Showing posts with label Zen Master Sheng-yen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zen Master Sheng-yen. Show all posts

 John Tan/Thusness said “This is very good.  Instead of self-view, u must learn to "plant" the seeds of anatta, DO, emptiness at that mind state.”

Andre A Pais shared:


At this stage, your mind is so concentrated that the act of meditation itself—both the counting of the number and the presence of the breath—is forgotten. As the mind becomes truly calm and concentrated, the act of effortful meditation itself seems coarse and distracting. Letting go of it, number and breath vanish, and body, breath, and mind meld into a single unity. 

At this point, you may feel as though spatial distinctions no longer pertain among body, mind, and the world. The opposition between self and other people seems to vanish, and the boundary between the internal and external dissolves. The previous sense of dividedness is replaced by a feeling of pure and harmonious being that is so wondrous as to be indescribable. 

This is the basic experience of samadhi, or what we variously refer to as "meditative absorption," "unified mind," and "one-pointedness of mind." However, there are many levels of samadhi, some shallow, some deep. They can range from the simple and relatively shallow experience of purity and oneness described above, to experiences of infinite light and sound, boundless space, limitless consciousness, limitless emptiness, and even the inconceivable experiences of enlightenment described in such Buddhist scriptures as the Avatamsaka, or Huayan, Sutra. 

Regardless of how sublime the content, such states of meditative absorption are still defiled by the presence of discriminating thought and attachment. This defilement is none other than the subtle sense of "selfhood." At deeper levels of samadhi, the mind becomes so supple and powerful that even the subtlest thought is experienced on an extraordinarily vast scale. Because attachment to self is still operating in samadhi, samadhi actually entails the magnification of self to a cosmic scale. 

The experiences of limitless consciousness, bliss, being, and other feelings associated with samadhi are actually the projections of what we call the "great or expanded sense of self." Until this particular impediment is removed, enlightenment has not dawned and one is still subject to the bonds of deluded existence. Samadhi experiences of this ilk will be no more than a mundane or worldly samadhi, and the spiritual insights generated from them, a mundane wisdom still tainted by defiling outflows.


    To come to retreat expecting to get enlightened, to experience buddha-mind, is self-deception. Indeed, since there is no such thing as mind, there is also no such thing as buddha-mind.
    The self-nature realized after eliminating illusion is also illusory, so it is a mistake to practice with the idea of replacing illusory mind with buddha-mind.
    Does this mean you will spend the rest of your life replacing one illusion with another? The Heart Sutra says:
    Form is not other than emptiness,
    And emptiness is not other than form.
    Form is precisely emptiness,
    And emptiness is precisely form.
    When form disappears, there is no emptiness to speak of. When the illusory mind disappears, true nature disappears as well. When the illusory mind does not move, true mind is not there.
    Aspiring to enlightenment makes us diligent, but we should not have that idea in mind when we practice. Even if we become enlightened, we should not think that we have attained anything.
    Before practice, people are not aware of their illusory mind; they think that everything they experience is real. After they begin to practice they learn that the mind is illusory. When they finally experience enlightenment, they may think they have replaced illusory mind with true mind.
    The "Song of Mind" negates this idea: if the nature of mind is non-arising, then neither illusory mind nor
    true mind exists.


    Soh Wei Yu
    “Thus Bodhidharma’s style was to turn the attention of the disciple inward to the mind, and into its empty nature. The Master leads the disciple into realizing that one’s mind by its very nature is equal to that of a fully awakened Buddha. Yet, when one recognizes the nature of one’s own mind, nothing is found there to cling to as ‘this is mind’. Discovering one’s own Buddhahood in the empty-mind is the essence and the way of Mahayana Buddhism.
    Bodhidharma said,
    You should realize that the cultivation of the Way does not exist apart from your mind. If your mind is pure, everything is pure as buddha-fields. As sutras states, “If the minds of beings are impure, beings are impure. If the minds of beings are pure, beings are pure,” and “To reach a buddha-field, purify your mind. As your mind becomes pure, everything becomes pure as buddha-fields.” (from the Breakthrough Discourse)
    Dissolving the Mind
    Dissolving the mind
    Though purifying mind is the essence of practicing the Way, it is not done by clinging at the mind as a glorified and absolute entity. It is not that one simply goes inward by rejecting the external world. It is not that the mind is pure and the world is impure. When mind is clear, the world is a pure-field. When mind is deluded, the world is Samsara. Bodhidharma said,
    Seeing with insight, form is not simply form, because form depends on mind. And, mind is not simply mind, because mind depends on form. Mind and form create and negate each other. … Mind and the world are opposites, appearances arise where they meet. When your mind does not stir inside, the world does not arise outside. When the world and the mind are both transparent, this is the true insight.” (from the Wakeup Discourse)
    Just like the masters of Madhyamaka, Bodhidharma too pointed out that mind and form are interdependently arising. Mind and form create each other. Yet, when you cling to form, you negate mind. And, when you cling to mind, you negate form. Only when such dualistic notions are dissolved, and only when both mind and the world are transparent (not turning to obstructing concepts) the true insight arises.
    In this regard, Bodhidharma said,
    Using the mind to look for reality is delusion.
    Not using the mind to look for reality is awareness.
    (from the Wakeup Discourse)
    So, to effectively enter the Way, one has to go beyond the dualities (conceptual constructs) of mind and form. As far as one looks for reality as an object of mind, one is still trapped in the net of delusion (of seeing mind and form as independent realities), never breaking free from it. In that way, one holds reality as something other than oneself, and even worse, one holds oneself as a spectator to a separate reality!
    When the mind does not stir anymore and settles into its pristine clarity, the world does not stir outside. The reality is revealed beyond the divisions of Self and others, and mind and form. Thus, as you learn not to use the mind to look for reality and simply rests in the natural state of mind as it is, there is the dawn of pristine awareness – knowing reality as it is, non-dually and non-conceptually.
    When the mind does not dissolve in this way to its original clarity, whatever one sees is merely the stirring of conceptuality. Even if we try to construct a Buddha’s mind, it only stirs and does not see reality. Because, the Buddha’s mind is simply the uncompounded clarity of Bodhi (awakening), free from stirring and constructions. So, Bodhidharma said,
    That which ordinary knowledge understands is also said to be within the boundaries of the norms. When you do not produce the mind of a common man, or the mind of a sravaka or a bodhisattva, and when you do not even produce a Buddha-mind or any mind at all, then for the first time you can be said to have gone outside the boundaries of the norms. If no mind at all arises, and if you do not produce understanding nor give rise to delusion, then, for the first time, you can be said to have gone outside of everything. (From the Record #1, of the Collection of Bodhidharma’s Works3 retrieved from Dunhuang Caves)
    Way of Bodhi
    Way of Bodhi
    Way of Bodhi

