CHAPTER THREE: RULES OF THE CHAN HALL
Protecting cultivators and practicing wholesome Dharma,
The Way will naturally be realized when merit and virtue are perfected.
When cultivating, always practice together. It shouldn’t be the case that one person is practicing in this way and another person is practicing another way—each one being different from the others. This is inappropriate. If each person practices in a different way, they will not be able to become singleminded. You should practice the same way as everybody else. The hundreds of people in the Chan Hall do not bow to the Buddha, chant or read the sutras, or offer incense to the Buddha. They have even stopped doing their morning or evening ceremonies! Why is this? To help them to be singleminded! Thus, you should not be reading sutras in the Chan Hall, nor should you talk or practice some other dharma door. Everyone should cultivate the same dharma door and walk on the same path to
bodhi—until we reach enlightenment, which is our final objective!
1. Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron and Tin
Doing the alternate sits and walks in the Chan Hall is the best training for your body and your mind. The Chan Hall is also called the Great Furnace. No matter what you are, be it gold, silver, bronze, iron or tin, once you are in the furnace, you will be smelted. It is also like a chemical laboratory where no matter which grade or type of metal you may be, you will be put to test and the true and false will be determined.
That is why when people who put up a false front or appearance are in the Chan Hall, they can last only five minutes before they cannot stand it anymore and want to leave. They cannot pass the test. Thus the Chan Hall is a testing place for our earnestness and sincerity. If one is earnest and sincere, one will bear the hardships; but if one is not sincere, one will not be able to forebear. We always have seven-day Chan sessions and it is here that we are panning for gold. Meditation is analogous to sieving the gold from the sand; the gold will remain, and the water will wash the sand away.
2. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a Place for Cultivating the Path
Those who came for the Chan session cannot be lazy! Unless you are not joining the Chan session, you should not be lazy in the slightest. Since you are here, you should diligently cultivate. Do not be lazy! The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a place for cultivating the Path. If you are not cultivating the Path, it is meaningless to be here. Those of you who entered the Chan Hall should not engage in casual conversation. Do not talk or even giggle. In fact, even when you are outside the Chan Hall, you should refrain from doing this. Do not let the mind of the person of the spiritual Path who is without a mind come running out. The person of the Path who is without a mind has reached the stage in which he perceives no self and no others; he cannot even find his own mind. If you make noise, he may find his mind (i.e. lose his concentration). Then you would be obstructing the cultivation of others, which is wrong! It is best if we can remain silent. If we really must speak, we should whisper so as not to disturb the minds of other cultivators.
3. Cultivate Hard Regardless of the Number of People
In a Chan session, there may be many participants, or there may be few. However, cultivation has only to do with yourself; it does not matter how many companions you have. Even if you are alone, you can cultivate. If there are a hundred, a thousand, or even ten thousand people, you can still cultivate. When cultivating, the number of cultivators is not an issue. You should not pay attention to whether the number of cultivators is great or small. Great comes from an accumulation of small and small is simply relative to what is great. It should never be an issue.
When cultivating, be serious. Be sincere and cultivate honestly step by step. You are cultivating yourself, and you should work hard regardless of how many people there are. If you are not aware of whether the number of people is great or small, then you have already made a bit of progress in your cultivation.
4. I Wish to Cultivate Alone
During cultivation, some people feel very frustrated. “I do not agree with what he is doing.” “He annoys me and everyone else gives me nothing but trouble. I do not wish to be together with any of them. It would be ideal if I could just cultivate alone.” These are ignorant views. When you cultivate, it is not other people who give you trouble but you who give them trouble. If you do not give others trouble, you would not know that others are giving you trouble. Thus when you feel others are troubling you or you are troubling others, these are all attachments. You do not understand the Buddhadharma. If you understand, you will have no hindrances and will not experience any trouble at all. The reason you feel troubled is because your skill in cultivation is not yet developed. You have no samadhi-power. When you have samadhi, all your troubles will be resolved.
