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Life in the Chaotic World

Question? I would like to ask the Bhikkhuni, when we are living in these
uncertain times in this crazy crumbling world, there is fear and suspicion
created in us. How can Budddhism help us to overcome this situation?
Something to encourage us.

I am happy about your question. Yes, we have to live in this fast
moving, crumbling world. Technology does not take us in the right
direction how can Buddhism help?
Even before the arising of the Buddha, the world was full of wrong views.
There was no end to war and unfairness. The Buddha’s first sermon
speaks of the prevalant trends in the contemporary society. Lay people
were seeking sensual pleasure – "kamasukhallikanuyogo" and the ascetics
were seeking self mortification"attakhilama thanuyogo" and the Buddha
showed that both were wrong and should be abandoned. Those seeking
sensual pleasure, had many wives. Women were given away in marriage
even before puberty. The men were much older and versed in the vedas.
No match to the ignorant females. Women were for the amusement of the
male. Such unfairness, was there. The ascetics hated the women, because
their Jhanic powers could easily be destroyed, by the sight and sound of
women. So they blamed the wretched female. Into this society was the
Buddha born. He ordained both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis and they all
reached the highest Bliss of Nibbana. They became Arahants. Women
were equal in the spiritual attainment to man.
Even in the past, the crazy world, brought much suffering by their use of
power, they were misguided, and of wrong view, self seeking, selfish, that
is the world then and now!
It was Buddha who showed the Right view. Soon people gave up their
crazy views, and became virtuous, concentrated their minds with
meditation and obtained wisdom. They the enlightened saints walked the
earth bringing much happiness and Blessings to the world. If you
remember history, the golden age of India, that has left a wealth of
archeological reserves, was, when these men and women were living the
Dhamma. In Sri Lanka too, the golden age was the Anuradhapura era
when the Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, Upasaka, Upasika walked the earth,
living the Dhamma. Our texts say that in Savatthi during the life time of
the Buddha, there lived 70 croes of lay people who had attained stages of
saint-hood. That was a righteous society. It is said, that those women at
the well, or gathering firewood or husking rice or reaping or engaged in
immense manual work, were singing and chanting Dhamma. They would
ask each other "sister what is your meditation?" and they answered "I am
doing this meditation" and they congratulated each other. "Buddhas are
born for you" if by chance any one said "I am not, they would insult her.
"Your life is useless, even if you are alive, you are as good as dead", and
they would teach her then and there a meditation. So you can see, how our
forefathers were practising. Sri-lanka became the granary of the East.
They were interested in the "tank and temple". They worked in the field
all day and in the night went to the temple to meditate and listen to
As you rightly say, that golden era is no more, but it does point out a
direction for us to go. In the modern age with so many labour saving
devises, mechanisations, we are more free to listen to the Dhamma,
through radio TV, tapes etc and we must make an effort to learn and live
the Dhamma. Then we will usher in a golden era again, Socially in
Australia, the advanced technology and the relative peace and comfort is
very conducive to living the Dhamma.
Dhamma is the law, The principle of righteousness, noble pure and
charitable. To live in modern day society where there is so much greed
and aversion, prides and conceits, selfishmess, and foolish ignorance of
the Dhamma, we need to be extremely knowledgeable, about the basics of
the Dhamma. Then we can steer clear of all trouble, and avoid doing bad
Laws of scientists are revelations of the Dhamma. They see natural laws
of gravity, rotation, electromagnetic attractions and repulsions etc: They
point out causality. Einstines, theory of relativity, comes close to the
Buddha’s revelations of causality. The Universe is created by the
dispersed matter of other Universes, millions of world sysems are there
that are held in dynamic equilibrium. The Buddha saw beyond, not only
the physical world, but also the mental world of thinking as due to
causality, karma and effect. The arising of Dukkha and the cause for it’s
arising, it’s eradication were the Noble Truths.
The Buddha held that dukkha is created by our own thinking, speaking
and acting. Everytime we think a thought, we create a thought that was
not there before. Everytime we speak a word, we create a word that was
not there before. Everytime we do some action we create an action that
was not there before. Isn’t all the happiness and unhappiness in the world,
created by living beings? When the mind is defiled, then speech and
action are defiled. When the mind is wholesome, then speech and action
become wholesome. Thus, wholesome thought is the key to all happiness
in the world. "Mano pubbamgama" means mind is foremost. We must
not create bad karma, because of faults of others.
When we are happy it means that the karma is right . Karma is what we
create, it neither loves or hates, gives reward nor punishes, never angry
never pleased. Simply the law of karma.. Law of cause and effect.
Karma knows nothing about us. Does fire know that it can burn? It is the
nature, we have to accept. What we create is the cause, that yields results
If we know this, Buddhism can help. Karma is self created. My good
karma is not going to help you. You need to do your own good karma.
Then why is it that we get hurt, insulted, punished, for things we have not
done? This is a very good question. You don’t have to do any wrong to
get punished. Did the Buddha do any wrong to deserve, so much abuse.
They even tried to kill him. This is the first lesson to learn, We don’t
need to do any wrong to deserve bad treatment. The way the world is
treating us could be due to vipaka ie, the results of previous karma, we
have created in the hoary past in samsara. Therefore, we ourselves have
to take the blame.
There are also five laws that operate. Utuniyama – climate and seasonal
change, Bija niyama – the seed, that yields its own species, karma
Niyama – are natural laws such as gravity, rotation etc: Citta Niyama is
the power of thinking and thought.
We have to be careful of all these laws of nature and provide suitable
conditions for life to exist. Of these, Karma Niyama and Citta Niyama
are most important. If we make the right karma, and we raise the right
thought, we can expect happy returns. If we make unwholesome karma
and raise unwholesome thought then we must expect unhappy returns. So
we have to be very vigilant of the mind. This is why meditation is a must.
In meditation we become familiar with the mind, and thoughts and karma
and result, and we learn how to deal with our mind.
There are many kinds of meditations which we can practice. One is
Anapanasati, where we watch the in and out breath. It is to train the mind
to stay in the present, without thinking of the past and future. When we
ponder about the past and future, our loves and hates surface. Then there
will arise anger, jealousy, regret, fear, doubt, remorse etc: by
remembering again and again. Therefore, we must train the mind to live
in the present. Also, such a diffused mind cannot concentrate in
meditation. Just like the convex lens that converges diffuse light into a
focus, and creates enough heat to ignite a match stick, we need to
concentrate our diffused thought and bring it to focus. Then the mind
becomes powerful, like the lazer beam. In meditation when we watch the
breath in and out, seated, relaxed, with the body erect, and the eyes
closed, then little by little we learn to keep the mind fixed on the breath,
in the present. When the mind runs to the past and future, the meditation
To avoid this we do metta Bhavana. The idea is to forgive the world that
has wronged us, and also forgive ourselves for what ever wrong we have
done to others, not only now but in the past, knowingly or unknowingly.
In this way we don’t carry the burden of revenge, retaliation, regret etc:
again and again, make ourselves miserable.
Of course it is difficult to forgive others, but it is easy to forgive
ourselves! This is because our pride, ego, conceit, selfhood is hurt. For
this we must remember that all those emotions are bottomless pits, they
have no basis, the Buddha pointed out that the body and mind arise due to
causes and conditions. They keep on changing every moment. Therefore,
one cannot conceive of absolute ownership for anything. Not even the
body is mine, the mind is still less mine, they change so fast. This is the
absolute truth. You as lawyers know that all "ownership" is due to man
made laws. They had to make laws for the simple reason, there is no
natural law of ownership. Hence it follows, that all emotions that arise
with hurt pride, ego, conceit, etc: are baseless and hence false,
unwholesome, foolish, and painful, there an attempt must be made to give
up such mind states. The best way is to understand this and forgive the
Another way to understand is to think that all those who hurt us, are
themselves suffering individuals, who must be sympathised with. They
are unhappy creating bad, karma, for which, they not only suffer now, but
will be born in hell, and suffer endlessly, Karma gets it’s own
punishment. We don’t have to punish them. They will get what they
deserve. It is like this. They create karma, we suffer (vipaka) results of
our previous karma. In other words we are paying off a bad debt, but
they are getting into a serious debt which they have to pay off in the
future, Thinking in this way we can come to terms with our situation and
forgive the world.
Metta meditation is a must to keep down our anger. In Metta we bless the
whole world of living beings, and wish them well. But even though we
give them all our kindness, it does not make them well, because we
cannot remove their angers, But, our anger towards them subside. It is
because of the world that we get angry, so when we give metta our angers
subside, so meditation only helps the person who does it, not the others,
It is not enough to know meditation. Everyone kows metta bhavana and
anapanasati. It must be practised morning, noon and night, whenever
possible. Metta can be practised in any posture, while standing, sitting,
walking, lying down. But anapanasati needs a seated posture, Both
mediations are necessary for a start.
In this the Buddha showed us a way to live in this crazy, crumbling
world, without creating fear and suspicion in us, forgiving, loving,
helping, giving, happily, enjoying every moment of the day. Working
mindfully for our good and the good of the world.
May you be well and happy by the Blessing of the Noble Triple Gem.

The Buddhist perspective on time and space

Dear Venerables and Dharma Friends,
I am very grateful for the guidance of the Buddha which enables us to have such an outstanding cause and condition to listen to the Dharma in this time and space. Today, the topic that I will discuss is "the Buddhist perspective on time and space."
Time travels from the past to the present; it spans the past, present, and future. Likewise, space covers hundreds and thousands of realms; it spreads across all ten directions. For most living beings, time and space are just like the act of breathing: we breathe every moment yet are not conscious of this action. Depending on our individual make-up, we all have different understandings about time and space. For example, certain insects live for a day and are contented; humans live to seventy and are still not satisfied. We all confine ourselves to our own limited slice of time and space.

