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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
The Method of Ch'an
When you cultivate the Way, you shouldn’t renounce what is near and seek what is far, don’t discard the roots and grasp at the branches.
The Way is near, but one seeks it afar.
Things are basically easy, but one tries
to make them difficult.
People create unnecessary trouble for themselves; so don’t aim for what is lofty and far away, thinking that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are found in some distant faraway places. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can’t end your birth and death for you. You have to end your own birth and death.
You eat to fill yourself.
You end your own birth and death.
Control your rage, your deluded and crazy thoughts, your wild and reckless nature; change your habits! Restrain them so they don’t arise.
In every move, watch over yourself.
In walking, standing, sitting, and lying down,
Don’t ever leave your home.
Apply effort at the entrances of the six sense organs—the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind—and yet don’t be separated from the six organs when you are applying that effort. Your eyes see forms, your ears hear sounds, your nose smells fragrances, your tongue tastes flavors, your body feels sensations, and your mind runs after dharmas.
However, right within those states you should understand the function of the entrances to the six organs. The six sense organs are also called the “six thieves.” Make sure not to let the thieves rob your treasures. If your eyes like to see things, that is an outflow. If your ears like to listen to sounds, that’s an outflow. If your nose likes to smell fragrances, that’s an outflow. If your tongue likes to taste flavors, or your body craves pleasurable sensation, or your mind latches on to thoughts, all of those are outflows. Don’t spin around and around at the six entrances; rather, return the light and illumine within, gather back your light.
There are some people sitting in the Ch’an hall who are not investigating Ch’an (dhyana); they are just giving rise to false thinking. So you can change the word Ch’an to another word; “gluttony,” because they’re thinking about food. People who are meat eaters are thinking about steaks, pork chops, and lamb chops; people who are vegetarians are thinking about dumplings, bread and butter. Their false thoughts are very colorful indeed! Some people forget about eating, drinking, wearing clothes, and sleeping; they even forget about going to the toilet! At this stage,
The wind can’t blow through;
The rain can’t seep in.
They maintain the single thought, “who?” without interruption or the slightest pause. Their concentration is indestructible and solid like vajra. At this time,
Above, they do not know there is heaven;
Below, they do not know there is earth.
And in between they do not know there are people.
They don’t hang on to the four marks: the mark of self, the mark of others, the mark of living beings, and the mark of a lifespan.
Someone says, “If I forget earth, heaven, and people won’t I turn into a piece of wood or a brick?” No! At this stage they have already transcended those realms so that.
All day long they eat their fill,
yet they haven’t tasted a single grain of rice.
All day long they wear clothes,
but they haven’t put on a single thread.
When they become that focused and single minded how will they have time to entertain any false thoughts, such as thinking about drinking some milk, or tea, or having some honey? They won’t have time; they won’t want to waste even a single second.
In cultivating you cannot forget the matter of birth and death for even one moment; you can’t afford to have false thinking even for a second. It says,
Not having understood the great affair,
Is like losing one’s parents.
The great affair refers to ending birth and death. If you haven’t seen through birth and death, that is like losing your father and mother. You have to pour all of your attention and energy into investigating this topic. When you use concentrated effort you will obtain a response; you may even get enlightened. Then,
After having understood the great affair,
It’s even more like losing one’s parents.
What does that mean? After you’ve become enlightened there’s even less time to flit around and waste time! You have to redouble your efforts. You can’t be lazy. Since you know that it’s not right to have false thinking, why do you still indulge in it? You should know that the time during a Ch’an session is very precious. We’ve put everything down in the Way Place to accommodate this session. We don’t do morning and evening recitations, nor the meal offering, or recite before the meals; we skip all of this just so you can apply single-minded, concentrated effort to your meditation and give it everything you’ve got. If you casually wile your time away, and chat and give rise to all kinds of false thinking, that’s just too pathetic!
The space encompassing heaven, earth, and all of creation, is a unified whole. Although that space cannot be divided, each being has its own orbit or path by which it’s energy travels. The situation is like that of electric currents, each of which has its own path. One wholesome or proper thought supplements the wholesome and righteous spirit between heaven and earth.
Conversely, every time a person gets angry or afflicted he increases the toxic and bad vibrations within the universe. Every thought of greed, anger, and stupidity adds to the toxic energy within the universe. If you use greed, anger and stupidity to handle your affairs, the world will become filled with poisonous energy. If you use precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, the auspicious energy in the world will increase. As it is with one person, so it is with many people. For those reasons, at places where evil people congregate, there are disasters and catastrophes. Therefore, all the auspiciousness and misfortune everywhere in the world is inextricably inter-connected with the forces mentioned above.
