The Ch'an Training
the Hsu Yun Ho Shang Fa Hui
Tr. Lu K'uan Yu (Charles Luk)
Master Hsu Yun's
discourse in the Ch'an Hall
(Dear friends,) you have been coming frequently
to ask for my instruction and I really feel ashamed (of my incompetence). (Every
day) from morning to evening, you have been all hard at work splitting fire-wood,
tilling the fields, moving earth and carrying bricks. In spite of this, you still
remember your religious duties; this earnestness of yours does indeed warm the
heart of other people. I, Hsu Yun, feel really ashamed of my incompetence in religion
and lack of virtue. I am not qualified to give instruction and can only pick up
a few sentences left behind by the ancients in reply to your questions.
TO THE METHOD OF TRAINING
There are many kinds of method but I will deal briefly
PREREQUISITES OF THE PERFORMANCE OF RELIGIOUS DUTY
belief in the (law of) causality
Whoever One may be, especially if striving
to perform one's religious duty, one should believe firmly in the law of causality.
If one lacks this belief and does whatever one likes, not only will one fail in
the performance of religious duty, but also there will be no escape from this
law (of causality) even in the three unhappy ways. An ancient master said:
'If one wishes to know the causes formed in a previous life, one can find them
in how one fares in the present life; if one wishes to know the effects in the
next life, one can find them in one's deeds in the present life.' He also said:
'The karma of our deeds will never be wiped out even after hundreds and thousands
of aeons (but) as soon as conditions become ripe, we will have to bear the effects
ourselves.' The Surangama Sutra says: 'If the causal ground is not a true one,
the ripening (fruit) will be distorted' Therefore, when one sows a good cause,
one will reap a good fruit (and) when one sows an evil cause, one will reap an
evil fruit; when one sows melon (seeds) one will gather melons (and) when one
sows beans, one will gather beans. This is the plain truth. As I am talking about
the law of causality, I will tell you two stories to illustrate it.
story is about the massacre of the Sakya clansmen by the Crystal King (Virudhaka).
Before the advent of Sakyamuni Buddha, there was near Kapila town a village inhabited
by fishermen, and in it was a big pond. It happened that because of a great drought,
the pond ran dry and all the fish were caught and eaten by the villagers. The
last fish taken was a big one and before it was killed, a boy who never ate fish,
played with it and thrice knocked its head. Later, after Sakyamuni Buddha's appearance
in this world, King Prasenajit who believed in the Buddha-dharma, married a
Sakya girl who then gave birth to a prince called Crsytal. When he was young,
Crystal had his schooling in Kapila which was then inhabited by the Sakya clansmen.
One day while playing, the boy ascended to the Buddha's seat and was reprimanded
by others who dragged him down. The boy cherished a grudge against the men and
when he became king, he led his soldiers to attack Kapila, killing all its inhabitants.
At the same time, the Buddha suffered from a headache which lasted three days.
When His disciples asked Him to rescue the poor inhabitants, the Buddha replied
that a fixed Karma could not be changed. By means of his miraculous powers, Maudgalyayana
rescued five hundred Sakya clansmen and thought he could give them refuge in his
own bowl which was raised up in the air. When the bowl was brought down, all the
men had been turned into blood. When asked by His chief disciples, the Buddha
related the story (kung an) of the villagers who in days gone by had killed all
the fish (in their pond); King Crystal had been the big fish and his soldiers
the other fish in the pond; the inhabitants of Kapila who were now killed had
been those who ate the fish; and the Buddha Himself had been the boy who thrice
knocked the head of the big fish. (Karma was) now causing Him to suffer from a
headache for three days in retribution for his previous act. Since there colud
be no escape from the effects of a fixed Karma, the five hundred Sakya clansmen,
although rescued by Maudgalyayana, shared the same fate. Later, King Crystal was
reborn in a hell. (As cause produces effect which in turn becomes a new cause)
the retribution (theory) is inexhaustible. The law of causality is really very
The second story is that of (Ch'an master) Pai Chang who liberated
a wild fox. One day, after a Ch'an meeting, although all his disciples had
retired, the old master Pai Chang noticed an elderly man who remained behind.
Pai Chang asked the man what he was doing and he replied: 'I am not a human being
but the spirit of a wild fox. In my previous life, I was the head-monk of this
place. One day, a monk asked me, "Does a man practicing self-cultivation,
still become involved in the (theory of) retribution?" I replied, "No,
he is free from the (theory of) retribution." For this (reply) alone, I got
involved in retribution and have now been the spirit of a wild fox for five hundred
years, and am still unable to get away from it. Will the master be compassionate
enough to enlighten me on all this?' Pai Chang said to the old man: 'Ask me the
same question (and I will explain it to you).' The man then said to the master:
'I wish to ask the master this: Does one who practices self cultivation still
get involved in the (theory of) retribution?' Pai Chang replied: 'He is not blind
to cause and effect.' Thereupon, the old man was greatly awakened; he prostrated
himself before the master to thank him and said: 'I am indebted to you for your
(appropriate) reply to the question and am now liberated from the fox's body.
I live in a (small) grotto on the mountain behind and hope you will grant me the
usual rites for a dead monk.' The following day, Pai Chang went to a mountain
behind (his monastery), where in a (small) grotto he probed the ground with his
staff and discovered a dead fox for whom the usual funeral rites for a dead monk
(Dear) friends, after listening to these two stories, you will realize
that the law of causality is indeed a dreadful (thing). Even after His attainment
of Buddhahood, the Buddha still suffered a headache in retribution (for His former
act). Retribution is infallible and fixed karma is inescapable. So we should always
be heedful of all this and should be very careful about creating (new) causes.
