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CH'AN: The Essence of All Buddhas

Wisdom Pervasively Illumines Innate Truth.

Now we want to develop wisdom, and in order to do so, we must first go through some suffering. We must be smelted by the fire. Suppose you were a lump of gold, you would have to be smelted to find out if you were true gold or fool's gold. If you were fool's gold, then you would be burned up. If you really were gold, well, true gold withstands the foundry's fire. Real gold is not afraid of fire. If you have ten ounces of true gold, it remains ten ounces no matter how much you smelt it. If you start with ten ounces of fool's gold, then there may only be one ounce left after it goes through the fire. Now we are here in this foundry being forged into indestructible vajra bodies. Why do we experience fear? Because we can be destroyed! Absolutely nothing can destroy your potentially vajra indestructible body, but you must first endure some suffering. Some people say, "It's too much pain and suffering. I can't take it!" Who perceives the pain and suffering? "I perceive it," you say. And just who are you? "I am just this body," you reply. If your body is you, then what about when you die? Where is your body then? If someone hits your body or scolds it then, it will be able to bear it. It will tolerate all sorts of suffering without any difficulty. You say, "That's because I'll be dead, so there won't be any problems." Well, why don't you just play dead right now?

If a person wants to avoid death,
He must first act like a living dead person.

If you don't want to die, you first have to try out dying. "You mean commit suicide?" you ask. No, I mean act like a dead person. If you regard everything from the perspective of a dead person, you will no longer contend, or be greedy, hateful, or stupid.

All the patriarchs, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas through the ages succeeded by means of this method. All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and patriarchs were born from this Dharma door. So don't be afraid of difficulty and suffering now. Cultivate well. Diligently apply yourselves to your practice. Cast out all discursive thoughts. Don't be lazy or try to sneak off to rest. As long as you have a breath left, use it to walk and sit in meditation. We borrow the false to cultivate the true. The harder it is, the more you should be determined to overcome the difficulty. Anyone can do easy things. We want to do difficult things that others cannot do; we want to bear what others cannot bear. Only with such vigor and courage can we accomplish true wisdom. That's what's meant by forging indestructible vajra bodies in the red-hot furnace. After this kind of training, your bodies will be healthy and your wisdom will come forth.

Ch'an meditation disciplines both the body and the mind. The body is restrained from the Five Precepts which is no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, and no intoxication and the mind is restrained from The Three Poisons (greed, anger, and ignorance). In this way, we diligently cultivate Sila (moral conduct), Samadhi (concentration), and Prajna (wisdom) and extinguish greed, anger, and stupidity. It is virtually impossible to commit offenses in the Ch'an hall. Although we may have idle thoughts, we will not act upon them. Restrained from killing, stealing, and lust, the body is purified of its bad habits. Once the body is disciplined and the mind is pure and concentrated, we can break through ignorance and regain our inherent wisdom. However, due to attachments to the body, the ego, and possessions, it is not easy to return to the origin and to renounce the deviant for the proper; it's difficult to put everything down. Only with good roots can we relinquish all attachments to self and to dharmas. If we can see the body as empty, we destroy the attachment to self. If the mind attains Samadhi, the attachment to Dharmas will be gone. With no attachments to Self or Dharmas, we can transcend the material plane and be liberated from the limitations of our inherent disposition and from our materialistic desires. Liberation is simply the absence of attachments. Nevertheless, this is not easy to accomplish. If we can really have no attachments to self or others, our Dharma body will pervasively fill space and the Dharma Realm. What a pity none of us can manage to do that. Who knows how many great eons it will be before we attain that kind of state?

In the course of cultivation, we must "give" our bodies to the Ch'an hall; we must uphold the precepts by refraining from evil and practicing goodness; we must patiently endure the pain. We must hold on to that single thought of practice and let it continue uninterrupted. When the time comes, after a period of disciplined practice, your wisdom will naturally manifest and Prajna light will illuminate the universe. But that requires a period of smelting.

Without enduring the bitter cold of winter,
How could the plum blossoms smell so sweet?

To achieve success in any endeavor takes time. Those who retreat as soon as the going gets rough won't achieve anything.

Within This One Finds the True Appearance of Prajna.

The practice of Ch'an meditation is "nondoing, yet nothing is left undone." What do I mean? As you sit there investigating Ch'an, you are not doing much of anything. Yet when you, a single person, investigate Ch'an, you help the proper energy of the Dharma Realm. If everyone could investigate Ch'an, there would be no wars in the world. "Do you have to sit to investigate Ch'an?" you ask. Well, it's said that you must sit to attain Ch'an (Dhyana), that Ch'an comes with long sitting. After sitting for a long time, you will experience an inconceivable state. However, true Ch'an cultivators investigate not only when sitting, but when walking, running, and sleeping. In walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, there is not a moment when they do not investigate. Cultivators are not busybodies; they constantly pay attention to their own topic, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" to the point that they have no time to eat, drink tea, or sleep. Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, they continue investigating their topic until they "reach the end of the mountains and rivers"--the ultimate point.

