If we want to truly understand, the very first thing that we need to do is to learn to be as if we don't understand anything at all. Here in the Chan meditation hall, what is our method of cultivation? We don't know. We are not aware of heaven above, earth below, or people in between. What did we do all day long? We don't know. What did we eat? We're not aware. What clothes are we wearing? We don't know. In this state of complete absorption and obscurity where we bring ourselves to know nothing at all, we approach a state like this:
When one can train oneself to appear as if foolish,
Then one’s genuine cleverness comes forth.
If one can study until one appears dull,
Then one's real talents begin to appear.
That is to say, only after you make yourself seem like the most stupid person in the world can you bring forth genuine cleverness. When you reach that state, then:
When one thing penetrates, all things penetrate.
When one thing is understood, all things are understood.
When one thing is enlightened to, all things are enlightened to.
We connect on all sides; we understand everything. Our enlightenment is thorough and complete. What've we learned? We don't know. We really seem like total idiots. That's the very time, however, when our rare qualities start to manifest.
During this meditation session, you want to set aside your cleverness and your petty intelligence. You shouldn't assume that you understand everything there is to know.
If you think you know everything already, then you haven't truly understood the Buddhadharma. That is to say, "Great wisdom resembles stupidity." On the surface, a truly wise person appears to know nothing at all. In fact, he understands all things. That is to say, he may be very dull regarding petty business, but he can understand truly great matters. Only someone like that can have outstanding accomplishment.
Here in the Chan hall we run when everyone else runs, and we sit when everyone else sits. We don't have to discriminate between north and south, east and west. Now is the time when we can make “the great reversal” and truly understand. What do we understand? We understand what our native home looks like. We understand our original face, our basic identity.
In the Chan hall, we should work hard and chatter less. Don’t waste time. There’s a saying that goes, “An instant of time is worth an ounce of gold; an ounce of gold cannot buy back an instant of time.” That's just how valuable time is in Chan meditation. Who knows in which minute we'll become enlightened? So we have to cherish each and every moment, and not let any time casually slip by.
If you go to the restroom, once you have finished your business, quickly return to the Chan hall and continue to sit. When you finish your meal, quickly come back to the Chan hall and sit. After you drink your tea, hurry back to the Chan hall and sit. In general, you shouldn’t give up any chance to become enlightened. Who knows in which minute of the session your enlightenment will arrive? To say it another way, whether we are walking, running, or sitting in meditation, these are all good chances to get enlightened. Don't miss your chance!
Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty once summoned the Venerable Abbot of Gaomin Monastery, Chan Master Tianhui (Heavenly Wisdom), to Beijing. The emperor wanted to discuss the theory of Chan meditation with him and asked him if he understood the teaching of the National Master Yulin (Jade Forest). Chan Master Tianhui could not answer his question. The emperor thereupon confined him in the Chan hall within the palace and told him that within seven days he must come up with the answer, or else forfeit his head.
During the first six days, he couldn't hammer out an answer. But on the last day, he ran around the Chan hall in agitation, pacing back and forth until he was so dizzy that he bang right into a big pillar. A large bump sprang up on the side of his head. With that knock, his mind suddenly grew extremely clear, and he reached a very satisfactory answer. Then he went to the Emperor Yongzheng, who knew that he had already understood the teaching of National Master Yulin and become enlightened. From that time onward, walking meditation became a standard practice in the Chan hall.
Our program in the Chan hall consists of walking meditation, running meditation, sitting meditation, and investigating the meditation topic. Walking meditation requires a brisk pace; running meditation is like jogging; sitting meditation is Chan-style sitting; investigating a meditation topic means contemplating one sentence. For example, we may investigate “Who’s mindful of the Buddha?” We must concentrate intently on that one question until our mind becomes completely focused. When no other thought mars our perfect concentration, we can become enlightened.
These methods are all designed to stop our idle thoughts. If one is free of idle thoughts, then one can become enlightened. The purpose of sitting in Chan is to become enlightened. If one is enlightened, then one’s wisdom surpasses that of ordinary people.
The method the patriarchs came up with was to fight fire with fire. We use a meditation topic (hua-tou) to control our idle thinking. That is to say, we use one question to counteract many questions. What meditation topic do we investigate? We ask, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" or "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" When you figure out who it is, when you know ultimately who is there reciting the Buddha's name, then you'll genuinely understand. What do you understand? You understand that you should carefully avoid all inverted behavior and gossip.
As it says in the Heart Sutra, “One leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind, and ultimately attains Nirvana.” In this process you must endure a great deal of bitter toil before you can succeed. But if I were to say more, I’d be interrupting the flow of your work. So the best thing for all of you is to follow the rules, put your feet on solid ground, and work hard atcultivation.
There’s another point that you should all be aware of. The Three Character Classic says, "Concentration counts." No matter what you do, if you can concentrate single-mindedly, you'll certainly succeed at it. Investigating the meditation topic works the same way. The topic is the only thing we think about. We think about it day and by night; we think about it as we eat and as we sleep, as we walk, and as we sit, to the point that we stop thinking about it only after the oceans dry up and the boulders crumble. To put it another way, as long as we're not enlightened, we don't dare to stop. To contemplate one question is true practice; to ponder many questions is simply idle thinking. There’s a very interesting saying that goes,
If one can sit perfectly still for even a split second,
One’s merit surpasses that of building pagodas of
the seven gems in number like the Ganges' sands.
