Instruction given by the Venerable Ch’an Master Hsuan Hua during a two-week intensive session
Translated by Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih
Reviewed by Bhiksuni Heng Yin Edited by Upasika Kuo Yuan Larrick
Transcribed by Bhiksuni Heng Chu

12/23/73 evening

All of you people of the Way who have no minds, since you are called people of the Way with no minds, it is essential that you don't have a mind. If you have a mind, then you have false thinking. If you have no mind, you have a response. In the Ch'an hall, we are walking, walking, sitting, sitting; sitting a while, walking a while. Why do we do this? Because when you cultivate the Way it is essential that you understand the method of cultivation. If you don't understand the method of cultivation, then you don't know where to step. You don't know where to begin practicing.

In the Ch’an hall, walking subdues the body and sitting subdues the mind. Your body is caused to be without any sickness and your mind to be without any false thinking. When the body has no sickness, then it is healthy; when the body is strong and healthy, then you can do whatever you want to do. If your mind has no false thinking, then your mind is in samadhi. It is concentrated. If your mind is concentrated, then your nature is fixed.

So it's said,

When the nature is fixed, the demons are subdued,

And every day is happy.

When the false thoughts do not arise,

Then everywhere is peaceful.

If your mind isn't concentrated, then you can't subdue the demons. But if your mind is concentrated, then there are no demons at all. Gluttonous demons are no longer gluttonous. Lazy demons are no longer lazy. Heavenly demons lose their divinity, and earthly demons lose their earthliness. Human demons no longer have human form.

A concentrated mind can subdue the demons inside and it can subdue the demons outside. So it is said. "When the nature is fixed, the demons are subdued, and every day is happy." Every day you experience bliss. Not a day passes when you're not blissful.

"When false thoughts do not arise, then everywhere is peaceful." If you don't have any false thinking, then your mind is as composed as still water. It is like water without any waves—like pure still water. When your false thoughts don't arise, every place is peaceful.

Why is it that when you're here you feel that there is better? and when you go there, you feel that somewhere else would be even better? It's because your false thoughts have control over you. Your false thoughts control you and cause you to feel dissatisfied with where you are, and to feel that if you went elsewhere, it would certainly be better. They cause you to be dissatisfied with the way things are.

A saying goes, "Stand on this mountain, and that mountain is taller; when I arrive at that mountain, I have to stand on tiptoes." You stand on this mountain and you aren't satisfied because you see a taller mountain, but when you get to the other mountain, you still feel it's not high enough. You want to stand on your tiptoes to find a higher mountain yet. Why are we that way? Because we don't have the skill to subdue our bodies and our minds.

When we run around the room in the Ch'an hall, it's like having a race to see who's going to come in first. However, from the way I see it, everybody in the Ch'an hall is first, because we're running in a circle. From where I stand, I'm first, and from where you stand, you are first. From each person's point of view, each gets to be first.

But that kind of being first is unreal. Who is truly first? Whoever runs right to enlightenment is the one who is truly first. We aren't like other big track meets where the concern is who finishes in first place. We are interested in who will be the first to wake up. When we run around the room, we want to run right to enlightenment. The goal of our Olympic games is to become enlightened. If you don't become enlightened, it makes no difference how fast you run, it's useless. You still won't be a winner; you have to become enlightened to be a winner.

Whoever becomes enlightened is number one, whoever doesn't become enlightened comes in second. Those of you who want to be first, hurry up and become enlightened. You might say, “Well, how do you become enlightened?” How? Just be very reliable and diligent in your cultivation. Be dependable in your investigation of Ch’an. Be dependable in your sitting meditation. That means that you don't strike up false thoughts when you're sitting. You don't depend on things.

What is "depending on things"? It's when you say something like, "Now, I'm going to investigate dhyana and the Buddha is going to cause me to become enlightened, and the Bodhisattvas are going to help me become enlightened." Or, "I'm going to meet a great Good and Wise Advisor who will teach me how to become enlightened." Or perhaps, "If I believe in a certain person, he will teach me to become enlightened." All of those views are mistakes. That's not becoming enlightened (k'ai wu) it's just a mistake (ts'o wu). Why? Because you're depending on something.

