Since an early age I have accumulated knowledge,
Studying the sutras, sastras, and commentaries.
Discriminating between names and forms without rest,
I only troubled myself counting the sands in the sea.
I was severely reproached by the Tathagata:
What is the benefit of counting others’ treasures?
I realized the futility of my dalliance;
For many years I busied myself in the world in vain.
At the beginning of this retreat, I told you to take your past, from the moment you were born up to the moment you walked into the meditation hall, roll it into a bundle and toss it in the garbage. If, at the end of seven days, you feel a need to reclaim your past, you can dig it out of the garbage. During this retreat, however, leave it behind.
If you can master this attitude, then I guarantee enlightenment. But if you want to be enlightened, and at the same time do not want to renounce your past, then I guarantee nothing. Dropping your past is not easy to do. Even if you want to do it, sometimes you cannot. The first step, however, is to be willing to let go.
In direct light, your body will cast a shadow. You cannot escape your shadow while you are in the light. If you want to get rid of it, either you have to go where there is no light, or you have to leave your body. If you have always been in darkness, then you will not even know you have a shadow that you can get rid of. Most people are like this.
One must be aware of one’s shadow if one wants to do something about it; one must have walked into the light. It is analogous to your position right now. All of you on this retreat want to dispose of your shadow. The shadow is your past, and the past consists of your memories, your experiences, and the karmic force of things you have done.
You will not be able to drop the past as long as you have a sense of self, just as you will never lose your shadow as long as you have a body. You must stop being self-centered. It would be best to drop your past right away, otherwise, while you work on your method, images of past experiences and teachings will appear incessantly, and it will be impossible to focus your mind and become one with the method.
— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 191-192)