Seven Dharma lectures were delivered by Ch'an Master Lai Kuo during the seventy day meditation session which took place at Kao Min Monastery, Yang Chou Prefecture, Kiang-Su Province, China in the Chinese year Jen Wu (1942 A.D.) They were delivered in Mandarin Chinese.
Reviewing the available material, the Buddhist Text Translation Society of the Sino-American Buddhist Association chose these Dharma lectures to introduce the Venerable Master Lai Kuo to the West. A new translation has been made. because it was discovered that previous translations were not complete and contained inaccuracies.
A rouse Yourselves!
On the 15th day of the 10th month in the Chinese year Jen Wu, with incense board1 in hand, the Master opened the seventy day Assault of the Seven by announcing to the assembly:
"At this very moment the smelting furnace
burns briskly and awaits you.
Hundreds of thousands of wise masters and disciples
understand our present purpose only too well.
Hardened, dogmatic foreheads, scalps of iron and bronze
all must be cast into the smelting pot.
The most insignificant empty space and patch of debris is equally welcome;
so do not hesitate to participate.2
Let us heat the furnace
with a continuous supply of charcoal,
applying ourselves with energy and diligence.
Let us persevere and rest
not even after the breaking up of cosmic space.
Let us persist until we are cut off
and free from beginningless existence.
Then we will spontaneously grasp the self,
while it is vividly alive and active.
First Session - First Talk delivered on
the 15th day of the 10th month, 1942 A.D.
Today, for your sake, the Sangha has inaugurated these Ch'an Sessions, and involved many people in toil, not only staff members, but also residents of the Ch'an Hall and the meditation quarters outside. In addition, the Masters, Bhiksus, and even those outside the monastery, are all busy. Because of this assault of the seven, not only are those inside and outside the monastery busy, but all the Buddhas of the ten directions, all the great Bodhisattvas, guardian dragon kings, and Dharma protecting spirits, are also busy. Their ceaseless diligence is entirely for your benefit.
What is the actual purpose of this assault of the seven, and why does it bring so much toil to so many people? What is more, why should it involve all the Buddhas of the ten directions, all the Bodhisattvas, all the guardian dragon kings, and heavenly Dharma protectors in so much toil? They work much more than we do. Do any of you know why? Why have this assault of the seven? There are probably still some of you who do not know. What is more, I am afraid, is that you may think:
"Ordinarily our worries are unbearable, but on top of all these we now go in for this Ch'an seven! It is indeed nice to hear that this assault of the seven is for our benefit, and that the Buddhas of the ten directions, all the great Bodhisattvas, patriarchs of the past, guardian dragon kings, and Dharma protecting spirits are all toiling on our behalf. However, why make all this fuss, and for what purpose is this assault of the seven? Is it not merely to load upon us even more annoying pain? From beginning to end, is there any other purpose?"
Is this what you think? If so, how grievously woeful, how indescribably pathetic you are!
Even though you are ignorant dolts, I have no recourse but to abide by the rules of the Sangha. You must understand that the rules of the Ch'an seven are very severe and are different from the usual ones. How are they different? The point of difference lies here: when you entered, you vowed to all the Patriarchs of the past, and to me, that you were bidding life and death farewell. When you made that vow, you placed your whole being, physical, mental and spiritual, and matter of life and death, within the grasp of my two hands. If I want you to live, you have no alternative but to live. If I want you to die, then you die here and now. Usually your physical body and mind are handed over to the Sangha, and your life to the dragon kings and gods. However, during the assault of the seven, this is not so. During this time your physical body, your mind, and your spiritual self are all within my hands.
You ask, "How severe are these regulations that I must now observe?" I will give you some idea. Pay attention. From now on, during the period of the assault of the seven, you participants must not request any leave of absence whatsoever. You have no business placing your palms together3 to the Karmadana4 to the teaching masters, or to me, because in this period, even the Buddha is not to be adored or worshipped and incense is not to be offered and burned.
