Translated by Bhiksu Heng Kuan

Instructional talk given on the seventh day of the first week, the tenth month, 22nd day.

How pathetic are we of the present age. Everyone opens and closes his mouth to talk about understanding birth and liberation from death, but I fear that they did not know what birth is, or what is called death. Not only are worldly people like this, aren't those of us who work to accomplish the Way the same? For example, take the monks of today: in an entire day of work, I fear that they do not know what they are doing, what causes they are cultivating, and what results will be effected in the future. Among all of you, is there one person who understands? Every day passes completely in vain as you strike up confusion, not knowing how high the heavens are, or how thick the earth is, what the four sagely paths are, or what the six common paths are.

Those of us who dwell in the Ch'an Hall today: what causes are we cultivating, and what response will result in the future? Is there a single person who knows? You ought to consider this: I fear that if I did not teach you to work hard, wouldn't you still choose not to work?

Today all of you dwelling in the Ch'an Hall ought to know that you are planting the causes for accomplishing Buddhahood, and in the future you will certainly receive the retribution of this accomplishment. The ancients said: "As is the cause, thus is the effect. If you plant melons, you harvest melons; if you plant beans, you harvest beans."

All of us who work hard at cultivation should only kill our minds and let the ground fall to ruins. Don't talk about three years, for five years would be even better; or ten years, for twenty years would be better; or thirty years, for fifty years would be better yet. When it is all said and done, penetrating all the way to the end of great enlightenment is the ultimate goal. The ancients have said: "Hang your knapsack and bowl up high for as long as it takes to get enlightened."

One who truly practices, takes the investigation of "Who is mindful of the Buddha" as his proper cultivation. "Even if I don't become enlightened in one life, I vow that when I come again, not to ask whether it's another three lives, five worlds, thirty worlds, or fifty worlds, I will absolutely not cultivate a second Dharma door." If you are all able to have this solid will power in your cultivation, I dare guarantee that you will, with certainty, become enlightened. If you cultivate like this and don't become enlightened, haven't the Buddhas and Patriarchs told lies? The Old Man of Chao Ch'uan said: "If you are able to cultivate like this, and if you don't become enlightened, then you can cut off this Old Man's head."

The Dharma of "Who is mindful of the Buddha" is a method that is true and real, and not in vain. It is the Dharma that is inherent and originally complete in all beings, both with and without sentience. Only work hard, and don't ask whether or not you are becoming enlightened. When your efforts and skill have arrived, you will naturally become enlightened without having to think about it. But if your days are spent thinking about enlightenment and not working hard...can that get you enlightened? The ancients have said: "When the fruit is ripe it falls from the stem, and when the water arrives, the gutter is finished." You need not use thought to think about enlightenment, but only use the straight investigation of "Who is mindful of the Buddha." Investigate until the mountains crumble and the waters dry up, and only the one sound remains. When you arrive at this place, "you are like the person who drinks water and knows himself whether it is hot or cold."

Once in the past there was a Ch'an cultivator who lived in the Ch'an Hall for three years, but went astray from the others in the Hall. He felt that his skill could not penetrate deeply there, and went to live in the mountains. There he lived in a small hut, and planted some vegetables. During the day he guarded them so the wild birds wouldn't eat the sprouts. At night the tigers and wolves disturbed the stillness, so that day and night there was no peace. He became lazy and went astray from his cultivation. He lived in the mountains for three years, but his skill didn't arrive at a profound understanding, so he moved again, planning to seek a remote dwelling to go into seclusion.

Just at that time his work brought a response. The small conditions of two--three-years were transformed and he happened to meet a bright-eyed old lay lady. The old lady looked at him--"This high monk has a lot of Way virtue and cultivation"--and she invited him to her home to have some good vegetarian food. After he had consumed the offering of vegetarian food, they had a heart-to-heart chat, and their discussion was mutually quite agreeable.

"Great Master," said the old lady, "I will realize your wish to go into seclusion."

When the Ch'an cultivator heard that he exclaimed, "Very Good! I truly wish to go into seclusion!" The old lady then accompanied him to the hermitage.

This old lady had no other companions with her except a young daughter, aged 16, who was also enlightened. Everyday the old lady dispatched her to carry food to the high monk. From the first day to the last day she brought him food for three years. Then the old lady said to her, "You've already served food for three years. Today when you bring him his food, wait for the high monk to finish eating, then go up to him and hug him in an embrace and teach him the Way."

The young woman listened, remembered well, and did as told—went up and embraced him and taught him the way—"WAY!"

The high monk answered, "The withered tree leans against a cold cliff, three years without warm weather."

The young woman relaxed her embrace returned home and told her mother what had happened. The old lady listened, then went to scold the high monk, told him to pack up quickly, and burned the hut.

"I've made offerings for three years, and it's only been offerings to a dead son of Han!"

When the Ch'an Master heard that, his face blazed shame and he grabbed his bags and rushed off. Once again he went begging, full of pain and disgusted with himself for having received three years of offerings in a person's home without becoming enlightened. Having received her scolding he was filled with remorse, and so he applied his strength and worked hard.

He had begged for three years when he again arrived at the old lady's place. He chatted with her about cultivation, and she again wished to help him to accomplish his seclusion. He went into seclusion again for three years, and she again instructed her young daughter to bring him food to eat. When the three years were completed, the young woman followed the method of her mother's previous instructions and said, "THE WAY! THE WAY!"

When the Ch'an Master opened his mouth this time he said, "Heaven knows it, earth knows it, you know it, and I know it, but don't let the old lady know!"

The young woman returned and told what had happened. The old lady listened, and in her heart she was glad. She said to the high monk, "Good indeed! Good indeed! Congratulations upon becoming greatly enlightened!"

Now, haven't all of you together heard this? You should think it over: "You know, I know, but don't let the old lady know." If a worldly person said this, would it still be so good? You are probably all the same in your understanding of this, but if this is the sort of understanding you have, you are in error! I have instructed you so that you can understand from the basis of what is originally yours. You think it over. Have you understood or not? If you have not understood—Meditate!