You're depending on someone to teach you to become enlightened. How is that possible? If someone could tell you how to become enlightened, it wouldn't be necessary for you to eat to become full. Someone else could eat for you and you would become full. If that's possible, then somebody else could also tell you how to become enlightened. But when somebody else eats, you don't get full. You, yourself, have to eat in order to become full. Becoming enlightened is the same way.

You may say, "If you don't cultivate, somebody else can help you cultivate, and tell you how to become enlightened." But that's just like watching somebody else eat and trying to get full. If you can't get full when somebody else eats, then someone else can't help you become enlightened, either.

The most that a Good and Wise Advisor can do is tell you how to cultivate how to sit in meditation. Although that is pointing out the Way to you, it's still necessary for you to walk down the road yourself. If I you don't go yourself, then it hasn't been of any use. That's what depending on somebody means.

It also refers to not leaning against the wall when you're sitting. You think, "The wall is really solid. I'll lean back on it and I won't knock it over, I won't make a hole in it. If I lean back when I fall asleep, I won't fall down to the ground." I'll forewarn you: if you lean against the wall like that for a long time, you will spit blood; you'll get sick from it. So don't depend upon things, don't lean against the wall or stick a cushion behind you to soften the hard wall so that it feels more comfortable when you lean back. That's also a mistake.

People who cultivate the Way shouldn't be concerned about their own comfort. They shouldn't fear pain. "The more it hurts, the more I'm going to butt up against it." As soon as the pain comes then things start to get good. It's just to tell you to have some pain. Legs hurt? Then say, "Hurt a little more, hurt a little more." Back hurts? "Good, hurt a little more. I'm not paying any attention to you, do whatever you want. The more it hurts the more I want to sit. I'm going to battle with you and I'm going to come out on top." This is the way to not depend on anything.

But if instead you pile pillows up behind you, if you sit like that, it's going to lead to only one place, and that is to falling asleep. As soon as you get comfortable you fall asleep. If you're not so comfortably if the wall's a little harder, and it hurts when your back hits up against it, you won't sleep so much. So don't lean against the wall.

You should sit there and not rely on anything. You shouldn't lean backward. You shouldn't lean left or right. Say, "I'm not going to lean on anything. I'm going to get up my courage. I'm going to bring forth a heaven-filming resolve and decide to end birth and death. I am not going to be the least bit sloppy about it. I'm a great hero. I'm a great person. I'm extraordinary, far above my peers. I'm most unusual. How can I depend upon things?"

So people who cultivate the Way should stand on their own and not depend on anybody or anything, should not depend oil-any circumstance. "I want to sit very firmly with my body as tough as iron. If I cultivate and I don't become enlightened. I'm not going to rest. Each day I'm not enlightened, I'm not going to rest. I'm certainly going to figure out what my original face was like before my parents bore me."

You should make this kind of durable, strong, sincere resolve, this kind of constant resolve to cultivate the Way and develop your skill. During these two of us is all about. We want to clear up our own individual matters, so that we haven’t come into this world all confused, just waiting to die, not knowing how we’ll die. That’s really meaningless. We certainly want to know how we were born and how we will die.

Will we be comfortable when we die? And free? We want to cultivate until we are free to come and free to go. That’s true freedom.

If I want to come, then I come. If I want to go, then I go. When I come it is without affliction, when I go it is without worry. When I want to go, I just fold up my legs and say, “I’m going off to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.” You bid farewell to people just when you feel like it. That’s truly having control over birth and death.

What does it take to be that way? It takes just this preliminary work that we are now doing. If somebody doesn't want to die he first must develop his skill in dying. If you want to end birth and stop death, then you have to come up with some true skill.

So don't be afraid of the pain. Don't be afraid of the difficulty.   Don't be afraid of the suffering. Don't be afraid of anything, and then it will work.

A Ch'an session is like smelting vajra. We don't even fear living dragons and lively tigers. The more you want to sleep, the less I'll let you sleep. We'll see what kind of method you come up with. If you don't even have the least bit of energy how in the world are you going to be a cultivator? How can you accomplish the Way? People who accomplish the Way are all people with bones and blood. They all have spine.  No spineless, boneless, bloodless people can accomplish the Way.

