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Old Master Ben Huan’s Dharma Talk Part 1
Master Ben Huan 1907-2012
This English translation has been drawn from the original Chinese language text entitled ‘本焕老法师开示’, or ‘Old Master Ben Huan’s Dharma Words’,compiled and edited by Ming Yao (明尧居士整理). This is part 1 of a two part text. It is comprised of a general Dharma talk followed by a short question and answer session. The audience is comprised of both lay people and ordained monastics, with the Q&A emphasising lay practice. No date or location is given for this Dharma talk, although it is obviously in China. Master Ben Huan states that he was ordained at age 36, and that when he gave this Dharma talk he had been a monk for 60 years, making the master 96 years old and the year around 2003.
Master Ben Huan’s Lecture (本焕法师主讲)
To all (ordained) masters, and (lay) Buddhist scholars:
I have been invited here today by members of the lay community to give a number of speeches regarding my experience over the last several decades – but initially I thought that I had nothing to say. Then I realised that I could talk about my experiences regarding my Buddhist practice and share my thoughts and feelings about these with you. I studied Ch’an at the Gao Ming Temple (高旻寺 - Gao Ming Si) under the old monk Lai Guo (来果). The old masters Lai Guo and Xu Yun are both considered to be very great teachers in contemporary China, and are recognised to have fully penetrated (through meditation) the true nature of the bright and clean mind. Master Lai Guo gained enlightenment on Mount Jin Shan (金山), whilst master Xu Yun gained enlightenment at the Gao Ming Temple. I was very lucky when I became a monk, to have had the opportunity to train with these two great masters. Several decades of practice have passed very quickly (like no time at all), but the time has not been spent in vain.
As I am to speak to you all about the Ch’an tradition (禅宗 – Chan Zong) today, I think it would be best to begin with the historical origins. Everyone present knows that in ancient India the World Honoured One (世尊 - Shi Zun) conveyed the essence of his Dao (道 – ‘Spiritual Way’) by holding-up a flower whilst sat on Vulture Peak (灵山 – Ling Shan). Despite the presence of a multitude of his followers, only his disciple named Mahakasyapa (迦叶 - Jia Ye) understood this profound action, and signified his understanding with a smile that spread across his face! The venerable Mahakasyapa instantly understood the meaning of the old saying: “Mind is transmitted by mind. The essence of mind seals the mind.” This was the time of the unsurpassed Ch’an Dharma in India. The Ch’an patriarch lineage began with the venerable Mahakasyapa, who passed the Ch’an Dharma down through 28 generations. The 28th patriarch was Bodhidharma (菩提达摩– Pu Li Da Mo), he travelled across the ocean and became the 1st ancestor (or patriarch) of the Ch’an Dharma in China. He lived in the Shaolin Temple (少林寺 – Shao Lin Si) in Henan province, where he sat meditating in front of a wall for 9 years. Bodhidharma passed the Ch’an Dharma on to the 2nd patriarch in China – Hui Ke (慧可). Hui Ke passed the Ch’an Dharma on to the 3rd Patriarch Seng Can (僧璨). Seng Can passed the Ch’an Dharma on to the 4th patriarch Dao Xin (道信). Dao Xin passed on the Ch’an Dharma to the 5th patriarch Hong Ren (弘忍). Hong Ren passed on the Ch’an Dharma to the 6th patriarch Hui Neng (慧能)… Eventually the Ch’an Dharma was transmitted down to me – the 44th generation.
Why is ‘Ch’an’ (禅) called ‘Ch’an ‘(禅)? Ch’an (禅) is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word ‘Dhyana’ (禅那’ – Ch’an na). This may be translated as ‘pure contemplation’ (静虑 – Jing Lu), and is a continuous method to control and clean the mind in its entirety. This thorough approach to mind development may be further described as a ‘contemplative method of study’ (思维修– Si Wei Xiu), and we can use it to stop the thoughts from continuously moving back and forwards in the mind. Ch’an is now a well known and fully established, effective method of Buddhist development. The Ch’an school diligently cultivates the Dao (道), and yet the occurrences of enlightened people (开悟的人- Kai Wu De Ren) are getting fewer and fewer. In the past during the Tang Dynasty (唐朝– Tang Chao), the Song Dynasty (宋朝), the Ming Dynasty (Ming Chao), and even the Qing Dynasty (清朝 – Qing Chao), there were a small number of enlightened beings. Master Xu Yun (虚云) lived during the Qing Dynasty –but nowadays one does not hear about people achieving enlightenment, does this mean that enlightenment is not happening? Not at all – enlightment can be great and profound, or small and unseen. In my experience of training in the Ch’an school I can say that there are 18 levels of great enlightenment, and numerous examples of small enlightenment. Why do I say this? When we develop ‘understanding’, this is a type of enlightenment, albeit ‘small’ in nature. There are many such levels of small enlightenment as insight develops. Great enlightenment is the complete and total clearing of delusion from the mind and the profound realisation its empty nature. Both kinds of enlightenment experience are different and distinct.
