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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Ch'an Dharma Talks
Day #3: December 25, 1972 (Evening) continues:
It is at its extreme limit that stagnation brings peace. When we who are meditating feel the pain in our legs, we should let it hurt, for when the pain reaches an extreme point, the pain barrier can be broken. If you sit a half hour and the pain comes you should hold the thought of no pain, and then the pain will subside. After another half hour or so when the pain comes on strong again you must be patient. Grit your teeth and the pain will behave itself. You will have been victorious over yet another barrier, and will attain to a liberation in which there is limitless freedom and comfort. You must not be like a child who cries at the first sign of pain, because this brings no benefit at all. You must be resolute! Embody the three fearlessness: no fear of suffering, no fear of pain, and no fear of difficulty. Only in this way will you break through the barrier.
Day #4: December 26, 1972
Without even realizing it, four days of the Session have passed. Some people have wasted them, others have made progress. Whether or not you’ve progressed, you must follow the rules. When the bell rings to end the sitting period you may go to the toilet, have a drink of water, or a cup of tea. But you must hurry back. The women’s toilet is on the second floor and the men’s on the third. A couple of minutes before each meditation period the proctor should go to the third floor and hit the boards three times to remind everyone to return to the hall. Then he can start the sitting period. Meditators should be responsible and return on time. Don’t make the proctor wait for you.
Once the sit has begun, unless an extremely important matter comes up, no one is allowed to leave the hall. Not to speak of ordinary people, even Wei T’ou Bodhisattva has to stand still and protect the Dharma and isn’t allowed to run around.
We walk for twenty minutes with a brief run at the end, and sit in dhyana for a full hour. The hours between five and seven in the afternoon are rest hours during which time you may relax and doze off. But you must not snore, because that obstructs others. The rest hours are necessary because we begin at 2:30 in the morning and sit until midnight. It would be even better, however, if you didn’t sleep during this time and continued to meditate. Because this period is longer than the others, many people get enlightened during this time.
Dhyana must be practiced for long periods of time. You can’t say that because your legs hurt you don’t want to sit anymore and then just wait for the bell to end the sitting period. With that attitude you won’t accomplish anything. Meditation is also a test to see if you have the strength to break through all obstructions.
When the sitting period ends, we run—and exercise which gets our circulation going. Sitting is cultivation of morality. You may only run in the dhyana hall, however; you can’t run outside. This is not a foot race. If you take it as one you may run to the ends of the earth, but you won’t answer the question, “Who?”
In the big halls in China they run in lines three or five abreast. But our place is smaller and so we should run in a single file. To begin the period of movement, walk slowly for ten to twenty-five minutes at the most and then signal the end of the running, then take a turn or two around the hall at a brisk run. By that time your blood and breath will be stirred up. You don’t have to run until you perspire and are all out of breath; that will only obstruct your work.
When you sit in dhyana, it’s best to sit in the full lotus position, as it is easy to enter samadhi in this position. The gods and dragons and the entire eight-fold division will come to protect you and the heavenly demons won’t dare attack. This is called the Buddha posture. If your legs get too stiff, you can switch to half lotus for a while, but it won’t be as easy to enter samadhi. Haven’t I told you before about the “Ghost Pressured Dhyana Master?” When he was meditating some ghosts came to annoy him. Because he was sitting in full-lotus, they saw him as a golden pagoda and bowed to him instead. When he took one leg down and sat in half-lotus they saw him as a silver pagoda but continued to bow. When he uncrossed his legs altogether, they saw only a mud statue and proceeded to give him trouble.
Once your legs are crossed and you are comfortable, cover up your lap with a heavy cotton robe or a blanket. Your legs may become stiff if they get cold. But don’t cover your head or the upper part of your body. If the upper part of your body is a little chilly it doesn’t matter; it will just make it that much harder to fall asleep. Don’t draw your legs up or stretch them out or let your head hang down in front of you. These are all violations of the rules. You can’t just casually stretch your back, either. How can you cultivate if you do these things? You should be steady at all times, like vajra.
Not one of you is as strong as I am! Having come to America, I find people meditating, but looking like freaks. Basically, I think it’s bad manners to mention this, but you are really extraordinarily peculiar. I have never sat in meditation with a blanket wrapped around my head nor worn a blanket around me when I ran. You might get away with this strange style in the mountains or the desert, but if you are afraid of the cold here, you should simply wear more clothes. In the high mountains of China no matter how cold it gets, meditators never wrap themselves in blankets. They all follow the rules, and at the most this entails wearing a thick cotton robe. They would never act as strangely as you do.