Strict observance if the rules of discipline (commandment)
In striving to perform
one's religious duty, the first thing is to observe the rules of discipline. For
discipline is the fundamental of the Supreme Bodhi; discipline begets immutability
and immutability begets wisdom. There is no such thing as self-cultivation without
observance of the rules of discipline. The Surangama Sutra which lists four kinds
of purity, clearly teaches us that cultivation of Samadhi (-mind) without observance
of the rules of discipline, will not wipe out the dust (impurities). Even if there
be manifestation of much knowledge with dhyana, this also will cause a fall into
(the realm of) maras (evil demons) and heretics. Therefore, we know that observance
of the rules of discipline is very important. A man observing them is supported
and protected by dragon-kings and devas, and respected and feared by maras and
heretics. A man breaking the rules of discipline is called a big robber by the
ghosts who make a clean sweep of even his footprints. Formerly, in Kubhana state
(Kashmir), there was nearby a monastery a poisonous dragon which frequently played
havoc in the region. (In the monastery) five hundred arhats gathered together
but failed to drive away the dragon with their collective power of Dhyana-samadhi.
Later, a monk came (to the monastery) where he did not enter into Dhyana-samadhi;
he merely said to the poisonous dragon: 'Will the wise and virtuous one leave
this place and go to some distant one.' Thereupon, the poisonous dragon fled to
a distant place. When asked by the arhats what miraculous power he had used to
drive away the dragon, the monk replied: 'I did not use the power of Dhyana-samadhi;
I am only very careful about keeping the rules of discipline and I observe a minor
one with the same care as a major one.' So, we can see that the collective power
of five hundred arhats' Dhyana--samadhi cannot compare with a monk's strict observance
of the rules of discipline.
If you (retort and) ask me (why) the Sixth Patriarch
'Why should discipline be observed if the mind is (already) impartial?
should straightforward men practice Ch'an ?'
I will ask you back this question:
'Is your mind already impartial and straightforward; if the (lady) Ch'ang O came
down from the moon with her naked body and embraced you in her arms, would
your heart remain undisturbed; and if someone without any reason insults and beats
you, will you not give rise to feelings of anger and resentment? Can you refrain
from differentiating between enmity and affection, between hate and love, between
self and other, and between right and wrong? If you can do all this, then you
can open your mouth widely to talk, otherwise it is useless to tell a deliberate
(3) A firm faith
A firm believing mind is the fundamental of one's
training for performing one's religious duty, because faith is the mother (or
begetter) of the beginning (or source) of right doctrine, and because without
faith, no good will derive therefrom. If we want to be liberated from (the round
of) births and deaths, we must first have a firm believing mind. The Buddha said
that all living beings on earth had (inherent in them) the meritorious Tathagata
wisdom which they could not realize solely because of their false thinking and
grasping. He also expounded all kinds of Dharma doors (to enlightenment) to cure
(all kinds of) ailments from which living beings suffered. We should, therefore,
believe that his words are not false and that all living beings can attain Buddhahood.
But why have we failed to attain Buddhahood? It is because we have not gone into
training according to the (correct) method. For example, we believe and know that
bean curd can be made with soybean but if we do not start making it, soybean cannot
turn into bean curd (for us). Now assuming that soybean is used for making bean
curd, we shall still fail to make it if we do not know how to mix it with gypsum.
If we know the method, we will grind the soybean (put the powder in water), boil
it, take out the bean grounds and add a suitable quantity of gypsum powder; thus
we will certainly get bean curd. Likewise, in the performance of our religious
duty, Buddhahood will be unattainable not only because of lack of training, but
also because of training not in conformity with the (correct) method. If our self-cultivation
is practiced according to the (correct) method, without either backsliding or
regret, we are bound to attain Buddhahood.
Therefore, we should firmly believe
that fundamentally we are Buddhas, we should also firmly believe that self-cultivation
performed according to the (correct) method is bound to result in the attainment
of Buddha-hood. Master Yung Chia said (in his Song of Enlightenment):
the real is attained, neither ego nor dharma exist,
And in a moment the avici
karma is eradicated.
If knowingly I lie to deceive living beings, my tongue
be pulled out for aeons uncountable as dust and sand.'
The old master
was very compassionate and took this boundless vow to urge those coming after
him to develop a firm believing mind.
(4) Adoption of the method of training
one has developed a firm faith, one should choose a Dharma door (to enlightenment)
for one's training. One should never change it, and when one's choice has been
made, either for repetition of the Buddha's name, or for holding a mantra, or
for Ch'an training, one should stick to it for ever without backsliding and regret.
If today the method does not prove successful, tomorrow it shall be continued;
if this year it does not prove successful, next year it shall be continued; and
if in the present lifetime it does not prove successful, it shall be continued
in the next life. The old master Kuei Shan said: 'If one practices it in each
succeeding reincarnation, the Buddha-stage can be expected.' There are some people
who are irresolute in their decisions; today after hearing a learned man praise
the repetition of Buddha's name, they decide to repeat it for a couple of days
and tomorrow, after hearing another learned man praise Ch'an training, they will
try it for another two days. If they like to play in this manner, they will go
on doing so until their death without succeeding in getting any result. Is it
not a pity?
METHOD OF CH'AN TRAINING
Athough there are many Dharma doors
(to enlightenment), the Buddha, Patriarchs and Ancestors were agreed that
the Ch'an training was the unsurpassed wonderful door. In the Surangama assembly,
the Buddha ordered Manjusri to choose between the (various modes of) complete
enlightenment, and (he chose) Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's (method) of using the
faculty of hearing, as the best. When we turn back the hearing to hear our self-nature,
this is (one of the methods of) Ch'an training. This place is a Ch'an hall in
which we should discuss this Ch'an training.