The most important aspect of Ch’an training is the requirement to ‘generate a feeling of doubt’ in the mind (起疑情 - Qi Yi Qing). What is this feeling of doubt? It refers to our inability to fully understand the true essence of existence. There is ‘doubt’ because reality is not known and ignorance is the norm. The Ch’an method incorporates this ‘doubt’ to direct the mind’s attention within. Indeed, Ch’an history is replete with examples of the gong an (公案 – Public Case), which present an enlightened statement, or exchange between master and student, as a means to focus the mind within, so that the mind ground is penetrated. These gong an combine ‘doubt’ with ‘intense’ introspection. Even the patriarchs of the past made use of these methods when they asked: “Before my parents were born, what was my original face?” If I was not living before, how can I know my original face? What is my original face? Do I know or not know? I do not know the correct Dao (道). Such questioning represents a ‘doubt’ situation. Another patriarch said: “A dog has no Buddha-nature.” As all beings possess Buddha-nature, why say “A dog has no Buddha-nature”? As this kind of questioning inspires a great doubt in the practitioner, Ch’an training can start from this point through an intense investigation of the mind. After the Wan Li (万历) period of the Ming Dynasty (1572-1620), people took to the chanting of the Buddha’s name. Ch’an teachers advocated that such practitioners should seek the Buddha within, so that the reciter of the Buddha’s name becomes clearly perceived. If I recite the Buddha’s name, then ‘who’ is the Buddha? Who is doing the reciting? At the Gao Ming Temple (高明寺 – Gao Ming Si), the venerable old monk Lai Guo (来果) advocated the contemplation of: “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?" This question creates a situation of intense doubt and is designed to help the practitioner realise the Buddha-nature. This sentence is held in the mind and repeated over and over again so that the mind is firmly focused within.
The Ch’an tradition also looks within and cultivates a great doubt. The gong an states ‘All things are returnable to the One – where does the One return?’ – this is a matter that should be firmly investigated by establishing a great doubt. Over-all the Buddha advocated 84,000 Dharma doors toward enlightenment. These methods are designed to carry all beings from ignorance to enlightenment, from bitterness to happiness. No matter which Dharma door is used, it is designed to subdue and still the mind, but what is it in the mind that is controlled and subdued? It is the inner habits of desire that are associated with the outer world; these pollute the mind with continuous and uncontrolled thought patterns that must be over-come with hard work and the cultivation of meritous good deeds. Being ignorant, causing trouble or appearing arrogant, as well as being jealous of other people – all these things must be uprooted at their source in the mind through investigation. Their validity must be questioned and doubted, and this doubt must drive you on. Why should the mind be cleansed of these polluting aspects? It is because these things are the manifestation of ignorance and are directly responsible for each round of birth and death – this is suffering without end. The cycle of death and rebirth (samsara - 轮回 - Lun Hui) in the six realms has been repeating for immeasurable periods of time. Each life conditions the next (through karma), and one rolls into the next without interruption. If the mind is tainted by delusion, then there is rebirth, if the mind does not contain these deluded taints, then rebirth ends. Originally the true self-nature (or pure, empty mind ground) is neither born and nor does it die; is not dirty or clean, and can not be increased or decreased. If this is so, why do all these things appear to exist everywhere in the world today? This is because ordinary beings are deluded and do not understand the true (and pure) essence of the mind. Instead they routinely create delusion in their minds. In the past, the ancients (古人 – Gu Ren) said: “At birth, human beings are endowed with exactly the same good character. Their natures are the same, but their customs differ.” Our ‘natures are the same’, but our habits of life vary! Originally the essence of the mind is pure and clean, but our deluded habit of thought sullies this purity and ensures rebirth in the six realms of samsara. Today, as Buddhists, we work very diligently to clear the mind of this stream of deluded thoughts so that the cycle of rebirth can be broken. We worry about how to eliminate these taints in the mind. However, if these things are not real, how can they be got rid off? If we do not possess these things, how can we throw them off? Our karmic actions, although causing suffering through delusion, are not ultimately real and have no place in the pure mind. This is why the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra says that our true nature has no beginning. Through our words, deeds, and thoughts, immeasurable and boundless negative karma is generated. This being the case, the realisation that all things are ‘empty’ (虚空 – Xu Kong) puts an end to all suffering.
