Two feet? Eight feet?

A long time ago, there was a farmer who had a big wheat farm and he planted lots of wheat. He saw his neighbor grow wheat on the neighboring farm; they grew very well and very big. He asked his neighbor, “Look at the wheat on your farm! How did you make it grow so well? Is there a secret to planting wheat and having it grow well?”

His neighbor answered, “Well, first, you should smooth the soil and keep the ground even and flat. Then you water the ground with water saved from washing rice and vegetables. After that, you have to carefully plant the wheat sprouts evenly, and continue to water them. Then the wheat will grow big and well.”

When the farmer heard what his neighbor taught him, he tried it as soon as he went back to the farm. The farmer smoothed the soil and kept the ground flat. Then he started watering the soil to keep it moist. When he stepped on the soil and was ready to plant the wheat sprouts, he thought, “If I step on the soil I already prepared, , the soil will become hard and then the sprouts won’t grow. Mmm….What can I do?”

The farmer thought long and hard for a solution. Then he thought, “Oh! Yes. Maybe I can sit on a sedan chair and ask other people to raise and move the chair backwards while I plant the wheat sprouts in the soil. That way, I won’t step on my prepared soil. What a smart idea!”

So the farmer asked four people to help raise and move the sedan chair for him. When people in the village saw what the farmer was doing, they all laughed at him, “How silly this farmer is! He was afraid his two feet would ruin the farm, but now eight feet are stepping all over his prepared soil.”

March / April 2016 Newsletter

Monastery closed for construction from April 9 to 18.


Words of Wisdom

Buddhism does not advocate love and passion. It is not apathy but rather an elevation of love to loving-kindness, to care about others’ children as if they were your own. With a mind of equality, this loving-kindness is infinite and boundless.

—Words of Wisdom from Grand Master Wei Chueh, 惟覺大和尚法語 (For more words of wisdom)


Diamond Sutra Ceremony

On Sunday, March 13 from 9:30 am to noon, Buddha Gate Monastery invites you to participate in our monthly ceremony and chant the Diamond of Perfect Wisdom Sutra. Chanting the sutra and prostrating to the Buddha allow us to repent our misdeeds, purify our karma, receive Buddha’s blessings, and be in touch with our Buddha nature. Join us for a free vegetarian lunch immediately following the ceremony.


Half-Day Meditation Retreat

Meditation can help you focus your mind, calm down, become more aware, and see things as they truly are. If you have completed the beginning meditation classes, we invite you to participate in the half-day meditation retreat to further advance your meditation practice. The upcoming half-day meditation retreats are on March 20 & 27 and April 3 & 10 from 8:30 am to noon.

Picture1Kitchen Remodeling

Our kitchen at Buddha Gate Monastery is over 50 years old, and needs to be upgraded for improved energy efficiency, work space, and safety.

The blessings and merits of maintaining a monastery are inconceivable. By providing support, you help provide a peaceful environment for everyone to associate with the Three Jewels, understand the Truth, liberate from suffering and obtain perfect wisdom. With a respectful mind, we invite everyone to make offerings to support the Buddha Gate Monastery kitchen remodeling project.

Meritorious Volunteering

Volunteers form an important part of the Buddha Gate community. You can help the monastery by maintaining the buildings and grounds, working in the kitchen, and preparing for ceremonial events. By generously offering your time to support the monastery you not only accumulate blessings, but also practice patience, compassion, tolerance and working harmoniously with others, thereby developing the Chan state of mind and applying it toward everyday life. The monastery invites everyone to participate in the meritorious volunteering every Sunday afternoon.

Copyright © 2015 Buddha Gate Monastery. All Rights Reserved.

Walking in this Mundane World at Ease: Dealing With Prosperity and Adversity

In Buddha Dharma, “Prosperity and adversity are both expedient means.” Prosperity and adversity are both conditions encountered on the path to Enlightenment. They help us deal with the people and events in our daily lives.

Question: How do we decide if things are good or bad? This is difficult, especially when other people do not agree with us. How can we determine right from wrong using our wisdom eye? 

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

All circumstances in life appear either good or bad. In Buddha Dharma, “a good condition” is prosperity and “a bad condition” is adversity. What should our attitude be when faced with prosperity or adversity? The answer is to be tolerant and practice right mindfulness.

In prosperity, if we don’t have right mindfulness, good conditions will turn bad. A common saying is “Extreme joy turns to sorrow.” In adversity, if you panic and feel lost, it’s inappropriate. The virtuous say that, “Blessings come after calamity.” Thus, “bad conditions” are not absolutely bad. In Buddha Dharma, “Prosperity and adversity are both expedient means.” They help us deal with people and events in our daily life. They show us the Way.

Once upon a time, there was a king in ancient India. He went hunting with his minister and attendants. The king felt hungry and thirsty after walking in the forest. He asked the minister to find food. The minister saw a tree with abundant red and juicy fruit. He picked a fruit as an offering for the king. The king used a knife to peel the fruit’s skin and accidently cut his finger. It was painful and bleeding. Out of his ignorance he blamed the minister.

However, the minister told the king, “Your majesty, it may not be a bad thing that your hand is bleeding.” The king was very angry and said, “It really hurts and is bleeding. How can you say that it is not a bad thing? Do you think me a fool!” The king chased the minister away. When this happened, there was a tribe of barbarians living in the mountains and they were looking for a human being as a sacrifice. Each year, they killed a person taking his heart to offer to their god. The king was captured by the barbarians and taken to the tribal chief. The chief ordered his warriors to take off the king’s garment. As they were about to kill him, they saw his hand was bleeding. It was not a good omen. Offering an incomplete body to their god was insincere. Because of this they released the king. Upon his release, the king realized his minister was right. Being hurt and bleeding was not necessarily bad. This “bad condition” had turned good, and saved his life. Returning to his palace, he understood and appreciated the minister’s wisdom.

Seeing the minister, he was sorry and said, “I scolded you and chased you away in the mountains.” And he asked the minister, “Are you angry with me?” This minister replied, “Your majesty, I am not angry at all. On the contrary, I really appreciate you.” “Why?” The king asked,  the minister answered, “If you had not chased me away, the barbarians would have caught me, instead of you and I would have been killed. Therefore, I am really grateful, you saved my life.”

From this story, we understand that misfortune and blessing are not absolute. No matter if there is prosperity or adversity, maintain your right mindfulness. Deal with it tolerantly. Then adversity will become good and prosperity will increase and last longer.

Walking in this Mundane World at Ease: Training the Six Senses

“This practice is on how to train the six sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. If we can restrain and discipline our six senses, our emotions will be pacified effortlessly.”

Question 1:

A person depicted in a short film relieved his anxieties by shouting aloud on the seashore. Grand Master, “Is this a good way to manage our emotions?”

The Grand Master’s Dharma Talk in Response:

The man in the film gave vent to his stress by shouting. This is not true relief. If you do not solve the problem at its root, it will come back again… and never end.

The right solution is to uproot the problem. In Buddha Dharma, the fundamental way is to moderate our body and mind suitably. If we know how to harmonize our body and mind, to pacify our mind, we are on the way to attaining a virtuous and saintly state. There is a well-known verse in Buddha’s teaching: “The fool adjusts the body, the wise one adjusts the mind.” Those who adjust the body only, and not the mind, are ordinary people. Those who adjust the mind, and not the body, are wise and virtuous people.

Once upon a time, Shakyamuni Buddha took walking meditation outside the monastery. He saw a practitioner on the riverbank who looked restless. He asked him several questions: “Is anything bothering you? When did you become an ordained monk? And… How long have you been practicing?”

The monk replied “I have been ordained for more than twenty years and I feel ashamed. Although I have been practicing for so long, my mind is not pacified, I still feel restless. World Honored One, please teach me how to ease my mind.”

While they were talking, a turtle crawled up on the riverbank. A fox, hunting for food at the same time, went after this turtle. As soon as the turtle detected the fox, it immediately withdrew its head, tail, and then its four feet. The fox sniffed the rigid dome-shaped shell and left.

The Buddha used this scene as an analogy, “Look! This turtle protected its own life by withdrawing its head, tail and feet. It is the same in our practice. We have many deluded and wandering thoughts. We have feelings of gain and loss. We are unaware of the right direction. Our mind may feel restless and desolate. Focus on the cultivation of the six sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. Restrain and discipline the six senses and our mind will be pacified effortlessly. “

Question 2:

Is this way of managing your emotions consistent with Buddhist Chan practices?

The Grand Master’s Dharma Talk in Response:

When our minds are vexed, our bodies act blindly without forethought. In Buddhism, to attain deep meditation (Dhyana), there are three principles: To uphold the pure precepts, to deeply believe in causality and to realize our original mind.

First: To uphold the pure precepts. If everyone upholds the precepts and purifies the karma of body, speech, and mind, their spoken words will be thoughtful and wise. Simultaneously, there will be no improper bodily karma.

Second: To deeply believe in causality. Understanding the principle of cause and effect eliminates wrongdoings.

Third: To realize our original mind. If we acknowledge everyone has the Buddha mind, we will peacefully dwell in this awareness. This means you will no longer cling to circumstances and body and mind will be at rest.
What is the original mind? It is a clear mind, a focused mind, a pure mind. Our original mind, our peaceful mind, our awakened mind, is like a mirror. It is still water, always both calm and reflective.

Question 3:

In our ordinary life, how do we avoid being affected by external circumstances?

The Grand Master’s Dharma Talk in Response:

“Walking is Chan! Sitting is Chan!” Whether we walk, stand, sit or even lay down, the mind must not be scattered. Maintain awareness at every moment.

Be the master of your mind. Wherever you are, your mind should centered there, fully engaged. When you are working, the mind is working. When you are  chanting the sutra, the mind is chanting the sutra. When you are meditating, the mind is meditating. There can be no second thoughts; only the single focused mind can accomplish this. When your mind is centered you will know that “Walking is Chan” and “Sitting is Chan”. With a centered mind you can accomplish anything: students can complete their studies. Workers can succeed in their careers. Practioners who focus on pure practice can attain enlightenment.