From the Buddhist perspective of samsara, the cycles of rebirth, the life span of all sentient beings is limitless. Not only is space without bounds, time is also endless and cannot be measured. If we penetrate the ultimate truth of time and space, we can be liberated from the space defined by the four directions of north, east, south, and west and emerge from the time cocoon of seconds, minutes, days, and months. We then will be in the dimension of total freedom, and we will be able to experience what is described in the saying, "Clear cool water everywhere; Prajna flowers every moment."
I will now discuss the Buddhist perspective on time and space in four points.
I. The Time and Space for All Living Beings
The term "all living beings" includes not only human beings but also encompasses beings in the other five realms of existence: celestial beings, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and beings in the hell realm. What is the time and space for all living beings within the six realms of existence?
We will first talk about time.
A. Ksana
In Buddhism, a "ksana" is the smallest unit of time. Within the context of how we measure time today, it is approximately one seventy-fifth of a second. It is very brief. In Buddhism, how do we gauge such a short duration of time?
A reflection is a moment of thought; one human reflection takes up ninety ksanas.
Within one ksana, there are nine hundred instances of arising and ceasing.
There are 32,820,000 ksanas in one day.
From the descriptions above, we can glean that the arising and ceasing within a ksana occurs very rapidly. During any particular moment, we see flowers as red and leaves as green. In reality, they are constantly changing from ksana to ksana, and after a while, they will wilt. Within each ksana, they are perpetually growing and wilting. Take the example of a table: we see it standing firmly. However, if we were to look at it under an electron microscope, we would see that the internal fiber structure of the wood is changing, expanding and contracting as it decays from ksana to ksana. In a few years, this table will no longer be any good. In this world, how can there be any flowers and grass that will never wilt? How can there be any tables that will not be subjected to destruction? Because all phenomena and existences are arising from ksana to ksana, all phenomena and existence are therefore ceasing from ksana to ksana. There is a saying, "When a young man snaps his fingers, sixty-three ksanas have gone by." Time goes by very fast. Youth can disappear in a flash. A ksana is indeed an extremely brief and short span of time.
B. Asamkhya Kalpa
In Buddhism, a very long period of time is called an "asamkhya kalpa." It is a very, very long period of time; the duration of an "asamkhya kalpa" is so long that any attempts to describe it in words would be difficult. At this time, let me talk about two lesser units of time within an "asamkhya kalpa" so that you can have some general references.
"Mustard seed kalpa": Imagine if we were to take a huge container measuring ten kilometers on each side and fill it with mustard seeds. Then, every one hundred years, we were to remove one seed. The time it would take to empty the container of all the mustard seeds is one "mustard seed kalpa." Exactly how long a "mustard seed kalpa" is would probably have to be determined with the help of several computers.
"Boulder kalpa": Imagine if we were to take a huge boulder measuring ten kilometers on each side and sand the boulder with a piece of sandpaper every one hundred years. The time it would take to sand down the boulder to dust is "one boulder kalpa." This period of time is much longer than that of a "mustard seed kalpa."
Within the Buddhist time scale, both the "mustard seed kalpa" and the "boulder kalpa" are only considered to be minor kalpas. In contrast, the duration of a major kalpa like the "asamkhya kalpa" is so immeasurable and infinite that it is beyond words.
C. Life Span of Living Beings
Lives of living beings never remain still. Like bubbles on the surface of water, they arise as suddenly as they disappear, each with a different life span. Human beings typically can live to about a hundred; some insects are born at dawn and are dead by dusk. To such an insect, one day is the equivalent of one hundred years in human terms. Tortoises, the longest living creatures on earth, can live up to two hundred and fifty years. Viruses probably perish in less than three hours. Although there is a huge difference between three hours and two hundred fifty years, nevertheless, each existence spans a lifetime. Elephants and dolphins can live to be ninety. Cows, horses, monkeys, and dogs generally last fifteen to twenty years. Rats may live for three to four years. Although flies and mosquitoes can only live for a period of about seven days, this is still a lifetime. The life span of a living being-whether it is a day, a few hours, a century, or two hundred and fifty years-may seem lengthy by worldly standards.
However, in the unlimited extent of time and space, these lengths of time are still quite brief. Why? According to Buddhist scriptures, there are beings with much longer life span than human beings. The realm above humans is the celestial realm consisting of many heavens. The heaven closest to us is called the "Caturmaharaja Heaven." Beings in "Caturmaharaja Heaven" can live to five hundred celestial years, or 25,000 human years. Above that is the "Trayastrimsat Heaven." Beings in "Trayastrimsat Heaven" can live to 50,000 human years. Beings in "Yama Heaven" have life span of around 400,000 human years. Beings in "Tusita Heaven" live for about 1,600,000 human years. Beings in the yet higher "Nirmanarati Heaven" can live for as long as 6,400,000 human years. Beyond the heavens in the realm of desire are the heavens of the realm of forms. The length of the life span there is beyond our comprehension. Within the heaven of forms is the "ParanirmitaVasavartin Heaven." Beings there can live to be what is the equivalent of 25,600,000 human years. Such long life span really stretches our imagination. Beyond the heavens in the realm of forms are the heavens in the realm of formlessness. Beings in this realm can live to 80,000 major kalpas. The duration of such a life span is incomprehensible. Regardless of how long these beings live, they are nonetheless still trapped in the cycle of rebirth. They still cannot transcend the boundary of time and space.
Conversely, below the human existence, the hungry ghosts of the Avici Hell suffer tremendously. Their ever-expansive bodies and their ever-conscious minds experience relentless torments. Furthermore, time in the Avici Hell stretches out endlessly. The sufferings from the incessant punishments are beyond description. The scriptures give this descriptive example of "a hungry ghost awaiting for spittle." There was a hungry ghost in hell who had been starving for a very long time. As he had not eaten anything for a long time, his hunger was unbearable. Every day, he painfully yearned for anything to eat. Eventually, he spotted a person who was about to spit. He eagerly waited for this person to spit so that he could consume the spittle. He waited and waited. During his wait, he saw a city crumbled and rebuilt seven times. Countless time passed before he finally got the spittle. In hell, where there is no day or night, time stretches out frighteningly long.
Let us now talk about space. In Buddhism, the largest unit of space is called a "Buddhaksetra" or Buddha Land, and the smallest unit of space is called a "suksma" or dust grain. Despite their differences in names, both terms ultimately describe the three thousand chiliocosms (major universe), which is endless, immeasurable, unlimited and unbounded.
How big is the universe? Modern astronomy says that the planet earth on which we live is only a part of the solar system. Earth is only 1/1,300,000th the size of the sun. In other words, the sun is 1,300,000 times the size of earth. In the expansive space, the Milky Way galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars, and a universe probably has hundreds of million of galaxies like the Milky Way. Just try to imagine the vast immenseness of the universe!
On the other end of the scale, modern physics analyzes matter into ever smaller particles called atoms, protons, electrons or neutrons. A suksma is even smaller than a neutron. For example, a piece of ox hair is very small. If we examine the tip of the ox hair under a high-powered microscope, we would discover that it is made up of many smaller elements. Similarly, a suksma is tens of thousands times smaller than anything we commonly know. Our little finger may look clean and spotless, yet it actually harbors millions of dust particles and microorganisms. Each eye of a housefly consists of four thousand lenses. Such spatial dimension is so minute that it is undetectable by the naked human eyes.
With the help of modern laboratory equipment, technology has provided us with a broad and detailed understanding of the time and space in which we live. When we learn of these modern interpretations based on scientific research, we realize that the universe is indeed extremely vast and deep. However, the dimensions offered by these interpretations are nonetheless small and shallow when we consider time and space from the Buddhist perspective. Why? In Buddhism, time and space are immense without an outer limit and yet miniscule without an inner limit. Time and space are immeasurable and boundless. Today we are here talking; by tomorrow this speech can be televised to all of Taiwan. The following day, it can be translated and distributed to the world in printed form. In the future, it can be published as a book to build Dharma connections with tens of millions of people everywhere in the world. The Buddhist Dharma is forever beyond the limits of time and space.
II. Practical Reality of Time and Space
Our daily lives in the vast universe are integrally related to and can never be separated from time and space. How successful a person is and how effective one handles one’s affairs depend on one’s management of interpersonal relationships are managed, one’s utilization of time, one’s allocation of space. Without effective timing, we either move too quickly or too slowly and will bring about the resentment of others. Without proper spatial awareness, we end up either taking others’ space or robbing others of their advantageous locations, and we will annoy others. Thus, time and space have significant impacts on our daily existences.
In today’s society, some people never seem to have enough time; to them, every second counts. Then, there are others whose time passes painfully slowly; to them, days feel like years. Some people are impoverished and homeless. Others possess so much land and buildings that they even want to own a piece of the moon. There are many different types of people and circumstances. The famous poet, Po-hu T’ang, once wrote about how fleeting and illusive time is:
Life rarely reaches seventy;
That I am seventy is a surprise.
I was too young the first ten years
And too old the last ten.
There are only fifty years in between;
Half of that time is spent at night.
By calculation I have only lived twenty-five years,
During which I have endured much toil and trouble.
Time is most impartial. The poor do not have a minute less; the rich do not have a second more. It cannot be hoarded even with all the power and might.
Time is the most able judge, as described in the saying, "A long journey can truly test a horse; the passage of time can reveal one’s true character." Right or wrong, love or hatred, success or failure-all these will be revealed in time.
Time is the arbiter of one’s character. Hence this saying advises us, "Do not do [distressing] deeds that cause others to frown; the world should be free of those who grit their teeth in anger." A person’s character, be it noble or base, will become evident over time.
Time exists in a three-fold dimension in our everyday lives regardless of whether we believe that life rarely reaches seventy or that life begins at seventy. Lives of living beings gradually flow by in the three-fold dimension of time: "the past, present, and future." Time of the "past" is quietly gone; it will never return. Time of the "present" flies like an arrow; it disappears in a flash. Time of the "future," amidst our hesitation, slowly draws closer and closer; it suddenly slips by. Poets often tried to describe the ephemeral and illusive nature of time in their poems.
The only true fairness in this world is gray hair;
It does not overlook the heads of the rich.
-Mu Tu of the Tang Dynasty
Do not complain that we age too easily.
Even mountains turn white sometimes.
-Ch’i-lan Luo of the Ching Dynasty
What these lines mean is that time is most fair. Time ages everyone, regardless of whether you are rich or poor, whether you are strong or weak. Once years have passed, hairs do turn gray. Just as there are times when green mountains are blanketed with snow and frost, there will also be a day when we turn gray:
We all gain a year on our birthdays;
The world does not single me out to make me old.
-Yu Lu of the Sung Dynasty
What this verse says is that we all will get old. Every year, we age. The years of human lives disappear in the midst of the sound of the New Year firecrackers. Buddhism talks of the cycle of rebirth and the impermanence of all things, like the poem by the poet Chu-Yi Pai:
Regrettably my hair is like snow.
You are young and strong with the vitality of clouds.
To whichever youngster who looks down on me,
White hair will also come to you someday.
As students of the Buddhist teachings, we strive to cultivate diligently in order to realize Bodhi in infinite time and space. We need to seize eternity within an instant and to see the wondrous reality in each flower, each tree, each body of water, and each rock. We can then venture into the supreme realm of the Dharma.
Not only must we learn to break through the confines of time, we have to do likewise regarding space. Some people climb a mountain to seize land from the mountain. Others fill the ocean to claim land from the ocean. In countless disputes and lawsuits over real estate properties, the living fight for space with the living. Sometimes the living even fight with the dead for space as when graveyards are reclaimed for the construction of housing. Not only do people have disputes over lands, nations also battle over boundary lines to seize more living space for their people. Almost all the wars in the world are fought over the amount of available living space. "Ten thousand acres of fertile farm land, but how much can one eat in a day? One thousand mansions, but one can only sleep in an eight-foot space." This saying points out that all space, both tangible and intangible, is ultimately illusive and fleeting. The rapidly existing and disintegrating space of the three realms ultimately arises from the mind. Poet Chu-yi Pai expressed this concept well in the following poem:
Why fight over the space
on the tip of a snail’s antenna?
Our existence is only as fleeting
as a flint spark.
Similarly, I often tell people the following saying, "Trees may live for a thousand years; glory and sorrow cannot last for more than a hundred." These lines are trying to advise us that we should let go of attachment, let go of illusive forms. We should forego the sufferings of rebirth and impermanence, and in so doing, we will eventually abandon pain and attain happiness.
In our daily lives, there are many examples when time and space are simply unbearable. We are often rendered desperate, painful and hopeless. Some of the worst moments are described in the following verse:
Closing time at the bank;
Sad and sick in bed;
Wronged with no outlet for grievance;
Disappointed and love sick;
On the day of a fatal diagnosis;
Escaped convicts with nowhere to hide;
Impoverished with nowhere to turn;
One’s spouse and children crying in sorrow.
There is another "comic" verse which describes more of these moments. It goes like this:
One waits for one’s date at sunset, yet the lovely one fails to show;
One takes an entrance exam, but one’s name does not make the list;
One faces with farewells and death, and one cries from heartbreak;
One is about to become a new mother, yet the pains of labor are unrelenting; One tosses and turns in bed, yet one cannot fall asleep;
One has teenagers who love to fight, so one is worried sick;
One has terrible stomach cramps and needs fast relief, yet a bathroom is not to be found;
One tries one’s best in a campaign, yet loses the election when the votes are counted;
One finds a motorcycle heading straight for one’s car, so one tries to brake urgently;
One has been caught for violating the law, and this is the moment for announcing one’s sentence;
One is a hundred meters into the battlefield, and one can neither advance nor retreat;
One’s family cannot get along, and one is in the midst of fighting and splitting up.
There are just too many dreadful examples of intolerable time and space. The situations mentioned above-being stood up, failing an examination, giving birth, being sick, not being able to find a bathroom, being in a car accident, awaiting sentence, couples fighting, facing farewells and deaths-can happen to any one of us. These situations can lead to monstrous arguments and endless disputes: this seat is mine; this item is mine; this parcel of land is mine, and you may not use it. You did not have time to talk to me because you were in a hurry; you still missed your flight by two minutes. You were upset about not getting on a ship in time until you found out that you escaped drowning in a shipwreck… Although our existence seems real, life is actually illusive like the spots one sees because of eye diseases, or the reflection of the moon in the water. Likewise, the time and space we live in is also just as illusive.
A. Life is Illusive Like a Flower
During the time it takes for flowers to bloom and wilt, all of us are gradually growing old. Just as this year’s blossoms are different from those of the previous year, I too am different from last year. The following verses aptly describe this change:
The flowers of this year are as pretty as those of last year;
The person of this year is older than last year.
Fortune does not last for a thousand days;
Flowers cannot blossom for a hundred days;
If one does not treasure the opportunities now,
One is left with nothing when they are gone.
On this day last year, at this threshold,
Your face and peach blossoms glow together.
Now your lovely face is gone,
The peach blossoms still smile at the spring breeze.
B. Life is Illusive Like the Flowing Water
In this world, only the shimmering waves of continuously flowing water from the distant past are ever-present. In contrast, a person’s physical body cannot survive forever. Let me illustrate this point with the following two verses:
On the Yangtze River the waves from behind push the waves in front;
A new generation replaces an older generation.
Water from the rear flows to the fore;
It has flowed like this from ancient time to the present.
The new persons are not the old ones,
They all walk across the bridge year after year.
C. Life is Illusive Like the Moon
From antiquity to present, the same moon still shines. In the reality of human existence, who can be as everlasting as the moon? In fact, even the face of the moon changes between new and full. Time and time again, poets of the past to the present have written verses reflecting on the impermanence of human existence:
Modern people see not the ancient moon,
But the modern moon once shone upon ancient people.
By the riverbanks, who is the first to see the moon?
When does the moon above the river first shine upon a person?
Generation after generation, people’s lives continue endlessly;
Year after year, the moon appears the same.
Not knowing for whom the moon is shining,
I only see the river flowing downstream.
The time and space of human existence is like a flower, blossoming and wilting within a short time, and as illusory as the reflection of the moon in the water. We are here together now and in this lecture hall. When the time comes, we all will leave. The lights will be switched off and the sounds will be silenced. When the doors are closed, the space that is now occupied by the hundreds and thousands of people sitting in this lecture hall will be vacated and returned to a state of quietude. Yet, the Dharma relationships we have built here today will remain with us at all times, accompanying us everywhere. All phenomena in this world may disappear like the faded flowers of yesterdays. Only Dharma relationships are eternal. The Buddhist Dharma lives forever.
