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.”

No Watermelon for Ananda

         Ananda and Mahakasyapa were two of the Buddha’s great disciples. One day, they went on a long journey with the Buddha. They walked all morning. By noon, they were tired and thirsty. As they sat under a tree for a rest, the Buddha saw a house nearby with a big garden. There were many watermelons growing in the garden.

         “Ananda, we are all very thirsty. Go to that house and beg the owner for a watermelon to quench our thirst,” said the Buddha to Ananda.

         Ananda followed. When he arrived at the house, he saw a young woman working in the garden. He walked up to her and asked politely, “Good afternoon. My teacher is the Buddha. We have been walking the whole morning and we are very thirsty. Would you give me a watermelon to offer to the Buddha?”

         As soon as Ananda had finished speaking, the young woman shouted angrily, “You leave my garden at once. I have nothing for you.”

         Ananda walked back to the Buddha and told him what happened. The Buddha simply smiled and turned to Mahakasyapa, “Now it is your turn to go and ask for a watermelon.”

      
  Mahakasyapa doubted that the woman would change her mind about giving them a watermelon, but he did not doubt his teacher’s words. There must be a reason behind everything the Buddha said.

         Mahakasyapa walked slowly over to the house. As soon as the young woman saw him coming, her face lit up with a smile. She walked over to him and made three prostrations, and then invited him to come into the garden. She picked the biggest and juiciest watermelon from the vines and offered it to him.

         “Honorable Mo
nk, this is the best watermelon from my garden. Please accept this offering,” said the young woman.

When Mahakasyapa returned with a big watermelon in his arms, Ananda looked surprised. The Buddha turned to both of them and said, “Let me tell you a story:

Many eons ago, there were two monks who were good friends. One day, they went on a trip together. It was a hot and sunny day. They were tired and thirsty from walking the whole morning. Suddenly, they saw a dead cat on the side of the road. Under the hot sun, the dead body gave off a bad smell. When the younger monk saw this, he scrunched up his nose in disgust and quickly ran off. But the older monk walked up to the dead cat and gave it his blessing: ‘May you take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. May you be reborn in a better place. May you attain enlightenment.’ He then found a patch of good soil on the roadside and dug a hole there to bury the dead cat.

That dead cat was eventually reborn as a human. She was the young woman you met in the watermelon garden. The younger monk was one of Ananda’s previous lives and the older monk was one of Mahakasyapa’s previous lives. Because Mahakasyapa showed kindness towards the dead cat and sincerely dedicated good wishes to the cat, the young woman naturally felt joyful when she saw him today, and wanted to offer him the best watermelon without his asking. However, because Ananda showed disgust towards the dead cat, the young woman felt angry as soon as she saw him, and she refused his request for a watermelon.”

After they heard the story, the two disciples learned a great lesson. We should always be kind and respectful to all beings. We should always do things to give happiness and to take away pain and sadness for others. The kindness and blessings we give to others will always return to us.

Comply with Good

Once the Buddha resided in Niguyu garden located in Kapilavadhu City, Mahanama who was one of the Buddha’s cousins, came to visit the Buddha. He paid homage to the Buddha and sit down.

He raised a question to the Buddha, “The World Honored One, the City of Kapilavadhu is prosperous. There are many people living here. The streets are always crowded. Though I was protected by many guards and attendants from the unbridled animals, unruly people and all different kinds of vehicles, I am still frightened by this chaos. I fear that I will lose my focus on being mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  A question occurs to me; Where will I be reborn when I die if I lose my focus on being mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha?”

The Buddha told Mahanama, “Don’t be afraid. You won’t be reborn in the lower realms after you die.  For example, when a big tree falls, what direction will it lean toward?”

Mahanama answered, “This big tree will lean to the side where many branches grow.”

The Buddha said, “So do you. After you die you won’t plunge to wretched realms if you have no sins because you abide in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. You are mindful of the Three Jewels day and night. Even when your physical body dies, it’s cremated into ash, or thrown into a graveyard and beaten by the weather; finally it turns to dust and is blown away by the wind.  Never the less, your mind dwells in the right faith constantly and consistently. When you are still alive, you uphold the pure precepts, practice giving, listen to the Dharma at the monastery, and carry out appropriate practices in your daily life. Gradually you meditate and contemplate the profound meanings of the Dharma. You obtain the virtues of faith, precepts, giving, listening and wisdom.  With these virtues and your good deeds, when you body is passing away, your consciousness will head for the realm of peace and joy, and be reborn in the heavens.”

After Mahanama listened to the Buddha’s Dharma talk, he was filled with brightness and hope for his future lifetimes. He paid homage to the Buddha with great joy and left.

Awaken the Mind to See Its True Nature; Seeing the True Nature, One Becomes a Buddha.

I. The Awakened Mind Is the Buddha

“Buddha; (footnote: Buddha is a Sanskrit term; literally it means the awakened one or the enlightened one.) it is awareness.” All sentient beings possess Buddha nature, but because they are not awakened, their Buddha nature turns to be the nature of sentient beings. If this mind gives rise to greed, anger, and ignorance, and commits the acts of killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct, Buddha nature then turns to be animal nature. If this mind is awakened, Buddha nature immediately manifests, as the Buddhist sutra says, “Mind, Buddha, and sentient beings; these three are no different from each other.” Mind, Buddha, and sentient beings are in essence one. When this mind is awakened, it is the Bodhi mind; it is the Bodhisattva mind. Therefore the ancients have said:

The Bodhisattva, like the serene moon,
Always sails in ultimate emptiness;
[When] sentient being’s water-like mind is pure,
The Bodhi image manifests therein.

Consequently, we do not need to look for the Buddha outside of ourselves; rather, when this mind is awakened, it becomes lucid and refreshed, and that is the Buddha. But when this mind is deluded and turned by external conditions, and is confused and ignorant, it then becomes the mind of the sentient being. When our awareness constantly manifests, our Buddha nature will also manifest. Buddha means awakening, and because everyone has this mind, everyone can achieve Buddhahood.

II. Cessation of All Vexations and Delusions Is Awakening

Sentient beings have tens of thousands of vexations. Generally, these vexations derive from three types of delusion: delusion of erroneous views and thoughts, delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas, and delusion of Primal Ignorance. Because of these delusions and vexations, sentient beings are endlessly mired in samsara (i.e., the cycle of birth and death) and cannot attain peace and joy.

Delusion of erroneous views refers to the vexations that arise from erroneous conceptions and mistaken understanding, whereas delusion of erroneous thoughts signifies the vexations that arise from erroneous thoughts and behaviors; they include the fundamental vexations: greed, anger, ignorance, pride, doubt, and so forth. Delusion of erroneous views comes from failing to understand external phenomena and experiencing mistaken cognition, whereas delusion of erroneous thoughts originates mainly from the greed, anger, and ignorance of one’s own mind. When we completely eradicate the delusions arising from erroneous views and thoughts, we will then attain Arhathood.

The second type of delusion is called the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas. Bodhisattvas vow to liberate all sentient beings so they need to know all of the different skillful means to help liberate them. When one is not yet able to clearly grasp all the different skillful means of liberating sentient beings, it is called the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas. By eradicating this delusion, one can know limitless and boundless skillful dharmas, and help to liberate limitless and boundless sentient beings, thus attaining the sagehood of the Bodhisattva.

Among the delusions and vexations of sentient beings, the third type is the delusion of Primal Ignorance, i.e., the fundamental innate delusion of sentient beings, which hinders one’s true knowing of Reality. The Buddhist sutras say that Buddha nature is innate in each of us, and so is Primal Ignorance. When Primal Ignorance is completely extinguished, then we will surely attain Buddhahood.

Because of this mind’s different degrees of delusion in the past, when we are born into this life, our wisdom and physical bodies are all different. For example, in Chinese history, the famous poet, Bai JuYi, could read the Chinese characters “zhi (之)” and “wu (無)” not long after he was born. This fact demonstrates that people have a past, a present, and a future, and that the causality of three times in life also exists. In this life, wisdom does not come out of nowhere. It is the result of diligent practice in this life as well as in past lives. That is why, after some people are born, they may be able to know events from their past lives. However, why do most of us often forget events from our past lives when we are born? It is because we each have different karma. If everyone can perfect samadhi concentration and prajna wisdom, then we can surely know events from our past lives. From this perspective, we can understand why cultivating the Way is a task of many lifetimes. As long as we persevere, cultivate concentration and wisdom, and eradicate the three delusions—the delusion of erroneous views and thoughts, the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas, and the delusion of Primal Ignorance—we will transcend the mundane and achieve sagehood, and ultimately realize the Way of Bodhi awakening.

III. Realizing the Three Bodies of the Buddha

The Buddhist sutras state that when this mind is filled with prajna wisdom and samadhi power, it can actually change our physical body and our external environment. An ancient sage who attained awakening once said, “In the past one followed the dharma. Now the dharma follows the one.” Here “one followed the dharma” means that before realizing the original mind and nature, at every moment sentient beings are like monkeys; these minds are restless, unrestrained, and constantly affected by the external environment. On the other hand, “the dharma follows the one” reveals that after realizing this very mind and clearly understanding this original mind and nature, which is unmoving and unperturbed, neither coming nor going, always serene and illuminating, this mind of ours can really transform the external environment, and we become always peaceful and at ease.

Buddha is an awakened sage complete with three kayas (or three bodies), namely, Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. Dharmakaya is our very mind. Although we cannot see it physically, in our daily life it can perform all “Buddha activities.” Dharmakaya is precisely our Buddha nature; it is also this perfect and complete innate mind of ours. Everyone has it. But, because every one of us has different levels of concentration and wisdom, we therefore experience very different karmic retributions and rewards.