Translated from a Dharma talk by Ven. Wei Chueh

Right Diligence

In all our pursuits in life, we must not only be diligent, but must have “right diligence.” If we only have diligence but the direction of our diligence is not correct, we will be opposed to the Way, and this will lead to deleterious effects. For example, in our society, some people stay up all night to gamble, play computer games, or play mahjong—that is not right diligence. The Four Right Efforts in Buddhism: “Let virtuous thoughts that have arisen increase; let virtuous thoughts that have not arisen swiftly arise; let evil thoughts that have arisen be eradicated; let evil thoughts that have not arisen never arise.” This is the correct direction of diligence.

To attain success in our cultivation, we must make unceasing effort both day and night, use this mind of diligence to be mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, and the precepts, and practice the six paramitas. Besides being diligent now, we must always generate great vow never to regress in this lifetime and future lifetimes, to practice the bodhisattva way—that is true diligence. Just as Shakyamuni Buddha perfected his wisdom, blessings, and virtues for three asamkheya kalpas—that is the greatest diligence.

In a previous lifetime, when Shakyamuni Buddha was the Lo Ji Immortal, he diligently sat in meditation both day and night until “a bird nested on his head, and grass grew up to his knees.” A bird built its nest in his hair and laid eggs, grass beneath him grew up to his knees, yet he remained unmoved. He let go of both body and mind, was tranquil and still, free from any non-essential (useless) thoughts. That is right diligence, great diligence. That is why the Buddha has infinite samadhi power. This is the result of his constant diligence and effort.

In another lifetime, Shakyamuni Buddha was born as the Great Almsgiving Prince. He practiced dana (charitable giving) with diligence. But the treasures of the kingdom were limited and he was not able to help all the people. Therefore, to help sentient beings, the Prince went to seek treasures from the ocean. There he hoped to obtain the mani pearl from the Dragon King so that he could exchange it for food and clothing to donate to the people. His sincerity moved the God of the Ocean, who stole the mani pearl from the Dragon Palace and offered it to the Prince. But when the Dragon King found out about it, he used his supernatural powers to retrieve the mani pearl. The Prince thought that if he didn’t have the mani pearl, he could not save the people; therefore, he decided to empty the ocean water and enter the Dragon Palace to ask the Dragon King for the mani pearl. He subsequently tried to empty the ocean water pail by pail. But how could the ocean water be emptied? The Prince was not daunted by the difficulties and continued to empty the ocean water day and night until he became emaciated, exhausted, and finally fainted. At that time, the Four Heavenly Kings were deeply moved by the Prince’s diligence in willing to sacrifice his life to help all beings, so they immediately helped the Prince and quickly emptied over half of the ocean’s water. This alarmed the Dragon King, because if the ocean water were emptied, all the beings in the ocean would perish. So he quickly offered the mani pearl to the Prince. This unrelenting effort of the Prince is the practice of “diligence.”

 Diligence in Practice

Diligence consists of diligence in practice and diligence in principle. Most cultivators are diligent in practice and do not clearly understand what the “principle” is. What is diligence in practice? It is prostrating to the Buddha – prostrating a thousand times a day; reciting the Buddha’s name – thirty thousand, fifty thousand, or a hundred thousand times; reciting the sutras – ten chapters; or reciting the mantras ten thousand times or more. These are all diligence in practice. To attain our goal, we should be diligent in practice with perseverance and determination. If we do not have perseverance and determination, our mouth dries up after reciting the Buddha’s name for a short time, or we give up after reciting just a few chapters of the sutra. With this kind of attitude, it is not easy to attain the Way. We must not only be diligent in our cultivation, but to succeed in any pursuit in life, we must persevere. When one has a mind of perseverance, even those of low faculties can succeed. On the other hand, no matter how intelligent one is, one may not easily attain success. Therefore, in everything that we do, we must be diligent and never regress.

In Buddhism, there are many anecdotes about diligence in practice. The “Wax-Sunning Master” was one example. During the early Ming Dynasty, there was a bhikshu who was the sacristan of the Zen Hall. He was worried that the candles would become moldy, so he placed them under the hot sun in June. However, under the sun, the candles all melted into liquid wax. Later on, people called him the “Wax-Sunning Master.” Once, the Buddhist Institute was recruiting students and the “Wax-Sunning Master,” hoping to open his mind to wisdom, also wanted to study there. Although the Institute did not have any entrance requirements, because he was illiterate, he was not accepted. But he was very determined and continued to make prostrations, pay homage, and would not leave. Therefore the Buddhist Institute accepted him. After he entered the Institute, he gradually learned to read. When others were sleeping or resting, he would still be studying. Because he persevered and never failed to be diligent, he later became a great Dharma master, one with the highest achievement in the Buddhist Institute.

We must be diligent in our cultivation. When listening to sutras, we must not become drowsy or give rise to delusive thoughts, otherwise we will not be able to attain the fruit of the Way (enlightenment). Famous people in the world also depend on their diligence to achieve success. Therefore, in our struggle through life, we must fulfill the requirements of diligence.  Diligence in practice consists of thoughts moving unceasingly with attachment to objects, and the mind still in the midst of arising and ceasing. If we base the fundamental cause of our practice on the mind’s arising and ceasing, we will reap the fruits of birth and death in the future. Therefore, diligence in practice is still separate from the Way, so we should take a step further to achieve diligence in principle.

Diligence in Principle

Diligence in Principle is to base the fundamental cause of our practice on a mind that neither arises nor ceases. We will then reap the fruit of freedom from birth and death—attain nirvana and enlightenment. What is freedom from birth and death? It is this very mind that everyone has. “The mind is Buddha.” When enlightened, this mind is the Buddha. Everyone has this mind. As soon as we are born we know this mind of pain, itchiness, tears, and laughter; it is not given to us by our parents, nor does it arise from our thinking or our practice; it is not given to us by anyone else, it is inherent in us. Even though we are now ordinary beings, if our mind does not give rise to defilements or have delusive thoughts, the bodhi mind will immediately manifest. Therefore, we must now practice not giving rise to the mind, not moving our thoughts, not clinging to objects, not being confused, then this mind is samadhi; we do not need to practice samadhi elsewhere; this mind is constantly clear; this is wisdom; we need not seek wisdom elsewhere. Because where there is seeking, there is gain and loss; where there is gain, there is loss; where there is attainment, there is loss: these are not inherent in us.

“Foundation” means the root. It is the fundamental inherent mind of sentient beings that is unborn and undying; it is the “fundamental cause of cultivation” It is this inherent mind that is the root of cultivation in the causal ground. When Shifu teaches the Dharma, if your mind that listens to the Dharma constantly maintains clarity, neither arises nor ceases—this is the “root.” (foundation). We need not look for it elsewhere. For example, contemplating the hua tou, giving rise to thoughts, reflecting, and contemplating the hua tou that neither arises nor ceases—this also is the pure Dharma body of Vairocana Buddha. This is the “fundamental cause of cultivation.”

The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment states, “All Tathagathas originally arise from the causal ground.” “The causal ground” is the causal ground of the mind. The “root” is our fundamental inherent Buddha nature. With this causal ground as the foundation of our cultivation, this mind will constantly be free from delusive thoughts, not fall into confusion, and be master of itself. This is diligence in principle. In the Shurangama Sutra, the World Honored One clearly elucidated the main condition for abandoning delusion and removing the true. “When cause and effect are the same, defilements are clensed/eradicated and one enters nirvana; untying our bonds by their roots, we are liberated from bondage and attain enlightenment.” Therefore, the causal ground of the mind is the stage of attainment/enlightenment. Practicing accordingly is diligence in principle, great diligence.

Practicing without Effort: Practice and Principle are in One Suchness

 “Not giving rise to a single thought” is great diligence. When thoughts are produced, they will certainly be extinguished. When the mind that arises and ceases is the fundamental cause of practice, it is the expedient means of diligence in practice. For example, if we begin by reciting “Amitabha” and follow it with another “Amitabha,” then the first “Amitabha” is extinguished. Therefore this mind is always in the midst of arising and ceasing (birth and death) and the recitation of the Buddha’s name also arises and ceases. If we understand the truth of ‘diligence in principle,’ this mind will be free from birth and death. When we realize this truth, we should recite the Buddha’s name through principle. The reciting and what is recited are both empty. Even though empty, this mind is perfectly clear and lucid, in suchness and unmoving. This is “in every thought the Buddha is in the world.” This mind exists at every moment. Reciting this way is truly inconceivable. Reciting is the Buddha; not reciting is the Buddha. Reciting is the Way; not reciting is the Way. The mind is perfectly clear and lucid, and absolutely tranquil. This is the Buddha. This is true diligence.

In cultivating the Way, the mind that neither arises nor ceases should be the fundamental cause of cultivation. To attain this mind that neither arises nor ceases is the ultimate goal of cultivation. Those who realize this principle are called “saints who have realized the principle.” The principle neither arises nor ceases; it has neither form nor characteristics. If one practices all Dharma methods and makes effort from the principle, the practice is the formless Dharma that neither arises nor ceases—not giving rise to the mind, not moving one’s thoughts, constantly maintaining the existence of this mind that neither arises nor ceases. At this time, not making effort is making effort. The ancients say, “all Dharmas flow from this source. All Dharmas return to the Dharma realm.” All Dharmas return to the Dharma realm of the principle. “Principle” is this mind that is unborn and undying, and awareness is always present. After practicing, one is not attached to the practice. In reciting there is no one who is reciting and nothing that is recited. Everything is always in one suchness. This is to practice without effort.

Practicing without effort is great practice, great diligence. When we realize this principle, we will attain the birthless state. When we realize this principle, we will instantly attain the state of the sages. When we practice after realization, we can practice all virtuous dharmas and yet not be attached to them. This is to practice with non-practice; to be mindful of no-mind. This is the true cultivator. If we do not realize this principle, it is diligence in practice only, and we are still dwelling in the mind that arises and ceases. This belongs to the state of birth and death and will result in the retribution of birth and death. By planting the cause now, the retribution is in the future and not in the present; therefore one is always in the state of an ordinary being. The Buddha’s realm within the ten Dharma realms is “Utilizing the One Vehicle; all virtues are perfected.” “One Vehicle” is the mind that is unborn and undying as the cause of fundamental cultivation. Besides this, there is no second method. The Buddha cultivated for three asamkheya kalpas, beginning as an ordinary person, finally attaining supreme unsurpassed enlightenment, never straying from this mind. Therefore it is said, “A journey of a thousand miles is not separate from the first step.” Cause and effect are always one.

