Archive for May, 2006


Chappana Sutta- The Six Animals

"Suppose that a man, wounded and festering, were to go into a swampy jungle. Its sharp-bladed grasses would pierce his feet; its thorns would scratch his festering sores. And so, from that cause, he would experience an even greater measure of pain and unhappiness. In the same way, there is the case where a certain monk, having gone to a village or to the wilderness, meets up with someone who upbraids him: ‘This venerable one, acting in this way, undertaking practices in this way, is a thorn of impurity in this village.’ Knowing this person to be a thorn, one should understand restraint and lack of restraint.

"And what is lack of restraint? There is the case where a monk, seeing a form with the eye, is obsessed with pleasing forms, is repelled by unpleasing forms, and remains with body-mindfulness un-established, with limited awareness. He does not discern, as it actually is present, the release of awareness, the release of discernment where any evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

"Hearing a sound with the ear…

"Smelling an aroma with the nose…

"Tasting a flavor with the tongue…

"Touching a tactile sensation with the body…

"Cognizing an idea with the intellect, he is obsessed with pleasing ideas, is repelled by unpleasing ideas, and remains with body-mindfulness un-established, with limited awareness. He does not discern, as it actually is present, the release of awareness, the release of discernment where any evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

"Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, and tying a knot in the middle, he would set chase to them.

"Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range and habitat. The snake would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll fly up into the air.’ The dog would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would submit, they would surrender, they would come under the sway of whichever among them was the strongest. In the same way, when a monk whose mindfulness immersed in the body is undeveloped and un-pursued, the eye pulls toward pleasing forms, while unpleasing forms are repellent. The ear pulls toward pleasing sounds… The nose pulls toward pleasing aromas… The tongue pulls toward pleasing flavors… The body pulls toward pleasing tactile sensations… The intellect pulls toward pleasing ideas, while unpleasing ideas are repellent. This, monks, is lack of restraint.

"And what is restraint? There is the case where a monk, seeing a form with the eye, is not obsessed with pleasing forms, is not repelled by unpleasing forms, and remains with body-mindfulness established, with immeasurable awareness. He discerns, as it actually is present, the release of awareness, the release of discernment where all evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

"Hearing a sound with the ear…

"Smelling an aroma with the nose…

"Tasting a flavor with the tongue…

"Touching a tactile sensation with the body…

"Cognizing an idea with the intellect, he is not obsessed with pleasing ideas, is not repelled by unpleasing ideas, and remains with body-mindfulness established, with immeasurable awareness. He discerns, as it actually is present, the release of awareness, the release of discernment where all evil, unskillful mental qualities that have arisen utterly cease without remainder.

"Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, he would tether them to a strong post or stake.

"Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range and habitat. The snake would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll fly up into the air.’ The dog would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would stand, sit, or lie down right there next to the post or stake. In the same way, when a monk whose mindfulness immersed in the body is developed and pursued, the eye does not pull toward pleasing forms, and unpleasing forms are not repellent. The ear does not pull toward pleasing sounds… The nose does not pull toward pleasing aromas… The tongue does not pull toward pleasing flavors… The body does not pull toward pleasing tactile sensations… The intellect does not pull toward pleasing ideas, and unpleasing ideas are not repellent. This, monks, is restraint.

"The ‘strong post or stake’ is a term for mindfulness immersed in the body.

"Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, give it a means of transport, give it a grounding. We will steady it, consolidate it, and set about it properly.’ That’s how you should train yourselves."


Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Tsung Ching Record of the Ch’an Master Ta-Chu Hui-Hai (1)

When Master Hui-Hai arrived in Chiang-Hsi Province, he first went to pay a visit to Master Ma Tsu.
Ma Tsu asked: "Where have you come from?"

Hui-Hai answered: "I have come from Great Cloud Temple, which is in Yüeh Chou."

Ma Tsu asked: "What is your reason for coming here?"

Hui-Hai answered: "I have come to seek the Buddhadharma. "

Ma Tsu replied: "You do not regard or cultivate your own store of treasure, but, instead, you have left your home and gone wandering. However, I have nothing at all here, so how can you hope to seek the Buddhadharma in this place?"

Then Hui-Hai prostrated himself and asked:"What and where is Hui-Hai’s own treasure-store?"

Ma Tsu answered: "Just that one there who just asked this question is your own treasure-store, and it is perfect and complete for you to make use of when you attain mastery. So why on earth are you futilely seeking anything outside?" Suddenly, on hearing this, Hui-Hai attained Great Enlightenment, instantly recognizing his own Original Mind. Then he fully prostrated himself, placing his head at Ma Tsu’s feet, to show his deep and sincere gratitude. From that moment on, the Master served Ma Tsu for the next six years. Then, because his original teacher had become quite old, he returned to his own temple in Yüeh Chou to serve him. During that time, Master Hui-Hai concealed his real ability, appearing to be halting in his speech somewhat foolish, but he wrote his sastra entitled Entering the Tao of Sudden Enlightenment. Later, Hsüan Yen, his Dharma nephew, stole Hui-Hai’s sastra from the temple and took it and presented it to Ma Tsu, who, after reading it, proclaimed to his assembly, "There is now, in Yüeh Chou, a Great Pearl (Ta-Chu), whose luster radiates everywhere and who is free and has gained self-mastery with no obstacles." It came about that one monk in the assembly knew that the Master’s family name was Chu (the same sound as the word for pearl) and informed the others, who then, together, went to Yüeh Chou to pay their respects to and follow Master Hui-Hai. Thenceforth, the master was called Ta-Chu (Great Pearl).

Once Master Hui-Hai, addressing his disciples, said: "I do not understand Ch’an; and I really do not have a single Dharma that I can disclose to anyone. Therefore, it is not necessary to trouble you by having you stand here for a long time; so, everybody, please go take a rest."

During that period, gradually more and more students, wishing to learn more, came from many different places and enquired about the Dharma day after day. The Master, accordingly, answered all their questions, his power of speech being totally confident and unhindered. At one point, a company of Dharma Masters who had come to meet with Hui-Hai stated: "We have a question for you, Master. Would you please give us an answer." The Master replied: "The moon is reflected in this deep pool and can be apprehended by yourselves only."

The Dharma Masters asked: "What is the Buddha?"

The Master replied: "Just look into that clear pool right in front of you. If that is not the Buddha, who is it?"

All of them were mystified. After a long silence, one monk spoke up again, asking: "What Dharma do you speak to convert people?"

The Master replied: "I have not one single Dharma to speak to convert people."

Another monk asked: "Is this the customary method of all you Ch’an Masters?"

Immediately the Master asked: "And just what Dharma do you speak to convert people?"

The monk answered: "I expound The Diamond Sutra."

The Master asked: "And just how many times have you expounded it?"

The monk answered: "Over twenty times."

The Master asked: "And this Sutra was spoken by whom?"

The monk exclaimed: "Surely, this Ch’an Master is playing with me! Wouldn’t it be absurd not to know that the Sutra was spoken by the Buddha!"

The Master replied: "But that very Sutra states: ‘If someone says that the Tathagata expounds this Dharma, he is slandering the Buddha! Really, he does not understand at all what I am saying. On the other hand, if someone says that this Sutra is not expounded by the Buddha, he is slandering the Sutra.’ Would you please try to explain this." The monk could give no answer. Then, after awhile, the Master continued: "The Diamond Sutra says: ‘He who sees me by outward appearances and sees me in sound treads the heterodox path and cannot perceive the Tathagata.’ Would please tell me who the Tathagata is?"

The monk answered: "Now I’m completely confused!"

The Master retorted: "Never having been enlightened, how can you say you are only now confused?"

The monk asked: "Would you please explain this Dharma to me?"

The Master asked: "Since you have expounded The Diamond Sutra more than twenty times, how can you not understand who the Tathagata is?" The monk prostrated himself before the Master and asked again for an explanation.

The Master said: "’Tathagata’ means the Suchness of all Dharmas. This you should not forget!"

The monk replied: "Oh, yes! The Suchness of all Dharmas!"

The Master retorted: "You say, ‘Yes!’, but that is not correct."

The monk replied: "But it clearly says so in the Sutra, so how can you say I am not right?"

The Master asked: "Are you Suchness?"

The monk replied: "Yes, I am Suchness."

The Master asked: "Are that piece of wood and that stone Suchness?"

The monk replied: "Yes, they are Suchness too."

The Master asked: "Then is your Suchness and the Suchness of the wood and the stone the same Suchness?"

The monk replied: "Yes, they are not different."

The Master asked: "Then what is the difference between you and the wood or stone?"

The monk could not answer, and, after a short time, he sighed and said: "It is very difficult to debate with such a superior master!" Then, after a long silence, he asked: "How can the Great Nirvana be realized?"

The Master replied: "Merely by not creating any karma that binds you to the Wheel-of-Birth-and-Death."

The monk replied: "How is the karma of birth-and-death created?"

The Master replied: "To seek the Great Nirvana, to be attached to purity and to disdain impurity create the karma of birth-and-death. Also, realizing and clinging to attainments create the karma of birth-and-death. Finally, not letting go of the stage of relative thinking creates the karma of birth-and-death."

The monk asked: "How can we realize Liberation?"

The Master replied: "Since originally you have never been bound, there is no use in seeking to become unbound or liberated. If both function and action are clear and direct, then all things are equal."

The monk responded: "A Ch’an Master like you is very rare, indeed!" Then the group of Dharma Masters who had come with questions made obeisance to the Master and left.

Once an attendant of the Master asked: "If the Mind and Buddha are one, which is truly the Buddha?"

The Master answered: "Since you have doubt about what the Buddha is, can you point out what the Buddha is not?"

The attendant did not answer.

The Master said: "If you understand this completely, then everything is all right everywhere; however, if you do not understand it, then nothing is all right anywhere."

Once a Vinaya Master named Fa-Ming asked: "Do most Ch’an Masters fall into the void?"

The Master replied: "It is only you who fall into the void!" Fa-Ming, shocked, asked: "Why do you say I am the one who falls into the void?"

The Master replied: "The Sutras and the Sastras are merely words, written with ink on paper — just empty contrivances! Creating words and phrases of the Dharma based merely on something one has heard is also empty. Thus, if you grasp at and are attached to written or spoken words and phrases of the Teaching, you will, without doubt, fall into the void."

Fa-Ming then asked: "And, Ch’an Master, do you also, fall into the void?"

The Master replied: "No, I do not fall into the void."

Fa-Ming asked: "Why not?"

The Master replied: "All words and phrases (of the Dharma) are produced by Wisdom, the great function of which appears right before us. So where is there any void to fall into?"

Fa-Ming replied: "So, I assume from this that if there is someone who has not grasped the meaning of every single Dharma, then he cannot be a Hsi-Ta (Siddham)."

The Master replied: "It seems that you not only fall into the void, but you also use wrong words and terms!"

Fa-Ming’s face turned red, and he angrily asked: "Just what is my error?"

The Master replied: "If you do not even understand what Chinese word is used to express whatever Sanskrit word, how can you ever hope to expound the Dharma?"

Fa-Ming asked: "Would you please just point out my error."

The Master replied: "You do not seem to understand that ‘Hsi-Ta’, the Chinese word for the Sanskrit word ‘Siddham’ has different meanings, using the same tone."

Fa-Ming realized his error at once, but he still remained angry.

Continuing, Fa-Ming asked further: "It is said that the Sutras, the Sastras and the Vinaya were all spoken by Buddha. So if one reads, recites and practices according to the Teachings, why then can he not see his own nature?"

The Master replied: "A sane lion bites a man, but a crazy dog bites a piece of clay! The Sutras, the Sastras and the Vinaya are the functions of Self-Nature, while reading, reciting and practicing them are merely the nature of dharmas (phenomena)."

Fa-Ming asked: "Did Amitabha Buddha have parents and a family name?"

The Master replied: "Kausika was Amitabha Buddha’s family name. His father’s given name was Superior-Moon and his mother’s was Exceeding-Beauty."

Fa-Ming asked: "And from just what sutra do these facts come?"

The Master replied: "From The Collection of Dharanis."

Fa-Ming paid reverence humbly and withdrew.

Once a Tripitaka Master asked: "Does the Bhutatathata (Absolute Reality) ever change?"

The Master replied: "Yes, it does change."

The Tripitaka Master retorted: "You, Venerable Ch’an Master, are wrong!"

The Master then asked the Tripitaka Master: "Does the Bhutatathata exist or not?"

The Tripitaka Master answered: "Yes, the Bhutatathata does exist."

The Master replied: "So if you say it does not change, then you are just an ordinary, worldly monk. Doubtlessly, by now you must have heard that the lowest vices can be changed into the highest virtues, the three poisons into the three cumulative disciplines, the six consciousnesses into the six supernatural powers, all the defilements into Bodhi, and the most abysmal ignorance into the highest wisdom. Thus, if you say that the Bhutatathata does not change, then you, a Tripitaka Master, are really a heterodox-sect follower."

The Tripitaka Master responded: "If you put it that way, then I have to admit that the Bhutatathata does change."

The Master retorted: "But if you, indeed, hold that the Bhutatathata does change, that is also a heterodox view."

The Tripitaka Master asked: "Ch’an Master, you just said that the Bhutatathata does change, but now you say it does not change. How can that be?"