As karmically produced suffering has no permanent essence, then how is it to be over-come? No thought or action will eliminate it. This is why we must focus and concentrate our minds to eliminate the flow of delusive thoughts. All beings possess a mind that thinks. Whilst you are diligently studying, are you actually hitting the root of the delusion? There is only one essential mind – which cannot be divided. It is not possible for there to be more than one essential mind, this would mean that there were two different concepts of mind and there would have to be two different Buddhist paths, meaning that there would be two Buddhas! There is only one true mind and we must study with diligence if we are to realise that our habit of thought creates karma, which gives rise to all our births and deaths. If we do not train with a serious attitude, then we will continue to give rise to deluded thought (妄想 – Wang Xiang) without end. Why should this be so? We can live for decades in a lifetime that is deluded from beginning to end. Our birth and death is conditioned by this delusion. If we do not focus the mind correctly, then we will not realise the reality of deluded thinking and the damage it does. If we do focus the mind correctly by applying the correct Ch’an method, then delusive thinking will be clearly discerned and progress will be made.
We must make this effort ourselves. At the Gao Min Temple the venerable old monk Lai Guo taught us to arouse a great doubt in the mind. He used this method himself. He taught us to contemplate the saying: ‘Who is chanting the Buddha’s name?’ Do not be mistaken about this method – the emphasis is placed firmly upon the enquiring word ‘who?’ (谁 – Shui). Many do not understand this method or how to correctly apply it. They do not know that this ‘who’ must drive the mind back upon itself so that the essence of the mind is penetrated. This ‘who’ is a word that arises within the mind – this process must be followed back to its origin – but can only be achieved if a strong enquiring doubt is both produced and maintained. If the mind loses concentration then the ‘who’ will not be effective, as the mind chases this or that thought without end. This is a lack of effective doubt. Arousing a strong sense of doubt is very important and should not be underestimated as an effective method for achieving enlightenment. Establish this practice firmly within the mind and never let the effort diminish. If we eat and drink, we may find the experience fulfilling and pleasing – and we repeat the process over and over again. Despite familiarity with the eating and drinking process, we do not penetrate with insight into ‘who?’ is doing these activities. Our attention remains only at the surface, but what we need to do is to arouse the great doubt and look beyond this surface sensation and investigate with vigour. In the midst of very powerful, deluded sensations we must, with a great effort of will, give rise to the enquiry ‘who?’ When we train hard, there are numerous delusions that we have face. A Ch’an ancestor once said: “One being has a multitude of enemies.” What is this ‘one being’ (一人 – Yi Ren)? It symbolises the practice of the ‘Hua Tou’ (话头 – ‘Word Head’) method, which gathers all thoughts into a state of ‘oneness’. What is the ‘multitude of beings?’ This symbolises the innumerable delusions that we face in our everyday Ch’an training. These karmic delusions are very powerful and if we do not try to put an end to their presence, they will keep continuously creating suffering in the world. Why is this the case? This is because our past karmic deeds ripen over many decades and manifest themselves in the world around us. For instance, if you are 30 years old, have you made 30 year’s of Ch’an training effort? No, you have not. In these 30 years delusion is generated and brought to a ripened state – this is as well as all the deluded karma from previous times – it all becomes very strong in its establishment and creates untold suffering. We should make use of this method of training and firmly resolve to see through this delusion – no matter how dense it might appear to be. This is why we contemplate the saying: ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’, and prevent thoughts from wondering here and there without restraint. The purpose of the saying:‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’ is to focus the attention inward so that there is a ‘turning about’ at the deepest levels of consciousness (翻业识 – Fan Ye Shi). Considering the effectiveness of this method, why not employ it? What is stopping you? Apply singleness of mind, enter this Ch’an method and uproot delusion from the deepest part of the mind. It is like ‘lifting a rock that presses upon the grass’ (搬石头压草 – Ban Shi Tou Ya Cao) – when the rock is moved, the underlying grass is revealed. If you look at the rock, the grass is obscured, but lift the rock and all becomes clear. It is very important not to stop here and to apply the utmost determination in this training so that delusion is thoroughly uprooted. Do not become attached to surface delusion in the mind (which is like a stone) – once the subtle delusions are revealed, do not stop there, but work to uproot this delusion completely, as if pulling up grass by the roots (斩草除根 – Zhan Cao Chu Gen). If you do not follow through with your Ch’an training, there is no point in it. I hope this is clear to you.