ESSENTIALS OF CH'AN TRAINING
daily activities are performed within the truth itself. Is there a place that
is not a Bodhimandala? Fundamentally a Ch'an hall is out of place; moreover
Ch'an does not mean sitting (in meditation). The so-called Ch'an hall and the
so-called Ch'an sitting are only provided for people (who encounter) insurmountable
obstructions (of their own) and who are of shallow wisdom in this period of decadence
(of the Dharma).
When one sits in this training, one's body and mind should
be well controlled. If they are not well controlled a small harm will be illness
and a great harm will be entanglement with the demon, which is most regrettable.
In the Ch'an hall, when incense sticks are burned for your walking or sitting,
the aim is to ensure the control of body and mind. Besides this, there are many
ways to control body and mind, but I will deal briefly with the essential ones.
sitting in Ch'an meditation, the correct position is the natural one. The waist
should not be pushed forward, for to do so is to pull upward the inner heat with
the result that after the sitting, there will be tears, bad breath, uneasy respiration,
loss of appetite and even vomiting of blood. Neither should the waist be drawn
backward with dropped head, for this can easily cause dullness. As soon as dullness
is felt, the meditator should open his eyes wide, pull up his waist and gently
shake his buttocks, and dullness will disappear automatically.
If the training
is undergone in hot haste, one will feel a certain annoying dryness in the chest.
In this case, it will be advisable to stop the training for the time a half-inch
of the incense stick takes to burn, and resume when one feels at ease again. If
one does not proceed in this manner, one will, as time goes on, develop a hot
and excitable character, and in the worst case, one may thereby become insane
or get entangled with demons.
When the Ch'an sitting (in meditation) becomes
effective, there will be (mental) states which are too many to enumerate, but
if you do not cling to them, they will not hinder you. This is just what the proverb
says: 'Don't wonder at the wonderful and the wonderful will be in full retreat.'
Even if you see evil spirits of all kinds coming to disturb you, you should take
no notice of them and you should not be afraid of them. Even if Sakyamuni Buddha
comes to lay His hand on your head and prophesies (your future Buddhahood)
you should not take any notice of all this and should not be delighted by it.
The Surangama Sutra says: 'A perfect state is that in which the mind is undisturbed
by the saintly; an interpretation of the saintly is entanglement with all demons.'
TO BEGIN THE TRAINING: DISTINCTION BETWEEN HOST AND GUEST
How should one start
the (Ch'an) training? In the Surangama assembly, Arya Ajnatakaundinya talked about
the two words 'Foreign Dust' and this is just where we should begin our training.
He said: 'For instance, a traveler stops at an inn where he passes the night or
takes his meal, and as soon as he has done so, he packs and continues his journey,
because he has no time to stay longer. As for the host (of the inn), he has nowhere
to go. My deduction is that the one who does not stay is the guest and the one
who does stay is the host. Therefore, a thing is foreign when it does not stay.
Again in a clear sky, when the sun rises and sunlight enters (the house) through
an opening, the dust is seen moving in the ray of light whereas the empty space
is unmoving. Therefore, that which is still is voidness and that which moves is
Foreign dust illustrates false thinking, and voidness illustrates self-nature,
that is the permanent host who does not follow the guest in the latter's coming
and going. This serves to illustrate the eternal (unmoving) self-nature which
does not follow false thinking in its sudden rise and fall. Therefore, it is said:
'if one is unmindful of all things, one will meet with no inconvenience when surrounded
by all things.' By dust which moves of itself and does not inconvenience voidness
which is cleafly still, one means that false thinking rises and falls by itself
and does not hinder the self-nature which is immutable in its Bhutatathata (suchness,
thatness) condition. This is the meaning of the saying: 'If the mind does not
arise, all things are blameless.'
(The meaning of) the above word 'foreign'
is coarse and (that of) 'dust' is fine. Beginners should dearly understand (the
difference between) 'host' and 'guest' and will thus not be 'drifted about' by
false thinking. By advancing further, they win be clear about 'voidness' and 'dust'
and thus will experience no inconvenience from false thinking. It is said: 'when
(false thinking) is known, there will be no harm.' If you inquire carefully into
and understand all this, over half of what the training means will become quite
clear to you.
HUA TOU AND DOUBT
In ancient times, the Patriarchs and Ancestors
directly pointed at the mind for realization of self-nature and attainment of
Buddhahood. like Bodhidharma who 'quietened the mind' and the Sixth Patriarch
who only talked about 'perception of self-nature', all of them just advocated
the outright cognizance (of it) without any more ado. They did not advocate looking
into a hua t'ou, but later they discovered that men were becoming unreliable,
were not of dogged determination, indulged in playing tricks and boasted of their
possession of precious gems which really belonged to others. For this reason,
these ancestors were compelled to set up their own sects, each with its own devices;
hence, the hua t'ou technique.
There are many hua t'o us, such as: 'All things
are returnable to One, to what is (that) One returnable?' 'Before you were
born, what was your real face?' but the hua t'ou: 'Who is repeating Buddha's
name?' is widely in use (today).
What is hua t'ou? (lit. word-head). Word is
the spoken word and head is that which precedes word. For instance, when one says
'Amitabha Buddha', this is a word. Before it is said it is a hua t'ou (or ante-word).
That which is called a hua t'ou is the moment before a thought arises. As soon
as a thought arises, it becomes a hua wei (lit. word-tail). The moment before
a thought arises is called 'the un-born'. That void which is neither disturbed
nor dull, and neither still nor (one-sided) is called 'the unending'. The unremitting
turning of the light inwards on oneself, instant after instant, and exclusive
of all other things, is called 'looking into the hua t'ou' or 'taking care of
the hua t'ou'.