The Master responded: "If one sees his own nature clearly-which, like Mani-Jewels, can manifest itself in different colors-then he is correct in saying that the Bhutatathata both changes and does not change. In contrast, however, if one has not seen his own nature, he will, on hearing that the Bhutatathata changes, grasp at the idea of mutability. Also, oppositely, he will, on hearing that the Bhutatathata does not change, grasp at the idea of immutability."

The Tripitaka Master concluded: "Now I really understand what is meant when it is said that the Southern Ch’an Sect is truly unfathomable."

Once a Taoist priest asked: "Is there any Dharma that surpasses the forces of nature?"

The Master answered: "Yes, there is!"

The Taoist priest asked: "Just what is the Dharma that surpasses the forces of nature."

The Master answered: "The power of understanding that fathoms the forces of nature."

The Taoist priest asked: Does vitality constitute the Tao?"

The Master answered: "Vitality is vitality. The Tao is the Tao."

The Taoist priest asked: "If this is the case, are they two different things?"

The Master answered: Understanding does not come from two different persons."

The Taoist priest inquired further: "Then what is wrong and what is right?"

The Master responded: "When the mind is turned by external things, that is wrong; but when external things are turned by the mind, that is right."

Once a Vinaya Master came and asked: "In your practice of the Tao, do you still work hard?"

The Master answered: "Yes, I still work hard."

The Vinaya Master asked: "How hard?"

The Master retorted: "If I’m hungry, I eat. If I’m tired, I sleep. "

The Vinaya Master asked: "Do all other people work hard just as you do?"

The Master answered: "No, not in the same way."

The Vinaya Master asked: "Why not?"

The Master answered: "While they are eating, they are not really eating due to too much thinking. While they are sleeping, they are not really sleeping due to too much mental agitation. Therefore, they do not work in the same way I do."

The Vinaya Master, on hearing this, fell silent.

Once a certain Bhadanta, Yun Kuang, asked: "Do you understand the meaning of birth?"

The Master answered: "Since we do not know the meaning of death, it is useless to talk about the meaning of birth. If you really understand birth, then you know, based on the Dharma of no-birth, that everything is unborn. Also, by not holding to any Dharma of separate birth, you must conclude that during birth there is, in reality, no birth."

Bhadanta Yun Kuang asked: "If one has not yet seen his own self-nature, is he somehow lacking it or just unable to look at it?"

The Master answered: "If one has not yet become aware of his own self-nature, that does not mean he is without self-nature, because perception, as such, is that very nature. Without that nature there would be no perception. Consciousness, also, is that nature; therefore, it is called the nature of consciousness. Clear understanding, also, is that nature; therefore, it is called the nature of clear understanding. Furthermore, because it can produce all dharmas (phenomena), it is also known as the Dharma-Body. The Patriarch Asvaghosa once observed: ‘All the so-called dharmas (phenomena) are, in reality, the mind of sentient beings; for when the discriminating mind comes in to being, then various conceptions (dharmas) come to be. In contrast when the discriminating mind ceases to be, then these various conceptions, as well as their names, cease to be.’ However, deluded people do not understand this. The Dharmakaya (Dharma-Body) has no form, but it assumes different forms according to the needs of sentient beings. Thus, some say that green bamboo is the Dharmakaya and that the fragrance of yellow flowers is Prajna. If green bamboo really were the Dharmakaya, then the Dharmakaya would merely be like wood or grass. Thus, a person eating bamboo shoots could say that he was eating the Dharmakaya. If one talked like this, would there be any possible benefit for anyone in recording it? Such a person is really quite confused about the Buddha, who is right before him, as well as about his substance, which permeates all things; and so he seeks him elsewhere, outside, in error, kalpa after kalpa. Therefore, to practice the Tao correctly, one should do it while walking, standing, sitting and lying down, all the time remaining in the Tao. Finally, one becomes capable of moving always at ease in any direction or in any situation since all things are included in the Dharma."

Bhadanta Yun Kuang inquired further: "Can the Great Void create spiritual wisdom? Does Real Mind still cling to ideas of good and evil? Can a person possessing deep desire embrace the Tao? Can a person grasping ideas of right and wrong go beyond the discriminating mind? Can a person who comes into contact with and clings to his surroundings ever develop completely focused concentration? Can one who remains alone, in isolation, ever achieve wisdom? Does one who is overbearing to others really have a strong ego? Can one who grasps at concepts of existence and non-existence ever realize wisdom? Are those who depend on words to seek attainment or those who seek the Buddha in austere practices or those who hold the Buddha to be different from the mind or those who hold the mind to be Buddha really in harmony with the Tao? Please, Master, reply to each of these questions."

The Master replied: "The Great Void cannot create spiritual wisdom. Real Mind does not cling to ideas of good and evil. A person full of desire has shallow potential. Minds clinging to ideas of right and wrong are narrow and obstructed. Those who come into contact with and cling to their surroundings rarely achieve focused concentration. The overbearing person just continues his delusion of possessing a strong ego. People who grasp at ideas of existence and non-existence are merely foolish. Those who seek attainment through mere words are grasping and deluded. All those who seek Buddha through austere practices are just confused. Those who abandon their minds to seek the Buddha are nothing but demons!"

Bhadanta Yun Kuang then observed: "If it is really, as you say, like this, then there is really absolutely nothing whatsoever."

The Master responded: "No! It is just absolutely the Bhadanta, not ‘absolutely nothing whatsoever’."

On hearing this Dharma, the monk felt very happy. Then he made obeisance and withdrew.

Once the Master spoke in the Dharma hall as follows: "Very fortunate, indeed, is the person who has nothing to do! Most people working hard or behaving in an affected manner, are in reality, only bearing locked cangues about their necks and slowly sinking into hell. They are constantly on the run, day and night, announcing loudly to the world that they are practicing Ch’an, learning the Tao and spreading the Buddhadharma. If they are of this sort, there is no need to listen to them; for they are, heedlessly and ceaselessly, only following sounds, names and forms. When will they ever take a rest!?

"Once I heard Master Ma Tsu of Chiang-Hsi say: ‘Your own treasury includes everything you need. Be Free! Master yourself! There is no need to seek anything outside yourself.’ From that time on, I understood that making use of one’s own treasury and enjoying it at all times and in all places are the only true happiness. Remember, there is neither a single thing that can be grasped nor a single thing that can be rejected. Just do not view a single thing as being born or dying. Just do not view a single thing as coming or going. Then, in all ten directions throughout the universe, there will not exist even a single atom that will not belong to your own treasury. Just carefully and steadily perceive your own Mind! Then the one substance of the Precious Three permanently manifests itself. About this there is no doubt! So do not endlessly intellectualize and seek elsewhere. Originally the nature of the mind is pure and spotless. Therefore, The Avatamsaka Sutra says: ‘All dharmas are neither created nor destroyed. If one can comprehend this, then all Buddhas are permanently manifested before him.’ Also, The Vimalakirti Sutra says: ‘Observe the Body of Reality and, likewise, observe the Buddha.’ So if you do not allow a single thought to arise based on sounds, names and forms and if you do not have a discriminating mind about anything whatsoever, then you will have nothing to do. You will have no more problems. Now, don’t just stand there! Go and take good care of yourselves!"

One day the whole assembly gathered before the Master to hear him speak. Afterwards, they did not break up as usual but remained standing there in front of him.

The Master said: "Why don’t you all go take a rest. I’ve finished speaking. But if you still have some doubts or questions, you should resolve them now. Don’t allow wrong views to arise that waste your time and energy."

At that moment a monk named Fa-Yuan asked: "What is the Buddha? What is the Dharma? What is the Sangha? What is the One Substance of the Precious Three? Would you please enlighten us?"

The Master said: "The mind is the Buddha, and you should not use the Buddha to seek the Buddha. The mind is the Dharma, and you should not use the Dharma to seek the Dharma. The Buddha and the Dharma are not different, and their harmony creates the Sangha. This, then, is the substance of the Precious Three. A sutra says: ‘Mind, Buddha and sentient beings are not different from one another. When one purifies one’s own body, speech and mind, it is said that a Buddha appears in the world. In contrast, when these three become impure, a Buddha is extinguished.’ For example,when you are angry, you are not happy; and when you are happy, you are not angry. Yet there is only one mind, not two different substances. Originally, there is only Suchness; then the outflow appears while Suchness remains unchanged. It is like a snake transforming into a dragon without changing its scaly covering. Also, it is like a sentient being transforming his mind into Buddha Mind without changing his Original Nature. Thus, the Original Nature is pure and is not created by practice. If one thinks he can realize his Original Nature through practice and attainment, he is just a man filled with overweening pride. The True Void is without clinging or obstacles, is inexhaustible and is without beginning or end. Those with keen faculties and profound roots are enlightened suddenly and awakened to Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi. This is Supreme Enlightenment, perfect and universal. Mind without form is the Wonderful Form Body (Sambhogakaya), and formlessness is the reality of the Dharmakaya. The fundamental void substance, which is the primary nature of all forms, is as boundless as the infinite body of universal space. The Dharmakaya is adorned by ten thousand meritorious acts. Also, the Dharmakaya is the fundamental reality of all things. Names are created and applied to it expediently according to circumstances. The wisdom it possesses is inexhaustible; thus it is called the Inexhaustible Store. It generates and creates all things; thus, it is called the Fundamental Store of Dharma. It is the source of, contains, and fully endows infinite wisdom and knowledge. Thus, it is called the Store of Wisdom . Finally, because all things return to Suchness, it is called the Store of Tathagata. A sutra says: "’Tathagata’ Means the Suchness of all dharmas. Every dharma in the universe, no matter whether it is manifesting itself or going into dissolution, must ultimately return to Suchness."

Once an Upasaka asked the Master: "I am a lay-Buddhist. Would you please be kind enough to distinguish among the Vinaya Master, the Dharma Master and the Ch’an Master and tell me which one surpasses the other two?"

The Master responded: "The Vinaya Master teaches the Dharma Store of Vinaya, transmitting the essence of the Teaching as expounded by preceding masters. He understands the rules of discipline thoroughly — what is permitted, what is prohibited, who maintains, who transgresses, and who upholds the rules. Furthermore, he knows who follows the tradition and the rule of asking the Karmananda the question three times to generate the first cause of the Four Fruitions. If he were not an old master with seeds planted in his previous existence, as well as practicing much virtue and having much experience throughout his life, how could he ever reach this stage?

"The Dharma Master sits on the Lion’s Seat to spread Dharma. His power of speech is unhindered as, before the Assembly, he reveals the Three Wheels and expounds the wonderful Dharma Door of Prajna. If he did not hold a dragon’s or an elephant’s position and power, how could he ever do this?

"The Ch’an Master knows how to select what is important and how to understand directly the source of Mind. He is skillful at revealing or covering up, according to each person’s potential, the equality of the Absolute and the relative so that one might realize the Tathagata suddenly. Furthermore, by pulling out by the roots one’s clinging-vine of birth-and-death, he enables him to attain samadhi immediately. If such a Master were not deeply concentrated in meditation, then, in preaching the Dharma according to what is appropriate for the moment, he would be completely at a loss.

"Thus, although the three studies (Vinaya, Dharma and Ch’an) are different, presenting the Dharma according to the ability and circumstances of each person, nevertheless, one must come to understand the profound, wordless meaning that includes all in One Vehicle. Therefore, The Lotus Sutra says: ‘In all Buddha-Lands in the ten directions, there is only the One-Vehicle Dharma.’ There are neither two nor three except as expediently spoken by the Buddha when he uses conventional names and relative terms in order to guide sentient beings."

Then the Upasaka exclaimed: "Master, you understand the Dharma profoundly. Your powers of speech, analysis and argument are unobstructed."

Then the Upasaka asked the Master: "Are the three doctrines of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism the same or different in essence?"

The Master answered: "For one who has a great capacity for understanding they are the same, but for a person of limited potential, who clings to views, they are different. All of them arise from the one fundamental Self-Nature, but due to different potentialities and views among people, they become three doctrines. However, remember that a person remains confused or becomes enlightened based upon his own efforts, not upon whether the teachings are different or the same."

Once a Master of the Dharmalaksana (Yogacara, or Mere Consciousness) Sect asked: "Would you please, Ch’an Master, point out to me what mind you use to practice the Tao?"

The Master answered: "I have no mind to use and no Tao to practice."

The Dharmalaksana Master asked: "If there is really no mind to use and no Tao to practice, why do you always gather people together and urge them to learn Ch’an and practice the Tao?"

The Master answered: "I’m just an old monk, and I do not even have a plot of land as tiny as the point of an awl where I can gather people together. Furthermore, I do not even have a tongue, so how can I urge people to do anything whatsoever?"

The Dharmalaksana Master retorted: "Ch’an Master, you are telling me a direct lie right to my face!"

The Master asked: "How can I, without a tongue, ever tell a lie?"

The Dharmalaksana Master said: "1 really do not understand what you are saying!"

The Master replied: "I myself, also, do not understand."

Once an abbot who expounded The Avatamsaka Sutra asked the Master: "Why don’t you admit that these green bamboo shoots are the Dharmakaya and those fragrant yellow flowers are Prajna?"

