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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Volume 1




Jeweled Mirror Hand and Eye   

   A disciple of the Master relates: “In Colorado there is an American who previously went to Ceylon to study for two years. It’s not known what he studied there, or what kind of precepts he took. It’s said that he left the home-life.   

   “When this 24 year old American returned to the United States he set up a place where people go and study. One person who went there came as a vegetarian and did not want to eat meat. But when he got to this ‘monk’s’ place—who by the way now says he’s not a monk but that he was one formerly, though he still wears robes and I don’t know if he takes disciples but he does transmit precepts—he saw that people were eating meat. So the vegetarian asked the ‘monk,’ ‘Aren’t Buddhist supposed to be vegetarian?”  

   “The ‘monk’ replied, ‘We eat meat. In the first place, since this is a place that serves meat, when you come here you should follow along and eat meat. Secondly, you can eat meat because basically you shouldn’t make discriminations. If you don’t make discriminations between eating meat and not eating meat, then eating meat is all right. In the third place, when you eat the meat you can project feelings of love towards the meat. You can love that living being whose flesh you are eating. If you love him, then it won’t count as any kind of offense on your part for eating him. Thus, in the first place, we give you the meat, so you should eat it. In the second place, don’t discriminate whether it’s meat or not. In the third place, love the meat you’re eating.”  

   The Master’s replay: “Fine, if on the one hand one should eat what is served to him, somebody should prepare a plate of excrement —human excrement or dog excrement —and give it to him to eat. When he freaks out on it say, ‘Well Sir, you should eat whatever is served to you, so, eat this excrement. And, the second thing is that you shouldn’t discriminate the pure and impure, meat and non-meat. So there is no need for you to discriminate whether it’s excrement or not excrement, pure or not pure, or anything else. You should eat it. And, the third is, of course, that you should love this excrement as you eat it.’”    

   That was the Master’s answer to that person’s three criteria for eating meat. The Master continues, “Although this answer isn’t very polite, it’s quite appropriate when discussing the question of eating meat. It’s a good answer to the topic of eating meat, because they feel that meat is clean, and so it can be eaten. In actual fact, meat is even more filthy than human excrement or dog excrement, but because people love it, they want to eat it. The man hasn’t looked into it deeply, because if he had, then he’d realize that eating that kind of thing just makes fertilizers. It creates more sexual desire. So, people who cultivate the way should not eat meat or the five kinds of pungent plants, or drink intoxicating beverages.

   All aspects of cultivation are just for the purpose of getting rid of desire and cutting off love. Not only does the monk not teach people to get rid of desire and cut off love, he teaches people to produce love for food. And, because they give rise to love for food, they have love for sex. Because, when love for food comes up, then love for sex also arises. And, once the desire for sex arises, then it’s very difficult to cut off your lust and desire. This is extremely important. In Chinese Buddhism it is advocated that people eat vegetarian food, and there are reasons for this. In the Shurangama Sutra it says, “If you don’t cast out your lust, then you can’t get out of the dust.” All kinds of things which produce desire are not particularly nourishing to the body.   

   People who cultivate the Way should not eat these kinds of things. And you say, “Well, if they don’t eat these kinds of things, their bodies won’t be strong.” As to the body—if you do not allow your treasures to be lost, then at all times the body will be strong. But, if you can’t find the pearl in your clothing, and if you lose the treasures in your body, then no matter what you eat, no matter how good it is, your body won’t be strong. Basically, Buddhism does not necessarily advocate that people eat vegetarian food only. The Buddha permitted people to eat three kinds of pure meat. If that person had brought up the three kinds of pure meat, then that would have been okay. But, as it is, his theory is just prejudiced. It’s a one-sided view, which can only fool children or people without any wisdom.  