III. The Holy Practitioners of Buddhism and the Liberation from Time and Space
Countless masters in Buddhism have achieved the holy fruits of cultivation. They have neither hatred nor attachment. They are relieved of suffering and ignorance. Liberated from the realm of time and space, they exist in total freedom. For them, time and space are vastly different from that of ordinary people.
The holy practitioners of Buddhism, being well cultivated in meditation, can stop the mind and calm the heart. They can venture into the profound, subtle, and wondrous realm of Dharmadhatu (realm of the Dharma). They can break through the boundary of form and liberate themselves from the constraints of time and space. To them, "A shortened ksana is not necessarily brief, and a lengthened asamkhya kalpa is not long." Master Hsu Yun, a Ch’an master in recent history, once retreated to the Ts’ui Wei mountain in Shensi province. While waiting for rice to cook, he decided to take a short meditation in a cave and quickly achieved samadhi, an advanced state of meditative concentration. When he came out of his meditation, the rice was already completely rotten. He eventually realized that he had actually meditated for half a year! This is just like the saying, "Seemingly only seven days have passed on the mountain, yet thousands of years have gone by in the world."
The holy practitioners of Buddhism can escape the constraints of time and space and venture into the dimension of Dharmadhatu. Their pure true nature fills the universe constantly and they are at ease every moment. Their Dharma body is omnipresent and always at peace everywhere. They can eat one meal a day and not feel hungry. They can sleep under a tree and be in bliss. The time and space of their lives is captured in the following verse, "Mountain monks do not think much about time; a falling leaf announces that autumn has arrived." Ch’an master Lan Jung abandoned fame and fortune and became a monk. With only the bare necessities consisting of a pair of shoes and a patched robe made out of rags, he retreated to the mountains to cultivate. His younger sister felt sorry for his impoverished lifestyle and took some food and clothing to the cave which he called home. When his sister arrived, he kept his eyes closed, did not utter a word, and continued to sit perfectly still in his meditation. His sister grew impatient and upset. Consequently she threw the things she had brought into the cave and left. Thirteen years went by, and his sister continued to think of him everyday. Unable to stop worrying about her brother, the sister paid him another visit. He was still sitting perfectly stationary like a rock in meditation. The clothing and food she had brought thirteen years previous remained in exactly the same location, never touched and completely covered with dust.
Ch’an master Kao Feng Miao of Yuan dynasty also decided to retreat to a mountain cave to cultivate. There was originally a ladder leading up to the cave entrance. Once he got into the cave, he threw the ladder down and was determined not to leave. Many people felt sorry for him because he could not wash his clothes, take a bath, trim his hair, shave his beard or have anything good to eat. The living space was so narrow that there was barely any room for him to move around. He did not have anyone to talk to and not a friend visited him. Yet, Ch’an master Kao Feng Miao endured the unendurable. He did the impossible. Although he did not have a change of clean clothing, his Dharma appearance was majestic. Although there was no water for bathing, his heart was pure and untainted. He could not shave his hair and beard, yet all his distress was completely eradicated. He did not have any delicious food to eat, yet he savored the delight of meditation and the endless taste of the Dharma. He had no company, but the flowers and trees of nature were full of vitality. Everything he saw was Prajna; every condition he found was wondrous truth. His joy was indescribable.
The freedom and delight enjoyed by these holy practitioners in their liberated state of time and space cannot be matched in our modern materialistic society. Nowadays people often only focus on pursuing material satisfactions and sensory pleasures. They neglect the peace and serenity of the mind. In reality, more desire will breed more greed and pain. As a result, people become trapped in the drowning mire of evil and cannot break free. This is truly a pity. Poet Yu Lu of Sung Dynasty wrote the following poem to reflect this:
My body is like a swallow, always being the guest year after year.
My mind admires the wandering monks; for them everywhere is home.
The breeze of spring enables me to clearly understand life
And accompanies me as I travel throughout the world.
Many people of the modern age are stressed by work and depressed by life. When the days become unbearable, they go for a vacation abroad to look for a new way of release. Some may visit SouthEast Asia, Japan or Korea. Others want to really get away by traveling to European countries, the United States, or South Africa. Their efforts are much like digging for a well when one feels thirsty, very poor planning indeed. The relief from this kind of efforts can never bring anyone the completely liberated state of time and space. For the ultimate liberation, it is much better to observe and cultivate the teachings of Buddhism. The Buddhist holy practitioners can attain eternity in an instant. They can realize the endless universe in a grain of sand. The limitless Dharma and the infinite universe are in our hearts. Why bother to search for them outside?
Countless Ch’an masters have the power to break through time and space. With the thought of letting go, they instantly let go of everything. When free of attachments, "The mind can travel into antiquity; a thought can traverse ten thousand years." Not only are they not restricted by time and space, but they also can overcome the hindrance of time and space. They are in the company of the Buddhas. Let me illustrate this point by telling you of a legendary story, "Abbot Ling Shu welcoming the monastic headmaster."
During the Late Liang Dynasty, Ch’an master Chih Sheng (also known as Ch’an master Ling Shu) preached in Ling Shu Temple, which was located near the present day county of Ch’u Chiang in Kwangtung Province. The temple had hundreds of resident monks; yet, there was not a monastic headmaster in charge. Some people then urged Master Chih Sheng, "Since we have so many monks in this temple now, you should appoint a monastic headmaster."
Master Chih Sheng reflected for a moment and replied, "The monastic headmaster of this temple has already been born into this world. He is now herding sheep. Let’s just be patient."
A few years went by and nothing happened. Others once again urged Master Chih Sheng to appoint a monastic headmaster. Master Chih Sheng nodded, "It will be very soon. Our monastic headmaster has already renounced household life to become a monk. Please be patient for a bit longer."
Many years passed, yet the position remained vacant. Others raised the question again. The older Master Chih Sheng smiled and said, "The causes and conditions are gradually ripening. Our monastic headmaster is now traveling and studying Ch’an under many different masters."
After this exchange, Master Chih Sheng remained calm and unperturbed. Twenty-two years passed and Master Chih Sheng was getting old. Everyone was now worried. Once more they raised the issue of the monastic headmaster with him. Master Chih Sheng looked up to the sky and smiled. He assured everyone, "Good! Good! Our monastic headmaster has finally crossed the Five Mountains Range and is heading this way. We will only have to wait a very short while longer."
With this said, he then retreated back to his room to meditate. Looking at each other, the monks started to discuss among themselves. More time passed. One day, the old master asked the disciples to clean up the quarter of the monastic headmaster. The old master even inspected the room himself. A few days later, the big bell was rung. Everyone knew it was the signal that the monastic headmaster had finally arrived and that they should put on their formal robes. They were to gather before the entrance to welcome the monastic headmaster. Everyone followed the elderly master and stood outside the entrance. Soon, a monk showed up with his alms bowl. He was Master Yun Men Wen Yen, who would later become the founder of the Yun Men school of Ch’an.
Master Chih Sheng asked smilingly, "Our monastic headmaster position has been vacant for several decades now. Why are you so late and why did you wait until today to show up?"
Wen Yen respectfully joined his palms and replied, "Everything was determined by previous causes and conditions. The length in time and the distance in space are not important. Am I not finally here?"
Master Chih Sheng smiled understandingly. Accompanied by all the disciples, he escorted Wen Yen into the main shrine and appointed him as the monastic headmaster. This is the wonderful story of "Abbot Ling Shu welcoming the monastic headmaster." In recent history, Master Hsu Yun, the famous Ch’an Master, stayed in the Yun Men Temple when he revived the Yun Men School of Ch’an in 1943.
Let us all pause here to reflect. How free are the lives of these Ch’an masters! How unconstrained is their time and space! In contrast, people of present days feast on gourmet food but are not satisfied. They have fame and fortune but no peace. They sleep on comfortable mattresses but toss and turn all night. They reside in mansions but feel insecure. They fight and struggle everyday. They can never experience the wonder of limitless time and space. Is this not really regrettable?
IV. The Utilization of Time and Space
In Buddhism, there is a saying, "The mind encompasses the space of the universe, traversing realms as numerous as all the grains of sand." What this means is for those who use time and space wisely, their time is the time of the mind. They can freely journey from past to present. They have endless Ch’an wisdom and application. The universe is indeed their time. His space is the space where the Buddha Dharma flows. It freely fills all dimensions. The representation and manifestation of principles are limitless. The Dharmadhatu is their space. On the other hand, for those who cannot use time and space wisely, their time is constrained by the movements of the clock and is controlled by the hands of the clock. To them, an hour is an hour, no more and no less; a minute is a minute, no more and no less. Its use is limited. Their space is area and distance bounded by feet and inches. A kilometer cannot be lengthened; a meter cannot be shortened. It is confined and limited. Let me illustrate with an example. A devotee once asked Ch’an master Chao Chou, "How can I use the twelve hours of a day wisely?"
Master Chao Chou stared at him, "You are bounded by the twelve hours of the day. I use my twelve hours appropriately. What kind of time are you talking about?"
The wise know how to use time and space perfectly; they lead free and harmonious lives. Fools are enslaved by time and space; they are busy running around all day. Wise or foolish, the difference is obvious. There is an ancient fable called "Marking the boat to look for a sword" which illustrates what happens when one is ignorant of time and space. In the country of Ch’u, a man was crossing a river on a ferry. In the middle of the river, he accidentally dropped his sword. Everybody urged him to dive into the water to recover the sword. He was not worried but leisurely made a mark on the boat. He was quite proud of himself and replied confidently, "My sword fell down from here. When the boat stops, I will dive for my sword from here. Why worry?" Others told him that as both the boat and water were moving, it would be impossible for his sword to follow the boat in step. When time passed and space changed, his sword could not be retrieved. He did not listen. When the boat finally docked, he started looking for the sword beneath the spot he had marked on the boat. Do you suppose that he succeeded in retrieving his sword?
Of course not, it was the wrong time and space.
As we all work in society, some people just want to make a lot of money. They work day and night. They scheme and cheat. They use every avenue to make money. They may make ten thousand a month, a hundred thousand a year. For their entire life, they may earn a few million dollars. From this amount, if you deduct the expenses for clothing, meals, and entertainment, how much money is left? To forgo all ideals and happiness for a few hundred thousand dollars, what is the meaning of this? What is the value of life? To throw away a precious lifetime in exchange for a few pieces of crumpled and illusive paper currency, is this really worthwhile? Why do we not use our valuable time to pursue the path of real fortune and happiness?
When I arrived in Taiwan thirty-four years ago, not only was I unable to replace my old torn clothes and shoes, I had great difficulty in obtaining a pen and some paper for writing. Sometimes I had to endure hunger and coldness for months and still could not afford to have these few items. When I saw others receiving generous offerings by conducting Dharma functions or performing services, I did not feel inadequate. They bought comfortable clothing and good food; I did not feel poor or deprived. In cold weather, I warmed myself under the sun. The sun was there for everyone to enjoy. The sun was my robe; it was so very warm. During the hot season, I cooled myself with the breezes. The wind was there to keep everyone cool. The wind was my gown; it was so very free. I looked at trees and flowers; they were my Dharma companions. No one could prohibit me. I had oh so many Dharma companions. I walked across rivers and plains; they gave me so much Dharma delight. No one could take that away from me. My Dharma delight was so fulfilling. If our minds are broad and open, the heaven and earth, sun and moon, they are all ours. We can have all time and space. If all you know is how to complain and get depressed about poverty and obstacles, you will be poor and ill at ease in all places and at all times. All your time and space will become an endless hell and a boundless sea of suffering.
Let me tell some more stories to illustrate my point and to illustrate how we can intelligently use our time and space for our own blessings.
One day, a young person saw a very old man. He was curious and asked, "Sir, can you tell me how old you are?"
With a smile, the gentlemen replied, "Oh! I am four. I am four years old."
The young fellow was shocked. He looked at the old gentleman left and right, "Oh! Sir, please do not joke with me. Your hair is so white and your beard is so long. How could you be four?"
"Yes! I am really four!" The old man then kindly explained, "In the past, I lived a befuddled life. I was selfish and preoccupied. I wasted away a great portion of my life. It wasn’t until four years ago that I discovered Buddhism. Then I learned to do good and be helpful. I learned to get rid of my greed, hatred, and ignorance. I realized that I should cultivate myself to find my true nature. My entire life had not been meaningful, valuable, or fulfilling until these past four years. You asked me my age. I really feel I have been a worthwhile person for only these four years. This is why I am only four."
Virtuous deeds should be done as soon as possible. The Dharma should be learned as early as possible. Please let me ask all of you: in your brief existence in this realm of time and space, how have you been leading your lives? Have you used the opportunity to do good and to seek the truth? Have you used all available time and space to benefit others and yourselves?
The scriptures tell of this following allegory. A king had two close attendants. The king liked his attendant on the left much better than the attendant on the right. The attendant on the right was puzzled and wondered why he was not in the king’s favor. He carefully monitored every move of the other attendant, and finally, he discovered the reason. When the king spit, the attendant on the left would quickly wipe the spit off the ground with his foot. Naturally, the king liked him better. With this knowledge, the right attendant planned to do the same. He was, however, always a step slower than the other attendant and failed to make good of the opportunities to wipe the king’s spit. Finally, he thought of a plan. The next time when the king was ready to spit, he would jump on the opportunity. He figured that if he could aim correctly, he would be able to wipe the spit right off the king’s mouth before it could land on the ground. Unfortunately, when he kicked his foot up, he knocked out the king’s teeth and bloodied his mouth. This way, he also "wiped off" any opportunities he had to gain the king’s favor.
Greed and ignorance prevent us from using time and space wisely and even missing out on valuable opportunities. Only if we want to benefit others and ourselves, can we seize boundless time and space.
Once a high official in Japan asked Ch’an master Tse An about the use of time. "Oh! My position as an official is a meaningless job. Everyday, people want to flatter me. After a while, all compliments sound the same and are actually quite tedious. I do not enjoy hearing all the flattery. Days seem to pass by like years. I just do not know how to kill the time."
The Ch’an master smiled and gave him these words, "This day will never return; the passing of time is precious like treasure." Time once passed will never return. We should treasure our time and remember that time is precious like exquisite jade.
Nowadays, it is fashionable to talk about "conservation." Unfortunately, we only emphasize on conserving materials, conserving money. We do not know that we should also conserve time and our emotions. We should conserve our desires and our lives. We should be careful with every thought and deed. We should not let ourselves be indulgent and lose control. Only then can we know how to use time and space wisely.
Ch’an master Tsung Yen of Japan liked to take afternoon naps. It was his habit. His students asked him why he slept so long. He replied, "What do you know? In my dreams, I visit ancient scholars and masters, much like Confucius dreaming of the Duke of Chou. The longer my dreams are, the better is my cultivation. What do you know about this practice of ‘befriending ancient scholars’?"
One day, a few students were scolded by the Ch’an master for taking long afternoon naps. The students replied, "Well. We are learning from your examples. In our dreams we have gone to seek and to study with ancient masters and scholars."
"What then have you learned from them?"
"Oh yes! In our dreams, we visited many ancient masters and scholars. We asked them, ‘Is our master studying with you all the time?’ They all replied, ‘No, we have never seen or heard of your master.’"
One must be true to and honest about time and space. "Day by day, time goes by; each day will never return." The arrow of time never flies backward. If we do not seize the opportunities, we will not be able to make anything out of them. There is a very well-know poem:
Youth never returns; a day just has one dawn.
Work diligently now; time waits for no one.
In Buddhism, the "Take Heed Verse" of Samantabadhra Bodhisattva aptly describes the urgency of using our time wisely:
This day is over; life has decreased accordingly.
As a fish in dwindling water, where is the joy?
One should work diligently, as if extinguishing flames on the head.
Be mindful of impermanence; do not relax one’s efforts.
Time and space quickly disappear. If we want to seize time and space, if we treasure life, we should chant "O-Mi-To-Fo (Amitabha Buddha)" and learn from "Amitabha Buddha." "Amitabha" means infinite light and infinite life. Infinite light is boundless space; infinite life is endless time. If we can make time and space boundless and limitless, we will have risen above the confinement of time and space. We will have broken from the rounds of birth and death. We will have turned ignorance to enlightenment. We will have escaped from the sea of suffering from samsara and have transcended the confusion and hindrance of worldly phenomena. We will have ventured into the bright and free world of Nirvana, the Pure Land of ultimate bliss.
My best wishes to all of you. May each of you extend the limited existence of life into unlimited time and space. May each of you walk the broad path of peace and happiness in life. Thanks to all of you.