One of my disciples basically is not afraid of the cold, but whenever he sits in meditation he wraps himself up in a blanket so that I can’t even recognize him. I am particularly fond of him though, and so I haven’t said anything. But today I felt that this style doesn’t fit and so I decided to mention it.
I myself am afraid of cold and heat, but in several decades of meditation I have never wrapped myself in a blanket or covered my head. When I was in Hupei for several years, the winters were severely cold and snowy, but I still wore only three layers of cotton clothing. However, I smelled an especially fine and rare fragrance every day, not like anything of this world. But smells are just smells, and I paid no attention. Perhaps the gods took pity on me, a thin-robed bhikshu working in spite of the cold. I endured the cold winter snows in Manchuria for over twenty years, wearing only three layers of cotton clothing and sometimes even went barefoot in the snow.
I had no friends in Hupei. From morning to night no one paid any attention to me; everyone looked down on me as a totally useless individual. Who would have guessed that this useless person would now have come to America? If I had no friends, it was not because I acted aloof. I was always extremely respectful towards everyone and dwelt in harmony with them. I never thought, “How can you supervise me?” Anyone at all could order me around, even the young novices. If a novice told me to pick vegetables, I obeyed, picked them, washed them very carefully, and gave them to him. I worked as the cook, the janitor, and also carried water for them and tended the vegetable garden.
I cleaned the excrement out of the pit toilets as well. We didn’t have flush toilets like you do here in America. Pit toilets must be cleaned out or they stink to high heaven. The worms which live in them, however, think the toilets are not bad at all. As I cleaned the toilets I came to understand that jealousy, selfishness, self-seeking and eating good food without doing any work caused these beings to be reborn in the toilet, where they might really eat well. So I’m warning you not to be jealous, selfish, or self-seeking, because if you are, you will certainly turn into a dung beetle.
You should meditate with a level mind and a quiet air. Your eyes should watch your nose; your nose should watch your mouth, and your mouth should watch over your heart. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth so that you can swallow your saliva easily. Saliva is also called “the sweet dew of your own home,” or “the medicine of immortality.” It’s called sweet dew because after you meditate for a while your saliva will become sweet. If you drink all of it, your body will be strong and healthy. But this kind of skill can’t be obtained in a few days. You have to continue working for a long time, put everything else aside, and attend more dhyana sessions in order to obtain these advantages.
There are too many rules regarding the dhyana hall to mention them all now, and so I have given you a general description of the subject. I should have told you these things at the beginning of the session, but I thought you were all old-timers, and already knew them all. Now I’ve discovered that you still don’t understand them and so I have brought them up. Although they aren’t major rules, it’s just because you don’t follow the minor rules that you don’t accomplish the great enlightenment.
I know that several people have already reached the realm of no others and no self. This is called “light peace” and is the beginning of concentration. Now you should continue to work very hard and you will obtain genuine advantage. If you want to make progress you must not be lazy! Don’t cheat yourself, cheat others, or cheat on the time. Everyone will say, “Such a lazy ghost! What kind of meditation does he practice, anyway?”
Investigate with a level mind and a light air. Don’t be over-anxious or you’ll get over-heated. Don’t be sloppy or you won’t make progress. Grasp the Doctrine of the Mean:
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.
Investigate happily and naturally; be at ease when walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. If you relax, you will make progress. You may not be able to find the “Who?” but nonetheless you won’t be able to lose track of the “Who?” You won’t recognize the “Who?” but you won’t leave it for even a second and will be one with it until you reach the state in which, even when you are eating, you won’t eat a single grain.
“Aren’t you lying?” you ask.
No. Not eating means that you are not attached to eating. When you eat, you eat; when you wear clothes, you wear clothes, but you aren’t attached to anything you do. Walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, you are intent on your work. If you’re not attached to eating or wearing clothes, other matters will be even less a problem to you. Is this anything but genuine freedom?
Day #5: December 27, 1972
Are there any questions?
Disciple: “I lost my vajra-indestructible resolve today. When the pain in my legs became severe, although I wanted to continue to work, the false thoughts about the pain kept welling up like waves until finally I lost control.”
Where did your false thoughts come from?
“Perhaps from my pride.”
Why did you cry?