   What are the three kinds of pure meat? The first is that which has not been killed. “I didn’t see that killed.” Which means that you don’t say, “Oh, it’s been killed, I’m certainly going to eat it. I didn’t see it killed.” The second is, I didn’t hear it killed. I didn’t hear the sound of the pig being slaughtered or that cow being slaughtered, that very anguished sound. I didn’t hear the sound of killing. The third is, it was not killed for me. It was not especially killed for me. Meat like that is called pure in three ways and can be eaten. But, when it’s eaten, it should be eaten because the body is not strong, or because you have some sickness. It was for people like this that the Buddha said it was alright to eat meat which was pure in three ways.

   But, for people whose bodies are sufficiently strong, there’s no need to add more fertilizers. They are already sufficiently fertilized. If you add more fertilizer than is necessary, it’s possible to burn up the things you have planted in your field. Why? Because too much is also not appropriate. So, too much is just as bad as not enough. Because of this, when people cultivate the Way, they cultivate the Middle Way. Not too much, and not too little. If you can cultivate the Middle Way, then eventually the fruit of Bodhi can be accomplished.  

   Now we are having a Ch’an session in order to cultivate samadhi. And we need not even speak of precepts, because here we are holding them without holding them, they are “precepts without holding precepts.” All you do is walk and sit all day. So, you aren’t able to kill, or steal, or practice deviant sex, or lie, or drink intoxicating beverages. We walk and sit and nobody talks, and in practicing in this way you’re not killing anything, and so you’re holding the precept against not killing. You’re also not going to do things in order to steal, and so you’re holding the precept against stealing. You’re not going to do things that involve deviant sex, and so you’re holding the precept against deviant sex. And, if you don’t say anything from morning till night, you won’t break the precept against lying.  

   I see that one of my disciples is not talking. From the beginning she hasn’t talked, and when it came time for her to translate, I figured she wouldn’t do it, but she did. Not talking is very good, because you absolutely can’t lie. During this period of the Ch’an Session you will absolutely not break the precept against lying. Suppose you stole some honey to eat and were asked, “Did you steal honey?” You wouldn’t be able to say, “I didn’t eat it,” because you’re not talking, and nobody’s asking. You wouldn’t be able to drip the honey all over the floor so the floor could eat honey. That’s very good.

   And as to taking intoxicants, I have some good disciples who asked me to go drinking at New Year’s. I said, “How much are you asking me to drink?” They said, “Oh, a glass or two.” And I said, “That’s not enough. If I’m going to go drinking, I have to have a hundred glasses of brandy, otherwise it’s not sufficient.” In America there are all kinds of disciples, but in the Ch’an Hall nobody drinks. I should say more clearly that this disciple who asked me to go drinking is a very good one, not a bad one. He says, “Shih Fu, for so many years you haven’t had a drink, let me invite you to have a little drink. How about it?” I said, “Wait until the session’s over.”  

   And so here we hold the precepts, and when holding the precepts, one can cultivate samadhi. Samadhi is just seeing if you’re going to be patient with what is impossible for you to be patient with. When you can’t be patient, you say, “Oh my legs hurt so bad, my back hurts, and I’m so cold. This is really hard to bear.” So you lean forward, or you lean back, or you stretch to either side, and you move around a bit. That’s called no samadhi power. If you have samadhi power, you will be more or less like Kuan Ti Kung. You sit there very straight and upright. That’s called cultivating samadhi power.  

   Where does samadhi power come from? It comes from patience. You should be patient with pain, patient with suffering, patient with difficulty. When it hurts ask, “Who hurts?” And somebody is saying, “Well of course it’s me that hurts. I can’t cheat myself.” If you can’t cheat yourself, but you cheat others, it’s equally wrong. So, you should cultivate samadhi. Once you have samadhi, then you can have wisdom—your wisdom will open. After you’ve maintained samadhi for a long time, you’ll spontaneously have wisdom. And this wisdom is true wisdom. It isn’t wisdom taught in any book. It’s your basic inherent wisdom. This wisdom isn’t stolen from somewhere else.