The Master answered: "The Dharmakaya is formless but responds to the green bamboo shoots and, accordingly, takes shape. Likewise, Prajna is non-discriminating but responds to the yellow flowers and the green bamboo shoots and, accordingly, takes shape. However, this does not mean that the yellow flowers and the green bamboo shoots possess either Prajna or the Dharmakaya. Therefore, one sutra says: ‘The true Dharmakaya is like space, responding to things and, accordingly, taking their shapes like the reflection in the water.’ If the fragrant yellow flowers were really Prajna, then Prajna would be the same as things. If the green bamboo shoots really were the Dharmakaya, then they could not be used. However, green bamboo shoots can be used, but how do you use the Dharmakaya? Do you understand?"

The Avatamsaka Master responded: "No, I do not understand."

The Master explained: "If one has become aware of his own Nature, whether he understands or does not understand is all right; for he speaks according to the requirements of a situation and is not hindered by ideas of right or wrong. In contrast, if one has not become aware of his own Nature, then, when he speaks of green bamboo shoots, he grasps at the concept of green bamboo shoots. Similarly, when he speaks of fragrant yellow flowers, he grasps at the concept of fragrant yellow flowers. Then, when he speaks of the Dharmakaya, he grasps at the concept of the Dharmakaya, which then becomes a hindrance. Similarly, when he speaks of Prajna, he does not really have any knowledge of it. Thus, everything he says falls into dispute."

At this, the Avatamsaka Master paid reverence to the master and departed.

Once someone asked the Master: "If one practices the Dharma by just using his mind alone, when will he attain liberation?"

The Master answered: "If one practices the Dharma by using his mind alone, that is just like using mud to wash away dirt. The great functions of profound and wonderful Prajna, originally itself without birth, appear right before us without regard to any fixed time."

Again, someone asked: "Do worldly people have access to this sphere?"

The Master responded: "If one see his own Nature, he is no longer a worldly person. If one is suddenly enlightened about the Supreme Vehicle, he has transcended both the worldly and the holy stages. Only a deluded man talks about worldly and holy. The enlightened man transcends both samsara and nirvana. While the deluded man talks about action and basic principles, the enlightened man talks about the Great Function without limits. The deluded man seeks to obtain or attain something, while the enlightened man neither seeks, obtains nor attains anything whatsoever. The deluded man yearns for attainment in some distant kalpa in the future, while the enlightened man perceives the nature of all things suddenly and instantaneously."



The Tsung Ching Record of the Ch’an Master Ta-Chu Hui-Hai (2)

Once an expounder of The Vimalakirti Sutra observed: "The Vimalakirti Sutra says: ‘The six teachers of the heterodox views are all your teachers. They have left home and, therefore, they are your teachers. If they fall, you should follow them and, also, fall. If someone supports you, he should not be thought to have gained any blessings. If someone makes offerings to you, he will fall into the three evil ways of existence. Slander the Buddha, destroy the Dharma, forget the Sangha!! This is the best way, and if you do not follow it, you can never attain the stage of liberation. However, if you do follow this path, you will partake of the right food.’ Ch’an Master, please explain clearly the meaning of this passage."

The Master explained: "Since one’s delusions arise from the six sense organs, they are called the six teachers. Believing that one can seek the Buddha outside of the mind is a heterodox view. To get something as a gift cannot properly be called a blessing. If even a single thought arises about receiving offerings, you will fall into the three evil ways of existence. Slandering the Buddha just means you no longer grasp the Buddha. Destroying the Dharma just means you no longer grasp the Dharma. Not entering the Sangha just means you no longer grasp the Sangha. When you no longer clutch at the idea of the attainment of liberation, then, and only then, freed from all obstructions and grasping, do you realize that inherent Wisdom and its functions have manifested themselves, suddenly and instantaneously, right before your very eyes. If one can understand this profound Dharma, he will acquire the wonderful food of Joy-in-the-Dharma."

Once a monk asked: "If someone is asked about the Buddha and just answers ‘Buddha!’ or is asked about the Dharma and just answers ‘Dharma!’, is this a legitimate method or not?"

The Master responded: "Such a person is just like a parrot which learns to speak from people but has nothing to say for itself because it has no inherent wisdom. This method can be likened to using water to wash water and fire to burn fire — unnecessary, ridiculous and completely meaningless!"

Once a man asked: "Are words and speech the same or different?"

The Master answered: "They are one. When words become sentences, they are called speech. If one is skilled in debate, his speech can be likened to a great, ceaselessly flowing river. His eloquence, so lustrous and beautiful, can be likened to perfect pearls poured from a vessel into a circular silver tray. Thus, to speak eloquently is to penetrate, interpret, and reveal all meanings in the boundless ocean of doctrine. In contrast, the individual word represents the mind, which harbors profound meanings within itself and manifests its wonderful form outwardly. However, even though it is surrounded by the ten thousand things, it remains undisturbed and unconfused; and, even though interwoven with turbidity, it remains clear and bright. Thus, even the Emperor Chi was humbled by his minister’s ability with words. Thus, even Manjusri always praised the powerful words of Vimalakirti. How can this be understood by ordinary people?"

Vinaya Master Yuan observed: "You Ch’an Masters very often say that Mind is the Buddha. That is not correct! Even Bodhisattvas at the first stage of their development toward Buddhahood can attain the first stage of being Buddhas in one hundred worlds simultaneously; and those at the second stage of their development toward Buddhahood have ten times more power than the first. Would you, please, try to manifest your power?"

The Master asked: "Acarya! are you worldly or holy?"

Vinaya Master Yuan answered: "I am worldly."

The Master responded: "This being the case — that you are merely a worldly monk — how can you ask this sort of highest-level question? A sutra says: ‘Your thinking, being inverted, will never correspond with the Wisdom of Buddha’."

Vinaya Master Yuan declared further: "You Ch’an Masters always say that if one is enlightened regarding the Tao, he can attain liberation in his present lifetime. You are wrong!"

The Master asked: "If a person does good his whole life, but, at some point, suddenly steals something, is that person a thief in his present lifetime?"

The Vinaya Master answered: "Yes, he is!"

The Master asked: "Then why cannot one who, suddenly, clearly perceives his own nature, after a lifetime of dark ignorance, attain liberation instantly?"

The Vinaya Master answered: "He cannot in his present lifetime! He must pass through three asamkhyeya kalpas before he can attain liberation."

The Master asked: "Can three asamkhyeya kalpas be calculated?"

The Vinaya Master retorted loudly and indignantly: "How can you possibly think it is correct reasoning to draw a comparison between thievery and liberation?"

The Master retorted: "Acarya! You obviously do not understand the Tao, but please do not become an obstacle to others who are striving to understand. Since your own eyes are not open, don’t become so upset, angry and hateful when others do see."

At this, Vinaya Master Yuan, becoming even angrier, retorted as he was leaving: "You’re just a confused, unreasonable, fuddled old muddler, with no Tao whatsoever."

The Master, getting the last word, retorted: "That one who is just now leaving is your only Tao!"

A Master of The Samatha-Vipasyana (Chinese: Chih-Kuan) Doctrine asked: "Ch’an Master, can you distinguish among the various kinds of demons?"

The Master answered: "The arising of a single thought in the mind is the heavenly demon, while the non-arising of a single thought is the demon of the five aggregates. A mind in which there are both the arising and the non-arising of thoughts is the demon of defilement. These conditions and demons can never exist in my Right Dharma."

The Samatha-Vipasyana Master asked: "What is the meaning of the concept of non-existence of the three time periods in the one Mind?"

The Master answered: "The past mind is already past; the future mind has not yet come; the present mind does not stay. Besides the minds of these three time periods, which mind do you employ for Vipasyana?"

The Samatha-Vipasyana Master declared: "Ch’an Master, you seem not to understand The Samatha-Vipasyana Doctrine."

The Master inquired pointedly: "Do you understand it yourself?! "

The Samatha-Vipasyana Master asserted: "Yes, I do!"

The Master responded: "The T’ien-T’ai Master Chih-Che said, ‘Speak about Chih (ceasing thought) to remove Chih; speak about Kuan (clear awareness) to remove Kuan. To grasp Chih is to sink into the condition of birth-and-death; to grasp Kuan is to confuse the mind. Can one reasonably use the mind to achieve the cessation of mind (Chih) or stir up the mind to meditate on or observe clear mind (Kuan)? If one thinks he has a mind to observe, that is clinging to the view of permanence. On the other hand, if one thinks there is no mind to observe, that is clinging to the view of annihilation. Finally, if one thinks there is both existence and non-existence, that is clinging to the view of dualism. Would you, please, try to explain all of this clearly for me."

The Samatha Vipasyana Master answered: "If all this is as you show it to be, I really have nothing whatsoever to say."

The Master, concluding, asked: "Where, then, is Chih-Kuan?"

A monk once asked: "Is Prajna great?"

The Master answered: "Yes, it is."

The monk asked: "How great?"

The Master answered: "Boundless."

The monk asked: "Is Prajna small?"

The Master answered: "Yes, it is."

The monk asked: "How small?"

The Master answered: "So small you can’t see it."

The monk asked: "Then where is it?"

The Master answered: "Where is it not?"

Once a Master who expounded The Vimalakirti Sutra asked: "Our Sutra says, ‘All Bodhisattvas spoke about entering the non-dual Dharma Door to Enlightenment, but Vimalakirti kept silent.’ Is this the Perfect Absolute?"

The Master responded: "This is not the Perfect Absolute. If that holy thought had really been exhausted, what more would there have been to say in the third roll of the Sutra?"

The Vimalakirti Master asked: "Would you please explain why it is not the Perfect Absolute?"

The Master responded: "The first roll of the Sutra teaches disciples how their minds ought to abide. The second roll reveals how each Bodhisattva in attendance spoke of his entrance into the non-dual Dharma Door, using words to disclose the wordless. Then Manjusri used no words or speech to disclose the wordless. Later Vimalakirti used neither words nor no words to disclose the wordless. He just remained still and silent, thus concluding all words about the wordless. In the third roll, his silence continues, and the function of the Absolute is thus made manifest. Do you understand?"

The Vimalakirti Master said: "You have a strange way of explaining it."

The Master responded: "It’s really not so strange."

The Vimalakirti Master asked: "Why not?"

The Master responded: "I put it in just this way to help people eradicate all attachment. If you follow the meaning of the Sutra, it says that both the mind and forms are void, to enable people to see their Original Nature as well as to abandon false practice and embrace right practice. Thus, one should not dwell on thoughts and meanings about words and speech from ink and paper. Basically, just to understand the two words making up Vimalakirti’s name — ‘Vimala’ (pure) and ‘kirti’ (name) — is enough. ‘Vimala’ (pure) represents the Original Substance, while ‘kirti’ (name) represents the expression and traces of its function. From the Original Substance arise the traces and expression of function, and from these traces we return to the Original Substance. However, since there is, in truth, a non-duality of substance and function, the Original Substance and its expression and traces are not different. Therefore, the Ancients concluded, ‘Even though the Original Substance and the traces and expression of its function are different in name, yet the Inconceivable, from which they both proceed, is just one. However, even that One is, in reality, not one!’ Thus, if you really understand the meaning of the two words — ‘Vimala’ (pure) and ‘kirti’ (name) — you would know that it is useless to discuss the Absolute versus the Non-Absolute. Without a front there is no back. Without a beginning there is no end. Without ‘Vimala’ (pure) there is no ‘kirti’ (name). So the only purpose of this teaching is to demonstrate to all sentient beings the inconceivable liberation that comes from recognizing their Original Nature. However, those who do not yet see their own Original Nature will never be able to comprehend this doctrine."

A monk once asked: "Since all dharmas are void, the nature of consciousness must, also, be void. Just as a bubble, once burst, can never re-form again, so the present body, once dead and nothing remaining, is never reconstituted nor does it ever live again. What, then happens to consciousness when it disperses?"

The Master answered: "The underlying substance of a bubble is water; but when the bubble bursts, you cannot say that the water no longer exists. Similarly, the underlying substance of the body is our fundamental nature. So when the body dies, how can you say that its fundamental nature is annihilated?"

The monk asked: "Since you assert there is such a fundamental nature, can you point it out?"

The Master, in turn, asked: "Do you believe there was a T’ang Dynasty?"

The monk replied: "Of course!"

The Master asked: "Can you point it out?"

The monk replied: "There was a real T’ang Dynasty, but I cannot point it out just now."

The Master responded: "Right! But even though you cannot now point out the T’ang Dynasty, you cannot say there was no T’ang Dynasty. You yourself cannot see your own fundamental nature, but you cannot say, therefore, that it absolutely does not exist. At this moment you can only see that which is walking, standing, sitting, lying down, wearing clothes and taking food, but you do not recognize its essence clearly. If you try to prove the existence of the T’ang Dynasty now, one might judge you stupid and foolish; for if you try to point out the T’ang Dynasty now, it is just like trying to use your own fundamental nature to discover your own fundamental nature. Even after ten thousand kalpas, you’ll never succeed! You are just like a man who cannot see the sun, but that does not mean there is no sun."

Once a Master of The Ch’ing Lung Commentary asked: "The Diamond Sutra says, ‘There is really no Dharma to teach, but this is called teaching the Dharma.’ Ch’an Master, what is your explanation of this?"

