Ch'an Newsletter - No. 3 February 1980

On January 29, Shih-fu left for Taiwan. These were his parting words:
It makes no difference whether I am in Taiwan or New York. We are close when you meditate; but, if you forget your practice, then even if I were to embrace you it would be useless. My physical presence is unimportant; the essential thing is that our minds be in correspondence. However, as much as a Master would like all his students' minds to be in correspondence with his, it is not always possible for every student to maintain this.

My guidance is always with you, as well as my expectations. Here are some thoughts I'd like to leave with you:

You should always keep in mind the purpose and proper attitude of your practice. In this respect it is actually good for you that I leave every now and then. If I'm around you can bring your problems and questions to me anytime - I am always available. It is only when I am away that you realize how rare this opportunity is. You must learn to treasure this opportunity.

Another point I wish to emphasize is not to be selfish. What is selfishness? It is always acting for your own benefit and purpose. My goal in teaching Ch'an is to help you get rid of your selfishness, bit by bit.

You should avoid self-aggrandizement, as well as thinking of yourself as inferior. These two are often connected. A very proud person is this way because he is aware of his weaknesses and tries to cover them up. The person who feels inferior simply indulges in his weaknesses for attention. Selfishness breeds other unwholesome qualities, such as greed, dissatisfaction, jealousy, even hatred.

Not being selfish does not mean that we give ourselves up completely; rather, we simply don't do things for our benefit alone. If we desire a healthy body, it is in order to enable us to better help others. If we aspire for wisdom, purity, and virtue, it is also for the purpose of aiding others.

In taking this attitude will we forfeit our own benefits? No. Actually, we obtain all the benefit, yet escape all possible suffering! When we fail we will not be unhappy. Loss will not cause great disappointment. A person who is truly unselfish, will always be in a contented and pleasant mood. So, by putting down ones selfish concerns, all ones' problems are solved.

What I have just talked about is the theoretical foundation of our practice. The most important thing is for our minds to be in harmony with the words. Some people can intellectually understand these things, yet are unable to release themselves from morally unwholesome tendencies. They are unable to bring this knowledge to life in their hearts. This can only be accomplished through practice.

We should not be concerned with how much benefit we are getting from our practice, nor even with enlightenment. This kind of thinking will obstruct you. However, not to seek or desire something does not mean you don't have to practice. Practice is a method for making real progress. Simply use and practice the method I have taught you, and don't think about how much progress you are making.

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[Extracted from "Buddhism and Buddhist Studies" by Master Sheng-yen (pp 14-17) Translated into English by disciple Kuo-Jen]

We've all heard the saying "great doubt great enlightenment, small doubt small enlightenment, no doubt no enlightenment." In the course of practicing Ch'an, not until you produce a great doubt sensation, a great doubt mass in your mind, will you be able to attain a great awakening. Without the doubt sensation, you won't be able to attain enlightenment, and if you don't have faith you will be unable to produce the doubt sensation. Without faith, the doubt mass cannot be broken open. Without faith, you can't even begin to talk about working on this great doubt mass.

"Faith", faith in what? Faith in the Three Jewels (i.e. Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), faith in yourself, and faith in the Master or Guru who is guiding you. If you don't have faith, you won't succeed in your practice of Ch'an. Not only do you need faith, you must have absolute, unconditional faith. How strong is your faith? As soon as the Master looks at you, he sees through you. Just as you are standing in front of the Master guaranteeing him, saying "Shih-fu! With my whole mind and in complete sincerity, without any reservations whatsoever I believe in you", before you even finish speaking the Master will immediately know how much of it is pretended and empty feeling. Just as you make your magnificent bow or kneel down bowing with deep devotion, the Master will immediately notice how much of a proud air you still have about you, what percent of dishonesty and insincerity is still in you. If your faith in the Master doesn't penetrate to the bottom, you'll be unable to obtain the method he is transmitting to you. Your practice will not progress.

Each Ch'an Master has his own method of training and guiding his disciples. Each Patriarch also had his own way of employing skillful means to accord with varying circumstances. They didn't just casually tell their disciples to practice blindly. On the surface, it may seem like the Master is mistreating you without any reason whatsoever, yet actually he is taking great pains to train you. He will use the appropriate method, suited to your temperament and capacity, to guide you on to the path. So in both Ch'an and Esoteric Buddhism, once your practice reaches a certain level, you definitely need a wise Master to guide you. If you just rely on yourself, groping along without the guidance of a Master, you won't be able to succeed. Therefore we definitely need faith. Faith in oneself, faith in the Master, faith in the Three Jewels.

You must have faith in the Three Jewels; not until you have deep earnest faith will you be able to attain to and practice the Dharma of the Three Jewels. Where does the Dharma come from? It is transmitted by the Master; but if you don't first believe that you can practice it, there's no way the Master can transmit it to you. Believe that the Buddha can become a Buddha, the Patriarchs can attain enlightenment, I also can become a Buddha, can attain enlightenment. How long it will take, I don't know; but I have the qualifications to become a Buddha. You should have firm faith in this. In the process of cultivation you should further establish faith that "What others can do, I can definitely do." Constantly accept your Masters method of teaching and without any doubts, work hard at your practice.

If you don't believe in your Master, you will attain nothing. Without absolute faith and respect in the Master there's no way you can enter the door of Ch'an. As far as the Patriarchs' Ch'an is concerned, very few people have stressed this point; however I myself especially want to emphasize the importance of faith, if we don't stress this point, there will be no way of getting people to enter the door of Ch'an.

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