Now we are holding a Chan Session (December 15, 1977), and you should all be bringing up your meditation topic at every moment, as you investigate Chan and work at meditation. Cultivators of the Way practice on their own; they do not rely on other people, and even less should they rely on their teacher. We are holding a meditation retreat, not a "Teacher-retreat." Please be clear about this point. Someone is thinking: "The Venerable Master is here now at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, so I'll take my cultivation seriously. Once he leaves, however, I won't have to cultivate hard anymore." You should not think this way. Whether or not your teacher is at the City, you should cultivate with vigor. Finish what you've started, applying yourself with equal energy all the way through; only then can you succeed. Otherwise your work will always be superficial; you'll only be fooling yourself and fooling others, and you'll never get liberated.
Investigating the meditation topic means asking, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" Look into it! Who is it? If you say, "I'm reciting!" then after you die, where has that "I" gone to? In fact, the reciter isn't "I" after all. As we investigate it, there is no "I" to be found. Since there's no "I," then while I'm still alive, there's no need to cultivate, is there? This is a case of incorrect thinking. How should we think then? We should investigate our basic identity. Who were we before our parents bore us? What did we look like then? When you understand the answer to that question, you can get enlightened.
"Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" Pursue this question ceaselessly. Don't let up on it even for a moment. In fact, this technique is a way to use poison to counteract poison. Although the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" is also a thought, we use one thought to control all other thoughts. One idle thought puts a stop to all idle thoughts. When those thoughts have been brought to an ultimate end, "the tide recedes and the rocks show through." We clearly perceive the true appearance of things, and then we can get enlightened.
What does it mean to get enlightened? It means you truly recognize what you're all about. You realize the principle of emptiness and you know that all things are false. This is truly knowing. You know the state called, "Originally there was not a single thing. Where could dust alight?" It's also called: "Understanding the mind and seeing the nature." It's said that, When you understand the mind, nothing is difficult any more. When you see the nature, all worries are gone. People who understand the mind don't worry about anything. As it is said:
The spirits and immortals of old had no special tricks; They were simply happy as could be, and they never worried.
This should be the benchmark of all cultivators of the Way.
Cultivators do not get upset no matter whether they encounter smooth or troublesome situations. With this kind of samadhi-power, instead of being influenced by circumstances, they can influence states. This is the true skill of a cultivator of the Way.
If Mount Tai were to collapse before them,
it wouldn't make them blink.
If a ravishing beauty were to pass before them,
they wouldn't be affected in the slightest.
If you are a man and you see a woman as beautiful as the legendary maiden Xi Shi, simply use "the contemplation of a skeleton" to view her, and naturally your mind will hold steady. If you are a woman and you see a man as handsome as the famous hero Pan An, use the "bare-bones contemplation" to view him, and very naturally, your mind will hold steady. Otherwise, the sight of a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man will turn you upside-down. The monkey-mind and stallion-instinct will run away with you, until you won't know how to cope with it. If you lack samadhi-power to this extent, you will lose ground in cultivation. What a pity!
Today we read a letter from the monks on the bowing pilgrimage, and know that they've experienced some inconceivable states in which Dharma-protecting spirits have come to protect them. This is called "a response in the Way." Because they've been bowing and reciting sincerely, they've moved the gods, dragons, and the rest of the eight divisions to stay constantly at their side. Therefore, no matter what trouble comes up, it always turns out smoothly. We should take their example to reflect upon ourselves: has this happened to us? We should reflect within to see if we have this kind of purity, light, wisdom, and lack of idle thinking.
All of you! As we hear the Sutras and the Dharma, we should awaken in our own nature and, having awakened, take ourselves across. Don't rely upon your teacher. Rely on yourself instead! As it's said, "The teacher leads you to the door, but cultivation depends on the individual." You should trust in your own wisdom, not your own stupidity. This is a very important distinction! The purpose of holding a meditation retreat is to let your nature take itself across. The Great Master the Sixth Patriarch once said,
When one is still confused,
his teacher saves him.
After one is awakened, he saves himself.
We are now investigating Chan, and we should make the most of every minute. Don't let the precious time pass by in vain. Thus, when we hold our Chan Session, we neither bow to the Buddhas nor perform the meal offering ceremony. Why not? It's to give everyone a chance to concentrate single-mindedly on his meditation. One minute longer of meditation brings one minute more of enlightenment. Who can find time to interrupt the work, or to shoot the breeze, or to gather a small meeting? If you stand around shooting the bull, gossiping over trivia, talking lots of nonsense, then you'll carelessly waste time in which you could be getting enlightened, and you won't even realize it. Meditating in this way, you can investigate for 80,000 great eons, but you have no hope of success. While holding a retreat, you certainly must do honest work and really look into the matter. Which matter? Investigate, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" Investigate, "What was my basic identity before my parents gave birth to me?" These are the keys to enlightenment.