Now our Chan session is about to begin. In the Chan Hall, we don't recite the Buddha's name; and during the Buddha Recitation Session, we don't practice meditation. Our motto for this Chan retreat is "walking is Chan; sitting is also Chan; standing is Chan; and lying down is also Chan." In general, walking, standing, sitting, and reclining are all Chan. Meditators of old didn't have any thoughts; their state was called "being without thought."
When not even one thought arises,
the entire substance comes into view.
If the six sense organs suddenly react,
then clouds will cover you.
Investigating Chan means working to the point that "thoughts no longer arise." After the Ming Dynasty, the use of the hua tou or "meditation topic" became popular. Now every meditation hall uses the meditation topic. There are many meditation topics that people can investigate, such as "Who's mindful of the Buddha (Who's reciting the Buddha's name)?" "What was my true identity before my parents bore me?" "What doesn't come to an end?" and so on.
Investigating Chan means not having any idle thoughts. For instance, if we're investigating the topic, "Who's mindful of the Buddha?" then we're always wondering, "Who's mindful of the Buddha?" The question itself is, in fact, a idle thought, but this method uses one idle thought to control all other idle thoughts. This method uses an idle thought to fight other idle thoughts, fire to fight fire. Actually, reciting the name "Amitabha Buddha" is also an example of using one idle thought to fight other idle thoughts. Strictly speaking, the thought of reciting the Buddha's name itself is incorrect. And the thought to investigate, "Who's mindful of the Buddha?" doesn't exist either. Yet one idle thought is able to end all the other idle thoughts. This is one of the fundamental principles of Chan meditation.
Chan meditators should have the attitude, "When the Buddhas come, slay them! When the demons come, slay them!" Don't cling to any states at all. We want to pursue our investigation until "we are no longer aware of heaven above, earth below, or people in between; we are unaware of things outside or the mind inside." That's when we merge and become one with the Dharma Realm; we may suddenly get enlightened! By no means should we let ourselves be disturbed by random noises or gaze around east and west in distraction.
If you investigate to the point where none of the four marks of self, others, living beings, or a life span exist any longer, then the root of birth and death will be severed, and you will come face-to-face with Shakyamuni Buddha; at that time, you'll appreciate the advantages of Chan meditation!
From time without beginning until this very day, only now have we had the good fortune to encounter the Chan meditation method. Thus we must make a special effort to concentrate our minds. We must be particularly sincere and work very hard. Do not let this valuable time pass by in vain. Do not indulge in idle thoughts of eating good food, wearing nice clothes, and living in fine houses. There is a saying that goes, "An instant of time is an instant of life." Time and life are equally valuable.
An instant of time is worth an ounce of gold,
Yet an ounce of gold can hardly buy an instant of time.
If you lose an ounce of gold you can always find another,
But once time goes by, you can't bring it back again.
This saying describes the value of ordinary time. How much more valuable is the time of our meditation retreat! Who knows in which minute or second you'll get enlightened? Therefore, you must treasure each minute and second of time. Don't let them slip by. I hope every one of you who has joined this Chan session will be courageous and vigorous, and won't be lax. Only if you endure every kind of pain can you finally experience every kind of joy. Endure what people cannot endure, and accept what people cannot accept. This is the true spirit of cultivating the spiritual path.
A talk given on September 1975,
at Gold Mountain Monastery, San Francisco