Ch'an Newsletter - No. 5 May 1980


In the past, there was a Ch'an master who had three disciples. One day, two of them got into a heated argument. One of them went to the Master, stated his case and asked if he was right or not. The Master replied: "Yes, you are right." The monk then went back outside and told the other two monks. The other monk who had participated in the argument didn't believe him and went to see the Master himself. After stating his argument, the Master told him that he was correct. Upon hearing this the third monk was confused, thinking it's impossible that both monks are right. Thereupon, he also went to see the Master and asked: "Isn't one right and the other wrong." The Master replied: "Yes, you are right." The three monks then went to see the master to ask how it was possible for all three of them to be right. Had he made a mistake? No, all of them had been right.

This story illustrates that it is meaningless to get into any kind of argument. In this world, there is no absolute truth. From the Buddhist point of view everything in the world is impermanent and conditioned and therefore can only be considered from a comparative or relative point of view. When we judge one thing to be better than another we always do so from a relative or comparative standpoint. The Enlightened mind, which sees things as they really are, does not attach to any particular thing as being the absolute truth nor does it reject any particular thing as not being the absolute truth.

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Both Buddhism and Ch'an condemn fighting and advocate non-opposition to ones' enemies. This principle also applies to the practice of meditation. It often happens that when you sit down to meditate vexations and scattered thoughts arise in your mind, you find yourself hindered by various unwholesome habits, or disturbed by noises in the environment. If these disturbances cause you to feel annoyed and obstruct your practice, then no matter where you go you will be unable to settle your mind and practice Ch'an. To add annoyance on to the scattered thoughts you had to begin with amounts to setting off another layer of scattered thoughts in opposition to your original scattered thoughts. The result will be wasted effort. If a person goes on like this adding an annoyed feeling to his already scattered thoughts, then the more he practices meditation the more disturbed and ill-tempered he will become. It is for this reason that many so called 'Old Cultivators' have a very irritable disposition and often break out into anger at the slightest provocation. This is all due to their wrong approach of opposing, fighting against their original vexations and scattered thoughts, thereby increasing their vexations and creating much internal tension.

A true Ch'an practitioner, however, is not like this. Any obstructing thoughts that may arise or unfavorable environment or conditions that he may be faced with, he handles with non-opposition and dissolves any tension he may have towards it. He never resists or fights with it. What is meant by non-opposition? For example, if you were to run into a person who treats you maliciously you would not wrangle with him but rather you would do everything in your power to peacefully avoid a confrontation with him. If he throws a punch at you, you don't fight back. Not only should you abandon any thought of retaliation, but you shouldn't even harbor the hope that he doesn't hit you again. For such a hope is itself vain and unprofitable. If someone strikes you and you just accept it without resistance, without fighting back, then the opposing party will also be moved to give up his hostility. In this way the objective of dissolving obstructing tensions is sure to be achieved. It's the same when practicing Ch'an, you needn't be disturbed by the frivolous scattered thoughts that may arise; if you can refrain from desiring the pleasant and feeling aversion towards that which is undesirable, then your mind will naturally become collected. Ch'an practitioners should maintain this attitude during their daily life, when handling everyday affairs. Never become annoyed when faced with difficulties, to do so would merely amount to adding difficulty to difficulty, thereby further disturbing and confusing your mind. By maintaining a mind of peace and non-opposition all difficulties will naturally be dissolved.

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