Treatise on the Supreme Vehicle

1. In aiming for the enlightenment of sages to understand the true source, if the essential issue of cultivating the mind is not kept pure, there is no way for any practice to yield realization. If any good friends copy this text, be careful not to omit anything, lest you case people of later times to err.
2. The basic essence of cultivating enlightenment should be discerned: it is the inherently complete and pure mind, in which there is no false discrimination, and body and mind are fundamentally pure, unborn, and undying. This is the basic teacher; this is better than invoking the Buddhas of the ten directions.
3. Question: How do we know that the inherent mind is fundamentally pure?
Answer: According to The Ten Stages Scripture, there is an indestructible Buddha-nature in the bodies of living beings, like the orb of the sun, its body luminous, round and full, vast and boundless; but because it is covered by the dark clouds of the five clusters, it cannot shine, like a lamp hidden inside a pitcher.
When there are clouds and fog everywhere, the world is dark, but that does not mean the sun has decomposed. Why is there no light? The light is never destroyed, it is just enshrouded by clouds and fog. The pure mind of all living beings is like this, merely covered up by the dark clouds of obsession with objects, arbitrary thoughts, psychological afflictions, and views and opinions. If you can just keep the mind still, so that errant though does not arise, the reality of nirvana will naturally appear. This is how we know the inherent mind is originally pure.
4. Question: How do we know the inherent mind is fundamentally unborn and undying?
Answer: The Scripture Spoken by Vimalakirti says that suchness has no birth and suchness has no death. Suchness is true thus-ness, the Buddha-nature that is inherently pure. Purity is the source of mind; true thusness is always there and does not arise from conditions.
The scripture also says that all ordinary beings are Thus, and all sages and saints are also Thus. "All ordinary beings", refers to us; "all sages and saints" refers to the Buddhas. Although their names and appearances differ, the objective nature of true thusness in their bodies is the same. Being unborn and undying, it is called Thus. That is how we know the inherent mind is fundamentally unborn and undying.
5. Question: Why call the inherent mind the basic teacher?
Answer: This true mind is natural and does not come from outside. It is not confined to cultivation in past, present, or future. The dearest and most intimate thing there could be is to preserve the mind yourself. If you know the mind, you will reach transcendence by preserving it. If you are confused about the mind and ignore it, you will fall into miserable states. Thus we know that the Buddhas of all times consider the inherent mind to be the basic teacher. Therefore a treatise says, "Preserve the mind with perfect clarity so that errant thoughts do not arise, and this is birthlessness.
6. Question: What does it mean to say that the inherent mind is better than invoking other Buddhas?
Answer: Even if you constantly invoke other Buddhas, you will not escape birth and death; but if you preserve your own basic mind, you will arrive at transcendence. The Diamond Cutter Scripture says that anyone who views Buddha in terms of form or seeks Buddha through sound is traveling an aberrant path and cannot see the real Buddha. Therefore it is said that preserving the true mind is better than invoking other Buddhas. The word "better", nevertheless, is only used to encourage people. In reality, the essence of the ultimate realization is equal, without duality.
7. Question: Since the true essence of Buddhas and ordinary beings is the same, why do Buddhas experience infinite happiness and unhindered freedom, without birth or death, while we ordinary beings fall into birth and death and suffer all sorts of pains?
Answer: The Buddhas of the ten directions realized the true nature of things and spontaneously perceive the source of mind; errant imagining does not arise, accurate awareness is not lost. The egoistic, possessive attitude disappears, so they are not subject to birth and death, they are ultimately tranquil; so obviously all happiness naturally comes to them.
Ordinary people lose sight of the nature of reality and do not know the basis of mind. Arbitrarily fixating on all sorts of objects, they do not cultivate awareness; therefore love and hatred arise. Because of love and hatred, the vessel of mind cracks and leaks. Because the vessel of mind cracks and leaks, there is birth and death. Because there is birth and death, all miseries naturally appear.
The Mind King Scripture says that true thusness, the Buddha-nature, is submerged in the ocean of cognition, perception, and sense, bobbing up and down in birth and death, unable to escape. Effort should be made to preserve the basic true mind, so that arbitrary thoughts do not arise, egoistic and possessive attitudes vanish, and you spontaneously realize equality and unity with the Buddhas.
8. Question: If the Buddha-nature that is truly Thus is one and the same, then when one is deluded, everyone should be deluded, and when one is enlightened, everyone should be enlightened. Why is it that when Buddhas awaken to this nature, the ignorance and confusion of ordinary people remain the same?
Answer: From here on, we enter the domain of the inconceivable, beyond the reach of ordinary people. Enlightenment is realized by knowing mind; confusion happens because of losing touch with nature. If conditions meet, they meet; no fixed statement can be made. Just trust in the truth and preserve your inherently basic mind.
This is why The Scripture Spoken by Vimalakirti says that there is neither selfhood nor otherness, that reality has never been born and does not presently perish. This is realizing the dualistic extremism of identification and alienation, thus entering into non-discriminatory knowledge. If you understand this point, then preserving the mind is foremost among the essentials of the teachings on practical knowledge. This practice of preserving the mind is the basis of nirvana, theessential doorway into enlightenment, the source of all the scriptures, and the progenitor of the Buddhas of all times.
9. Question: How do we know that preserving the fundamental true mind is the basis of nirvana?
Answer: The essence of nirvana is tranquil, uncontrived bliss. Realize your own mind is the true mind, and errant imagining ceases. When errant imagining ceases, you are accurately aware. By virtue of accurate awareness, dispassionately perceptive knowledge arises. By dispassionately perceptive knowledge, one finds out the nature of reality. By finding out the nature of reality, one attains nirvana. This is how we know that preserving the fundamental true mind is the basis of
10. Question: How do we know that preserving the fundamental true mind is the essential doorway into enlightenment?
Answer: "Even if you draw a figure of a Buddha with your finger, or perform countless virtuous deeds…."-teachings like this are just Buddha’s instructions for ignorant people to create causes for better future states, and even for seeing Buddha. As for those who wish to attain Buddhahood quickly on their own, they should preserve the basic true mind. The Buddhas of past, present, and future are infinite, but not one of them attained Buddhahood without preserving the basic true mind. Therefore a scripture says that if you keep the mind on one point, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished. This is how we know that preserving the basic true mind is the essential doorway into enlightenment.
11. Question: How do we know that preserving the basic true mind is the source of all the scriptures?
Answer: In the scriptures, the Buddha explains all the causes and conditions, results and consequences, of all sins and virtues, drawing up even the mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and other beings for countless parables, similes, metaphors, on occasion manifesting countless varieties of spiritual powers and emanations. This is all because Buddha teaches people who lack insight but have all sorts of desires and innumerable different mentalities.
On this account, the Buddha uses means suited to individual mentalities in order to lead people into universal truth. Once we know that the Buddha-nature in all beings is as pure as the sun behind the clouds, if we just preserve the basic true mind with perfect clarity, the clouds of errant thoughts will come to an end, and the sun of insight will emerge; what is the need or so much more study of knowledge of the pains of birth and death, of all sorts of doctrines and principles, and of the affairs of past, present, and future? It is like wiping the dust off a mirror; the clarity appears spontaneously when the dust is all gone.
Thus whatever is learned in the present unenlightened mind is worthless. If you can maintain accurate awareness clearly, what you learn in the uncontrived mind is true learning.
But even though I call it real learning, ultimately there is nothing learned. Why? Because both the self and nirvana are empty; there is no more two, not even one. Thus there is nothing learned; but even though phenomena are essentially empty, it is necessary to preserve the basic true mind with perfect clarity, because then delusive thoughts do not arise, and egoism and possessiveness disappear. The Nirvana Scripture says, "Those who know the Buddha does not preach anything are called fully learned." This is how we know that preserving the basic true mind is the source of all scriptures.
12. Question: What is meant by ‘indifference’?
Answer: When people who concentrate their minds focus on outward objects, and their coarse mentalities stop for a time because of this, they inwardly refine their true mind; when the mind is not yet clear and pure, and they examine it constatnly in whatsoever act they are enaging in, and are still unable to perceive the mind source independently, this is called an indifferent mind.
This is still a contaminated mind which as yet does not escape the great sickness of birth and death. As for those who don’t preserve the true mind at all, they sink nto the bitter sea of birth and death. When will they ever escape? How pitiful! Work, work!
The sutras say that if people’s true sincereity doesn’t arise from within themselves, even if they meet countless Buddhas of the past, present and future, they can do nothing. The Sutras also say that when people know the mind, they liberate themselves; Buddhas cannot liberate people. If Buddha could liberate people, why have people like ouselves not attained enlightenment despite the fact that here hve been innumerable Buddhas in the past? It is because true sincereity does not come from within that people sink in the bitter sea. Work, work! With diligence seen the fundamental mind; don’t allow for random polution. The past is not your concern; we can never catch up with what has gone by. I urge all those who have been able to hear, at this present time, this subtle teaching to comprehend these words: realize that perceiving mind is the greatest path.
If you are not willing to practice with great sincerity in the quest for enlightenment and the experience of infinite freedom and happiness [it brings], and rather start making a lot of clamor following after worldly things, searching after honor and profit with greed, you will fall into a vast hell and suffer all sorts of pain. What can you do about it? How will you cope? What will you do?
Work, work! Wear crummy clothes, eat plain food, and preserve your fundamental, true mind with perfect clarity. Appear stupid and inarticulate. This will conserve all energy, and is very effective. This how very earnest people are.
Ignorant worldly folk who don’t understand this principle will go through many hardships in ignorance to carry out apparent good on a large scale. They wish to be liberated, but return again to birth & death. Those who maintain perfectly clear right mindfulness and save others to, however, are most powerful Bodhisattvas.
I am clearly saying to you all that preserving the mind is the main thing to do; if you don’t make any efforts to preserve the mind, you are very, very foolish. By rejecting the here & now, you will suffer misery all your life; by hoping for the future, you suffer misfortune for myriad kalpas. If I indulge you, I don’t know what else there is to say. The one who remains unmoved by the gusts of the eight winds is the real Jewel-Mountain. One who knows the results just does and says with
skillfullness, like water, adapting to all circumstances, giving out antidotes in accord with illnessess; one who can perform all this and not bring about false thoughts, so that egotism and the desire to possess die out, has truly gone beyond the world.
When the Buddha was still living, there was no end to his praise of this; I tell you about it now to encourage you diligently. If you don’t bring to mind vain thoughts and are empty of egotism and the desire to possess, then you have gone beyond the world.
13. Question: What is the disappearing of egotism and the desire to possess?
Answer: When you have any desire to surpass other people, or any thoughts of your own ability, this is egotism and the desire to possess. These are an illness compared with nirvana. Thus, the Nirvana Sutra says, "Space contains all things yet does not hold the thought it can contain all things." That’s a metaphor for the disappearing of egotism and the desire to posess, from which you can go on to indestructible concentration.
14. Question: Adepts who seek the true, everlasting peace, but who only care about impermanent, base, worldly virtues and don’t care about the true, everlasting, subtle virtues of Absolute Truth haven’t seen the principle, and only want arouse the mind to focus on doctrines which are thought about; as soon as conscious awareness arises, it is polluted. But if one just wants to forget about the mind, this is the darkness of ignorance; it isn’t in accord with the true principle either. And if one only wants to neither to stop the mind or focus on principles, this is to incorrectly grasp emptiness, and living like a beast instead of a human. When this happens, if one doesn’t have any methods of concentration / insight and can’t understand how to clearly see the Buddha-nature, the adept only gets befuddled – how is one to go beyond this and arrive at total nirvana? Please point out the true mind.
Answer: You only need to have total confidence and effective determination. Gently quiet your mind, and I will teach you once again.
You should make your own mind & body uncluttered and serene, unentangled in any objects whatsoever. Sit straight, rightly aware, and fine-tune your breath so it is well adjusted. Examine your mind to see it as neither inside nor outside nor in between. Watch it calmly, carefully and objectively; when you master this, you clearly see that the mind’s consciousness moves in a flow, like a water-current or like heat waves rising without end.
When you have seen this consciousness, you find it is neither out nor in: without hurry, objectively & calmly observe it. When you master this, then melt and flux over and over, empty yet solid, profoundly stable, and then the flowing consciousness will disappear.
Those who get this consciousness to disappear will then destroy the obstructing confusions of the Bodhisattvas of the ten stages. Once this consciousness is gone, then the mind is open and still, quiet, serene and calm, perfectly pure, and enormously stable.
I can’t speak about it any further. If you want to attain it, take up the chapter in the Nirvana Sutra on the indestructible body, and the chapter in the Vimalakirti sutra on seeing the Immovable Budha: contemplate and reflect on them without hurry, search them carefully and read them thoroughly. If you are totaly familiar with these sutras and can actually maintain this mind in whatever you are doing – even in the face of the five desires and eight winds – then your pure conduct will be set firmly and your task will be complete; in the end you will no longer be subjected to a body that is born and dies.
The five desires are for images, tones, aromas, tastes and tangibles. The eight winds are gain and loss, praise and blame, honor and insult, pain and pleasure. This is where adepts polish and refine the Buddha-nature; it’s no wonder that they do not attain freedom in this body. A sutra says, "If there is no place for a Buddha to abide in the world, Bodhisattvas cannot actually function."
If you desire to be free of this conditiond body, do not discriminate between the sharpness of dullness of your faculties in the past; the best require a single moment, and the worst take countless eons.
If you’ve got the strength and time to develop a altruistic roots of virtues according to people’s natures so as to help your own self as well as others, adorning a Buddha-land, you must comprehend the Four Reliances and find out what reality actually is like. If you rely on clinging to the latter, you will miss the true source.
For monks learning to study the Path as renunciants, the fact is that "home-leaving" means leaving the fetters of birth & death: that’s real "home-leaving".
When right mindfulness is totally present and cultivation of the path is successful, even if your limbs are cut off, so long as you don’t lose your right mindfulness at the time of death, you will instantly attain Buddhahood.
I have written the foregoing treatise simply by taking the sense of sutras according to faith; in truth, I don’t know by perfectly complete experience. If there is anything opposed to the Buddha’s principles, I will willingly repent and get rid of it; whatsoever is in accord with the Buddha’s path, however, I donate to all beings, hoping they all will get to know the fundamental mind and attain enlightenment at once. May those who listen to this work become Buddhas in the futuer; I hope you will save my followers first.
15. Question: From start to finish, everything in this treatise reveals that the intrinsic mind is the Way; does it belong to the category of actualization or practice?
Answer: The heart of this treatise is to show the One Vehicle. Its ultimate intent is to guide the ignorant so that they may free themselves from birth & death. Only then can they save others. Speaking only of helping oneselves and not of helping others is characteristic of the practice-category; whosoever practices in harmony with the text will be the first to attain Buddhahood. If I am lying to you, in the future I will fall into 18 hells. I promise to heaven and earth: if I am untruthful, let me be eaten by tigers and wolves life after life.