To realize the principle of no arising and no ceasing is to see our own inherent Buddha nature. Practicing according to this method is to practice with non-practice; it also is to practice without effort. At this time, any dharma we touch is the Buddha Dharma. Practice is principle and principle is practice. Practice and principle are non-dual. Practice and principle are one. If we only practice diligence in principle and are not diligent in practice, it will also be difficult to realize the truth. Therefore, in order to gain true benefit from our practice, we must be diligent both in practice and in principle. We must realize the principle, and cultivate the practice. When we understand this we should practice by relying on this true mind, constantly not deviating from this mind, then we will be able to attain the fruit of the Way in this life.

Seven Day Meditation Retreat for Abbots and Abbesses, Completion Dharma Talk

by Grand Master Wei Chueh

The foundation of Buddhism is this mind. Therefore, Buddhism is the doctrine of the mind. All the sutras and shastras point to this mind. Ordinarily, when we are in motion, the mind also moves; when we stop moving and are still, we are confused and have deluded thoughts; we do not know where our mind has gone. Only during meditation we learn to fully realize how to let go of all things, to bring back our mind; whether we are walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, we are not apart from this mind; that which is listening to the Dharma is our own [true] self.

From childhood to old age and death, at every stage, every year, every hour, every minute, and every second, we are constantly changing. Only this mind neither arises nor perishes, neither comes nor goes, is neither pure nor impure—that is our true self. If we understand our mind from this viewpoint, we will not fail to achieve our potential after embracing the monastic life.

After Awakening to the Way, We Must Work More Diligently

When we understand this principle, the ancients call it “being awakened to the Way.” We can practice only after we are awakened to the Way. If we are not awakened, we do not even know where the Way is, where the Buddha is, or where the mind is. When we are awakened to this mind, we will realize that although this mind is intrinsic, it is filled with confusion, vexations, and ignorance. Therefore, we need to work and practice harder. To be awakened is not the end. If we do not understand this principle, we will think that we are right, that we probably are transformed bodhisattvas, or virtuous and learned ones.
After we are awakened, we will realize that cultivation is not easy. If we do not understand this principle, it is to be attached to the Dharma. Therefore the ancient sages say, “Before awakening we think we are good enough; after awakening there is much more work to do.” Before we are awakened to this mind, we are satisfied with our practice; we think that we cultivate blessings and wisdom like a bodhisattva. “After awakening there is much more work to do”—we must be in accord with conventional truth, liberate sentient beings, subject and object must be empty, we do not cling to emptiness or to existence; every thought must be distinct and clear; we must be masters of ourselves everywhere; we must constantly elevate and purify this mind, in stillness and in motion, in prosperity and in adversity, in sickness and in health, in life and in death—therefore we say “there is much more work to do.”

I believe that after seven days of calming and subduing [the mind,] you have gained some understanding about yourselves. Did you experience a good stick of incense (good meditation session) during these seven days? If you were able to sit through a good stick of incense, the merits are inconceivable. This good stick of incense is known as the root of wisdom. When you understand this mind, that is also the root of wisdom; when this mind is in accord with the Way, it is also the root of wisdom. Buddhism teaches that one is the root of virtue and one is the root of wisdom. The root of wisdom is inherent in us
(intrinsic). “The self nature of bodhi is originally pure” means to this mind nature. The virtuous root is to “cultivate all virtues; do not neglect to cultivate a single virtue; sever all evil; do not neglect to sever a single evil; liberate all sentient beings; do not neglect to liberate a single sentient being.” “Do no evil; practice all virtues”—this is known as the root of virtue. “Purify your mind” is the root of wisdom. In cultivating the Way, we must not be confused or ignorant or deceive ourselves. Ask ourselves whether we have reduced our vexations, whether our mind is purified; when we are in motion or in stillness, idle or busy, does this mind still exist? That is Chan.

“Chan is the mind of the Buddha; the scriptures are the mouth of the Buddha; the precepts are the body of the Buddha.” Chan is to think of neither good nor evil; the mind is perfectly clear; samadhi and wisdom are one—that is Chan; it is the Buddha’s mind; it is our own original mind. This mind is beyond words or speech; it is what Wang Yang Ming said, “When there is neither good nor evil, that is the mind’s essence.” When neither good thoughts nor bad thoughts have arisen, that is the mind’s essence; that is “Chan is the mind of the Buddha.” When we are meditating, see how long we can maintain this mind. If we can maintain it for one hour, time goes by in an instant. Therefore the ancient sages say, “Coming by chance under the pine tree, sleeping peacefully on a rock; in the mountain there is no sense of time; winter is over and one does not know the year.” This the mind of the Buddha. When we expound the Buddha’s teachings, that is the mouth of the Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Dharma for 49 years; that is the teaching of words; therefore, we say, “The scriptures are the Buddha’s mouth/words.” “The precepts are the Buddha’s body”—by observing all the precepts and deportments, knowing both stillness and motion, observing the four proper deportments when walking, standing, sitting, or lying down; that is known as the precepts. We should know that in the final analysis, all our actions are this very mind. Therefore, to work hard on the mind is the foundation [of practice].

In Stillness and in Motion, When Idle or Busy, We Are Not Separate from This Mind

“Chan” is the mind-doctrine of Buddhism. Whether in stillness or in motion, whether it is the Chan school, the Pure Land School, the Vinaya School, or the Esoteric School, they do not deviate from this mind. Straying from our original mind is the Dharma of birth and death, and pertains to virtues and blessings. When we establish monasteries, liberate sentient beings, these are all expedient means, but without expedient means we cannot attain bodhi and nirvana. This is to “Skillfully employ expedient means; calmly abide in the Mahayana mind.” When we understand this principle, everything that we do—walking, standing, sitting, or lying down—is virtuous and is the Way. The Way is not separate from our daily lives, our speech, and our actions. The great master Yong Jia says, “Walking is Chan, sitting is Chan; in speech or in silence, in motion or in stillness, the essence is at peace.” When we are enlightened and come to a true understanding, this mind constantly exists, without any delusive thoughts; every thought is perfectly clear; we are masters of ourselves everywhere; whether we are in stillness or in motion, the mind exists and is perfectly clear—that is Chan. When we are meditating, there is only this mind that is tranquil and wu-wei, bright and clear, like a solitary moon high up in the sky; with only this one thought and no second thought; one thought until the end, one thought for ten thousand years; in ten thousand years, only one thought, without any confusion, delusions, or boredom. Whether sleeping or walking, there is only this one thought, never deviating from this mind. When we are talking, the mind is peaceful and at ease; when we are quiet/still, the mind is still peaceful and at ease; even if we are in a battle of whirling swords, this mind is perfectly clear, peaceful, and at ease; this is “walking is Chan, sitting is Chan, in speech or in silence, in motion or in stillness, the essence is at peace.” The ancients say, “Everything is right here.” Enlightenment is to be awakened to this mind that is intrinsic, to realize that the mundane mind does not give rise to delusive thoughts or ignorance—that is our own original face. It is not to see something or to obtain something.

The Western philosopher said, “I think, therefore I am.” “Thinking” is the mind’s function. If we do not think, does that means we do not exist? Where is this mind when it is still? This mind has essence, characteristic, and function. When Wang Yang Ming was enlightened, he clearly said, “When there is neither good nor evil, that is the mind’s essence; when there is good and evil, that is the mind’s function; to know good and evil is our conscience, doing good and eliminating evil is to be free from objects.” “When there is neither good nor evil, that is the mind’s essence” is the same as what the Sixth
Patriarch says, “With neither good nor evil thoughts, at this very moment, what is the Venerable Hui Ming’s original face?” When we are thinking of neither good nor evil, it is what the Chan patriarchs say, “Let not a single thought arise”—that is our original face; that is the mind’s essence. “When there is good and evil, that is the mind’s function” means that when this mind does not give rise to good thoughts, it gives rise to evil thoughts; whether there are good or evil thoughts, it is the mind that is functioning. “To know good and evil is our conscience,” is to know when our mind gives rise to good or evil thoughts or no thoughts; this “knowing” is our conscience; it is also what the sutra says, “To clearly distinguish the characteristics of all dharmas, one firmly abides in the ultimate principle.” If we cannot even distinguish between good or evil thoughts or no thoughts, won’t we be like a piece of wood, like a vegetable? That is not the Way. Therefore, we must be aware, examine ourselves, reflect, and be awakened. “Doing goodand eliminating evil is to be free from objects” means to subdue all the scattered thoughts and delusions in our mind; this is a method of practice. After we use this practice, we must not think or having used it; we must return to bodhi and nirvana. This is “the joy of bodhi awakened to the Dharma; the tranquil joy of nirvana.” Bodhi is this mind of perfect clarity, “the tranquil joy of nirvana.” Most people seek pleasures from external stimulations and feel that it is happiness; the cultivator finds the greatest joy in this tranquil mind. In most people, the eye takes forms as food; the ear takes sounds as food; the nose takes smells as food; the tongue takes flavors as food; the consciousness takes defilements as food. When we cultivate and listen to the Dharma, we are filled with the joy of the Dharma; this is to take the joy of Chan as food. When we are meditating, not a single thought arises—one thought in ten thousand years; ten thousand years with one thought; this is the sustenance of the cultivator. If we can realize this principle, we will understand the doctrine of the mind ground.