The Master responded: "The substance of Prajna is absolutely clear and pure, without a single thing that can be grasped. Thus, it is said that ‘There is no Dharma to teach.’ Also, because the substance of this still and void Prajna is fully endowed with functions as countless as the sandgrains of the Ganges, it knows everything. Thus, it is said to be ‘teaching the Dharma.’ This then, is the meaning of ‘There is really no Dharma to teach, but this is called teaching the Dharma’."

An Avatamsaka Master once asked: "Ch’an Master, do you believe that non-feeling beings or inanimate objects have Buddha-Nature?"

The Master answered: "No I do not believe that non-feeling beings or inanimate objects have Buddha-Nature. If such beings or objects did indeed have Buddha-Nature, then a living person would be no better than a dead person. One sutra says, ‘The Buddha-Body is the Dharmakaya. It is created through discipline and concentration, by the three insights, by the six supernatural powers and by all good Dharmas.’ If it were the case that non-feeling beings and inanimate objects had Buddha-nature, then were you, Bhadanta, to die right now, you would automatically become a Buddha."

A Dharmalaksana Master once asked: "Do you believe that to hold and recite The Prajnaparamita Sutra assures the most merit?"

The Master responded: "No, I do not believe it. If such an action really had that much spiritual effect, then the remainder of the many rolls of all the other sutras could no longer be effective or be believed. Now let’s look at it in another light. If a man shows his filial piety, he, naturally, gets both spiritual effect and merit; but there is no spiritual effect or merit whatsoever from his dead parents’ white bones. Similarly, the sutra is made of paper with words recorded in ink; but the fundamental nature of words, as well as that of paper and ink, is void. So how can there possibly be any spiritual effect or merit from these objects in themselves? In reality, the spiritual effect comes from the mind of the one who recites the sutra. Thus, in this manner, it can properly be said that any spiritual power that manifests itself is a response from living beings. Just try putting a roll of the sutra on the table with no person about to hold and recite it. How can it possibly have any spiritual effect or response by itself?"

A monk once asked: "How is one to understand the meaning of name and form, as well as speech and silence, so that there is neither front nor back?"

The Master responded: "Since originally there is neither name nor form, when a thought arises how can there be a front or back? Because you do not know the original purity of all that has name and form, you then use false thought to establish both front and back, as well as speech and silence. Without the key of Wisdom, you cannot open the locked gate of name and form, which holds you back. If you cling to the idea of the Middle Way, then you have the defect of the Middle Way. Likewise, if you cling to the idea of duality, then you have the defect of duality. You do not know that the present manifesting functions are already the unequaled Dharmakaya. Thus, because they are worldly, all ordinary people experience the duality of delusion and Enlightenment, as well as gain and loss. Allowing a thought of creation and destruction to arise overwhelms and buries one’s own genuine Wisdom. Breaking off defilements and seeking Bodhi just amounts to people’s turning their backs on Prajna (Wisdom)."

Once someone asked: "Why don’t Vinaya Masters believe in Ch’an?"

The Master answered: "The deep doctrine is difficult to comprehend, but the way of name and form is easy to practice. Thus, one who does not yet perceive his self-nature does not believe in it. One who sees his self-nature is called Buddha. Only one who recognizes the Buddha can achieve the position of Buddha. The Buddha is never far away from people, but people are always far away from the Buddha. By Mind only can Buddhahood be achieved. Deluded men seek it from words, while enlightened men realize it from their own minds. Deluded men follow the way of material cause and effect, while enlightened men understand that the mind is without form. Deluded men grasp at things and cling to ego, while enlightened men use their Prajna (Wisdom), which responds spontaneously and appropriately, as required. Foolish people grasp at the obstacles of existence and non-existence, while men of Wisdom have insight into their own Original Nature and understand that form is not an obstacle. Those who only speak eloquently, but dryly, about Wisdom just tire their jaws, while men of Great Wisdom, comprehending Mind, rest easily. When a Bodhisattva responds to things, things are illuminated; while a sravaka, because he fears the world, can only bedim his mind. Enlightened men, in daily life, do not wander from the Uncreate, but deluded men block out the Buddha, who is right before their very eyes."

Once someone asked: "How can we attain supernatural power?"

The Master answered: "The spirit of Self-Nature pervades everywhere, spreading quickly throughout the universe. Even mountains and rivers cannot hinder it, and it comes and goes without trace, covering infinite distances instantly. It can neither be burned by fire nor drowned by water. Foolish men, having no Wisdom, want to fly using the four-element body. A sutra says, ‘Ordinary people cling to forms,’ so the Dharma preached to them must be appropriate according to their capacities. Therefore, for them, the formlessness of Mind is spoken as the fine and wonderful Sambhogakaya. This formlessness is Reality, and the ‘substance’ of Reality is voidness. Hence it is called the Boundless-Void Body. Since it is adorned by all meritorious action, it is therefore also called the Dharmakaya of Merit. This Dharmakaya is the basis of all meritorious action. Even though various names have been employed reflecting its functions, actually there is only the pure, clear Dharmakaya."

Once a man asked: "If we follow the Tao of One Mind, will all sorts of karma created in previous lives be eradicated?"

The Master answered: "For one who has not yet had insight into his own Original Nature, the various sorts of karma created in previous lives cannot be eradicated. However, if one has had such insight into his Original Nature, then all sorts of karma will be dissipated, just as the sun illuminates and melts away frost and snow or just as a single spark of fire can spread, consume and completely wipe out a pile of firewood, even though it were piled as high as Mount Sumeru. His karma is like that firewood, and his Wisdom is like that fire."

The same man asked: "How can we know when every sort of karmic hindrance has been wiped out?"

The Master answered: "When you suddenly perceive your own Mind, you will at that moment understand the affairs of the past and those of the future as if they were right before your very eyes. All past and future, as well as present, dharmas will be perceived simultaneously. The Sutra says, ‘All the dharmas known by your purified mind constitute the Bodhimandala, which is the totality of all Wisdom’."

Once a practicer asked: "How can I abide in the right Dharma?"

The Master answered: "One who seeks to dwell in the right Dharma is wrong, because the ‘right’ Dharma is neither right nor wrong."

The practicer asked: "Then in what way can I become a Buddha?"

The Master answered: "Just let not a single thought arise about abandoning any sentient being, and do not ever defile your own Self-Nature. The Sutra says, ‘Mind, Buddha, and sentient beings are not different from one another!"

The practicer answered: "So if I understand this, can I attain liberation?"

The Master answered: "Since originally you are fettered, it is really quite useless to ‘seek’ liberation. The Dharma surpasses both words and speech, so there is no use seeking it in intricate sentences in books. The Dharma is without past, present and future; therefore, it is useless to seek it in the law of cause and effect. The Dharma transcends all things that possess form; therefore, you should not deny the phenomenal world in order to seek liberation."

A monk asked: "What is Prajna?"

The Master answered: "Just try to tell me what Prajna is not! "

The monk asked: "How can we perceive our own Nature?"

The Master answered: "That which does the perceiving is your own Nature, and without it there can be no perception."

Again, the monk asked: "What is proper practice and how is it done?"

The Master answered: "Just not defiling your own Self-Nature is proper practice. Just not deceiving oneself is proper practice. In line with such practice, when the great function of your own Nature is revealed, that is the unequaled Dharmakaya."

Again, the monk asked: "Is there any evil in our own Self-Nature?"

The Master answered: "Our own Self-Nature does not even contain any good!"

Again the monk asked: "If it includes neither good nor evil, then how is the mind to be used?"

The Master answered: "To employ the mind to use the mind is a great perversion!"

In conclusion, the monk asked: "Then what is it and what should we do?"

The Master answered: "There is nothing at all to do, nor is it anything whatsoever."

Once someone asked: "If a person takes a boat out onto the ocean and the keel of the boat crushes and kills some shellfish, does that person bear the karma or does the boat bear it?"

The Master responded: "Since both the person and boat have no mind to kill anything, there remains just you to bear the karma. Similarly, when violent winds topple a tree that kills someone, there is neither perpetrator to act nor victim to suffer. However, all sentient beings throughout the world, without exception, must bear suffering."

Once a monk asked: "How can liberation be realized in a ksana (single thought-moment) through the influence of someone’s feelings, pointing, speech and silence, moving eyes or raised eyebrows?"

The Master answered: "There is nothing outside of Self-Nature. The use of this subtle mind, both in its movement and its stillness is truly wonderful! One who uses the True Mind, whether he speaks or remains silent, always manifests that truth. If one understands the Tao, then whether he is walking, standing, sitting or lying down, all resides in the Tao. However if one is ignorant and deluded about his own Self-Nature, then only ignorance and delusion spring forth."

Again, the monk asked: "Ordinary people perceive dharmas according to words, names and meanings, but Manjusri Bodhisattva perceived that fundamentally all dharmas dwell in the non-dwelling void. Is just a great void, then, all there is?"

The Master asked: "Do you fear a great void?"

The monk answered: "Yes, I fear it!"

The Master observed: "But for the one who understands that he fears it, it is not a great void."

Finally the monk asked: "How can we understand that which mere words and speech cannot express?"

The Master, in turn, asked: "While you are speaking, what is it that cannot be expressed by mere words and speech?"

Ten Dharma Masters came and inquired of the Master: "Some sutra says that the Buddhadharma will be destroyed, but we do not know if that is possible. How do you feel about this?"

The Master responded: "Worldly and heterodox people assert that the Buddhadharma can be destroyed, but the Two-Vehicle believers assert that it cannot be destroyed. In my ‘right’ Dharma, there is no place for these two opposing views. In relationship to that ‘right’ Dharma, it is not just worldly and heterodox people who do not understand, that have an almost insurmountable problem. Even those who faithfully follow the Two-Vehicle view but who have not yet arrived at the highest stage are just as badly off."

Again, the Ten Dharma Masters asked: "Do the Dharma of truth, the Dharma of delusion, the Dharma of voidness, and the Dharma of non-voidness all have individual seed-natures?"

The Master responded: "Even the Buddhadharma is without any seed-nature, but it assumes different forms according to the needs of sentient beings. If the mind clings to illusion, then everything is illusion. If there were even a single dharma that is not illusion, then illusion would be stable or real. If the mind is void, then all things are void. If there were even a single dharma that is not void, then the idea of voidness would have no meaning. When a person is deluded and confused, he grasps at phenomena (dharmas); however, when a person is enlightened, all phenomena are void. The various phenomena in the world are all void, just as all rivers are separate but merge into the one Ocean. Similarly, all saints and sages and holy ones can ultimately achieve Buddhahood. The twelve divisions of the Sutras, the five divisions of the Vinaya and the four Vedas are all fundamentally rooted in the One Mind. This One Mind is the source of all dharmas (phenomena) as well as the wonderful, fundamental basis of all Dharani. It is also called the Storehouse of Great Wisdom as well as Non-Abiding Nirvana. Although there are names without number for it, all of them specify and point to Mind."

The Ten Dharma Masters asked finally: "What is illusion?"

The Master answered: "Illusion is without fixed form or appearance; it is like a rapidly turning wheel of fire, like a mirage, like a dancing puppet, like sunbeams, like sky-flowers — all unreal dharmas."

The Ten Dharma Masters asked again: "What is the greatest exemplar of illusion?"

The Master answered: "Mind is the greatest teacher and exemplar of illusion. The body is the great city of illusion. Name and form are the great array and nourishment of illusion. In all the worlds of infinite space, as numberless as the sandgrains of the Ganges, there is not even one single thing that stands or exists outside of illusion. Worldly people are not able to comprehend illusion and so are, everywhere and always, deceived by illusory karma. Sravakas fear the realm of illusion, so they enter Nirvana. Bodhisattvas, however, recognize that the names, forms and substance of all dharmas are illusion, and so they are not bound by any of these things whatsoever. The Buddha is the great teacher and master of illusion, who turned the great, illusory Dharma-Wheel, entered great, illusory Nirvana, transformed illusory birth-and-death into that which is neither birth nor death, and turned impure worlds, as numberless as the sandgrains of the Ganges, into the spotless, pure Dharmadhatu."

A monk once asked: "Why do you forbid people to recite the sutras and say that their understanding of the words is like that of guests who do not understand the language?"

The Master replied: "Because people are like parrots learning to imitate the speech of human beings without understanding the meaning or purpose of words. The sutras transmit the words and meaning of the Buddha; however, if you do not understand the Buddha’s purpose and meaning and merely recite the words, then you too are just like a mimicking parrot. Therefore, I do not let people merely recite the sutras."

Again the monk asked: "How can words and speech be separate from meaning?"

The Master replied: If you speak like this, then you also are only learning to mimic others’ words like a parrot."

The monk asked again: "But since people and parrots speak the same language, why not just let people recite the sutras?"

The Master replied: "Just listen attentively! The sutra clearly says, ‘There is a meaning that transcends words when I speak. However, there are only empty words, without meaning, when worldly people talk.’ So just understand that the real meaning is beyond words and that the Doctrine is beyond language. The Buddhadharma surpasses words, so how can one seek it from mere words or speech? Therefore, if one desires to generate his Bodhi Mind, he should just understand the meaning of the Dharma and forget the words. Having attained enlightenment about the true meaning of Reality, beyond words, he should then abandon the doctrines and teaching, just as the fisherman ignores his net after catching his fish, and the hunter disregards his trap after catching his rabbit."

