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On Ch’an and Pure Land Sessions

The year before last the Sino-American Buddhist Association held fourteen consecutive weeks of Ch’an sessions. Very few people participated the entire time, and by the end only three people were left. Last year (end of 1971 through beginning of 1972) we held three weeks of Ch’an and then a Buddha recitation session, which is ending today.

In this country, although there are said to be a number of people who believe in the Buddhadharma, and a number who wish to study it, nonetheless there are very few people who truly understand the Buddhadharma.

Consequently, it was just people already here who held the Ch’an sessions of last year – and very few people came from outside. The reason is that true and actual disciples of the Buddha are as rare as gold panned from sand – not every grain is gold, there’s mostly sand. So even in a city as large as San Francisco, there were just a handful of people holding the Ch’an sessions, and even fewer participating in the Buddha recitation session.

There was someone who came from very far away to attend it, but who ran off a day before it ended, unable to take our rules. After this, whenever someone comes from outside to attend a session, ask them right away if they can follow the rules here. If not, then from the start they shouldn’t attend. It’s not right for them to start to participate and then not hold the rules, so they even run off one day short of the end. It would be better not to have any people here than not to have any Dharma. What we emphasize her is Proper Dharma, what we protect and maintain is Proper Dharma, and that’s what everyone should study – not the Dharma’s end.

You may object that the Proper Dharma is hard to study, but that’s the very reason we want to study it. If it were easy to study, then anyone could do it. For example, anyone can let themselves go downhill – they don’t even need to learn how to do it or study with a teacher. They understand by themselves. Everyone should know this: whenever people come for meditation sessions, recitation sessions, taking precepts or whatever – they have to follow the rules. It can’t be that while everyone else is in the Buddhahall working hard they go off to their rooms.

Right now we have several bhikshus who have just returned from taking the precepts in Taiwan, and I haven’t yet asked them the first question I asked the five who went before upon their return: “Do you want to return to lay life? If you want to, then do it fast and don’t wait, or you’ll be wasting time.” So if you want to return to lay life, you can. But if you don’t want to, you can’t be lazy and be forever running off to your room. You may say you don’t sleep, but it’s not freedom, newly precepted bhikshus are not independent either. After five years have passed since taking the full precepts you can start to get by a bit, but it takes ten years to become a “junior-seated one,” and it’s only after twenty years that one is “intermediated seated,” and “senior seated” after thirty. You don’t start out as senior seated right after you take the precepts – that won’t do.

You’re surprised it’s that hard? Of course it’s that hard. If it weren’t, anyone would dare to do it. But in America, for all its large population, there are only about a dozen of you now who have left home. Everyone else fears the difficulty, and doesn’t dare – not just Americans either, for in Chung Kuo people also are afraid to. Right now this is the foremost Way Place in the entire world, and this is the location of the Proper Dharma Eye Treasury.

You should all be bhikshus and bhikshunis of the Proper Dharma Eye Treasury, and not make it so the Proper Dharma Eye is in storage. It should be a Treasury, not storage. So think it over clearly whether you want to return to lay life or not. When the first group came back, I asked them that immediately, and I was thinking of asking those of you at the airport when you came back. But then I thought, “You probably all want to return to lay life, so I won’t ask now but give; you some time to think it over.” If you don’t think your taking of the precepts was complete in Taiwan, you can take some suffering here – for taking the precepts with us is called taking bitter precepts.

Why is it I said people in this country don’t understand the Buddhadharma? Its because they don’t understand what real cultivation of the Buddhadharma is, and object that it’s too hard. But if it’s not hard, you don’t obtain benefits. The benefits are obtained within suffering and difficulty. For example, when you sit in meditation investigating Ch’an and your legs hurt, if you can’t take it and unlock them, you absolutely will not be able to obtain samadhi. But if you do not fear the pain no matter how bad it gets, then you are practicing samadhi power. You could be just a fraction away from samadhi but feel you can’t stand it anther minute and give in – and fail to obtain samadhi. So…

Everything’s a test,
To see what you will do;
If you don’t recognize what’s before your eyes,
You have to start anew.
You have to begin the training all over.

As to the question of returning to lay life, there are “Four Predications.” First there is Returning Without Becoming a Lay Person. You return home on a visit, but then you come back – “returning” meaning returning to your lay-life family and also returning to the Way Place. Then there is Becoming a Lay Person and Not Returning. You go back home and get stuck there and don’t come back. Then there is Neither Becoming a Lay Person Nor Returning. You see the person going back to their lay home, but for them:

The eyes see forms outside, but inside there is nothing.
The ears hear defiling sounds, but the mind does not know.
The people are amid the dust,
But their minds have left the dust,
Like growing flowers in a well,
Undefiled by dust.

They don’t have the air of a lay person about them. Then there is Both Being a Lay Person and Returning, being an actual example of a lay person to speak that Dharma. Whichever one of those Predictions you want to illustrate in your conduct is up to you.

I see that people are not very clear about the Dharma door or reciting the Buddha’s name, and so they do the reciting very sloppily and don’t perfect their skill. In cultivation, investigating Ch’an is just mindfulness of the Buddha, and mindfulness of the Buddha is investigating Ch’an. People who are able to investigate Ch’an are the ones who are able to be mindful of the Buddha, and being able to be mindful of the Buddha gives you the ability to investigate Ch’an.

People who are mindful of the Buddha are the Buddha, whereas that cannot yet be said of those investigate Ch’an. The reason is that when you are reciting the Buddha’s name, “Namo Amita Buddha, Nomo Amita Buddha,” then the only thing in your mind is a Buddha, and eventually you will become a Buddha. The reason Amita Buddha comes to guide living beings is that living beings have already turned into Buddhas, and so he leads their true nature to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and then:

The flower opens and one sees the Buddha.