   So, sitting in Dhyana is extremely important. It’s just teaching you to bear what cannot be borne—to be patient with what is impossible to bear—that is samadhi power. For instance, somebody takes a knife and cuts out a piece of your flesh. If you have samadhi power, it doesn’t even hurt. It’s just an ordinary matter. Like Kuan Kung, who cut out a piece of his bone to cure his poison. Why did he do that? Because he had samadhi power. Kuan Kung had samadhi. While standing guard over the Emperor’s wife, he “held a candle until dawn and did not cheat in the dark room.” Where did his samadhi power come from? He had cultivated for many kalpas, many lives.  

   Now we are in the Ch’an Hall, and why don’t we have any samadhi power? You hurt a little and can’t take it, suffer a bit and can’t hack it; a little difficulty and you can’t bear it, even to the point that in being unable to take it, you want to cry. It’s because you haven’t any samadhi power. You haven’t broken through that barrier. You haven’t broken through the barrier of difficulty; you haven’t broken through the barrier of suffering; you haven’t broken through the barrier of pain.

   Now, we want to break through them. We break through these barriers, and we can be at ease with pain—pain to the extreme, to the point that we forget that there is ourselves and others. How can there be pain? There isn’t any pain. No matter what it is you do, you should do it to the ultimate point. When you’ve cultivated to the extreme, your light is penetrating. This means that when you’re pure to the ultimate and quiet to the ultimate, then you will spontaneously manifest the light of wisdom—you will become enlightened. Everyday you talk about enlightenment, enlightenment, and you can’t even bear the least bit of pain. How in the world can you speak of enlightenment? 

   Today there is not a lot of time, but I want to clarify this principle of eating meat. Now, basically there may be those who understand more about this principle than I, but they don’t want to speak. Now, although I understand a little, I will speak to all of you about the little that I understand. First, we will explain the word ‘flesh’. The word for flesh, or meat, in Chinese has a picture of two people. One inside a mouth, the other one half-way outside a mouth. So the verse goes:  

     In the character for flesh
       there are two people.
     The inside person is grabbing
       the outside person.  

The meaning being that the people inside and the people outside have a connection with one another. The one inside is the one being eaten, and the one outside is the one eating. Both the one being eaten and the one eating are people. So, in the character they are placed in an open mouth. The mouth is open because it’s eating meat. You could also say it’s because it loves to eat meat. The man inside is caught by the man outside.  

   Living beings are still eating living beings’ flesh. For example, the pig you’re eating, for all appearances it’s a pig, but it might have been a former ancestor of yours from limitless kalpas past. In the Shurangama Sutra it says, “When the sheep becomes a man…” If a sheep can become a man, why can’t a pig become a man, why can’t a horse become a man, why can’t the cow become a man? So, in the turning wheel of the six paths, there’s ceaseless turning.  

   If you think about it, “It’s really people eating people. And, since it’s people eating people, could that person perhaps have been a friend of mine?” Perhaps. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter—even though he’s my friend, I’ll still eat him.” Well, if you can eat your friend’s flesh, what about the fact that it might be a relative of yours? One of the six kinds of relatives? “Oh well, if I eat the flesh of one of the six kinds of relatives, that really doesn’t matter either.” So, you go ahead and help yourself.

   But, that’s still pretty far away from you. Perhaps it was your grandparents or your father and mother from limitless kalpas gone. Now, if it was your father and mother, is that being filial? How inhuman is that? The Buddha who is a person who has certified to and attained the five eyes and the six penetrations, is able to know causes and effects. He knows that all living beings are interconnected, and that they are not able to escape these interconnections. Because of this, Buddhism advocates eating of vegetarian food and not eating meat.  

   In Confucianism it says, “If I’ve seen it born, I can’t bear to see it die. If I’ve heard its sound, I can’t bear to eat its meat.” This is the humanity, and compassion of the gentleman. It says, “...can’t bear to see it die. If I’ve heard its cry,” if I’ve heard that sound, “I can’t bear to eat its flesh.” This is compassion and humanitarianism. So, the gentleman who practices compassion and humanitarianism stays far away from the slaughterhouse. 