This describes the merit and virtue of Chan meditation. It says that if people can meditate for one instant, then the merit and virtue they create is many times greater than that of someone who makes pagodas of the seven gems as numerous as the sands in the Ganges River. If you were to make that many seven-jeweled pagodas, you’d only be making offerings to the Buddha's sharira (holy relics). But if you can sit in absolute stillness for even an instant, you're creating the Buddha's true body.
So we say that to sit still for just a split second surpasses making pagodas of the seven gems. The merit and virtue of meditating in stillness for one instant is that great! If you meditate every day, then your merit and virtue will be beyond reckoning. If you can be free of idle thoughts for even an instant and attain a pure mind, then your mind will naturally become limpid, pure, and calm.
As we sit quietly in the Chan hall, not only is our own merit and virtue limitless, but the merit and virtue that we share with the entire world is also measureless.
Someone may object, "How can I share my merit and virtue with all humanity?" Now, because people all over the world are competing for fame and profit, a killing energy is filling up the atmosphere. We selfishly strive for private profits, fighting among ourselves until the world is gradually suffocated by an unwholesome, stinking miasma. Humankind has locked itself into an age of eternal competition and strife which gets ever more serious and dangerous as the days go by.
If we fail to find a way to avert the impending crisis, before long the entire planet will surely explode. Why would the planet explode? It's because science has run amok with its heedless progress. Great nations invent missiles and weapons with ever-quickening strides; nations compete with each other in building nuclear weapons, laser-cannons, and so forth. If war were to break out, these weapons would blow the world to bits. When that takes place, we'll really have reached doomsday.
When we cultivate vigorously in the Chan hall, our effort can imperceptibly eradicate this killing energy, and then the world will no longer be in danger. How can we eradicate it? The air has been polluted with many toxic substances, which directly or indirectly influence our health and threaten our very existence.
Take a look at the many strange diseases that proliferate nowadays, which doctors have no way to cure. Such diseases occur because the atmosphere has been polluted, fouled by poisonous vapors everywhere. We cultivators of the spiritual path should use a kind of electrotherapy to detoxify the air. What is electrotherapy? It means sitting in meditation and emitting a light of wisdom from our meditative state. This light of wisdom is a form of electricity; when these waves of electricity pass through the air, they have the effect of detoxifying it. They transform the contaminated air into clean air. This is what we mean by using electrotherapy to heal the illnesses of the world.
Some people are having doubts about the truth of this principle: How could meditation detoxify the air?" I'll now tell you a story to illustrate the point. In the Sung Dynasty, a great literatus named Su Dongpo (Su of the Eastern Bank) and a great Chan Master named Foyin (Buddha Seal) were good friends in cultivation, and they often spent time together. A matched couplet talked about their partnership:
As the poet comes and goes, he is always accompanied by Foyin.
In all his undertakings, the monk's only companion is Dongpo.
These lines prove that there was a close rapport between them. Su Dongpo once wrote a poem that went:
I bow my head to the lord among gods,
And the light of my hair-mark shines out through the whole universe.
The eight winds cannot blow me over,
As I sit erect upon my purple golden lotus.
He sent this verse to the Chan Master Foyin for his critique, and an argument began between the two of them. I'll use the line, "the light of my hair-mark shines out through the whole universe," to illustrate a principle. This light that comes forth from the hair-mark is simply the electrotherapy that I was discussing. As it "shines out the whole universe," it acts to detoxify the air. The light from the meditator’s hair pores can make the defiled air of the universe absolutely clean, until not even a trace of poison remains.
If you can radiate this hair-mark light throughout the universe, then you can eradicate your personal share of air pollution. If he can shine his hair-mark light throughout the universe, then he can wipe out another share of air pollution. If everybody shines forth his hair-mark radiance throughout the universe, then together we can detoxify everyone's share of air pollution. If all people can unite their efforts to help cure the diseases of the world through “electrotherapy,” then the defiled air in this world will decrease day-by-day. The radiant, wholesome air will increase daily, and before long the air will become completely pure and clean. You should know that polluted air is poison, and radiant air is wisdom.
Why is the air polluted now? Because most people do not know about cultivation, and they do not how to use this electrotherapy method. Therefore, the air becomes more polluted and more fouled every day. We cultivators should shoulder the responsibility of purifying the air. Not only should you yourself be courageous and vigorous as you meditate, but you should encourage your relatives and friends to meditate, too.
The merit and virtue of meditation is measureless and boundless. It helps the body and mind in inconceivable ways. If they don't believe what you say, then tell them to try it out, and before long, they'll also experience these inconceivable benefits. All of you should work hard and meditate well! Let the light of your hair-mark radiate throughout the universe, so that the toxins in the air will be spontaneously eliminated.
Please pay attention to this! All you need to do is to stop your idle thoughts, and then you can emit the light of wisdom. This light from your hair-mark will shine throughout the universe and detoxify the air. You'll gain measureless merit and virtue. This merit and virtue can benefit the human race throughout the world. In what way? It can eliminate the germs and poisons in the air, so that humanity will no longer be plagued by fatal diseases; that is the indirect benefit that all will receive.