All sentient beings possess Buddha nature. But where is Buddha nature? It is said that when it functions through the eyes, it is called seeing; with the ears it is called hearing; on the tongue, we can taste all the flavors; in the hands, we can perform various movements; on the feet, it is walking. If this Buddha nature truly manifests and expands, then all the worlds and universes are within it. If this Buddha nature is constricted, it becomes like a tiny mote and cannot be grasped. It is called: “When set free it pervades the whole universe; when constricted, it is just a tiny unseizable mote.” When we withdraw the six roots, i.e., the six sense faculties, into this very mind, unlimited subtle and wondrous functions can arise. This is the manifestation of Dharmakaya. Where the physical body will eventually decay, Dharmakaya will never perish.

This mind of awareness, this mind of wisdom that we use to reflect inward, eliminate evil and cultivate virtue is called the Buddha of wisdom. With this mind of wisdom and awareness, we can eradicate all illusions and realize the nature of emptiness. With this mind of wisdom and awareness, the absolute emptiness can give rise to wondrous existence. This mind of wisdom and awareness is filled with all miraculous powers and insights. The awakened mind-the mind of awareness-is the Dharmakaya Buddha. Dharmakaya is Buddha nature, is awareness; every sentient being has it. When one clearly understands this truth, one will awaken the mind to see its true nature. When seeing the true nature, one becomes a Buddha.

When this mind of wisdom constantly reflects inward, the ensuing reward is the Sambhogakaya Buddha. When the mind is infused with both Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya, we will naturally exhibit miraculous powers and wondrous abilities. This is known as the Nirmanakaya Buddha which manifests in accordance with conditions for the sake of liberating sentient beings. Yet Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya both have their root in Dharmakaya.

Every one of us has all three kayas: Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. Yet, in comparison to those of the Buddha or Bodhisattva, the ordinary being’s Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya differ in thousands of ways. For example, if you work in a school, you may be the principal or a teacher; or if you work in an office, you may be the general manager, chairperson, or a clerk. When you return home, you become a son or daughter, a father or mother. With all these different roles, you exhibit the conditional manifestation of an provisional character, and that is the Nirmanakaya of everyone. Although teacher, Buddhist practitioner, chairperson, father, or mother, each has different characteristics, this original mind remains the same, and it is this everlasting original mind that is called one’s own Dharmakaya. Although we cannot see our Dharmakaya, it is replete with endless wisdom and virtue. This very mind is now, always has been and always will be. When attaining Buddhahood, this mind does not increase the least bit. Before attaining Buddhahood, this mind, in comparison to that of the Buddha and Bodhisattva, does not decrease the least bit as well. It is this very mind that “neither increases in the sage nor decreases in the ordinary being.” The Way transcends the notions of old and young. This mind never differs in all beings; that is precisely the Dharmakaya. Then what is the Sambhogakaya of the sentient being? Sambhoga is fruition and reward; it is the present fruition arising from what was sown in the past. So everyone’s Sambhogakaya is different; the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, conscious mind, four limbs, five sense faculties, appearance as beautiful or ugly, tall or short, fat or thin, male or female, a lay practitioner or a monastic member, and one’s environmental conditions and so forth are all different. These are the Sambhogakaya of the sentient beings.

Using the sunlight as an analogy, the sunlight is the Dharmakaya; the physical body of the sun is the Sambhogakaya; and the shadow images of myriad phenomena formed by the sunlight are the Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya, just like the sunlight which never ceases to shine, exists both during the day and at night; likewise, this very mind also exists both during the day and at night. During the day, this mind thinks and functions. At night, when the body may be resting, one’s consciousness does not easily remain still, and so this mind does not really rest. It is still in motion and functioning. Even when consciousness is not in motion or functioning, this mind that knows and feels still exists. Hence, this mind that knows and feels is the root; it is the Dharmakaya. This mind is clear, pure, and undefiled; it is called the clear and pure Dharmakaya Buddha. The future reward and fruition of using this clear and pure mind is the complete and perfect Sambhogakaya Buddha. When this mind of wisdom acts in accord with the absolute emptiness and the true suchness of Reality, it manifests myriad miraculous powers and wondrous abilities and is then called the billion-multitude manifesting Nirmanakaya Buddha.

All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have realized the nature of emptiness. Their Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya are complete with miraculous powers and wisdom. They can manifest many wondrous functions freely and without any hindrances. Sentient beings have not yet eradicated their erroneous habits, delusions, and vexations so they have not realized and awakened to the reality of emptiness. Thus they are not liberated and cannot manifest miraculous powers or subtle functions. It should be known that Dharmakaya has no beginning and no end; that Sambhogakaya has a beginning but is without end; and that Nirmanakaya has both a beginning and an end, and its arising and ceasing are illusory in nature and are always in accordance with the conditions in that very moment. Although there is the difference of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya, Dharmakaya is still the root and these three kayas cannot be separate from this very mind, the original mind, and as a result the three kayas are actually in one essence.

IV. Awakening the Original Mind and Seeing the True Nature

Regarding the “mind”, there are generally three definitions. The first one is the physical mind (or heart). The second is the deluded mind. The third is the true mind; it is also the Bodhi mind, the Dharmakaya.

The physical mind is the physical heart; it exists in the sphere of matter, and everyone needs a heart to survive. With today’s medical advances in heart transplant, A’s heart can be transplanted into B’s body. If the heart were indeed our original mind, the true mind or true self, then when one’s heart is transplanted, would one then forget everything in one’s past? Or, following the transplant, would B who received A’s heart know what A previously knew? In reality, we now know this is not what happens. The events of B’s past are still B’s memories and the events of A’s life do not replace these memories. Therefore we know that the physical heart is not our original mind or our true mind.

Some people may think that the neurons of the brain represent our original mind, our true mind, but neurons also belong to the material world. Neurons or neural cells are subject to metabolism and are constantly arising, ceasing, and dying, just like the sweat and bodily filth which are merely products of dead cells. Therefore, neurons certainly are not our original mind or true mind.

The deluded mind is the constantly drifting thoughts that endlessly arise and cease. If it is not thinking of the past, then it is thinking of the future. It is constantly worrying about personal gains and losses, always restless and has often been called the wild and unrestrained monkey mind. Like a waterfall, the thoughts of the deluded mind constantly arise and cease, and flow continuously. Further, these thoughts are illusory and deluded. As a result, the mind of deluded thoughts cannot be the everlasting and stable true original mind.

The true mind is the mind that constantly knows and feels; it has wondrous wisdom and spontaneous awareness; and it manifests the true suchness of serenity and illumination, stillness and clarity. It is also called the Bodhi mind. For the true mind to manifest, we must not cling to anything. The Diamond Sutra says, “The past mind cannot be grasped; the present mind cannot be grasped; the future mind cannot be grasped.” This mind does not cling to the past, the present, or the future. When this mind is bright, lucid, and perfectly clear, it is what the Diamond Sutra calls the “mind of non-abidance.” When we realize this mind and constantly abide in samadhi concentration and prajna wisdom, it is then our original and true mind.

In the statement, “Awaken the mind to see its true nature,” nature has two meanings: awareness and emptiness. Awareness is the mind that each one of us possesses and is constantly clear, bright, subtle, knowing, and infused with wondrous wisdom and spontaneous awareness; it is also the mind that knows what is right or wrong, good or bad, and that repents wrongdoings and turns them toward virtue. Awareness exists in three levels: awareness of non-awakening, awareness of right awakening, and awareness of unsurpassed supreme awakening.

Awareness of non-awakening is the state of sentient beings who are not awakened to Reality and constantly subject to thoughts of greed, anger, and ignorance, as well as to physical actions of killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. In this state, sentient beings are always thinking of themselves and clinging to self-centered ideas. It is called awareness of non-awakening because non-awakening is precisely the state of a sentient being.

Upon hearing Buddhadharma, awareness of right awakening arises. One knows that life is suffering and that one should quickly practice the Way—to remove the vexations of greed, anger, ignorance, pride, doubt, and erroneous views, and to transform dualistic consciousness to nondualistic wisdom. When vexations and delusions of erroneous views and thoughts are completely eradicated, one attains the awareness of right awakening. There are also different levels of realization when cultivating the awareness of right awakening. It is like cultivating Arhathood when a practitioner goes through the different stages of Srotapanna, Sakradagamin, Anagamin, and finally Arhat. At each stage the degree of vexations that have been eradicated and the level of realization with respect to Reality as such are each different. Nevertheless, the mind of the sages who have attained the state of Arhat or Pratyekabuddha is always lucid and pure; their awakened awareness manifests at all times; they will never perform acts of killing, stealing, or sexual misconduct. They are constantly in the state of right awakening.

The state of the Bodhisattva is higher than that of the Arhat. Bodhisattvas strive for Buddhahood and are always cultivating the Six Paramitas as well as the myriad ways of skillful means of liberating all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are motivated not only to awaken themselves but also to awaken others. Yet the Bodhisattvas’ cultivation—wisdom and virtue—is not completely perfect yet, so they have not reached the state of Buddha. When the Bodhisattvas’ cultivation is perfected; when they have completely eradicated the three different kinds of delusions: the delusion of erroneous views and thoughts, the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas, and the delusion of Primal Ignorance; when they are able to liberate all sentient beings or to help develop the virtuous roots of all sentient beings; when they perfectly awaken their own awareness as well as those of others, and attain Buddhahood like Shakyamuni Buddha; when all these are perfectly accomplished, this is known as attaining the awareness of unsurpassed supreme awakening.