Letting Go and Taking Up Without Any Obstructions

When we look through the pages of history, the founding patriarchs not only benefited the self, but also benefited others. To benefit the self is when the mind transforms knowledge into wisdom, when we firmly abide in this mind, and purify this mind. Benefiting others is to establish monasteries, liberate sentient beings. The Sixth Patriarch broadly liberated sentient beings; Mazu erected forest monasteries; Bai Zhang established the monastic regulations; The old man Zhao Zhou was still liberating sentient beings when he was 80 years old; the Venerable Xu Yun established numerous monasteries—that is the true Buddha Dharma. It is not closing the doors and meditating, or reciting the Buddha’s name. Closing the doors and meditating is to cultivate in stillness. Besides stillness there must also be motion/action; therefore, we say that “in the fundamental ground of ultimate reality, not a single Dharma arises; in the Buddha’s work, not a single Dharma is disregarded.” Establishing monasteries, liberating sentient beings, benefiting others by means of all good deeds and causal conditions—this is “in the Buddha’s work not a single dharma is disregarded.” “In the fundamental ground of ultimate reality, not a single Dharma arises”—this means when we meditate, our mind does not want anything, because this mind is replete in all things; what else could it want? This mind “does not

seek the Buddha” because the Buddha is intrinsic in us. The pure and lucid mind, the awakened mind, the bodhi mind—these are all the Buddha, so if we still wish to seek the Buddha, that is to place a head on top of a head! Where should we look for it? To seek is to have delusive thoughts; to seek is to suffer; to seek nothing is bliss. “Do not seek the Dharma” because the mind gives rise to ten thousand dharmas; the Buddhas of the ten directions are in this mind; this mind is replete with immeasurable virtues and merits; all dharmas flow from this mind. “Do not seek the sangha.” What is the sangha? The Sixth

Patriarch said, “The sangha is purity.” When the mind maintains purity and right mindfulness, that is the sangha, so what else do we need to seek? When we seek, we will lose our right mindfulness, we will no longer see the sangha; when we constantly abide firmly in right mindfulness, comply with our awareness—that is the sangha. “Do not seek sentient beings”—sentient beings are fundamentally empty, so what is there to seek? We ordinarily tell sentient beings to seek the Buddha Way above and to liberate sentient beings below. Seeking the Buddha Way above—there is nothing to seek; subject and object are both empty; liberating sentient beings below—sentient beings are also empty. Although we liberate sentient beings, this mind must return to its self nature; one is by gradual [cultivation], one is by sudden [enlightenment]; they are compatible and nonconflictive. “Do not seek the Buddha; do not seek the Dharma; do not seek the sangha; do not seek sentient beings” means that we must work hard on this mind. In the Chan hall, we must let go of all things; yet in the Chan meditation center we must take up all things, be able to let go and take up, that is the true Buddha Dharma, that is true Chan.

When this mind is without obstructions, without distance, does not abide in emptiness or existence, that is the self nature of bodhi; it is lively and active, “like the lotus flower that does not cling to water, and the moon that does not cling to the sky”—this is to be truly awakened, otherwise, if the mind is attached to any state, it is not right. This is the mind of all of you listening to the Dharma! It is intrinsic; from here we must learn to understand ourselves.

Knowledge and Action Are One; Practice and Principle Are in One Suchness

Chan practice is to let go of all things, firmly abide in right mindfulness, comply with our awareness; when this pure mind manifests, an hour passes by in an instant. Buddhism comprises practice and principle; when we know the principle, we must put it into practice; only after we have practiced it ourselves, can we truly understand that practice and principle are one, just as what Wang Yang Ming said, “Knowledge and practice are one,”—one is knowledge, one is practice—when we understand the ultimate meaning, that is to truly unify knowledge and action. Practice and principle are in one suchness. Only by thoroughly understanding and harmonizing practice and principle, can we propagate the Buddha Dharma.

The Way is in all places, at all times, and in every instant. Some people feel that Chan is to eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, play when one wishes to play—that is actually not Chan; it to indulge oneself! If we indulge ourselves, we will degrade ourselves. We ordinarily cultivate according to conditions; sitting in meditation in the Chan hall is an intensive practice; if we ordinarily do not know to work hard and fortify our practice, it is difficult to practice correctly by just sitting in meditation. Therefore the Tian Tai School’s teaching of meditation (samatha and vipasyana) entails:

1) meditation on emptiness

2) meditation by employing expedient means and adapting to conditions

3) meditation on cessation of discriminating duality

These focus on the three meditative practices on “emptiness,” “phenomena” and the “Middle Way.”

1) “Meditation on emptiness.” At every moment [of our lives], we know to examine ourselves and reflect that the best way to overcome our vexations is not to cling to external objects. Therefore, if we can understand the conditional arising and empty nature of all dharmas, and cease our delusive thoughts, emptiness is the truth. Therefore, this is “meditation on emptiness.”

2) “Meditation on employing expedient means to adapt to conditions.” Expedient means are skillful means; by adapting to conditions, the bodhisattvas understand emptiness and non-emptiness, can distinguish and apply skillful means to heal sickness, transform and liberate sentient beings according to conditions; their minds abide calmly in conventional truth and are not moved by internal or external changes; that is known as employing expedient means to adapt to conditions. Therefore, whether in stillness or in motion, whether idle or busy, when the six roots contact the six dusts, we adapt to conditions in all situations, the mind is calm and unmoved. In our daily lives—in our clothing, food, housing, and transportation; in walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—we universally liberate sentient beings; we discipline and subdue our minds—this is adapting to conditions. If we wait until this mind has become perfectly still before liberating sentient beings, that is not the bodhisattva way. The bodhisattva way is to discipline ourselves while we are liberating sentient beings, to fully benefit ourselves while we are liberating sentient beings; when we achieve this state, that is to “employ expedient means to adapt to conditions.”

3) Finally, “meditation on cessation of discriminating duality.” Birth, death, and nirvana, existence and non-existence, delusion and enlightenment are all dualistic characteristics and not the Middle Way. Only when this mind abides neither in existence nor in emptiness—“Do not abide where the Buddha is; quickly walk past the place where there is no Buddha”—that is the ultimate [principle]; it is to understand the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way; it is Middle Way Reality.

Incorporate Our Practice Into Our Daily Lives

When we understand these principles, and incorporate them into our daily lives, that is the true bodhisattva way. In our cultivation, we must be able to tolerate the solitary state, nurture this mind until it is still; that is bodhi, that is nirvana. The ancient sages say, “When romance and success have passed, sorrow and desolation follow; when tranquil and pure states are prolonged, their flavor increases.” Whether it is the desire and love between men and women, or the attainment of highest worldly success and honor, when these events pass, one is left with nothing but sorrow and desolation and will finally sink into the evil realms. As Chan cultivators, “when states of tranquility and purity are prolonged, their flavor increase” means to be free from delusion and confusion and abide in this mind. It is not to sit here dryly. Sitting dryly is totally unrelated to bodhi, samadhi, and wisdom; it is like stagnant water that hides no dragons. Even though we are not sitting dryly, we must be able to tolerate solitude, and nurture this mind; the longer this mind can abide calmly, the more subdued, pure, and true it becomes; that is infinite life and infinite light; that is the true self. All of you here should work hard and understand yourselves; then you will feel that your cultivation is very real; you will be able to abide in stillness and in motion—when in stillness, not a single thought arises; when in motion, all virtues are perfected.

When you return to the Chan meditation center, you must be able to perfect all actions, universally liberate all sentient beings, liberating sentient beings yet no sentient beings are liberated; this is to cultivate all virtuous dharmas, and not be attached to any virtuous dharmas; this is the wisdom of vajra prajna. Therefore, by truly understanding “in the fundamental ground of ultimate reality, not a single dharma arises; in the Buddha’s work, not a single dharma is disregarded,” you will find the great bodhi way. There are many teachings in Buddhism, but if any method surpasses bodhi and nirvana, that is what the Buddha speaks of as expedient means. Reciting the Buddha’s name entails immeasurable merits; paying homage to the Buddha brings infinite blessings—these are expedient means; this is practice. In reciting the Buddha’s name and paying homage to the Buddha, both subject and object should be empty, and we return to our self nature; that is the true Buddha Dharma.

The virtuous dharmas in Buddhism consist of “meditation on relative truths,” “true emptiness,” and “middle way reality.” These three are non-conflictive. “Meditation on relative truths” is to build monasteries, propagate the Buddha Dharma, universally liberate sentient beings, establish the 84,000 dharma doors, establish various expedient means—all these are virtuous dharmas, relative truths. If we cling to the phenomenal, that is only blessings; therefore, we must advance another step—subject and object must both be empty. For example, in cultivating the six paramitas, the first five are related to “practice.” Prajna paramita is the “principle.” In cultivating each paramita, we must use prajna paramita to contemplate “emptiness.” Dana paramita consists of material giving, Dharma giving, and giving of solace and courage, finally achieving “three-fold emptiness”—that is prajna. The principle of the six paramitas is emptiness; the highest [principle] is the truth of emptiness. “Relative truth” is blessings; “true emptiness” is liberation;” “Middle Way Reality” is the wonderful bright true bodhi mind. Therefore, this mind is supreme. We are now in the scientific age, the space age; everyone should realize that all scientific advances are crystallizations of the mind’s wisdom. If we deviate from this mind, what else can we do? This wisdom still belongs to the wisdom with outflows (defilements). Middle Way Reality is the wisdom without outflows. We hope that each one of you can harmonize (coordinate) and thoroughly understand “relative truth,” “true emptiness,” and “Middle Way Reality”—they are one in three, and three in one. To thoroughly understand these, we need to carefully reflect on them; otherwise, practice is practice and principle is principle and one can easily give rise to attachments.

Everyone must have faith in the Buddha Dharma and the practice; together with the causal conditions of virtuous dharmas, we propagate the Buddha Dharma. Even though we speak of bodhi and nirvana and do not give rise to a single thought, if we have not practiced diligently and fortified our cultivation, and even have problems in the necessities of life, how can there be bodhi and nirvana? Buddhism is in everyday living; therefore, we say, “Walking through a field of flowers, do not let a single leaf cling to you.” In our daily lives, we cannot be separate from conventional truth—that is to propagate the Buddha Dharma, to liberate sentient beings. Perfecting conventional truth brings immeasurable blessings. Not being attached to these blessings , knowing that they are the coming together of causes and conditions, when subject and object are both empty, that is the truth of emptiness. In the end, the original nature is fundamentally empty; we do not even cling to emptiness—that is the ultimate truth of the Middle Way; it is to understand the ultimate [principle]. We hope that you will all carefully reflect on this, and thoroughly understand these truths.