A Dharma Master once asked: "What do you think about the idea that, in Mahayana, reciting the name of the Buddha is Ch’an with form?"

The Master replied: "Since even Ch’an without form is still not true Mahayana, how much less so is that with form. A sutra says, ‘Since ordinary people are always attached to form, when spreading Dharma to them you should use an appropriate method’!"

Again the Dharma Master asked: "People commonly wish to be reborn in the Pure Land. Is there really a Pure Land?"

The Master replied: "A sutra says, ‘If one wants to attain the Pure Land, then he should purify his own mind. If his mind is pure, then that very mind of purity is the Buddha’s Pure Land.’ If his mind is pure, then the Pure Land exists everywhere. Just as a prince who is born into the emperor’s family must continue the authority of that family’s imperial powers, so one who makes up his mind to become a Buddha creates causes for rebirth in the Buddha’s Pure Land. On the other hand, if one’s mind is impure, then impurity is everywhere; and, consequently, the Pure Land is unattainable. Just understand that purity and impurity proceed wholly from the mind and do not depend on any ‘land’ whatsoever."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "I have often heard the Master speak of the Tao, but I know of no one who can perceive the Tao. Are you able to explain this?"

The Master responded: "If one possesses the Wisdom-Eye, he can perceive the Tao."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "I like the Mahayana very much, but how can I attain it successfully?"

The Master responded: "Only by becoming enlightened. If you are not enlightened, you cannot attain the Mahayana."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "How then can Enlightenment be achieved?"

The Master responded: "Through attentive intuition."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "Just what is this attentive intuition?"

The Master responded: "It is like nothing else whatever."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "Then is it absolute voidness?"

The Master responded: "It is void without being absolute."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "Then does it exist?"

The Master responded: "It exists without form."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "And if I cannot comprehend it, what then?"

The Master responded: "If you cannot comprehend it, that is your own choice. No one has set any obstacles before you."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "Does the Buddhadharma pertain to the three time periods?"

The Master responded: "Perceived as formless, it is thus not external. Responding inexhaustibly to all things, it is thus not internal. Also, since there is no middle ground where it abides, it therefore cannot be attained in the three time periods."

The Dharma Master declared: "Your answers are very perplexing. "

The Master asked: "When you just said the word ‘perplexing’, was there anything internal or external about it?"

The Dharma Master answered: "After considering it, I find that there is no trace of it within or without."

The Master responded: "If there is no trace, then it is clear that all I have just said was neither perplexing, confusing, nor disordered."

Continuing, the Dharma Master asked: "How can one achieve Buddhahood?"

The Master responded: "Since one’s mind is fundamentally the Buddha, it can in actuality achieve Buddhahood."

Again the Dharma Master asked: "When sentient beings enter hell, does their Buddha-Nature go with them?"

The Master in turn asked: "In just that moment when one is performing an evil act, is there any good in it?"

The Dharma Master answered: "No, there is no good accompanying the evil."

The Master observed: "Likewise, when sentient beings enter hell, their Buddha-Nature does not accompany them."

Finally the Dharma Master asked: "Of what use is the Buddha-Nature, which all sentient beings possess?"

The Master responded: "To engage in activity of the Buddha is to employ the Buddha-Nature. However, if you steal, you are using the nature of a thief. Also, if you act like a worldly sentient being, then you are using the nature of a sentient being. This Nature, which is formless and without distinguishing features, is differentiated and named according to form and function. One sutra says, ‘All Buddhas and Aryas are discerned by their accordance with the Eternal Dharma’."

Once a monk asked: "What is the Buddha?"

The Master answered: "Besides mind, there is no Buddha."

Again the monk asked: "What is the Dharmakaya?"

The Master answered: "Mind is the Dharmakaya. Because it can create all dharmas, it is therefore called the body of the Dharmadhatu. The Sastra of the Awakening of Faith says, ‘The principal thing is the mind of all sentient beings, for Mind is depended upon to manifest the Truth of the Mahayana."’

Again the monk asked: "What is the meaning of the saying, ‘The Great Sutra exists inside an infinitesimal particle of dust’?"

The Master answered: "Wisdom is just that Great Sutra. One sutra says, ‘There is a Great Sutra, equal in scope to a great chiliocosm, which nevertheless exists inside an infinitesimal particle of dust.’ This particle of dust suggests the dust of one mind whereby a single thought arises. Thus it is said, ‘In an infinitesimally small dust particle of the mind whereby one single thought arises are present as many gathas as there are sandgrains in the Ganges.’ However, present-day people do not recognize this."

Again the monk asked: "What is the City of the Great Principle, and what is the King of the Great Principle?"

The Master answered: "The body is the City of the Great Principle, and the mind is the King of the Great Principle. One sutra says, ‘If one has a great ability to listen, that is good for comprehending the meaning of the Great Principle but not good for speaking about it.’ Words are as temporary as birth and death, but the meaning of the Great Principle is eternal, formless and beyond words. Beyond speech, beyond words is Mind, which is the Great Sutra as well as the King of the Great Principle. If one does not understand this, he is merely a person who has learned to speak by parroting words, having no real comprehension of their deeper meaning."

Finally the monk asked: "The Prajnaparamita Sutra speaks about leading the nine kinds of sentient beings into nonresidual Nirvana. It says further, ‘After they have been so led, not one of them in fact achieves final extinction or escapes suffering.’ How are we to understand these passages of the Sutra to resolve the seeming contradiction? Most interpreters say that sentient beings really are led but that one should not grasp the forms of these beings. I have been in some confusion and had doubt about this for quite awhile. Can you please explain it clearly to me?"

The Master answered: "The nine kinds of sentient beings exist, in full, in the physical body, which is created or materializes according to a person’s actions (karma). Thus, ignorance produces an oviparously born being. Defilement produces a viviparously born being. Absorption in the love fluids produces a being born of moisture and humidity. The sudden arising of vehement emotion or overwhelming passion produces a metamorphous being. When we are enlightened, we are Buddhas. When we are ignorant, we are just worldly, sentient beings. The Bodhisattva, thought after thought, never separates himself from sentient beings; and since he understands that the substance of the mind is void, that in itself is known as and called ‘the conversion and delivery of all sentient beings.’ Thus, the wise man converts and delivers himself and thereby imperceptibly converts and delivers all other sentient beings from either reincarnation or extinction. This then is the meaning and resolution of the seemingly contradictory passage in The Prajnaparamita Sutra, which states that even though the nine kinds of sentient beings are led to non-residual Nirvana, not one of them, in fact, achieves final extinction."

A monk once asked: "Is it so that words and speech are mind?"

The Master responded: "Words and speech are causes and conditions; they are not mind."

Again the monk asked: "Without causes and conditions, what is the mind?"

The Master responded: "Without words and speech, there is no mind."

Again the monk asked: "If without form, words, and speech there is no mind, what then is mind?"

The Master responded: "The mind is without form or attributes. It is neither separate from words and speech nor not separate from them. The mind is permanently clear and still and is used for self-mastery. The Patriarch has said, ‘If one realizes that mind is really no-mind, then he really understands the Dharma of Mind’."

A monk once asked: "What is the meaning of ‘the balanced study of meditation (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna)’?"

The Master responded: "From meditation wisdom arises, and wisdom returns to meditation. They are just like water and waves, which are in reality one substance without distinction. This is known as ‘the balanced study of meditation and wisdom.’ One who leaves home (a monk) should not seek words or cling to concepts. Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down — all are the great functions of your own Nature. In what way are you not responsive to the Tao? Go and be at peace! If you are not constantly being pulled about by or following outside influences and forces, then your own Nature, like permanently pure, deep water, continues to be forever clear and calm. So, everybody, attend to and take care of your own Nature."


Chan in Life and Death- Chan Master Sheng Yen

This evening’s topic is life and death from the perspective of Chan. Before I can talk about life and death from the perspective of Chan, we first need to understand what the perspective of Chan is. Actually Chan is very simple. Chan is about living in a very joyfully positive manner. In Chinese, the term Chan means wisdom, stability and peace. With wisdom, one can live with less suffering and vexation. And with stability and peace one can live without constant emotional afflictions and fluctuations. When we talk about the issue of life and death, most people cherish life, but dislike death. However, from the perspective of Chan, life and death are inseparable–they are actually the same thing.

Yesterday, I talked to a woman at the Chan Center. This woman’s husband worked on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center; he died on September 11th. Since the death of her husband, this lady has been coming to the Chan Center very often. So I spoke to her yesterday and asked her how things were going at home, and she told me she was living with her mother-in-law. I asked her if her mother-in-law knew that her son had died, and she said that it seemed she knew, but that they hadn’t really told her because she was really afraid of death, so they thought it was better not to tell her. So I asked her, "How old is your mother in law?" And she said, "Well, she’s already 94 years old, and she’s been looking very hard for a way to immortality, finding a way that she can live forever."

I’d like to ask you: What this old woman is searching for, is it something she will be able to find? Is it possible to find immortality? I believe most of you would answer, "No, it’s impossible to live forever." But is it also possible that deep down in your heart you’ve been hoping that maybe you could? That if there were a way you could live longer, or maybe not die at all, that would be great? So far, I haven’t found such a method; if I find it I will use it myself. Actually, in all human experience, throughout human history, we know of no human being that has not died. Therefore, a Chan practitioner should have the understanding and awareness that death can happen at any time. Wherever there is life there is going to be death. And for some people death may come sooner than for others, but it will happen to everybody. So this evening I’d like to talk about two main topics–one is the issue of life and death, and the other is Chan and it’s relationship to life.

So what is life? Life is the boundless extension of limitless brightness. Most people think of life as beginning when a baby’s born and ending when a person dies. But that is not an entirely correct understanding of life. The existence of the physical body is actually only the expression of the function of life. So one should understand life as having two components, the physical and the spiritual. Without the physical body, the spiritual aspect of life would have no way of expressing itself, but the physical body does not represent the entirety of life. The physical body exists for some limited period of time, but the spiritual component of life exists forever.

There are a couple of interesting analogies some Buddhists use to describe the relationship between the spiritual and physical aspects of life, which make a certain kind of sense though they are not entirely correct. In one of these analogies the spiritual aspect of life is seen as a traveler who goes all over the place, taking a bus, driving a car, staying at hotels with different kinds of accommodation, and the cars and hotels are seen as the physical aspect of life. The idea is that the spiritual aspect of life is invisible and intangible and is always there, whereas the visible, tangible, physical aspect of life exists only periodically. Another such analogy is that the physical aspect of life is like the clothes we put on–the clothes get old and dirty so we take them off and put on new ones. The body that wears these clothes is still the same body, so again the idea is that spiritual life is continuous and eternal while the physical aspect exists only periodically. These analogies illustrate how the physical aspects of life are like manifestations of different stages of spiritual life. Also you might have heard that in Tibetan Buddhism there is a belief in reincarnation, that for example his holiness the Dalai Lama is believed to be in his fourteenth reincarnation. So the idea is that this is the same person in his 14th body.

This one time I met a Tibetan Rinpoche, so I asked him, "Are you a reincarnated rinpoche?" He said, "Yes, everyone is a reincarnated person." I asked him, "Am I the reincarnation of somebody?" He said, "Yes, of course you are too. You are probably the reincarnation of a great practitioner from the past."

Here, I’d like to ask you, do you think you are the reincarnation of someone in the past? I think so, probably. It’s just that last time you had a different name, and no one can verify who you were, so no one can say that you are the reincarnation of such and such a person. So that’s the idea of reincarnation. One’s re-incarnation in the present life can be based on one’s karma or on the power of one’s vows. The difference between the two is that if one’s reincarnation is based on karma, then it is not free–one has no choice–whereas if one’s reincarnation is based on one’s vows then one is free to choose. So here’s a question: If you are reincarnated based on the power of your vow, does it mean that the person you are in this life is exactly the same as the person you were in your past life? Exactly the same? So are the two exactly the same? No they are not exactly the same.

I asked the Tibetan Rinpoche, "Since his holiness the Dalai Lama has been reincarnated 14 times, is he the same person as he was 14 lifetimes ago?" The Rinpoche replied, "No. They are not the same person. Actually, in 14 lifetimes, they are 14 different people." "So there have been changes from the first to the fourteenth reincarnation?" And the Rinpoche replied, "What’s changed is his wisdom and merit."

So, for the Dalai Lama, from his first life to his fourteenth reincarnation his wisdom and merit has been changing, and it has been growing. The same is true for everyone, however, if one does not practice, one’s merit and wisdom can change in the opposite direction, going downhill.

Earlier I mentioned that life is the boundless extension of limitless brightness. If one practices and makes good use of every lifetime that one has, then one will be adding to this brightness, and that is the boundless extension. That is what I mean by life being the boundless extension of limitless brightness.

What I mean by making good use of one’s life is doing things that can benefit oneself and others. So if each physical lifetime is likened to a piece of clothing or a house that one has, then when one is in possession of the house, one makes good use of that house, and then while one is wearing a piece of clothing, one takes good care of it so it can perform its proper function. Of course however well one takes care of a house or piece of clothing, it will still get old and deteriorate in the end. But in the process of one’s taking good care one is adding to the brightness of life, and if one can do so life after life then one is enhancing the limitless brightness of life.