The meaning of emptiness is subtle and important, especially in correctly understanding the teachings of the Buddha as a whole. If we do not understand the meaning of emptiness, we can easily develop erroneous views regarding the Buddhadharma. In Buddhism, emptiness is not the emptiness of vast space or the emptiness of nothingness or void. Although vast space is empty, it does not contain wisdom. Buddha nature or the original mind is perfectly empty in nature. Whereas its original nature is fundamentally empty, it is also filled with virtue, wisdom, miraculous powers, and wondrous abilities. It is completely different from the emptiness of vast space or that of hollow nothingness.

Specifically, there are three different kinds of emptiness in Buddhism: emptiness of the self, emptiness of the dharma, and fundamental emptiness of the original nature. Emptiness of the self is the emptiness which Shravaka-Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas have attained, for they have eradicated all attachments to the self and realized that the nature of the self is emptiness. Bodhisattvas have realized the emptiness of the dharma because they have eradicated the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas and thus the attachments to all dharmas. Buddhas have completely understood both the emptiness of the self and the emptiness of the dharma, and their mind is no longer attached to emptiness or to existence (i.e., non-emptiness) but avoids and transcends both extremes. Buddhas consistently walk the Middle Way and thoroughly grasp the essence of the original mind and nature. Reaching this state is then called realizing the fundamental emptiness of the original nature, the realm of absolute (or ultimate) emptiness and wondrous existence.

“Awaken the mind to see its true nature,” means to realize our innate Buddha nature and to be awakened to the awareness of this very mind, which is filled with ultimate emptiness and wondrous existence. Here, emptiness and existence (or non-emptiness) manifest as one-suchness; as the Heart Sutra asserts, “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” If we do not understand the meaning of emptiness, we will cling to material form and body, and regard all phenomena and things as ultimately real (or inherently existent), thus deluding our original mind. When the original mind is deluded, its wondrous wisdom, miraculous powers, and subtle functions cannot manifest.

Therefore, to cultivate the Way and strive for awakening, we must first eradicate our attachments by contemplating and realizing the emptiness of the self. Not only must we realize the emptiness of self, but furthermore, we must realize the emptiness of the dharma until we are finally not even attached to emptiness itself. Then we will see the fundamental emptiness of our original nature. In this respect, contemplation of emptiness is particularly effective as the skillful means to eradicate our attachments. Next, we should eliminate our erroneous views, eradicate afflictions and vexations, increase our virtue and wisdom, and further realize our innate awareness or Buddha nature. After achieving this realization, we need to continue practicing and cultivating the Way until we eradicate all delusions and ignorance, and finally perfect the Bodhi Path to ultimate awakening.

V. Nurturing the Seeds of Sagehood till Buddhahood

To cultivate the Way and strive for awakening, we must take the Buddha’s understanding to be our own understanding. Our mind must constantly reflect inward so as to realize the innate true nature of the mind. After reaching this understanding, we need to continue to practice according to changing conditions yet retain the true original mind that is immutable in essence. In Chan, this process is called nurturing the seeds of sagehood. In this process, there are four levels of awareness: the awareness manifested by ordinary beings, the awareness manifested by Bodhisattvas who have not yet entered the Grounds (footnote: A Bodhisattva goes through fifty-two stages to achieve Buddhahood. The Ten Grounds are the forty-first through the fiftieth stages, each of which is associated with the elimination of a certain obstruction to enlightenment with one of the Ten Paramitas.), the awareness manifested by Bodhisattvas who have entered the Grounds, and the awareness manifested by the Tathagata (footnote: One of the ten epithets of the Buddha; literally it means thus gone or thus come. The former implies that via the path of thusness or suchness one goes to the fruition, i.e., nirvana, of Buddhahood, whereas the latter indicates that from the thusness of Reality comes the awakened one.). Awareness itself is Buddha nature, but only after passing through all the four levels of awareness and eradicating all vexations and delusions can our cultivation be perfected; then one truly realizes ultimate awakening and becomes a Buddha.

From an ordinary person to attain Buddhahood, one must go through a period of diligent practice, or more specifically, cultivate these four levels of awareness. Often when people hear the Chan saying, “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind,” they misinterpret it and think that they do not need to go through these four levels of practice and do not need to constantly reflect inward. From this misunderstanding arise feelings of superiority and arrogance in thinking that since mind is Buddha, there is no need to pay respect to Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, to meditate, or to practice good deeds. It thus creates biased, erroneous views and attachments, and consequently makes one further away from awakening to Buddhahood.

When people first encounter Buddhadharma, they may generally develop two problems: the first is having faith without wisdom, and the second is having wisdom without faith. For example, many good and faithful men and women know only devotional practice and sincerely prostrate to the Buddhas, so they pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas every day. After a year, two years, three years, and even ten years, all along they have not tried to delve into the essential Buddhadharma, but only practice their faith superficially. When conditions have not changed to make their lives, their family or their fortunes better, doubts and regrets surface, and they begin to think that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have failed to care for or protect them. Consequently, they lose their faith. Practicing in this manner is a form of emotional dependence; their faith has no foundation—it is called having faith without wisdom. This type of faith is not true faith or right faith.

For one’s faith to reach the level of true faith or right faith one must practice the dharma, sincerely believe in causality and sincerely believe in that all sentient beings possess Buddha nature. Work hard with the causes to eradicate vexations and delusions. Uphold the precepts, practice meditation, and cultivate wisdom so as to make this mind pure, lucid, free from defilements, and filled with perfect confidence, samadhi, and prajna wisdom. This is then the true faith or right faith.

On the other hand, there are also those who have wisdom but do not have faith. They may think that Buddhadharma is very deep and profound and worth investigation, but they only view Buddhadharma as a field of study or knowledge and do not have true faith in the teachings. We must comprehend that everyone possesses Buddha nature and that every one of us can become a Buddha. Confucian scholars have also said, “Everyone can become Yao and Shun. (footnote: Yao and Shun were ancient Chinese sagely kings.)” To achieve this, we certainly need to know how to practice. If we do not understand the methods of practice, we will either take the sinuous route or may even take the wrong route.

If we wish to delve deeply into the heart of Buddhadharma, we must not only understand its philosophical principles and conceptually know its methods, but must also diligently cultivate the Way in our daily life and realize this very mind. After achieving this realization, we must keep nurturing the seeds of sagehood and manifest our awareness in accordance with Reality as such; that is, the awareness of this very mind should be present at all times, without clinging, without confusion, and be perfectly clear and lucid. In this way, we will surely realize the true benefits of Buddhadharma.

Discovering True Life through the Study of Buddhism

I. Understanding Life: Spirituality and Causality

In this world we all wish for a happy and fulfilling life. We also hope that our existence can be meaningful and worthwhile. To achieve this goal, we must understand that in addition to daily living and survival, we also have our true life, which is boundless and endless. Some people today do not realize how precious life itself is—that is why they are despondent or focus only on themselves and constantly seek diversions and pleasures.

Human life embodies three aspects: daily living, survival (or existence), and true life. Each and every one of us should understand this and thus respect and care for ourselves. If we care for ourselves and have respect for ourselves, then surely we will respect others and be concerned with their daily living, survival, and true life.

Buddhism tells us that we have a past, a present, and a future. If we believe that we have a past, a present, and a future, then the sphere of our existence is limitless, and our life is endless. The Buddhist sutras tell us that the past is the cause, and the present is the effect; the present is the cause, and the future is the effect. Why don’t most people believe these truths? Because most people cannot see future events and do not remember past events, especially the events in previous lives, they do not truly believe in the past or in the future, or in the causality of three times. If we do not believe in the past, the future, or the causality of three times, does that mean we also do not believe in the present? If we do not even believe in the present, then we will suffer from confusion, be lost, and not know how to face life.

In speaking of the past, at least we usually know our grandparents, our great grandparents, or the parents of our great grandparents, but going back further, we probably don’t know or remember our ancestors of many past generations. Just because we do not know or remember them doesn’t mean they never existed. We should realize that the past truly exists. Also, both in the distant past and the present as well, there are cases where people are born with knowledge of their past lives. For example, in ancient Chinese history, the famous poet named Bai JuYi could read the Chinese characters “zhi (之)” and “wu (無)” as soon as he was born.

Some time ago, there was a newspaper report about a man in Tainan, Taiwan, who was found lying drunk in the park. Passersby reported him to the police. When he woke up and was being questioned by the authorities, he suddenly had a heart attack and died. The police notified his family and asked the court to certify his death. After the man’s son brought back his father’s remains, his father appeared to him in a dream, saying, “I did not die from a heart attack after I became drunk, I was beaten to death by six or seven people. Hurry and appeal to the authorities.” His son then went to the police and restated the case to the courts. After an investigation and autopsy, it was proven that the man truly was beaten to death.

Many such telepathic events have been recorded in the history of Buddhism. It proves that all people have their own endless spiritual true life, and that everyone’s mind can give rise to conscious thought. Even when sleeping at night, this mind can give rise to dreams. What are dreams? In dreams, people enter into another world where there are sorrows as well as joys, but when they awaken from their dreams, those sorrows and joys can no longer be grasped. Everyone probably has had such experiences. Sometimes the events in our dreams produce certain responses or insights because this mind of ours transcends time and space, and thus reaches everywhere. Whether far or near, the awareness of our mind always exists. For example, when our loved ones, our sons or daughters, go to study in another country, each day we worry about their daily life, their studies, and their health. One night we dream that our loved one is sick. We call the next day and find out that he or she really is sick. Why is this? This is the function of the mind, similar to what people call the sixth sense. We need to know and understand that besides a person’s materialistic existence, there is also a spiritual life, which is boundless and endless. Because of this, Buddhism speaks of the causality of three times; meaning that one’s boundless and endless life consists of a past, a present, and a future; the past is the cause and the present is the effect; the present is the cause and the future is the effect.