12/24/73 evening

Yesterday I said that those great heroes and awesome leaders among the ancients were people with bones and breath and blood that enabled them to give rise to their accomplishments. "Bones" represents the fact that in a hundred choppings they were not disturbed. So it is said, "Hundreds of impediments do not bother him." No matter what state he encounters, he can subdue it. He is not turned by circumstances, but he can turn conditions. As it is said, "In the world the goal of people is to be victorious over heaven." If a person has a fixed determination, he can overcome the heavens. Common people think that heaven is the highest place of all, that nothing can surpass heaven. Still, It is said that if you have unswerving determination, you can be victorious even over heaven.

By "heaven" the ancients are implying God. But this God, this heavenly ruler, is not necessarily the Catholic or Christian God. Nor is the heavenly ruler the one spoken of in Confucianism. This heavenly ruler is just like a county official who must keep an eye on the rights and wrongs of the people. He is not the one and only Supreme Lord. Although he is above us, this heavenly ruler is not an unsurpassed lord.

In Confucianism it is said, "By eating vegetarian food, practicing prohibitions, and bathing clean, then one can wait upon the Supreme Lord." "Eating vegetarian food,” means one eats vegetables. "Practicing prohibitions,” means one holds the precepts, which means you do not violate them by engaging in lustful, desirous conduct. "Bathing clean,” means to wash clean your body, wash clean your mind. Then you can wait upon the Heavenly Lord. You can establish a mutual contact with the Heavenly Lord. You can reach the Heavenly Lord; that is, your sincerity will be known by the Heavenly Lord.

The ancient king, T'ang of the Shang dynasty said:

I, the small one, LU,

With the sacrifice of this black ox,

Presume to inform you, Magnificent Ruler, of this: when I have faults,

I do not blame the people.

When the people have faults,

Let the blame be placed with me.

King T'ang said, "I, the small one, LU." He spoke of himself as the "small one" and then added his name "LU". "With the sacrifice of this black ox, presume to inform you, Magnificent Ruler..." He uses the black ox to inform the Magnificent Ruler very clearly that "When I have faults," (if he has offenses), then "I do not blame the people." Don't blame the ordinary citizens, don't cast blame on the populace. He says, "When the people have faults," (or if the people have offenses), "Let the blame be placed with me."  The offenses belong to me. Why? Because I have not taught my people well. So when they commit offenses they are not to be blamed; blame me. In this way the King of Shang sought within himself. He acted in accord with propriety. He was able to take the offenses, the myriad offenses of others, and make them his own. He did not want his offenses, moreover, to be put on other people.

People who cultivate the Way also should have this kind of determined propriety. You shouldn't, when encountering profit, forget about the principle. When you see a sage, you should want to become his equal, to imitate him. When we people investigate Ch'an, we should find a model.  Whatever Patriarch's conduct I admire, I should choose to study that Patriarch and imitate him. Whatever Arhat's conduct I like, I should make that Arhat my mirror and allow him to reveal to me my shortcomings so that I may learn from him. Or perhaps I admire a particular Bodhisattva. I should make that Bodhisattva my model, always keeping his conduct in mind, as I do whatever I'm doing. In everything I do, I should follow that Bodhisattva's example and actually do what he did.

If my resolve is greater, if I feel I would like to practice the example set by a particular Buddha, then I should vow to follow the example set by that Buddha's cultivation, the determination exemplified in that Buddha.

Some people say, "Oh, but we're just ordinary people. How can we follow the examples of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? How can we follow the examples of Arhats and Patriarchs?" If you can't study and follow those examples, then you might as well not study Buddhadharma. Nor is there any need for you to come and investigate Ch'an because if you investigate Ch'an, that's like standing by the side of the river and wishing to gaze upon the sea. So if you want to study the Buddhadharma, as you begin you should know that basically we are no different from the Buddha. It is just because we have not cultivated that we haven't become Buddhas. We have not become Bodhisattvas, we have not become Arhats, we have not become Patriarchs because we have not chosen to cultivate.

If we are able to cultivate, Buddhas are just made from people. Bodhisattvas are also made from people, as are Arhats and Patriarchs. So we need only have sincere strength in our willpower and determination. Then we can realize any of these states. If your determination is to be a sage, then you will be a sage. If you have the determination to be a hero, then you will become a hero. If you have the determination of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, then you are a Buddha or Bodhisattva. Just see where your determination stands, where it is established. If your vision is far-sighted and your determination is solid, things certainly will accord with your wishes in the future.

