Instruction given by
Ch'an Master Hsuan Hua
Translation by
Bhikshuni Heng Ch'ih
Reviewed by
Bhikshuni Heng Yin
Edited by
Upasika Kuo Yuan Larrick

December 25, 1973, evening


      This year those who are in attendance at the Ch'an session are very sincere. I see that although some are sleeping, there are fewer sleeping than in the past. We have made progress. This may well be because we now have more Good Learned Advisors staying here, and they have influenced people to work hard at their cultivation. Originally, when a Ch'an session was going on, people didn't even wash their faces, brush their teeth, or cut their beards or their hair. During a Ch'an session, they didn't know heaven was heaven, earth was earth, and that there were people in between. They didn't know that heaven' was above, that earth was below and that there were people in between because they'd forgotten everything and put everything down.

That kind of skill brings a response, even to point in the session when you don't even know what day it is. You don't know, "Oh, today's the third day." You haven't any idea; it's just as though the session had just begun exactly the same. Time passes very quickly if you don't attach to it; there is no time. If you attach to it, you count one day, two days, three four, five days, and then it's just like any other week. But there's no time if you don't attach, there is no past no present, no future. If you can be that way, putting down your body and mind, you yourself can become a Buddha. If you can put down your body and mind, if you can be without attachments, then you certainly can become a Buddha.

In this Ch'an session there's a little something that's not quite perfect. What is it? Although many people are not talking, some are talking a great deal, like me. Every night I get up here and spend some time talking to you. But, of course, in the Ch'an hall, talking is open, is public, when you give instruction. So this is all right. What is not in accord with the rules is to go up to the bathroom and have a meeting. It's not very appropriate to make it into a meeting hall. Basically, the bathroom is a pretty smelly place, I often hear many people talking in the bathrooms. It's my hope that we can get rid of this particular problem, and that would make our Ch'an session even better. Our Ch'an session would be even more perfect. If you haven't ever lived at Gold Mountain or Kao Min Monasteries, you don't know the rules of the Ch'an hall. At Kao Min in China people all lived together and would go for several years without ever saying a word to one another. They might have slept side by side, sat side by side, but still they didn't really know one another; they did not even know each other's names. Such practice is called, "genuinely putting it down." They are truly Mahasattvas who don't pay attention to anybody else. Amitabha Buddha, everyone for himself.

We are planting the seeds of Buddhism in America, and the very best way to do this is to establish the foundation very well. So, we are particularly thorough in our ceremonies, classes, and in all of our public meetings. In a Ch'an session we should be even more true about our work. We need even more not to be sloppy. We don't, at the beginning, want to turn it into the very end for Buddhism.

In the beginning, we must establish the proper Dharma. If it turns into the Dharma Ending Age, that's not right. So, in this country, we want to uphold and propagate the Proper Dharma. We ourselves want to practice the Proper Dharma, and we want to spread the Proper Dharma. It's certain that we can't be sloppy about it. We can't be lazy, we can't be fond of leisure, we can't be lax. That’s the way we should be. If I say any more, I’ll just be taking more time. We should continue to work on our own, and develop our own skill. That’s very important.

December 26, 1973, evening

In cultivating do not seek outside.

Recognition of the right road is essential.

If indeed you find the proper path.

Birth and death will quickly come to rest.

These four sentences say that when people cultivate the Way, they should apply their efforts to the mind ground; they should not seek outside. You want to attain the Dharma Door of the mind ground. If you don't obtain that Dharma Door, then you don't know how to cultivate. That's why the next line says it's essential to recognize the road. If you know how to cultivate, birth and death aren't big problems. You'll be able to end birth and death quite spontaneously. But if you don't understand how to cultivate, you are like the blind being led by the blind, and that's useless.

This is why it was the custom of the ancients who cultivated the Way to go around visiting Good Learned Advisors in order to find such a one to draw near to and study with. They believed that when their potentials had ripened, they would be able to meet a Good Learned Advisor who could instruct them in the methods for cultivating the Way.