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  • The Doctrine of No Mind by Bodhidharma (无心论)
    The Doctrine of No Mind by Bodhidharma (无心论)
    The Doctrine of No Mind by Bodhidharma (无心论)

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Replying to someone in Rinzai Zen discussion group, John Tan wrote recently:

“I think we have to differentiate wisdom from an art or a state of mind.
In Master Sheng Yen’s death poem, 
Busy with nothing till old. (无事忙中老)
In emptiness, there is weeping and laughing. (空里有哭笑)
Originally there never was any 'I'. (本来没有我)
Thus life and death can be cast aside. (生死皆可抛)
This "Originally there never was any 'I'" is wisdom and the dharma seal of anatta. It is neither an art like an artist in zone where self is dissolved into the flow of action nor is it a state to be achieved in the case of the taoist "坐忘" (sit and forget) -- a state of no-mind. 
For example in cooking, there is no self that cooks, only the activity of cooking. The hands moves, the utensils act, the water boils, the potatoes peel and the universe sings together in the act of cooking. Whether one appears clumsy or smooth in act of cooking doesn't matter and when the dishes r out, they may still taste horrible; still there never was any "I" in any moment of the activity. There is no entry or exit point in the wisdom of anatta.”
Comments by AEN: Zen Master Sheng-yen speaks here of four general stages of experience/view -- from the scattered mind to a concentrated mind, from the concentrated mind to the One Mind (an all-reflecting mirror) also called by Master Sheng-yen as the 'Unified State' (as Thusness commented in his 'Stage 5' that at Stage 4, the practitioner sees that subject/Mind and object is an inseparable union, but it is not yet the no-subject/no-mind/no-mirror experience), and then later progress from the One Mind to the No-Mind (no-mirror) experience. Hence, Master Sheng-yen is quite clear in differentiating the 'Mirror Bright' stage with the 'No Mirror' stage. These two stages are also described and commentated according to Thusness in the Thusness's Seven Stages of Experience, especially Stage 4 and 5.

(Late Master Sheng Yen)

Ch'an Newsletter - No. 52 February 1986

Four Views of Ch'an
(Lecture given by Master Sheng-Yen at the Great Taoist Center in Washington, D.C., November 22, 1985)

Let me begin with a koan. In the T'ang dynasty there was a Ch'an patriarch named Yao-shan Wei-yen. A disciple once asked him, "Before Bodhidharma came to China, was there Ch'an in China?" The Master replied, "Ch'an originally existed in China." "In that case," the disciple continued, "Why did Bodhidharma come to China?" The Master said, "It is precisely because there was Ch'an in China that Bodhidharma came to China."

So you see I've come to Washington today because there is Ch'an in Washington. I've come here because all of you know about Ch'an. Those of you who know something about Ch'an, please raise your hands... Those of you who didn't raise your hands probably know more than those who did!

Tonight I will talk about Ch'an from four points of view. These topics should help you to raise some questions about Ch'an: the theory of Ch'an, the experience of Ch'an, the goal of Ch'an, and the training and practice of Ch'an.

1. There is really no theory in Ch'an. If we theorize about Ch'an -- that is not Ch'an. Ch'an cannot be understood by any logical reasoning. It can't be explained in words. Nevertheless, I will use some theoretical description in my talk.

There are two basic concepts associated with Ch'an. One is causes and conditions. The other is emptiness. These two concepts are linked; they cannot be separated. When we talk about causes and conditions and emptiness, we are really talking about the nature of existence, which is temporary and impermanent. All phenomena arise because of the coming together of the proper causes and conditions. All phenomena perish because of change in the causes and conditions.

Chinese Taoism and Confucianism use a text called the "I Ching." "I" means change. This is continual, constant change. It is called "arising." Constant arising means that causes and conditions change continually -- all phenomena are ever-changing. Ordinary sentient beings see things as arising and perishing. In the "I Ching" there is no perishing, only constant arising. Seeing something disappear, you miss seeing something else arise.

