5) Recalling the Tofu Debts of Many Years Past
In the past, there was an old cultivator who, after his enlightenment, wanted to find out who he really was in the past. What kind of person was he in the past? I bet none of you know. He was a tofu seller. In the past, he came to a Chan hall while selling tofu and happily sat in meditation like the others in the hall. While sitting, he was able to recall all his tofu debts. He composed a verse, which goes like this:
No wonder everyone in the Chan hall is looking for the “who?”
The debts of ten thousand eons have accumulated over the years.
I sit for only half an hour,
And my many years of tofu debts can be traced.
This verse, though not profound, is not too bad either. If this tofu seller were not enlightened, how could he come up with such a verse?
He said, “How wonderful it is to investigate Chan! As a tofu seller, I came to the Chan hall to sell tofu. While waiting for the monk to get money from the storeroom, I looked and thought, ‘What are these people doing here?’ They were all saying “Who? Who? Who?” Seeing this, the tofu seller sat down and start to look for that “Who – Who still owes me money for the tofu I sold them? Five or six years ago, Wang Ma Zi purchased ten pieces of tofu and has not paid for it. Four or five years ago, Mr. Li purchased five pieces of tofu and also has not paid for it. Investigating Chan is really good. If I did not sit here and search for that ‘who,’ how could I have possibly recalled all these tofu debts? This is truly inconceivable.”
Therefore the verse says: No wonder everyone in the Chan hall is looking for the “who?” No wonder everyone there is searching for the “who?” I have come to know this wonderful practice.
The debts of ten thousand eons have accumulated over the years. Ten thousand eons have since passed, and one cannot recall who still owes money. Now they sit in the Chan hall to “Namo” themselves (to ask themselves): “Who is it? Who still owes me money? Who owes me?” They were all looking for their creditors. “And I now sit for only half an hour, and I manage to recall my many years’ of tofu debts.” The tofu seller did not just stop there after saying the verse, he investigated Chan everyday thereafter and recalled all his tofu debts. He also investigated, “Who owes me tofu debts from the last life and the life before that.” He planted vajra seeds. As a result of those
vajra seeds, he came to the Chan hall, not to trace his tofu debts, but to investigate Chan. This time the conditions had ripened and he managed to awaken: “Oh! My original self is like this.”
So what about your original self? If you open the five eyes, you can take a look. Who is my mother? Who is my father? Who are my close relatives? How come I have ended up here—sitting and walking, walking or sitting. “Oh! This was my father in the past, that was my mother in the past, that was my elder brother in the past and that was my younger brother in the past.” You can understand all of the debts of these causes and effects from past lives. If you want to know the causes and effects and relationships you’ve had in life after life from beginningless eons in the past to the present, you should work hard at your cultivation. Once you become awakened, you will know, “Oh! In the past I made vows to assist my Teacher to propagate Buddhism in the United States.”
6) Being in the Chan Hall Is Upholding the Precepts
We are holding precepts when we are in the Chan hall. This is called “Upholding without upholding,” and “Having precepts without precepts.” Why? Everyday we walk and sit in meditation. Walking meditation exercises the body, and sitting meditation calms the body. Walking meditation can regulate the body as the blood circulation flows and thus prevents sickness. Sitting meditation trains our mind. It can stop our false thoughts from arising and enable our wisdom to manifest. When we train our body and mind, this will cause
samadhi to arise from holding the precepts. And then wisdom manifest from
samadhi. The Chan session is the foremost method of cultivation and the foremost way of applying effort. One who lacks good roots will not be able to bear it. Some people cannot endure even one period of sitting. They either get pain in their legs, backaches, or stomachaches. Some feel pains in their pores, hair tips, or even their eyebrows or all over the body. You should know that if you don’t endure suffering, you cannot become an honorable person. A skyscraper is built upwards from the foundation, and great merit and virtue comes from the fundamentals. Investigating Chan is a way to build this foundation. If you lay a good foundation, the house will not topple. If the foundation is not solid, if there is gusty wind or heavy rain, the house will fall apart. The purpose of investigating Chan is to lay the groundwork for cultivation.
7) Understanding the Road of Birth and Death
Why isn’t it called “sitting” for a Chan session? It is not called cultivating a Chan session, or conducting a Chan session but rather the expression is “striking” or “beating” a Chan session. The word “beating” actually means being beaten up. This means it is very painful. Your back aches and your legs are in pain. Even if you do not get hit by the incense stick, you feel pain. If it is so painful, why does one want to do a Chan session? Why does one not go find something more pleasurable to do? Why go through this suffering? Seeking pleasure is worldly dharma, while enduring suffering is transcendental dharma. If you want to transcend this world, you must first go through the training. This training is to bear the unbearable, and to endure hardship. This is different from the ordinary person. If you chase after worldly dharmas the more you indulge in worldly pleasures, the more you will decline and fall. On the other hand, if you aspire to world-transcending dharmas, the more hardship you endure, the more you unveil the original light of wisdom. Therefore, we must do the Chan session. Externally you have to endure the physical pain of being hit by the incense stick, and internally you have to bear the psychological suffering. You have to bear the pain in your legs no matter how painful it gets. Being attacked from within and without, to the point that there is no place to escape, you will then become enlightened. When you get enlightened, you will know how you are born and how you die. Once you understand the path of birth and death, you will be liberated from birth and death.
8) The First Step of Cultivation
When one sits for a long time, there will be a warm
qi (energy) that will come from the stomach and spread to the whole body. This will repeat a few times. This signals the beginning of the four stages. It is called the stage of heat. After a long period of time, the heat will move to the crown of your head. You will feel that something is there and yet not there. You can’t see or feel it. It’s an inconceivable state. After the heat reaches the top of the head, you will have difficulty bearing it but you should bear it. This is the stage of “patience.” At this stage; it is quite uncomfortable on the top of your head. It feels as if something were drilling a hole into your head. You must be able to bear it. After some time, the hole has been drilled through and it moves to the top of your head. This is like a bird being released from its cage. It is extremely happy. One is the foremost person in the world; one is number one in the world. One is the foremost hero, the great hero who is beyond compare. After the stage of “foremost in the world,” one must continue to cultivate. You should cultivate until your Dharma body fills the entire Dharma Realm, taking the Dharma Realm as your substance, “Formless” as your name, the void as your principle, and kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity as your functions. After you have completed your cultivation,
you still need to practice the Four Limitless Minds – kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. When you perfect these Four Limitless Minds, it is just the beginning of the cultivation.
9) A Sense of Light Ease
When you investigate the meditation topic, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” to the ultimate point, eventually you will become enlightened. Enlightenment is understanding what you did not understand and knowing what you did not know in the past. Before realizing enlightenment, you should harbor doubt. It is said, “Great doubt results in great enlightenment, and small doubt results in small enlightenment.” Enlightenment also means to understand principle. It is not really a special state. There are the first
dhyana, the second dhyana, the third dhyana and the fourth
dhyana stages in Chan meditation. In the first dhyana, there is this feeling of light ease. You will feel comfortable, free, and benefited. This kind of comfort is called bliss in the Dharma. You will experience the state of blissfulness. You will not feel hungry even if you do not eat, nor tired if you do not sleep, nor cold if you are not wearing enough clothes. It will be as there is no self when sitting, and no self when walking. One does not know where one’s “self” is. This feeling of light ease is the beginning of cultivation. After this state, you will enter the
samadhi of the first dhyana; it is like your self is empty and you feel that your pulse has stopped.
To be continued