But it's not the case that someone is going to deliver the Dharma on your doorstep. When the ancients went out to look for teachers, they endured a great deal of hardships and tribulations. Even so, it wasn't certain that they all would meet Good Learned Advisors. So it is said, "It is difficult to meet a Good Learned Advisor."

Now, at Gold Mountain Monastery, the Good Learned Advisors from the ten directions are continually instructing us and making it possible for us to know how we should go about cultivating. You can say that this atomic age is certainly not the same as past ages. Now, as we sit in Gold Mountain Monastery, Good Learned Advisors from all countries and from all the ten directions are teaching and transforming us. We should be grateful.

We should also be vigorous. If we are vigorous, we can make progress every day. If we are thankful to our Good Learned Advisors, then we have not forgotten our source. People who cultivate the Way should be extremely careful not to become self-satisfied, arrogant, or haughty. If you are self-satisfied, then you won't make progress. If you are arrogant, then you won't be able to learn from those beneath you. You should feel that what you know is very little, and study with other people. Learn from other people, seek wisdom from everyone. You should be open to both favorable and adverse situations. You should be able to accept not only pleasant states, but also unpleasant ones. You shouldn't say that you can't stand unpleasant experiences, nor should you just endure what is unpleasant and remain unreceptive to what is agreeable or pleasant.

If you are attached to what is pleasant--to what is agreeable, or compliant—or to what is adverse--unpleasant--then you can't obtain samadhi. For example, if someone praises you and you like it, then you have been moved by the wind of compliance. If people slander you and you are stirred up, then you have been moved by an opposing or adverse wind. Whether compliant or opposing, you should progress right through them. What is compliant is a Good Learned Advisor, and what is opposing is all the more a Good Learned Advisor. It is said that adverse situations--situations of adversity--create heroes.  Heroes are made from situations that are not easy to get through. When adversity comes you should take it as though it were an agreeable state. This is being equally near to and involved in compliant and adverse states. Of course, you must recognize them for what they are, because if you don't, then that's completely useless.

Speaking of this, I recall the case of a certain "sutra-hustling ghost." This was a monk who spent all day reciting sutras for people in order to save the souls of their dead relatives. He hustled sutras and was called a "Na mwo." All day long he droned, "Na mwo, na mwo, na mwo" ("homage, homage") one knows not how many times. He recited so many "Na mwo's", but he was always na mowing for other people; he never na mwoed for himself. He never na mwoed to see what he himself was doing.

So, one day he went off to Na mwo for somebody, and afterwards he set out for home. It was probably fairly late in the day as he was returning when he went past a little village and a dog barked at him. Inside the house where the dog was barking he heard an old woman's voice say, "Hey, take a look and see who it is. What’s the dog barking so fiercely about?" A man got up and peeked out of a hole in the window. The window wasn’t made of glass, but of oiled paper. There was a hole in the paper, so he peeked out of it. The woman kept saying, "Who is it? Who is it? Do you recognize him?" The man said, “Oh, be quiet, it’s just the sutra-reciting ghost." He said "sutra-reciting ghost" so loud that the monk heard it and wondered, "Hey, why did he call me a sutra-reciting ghost? I'm always reciting sutras for people, and he calls me a sutra-reciting ghost."

But there wasn't anything he could do about it, after all; he did go around reciting sutras for people, and if someone wanted to call him a sutra-reciting ghost he couldn't go to court and file a suit. So he kept his temper and swallowed his hurt feelings. When the opposing came, he accepted it compliantly and walked on.

Pretty soon he came to a bridge. It started to rain and this made him very unhappy, so he crawled down under the bridge to get out of the rain. There he was, trying to keep dry, and without anything to do. There were no dead people under the bridge, so he couldn't help them with his Na mwoing. Since there were no Na mwo affairs to do under the bridge, he decided to Na mwo himself. He said to himself, "Hey, everybody says sitting in meditation isn't bad. I'll try sitting in meditation; I'll try it out." So he sat down and pulled his legs into full lotus. He got his legs all arranged and sat there, and immediately a wonderful state appeared.

