Chan: The Essence
of All Buddhas

Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

When spring returns to the earth, the myriad things are born.
Smashing empty space to pieces, one is free and at ease.
One will never again become attached to self or others.
Although the Dharma Realm is vast, one can encompass it all.

Springtime is here, and our holding a Chan session is like when spring comes to the earth. The myriad things are born means you have the opportunity to become enlightened. The light shining forth from your own nature is compared to the myriad things growing in the spring.

Smashing empty space to pieces, empty space has no shape or form; it is gone. At that point, one is free and at ease. You are truly free and independent. Never again will you become attached to self or others. There won't be any people and there won't be any dharmas; people and dharmas will both be empty. The attributes of self and others will both be gone. Although the Dharma Realm may be vast, but you can contain it entirely within yourself. One can encompass it all.

Now wouldn't you call that great? This is truly the demeanor of a great hero.

With Empty Space Shattered, the Mind Is Understood

The phrase "Who is mindful of the Buddha" is a regal, precious vajra sword. It is also the phrase "sweeping broom" recited by Kshudrapanthaka. Someone may say, "Why is it called both a regal, precious vajra sword and a sweeping broom? Since it is a regal, precious vajra sword, it can't be a broom. Since it is a broom, it can't be a regal, precious vajra sword." It depends which end you use.

One end is a regal, precious vajra sword and the other end is a broom. One end, the regal, precious vajra sword, which can slice through gold and cut through jade, cuts through your emotions and severs your love. Being able to cut off ignorance and afflictions makes it a regal, precious vajra sword.

The broom end is like your mindfulness of "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" Just as each time you sweep the floor it gets a little cleaner, so too, sweeping with "who" sweeps away a lot of your lust. What the vajra sword cuts through is lust and what the broom sweeps away is also lust. It's your thoughts of desire, your emotional love, and other such problems. You can use the vajra sword to cut through all these unsolvable problems.

As soon as you investigate "who?" —the heavenly demons and externalists cannot do anything to you. There's no crack for them to slip through. That's because you are holding aloft the wisdom sword that subdues the ten great demonic armies. All the various demonic armies in this world will be conquered. None of the demons has any way to deal with your "who?" If you forget to be mindful of "who?" then there is a hole where the demons can wriggle their way in. That can happen because you put down your regal, precious vajra sword and give rise to ignorance.

When you investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" things may get vague. You keep on investigating, but you can't find out "who?" Unable to find the "who," you give rise to a "feeling of doubt." Once this feeling of doubt arises, great doubt will bring great enlightenment. Small doubt will bring small enlightenment. No doubt will bring no enlightenment. Continual doubt will bring continual enlightenment. Brief doubt will bring brief enlightenment.

What is meant by a "feeling of doubt"? It's being unable to find out "who?" Hmm. "Who?" Sustained investigation of this word "who" for hours nonstop can bring you to the point that your breath ceases, your pulse stops, your thoughts come to a standstill, and you attain a profoundly great samadhi. With that kind of samadhi, you are in samadhi when you are walking; you are in samadhi when you are sitting; you are in samadhi when you are standing; and you are in samadhi when you are lying down. You neither enter it nor leave it, and so it's called a profoundly great samadhi.

At that time, above, there will be no heaven; below, there will be no earth; in between, there will be no people; and afar, there will be no objects. Absolutely everything will be empty. Even emptiness will not exist. Once emptiness is obliterated, what kind of state remains? Take a look. Think about it. Do you still have false thoughts? Do you still have extraneous ideas? When there isn't even any emptiness, where could the false thoughts and extraneous ideas be located? Where could lust be found?

At that time, it's very easy to become enlightened. It's very easy to return to the root and go back to the source, to understand your mind and see your nature. When you understand your mind and see your nature, nothing that happens presents any difficulties; there are no obstructions. Once you see your nature, you never worry.

Where Is the Original Face to Be Found?

From the Qing dynasty on, most people have investigated "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" Investigating the word "who" is the most important part. Who? As long as you don't know, then it's still "who." If you know, then that's enlightenment. You want to find out who it is who's mindful of the Buddha. If you say, "Oh! I am mindful of the Buddha!" You? If it's you who is mindful of the Buddha, then suppose you die and are cremated so that you no longer exist--then where have you gone? If it's you who is mindful of the Buddha, then you shouldn't die; but you will die, get cremated, and be gone.

There are many different meditation topics that can be used in investigating Chan. Some people investigate "Who was I before my mother bore me?" Others may investigate the word "Nothing." "Nothing" means there isn't anything at all. Everything is nonexistent. Or does everything exist? They investigate "nothing" and "existence." They investigate how things cease to exist. Everything in the world is subject to coming into being, dwelling, decaying, and becoming empty. What is there that is not subject to coming into being, dwelling, decaying, and becoming empty? That's what they investigate.

Some investigate "Does a dog have the Buddha nature?" Whether or not a dog has the Buddha nature can be a topic too. Others investigate "dried excrement." You laugh when you hear that, but when you investigate it, there's a lot of flavor in it! Not smelly, though, so you don't need to laugh. Since it's dry it doesn't smell. There are many different meditation topics. Whichever topic you respond to best is the one for you.