When one looks into a hua t'ou, the most important thing is
to give rise to a doubt. Doubt is the crutch of hua t'ou. For instance, when
one is asked: 'Who is repeating Buddha's name?' everybody knows that he himself
repeats it, but is it repeated by the mouth or by the mind? If the mouth repeats
it, why does not it do so when one sleeps? If the mind repeats it, what does the
mind look like? As mind is intangible, one is not clear about it. Consequently
some slight feeling of doubt arises about 'WHO'. This doubt should not be coarse;
the finer it is, the better. At all times and in all places, this doubt alone
should be looked into unremittingly, like an ever-flowing stream, without giving
rise to a second thought. If this doubt persists, do not try to shake it; if it
ceases to exist, one should gently give rise to it again. Beginners will find
the hua t'ou more effective in some still place than amidst disturbance. However,
one should not give rise to a discriminating mind; one should remain indifferent
to either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness (of the hua t'ou) and one should
take no notice of either stillness or disturbance. Thus, one should work at the
training with singleness of mind.
(In the hua t'ou): 'Who is repeating the
Buddha's name?' emphasis should be laid upon the word 'Who', the other words serving
only to give a general idea of the whole sentence. For instance (in the questions):
'Who is wearing this robe and eating rice?', 'Who is going to stool and is urinating?',
'Who is putting an end to ignorance?', and 'Who is able to know and feel?', as
soon as one lays emphasis upon (the word) 'Who', while one is walking or standing,
sitting or reclining, one will be able to give rise to a doubt without difficulty
and without having to use one's faculty of thought to think and discriminate.
Consequently the word 'Who' of the hua t'ou is a wonderful technique in Ch'an
training. However, one should not repeat the word 'Who' or the sentence 'Who is
repeating the Buddha's name?' like (adherents of the Pure Land School) who repeat
the Buddha's name. Neither should one set one's thinking and discriminating mind
on searching for him who repeats the Buddha's name. There are some people who
unremittingly repeat the sentence: 'Who is repeating the Buddha's name?'; it would
be far better merely to repeat Amitabha Buddha's name (as do followers of the
Pure Land School) for this will give greater merits. There are others who indulge
in thinking of a lot of things and seek after everything here and there, and call
this the rising of a doubt; they do not know that the more they think, the more
their false thinking will increase, just like someone who wants to ascend but
is really descending. You should know all this.
Usually beginners give rise
to a doubt which is very coarse; it is apt to stop abruptly and to continue again,
and seems suddenly familiar and suddenly unfamiliar. This is (certainly) not doubt
and can only be their thinking (process). When the mad (wandering) mind has gradually
been brought under control, one will be able to apply the brake on the thinking
process, and only then can this be called 'looking into' (a hua t'ou). Furthermore,
little by little, one will gain experience in the training and then, there will
be no need to give rise to the doubt which will rise of itself automatically.
In reality, at the beginning, there is no effective training at all as there is
only (an effort) to put an end to false thinking. When real doubt rises of itself,
this can be called true training. This is the moment when one reaches a 'strategic
gateway' where it is easy to go out of one's way (as follows).
is the moment when one will experience utter purity and boundless ease and
if one fails to be aware of and look into the same, one will slip into a state
of dullness. If a learned teacher is present, he will immediately see clearly
that the student is in such a state and will strike the meditator with the (usual)
flat stick, thus clearing away the confusing dullness; a great many are thereby
awakened to the truth.
Secondly, when the state of purity and emptiness
appears, if the doubt ceases to exist, this is the unrecordable state in which
the meditator is likened to one sitting on a withered tree in a grotto, or to
soaking stones with water. When one reaches this state, one should arouse
(the doubt) to be immediately followed by one's awareness and contemplation (of
this state). Awareness (of this state) is freedom from illusion; this is wisdom.
Contemplation (of this state) wipes out confusion; this is imperturbability. This
singleness of mind will be thoroughly still and shining, in its imperturbable
absoluteness, spiritual clearness and thorough understanding, like the continuous
smoke of a solitary fire. When one reaches this stage, one should be provided
with a diamond eye and should refrain from giving rise to anything else, as
if one does, one will (simply) add another head upon one's head.
when a monk asked (Master) Chao Chou: 'what should one do when there is not a
thing to bring with self?' Chao Chou replied: 'Lay it down.' The monk said: 'What
shall I lay down when I do not bring a thing with me?' Chao Chon replied: 'If
you cannot lay it down, carry it away.' This is exactly the stage (above mentioned)
which is like that of a drinker of water who alone knows whether it is cold or
warm. This cannot be expressed in words and speeches, and one who reaches this
stage will clearly know it. As to one who has not reached it, it will be useless
to tell him about it. This is what the (following) lines mean:
'When you meet
a fencing master, show to him your sword.
Do not give your poem to a man who's
not a poet.'
TAKING CARE OF A HUA T'0U AND TURNING INWARD THE HEARING
TO HEAR THE SELF-NATURE
Someone may ask: 'How can Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's
"method of turning inward the hearing to hear the self-nature" be regarded
as Ch'an training?' I have just talked about looking into the hua t'ou; it means
that you should unremittingly and one-pointedly turn the light inwards on 'that
which is not born and does not die' which is the hua t'ou. To turn inwards one's
hearing to hear the self-nature means also that you should unremittingly and one-pointedly
turn inwards your (faculty of) hearing to hear the self-nature. 'To turn inwards'
is 'to turn back'. 'That which is not born and does not die' is nothing but the
self-nature. When hearing and looking follow sound and form in the worldly stream,
hearing does not go beyond sound and looking does not go beyond form (appearance),
with the obvious differentiation. However, when going against the mundane stream,
the meditation is turned inwards to contemplate the self-nature. When 'hearing'
and 'looking' are no longer in pursuit of sound and appearance, they become fundamentally
pure and enlightening and do not differ from each other. We should know that what
we call 'looking into the hua t'ou' and 'turning inwards the hearing to hear the
self-nature' cannot be effected by means of the eye to look or the ear to hear.