The Importance Of Our Vows

A Dharma talk by Venerable Wei Chueh, Translated from Chung Tai Magazine, Issue 86

Our vows steer the direction of our lives. If the direction of our vows is incorrect, our life will be filled with darkness. But if our vows are correct, there will be brightness everywhere. M

ost people do not thoroughly realize that the power of our vows is truly inconceivable. If we do not make vows and do not have a goal, we will not be able to generate any power in our daily life, our speech, and our actions. Therefore, vows are extremely important.

Being Compassionate Toward All Sentient Beings; Vowing that All May Attain Buddhahood

In cultivating the Way, we must resolve to make vows because they are based on a compassionate mind and the four immeasurable states of mind, viewing that all sentient beings are connected by the causality of the three periods of time, and that we are all one family, as well as friends and relatives of past lives; we wish to liberate them because we cannot bear to see them suffer. This is the first reason for making vows. The second reason
is because all sentient beings possess Buddha nature; therefore, we wish that all sentient beings will be enlightened and attain buddhahood.

The Confucians say, “I look in awe at the lofty peaks, I strive to follow virtuous deeds; though they seem to be unattainable, the mind can aspire to them.” If the goal of our cultivation is to become a Buddha, we should make efforts toward that goal. However, if we cannot attain buddhahood, we can still become bodhisattvas. If we make the bodhisattva vow, and do not become a bodhisattva, we can at least attain the fruit of arhatship. If our vow to attain arhatship does not materialize, we can at least maintain our human body. If our aim is just to become a human being, that is belittling and undermining ourselves.

Everyone can forgive themselves for being somewhat slothful. If our wish is just to become a human being, we cannot even establish good character in the end. Why? If we do not uphold the five precepts, we cannot perfect our character; even if we wish to be a human being, we may finally plunge into the three evil realms. Therefore we should make great vows. With great vows and proper conduct, we can achieve our goal. If we make superior
vows, we will attain mediocre results. If we make mediocre vows, we will attain inferior results. If we make inferior vows, we will not attain anything. Therefore, in cultivating the way, it is essential to make [great] vows, aspire to attain buddhahood. We should at least have this mindset.

The Vow of the Calf; The Buddha’s Prophecy

Once, the Buddha had a cold and asked Ananda to go to a Brahmin’s home to beg for a bowl of milk. The Venerable Ananda went to the Brahmin’s home with his alms bowl and said to him: “Here is a great opportunity for you to practice dana. Shakyamuni Buddha has a cold; please take this opportunity and donate a bowl of milk to offer to the World Honored One.” When the Brahmin heard this, he said, “All my cows are in the stable,
please go and milk the cow yourself.” The Venerable Ananda then went to the stable and said to a [mother] cow, “Cow, being born in the animal realm entails great suffering. If you wish to avert suffering and obtain
happiness, you must bring forth the bodhi mind, make a great resolve, and offer your milk to the World Honored One. This will increase your merits and blessings so that you will attain liberation in the future.” When the old cow heard this, it suddenly came to a realization, clearly saw that it had committed many offences in its past lives, causing it to be reborn as a cow in its past 500 existences. It realized that being a cow entails great
suffering. It said to Ananda, “ I am very happy that I can offer my milk to Shakyamuni Buddha. I hope this will help me to achieve liberation very soon.” It then added, “I have just given birth to a new calf, it still needs to drink milk, so please leave a little for my calf and you can offer the rest to the World Honored One.” At that time, the little calf clearly heard the conversation and said, “Being a cow is indeed great suffering, I’d rather give up drinking milk for one day, so instead of leaving any milk for me, please take all of it to offer to the World Honored One.” Therefore, Ananda took all the milk from the cow to offer to Shakyamuni Buddha.

Shakyamuni Buddha said to the Venerable Ananda, “Ananda, when you went to beg for the milk, did you hear what the calf and its mother said?” Ananda answered, “Yes, I heard. The old cow was very happy to offer its milk to the World Honored One, hoping, by doing so, it would soon be liberated and no longer be reborn as a cow. The young calf, however, made a great vow, hoping that it could attain the Buddha’s wisdom in the future and help liberate all sentient beings, therefore it wished to dedicate the merits gained from donating the milk toward attaining supreme enlightenment.”

Shakyamuni Buddha then said to Ananda, “These are both similar events, but each giver’s resolve was different, therefore the merits, wisdom, and retribution gained are totally different. The old cow gave of its milk with the hope of being liberated, therefore at the end of its life as a cow, it would be reborn as a human being, leave the home-life to cultivate the Way, and attain the fruit of arhatship. But the young calf, due to its vast and sincere vow, after suffering the retribution of this life, would, in the future, practice the bodhisattva way, life after life, attain the fruit of buddhahood, and become the Milk-Radiance Tathagata.”

Making Great Vows and Attaining Enlightenment

The four great vows are:
I vow to liberate countless sentient beings;
I vow to eradicate endless vexations;
I vow to learn the measureless Dharmas;
I vow to attain the supreme Buddha Way.

What does it mean to attain buddhahood? It means that our mind transcends from the relative to the absolute, from a defiled mind to a pure mind, from a mind of vexations to a mind of tranquil extinction (nirvana). When our mind achieves this state, we will be fully liberated, transcend from the ordinary person to sainthood, and attain the state of nirvana; this is known as attaining the Buddha Way.

The four great vows are collective vows. All past and present Buddhas as well as future cultivators should make these four great vows. Besides these collective vows, we can also make individual vows. When we have attained wisdom and samadhi power, we can also make our own individual vows, such as the forty-eight vows of Amitabha, the twelve great vows of the Medicine Buddha, and even the vows of Bodhisattva Avalokistevara, Ksitigarbha, and Samantabhadra—these are all individual vows. All bodhisattvas have their individual vows; these vows all arise from the mind of compassion, and because of their compassionate minds, these vows are genuine. Therefore the Lotus Sutra says, “Because all Buddhas have the great compassionate mind, all sentient beings also give rise to great compassion; great compassion gives rise to the bodhi mind; the bodhi mind gives
rise to supreme enlightenment.”

Give Rise to the Bodhi Mind; Transcend from the Ordinary to Sainthood

Why should we give rise to the bodhi mind? It is because we wish to transcend from an ordinary being to sainthood. To transcend from an ordinary being to sainthood, we must first have the bodhi mind. Sainthood also has several levels. The highest level is buddhahood. Beneath that is the stage of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva state also has three saintly levels and ten stages. All these can only be attained by giving rise to the bodhi mind. By giving rise to the bodhi mind, we sow the seed and obtain a direction for our cultivation; that is the truest principle.

How do we give rise to the bodhi mind? First, we must give rise to the bodhi mind through practice; that it, we must first make great vows. Among the four great Bodhisattvas, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha represents great vow; Bodhisattva Manjushri represents great wisdom; Bodhisattva Samantabhadra represents great conduct; Bodhisattva Avalokistevara represents great compassion. In our daily lives, we should have the great vow of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, the great wisdom of Bodhisattva Manjushri, the great conduct of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. What is great conduct? It is to practice all virtue, extinguish all evil, liberate all beings, make great vows for the rest of our lives. We must not only make vows to liberate sentient beings in this human realm, but also vow to go and liberate the sentient beings in hell. This is like the vow of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, “I vow
never to attain Buddhahood until all the hells are empty; I vow not to attain bodhi until all sentient beings have been liberated.”After we have made our vows, based on our compassion, wisdom, and conduct, and preliminary expedient means, we will give rise to the bodhi mind. If we do not make these vows, our bodhi mind will not be realized. When we have made these vows, our bodhi mind will not retrogress. When our vows are great, when our resolve is great, our bodhi mind will also be great and we will attain great enlightenment. This is the great vow: to give rise to the bodhi mind through practice.

Cultivating the bodhisattva way benefits self and others by propagating the Buddha Dharma, attaining the Buddha Way, and achieving the Buddha’s wisdom. Making these great vows is the most important key in our cultivation. When we are replete with great vows and great conduct, we will never regress our bodhi mind. If we can make great vows with the utmost sincerity, and incorporate them in our daily practice, we will truly attain
the bodhi mind.

Abide in the Mahayana Mind

Abiding in the Mahayana Mind helps the self; skillfully employing expedient means helps others. By using various expedient means we can teach and guide countless sentient beings to abide in the Mahayana Mind.

Expedient means and ultimate method

Today I will discuss the importance of “abide in the Mahayana mind while skillfully employ expedient means.” We have advanced from an agricultural society to the space age. Since every person’s perception, values, and lifestyle differ, it is not easy to teach and practice Buddhism in the present society. An ancient master said, “Buddha taught countless Dharmas to cure different afflictions of the mind.” This punctuates the importance of skillfully employing expedient means to bring different kinds of people to enlightenment. If expedient means are not skillfully employed, there may be no benefit but harm instead. Yet, without expedient means, Buddha Dharma will become inaccessible and may not prosper.

Furthermore, if there are only expedient means but no ultimate method, it will be difficult for both laypersons and monastics to reap the true benefits of the Buddha Dharma. With the ultimate method, one can transcend all suffering and attain perfect enlightenment like the Buddha. To achieve this, we must abide in the Mahayana Mind. Abiding in the Mahayana Mind benefits oneself; skillfully employing expedient means benefits others. By using various expedient means we can teach and guide countless sentient beings to abide in the Mahayana Mind.

An ancient master said, “One lamp dispels the darkness of a thousand years.” The lamp is this very mind that is listening to the Dharma right now. Enlightened, the afflicted mind becomes the bodhi mind and mundane existence becomes nirvana. A sutra says, “Single is the inherent nature we return to, many are the expedient gateways that bring us there.” Even though there are many Buddhist paths—the three essentials that end outflows (morality, samadhi, and wisdom); the six perfections (charity, morality, tolerance, diligence, meditation, and wisdom); or any of the 84,000 methods—they all ultimately lead back to the revelation of our inherent nature. This inherent nature is simply the present mind that is listening to the Dharma now. So where is this present mind? It is in our awareness.

