"Cultivating, cultivating.... the more we cultivate, the more unreasonable it gets." These are my immediate impressions after the conclusion of the Chan Session.
"Cultivating is like going into battle. You must first get enough to eat and nourish your energy, and then you will be victorious. If the cooks do not do a good job, and the soldiers go hungry, they will definitely lose the battle. In China, when a Chan Session is held, the residents of the monastery must give their full support, and the names of the people cooking the food and brewing tea are posted up, so if something is done badly, you will know whom to complain to. In Chinese medicine, if you want to know whether a patient can be cured, just check his appetite. If he does not eat, you know for sure that he is incurable. In the Chan Hall, it doesn't matter if the cultivator usually practices not eating after noon or eating once a day. He will be requested to break his practice until the end of the Chan Session... I have said many times today that upon entering the Chan Hall, you should put everything down and single-mindedly cultivate the Tao. Do not discriminate between self and others. Your mind is so petty that you always look at others' faults. Instead of recognizing your own mistakes, you always find fault with others and disturb their cultivation. Whoever said this was an Eating Session was slandering the Buddha, slandering the Dharma, and slandering the Sangha. That is a deviant outlook. By meditating for one hour, you can consume a thousand meals. The Patriarchs established the regulations of the Chan Hall to have a certain wonderful function, and they should not be increased or decreased in any way. If you want to cultivate, you cannot have the slightest arrogance; do not criticize everything you see. Originally, I did not want to handle this, but the Venerable Master asked me to. I will do everything according to the Chan Hall regulations, and even the Venerable Master has to listen to me. Since the Chan Hall is a place for people with sharp faculties, it is only open to Bhikshus. Bhikshunis and laypeople are not allowed to go in. Bhikshunis are unruly and hard to teach, and once they go in they obstruct the Tao instead of cultivating it." That was Host of the Chan Session, who spent much of the meditation time, earnestly and incessantly instructing us on how to eat our fill, get enough sleep and nurture our body and mind in order to cultivate the Tao.
While in the Chan Hall, I strongly felt that in an ordinary temple today, people are taught to eat and drink, to break the rule of not eating after noon, and even to eat only fresh food to nourish their bodies, all in the name of cultivation. Only the Venerable Master teaches us the Dharma-door of eating less and reducing desires, and of nurturing our wisdom life and Dharma-body by taking Dhyana bliss for food. It is said that the Chan Hall is for people with sharp faculties, but if they really have sharp faculties, maybe they would be enlightened even before they step into the Chan Hall. I wondered, how did great monks such as Great Master Chang Ren and the Venerable Master attain such a lofty, ultimate state? It is because in their cultivation, they simply forgot about their physical body. When there is food, you should cultivate; but when there is no food, it is even more essential to cultivate. By letting go of birth and death, we can transcend this physical body and roam freely. Ironically, the Dharma brothers who could have meditated with us in this Chan Hall were instead so busy in the kitchen serving the three-meals-a-day "cultivators" that they got sick. And yet they were blamed for providing poor service—this certainly shows how great the "cultivators" are!
'In the Chan Hall, you must follow instructions without objection, whether they are right or wrong. When told to wear your straw sandals backwards, you should say, 'Okay.'" "The virtue of patience surpasses that of holding precepts and practicing ascetism." I read this sentence in the
Sutra of the Bequeathal of the Buddha 's Teaching during a time when everything was going well, just after I left the home-life. In that period, I thought about the ancient great men and sages who achieved their greatness in the midst of adversity, and learned patience only after being tested. Later, when I encountered states of adversity, I could not take it. But then I thought about the resolve I had made, and knew I must compliantly and patiently accept those states. Unexpectedly, there was another kind of test in the Chan Hall, and it seems that by trying to be compliant and patient, I had lost the game again.
When we entered the Chan Hall at the beginning, all the Bhikshus were complying with the rules and no one said anything. The Host of the Session kept saying that since the Venerable Master had approved everything, he would not accept objections. Besides, the participation of the Bhikshunis was already a special favor. At that time, I just wanted to concentrate on meditating, so I didn't think further, and I also didn't wear my kashaya sash. The first night, during silent meditation, I kept having false thoughts...I made up a lot of excuses for not wearing the sash, but the next morning I felt very uncomfortable so I put it back on. A Dharma brother came up to me and said," It is a rule in the Chan Hall to not wear the sash. When we cultivate alone or meditate in our own room, we also do not wear the sash. We only assume the appearance of a Sangha member in public." Maybe that's also why we do not wear the sash when working outdoors or doing Tai ji chwyan (shadow-boxing). After I left the Chan Hall, I put on the kashaya again. Another fellow cultivator told me, "When you are here to learn from someone, you have to follow his instructions. The Venerable Master said that if you do not listen to him, you will have to leave the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas." When she mentioned the Venerable Master, I got confused and thought it might be okay if I temporarily comply. Was I being patient, or had I lost my integrity? I took off the sash again. However, I was used to wearing the sash, and now it was hard to not wear it. I wanted to run out and find a Dharma brother to help me resolve my doubts, but in vain.
I recalled last year's big event in which two Bhikshus who had committed major offenses took off their sashes. Demoted to the rank of novices, they exchanged their yellow robes for gray ones. Wearing yellow and gray robes without the sashes, we looked like a bunch of criminals. The robes also resembled sleeping gowns, and I felt uneasy with men and women sitting together in that dim hall, but I tried not to think about it. I remember once the Venerable Master told a young monk, "If you don't wear the sash, you'll have thoughts of lust and want to return to lay-life," and so the monk requested his master's permission to wear the sash. Only now do I realize the protection provided by the sash. Without this protection, men and women casually conversed with one another and engaged in discussions with the Session Host, and the Hall resounded with talk and laughter. In the end, some "dedicated meditators" no longer shaved their heads, and the regulations made in the beginning were changed at the whim of the Session Host. I really felt like I had returned to worldly life. I thought I was just following the rules of the Chan Hall, until a Dharma brother scolded me, "Where is your sash?" I snapped to attention and put it back on.
To be continued