If eye and ear are so used, there will be pursuit after sound and form with the
result that one will be turned by things (i.e. externals); this is called 'surrender
to the (mundane) stream'. If there is singleness of thought abiding in that
'which is not born and does not die', without pursuing sound and form, this is
'going against the stream'; this is called 'looking into the hua t'ou' or 'turning
inwards the hearing to hear the self-nature'.
EARNESTNESS ABOUT LEAVING SAMSARA
AND DEVELOPING A LONG ENDURING MIND
In the Ch'an training, one should be in
earnest in one's desire to leave the realm of birth and death, and develop a long
enduring mind (in one's striving). If the mind is not earnest it will be impossible
to give rise to the doubt, and the striving will be ineffective. Lack of a long
enduring mind will result in laziness and the training will not be continuous.
Just develop a long enduring mind and the doubt will rise of itself. When doubt
rises trouble (klesa) will come to an end of itself. As the ripe moment comes
(it will be like) running water which will form a channel.
I will now tell
you a story I personally witnessed. In the year K'eng Tsu (1900), when eight world
powers sent their expeditionary forces to Peking (after the Boxer rebellion),
I followed Emperor Kuang Hsu and Empress Dowager Tz'u Hsi when they fled from
the capital. We had to hurry towards Shen Hsi (Shensi) province; each day we walked
several tens of miles, and for several days we had no rice to eat. On the road,
a peasant offered some creepers of sweet potato to the (hungry) emperor, who
found them savory and asked the man what they were. You can imagine that when
the emperor who used to put on airs and had an awe-inspiring reputation, had to
run some distance he became very hungry. When he ate creepers of sweet potato,
he gave up all his airs and awe-inspiring attitude. Why did he walk on foot, become
hungry and lay down everything? Because the allied forces wanted his life and
he had only one thought, that of running for his life. Later, when peace had been
concluded, he returned to the capital, putting on once more his airs with his
awe-inspiring reputation. Again he would no longer walk in the street and did
not feel hungry. If he did not find some food savory, once more he could not swallow
it. Why was he (again) unable to lay down every-thing now? Because the allied
forces no longer wanted his life and because his mind was not set on escaping.
If he now applied the same mind (previously) set on running for his life to perform
his religious duty, was there anything he could not do? This was due to the fact
that he did not have a long enduring mind, and as soon as favorable conditions
prevailed, his former habits appeared again.
Dear friends, the murderous demon
of impermanence is constantly looking for our lives and will never agree to conclude
peace with us! Let us hastily develop a long enduring mind to get out of birth
and death. Master Yuan Miao of Kao Feng said: 'If one sets a time limit for success
in the Ch'an training, one should act like a man who has fallen to the bottom
of a pit one thousand chang deep. His thousand and ten-thousand thoughts are
reduced to a single idea on how to escape from the pit. He keeps it up from morning
to evening and from evening (to the following) morning, and has no other thought.
If he trains in this way and does not realize the truth in three, five or seven
days, I shall be guilty of a verbal sin for which I shall fall into the hell where
tongues are pulled out.' The old master was earnest in his great mercy and being
apprehensive that we would not develop a long enduring mind, he took this great
vow to guarantee (our successes).
DIFFICULTY AND EASINESS IN CH'AN TRAINING
There is difficulty and easiness in the Ch'an training, both for beginners
and for old practicers.
DIFFICULTY FOR BEGINNERS: THE REMISS MIND
common defects of a beginner lie in his inability to lay down his habits of false
thinking; of (self-indulgence in) ignorance caused by pride and jealousy; of(self-inflicted)
obstructions caused by concupiscence, anger, stupidity and love; of laziness and
gluttony; and of (attachment to) right and wrong, to selfness and otherness. With
a belly (breast) filled with all the above (defects), how can he be responsive
to the truth? Others are young gentlemen who are unable to get rid of their
habits and are incapable of the least condescension and of enduring the smallest
trouble; how can they undergo the training in performance of their religious duties?
They never think of our original teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, and of His standing
when He left home. Some people who know a little literature, use their knowledge
of it to interpret the ancients' sayings, boast of their unequalled abilities
and regard themselves as superiors. When seriously ill, they cannot bear their
sufferings with patience. When they are about to die, they lose their heads and
realize that their usual knowledge is useless. Thus their repentance will be tardy.
are serious in their religious duties but do not know where to begin their training.
Others are afraid of false thinking and are unable to put an end to it. So they
worry about it all day long and blame their karmic obstructions for it, thus falling
away in their religious enthusiasm. Some want to resist false thinking to the
death by angrily clenching their fists to keep up their spirits and by thrusting
out their chests and widely opening their eyes as if there is really something
very important to do. They want to fight to a finish against their false thinking;
not only will they fail to drive it away but they will thereby vomit blood or
become insane. There are people who are afraid of falling into voidness but they
do not know they are thus giving rise to the 'demon'. Consequently, they can neither
wipe out voidness nor attain awakening. There are those who set their minds on
the quest of awakening and who do not know that to seek awakening and to desire
Buddhahood are nothing but a great falsehood; they do not know that gravel cannot
be turned into rice and they will thus wait until the year of the donkey for their
There are (also) those who can manage to sit (in meditation)
during the time one or two incense sticks take to burn and thereby experience
some joy, but this is only likened to the blind black tortoise which stretched
its head through the hole of a floating log. It is just a rare chance and
not (the result of) true training. Moreover, the demon of joy has already slipped
into their minds. There are cases of the enjoyable state of purity and cleanness
realizable in stillness but not realizable in disturbance and for this reason
meditators avoid disturbing conditions and look for quiet places. They do not
realize that they have already agreed to become servants of the demon of both
stillness and disturbance.