If people focus only on a materialistic existence and work unceasingly to acquire material things—fame, wealth, and prosperity—and even use fraudulent means to obtain these and then believe they have achieved success in life, this will create a lot of bad karma, bringing unrest to society and harm to other sentient beings. Ultimately, as a result of only emphasizing a materialistic existence, people will discover that they have lived a life in vain.

Besides a materialistic existence, there is also the spiritual life. If we only seek blindly for material things, our mind cannot attain tranquility and peace. Feelings of void and vexations will inevitably follow. Even though they obtain material things, most people still do not find satisfaction and fulfillment, because materialistic existence is limited, and human desire is limitless. For example, some people who have ten thousand dollars will wish for one million dollars, and when they have one million, they wish for ten million. Even if they possess the whole earth, they still desire to conquer space. Therefore, people are constantly mired in desires and in vexations.

Under the temptation of desires, even when we obtain what we want, we receive only temporary satisfaction and happiness. This kind of happiness is not true happiness. It is only a joy resulting from the stimulation of our senses—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and conscious mind. It is a short-lived joy. When this joy dissipates, we will again feel empty and be filled with vexations. We begin the search for another kind of happiness only to continue the vicious cycle. In the past, people often sought short-lived stimulation and happiness from diversions like playing cards or dancing. Now, they not only play cards and dance, but also use drugs and indulge in all kinds of substances to numb themselves, to escape from reality, and to try to forget who they are. Thus, they only continue to demean themselves more and more.

II. Integrating Spirituality and Material Existence with a Tranquil Mind and Good Deeds

Buddhism teaches us that we should de-emphasize and let go of materialistic attachments and that we should emphasize our spiritual life. This way, we will have a happier and more peaceful life. From a Buddhist perspective, a spiritual life is one where this very mind does not think of the past, the present, or the future, and is always calm and tranquil. This is then the most abundant and fulfilling spiritual life. For example, during the day we go to school, go to work, or do other tasks; in the afternoon or evening when we get home, we feel that our body and mind are very tired. At that time, we close our eyes and sit quietly for a while, letting our emotions and thoughts settle down. Then our mind becomes free of delusive thoughts, clear wisdom will manifest, and we will immediately feel refreshed. Then our minds are uplifted and transformed into purity. When we understand this principle, we must have confidence in it, and we must let this mind become calm, thus uplifting and purifying ourselves, and striving for a fulfilling spiritual life.

Understanding the importance of spiritual life does not require us to disregard our material life completely. In fact, our material life and spiritual life are interconnected and will develop simultaneously. In Buddhism, the Buddhist sutras refer to the material life as the means for accumulating spiritual blessings and merits. If we understand this truth and work hard toward achieving this goal, our lives will become brighter and more meaningful. Then what does it mean to cultivate blessings and merits using our material life? It means to do good deeds in our daily life. In Buddhism, we believe that if we have no blessings and merits, we will encounter obstacles in all that we do, and nothing will run smoothly. For example, a student wishes to earn a college degree, or even a doctorate, but if he has no blessings and merits, or if his family is poor and has difficulty just obtaining food and clothing, he must work part-time while going to school. Therefore, he may work in the daytime to pay his tuition and support his family, and only be able to study at night. Since the endurance of the body and mind is limited, under these conditions it is difficult for him to achieve success in his studies. However, if a student is well off and not lacking in food, clothing, housing, or transportation, then he can easily concentrate on his studies and achieve success. Similar situations can be found in all of our undertakings, no matter whether they are material or spiritual pursuits. Therefore, Buddhism teaches us that we must cultivate blessings and merits. Yet where do blessings and merits come from? They come from doing good deeds and building good relationships with others.

In Chinese history, the first emperor of the Sung dynasty once had a teacher named Zhang GuoLao. Zhang was also known as the saint Chen Tuan. At that time, the Sung Emperor had a great meritorious general by the name of Cao Bin, who had helped the emperor establish his reign. As soon as Chen Tuan saw Cao Bin, he said, “Great general, your physiognomy does not look right! In your later years, your life will be in danger. You must start to perform good deeds from now on; that will definitely change your life and increase your blessings and merits!” Cao Bin knew that Chen Tuan was a saint and would never be untruthful, so he always kept these words in his mind. Once, the Sung emperor sent Cao Bin to lead his troops to conquer the city of Ying Bin in Sichuan province. After the conquest, the troops wanted to set the city on fire to prevent future uprisings. At that moment Cao Bin remembered the words of Chen Tuan, so he gave the order not to harm a single person and the city’s infrastructure. Not only that, he also provided living expenses to the captives and sent them back to their native country. After Cao Bin left this city, the people of Ying Bin erected a temple in his honor and named it the Temple of Cao Bin. When Cao Bin returned to the capital city, he met Chen Tuan again. As soon as Chen Tuan saw Cao Bin, he said, “Great general! What great good deeds have you done? I see that your countenance is shinning, and your physiognomy has greatly changed! You now will not only be free from illness, but you will enjoy great blessings and honor in the future!” Later, Cao Bin had nine sons, who all achieved great success as military or political leaders. He lived over ninety long and propitious years as a result of cultivating blessings and merits, and of doing good deeds.

The Buddhist sutra says, “Do not neglect to perform even a small good deed; do not perform even the smallest evil deed.” The Buddha always told his disciples to take every opportunity to cultivate blessings and merits. For example, once a lay disciple offered a new robe to a monk disciple of the Buddha. The Buddha, taking this opportunity, asked his disciple, “Now, this layman has given you a new robe. What will you do with your old robe?” The disciple answered, “World Honored One, now that I have received a new robe, I will still keep my old robe. I will not wear this new robe until my old robe is all worn out.” The Buddha said, “Oh, what will you do with your old robe after it is all worn out?” The monk said, “When this old robe is worn out, I will cut it up and use the pieces as rags to wipe the table.” The Buddha asked again, “After the rags have disintegrated, what will you do with them?” The monk then said, “World Honored One, I will bury them under the tree to be used as fertilizer.”

From the Buddha’s conversation with his disciple, we can truly understand the meaning of cultivating and not squandering our blessings and merits. Not to squander our blessings and merits is to cherish them and to use them wisely. To cultivate is to diligently cultivate virtue and extinguish evil, thus accumulating blessings and merits. One develops new resources and the other curtails any unnecessary waste. Especially today when most of us enjoy an adequate or even abundant material life, we must be doubly aware that we need to cherish our blessings and merits by curtailing any unnecessary waste as well as developing new resources by diligently perfecting our good deeds. The Buddhist sutra says, “To the receiver, even a grain of rice is as great as Mount Sumeru. If one does not realize the Way in this lifetime, one will return as an animal in repayment of the giving.” This means that even if it is a grain of rice, when it is given to us, we should cherish it. We should cherish all things without wasting them; this is the true meaning of cherishing our blessings and merits. If we understand to cherish and cultivate our blessings and merits in all undertakings, then our blessings and merits will surely accrue more and more.

III. The Law of Life: Causality of Three Times

During this lifetime, whether we live to be 70 or 100 years old, no matter whether our life is long or short, we all need food, housing, and clothes, which in turn require blessings and merits for them to be realized. As for the blessings and merits, the Buddhist sutra states that all our past good deeds and virtue accumulate to become the blessings and merits of this life. For example if our blessings and merits in this life consist of ten million dollars, it means that we only have these ten million dollars to use in our lifetime of 70, 80, or even 100 years. Therefore, we must understand how to cherish these ten million dollars. If we do not cherish our savings, but instead indulge ourselves with merrymaking and an extravagant lifestyle, the money will be used up very quickly. When the money is all gone and all our possessions are exhausted, we will encounter difficulties in our survival and our life. Even though we may work hard and try to start anew, we will still suffer during the process. The ancients have said, “Blessings, prosperity, and long life, these three stars uphold each other;” “Before looking at life, first look at death.” From a Buddhist point of view, these common Chinese sayings speak of the law of cause of effect; that is, past causes lead to present effects, and present causes lead to future effects. This is an absolute truth in this world, so we should live our life and do good deeds to accumulate blessings and merits in accordance with the principle of causality.

Some people question why we should even care about the future since we cannot see it.  Actually, the future does not always imply a future life after death. Ten years from now is the future; three years or five years from now are also the future. Three days or five days from now is the future. Even the next hour is the future. If we understand this principle, “the future” is not a superstition. If we diligently cultivate good deeds and practice persistently, we do not need to wait for a future life—we will reap our reward in this life. Some people only notice that many people in our society do not do any good deeds, yet they enjoy wealth and honor, rising to great heights of success. On the other hand, many people do good deeds, even are pure vegetarians, yet their life is filled with suffering and vexations and they do not have any success in life. They then feel that the causality that Buddhism teaches is only to lure us to do good deeds, that there is no such thing as the causality of three times. This perception is definitely wrong. Buddhism teaches that causality pertains to the past, present, and future, that it is very fair, and that it is a necessary course. If we had faith in Buddhism and performed good deeds in the past, we will enjoy blessings in this life. If we perform bad deeds in this life, even though it may seem that we have escaped the judicial law now, bad karma will manifest in the future. This is the principle of causality; it is also said that “The causality of three times will never fail anyone.”