So it is said, "Shun was a person, I am also a person. Why can't I do the things that great Emperor Shun can do? Maybe I can do them even better than him. I can transcend him." You should not belittle yourself. Dispense with your self-imposed boundaries. What does that mean? It means you draw a little line and say, "Oh, this is just the way I am. I can't go any farther. I can't progress any more. I haven't any great accomplishment." You draw a line on yourself. You should know that people are the most efficacious creatures among the ten thousand things. Everything is ruled by people. Without people there would be nothing. If there weren't any people, nothing in this world would be of any use.

So, If you are a Buddha, then just be a Buddha. If you are a Bodhisattva, then we'll see you as a Bodhisattva. But if no one receives your teachings, then you are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are unemployed.

So it is people who propagate the Way. The Way does not propagate people. Everything is ruled by people, so if there weren't any people in our Ch'an hall, it would be of no use. Having this many people in the hall investigating Ch'an increases the bright light and dazzling adornment of the Ch'an hall immeasurably. If no people were cultivating in the Ch'an hall, then the Ch'an hall would go on strike. So, everybody, be resolute and hold firmly to your determination to become Buddhas. We should hurry up and become Buddhas and we will be able to teach and transform Western living beings.

At the outset of Buddhism in the West, if you don't become Buddhas a little sooner, then you are delaying the living beings of the West from becoming Buddhas. You do not know how many people are behind you waiting for you to save them. Do you still want to be lazy and not stand on your own, and rely on other people? You should stand on your own. Take up what you should take up, and put down what you ought to put down. Get your skill precise so that you don't lose track of your goal for even a fraction of a second.

Take a look at Mao T'se T'ung swimming in the great river. The newspapers say he goes as fast as a steamship. Never mind steamships, we should be faster than rockets. Mao T'se T'ung is going to swim the river and we're going to swim across the great void.

Don't look upon yourself as so small. Don't say, "I'm a common person; I cannot become a Buddha." You just lack confidence. Don't look down on yourself. It is said,

Don't find yourself despicable;

Don't throw yourself away.

If you can be like that, then if you want to become a Buddha, you certainly can become a Buddha. If you want to become a Bodhisattva, that's not difficult either. To become a Sage is even less of a problem. You just have to believe in yourself, believe that you ultimately can become a Buddha.  Don't not believe in yourself. If you can see yourself as a great hero among the ancients and moderns, a Great Sage, think of yourselves as being their brothers and sisters and you will be the same as them.

But they're not the only ones, however. Earlier I was talking about the Lord on High. Well, the Lord on High should be beneath me. I'm going to transcend the Lord on High. So there is a saying:

Don't yield to the ancients

As the only ones with wisdom;

Just because you're ancient,

What's so unusual about you?

What is so unusual about them? Say, "What if-you are already an ancient? I'm going to be even better that you right now." Don't yield to the ancients, recognizing them as the only wise ones. Yield means to be polite to, to make concessions to them. Don't be polite to the ancients. With a single blow I can flatten you, and then I can turn around and save you again. So, you should believe in yourself and not suppose that your contemporaries exceed you and-go beyond your measure either. So you shouldn't say of the current president, "Oh, I couldn't possibly compare with him." You should be a great good learned one in the world and go and teach and transform the President. This is what it means by not yielding to the people of the present as beyond, your measure.

This kind of will stands on the earth With its crown in the heavens. It can break through space. I use my will power to fill up empty space. I fill up empty space with my will, so there's no room left for it. That's the way it is. Don't look upon yourself as so small, like a tiny ant that can just steal money. Don't be like that. And don't be like a rat that only knows how to steal cheese, beans, and grain to eat. This is meaningless.

Then, make great vows such as those, made by two monks from Gold Mountain who have vowed to bow once every three steps to Washington. In making that kind of great vow, you shouldn't have even one false thought. If you make a big vow and then you have a few false thoughts, these can obscure the big vow. So don’t have false thoughts about killing, don't have false thoughts about stealing, don't think about saying false things or drinking a little wine or looking at pretty women or taking intoxicating drugs; don't have these kinds of false thoughts. As soon as you have these kinds of false thoughts, the gods, dragons, and others of the Bight-fold division, the Dharma-protectors and good spirits, and the eighty-four thousand Vajra. Store Dharma Protectors who follow you must simultaneously retreat. And, when the Vajra Store Dharma Protector-Bodhisattvas retreat, then the retinue of demons-attack. That's why that ghost came to bully you. If you hadn't had those false thoughts, then the demonic ghost wouldn’t have had even a little crack to get in, no hole to squeeze through.