   Some may say, “But, meat is really good to eat, although I also want to study Buddhism. So I’ll eat a little less meat. I’ll fast on the first of the month, and on the fifteenth of the month I’ll eat vegetarian food. The second through the fourteenth and the sixteenth through thirtieth I’ll eat meat. And on the first and the fifteenth I’ll abstain and eat vegetarian food.”

   That’s okay. Okay is okay; but, since you know it’s wrong and decide to fast you’re still committing an offense. There is a story in Mencius which expresses this very well:

   “There was a man who daily stole his neighbor’s chickens.” Everyday he stole a chicken from his neighbor. “Perhaps someone told him, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’” They said, this isn’t in accord with reason. It’s not principled. “And so he said to them, ‘Okay, since this isn’t principled, it’s not legal for me to steal a chicken everyday from somebody. I’ll decrease the number. I’ll steal one a month.”’ I won’t steal so often, I’ll steal one chicken a month. Now tell me, to steal a chicken everyday or to steal a chicken once a month, isn’t that still breaking the precept against stealing? Doesn’t it all amount to theft? People who go on vegetarian fasts are more or less like this. But, it should be made clear that this is a case of decreasing, like the Gradual Teaching, and the fact that it’s being decreased is good. But, you still have to call it stealing.  

   Now we have been born into the evil world of the five turbidities, and we do not realize that the evil world of the five turbidities is an unclean place. Every day we mistake suffering for bliss, and we don’t know that we should first get out of the triple realm and put an end to birth and death. There is an analogy for this circumstance. What is it like? The world of the five turbidities is like a pit toilet. The little living beings that live in a pit toilet don’t think that it’s a smelly place, they are not aware that it’s unclean. They feel very comfortable there, very happy. We people are in the evil world of the five turbidities. If a certified sage looks at it, the evil world of the five turbidities is a big toilet. It’s a big pit toilet.  

   We are now here cultivating and working to get out of the pit toilet. Some people recite the Buddha’s name. Some people investigate Ch’an. Some people study the teachings. Some people hold rules, some people cultivate the Secret School. No matter which school you cultivate, they’re all designed to end birth and death, to get you out of the Turning Wheel, to go beyond this triple realm. So that one no longer lives in a pit toilet.  

   Why is it that the sages in the heavens and the Bodhisattvas don’t like to come to this world? Because this world smells too bad. The stench gives the gods a headache. They don’t dare come into the pit toilet. But the living beings in this great pit toilet feel that they are very comfortable, just like the little bugs in a real pit toilet. The little bugs in a pit toilet are very happy; they feel very happy swimming around there. But, suppose somebody comes along and takes pity on them and says, “Ah, those bugs in that pit toilet are too filthy. I’ll move them.” And where does he move them? He puts them in a vat of fragrant oil. So the bugs can drink the fragrant oil and live in it. Who would have thought that as soon as they are moved there they’d die? Why? They can’t take it. That’s why we cannot take this body of ours, this stinking skin bag, and have it reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, or in the heavens. If the stinking skin bag went there, it would die.  

   We want to borrow the false body to cultivate the true. The true is basically inherently ours. The false, basically, is not ours. We have come to be attached to what was basically not ours, and as for what basically was ours—although it certainly is not lost—it’s been covered over by the false. So, now we are investigating Ch’an and sitting in meditation, just hoping to find the true. We borrow the false to cultivate the true. But, that’s not easy. It’s very difficult to renounce false things, and it’s very difficult to take up true things. So, several years ago I made this joke: I said,  

       Pick it up, put it down
       Who’s mindful of the Buddha? Ha! Ha! Ha!  