But those who investigate Ch’an are still looking for the Buddha, wondering, “Who’s reciting the Buddha’s name?” They are searching, and don’t dare admit they are the Buddha they are mindful of. Instead, they look into, “Who’s reciting the Buddha’s name?” “Who is able to be mindful of the Buddha?” “Reciting the Buddha’s name is who?” They keep looking and looking, running outside.

But when you are mindful of the Buddha, the Buddha comes back into your nature and you don’t have to search outside. Buddha recitation sessions are held so that for an entire week you don’t have any other false thoughts – you’re just mindful of the Buddha, and then you can become one with the Buddha. If you can do that, then you are sure to be reborn in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. So the Dharma door of reciting the Buddha’s name is especially fine.

“Well what bout investigating Ch’an?” You may ask. It’s a good too. But when you investigate Ch’an you have to suffer. First, there is the pain to put up with, and then you have to make sure at all times you’re not having false thoughts. If you compare the two, Ch’an is harder than reciting Buddha which you can do any time and anywhere: “Namo Amita Buddha, Namo Amita Buddha.” If you are mindful of the Buddha, the Buddha will be mindful of you, and when the two mindfulness merge you become a Buddha.

This is a very wonderful Dharma door. You haven’t looked into it carefully, so you don’t know its good points, and very few people attended when we held the session. It ended today and now I’ll tell you: you really missed a good chance. You missed it this year, but I hope that next year – this new year – you’ll retrieve the chance and decide, “If there’s another Buddha recitation session, no matter what, I’ll take time off, however busy I am, and come recite ‘Namo Amita Buddha.’”

I’ll tell you something else that is the absolute truth: what I like most is reciting Amita Buddha’s name. when I’m asleep I recite, “Namo Amita Buddha,” and I recite it in my dreams. When I’m walking or if I’m standing, I’m reciting, “Namo Amita Buddha.” Walking, standing, sitting and lying down are all done reciting, “Namo Amita Buddha.” Amita Buddha is standing all around me, because Amita Buddha wants to become one with me so there is no difference between us. Would you say that is wonderful or not? Is there anything that could be more wonderful?

Reciting the Buddha’s name is the most wonderful of Dharma doors. You haven’t recited to the point that you have skill, so you don’t know what I’m talking about. But when you get to that point, then to the exhaustion of empty space and the Dharma Realm everything turns into, “Namo Amita Buddha.”

You may say, “What use is there in that?”

Well, what use is there in your not reciting? There’s nothing better than to be able to be with the Buddha every day. I’m not trying to give you regrets by saying this, but this year it’s really too sad that you missed the opportunity. Why do I say that? Several millions of years have gone by without ever encountering a Dharma assembly for reciting the Buddha’s name, but this life we have managed to meet that wonderful Dharma and the conditions were about to ripen.

All of you think it over: in this country how many places are there where Buddha recitation sessions are held? Not just in America but in the entire Occident, there are very few such places – for I’m constantly looking into history, and there aren’t any. But now that we have had the chance, we have missed it. So next year if there’s another Buddha recitation held, no matter what, don’t miss your chance. Cultivation has to be actual practice. You really have to do it.

In investigating Ch’an, not only do you not yourself become a Buddha, you even lose yourself. See how you wonder, “Who recites the Buddha’s name?” Basically you’re the one reciting, but you fail to recognize who you are and wonder “Who?” What’s the point in losing yourself? That’s not so important, but you even lose the Buddha, for you have to look for the Buddha outside. You investigate, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” without it occurring to you to ask, “Who is it who is the Buddha?” “Who is being Buddha?” “Who becomes the Buddha?” even if someone does investigate, “Who becomes a Buddha?” they are likely to figure, “Oh, it’s him; it isn’t me,” and get it wrong too. It’s very easy to take the wrong road, which is why Ch’an Master Yung Ming Shou said:

With Ch’an and with Pure Land,
One is like a tiger wearing horns;
This life a teacher of people,
In the future a Buddha-Patriarch.
With Ch’an but without Pure Land,
Nine out of ten take the wrong road.

That happens because you start to have doubts like, “Oh, it’s not me who becomes a Buddha. I can’t become a Buddha.” You don’t even know who’s reciting the Buddha’s name, let alone who becomes Buddha.

Yet even though it’s easy to go astray, there are still lots of people who cultivate Ch’an , for if no one cultivate it, that Dharma wouldn’t exist. I, too, investigate Ch’an and I Been looking for a long time for who’s reciting the Buddha’s name all over the place. Have I had any luck? Well, I’m not as dense as I before.

You may say, “Oh, we can do that, too!”

You can try if you want—it will work if you are able not to have any false thoughts. But if you still have false thinking, you have to keep on looking, you have Dharma to stop false thinking. But once you’ve stopped the false thoughts, you no longer need to use the Dharma.

By saying this I’m causing people to have lots of false thoughts, such as, “It’s not my fault that I missed the chance to do the Buddha recitation session this year. It’s because the Abbot didn’t tell us clearly. If I had known before, I would have made sure not to miss the chance.”

I did tell you clearly, several million years ago; but you didn’t pay attention and forgot. So now I’ve told you again. There were people I caused to miss the chance, since they wanted to go home and visit their parents instead of doing the session and I said okay.

Now you may wonder, “How can the Abbot do that, and make them miss such a chance?”

I have my reasons. I thought, “It’s also a good thing for them to be filial. They can practice filial piety first, and cultivate afterwards.” So it was my fault. I know that if I had said, “No! no one is allowed to go on vacation! Everyone has to stay and do the session,” that lots of people would have participated in it. But I didn’t say that, though a time may come when I do. Actually, though, you can do what you want, and “Everything’s okay.”

End of the Second Door, Part Two.

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