There are many cases like the above. It is really
difficult for beginners to know the correct method of training; awareness without
contemplation will lead to confusion and instability, and contemplation without
awareness will result in immersion in stagnant water.
EASINESS FOR BEGINNERS:
LAYING DOWN OF (THE BURDEN OF) THINKING AND GIVING RISE TO A SINGLE THOUGHT
the training seems difficult, it becomes very easy once its method is known. Where
does easiness lie for beginners? There is nothing ingenious in it because it lies
in 'laying down'. Laying down what? (The burden of) distress (klesa) caused by
ignorance. How does one lay it down? You have all been at the bedside of a dead
man. If you try to scold him a few times, he will not be excited. If you give
him a few strokes of the staff he will not strike back. Formerly he indulged in
ignorance but now he cannot do so any more. Formerly he longed for reputation
and wealth but now he no longer wants it. Formerly he was contaminated by habits
but now he is free from them. Now he does not make distinctions and lays down
everything. Dear friends, please look at all this. When we have breathed our last,
this physical body of ours will become a corpse. Because we cherish this body,
we are unable to lay down everything, with the resultant creation of self and
other, right and wrong, like and dislike, and acceptance and rejection. If we
only regard this body as a corpse, we will not cherish it and will certainly not
consider it as ours. (If so) is there anything we cannot lay down?
have to lay down everything, day and night, no matter whether we walk, stand,
sit or recline, in the midst of either stillness or disturbance, and whether busy
or not; throughout our bodies, within and without, there should be only a doubt,
a uniform, harmonizing and continuous doubt, unmixed with any other thought, in
other words, a hua t'ou which is likened to a long sword leaning against the sky,
which we will use to cut down a demon or Buddha should either appear. Thus we
will not fear false thinking; who then will disturb us; who will distinguish between
disturbance and stillness and who will cling to existence and non-existence? If
there be fear of false thinking, this fear will increase false thinking. If there
be awareness of purity, this purity will immediately be impure. If there be fear
of falling into non-existence, there will immediately be a fall into existence.
If there be desire to attain Buddhahood, there will immediately be a fall into
the way of demons. (For this reason) it is said: 'The carrying of water and fetching
of firewood are nothing but the wonderful Truth. The hoeing of fields and the
cultivation of soil are entirely ch'an potentialities.' This does not mean that
only the crossing of legs for sitting in meditation can be regarded as Ch'an training
in the performance of one's religious duty.
DIFFICULTY FOR OLD PRACTICERS:
INABILITY TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD AFTER REACHING THE TOP OP A HUNDRED-FOOT POLE
Where does difficulty lie for an old practicer? In his training, when his
doubt has become genuinely real, his awareness and contemplation are still linked
with the (realm) of birth and death, and lack of awareness and contemplation is
(the cause of) his fall into (the realm of) non-existence. It is already difficult
to reach these stages, but there are many who are unable to get beyond them, and
are content to stand on the top of a hundred-foot pole without knowing how to
take a step forward. Others who, after reaching these stages, are able to achieve
in the stillness some wisdom which enables them to understand a few kung ans left
behind by the ancients; they also lay down the doubt, thinking they have attained
a thorough awakening, and compose poems and gathas, twinkle their eyes and raise
their eyebrows, calling themselves enlightened; they do not know that they are
servants of the demon.
There are also those who misunderstand the meaning
of Bodhidharma's (words:)
'Put an end to the formation of all causes without,
and have no panting heart within; then with a mind like a wall, you will be
able to enter the Truth'
and the Sixth Patriarch's (words:)
'Do not think
of either good or evil; at this very instant, what is the Venerable Hui Ming's
They think that sitting with crossed legs like withered logs
in a grotto is the best Pattern. These people mistake an illusion-city for a place
of precious things, and take a foreign land for their native village. The
story of the old lady burning the hut serves to scold these (logs of) dead wood.
FOR OLD PRACTICERS: CONTINUATION OF CLOSE AND UNINTERRUPTED CH'AN TRAINING
does easiness lie for old practicers? It lies only in the absence of self-satisfaction
and the continuation of the close and uninterrupted (Ch'an) training , the closeness
should be much closer, the continuance much more continuous and the subtleness
much more subtle. When the ripe moment comes, the bottom of the barrel will drop
off of itself; otherwise one will have to call on enlightened masters who
will help one to pull out (the remaining) nail or stake (of obstruction).
Han Shan's Song is:
High on a mountain peak
Only boundless space
How to sit in meditation, no one knows.
The solitary moon
shines o'er the icy pool,
But in the pool there is no moon;
moon is in the night-blue sky.
This song is chanted now,
no Ch'an in the song.
The first two lines show that that which is truly
eternal is solitary and does not belong to anything else, and that it shines brightly
over the world without encountering any obstruction. The following (third) line
shows the wonderful body of Bhutatathata which worldly men do not know and
which cannot be located (even) by all Buddhas of the three times; hence the
three words: 'no one knows'. The next three (fourth, fifth and sixth) lines show
the old master's expedient expounding of this state. The last two lines (seventh
and eighth) give a special waffling to all of us, lest we mistake the finger for
the moon, that is none of these words are Ch'an.
My talk is like a
heap of things and is also (like what we call) the drag of creepers and an
interfering interruption (because) wherever there are words and speeches, there
is no real meaning. When the ancient masters received their students, either
they used their staffs (to beat them) or they shouted (to wake them up) and
there were not so many complications. However, the present cannot be compared
with the past, and it is, therefore, imperative to point a finger at the moon.