On the other hand, a Ch’an practitioner must not be overly forceful in the uprooting of delusion – there should not be excessive or deficient effort in this matter. What does this mean? It means that your meditative effort should produce the right amount of power needed to uproot delusion, but not to add to it by making further delusion through applying the wrong kind of effort. Why does this method appear so fearsome? I would not say it is fearsome as such, as this might imply too much of the wrong kind of effort (which is dangerous), but I would say that it is a very effective method if applied over-time. This is to say that this practice must mature and become thoroughly ‘ripe’. Your body is your home and it creates everything you need to exist, but it is occupied by a stranger that has come in from the outside. This stranger is delusion that obscures the pure empty essence of the mind. You must strive and work hard to transcend this delusion and achieve singleness of mind. I often work with this kind of analogy that stresses how difficult it is to thoroughly uproot delusion. If you experience a great deal of delusion, you must then apply the appropriate degree of hard work that is required to over-come the delusion. If you do not apply the appropriate amount of effort, then only a small amount of delusion will be over-come, proportional to the effort generated. Delusion can not be thoroughly over-come in this way. A unified mind can not be achieved in this way. Great delusion requires great effort. If you meditate with strength and concentration, then delusion can not arise and the mind achieves a state of unification that is ‘constantly the same’ (时时相通 – Shi Shi Xiang Tong). Often we try too hard or too little, holding the thought ‘Who?’ either too harshly or too lapse. Eventually, however, the practice becomes refined as it ripens and delusion is uprooted as a consequence. The focused mind effectively fights the delusion and it quickly diminishes – this is good. In this state the practitioner does not consider the ‘self’ as real, does not rely upon the self, and has no doubt about this. How are we to achieve this here and now?
In reality there is no choice if suffering is to be over-come. Not to train in this way is not a viable option. Your effort must become increasingly deeper, and ever firmer. In this way, the delusion begins to diminish. Therefore we can use the hua tou (话头) method, which is very good, or chant the Buddha’s name (念佛 – Nian Fo) which is also effective if used in the correct manner. Reading the sutras is also useful if we study very hard with commitment. There is a saying ‘When training ends deluded thought, the Dharmakaya manifests.’ Deluded thoughts have not yet been uprooted, and the Dharmakaya has not manifested – therefore if we want an end to delusion, we must train hard here and now. However, it is very hard to thoroughly uproot delusion. We are very diligent people here, and whilst we meditate we should be determined to face this matter with concentrated power. At the beginning of training, often there is not enough concentrated effort. Even after some time in meditative practice, the correct method has not been correctly ‘grasped’ (把握 – Ba Wo). Why do refer to the practice as ‘grasping’ (把握 – Ba Wo)? I mentioned earlier the practice of contemplating ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’, but this might not have been entirely understood. Correct effort can only be established if a great doubt is aroused (起疑情 – Qi Yi Qing) within the mind of the practitioner. This is not a doubt in the Ch’an practice, but rather a profound doubt regarding the delusive view of the world that all ordinary beings possess. It is hard to thoroughly uproot delusion in the mind if insight is not cultivated through perfect concentration developed within quiet meditation (静坐 – Jing Zuo). This is a serious matter and time should not be wasted. Why should we raise a great doubt in the mind? The ancients said: “With great doubt there is great enlightenment, with small doubt there is small enlightenment – with no doubt there is no enlightenment.” It is only with the arousing of a profound doubt in the mind that enlightenment is attained. How does the arousing of the feeling of doubt in the mind secure enlightenment? It does so by creating the condition for the establishment of oneness in the mind through strong concentration. Doubt in the mind creates an urgency that requires the development of intense concentration if it is to be over-come. Over-coming doubt creates a singleness of mind where all thought is stilled. Do not let the mind be scattered, but pull the mind into a focused oneness – forget the body, forget the mind, forget the world; forget everything.
The right kind of effort grows like a seed in the mind of those who apply the correct technique. If the correct effort is not made, the Ch’an method will not work. Of course, the ancients and the patriarchs fully understood enlightenment and how to teach it. When was this time? It was between the Tang and Qing Dynasties – at those times people possessed particularly good and deep karmic roots. In modern times, however, people are corrupt and their bad karmic roots are deep. Those who apply right effort and learn from the example of the ancients and patriarchs have already travelled a long way. I draw an analogy: for instance, if we go on a journey to Guangzhou or Hong Kong, this is thousands of miles. We may fly, take the train, ride in a car, or walk on foot. If we have the choice, we take the fastest mode of transport and fly, do we not? Trains are slower than an aeroplane, a car slower than a train, whilst walking is the slowest of the choices. Regardless of the speed we travel, it is always better to go on the journey than not to go. As Buddhists we should not speak all kinds of false talk and take no action – we must all embark upon the journey without exception. With hard work we can return home, without hard work we can not travel anywhere. Those who apply themselves with diligence must learn to quietly look within and grasp the method correctly. How do we grasp the method correctly? We sit in quiet meditation and assert effort in a controlled manner. Often proper effort precedes the rising of the great feeling of doubt, but sometimes a great feeling of doubt precedes the generation of right effort. Whatever the case, at the beginning of training self-control is not usually very strong in meditation and needs to be developed. The most important point is that the mind should be conscientious and contain a sense of shame. This is why the ancients said that those who apply right effort are like the filial off-spring who are so distraught at the death of their parents that they want to follow them by taking poison. This kind of determination is very rare, but it is the correct state of mind for the practicing of Buddhism. The ancients knew that sense of utmost urgency is exactly what is required to realise enlightenment.
