Monthly Archives: July 2016

Day 3 The Obstacle of Fear (page 206-209)

If one is unable to take the royal feast even when hungry,

How can he be healed even if he meets the king of doctors?

Practicing Ch’an in the desire realm manifests the power of knowledge,

Indestructible as a lotus grown in a fire.

Though Pradhanasura broke the main precepts, he awakened to the unborn;

He long ago reached the Buddha state and remains there still.

 

While you are deciding which method to choose, remember the story of the sick man and the doctor. If you were that man, would you follow the doctor’s advice? Suppose the doctor said, “I can cure you, but it requires major surgery. First I’ll remove your hands and feet, then your arms and legs. Next, I’ll remove your mind and heart. After that, the problem will be gone.” Would you be willing? How much do you trust the doctor?

Without trust, even the king of doctors cannot help you. You must have faith in his expertise in order to accept his advice. You have already encountered Ch’an teachings, but you may be unable to accept it fully. Sentient beings do not have enough courage and confidence to accept the belief that they are Buddhas. For this reason, they cannot embrace Ch’an teachings.

The song mentions Pradhanasura, a great practitioner who lived long before Sakyamuni’s time. Yung-chia says that Pradhanasura broke the main precepts, but actually the transgressor was an exceedingly handsome monk named Yung-shih, and it was Pradhanasura who helped him solve his problem. A rich woman fell in love with Yung-shih and lured him into her home, asking that he preach to her mother. Eventually, the young woman seduced him. When her husband found out, he was furious, and wanted to kill her. She poisoned her husband and made plans to run away with the monk. Yung-shih witnessed all of this, and he despaired, because he was sure only those who kept the precepts could practice successfully. He left the woman and roamed far and wide, carrying a placard confessing his sins and begging for help and hope. Wherever he went, he got the same story: “There’s no hope for a person who breaks the major precepts.”

One day, Yung-shih met Pradhanasura. Pradhanasura asked him, “You say you have committed grave sins, but what are sins? Do sins have self-nature? If sins have self-nature, then how can you create them? If you make these sins, then they must not have self-nature.”

When Yung-shih heard Pradhanasura’s words, he immediately attained complete enlightenment and became a Buddha known as Precious Moon Buddha. Even a person who has broken the major precepts can become a Buddha.

Examine yourself. How bad are you? You have probably never killed a person. If so, you should be able to do as well as Yung-shih. The reason why you cannot is because you cannot let go of the self.

You would probably like it if I told you that the self-nature of sins is empty. You might think, “If the self-nature of sin is empty, then I can do anything I want. I can break the precepts and commit sins, but I won’t have any karmic debts, and I won’t have to accept any consequences.” That would be nice, but you probably would not like it if I told that the self-nature of the self is also empty. If the self is empty, then who is it that will eat your dinner tonight? Who will meet your children, wife or husband after the retreat? Who will go to your job next Monday? Now you might say, “There’s so much I haven’t accomplished yet. I still have a lot of plans. How can my self be empty?”

After sitting in meditation for a while, your legs begin to hurt, and your mind wanders to other things. I have told you not to think about things, but at this point you might feel that thinking can be very good. When you get tired or frustrated, you believe that thinking will help you, that it will help to relieve your discomfort and tiredness. Perhaps you fantasize about life problems yet to be solved or life plans yet to be realized. A self is definitely involved when you do this. There is no doubt who is doing all the thinking. If you cannot reach emptiness, then all of your previous karma will follow you. The nature of sin is not empty if you cannot empty yourself. When you empty yourself, all the sins you have created will also be empty.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 206-209)

Day 3 The Obstacle of Fear (page 205-206)

If one is unable to take the royal feast even when hungry,

How can he be healed even if he meets the king of doctors?

Practicing Ch’an in the desire realm manifests the power of knowledge,

Indestructible as a lotus grown in a fire.

Though Pradhanasura broke the main precepts, he awakened to the unborn;

He long ago reached the Buddha state and remains there still.

 

Yung-chia stresses that Ch’an is the best method of practice of Buddhadharma. Unfortunately, people with weak karmic roots either cannot accept Ch’an teachings or they think Ch’an methods are not right for them.

There is a story of a starving beggar who came upon a banquet fit for a king. It seemed strange to him because there was no one around. Instead of sitting down to eat, he grew frightened, because he had never seen such sumptuous food. He wondered if perhaps it were a trap, or if someone were giving him a last meal before killing him. The beggar became A person with weak karmic roots is frightened when he encounters Ch’an teachings, and wonders if he is fit to practice its methods. Unless a person has great courage, he will be too scared to learn and practice, and he will choose to keep his dirty socks rather than attain liberation.

There was a man who had been ill for a long time. He tried many treatments and visited many doctors, but nothing worked. Doctor after doctor told him that he had an incurable disease and only had a short time to live. Then he went to the best doctor in the world. After examining him, the doctor said, “I can cure you.” But the man did not believe him. He had been told otherwise too many times. He figured the doctor was playing on his hopes and trying to swindle him out of money. On the way home, he threw away the prescription the doctor had given him.

