Chan Sessions Are for Seeking Enlightenment in a Limited Time

(Continued from issue #254)

An Instructional talk given by Venerable Master Hua on August 20, 1979 in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

You must plant your feet on solid ground, and diligently work at meditation. Only when you attain true skill will it count!

People learning the Buddha dharma clearly know that the Four Boundless Minds, i.e. kindness, compassion, joy, giving, are fundamental to the practice of the Bodhisattva path. Yet, they do not practice them. What use is it if you just understand the theory? Every day you study the Six Perfections, but when situation arises, you don't practice giving, you don't hold the precepts, you aren't patient, you aren't vigorous, you don't cultivate Chan samadhi, and you don't use wisdom. Tell me, what use is that?

1. Giving. You are supposed to give others the gift of wealth or dharma. But when a situation arises, you don't practice giving. On the contrary, you want others to give to you, the more the better. "I won't give you anything, but you should give me something. I should gain profit, not take a loss." There are many people with this attitude.

2. Holding Precepts. The whole world knows that upholding precepts means upholding precepts, but when states manifest, people break the precepts instead of upholding them. Upholding the precepts means having a resolute mind. No matter what situation you encounter, you do not waver. "Faced with an avalanche in Mt. Tai, you remain unfazed. Presented with an attractive man/woman, you remain unmoved." With that kind of samadhi, you can turn states around. Whether the state is good or bad, pleasant or adverse, you remain calm and composed. When you don't give rise to discriminations, the wind calms down and the waves naturally subside.

3. Patience. You have to endure with patience all unpleasant situations. This is a test. If you made it through, then you passed the test; otherwise, you failed. Everyone knows that patience can take us to the other shore (deliverance). Yet, when situations arise, we fail to be patient. Our fire of ignorance flares up sky-high and scorches off all the merit and virtue we have accrued for years.
4. Vigor. Attending the Chan session is being vigorous. Everybody would like to be vigorous, but when the time comes, you aren't vigorous. You slack off and retreat in your cultivation, coming up with excuses to leave the Chan Hall such as needing to make some tea or to use the restroom. Or, to while away time in the kitchen sipping tea. Before the session started, you said, "I'm going to work really hard in this Chan session." After the session started, you did not follow your words. You overturned all your former resolves. You deliberately break them. You know investigating Chan is good, but you still opt to be lazy. How should we deal with such a contradictory mind? In the Chan Hall, any participant who does not abide by the rules gets whacked with the incense board. Whack! Whack! Whack until they get enlightened.

5. Chan Samadhi. Now that you are investigating Chan, it is a good time to apply diligent effort. Why are you attending the Chan session? You want to focus your mind until there are no more idle thoughts, so that your wisdom can manifest. This is known as the "liberation of wisdom," and in this Dharma-door, you aim for achievement within a scheduled time.

6. Wisdom. Wisdom also enables you to reach the other shore and to end birth and death. But if a person slackened off right before his wisdom comes forth, he missed the chance to become enlightened. Hence, when practicing Chan investigation, you must be diligent every minute and every second because you do not know at which particular moment you might get enlightened. Someone is idly thinking, "I don't want to have wisdom; my stupidity is just fine. If I don't understand anything, so be it!" You are simply fooling yourself, like the thief who covered his ears while stealing the bell. When it's time to die, you'll realize you've wasted your whole life, but by then it's too late for regrets.

Buddhism is just dawning in America and needs genuine and true practitioners of the Way. We must realistically cultivate the Way. We must be single-minded in cultivating the Way. We must rectify our faults and renew ourselves. We must smash through our bad habits and be a good model for others. If we can do that, Buddhism is sure to have a bright future. However, if from the onset there are no true cultivators as exemplars and nobody with great resolve for Bodhi, Buddhism will not flourish in the West. Therefore, the rise/fall of Buddhism is a great responsibility for all you young people.
Guo Zhen (Heng Sure) and Guo Ting (Heng Chau), who are now sincerely cultivating the Way by doing the "Three Steps, One Bow" pilgrimage, are the trailblazing pioneers of Buddhism. They are doing this not to seek blessings for themselves, but to seek for world peace. For more than two years, they have endured hunger, thirst, cold, heat, wind and rain. This kind of bitter cultivation is not something most people can do. They endure what others cannot endure, yield what others cannot yield, eat what others cannot eat, and wear what others cannot wear. Come wind or rain, they never miss a bow. In the face of heat, cold, hunger, and thirst, they never slacken off. Every day they do the morning and evening recitations as usual, not allowing themselves to be lax at any moment. Their diligence and tenacity are spurn by their wish to spread Buddhism and make it flourish all over the world. These two cultivators are working so tirelessly not for personal fame or gain. Rather, they took it as their duty to make Buddhism flourish. Their spirit is truly commendable and serves as a motivation for all.

You should strive to emulate these two cultivators of "Three Steps, One Bow". Regard them a mirror to reflect upon yourself, "What have I contributed to Buddhism? Do I do everything for my own sake, or for the sake of Buddhism?" If everything I do is for my own sake, I ought to be greatly ashamed and immediately correct my improper behavior. If it is for Buddhism, I should work even harder, and make a determined effort to continuously propagate, support and safeguard Buddhism. I should earnestly make the resolve for Bodhi, and practice the Bodhisattva Way without selfish intentions. In everything I do, I should prioritize on the peace and happiness of others, and not scheme for my own benefit. That's the true spirit of a Bodhisattva.

In the Chan Hall, you do walking and sitting meditation. Alternating between walking and sitting, you feel it is very grueling. In comparison to the arduous path endured by the cultivators of the "Three Steps, One Bow", this is much more comfortable. You should deeply realize this, and not let this opportunity go by in vain. If those two cultivators had not made the Bodhi resolve to walk the Bodhisattva Way, it would have been impossible to persevere to the very end.

While in the Chan Hall, don't entertain any idle thoughts. If you do, you are just physically present, but your mind is out gallivanting in the world. Those reckless and confused thoughts will affect your resolve to cultivate. You should remember this! Never waste your time. Treasure every moment and opportunity to welcome the advent of enlightenment! If you prepared well, you won't be sorry. Otherwise, it's all empty words.

(The End of the Article)