“Because I was suffering too much. I have never undergone so much suffering. I was at once intent on controlling myself and yet unable to do so. My crying was probably a way to release the tension of my unhappy state.”
We investigate “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” so we can break our attachment to “self.” If you are able to make the effort to travel this road vigorously, you will have no other thought than the investigation of the topic, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” and the time will fly. When you apply maximum effort in meditation, you will have no more than sat down when you will hear the bell ring to end the sit.
It is essential, however, not to brood over why you aren’t attaining any tangible results from your work, for with this additional thought, you lose the word, “Who?” Once that happens, there can be no response. Those who truly know how to work do not lose track of the topic, “Who?’ Little by little, slicing through all other thoughts, they ceaselessly examine it, until body, mind and consciousness all vanish. Thoughts such as “My legs hurt,” or “I can’t stand it anymore,” are but distortions of the sixth consciousness. When body, mind and consciousness are smashed you cannot be turned by such thoughts and you will be unaware of pain and will attain genuine freedom and ease.
When a response is obtained, your wisdom will open and you may become enlightened in a flash. In an ancient text is the phrase: “If a person sits quietly for an instant, it is better than building pagodas of the seven jewels as many as the sands of the Ganges River.” Genuine entry into samadhi eradicates limitless kalpas of offenses bound in birth and death in an instant. If you can sit quietly for an instant and experience unity within yourself, if you can use your pure heart to illumine inwardly, you can leap out of the wearisome involvement with the objective world. Your body and mind will be healthy and at peace, free and crystal clear. That is why all the Patriarchs of the past have enjoyed meditating.
It is said that the merit from this work is greater than that derived from building as many pagodas of the seven precious gems as there are sand-grains in the Ganges River. This is because building pagodas and temples is merely making material offerings to the Buddha. Although such offerings can cause living beings who see the temples to give rise to faith in the orthodox Dharma, the merit it brings is, nonetheless, only merit with outflows. If you can sit quietly, in one instant you establish true merit—the merit of the Buddha. Returning to your source you gain the light of wisdom which is genuine merit and virtue, free of outflows.
If the merit from just one instant is that great, think how much greater will be the merit from sitting pure, still, and clear without dozing off for an entire hour! By doing this, although you may not awaken to the Way, you will have truly planted a Bodhi-seed which will one day reach fruition.
When I meditated for ten weeks on K’ung Ch’ing Mountain, when the weeks had passed I felt that they had barely begun. This was because I was single-mindedly concentrated and did not pay attention to trivial matters. I sat in meditation all day without noticing the pain because I had broken the pain barrier. You need only sit for a long time and the pain will settle down and become obedient.
Those who have just begun to work experience all kinds of distress-their legs hurt, their back hurts, and they feel uncomfortable all over. Call on your patience, use your samadhi, and defeat all difficulties; that way you’ll obtain benefit.
When sitting in meditation, it’s best not to be moved by any state that you encounter. If you fantasize and are greedy for a vision of the Buddha, a vision of flowers, or any other vision, then the state is false. If you think about wanting to see something and then see it, it is false. For the state to be true it is essential that there are no thoughts prior to the state itself.
Actually, when you meditate it is best not to have anything at all, only emptiness. Be without fear or joy, because fear and joy expose you to attacks from demons. This is discussed in the Shurangama Sutra in the section about the fifty skandha demons. Do not be turned by states.
It is said, “If the demon comes, beat him away; if the Buddha comes, smash him.” The most important thing is to remain unattached. Don’t become overjoyed upon seeing the Buddha, because that is not true joy. It is also said, “If you are fond of it, it is not genuine; if you are afraid of it, it is not genuine.” If it makes you angry or confused, it is not genuine.” In a state of unmoving suchness, one does not give rise to distinctions or regard states as important.
In this way, one avoids flowing along with them, becoming turned by them. If a state appears, let it be. If no state appears, don’t go looking for one. From limitless kalpas past until the present we have accumulated all kinds of states of mind within the field of our eighth consciousness. Sitting quietly allows these states to come forth in a way that they can be recognized, just like the moon’s reflection in water which is not evident when the water is turbulent and muddied, but appears clearly when the water is allowed to settle.
The clear mind is like the moon in the water;
The mind in samadhi is like the cloudless sky.
Don’t take states of mind as being true or false. Working hard is true. Many people don’t understand this and when they encounter a state they may think that they have become enlightened or have been attacked by demons. Be without fear or joy. Don’t be attached to anything and you will reach a state of real accomplishment.