Now that we’re having a Ch’an session, everyone needs to change from the evil to the good. Be careful not to create evil karma that is mixed up with the good; don’t err in cause and effect. Don’t deliberately create bad karma, knowing it to be wrong. Produce one good thought, and heaven and earth are auspicious; give rise to one evil thought, and natural or man-made disasters will ensue—phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and so forth. Therefore, in a country where the citizens uphold the five precepts, it is bound to be peaceful. In countries where people kill, steal, commit sexual misconduct, lie, and take intoxicants, there is sure to be much disaster.
Every day we investigate the Buddhadharma, but you have to do it, truly practice it. Investigating Ch’an is just holding the precepts. It is just not killing, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct, not lying, and not taking intoxicants. Once you’re investigating Ch’an you won’t have time to do anything else. You should be able to pick up your meditation topic, and put everything else down. Just investigate, “Who?”
When you meditate, you can turn the light around and illumine within. See how many evil thoughts you’ve produced, and how many good thoughts you have produced. If you haven’t yet produced good thoughts, quickly bring forth wholesome thoughts. If you haven’t given rise to evil thoughts, make sure that you don’t; if you have already produced evil thoughts quickly get rid of them. If you’ve given rise to good thoughts, see to it they grow. Don’t waste your time casually, and squander your life away. As to the false thoughts you’re striking up, are they worth anything? Even if your false thoughts had some value to them, if you don’t bring them to accomplishment, they’re useless. People who are intent to cultivating and meditating apply their effort. What does this mean?
Amitabha! Each one for himself!
Mahasattva! Don’t pay attention to the other person.
The five Skandhas, that is—form, feeling, thought, activity, and consciousness—are like floating clouds that course about in the sky.
The Five Skandhas are like clouds that
float back and forth in empty space.
The Three Poisons are like bubbles in the ocean.
Cultivators have to break through these five skandhas; treat them like clouds passing by in the sky, let them come and go on their own, and don’t pay attention to them. The Three Poisons are greed, anger,and stupidity; they are like bubbles in the ocean. They don’t have any true substance. They don’t belong to our nature; they came later. They are produced on their own, and they are destroyed on their own. If you aren’t attached to them you won’t have any problems. So, Great Master Yung Chia of the T’ang Dynasty said in his Song of Enligtenment,
Certify to the actual mark, which is
without people or dharmas,
In a kshana, eradicate offenses of
the Avici Hell.
If I’m lying to cheat living beings,
then I deserve to undergo
The Hell of Pulling Tongues,
throughout as many aeons as there
are grains of dust and sand.
The “Actual Mark” is no mark, yet nothing is not marked by it. Once you’ve certified to this true mark and principle “Sweep away all dharmas, separate from all characteristics,” then that is called, “returning to the origin and going back to the source.” You’ve certified to the pure Dharma-body of your self-nature. In this state, people and dharmas are all seen as empty.
The view of self and others, which is the view of people and dharmas, are both annulled. At that time you won’t have to add a head on top of a head. Then, “In a kshana,” the shortest interval oftime, the karma created from beginningless time meriting the “Avici Hell,” is completely eradicated. Dharma Master Yung Chia says, “If I am lying to you, trying to pull the wool over your eyes, then I’m willing to forever fall into The Hell of Pulling Tongues and stay there for as many aeons as there dust motes and sand grains.”
Cultivators have to apply effort; don’t let your thoughts run off to the north, south, east, and west, and waste your entire life away. You should cultivate the Way very realistically, like drawing silk. If you do it bit-by-bit, then you won’t get the silk strands tangled. Don’t look for scientific methods to become enlightened. If that would work scientists would have long ago become enlightened. Why aren’t they enlightened? Why are they still groping around in the dark, working into the tip of an ox’s horn, hemming themselves into a dead end? Don’t be too smart for yourself, trying to find an easy way out of a short-cut. You say, “My legs and back really hurt! I should find a way where my legs and back won’t have to hurt so much.” There are no such easy methods. Opening enlightenment is not that easy.
During the time of Awesome Sound King Buddha, people became enlightened on the spot and didn’t need to be certified. After the passing of that Buddha, things deteriorated so that whenever people got enlightened they first had to be certified by the Buddhas and then by the Patriarchs. For example, in the Shurangama Sutra there is a section in which each of the Twenty-five Sages describes the individual organ by which he attained perfect penetration.¹ Even before each one talked about his individual Dharma-door, he had already been enlightened, but the Buddha had not yet personally certified his enlightenment. So the act of certification is most important. Certification is the core of the transmission of the Mind-seal Dharma from generation to generation.