Some of you have been working with the same method for a long time and you still have not made much progress. Perhaps you are convinced that you will never progress beyond square one. Yesterday, a practitioner told me, “It takes such a long time to reach Buddhahood! And right up to the point of Buddhahood there are still so many karmic obstructions. They say that all karmic obstructions disappear instantly with sudden enlightenment, but I don’t believe it. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be stuck with my vexations for a long time.”

Most people do not like things that take a long time to happen. They prefer to see results right away. They want instant gratification. Who wants to spend three asamkhya kalpas reciting Buddhist sutras in hopes of reaching Buddhahood? Compared to that, sudden enlightenment sounds great. But you have to work very hard to experience sudden enlightenment. Unfortunately, people are terrified to let go of the self. It is your choice. Do you want to practice the gradual method or the sudden method?

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 205-206)

Day 2 Using Illusions to Transcend Illusion (page 203-204)

Not perceiving a single dharma: this is Tathagata.

Only then can one be called the Supreme Observer.

With this realization karmic obstacles are innately empty.

Without realization, past debts must be paid off. 

As a practitioner burdened with karmic obstructions, you must repent sincerely and work hard to resolve your problems. If you can reach the point where there are no dharmas, and therefore no Buddha, then all karmic obstructions will be gone. Until that time, you will be hindered by karmic obstructions, which are the fruits of seeds of actions planted in the past. As long as there is a self, then that self has to pay back all karmic debts.

I have a water cup that I use every day. I wash it daily, and I cover it when it is full to keep the water clean. If I did not keep a lid on it, something might get in the water and make me sick. If I did not need water, or if there were no such thing as water, then there would be no need to cover the cup or clean it. The cup would still be there, but it would have nothing to do with me. If you reach the level of no dharmas, the cup of karmic obstructions will still be there, but it will have nothing to do with you. Karmic obstructions cannot obstruct you when there is no self.

If I committed a serious crime, I might be arrested and executed. If I had a body, it would be easy to find me and kill me. But if I did not have a body, how could the police catch me? By the same token, when you let go of your self, karmic obstructions will no longer be a problem. Letting go of your self does not mean that you do not exist anymore. The existence of self is a partition between you and others. When the distinction drops, self disappears, and you are completely free. Small self and great self vanish, and with them go all karmic obstructions. It is not that past karma disappears. An enlightened being still receives karmic retributions for past actions, but these retributions are no longer obstructions, because the mind of the enlightened being is free.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 203-204)

Day 2 Using Illusions to Transcend Illusion (page 201-203)

Not perceiving a single dharma: this is Tathagata.

Only then can one be called the Supreme Observer.

With this realization karmic obstacles are innately empty.

Without realization, past debts must be paid off. 

It is not easy to be free of all dharmas. All dharmas are related to the self. If a dharma is not related to the self, then it does not exist. It does not matter if it is virtuous dharma, evil dharma, or even Buddhadharma; if you cannot let go completely, then you will not become a Tathagata. Holding on to any dharma, including Buddhadharma, is like holding on to the finger instead of following it to the moon.

When you let go of all dharmas, then you will be what Yung-chia calls the Supreme Observer. The Supreme Observer is one whose vision is liberated and unlimited; one can see everything at once, whether near or far, whether in the past, present or future. A Supreme Observer is not limited to seeing things sequentially. Ordinary people first look at one thing, then a second, then a third, and so on. A Supreme Observer sees everything at once because there are no opposing or obstructing dharmas. The Supreme Observer is a title sometimes used for Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of great compassion.

We cannot see all things at once because we have not attained liberation. We still perceive that we have selves. While there is still a self, there can be no liberation. It can be the narrow self of an ordinary person, or the great self of Godhood. There is no liberation if a self of any kind exists.

Some religions teach that a virtuous god is in eternal conflict with a devil that it created. Inevitably, however, some people ask: “If there is one god, why would it create a devil? Why create such trouble for itself? Why doesn’t the god destroy the devil?” Whenever there is a separation between self and others, the others will remain outside and unconquerable. As long as a self remains, the others must also remain. At the stage where there is no Buddha, then there are no demons either. When there is no virtue, there is no evil. When there are no dharmas, then there are no more obstructions. That is liberation.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 201-203)

Day 2 Using Illusions to Transcend Illusion (page 201-202)

Not perceiving a single dharma: this is Tathagata.

Only then can one be called the Supreme Observer.

With this realization karmic obstacles are innately empty.

Without realization, past debts must be paid off. 

A young man who meditated at my temple wore socks that smelled vile. I suggested that he throw them out, but he said it was his shoes that smelled, not his socks. I asked him to throw his shoes away, and he did, but his socks still smelled awful. I asked again that he throw his socks away, and he threw them aside. Later, he picked them up, sniffed them, and said, “They do smell bad, but it’s my own body. If I wash them, they’ll be okay.” He put his socks back on.

But he still didn’t wash them, and when I saw him, they smelled even worse. We went through the same routine, and he promised to wash them, but he never got around to it. He said, “If I wash them, they’ll only get smelly again. If I throw them out and buy a new pair, eventually they’ll reek, too. So what’s the point? I might as well stick to these old, smelly ones.”

