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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Ch'an Dharma Talks
Day #6: December 28, 1972
If you have any questions you may bring them up.
Disciple: “The Japanese Zen Master, Dogen, said, “All can become Buddhas,” but I have doubts about that. Perhaps other people can become Buddhas, but not me, or at least that’s how I feel sometimes. However, listening to the Master’s instructions and to the events of his experiences while cultivating has moved me greatly and encouraged me to follow him vigorously.
Yesterday the Master said that the merit and virtue obtained from sitting quietly in dhyana samadhi for even an instant surpasses that obtained from building pagodas of the seven gems as many as there are grains of sand in the Granges. When I heard this, I realized that I had been “building pagodas” instead of “building Buddhas,” and so I have not been able to enter samadhi. I wonder if, when my pagoda is finished, the Master will consent to live there?”
The Master continued: The phrase, “All beings can become Buddhas” was spoken by the Buddha, and later by Dhyana Master Dogen. Now, your miraculous thoughts have opened the heavens! Yesterday, when I spoke about the difference between sitting in samadhi and building pagodas, I did not mean that one should not build pagodas. If you want to build them, the more the better. But his does not refer to simply thinking about building them. You must actually do it. Don’t you think that the merit of building gemmed pagodas as many as there are Ganges sands would be inconceivable? Can you do it? However, this is an analogy. If you are truly able to enter samadhi for even an instant, to return the light to shine within, and be a person of the Way without a mind, then your merit and virtue surpasses that obtained from building pagodas. If you really want to build one, of course, the merit will be great. But you must actually do it, not just talk about it.
Today I have a story to tell about “sitting quietly for an instant.” Long ago, in China, on Wei Mountain in Hunan Province, lived a Dhyana Master Wei, “The Old Man of Mount Wei.” He cultivated on the mountain and after several years many people came to pay their respect. When the news reached Minister P’ei Hsiu, he, too, went to call on him and in their first exchange of words P’ei Hsiu felt that they hid it off very well. He believed in the Master and praised him as a lofty Sangha-member of great virtue. When he thought of the broken-down shack the old man lived in he decided to make an offering. “This is really too bitter,” he said. “I should build him a big temple so that he can teach the multitudes,” and he gave the Old Man three hundred ounces of silver. Silver was very valuable at that time—three hundred ounces could build ten temples the size of the one we are in now.
As the Old Man didn’t have closet or truck, P’ei Hsiu set the money outside the hut on the grass and left.
Three years later he returned to call on the Old Man and found him still living in the same shabby hut. Thinking this strange, he asked the Old Man, “Three years ago I gave you three hundred ounces of silver. Why haven’t you built a temple? Just what have you done with the money?”
“Silver?” said the Old Man. “Where did you put it? Go look for it there.”
Sure enough, the three hundred ounces of silver hadn’t moved an inch; they were still sitting in the grass. Pe’i Hsiu admired the Old Man’s lofty virtue even more, and decided to build the temple himself. He began that very day and built a temple big enough to house three thousand monks. When it was completed, many Dhyana Masters went to live there, cultivate, and work hard.
Seeing so many high masters living together, P’ei Hsiu was delighted and instructed his son to bow to the Old Man as his teacher and leave the home-life under him. His son was a Han Lin, a high-ranking scholar, and when he left home the Old Man named him Fa Hai and said, “Since you have just left home you must practice austerities. I appoint you water carrier. You must haul water for us every day.” The boy rose early and carried water all day until late at night without stopping to rest. He did nothing but carry water for several years and had no time to study Sutras or bow to the Buddha. His cultivation consisted solely of carrying water and reciting the Buddha’s name.
One day Fa Hai thought, “I’ve been here for several years, but I’ve still not seen the inside of the meditation hall. I think I’ll go take a look.” It just so happened that when he stole a peek into the hall the monks were taking a nap and snoring up a storm. This made him unhappy. “I’m a Han Lin,” he said, “and I carry water for these people. I thought they were working hard, but they’re only sleeping!”
As soon as he had that thought, the Abbot sent an attendant to get Fa Hai. In all these years he had not seen his teacher, and now the Old Man said, “Pack up your things and get out. We can’t keep you here. You’ll have to move.”
“But what have I done?” Fa Hai said. “Why are you throwing me out?”
The Abbot said, “Did you or did you not have a thought about it being a waste of time to carry water for people who are sleeping in the dhyana hall?”
“Yes,” said Fa Hai, “because I saw that they were all sleeping and weren’t working.”
The Old Man said, “When the Old Monk sits once in meditation he can digest ten thousand pounds of gold. But you, you snob of a Han Lin, what kind of cultivation do you do? You’ll have to get out.”