The Great Master Yung Chia became enlightened while studying the Nirvana Sutra. Then he wrote the Song of Enlightenment; it contained songs that he sang. Although he had become enlightened, not many people could understand the deep principles he was expounding. Therefore, he put his songs together to describe some of his states. When he heard that the Sixth Patriarch was propagating the Mind Dharma at Ts’ao Hsi Monastery, he went to draw near to the Sixth Patriarch and to ask for his seal and certification. When he first arrived at Ts’ao Hsi, he circumambulated the Patriarch’s seat three times, plunked his tin staff on the ground, and then stood erect to one side. He didn’t even bow to the Patriarch. The Sixth Patriarch said,
“Shramanas adhere to three thousand awesome comportments and 80,000 subtle practices. Today you come in here and give rise to great arrogance. You don’t have the first bit of good manners. What are you trying to prove?”
The Master Yung Chia said, “Birth and death are big affairs; impermanence comes quickly.” He was implying that the matter of birth and death was so important there was no time for things like courtesy.
The Sixth Patriarch said, “Why not embody non-production and understand that which is not quick?” The meaning here was “Why don’t you get to the bottom of this and truly understand the principles of non-production and quickness?”
Dharma Master Yung Chia replied, “The body itself is not produced; fundamentally there is no quickness.” He had quick retorts to the Patriarch’s questions. The Master understood that originally there is no birth and death. If there is not even birth and death how can impermanence come quickly? He had arrived at the attainment wherein all dharmas are seen as neither produced nor destroyed, neither pure nor defiled, neither fast nor slow.
The Sixth Patriarch said, “So it is; so it is!” He couldn’t help praising Master Yung Chia saying, “Right! This is good work!”
Great Master Yung Chia then made obeisance with perfect awesome comportment. A short while later he announced that he was leaving, but the Sixth Patriarch entreated him to stay overnight. From this famous occasion Dharma Master Yung Chia was called, “The One Enlightened Overnight.” This was because he was certified to having obtained the Mind-Seal Dharma during his overnight stay at Ts’ao Hsi Monastery.
When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshavra was practicing
the profound prajna paramita,
He illuminated the Five Skandhas and saw that they are all empty,
And went beyond all suffering and difficulty.
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is called, “One who Contemplates at Ease,” or “One who Contemplates Self-Presence” (Kuan-Tzu-Tsai). This means that you contemplate whether you yourself are present or aware; it doesn’t mean you contemplate whether the other person is there or not. If you are self-present (always in the here and now), you are applying effort in investigating Ch’an. If you are not self-present, you’re having false thinking, and you’re flying off to New York, Italy, Australia, and so forth.
Although your body is seated here in the Ch’an hall, your mind is rambling all over the place—you haven’t subdued your monkey; it latches on to external conditions at every passing moment. If you’renotcontemplating self-presence you’re in the heavens; if you’re not contemplating self-presence you’re in the hells. If you can contemplate self-presence and not run off, you can then “Practice the profound Prajna paramita.” This means to investigate continually and without interruption; that is considered a profound contemplation. “Prajna” is deep and great wisdom. With great wisdom you can arrive at the other shore.
Moreover, you have to contemplate at all times, and not just for a moment. When investigating Ch’an, you have to do it day and night; you must do it today and every day, in order to dwell in the “Profound Prajna paramita.” You can’t hope to savor the flavor of Ch’an in a short period of time; it comes from practice and saturation. When you have this skill you can “illuminate the Five Skandhas and see that they are all empty.” The five skandhas are also called the “five aggregates,” “five heaps,” or the “five shadows.” They cover your light. They are like chains that bind people up. People are not free, because they are fettered by the Four Elements (earth, water, fire, and wind) and the five skandhas. The first skandha is the Form Skandha. Once the Form Skandha is seen through one arrives at the state where,
One contemplates the mind inside,
and there is no mind.
One contemplates objects far away,
and there are no objects.
One contemplates appearances outside,
and there are no appearances.
When the Form Skandha is seen through as empty, inside there is no mind, outside there are no appearances, and afar there are no objects. The Form Skandha takes obstruction as its essence; this includes anything that has shape and physical characteristics. If you haven’t emptied the Form Skandha, whenever you look at forms, you will be confused by the dust of forms. When you hear sounds, you’ll be turned by the dust of sounds. The many colors and shapes of things will confuse you to the point that you will no longer be in control. So, Lao Tzu says,
The five colors blind the eyes.