Instructions in the Critical Essentials of Cultivating Dhyana Meditation

The particular lineage of the dhyana gateway transmits the seal of the buddha mind. Originally, it was not a subtle matter. Beginning with Bodhidharma’s coming from the west, the idea of exclusive transmittal became established and the four fascicles of the La’nkaavataara were taken as the [basis for] the seal of the mind. This being the case, although dhyana constituted a separate transmittal outside of the teachings, in actuality, it is because the teachings bring forth a corresponding realization that one then [succeeds in] perceiving the non-dual path of the buddhas and patriarchs. The very meditative skills which are employed during one’s investigations [into dhyana] come forth from the teachings themselves.
The La’nkaavataara states, "When sitting quietly in the mountains and forests, at superior, middling and lower levels of cultivation one is able to perceive the flow of the false thinking in one’s own mind." This is in fact the World Honored One’s clear instruction in the formulary method of developing meditative skill. It also states, "His intellectual mind consciousness is a manifestation of his own mind. The false marks of the experiential state associated with one’s self nature [manifest as] the sea of existence within the realm of birth and death. [They arise from] karmic action, desire and ignorance. Such causes as these may all be transcended thereby." This constitutes the Thus Come One’s clear instruction in the marvelous principle of how to awaken the mind. It also states, "From all of the sages of the past it has been passed on in turn, being [both] transmitted and received that false thinking is devoid of an [inherently existent] nature." This is also a clear instruction in the [basis of] the secret mind seal.
This golden-countenanced elder’s(1) instructions to people on the critically essential points of [dhyana] investigation were [continued on like this] until Bodhidharma instructed the second patriarch, saying, "You need only release (lit. "exhale") all conditions in the external sphere. The inner mind will then have nothing to draw in (lit. "inhale"). The mind will then become like a wall. You will then be able to enter the Way." This was Bodhidharma’s very first essential dharma employed in instructing people how to carry out meditative investigations.
[The tradition] was transmitted on until the time when Hwang Mei, [the Fifth Patriarch], sought a Dharma heir. The Sixth Patriarch had just proclaimed his realization that, "Fundamentally, there is nothing whatsoever" when he then obtained the robe and bowl. This was a clear indication of the transmittal of the seal of the mind.
Next, the Sixth Patriarch returned to the South and instructed Dao Ming, saying, "Don’t think of good. Don’t think of bad. Right then, what is the original countenance of the senior-seated Ming?" This was the Sixth Patriarch’s first instruction to people in the clear formula for [dhyana] investigation.
From these [examples] we know that as it came down to us from the Buddha and the patriarchs the intent was only to instruct a person in obtaining a complete awakening to his own mind and in the recognition [of the true nature] of the "self," that’s all. There still had not yet been any discussion of a gung-an (i.e. "anecdote") or a hwa-tou (lit. "speech-source"). When it came to Nan Ywe, Ching Ywan and those who came after them, all of the patriarchs accorded with what was appropriate in providing their instructions. For the most part they went to the place of doubt and knocked there in order to cause a person to turn his head around, reverse the direction of his thinking and then put it [all] to rest. But then it came about that there were those who were unable [to respond to this technique] so that even though one might bang away with the hammer and tongs, one still had no choice but to let [one’s teaching] adapt to [the student’s] appropriate time and conditions.
When it reached Hwang Bwo was when there first occured the instruction of people in [the practice of] looking into a hwa-tou. [This was the practice] straight on down to Dhyana Master Da Hwei who then engaged in the extremely strong promotion of teaching students to investigate into a gung-an (lit. "anecdote") which was used as an aid. This was referred to as a hwa-tou (lit. "speech source"). It was required of a person that he very closely engage in the bringing up and "tearing into" it.
Why was this? It was done on account of the fact that in every thought the seeds of evil practices from an incalculable number of kalpas permeate internally within the field of the eighth consciousness. They flow on continuously [with the result that] false thinking is not cut off and there is nothing which [most people] can do about it. Hence he would take a phrase of words devoid of any meaning-based flavor and give it to you for you to bite into it and hold it down.
Formerly one would take all internally and externally related false thinking in one’s mind state and put it all down at once. But because one became unable to put it down he then taught one to bring up this hwa-tou. Then, just like chopping off tangled strands of silk, in a single cut they were all cut off evenly such that they did not continue on any more. One cut off the intellectual mind consciousness so that it was no longer allowed to be active. This is precisely the same as Bodhidharma’s principle of "You need only release (lit. "exhale") all conditions in the external sphere. The inner mind will then have nothing to draw in (lit. "inhale"). The mind will then become like a wall."
If one fails to take on the task in this fashion, one will certainly fail to perceive one’s original countenance. The intention is not to teach you to deliberate on [the meaning of] the sentence in the gung-an. One should develop a sentiment of doubt and look to it as a means for seeking a measure of realization. This is just exactly like [the instruction offered by] Da Hwei who exclusively taught the looking into the hwa-tou as the invoking of a deadly stratagem whereby he simply wanted you to engage in an assassin’s surprise attack on the mind, that’s all. As an example [of his teaching], he instructed the assembly, saying, "When engaging in dhyana investigation one must empty out the mind and take the two words ‘birth’ and ‘death’ and stick them up on your forehead. [One should feel] as if he owed ten-thousand strings of cash. In the three [periods] of the day and the three [periods] of the night, whether drinking tea or eating meals, when walking and when standing, when sitting and when lying down, when toasting with friends, at quiet times and at boisterous times, one still keeps bringing up the hwa-tou: ‘Does a dog have the buddha nature, or not?’ Jou said, ‘No.’
"One should only be concerned about looking one way and looking another [so that] when there is no flavor [anymore] then it will be like running right into a wall. When one gets to the source where things come together, then it is like when a mouse [runs headlong] into a bull’s horn and then finds the route cut off. The intent is that you succeed in bringing about the single entity of the long-enduring and distantly-extending body and mind with which one carries on a struggle [with the result that] suddenly the flower of the mind puts out a brightness which illuminates the k.setras of the ten directions. With a single awakening one then reaches right down to the very bottom of things."(2)
The above [teaching] is the set of hammer and tongs routinely employed by the old eminence Da Hwei. His intent was just that he wanted you to take the hwa-tou and use it to block up and cut off the false thinking set loose by the intellectual mind faculty with the result that its flowing on would no longer be active. It is just at that point where it is not being active that one succeeds in seeing one’s original countenance.
It is not the intent to instruct you to carry on deliberative thinking about [the meaning of] the gung-an. One should employ the sentiment of doubt as a means for seeking a measure of realization. For example, it was [also] stated, "As for the flower of the mind putting forth brightness, how could that be something obtained from someone else?"
Instruction such as that presented above has been set forth by each and every one of the buddhas and patriarchs with the intention that you investigate into yourself and refrain from seizing on and peering into someone else’s esoteric and marvelous phrases. As for the people of the present era, in discussing investigations undertaken in dhyana and the application of meditative skill, everyone speaks of looking into the hwa-tou and bringing the sentiment of doubt to bear, but they do not realize that one must go to the very root [of the matter]. And so they are only concerned with seeking at the level of the hwa-tou.
They seek coming and they seek going and then suddenly visualize a scene full of light and declare that they have awakened. They then speak forth a verse and present a piece of poetry making as if they had become especially exotic goods. They then take it that they have succeeded in gaining complete understanding. They are completely unaware that they have fallen entirely into the net of knowledge and vision based on false thinking. When one goes about dhyana investigations in this manner, doesn’t this amount to poking out the eyes of everyone in the entire world of later generations?
The younger generation of today have not even gotten their sitting cushions warm when they proclaim that they have awakened to the Way. They then rely on their mouths, start channeling sprites and ghosts, fall into the quick-and-smart verbal swordplay, and then think up a few sentences of foolish words and scrambled discourse which are utterly baseless. They proclaim it to be an "Ode to the Ancients." This is just something which has come forth from your own false thinking. And was it ever really so that you even saw the ancients here even in a dream?
If it was actually so easy to become awakened to the Way as [claimed by] people of the present, then considering the integrity of practice of ancients such as Chang Ching who wore out seven sitting cushions and Chao Jou who for thirty years permitted no unfocused use of mind, those ancients had to have been of the very dullest of faculties. They wouldn’t even be fit to serve you moderns by holding your straw sandals! When people of overweening arrogance claim to have realizations when they have not yet realized them, can one not be appalled by this?
One’s investigations into Dhyana wherein one looks into the hwa-tou and brings the sentiment of doubt to bear absolutely cannot be given short shrift. [This is a case of] the so-called, "A little doubt,– a little enlightenment. A big doubt,– a big enlightenment. Refraining from doubt,– one doesn’t become enlightened." It is only essential that one become skillful in the use of the sentiment of doubt. If one achieves a breakthrough through the sentiment of doubt then in a single pass one can string together all of the buddhas and bodhisattvas by their noses.
It’s only necessary that, for instance when one looks into the mindfulness-of-the-buddha gung-an, one simply investigates into who it is that is being mindful of the buddha. It is not the case that one is supposed to entertain doubts about who the buddha is. If it were a case of doubting who the buddha is, then it would only be necessary to listen to the lecturer say, "Amitabha is named ‘Limitless Light’." After something like this then one should become enlightened and then make up a few verses on "Limitless Light." If instances such as this could be referred to as "awakening to the Way," then those with enlightened minds would be as numerous as sesame seeds and rice grains. How very sad! How very sad!
The ancients spoke of the hwa-tou as like a tile used to knock on the door. If one succeeds in opening the door by knocking, then one is supposed to go see the person in the room. It’s not supposed to be the case that one stands outside the door fooling around.(3) From this one can see that in relying on the hwa-tou to bring up doubt, the doubt is not directed towards the hwa-tou. It must be directed at the very root [of the matter].
Just take for instance when Jya Shan went to visit "Boatman" who inquired of him, saying, "I’ve hung down the line a thousand feet. The mind abides in a deep pool, three inches from the hook. Why don’t you speak?!"
Shan then started to open his mouth. The Master then knocked him into the water with an oar. Shan then climbed back into the boat. The Master said again, "Speak! Speak!" Shan was about to open his mouth again when the Master hit him again. Shan then experienced a major awakening whereupon he then knodded his head three times.
The Master then said, "The line from my fishing pole has succeeded in playing you in. Without having to stir up the purity as waves, your mind is naturally evident."
If this Jya Shan had just fooled around with the hook and line, how could "Boatman," even at the expense of a life, have been able to succeed in getting him?
This demonstrates the keen facility of the ancients in skillfully pursuing the means of bringing forth personages. In the past when the way of dhyana was flourishing, there were clear-eyed knowing advisors everywhere and the patch-robed men who were about in the land pursuing their investigations were many. Wherever they went, it flourished.
As a comparative statement, one can say that [nowadays] either there are no [practitioners of] dhyana or there are no Masters available.(4) The house of Dhyana has been silent and deserted now for a long time. How fortunate then that all at once there are many who have decided to take up the search. Although there do exist some knowing advisors, sometimes in taking the measure of the prospective candidates, those of [only] provisional talents [are allowed to] enter in as they yield to sentiment in their proffering of the seal of realization. The students, though of only shallow mind, then have the opinion that they have [actually] gotten some realizations.
Moreover, they do not have faith in the Thus Come One’s sacred teachings and do not seek out the origin of the true and correct road. They only care to go on about their dull-witted doings and so it then just becomes a case of a chop made of wintermelon being taken as the real formula.(5) Not only is this a fooling of oneself, but it’s also a fooling of others. Can one not be appalled by this? What’s more take for example the layman Dzai Gwan who of old recorded [one of the] records of the transmitting of the lamp. There were a number of [noteworthy] men in there, but that’s all.
Now, there are those people who are immersed in the weariness of the sense objects and who don’t even cultivate the most obvious precepts. They have such turbid and tangled false thinking that they lean on their own clever-wittedness, scan a few cases of the ancient virtuous ones and their prospective [lineage heirs], and then in every case they presume the airs of those of the most superior faculties. As soon as they see a member of the Sangha they then harass him with verbal swordplay and then take it that they themselves have awakened to the Way. I bring this up even though we are in an age which has become corrupt especially on account of my own disciples. It can become a case of a single blind man leading on a crowd of blind people, that’s all. This old man now faithfully sets forth the essential points of the true and correct meditative skills of the buddhas and patriarchs. Everyone can evaluate this. Those lofty and clear eminences who have well understood these things may themselves have ways in which they might correct it.
1. This is a reference to Shakyamuni Buddha. See DFB, 2058c.
2. It is as yet unclear how much of the above "quote" is paraphrase.
3. This "dzwo hwo-ji" which I have translated as "to fool around" means "to knit" or "to carry on a livelihood." It’s use seems a little ambiguous here.
4. This sentence is ambiguous in the Chinese and hence tentative in the English.
5. This is another utterly ambiguous Chinese sentence resulting in a tentative translation.