For instance, 2nd Ch’an patriarch Hui Ke (慧可) became a monk only after receiving expert instruction in specialised meditation. Later, his master instructed him to study under Bodhidharma. At that time the patriarch Bodhidharma lived in isolation and sat facing a wall. Hui Ke approached Bodhidharma and begged for instruction, but Bodhidharma remained unmoved. This situation was repeated on the second day, but on the third day Bodhidharma said: “A careless and slow mind can not hear the truth.” After hearing this Hui Ke stood in the freezing snow for days. When he saw this Bodhidharma said: “I have already stated that you lack a determined mind.” Upon hearing this Hui Ke pulled out a knife and cut off his arm – offering it to Bodhidharma, but Bodhidharma ignored him. Hui Ke was cold and hungry, his arm was still bleeding and the snow was getting ever deeper. He was suffering very much. Hui Ke implored Bodhidharma to grant him peace of mind, and Bodhidharma said: “Bring me your mind and I will make it content.” Hui Ke looked here and there for his mind; he looked everywhere but could not find it. “I can not find my mind, even after seeking it.” Hui Ke said. Bodhidharma replied:“In that case I have brought peace to your mind.” At that exact moment Hui Ke attained enlightenment! The patriarchs of the past needed only a single word or sentence to gain enlightenment. Why was this? Are we like any of these people? Do we stand in the snow and cut off our arm? Do we travel miles to seek the Dharma? Remember the patriarch and his ambition for enlightenment; his good roots were very deep. His intention was one of complete commitment to the path, and yet initially he looked everywhere but could not find his mind. We are in the same position – we seek the mind but can not find it. Is this enlightenment – obviously it is not. Often we may feel ashamed of our delusion and this motivates us to try very hard and embark upon a great path toward enlightenment. This requires a very great effort within the mind, or the task will not be easy. In a world of immeasurable outer appearances, attachment to external phenomena robs the mind of clarity and prevents a direct perception of its pure essence. This is a matter of great shame! The mind’s attention must be detached from externals and directed firmly inward, motivated through a great doubt. Do not accept things as they are; strive with all your strength. This is why I mention the example of the ancient patriarchs who cultivated a mind set on the attainment of enlightenment. Their mind did not waiver. They looked within and perceived the true essence of the mind. This is why I want to discuss this great matter of life and death with you all. The ancients possessed a sincere and earnest mind, despite the many sufferings they had to experience. At this place today, we are all disciples of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, all wanting to learn from the path (Dao -道) that they teach, but who can attain enlightenment through this study? The answer is that absolutely everyone can attain enlightenment! This is because we are all the Buddha in essence. In the future every one of us will attain to enlightenment without exception, sooner or later, dependent upon our own efforts and the wisdom we generate. This effort requires the production of good karmic roots so that all beings can benefit from our efforts and that compassion can permeate the world. We must strive to free all beings and work toward that noble ideal – then, in the future we will become Buddhas and escape the cycle of birth and death (samsara).
If everyone has the potential to gain enlightenment, why is it that very few tend to seek it? What is the reason for this? The reason is that we are not ready to fulfil this important task. Everyone would like to be enlightened, but very few are willing or able to give-up their desire for sense objects in the world. We can follow a spiritual path to create good karma, but attachment to birth and death forms a difficult barrier. What is this barrier? It is attachment to a sense of ‘self’, or the sense of ‘I’. This ‘I’ (or ego) is the basis of the entire ordinary existence in the deluded state. Essentially the ‘self’ defines itself through its attachments; attachment to wife, sons, daughters, and possessions. This is attachment to family that ensures the cycle of birth and death continues. We all tightly hold on to the sense ‘self’ as if life would be meaningless without it. Although the sense of ‘self’ robs us of peace of mind, we still think that we can not live without it. Why do we allow the cycle of birth and death to continue in this way? Here is a story to illustrate this point. In the past there was an old woman who was a diligent lay Buddhist, one day she went to the temple to ask the abbot to teach her the Dharma. However, in those days abbots where not that easy see, as there was much formality involved. First, the old lady had to wait in the ‘guest hall’ (客堂 – Ke Tang) whilst the attending monk went to enquire as to whether the abbot would agree to see her or not. This she did willingly, as her mind was intent upon receiving Dharma instruction from the abbot. When the abbot was informed, he said: “Tell her to let it go!” After saying this, the abbot no longer paid the old woman any attention. The old lady sat there contemplating ‘Let it go’ and as a consequence was unmoved when she heard that her grandson had fell into the water. If she had a sense of ‘self’, she would have had attachment to family, and would have left, is this not true? As she possessed no sense of ‘self’, the pull of the Dharma was stronger than the pull of the world. When she was told that her house was on fire she said: “Let it go” and did rush to put out the flames. Through the practice of non-attachment to the world of physical form, she eventually attained enlightenment. Think about this; can we truly lay down this sense of ‘self’? We can give up all attachment to 'self' if we work hard enough to do so. This difficulty is to be expected, and it takes a very strong will to progress quickly. It is this simple; Ch’an training points directly to the empty and pure essence of the human mind, whilst the sense of ‘self’ (or ego) only serves to obstruct the direct perception of the Buddha-nature which lies within – is this not sad? If we are really hard working practitioners, then we must develop our