Carefully Investigate While Walking, Standing, Sitting, and Lying Down

Now we are having a Chan session. Concentration is of vital importance in a Chan session. Your body, mind, and thoughts must be concentrated. Here, your body must walk when it's time to walk, sit when it's time to sit, and lie down when it's time to lie down. Walking, sitting, and reclining, you must follow the rules. Your mind must not give rise to false thinking; then the mind can be concentrated. Your thoughts should be devoid of greed, devoid of hatred, and devoid of stupidity. Single-mindedly investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"

Investigating is like using a drill to drill a hole. You drill and drill until you drill through the piece of wood. Once the drill penetrates, you can see through to the other side. That's what becoming enlightened is like. Prior to penetrating, we are only doing the daily work of drilling. Prior to becoming enlightened, we investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"

Now we are putting in the work that it takes to become enlightened. During the period of working, you don't want to say, "Oh! This drill won't penetrate and make a hole." Then you don't want to drill any more. But if you don't drill, no hole will be made. You must drill the hole today, drill it tomorrow, and drill it the next day —drilling and drilling until your work is realized. After a time, you will penetrate. That penetration is enlightenment. That means what you weren't clear about before, you will be clear about. What you didn't understand, you will understand.

What is this skill like? It's like a cat poised to catch a mouse. The cat waits beside the mouse hole. If the mouse comes out, the cat catches it with one swipe of its claws. Your investigation of "Who is mindful of the Buddha" is like a cat stalking a mouse. Your false thinking is the mouse, and the phrase "Who is mindful of the Buddha" is the cat. The cat is waiting to catch the mouse. That's what this analogy means.

Investigation is also like a dragon guarding its pearl. A dragon is always protecting his dragon pearl. His attention never strays from it.

Again, investigation is like a hen brooding over her eggs. The hen is always concerned about her chicks, thinking, "My little chicks are going to hatch soon." She keeps brooding, "Ah! Hurry up! Hurry up! Little chicks, hurry up and hatch!" Every day she's there thinking about her chicks until they finally hatch. As it is said, "Egg-born come from thought."

When her thinking wins out, the chicks hatch. Once the chicks are hatched, the hen has succeeded. Our investigation of Chan is also like an old mother hen incubating her chicks. While the mother hen is brooding on the eggs, she is extremely hot —so hot she pants. And yet she can't bear to leave the nest. She has to brood until the chicks hatch —that's all there is to it!

When One Solves the Meditation Topic, A Clue Appears

The same principle applies when we investigate Chan. We must pay attention at all times and not have any discursive thoughts. As the saying goes,

When not a single thought arises, the entire substance manifests.
When the six senses suddenly move, one is covered by clouds.

When not a single thought arises, the vast functioning of the entire substance is seen. One's inherent wisdom manifests. When the six sense faculties--the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind--suddenly move, it is as if the sky were suddenly covered by clouds. When not a single thought arises, then "Inside there is no body or mind, and outside there is no world." When you reach that level in your meditation, your breath stops.

Although you stop breathing, you are not dead. When your breath stops, not a single thought arises. But if you suddenly think, "Oh, my breath has stopped. It's gone!" Then it will come back. When you are devoid of thoughts, the breath stops; but as soon as you have a thought, the breath resumes.

Actually, your breathing does not completely cease, or else you wouldn't be alive. Rather, an internal breathing begins to function, so you no longer need to rely on external breathing. This is known as turning the great Dharma wheel--singing the soundless song and turning the invisible Dharma wheel. However, you should not become attached to this state.

Cultivators alternately advance and retreat in their practice. We may be vigorous for a few days, but then, feeling that we aren't getting any benefit, we slack off. After being lazy for a while, we become vigorous again. In cultivation, we should follow the Middle Way and be neither too hasty nor too relaxed.

Go too fast and you'll trip; dally and you'll fall behind.
Never rush and never dally, and you'll get there right on time.

Don't be nervous and don't be lax. Don't go too fast means don't be nervous. Don't dally means don't be lazy. Enjoy developing your skill. Develop it to the point that you are free and at ease when walking, free and at ease when sitting, free and at ease when standing, and free and at ease when sleeping. Walking, standing, sitting and lying down, you have self-mastery. Self-mastery means that your skill is progressing. When your skill progresses, you will be able to truly investigate Chan. Then, even if you consider stopping, there will be no way to do so.

Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, you won't lose track of "who?" But even though you won't lose track of "who?" you still will not recognize "who?" You want to become familiar with "who?" You can't let the "who?" be cut off. At all times and in all places you investigate Chan until you become one with it. When you become one with it, then "you eat each day but it is as if you hadn't eaten a single grain of rice." It's not that you don't eat, but that you are not attached to eating. You eat but it's as if nothing had happened. You wear clothing but you are not attached to it.

"You wear clothes but it is as if you hadn't put on a single thread." This means that whether you are walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, you forget everything. You forget about eating and wearing clothes, how much the more other matters. How much less of a problem will other matters be!

