7. Whether moving or still, awake or asleep, do not leave Chan behind
Some people investigate, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” Some recite the Six Syllable Great Bright Mantra. In short, these are training your mind to be honest and to be mindful of cultivation. You must remain continuously mindful of cultivation and of investigating Chan. I would like to tell you a four-line verse so everyone can investigate Chan according to its meaning.
Moving or still, awake or asleep,
Do not let go of it.
Do not stray from the thought of Chan investigation.
Once you let go of it,
You will miss it right in front of you.
If you wander away from this thought, you will face the Buddha and fail to recognize him – even when he is with you in person. Therefore, no one should miss the time for investigating Chan. “Moving or still, awake or asleep, / Do not let go of it. / Once you let go of it, / You will miss it right in front of you.” So, apply your effort well. I hope some of you will be enlightened.
8. What is the difference between investigating and seeking?
Q: When we investigate, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” isn’t this considered seeking?
A: This is called investigating, not seeking.
Q: What is the difference between investigating and seeking?
A: Investigating Chan is like drilling a hole. Such effort is not considered seeking. When one seeks, the process is endless and one will never produce a hole from it. When you drill, a hole is produced. Do you understand?
Q: It seems like we are trying to find something by asking, “Who?” in “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”
A: Yes, we are trying to find something. However, we are not seeking. Finding is the same as investigating. It is called investigating the meditation topic [literally, “what comes before words”], instead of seeking the meditation topic.
9. Chan is acquired through long periods of sitting
You must have some skill when cultivating Chan meditation. Just as no one can dig a well by scooping up a single shovel of dirt, no one can reach the Western Pure Land by taking only a single step. Nor can someone realize Buddhahood after one minute of practice. One must apply effort in Chan investigation. ‘Investigation’ here refers to studying single-mindedly. It also means applying effort in thought after thought without thinking of anything else. It is said, “When the mind is focused, things come together wonderfully. When the mind is scattered, matters turn out undesirably.” Investigating Chan is analogous to a hen hatching eggs. The mother hen sits on her eggs every day. When she has sat long enough, the chicks hatch. Investigating Chan is just like this. It is also like a dragon nurturing its pearl; it never forgets to nourish its precious pearl. It is also like a cat trying to catch a mouse; as soon as the mouse appears, the cat pounces on it so that it cannot escape. If you have the ability to sit patiently over long periods of time, you will naturally be enlightened. Therefore, it is said, “Chan is acquired through long periods of sitting.” After sitting for an extended period of time, the thoughts will naturally subside.
10. It is because you do not know how to apply it
Q: What methods can be used to control false thoughts? Do we pay no attention to them? Or should we catch and throw them away like cats catching mice?
A: Cats catching mice is only an analogy. Since you don’t know how to skillfully use the phrase, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” your false thoughts appear. If you continuously keep in mind the single thought, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” how can false thoughts appear? There is no way these thoughts will arise.
Q: I’ve heard people say that, ‘When one lets go of the myriad conditions, not one thought will arise.’ Why is that?
A: When not a single thought arises, the entire substance manifests. As soon as the six sense faculties move, one is covered by clouds. The thought of investigating Chan is also false. When you investigate “who?” this investigation is considered a false thought. However, this is called using one false thought to stop other false thoughts. It is also known as using one poison to counteract another one, so that the illness can be cured. That’s why we investigate the meditation topic. The ability to investigate this topic is not obtained overnight. One must apply effort for an extended period of time before Chan manifests.
11. You can also investigate “who?”
Q: Master, you teach us that in investigating, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” we should keep on investigating the “who?” However, when I am reciting the word “who,” I am not able to give rise to the subsequent thought: “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”
A: If you cannot be mindful of the entire phrase, it is all right to just investigate the word “who?” You can investigate “who?” for as long as you like. When you focus on “who?” no other false thoughts will exist in your mind. When others investigate, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” they can investigate the word “who?” alone for hours. As long as you keep the thought “who?” going without interruption, it is perfectly fine.
Q: Sometimes, I do not seem to be able to find the door. I don’t know how to get out.
A: Do not panic. Take your time. You will eventually find it.
Q: When cultivating the Way, I sometimes advance but sometimes I retreat. Till now I feel very unstable and confused.
A: If you had been stable all the time, you would have become a Buddha already.
12. Sifting gold from the sand
Since so many people participate in the Chan session, it is not for sure who will be enlightened and who will not. The work of investigating Chan is like panning for gold in the sand. You can sit in full lotus posture or half lotus. Try to keep your body straight. Do not lean to either side or lean forward or backward. Contemplate “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” After a while, you will get into it. After you get into it, you will return to the source, see your nature and your mind, know the original face, and see the scenery of your homeland. This is the true benefit of investigating Chan. The methods for investigating Chan that I have explained are very shallow. We should not speak profound theories to beginners. Whoever can use this method to cultivate will obtain the benefits you ought to receive. Do not let these words go in one ear and out the other. During the Chan session, it is very important to understand how to begin to apply effort.
To be continued