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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Volume 1



Three weeks of Ch’an meditation are represented in these instructional talks. The first two weeks were held in the winter of 1973, the last week of December, and 1974, the first week of January. The sessions occurred at Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco.  

   The last week of Ch’an represented in this volume was a one-week session held in august of 1973, also at Gold Mountain. The instructional talks printed herein were given once or twice daily during the sessions and deal with a wide variety of topics pertinent to Ch’an meditation.  

   The sessions commenced at 2:45 a.m. each day and ended at 12 midnight. During the twenty-two hours between, participants alternated between walking and sitting meditation. Silence was generally maintained except for the afternoon and evening periods of instruction. Most participants chose to eat only one meal a day, taken at 11 a.m. At that time there was no heat at Gold Mountain, so meditators truly endured hunger and cold as they worked on developing the skill of forging a “vajra indestructible body.”  

Joined Palms Hand and Eye  

   Every year we have Ch’an sessions and each year different people attend them. But I believe this year’s Ch’an session is going to be different from the previous ones in several ways.  

   Once the session has begun, everyone should be clearly attentive to the question of birth and death. During this session we must be determined to end birth and death. During this session we must be determined to become enlightened. If anyone remains unenlightened, he or she is going to have to undergo one hundred strokes of the incense board. And my incense board is very heavy. When you’re beaten with it, it can pulverize your bones and smash your body. When beaten with it, you experience indescribable pain, unspeakable agony. Indeed, it is to be feared that if you have to go through a hundred blows from my incense board, you will have no further opportunities to attend Ch’an sessions. You should be clear about this.   

   This year we want to be sure to put down body and mind and work at investigating Ch’an. The Dharma of investigating Ch’an is the mind-ground Dharma door. The mind ground Dharma door must be personally cultivated in order to reap the Bodhi fruit. This year nobody should be lazy. 

   You don’t have to become enlightened, but if you don’t, you will have to undergo a beating with the incense board. If you are afraid of a hundred blows from the incense board, then absolutely everybody has to become enlightened. Whoever doesn’t become enlightened is surely going to get beaten. Not only will you be beaten, but you’ll make me so angry that I’ll reach the point of losing my temper and wanting to kill somebody! I’m telling you this frankly, because otherwise you’d be gutless, lazy, and not want to work at all. What use is it to be like that and still remain in the world?

   This year some who work outside are at the Ch’an session. When they have finished working they can immediately come and participate in the Ch’an session. Whoever comes to take part is going to have a share in it. Whoever fails to come and participate won’t have a share. So it’s very equal, it’s a very fair method. None of you should miss this rare opportunity.  

   Now I will recite a verse and afterwards say the word ch’i and everyone will follow me saying the word ch’i.  

       The furnace in the great foundry smelts vajra.
       All Buddhas of the ten directions protect the Bodhimanda.
       Every sage and worthy one comes forth from this,
       And in the Saha world another Dharma King is born.  

Non-retreating Gold Wheel Hand and Eye  

   Learned Advisors, as the Ch’an session begins, some of you are already able to do the work. You should attend to your own work developing your own skill. Don’t be lax at any time. At all times, keep your work in mind. Continue to exert effort, and you will reach this point:  

     The mountains have disappeared, the waters have vanished.
     No road lies ahead.
     In the shade of the willows bloom the bright flowers,
     And yet another village.  

Perhaps you’ll get to the top of a one-hundred foot pole and be able to take that one last step. At just that point, quite naturally you’ll understand your original face; you’ll know what it looks like.  

   But, some of you are just beginning to investigate Ch’an and have never participated in a Ch’an session or have had a Good Learned Advisor instruct you. Those people have been like the blind led by the blind. Their practice has been like cooking sand with the hope of getting rice. In no way would it have been possible for them to succeed. If you want to have some accomplishment, it is essential to meet a bright-eyed Advisor who can instruct you in the methods of increasing your skill. Then, day by day, you can make progress. But there are not many bright-eyed, Good Learned Advisors. In the whole world they are very few. Since there are so few, then how are you to know who is a Good Learned Advisor?   

   A Good Learned Advisor would never plaster the sign on his forehead saying, “Do you recognize me, or not? I’ll tell you now; I am a good, bright-eyed Advisor.” If, in fact, he did advertise in this way and claimed to be a Good Learned Advisor, then he wouldn’t be a genuine Good Learned Advisor. As to a genuine Good Leaned Advisor, if you recognize him, then you recognize him; but, if you don’t recognize him, he will not put any pressure on you and say, “You should draw near to me. I am, within this world, a Great Good Learned Advisor, a bright-eyed Good Advisor.”