Fa Hai knelt and begged for forgiveness, saying that he should be pardoned because this was his first offense. But the Old Man refused.
“Then where shall I go?” Fa Hai said.
The Old Man gave him eight and a half cents and said, “Dwell right where you happen to be when you have spent the last of this eight and a half cents.”
Fa Hai went down the mountain, begging for money as he traveled because he didn’t dare use the eight and a half cents. He went straight from Hunan to Nanking. As he crossed the river at Chenkiang, intending to climb the mountain on the other side, the ferryman asked for the fare—exactly eight and a half cents. Fa Hai paid him and went to dwell on the mountain.
The mountain wasn’t called Gold Mountain at the time, but late one night Fa Hai saw light shining out of a cave. In the cave he discovered two crocks full of gold which he used to build Gold Mountain Chiang T’ien Monastery.
All old-time meditators know about “Gold Mountain Legs,” and “Kao Min Incense.” If you want to sit at Gold Mountain, your legs must be well-trained for meditation, for you are not allowed to stretch them out during a sit, no matter how much they hurt. At Kao Min Monastery the sitting periods are measured by the length of time it takes a stick of incense to burn—they were particularly long and precisely timed.
Day #7: December 29, 1972
The Dhyana Session has passed quickly. Those who have had a response from their work should not be pleased with themselves; those who have had no response should not be distressed, but should continue to work hard. You now know the method for meditating, and so you can continue your work on your own. You should be mindful wherever you are. You should be concerned only with maintaining the investigation of your topic.
Become single-minded in your concentration and one day you will become enlightened. If you do not concentrate your efforts, then even if Shakyamuni Buddha came to teach you, you wouldn’t become enlightened. This Dhyana Session has been a good one, and most of you worked very hard. Although some time was wasted after lunch when you did not return to the hall right away, it would be unfair to scold you for it. We are breaking new ground here, and in the beginning there is difficulty. We are digging the foundation of Buddhism now, and this is why you must nourish your Bodhi-seeds well. So I am not too severe with you.
This year several people have obtained some advantages and realized small enlightenments. If you ask who they were, then one of them wasn’t you! If you don’t ask, then perhaps you had a share in it. At any rate, don’t be nervous. There will be more chances in the future. Work well and don’t waste your time. Find your original face, the one you had before your parents gave birth to you. As for right now, you’re still here freezing in the icebox.
Do you have any questions?
Disciple: “May I ask the Master to point out the areas in which we don’t measure up to dhyana sessions as they were conducted in Chinese monasteries?”
There are many differences. However, as Buddhism begins in the West we can retain the good points of Eastern Buddhism and discard the bad ones. This will rid it of all defects. In China, participants in dhyana sessions ate three times a day: rice gruel in the morning, a full meal at noon, and vegetable dumplings in the evening. We don’t measure up here because we only eat one meal a day, before noon.
In China, all the participants got beaten, whether they deserved it or not. If you were good you were beaten, if you were bad you were beaten. The proctors rotated the beatings. The severity of the beatings was in direct proportion to the rigidity of the monastery rules. Kao Min, for instance, was famous for its beatings. Sometimes they even broke the boards during the beatings. This year you haven’t been beaten. This is another difference.
The High Monk at Kao Min struck terror into everyone’s heart. He never smiled. Those who sat in the hall were like mice around a cat—they didn’t dare move a muscle. Not only do I not hit you, but I entertain you all day.
Why should you undergo such suffering as you have this past week? Because this country is reaping the rewards of too many blessings. If you weren’t exposed to a certain amount of bitterness, you wouldn’t be able to make the great resolve to cultivate the Way. You don’t wear fine clothes, eat fine food, or live in a grand house. You have voluntarily given up such things in order to come here and endure suffering. In this way you can free yourself of arrogance and bad habits and truly cultivate in order to end birth and death.
In Chinese meditation halls one is not allowed to stretch out one’s legs. Those who do, get beaten, that’s all there is to it. Even the proctor gets beaten if he breaks the rules. For instance, if he nods off and is discovered by a subordinate, the subordinate must kneel before the proctor with one knee on the ground and then hit him with the incense board. The protocol in beating varies with an individual’s rank.
When tea is served there is a certain way to hold the bowl. Since the bowls don’t have handles, the thumb holds the upper rim and the tips of one’s fingers are placed underneath. Then one extends one’s bowl and the one on duty pours the tea. When finished, one sets the bowls right in front of one and the bowls are then gathered and removed from the hall—all without a sound. Our methods vary a little, but this is not important. Besides, we don’t want to follow the Chinese customs to the letter; we should incorporate the customs of the West as well.
