Earlier I explained the verse that went:If one can sit perfectly still for even a split second, One's merit surpasses that of building pagodas of the seven gems in number like the Ganges' sands.If you're sitting in the Chan hall and you keep having idle thoughts such as, "I'm sitting still for a single second and gaining merit and virtue that surpasses that of building pagodas of the seven jewels," you haven't actually sat still for even one second, and you haven't the least bit of merit and virtue. Why not? It's just like when someone points at the moon and you mistake his finger for the moon. You only see his hand, but you never see the moon. And yet you claim to have measureless merit and virtue! Measureless? Hah! You're just sitting there having measureless thoughts!
You also say, "I can emit light from my hair-mark that radiates throughout the entire cosmos! Hey! I can emit hair-mark light throughout the entire universe." But this state isn't something that you can think about, or talk about either. You must actually practice it. If you can be pure and truly enter into samadhi, only then can you release light from your hair-mark that radiates throughout the cosmos. If you can't enter into samadhi, and all you do is entertain these ridiculous thoughts that fly in all directions, then it's totally useless. No matter how much you think back and forth, it's all idle thinking, and it's a million miles away from reality.
Someone else is thinking, "Well, how can I actually enter samadhi? How can I get enlightened?" If you're having idle thoughts like these, then there's no way for you to enter samadhi or get enlighten-ed. Why not? It's because you're working only on the surface of things. You're not using Prajna-wisdom. You're always seeking outside. Since you don't know how to seek within yourself, you'll never find what you are looking for.
All of you should be electrotherapists and help out this world. You should save living beings who are here in this polluted atmosphere so that they can become Buddhas in a pure atmosphere. Now when you meditate, please don't have so many idle thoughts. I hope you all understand this point. I've now told you this method of purifying the air using electrotherapy, and you might want to try it out to see what the result is.
Today is the second day of the Chan session. Have any of you set foot on the right road? Are you on the road of proper enlightenment, the Bodhi path? As you contemplate the question, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" do you actually bring it to mind? Have you put down your idle thoughts or not? If you haven't raised the question, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" then you should do so in a hurry. It's just like a cat stalking a mouse. He gathers all his attention and focuses his energy as he waits for the mouse to appear. It's also like a mother hen sitting on her nest. She concentrates her thoughts on the little chicks about to hatch. It's also like a dragon guarding his precious pearl. He carefully concentrates on protecting it. If you can concentrate on your meditation in thought after thought, only then can you hope to have any success.
We're maintaining the practice of eating one meal a day at noon and also the practice of not lying down at night to sleep. I believe no one else in the world undertakes these ascetic practices as we do, especially during a Chan session in which we sit for twelve hours each day and walk for six hours. This difficult regimen requires a lot of fuel. That's why, in the Chan sessions of the past, every participant would receive two big steamed dumplings to eat in the evening, and everybody was just delighted. We here don't have this policy, so when you eat your daily meal at noon, be sure to eat a little more. I'm encouraging you to eat a little fuller than usual so you'll have enough strength to walk or run in meditation.
The precepts of Buddhism specify that one should eat a single meal at midday. After the Buddha's time, this practice was changed to not eating past noon. That is to say, one may not eat anything after midday. But one is allowed to eat porridge, oatmeal, or cereal in the morning. Since one is eating before noon, one is not breaking the precepts.
During our Chan session, if you don't eat your fill, then as you run, walk, or sit, you won't have enough energy and you'll decide to retreat. Where will the retreating begin? When evening comes, you'll hear griping in your belly. Your belly will criticize you, "You're too selfish! The only thing you think about is cultivating the Path. All you worry about is getting enlightened. You aren't the slightest bit concerned for your belly, and you're making it suffer. What kind of Path are you cultivating? You don't have any kindness and compassion." Then your belly won't cooperate with you at all, and you could very well have the thought of retreating. You won't want to cultivate any more. All of the work that you've done will be lost. So during our Chan session, it's important that you eat your fill. Only then will you have enough energy to seek wisdom and liberation.