5. Everyone Must Do Things Together
Nowadays, when people work hard at their cultivation, why is it that they do not become enlightened? It is simply because they are too complicated in the way they cultivate—they cannot attain singlemindedness. During a Chan session, if there are a hundred, two hundred, three hundred, five hundred or even a thousand Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas and Upasikas, cultivating together, all have to act in unison. When it’s time to cultivate, they should cultivate together. When it’s time to eat, they should eat together. When it’s time to sleep, they should all go to sleep. It shouldn’t be the case that one person practices in this way and another person practices another way—each being different from the other. If each person practices in a different way, they will not be able to become singleminded. You should practice the same way as everybody else.
The hundreds of people in the Chan Hall do not bow to the Buddha, chant or read the sutras, or offer incense to the Buddha. They even stop doing their morning or evening ceremonies! Why is this? To help them to be singleminded! Thus, you should not be reading sutras in the Chan Hall, nor should you talk or practice some other dharma door. Everyone should cultivate the same dharma door and walk on the same path to bodhi—until we reach enlightenment, which is our final objective!
6. Do not Practice a Seven-Day Watch Session
During the Chan session, it is better not to bring your watch. Once you have your watch, you will be checking the time, and the Chan session will become a “watch session” or “time session”! You must forget about time. If you are without a “self,” how can there still be a concept of time? Time and space should both be empty; only then will you have a response. This is called, “Letting go of mind and body and moving towards bodhi.” Those who have completed the Chan session should continue to work hard at your practice. Those who have not should start to be more hardworking. After all, the most difficult aspect in any undertaking is the beginning.
If, however, we work hard to overcome the difficulty of initial startup, we will get something really valuable in return. All of us should strive to turn ourselves around, and not be as confused as before. We should strive to leave deluded thoughts and feelings far behind, and aspire towards nirvana. Then we get to see the Buddhas of the three times. During the Chan session, whether it be for the duration of a single sitting period, or even better, from morning till night, you should let go of your false thoughts and worldly defilements. The Shurangama Sutra says, “When the mad mind stops, just this stopping is bodhi.” If your wild and untamed mind is stopped, bodhi will manifest. Do not search for bodhi outside; it is within your own nature.
7. Failing the Test
Last year, during the Chan session, there were those who practiced a watch session and kept glancing at their watch. They looked at their watches so often that within an hour they glanced at it a hundred times. What do you think they were meditating on? That is why I said that during next year’s Chan session, all participants should leave their watches at home. Whoever wears a watch will not be allowed to participate. I did not look during the Chan session this year to see if there were people who looked at their watches everyday. However, I believe nobody looked at their watch this year. This is really not easy. We always say that we cultivate, but when we put ourselves to the test, we fail. All of you should try to remember my words, “Everything’s a test to see what you will do. If you mistake what’s before your face, you’ll have to start anew.” Although there are not that many participants in this year’s Chan session, all of you are very hardworking and watch over yourselves well. You are not as lazy or talkative as before.
8. Accomplish Inconceivable Merit and Virtue
Talk less and investigate Chan more. If you can be silent, that will be ideal. Once you start to talk, false thinking will arise. Once false thinking arises, you will lose your concentration and be unable to enter samadhi. Time is most precious during a Chan session. Do not casually let the time go by in vain. For every bit of true cultivation, you will have a bit of response. If you are 100% true in your cultivation, you will receive a 100% response. During the Chan session, do not let your mind cling to conditions or indulge in curiosity. You should honestly and earnestly put forth effort to cultivate. The topic, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” is a good way to eliminate all the heavenly demons in heterodox paths. You can use it to accomplish your inconceivable merit and virtue. If you have no false thinking, then you will have inconceivable merit and virtue. If you have false thinking, you are heavenly demon of a heterodox path. That is why all of you should not cheat yourselves and continue to indulge in false thinking. This is crucial.
To be continued