Now, you shouldn’t think this “Ha! Ha! Ha!” is really Ha! Ha! That “Ha! Ha! Ha! is just opening enlightenment. When you open enlightenment it’s not sufficient to laugh once. You have to laugh three times. Ha! Ha! Ha! But, this isn’t what Lao Tze meant when he said, “When the fool hears of the Way, he laughs out loud.” This laughter represents having attained something in your mind.  

   And the second line says,  

       Put it down, take it up
       Who’s the Buddha mindful of? Hee! Hee! Hee!  

This laughter is a little quieter than the “Ha! Ha! Ha!” It’s a subtle laugh, like when the Buddha twirled a flower and gave a subtle smile.  

The third line says,  

     It also is you, and it also is me
     Because when Mt. Sumeru is smashed down
     There isn’t anybody.  

If you smash down Mt. Sumeru and get rid of the arrogance and fullness of self, then there isn’t anybody at all. “Without self and without others, one contemplates one’s own mastery. It’s not empty, and it’s not form, and you see the Tathagata.” That’s what this says. That’s the way it’s said, but if you really want to get to a state of no people and no self, you’ll have to actually cultivate.  

When one of my disciples came she said that she was empty—that everything was empty. But, now that we are having a Ch’an Session, her legs aren’t empty. She keeps straightening out her legs and patting her head and it’s quite evident that the emptiness isn’t there. If she were truly empty: “True emptiness is without others and without self. The Great Way is without form or appearance.” If you are truly empty, you can bring forth wonderful existence. What a shame. Not being truly empty, wonderful existence doesn’t appear.

   Cultivation isn’t just being able to explain things, being able to talk, to recite “empty, empty, empty” a few times and acquire skill. You have to truly, actually certify to it yourself, just as the person who drinks the water knows for himself whether it’s warm or cool. You must truly taste the bliss of dhyana as your food and become filled with dharma happiness. If you can truly sit down there, then you can sit for eighty thousand great kalpas and not get up. “That’s impossible. Not only can I not sit for eighty thousand great kalpas, I can’t even sit for eighty minutes.”  

If you can’t even sit for eighty minutes, then what have you emptied? Take a look at this child. She also is not empty, because if you hit her she hurts. As little as she is, she is still not empty. If she were empty, you could hit her, and she wouldn’t know; you could scold her, and she wouldn’t know. So, people who cultivate the Way should regard genuine skill as essential. They should not renounce the root and grasp at the branches, renounce what is near and seek what is far. Don’t let your own fields go to waste and go help somebody else plant theirs. That’s too pitiful.  

You should know that now in Asia the Buddhadharma, day by day, is decaying. Day by day, there are fewer people cultivating the Way and more and more people just talking about the Way, even to the point that soon there won’t even be any people talking about the Way. And as to this, disciples of the Buddha should certainly be very ashamed and repentant. It should cause them extreme pain and anguish. What use is there for pretension, if we are disciples of the Buddha and have not made any contribution to the Buddhadharma.  

You use your hand to touch your flesh heart, but you don’t have any idea about your true heart. You don’t recognize it. Can you stand there rubbing your flesh heart and face up to Shakyamuni Buddha? Our Original Teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, founded Buddhism, and he sacrificed everything—his position as future king, his kingdom, his beautiful wife—and he went to the Himalayas and cultivated ascetic practices for six years. 

Now we are sitting in Gold Mountain Monastery, and we feel that it’s very cold, and we wrap ourselves in blankets. We wear cotton quilted clothing, and we still feel cold. We should think about Shakyamuni Buddha in the Himalaysa; what was it like for him? So, though I’ve called Gold Mountain Monastery an ice-box, this ice-box is a long way from the cold of the Himalaysa. The Himalayas are a lot colder. Here we are using our skill in cultivating and not being afraid of the cold, not being afraid of suffering, not being afraid of difficulty, and we want to be genuine disciples who renounce absolutely everything.  

