CH'AN TALKS OF THE VENERABLE
Translated by Bhiksu Heng Kuan
CH'AN MASTER LAI KUO
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
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
"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
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!