There is a famous Confucian saying that is very meaningful: “Doing evil will surely bring destruction. If those who do evil do not perish, this must be due to previous good karma; when prosperity ends, perishing misfortunes will follow. Doing good deeds will surely bring prosperity. If those who do good deeds are not prosperous, this must be due to previous bad karma; when misfortunes end, good fortune will follow.” When we see that those who do evil always seem to be successful and enjoy wealth and honor, it is repayment for past good deeds. If they do not know to cultivate blessings and merits in this life, and only know how to enjoy themselves, then when their blessings and merits are depleted, they will no longer enjoy success, wealth, or honor, but will immediately suffer poverty and misfortunes. When they use up all their past blessings and merits, karmic retribution will immediately manifest. When we see all these phenomena in society, we will realize that the saying, “Doing evil will surely bring destruction. If those who do evil do not perish, this must be due to previous good karma; when prosperity ends, perishing misfortunes will follow.” is true. However, if those who do good deeds do not have good benefits now, it is because they must have done evil deeds in the past. When bad karma manifests, one will suffer retribution in this life. When we understand the law of causality, we can tolerate all karmic retributions. We must now diligently cultivate good deeds and extinguish all evil. When bad karmic retribution is eradicated, good karmic retribution will manifest. Thus, “Doing good deeds will surely bring prosperity. If those who do good deeds are not prosperous, this must be due to previous bad karma; when misfortunes end, good fortune will follow.” The Buddhist sutra also states that when the rich practice the Way and study the teachings of the Buddha, their lives will go from brightness to even more brightness. When the poor practice the Way and study the teachings of the Buddha, their lives will go from darkness to brightness. When we understand this truth, and work diligently in this direction, we can surely make changes to our life in this lifetime.

IV. Cultivating Merits with Chung Tai Four Tenets

At Chung Tai, we have four tenets. If we work hard toward observing them, we will definitely accumulate merits and wisdom.

1. To our elders be respectful

We should foster a mind of respect toward our parents, teachers, and superiors. All people have a sense of pride or even arrogance, thinking that we are superior to others. Whether in our family, at school, or at our job, everyone has a sense of dignity. But excessive clinging to a sense of dignity will become a kind of pride or arrogance. We do not easily realize our sense of pride or arrogance, so we need to have a mind of respect to subdue our pride. In practicing “To our elders be respectful,” children should respect their parents, students should respect their teachers, and employees should respect their superiors. The ancient Chinese scholars have said, “Be sincere and respectful from within.” With sincerity and respect from within, we will naturally perform virtuous deeds and achieve merits. Buddhism teaches, “With one measure of respect we can eradicate one measure of karmic obstacles. Eradicating one measure of karmic obstacles we can increase one measure of merits, blessings, and wisdom. With ten measures of respect we can eradicate ten measures of karmic obstacles. Eradicating ten measures of karmic obstacles we can increase ten measures of merits, blessings, and wisdom.” Therefore, we should cultivate a mind of respect toward our elders. If we have a mind of respect, we will eradicate our pride and arrogance, and our merits and wisdom will naturally increase.

2. To our juniors be kind

Those who are in a supervisory position should be merciful and compassionate toward their subordinates. For example, parents should be merciful and compassionate toward their children and have concern for their children’s health, education, and daily living. These are all manifestations of a compassionate mind. If you are in a supervisory position, you should be merciful toward your subordinates, be concerned with their health and advancement. This way, employees will be loyal. Otherwise they feel alienated from their superiors. In Buddhism, “All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have a mind of compassion as the foundation. With a compassionate mind, they bring forth the Bodhi mind. With a Bodhi mind, they achieve supreme awakening.” We should have unconditioned mercy and all-embracing compassion toward all sentient beings. A Bodhisattva has compassion as a foundation, for that is the entry leading to the destination of supreme awakening.

We all have three fires of ignorance in our mind: the fire of anger, the fire of desire, and the fire of hunger. These three fires are constantly raging in our mind. If we have a mind of mercy and compassion, it will extinguish these three fires from our mind. For example, the fire of desire is the desire that may exist between men and women. When a man sees a woman and develops sensual attachments, the fire of desire will arise and the body will feel feverish. If one is not mindful at this time, and continues to nourish these lustful thoughts, then the fire of desire will become stronger and stronger. This fire can even consume our reason, and further cause us to do many unlawful things. In contrast, if we constantly maintain a mind of mercy and compassion, these three fires of ignorance cannot arise. Hence we should always maintain a mind of mercy and compassion, which can extinguish vexations; subsequently, clear wisdom will constantly manifest.

3. With all humanity be harmonious

We should be congenial with all people. Most people know, “When the family is harmonious, all endeavors will be prosperous; whenever there is harmony, wealth is created.” We must always harbor a mind of harmony with others; then we will have a healthy life. If we are not harmonious with others, often lose our temper, and give rise to anger, this not only is harmful to our health, but will also create many difficulties that will prevent us from getting along with others. For example, in Buddhist monasteries, the six points of reverent harmony are established to facilitate a harmonious sangha. With the six points of reverent harmony, practitioners have a guide to help them live in harmony and can help each other cultivate merits and wisdom, ultimately leading to the realization of supreme awakening. In today’s society, when we understand that people should be harmonious with each other and we should all work together toward that goal, then families, society, and the whole world will be more peaceful and prosperous.

4. In all endeavors be true

We must be sincere and assume responsibility for everything that we do; we should neither take credit for others’ success nor lay blame on others for our own wrongdoings; this is then called being true. If we are in school, we must be earnest and responsible in our studies. We must review our lessons thoroughly, never skip class, and not cheat during exams. If we obtain our diplomas by cheating on our exams, or by not studying when we should, we will later regret that we are short of knowledge when we need it; we will find that our skills and knowledge are inferior to others. It will then be difficult for us to achieve success. Thus, we should study hard in school, and be earnest and responsible in all endeavors. When doing research, we should use logical reasoning and find our own way to contemplate the mechanism behind our investigation. We should not copy from others. In the past, people said, “All literature is but copying each other.” That is not correct understanding. Also, things are not the same today as they were in the past. It is now a crime to plagiarize the works of others, and doing so will adversely undermine our credibility and greatly influence our future studies and career.

So we should be true in all of our endeavors. Whether we are at home, in public, or in any other position, we should be sincere, earnest, and responsible. Even when we meditate we should be true to the practice; we should not do it in a perfunctory manner. To practice meditation is not merely to sit there. When we meditate we should not have delusive thoughts or become drowsy. We should maintain this clear and lucid mind; then we will be in accord with the Way. Otherwise, if we just sit there harboring delusive thoughts, it would be as if we never meditated and would be a waste of time.

The Four Tenets of Chung Tai are the guidelines to help us increase our merits and wisdom. When we can carry out these four tenets, we will surely increase our blessings and merits. As a result, no matter where we go, we will be masters of ourselves and always in control, and all our endeavors will also be successful.

V. Balancing Merits with the Mind of Wisdom

People need blessings and merits. Without blessings and merits there will be obstacles in all that we do. So we need to cultivate good deeds and accumulate blessings and merits. But it is not enough just to have blessings and merits; we must also have wisdom. If we are wealthy in blessings and merits, yet do not use them properly, or if we only use them lavishly and live an imprudent life, then we are not using our blessings and merits to improve our lives but to create bad karma, and this will surely plunge us into the lower realms.

The Buddhadharma tells us that beside blessings and merits, we must also cultivate wisdom. Most people may misunderstand this and think that the wisdom that Buddhism speaks about refers to getting a master’s or doctorate degree or studying various skills. Actually, that is knowledge and not wisdom. The wisdom of Buddhadharma is not the same as knowledge. Knowledge is something acquired from learning or studying worldly phenomena. From a Buddhist view, this very mind that does the learning and studying is itself true wisdom. Thus wisdom is inherent in us, whereas knowledge is something we acquire from the external world by learning and studying. Whether it is science, philosophy, or medicine, these are the different forms of knowledge obtained from our studies. But, when this mind of ours can maintain tranquility and peace; when it can constantly reflect inward and abide in right mindfulness and samadhi, then that is true wisdom.

The ancient sage has said, “Learning consists in accumulating daily; the practice of the Way consists in subtracting daily. Keep on subtracting until you reach the state of Wu Wei, when nothing is done and nothing is left undone.” So in our learning, we acquire and accumulate knowledge every day. The saying that “Learning is like rowing a boat upstream; if one does not advance, one regresses” is very true. In this regard, learning all knowledge and skills is to increase, or is an act of addition. On the other hand, the Way is precisely this pure and lucid mind. So, practicing the Way is to cultivate and attain awakening or enlightenment; that is, we need to keep this very mind clear and lucid without any attachments or without establishing a single dharma or view. Here “subtracting” is to completely eradicate the greed, anger, ignorance, pride, doubt, and erroneous views from our mind. “Keep on subtracting until you reach the state of Wu Wei” means to reach the life of non-arising and non-ceasing as well as the life of endlessness. In our lives, besides cultivating blessings and merits, we must also understand and realize our original mind and original nature; that is the true life-non-arising, non-ceasing, boundless, and endless. This original mind and original nature of Chan is just what ordinary people often mean by “living in the present moment.” If we truly live in the present moment, then life is boundless and endless because this mind of ours is non-arising and non-ceasing; it is true and not illusory. By then, we will not be confused by delusive thoughts or attachments, and our life will be filled with joy and prosperity, for we have found our true self.

VI. Realizing this Very Mind, Realizing the True Life

Ordinary people think of themselves as the “I.” But which one is the true “I?” For example, when we are young, we think of the person attending elementary school as the “I.” But when we finish elementary school and go to junior high school, we think of the person attending junior high school as the “I.” After junior high we go to senior high, and then we think of the person attending senior high as the “I.” After we finish senior high school, that period of life including the “I” is also gone. Our body, daily living, and habits are constantly changing. Each period of life is different from the other. After we finish high school and college, we feel that we have not accomplished much, so after we graduate from college, we want to get a doctoral degree, or establish ourselves in society. After we become the chairman of a company, our student life no longer exists.