Everyday we investigate dhyana and sit in meditation, we walk and sit, and we walk and sit. Yesterday two bhikshunis came. They had planned to stay and attend the evening instruction. Who would have known that winter had settled in Gold Mountain, and the cold caused their noses to run. The little bhikshuni got so cold that she was on the verge of tears and asked to be excused. Now, you think about this. They were here for an hour or two, and they couldn’t take it. We’re here every day, and it’s just like this. If you still have false thoughts, you should get a little colder, because if you’re cold you’ll have to work against the cold bringing your fire up so you’re not cold anymore; then you can work.  

That’s why in China it’s said that, “In the winter it’s Ch’an, and in the summer it’s study.” In the winter you investigate Ch’an because it’s cold. If you sit there in the cold and don’t perk up your spirits—if you just slouch over as if you want to sleep—you will get so cold that you won’t be able to stand it. Perk up your spirits, and start up your own furnace; the fire will burn, and your heater will get warm. Once your heater gets warm you can steam rice dumplings and man t’ou and chiao tzu.  

Now you’re steaming your very life, and you’ll be able to steam it through, but you should start the fire of your own furnace. If you can’t start your fire, then you’ll get so cold that you won’t be able to stand it. We say that, “The great glowing furnace smelts vajra.” We are smelting vajra here. So everyone should take hold of their hua-t’ou and light their furnace—it will burn up all the filth of the evil realm of the five turbidities. Everyone should be particularly attentive to this. Use fire to burn clean the evil realm of the five turbidities and smelt out the real vajra, and that will amount to something. If you don’t smelt genuine vajra, then it will have been useless, so please don’t let the time pass by emptily.  

Light the fire in your furnace. You’re cold? Don’t be afraid of the cold. There’s snow out there, there’s ice? Well, inside yourself there’s fire. So you don’t need to fear the cold. If you can’t light that fire, then you have to find a Good Knowing Advisor, and ask him how to light that fire. You should ask for the technique. Unfortunately, there are few Good Knowing Advisors here now. It’s not easy to find one. If you want to find a Good Knowing Advisor, go to the Himalayas to see Shakyamuni Buddha. Ask our Elder Patriarch, Sakyamuni Buddha, how he endured such cold as in the Himalayas. Our Original Teacher will certainly be compassionate to you and will tell you clearly.  

If you can’t find the Old Patriarch Sakyamuni, because you say, “The Buddha’s entered Nirvana,” that’s no problem. Go find the Patriarch Kasyapa. Go to Yunnan, to Chicken Foot Mountain, and find our First Patriarch, Old Kasyapa. Ask him his method for lighting the great furnace. And you say, “I won’t be able to find him.” Well, if you can’t find him, what are you going to do? There’s nothing you can do if you can’t find him. You’ve got to look! Don’t just give up if you can’t find him.  

Somebody says, “We’re going to need some travel money to go to India to find a Good Knowing Advisor, or perhaps to go to Yunnan to see the Patriarch Kasyapa. If my mind is sincere, I will certainly get a response.” It’s not necessary for you to prepare the fare; nor is it necessary to go as far as India or Yunnan. Sakyamuni Buddha has already come to our Gold Mountain Monastery, and the Patriarch kasyapa is also here. If you recognize them, then there’s a way open to you. If you don’t recognize them, then no matter where you go, you will not be able to find them. If you recognize them, they will recognize you. If you don’t recognize them, they won’t recognize you.  

So you should develop your skill and apply the paramita of patience. You have to be able to bear things, and within that ability to bear, you’ll find Sakyamuni Buddha, just as the paramita of patience is the Patriarch Kasyapa’s door of cultivation. When there’s pain, bear it; be patient with what you can’t be patient with. Then you’ll give rise to, (1) patience with production (2) patience with dharma and (3) patience with the non-production of dharmas. You have to be patient. So it’s said, “Patience is a priceless gem, but nobody knows how to use it well. If you are able to use it, how can you worry about not obtaining the Way?” Don’t worry, go on cultivating.

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