In China, during meditation periods no one left the hall to get tea, take a break, or stand around and talk. After the noon meal they returned to the hall immediately and continued walking, without wasting a second.
(The Master has a disciple in Hong Kong who wrote him a letter. He instructed another disciple to read it to the assembly. An exerpt from it reads: “…because as a lay person I would find myself entertaining and visiting with relatives and friends too much, I have made up my mind to leave the home-life and concentrate on recitation of the Buddha’s name. My son has already agreed to this. Now would the Master consent to let me receive the precepts?”)
The letter was written by my foremost Dharma protector in Hong Kong, Kuo Man. Before she met me she was afraid of monks. She first met me when I was at Fu Jung Mountain in Kuan Yin Cave. She came one day while I was eating noodles and I invited her to join me. She wanted to but didn’t dare. Finally she did eat some and she also drank some of the mountain spring water, which she found extremely sweet. She asked me if I had put sugar in it.
“No,” I replied.
“Then why is it so sweet?” she asked.
“If you think it’s sweet, then drink some more,” I said.
She drank three or four more cups. She also noticed that my clothing was tattered and the next time she came she brought me two sets of sturdy clothing which she had made herself. They could have been worn for ten years without wearing thin. Each time she came she drank a lot of spring water.
After a time I went to Hsi Le Yuan (Western Bliss Gardens) Temple and she searched for me but couldn’t find me. She asked everywhere, but no one would tell her where I was. Finally, after two years she found me and brought her sons and daughters to Hsi Le Yuan to see me. Her whole family took refuge with the Triple Jewel.
Once when she came to attend a Dharma assembly she noticed that one of the trees in the courtyard was covered with bugs. Her two greatest fears were monks and insects. Paralyzed with fear, she said, “I’d really like to come here and bow to the Buddha, but those bugs frighten me out of my wits!”
I said, “When you come tomorrow there won’t be any bugs.” By the time she arrived the next day, the bugs had vanished—every last one of them. No one knew where they had gone. This caused her faith to deepen.
At that time the roof of Hsi Le Yuan leaked so badly that there were seven leaks in my room alone. “How can you stay here?” she said. “It would be better if I bought a flat in Happy Valley. You could move there. Okay?”
I said, “If you want to buy one, buy one.”
She bought a flat there and then I, along with some other disciples, bought an additional flat. When I was at Hsi Le Yuan I was very thin; when I moved to Happy Valley I gained weight. Now, upon coming to America, I’ve gotten skinny again and have lost about twenty pounds.
When it was time to come to America I was ready to sell one of the flats to pay for my passage, but she said, “Don’t sell it to someone else because if you decide to come back again, it will be hard to buy back. Why not let me buy it? Then if you return, I’ll give it to you.” Now I have been in America for more than ten years, and suddenly she writes that she wishes to leave home and receive the precepts from me. She has three sons, all of whom are very filial. Her decision to leave home makes me very happy. Because she works hard reciting the Buddha’s name and does not indulge in false thinking, she will be able to make progress.
The disciple who was told to read the letter asked me after meeting Kuo Man, why Kuo Man didn’t leave home. I told her that when the time was right she would leave home. If the time were not right, even if she did leave home she might regret it, being unable to set aside emotional ties and feelings of love. She is over sixty now and the question of emotional love will not be a problem for her. But there are many children and grandchildren in her family, and her life is one of comfort and wealth; I had thought she wouldn’t be able to leave home.
Once she was stricken with a disease which caused her to fear people and sounds and especially to fear me. She also lost her temper very easily. After being under the care of Western and Chinese doctors for more than two months her condition had still not improved and she finally came to me to express her difficulty. “I had a lot of faith in you,” she said, “Why am I so afraid of you now? And why am I afraid of noise? My heart is heavy and I am always on the verge of losing my temper. What is the matter with me?”
I said, “This is a karmic obstacle. You will soon get better. Be patient.”
She returned after twenty days and I said, “Start bowing to the Buddha and be extremely sincere. Don’t stop until I tell you to.” She bowed for about an hour and then I said, “Kuo Man, your sickness is gone.” She had recovered; her heart had been purified and she was no longer afraid.
This experience deepened her faith and she began to work harder for the Buddhadharma. Her strong point is that she doesn’t use the money her children give her for herself, but always uses it to do good works for the Buddha. She asked me to return to Hong Kong so that she could receive the precepts from me, but I don’t know when I will return. If I don’t go there, she can come to America and I will introduce her to all of you.
The Dhyana Session is now complete. I hope you will continue to work exactly as you have during the session and not slack off.