The Chan Hall is a place where Buddhas are selected; it's a field where we plant blessings, merit, and virtue. As the saying goes,
If a person can sit in stillness for even an instant,
His merit surpasses that of someone who builds as many stupas of the seven treasures as there are sand grains in the Ganges.
Why is this so? Because temples and stupas that are built outside are visible forms of merit and virtue.
The Vajra Sutra has a line that goes,
All appearances are false and unreal.
If one sees all appearances as no appearances, then one sees the Tathagata.
If a person can sit in stillness for the briefest time, he creates merit and virtue which will never disappear. At this, someone may say, "I won't create any more external merit and virtue; I'm going to have only inner merit and virtue from now on." It's also wrong to think that way. In fact, you must cultivate both kinds of merit and virtue. When your merit and virtue are perfected and your blessings and wisdom are complete, you will be known as the Doubly-Perfected Honored One.
Know, too, that any temple you can build outside will surely decay over time. Any stupa that you can erect will be burned to ashes when the fires blaze at the end of the eon. Only through Chan meditation can you successfully cultivate the Triple Jewel－the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha－of your own nature. The merit and virtue of this cultivation is "merit and virtue free of outflows." It is not endangered by the wind, the floods or fires at the eon's end, or by anything else. This is merit and virtue that lasts forever. So this kind of invisible merit and virtue surpasses visible merit and virtue by a million times over.
Here in the Chan Hall, if you can stop your idle thoughts and cultivate the Way with your true mind, then your merit and virtue will be measureless and boundless. But if you cannot do this, you'll have no merit and virtue to speak of. And so the saying goes, "If a person can sit in stillness for even an instant, his merit surpasses that of someone who builds as many stupas of the seven treasures as there are sand grains in the Ganges."
All of us who have come to take part in this Chan Session have good roots. That's why we have the chance to come together to investigate Chan. Now we must make our minds clear and calm, and not let our thoughts run outside like mad monkeys or wild horses, or else we won't get even a moment of stillness. Then we won't have any response in the Way, and we'll have wasted seven days of time. We won't gain anything, and we will have failed to achieve what we initially resolved to do. So we must come up with a method to control our idle thoughts and settle our minds. It is said,
When the heart is pure, the moon appears in the water.
When the mind is in samadhi, then there are no clouds in the sky.
For this reason we've already decided that next year (1982) we'll convene a ten-week Chan Session and sit in meditation for seventy days. In this day and age, I believe you won't find another Way-place anywhere in the world that holds ten consecutive weeks of Chan meditation.
Our goal at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is to turn the Dharma-ending Age into the Proper Dharma Age. That's why we cultivate as if our lives depended on it; that's why we work hard at cultivating the Way. If you truly want to cultivate the Way, you'll have the opportunity to do so only at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. At most other places, the cultivation is pretty superficial; they just go through the motions. Perhaps they say they're holding a Chan Session, but their schedules are quite different. At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the daily schedule of meditation during the Chan Sessions begins with walking meditation at 2:30 in the morning and continues without pause until midnight. In between, there's only one hour when we are not meditating. This is the rule at our Chan Sessions.
A talk given during a Chan Session
in December, 1980