minds not only in a quiet and tranquil environment, but also in situations of movement and chaos – this requires the firm grasping of the hua tou or gong an in every situation without exception. How is this to be done? At the Gao Ming Temple the venerable Lai Guo said: “When we eat, we maintain the correct focus of mind without letting slip for a single second. It is the same for all our everyday activities, be it going to the toilet, or travelling down the road. In everything we do, we must never let the effort fall away. Mind must continuously look toward its own essence without a break in effort. Valuable time must not be wasted!” If we are honest we must admit that many of us lack this kind of commitment to practice. Why is this? It is because the mind is ill disciplined and thoughts run this way, and that. This is why committed Ch’an practitioners have a saying: “Not afraid to study hard, but afraid to sleep late!” Perhaps we feel that our thoughts can do what they want and it doesn’t matter, but if it is our intention to ‘study and develop conscious awareness’, then we must sincerely strive for this if we want to wake up from our sleep of delusion. If we find ourselves slipping in our practice by allowing delusion or sleep to over power us, then we must pull ourselves out of this situation by a focused will power. Developing concentration when we are quiet and peaceful is important, but in itself is not good enough. We must develop the same level of strong concentration even when we are moving around – but this achievement is not good enough, as even in our sleep we must make effort! In the past there was a Ch’an master (禅师 – Ch’an Shi) who asked for instruction in the Dharma. He was asked whether he exerted a great effort in quiet circumstances, to which he replied: “Much Effort”. He was asked whether he exerted great effort in chaotic, moving circumstances, to which he replied: “Much effort”, but when he was asked whether he exerted a great effort in his sleep, he replied: “No effort.” He then decided to ‘make effort’ whilst sleeping and so spent the entire day sleeping and trying to study hard in this state, but it was very difficult to enter this special state of concentrated awareness. Eventually he entered a state of deep sleep that lasted three years –until one day his pillow fell to the ground. At that exact moment he awoke into the state of enlightenment! Therefore making good effort in times of quietitude or in times of movement is not good enough – effort should also be made whilst sleeping. Why waste time doubting this? Some times there is doubt that the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name can be incorporated into the Ch’an method – thus creating a single coherent practice. How is this to be achieved? There is no other way to do this than to strive with all your might! Do not be confused about this as there is no other way. A great effort is required that gathers and focuses all thoughts into a single thought. When we recite the Buddha’s name, we must fully understand that the Buddha-nature is the same everywhere. It exists ‘before’ we chant, and it exists ‘after’ we chant. This insight is achieved only after studying the Ch’an method with the utmost diligence. The mind must be set upon the perception of the Buddha in all circumstances, and not only at set times of limited practice. Practice should be continuous and at all times, not only in peaceful or chaotic times, but also when we are asleep.
However, even if we manage to focus the mind in these three situations it is not enough. Think about this. The practice must be 24 hours a day, but the right kind of effort must be maintained throughout. If you do not create and maintain the right kind of effort, then how can the mind be gathered into a state of ‘oneness’ that is required by the Ch’an practice? This is why the ancients said: “Doubt is focused into oneness of mind.” This oneness is maintained in peaceful, and chaotic times, as well as when asleep, but if the right kind of effort is not maintained throughout, then the ‘bottom of the barrel will not fall through’ (桶底脱落 – Tong Di Tuo Tuo), and enlightenment will not be attained. Therefore remember never to let your energy level slip when you are training. Although it is not easy, always maintain the right kind of effort or your training will be in vain. At the Gao Ming Temple, the venerable old monk said: “If you walk this path, make a great effort. If you do not make a great effort, then do not walk this path.” Contemplate this statement. To maintain the right kind of intense effort is very hard, as our eyes want to look left and right. To gain oneness of mind an intense and sustained effort must be generated without end. Perhaps we should be afraid of allowing our eyes to wonder? My lecture today, if you recall, is about how we should use our time effectively. We need to make a great effort in this matter, and never allow our effort to diminish for any reason. A great effort is fuelled by a great doubt, which fundamentally questions our deluded existence. Arousing this true ‘doubt’ (疑情 – Yi Qing) should not be underestimated, as it is a very powerful technique. Arousing the true doubt will transcend the mind and body, and cause the practitioner to forget the world. This is like master Xu Yun when he lived on Mount Zhong Nan (终南山 – Zhong Nan Shan). One day he was cooking sweat-potatoes (马铃薯 – Ma Ling Shu) in a pot of boiling water, when he started to meditate. He sat for several days without end and had no sense of passing time. People who lived on the mountain did not see him for many days, and when they finally checked on him, they found him sat upright and quietly meditating. They stroke a small musical stone instrument (磬 – Qing) that makes a piercing sound. This sound penetrated master Xu Yun’s meditation and awoke him. He said: “Let’s eat!” When master Xu Yun lifted the pot-lid he was surprised to find the contents rotting and covered in mould! When he thought about it, he believed that he had been sat-up without moving for around six or seven days. This shows how we must train; we must commit ourselves with strength and vigour for a very long time. I shall give you another example. When master Xuan Zang (玄奘法师 – Xuan Zang Fa Shi) was on the road to India (to collect the Buddhist Sutras), he came across a burial mound in an area covered in snow. Everywhere was covered in snow except for the burial mound – which looked out of place. Master Xuan Zang had the mound dug open and sitting inside, (in quiet meditation), was a Buddhist monk. After some time of silence the monk asked: “Has Kasyapa (迦叶佛 – Jia Ye Fu) Buddha been born yet? Has Kasyapa Buddha been born yet?” This Buddha had already been born thousands of years ago! In the past the ancients said: “Seven days of looking within, are equal to several thousand years of time in the (outer) world."