Ch'an investigation requires single-minded concentration. When single-minded concentration reaches its ultimate point, then you will be able to deal with things. It's said, "When things reach their extreme, a change must take place." It doesn't matter what the situation, by pursuing it to it's end, you can deal with it. Now as you sit in meditation, don't cry as soon as your legs start to hurt. After the pain reaches an extreme, it will stop and you will experience an inconceivable and ineffably wonderful state. There is no way I can express that state to you; you have to experiment for yourself. Once you experience pain to the extreme point, you won't have any more pain. You will have broken through the pain barrier. But breaking through one barrier is not enough. After a while there will be another barrier, and then later on another barrier. The first pain barrier was after one hour. But when you have sat for one and a half hours, the pain comes up again. Why does that happen? Your blood and qi (energy) reach a certain place, and they want to get through a barrier--another barrier of pain. And so you have to endure the pain again. You endure it until it doesn't hurt any more. Once the pain disappears, you will feel at ease and very happy--an inexpressible bliss, an ineffable comfort. At that time you will feel Earth over Heaven making Peace.

You must break through these barriers in order to attain benefits. If you act like a child who cries at the first sign of pain, then you will never be able to break through these barriers. You need to have patience. Endure what is unendurable! Grit your teeth and bear it! But you must be resolute! Don't fear suffering! Don't fear pain! Don't fear difficulty! With these three kinds of fearlessness, you can break through the three barriers.

Why is it that, sitting in the Ch'an hall, we don't have the Samadhi power to endure a little pain, suffering, or difficulty? Why do we find it so unbearable that we feel like crying? It's because we don't have any Samadhi power, and we haven't broken through the barriers of pain, suffering, and difficulty. Now, if we can break through these barriers, then we will obtain comfort and ease. If you endure the pain to the extreme, to the point of forgetting yourself, how can there be any more pain? There isn't. In everything you do, you should do it to the ultimate, and then, at the point of extreme purity, the light will penetrate. When your purity and Samadhi reach their peak, the light of your wisdom will spontaneously appear and you will become Enlightened. Every day you wonder about Enlightenment, but what kind of Enlightenment do you expect to attain if you can't even take a little pain? Shouldn't you feel ashamed of yourself?

Someone complained, "There's too much noise in the Ch'an hall. One person keeps coughing; others are snoring; and another person is always wiggling, which causes bench to squeak. The noise is intolerable!" That can happen anywhere. You may try to avoid this noise, but another noise shows up. If you get rid of that noise, you'll become aware of another one. If you know how to apply your effort, then whether it's noisy or quiet, you will not turned by movement or stillness. Not being turned by movement and stillness means that you don't listen to it. Or your eyes may follow the movement and stillness, saying, "He is really irritating! It's impossible for me to enter Samadhi!" Even if the other person weren't making noise, you still might not be able to enter Samadhi. If you can enter Samadhi, then you are not even going to notice his movements. And so in cultivation, while meditating we shouldn't insist on perfect silence. The noisier it is, the greater your Enlightenment, perhaps. So don't let sounds aggravate you. On the other hand, if it happens to be quiet, don't go looking for noise. These are all merely states.

If you know how to practice, you can do so right in the bustling city. If you don't, then you won't be able to practice even if you crawl inside a vacuum! There is no such thing as a perfect place for cultivation. You have to overcome the environment. No matter what the situation, don't say: "Ugh, this is a terrible environment." Move somewhere else and it may be worse. Leave that place and go on to another and it may turn out to be worse yet, until there's no place in the universe that suits you. If you can overcome the environment, then everywhere is the same for you. The Buddhas don't choose the place where they realize Buddhahood. It's possible to realize Buddhahood anywhere.

You have to learn to be patient. If you can remain unmoved no matter how uncomfortable you feel, then you have a little Samadhi power. That little bit of Samadhi will produce a little wisdom. You say you want to hold the precepts? Sitting in Ch'an is holding the precepts--the precepts of enduring pain and suffering! As you sit there single-mindedly investigating "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" without a second's pause, well, you tell me, are you committing offenses? Are you creating a lot of bad Karma? While you are sitting in meditation, could you commit murder? Would you have thoughts like, "He's so mean to me, I'm going to kill him"? Would you be investigating the topic of wanting to kill someone? No. Would you think about stealing things? No. And so as you refrain from killing and stealing you are holding the precepts. By investigating Ch'an, you naturally keep the precepts without even trying, and then based on precepts you develop Samadhi power.

If you don't investigate Ch'an, all the discursive thoughts which arise in your mind may lead you to kill, steal, engage in lust, lie, or take intoxicants. One single wrong thought can lead to many offenses. On the other hand, if you sit in Ch'an meditation, all these problems disappear as you naturally hold the precepts without trying. If you can be patient with the pain, then the effortless upholding of precepts produces Samadhi, and from Samadhi there arises wisdom. You are then diligently practicing Sila (moral conduct), Samadhi (concentration), and Prajna (wisdom) and extinguishing greed, anger, and stupidity. With the resolve to cultivate, you cast out greed and feel no anger if someone hits you. And when you sit in Ch'an, your stupidity disappears and your mad mind and wild nature vanish. Wouldn't you say these are tremendous advantages? That's why Ch'an meditation is said to encompass all Dharmas. When properly done, the investigation of Ch'an makes us more awakened, intelligent, and wise. We should avoid a form of "stupefying" Ch'an which makes us muddled and oblivious, as if we were on drugs, so that we can't tell north from south or day from night.

