It all started with that first winter Chan
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB)...
Arriving from the Philippines equipped with nothing except
for the winter clothes that I had on me, I entered the Chan
Hall at CTTB in December, 1995. Not only did I have no
experience or idea as to what sitting in Chan meant, I was
not even aware that I was supposed to bring my own "sitting
blanket" with me when sitting in Chan.
Coming from an "entrepreneurial world," I decided to
rearrange my timetable into a fourteen-hour-a-day meditation
schedule. I would start the mornings at 7 and end the day by
listening to the Venerable Master's talks in the evenings,
thereafter going straight to bed.
Things went nicely for the first several days. I had in the
process kept my thoughts under control--at least to a
certain degree. Thanks to my big-faced plastic watch, I was
religiously keeping track of the minutes that went by. I
found myself offering each minute of pain to one Buddha or
Bodhisattva after another. This went on from one incense
stick to the next until my head "numbed with the pain" from
my aching legs.
Then suddenly, during the second week or so, the Buddha
statues in front of me seemed to become animated. I heard
two of them talking about me. I cannot recall the exact
conversation, since the Venerable Master repeatedly
instructed us to ignore such states. However, I still
remember the gist of the message. I was told that the only
way I was going to taste the flavor of Dhyana was if I
switched to a completely vegetarian diet.
My immediate response to that mental state was: "Oh no! I
certainly hope not!!!" After which I simply left it at that.
In the meantime, I continued listening and in the process
learned bits and pieces about Chan from the evening lectures
of the Venerable Master during the three-week Chan session.
After the session, I started reading the Shurangama Sutra,
from which I learned that it is very dangerous to meditate
and still be on a non-vegetarian diet. This is especially
true for those who do long meditation sits, since it is very
easy to get into all sorts of demonic states with no
guarantee of getting out.
From then on, because I was greedy to experience the taste
of Dhyana, I cut off all the exotic meat dishes that I
normally ate and enjoyed. I then removed all the red meat
from my daily diet, after which I stopped consuming white
meat as well. The last to go were the eggs and the butter.
All in all, it took me some eighteen months since the
"animated conversation" I had overheard in the Chan Hall.
How did I finally bow out of the meat diet?
Indeed it was done with a lot of imagination and style. I
gave myself a long standing grand finale which I had spread
over the eighteen months mentioned above. However, I will
not go into any more details. All I can say is that the best
meal that I've ever had was when I was down to cutting out
the last non-vegetarian part of my diet i.e., the eggs and
I remember that crisp and bright morning in the summer of
1997, when I purposely sought out a small coffee shop that
was just around the corner across from the San Francisco
Hilton in Union Square. It was the type of coffee shop that
only had stools and a long curved counter reminiscent of the
60's. To my mind, it was the best breakfast that I have ever
had. Perhaps, it was because I knew that it would be one of
my last non-vegetarian breakfasts. I never enjoyed a better
cinnamon toast and coffee since my undergraduate years back
in 1975. Of course, the cinnamon toast had been prepared on
a grill where the rest of the non-vegetarian meals were
Anyway, those are now bygone days... I am still working on
my meditation through the Chan sessions at the CTTB.
Furthermore, unlike before, I am no longer concerned about
the type of states that come and go. What concerns me is
working on the skill towards one-pointedness so that I can
control the "false thoughts" that come my way during the
And how do I keep my sanity these days? Well... Blessed are
the souls of the makers of Quaker Oats, and blessed are all
the coffee and cocoa growers all over the world.