Smash the Black Barrel and Reveal the Source

Smashing the black lacquer barrel refers to enlightenment. Although the thought of investigating "who" is also a false thought, this one false thought is used to defeat all the other false thoughts. Investigation should be done in every moment; it is not that you investigate on the out-breath, and then don't investigate on the in-breath; or that you investigate on the in-breath and then not on the out-breath. No, counting your breaths is of no use because it creates a duality. It adds a head on top of a head--it is superficial.

The true and proper method for investigating chan meditation is the method for entering deeply. Thus, our patriarchs investigated their meditation topic breathing in as well as breathing out; their one thought of investigation continued on forever without interruption.

Those who truly know how to work do not lose track of the topic "who?" Little by little they inquire into "who" until mind, intellect, and consciousness all vanish. The mind becomes empty; the body is also empty; the intellect is empty, and the consciousness is empty. When you strike up false thoughts, it is the sixth consciousness that they come from. The sixth consciousness causes you to strike up false thought, causes you to register pain, and causes you to be unable to bear any more. All of those are distortions of the sixth consciousness.

If you are able to smash the mind, intellect and consciousness--if you investigate until you break through them, so that you can't be turned by such thoughts--then you are one who truly knows how to work. Not to mention gaining responses every day in your application of effort, if you gain a response for even the space of a thought, you can open your wisdom, which is another way of saying you can become enlightened.

There's an old proverb that goes,

If someone sits quietly for an instant,
Then that is better than building pagodas made
of the seven jewels in number like the Ganges' sands.

If you can genuinely enter samadhi--stay quiet--for an instant, for just a moment in time, then that in itself can eradicate infinite kalpas of offenses that bind us to birth and death.

Those who know how to practice are always in samadhi, while those who don't are constantly in the midst of falseness. Within samadhi, one produces wisdom, while within falseness one's stupidity increases. How can one obtain samadhi? One must return the false to the true. We, however, are ever eager to pursue false conditions and unwilling to return to a state of samadhi. That's why we constantly indulge in discursive thoughts and cannot return to the truth. As a result, the truth becomes false. If you didn't have so many discursive thoughts, but instead reflected within at all times and worked on your own nature, you would be able to return to the truth.

Our Chan session is also for the purpose of turning the false back into the truth, getting rid of the false and keeping the truth. That's why we have set everything aside to come here to walk and sit. Walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, we must not be apart from "this." To separate from this is a mistake. "This" is just the meditation topic, which we must always bring to mind.

So It Is, So It Is, Contemplate at Ease

I will explain to you about the period of walking. If you know how to walk, you won't race. That is not walking. Nor is that to say that a slow pace is walking. How should you do it? You should be very orderly and yet at ease. During the walks you should still be investigating "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"

We first walk for about fifteen to twenty minutes, and then run. The runs should be once or twice around the hall--three times at most--and then the signal to stop should be given. The runs cannot last too long. If the runs last too long, people get tired and winded, and then they won't be able to apply their effort. Just run for one or two laps, three at most. Run until you feel that people are just beginning to get warm. As soon as the body heat rises, hit the fish to stop the run. Then start the sitting period. Once the circulation of blood and qi (energy) has come alive, the sit should begin.

While sitting, you must be solid and strong like vajra, so that the strength of your sitting is equal to the best. You have to sit for a long time, and then you will attain Dhyana. What is the method for sitting? In sitting, your mind should be calm, and your breath tranquil. Sit upright like a great bell, your eyes contemplating your nose, your nose contemplating your mouth, and your mouth contemplating the mind at all times. Don't lean to the front, back, left or right. If you can sit in full lotus posture, the vajra posture, that's the very best. It's very easy to enter samadhi when you are in full lotus.

"I've sat in full lotus for a long time, but I haven't entered samadhi," someone says. That's because you keep having discursive thoughts and you don't really know how to practice properly. Full lotus is the best posture, and half lotus (with your left foot over your right thigh) is the second best. If you cannot bear that, then you can sit however you like.

When sitting, you should be in a state of unmoving suchness and constant clarity. Curl the tip of your tongue upwards so it touches the roof of your mouth, thus connecting the ren and du energy channels. Once these channels connect, your blood and energy will circulate well and you will feel very comfortable. If you have saliva, you can swallow it down. Your saliva is like sweet dew nourishing your Bodhi sprouts.

After sitting for a while, you will begin to feel a warmth. It begins in your belly, spreads throughout your body, and then returns. The repeated experience of warmth is known as the Level of Heat. After a period of time, in which you experience further changes in your body's "chemical factory," you reach the Level of Summit. There will be a sensation on the crown of your head, which seems to be there and yet not there. It is invisible and intangible, just a feeling, but it seems to be kind of an inconceivable state.

After the Level of Summit comes the Level of Patience. During this stage, the sensation on your head becomes very hard to bear, and yet you must bear it. It feels as if a hole were being drilled into your skull. If you can endure the discomfort, then after a while the hole will be drilled all the way through, and you will be able to go out the top of your head, like a bird happily flying out from its cage. This is the Level of Being Foremost in the World. You are the number one hero, unsurpassed in the world.


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