In the Buddhist view, when causes and conditions change, phenomena arise. But because this arising is rooted in temporary, constantly changing causes and conditions, the phenomena which arise can be nothing more than temporary themselves. Because they only have temporary existence, they are said to have no real existence. Hence these phenomena are called empty. Emptiness only means that there is no unchanging eternal existence; it doesn't mean that nothing exists at all.

All phenomena and existence can arise only because they are empty. It is because they are empty that there is nothing permanent or unchanging about them. If things never changed, there would be no arising. If nothing changed in our present configuration, it would mean that this lecture would go on indefinitely. But when this talk ends, the configuration changes. If everything were unchanging and solid, if there were no emptiness, then this lecture would go on forever. It is because of the present situation -- this particular configuration of constantly changing causes and conditions -- that we are all gathered in this room.

Therefore when we ask about Ch'an, we find that Ch'an is just a word, a bit of terminology. Very few people can say what it is. For over a thousand years masters and disciples in the Ch'an tradition have been asking questions such as, "What was it that Bodhidharma brought to China?" Many people have sought the answers to these questions. The masters never gave direct answers. Some simply ignored the questions. If they didn't ignore the question, they only would give very simple answers.

A T'ang dynasty master, Chao-chou once had a disciple who asked him, "Master, what are we really learning here?" Chao-chou said, "All. right, you can now go and have a cup of tea." Another disciple came and said that he had had a certain experience the day before, and he wanted to know it his experience was really Ch'an. Chao-chou said, "All right, you can have a cup of tea now." A third disciple was quite puzzled after he heard this exchange. He asked, "Master, you had two disciples ask you entirely different questions, and you simply told them to have a cup of tea. What did you mean by this?" The Master replied, "You can also have a cup of tea."

There is another story along the same lines involving Chao-chou. Two disciples were arguing. One said, "The Master said that men have Buddha nature, but dogs and cats don't." The other disciple said, "That's impossible, the Master could not have said anything like that." They both went to see Chao-chou. One said, "Master, you couldn't possibly have said anything like that." And the Master said, "You're right." But the other disciple said, "I'm positive that is what you said." And the Master said, "You re right." A third person, an attendant said, "But Master, only one of them can be right." And the Master said, "You're right."

These stories sound like meaningless exchanges, like nonsense, but the underlying implication is that existence or non-existence, or ideas of right or wrong, are things which only live in your own mind, your personal experience, your knowledge. These things can't be Ch'an.

2. The experience of Ch'an must be personal and direct. It cannot come from education or be arrived at by logical reasoning. In a retreat I will often try to help a student get an experience of Ch'an by telling him to bring himself to the state that existed before he was born. After birth, we begin to acquire experience, and we are trying to look beyond what we have learned.

Before your life began, who were you? What was your name? How would you answer these questions? There is a story of a Ch'an Master who told his disciple to wash charcoal until it was clean. The disciple complained that it was simply impossible. A somewhat dimwitted disciple took the charcoal and began to wash it. He didn't have a thought in his mind other than that his Master had told him to wash the charcoal. So he simply washed the charcoal. One day he asked the Master why the charcoal was still not white. The Master said, "Isn't it already white?" The disciple took another look at it and said, "Indeed it is white; it has always been white." When most of us look at charcoal, we see black, but the Master and disciple saw it as white.

In Ch'an we say that training and practice will make our discriminations disappear. These thoughts and feelings of liking or disliking come from our experience. If you can go back to the state before you were born, then you arrive at the point where discriminations do not exist. It no longer matters whether something is black or white. What is important is that your mind is free from discrimination and conceptualization.

In China between the fourth and sixth centuries, there was a period called the Northern and Southern Dynasties. At that time a famous Taoist, T'ao Hung-ching lived in the mountains. He was a well-known scholar, and the emperor had great respect for him, and wanted him to serve as his minister. But T'ao declined. The emperor asked him what it was in the mountains that attracted him so much that he preferred his hermitage to the glories of the court. T'ao wrote an answer to the emperor in the a four-line poem:

You ask me what I find in the mountains,
I say: white clouds are in the mountains,
This I alone can enjoy,
It is not something I can offer you.

The emperor read the poem and realized there was something that made no sense: white clouds can be seen anywhere, not just in the mountains. But the point is that the white clouds that T'ao Hung-ching saw were quite different from the ones the emperor could see. This is experience. A practitioner's experience of the Tao is quite different from that of a non-practitioner.

There was a famous monk, Han Shan, who was often asked, "What do you have?" He would say that he had everything: "The white clouds in the sky serve as my blanket, the earth is my bed, the mountains, my pillow. And the four seas are not big enough for a bath or a somersault."

That was his experience: oneness with nature. There was no separation between him and the world. But most people thought that he had nothing. His shoes were made from the bark of a tree; his pants, from the leaves of a tree.

It's only after you've put down everything that you've acquired since the time you were born, that a Ch'an experience can manifest. When I teach my students how to practice Ch'an, I tell them to first separate their thoughts into three categories: the past, the present, and the future. Then I tell them to discard the thoughts of the past, then the thoughts of the future. Only thoughts of the present moment are left. The next step is to let go of the present moment, because there is no such thing as the present moment. It is only a bridge between the past and the future. When you let go of the present moment, the Ch'an experience can manifest, but only at the most elementary level.