If we do not arouse a great doubt through generating the right kind of effort, then questions like ‘Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?’ will have little effect. It is the same situation with chanting to ‘Amitabha Buddha’ (阿弥陀佛– A Mi Tuo Fo). If this mantra is read with no real effort then, not much will happen. If the mantra is chanted with full concentration, then due to the forty-eight vows of compassion taken by Amitabha when he was a Bodhisattva - the practitioner will be reborn in the Western Paradise (西方极乐世界 – Xi Fang Ji Le Shi Jie). If a Ch’an practitioner makes the right kind of intense effort, then eventually enlightenment will be achieved, but it is important to remember that these achievements are definitely not the consequence of a superficial approach to training. You must understand that Ch’an requires hard practice and not merely the reading of words. What does this mean? This analogy will explain. It is like when a door is locked, and we are looking for the key. This search is a continuous process that is repeated day in and day out. The search can never end until the key is found and the door is unlocked. In our practice we must realise ‘who is speaking?’ (讲话的是谁 – Jiang Hua De Shi Shui?) with the same kind of commitment. Who is the essence of our (thoughts) and words? Can you answer me now? You can not answer. You can not answer me because in your practice you have not realised the answer for yourself. In this respect it is like ‘a person drinking water, who alone knows whether it is cold or warm’ (如人饮水、冷暖自知 – Ru Ren Yin Shui, Leng Nuan Zi Zhi). Given time, only you will know, but this answer is not simple and easy to find. Until this time of full awakening, any claims to enlightenment are nothing but a great lie, and can not be certified as genuine. If you truly find the essence of the Mind Ground, it will obviously manifest here and now with no hindrance. This is because everyone here today, whether enlightened or not, already abides in the Mind Ground or true essence of reality, all they have to do is realise this truth. This is why the Ch’an method is so effective, as it strives to deliver you to enlightenment here and now, but this may take some time, and we must never give up our daily training – one day enlightenment will be realised ‘here and now’. It is obvious that the patriarchs of the past have already attained enlightenment, this is because they have already trodden the path to realise it. Travelling the path of training to realise enlightenment is like making a very long journey. It does not matter whether we have travelled ten, twenty, thirty, or a hundred miles, we must keep our strength up and continue upon our way. The Ch’an practice is the Dharma as taught by the patriarchs, as a consequence of its practice, many have attained to enlightenment. If we rely upon this Dharma, we will benefit greatly, and eventually we will all return home and realise the true essence. In this regard, the patriarchs have taught that we should stay committed to the training and not let our minds become distracted by illusions. If a Buddha manifests, we should chop him to pieces – just as if a devil manifests – all illusions should be cut to pieces. All illusion in the mind must be thoroughly cleansed; and nothing should get in the way of the training. If you lust after anything in this world, the cycle of birth and death will continue without end. The ancestor said: “Last year's poverty was not poverty enough, but this year it is real. Last year I was poor as I did not own an inch of ground to stick my awl.” – "…did not own an inch of ground to stick my awl." This is like a petty minded person who has a dualistic mind that grasps after externals and who has not relinquished attachment to sense objects. The ancestor continued: “This year I possess true poverty, because I do not even own an awl!” This is the enlightened mind which is beyond duality and does not discriminate. We are followers of the Ch’an method and we must train very hard to find the true essence that underlies all things – this is the same as ‘finding our way to our true home’ (真实到家 – Zhen Shi Dao Jia). Well, today I have only talked about my own experience, and do not know what your experiences are with using the Ch’an method. It is now 9 o’clock and I think that we should discuss any questions that you might have. In this way we can all study together, okay? (Audience applause)
Buddhism Questions & Answers (佛法问答– Fo Fa Wen Da)
1) The master is asked what exactly the attainment of enlightenment is. What is life like after the attainment of enlightenment?