No Mind, No Enlightenment

Throughout the history of Chinese Chan, there were only a few Chan masters who have had a profound influence on me. One of them was Master Bai Zhang’s disciple Master Wei Shan Ling You, who lived from 771 to 853 AD. This was a very interesting person. He became a monk when he was fifteen. Me, I became a monk when I was thirteen, so he left home a little later than I myself. This master Wei Shan, when he was about twenty years old, he traveled to Mount Tian Tai. And during his journey to Mount Tian Tai he ran into two people, actually two legendary figures in Chan history. One of them was Master Han Shan, often known as Cold Mountain, and the other was Master Shi De. (Actually, it isn’t correct to call him a master — he was a monk, he never became a master.) 
Nobody really knows the true names of these two people — Han Shan and Shi De were not their real names. Han Shan lived in this place in the mountain called Cold Rock, so that’s where his name came from — Han Shan means "Cold Mountain." And with Shi De, when he was asked what his name was, he would answer that he didn’t know because he was an orphan. Then when his master found him and brought him back to the monastery, he said, "Look what I ‘shi de’," which literally means "picked up", I picked up something, so that’s why his name was Shi De.
So, these two people never knew their own names, and they never lived in any monasteries, they lived in the wilderness, so they never had any disciples and never had any followers. Whenever anybody asked them to teach the Dharma, they would always just say some crazy words in some nutty way. 
Today there is a book of poems called Cold Mountain. What happened was that when Han Shan lived in the mountains he wrote poems all over the place, on the rocks. After a while he just disappeared — no one knew what happened, if he left the place or if he died. But there was one person who really missed him and went to his place, Cold Rock, and copied down all the poems he had written all over the place and compiled them into this book of poems by Han Shan. It’s actually been translated into English — has anyone seen it? One or two people — did you like it? Compared to my poems, which ones are better? Can’t really compare because I’ve never written any poems. 
Back to the story of Wei Shan Ling You. Wei Shan was traveling to this mountain, and he ran into Han Shan, and Han Shan told him, here in this mountain all you have to do is keep going, keep going until you run into a pond, and you will become enlightened. So Wei Shan kept going, but before he ran into any pond of water, he ran into Shi De, and he asked, "I heard there is a pond of water here, where is this pond of water?" And Shi De said, "Yes, yes, just keep going, you’ll run into this pond of water." Well, Wei Shan finally ran into a pond, but he didn’t get enlightened, then he ran into another pond, but he didn’t get enlightened, and he kept running into one pond after another, but he never got enlightened. Finally he ran into yet another person, whose name was Zhou Tan, and Tan means "pond." So the pond they were referring to was actually the second character of this person’s name. Wei Shan thought, "This must be an enlightened monk; he’ll help me become enlightened." But Zhou Tan only directed him to yet another person — he told him to go look for someone called Bai Zhang. Have you heard of Master Bai Zhang? How many people have heard of him? 
How about Master Ma Zu? Master Bai Zhang was Master Ma Zu’s disciple. 
Has anyone heard of Rebecca? She is my disciple. [Laughter]
At the time Wei Shan met Master Bai Zhang, he was already 23 years old, and he was not yet enlightened, but when Bai Zhang saw him he said, "Okay, why don’t you become my attendant?" So wherever Master Bai Zhang went, Wei Shan Ling You followed. 
One day Master Bai Zhang asked him, "Who are you?" and he answered, "I am Ling You." At this moment there was some doubt arising in Wei Shan’s mind, and he thought, "That’s strange, Master knows who I am, why is he asking me who I am?" Master Bai Zhang then told Wei Shan to go and check the fire, to see if it was still burning. Wei Shan looked and saw only ash, so he told Master Bai Zhang that there was no fire, just ash. Master Bai Zhang himself went to look and he dug deeper beneath the ashes and found there were traces of fire there, and so he said to Wei Shan, "Isn’t this fire here?" Wei Shan Ling You saw the fire and at that moment, he was enlightened. Now, I’d like to ask you, how did he become enlightened?
You’ve heard this pretty long story — Wei Shan traveling to the mountain, and hearing about the pond, and expecting to become enlightened, and finally meeting Master Bai Zhang… Then Bai Zhang’s question "Who are you?" kind of shook him up a little bit. And then he was asked to look at the fire, and he said there was no fire, and then Master Bai Zhang asked, "Isn’t there fire here?" That’s when he got enlightened. What happened was that the whole time he wasn’t paying attention to the wisdom he already possessed. He wasn’t paying attention to the wisdom within himself. It was only when Master Bai Zhang showed him the fire hidden in the ashes that he began to see that he had always possessed this buddha nature hidden within himself. 
Actually it’s not so rare or so surprising that he got enlightened in this way. However, if you go to look for the fire in the ashes, you’re not going to get enlightened, because the most important part here is the process itself. The whole time that he was looking for enlightenment, how could he become enlightened? He was looking for the path, looking for the path, and he couldn’t find the path because he wasn’t paying attention. The moment that he was paying attention, in that moment, he found that his mind was the path.
So Wei Shan was very happy and very grateful to Master Bai Zhang, and he described his experience to him. And Master Bai Zhang responded, "Oh, you have wondered off the road here." This is strange — Wei Shan experiences enlightenment, yet Master Bai Zhang responds that he’s gone off the road. Do you understand why Master Bai Zhang responded that way, why he had gone off track? Smart people, please tell me. 
[Responses by listeners: "There is nothing to attain"; "Bodhisattvas have no obstructions…"]
Master Bai Zhang told Wei Shan these two things. First he told him that in order for enlightenment to happen, it has to be the right time, when all the causes and conditions have ripened. Without this, no matter what you do, you will not experience enlightenment. So enlightenment is really nothing to be excited or overjoyed about, because you haven’t really achieved it, and you haven’t gained anything. And Master Bai Zhang went on to say that actually there’s no difference in a person before and after enlightenment, it’s just that before enlightenment they do not know, and after enlightenment they know, that actually there is no such thing as an enlightened mind, and no such thing as the phenomenon of enlightenment. Why did he say that? And why did he say that a person is no different before and after enlightenment, why did he say that? Peter, maybe you can answer that question. Does anyone want to guess?
I believe with 100 people there will be 100 different answers. And I myself don’t know which answer would be correct. Maybe, however, I can tell you a story, which is actually a koan in the Chan tradition. There was a monk who left home, who became a monk when he was very young, and who after many years decided to go back to his hometown to see what was going on. When he got there, the people actually recognized him. They saw him and said, "Oh, you’re that little kid, you haven’t changed at all, you look exactly as you did before." And this old monk thought this was quite strange. "How can I be the same, I’m much older than before?" What had actually happened was that everyone had aged — the monk had aged, and the other people in town had aged as well. The old monk said, "I’m actually the same as before, however I’m not the same either." Do you understand this? I’m still the same me as the old me but I’m not the same as the old me. Is this a contradiction? Why isn’t it a contradiction? 
When we talk about the person being no different before and after enlightenment, we mean that the self before enlightenment is no different from the self after enlightenment. What is different is that before enlightenment one sees vexation as wisdom, and afterwards one sees wisdom as vexation. Let me repeat. Before enlightenment one sees vexation as wisdom; after enlightenment one sees wisdom as vexation. Do you understand? No, you don’t understand?
What is wisdom? Smart people take vexation as wisdom; dull people see wisdom as vexation. Smart people, before enlightenment, have a mind of discrimination, a mind that is constantly discriminating, picking and choosing. This mind of discrimination sees vexation as wisdom. Without this mind of discrimination, however dull one is, whatever one knows is wisdom. And once one has understood that there is no such thing as an enlightened mind, and no such thing as enlightenment, one will see that holding on to the idea of wisdom is vexation. Why do we say that, that enlightened people see wisdom as vexation? Because when they give rise to the thought, "I have wisdom," they are aware that they have vexation in that moment. When there’s no idea, "I have wisdom," then there’s no problem, no vexation in that moment. Therefore, when people come to me and say that I have a lot of wisdom, it makes me very ashamed, because they are actually criticizing me, saying a bad thing about me. 
So Master Bai Zhang went on, telling Wei Shan that there is no difference between ordinary beings and saints, and no difference between liberation and samsara. Liberation, and the cycle of birth and death, they are no different, they are the same. They are only different when you yourself start discriminating between the two, vexing yourself with the idea that you have to become a saint, you have to escape from samsara, you have to become liberated. Again, it’s very important to understand that there’s no such thing as an enlightened mind, and there is no such phenomenon as enlightenment, please remember this. So as long as you see your experience as something special, as long as you use your mind to attain this experience of enlightenment, then you still have a vexed mind. It’s very important to understand that having experienced enlightenment doesn’t make you a special person, you’re still the same person. If you think, "I have experienced enlightenment… I’m special now… I’m different," then you’re in trouble. 
When one who has experienced enlightenment feels liberated from the cycle of samsara, and clearly sees that this is distinctly different from before, this is merely small liberation. In the truly great liberation, that of maha nirvana, one would see no difference between nirvana and samsara. One would no longer be attached to the idea that there is a samsara and a nirvana, so one would see no distinction between the two, and thus would have no sense of being completely different from before.
So Master Bai Zhang was trying to help Wei Shan turn his small enlightenment into a complete enlightenment. When he brushed the ash and showed his disciple the fire, and Wei Shan saw it and became so overjoyed, Master Bai Zhang could see that this was just a little tiny enlightenment, and therefore he continued his teaching.

Zen Teachings of Hongzhi Zhenjue of Mt. Tiantong in Ming Province

Hongzhi made vast and empty the bright mirror and saw through it and reflected without neglect. He manifested he mysterious pivot of subtle change, then trusted his fortune and certainly found the core. Only one who had the true eye and deep flowing eloquence could have mastered this!
My teacher lived below Taipai Peak. dragons and elephants tromped around. The hammer and chisel [of teaching[ chipped away. The meaning of his words spread widely but still conveyed the essence. Sometimes scholars and laypeople who trusted the Way (Tao) asked for his directions; sometimes mendicant monks requested his instructions. They spread out paper and wrote down his responses. He spoke up and answered their questions, producing appropriate Dhama talks. I have selected a few of these and arranged them in order.
Ah, the emptiness of the great blue sky, the flowing of the vast ocean.
I have not yet attained these utmost depths, so please excuse my attempt to record his talks. I must await the ones who mysteriously accord with spiritual awakening to pound out the rhythm of his words and appreciate their tones.
§ 1. The Bright, Boundless Field
The field of boundless emptiness is what exits from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away al the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness. Utter emptiness has no image, upright independence does not rely on anything. Just expand and illuminate the original truth unconcerned by external conditions. Accordingly we are told to realize that not a single thing exists. In this field birth and death do not
appear. The deep source, transparent down to the bottom, can radiantly shine and can respond unencumbered to each speck of dust without becoming its partner. The subtlety of seeing and hearing transcends mere colors and sounds. The whole affair functions without leaving traces, and mirrors without obscurations. Very naturally mind and dharmas emerge and harmonize. An Ancient said that non-mind enacts and fulfills the way of non-mind. Enacting and fulfilling the way of non-mind, finally you can rest. Proceeding you are able to guide the assembly. With thoughts clear, sitting silently, wander into the center of the circle of wonder.
This is how you must penetrate and study.
§ 2. The Practice Of True Reality
