DURING A 10 WEEK MEDITATION SESSION BY
The Venerable Lai Kuo
A thousand days of uninterrupted vigor leads to enlightenment in a single moment. If you have ceaselessly applied yourselves for one thousand days, then your enlightenment in a single moment can be assured. In other words, if you have worked without interruption for one thousand days, then I can guarantee your enlightenment.
On the other hand, if you have not worked to that extent, nothing can be guaranteed. You may have been here for three or five years, or perhaps you resided at Chin Shan Monastery for a like period. You may have endured the hardships and asceticism, living at the two Monasteries for 10 or 20 years, and may clearly have completed more than a thousand days' work. If you had passed through the thousand days' work, however, you would certainly be enlightened by now.
This Ch'an Seven is specifically for the purpose of gaining enlightenment. Why have you not yet been enlightened? All of you are to be pitied. Although you have gone through 3, 5, 10 or even 20 years of work, you still have not satisfactorily carried out a thousand days work. If it has not been done satisfactorily, work of a thousand days' counts for nothing toward enlightenment.
When I talk to you like this, you may think of the reasons why you have so far failed to achieve enlightenment. You may think that during the Summer Term it was too hot and that you had to attend shrine services and participate in the refectory gatherings. You may conclude that that time was not the proper time to begin the work. Later, at the beginning of the Winter Term, there were major duties and routine assignments, which had to be attended to and which fully occupied your time. Further into the Winter Term, when there was more time for meditation, you again considered the time unsuitable for the work.
But now, you think that this Ch’an Seven is the correct time to exert yourself and now waste time in idleness. Is this not what you think? You all follow the trend of thought that only during the time of the assault of the seven is the correct time for effort. You disregarded the Summer Term and failed to utilize the beginning of the Winter Term. Similarly during the Winter Term, when there was more time for meditation, you were, as usual, occupied with daily shrine services and refectory rites. As a result only during this Ch’an Seven can you effectively exert yourselves.
People who think thus are the most stupid and their stupidity only serves to augment their sorrow and pain. Why? The assault of the seven is the appointed time for the final realization of truth. At the appropriate time, you need only a single hint to realize the truth and be enlightened a thousandfold. How can the present be the time for exertion? The exertion has to be made beforehand: if you have not already exerted yourselves, but have waited for this Ch'an Seven, then how can you expect to be enlightened? Can the word 'enlightenment' have anything to do with you?
I will give you an explanatory analogy. Suppose that during the Ch'ing Dynasty, a scholar, having superficially worked at his studies for 10 years, attended a public examination. Having been admitted into the examination hall, he was at a loss to know what to write, but during the period of his examination he began to study enthusiastically. Could he pass with honors? During the prior 10 years he had done nothing to prosecute his studies except to bear the outward label of scholar, and so it was clearly impossible for him to pass the examination.
This Ch'an Seven is the equivalent of the public examination. If you have worked hard for at least 3 years, then you will, by now, understand yourself and your presence here will enable you to be enlightened. However, if you have only put on a show of hard work, without properly applying yourself to it, can you now be enlightened? This is the same as offering oneself for public examination without prior study. Such wrong attitudes and actions originate from times of old and are not new today.
If these are the circumstances, is there any point in continuing the Ch'an Seven? Should we give up altogether? Hone of you have the necessary qualifications to continue, and you have therefore, not done justice to the Sangha. The Sangha has carefully prepared everything for you, and even the slightest matter which might cause conflict or distraction will be rectified without the least delay. The Sangha has beyond the slightest doubt done everything to satisfy you. It is certainly more true to say that you have not done justice to the Sangha rather than that the Sangha has not done justice to you.
If there is among you one single individual who has worked hard for at least 3 or 5 years, working constantly from moment to moment, during the time he clothed himself, ate his food, attended shrine services, performed refectory rites, even when he attended the toilet and slept, he already has confidence to let go of the ledge on the sheer face of a precipice. He already has reached the top of the highest mountain peak, and attendance here today will enable him to realize the truth at a time appointed by him. If the Sangha does not continue with this Ch'an Seven for his sake, then the Sangha has not done justice to him. Is there such a man among you?
