Newsletter - No. 86, June 1991
This is Part One of a translation of an article
written by the modern patriarch Master Hsu-yun (1839-1959), who is also known by
his English name, Empty Cloud.
The Essentials of Chan Practice
by Master Hsu-yun
and Understanding Necessary to Begin Ch'an Practice
1. The Objective of Ch'an Practice:
The objective of Ch'an practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating
its impurities and seeing into one's true self-nature. The mind's impurities
are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self-nature is the wisdom and virtue
of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas and sentient beings
are not different from one another. To experience this wisdom and virtue,
leave, leave behind duality, discrimination, wrong thinking and attachment.
This is Buddhahood. If one cannot do this, then one remains an ordinary
It is because you and I are defiled that we have been wandering lost
and confused through samsara for limitless kalpas; and that we cannot immediately
cast off wrong thinking and see our original nature. For this reason we
must practice Ch'an.
The prerequisite for Ch'an practice is to eradicate wrong thinking.
Shakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject. His simplest and most direct
teaching is the word "stop" from the expression "stopping is Bodhi." From
the time when Bodhidharma transmitted Ch'an teachings to today, the winds
of Ch'an have blown far and wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among
the many things that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those
who came to study with them, none is more valuable than the saying, "Put-down
all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise."
This expression is truly the prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an.
If you cannot fulfill this requirement, then not only will you fail to
attain the ultimate goal of Ch'an practice, but you will not even be able
to enter the door of Ch'an. How can you talk of practicing Ch'an if you
are entangled by worldly phenomena with thought after thought arising and
2. Put Down All entangling conditions
"Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise" is a
prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an. Now that we know this, how do we
accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of superior abilities, can stop
all thoughts forever, arrive directly at the condition of non-arising,
and instantly experience Bodhi. such a person is not entangled by anything.
The next best kind of practitioner users principle to cut off phenomena
and realizes that self-nature is originally pure. Vexation and bodhi ,
Samsara and Nirvana -- all are false names which have nothing to do with
one's self-nature. All things are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or
Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great earth itself
are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing, yet never obstructing
the original surface. Do not bed captivated by the arising, abiding, changing
and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and
aversion, grasping and rejecting. Give up your whole body, as if you were
dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objecting. and the six sense
organs, the six sense objects and the six sense consciousness will naturally
disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the
sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body ---hunger,
cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity,
good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger--- will
no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation
--- when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing
When all phenomena are renounced , wrong thoughts disappear, discrimination
does not arise, and attachment is left behind. When thoughts no longer
arise, the brightness of self-nature manifests itself completely. At this
time you will have fulfilled the necessary conditions for Ch'an practice.
Then, further hard work and sincere practice will enable you to illuminate
the mind and see into your true nature.
3. Everyone Can Instantly Become a Buddha:
Many Ch'an practitioners ask questions about the Dharma. The Dharma
that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you try to explain things,
the true meaning is lost. When you realize that "one mind" is the Buddha,
from that point on there is nothing more to do. Everything is already complete.
All talk about practice or attainment is demonic deception.
Bodhidharma's "direct pointing at the mind, seeing into one's nature
and attaining Buddhahood" clearly instructs that all sentient beings are
Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized, one can harmonize with the
environment yet remain undefiled. The mind will remain unified throughout
the day, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. This is to already
be a Buddha. At this point there is no need to put forth effort and be
diligent. Any action is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest
thought or word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed
task. Do it by your-self. do not seek outside yourself for it.
All sentient beings --- who wish to avoid rebirth for eternal kalpas
in the four forms of birth and the six paths of existence; who eternally
sink in the sea of suffering; and who vow to attain Buddhahood and the
four virtues of Nirvana (eternity, joy, self, purity) ----- can immediately
attain Buddhahood if they wholly believe in the sincere words of the Buddha
and the patriarchs, renounce everything, and think neither of beings, made
by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is
it a baseless, empty vow.
The Dharma is exactly that. It has been elucidated again and again by
the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted us with the truth. They
do not deceive us. Unfortunately, sentient beings are confused and for
limitless kalpas they have experienced birth and death in the sea of suffering,
appearing and disappearing, endlessly taking on new forms of life. dazed
and confused, entangled in the worldly dust of the six senses with their
backs to enlightenment, they are like pure gold in a cesspool. Because
of the severity of the problem, Buddha compassionately taught 84,000 Dharma
doors to accord with the varying karmic roots of sentient beings, so that
sentient beings may use the methods to cure them-selves of 84,000 habits
and faults, which include greed, hatred, ignorance and desire.
4. Investigating Ch'an and Contemplating Mind:
Our sect focuses on investigating Ch'an. The purpose of practicing Ch'an
is to "Illuminate the mind and see into one's true nature." This investigation
is also called " Clearly realizing one's self-mind and completely perceiving
one's original nature."
Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came to
the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually
evolved. Most Ch'an practitioners, before the Tang and Sung dynasties,
became enlightened after hearing a word or half a sentence of the Dharma.
The transmission from master to disciple was the sealing of Mind with Mind.
There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday questions and answers only untied the
bonds. It was nothing more than prescribing the right medicine for the
After the Sung Dynasty, however, people did not have such good karmic
roots as their predecessors. They could not carry out what had been said,
For example, practitioners were taught to "Put down everything" and " Not
think about good and evil, "but they could not do it. They could not put
down everything, and if they weren't thinking about good, they were thinking
about evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but
to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating
gong an [and hua to].
When one begins looking into a hua to, one must grasp it tightly, never
letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin.
It concentrates on one point. It doesn't try different places and it doesn't
stop until it gets through. Thus, in terms of hua to, the objective is
to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method
is a last resort, just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow.
drastic measures must be taken to cure the patient.