 Levels of enlightenment

There are different levels in the enlightenment of the mind. The first is “fundamental bodhi.” This is the inherent awareness that everyone has. It is what knows and what perceives. It is the mind that is hearing these words at this moment.

Mundane beings give rise to ignorance, affliction, greed, anger, killing, robbery, and adultery. Their lives are filled with darkness, emptiness, conflict, violence, and deception. They are “unenlightened”; they do not know their bodhi mind yet.

When we listen to and study the Dharma, we know that life consists of birth, aging, illness, and death. If we wish to be free, all we have to do is to transform our thoughts, then we can immediately turn this ocean of suffering into a Pure Land, we can transcend mundane existence and attain bodhi and nirvana. “Water can support a boat, but also sink a boat.” It is all in this present mind. This is the beginning of enlightenment, or “initial bodhi.”

After “initial bodhi” we continue to work unceasingly. Whether by the method of sudden enlightenment or gradual cultivation, we finally eradicate the six fundamental afflictions of the mind: greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, doubt, and false views. This is called “sambodhi” (correct awakening), the state of the Buddhist saints.

After attaining sambodhi, we must continue the path of Mahayana by bringing forth a mind of great compassion, practicing the bodhisattva way, pursuing the noble buddha path, and liberating all sentient beings. We further “cultivate non-cultivation” and “being mindful of no-mind”, eventually realizing the principle of Middle Way Reality. This is the stage of true bodhisattvas. Now we begin to erode our “original ignorance”, the most subtle and deeply rooted delusions. When we eradicate a part of this ignorance, we reveal a part of our Dharmakaya, the true body of the buddha, which is neither physical nor non-physical. When the Dharmakaya is fully revealed, one attains buddhahood. This process is called “progressive realization of bodhi.”

Progressing this way, we finally arrive at “virtually perfect bodhi”. At this stage, all that remains is the last vestige of the original ignorance, which we must shatter by entering into “vajra samadhi”, then buddhahood is complete. This is known as “unsurpassed complete enlightenment” or “ultimate bodhi”.

“Awareness” is the bodhi mind: in the eyes it is the seeing; in the ears it is the hearing; in the nose it is the smelling of the fragrance; in the mouth it is the speaking; in the hands it is the grasping; in the feet it is the moving; in the faculty of consciousness, it is the thinking of the past, present and future. It is the mind that knows; this mind is at the gate of the six senses. Everyone has it, but if we do not make serious efforts, this mind can never settle and attain peace.

Purity and defilement arise from the mind, not from outer objects

There once was a Chan Master, Miao Fung, who traveled far and wide on foot to seek the Dharma. He was spending the night at an inn and suddenly woke up with a fever. In the darkness, he groped his way to the kitchen to drink some water. The next day, he recollected the sweetness of the water, and went back to get some more. What he found was actually dirty and smelly water used for washing the feet. He immediately vomited, but at that very moment he was enlightened to the nature of the mind: “When drinking, it is very sweet; when smelling, it is very fetid; purity and defilement arise from the mind, and not from external objects.” The water had not changed; the difference was all due to his discriminating mind, the mind of attachment.

After enlightenment, we still need gradual cultivation to attain the Way. The Way is not something that we create. Whatever is created will perish; it does not last. To cultivate the Way is to eliminate delusive thoughts, afflictions, ignorance, and karmic habits, then the inherent nature of our mind will naturally manifest. This is the Way.
This mind must have clarity and understanding. It is not a simple task and requires great determination. Try this meditation: for three minutes do not think of anything about the past, present, or future; do not become drowsy; be the master of your mind. When you achieve this, you are like a buddha for three minutes. If you can maintain this for ten minutes, you are like a buddha for ten minutes. This pure and lucid mind is our true self.

To abide constantly in this pure mind is to “abide in the Mahayana Mind.” But in our present society, if we only teach the above principle, most people may not easily understand or accept it. Therefore, we also need to “skillfully employ expedient means.” Without different expedient means to help and guide sentient beings to enlightenment, most people have no way of attaining buddhahood.

Five directions of Buddhism

At Chung Tai, we set forth five expedient means in propagating Buddhism to the multitude:

1. Buddhism in Academic Research: Buddhism essentially is a body of profound wisdom. We can use modern methods of research to investigate Buddhism so that the study can be more systematic and accessible. This expedient means helps the academic world understand the Dharma.

2. Buddhism in Education: Chung Tai Chan Monastery established its Buddhist Institute to educate the Sangha, and over 100 meditation centers worldwide to teach the Dharma and meditation to a wide variety of people. Furthermore, it established the Pu Tai elementary, middle, and high schools to apply the Buddhist principles in education.

3. Buddhism in Science: Buddha’s approach to understanding reality and human suffering is based on empirical observations; this is in congruence with scientific methods. The principle of causality is fundamental in both Buddhism and science. In addition, we use modern technology, such as computers and the internet, to spread the message of Buddhism.

4. Buddhism in Culture and the Arts: Throughout the ages, Buddhism has inspired prominent and outstanding artistic creations. The architecture and interior of Chung Tai Chan Monastery embodies Buddhist art of a very high order, unifying symbolism from ancient India and China with modern engineering and technology.

5. Buddhism in Daily Living: Buddhism is practical and anyone can lead a happier life by following its principles. For example, the Four Tenets of Chung Tai are practical ways to apply Buddhism in daily life: (1) to our elders be respectful, (2) to our juniors be kind, (3) with all humanity be harmonious, and (4) in all our endeavors be true.

In summary, applying the central principles of Mahayana Buddhism benefits the self by benefiting others. If we can abide in the Mahayana Mind, skillfully employ expedient means, make diligent effort and persist in these directions, we will surely bring happiness to ourselves and to others.

Gradual Cultivation and Sudden Enlightenment

It may seem that gradual cultivation and sudden enlightenment are very different methods, but in fact they are interrelated and even complementary practices.

Different paths to Buddhahood

What does gradual cultivation mean? It means gradual practice and attainment, going through the various stages of cultivation from a mortal all the way to becoming a Buddha. Just like going to school, we start from elementary school, go on to high school, college, eventually earning a doctorate degree. Climbing step by step, we ultimately perfect all virtues and merits and reach Buddhahood-this is called gradual cultivation.

What is sudden enlightenment? Being enlightened means that we are awakened to this present mind, this awareness, this bodhi mind that is originally pure. When enlightened, this mind is Buddha, this mind is the Way. Once awakened, we still need to maintain this enlightened understanding and practice until we achieve perfection. This means that whether we are in stillness or in motion, whether it is day or night, the mind is always free from clinging and delusion; it is always clear, mindful, and in command. Maintaining this enlightened state until perfection, until Buddhahood is reached, is the practice of sudden enlightenment. So, sudden enlightenment is to realize that if this present ordinary mind is free from any effort or pretension, then this very mind is wisdom, true suchness, the profound bodhi mind of the Tathagata (Buddha). When we are enlightened, then we realize that everyone possesses Buddha nature, that everyone can become a bodhisattva. We then realize how precious and real we are and that all human beings in this world are endowed with infinite hope and infinite life.

Gradual cultivation means to realize the “fundamental principle” by way of (perfecting our) actions. Sudden enlightenment means to realize the fundamental principle first and then perfect our actions. If we don’t have the chance or causal conditions to practice sudden enlightenment then we can practice gradual cultivation. It may seem that gradual cultivation and sudden enlightenment are very different methods, but in fact they are compatible and not conflictive.

Relative and Absolute Truths

Buddhism is the truth of our life. There is only one ultimate truth. But there are also various conventional truths. For example, family ethics, school regulations, and social order are all different kinds of conventional truth. There are many conventional truths, but they change with time and space. However, the Buddha Dharma does not change with time and space. The Buddha Dharma is the truest of all truths. The principle of gradual cultivation and sudden enlightenment is the truest of all truths in Buddhism.

Worldly laws or truths change with time and space because they are relative truths. For example, what is considered good and correct in the United States may not be the case in Mainland China or Taiwan. This is because in the United States, in China, and in Taiwan, lifestyles, cultures, and histories are different. In some places, such as Afghanistan and some tribes in China, a husband can have several wives, while most other countries believe in monogamy. Who is right? Who is wrong? It is not easy to determine. This is because with different times and in different places, the nature of this kind of ethics, culture, or history changes. This is called relative truth.

The truth that we want to discuss today doesn’t change with time and space; it is the same in the past as it is in the present day. This truth is that everyone has this mind, this sentient mind, regardless of race, age or gender. Everywhere in the world, everyone in the past, present or future has this mind. This is a fact. It is the Absolute. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch states that, “In terms of space, there are east, west, north, and south; in terms of people, there are rich, poor, noble, and common; but this mind that everyone has is neither in the east, west, north nor south; neither rich, poor, noble nor common; neither male, female, old nor young.” So this is an absolute truth. We say that everyone has life; everyone wants to stay alive and is afraid of death. We all want to be happy and to avoid suffering. In this respect everyone is the same. So the sutras tell us that everyone can be a bodhisattva or a Buddha since everyone has this mind, this awareness. Because of this, we should cherish and take care of ourselves, and we also should respect and care for the lives of others.

Even though we all have this mind or awareness, the level of wisdom and compassion that emanates from each being is different. Why are there such differences? If some people are wiser than others, it doesn’t mean that they have more awareness than others; it just means that their minds are clearer. They are less discriminative, and have less vexations and delusions. When people don’t have a high level of wisdom, they have more deviant views and more attachments that delude the mind. So we should understand that everyone is equal in their inherent awareness, but we have varying degrees of ignorance and vexations that determine how wise we are, how rich or poor we are, how happy or unhappy we are. It can even affect our life span. If we wish to reach the highest state, we need to practice Buddhism diligently.