Today I will tell you a story regarding "eating steamed dumplings during a Chan session." This is a true story. It's not fictitious. At Tiantong (Heavenly Youth) Monastery in Ningbo, China, the Abbot was Chan Master Miyun (Full Cloud). He was a good and wise advisor who had his spiritual eyes open. The Ceremony Master at that temple was also a good and wise advisor who had use of his eyes. However, this Ceremony Master was a little bit too kind and compassionate, and the Abbot was a bit deficient in kindness and compassion. The Abbot held a policy of "Mahasattvas should not pay any attention to anybody else." And the Ceremony Master maintained the policy that a Bodhisattva should make it his business to watch over others. Because the thinking of these two individuals differed, their methods came into conflict.
During their Chan session, everybody was vigorously meditating, seeking wisdom and liberation. The compassionate Ceremony Master noticed one evening that they were all experiencing hunger pangs. Because they hadn't eaten, they didn't have enough energy to sit. Some were dozing off while others were restless. If they weren't sleeping, then they were "sitting short." When a person sits to meditate, he's about three feet tall, yet now they were only one and a half feet tall. Why is that? Because their bellies were hungry and they lacked the strength to sit up straight. This is called "sitting short." Once this phenomenon began, there was no way to continue their meditation. The Ceremony Master saw this taking place and sympathized with them. He wanted to nurture the health of the assembly. So within samadhi, he used his psychic powers to steal some rice crust from the kitchen and give a little bit to each person. As soon as the meditation period was over, everyone opened their eyes and saw a chunk of rice crust on their knee. Stealthily they gobbled it down. There is a phrase that goes, "People are iron, and food is steel." Immediately the group felt their energy returning and they were able to run and meditate without feeling tired. Before, when they were hungry, they had been unable to run a single step, and they were always trying to catch a rest on the side.
The compassionate Ceremony Master stole rice crust for two days in a row, and he distributed it among the participants as a snack. Unexpectedly, on the third day, the Abbot of the temple discovered that he'd been stealing rice crust and threw him out of the temple.
Here's how it happened. On the morning of the third day, the monk in charge of the kitchen noticed that the rice crust from the day before was gone. He thought that perhaps a rat had stolen it. To carry out his duty, he went to report to the Abbot of the temple and ask his advice. The Abbot said, "Okay, catch the rat!" When evening came, the Abbot contemplated in samadhi and saw how the Ceremony Master was going to the kitchen in his samadhi to steal the rice crust. He grabbed the Master's body as it sat there meditating, and stuffed it underneath the bench. When the Ceremony Master came back from roaming in samadhi, he could not find his "house." He carefully looked around for his body and finally found it underneath the bench, and he pulled it back out. Just then the Abbot said, "What do you think you're doing? You're a big rat! You had the gall to go into the kitchen to steal rice crust? You've broken the precepts, did you know that? Anybody who breaks a precept must be thrown out! You must leave tomorrow. You can't stay here any longer!"
The Ceremony Master had now been kicked out, and he said: "If you want to throw me out, that's okay. But I have one request that I hope you'll grant." The Abbot said, "Now that you're leaving, what do you still want to request?"
The Ceremony Master said, "The people who are meditating here really should get a chance to eat their fill. Only then can they work hard at their meditation. If they don't eat their fill, they won't be able to cultivate. That's why I went to the kitchen to steal the rice crust. It was for the sake of the Assembly, not for myself. I hope that you, the Abbot, will be compassionate, and give two big steamed dumplings to each participant every evening. If you do that, then I'll bow in respect to you as Abbot; and after I go, I won't have to worry about it any further."
The Abbot thought it over and decided that his request was reasonable. He replied, "Okay! I'll grant your request." Thereafter, every time they held a Chan meditation session, every participant got two steamed dumplings to eat in the evening.