This is very, very important. No matter what house you stay in, no matter where you stay, be especially careful not to let your samadhi power become diffused and scattered by striking up false, improper thoughts. This is very important, very important.

So today I have used some of this precious time to explain these important doctrines to you. The Way is actual practice; it's not something that's just spoken of. If you actually go and practice, then that is immeasurably better than just speaking. So it is said,

Spoken well, spoken wonderfully,

Without real practice

There is no actual Way.

The Way is to be practiced. Without practice, then of what use is the Way? Virtue is done; if it's not done, then what virtue is there? If you don't do virtuous things then the virtue is not there.

12/25/73 evening

Speaking Dharma is to teach people to break all of their attachments. When you have no attachments, then you very naturally obtain liberation. If you have attachments, then you cannot become liberated. No one is tying you up so you can't become liberated, but you have attachments, so you can't attain liberation.

As to attachments, even in investigating Ch'an there are attachments which can occur. One says, "I am a Ch'an Master." In studying the teachings attachments arise when one says, "I'm a Dharma Master." Holding to the Vinaya has the attachments involved in holding to the Vinaya. One says, "I am a Vinaya Master." When cultivating the Secret School, an attachment to holding mantras arises. "I am a Secret School Vajra Superior Master." People who recite the Buddha's name also give rise to attachments, saying, "Oh, I'm one who is Mindful of the Buddha and cultivates the Pure Land."

Because of these attachments, the very lively and animated Buddhadharma is relegated to a very rigid kind of worldly dharma. Buddhadharma is the study of leaving all attachments worldly dharma promotes attachments. If you can dispense with all attachments, then you are in accord with the whole of creation. If you want to understand this then you must first make a great sacrifice. A great sacrifice is just great giving. Giving what? Giving away the attachments, giving away your greed, giving away your anger, giving away your stupidity.

When you investigate the Buddhadharma, the investigation of what's just before your eyes is more than enough for you to deal with. You don't have to run to India to seek the Buddhadharma and go to Nepal to get the Tripitaka and then go to the Himalayan mountains to see if the snow the Buddha sat in is red or not. Searching for answers in this way is called "renouncing what is near and seeking what is far." It is called "forsaking the root and grasping at the branches." One of my disciples went to India to find a master and in the end her master ended up in jail. So she returned to San Francisco and then she left home. Would you say this is strange, or not? If she'd just left home here in the first place she could have saved more than a thousand dollars. That thousand dollars could have bought a Tripitaka to put in the library, A Dharma treasure I which would have been here permanently.

Now it is still not too late, you can work well and develop your skill in cultivation. Don't just seek after profit and name. People who cultivate the Way should put aside their thoughts of fame and profit. These small matters of name and fame everybody likes, but the great matter of birth and death is something no one wants to face. Everyone neglects the great matter of birth and death, except those few of us here in the Ch'an hall who know that birth and death is a big problem and want to learn how to end birth and death. We want to study that Dharma-door. We want not to fear any kind of difficulty, any kind of suffering, or any kind of pain. Sleep less, eat less, and apply your skill to cultivation. When you eat, don't eat too much. If you eat too much it's easy to doze off.

Sleep and dozing belong to yin. When one is not dozing that is yang. I have often explained before that if you restrict your eating, you will dispense with ghosts. Eat less. Don't eat too little, but don't eat too much.  Neither too much nor too little. If you eat too much, your stomach will complain. If you restrict your eating and drinking, then you will get rid of the ghosts. If you are yin then the ghosts come; if you are yang then the ghosts go.

to be continued


THE AMITABHA SUTRA, with commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. Sakyamuni Buddha spoke the Amitabha Sutra to let all living beings know of the power of Amitabha Buddha's great vows to lead all who recite his name with faith to rebirth in his Buddhaland the Land of Ultimate Bliss, where they may cultivate and quickly realize Buddhahood. 204 pages, $5.95.