What state? Two ghosts appeared. Here he was, day after day crossing over ghosts, and although he had never, never seen a ghost he wasn't afraid of them. He was more or less in the retinue of ghosts—he was that far gone--so when he saw the ghosts he wasn't afraid. Ghost said, "Hey, what's a golden pagoda doing here? I've never seen that here before." The other ghost said, "Oh, a golden pagoda has the Buddha's sariras in it. We'd better go bow to it. The Buddha's Dharma Body is there."

So the two ghosts started bowing like chickens eating grain. They bowed over and over and over and over again. But they didn't knock their heads on the ground when they bowed because, after all, they were ghosts'. There was just this yin energy there bowing.

So, they were bowing in a very agitated way. Standing up, bowing, standing up, kneeling, bowing, standing up...

Since this cultivator was on pretty friendly terms with ghosts (he crossed them over every day) he considered all the ghosts he crossed over as his special friends, and so he wasn't afraid.

But soon, aft r he had sat for a while, his legs refused to cooperate. His legs said, "It hurts, it hurts, it hurts." They started crying, "Pain, pain." As soon as they yelled "pain, pain" he listened to them. He listened to his legs talking to him. He said, "Okay, I'll liberate you." So he eased out of full lotus posture into half lotus. And there were the ghosts, bowing and bowing.

Once when they were standing up, they took a look in front of them, and then they stopped to confer with each other. One said, "Hey, that was a golden pagoda. How did it turn into a silver one? That's really strange." The other ghost said, "Oh, what difference does it make? Gold pagoda, silver pagoda...Silver pagodas also have the Buddha's Dharma Body inside. We ought to keep bowing." So they started bowing, bowing, bowing again, but by now they probably weren't as fast as chickens eating grain. They were bowing more and more slowly. They kept it up for another half-hour or maybe even an hour. In general, you shouldn't get attached to how long it was.

But eventually, the monk couldn't take it any longer. His legs were complaining again. They started making an uproar and screaming, "Oh, the pain is unimaginable. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. We just can't stand the pain any longer." The legs made such a ruckus that he thought, "Okay, okay, okay, I'll liberate you." So he slipped out of half lotus and just sat in an ordinary, casual fashion, just as he pleased. Then the ghosts got enlightened. They said, "Look, that's not a gold pagoda or a silver pagoda either. Basically, it's just a mound of mud. We've really been fooled. Let's—-kick it. Let's kick this mound of mud." To them the monk now looked like a mound of mud, but as soon as he heard the ghosts were going to kick him, he immediately got back into full lotus. As soon as he got his legs crossed over each other, the ghosts blinked in astonishment. They said, "Look. It's a gold pagoda again. It transformed into a gold pagoda again. We'd better keep bowing." So, the two of them continued to bow.

They bowed until dawn, until a cock crowed. Then they left and the cultivator thought, "Oh, full lotus is a golden pagoda, half lotus is a silver pagoda, and sitting any way you please is a mound of mud. That's really inconceivable. Okay, after this I'm not going to be a sutra-reciting ghost any more. I'm going to change my trade. I'm going to make a jeweled hall of the Buddha. I'm going to become a gold pagoda."

And after that everyday he sat in full lotus. After sitting for a time, he became enlightened, and after becoming enlightened, he thought, "Wow: Who was my Good Learned Advisor? Turns out it was those two ghosts." So after that he called himself the Dhyana Master Pressured by-Ghosts. The ghosts forced him into cultivating.

So, everyone, if you see a ghost you shouldn't be afraid. If you cultivate well, the ghosts won't be able to give you any trouble. You should be a little more sincere and not be afraid of anything. Put everything down.  Ghosts helped this Dhyana Master cultivate, so, people who cultivate the Way, no matter what experience you have, if you can avoid being turned by it you will develop samadhi power. If the eight winds don't move you, then you have wisdom power. Where do samadhi power and wisdom power come from? First of all, you must hold the precepts. When your morality is thoroughly pure you do not do anything bad and offer up all good conduct. When you don't commit any evil acts, day by day your of tenses get smaller. And, when you offer up all good conduct, your merit and virtue increase every day. Increasing your merit and virtue is an aid to your morality, samadhi, and wisdom. When you decrease your offenses, your greed, hatred, and stupidity are also diminished. Therefore, when your precepts, samadhi, and wisdom are perfected, greed, hatred, and stupidity disappear.