Recently when I was in Taiwan there were quite a few serious natural disasters happening there; there was serious flooding. I went to an area where a lot of people had died. The family members of the victims suffered greatly, and many were unable to accept the reality of the deaths. A lot of people were asking me, "Shifu, in our family, nobody does any bad things, why do we have to suffer such a punishment?" "There are much worse people than my relative–why does my family member have to die, and those people don’t die?" "There are people who are much older and they survived, they’re still alive–why does my family member have to die so young?" I was bombarded with these questions. Their thinking was that it’s wrong for their relatives to die in a disaster, wrong that older people, like me, should still live. Of course that’s not really what they meant, but they were suffering greatly from what had happened.

I have another student who has come to many retreats and four years ago her twenty-year-old son went out to buy bread in the morning and was killed by a car. For this woman this is a very difficult reality for her to accept. She simply could not face that just a moment ago her son was fine and then a moment later her son was dead. So for a few years this woman has been coming to my seven-day retreats, and every time she asks me, "Shifu, where’s my son?" Every time she asks me this question. I’ve been telling her the same answer: "Everybody comes to this life with a mission, and once that mission’s accomplished, then that person leaves. Even though you do not want to let go, it is impossible to keep this person around. The next mission in the next stage of life is waiting for him, so he has to move on to accomplish the next mission. He has already moved on to the next lifetime, so you should give him your blessing instead of suffering so much."

Now, after more than three years of meditation practice, this woman has gained a deeper understanding of the nature of her body and mind, and begun to understand that life and death are separated by a very fine line. She also understands that if her deceased son is still around, and if there’s still a connection, she will be able to feel his presence. However, if she can no longer feel his presence, then that just means that he’s already moved on, and there’s no reason to be so attached. Finally she has begun to understand and so is willing to let go. So she no longer asks me the question again and again, "Where’s my son?" It’s kind of like we were traveling on the same bus, but her son got off this bus and got on another bus. Even though you want to see him or want to communicate with him, it’s not that easy, because he’s already riding on another bus. So if we understand the separation between the living and the dead in this way, then it will be easier for one to handle these matters in life. Of course when it happens, when we have to be separated from our loved ones either living or dead, it is not easy to accept right away. But with the practice of Chan and the application of the correct concepts one will become more capable of coming to terms with whatever happens.

I’d like to ask you another question: Have you thought about why you ended up in this room listening to me giving this talk? How are we related to each that you would come and listen to me talk? Let me tell you this–we have a connection not just from today’s meeting, we have a connection from way back when. We have been connected in some way from a long time ago, and even though we don’t remember it, our connection brought you all to this room to listen to this talk this evening.

More then fifty some years ago there was a man living in mainland China, but because of the war he had to leave, which meant that he would never see his family again in this life. You can imagine how sad this separation was. But years later he ran into his family again, just totally by accident, so this kind of thing happens, though of course not often. I actually experienced something like this when I was in my thirties. I had accepted a disciple, who was taking refuge with me, and then I never saw this person again until twenty-some years later here in New York in the subway. I didn’t recognize him anymore because he looked very different after twenty years, but because I’m a monk, I kind of look the same, so he recognized me right away and ran up to me and said, "Shifu, I’m so glad to see you again." I thought, "Who is this person, why is he calling me Shifu?" It is actually the same for us here. You may think you don’t really know me, we haven’t met before, but regardless of the time that has passed and the changes we may have been through–new name, new body–we find ourselves together again.

About six years ago I gave a talk and two of the people who were at that talk are here this evening; one of them is Lindley, who organized this event. She came to that talk and since then she’s been following me. So I believe we had a very deep connection before, otherwise why would she come to my talk and follow me after that? There’s another person from that talk who’s here this evening, and a third person too. It’s not like they went crazy, like they didn’t know me at all and just suddenly started following me around. It must be because we had a deep connection from before, and causes and conditions were such that we meet each other again now. So despite separations while we are alive, or between the dead and the living, we will see each other again. Someone gets off this bus and gets on another bus, but at some other time, in some other world, we may find ourselves on the same bus again. If one can use this perspective to look at life and death then one may not suffer so much.

Next I’d like to talk about how the practice of Chan can show us that life and death are actually two sides of the same thing. Through Chan practice one will experience firsthand that the physical phenomena of the body are undergoing constant changes, and that one’s mental state is also constantly changing, with phenomena arising and departing continuously. Thus one will come to understand the reality of impermanence and come to see that life and death are really inseparable, really the same thing.

If one applies the method of sitting meditation to pursue the experience of Chan, then one will go through three stages. The first stage involves the relaxation of the body and mind, and as one relaxes the body and the mind, the burden of the body and mind will lessen. As a result one’s attachment to the body and the mind will lessen as well. When the body and mind are unified, then the burden of the body and the mind will disappear, at which point one will experience a very comfortable, very joyful state. Once one has this experience, the second stage, one may want to return to it, because in our ordinary daily life we often experience our bodies as great burdens. At this point one can really appreciate the value of putting down the attachment to the physical body. However, rather than becoming stuck in the comfort of this stage, one should proceed to the next stage, where one also puts down the attachment to this blissful state of unified body and mind. At this third stage one will be able to go back into daily life and feel neither aversion nor attachment to the physical body. One’s view of the physical body will be that having one is good, that it should be cherished and used well, but that when it has to go that’s OK too. Of course it takes time in one’s practice to get to this stage. One cannot just start thinking, "Oh, wow, Chan practice is so good, I can just go straight to stage three!" But before we get to the stage of feeling at ease with the body and the mind, or the stage of feeling liberated from the body or mind, is sitting meditation useful? Yes, it is useful, because the practice of meditation helps one’s mind remain stable, and clear, and peaceful, even as one confronts the danger of death. As I said at the beginning, Chan is about living a life of wisdom and peace.

I’d like to give you another example, actually this person is also here, sitting at the back there. Her practice of meditation is not that good yet, but it’s already been quite useful to her. On the morning of September 11th, Ann was practicing sitting meditation in the morning before she went to work. After her meditation she made three interesting decisions. She usually wears contact lenses, but that morning she decided to wear glasses. She also decided to go to work in pants and instead of wearing high heals she decided to wear flats. Then she went to her job in a building near the World Trade Center. When the attack occurred, she didn’t panic. She escaped from the building, and because she wasn’t wearing her contact lenses, the dust didn’t affect her vision very badly–by the time she got out of the area she was completely covered with dust–and because she was wearing pants and low shoes she was able to move quickly. So for her, sitting meditation was quite useful that day. We’d like to invite her to stand up so we can give her our blessings; we are happy for her. So Ann, make sure you practice sitting more often.

With practice, when one encounters danger, one will be able to minimize the harm that may occur, because one’s mind will remain calm and clear. And even when the situation is such that one cannot escape death, then one will not panic. Instead one will understand that it’s time to get off the bus, and that there is this other bus one has to get.

The following Dharma talk was given by Chan Master Sheng Yen to the Meditation Group, the Chan Meditation Center’s Manhattan affiliate, on November 6, 2001. It was translated live by Rebecca Lee, transcribed by David Slaymaker, and edited by David Berman.


The Wondrous Functions of the Mind: A Letter to Zheng Fang Lian

By Chan Master Zhongfeng Mingben

Zhongfeng Mingben (1262-1323) was an eminent Chan master of the Linji lineage in the Yuan dynasty. He was one of the very few to receive transmission from his teacher, Chan Master Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1239-1295), the protagonist of the famous gongan, "Do you have mastery of yourself when you are in a dreamless sleep?"

The invisible bug is able to rest on everything but not on fire. The mind of sentient beings can relate to everything (as an object of cognition) but not to prajna. But what really is the mind of sentient beings and what really is the essence of prajna? Why this talk about the ability and inability to relate to phenomena? Well, let me explain: "Reined with golden bridle, the horse whinnies on the fragrant grass; in the jade pavilion, the lady is enraptured by the spring blossoming of Apricot flowers" — this is the mind of sentient beings. "In the jade pavilion, the lady is enraptured by the spring blossoming of Apricot flowers; reined with golden bridle, the horse whinnies on the fragrant grass" — this is the essence of prajna. "On fragrant grass whinnies the golden bridled horse; the spring blossoming of Apricot flowers enraptures the lady in the jade pavilion" — this is the ability and inability to relate to phenomena. If you get this directly without any hesitation, you would have seen [true reality].

Apart from the mind of sentient beings, there is no prajna essence; when the waves subside, the water returns to its original state. Apart from prajna essence, there is no mind of sentient beings; when there is water, waves will naturally arise. When emotive conceptualization of what is saintly and what is worldly is ended, and when the view of subject and object subsides, the worlds of the ten directions become one great field of complete enlightenment. All sentient beings have originally attained Buddhahood. At this place, you would not be able to find the tiniest bit of thing to be the mind of sentient beings; and you would not be able to find the tiniest bit of thing that is prajna essence, let alone finding the tiniest bit of thing to support the theory of being able or not able to relate to phenomena. This is what we call the True Suchness Dharma gate of one taste and universality. Because of it, the Buddhas of the past, present, and future are able to set the wheel of Dharma in motion; with it, the ancestral masters of the past were able to open the true eyes [of Dharma]; relying on it, the firmament shelters the world; based on it, the earth holds up everything. The saints utilize it to bring order and peace to all places; a noble person accords with it to fulfill the virtue of benevolence and enact policies to administer the land.

It is just that the multitude uses it everyday without knowing it. Having their back turned against it, they get more and more alienated from it. Due to this estrangement, worldly characteristics arise through prajna essence; from these worldly characteristics, the mind of sentient beings is generated; following this mind of sentient beings, different karmic actions are performed. As a result, one wanders around from place to place, leading to endless cyclic existence.

What we call prajna essence is none other than the potent and wondrous awareness from which the six sense functions flow forth. It is like a room that encompasses empty space, having six doors open on the sides, without obstructing each other. What we call the mind of sentient beings is none other than that which habitually follows the six sense objects of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. It constantly grabs and rejects things it encounters, generating feelings of liking and aversion, grasping and attaching [to things] thought after thought, without interruption.

Prajna essence is analogous to water and the mind of sentient beings to waves. When the ocean of mind is perturbed by the wind of conditions it encounters, waves arise from the water. Apart from the water, the waves have no concrete substance. For one whose great wisdom has shone through in great brightness and openness, he or she would be able to see the unmoving water amidst the thousand convoluted waves, with nothing amiss in both movement and non-movement. If you have not attained this, you are only relying on words that resemble [true wisdom], being profoundly blind to the wisdom essence of wondrous awareness.

[What we call] mind and consciousness are but two names of the same thing. The enlightened ones penetrate consciousness and return to mind; the confused ones turn mind into consciousness. So what is mind? It is just a name given to the wondrous awareness which functions without any confusion. And what is consciousness? It is a name given to the illusory arising of discrimination from the functioning of wondrous awareness. These days, practitioners who discourse in abstruse eloquence mostly hold on to the entity of consciousness, without realizing the mind essence of wondrous awareness.

In reality, what we call wondrous awareness is not itself an object to be known. This is why the ancients said that a mirror does not reflect itself and a fire does not burn itself. If a mirror reflects itself, it would not be able to mirror other objects; if a fire burns itself, it would not be able to burn other objects. The mind essence is the same. If what we call wondrous awareness knows itself as an entity of awareness, it will not be able to know everything else. If one comes to know it as an object of awareness, what is known must actually be the entity of consciousness, not mind essence. Consciousness is the very object of the changeability of birth and death. If one holds on to it, how can one transcend birth and death?

The very essence of mind cannot be seen, heard, known, sensed, nor can it be grabbed or rejected. Whatever that can be generated is illusory, unreal, and inverted. If it is not something to be seen, heard, known, or sensed, how can a practitioner attain it as a transcendental realization? Well, all one should do is to depart from everything that can be seen, heard, known, or sensed, to the point that the one who departs and that which is being departed from (object) are brought into emptiness and quiescence. The mind essence will then simply manifest amidst that which can be seen, heard, known or sensed. When the ancients silently came into accordance and vividly realized this, the non-obstruction of all phenomena and conditions followed naturally.

However, if one desires to depart from the illness of the seen, heard, known, and sensed, this desire itself will in actuality enhance the illness. This is why the ancients came up with a skillful mean of practice. They put forth a meaningless huatou, instructing practitioners to investigate it thoroughly. If one [throws all one’s attention] into the investigation of the huatou, one would naturally depart from the seen, heard, known, sensed, etc., without having to do so with any contrivance. In the various records of the transmission of lamps, we know that the ancestral masters did not generate doubt sensations through the use of huatou. Rather, they spontaneously realized non-arising through some spoken words. This is because they were truly and genuinely determined to resolve the great affair of birth and death. Even before they entered the gate of chan practice, the thought of impermanence and the gravity of the affair of birth and death had already been palpitating. This thought stuck in their minds and they were unable to bring about a resolution of it. As a result, they traveled and wandered around, going thousands of miles, entering into remote places enshrouded completely by wild grasses, with the wind as their only companion, [seeking for a resolution]. They went forth single-mindedly and diligently, with no other purpose than to thoroughly enlighten to "who they are". If they could not realize the resolution after practicing for decades, their doubt sensation of birth and death would grow stronger with time, not for one moment would they let go of this intention. If one can practice with such power of wisdom, there will be no need to worry that the light will not shine through.