The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection. When you have fathomed this you cannot be turned around by external causes and conditions. This empty, wide open mind is subtlety and correctly illuminating. Spacious and content, without confusion from inner thoughts or grasping, effectively overcome habitual behavior and realize the self that is not possessed by emotions. You must be broad-minded, whole without relying on others. Such upright independent spirit can begin not to pursue degrading situations. Here you can rest and become clean, pure, and lucid. Bright and penetrating, you can immediately return, accord, and respond to deal with events. Everything is unhindered; clouds gracefully floating up to the peaks, the moonlight glitteringly flowing down mountain streams. The entire place is brightly illumined and spiritually transformed, totally unobstructed and clearly manifesting responsive interaction like box and lid or arrow points [meeting]. Continuing, cultivate and nourish yourself to enact maturity and achieve stability. If you accord everywhere with thorough clarity and cut off sharp corners without dependence on doctrines, like the white bull or wildcat [helping to arouse wonder], you can be called a complete person. So we hear that this is how one of the way of non-mind acts, but before realizing non-mind we still have great hardship.
§ 3. Face Everything, Let Go, Attain Stability.
Vast and far-reaching without boundary, secluded and pure, manifesting light, this spirit is without obstruction. Its brightness does not shine out but can be called empty and inherently radiant. Its brightness, inherently purifying, transcends causal conditions beyond subject and object. Subtle but preserved, illumined and vast, also it cannot be spoken of as being or nonbeing, or discussed with images or calculations. Right in here the central pivot turns, the gateway opens. You accord and respond without laboring and accomplish without hindrance. Everywhere turn around freely, not following conditions, not falling into classifications. Facing everything, let go and attain stability. Stay with that just as that. Stay with this just as this. That and this are mixed together with no discriminations as to their places. So it is said that the earth lifts up the mountain without knowing the mountain’s stark steepness. A rock contains jade without knowing the jade’s flawlessness. This how truly to leave home, how home-leaving must be enacted.
§ 4. Contemplating The Ten Thousand Years
Patch-robed monks make their thinking dry and cool and rest from the remnants of conditioning. Persistently brush up and sharpen this bit of the field. Directly cut through al the overgrown grass. Reach the limit in all directions without defiling even one atom. Spiritual and bright, vast and lustrous, illuminating fully what is before you, directly attain the shining light and clarity that cannot attach to a single defilement. Immediately tug and pull back the ox’s nose. Of course his horns are imposing and he stomps around like a beast, yet he never damages people’s sprouts or grain. Wandering around, accept how it goes. Accepting how it goes, wander around. Do not be bounded by or settle into any place. Then the plough will break open the ground in the field of the empty kalpa. Proceeding in this manner, each event will be unobscured, each realm will appear complete. One contemplation of the ten thousand years is beginning not to dwell on appearances. Thus it is said that the mind-ground contains every seed and he universal rain makes them all sprout. When awakening blossoms, desires fade, and Bodhi’s fruit is perfected self.
§ 5. Performing The Buddha Work
[The empty field] cannot be cultivated or proven. From the beginning it is altogether complete, undefiled and clear down to the bottom. Where everything is correct and totally sufficient, attain the pure eye that illuminates thoroughly, fulfilling liberation. Enlightenment involves enacting this; stability develops from practicing it. Birth and death originally have no root or stems, appearing and disappearing originally have no defiling signs or traces. The primal light, empty and effective, illumines the headtop. The primal wisdom, silent but also glorious, responds to conditions. When you reach the truth without middle or edge, cutting off before and after, then you realize one wholeness. Everywhere sense faculties and objects both just happen. The one who sticks out his broad, long tongue transmits the inexhaustible lamp, radiates the great light, and performs the great Buddha work, from the first not borrowing from others one atom from outside the Dharma. Clearly this affair occurs within your own house.
§ 6. Forgetting About Merit Is Fulfillment
Separate yourself from disturbance and face whatever appears before you. Not one iota seeps through from outside. The two forms (yin and yang) have the same root, and the ten thousand images have one substance. Following change and going along with transformation the whole is not clouded over by previous conditions. Then you reach the foundation of the great freedom. Wind blows and moon shines, and beings do not obstruct each other. Afterwards, settle back within and take responsibility. Wisdom returns and the principle is consummated. When you forget about merit your position is fulfilled. Do not fall for occupying honorable stations, but enter the current of the world and join with the delusion. Transcendent, solitary, and glorious, directly know that transmitting is merit, but having transmitted is not your own merit.
§ 7. The Ground That Sages Cannot Transmit
Cast off completely your head and skin. Thoroughly withdraw from distinctions of light and shadow. Where the ten thousand changes do no reach is the foundation that even a thousand sages cannot transmit. Simply by yourself illuminate and deeply experience it with intimate accord. The original light flashes through confusion. true illuminations reflects into the distance. Deliberations about being and nonbeing are entirely abandoned. The wonder appears before you, its benefit transferred out for kalpas. Immediately you follow conditions and accord with awakening without obstruction from any defilements. The mind does not attach to things, and your footsteps are not visible on the road. Then you are called to continue the family business. Even if you thoroughly understand, still please practice until it is familiar.
§ 8. With Total Trust, Roam and Play in Samadhi
  Empty and desireless, cold and thin, simple and genuine, this is how to strike down and fold up the remaining habits of many lives. When the stains from old habits are exhausted, the original light appears, blazing through your skull, not admitting any other maters. Vast and spacious, like sky and water merging during autumn, like snow and moon having the same color, this field is without boundary, beyond direction, magnificently one entity without edge or seam. Further, when you turn within and drop off everything completely, realization occurs. Right at the time of entirely dropping off, deliberation and discussion are one thousand or ten thousand miles away. Still no principle is discernible, so what could there be to point to or explain? People with the bottom of the bucket fallen out immediately find total trust. So we are told simply to realize mutual response and explore mutual response, then turn around and enter the world. Roam and play in Samadhi. Every detail clearly appears before you. Sound and form, echo and shadow, happen instantly without leaving traces. The outside and myself do not dominate each other, only because no perceiving [of objects] comes between us. Only this non-perceiving encloses the empty space of the Dhama realm’s majestic ten thousand forms. People with the original face should enact and fully investigate [the field] without neglecting a single fragment.
§ 9. The Valley Spirit and the Wind Matter
Patch-robed monks practice thoroughly without carrying a single thread. Open-mindedly sparkling and pure, they are like a mirror reflecting a mirror, with nothing regarded as outside, without capacity for accumulating dust. They illuminate everything fully, perceiving nothing [as an object]. This is called taking up the burden from inside and is how to shoulder responsibility. Wisdom illuminates the darkness without confusion. The Way integrates with he boy and does not get stuck. From this unstuck place engaging and transforming at the appropriate opportunity, he wisdom dos not leak out, Clearly the Way does not get stained. Unobstructed and free, beyond restraints, they do not depend on even subtle indicators and their essential spirit cannot be eclipsed. Fulfilled, wander around and arrive at such a field. the entire place secure, the entire place at leisure, the open field of the white ox is plain and simple, of one color. If you chase the ox, still he will not go away. You must intimately experience and arrive here.
§ 10. Simply Drop Off Everything
Silently dwell in the self, in true suchness abandon conditioning. Open-minded and bright without defilement, simply penetrate and drop off everything. Today is not your first arrival here. since the ancient home before the empty kalpa, clearly nothing has been obscured. Although you are inherently spirited and splendid, still you must go ahead and enact it. When doing so, immediately display every atom without hiding a speck of dirt. Dry and cool in deep repose, profoundly understand. If your rest is not satisfying and you yearn to go beyond birth and death, there can be no such place. Just burst through and you will discern without thought-dusts, pure without reasons for anxiety. Stepping back with open hands, [giving up everything], is thoroughly comprehending life and death. Immediately you can sparkle and respond to the world. Merge together with all things. Everywhere is just right. Accordingly, we are told that from ancient to modern times all dharmas are not concealed, always apparent and exposed.
§ 11. The Ancient Ferryboat in the Bright Moonlight
A patch-robed monk’s authentic task is to practice the essence, in each minute event carefully discerning the shining source, radiant without discrimination, one color unstained. You must keep turning inwards, then [the source] is apprehended. This is called being able of continue the family business. Do not wear the changing fashions, transcend the duality of light and shadow. Accordingly the ancestors’ single trail is marvelously enacted. The residual debris of the world departs, its influence ended. This worldly knowledge does not compare to returning to the primary and obtaining confirmation. Observing beyond your skull, the core finally can be fulfilled and you can emerge from the transitory. The reeds blossom under the bright moon; the ancient ferryboat begins its passage; the jade thread fits into the golden needle. Then the opportunity arises to turn around, enter the world, and respond to conditions. All the dusts are entirely yours; all the dharmas are not someone else’s. Follow the current and paddle along, naturally unobstructed!
§ 12. The Gates Sparkling at the Source
All Buddhas and every ancestor without exception testify that they all arrive at this refuge where the three times [past, present, and future] cease and the ten thousand changes are silenced. Straight ahead, unopposed by the smallest atom, the inherently illumined Buddha spirit subtly penetrates the original source. When recognized and realized exhaustively, [this spirit] shares itself and responds to situations. The gates sparkle and all bens behold the gleamings. Then they understand d that from within this place fulfilled self flows out. The hundreds of grass-tips all around never are imposed as my causes and conditioning. The whole body from head to foot proceeds smoothly.
§ 13. The Misunderstanding of Many Lifetimes
Emptiness is without characteristics. Illumination has no emotional afflictions. With piercing, quietly profound radiance, it mysteriously eliminates all disgrace. Thus one can know oneself; thus the self is completed. We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation. With boundless wisdom journey beyond this, forgetting accomplishments. Straightforwardly abandon stratagems and take on responsibility. Having turned yourself around, accepting your situation,
if you set foot on the path, spiritual energy will marvelously transport you. Contact phenomena with total sincerity, not a single atom of dust outside yourself.
§ 14. Self and Other the Same
All dharmas are innately amazing beyond description. Perfect vision has no gap. In mountain groves, grasslands, and woods the truth has always been exhibited. Discern and comprehend the broad long tongue [of Buddha’s teaching], which cannot be muted anywhere. The spoken is instantly hard; what is heard is instantly spoken. Senses and objects merge; principle and wisdom are united. When self and other are the same, mind and dharmas are one. When you face what you have excluded and see how it appears, you must quickly gather it together and integrate with it. Make it work within your house, then establish stable sitting.
§ 15. Ten Billion Illuminating Spirits
The way wanders in the empty middle of the circle, reaching the vacancy where appearances are forgotten. The pure ultimate self blazes, brilliant simply from inherent illumination. Facing the boundary of the objective world without yet creating the sense gates, realize the subtlety of how to eliminate the effects of the swirling flow of arising and extinction! Rely only on the source of creation. If you feel a shadow of a hair’s gap, nothing will be received. Just experience and respond appropriately. From this singular impact many thousands of roads open, and al things are preeminent. With this unification I radiantly speak the Dhama. The self divides into ten billion distinct illuminating spirits. Distinguish these without falling into names and classifications and accord fully without effort. The mirror is clear and magnanimous. The valley is empty, but echoes. From the beginning unbound by seeing or hearing, the genuine self romps and plays in samadhi without obstruction. When enacted like this, how could it not be beneficial?
The specific practice experience of shikan taza was first articulated in the Soto Zen lineage (Caodong in Chinese) by the Chinese master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157; Wanshi Shogaku in Japanese),and further elaborated by the Japanese Soto founder Eihei Dogen (1200-1253).