One question that might occur to you is: we have to discard our experiences until we reach the state we were in before we were born, so does this mean that a new born baby is closest to Ch'an? No, a new born baby does not know about Ch'an because a baby's mental faculties are hardly developed, and he is not in control of them. The control of mental functioning is necessary. When you have this control, then you can let go of knowledge and reasoning. Then there is a possibility that the Ch'an experience can manifest.

If you knock someone into unconsciousness, is this like Ch'an? This is nonsense. If you know nothing of the past or future, and your mind is a blank, that is also not Ch'an. A mind that is blank in this way is a very tired mind. Only a very clear, alert mind can experience Ch'an.

I can only describe the experience of Ch'an by using an analogy. Consider the surface of water and consider a mirror. The surface of water will move at the slightest touch, but a mirror is unmoving. A mirror can be obscured by dust, but remove the dust and it will reflect clearly. If water is agitated, it will not be able to reflect an image, only a distortion of the image. The movement in water is like the movement in our minds. Our minds move because of the knowledge we have and the experience we have acquired. Because of these things, we are constantly making judgments. Just as moving water cannot reflect well, so a moving mind cannot see clearly -- what we see or think we see is not real.

For example, there are about fifty people in the audience. You all have different backgrounds, different experiences, and different levels of education. Because of these differences, each of you will hear the same thing a little differently. Each of you judges this lecture in your own way. It may be one lecture, but it could also be fifty different lectures. That is not Ch'an. If it were, when one person spoke, it would be as if there were one person listening. And if that were the case, there would be no need for me to speak, because you would know what I was going to say before I said it.

This is illustrated by a story from the early days of the Ch'an sect. The emperor at the time asked a certain Ch'an Master to give a discourse. To make ready for the occasion, the emperor commanded his workmen to build an elaborate platform from which the Master would speak. When the time arrived, the Master mounted the platform, sat down, and then quickly left. The emperor was quite surprised. The Master said, "I've said everything I wanted to Say."

The unspoken Dharma and only the unspoken Dharma is the highest Dharma. Whatever can be said or described is not the real Dharma. Chan Masters have been talking about this for many, many years.

When we speak about reflection in water and in a mirror, note that a mirror that is perfectly clean will reflect better than water that is stable and unmoving. However, the Sixth Patriarch was opposed to using the analogy of the mirror. He pointed out that if there were a mirror, there would be a mind, and this would not be Ch'an. Nonetheless, we will use the mirror to a make a point. Later, we will throw out the mirror.

What is reflected by a mirror is outside the mirror. If a person is in a mirror-like state, everything that is reflected is on the outside. For such a person, there is no self involved. What he sees and feels is only the existence of phenomena -- when there is no self, there is no experience of discrimination, of liking or disliking.

This is not the ultimate state, because if you have nothing but awareness of the environment and there is no self apparent, there must still be a self to be aware of the environment. Someone who is in this state is certainly in a unified state, because there seems to be no self and only the environment seems to exist. This is called the state of "one mind," but still it is not Ch'an. There must be "no mind' if it is to be Ch'an.

A true Ch'an state should not be compared to an all-reflecting mirror. All things exists without the mirror. In this state everything is seen very clearly, but there is no concept of outside or inside, existing or not existing, having or not having.

3. What is the good of this kind of experience? This leads us to the third section, the goal of Ch'an practice. There are so many benefits to Ch'an practice -- for myself and many more for others. These benefits can be seen on three levels: First, there is physical benefit, then mental balance and good mental health, and last, the potential to become enlightened -- the spiritual benefit.

By helping a practitioner attain a more stable mind, Ch'an practice can improve mental health. And the reason for an unhealthy body is really psychological imbalance. Ch'an practice can strengthen mental power and capacity. Even with physical sickness, a practitioner will have a positive attitude and will not be hindered from doing what he needs to do. Good mental health is a fundamental aim of the practice, but in the beginning stages, physical strength is acquired through physical sitting. Practicing in this way helps maintain and focus the flow of energy known as "ch'i." Taoism and Yoga share this aspect of practice.

The highest benefit of practice is enlightenment, the genuine Ch'an experience. What good is this? I can only say this: before enlightenment, there are things that one needs and there are things that one would rather do without, there are things that are liked and things that are disliked. After enlightenment, there is no such thing as that which I need or don't need, what I like or don't like. Do you understand? That's why I said that all of you already know Ch'an. You see, before we are enlightened, we have many vexations, and there are many things that we have to do; there are many things that we don't want to do. We may seek and attain enlightenment, but once we have experienced it, there is no longer any such thing as enlightenment. At this point there is nothing that we have to do; there's nothing that we don't have to do.

Lin-chi Yi-hsuan, a famous Ch'an Master, was studying with his Master when he got enlightened, but his Master was not immediately aware of Lin-chi's enlightenment. One day the Master was making his rounds and checking to see that all of his students were practicing hard. He came upon Lin-chi lying on his mat, fast asleep. The Master woke him with his staff, and asked, "How can you be so lazy, when everyone around you is practicing diligently?" Lin-chi just looked up at his Master, picked up his blanket and cushion, and went to lie down in another place.

The Master watched Lin-chi move, and asked, "What are you doing now?" Lin-chi Yi-hsuan answered, "What else is there for me to do?" When the Master heard this, he walked over to a disciple who was practicing particularly hard. He took his staff, gave him several stiff blows, and said, "There's someone over there who's practicing very hard, what are you doing here, sleeping like this?" The Master's eldest disciple said to himself, "This old Master has really gone crazy." From that point on Lin-chi didn't remain sleeping -- he traveled spreading the Dharma. The lineage that evolved from him is called the Lin Chi sect; in Japanese it is known as the Rinzai sect.