Do not even think of the past 3 or 5 years in which you have done nothing, but consider whether, during the last Summer Session, you ever aroused your attention to inquire into "Who recites Buddha?" Consider whether or not you ever properly made this inquiry while in the meditation hall during the extra meditational periods. You probably do not even know whether you did or not. Take the present time. You may complete this Ch'an Seven, during which you will engage in much sitting and marching meditation, but how often will you arouse yourselves to inquire into "Who recites Buddha?" Consider this matter deeply and conscientiously ascertain whether or not you are really doing justice to anyone.
Whatever we may learn, we always seek improvement. Do you know when you can improve under the Ch'an System? Your improvement can take place when you attend shrine services, or when you participate in refectory rites as well as when you attend to your toilet. In fact your improvement can take place everywhere. How can you improve yourself while attending to shrine services? Where can you make the improvement? You can improve if while standing at the shrine, you keep your head still and your body motionless. This would indeed be some improvement. Why? Simply, if you are completely alert and aroused, how could your head shake or your body move? If your head shakes it indicates that your attention is distracted by some sight or sound. If your body moves it is because you are distracted by pains or bodily disturbance. If, instead of directing your attention to the shrine service, to the refectory rites, to your toilet, to the movement of the eyebrow when winking the eye, to your walking, to your standing, to your sitting, or to your sleeping, you are attentive only to your pain or bodily disturbance, your meditation will all come to nought. Hence you must understand that within this Ch’an School all times during normal days are to be treasured and utilized, and these Ch’an Seven days are exceptionally unique for final improvement. Therefore arouse yourselves!
First Session - Fifth Talk delivered on the 19th Day of the 10th Month, 1942 AD.
Ch'an is the way that fundamentally has no need for words since verbal teaching is of no use. If the use of words renders verbal teaching impossible, how can one progress? If talk is of no avail, why do we give several lectures for guidance every day? We must understand that in Ch'an, our indulgence in conversation is done with reluctance, and only because we cannot help doing so.
The reason is because all of your minds differ. When concerning ourselves with Ch'an, it is necessary, ultimately, for all of us to arrive at the same level at which the Buddhas of the ten directions carry on their activities. If all of you are at the same level, then and only then will language be superfluous. However, since your mental processes are all different, and since one hundred persons will have one hundred different levels of thought, it is necessary to use talk to draw all to the same level.
It is not absurd, however, because such talking, instead of bringing you any benefit will merely multiply your various mental thought processes and increase them a thousandfold. How is this to be explained? The thought process which you must follow here is to make use of the inquiry "Who is it that is mindful of the Buddha?" This serves as a broken piece of tile used to knock on the door in order to have it opened, or as a sign post pointing out the way.
People of long ago used the inquiry "Before my parents gave birth to me, who was I?" or "Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” and many other such inquiries or public records, numbering seventeen-hundred or more. All the patriarchs held to one single public record and inquired deeply into it. That is why the head monk of any Ch’an Hall, or the directing master, whenever opening his mouth, always inquires, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” Whether he is talking or silent he constantly inquires into “Who recites Buddha?” With Ch’an, this is most important.
Even so, the words to be used in such conversations must be concerned only with Ch'an, and under no circumstances will Ch'an adherents be permitted to talk about any sutra or any recorded conversation or public record. You may doubt this and think, "It is absurd to refrain from talking about the sutras as proclaimed by the Buddha or about the recorded conversation."
However, in your minds, as formerly, instead of this single thought, you think of many things, like spending your time living in Shanghai, going to the "New World” today, visiting "Great Theatre" tomorrow, and calling on "Sincere Company" the day after. All this is agreeable to you. Here in this Ch'an Hall, however, the whole day long and the whole year round are used for one single thought, namely, "Who is mindful of the Buddha." You find it so tasteless that it certainly annoys you to death. Is this not so? You all find that our lectures contain not the slightest shadow of reason or logic and that they are all unpleasant to listen to. You conclude that it is perfectly correct for people to say, "Anyone who understands meditative Ch'an, but not sutra teachings, will talk nonsense." Is this not correct? How pitiful you all are! I say that you do not know how to talk, let alone listen to this nonsense, but if you really did know then you would be doing well. Why? If we don't meet on the same level, you had better not listen. On the other hand, others may find it agreeable and pleasant to listen; what pleases you may not be agreeable to others. Since everyone has his own separate mind in action, how can this Ch'an conversation, in which listeners of uneven and different conditions and attitudes participate, be all on the same level?