   He wouldn’t say that. He couldn’t be like Wang Ma Tse, selling his plasters, peddling his own products by boasting, “Say, you ought to know, my tonic is mysterious and wonderful. No matter what your illness, apply one of my plasters, and everything will be okay. Not only will your sickness get better, but if you use my plasters, then even if you don’t eat, you won’t be hungry; even if you don’t drink, you won’t be thirsty; even if you don’t sleep, you won’t be tired. In the future, you won’t even have to die.”  

   A true Good Knowing Advisor wouldn’t be like Wang Ma Tse selling his tonic. He wouldn’t be able to praise himself. If you recognize him, that’s fine; if you don’t recognize him, that’s okay too. He won’t introduce himself. Since that’s the way it is, how are you to know who is a Good Knowing Advisor? It’s not easy to know. It’s said, “A Learned Advisor is hard to meet.” As a matter of fact, in the whole world, very, very few genuine Good Learned Advisors exist.  

   I can give you a simple introduction to a Good Knowing Advisor: a Good Knowing Advisor teaches people to go on the right road. He does not teach people to go on deviant paths. What is meant by the right road? He teaches people not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to take intoxicants. He would be a bad advisor who’d say, “Oh, wine is no problem.” When the Buddha prohibited wine, including it among the five precepts, he was talking to people who were as fond of wine as they were of their very lives. He wasn’t referring to ordinary people. To speak that way is teaching deviant knowledge and deviant views. It is not teaching proper knowledge and proper views.  

   And this bad advisor also says to you, “Now, as to your sexual desire; although the Buddha said that desire and lust are not good things, if you can use sexual desire to the ultimate, then you can also become enlightened.” That is also an example of deviant knowledge and deviant views. And so this bad advisor goes on, and as he continues to tell you to do improper things, he is indicating to you that he is not a Good Learned Advisor.

    A Good Learned Advisor won’t teach you to destroy something useful, like your eyes. He wouldn’t say to you, “Oh, your eyes really give you a lot of trouble. If you were to gouge them out so you couldn’t see anything, then you wouldn’t have any trouble at all. If you were unable to see forms, unable to hear sounds, or unable to smell odors, unable to taste flavors, unable to feel tangible objects, and unable to think about things, that would be truly wonderful. What you should do is put a stop to the realms of your six organs and their six objects.” This is the teaching of an Advisor who teaches blindness, and it’s very dangerous. So, I’ll continue to introduce you to a Good Learned Advisor.  

   One who hasn’t any jealousy is a Good Learned Advisor; one who hasn’t any hatred is a Good Learned Advisor; one who hasn’t any greed is a Good Learned Advisor; one who hasn’t any stupidity is a Good Learned Advisor. One who is without greed, hatred, and stupidity is a Good Learned Advisor. He can actually cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. That’s a Good Learned Advisor. If you are contemplating a Good Learned Advisor, you should take a look and see if he has any selfishness. If he’s selfish, he’s not a Good Learned Advisor. If he’s after profit for himself, he’s not a Good Learned Advisor. Someone who doesn’t have any selfishness or desire for self-benefit is a Good Learned Advisor.  

   For instance, in Canada there is a certain person. I don’t know where he stole his name from, but he calls himself a Lama. When he teaches people, he has them give all their wealth and worldly possessions to him. The people who follow him to study the Dharma give him everything. They even give their own heads of hair to him, their skin, and their flesh. It’s just the bones that he’s not interested in. Why? Bones are rigid. Be careful, and watch out for that kind of advisor.  

   As to those of us here, maybe there is a Good Knowing Advisor among us and maybe not. If there is, then we can draw near to him, and if not, we can wait. While we are waiting for a Good Knowing Advisor, I will teach you first a little bit about the methods of applying your skill.  

   When you sit and do this work, you should sit very straight and properly. You shouldn’t lean back and tilt your head back or bow your head down and lean forward. You should keep your head erect. Your eyes should regard your nose and look to see if your nostrils are pointing up or down. Look at the nose clearly. The nose regards the mouth. Does a nose have eyes that it can see the mouth? In time, the nose will produce eyes. You just tell it to look, and it will look and look, until eventually the nose will be able to see the mouth. Then you’ll say, “Oh, basically that’s the way the mouth is.” The mouth knows the heart. Is the heart black? White? Yellow? Red? Is the heart green, white, red, yellow or black? What kind of heart is it? Ask it and see. If you see a black heart, then day by day you can change its color—change it to white—until it becomes the great storehouse of light, which is one with the Dharma Realm. Then there will be a little hope for you.  