The story of Lin-chi shows that after enlightenment, there is nothing, no practice or striving, that is needed for oneself. There are only other sentient beings to work for and to help.

4. The training and practice of Ch'an can be divided into three levels. First, to move from a scattered to a concentrated mind. Second, to move from a concentrated mind to one-mind. Finally, to let go of even one-mind, and reach no-mind.

The scattered mind is easy to see. We can all be aware of this state where thoughts come and go in a haphazard manner. Let's try an experiment. Everyone raise your index finger and look at it. Just look, and have no thoughts. Do this in a relaxed manner.

We did that for thirty seconds. Were you able to do it with no thoughts? If you couldn't do it, you had a scattered mind. When we do things with a scattered mind, we are not using our fullest capacity.

A Ch'an Master once told his disciples: Chan practice is very easy. When you eat, just eat; when you sleep, just sleep; when you walk, just walk." One disciple said, "I know how to eat, sleep, and walk. Everybody knows that, so is everybody practicing Ch'an?" The Master said, "That's not true: when you eat, your mind is not on eating; when you sleep your mind is either filled with dreams or lost in a muddled state of blankness; when you walk, you're just daydreaming."

Once in our Center in New York, we hired a carpenter to do some work for us. He was nailing a nail into a wall, when he looked out the window, and saw a pretty woman passing by. He hit his finger, and twisted the nail. He had to start all over again. What was he doing with his mind? It certainly wasn't on his work. Most of us function like this. We must use special methods to bring our scattered minds into a concentrated state. Do as the Master said: when you eat, eat; when you sleep; sleep; when you walk, walk. When you practice, keep your mind in a concentrated state. Then if you hear a sound, visualize or feel something -- whatever you do, you will be doing just that and nothing else. This is a concentrated mind.

When you expand this state further, you will eventually get to the point where the separation between self and environment disappears -- there is no distinction between you and the world. If you are repeating a mantra, then you and the mantra become one. There are many levels to this state. At the elementary level you and your method of practice become one. A deeper state is when you feel that whatever your senses encounter, what you see and hear, is the same as yourself. At this point there is no distinction between what you see and what you hear. The sense organs no longer have separate functions. This is an intermediate level. Deeper still is the state where you sense an unlimited universe within yourself. Still this is not the experience of Ch 'an.

From here we must use the methods of Ch'an -- the gung-an (koan) and the hua-t'ou -- to break apart the state of one-mind. In this way we can reach enlightenment, we can reach Ch'an.

Comments by AEN: the following article states the three stages of experience the practitioner goes through during his practice (1: relaxing mind and body, 2: the Great Self, 3: No Self). It also distinguishes the I AM and One Mind stage (stage one to four) from the experience of No Mind (stage five) as described by Thusness/PasserBy in Thusness's Seven Stages of Experience

An few important excerpts by Master Sheng Yen:

...By the practise of Ch’an one can eliminate the ‘I’; not only the selfish, small ‘I’, but also the large ‘I’, which in philosophy is called ‘Truth’ or ‘the Essence’. Only then is there absolute freedom...

...When you are in the second stage, although you feel that the ‘I’ does not exist, the basic substance of the universe, or the Supreme Truth, still exists. Although you recognise that all the different phenomena are the extension of this basic substance or Supreme Truth, yet there still exists the opposition of basic substance versus external phenomena...

... One who has entered Ch’an does not see basic substance and phenomena as two things standing in opposition to each other. They cannot even be illustrated as being the back and palm of a hand. This is because phenomena themselves are basic substance, and apart from phenomena there is no basic substance to be found. The reality of basic substance exists right in the unreality of phenomena, which change ceaselessly and have no constant form. This is the Truth...

Full article:

A lecture by Master Sheng-yen (1977)

In 1977 Shi-fu was at the very beginning of his teaching career in America. He was invited to give talks in various places and these were admirably translated. In this talk the crisp vision of Ch’an that Shi-fu was bringing from China and from the Japan of his final training is clear for all to see. As we set about creating a Ch’an suitable for Europe this lecture has striking and helpful cogency. It was published in a small pamphlet of which probably only a few remain. Tim Paine was rummaging through the library at Maenllwyd when he came across it and spotted its excellence. It was in fact one of the inspirations for John’s first visits to the New York Ch’an Centre. We are glad Tim uncovered it again and we trust our readers will find it equally inspiring. Shi-fu permits us to reproduce it here. Eds.

I wish to start by telling you that Ch’an is not the same as knowledge, yet knowledge is not completely apart from Ch’an. Ch’an is not just religion, yet the achievements of religion can be reached through Ch’an. Ch’an is not philosophy, yet philosophy can in no way exceed the scope of Ch’an. Ch’an is not science, yet the spirit of emphasising reality and experience is also required in Ch’an. Therefore, please do not try to explore the content of Ch’an motivated by mere curiosity, for Ch’an is not something new brought here [to the USA] by Orientals; Ch’an is present everywhere, in space without limit and time without end. However before the Buddhism of the East was propagated in the western world, the people of the West never knew of the existence of Ch’an. The Ch’an taught by Orientals in the West is not, in fact, the real Ch’an. It is the method to realise Ch’an. Ch’an was first discovered by a prince named Siddhartha Gautama (called Shakyamuni after his enlightenment), who was born in India about 2500 years ago. After he became enlightened and was called a Buddha, he taught us the method to know Ch’an. This method was transmitted from India to China, and then to Japan. In India it was called dhyana, which is pronounced ‘Ch’an’ in Chinese, and ‘Zen’ in Japanese. Actually, all three are identical.