The Ceremony Master asked the Abbot, "Where should I go?" The Abbot said, "Go to Sichuan Province and set up a temple. The Dharma-protectors there have affinities with you." The Ceremony Master used his power of spiritual travel to go to Sichuan. Upon arriving, he saw two tall cassia trees. The leaves and branches were lush and abundant. He sat beneath the two trees to meditate. The Dharma-protectors and lay-people of Sichuan discovered him sitting beneath the tree and assumed he was an adept cultivator, a superior monk with real virtue. So they built a temple beneath the twin cassia trees and called it Xuanggui (Twin Cassia) Temple. That's where he transmitted the Dharma and took disciples. Afterwards, many Chan meditators got enlightened there and he became known as the founding patriarch.
When we meditate, it's just like drinking water. Only you yourself know whether the water is hot or cold. When you've made some progress in cultivation, you yourself know. If your cultivation hasn't progressed, you also know. People who've made progress should continue to work hard. Those who haven't made progress shouldn't be lazy. In this period of Chan meditation, we should put down everything. That is to say, "Be able to pick this up, and be able to put that down." What do we want to pick up? We want to pick up the meditation topic, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" What do we want to put down? We want to put down all our idle thoughts. If we can put down all of our idle thinking, then our wisdom will come forth. But if we can't put down our idle thoughts, then there won't be any response to our efforts.
Within this seven-day meditation retreat, you should be vigorous and courageous. Don't be the least bit lazy, and don't entertain even a shadow of a doubt. Let's work hard together and arrive at the point where there are no thoughts of self or others left. Right at that point, we can become free. If we can bring our skill to the point of realizing "no emptiness and no form," then we can unite with the Tathagatas. If we still haven't realized the state of no emptiness or form, then we should be truly ashamed. Why hasn't our skill elicited any response? Because our bad habits gathered from measureless eons in the past are simply too heavy. In our minds, we think we want to proceed on the road of Bodhi, but in reality, we don't really want to advance, and we're always retreating. We should recognize that since our habits are heavy and our karmic obstacles are deeply established, even more should we want to put down our idle thinking. It's not that difficult to put down our idle thinking. All we need to do is forget ourselves, and then our idle thoughts will be gone. It's just because we hang onto a self that we find the self so difficult to forget.
Here in the Chan hall, as we work in our cultivation, we should apply effort until we are unaware of heaven above, people in between, and earth below. If heaven, earth, and people have all disappeared, and north, south, east and west are forgotten, then right at that point when not even a single thought comes forth, the entire substance can manifest. We'll obtain the great functioning of the entire substance. But if we indulge in idle thoughts all day long, there will certainly be no response to our efforts. Thus, we have to work to the point where not a single thought arises, and when we walk, we are not aware that we are walking. When we stand, we aren't aware that we're standing. When we sit, we're unconscious of sitting. When we lie down, we aren't conscious of lying down. We have no conscious awareness of walking, standing, sitting and lying down. At this point,
You eat, but you're not aware of consuming a single grain of rice.You dress, but you are unaware of putting on a single stitch.
The "you" that exists at that point merges with space. When you can unite with space, then suddenly you penetrate right through and instantly understand all things. This is the state of sudden enlightenment.
Sudden enlightenment is a result of daily cultivation. When you get a response from your daily efforts, you can suddenly be enlightened. If you normally don't cultivate, then you can never gain sudden enlightenment. Similarly, after a child is born, he is steeped in words and sounds every day. When the time comes, he is naturally able to talk. When he says his very first word, it's analogous to the enlightenment experience. When the time comes, he'll naturally be able to walk, and that first step he takes is like the enlightenment experience. How can he take his first step? Because he watches adults walking all day long, every day. Being steeped in that environment, very naturally he'll be able to walk. Cultivation works the same way. We cultivate today, we cultivate tomorrow, we cultivate back and forth until our skills elicit a response. Then, when not a single thought is produced and our idle thoughts are dispelled, we'll be enlightened.