The five sounds deafen the ears.
The five flavors numb the palate.
Objects that are hard to come by
drive people crazy.
“The five colors blind the eyes.” The five colors refers to all the colorful imagery in the world; it blurs people’s vision so they are as if blind. They can’t tell one form from another; they can’t break through the eighty-eight categories of view delusion. View delusion is when upon seeing a state, one gives rise to greed and love. When you encounter a state, an external appearance of form, you get greedy and crave it. There are eighty-eight grades of this type of delusion.
“The five sounds deafen the ears.” For example, take heavenly music. When you hear musical sounds that the gods play up in the heavens you become drunk and enter the samadhi of music; you forget everything else. When it says “deafen,” it doesn’t mean you are hard of hearing, but rather that when you listen to music you forget everything else. You don’t get hungry even if you don’t eat nor thirsty if you don’t drink. Isn’t that wonderful?
“The five flavors numb the palate.” The five flavors are sour, sweet, bitter, hot, and salty. The mouth feels pleasure from savoring them. That’s why people all crave delicious and tasty foods, but it numbs the palate.
“Objects that are hard to come by drive people crazy.” This refers to objects that are rare and considered valuable, such as antiques, artifacts, objects of art, paintings, and so forth. For example, consider antiques from the Shang and Chou Dynasties; people are driven mad by their greed for those valuable objects.
Once you break through the Form Skandha, “all the mountains, rivers, and great earth are seen as empty.” Basically they aren’t even there. That’s the first skandha.
The second is the Feeling, or Perception, Skandha. A state arises and you perceive it; you feel it’s pleasurable. Eating good things, putting on a fine dress, feeling warm and being greatly delighted—those feelings of contentment, as well as feelings of displeasure and pain, are all grouped under the Feeling Skandha.
The third is the Thought Skandha. Thought refers to consideration, metal activity. From thought arises activity, which is the Fourth Skandha. Activity means that which constantly shifts and flows; it never stops, there is constant motion.
The last is the consciousness Skandha, which takes discrimination as its substance. This is the most subtle and imperceptible skandha. Whenever a state arises your mind immediately starts to discriminate. That’s the function of the Consciousness Skandha.
When you break through all five skandhas, and are no longer deluded by them, you can “cross beyond all suffering.” You can then put an end to all bitterness. So, seeing that the Five Skandhas are all empty is getting rid of the attachment to self. Whereas, crossing beyond all suffering and difficulty is getting rid of the attachment to dharmas. When the attachment to self and dharmas are both emptied, one is truly the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates Self-presence, Who Contemplates at Ease and with Self-mastery.
We people are like big bugs. Within our bodies are countless little bugs. The little bugs feed on the big bugs, and the big bugs feed on other forms of life outside such as animals or plants. Within the bodies of the little bugs are limitless tiny organisms. If you think about it, within the body of every single person there are countless, boundless living beings. If you wish to cross over the living beings within your self-nature, it’s not easy.
For example, if you are very greedy, all the little bugs inside your body are also greedy; even the micro-organisms and viruses within your body are infected with greed. They like to eat your flesh and drink your blood. If you are angry, the big and little bugs inside your self-nature all learn to have great tempers; they like to fight and contend.
If your body (the big bug) is full of stupidity, the little bugs all follow suit and become stupid as well. Your greed, anger, and stupidity directly influence the organisms within your self-nature. Moreover, those small organisms multiply into countless other minute organisms; they divide and multiply so that you have thousands of millions of myriads of transformation bodies. They are all replicas and photo copies of you (the big bug).
Therefore, cultivators must watch their every thought and action, and change their bad habits and faults; turn over a new leaf.
A single thought of anger arises and
Eighty-thousand doors open to obstruction.
No matter how long you cultivate, if you don’t cut off your thoughts of rage and hatred, in the future the organisms within your self-nature will transform into poisonous snakes and wild beasts that harm people.
For such reason, cultivators must emulate Shakyamuni Buddha’s kindness and compassion, his conduct and vows, and his patience; then, foster merit and virtue. This means giving good things to other people and saving the bad things for oneself. Merit and virtue are accumulated day-by-day, like saving money. You save money bit-by-bit until there’s a lot. Pay foremost attention to compassion and Way-virtue. No matter how rotten people are to you, be forgiving and don’t fight with them or oppose them. Give yourself up for the sake of others; with a single-minded dedication propagate the Buddhadharma.