You should know that the merit and virtue derived from sitting in full lotus are not merely a golden pagoda, but rather a pagoda adorned with the seven precious gems: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, red pearls, mother-of-pearl, and carnelian. If you can merely sit is full lotus, the merit from just sitting is inconceivable. It's very easy to enter samadhi when you sit in full lotus, and it's also easy to increase your wisdom. When you sit in full lotus, that is just the precepts; that is just samadhi. Sitting in full lotus is just the power of wisdom. Full lotus increases all kinds of merit and virtue. If you can sit in full lotus, in the future you will certainly have the opportunity to achieve Buddhahood. The Buddhas of the ten directions all attained realization from sitting in full lotus, so you shouldn't look upon full lotus as an ordinary thing.

Earlier we were talking about the two ghosts who pressured the sutra-reciting ghost into cultivating the Way; this is just a bit of a response. If the merit and virtue of sitting in full lotus were spoken of in detail, and if its advantages were enumerated in detail, one couldn't finish speaking to the ends of the bounds of the future. Therefore, those who cultivate, the Way should bear a short period of suffering in order to accomplish limitless, boundless merit and virtue. If you can't endure this period of suffering, then you won't be able to accomplish this unlimited merit and virtue. So, force yourself to do the difficult. If you can sit in full lotus until it doesn't hurt no matter how long you sit, then you certainly will be able to certify to the fruit. You'll be able to certify to the safely fruit without a shadow of a doubt because your skill will be mature. And when your skill is mature, it is impossible not to certify to the fruit of sage-hood.

Good, now I'm going to give all of you a prediction. I hope that all of you will become Dhyana Masters pressured by suffering, Dhyana Masters pressured by tigers, Dharma Masters pressured by pain. What is meant by pressured by suffering? Well, attending a meditation session involves a lot of suffering. What we eat is very ordinary, and the Ch'an hall is cold. This makes it very bitter. But when you are smelted and refined in the bitterness, it then becomes very sweet. So it is said,

If the plum tree did not endure cold that chills to the bone,

How could the fragrance of its blossoms be so sweet?

So, you can become Dhyana Masters pressured by suffering.

You can also become Dhyana Masters pressured by tigers. We won't speak of Dhyana Masters pressured by ghosts, we'll be pressured by tigers. You look at a Ch'an hall, and it is as though there are tigers following along behind ready to bite you, to eat you. You think, "I'd better hurry up and concentrate on being vigorous because everyone here is like a tiger. If you can become accomplished in the midst of this situation you will become a Dhyana Master Pressured by Tigers, or a Dhyana Master Pressured by Pain.

You sit and your legs hurt. That pain is just to see if you have a true heart, see if you truly have the mind to cultivate the Way, truly have the mind to become a Buddha.

Do you want to become a Buddha? Then don't be afraid of pain or suffering. If you're afraid of pain you can't become a Buddha. We can become Dhyana Masters pressured by pain. But then, thinking it over, being a Dhyana Master isn't a very high position, so what we should become is Bodhisattvas pressured by suffering, Bodhisattvas pressured by tigers, Bodhisattvas pressured by pain. And yet this still isn't the ultimate goal. Ultimately we must become Buddhas accomplished through the pressure of suffering, Buddhas accomplished through the pressure of tigers, and Buddhas accomplished through the pressure of pain. With those three criteria fulfilled, you are absolutely certain to become a Buddha.

Now, I have already transmitted predictions to all of you, so go ahead and cultivate! Someone is thinking, “There’s not much interesting about becoming a suffering Buddha.” Buddhas do not suffer. When you cultivate, it is suffering. When you become a Buddha, it is not.