We all know that none fo us can compare to the Sixth Patriarch. Therefore, we ought to suffer a little more than the Sixth Patriarch suffered. Even the Sixth Patriarch had to undergo countless trials and tribulations before he managed to accomplish what he did. If we can't endure difficult situations, how can we consider ourselves real Buddhists? We must stick to our principles and face the adversities as they come. Praise and slander should not move our minds. If we can be this way, then we will be able to subdue dragons and tigers just as the Sixth Patriarch did. If we don't get mad at people, then we have subdued the dragon.
What is the dragon? Our temper is as inconceivable as a dragon; it can appear and vanish, increase and decrease, at a moment's notice. Like a dragon, our temper comes and goes suddenly; it transforms in endless ways, but one cannot discover its source. What's meant by a tiger? Our anger is as powerful as a tiger.
Fiery ignorance and a tigerlike spirit
Are rooted in the offenses of past lives.
The offenses you created in past lives cause you to get angry all the time in the present life. Your anger leads to all sorts of trouble. Without anger, there are no problems. If you keep your temper and avoid getting angry, then you've subdued the dragon and the tiger. Not letting the fire rise in your liver is subduing the dragon. Not getting afflicted is subduing the tiger.
When one's attainment in the Way is lofty,
dragons and tigers are subdued.
When one's virtue is profound,
ghosts and spirits are respectful.
If one is virtuous, then even ghosts and spirits respect one, not to mention people.
When I was at Nanhua Monastery, there was a Chan Hall built on the right side, at the site of what used to be a pond with a poisonous dragon in it. The dragon often came out to make trouble. On rainy days, the dragon would show off its spiritual powers. It would emit such a noxious vapor that some of the cultivators would pass out or go insane from breathing it. That's how bad the poison was.
One cloudy day, the dragon appeared in a large body that covered the entire pond. It began stirring up a storm that devastated all the trees of the forest. The monks were afraid and informed the Sixth Patriarch. When the Sixth Patriarch took a look, he smiled and said, "Your spiritual powers are not small. You can appear in a large body and in a small body, appearing and vanishing just like that. If you're really a divine dragon, then let's see you transform your big body into a small one right now!"
When the dragon heard the Sixth Patriarch challenge him, he shrank himself to the size of a worm, three inches long, and swam back and forth in the water.
The Sixth Patriarch said, "You can appear in a big body or a small body as you wish, but you wouldn't dare jump into my bowl, would you? If you really have spiritual powers, then I dare you to get into my bowl."
Dragons are highly competitive and love to be in the top position. In China, emperors called themselves "The True Dragon, the Son of Heaven," because they wanted to be number one. When the Sixth Patriarch dared the dragon to get into his bowl, the dragon thought, "You say I don't dare? I'll show you!" Then he jumped into the Sixth Patriarch's bowl; and once he was in, he couldn't get out. That's how the Sixth Patriarch subdued the poisonous dragon.
I am reminded of one of my own experiences. Cultivators of the Way should never be rash. They should not be greedy for quick results or for spiritual powers. If you advance quickly, you will also retreat quickly. That's why we want to go slowly. We don't want to be so scientifically advanced that we take a rocket to the heavens. We want to go one step at a time. Climbing to the heavens one step at a time is true skill! If you rely on a rocket to take you to the heavens, then it doesn't count as your own skill.
I remember that I took a very honest disciple named Jielin Lu, who was a tailor. Later, he left the home-life with me and cultivated very diligently. Once I sent him to the countryside to do an errand. I gave him my dust whisk, the one in the White Whisk Hand, and told him not to use it unless there was an emergency. "If there's no great trouble, then don't use it. Use it only in an emergency."
When he arrived in the countryside, many sick people came and asked him to heal them. What do you think he did? He took my whisk and waved it over one person, curing him. Then he tapped another sick person with it and he was healed as well. People went wild and sought him out day and night, and he had no time to rest because he was busy curing illnesses using the whisk. He had never formally learned the White Whisk Hand, but he just copied the way he saw me do it usually.
When he returned, he said, "Teacher, your whisk is really efficacious! No matter what kind of illness a person has, all I have to do is tap him with the whisk, and he's cured." "You'd better watch out. All those illnesses may end up with you!" I told him.
He continued working at his cultivation and didn't pay much heed to my words. Later I took him along to Nanhua Monastery. That's when he became possessed by a demon that was not afraid of the White Whisk Hand. The demon was known as the Hundred-Son Poisonous Snake, because it would have one hundred offspring each time it reproduced. This snake caused a lot of mischief at Nanhua Monastery. How? It would invariably possess one of the novice monks or nuns during every precept transmission ceremony held at Nanhua Monastery and cause him or her to go berserk.
Venerable Elder Master Hsu could not do anything about it when it happened. The novice who went berserk would claim that he had attained Buddhahood and that his Buddha-name was such and such. He would run around naked, blabbering this nonsense without feeling the least bit embarrassed, causing a spectacle among the preceptees. Venerable Elder Master Hsu transmitted the precepts at Nanhua Monastery for many years, and every year this would happen. That particular year, it was my disciple's turn. When he went berserk, his strength was such that he could overpower more than ten people. His body gave off a nauseating stench that made people vomit as soon as they smelled it. He went into fits of insanity day and night, and he would say, "My teacher's Dharma is phony. The Forty-two Hands and Eyes are false." He said this because the demon possessing him was intent on destroying the proper Dharma.
At that time, Dharma Master Ming Xiang was at the monastery. He was over eighty years old, and yet he still slept sitting up. He had left home when he was eight and had cultivated diligently since then. He had attended eight ninety-six-day sessions during which he constantly walked and never slept. During such sessions, one usually recites the Buddha's name or upholds a mantra, and one attains the Standing Buddha Samadhi. As a result, his spiritual skill was such that he could do things while in samadhi. When the Dharma Master first arrived, he must have eaten some bad food, for he had diarrhea and soiled his pants every day. Being sick, he couldn't clean up his own mess. He lived at the guest hall, and I was the leader of the assembly at Nanhua Monastery. Every day I would go to the guest hall several times to see who came and went. Why? Because I didn't want to miss any eminent monks or special people who came to visit Nanhua Monastery. And so when this Dharma Master came, I saw him right away and felt an immediate affinity with him. When he got diarrhea, I helped him wash his trousers every day. After a few days, he got better.
It was then that my disciple went berserk. I told the elder cultivator, and he and I tried to figure out a way to cure my disciple. We entered into contemplation and saw that a snake--the Hundred-Son Poisonous Snake--was causing the problem. In fact, it had been causing trouble at Nanhua Monastery for a long time. Combining the power of our samadhi, we managed to overcome the snake and save my disciple.
Why do I mention this? I wanted to point out that my disciple got himself into this mess because he didn't follow my instructions. I had given him the whisk and told him to use it only in an emergency, but he disobeyed me and casually used it to cure people's illnesses. That's why he later went insane at Nanhua Monastery. Although it's true that he recovered, the situation he'd gotten himself into was truly dangerous. Therefore, in cultivating the Way, if you're off by a hairsbreadth in the beginning, you'll miss by a thousand miles in the end.