No matter whether we are a chairman, a teacher, or a professor, every position is the beginning of another period of life. Even after we have children, after our children are married, and after we have grandchildren—think about it, which period of life is the “I?” If the self of elementary school is the “I” then when we are in college, where is the “I” from elementary school? Seeing it this way we can never find our true self!

The “I” that ordinary people know and perceive is only an illusion. When we are young, beautiful, and strong, we think that is the self. But time passes very quickly. When we grow old, we think this old, wrinkled person is the self. Life is like a series of dreams; we form attachments to the “self” in the dream particularly associated with that period of life. Because we think there is this “self”, then around this illusive “self” we form attachments and thus create sufferings for ourselves. If we do not form attachments, we can then truly discover our own true life. People often say, “The body ages but the mind does not.” But they do not truly understand this. Nonetheless, this saying does elucidate the true meaning of life, for when we truly understand this saying, we will realize how true it is that “the body ages but the mind does not.”

For example, during childhood we have this mind that sees, hears, feels, and knows. When we are 70 or 80 years old, we still have this mind that sees, hears, feels, and knows. When we are a child, if we taste salt, we know it tastes salty. When we are 70 or 80, if we taste salt, we still know it tastes salty. As a child, we know that candy is sweet, and when we are 70 or 80, we still know that candy tastes sweet. The illusive external phenomena can change, but this knowing mind manifests the same ability and above all, it always exists. From this point of view, realizing this very mind that knows is truly realizing our true life.

Every one has this mind that knows. Knowing is the manifestation of our awareness. If we can maintain this knowing and be masters of ourselves both during the day and at night, when we further arrive at the state of absolute knowing, we not only have no bad dreams, but do not have any good dreams, and ultimately can arrive at the stage of no dreams. A well-known adage says, “The sage has no dreams.” If we are totally aware even in our sleep and dreams, this mind will always be clear and lucid, and will never be confused or deluded. The sage is the awakened one. Everyone has this mind that knows and feels; everyone possesses Buddha nature, can become a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, and can reach the state of sagehood. That is why Buddhism teaches that the Buddha or Bodhisattva always abides in this very mind. When a good thought arises, this creates joy and eliminates worries. With one pure thought we are in the Pure Land. If the mind constantly sustains right mindfulness, then we can transcend the mundane and achieve sagehood. On the contrary, when the mind harbors erroneous thoughts, scattered thoughts, evil thoughts, and has greed, anger, and ignorance, then we are in the realm of hell beings, animals, or hungry ghosts. The Buddhist sutra says, “The mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings; these three are no different from each other.” This very mind is inherent in every one of us. To be a deluded sentient being, to transcend the mundane and become a sage, or to descend into the evil lower realms—each direction depends upon our choices.

The ancients have said, “Water can float a boat, yet it can also sink a boat.” Our mind is like water: When the mind gives rise to wholesome thoughts, right thoughts, pure thoughts, then it can float a boat and leads us to a luminous place. On the other hand, if the mind gives rise to evil thoughts, deviant thoughts, scattered thoughts, that is darkness; the boat will sink and we will also suffer in the evil lower realms. If we understand these principles, if this mind can be the master, then we are in control of our lives. The Buddhist sutras state that everyone has this mind that knows and feels; this mind is neither arising nor ceasing. If we can constantly reflect inward and keep our mind tranquil, lucid, peaceful, at ease, and to be the master of itself, then we have found our true life.

At Chung Tai, we hold Chan-7 retreats each year. During these seven days, we work hard to realize the true nature of our mind; that is to experience our true life. For example, on the first, second, or third day, when we sit in meditation, our legs feel painful and numb, and we feel that we are not meditating but are suffering in prison. After the fourth, fifth, or sixth day, the body adjusts itself; this mind becomes like a pool of still water, clear and lucid as a mirror. By then, one hour passes by just like an instant. At this moment we can truly realize this mind, comprehend the truth of Buddhism, and understand our true life.

In this pursuit of realization, we also need wisdom. Wisdom is to recognize and to see this mind of ours. We lack wisdom because of our many delusive thoughts and attachments that obscure the pure and lucid mind and prevent us from seeing the true character of the myriad phenomena in the world. This mind is like the sun, always radiating light. But when clouds or fog arise, they obscure the light of the sun, and it seems that the brightness of the sun has disappeared. Yet when the clouds dissipate, the sun reappears and its light illuminates the world again. So, the so-called being obscured does not mean that wisdom is lost; it just means that the pure and lucid mind of wisdom is obscured by vexations.

The Buddhist sutra states that sentient beings have 84,000 vexations; that is why the Buddha taught 84,000 skillful means to help extinguish these vexations. The 84, 000 vexations can also be subdivided into 108 vexations. So there are also 108 skillful means to counteract them. Just as our prayer beads usually contain 108 beads, they symbolize that with each bead if we make the prayer or recite the name of the Buddha or Bodhisattva sincerely and single-mindedly, we can then penetrate and eradicate the 108 vexations. When our vexations are extinguished, the mind will be refreshed and liberated, and can transcend the mundane and attain sagehood. In addition, these 108 vexations can be further grouped into the six vexations of greed, anger, ignorance, pride, doubt, and erroneous views. These six vexations obscure our mind like six obstacles. We must use the Six Paramitas or Six Perfections: charity, morality, tolerance, diligence, meditation, and prajna wisdom to counteract these six vexations. When these vexations are extinguished, the mind is uplifted and liberated.

Liberation is not what some people think of as death, neither is it entering heaven. Rather, it is to be free of all vexations, free from the vexations of attachments and bondage. Vexations arise from our own delusive thoughts. If our mind does not give rise to delusive thoughts, we will immediately be free of our vexations. The Buddhist sutra says, “As soon as one lays down the butcher’s knife, one immediately becomes a Buddha.” By putting down the butcher’s knife of all vexations, with this clear and lucid mind, one immediately becomes awakened. Practice is to “let the past die like yesterday.” The thoughts that arose yesterday are already in the past; do not dwell on them anymore. Let everything begin from this moment. Practice is also to “let the future arise like today.” If we know to cultivate blessings and merits now, to grasp the present moment, then our daily living, our existence, and our life will always be happy and prosperous.

To perfect our life, we first need to have blessings and merits. Next, we need to have wisdom. When merits and wisdom have accumulated to perfection, we will become a Buddha and always be the master of ourselves. Following the teachings of the Buddha will lead us to attain perfect wisdom and merits. The Buddhist sutras mention the state of supreme perfection of merits and wisdom. It is true that everyone can attain this state. As for blessings and merits, so long as we practice good deeds diligently, we will ultimately obtain good reward. To cultivate wisdom, we must reflect inward and examine ourselves deeply. If we reflect inward and examine ourselves deeply, and realize our true nature, our wisdom will surely increase, and we can surely attain Buddhahood.

Everyone has this very mind. Accumulating merits and wisdom can prevent us from having delusive thoughts and drowsiness, and will help us to keep the mind clear and lucid so that we are always our own master. By maintaining control of this mind and abiding in purity and clarity for three minutes, we will obtain three minutes of liberation and be a Buddha for three minutes. If we can maintain such a mind for ten minutes, we will obtain ten minutes of liberation and be a Buddha for ten minutes. If we can maintain it for half an hour, we will be refreshed, be our own master, be liberated, and be a Buddha for half an hour. So looking at it from this angle, it is really true that realizing this mind is just like flipping the hand to show its palm or back. It completely depends on whether we act or not.

The Confucian scholar Zhu Xi from the Sung dynasty once wrote the following poem:

The half-acre square pond openly extends like a mirror;
In the water, drifting clouds and bright sky;
Ask the stream why it is so clear.
For it is live water coming from the fountainhead.

This poem is very much related to the mind and meditation practice. “The half-acre square pond” refers to this mind of ours that is like the clear water in the pond. How do we find this pool of clear water? We find it by reflecting inward. “Openly extends like a mirror” means that if we can reflect inward, we will see the luminosity and brightness of our original mind and nature, like that of a clear mirror. Ordinarily, our eyes are always looking outward. Now if we bring them back and look inward, we will immediately discover that there are all kinds of delusive thoughts and different activities in our mind. This mind is immeasurable and limitless. Thoughts are constantly flowing; like a dream, they are all illusory and unreal. Because of these wandering thoughts, we are not masters of ourselves; therefore, when we meditate, we will also easily develop wandering thoughts. Many people do not understand the true meaning of meditation. They try to study meditation, but with their misconceptions, they end up hurting themselves. It is because they take the delusive states of their mind as real, which consequently gives rise to erroneous discriminations and attachments. Even worse, they may develop difficulties in concentration, are always confused, and give way to foolish talk and bizarre, schizophrenic behavior. Therefore when we are practicing meditation, we should strive to be the master; when delusive thoughts, attachments, or cravings arise, we should ignore them, let go of them and bring ourselves back to the meditation practice.

“In the water, drifting clouds and bright sky” means that even though our delusive thoughts are constantly flowing, our pure and lucid mind remains inherent in us and is always intact regardless of our delusive thoughts. During meditation, if we do not pay any attention to or follow our delusive thoughts, then these thoughts will gradually decrease, and we will feel refreshed. At that time we will begin to realize our original mind and nature, and we will feel that an hour passes in an instant; our body and mind will be calm, peaceful, and at ease.

