News from the Dharma Realm
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
By Bhiksu Hung Ju
Nagarjuna Bodhisattva once said that there are two ways to approach the Dharma: the Easy and the Difficult. The Easy way is the road that most of us take. We make a leisurely study of the sutras, practice a certain degree of morality, maybe do a little meditating, but in general, no sleep is lost, and bitterness is avoided at all costs. On the other hand, there is the approach through the door of difficult practices. This involves enduring a little discomfort in order to make rapid progress in cultivation. There is a saying in the Ch'an school, "Bitter practices, sweet mind." That is, once the bitterness is undergone, the resulting fruit is very sweet.
On October 7th, 1974, Bhiksu Heng Yo and Upasaka Kuo Hwei Weber, both of Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, completed an eighteen day fast, during which they took in nothing but one cup of water per day. To really appreciate this, try going without food for a day or two. Although their energy level tapered off during the fast, they still participated in the scheduled events that take place here, including sitting in at the formal lunch hour.
Kuo Hwei said, "The challenge is to keep the mind off of food. During the first week I went back and relived every good meal I've had in the last twenty years; I even thought about some of the bad ones." Hung Yo reports, "It was definitely the most difficult thing that I have ever done. It says in the Surangama Sutra that when the mad mind stops, just that stopping is Bodhi. Now I really understand why it is called the mad mind. During the fast, even though my body was quite comfortable, my mind, because of past conditioning, kept programming out all of these incredibly powerful food thoughts. This mind, the sixth consciousness, is like a runaway computer. It takes a lot of effort to observe it dispassionately, and not be turned by all of its wild thoughts. After the first week of the fast, I found that I could sit in full lotus for several hours without moving."
It should be mentioned that fasting is no simple matter, and can be extremely dangerous, even deadly, if not done under the proper conditions. This fast was prepared for long in advance, and was supervised by monks who have had much experience in this dharma. When it is done right, great progress can be made in samadhi and wisdom.
I interviewed the two cultivators this morning, the nineteenth day, in the kitchen. They had lost twenty-five pounds each, their faces were narrow and their cheekbones were sticking out. Kuo Hwei was bent over the stove, boiling up a thin gruel of cream of rice. "I never thought mush could taste so fine," he said.
Upasaka Kuo Hui Weber Bhiksu Heng Yo
Pure Land and Ch'an Dharma Talks. Practical, no-nonsense instruction for those who wish to practice Buddhist recitation and/or Ch'an (Zen) meditation. Instructional talks by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua given during recitation and meditation sessions at Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco. Paperbound, 72 pp. $5.00.
The Sixth Patriarch's Dharma platform Sutra. The founding text of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, consisting of the teachings and autobiography of the Venerable Master Hui Neng, the greatest of the Chinese Ch'an masters. With illuminating, contemporary commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. Hardbound, 380 pp. $15.00.