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The Essentials of Ch'an Practice
This is a tentative translation of a discourse by the modern Ch'an patriarch Master Xuyun (1839-1959), who is also known by his English name, Empty Cloud.
Translated by Ven. Guo-gu Bhikshu
The Prerequisites and Understanding Necessary to Begin Ch'an Practise
1. The Objective of Ch'an Practice:
The objective of Ch'an practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating its impurities and seeing into one's true self-nature. The mind's impurities are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self-nature is the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas and sentient beings are not different from one another.
"Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise" is a prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an. Now that we know this, how do we accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of superior abilities, can stop all thoughts forever, arrive directly at the condition of non-arising, and instantly experience Bodhi. such a person is not
entangled by anything. The next best kind of practitioner users principle to cut off phenomena and realizes that self-nature is originally pure. Vexation and bodhi , Samsara and Nirvana -- all are false names which have nothing to do with one's self-nature. All things are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or reflections. Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great earth itself are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing, yet never obstructing the original surface. Do not bed captivated by the arising, abiding, changing and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and aversion, grasping and rejecting. Give up your whole body, as if you were dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objecting. and the six sense organs, the six sense objects and the six sense consciousness will naturally disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body ---hunger, cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger--- will no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation --- when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena.
Many Ch'an practitioners ask questions about the Dharma. The Dharma that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you try to explain things, the true meaning is lost.When you realize that "one mind" is the Buddha, from that point on there is nothing more to do. Everything is already complete. All talk about practice or attainment is demonic deception. Bodhidharma's "direct pointing at the mind, seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood" clearly instructs that all sentient beings are Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized, one can harmonize with the environment yet remain undefiled. The mind will remain unified throughout the day, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. This is to already be a Buddha. At this point there is no need to put forth effort and be diligent. Any action is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest thought or word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed task. Do it by your- self. Do not seek outside yourself for it. All sentient beings --- who wish to avoid rebirth for eternal kalpas in the four forms of birth and the six paths of existence; who eternally sink in the sea of suffering; and who vow to attain Buddhahood and the four virtues of Nirvana (eternity, joy, self, purity) ----- can immediately attain Buddhahood if they wholly believe in the sincere words of the Buddha and the patriarchs, renounce everything, and think neither of beings, made by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is it a baseless, empty vow.
The Dharma is exactly that.It has been elucidated again and again by the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted us with the truth. They do not deceive us. Unfortunately, sentient beings are confused and for limitless kalpas they have experienced birth and death in the sea of suffering, appearing and disappearing, endlessly taking on new forms of life. dazed and confused, entangled in the worldly dust of the six senses with their backs to enlightenment, they are like pure gold in a cesspool. Because of the severity of the problem, Buddha compassionately taught 84,000 Dharma doors to accord with the varying karmic roots of sentient beings, so that sentient beings may use the methods to cure them-selves of 84,000 habits and faults, which include greed, hatred, ignorance and desire.4. Investigating Ch'an and Contemplating Mind:
Our sect focuses on investigating Ch'an. The purpose of practicing Ch'an is to "Illuminate the mind and see into one's true nature." This investigation is also called " Clearly realizing one's self-mind and completely perceiving one's original nature." Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came to the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually evolved. Most Ch'an practitioners, before the Tang and Sung dynasties, became enlightened after hearing a word or half a sentence of the Dharma. The transmission from master to disciple was the sealing of Mind with Mind. There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday questions and answers only untied the bonds. It was nothing more than prescribing the right medicine for the right illness. After the Sung Dynasty, however, people did not have such good karmic roots as their predecessors. They could not carry out what had been said, For example, practitioners were taught to "Put down everything" and " Not think about good and evil, "but they could not do it. They could not put down everything, and if they weren't thinking about good, they were thinking about evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating gong an [and hua to]. When one begins looking into a hua to, one must grasp it tightly, never letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin. It concentrates on one point. It doesn't try different places and it doesn't stop until it gets through. Thus, in terms of hua to, the objective is to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method is a last resort, just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow. drastic measures must be taken to cure the patient.
Although many modem day practitioners use hua tos, few get enlightened. This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today have inferior karmic roots and less merit. Also, practitioners today are not clear about the purpose and path of hua to. Some practitioners search from east to west and north to
south until they die, but still do not penetrate even one hua to. They never understand or correctly approach the hua to. They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect and attach only to the tail of the words.
Hua to is One Mind.This mind is not inside, outside, or in the middle. On the other hand, it is inside, outside, and in the middle. It is like the stillness of empty space prevailing every where. hua to should not be picked up. Neither should it be pressed down. If you pick it up, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you
press it down you will become drowsy. These approaches are contrary to the nature of the original mind and are not in accordance with the Middle Path.