The ancients used gong ans, but later on practitioners started using
hua tos. Some hua tos are: "Who is dragging this corpse around?" "Before
you were born what was your original face?' and, "Who is reciting Buddha's
In fact, all hua tos are the same. There is nothing uncommon, strange,
or special about them. If you wanted to, you could say: "Who is reciting
the sutras?" "Who is reciting the mantras? "Who is prostrating to the Buddha?
" Who is eating?" "Who is wearing these clothes?" "Who's walking?" "Who's
sleeping?" They're all the same. The answer to the question "who" is derived
from one's Mind. Mind is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of
Mind ; Mind is the origin of all thoughts. Innumerable dharmas generate
from the Mind ; Mind is the origin of all dharmas. In fact, hua to is a
thought. Before a thought arises, there is the origin of words. Hence,
looking into a hua to is contemplating Mind. There was Mind before your
parents gave birth to you, so looking into your original face before you
were born is contemplating Mind.
Self-nature is Mind. When one turns inward to hear one's self-nature,
one is Turning inward to contemplate Mind. In the phrase, "Perfectly illuminating
pure awareness," pure awareness is Mind and illumination is contemplation.
Mind is Buddha. When one recites Buddha's name one contemplates Buddha.
Contemplating Buddha is contemplating Mind.
Investigating hua to or "looking into who is reciting Buddha's name"
is contemplating Mind. Hence, contemplating Mind is illuminating pure awareness.
It is also illuminating the Buddha-nature within oneself. Mind is nature,
pure awareness, Buddha. Mind has no form, no characters, no directions;
it cannot be found in any particular place. It cannot be grasped. Originally,
Mind is purity, universally embracing all Dharma realms. No inn or out,
no coming or going. Originally, Mind is pure Dharmakaya.
When investigating hua to , the practitioner should first close down
all six sense organs and seek where thoughts arise. Practitioners should
concentrate on the hua to until they see the pure original mind which is
apart from thoughts. If one does this without interruption, the mind becomes
fine, quiet tranquil, silently illuminating. At that moment the five skandhas
are empty, body and mind are extinguished, nothing remains. From that point,
walking, standing, sitting and lying down are all done motionlessly. In
time the practice will deepen, and eventually practitioners will see their
self-nature and become Buddhas and suffering will cease.
A past patriarch named Gaofeng(1238-1295) once said: "You must contemplate
hua to like a falling roof tile sinking endlessly down into a pond ten
thousand feet deep. If in seven days you are not enlightened, I will give
you permission to chop off my head. "These are the words of an experienced
person. He did not speak lightly. His words are true.
Although many modem day practitioners use hua tos, few get enlightened.
This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today
have inferior karmic roots and less merit. Also, practitioners today are
not clear about the purpose and path of hua to. Some practitioners search
from east to west and north to south until they die, but still do not penetrate
even one hua to. They never understand or correctly approach the hua to.
They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect and attach
only to the tail of the words.
Hua to is One Mind. This mind is not inside, outside, or in the middle.
On the other hand, it is inside, outside, and in the middle. It is like
the stillness of empty space prevailing every where.
Hua to should not be picked up. Neither should it be pressed down. If
you pick it up, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you press
it down you will become drowsy. These approaches are contrary to the nature
of the original mind and are not in accordance with the Middle Path.
Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts. They think it is
difficult to tame them. Don't be afraid of wandering thoughts. Do not waste
your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them.
Do not attach to wandering thoughts, do not follow them, and do not try
to get rid of them. As long as you don't string thoughts together, wandering
thoughts will depart by themselves.
to be continued
Dharma Drum Mountain
You may have heard of Dharma Drum Publications, the publisher of Master Sheng-yen's (Shih-fu's) six English books, Ch'an Magazine and Ch'an Newsletter, but do you know about Dhanna Drum Mountain?
Master Sheng-yen searched for a site in Taiwan to expand the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies and the Nung Ch'an Monastery. In April of 1989 approximately 80 acres of land in the Gold Mountain district of Taipei were purchased. This land and Shih-fu's vision of what it will become has been named Dharma Drum Mountain.
A great future lies before Dharma Drum Mountain. There will be a Main Hall to seat 3000 people and a Ch'an Hall designed in the old Ch'an style, capable of housing and feeding 300 practitioners. The complex will include offices; classrooms; a dormitory for faculty, students, monks, nuns and staff; a library of 160,000 books; an international conference room with simultaneous translation available; and a facility for solitary retreats.
The objective of Dharma Drum Mountain is to spread Buddhadharma in a way that can benefit individual, family, society, culture and country in the world; to help people realize and experience the peace, tranquillity and health that is possible in the pure world within and around us. We hope that each member of Dharma Drum Mountain will be a drummer who will spread the right view of Buddhadharma throughout the land. This will improve the mental and physical health of all who heed its call, and it will create a positive influence on society and the world. In this way more and more people will be able to benefit from the Three Jewels and live in the light of wisdom and compassion.
A Buddhist on the Bodhisattva Path passes through three levels. First there is faith in the teachings the Buddha and the cultivation of good deeds. Second is the realization that
dana (virtue of giving and generosity) is most meritorious. Third and highest is liberation of the self; doing good deeds without seeking reward; not seeking fame or power, giving without needing to receive. At Dharma Drum Mountain, Master Sheng-yen hopes to create an environment of World Buddhism, where differences between sects, races and cultures are downplayed and the "Right Knowledge and Right View" of Buddhism is emphasized.
Shifu with Prof. Chappell and Prof. Lo at the University
of Honolulu in Hawaii on May 2.
Shifu lecturing at karma Dzong Zen Center, Colorado
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