Such an enlightenment may be the result of having worked hard at cultivation all the time, every day in this lifetime. When our skill is mature, we become enlightened. This enlightenment results from our cultivation in this lifetime. You may say, "I saw a person who hadn't been vigorous at all in cultivation, but he got enlightened as soon as he started to meditate. How do you explain that?" That's an exceptional case. Although he may not have been cultivating in this life, he did cultivate in previous lives. Not only did he cultivate, he cultivated ceaselessly. He was only a hairsbreadth away from enlightenment. In this life, as soon as he encountered this kind of environment, he was enlightened.
Although sudden enlightenment is instantaneous, it depends upon all of the good roots one has carefully and continually nurtured in past lives. It is just like a farmer planting a field. In the spring, he sows the seeds. In the summer, he weeds and hoes. Then in the autumn, there are crops to harvest. If in the spring the seeds are not planted, how could there possibly be a harvest in the autumn? That is to say, one share of plowing and weeding yields one share of harvest. We cultivators of the spiritual path are the same. Whether or not we've become enlightened, we should still be vigorous and courageous in our cultivation. We should energetically stride forward. Then we have hope of gathering our harvest in the final moment. We can see our true identity－original face.
Why haven't we seen our original face? Because the trace of self has not been cast away. Our thoughts of selfishness haven't been discarded. If we have no trace of self and no selfish thoughts, then we can recognize our original face.
But if we don't want to recognize our original face, then of course there's no problem. Whether we cultivate or not doesn't make much difference, because we have no hope of success. But we cultivators of the spiritual path want to preserve a certain amount of hope in our hearts. We have hope of understanding where people come from and where they go. If we want to know where we came from at birth and where we're going at death, if we want to clearly recognize our original face, then we cannot fear suffering, pain, trouble, or difficulty. Only then can we "regain the source and return to our origin" and obtain our "vajra-indestructible body."
What is our purpose in the Chan hall? We are smelting and forging our "vajra-indestructible body." Once our body is made of vajra and is indestructible, then we won't be aware of pain and suffering discomfort. If we fear both pain and suffering, then we certainly can't achieve a vajra body. This vajra-indestructible body comes about through tempering and perfecting our skill. Enduring that tempering process is our current work. We're forging our bodies to make them extremely durable and tough, so they'll never go bad.
As soon as you hear this, you may be thinking: "Well, I'm not cultivating for the sake of this stinking bag of skin. Where is the sense in refinng this thing so it will not go bad?" Right you are! There's a lot to what you say. However, the vajra-indestructible body I am talking about is not the stinking skin bag that you are referring to. What is it then? It is the vajra-indestructible self-nature. It is the vajra-indestructible body of your "Dharma-body and your wisdom-life." It is the purity at the source of your self-nature. That's the vajra-indestructible body I'm referring to.
All of you should realize that cultivating the spiritual path is not an easy matter. If you decide to cultivate, then demons will come around. They'll not come from only one direction; they'll come from all directions at once. There are demons of sickness, demons of vexation, demons in the heavens, human demons, and also demonic ghosts. There are demonesses as well. Demons appear, from places you don't expect, to disturb you so that your resolve will waver and your cultivation will falter. They use many tricks to seduce and tempt you. They also threaten you so that you'll retreat in fear. They hope your samadhi-power will vanish and your resolve for the spiritual path will disappear.
Just about the time you've meditated to the point of success, the demons appear to test your resolve and to challenge your work in the spiritual path. They may appear as a very beautiful woman or a handsome man who comes to seduce you. If the sight doesn't disturb you, then you pass your test. But if you're distracted by this illusion, you'll fall. Right there is the critical moment; just that is the test. So I exhort you at all costs, don't fail this test; because once you fall, you'll regret it forever. When states arise to challenge your resolve, you should test the state to see whether or not it's true. What's your method of testing? It's very simple. Just recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. Recite with single-minded, unwavering concen-tration. If it's a false state, then gradually it'll disappear and then vanish. If it's a true state, then the longer you recite, the more clear the state will grow. Chan meditators who don't understand this method will fall into the demons' traps. They'll fall among demons and their work in the spiritual path will be scattered and lost. Some cultivators will lose their opportunity for enlightenment after they join the demons.