Ch’an has universal and eternal existence. It has no need of any teacher to transmit it; what is transmitted by teachers is just the method by which one can personally experience this Ch’an.

Some people mistakenly understand Ch’an to be some kind of mysterious experience; others think that one can attain supernatural powers through the experience of Ch’an. Of course, the process of practising Ch’an meditation may cause various kinds of strange occurrences on the level of mental and physical sensation; and also, through the practice of unifying body and mind, one may be able to attain the mental power to control or alter external things. But such phenomena, which are looked upon as mysteries of religion, are not the aim of Ch’an practice, because they can only satisfy one’s curiosity or megalomania, and cannot solve the actual problems of peoples lives.

Ch’an starts from the root of the problem. It does not start with the idea of conquering the external social and material environments, but starts with gaining thorough knowledge of one’s own self. The moment you know what your self is, this ‘I’ that you now take to be yourself will simultaneously disappear. We call this new knowledge of the notion of self ‘enlightenment’ or ‘seeing ones basic nature’. This is the beginning of helping you to thoroughly solve real problems. In the end, you will discover that you the individual, together with the whole of existence, are but one totality which cannot be divided.

Because you yourself have imperfections, you therefore feel the environment is imperfect. It is like a mirror with an uneven surface, the images reflected in it are also distorted. Or, it is like the surface of water disturbed by ripples, the moon reflected in it is irregular and unsettled. If the surface of the mirror is clear and smooth, or if the air on the surface of the water is still and the ripples calmed, then the reflection in the mirror and the moon in the water will be clear and exact. Therefore, from the point of view of Ch’an, the major cause of the pain and misfortune suffered by humanity is not the treacherous environment of the world in which we live, nor the dreadful society of humankind, but the fact that we have never been able to recognise our basic nature. So the method of Ch’an is not to direct us to evade reality, nor to shut our eyes like the African ostrich when enemies come, and bury our heads in the sand, thinking all problems are solved. Ch’an is not a self-hypnotising idealism.

By the practise of Ch’an one can eliminate the ‘I’; not only the selfish, small ‘I’, but also the large ‘I’, which in philosophy is called ‘Truth’ or ‘the Essence’. Only then is there absolute freedom. Thus an accomplished Ch’an practitioner never feels that any responsibility is a burden, nor does he feel the pressure that the conditions of life exert on people. He only feels that he is perpetually bringing the vitality of life into full activity. This is the expression of absolute freedom. Therefore the life of Ch’an is inevitably normal and positive, happy and open. The reason for this is that the practise of Ch’an will continually provide you with a means to excavate your precious mine of wisdom. The deeper the excavation, the higher the wisdom that is attained, until eventually you obtain all the wisdom of the entire universe. At that time, there is not a single thing in all of time and space that is not contained within the scope of your wisdom. At that stage wisdom becomes absolute; and since it is absolute, the term wisdom serves no further purpose. To be sure, at that stage the ‘I’ that motivated you to pursue such things as fame, wealth and power, or to escape from suffering and danger, has completely disappeared. What is more, even the wisdom which eliminated your ‘I’ becomes an unnecessary concept to you.

Of course, from the viewpoint of sudden enlightenment it is very easy for a Ch’an practitioner to reach this stage; nevertheless before reaching the gate of sudden enlightenment one must exert a great deal of effort on the journey. Otherwise the methods of Ch’an would be useless.

The Three Stages of Ch’an Meditation

At present [1977], the methods of meditation that I am teaching in the United States are divided into three stages.

Stage 1: To balance the development of body and mind in order to attain mental and physical health

With regard to the body, we stress the demonstration and correction of the postures of walking, standing, sitting and reclining. At the same time we teach various methods of physical exercise for walking, standing, sitting and reclining. They are unique exercise methods combining Indian Hatha Yoga and Chinese Tao-yin, and can bring physical health as well as results in meditation. Thus, one who practises Ch’an and has obtained good results will definitely have a strong body capable of enduring hardship. For the mind we emphasise the elimination of impatience, suspicion, anxiety, fear and frustration, so as to establish a state of self-confidence, determination, optimism, peace and stability.

A good student, after five or ten lessons here, will reach the first stage and be able to obtain results in the above two areas. One of our student’s reports stated: “This kind of Ch’an class is especially good for someone like myself who, by profession or habit, has been used to having the brain functioning just about every minute of the day. I often find this Ch’an sitting very helpful as rest or relief. So even for no greater purpose, this Ch’an class has been very useful and should be highly recommended.” [from Ch’an Magazine Vol.1; No.1]

In the first lesson of each class, I always ask each of the students individually his or her purpose in learning Ch’an whether he or she hoped to benefit the body, or sought help for the mind. The answers show that the latter were in the majority. This indicates that people living in American society today, under the strain and pressure of the present environment, suffer excessive tension, and many have lost their mental balance. Some are so severely tense that they have to consult a psychiatrist. Among those who come to learn Ch’an, I have one woman student, an outstanding lecturer in a well-known university, who asked me at the first meeting if I could help to relieve her from tense and uneasy moods. I told her that for a Ch’an practitioner this is a very simple matter. After five lessons she felt that Ch’an was a great blessing to her life.