So This Is What Our Original Home Is Like!

Every breath we take, every move we make, every word, every action, every thought, every reflection affects the time and space in the universe. Conversely, the vibrations of good, bad, pure, and turbid energy in the universe affect us as well. If we really want to return to the purity of our original source and discover our true identity, we must break all attachments to body and mind, and see through everything. We must undergo a period of smelting in the blazing furnace before the pure elements can be separated from the dross. Wisdom will appear once our thinking and our breathing are both purified. As long as defilement remains, and the purity is not total, then we are still full of stupidity. When we sit and walk in the Ch'an hall, we are letting the silt and mud settle to the bottom, so that the water of our mind becomes clear and sparkling. Then if we can remove the sediment on the bottom, our pure Dharma body becomes eternally manifest. Removing the sediment means we come to understand our mind and see our nature. We return to the source, and take the road home to discover what our original home is like.

In cultivation, we should purify ourselves internally and externally. Internal purity refers to not having confused thoughts. External purity means not acting in confused ways. Internally we want to be like sages by cultivating the mind and nature, and externally we want to be like kings by avoiding evil, practicing good deeds, and benefiting all living beings. By means of external merit, we achieve our fruition within. Externally we create merit, and internally we amass virtue. Creating merit means benefiting all beings. When we help others, we should not become attached to the thought that we are helping them. We should do it as if nothing were happening. As soon as there is attachment, then we lend reality to appearances. We create merit and benefit beings because it is what we should be doing anyway; it is our duty to help them. Don't harbor thoughts of having benefited beings so that after you do it all kinds of attachments remain.

Externally benefiting others and internally benefiting oneself is what Ch'an meditation is all about. There is usefulness and advantage gained every minute that you sit. What are the advantages? When you sit to the point of total stillness, the light will penetrate and you will feel as if there is no body, mind, or world. If you can remain in this state even when you are not sitting, so that when you come out of sitting the experience continues, then that is called movement and stillness becoming one and the same. Another way of putting it is that when you are sitting you don't have any discursive thoughts and when you move about you still don't have any discursive thoughts. Movement is stillness and stillness is movement; they are non-dual.

When you have this kind of skill, you will constantly be in samadhi.

At all times you are in Samadhi;
There is no time when you are not.

Every gesture, every movement comes forth from Samadhi; every word, every action--walking, standing, sitting, or lying down--is done in a state of Samadhi.

The eyes see forms, but inside there is nothing.
The ears hear sounds, but the mind does not know.

To attain this state of Samadhi, you have to investigate Ch'an and sit in meditation. After you have done so for a sufficient length of time, you can be this way.

If you really practice well to the point of gaining some response, then you won't know when you are hungry, thirsty, cold, or hot--you won't know anything at all. If you can reach that level of not knowing anything at all, then you will know everything. When we do something, if we can do it thoroughly--to the ultimate point--then a change will occur. When you move to the ultimate extent, stillness manifests. Stillness to the ultimate extent will bring about movement. For example, daytime is movement and nighttime is stillness. When stillness reaches an extreme, when the sky grows dark and when that darkness reaches its limit, dawn breaks. When the light of day reaches its extreme, night descends. One day and one night are also one movement and one stillness. If you know how to practice, you can develop your skill to the point that movement does not obstruct stillness, and stillness does not hinder movement--so that within movement there is stillness, and within stillness there is movement. If you know how to apply your skill, then you will find that within true emptiness there is wonderful existence, and from within wonderful existence, true emptiness arises.

We should resolve to meditate until we figure out what we are all about. We were born in a confused way, and life would be meaningless if we also have to die in confusion. We need to find out how we were born and how we will die. Can we be free and independent when we die? The goal of our practice is to attain freedom over birth and death, which is true freedom--the ability to come and go whenever we want, without afflictions or worries. If we wish to go to the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, we can simply get into full lotus posture, bid farewell to everyone, and go.

That's true freedom over birth and death.

In order to escape death
One must have death-defying skill.

To gain freedom from birth and death, you must practice without fear of death. You must not be afraid of pain, difficulty, suffering, or anything else.

Ch'an is the essence of all Buddhas. The Buddhas of the ten directions were born from Ch'an Samadhi. If you lack skill in Ch'an Samadhi, you cannot become Enlightened or attain Buddhahood. We do not belong to any sect--we are not of the Linzi, Caodong, Yunmen, Fayan, or Weiyang sects. We encompass the entire substance. For example, if a table represents the vast functioning of the entire substance, then we are like the whole table, not just one corner. That's why we do everything very naturally, without putting on airs.


  1. ZEN: Is It Buddhism?

  2. RESOLVING THE MIND: Buddha'a Enlightenment



Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.