The Four Stages of Achievement

There are four different levels of achievement leading to the highest state. The first level is that of the arhat. The arhat’s wisdom and awakening are much higher than those of the ordinary being. The second level is called the pratyekabuddha. The pratyekabuddha’s wisdom and mind surpass those of the arhat. The third level is called the bodhisattva. The bodhisattvas wisdom surpasses that of the pratyekabuddhas if they can remove the “ignorance of Dharmas” (lacking in insight and knowledge of different Dharma paths) so they can liberate all beings. Finally, the fourth level is that of the Tathagata or the Buddha. The Buddha has eradicated all the three different kinds of ignorance (the ignorance of erroneous views and habits, the ignorance of Dharmas, and the ignorance of beginningless delusion) and has reached perfection. Arhat, pratyekabuddha, bodhisattva, and Buddha are the four kinds of saints in Buddhism, each one having achieved a higher level of enlightenment. Only the Buddha’s enlightenment is the most complete. What does it mean to be a saint, a holy one? It means that if the mind, this very mind that is listening to the lecture now, can purify its afflictions and eradicate its attachments, then this mind is exactly the same as the mind of the Buddha. How do we reach the state of the Tathagata or Buddhahood? There are two paths: the first is gradual cultivation and the second is sudden enlightenment.

The Path of Gradual Cultivation

The path of gradual cultivation is to practice the six paramitas-charity, moral conduct, tolerance, diligence, meditation, and prajna wisdom. These are the vows and conducts of the bodhisattva. By perfecting these six paramitas, one will reach Buddhahood. One must achieve perfection both in terms of time and in terms of merit. In terms of time, it is like going to school; it takes so many years to complete elementary school, high school, college, and so on. Besides the time it takes, one also needs to finish the required courses; this is equivalent to perfecting the merit. In terms of time, it takes a bodhisattva three asamkheya kalpas (eons) to reach perfection. In terms of merit, the six paramitas need to be completed.

What are three asamkheya kalpas? A kalpa is a measurement of time much longer than a million or even a billion years. There are three different kinds of kalpas: the small, middle and large kalpas. What is a small kalpa? Originally, the life span of a human being is 84,000 years. On average, every one hundred years, human life span decreases by one year until the average life span is only ten years. Then, every hundred years it will increase by one year until it reaches 84,000 years again. This whole span is called one small kalpa. A middle kalpa is equal to twenty small kalpas. Four middle kalpas complete the four stages of the life of the universe: creation, duration, deterioration, and emptiness. A large kalpa is equal to four middle kalpas, which is one cycle of the universe. It takes countless large kalpas to make one “asamkheya” kalpa and it takes three asamkheya kalpas to complete the path of a bodhisattva. It takes that long for a bodhisattva to perfect the six paramitas.

Charity Paramita

Charity is the first of the six paramitas. How does one perfect the charity paramita? Contrary to what some may think, donating a million or even a billion dollars doesn’t constitute the perfection of charity. Aside from the giving of money and property, we need to be willing to give up everything we own, even our life, in order to perfect the charity paramita. In his previous lives, charity was the first thing that Sakyamuni Buddha practiced. In order to save a dove, he cut off his own flesh to feed an eagle; he fed himself to hungry tigers so they wouldn’t starve to death. These are examples of giving up one’s life for others.

In a previous lifetime, when the Buddha was a prince, there was a drought in the country and people were starving. He gave all the treasures and food in the palace to the people. His father, the king, became worried and told his son, “If you continue giving this way, there’ll be nothing left in the palace and our reign will come to an end!” So the king expelled the prince from the palace. Even though he was exiled and owned nothing, the prince still wanted to help the people. He remembered that the dragon king of the ocean had a Mani pearl, which can fulfill all of one’s wishes. He tried many ways to obtain the Mani pearl from the dragon king but failed. In desperation, he set forth to empty the ocean water. Drawing the water with buckets day after day, he exhausted himself and finally fainted. His sincerity deeply moved the four heavenly kings who then proceeded to help him; with their powers they emptied half of the ocean in half an hour. The dragon king, startled and moved by the sincerity of the prince, voluntarily gave the Mani pearl to the prince. This is an example of trying to perfect the charity paramita. Every other paramita needs to be perfected, and this takes three asamkheya kalpas. In addition, another hundred small kalpas are needed to perfect the thirty-two physical marks and eighty fine characteristics of the Buddha.

The sutras describe the thirty-two marks of the Buddha. An example is brahma-sound, which means that when he speaks, people of all different dialects are able to understand him; Chinese-, Japanese-, English-speaking people and even animals are able to understand his words without any translation. Another mark of the Buddha is that anything he eats always tastes excellent. In contrast, we have to season our food for it to taste good to us.

Within each of the thirty-two marks, there are eighty fine features and it takes great merits to accomplish each of these marks. What does it take to accomplish the merits for one mark of the Buddha? We consider deeds such as building a temple or saving a life to be of great merit, but these are very far from the merits of the Buddha. The scripture says that if everyone in the world were sick and dying, and you cured them all with your medicine, that is an example of the merits needed to attain one of these marks of the Buddha. We can see that it is not easy to do these great deeds, to complete the six paramitas, to cultivate for three asamkheya kalpas, and to become a Buddha.

The Method of Sudden Enlightenment

The Buddha knew that many people would think that this was a long and difficult path, so he taught us another method-sudden enlightenment of the true mind and directly realizing Buddhahood, which doesn’t take three asamkheya kalpas. This is the method of sudden enlightenment. An analogy is education–normally one starts from elementary school and gradually reaches college. But some smart students can skip grades in high school and go directly to college.

I believe that after having heard of gradual cultivation and sudden enlightenment, all of you will probably want to practice the sudden enlightenment method. Sakyamuni Buddha had to go through three asamkheya kalpas and he doesn’t want us to suffer the same way unnecessarily. That is exactly what we will be teaching in the seven-day Zen retreat. You will learn how to realize the true nature of the mind and become a Buddha.

The Four Stages of Thought

Sudden enlightenment is to understand, as the sutra says, “A mind free from mundane defilement is the way to supreme enlightenment.” That is, the ordinary mind is the Buddha mind. Everyone has a mind, but with all the thoughts in your mind, which mind is the Buddha? For example, when you are thirsty, the thought of wanting to drink water arises. When you see a cup of water, the thought of picking up the cup arises, and when you take a sip, the thought of picking up the cup has ceased and it is the thought of drinking that is in your mind. When you first take a sip, the thought, “This is great!” arises. When you take the second sip, the feeling becomes less enjoyable, and when you take the third sip, the water tastes plain and you don’t want to drink it anymore. By this time the thought of drinking the water has ceased. Then you see a cookie in front of you so another thought arises, “I want to eat the cookie.” In every single thought there are four stages–arising, staying, changing, and ceasing.

Each day of our lives so many thoughts arise. Our mind is always going somewhere; we either have good thoughts or bad thoughts, random thoughts or delusive thoughts; they are like the waves of the ocean, like bubbles on the waves that come and go so quickly. All day long our mind never rests; even at night, it dreams and doesn’t rest. Dreaming means our mind is clinging. The sutra says that each day and night 840 million thoughts go by. In fact, each thought that comes and goes is like a dream. When we say life is like a dream it is not a mere allegory; we are literally living in dreams. Every day we dream about new cars or dancing or playing mahjong; we dream about money, lust or power. These are our dreams when we are awake. Because we are always dreaming during the day, when we are supposed to rest at night, we continue to dream about the events of the day. When the mind is not dreaming then it is asleep. So we can see that half of our life is spent on sleeping and the other half is spent on dreaming-these are attachments and delusions, two big afflictions in Buddhism

Observe the four stages of thought. When we want to drink water, the thought of drinking water arises; when we pick up the cup, the thought of drinking is staying; when we take one and then two sips and our feelings start to change, that is changing; finally we decide we don’t want to drink anymore and the thought goes away. Because every thought goes through these four stages, because our thoughts have births and deaths, that is why in our lives we go through the cycle of birth, aging, illness, and death. That is also why this world comes into being, persists for some time, but eventually deteriorates and becomes empty. This earth is in the “staying” stage now, but it is always changing; many other planets and stars are also aging, and one day this universe will perish. All humans, animals, and plants go through these four stages.

In order to become free from the agony of endless cycles of living, growing old, getting sick, and dying, the mind must be free from arising, staying, changing, and ceasing. To accomplish that we need to realize the bodhi mind, the original nature. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch states, “Without realizing the original mind, all Dharma learning is in vain.” If we don’t realize the bodhi mind, the profound, lucid, true mind, then all of our practice merely brings blessings that, although pleasant, are nevertheless impermanent. This will not help us much in attaining enlightenment. So, what is enlightenment? It means to understand the mind. Where is this mind, the very mind that is listening to the lecture now?

Functions of the Mind

We can understand this mind from three different perspectives: from its function, from its characteristics, and from its essence. How big is our mind? Everything in the past, present, and future is contained in this mind. The world in all directions, north, south, east, and west, above and below, all space and time are within our mind. The mind is infinite; it has no boundaries. There is a well-known Chinese saying that the mind knows no distance. The mind can function regardless of distance, whether far or near. For example, with the war on terrorism that is going on right now, the United States and other countries have sent troops to Afghanistan. Families of the soldiers back home may be very worried. One night the wife may dream that her husband is sick. She calls and finds out that the soldier is indeed sick. Why is this? It is because the mind knows no distance. No matter how far, whether separated by mountains or oceans, the mind can still function. When the mind is constantly thinking about something, we reach a certain level of concentration that can be powerful enough to overcome physical boundaries. We sleep in a small bed but the mind can dream of mountains and oceans and vast space. Sometimes you have good dreams where you are very happy and when you wake up it all vanishes. When you have a nightmare, the fear you have is very real. Your dreams seem so real but in fact they are really intangible. These are all the functions of the mind. A blind person can walk using a walking stick. There are blind artists who can create sculptures. This is what the mind can do when it is very concentrated. This mind is very profound and subtle. People are used to using their eyes to look outward and their ears to listen to outside sounds. If we can learn to look inward and listen within, we will be able to reach tranquility and peace very quickly.