The method of the first stage is very simple. Mainly it requires you to relax all the muscles and nerves of your entire body, and concentrate your attention on the method you have just learned. Because the tension of your muscles and nerves affects the activity of the brain, the key is therefore to reduce the burden on your brain. When your wandering thoughts and illusions decrease, your brain will gradually get a little rest. As its need of blood is reduced, more blood will circulate through the entire body. Meanwhile, because of the relaxation of the brain, all the muscles also relax; thus your blood vessels expand, you feel comfortable all over, your spirit feels fresh and alert, and your mental responses are naturally lighter and more lively.

If one’s object of study is just to acquire physical and mental balance, and not to study meditation proper, then one will probably feel that the completion of the first stage is enough; but many students are not content with this, and indeed, some from the outset are looking for the goal of the second stage.

Stage 2: From the sense of the small ‘I’

The first stage only helps to bring concentration to your confused mind; but when you practise concentration, other scattered thoughts continue to appear in your mind - sometimes many, sometimes a few. The concept of your purpose in practising Ch’an is for mental and physical benefits. This is a stage where your concept is purely self-centred. There is no mention of philosophical ideals or religious experience. When you reach the second stage, it will enable you to liberate yourself from the narrow view of the ‘I’. In the second stage you begin to enter the stage of meditation. When you practise the method of cultivation taught by your teacher, you will enlarge the sphere of the outlook of the small ‘I’ until it coincides with time and space. The small ‘I’ merges into the entire universe, forming a unity. When you look inward, the depth is limitless; when you look outward, the breadth is limitless. Since you have joined and become one with universe, the world of your own body and mind no longer exists. What exists is the universe, which is infinite in depth and breadth. You yourself are not only a part of the universe, but also the totality of it.

When you achieve this experience in your Ch’an sitting, you will then understand what is meant in philosophy by principle or basic substance, and also what phenomenal existence is. All phenomena are the floating surface or perceptible layer of basic substance. From the shallow point of view, the phenomena have innumerable distinctions and each has different characteristics; in reality, the differences between the phenomena do not impair the totality of basic substance. For instance, on the planet on which we live, there are countless kinds of animals, plants, minerals, vapours, liquids and solids which incessantly arise, change and perish, constituting the phenomena of the earth. However, seen from another planet, the earth is just one body. When we have the opportunity to free ourselves from the bonds of self or subjective views, to assume the objective standpoint of the whole and observe all phenomena together, we can eliminate opposing and contradictory views. Take a tree as an example. From the standpoint of the individual leaves and branches, they are all distinct from one another, and can also be perceived to rub against one another. However, from the standpoint of the trunk and roots, all parts without exception are of one unified whole.

In the course of this second stage, you have realised that you not only have an independent individual existence, but you also have a universal existence together with this limitlessly deep and wide cosmos, and therefore the confrontation between you and the surrounding environment exists no more. Discontent, hatred, love, desire - in other words dispositions of rejecting and grasping disappear naturally, and you sense a feeling of peace and satisfaction. Because you have eliminated the selfish small ‘I’, you are able to look upon all people and all things as if they were phenomena produced from your own substance, and so you will love all people and all things in the same way you loved and watched over your small ‘I’. This is the mind of a great philosopher.

Naturally, all great religious figures must have gone through the experiences of this second stage, where they free themselves from the confines of the small ‘I’, and discover that their own basic substance is none other than the existence of the entire universe, and that there is no difference between themselves and everything in the universe. All phenomena are manifestations of their own nature. They have the duty to love and watch over all things, and also have the right to manage them; just as we have the duty to love our own children and the right to manage the property that belongs to us This is the formation of the relationship between the deity and the multitude of things he created. Such people personify the basic substance of the universe which they experience through meditation, and create the belief in God. They substantiate this idea of a large ‘I’ the self-love of God and formulate the mission of being a saviour of the world or an emissary of God. They unify all phenomena and look upon them as objects that were created and are to be saved. Consequently, some religious figures think that the basic nature of their souls is the same as that of the deity, and that they are human incarnations of the deity. In this way, they consider themselves to be saviours of the world. Others think that although the basic nature of their souls is not identical to and inseparable from that of the deity, the phenomenon of their incarnation shows that they were sent to this world by God as messengers to promulgate God’s intention.

Generally, when philosophers or religious figures reach the height of the second stage, they feel that their wisdom is unlimited, their power is infinite, and their lives are eternal. When the scope of the ‘I’ enlarges, self-confidence accordingly gets stronger, but this stronger self-confidence is in fact merely the unlimited escalation of a sense of superiority and pride. It is therefore termed large ‘I’, and does not mean that absolute freedom from vexations has been achieved.

Stage 3: From the large ‘I’ to no ‘I’

When one reaches the height of the second stage, he realises that the concept of the ‘I’ does not exist. But he has only abandoned the small ‘I’ and has not negated the concept of basic substance or the existence of God; you may call it Truth, the one and only God, the Almighty, the Unchanging Principle, or even the Buddha of Buddhism. If you think that it is real, then you are still in the realm of the big ‘I’ and have not left the sphere of philosophy and religion.

