Once its power is expended, the arrow falls,
Bringing discontent in the next life.
How can this compare to the true door of non-action,
Through which one leaps straight into the Tathagata ground?
If you have the proper attitude or true spirit of Ch’an practice, then you should give your full attention to whatever you are doing, and you should do things to the best of your ability. Do not think about the past. Do not think about the future. Just focus on the present.
From our point of view, Buddha must have infinite wisdom and merit in order to save innumerable sentient beings. Actually, the Buddha has no wisdom, and he attains no merit from good deeds or blessings. If he still has wisdom and merit, then he is not a Buddha. It is we, not he, who say that the Buddha has wisdom.
When someone does something wrong, you might think, “How dumb! That person has no wisdom.” You see a fly beating against a window trying to get out of your house. You open the window, but it just flies back and forth. You think, “How stupid!” If the Buddha has wisdom, then what does he see as being stupid? Do you think the Buddha would say, “What a stupid fly!” Compared to the Buddha, everything is stupid, but that is our point of view. Likewise, the Buddha does not perceive wisdom. Wisdom can only exist in relation to ignorance. In enlightenment there is no discrimination.
The Buddha has no wisdom, no insight, no accumulation of merit. Such concepts do not exist for the Buddha. If your intention is to gain wisdom and accumulate merit in order to become a Buddha, then you are attempting the impossible.
The great Ch’an poet, Han Shan, lived on Cold Mountain, from where he took his name. He did not own anything, not even pants, yet he felt that there was nothing that was not his. If Han Shan had gone to the T’ang Emperor and said, “All this is mine, ” he might have been put to death for his audacity. But if the Emperor proclaimed to Han Shan, “The whole world is mine, ” Han Shan would probably have answered, “Yes, you are right.” There was nothing that Han Shan desired. He did not even concern himself with his body. He was utterly free, with no attachments. Therefore, he had no self-limit. Having no self-limit, the mountain he lived on, all of China, in fact the entire universe, was his.
I said that the Buddha has no wisdom. You may think, however, that he has compassion. If there is compassion, then there must be an idea of sentient beings. If the Buddha is aware of sentient beings, then he is still discriminating, and he is not a Buddha. We say that the Buddha has compassion, but as far as he is concerned, he has none. If we feel that we are compassionate, then we are not Buddhas.
After one retreat, a student told me, “I feel like I am the mother of the whole world.”
I said, “It is merely an illusion. It is the mind of vexation, not wisdom.” I am not saying that you should be cold and aloof. Having compassion for others is good, and it is definitely much better than closing your heart. I’m not saying that people who give donations with ulterior motives are evil. If their motives are good, then what they do is meritorious. In the early stages of practice, people may have strong feelings of compassion; but some people become so attached to these feelings that they become fanatics. You will never find a true Ch’an practitioner who possesses the fanatical nature of a zealot.
Do not get the wrong idea. Ch’an does not advocate nihilism. A Ch’an practitioner does not say, “I’m not going to do anything.” Rather, with a positive and attentive mind, a practitioner does everything that needs to be done as each moment arises, but he does not do anything with a fanatical mind.
What, then, is the proper attitude for practice? You will have to find out. But if you throw yourself fanatically into Ch’an practice ─ practicing, practicing, practicing ─ as if you are going to start a revolution, then you are on the wrong track. That is not the practice of Ch’an.
— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng Yen (page 126)