What about the lack of reason and logic in this talk? Again you misunderstand. Here we are concerned neither with literary composition, nor with disseminating the dharma, nor teaching, nor offering explanation of the sutras as taught in the Ch'an School. But what I am doing today, namely talking about the East and West, will be deeply understood by someone. When the master of the class talks about something mysterious and wonderful, a few of you will listen and appreciate. There is a saying that rough and uncouth words as well as refined speech all contain truth; clarity of thought and intelligence are also necessary, and your capacity to listen well and to understand what is being said is of paramount importance.
You must realize the difficulties for those who give these talks. Since you all have diverse levels of consciousness and a hundred different varieties of thought processes, it is necessary for the speaker to talk in a hundred different ways to enable all of you to arrive at single—mindedness. This indeed is no easy matter. Those of you who can listen well will appreciate what I have expounded today, realizing that it concerns the direction of the Way; nevertheless you also will realize that I have not yet dealt with the state of DOUBT.
Tomorrow I shall talk about how DOUBT is aroused, and if you listen well, the state of DOUBT will arise. Maintaining this state is also a problem, and so the day after tomorrow I shall deal with the conditions necessary for the state of DOUBT. Thus step by step we shall move onward and you will see that although we discourse on different topics in each succeeding session, all of them lead to perfection. The first session is devoted to your ignorance of the methods for doing the work. The second session concerns the Way along which you must walk in your practice. The third session will consider the degree of advancement of your work. The fourth session will reveal the expectation of your work. The fifth session will enable you to see for yourself the achievements of your work and so on until the tenth session: beginning with the superficial we will go deep, from the near to the far. Today I disclose the various stages of the talks so that you may prepare your minds for the task. Now make your inquiry, "Who recites Buddha?'
New World—a pleasure park in Shanghai.
OF THE CONTRIBUTORS WHO HAVE GENEROUSLY
One Upasaka has volunteered to give one-third of the $1,000 monthly payments on the new Bodhimandala.
Increase Your Wisdom and Concentration Power
The Sino-American Buddhist Association, The Buddhist Lecture Hall, and Vajra Bodhi Sea together will sponsor three separate four-week Lecture and Cultivation Sessions to be held during the summer of 1971. The main lecture series in each Session will cover sections of the AVATAMSAKA SUTRA. Additional lectures on THE WONDERFUL DHARMA LOTUS FLOWER SUTRA, THE SURANGAMA SUTRA, THE ORIGINAL VOWS OF EARTH TREASURY KING BODHISATTVA SUTRA, and other important Buddhist texts will also be given. Complimenting the sutra study, seven hours of meditation will be scheduled each day, in addition to chanting of sutras and mantras. The dates for the three Sessions are as follows:
There is no better way to introduce yourself to Buddhism than attending one or more of these Sessions. The combination of sutra study, meditation, and recitation allows for a good understanding of both the principles and practices of the Buddhadharma. You may attend one, two, or all three of these Sessions. A graduation ceremony, at which diplomas for all three Sessions will be handed out, will take place on September 19th.
It is hoped these Sessions will be held at the new Bodhimandala, thus reducing the need for selective admissions and allowing space for greater participation than in the past.
For further information, call or write The Sino-American Buddhist Association, 125 Waverly Place, San Francisco, California. 94108. Tel:981-5281
With a very agreeable surprise I received from you 2 copies, No.5 & 6 of your really excellent Vajra Bodhi Sea. I have read the whole with eager interest, especially so because I am a West German Mahayana Buddhist priest, living in the Far East for the last 15 years.