a teisho by John Tarrant, Roshi
Originally published in: Mind Moon Circle, Autumn 1994, pp.1-3.
Good Buddhists know that the thing to do is to renounce the world,
attain enlightenment and lead other beings to safety. But if you are a
Zen person, you don’t get off so easily. We find Buddha in the heart
of delusion, we find stars in the deepest night. When Hakuin said,
"This very body is the Buddha," he didn’t mean after we’ve gained
enlightenment or taken vows, he meant right now, in the chaos.

I think of the old story of the warrior who did zazen with such energy
that all the mice in the house grew still until he had finished. His
wife remarked on this and he said, "Well, this won’t do, I’ll have to
try harder." His zazen deepened and soon, as he sat, the mice came out
and played all over him, completely unafraid.

This story tells about inclusion. It implies that even mice have their
contribution and worth and that we don’t want to shut too much of
their world out. This means not only the outer world as the field of
enlightenment but also the inner world – the disturbed zazen, the
immense proliferation of fantasies, the distractions. If lay life has
a virtue, it is in this inclusiveness.

In the Indian world that Buddhism grew from there seems to have been a
fairly clear distinction between lay and monastic lives. One was a
householder for the first part of life and then, when family
obligations were finished, one was free to seek enlightenment. But
nothing is really this orderly and Shakyamuni fractured this way of
seeing things by abandoning his obligations before they were completed
and so making lay life somehow second class. Primeval Buddhism
certainly saw things this way. There was a split between the pure
monastic world and the contaminated householder world.

It was the advent of the Mahayana that clouded this view once more.
Vimalakirti, a layman, became a hero, and the Bodhisattva ideal was of
one who had compassion, who saved others and who did so by walking
unharmed through the fires of the world. Now this is quite a different
path. The image of enlightenment has changed. The original idea of
nirvana was a cessation, extinction, a snuffing out, as of a lamp.
Perhaps we should call it endarkment. It implies a stoic view of
things. Life was seen as so contaminated that the end of it was the
best thing of all. The Mahayana, and the Zen image is more optimistic:
to light a lamp and pass it on. Beings are worth saving, even stones
are beings, and consciousness is a great project.

The monastic life then becomes less a way station on the path out of
life and more of a matter of practical choice within life, a skilful
means. We put a fence around the training hall to get containment, so
that the energy we pour in does not leak out. The training hall is a
kind of alchemical vessel. Only if it is in some degree sealed off can
we get enough heat to change the lead into gold. This is the great
virtue of monastic life. All transformation needs its guardians and
monastic life provides them. But its project enlightenment and
compassion – is no longer different from the lay project.

Both lay and monastic worlds have their pathologies. The pathologies
of the monastic life seem to be about clinging to purity. Purity is
not a natural thing and needs to be guarded. Another way to say this
is that monasteries tend towards monotheism – a single and orthodox
view of reality. The monastic consciousness doesn’t believe in
fantasies or in the arts because it doesn’t like the confusion of
multiple views. Monasteries like rules because when we make a rule we
gain the illusion that we have dealt with the problem. This monotheism
relates to the inner life as well. Samadhi and concentration states
are often highly valued. This is what the Chinese masters called the
sword that kills – the koan that drives all thoughts away,
annihilating every other content in the mind. Then enlightenment will
come and there will be no more real problems.

The status of women and children always seems to suffer in
monasteries. This is because they always bring in more real problems.
Women have a special role as distractions, human affections being the
one thing most difficult to put boundaries around. Women have been
excluded, or they are included but asked to act like men, or they’re
asked to act like women, but to not have children, or they’re asked to
not bring their children around the sesshin. Even women’s monasteries
seem to have a patriarchal air – rigid and hostile to the obligations
of the heart. Women in temples are often given the archetypal task of
representing the world and its weight, its messiness. Naturally a
woman will object because her real developmental task is something
independent of the way a man reacts to her.

The pathologies of a lay life relate to a kind of getting lost, a
forgetting of the quest, an unconscious immersion in the world. So
much time is spent changing diapers or watching the stock market
ticker that zazen never gets up enough steam to bring about a real
change. We are so close to the greed, the sadness, the anger and the
ignorance that it’s impossible not to get stained by them. We come
home from the hospital and can’t stop thinking about the baby who
died. The world penetrates us.

But this wounding of consciousness can be the essence of the
Bodhisattva life. The Bodhisattva legend is of one who puts off her
own enlightenment in order to save others. On the face of it, this is
an absurdity, but like many absurdities it contains a very deep story.
An old koan goes like this: "Why is it that perfectly accomplished
Bodhisattvas are attached to the vermilion line?" The red line is the
line of passion- of sorrow and the love of the world. Our perfection
cannot connect with others. Only through our weaknesses do we grow. It
is the field of our failures and problems that is the place of
Bodhisattva action and the development of character after
enlightenment. The Bodhistttva’s enlightenment is not something that
makes her invulnerable to the world but open to it. It is closely
linked to love. This weakness, this permeability, is the strength of
the lay life.

The lay view asks itself unanswerable questions such as, "What does
enlightenment mean?", trying to link the experience of eternity to the
smell of the morning coffee. It assumes there will always be problems
and failures. It wonders what its dreams mean and always misinterprets
them. It gets lost in symbol and metaphor. The monastic view is
uninterested in meaning and tends to think enlightened people don’t

Obviously there are people in monasteries who are immersed in the
world and people outside of monasteries who try to stay unsullied by
the world. Most of the Western monasteries today have some degree of
what I am calling lay consciousness,. And yet it is the monastic
consciousness that has preserved Buddhism down through the ages and
this is a powerful argument in its favour.

The virtue of the lay point of view is that it brings a fertilizing
muddle into the serenity of the temple. Blackberry pie, sex, a new
car, lessons for the little girl, these distractions and frivolities
are themselves the Buddha Way. A coherent temple existence seems, at
least from the outside, to be difficult. Fortunately, a coherent lay
existence is impossible.

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