   When you breathe, don’t use your mouth. That is, if you are able to, breathe through your nose. Now, some people find it very, very difficult to breathe through their noses. So if you can use your nose to breathe, then breathe in, and put the breath behind your naval. Stop it behind your naval. Not below; that place is empty—vacuous. There isn’t anything there. It’s just what is meant by, “Basically, there isn’t anything at all.” “Basically, there’s not one thing,” is just referring to that place. You want to stop your breath at that point.  

   So this is what’s meant when people ask each other, “Are you able to link your breath? Can you link your breath?” That’s a very important question. If you can link your breath, then the outside breath is just the inside breath, and the inside breath is just the outside breath. So, someone who has the Way, can cease his outer breath, and yet his internal breath moves. Although no breath is coming in and out of his nostrils or his mouth, every pore in his body is able to breathe in and out. He looks like a dead man, yet he’s “… dead and not gone.” Perhaps he is dead and not gone. What is “… dead and not gone?” It is living. But, when it’s that way, it’s unnecessary to have the outer breath, because the internal breath has come to life.  

   At that time, “Your eyes see forms, but inside there is nothing. Your ears hear sounds, but your mind doesn’t know them. When from within you contemplate your mind, there isn’t any mind. When outside you contemplate forms, there are no forms either.  

   If you look off into the distance at all the myriad things, all those things are also empty. But at that point, you shouldn’t think that you’re such great stuff. That’s still just a preliminary expedient. It’s just experiencing a little light ease. You shouldn’t take a thief as your son and think that because of it you’re just peerless. What’s so peerless about you? You’re really shameless. To do this is to not recognize yourself. You get a little bit of skill and you’re satisfied. But you’re still miles away from accomplishing Buddhahood. Don’t obtain just a little and think it’s enough. Don’t be like a little child with a piece of candy who takes that one little piece of candy and is overjoyed. He runs outside, somebody gives him a piece of candy, and he’s in ecstasy—totally satisfied, just because he has some candy to eat. What he doesn’t realize is that in his own home there is a stash of honey and candy that’s so vast that you can’t say how much there is. He’s just unable to get hold of it and eat it. That’s the way it is with people who get a little and are satisfied.  

   Now, I have told you just a very, very little bit about the methods for developing your skill. If you want to know all about how to do the work, you’ll still have to wait for the Great Good Learned One to come. When the Great, Compassionate, Good Learned One comes, he will tell you how to do the work. And then you will have done what has to be done. You will have accomplished the task of a great human being.  

   When you have all been sitting until your minds are empty and your bodies are empty, then I, having nothing to do, will come to find something to do, and I’ll pass the time with you, people of the Way with no minds.  

   Before I called you Good Learned Advisors, but now, as I think about it, you are people of the Way with no minds, because we are still waiting for the Good Learned Advisor. So, you are people of the Way who have no minds. But without any minds, you must also not have any bodies. You can’t whimper, “My legs hurt, my back hurts, I can’t stand it. What am I going to do?” As soon as you start thinking that way, even Shakyamuni Buddha himself can’t save you. Why not? Because you can’t practice what’s difficult to practice. You can’t bear what’s difficult to bear. You can’t cultivate what’s difficult to cultivate.  

   What’s so great about this body anyway? When ‘Sākyamuni Buddha was cultivating on the causal ground, he relinquished his body, his nature, and his very life. He gave them away. He gave them to people. Not only can we not give our bodies, natures, and very lives, but we can’t even stand it if our legs suffer a little. Don’t be so gutless. If you can’t take it after one day, what’s going to happen after two? After three, you’ll be beside yourselves. Strike up your spirits, get hold of your genuine vajra resolve. Didn’t I say last night, “The furnace in the foundry fuses vajra”? This furnace can smelt anything.  

   Gold Mountain Monastery is like the furnace in a foundry. When you come here, if you’re a dragon, you must curl up; if you’re a tiger, you must crouch and use one mind to cultivate. No matter how bad a person you are, you have to become good. And no matter how good you are, you must get better. That’s what’s meant by the first line of the gatha I spoke yesterday.  

   There may be yet another Dharma King. If too much is said, it’s just a bother. And so now everybody should bring forth his own skill and advance vigorously and courageously.

The furnace in the great foundry smelts vajra.
All Buddhas of the ten directions protect the Bodhimanda.
Every sage and worthy one comes forth from this,
And in the Saha world another Dharma King is born.

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