There once was a Chinese man who had severe arthritis and had been bedridden for over eight years. One day the house suddenly caught fire and everyone in his family grabbed their precious belongings and escaped outside. After the house burned down, they suddenly remembered that the sick man was still inside the house. Surely he was killed! Everyone felt very sorry and mourned for him. Suddenly, they heard the man yelling from a hill asking them to carry him down. Surprised, they asked him how he got up there in the first place. He said that when he saw the fire, he forgot about his arthritis and ran up the hill! They said, “If you could run up, you can come down the same way.” He said, “But my arthritis hurts so badly that I cannot move!” The mind is very powerful if we can learn to focus it..

Practicing the Dharma and meditation teaches us how to focus and use our mind. To use this mind properly we need to awaken the mind. Once awakened, we can purify the mind. Then we can return to the original source. That is why we have a saying, ” To enlighten the mind is to realize the true nature; to realize the true nature is to become a Buddha.” Once enlightened, one is the Buddha; unenlightened, one is a mortal. If the mind has vexations and creates bad karmas then one falls into the suffering realms; if the mind has evil views then one becomes the devil.

Purity of the Mind

I think that everyone wants to realize the true nature of the mind. Where is this mind? In fact, this mind is right here, all of it is ever-present. The great Zen master Bodhidharma has said, “In your eyes, it is called seeing; in your ears, it is called hearing; in your nose, you can smell the fragrance; in your tongue, you can detect the sweetness, sourness, and all the flavors; in your hands you can grab things, and in your feet it is the walking.” These are all functions of the mind. So if everyone already has this mind, why can’t we all become Buddhas? It is because of our delusions and attachments. If we can get rid of these two problems, our mind will be like still water or like a clear mirror; our mind can radiate light and move the earth. People use their eyes to look at the outside world; when we see the good and the bad then we start to discriminate and mental afflictions arise. When our ears hear others praising us, we are overjoyed, and when others criticize us, we become angry. So, afflictions and prejudice often arise from the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and consciousness. In this way our mind is like a pool of muddy water, unable to produce great power, unable to function wisely. It is important for us to reflect and examine ourselves. When our eyes see things we should not cling to them; when receiving praise we should not be overjoyed; when slandered we should not be upset. At all times the mind remains calm and peaceful. This is what the Diamond Sutra says, “Let the mind function without abiding.” When our six sense organs (eyes, ears, .consciousness) are in contact with the six “dusts” (form, sound, . dharmas), we will know what is right or wrong; we will know what is bad or good and yet the mind is not polluted. We are fully aware yet we do not crave or cling to things. In this way our senses revert to purity.

A Zen master once said that Zen practice is to “Walk through a flower field / without a single leaf clinging on you.” What does that mean? It means that everywhere we go and in everything we do, the mind is free from attachment and delusions. We are aware but we do not cling. This is how we purify the mind and our sense organs. This is called “sitting on the platform of white lotuses”. The lotus blossom comes out of dirty muddy water but it is very pristine and pure. Our mind should be like that, rising from impurities but free from contamination.

A Bird’s Buddha Nature

Another story will help you realize that this awareness is the Buddha nature. Do not have a single trace of doubt, because if you do, it will be difficult to attain enlightenment. There was devout Buddhist whose name was Pei Du; he was a great benefactor and studied Buddhism in depth. One day he was in the great Xiang Guo Monastery, and saw that a sparrow landed on top of the Buddha statue’s head, left his droppings and flew away. Pei Du was very disturbed by this scene and thought, “The scriptures say that every sentient being, which certainly includes the sparrow, has Buddha nature, so how can this bird leave its droppings on the Buddha’s head?” So Pei Du asked the abbot of the temple for an explanation. The abbot replied that certainly the sparrow has Buddha nature. Indeed it is very intelligent; it knows that Buddha is very compassionate, that is why it left its droppings on the head of the Buddha instead of leaving it on the head of a hawk! The fact that the sparrow knows where it is safe and where it is not, this “knowing” is its Buddha nature. Don’t think that Buddha nature is something too remote or too profound to understand; it is just this mind which knows and which is aware. Everyone has this mind that can distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; it is just that this mind is often deluded and beset with afflictions, thus generating karma that makes us suffer and lose our calm and peace. This is the mind of an ordinary person. If you are absolutely sure that you have this Buddha nature then you are enlightened.

Maintaining the Enlightened Mind

Once enlightened, we need to maintain this Buddha nature so that it will always manifest. We can practice in two ways-in stillness and in motion. “We cultivate it in stillness, and fortify it in motion.” To practice stillness the Zen-7 retreat gives us the best opportunity. Throughout the seven days, we try to keep this awareness clear, unscattered, and in control for 3 minutes, 5 minutes and longer; practicing this way, we will definitely make immense progress. In the Shurangama Sutra it states, “Enlightenment is simply when the deluded mind rests.” The word “rest” is very important. Our mind is always “going,” so in sitting meditation we let the mind rest and remain unmoved; we do not think about the past, the present or the future. When we think about the past, we cling to the past; when we think about the present and the future, we cling to the present and the future. The Diamond Sutra states, “The past mind is intangible, the present mind is intangible, the future mind is intangible.” The past is already past, there is no way that we can get it back; therefore, it is useless to reminisce about the past. If the past was pleasant, thinking about it makes us sad. If the past was sad, thinking about it just adds to our suffering. There is no need to think about the present, it is so fleeting; and speculating about the future is just dreaming.

So where should the mind be? It should “function without abiding.” The past is intangible, so do not dwell in the past; the present is intangible, so do not dwell on the fleeting moment; the future is intangible, so do not speculate about the future. Thus this mind is clear and without deception; it is the profound mind of the Tathagata; it is the original mind, our original nature. If you can maintain this enlightened state of mind for one minute, for three minutes or for ten minutes then you are a Buddha for one minute, three minutes or ten minutes. This is called “maintaining the holy womb.” If you can practice this way then you are truly on the Path.

Many people want to practice but they don’t know where the path is. There are many ways of practicing, such as chanting the sutras, repenting, performing good deeds, and sitting meditation. If we practice all of these without realizing the true mind, we are just doing preliminary cultivation. Because our ignorance and attachment are deeply rooted, we need to practice these virtuous acts to help us temporarily get rid of the pollutants in our mind. If we continue practicing this way, when the time is right, our original nature will suddenly manifest and we will become enlightened, enlightened to this mind of non-abidance. The non-abiding mind is the absolute truth. It transcends time and space. In just one instant, we can realize our original mind, the mind of the instant-it feels utterly tranquil, clear and pure, and hours can pass in what seems like a moment. As the ancient saying goes, “Living in the mountain / there is no sense of time / meanwhile in the mundane world / a thousand years have passed.” “No sense of time” refers to this absolute mind, where time and space do not exist. This is to go beyond this world. To go beyond this world is not something that happens after death. If we realize this original mind, we are immediately transformed from the mundane to the divine, and this world becomes the Pure Land. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch states, “Having the right view is to transcend this world. Having deviant views is to remain in the mundane world.” This is truly the ultimate right view, the enlightened understanding of the Tathagata.

Because of the nuances of the mind, the world that we perceive is also different. For example, this lecture hall is bright when we turn on the light; it becomes dark when we turn off the light. Is this room dark or bright? Here in the United States it is daytime right now, but in Taiwan it is nighttime. Is it daytime or nighttime now? During the day, humans see more clearly than at night. Yet there are many animals that see more clearly at night. All the different phenomena that we perceive are due to our awareness, our mind that perceives differently under varying conditions.

A famous Confucian poem says, “Calmly observe / and the myriad phenomena become self-evident. / Nature narrates itself perfectly.” If the mind can quiet down then you’ll naturally understand many principles. If the mind is scattered and restless then it is like trying to admire the flowers while riding away on a horse, you won’t be able to discern anything. Therefore, “Sudden awakening to the original mind and directly becoming a Buddha” is really very important, very relevant to our lives and to our living.

Unifying the Gradual and Sudden Practices

I think many people are beginning to understand the nature of this mind; however, this mind is still very restless and cluttered; it never stops thinking about the past, the present, and the future; it is endlessly worrying about this and that. This is a habit because all our lives we have never stopped our mind for ten minutes. This practice is quite alien to most of us. But now we understand this Way, it is a spiritual path we must each walk by ourselves.

Everyday, our mind has many scattered thoughts, and when it doesn’t, it dozes off; when the mind is neither scattered nor in slumber then it is bored; these are three biggest problems of the mind. When we try different practices to overcome these problems, then we are using the method of gradual cultivation. Once we overcome them we need to let go of the methods that we use and just keep the awareness (this is the method of sudden enlightenment). If we understand this then we will always know how to practice. Either the method of sudden enlightenment or that of gradual cultivation will benefit us. The scripture says that everyone can become a Buddha. This is not just an ideal or an exaggeration. Indeed everyone truly can become a Buddha; everyone can change from the mundane to the divine. As long as we have persistence, faith, and great vow, we will definitely come to solid terms with ourselves, making our lives more fulfilling, more meaningful, and we will truly realize infinite light and infinite life.

I’ll give a final example to prove the case in point. In the classroom, a teacher explains the course material clearly and interestingly, and the student listens attentively. For the student, time and space seem to disappear; even when a mosquito is biting him he doesn’t realize it. Suddenly the bell rings and he can’t believe that this class has ended so soon. On the other hand, if the teacher just reads from a book but doesn’t explain clearly, and the student neither understands nor cares to understand, the student will then look to the left and right and at his watch wondering why the class hasn’t ended yet. In the same classroom within the same hour, why is there such difference in feelings? It is because the mind is discriminating. When the mind is restless, time seems very long. When the mind is concentrated, an hour passes like a single moment.

The sutra states, “If you put your mind in one place, it can accomplish anything.” The Zen practice is to put the mind back into the Oneness, to make us realize our true nature. If we have many worries, vexations or gripes, then living one day is like living a whole year. On the other hand, if we have a tranquil and open mind, abiding in purity and in the unborn and undying absolute state, then one day, one year, a hundred years or a thousand years will feel just like an instant. Buddhism is the highest truth, the highest state of existence. If you have faith and persistence in following this path, you will find what you truly want. Life will become more meaningful and fulfilling, and you will find true blessing and happiness. Finally, I wish everyone good health, happiness, and peace, and that all will bring forth the bodhi mind and never regress.