Alas! Nowadays human minds are shallow and restless. Many people claim themselves to be practicing chan. The fact is, most only desire to be learned in the forms of practice and use them as material for gossip. Since they do not set their minds on resolving the great affair of birth and death, the more they talk, the more they are entrapped in their conceptions, entwined ever more deeply by the vines, leading to the reinforcement of birth and death. How unfortunate!

If you want to emulate the Buddhas and the ancestral masters, you must generate the proper aspiration of resolving the great affair of birth and death. Hang it on your eyelashes! So that even if you are enmeshed in myriad happenings and you are bombarded by myriad activities of the mind, you do not give rise to even one deviating intention, generating thoughts of discrimination, thus obstructing your aspiration. If this aspiration to resolve [the great affair] of birth and death is not genuine and sincere, it is certain that you will not be able to truly practice in daily living. And if you were to force yourself, it will only be a fleeting effort, not long lasting. Even if you are so intelligent and sharp that you can gain some understanding from the words of the ancients, that will only increase your knowledge, having no benefit whatsoever as far as the affair of birth and death is concerned. This is due to the lack of a genuine aspiration.

There are three essential requisites on the Path of practice: The first is to set your mind sincerely on the affair of birth and death; the second is to see through the illusoriness and fleetingness of worldly concerns such as honor and humiliation, gain and loss; the third is the determination to persevere along the path, never to regress. If one of these requisites is missing, your practice will be crippled; if two of them are missing, you will be lost; and if all three are missing, even if you were to commit the whole Tripitaka to memory and to deeply immerse yourself in cartloads of books, it will only feed into the karmic stream of your consciousness, engendering your pride and arrogance, having no benefit whatsoever to your [affair of birth and death].

In the past, a monk asked Master Zhao Zhou, "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" Zhao Zhou answered, "Wu!" This single word "wu" is like the great sword of heaven and the poison smeared drum. Those who come into contact with it will die instantly and those who engage with it will have their spirits shocked into oblivion. Even the Buddhas and the ancestral masters do not dare to look at it straight on. Since the time it was proffered, many people have been intrigued by it, and as a result many attained realization through it. However, there were also a large number who got it wrong. If you want to thoroughly enlighten to the great intention of the Buddhas and the ancestral masters, and to completely penetrate your true mind, why don’t you place this word "wu" among the writing tablets and the desks? Whether you are speaking or silent, on the move or at rest, hang the huatou in there! Look into it closely and unceasingly. What really is it all about? Why did Zhao Zhou say "wu"? Investigate it while you are on the move, examine it while you are seated. Dwell on it and be intrigued by it day and night, without relenting for even one instant. While you are investigating it and examining it, do not try to understand it in the worldly sense or in the transcendental sense. Just go on as if nothing is happening in front of your eyes. If the flow of your investigation is smooth and seamless, do not be joyous because of that. If the flow of your investigation is intermittent and scattered, do not become discouraged. Whether you can truly do it or not, just carry on in a matter-of-fact manner. Do not give rise to the thought of wanting to find some skillful way to enhance the practice. Giving rise to such a thought is in fact creating an interruption in your practice. If you carry on unceasingly in this manner, by and by, your practice will naturally become seamless and it will happen that spontaneously the inner mind and the outer world will both be emptied and cleared. Instantly the saintly and the worldly will be transcended. At that point, you will realize that the Way is to be attained within your very being, not from anything external.

You have suffered in this impermanent world of birth and death for innumerable kalpas without being able to attain liberation. That is not due to any external causes. The very cause of this condition is the confusion and ignorance of your own mind. When the mind is confused, it enters into [birth and death] willingly. Nothing external could make it so. It is not so because of heaven and earth, or spirits and deities. If this willingness has its cause in external objects, it cannot be called willingness. Because it does not arise due to external objects, we say that it arises willingly. Since it is your own willingness that results in the entrapment of birth and death, you will not be able to transcend it and move towards nirvana without generating a profound willingness for such a purpose. If you intend to wait for the guidance and advice of the saints and sages to prod you into action, just consider the fact that when you entered the samsaric flow, it was not due to the prodding of others! Contemplating in this manner, if we can be willing to end the mind that clings to birth and death and turn towards the path, everyone will attain [enlightenment]. This is why the ancients said, "If one were to set one’s mind as strongly on the path as one does on emotional attachments, one would have attained Buddhahood long ago," and, "If you engender a determined willingness [to practice], I can assure you that you will not be fooled." Such words are not said to deceive others!

In the past, Minister Feng wrote the following verse about his practice:
When not attending to my official duties, I enjoy sitting meditation.
It was long ago that I last laid my body down when sleeping.
Even though I live my life as a government minister,
All across the four oceans, people know of me as an elder on the Path.

Prince Li had this verse about practice:
A man on the path is a man with an iron will,
Whatever one encounters, the course of action is made instantly.
Directly coursing towards the supreme Bodhi,
Paying no attention to the disputes of the world.

Layman Pang said:
There is nothing special about my daily living,
It is only I being in harmony with myself.
Not grasping or rejecting anything,
Not favoring or opposing any conditions.
Who designated red as "red" and purple as "purple"?
The hills and the mountains are all free of dust.
Miraculous powers and wondrous functions,
Are but gathering wood and carrying water.

The scholar Zhang Zhuo said in his verse:
The luminous light illuminates the innumerable worlds quiescently,
The worldly and the saintly–all sentient beings are of my own household.
When not a single thought arises, it manifests completely,
When the six sense faculties move ever so slightly, it is covered by cloud.
To eradicate vexation will enhance your ill-ness,
Working towards true suchness is also deviated.
Flow with the world with no obstruction,
Nirvana and Samsara are both illusory flowers in the sky.

The respectable Zhao Qingxian composed the following verse:
Sitting silently in the court behind the desk,
The mind source unmoved–clear as water.
In the crash of a thunderbolt, the crown of the head splits open,
I recall what I have always had long ago.

These are all gentry who roamed and played in the great field of complete enlightenment without departing from worldly merits and fame. If the ancients could be like this, there is no reason why people today cannot do the same. If one has a profound faith and practices sincerely, there will be no difference between people today and people of old. Do not be hesitant! Otherwise you will be drawing a boundary to confine yourself.

The Buddhadharma is the gate of great liberation. The only requisites are that one should see the issue of birth and death as a grave affair, generate a profound faith, and straightforwardly investigate one’s huatou with great effort. One should be most careful against reckoning and weighing one’s progress, trying to figure out one’s gain and loss. Do not be like practitioners of the two vehicles of individual liberation, who employ various methods such as loathing their bodies, avoiding contacts with the environment, quenching thoughts, relinquishing conditions, discarding what they love, expelling aversions, driving away emotional attachments, trying to depart from the illusory. Moreover, you should not run away from the clamor and seek quietude, or engage yourself in discriminating right from wrong, to grab the saintly and reject the worldly, or to fight against scattered mind and stupor. If you depart from the proper mindfulness of investigating "Wu" and give rise to the tiniest bit of concern for what I mentioned above, the sword would have swung by long before you realized it! It would be impossible for you to realize enlightenment. The only purpose of chan practice is to realize enlightenment. You should take care not to part with your huatou no matter what happens. If you give rise to any intention other than that of realizing enlightenment, you will not be attuned to the practice. Put utmost care into assuring this!

Practitioners today often preconceive an emotive idea of the saintly and the worldly. This conceptualization stays latent in the storehouse consciousness, and as a result, when thoughts arise, discriminations follow. These people generate the feelings of aversion and annoyance even before engaging in a task; and they constantly reckon and worry even before coming into contact with things. Well, if you cannot penetrate through directly and straightforwardly, you will just be toiling about busily, gaining no benefit in principle. Stay on guard of the huatou in a seamless manner, and make this seamless practice even more seamless. When you are practicing seamlessly, do not entertain any thought about this seamlessness. As soon as you give rise to such a thought, you will fall into [the trap of] seamlessness and you will be no longer attuned to the practice. [If you can just] persevere to the point that your practice is proficient and refined, the deluded emotional attachments of liking and aversion, grasping and rejecting, right and wrong will all be thoroughly eradicated without any contrivance, without a second thought.

The purpose of the Confucian path is to cultivate and refine the mind while the purpose of the Buddhist path is to enlighten and realize the mind. Cultivating and refining is gradual while enlightening and realizing is sudden. Although the mind is the same, the graduated path and the sudden path are different. And this difference is precisely that of the worldly and the transcendental. If the Buddha were to talk about how one should conduct oneself in the world, he would not be deviating from the [Confucian] teaching of making the mind upright and making one’s intention sincere. Likewise, if Confucius were to talk about the way of the transcendental, the teaching could not be other than the essential principle of emptying the mind and attaining complete enlightenment. If one does not truly understand the great expediency of teachings and means of transformation instituted by the saints, one would merely be arguing and debating about them, bringing all sorts of disputes and quarrels.

When one engages in the study of worldly learning, the eight subjects of cultivating the Way, virtue, benevolence, righteousness, proper conduct, music, law, and [sociopolitical] order are not something alienated from the wondrous functions of the mind. When the mind has no obstruction, it is called the Way; if the mind is upright, it is called being virtuous; if the mind is infused with kindness, it is called benevolence; if the mind is objective, it is called righteousness; if the mind is undeviating, it is called proper conduct; if the mind is gentle and tranquil, it is called the joy [of musical aesthetics]; if the mind is straightforward, it is call the law; if the mind is imbued with clarity, it is called order. In fact, not only these eight subjects, but the hundreds and thousands of wholesome conducts–any action that is beneficial to the world and the multitude, all come about due to the wondrous functioning of the mind. A worldly person turns his or her back on it and loses this wondrous function. This is how all sorts of confusion and chaos come into being. As a result, the saints had no choice but to institute their teachings to rectify the situation. To further demonstrate this, I offer the following verses:

The ultimate Way has always been intimate with the mind,
Having attained no mind, you will see the reality of the Way as it is.
When the mind, the Way, existence, and nothingness are all extinguished,
You become an idle person in this universe of innumerable world systems.

Virtues are to be found in the nature of the myriad objects,
But only the virtues of human beings resonate with the mind.
Ever since I came to know of this,
In conversation or silence, clarity shines in accordance with the ultimately just.

The saints instituted a great diversity of teachings,
Transforming, educating, nurturing, and refining the multitude throughout this vast space and time.
Wanting to be benevolent, benevolence manifests,
There is no need to seek for anything outside the mind.

When the mind has achieved equanimity, the equality of self and others will be actualized,
Everything in one’s daily living will be just fitting and appropriate.
As long as one sees the sameness of the Dharma nature of all,
This does not obstruct one from exercising kindness or authority.

It is not because of etiquette that one conducts oneself in a dignified manner,
When the mind is undeviating, proper conduct will be perfected naturally.
When we meet, there is no need to present elaborate gifts,
One snap of the fingers shows our authenticity and innocence.

The wind ensemble of nature plays a flute with no hole in the middle of the night,
The gushing water of the rivers strums a harp with no string in the morning light.
If you want to know wherefore one can attain this happiness,
It is to be found in your very mind.

To harbor unwholesome thoughts is to bring about punishments for the mind,
Three thousand rules and laws are instituted to govern this body of yours.
A man on the Path forgets all about good and evil,
While Law and order are clearly and vividly administered.

The mind is like a scale, indicating what is heavy and what is light,
When loaded, the weight is clearly shown.
Since time immemorial, all benevolent governings are similar,
For thousands of years, they have served as a standard for human beings to behold.




(曾普信 著)


the truth of suffering

The Buddha’s discovery of the solution to the problem of suffering began with the recognition that life is suffering. This is the first of the Four Noble Truths. If people examine their own experiences or look at the world around them, they will see that life is full of suffering. Suffering may be Physical or Mental.

Physical Suffering

Physical suffering takes many forms. People must have observed at one time or another, how their aged relatives suffer. Most of the aged suffer aches and pains in their joints and many find it hard to move about by themselves. With advancing age, the lderlyfind life difficult because they cannot see, hear or eat properly. The pain of disease, which strikes young and old alike, is unbearable, and the pain of death brings much grief and suffering. Even the moment of birth gives pain both to the mother and to the child that is born.

The truth is that suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death is unavoidable. Some fortunate people may now be enjoying relatively happy and carefree lives, but it is only a matter of time before they, too, will experience suffering. What is worse, this suffering must be born alone.

Mental Suffering

Beside physical suffering, there are also various forms of mental suffering. People feel sad, lonely or depressed when they lose someone they love through separation or death. They feel irritated or uncomfortable when they are forced to be company of those whom they dislike or those who are unpleasant. People also suffer when they unable to satisfy their limitless needs and wants.

Happiness in Life

When the Buddha said that there is suffering in life, he did not deny that there is happiness also. On the contrary, he spoke of many kinds of happiness such as the happiness of friendship, the happiness of family life, and so on. But all these kinds of happiness are impermanent and when one loses them, one suffers. For example, one may like a pleasant and charming person and enjoy his or her company. But when one is separated from that person, the happiness turns into suffering. One suffers because of one’s attachment to pleasures that do not last.