A) This is a good question. Enlightenment is a mystery and difficult to understand. It is difficult to understand because we are not yet enlightened. This is like having no sight and having to feel your way around all day long. If your sight suddenly returned, and everything was discernable, this is like the attaining of enlightenment – a journey from not knowing, to fully knowing. When the vision clears the path can be clearly discerned and all obstacles over-come – nothing can bar your way. However, as we are not yet enlightened, we must engage in meditation to clear the mind fully and attain this clear vision. No, we must work very hard to attain enlightenment and not settle for analogies. We must be like the Buddha and attain to full enlightenment by realising the essence of the ‘Dharma-nature’ (法性 – Fa Xing). As we have not completed the path, we have not yet realised enlightenment, this is why we must train harder to achieve this objective. If we train with strength and commitment we are sure to eventually achieve enlightenment.
2) In this Dharma Ending Age (末法时期 – Mo Fa Shi Qi), which method is more effective, the (Pure Land) practice of chanting to the Buddha, or the practice of Ch’an?
A) The Buddha, through his teachings, has taught 84,000 Dharma-doors to enlightenment. This
means that the Buddhist teachings are vast and varied. This is because human suffering and delusion is without end. The Buddha is like a doctor giving medicine for different ailments – the practitioner uses whichever Dharmic method is required to cure the disease. The Buddha gave this Dharma method out of compassion for the suffering his mother – Queen Maya Devi (摩耶夫人– Mo Ye Fu Ren) - experienced in the Saha World (娑婆世界 – Suo Po Shi Jie), or world of delusion, suffering, and rebirth. It is a Dharma method through which the practitioner gains entry into the realm of the Western Land of Bliss (西方极乐世界 – Xi Fang Ji Le Shi Jie). This method can be practiced by everyone without exception and requires the chanting of Amitabha Buddha’s name (阿弥陀佛 – A Mi Tuo Fo). If practiced correctly, the practitioner gains rebirth in the Western World of Bliss. Ch’an Master Yongming Yanshou (永明延寿)wrote in his poem entitled ‘Four Logical Alternatives’ (四料拣 - Si Liao Jian) the following: ‘Ch’an and Pure Land are like two horns on the head of the same tiger.’ This is to say that we as practitioners of Ch’an, and those who recite the Buddha’s name, are like two horns on a tiger –what combined method could be more powerful! I was 36 years old when I left home to become a monk. I calculate that I have been a monk for sixty years now. Over the last six decades I have been practicing Ch’an, but my aspiration was to be reborn in the Western Land of Bliss. Why was this so? This was due to me not attaining enlightenment here and now, so I thought that I would definitely acquire it in the future. Therefore, I took vows and chanted the name of Amitabha Buddha as a practice. Incidentally, the pervading good vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (普贤行愿品 – Pu Xian Xing Yuan Pin) are very beneficial for entering the Western Land of Bliss. This quote explains: ‘If a person on the point of death can become aware of, (and cut) the bad root of scattered (deluded) thought, and simultaneously renounce attachment to the world, then in this instant, rebirth in the Western Land of Bliss is assured.’ This is why I think the chanting of the vows of Samantabhadra is a very worthwhile practice. The thoughts in the mind are scattered and confused, they ebb and flow like the waves of the sea. To remedy this we must be determined and keep our minds firmly fixed upon the Buddha all of the time. With regard to this dedicated training, even our own lives must not be considered important. Throughout the day I find time to chant the Buddha’s name, and to sit in meditation, often I immerse myself in the study of the sutras. All this commitment to the study of the Buddha’s wisdom is to keep the mind away from deluded thought. Do not be without diligence, regardless of the method you use to develop the mind. If we train this way, then we
will all see one another again in the Western World of Bliss.
3) I would like to ask the venerable old monk about what people should pay attention to, when they are on their deathbed and chanting the Buddha’s name?
A) We can only be reborn in the Western Land of Bliss if we generate good and virtuous karma. How do we generate good and virtuous karma? Building and repairing temples, reciting Buddhist sutras, and following the bodhisattva path, all these methods build and support good and virtuous karma. Good and virtuous karma is very important and can gain a practitioner entry to the Western Land of Bliss, but some times a person who possesses much positive karma does not achieve rebirth in the Western Land of Bliss. Why is this? It is because we are all sentient beings with endless attachment to the world. When we are dying, we must be careful that our minds are not attached to the sadness of our family members, who might be crying and shouting. If we become attached to this, then rebirth in the Western Land of Bliss will not be possible. As Buddhists we must be very careful about attachment to the world. It is better for the family to arrange the recitation of Buddhist sutras at the time of dying, and remind the dying person of all the good things that they have achieved in their lives. If they must shed tears, then this should be done outside, away from the dying person, in this way rebirth in the Western Land of Bliss will be assured.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.