves, failing to realize that we should reflect.

Question: Please tell us again about the difference between entering samadhi and sleeping.

Venerable Master: During samadhi, a person remains very aware while sitting straight up. His body does not move around and his head does not nod or tilt. This is the state of being still and yet always reflecting, reflecting and yet being always still. When asleep, you are not at all aware, you snore thunderously, and your position is completely the opposite of the stillness of samadhi.

Question: “It is better to study nothing for a day than to seek knowledge for a thousand days.” What does this quite mean?

Venerable Master: “Not knowing when to quit the studying of different terms, we only trap ourselves by counting sand in the sea.” Who is seeking knowledge for a thousand days? Who is studying nothing for a day? We should not keep on doing others’ laundry.

Question: A kind of “Contemporary Chan” is popular now. I hear people achieve rather quick re

Venerable Master: I am old fashioned and do not understand this contemporary question.

Question: While meditating, what should we be contemplating?

Venerable Master: Nothing specific. “Let your mind be nowhere.” If there is anything specific, then you would be dwelling there. Dwell nowhere.

Question: Is there any difference between your method of meditation and that of Ajahn Sumedho? If so, how are they different?

Venerable Master: “There is only one path at the source, but there are many expedient entries.” We are all people. Our faces look different. We all have minds, but we do not all think the same. You cannot make everyone uniform in every respect. The same principle applies here.

Question: Please briefly introduce meditation as it is taught at Gold Mountain Monastery.

Venerable Master: You will find out when you come toGold Mountain Monastery. To begin with, we train ourselves to sit in the full lotus position. This position is called the vajra position, which can subdue demons.

Question: You just talked about how the full lotus posture is equivalent to a gold pagoda and a half lotus position is equivalent to a silver pagoda. Now, will you please discuss meditation?

Venerable Master: Do not be too anxious. You will only bite off more than you can chew. If you cannot sit in full lotus yet, sit in half lotus. The faster you want to go, the slower you will get where you want to go. Study one day at a time. You cannot graduate from college right away.

Question: How do we ask “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”

Venerable Master: You should investigate, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” instead of asking it. Investigation is like drilling a hole. We will understand when we drill through. Before you do, you will not understand by asking the question. This method takes us to the point where language ceases to function and the mind stops thinking. No one can describe it. What others tell you is not it.

Question: It is generally said that the precepts help us enter samadhi and develop wisdom. Why does the Chan school only talk about cultivating a balance of samadhi and wisdom until we perfect our enlightenment and conduct?

Venerable Master: They can say whatever they want. It is also okay for some to talk only about precepts, or samadhi, or wisdom. It is not definite. It all depends on each individual’s goals and principles. There is no set standard.

8. Verses on Chan and Chan Potential

Clue about Chan Samadhi Innocence found,
Vibrance abounds!
Thoughts turn straight and true.
Tame the mind. Let things go.
That is the vital clue.
As the earth dissolves,
Dualities will, too.
When space is shattered to smithereens,
Distinction-making will end.
A singular light then fills the cosmos.
Hold that pearl of wisdom.
Keep that mani gem close.
Transcending the defiled and pure,
Coming and going no longer occur.
The pulse will stop, thoughts, cease,
And the mad mind, be at peace.

--February 21st, 1984, City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

Wonderful Truth In Us All

When silence reigns, sounds cease,
And the countless conditions are quiet.
Then the boundless sky, the vast earth,
And all that is in between,
Unite with the Dharma Realm.
A single substance emerges.
Where did we come from to get here?
Where do we go when we leave?
In fact, neither you nor I exist.
Yet wonderful truth is in us all.
The wise will find it naturally.

--December 27th, 1956

Topple Mount Sumeru

By knocking down Mount Sumeru
Obstacles are purged.
In the pure sea of our nature true,
No more waves emerge.
Awake, to penetrate and know
The true face of each of us.
Prajna wisdom always shows
That all things are forever thus.

--Verse for starting the Chan session, Gold Mountain Chan Monastery,
San Francisco, December 5th, 1971

An Intensive Course

Good people, scholars of sorts,
Gather here for an intensive course:
Study of the unconditioned.
In this arena, Buddhas come forth.
Whoever awakens earns honors.

--Verse for starting the Chan session, Buddhist Lecture Hall,
San Francisco, December 1969

Return of Spring

When spring gathers,
Things start to grow.
When space is shattered,
We come into our own.
Never again get fooled
By what self and others seem to be.
The Dharma Realm may be huge,
But it all fits within you and me.

--Verse for starting the 98-day Chan session, Buddhist Lecture Hall,
San Francisco, October 15th 1970

Self-portrait of Hsuan Hua Sitting in Chan

Stilling thoughts is done in Dhyana.
A Bodhi sprout grows from Mahaprajna.
It needs to be tended with diligent care.
Awakening, with patience to bear
Insights about reality,
We are free to go and share
In the Dragon Flower Assembly.

Playing a Flute Without Holes

During an intensive Chan session,
Heaven and earth may be rent asunder.
Nor is it strange to get lessons,
In how to switch moons, in star plunder.
Standing before a shadowless peak,
A turn of the head will let you see.
Ever notice some true-blue soul
Playing a flute that has no holes?

Walk with Me

Upon awakening, do not be glad.
Before awakening, do not worry.
Work as hard as you ever have.
Hand-in-hand, walk with me.

--Verse for ending the Chan session, Gold Mountain Chan Monastery,
San Francisco, February 18th, 1972

Vajra Seed to Bodhi Sprout

Some time past, we sowed a vajra seed.
Our Bodhi sprout is now so tall it soars.
The fruit it bears will one day be
Instant awakening, proper and full,
Bringing us right to the Buddhas’ door.

--Verse for starting the Chan session, Buddhist Lecture Hall,
San Francisco, September 12th, 1970

Who will there be?

Pick it up. Let it fall.
Who is mindful of the Buddha?
Ha! Ha! Ha!
Put it down. Can’t let it go?
Who’s the Buddha mindful of?
Ho! Ho! Ho!
It is not you. It is not me.
The two of us are two too many.
It is you, and it is me.
But when Sumeru topples,
Who will there be?

--Verse for starting the Chan session, Gold Mountain Chan Monastery,
San Francisco, March 11th, 1972


“Mind from the West Mind from the West
Teach me a way to escape from this cage.”
“To escape from the cage; To escape from the cage;
Put out both legs, close both eyes.
This is the way, to escape from the cage!”

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