When I was young I heard someone say, "As soon as you cultivate the spiritual path, demons will appear." I didn't believe it and arrogantly said, "I'm not afraid of demons at all! Witches, ghosts, and goblins don't frighten me in the least." I thought that it didn't matter what I said. Who could've guessed that soon after my boast, a demon would show up? What kind of demon was it? It was a demon of sickness, which made me so ill that I lost consciousness for seven or eight days; I lapsed into a total coma. Only then did I realize that my skill was far from the mark and that I'd failed my test. Maybe I wasn't afraid of witches, ghosts or goblins, or even celestial demons and heretics. But I was afraid, as it turned out, of sickness demons. I couldn't subdue them; I couldn't handle them; I couldn't endure their attack. So we cultivators of the spiritual path cannot claim proudly that we fear nothing. As soon as we become self-satisfied and arrogant, troubles come seeking for us.
Well, how should cultivators of the spiritual path be, then? We should maintain a humble and circumspect attitude, and be as cautious as if we were treading the brink of a deep abyss, or as if we were standing on thin ice. At all times we should be prudent and careful. We should pay attention and stay alert. Only then can we really cultivate the spiritual path. To sum it up, talk less and meditate more. This is the fundamental requisite of cultivation.
When cultivators of the spiritual path actually gain some accomplishment, they get it with someone's help. Who helps them? Demons bring cultivators to accomplishment. This is just like a knife being honed on a whetstone so that it becomes very sharp. When a cultivator realizes the light of wisdom, it is with the help of the demons. These demons can be regarded as Dharma-protectors. There is a saying:
If we see things and awaken to them, we can leap out of the mundane world.If we see things and they confuse us, we'll fall back on the wheel of transmigration.
If you can awaken to and understand states as they appear, then you can leap out of the world. If you do not awaken and are instead confused by states as they occur, then you may fall right into the hells. So cultivators of the spiritual path shouldn't fear that demons may come forth. Only be afraid that your own concentration power will be insufficient to withstand them. The demons come to help you along. They test you to see whether or not your spiritual skill is genuine, to see whether or not your samadhi-power can endure them. If you have skill and samadhi, then no matter what demon comes, he won't be able to shake you.
A cultivator of the spiritual path should at all times hang this question of birth and death right between the eyebrows. At all times you should seek to liberate yourself from birth and death. You should realize that nothing else is as pressing as the single concern of birth and death. If you haven't resolved this question, then you won't know how you were born, nor will you understand how you're going to die. Right now, before you really understand it, you should work very hard in cultivation. Otherwise you'll be forever bound up in the inexorable rounds of birth and death, and you'll never get free of them.
When we cultivate the spiritual path, as we contemplate this matter of birth and death, we should see all demons as helpers, as our Dharma-protectors. They're coming to help us to cultivate the Path. If somebody scolds you or hits you, he, too, is helping you cultivate. If somebody gossips about you or gives you trouble, he's also helping you cultivate. In general, whatever adversity arises, you should endure it gracefully; you should just flow with it. Regard all such adverse states as friends that aid your cultivation, and then these troubles will soon be gone. When you have no more troubles and afflictions, then you can bring forth wisdom. Once you have real wisdom, the demons will have no way to disturb your mind.
Why are we turned by demonic states? Because our wisdom isn't complete. Before our wisdom is complete, we are confused by anything that comes. We won't recognize situations clearly. The view of self, the view of others, the view of living beings, and the view of a lifespan will all come forth. And afflictions will follow as well. Yet, if we have wisdom, then none of these aspects will trouble us in the least.