Dear friends, please look into all this; after all, who is pointing his finger
and who is looking at the moon?'
going to (a) the hell of fire, (b) the hell of blood, where the inhabitants devour
each other like animals and (c) the Asipattra hell of swords, where the leaves
and grass are sharp-edged swords.
This story was related by the Buddha himself.
of Sravasti and a contemporary of the Buddha. He was killed by his son, Virudhaka,
known as the Crystal King and the Evil Born King, who supplanted him.
or Maudgalaputra, was one of the ten chief disciples of the Buddha, and was specially
noted for his miraculous power; formerly an ascetic, he agreed with Sariputra
that whichever first found the truth would reveal it to the other. Sariputra found
the Buddha and brought Maudgalyayana to Him; the former is placed on His right,
the latter on His left.
This story is recorded in 'The Transmission of the
Lamp' (Ching Te Ch'uan Teng Lu) and other Ch'an collections.
In his previous
life. the old monk had already succeeded in disentangling his mind (from its attachment
to the phenomenal. However, he could not get away from Samsara because of the
karma of misguiding his former disciple about retribution. In his present transmigration,
he had realized a singleness of mind about leaving the world of animals and had
thereby acquired the occult power of transforming his fox's body into that of
an old man. However, he still clung to the dual view of the existence of ego (subject)
and fox (object) and could not free himself from this last bondage. Pai Chang's
words had a tremendous effect on the old man, releasing his mind from his doubt
about his self-nature which fundamentally was pure and contained neither cause
nor effect. Being free from this last bond, his self-nature now returned to normal
and could function without further handicap; it could hear the master's voice
by means of its function. When function operated normally, its essence manifested
itself; hence enlightenment.
See 'The Altar Sutra of the Six Patriarch,'
The name of a very beautiflil lady who, according to a popular
tale, stole the elixir of life and fled with it to the moon where she was changed
into a frog.
Avici is the last and deepest of the eight hells, where the
culprits suffer, die, and are instantly reborn to suffering without interruption.
punishment for verbal sins.
The Patriarchs are the six Patriarchs of China.
The Ancestors are the great Ch'an Masters who came after the Patriarchs. Hsu Yun
is now called an Ancestor.
Bodhimandala: truth-plot, holy site, place of
A custom of Buddha in teaching His disciples, from which
the burning of spots on the head of a monk is said to have originated. The eventual
vision of the Buddha is merely an impure creation of the deluded mind and does
not really represent Him in His Dharmakaya which is inconceivable. Many meditators
mistake such visions for the real and become involved with demons. (See Surangama
See Master Hsu Yun's 'Daily Discourses'.
All things are
returnable to One-mind, to what is One-mind returnable?
This hua t'ou is
sometimes wrongly translated in the West as: Before your parents were born, what
was your original face? There are two errors here. The first is probably due to
the wrong interpretation of the Chinese character 'sheng'. which means 'born'
or 'to give birth'. Then 'original' is wrong because it suggests creation or a
beginning. The self-nature has no beginning, being outside time. The correct rendering
is: Before your parents gave birth to you, what was your fundamental face?'
is as indispensable to hua t'ou as crutches are to the cripples.
purity and extreme lightness. When the meditator succeeds in putting an end to
all his thoughts, he will step into 'the stream' or correct concentration in which
his body and its weight seem to disappear completely and to give way to a bright
purity which is as light as air; he will feel as if he is about to be levitated.
thus clearing away the fog that darkens the sky. As soon as the confusing dullness
is cleared away, the self-nature, now free from hindrance, is able to function
normally and will actually receive the beating, hence enlightenment.
or Avyakhyata, in Sanskrit; unrecordable, either as good or bad; neutral,
good nor bad, things that are innocent and cannot be classified under moral categories.
when the mind is disentangled from the sense-organs, sense data and consciousness,
one reaches a state described as: 'holding fast to the top of a pole', or 'silent
immersion in stagnant water or 'sitting on the dean white ground'. (See Han Shan's
'Song of the Boardbearer'.) One should take a step forward in order to get out
of this state called 'a life', the fourth of the four laksanas (of an ego, a personality,
a being and a life) mentioned in the Diamond Sutra, otherwise the result one will
achieve is no better than 'soaking stones with water' which never penetrates stones.
if from the top of a hundred-foot pole one takes a step forward, one will reach
the top of a high peak from which one will release one's last hold and leap over
Diamond eye: indestructible eye of Wisdom.
and unnecessary thing that will obstruct the training.
The monk became
thoroughly awakened after hearing Chao Chou's reply. His first question means:
'What should one do when one becomes disentangled from sense-organs, sense-data
and consciousnesses?' He did not know that he was still entangled with this awareness
of ego and preservation of ego. (See Han Shan's commentary on The Diamond Cutter
of Doubts). Chao Chou's reply 'Lay it down' means: 'Lay down even the thought
you are still burdened with, for this very thought of not carrying a thing with
you holds you in bondage.' The monk argued: 'As I do not carry a single thing
with me, what shall I lay down?' Chao Chou replied: 'If you really have got rid
of all your false thinking, there will only remain your self-nature which is pure
and clean and which you should carry away with you, because you cannot get rid
of it.' The monk, now released from his awareness of ego or last bondage, realized
that only his self-nature remained which was free from all impediments and which
he could not get rid of, for Chao Chou told him to carry it away. It was this
very self-nature of his, now pure and clean, which actually heard the master's
voice, hence his enlightenment.