People often remain unaware of the inevitable sufferings of life because they are distracted by temporary pleasures.




mara & buddha- embracing our suffering

I would like to tell you a story that took place a number of years ago. One day I saw the Venerable Ananda—you know who he is? Ananda is a cousin of the Buddha, a very handsome man with a very good memory. He memorized everything the Buddha said, and after the Buddha passed away, he repeated exactly what the Buddha said during his life. Then other monks tried to learn and memorize also. Later on, all this was put down into writing and that is why we have the Sutras today. “Sutras” means the teaching of the Buddha in written form. They exist in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, and in Vietnamese, but originally it was in a kind of Bengali, very close to Pali and Sanskrit.

One day I saw the Venerable Ananda practicing walking meditation in front of the hut of the Buddha. You know, Ananda became a monk, a student of the Buddha. He was the attendant of the Buddha during many years. He took very good care of the Buddha. Of course, the Buddha loved him and there were people who were jealous of him. Sometimes Ananda was so concerned about the happiness of the Buddha that he forgot about himself. Sometimes he did not enjoy what was there in the present moment, being much younger than the Buddha.

One day standing on the hill looking down, the Buddha saw beautiful rice fields. The rice was ripe, about to be harvested. But because Ananda was only thinking of how to make the Buddha comfortable, he didn’t see it. So the Buddha pointed to the rice fields below and said, “Ananda can you see it’s beautiful?” It was like a bell of mindfulness—suddenly Ananda saw that the rice fields down there were so beautiful. The Buddha smiled and said, “Ananda, I want the robes of the monks and the nuns to be designed in the form of rice fields—golden colors like the rice that is already ripe, small portions of the rice fields like that.” Ananda said, “Yes, that is possible, I will go tell my brothers and from now on we will make the sanghati, the robes of the monks and nuns, in the form of rice fields.”

Another time when Ananda was with the Buddha, north of the Gangha River in the city of Vaisali, the Buddha pointed to the city, the trees, and the hills, and said to Ananda “Don’t you see Vaisali is beautiful?” Then Ananda took the time to look at the beauty of the city.

The day I saw Ananda practicing walking meditation around the hut of the Buddha, he was trying to protect the Buddha from guests. Many guests came, and they always wanted to have a cup of tea with the Buddha, and the Buddha could not just receive guests all day. So Ananda was trying to help. That day Ananda was practicing walking around the hut of the Buddha. It’s not exactly a hut, but a cave—the Buddha was staying in a cave, very cold. And Ananda saw someone coming, coming, coming in his direction.

He had the impression that he knew this person, but just forgot his name. When that person had come very close, he recognized him as Mara. You know Mara? Mara is the one who had caused the Buddha a lot of difficulties. The night before the Buddha attained final enlightenment, Mara was there to tempt him. Buddha was tempted by Mara. Mara is the tempter. He always wanted the Buddha to be a politician, to be a king, or a president, or a foreign minister, or running a business, having a lot of money, a lot of beautiful women; and he was always trying to tempt the Buddha so that Buddha would go into these directions. That is Mara.

Ananda saw Mara approaching. He felt uncomfortable. Why should Mara come at this time? But Mara saw him already—Ananda could not hide himself—so he had to stand there and wait for Mara and they had to say things like, “Hello, how do you do?” People say that even if they don’t like each other. They say, “Hello, good morning, how are you,” and so on. They don’t mean it. Then they come to the real thing: “What are you here for Mara?" “I want to visit the Buddha,” Mara said, “I want to see him.” Ananda said, “Why should you want to see the Buddha? I don’t think the Buddha has time for you.”

You know when the head of a corporation or a director of an office doesn’t want to see you she says, “Go and tell him I am in conference.” And Ananda was about to say something like that, but he remembered that he had to practice the Five Precepts and could not tell a lie. So he refrained from saying that the Buddha is in conference. He was frank. He said, “Mara, why should the Buddha see you? What is the purpose and are you not ashamed of yourself? Don’t you remember that in the old days, under the Bodhi tree, you were defeated by the Lord? How could you bear seeing him again? I don’t think that he will see you. You are the enemy of the Buddha,” and Ananda continued to say what was really in his heart.

You know Mara was very aware, a very experienced person. He just stood there and looked at the young Venerable Ananda and smiled. After Ananda finished, he said, “What did you say Ananda, you said the Buddha has an enemy?” Then Ananda felt very uncomfortable to say that the Buddha had an enemy. That did not seem to be the right thing to say, but he just said it. He said, “I don’t think that the Buddha will see you, you are his enemy,” So if you are not very concentrated, very deep, very mindful, you may say things like that against yourself, against what you know and what you practice. When Mara heard Ananda say that he is the enemy of the Buddha, he burst out laughing and laughing and laughing, and that made Ananda very uncomfortable. “What, you’re telling me that the Buddha also has enemies?"

So finally Ananda was defeated, completely defeated. He had to go in and announce the visit of Mara, hoping that the Lord would say, “I have no time for him, I need to continue sitting.” But to his surprise, the Buddha smiled beautifully and said, “Mara, wonderful! Ask him to come in.” That surprised Ananda. Remember Ananda was young with not a lot of experience. All of us are Ananda, you know. So Ananda had to go out again and bow to Mara and ask him to come in because the Lord wanted Mara to be his guest.

The Buddha stood up, and guess what? The Buddha did hugging meditation with Mara. Ananda did not understand. The Buddha invited Mara to sit on the best place in the cave—a stone bench. And he turned to his beloved disciple and said, “Ananda, please make tea for us.” You might guess that Ananda was not entirely happy. Making tea for the Buddha—yes. He could do that 1,000 times a day. But making tea for Mara was not a very pleasant idea. But since the Lord had asked, Ananda went into a corner and began to make tea for them and tried to look deeply, why things were like that.

When the tea was offered to the Buddha and the guest, Ananda stood behind the Buddha and tried to be mindful of what the Buddha would need. You see, if you become a novice, you have to practice being an attendant to your teacher. You stand behind him or her and you try to know what your teacher needs each moment. But it did not seem that the Buddha needed anything. He just looked at Mara in a very loving way and he said, “Dear friend, how have you been? Is everything okay?" Mara said “No, not okay at all. Things go very badly with me. You know something Buddha, I’m very tired of being Mara. Now I want to be someone else, like you. You are kind, wherever you go you are welcome. You are bowed to with lotus flowers, and you have many monks and nuns with very lovely faces following you. You are offered bananas and oranges and kiwis and all kinds of fruits.

“As a Mara I have to wear the appearance of a Mara. Everywhere I go I have to speak in a very tricky language. I have to show that I am really Mara. I have to use many tricks, I have to use the language of Mara, I have to have an army of wicked little Maras and if I breathe in and breathe out, every time I breathe out I have to show that smoke is coming from my nose. But I don’t mind very much all these things. What I mind most is that my disciples, the little Maras, are beginning to talk about transformation and healing. They’re beginning to talk about liberation, Buddhahood. That’s one thing I cannot bear. So I have come to propose to you that we exchange roles. You be a Mara and I’ll be a Buddha.”

When the Venerable Ananda heard that, he was very scared. Oh, his heart was about to stop! What if his teacher accepted the exchange of roles? He would be the attendant of a Mara. So he was hoping that the Buddha would refuse the proposal. Then the Buddha looked at Mara very calmly, smiling to him, and asked this question: “Mara, do you think it’s a lot of fun being a Buddha? People don’t understand me—they misunderstand me and put a lot into my mouth that I have never said. They have built temples where they put statues of me in copper, in plaster, sometimes in emerald, in gold. And they attract a lot of people who offer them bananas, oranges, citrus, and a lot of things.

“Sometimes they carried me on the street in a procession and I was sitting on a cart decorated with flowers, doing like this—like a drunk person. I don’t like being a Buddha like that. So you know, in the name of the Buddha—in my name—they have done a lot of things that are very harmful to the Dharma. You should know that being a Buddha is also very difficult. If you want to be a teacher and if you want people to practice the Dharma correctly, that is not an easy job. I don’t think that you would enjoy being the Buddha. The best thing is for each of us to stay in his or her own position and try to improve the situation and enjoy what we are doing.”Then the Buddha, in order to summarize all that he just said, read to Mara a verse, a gatha. But the gatha is a little bit too long, I don’t remember. The essence of the gatha is just what I have said in the former part of the story.

If you were there with Ananda and if you were very mindful, you would have had the feeling that Buddha and Mara were a couple of friends who need each other—like day and night, like flowers and garbage. This is a very deep teaching of Buddhism, and I trust that the children will understand—very deep. You may compare Buddha with the flowers, very fresh, very beautiful. And you may compare Mara with the garbage. It doesn’t smell good. There are a lot of flies who like to come to the garbage. It’s not pleasant to touch, to hold in your hand, to smell the garbage.

Yet all flowers become garbage. That is the meaning of impermanence: all flowers have to become garbage. If you practice Buddhist meditation, you find out about very interesting things—like about the garbage. Although garbage stinks, although garbage is not pleasant to hold in your hand, if you know how to take care of the garbage, you will transform it back into flowers. You know gardeners don’t throw away garbage. They preserve the garbage and take care of the garbage, and in just a few months the garbage becomes compost. They can use that compost to grow lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers. We have to say that organic gardeners are capable of seeing flowers in garbage, seeing cucumbers in garbage. That is what the Buddha described as the non-dualistic way of looking at things.

If you see things like that, you will understand that the garbage is capable of becoming a flower, and the flower can become garbage. Thanks to the flowers there is garbage, because if you keep flowers for three weeks they become garbage, and thanks to the garbage there will be flowers. You now have an idea of the relationship between Buddha and Mara. Mara is not very pleasant, but if you know how to help Mara, to transform Mara, Mara will become Buddha. If you don’t know how to take care of the Buddha, Buddha will become Mara.

You see there are people who, in the beginning, love each other very much. They believe that without each other they cannot survive. Their love is so important. They cling to each other because they think that love between them is the only element that can help them survive. But because they don’t know how to preserve the love and take care of their love, they get angry at each other, they misunderstand each other, and later on love is transformed slowly into hate. There are those who say, “I hate you, I don’t want to see you anymore, I wish you would die.” Those people in the past had proclaimed that they needed each other, they could not survive without each other, they loved each other, so love transforms into hatred. It’s like a kind of flower transformed into garbage.

So what you learn today is very deep. Flowers and garbage are of an organic nature because both flowers and garbage are living realities. Buddha and Mara are also organic, and they need each other. It is thanks to the difficulties, thanks to the temptations, that the Buddha has overcome his suffering and his ignorance and become a fully enlightened being. The day before yesterday, I gave a Dharma talk on suffering, and I said that if you look deeply into the nature of your suffering, you will find a way out of it. So if you want a flower, you have to use the garbage. That is why the people who suffer a lot now should not be discouraged. Suffering is their garbage. If they know how to take good care of their garbage they will be able to make the flower come back to them, the flower of peace, of joy. The Buddha shows us the way to do so.

When I was in Moscow several years ago, we offered a retreat to Muscovites, and a few Christians from Korea held a kind of a retreat very close to ours. Some of them came to our friends and asked why they should follow the Buddha. The reason we should not follow the Buddha, according to them, is that Buddha is a mortal. “Mortal” means someone who has to die. In their mind what we need is someone who will not die. Since the Buddha is someone who has to be born and who has to die, he cannot help us—that is the meaning of the declaration made by those friends.

I think it’s a wonderful thing to die, because if you are born and you die, it means you are a living reality, like the flower and the garbage: they are living things. We are for life. Anything that is not born, not dying, not growing, is not alive. To be alive means to be born, to grow, to get old, to die, to be born again, to grow, to get old, to die and to continue like that. How do you expect life to be possible without change? But there is one thing that the children may like to know. There is a difference between “flower” and “flowerness.”

The flower may die, but not the flowerness. Even if a flower has become garbage, you know you can bring the flower back. If you are a good gardener, if you know how to use compost, seeds, water, you will be able to bring the flower back. This means a flower may die, but flowerness is something that is there all the time: because flowerness is not a thing, flowerness is the nature of a thing. So it is with Buddha and Buddha nature. Buddha nature is called in Sanskrit buddhata. We all have buddhata inside of us, this Buddha nature. If we want, we can make the Buddha be born every moment in our hearts. That is a very wonderful thing. You can make the Buddha be born in your heart every moment, because you have Buddhahood in you, you have the nature of the Buddha in you. Buddha is a living thing: Buddha is born, Buddha grows up, Buddha hides himself away, Buddha dies. But Buddhahood is there in us.

We might think that terms like “Buddha nature” are difficult because we don’t know that this is something very simple, very simple. Children can understand very well. We have flowerness in us; we have “garbageness” in us also. Don’t think that they are two enemies—no. They look like enemies—Ananda was not very skillful in seeing that—but they can support each other. In Buddhism, there is no fight between good and evil—that is the most wonderful thing in the Buddhist practice! There is no fight between good and evil. Good and evil are both organic matters. If you have understanding and wisdom, you will know how to handle both the flower and the garbage in you, you can make the Buddha be born every moment of your life, and peace and happiness will be possible. This is a very deep Dharma talk for young people. I hope that you will be able to deepen your understanding of this Dharma talk. Your big brothers and sisters and the Dharma teachers will help you. This may be a very important lesson that you will learn in your life.

Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 6, 1996 in Plum Village, France