I must emphasise that the content of Ch’an does not appear until the third stage. Ch’an is unimaginable. It is neither a concept nor a feeling. It is impossible to describe it in any terms abstract or concrete. Though meditation is ordinarily the proper path leading to Ch’an, once you have arrived at the door of Ch’an, even the method of meditation is rendered useless. It is like using various means of transportation on a long journey. When you reach the final destination, you find a steep cliff standing right in front of you. It is so high you cannot see its top, and so wide that its side cannot be found. At this time a person who has been to the other side of the cliff comes to tell you that on the other side lies the world of Ch’an. When you scale it you will enter Ch’an. And yet, he tells you not to depend on any means of transportation to fly over, bypass, or penetrate through it, because it is infinity itself, and there is no way to scale it.

Even an outstanding Ch’an master able to bring his student to this place will find himself unable to help any more. Although he has been to the other side, he cannot take you there with him, just as a mother’s own eating and drinking cannot take the hunger away from the child who refuses to eat or drink. At that time, the only help he can give you is to tell you to discard all your experiences, your knowledge, and all the things and ideas that you think are the most reliable, most magnificent, and most real, even including your hope to get to the world of Ch’an. It is as if you were entering a sacred building. Before you do so, the guard tells you that you must not carry any weapon, that you must take off all your clothes, and that not only must you be completely naked you also have to leave your body and soul behind. Then you can enter.

Because Ch’an is a world where there is no self, if there is still any attachment at all in your mind, there is no way you can harmonise with Ch’an. Therefore, Ch’an is the territory of the wise, and the territory of the brave. Not being wise, one would not believe that after he has abandoned all attachments another world could appear before him. Not being brave, one would find it very hard to discard everything he has accumulated in this life - ideals and knowledge, spiritual and material things.

You may ask what benefit we would get after making such great sacrifices to enter the world of Ch’an. Let me tell you that you cannot enter the world of Ch’an while this question is still with you. Looking for benefit, either for self or for others, is in the ‘I’-oriented stage. The sixth patriarch of the Ch’an sect in China taught people that the way to enter the enlightenment of the realm of Ch’an is: “Neither think of good, nor think of evil”. That is, you eliminate such opposing views as self and other, inner and outer, being and non-being, large and small, good and bad, vexation and Bodhi, illusion and enlightenment, false and true, or suffering of birth and death and joy of emancipation. Only then can the realm of Ch’an or enlightenment appear and bring you a new life.

This new life you have had all along, and yet you have never discovered it. In the Ch’an sect we call it your original face before you were born. This is not the small ‘I’ of body and mind, nor the large ‘I’ of the world and universe. This is absolute freedom, free from the misery of all vexations and bonds. To enter Ch’an as described above is not easy. Many people have studied and meditated for decades, and still have never gained entrance to the door of Ch’an. It will not be difficult, however, when your causes and conditions are mature, or if you happen to have a good Ch’an master who guides you with full attention. This Master may adopt various attitudes, actions and verbal expressions which may seem ridiculous to you, as indirect means of assisting you to achieve your goal speedily. And when the Master tells you that you have now entered the gate, you will suddenly realise that there is no gate to Ch’an. Before entering, you cannot see where the gate is, and after entering you find the gate non-existent. Otherwise there will be the distinction between inside and outside, the enlightened and the ignorant; and if there are such distinctions, then it is still not Ch’an.

When you are in the second stage, although you feel that the ‘I’ does not exist, the basic substance of the universe, or the Supreme Truth, still exists. Although you recognise that all the different phenomena are the extension of this basic substance or Supreme Truth, yet there still exists the opposition of basic substance versus external phenomena. Not until the distinctions of all phenomena disappear, and everything goes back to truth or Heaven, will you have absolute peace and unity. As long as the world of phenomena is still active, you cannot do away with conflict, calamity, suffering and crime. Therefore, although philosophers and religious figures perceive the peace of the original substance, they still have no way to get rid of the confusion of phenomena.

One who has entered Ch’an does not see basic substance and phenomena as two things standing in opposition to each other. They cannot even be illustrated as being the back and palm of a hand. This is because phenomena themselves are basic substance, and apart from phenomena there is no basic substance to be found. The reality of basic substance exists right in the unreality of phenomena, which change ceaselessly and have no constant form. This is the Truth. When you experience that phenomena are unreal, you will then be free from the concept of self and other, right and wrong, and free from the vexations of greed, hatred, worry and pride. You will not need to search for peace and purity, and you will not need to detest evil vexations and impurity. Although you live in the world of phenomenal reality, to you, any environment is a Buddha’s Pure Land. To an unenlightened person, you are but an ordinary person. To you, all ordinary people are identical with Buddha. You will feel that your own self-nature is the same as that of all Buddhas, and the self-nature of Buddhas is universal throughout time and space. You will spontaneously apply your wisdom and wealth, giving to all sentient beings everywhere, throughout all time and space.

What I have said reveals a small part of the feeling of one who has entered the enlightened realm of Ch’an, and is also the course which one follows in order to depart from the small ‘I’ and arrive at the stage of no ‘I’. Nevertheless, a newly enlightened person who has just entered the realm of Ch’an is still at the starting section of the entire passage of Ch’an. He is like one who has just had his first sip of port. He knows its taste now, but the wine will not remain in his mouth forever. The purpose of Ch’an is not just to let you take one sip, but to have your entire life merge with and dissolve in the wine, even, to the point that you forget the existence of yourself and the wine. After tasting the first sip of egolessness, how much farther must one travel?

What kinds of things remain to be seen?

I will tell you when I have the chance!

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