Why would you place your palms together and bow respectfully? Normally nothing is more important than suffering an acute illness. When that happens here, however, asking the Karmadana for leave will be to no avail. He dare not grant such leave. You might then approach one of the teaching masters with palms together. However, he would also not grant such leave. The Karmadana and the teaching masters have no right to grant sick leave. They will not even be courageous enough to grant leave for even a moment from the sitting and walking meditation. Why? You have bidden life and death farewell, and have given up your physical and spiritual self, not to the Karmadana or to the teaching masters, but to me. Therefore, how dare they grant such leave? These matters belong entirely to my jurisdiction and are under my sole authority.
Now, suppose that you become very ill. What is to be done? Unfortunately there is no way out. The assault of the seven must be carried on without pause, and on no account may it be stopped. This applies whether you are living or dying, whether you are sick or well; the work must be carried on continuously, without the slightest break. If however you become so ill that you cannot stand, how will you be able to walk? If such becomes the case, then your body will be thrown underneath the dormitory beds and be left there to live or die until the end of the seventy days. Then, and only then, you will be given a sending off to rebirth ceremony.5 During the assault of the seven, there will be no sending off to rebirth ceremonies conducted, and so there may be four or five dead bodies lying underneath the dormitory beds. This is how the sick and the dead will be dealt with.
Furthermore, let me warn you that during the assault of the seven, no matter where you are, whether in your sitting or walking meditation, eating in the common dining hall, in the toilet or in your running meditation, if you even once unheedingly misbehave by moving your head or laughing, then you will lose your life. If you do so misbehave, then immediately upon stepping into the meditation hall, the teaching masters and the Karmadana will all rush upon you and batter your head, ears, and face with their holy wooden truncheons. If you are lucky enough to survive such a beating, then you will still have to carry on with the Ch'an session. If you are severely hurt or killed, then you will be thrown underneath the dormitory beds where you will await the end of the final session. Then and only then will you be attended to. The usual rules of immediate send off to rebirth service at death, and of being admitted into medical quarters in the event of illness, will not be observed during these sessions.
For someone to be beaten to death like this is not strange at Kao Min Monastery. During previous sessions many cases of such deaths have occurred. There is nothing strange about it. I stress to you that the rules and regulations at Kao Min are to be strictly adhered to and that no deviation will be permitted.
I say again, if you are sick, no sick leave will be granted. If you die you will be thrown underneath the dormitory beds. If you violate any rule or regulation. you will be severely beaten; if you die as a result, you will be thrown underneath the dormitory beds. Now I have made a very clear and exact announcement and there should not be the smallest misunderstanding.
There is another minor point which I must add, Usually during sitting meditation, if you wish to go to the toilet you are at liberty to do so. You merely have to ask the Karmadana for permission and receive six strokes from his holy wooden truncheon; then you are allowed to go out through the closed doors of the meditation hall. However, during these sessions, you are not permitted to do this. In the course of one single day's meditation, you will have 12 periods of walking meditation.6 You will, therefore, have 24 opportunities to attend to your toilet needs. As a result, even if you suffer from stomach trouble, you should not have a problem. During the sitting meditation the hall door will not be opened. If you are not able to contain yourself, you may discharge into your trousers or onto the sitting cushion, and you will not be blamed for doing so. The hall door, during sitting meditation, will under no circumstances be opened.
You must be mindful and understand clearly the purpose of this assault of the seven. The purpose is none other than to earnestly and persistently meditate under the Ch'an System, leading oneself to the realization of truth, and as a result, be liberated from the wheel of birth and death. It is not possible to meditate without inquiring into the identity of the mediator. Who is reciting Buddha? To realize truth and be free from the fetters of the wheel of birth and death, it is necessary to inquire into who, from moment to moment, is mindful of of the Buddha. Arouse your spirit. Inquire and find out. Each and every one of you be alert and meditate!
- A heavy, flat wooden sword used to keep order, to awaken mediators, and to encourage vigor. Elsewhere referred to as the "holy wooden truncheon".
- This implies that no distinction is made between great and common men, and that all are equally welcome to take part.
- To make respectful obeisance.
- A position second to that of the Master, the Karmadaha is responsible for running the session.
- A funeral service.
- The twelve sittings had twelve walkings in between. Altogether they extended from 2 a.m.until midnight—22 hours each day.