Practitioners know that the self is the source of all vexations. We know we should drop the self, yet we cannot. We like it too much. We think we might need it later. Even if we do throw it out, we pick it up again. It is like holding on to putrid socks.

Every one of us has a pair of stinking socks. Are you ready to throw them out? Maybe not. Maybe your nose is accustomed to the smell. You pick them up, sniff them, and say to yourself, “They don’t smell that bad.”

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 201-202)

Day 2 Using Illusions to Transcend Illusion (page 200-201)

Not perceiving a single dharma: this is Tathagata.

Only then can one be called the Supreme Observer.

With this realization karmic obstacles are innately empty.

Without realization, past debts must be paid off. 

The first line in the stanza above is the fundamental teaching of Ch’an Buddhism. If you are free from any attachment, then you have seen the Tathagata ─ in fact, you are the Tathagata. Many of my students say that it is not difficult to see one’s self-nature; that it is actually easy to become enlightened. They are right. It does not even take a second. All you have to do is drop the past, drop the future, and drop the present moment. Easy, isn’t it?

Someone said to me, “I see it as a thin sheet of paper. One side is my self, and the other side is enlightenment. It’s that close.”

I said, “It’s even closer than that. Right now, if you drop your past, future and present, you will see your self-nature. In the past you were an ordinary sentient being. In the future you will, unless you attain enlightenment, be an ordinary sentient being. At this moment you are an ordinary sentient being. But if you drop them, then you are a Buddha.”

Another student was sad because she still did not know who she was. I told her, “As long as you have thoughts in your mind, you will not know who you are. Drop your thoughts, and you will know. Just telling yourself to drop your thoughts won’t work. First, you must pull your thoughts together. Focus your scattered mind into a concentrated mind. Then pull your concentrated mind into a unified mind. Finally, let go of your unified mind. When you train your mind to do this, you will know your self.”

It is easy to attain enlightenment. Can you drop your past, future and present? If not, it is because you are unwilling to let go. You may intellectually want to let go, but deep down you are not ready to relinquish your self.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 200-201)

Day 2 Using Illusions to Transcend Illusion (page 199-200)

The ignorant and the foolish think

That the fist exists separately from the pointing finger.

Mistaking the finger for the moon, they practice uselessly;

They only fabricate strange illusions in the realms of sense and object.

 

During practice, a person may perceive that the world is beautiful and that everyone is a Buddha. He might think he has seen Buddha-nature, but he has not. Everything has Buddh-nature, but Buddha-nature is constantly changing and is without quality or form. The ordinary mind is incapable of perceiving it. A flower has Buddha-nature, but we view it with the mind of attachment, so our experience is not a true perception of Buddha-nature. No matter how wonderous an experience may feel while we are meditating, it is not an experience of Buddha-nature, because we are still thinking and clinging to our ideas and perceptions.

The Heart Sutra says, “Form is not other than emptiness, and emptiness not other than form. Form is precisely emptiness, and emptiness is precisely form. So also are sensation, perception, volition and consciousness.” There are no sense organs, and there are no sense objects. They are illusory. Therefore, anything that arises from their interaction is also illusory. How can it be Buddha-nature?

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 199-200)

Day 2 Using Illusions to Transcend Illusion (page 198-199)

The ignorant and the foolish think

That the fist exists separately from the pointing finger.

Mistaking the finger for the moon, they practice uselessly;

They only fabricate strange illusions in the realms of sense and object. 

“The ignorant and the foolish” of this stanza is only an approximate translation. The Chinese version of the Song of Enlightenment actually describes two types of stupidity. One is the ignorance of adults, and the other is the ignorance of mentally retarded children. These analogies refer to practitioners of the Hinayana tradition and outer path teachings respectively.

A person with normal intelligence understands that the fist and the fingers are not separate. You cannot have a fist without fingers, and fingers can at any time become a fist. Outer path practitioners maintain that the fist is real, but the fingers are not. Hinayana practitioners insist that, since a fist can become fingers and fingers can become a fist, neither one is real. Both fist and fingers are non-existent.

What are the fist and the fingers? For outer path practitioners, the fist is the atman, or the universal self, and the fingers are people and other things in the realm of phenomena, which are illusory components of the supreme reality. Hinayana practitioners maintain that the universal self, as well as phenomena, are illusory.

Yung-chia mentions the famous Buddhist allegory of the finger and the moon. Teachings, beliefs, ideas, experiences, phenomena and the self are like a finger pointing at the moon of enlightenment. You should look at the finger, see where it is pointing, and then go to the moon. Do not grab hold of the finger. You must let it go or else you will never get enlightened. Mistaking the finger for the moon, clinging to illusions, fabricating strange ideas to explain experiences: these are common problems that people encounter when they practice.

However, we must use illusion to get rid of illusion. Buddhadharma cannot be taught to human beings without language, symbols and the ordinary phenomena of our world; but many people, when they hear the teachings, hold onto them as if they were the ultimate goal. They cannot succeed in their practice with such an attitude.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 198-199)