These two lines come from Lin Chi (Rinzai
in Japanese) whose idea was that one could talk about enlightenment with an enlightened
person and that it was useless to do so when meeting a deluded man, for the truth
was inexpressible and could only be realized after rigorous training. The first
line 'When you meet a fencing master, show to him your sword' was illustrated
when Han Shan met Ta Kuan and sat cross-legged face to face with him for forty
days and nights without sleeping. (See Han Shan's Autobiography). The second line
'Do not give your poem to a man who's not a poet' was proved by the Sixth Patriarch,
who urged his disciples not to discuss the Supreme Vehicle with those who were
not of the same sect, but to bring their palms together to salute them and make
them happy. (See The Altar Sifra of the Sixth Patriarch.)
i.e. to accord
with the world, its ways and customs; to die.
Realm of birth and death.
succees is bound to follow.
in China, only starving people eat creepers
of sweet potato which is used as food for pigs
Chang: a measure of ten
Literally 'sons of officials'; equivalent of the French term
'fils a papa'.
One of the ten wrong views.
Animals and birds were
chosen by the ancients as symbols for lunar years, such as a rat, buffalo, tiger,
rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig. As a donkey
was not one of them, the year of the donkey can never come round, i.e. these people
can never attain enlightenment.
The Samyuktagama Sutra says: 'There was
a blind tortoise countless aeons old which stretched out its head once every century.
There was a log with a hole through it, floating in the sea and tossed about by
high waves raised by winds of gale force. The tortoise stretched its head through
the hole. . . .' This shows the rareness of the chance as compared with the difficulty
of the blind black tortoise succeeding in putting its head through the hole in
the floating log.
i.e. differentiation between stillness and disturbance.
masters used to twinkle their eyes and raise their eyebrows to reveal the self-mind
to their disciples. In the above text, those who have only made some progress
but are still unenlightened, ape the ancients to prove their attainment of the
when the mind is like a wall, it will remain indifferent to all
See The Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch.
from the Lotus Sutra in which the Buddha urged His disciples not to stay in the
illusion-city or incomplete Nirvana but to strive to reach the Perfect Nirvana.
old lady supported a Ch'an monk for twenty years and used to send every day a
sixteenn-year-old girl to bring him food and offerings. One day. the old lady
ordered the girl to ask him this question: 'How is "it" at this very
moment?' The monk replied:
'A withered log in a cold cave
After three winters
has no warmth'.
The girl gave the monk's reply to the old lady who said: 'I
have been making offerings to one who can prove only that he is a worldly fellow.'
Thereupon, she sent him away and set fire to the hut. (See The Imperial Selection
of Ch'an Sayings). The monk reached only the top of a hundred-foot pole but refused
to take a step forward. As he was only dead wood, the old lady was angry, sent
him away and destroyed the hut.
 i.e. the bottom of the barrel full of
black lacquer, or ignorance; when it drops off; the barrel will be emptied of
lacquer and enlightenment will be attained.
Han Shan (Cold Mountain) should
not be confounded with Han Shan (Silly Mountain) whose autobiography has been
translated by me into English.
The high purpose of one desirous of escaping
The magnitude of his high aim.
Worldly men turn
their backs on the transcendental which they do not know.
moon symbolizes enlightenment which is independent of the phenomenal and is the
absolute which does not brook interference from any quarter. The pool is a symbol
of the self-nature which avoids all worldly things and is disentangled from them.
The line means the attainment of enlightenment by self-nature.
is fundamentally pure and clean and does not gain anything, even the moon, symbol
of enlightenment, when it is awakened, or lose anything, when it is under delusion.
If there be a moon, or enlightenment in it, it will not be absolute and will not
be pure and clean.
The enlightened self-nature neither comes nor goes for
it is immutable and pervades everywhere in the Dharmadhatu, symbolized by the
blue sky which is pure and clean.
The song is chanted in praise of that
which is pure and clean and does not contain an atom of Ch'an, because Ch'an is
only an empty name with no real nature.
Bhutatathata: the real, thus always,
or eternally so; i.e. reality as contrasted with unreality, or appearance, and
the unchanging or immutable as contrasted with form and phenomena. Bhuta is substance,
that which exists; tathata is suchness, thusness, i.e. such is its nature.
it can be located anywhere, it will not be the absolute and will not be all embracing.
a finger points towards the moon, wise men look at the moon whereas the ignorant
look at the finger and do not see the moon, or the truth. This parable was used
by the Buddha when teaching His disciples.
Readers will notice that footnotes
 to  on this page seem somewhat different from Master Hsu Yun's commentary
on the song, and will realize that Han Shan's poem was excellent in that it can
be interpreted either 'perpendicularly' or 'horizontally' as the learned ancients
put it, provided there be no deviation from its main purport. My footnotes describe
a student striving to achieve enlightenment whereas my master Hsu Yun describes
the state of an enlightened master. Gathas and poems chanted by the ancients are
like a prism or spectrum of multi-levelled meanings. as Mr. L Groupp, an American
Buddhist of New York, ably puts it.
Creepers: unnecessary things which
do not concern the real.
Words and speeches cannot express the inexpressible.
Red meaning is the reality which cannot be described and expressed
and shouting are to reveal the master's self-nature which beats and shouts and
the student's self-nature which is beaten and hears the shout. The beating and
shouting are in accord with Bodhidharma's direct pointing at the self-mind for
realization of the self-nature for attainment of Buddhahood.
is an expediency used to reveal the moon, or enlightened self-nature, but one
should not ding to the finger and overlook the moon which is pointed at.
who points at the moon and one who looks at the moon are the self-mind of the
master and the self-mind of the student respectively, again a direct pointing
at the self-mind for realization of self-nature and attainment of Buddhahood,
as taught by Bodhidbarma.