“Ask the stream why it is so clear” is like asking why there is such a wonderful state. “For it is live water coming from the fountainhead” means that each one of us already has this original mind and nature; but because we have lost our way, we then do not know to reflect inward and are constantly seeking things externally, thinking that attachments and delusions are real. If we look inward, we will realize this precious original mind and nature. When realizing this inexhaustible fountainhead, we will truly understand that life is boundless and endless.

So no matter whether it is the Buddhadharma or the teachings of Confucianism, they both tell us that we have a true life. This true life is just in this very mind with which you listen to the dharma. If we assume it without any hesitation here and now, we are then walking side by side with the Buddha. Besides our material existence in this world, we also have a spiritual life. When we understand the true nature of our mind, our life will be very fulfilling, blessed, happy, and real. To achieve this state, besides taking care of our family and career, we must work diligently to accumulate merits and wisdom. By understanding the true nature of our mind, we will then not live a life in vain; rather, we will find a true refuge of peace and stability, and discover our true life amid all its turbulent and disturbing circumstances.

The Five-Story Building of Life

Why are we in this world? What is the true meaning of life? Many wealthy people neither have an understanding of religion nor practice it. Even though they have many possessions, they feel that when they eventually die, they cannot take a single cent with them, so why not eat, drink, and be merry now—enjoy life thoroughly and imprudently. From a worldly perspective, it seems to be a life of leisure, completely carefree. From a Buddhist viewpoint, it is a life lived in vain. It is a life that creates a lot of bad karma. From the opposite end of the social spectrum, the poor often feel that since they will inevitably die, it is very sad that they have no money to enjoy life. Consequently, they feel that life is not fair and may attempt to obtain wealth by breaking the law, robbing, stealing, or resorting to blackmail and kidnapping. Inevitably, this not only brings them suffering, but also causes endless distress to society. Based on this understanding, we must determine what work we should do that will not disappoint society and our family and, above all, not be a disappointment to ourselves. Unfortunately, most people do not understand the self. Their understanding of the self is rather unclear, and many people take this body to be the self. They only try to satisfy their own needs. They seek fame and wealth thinking that is happiness. Actually, this concept is wrong.

People live in this world not just to obtain clothing, food, housing, and transportation; to eat, drink, and be merry; to satisfy the desire for fame, wealth, and sex; or to seek power and influence. If people only live for these purposes, after they die and return to dust, they will decay just like the grasses and trees, and their death will be no different from that of lower animals. Human beings are the most intelligent creatures in our world. We should use our incomparable wisdom, rational thought and compassion, and vigorously pursue the spirit of harmony, mutual assistance, and compassion to establish a Pure Land on earth.

I. The First Story: Mundane Existence

Our life can be compared to living in a tall, five-story building. Those who live on the first floor are ordinary people who only see the surface of life. Seeking power, fame, and wealth, they are only interested in taking advantage of others; they have no morals or mercy or compassion. They live only in a materialistic world, and their minds are filled with vexations. They feel empty because in a materialistic existence, people pursue only external stimulation that excites their bodies and senses. We need to understand that this stimulation only provides momentary happiness, and when it is gone, our minds again feel empty and are filled with vexations and uncertainty. Then a new search begins for a different kind of stimulation, but it has the same effect. Initially it feels very new and interesting. Gradually the excitement wears off, and we feel very tired, empty, and bored. Thus we continue to blindly seek the joys and excitement of a materialistic life and never find peace and stability. This is living on the first floor of life’s five-story building.

II. The Second Story: Worldly Spirituality

Even though the excitement of a material life produces confusion, we still possess intrinsic wisdom that encourages us to seek more in life so we naturally come to pursue a life of the spirit. This is like being on the second floor of life’s building. What is a life of the spirit? In worldly spirituality, a life of the spirit may include practicing calligraphy, painting, music, dancing, mountain-climbing, swimming, or taking trips to the mountains and forests, as well as pursuing a variety of leisure and spiritual activities. These pursuits can all elevate the spirit, but we still remain in the spiritual sphere of a mundane existence. Above all, mundane spiritual pursuits cannot lead us to true liberation and peace. In modern society there is remarkable progress in the arts as well as in various kinds of spiritual development, which shows we already know that we need to elevate our lives from mere materialistic existence. We understand that humanity needs not only a materialistic existence, but also needs to pursue the arts and spiritual development. But no matter whether it is pursuing the arts, knowledge, or worldly spirituality, we cannot escape from the material world as it pertains to materialistic living.

III. The Third Story: Beneficial Religions

The third level of a person’s life is religion. In society many different religions already exist, and more are being developed. Although they may be flourishing, the results are not always desirable. It is a well-known fact that as long as one can expound on certain beliefs or principles, a new religion can be established. Some religions formed in this manner have become deviant. In fact, there are deviant religions in Taiwan, in the U.S., and throughout the world. There are also good religions in the world, such as Buddhism, Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Taoism, and many others. Living in accordance with the teachings of these beneficial religions is like reaching the third story of life’s five-story building.

IV. The Fourth Story: Buddhism

Among all religions, Buddhism is the religion of religions. Why? It is because Buddhism speaks of life’s past, present, and future. Buddhism teaches that the world is boundless and limitless. Providing us with infinite space and time, it enables the capacity of our mind to be boundless and limitless. Furthermore, Buddhism teaches the principle of causality. Whatever cause we now sow, we will reap its effects in the future. As a result, we could and should pursue a perfect, happy, and fulfilling life here and now. We need to understand that future not only means a future life after death; ten or twenty years from now is also the future; even three months or five months, three days or five days from now are all in our future. From this viewpoint, the Buddhadharma is very pragmatic and filled with wisdom, for it teaches us that the future is in our hands, and our effort can surely bring us endless possibilities. The Buddhist sutras tell us that if we put in one measure of effort, we will reap one measure of effect, and if we put in ten measures of effort, we will reap ten measures of effect; this notion is very true as well as very positive. Above all, in Buddhism any ordinary person can become an awakened one, such as a Bodhisattva or a Buddha, and this gives humanity endless hope. For these reasons, we elevate Buddhism from the third floor to the fourth floor.

Buddhism is not a castle in the air. Rather, it is the irrefutable description of reality and thus can be perfectly put into practice in everyone’s daily life. To facilitate this application in contemporary society, Chung Tai promotes the integration of Buddhism into five different areas, namely education, art, science, academic research, and everyday life. In particular, we have established a Buddhist institute for teaching and studying the Buddhadharma. Second, we have established Chan meditation centers around Taiwan and around the world to teach Buddhism and Chan meditation. These meditation centers also offer serene and quiet places to help practitioners incorporate the teachings into their daily lives. Third, we are establishing elementary, junior high, and high schools with the hope to integrate the Buddhadharma into education. Also, at Chung Tai, we have specialists and researchers who are working on in-depth art projects such as statue restoration and various Buddhist arts exchange programs. We hope that in the near future we can establish a Buddhist arts research institute to be solely dedicated to the integration of Buddhism and the arts.

Even the main structure of Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli, Taiwan was designed with the idea of integrating the five areas. Physically, the monastery’s main building from the ground to its highest peak is about 145 meters high (~475ft), with a width about 130 meters (~425ft) and a depth about 130 meters (~425ft), and it embodies Buddhist teachings, modern technologies, and traditional heritages. For example, the sixteenth floor houses the Thousand Buddhas Hall with glass-curtained walls on both sides that enclose a teak pagoda of the Seven Medicine Buddhas. This teak pagoda is constructed without using a single screw or nail, which is the method used in traditional Chinese carpentry and indeed a precious and fading art form that needs to be preserved. To better reveal the special artistic and Buddhist features of this pagoda, an approximately 30-meter-tall (~98ft) by 16.5-meter-wide (~54ft) glass-curtained wall on each side provides a view of the Seven Medicine Buddhas wooden pagoda even from a distance. This is a unique construction in Asia, and people in the architectural world know that it requires the highest modern architectural skills, which are not available in Taiwan. Therefore, to actualize this design we enlisted the help of German engineers using German technology and materials. In addition, the lighting in the Thousand Buddhas Hall utilizes fiber optics that give off light but not heat, minimizing the possibility of fire resulting from the wooden structure. The building itself is also rich in artistry. Inside the building is a culture and arts pathway, a museum for Buddhist arts, literature and history, international conference rooms, and a comprehensive library as well. Decorations on the walls and in the halls of the monastery are meticulously crafted, incorporating both ancient Chinese and contemporary styles and bringing together Eastern and Western artistic designs. Materials from thirteen different countries were used in an effort to discover the most suitable material for each place to reveal its distinct and implicit meaning. Not only has Chung Tai used highly sophisticated modern technology in its architecture, but it has also retained many of the characteristics of Chinese traditional monasteries, such as porcelain tiles, slanted roofs, and arch-like hallways and exterior appearance. In terms of symbolizing Buddhist teachings, the monastery building is indeed an integration of Mahayana altruistic and Hinayana ascetic practices, as well as an integration of gradual cultivation and sudden awakening teachings. In fact, if one looks deeper, one finds that every corner has its special meaning. The building is a prime example of manifesting Buddhist teachings in the five areas—education, art, science, academic research, and everyday life. With its vast, flexible, skillful means and its profound insight, it is fitting to say that Buddhism is the teaching of teachings, the science of sciences, the art of arts, and the education of educations. That is also why we say that Buddhism is the religion of religions, and we place it on the fourth floor of the five-story life building.

