The Dharma Realm Buddhist Association was established in 1959. Its predecessor was the Sino-American Buddhist Association. Every year since its founding we have conducted Buddha Recitation Sessions and Chan Meditation Sessions. The sessions, however, have passed by without notice, and without fanfare. Rarely do people pay attention to the recitation and meditation sessions going on at Gold Mountain Monastery. This is because we don't advertise or exploit opportunities. We simply mind our own business and honestly cultivate. When someone finds out about the session and requests permission to join, he or she is certainly welcome! All the same, we resolutely do not beg, solicit offerings, or seek help. We don't say, "Gold Mountain is holding a Chan session. Several piritual adepts who have tamed their minds' will be attending. If you come make offerings to them, there will be limitless merit and virtue." We have never done any publicity to promote ourselves in this way.
In China, when a Chan session was held, the donations contributed by the faithful laity during the session were enough to cover the monastery's operating expenses for an entire year. Sometimes the revenue exceeded a year's proceeds. During the session, the participants would often take the initiative to make offerings and establish good affinities with the assembly by donating great quantities of rice, noodles, oil, miso, soy sauce, dried foods and so forth.
Now in America, where Buddhism has just begun, we want to reform the bad practices of the past. As the saying goes, "A good beginning is halfway to success." Because we refuse to employ any tricks to beg, we haven't created those particular affinities. If we had any schemes for bringing in offerings, it's likely we could improve on the situation in China and attract even more supplies and money than they did.
Why don't we solicit offerings? Because our first priority is to genuinely and honestly cultivate the Way and, in so doing, to simply accord with whatever the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have arranged for us. When the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the gods, dragons, and the eightfold pantheon of Dharma-protectors and good spirits see us working hard and walking the Way, they spontaneously respond to our efforts. If we fail to sincerely cultivate, however, and donors still come to make offerings, we should feel deeply ashamed. It's said,If you have not put the three thoughts to rest,then plain water is hard to swallow.Yet if you can understand the five contemplations,then even gold will digest.
If we hang on to thoughts of the past, the present, and the future and don't put them to rest, then if a donor offers us even a glass of plain water, we will find it difficult to drink. But if we can understand the principles underlying the five contemplations, then even gold (and this means the most delicious vegetarian delicacies) will be digested without problems. What are the five contemplations?
1. Consider the effort it took to bring this food to where it is eaten.
2. Calculate your own merit and virtue. Are they sufficient for you to accept this offering?
3. Guard your mind against transgressions, of which greed is the major cause.
4. See the food as medicine, taken to prevent the body from wasting away.
5. Accept the food only so that you can succeed in your cultivation of the Way.
Our Chan Meditation Session will begin tonight. The Chan ses-sions held at Gold Mountain Monastery are different from those held in the great Chan halls of China. Their Chan sessions were actually great feasts. Each night of the session, every participant ate a huge sesame-oil dumpling. Even the famous Way-places such as Gold Mountain Monastery in Zhejiang and Gao Min Monastery in Yangzhou were not exceptions to this rule. When it was time for the session, many of the old-hand meditators would show up only at the doors of the monasteries that were known to serve sesame-oil dumplings. Wherever the dumplings were the best, that's where they would go to attend the sessions. The criterion for choosing which session to attend was not the quality of the session, but the size of the dumplings! Some places earned a reputation based solely on their oversized, tasty, stuffed dumplings. I'm not slandering left-home cultivators by falsely making them out to be gluttons. This is a statement of fact!
At Gold Mountain Monastery, we haven't established sesame-oil dumplings as the drawing card of our Chan sessions. We don't serve snacks at all!
At the Chan sessions in China, many laypeople made offerings to the assembly. After the first hour of meditation, one layman might give each participant four longan fruits. After another hour, another layman might distribute two pieces of peanut candy to each meditator, or maybe cookies or rice-crackers. There would be some kind of offering every hour. Those "spiritual adepts who have tamed their minds" became rather greedy for food. Their bellies were so stuffed that they simply couldn't sit still in meditation. At our place, you won't find such offerings; we are different from them.
Each day in our Chan sessions, we rise at 2:45 a.m. to begin our daily regimen of walking and sitting, sitting and walking, and we continue like this until midnight. This is an ascetic path; it's hard training. We call it "doing what people are unwilling to do." You must suspend the three words "birth and death" right between your eyebrows and forget that you haven't slept long enough. Don't enter the "sleeping samadhi" right there on the meditation bench, or else success in Chan will forever elude you.
In this meditation session we must "renounce death and forget about life." We must truly and earnestly work hard at meditation. Make a determined resolve to get your rightful share of results from your work. Don't simply follow the crowd, sitting when you see others sitting, walking when your neighbors do, and sleeping when you see others sleeping. That kind of practice won't work. It will only waste your time, without bringing you any benefit.
In my younger years, I participated in several Chan sessions in a variety of places, but never once was I hit by the hall monitor's stick. Why not? Because I never slept during the entire session. I sat in meditation during the day, and I also meditated through the night. I sat in the Chan hall twenty-four hours a day. The words "rest" and "sleep" were not part of my vocabulary. Without wasting a single moment, I worked relentlessly at my investigation, constantly applying my efforts to it.
All of you have abundant and deep good roots. You are all clever and wise. You should give this matter serious consideration and not be casual in the least. In this year's Chan Session, there has to be someone who attains enlightenment. If no one is enlightened by the end of the session, then each of you will be dealt one hundred blows with the stick. If you feel you can take a hundred blows, then you don't have to get enlightened. If you feel that you can't endure such a beating, then you'd better get enlightened. If you fear the taste of the stick, you can still run away before the session begins. Once it begins, you must stay until the end. You can't withdraw early. According to the rules of the Chan hall, you've already said good-bye to birth and death. Even if someone dies during the session, we can only toss his corpse under the bench. No one is allowed to remove the corpse from the hall. And if nobody dies, then even less can you quit and skip out as you please.
We've built a "life and death" threshold to cross. If you don't live, then you'll die. If you don't die, then you'll live.
If you can't renounce death,then you won't experience real life.If you can't renounce what's false,you'll never accomplish anything true.
This is Gold Mountain Monastery's threshold. And in this year's Chan Session, you all must be extra-vigorous. At all costs, you must recognize your original face. If you don't clearly recognize your original face, then you shouldn't dream of slipping out the front door of the monastery. If you try that, we might lock you up in jail instead. That sums up this year's rules, and I hope everyone will honor them.
A talk given on January 6, 1974,at Gold Mountain Monastery, San Francisco