At Chung Tai, we hope to encourage people to understand the Buddhadharma, its truths and its methods, in many different ways. But no matter what approach one takes, it almost surely comes from one’s mind-consciousness. In fact, activities emerging from the first, second, third, and fourth floor of the five-story life building all fall into this category. Because the mind-consciousness is dualistic and relative, this world then becomes a world of opposites. As a result, no matter how good our achievements are, they are only relatively good in comparison with those that are relatively bad; where there is male, there will be female; where there is a Buddha, there will also be a Mara or devil; where there is a bright sky, so there will also be a dark sky. In this world—inside and outside, high and low, large and small, bright and dark, and so on—are all opposites. Thus we all live in a world of opposites, and it is not an easy task to find a place of true stability in this world of opposites.

V. The Fifth Story: The Essence of Buddhism-Chan

To find the place of true stability in this world of opposites, we promote the teaching of Chan for it can truly help us attain the ultimate state of peace and bliss. This is the fifth story, the highest floor in the five-story life building, and it transcends time and space. As a result, this floor is where each one of us should choose and hope to live. Life is a five-story building. We hope that all people can ascend from the first to the second story, from the second to the third story, from the third to the fourth story and finally from the fourth to the fifth story.

This fifth story is not unattainable. It can be called our true life. Most people feel that life is finite and limited. Actually, true life is infinite and limitless. This may at first sound incomprehensible, like comparing human life to that of crows, but it is the truth, and the teaching of Chan can lead us to that state. In China, we say that a good reputation lasts for hundreds of generations, even thousands of generations; this is the state of immortality, and establishing virtue, establishing teaching, and establishing merit are called the three lasting or immortal accomplishments. From a Buddhist perspective, these three lasting accomplishments are still relative and belong to the world of opposites. For example, after a dynasty change in China, those who achieved merit and established virtue in the previous dynasty might not be considered as virtuous ministers, but might even be considered sinners instead. So even if we have established virtue, teaching, and merit, due to the changes in time and space, things that were previously deemed good may now be seen very differently, because this world is a world of opposites.

If we wish to find the ultimate state and discover the true refuge in life, we need the teaching of Chan. Chan brings us true life because Chan transcends time and space. If this mind of ours has not experienced the practice of Buddhism or been transformed by Chan, we will always live in the world of opposites; no matter whether we are on the first, second, third, or fourth floor, we are still in this world of opposites. The Buddhist sutra says, “Chan is the mind of the Buddha; the scriptures are the mouth of the Buddha; the precepts are the body of the Buddha.” So, Chan is the essence of Buddhism and is the teaching with which we can pursue our true life.

A. The Aim of Chan

Today, most people have a poor understanding of Chan. Although many places teach Chan, some notions and concepts of Chan have gone in the wrong direction, and those are not the true Chan teachings. Today, people have different reasons for practicing Chan meditation. Some practice meditation for their health or to cultivate chi or energy. Some meditate because they feel it is elegant and very fashionable to do so. Some meditate with the hope of attaining spiritual insight or supernatural powers, hoping that the gods will give them supernatural powers or spiritual insight, or hoping to get a lucky lottery number and obtain great wealth. These types of meditation are very remote from true Buddhist meditation.

What is the true practice of Chan meditation? Chan teaches that “Awaken the mind to see its true nature; seeing the true nature, one becomes a Buddha.” In our minds there are three greatest vexations and enemies. The first is delusion. As soon as we sit down, we think of this and that, and worry about gains and losses. Most people do not know that delusion is an enemy. With too many delusive thoughts, our mind cannot attain peace and tranquility; our mind cannot become clear and pure like a pool of still water, or clear and lucid like a bright mirror that can illuminate the universe. The first part of the Buddhist practice of Chan meditation is to eradicate delusions. Next, we need to keep our mind bright, lucid and pure, so that only this absolute, very mind exists, and it exists with absolutely no second thoughts or delusive thoughts. If delusions arise, then we cannot attain this clear and lucid state.

The second problem is drowsiness and stupor. When we are practicing sitting here without any thought, we may feel sleepy and drowsy. Most people feel that sleeping is not a bad thing; it is something that we need. Actually, if we reflect carefully, we realize that a big portion of our life is spent sleeping. Drowsiness is actually a waste of life so when we are meditating we must not have the slightest bit of drowsiness or lethargy. This mind must truly settle down. The delusive mind is like a cup of muddy water; it is filled with sand and dirt. We meditate so the dirt can sink to the bottom of the cup. This is the first step in our practice. The second step is to completely eliminate all the dirt or to transform impurities into purity. This way, we will find our true direction. If we do not suffer from drowsiness, have no delusive thoughts, and the mind is doing nothing, then we may experience boredom. Most people don’t know that according to Buddhism, boredom is a great problem; it is indeed the third of the three greatest enemies. To overcome boredom, we must give rise to right mindfulness. With right mindfulness, this mind will not lapse into boredom.

Chan meditation will eradicate these three great problems: delusion or the waves in the mind, drowsiness, and boredom. When we eradicate these three vexations, our mind gradually becomes clear and refreshed. What do we feel when the mind is refreshed? It is like attending a Chan-7 retreat where during the first three days of the meditation retreat, we do not have any special feeling. On the fourth day our mind gradually becomes lucid and pure. On the fifth day, when we sit down to meditate we do not wish to get up. On the sixth and seventh days we no longer feel the passage of time. So on the first and fifth, sixth, and seventh day, this mind is completely different. One is like being on this miserable, samsaric earth and the other is like being in heaven. How can that be? On the first day in the Chan Hall our legs are painful and numb; the mind feels helpless, entangled by delusions and drowsiness. This is not sitting in meditation. On the contrary, it is like sitting in prison, like sitting on a pincushion. But after one day, two days, and then three days of patient endurance, our body gradually changes over. Delusions and drowsiness are reduced. This mind of boredom has disappeared. This, then, is a good stick of incense (i.e., a good meditation session). Sitting here for an hour passes by in a flash because this mind has transcended time and space—it is a world of the absolute.

When you have had a good meditation session, you will realize that life in this world is very meaningful, very valuable, and that our life is limitless. We certainly should not waste our life, and should never try to harm ourselves. Not only will we treasure our life, but we will also realize that everyone has this mind and that everyone equally possesses Buddha nature. Because of this, we should and will respect and cherish each other, and further cultivate this mind of ours. When we understand and realize this very mind, then we have truly found ourselves.

B. Rediscovering Ourselves

Most people have many entanglements in life. They are busy with family, jobs, school—these are our responsibilities, and they are also a source of merits. Besides these duties, the most important thing we can do is to rediscover ourselves and to clearly know who is acting or speaking. We learned many things in school, which most people consider to be wisdom. According to Buddhism, that is not true wisdom but only an accumulation of knowledge or experience. What then is true wisdom? It is to let this very mind that can learn to reflect inward. What is this very mind that we learn with? Only when this mind becomes tranquil can we find the self, the true self.

The founder of Taoism, Laozi, talked about the Way and Learning; he said, “Learning consists in accumulating daily; the practice of the Way consists in subtracting daily. Keep on subtracting until you reach the state of Wu Wei, when nothing is done and nothing is left undone.” According to this, learning all knowledge and skills is like addition; we add to our knowledge every day. If we do not add, then we would have nothing inside or no knowledge. “Learning is like rowing a boat upstream; if one does not advance, one regresses.” However, our practice—our cultivation of the Way—is like subtraction. Constantly examining and reflecting, we decrease and eliminate our vexations so that our mind constantly maintains its peace and tranquility. When we truly achieve peace and tranquility, our mind will contain unlimited and boundless worlds, unlimited and boundless wisdom and virtue; this life is indeed infinite. We will be able to perfectly master both mundane living and the spiritual life. Then we will indeed be Bodhisattvas in this world.

The teaching of Chan can bestow upon us infinite peace and unequaled tranquility. Those who have truly experienced this can surely reach the inner hall of the Way. With the practice of Chan meditation, we will be able to realize this pure and lucid mind, this mind of impartiality, this mind of wisdom, and this transcendent unmoving mind; above all, this can all be verified in the Chan Hall with our diligent practice. What is the difference between a pure unmoving mind and a delusive scattered mind? For example, in a classroom if the teacher gives a clear and interesting lecture, the student listens attentively without any delusive thoughts and even to the degree that a mosquito bite would not bother him. When the bell rings at the end of class, he wonders why the class has ended so soon. On the other hand, if a different teacher in the same classroom, teaches by rote and doesn’t explain things clearly, the student becomes more and more confused; his back hurts from sitting; he starts to have delusive thoughts; he may even look at his watch again and again, and wonder why the class hasn’t ended yet and why it seems so long. Think about it. Within the same time and space, why is the perceived length of time so different? The first student feels that time is very short because the mind is tranquil and focused, and there is no thought of time and space. This state is still very remote from that of deep samadhi; it may only be considered a similar state. On the contrary, with a confused and delusive mind, the second student feels that time is very slow—an hour seems like a year. It is like being in prison; even a minute is difficult to endure. It is also like speaking with people who do not share the same interests; when words are not agreeable, even half a sentence is too much, and the time feels as painful as sitting on a pin cushion. However, if we are chatting with people with whom we have affinity, then we do not even feel the passage of time.

C. The Highest Form of Emotion Management.

We need to understand and realize the mind, and in Buddhism, this is called the mind dharma. When this mind is filled with delusive thoughts, pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, and similar complicated emotions, we develop attachments and feel the fear of gains and losses, which consequently brings mixed feelings of hatred and craving, and then it is difficult for anyone to become liberated. Nowadays, psychologists speak about emotion management. Yet, the ancient practice of Chan is the highest form of emotion management even in our present world. As soon as our mind moves, we need to know whether the thoughts are wholesome or unwholesome, and eventually, we must arrive at the state of no-thought; the state of no-thought is Chan. However, the state of no-thought is not a state of being confused or one of being asleep. No-thought simply means having no wandering thoughts, no delusive thoughts, and no thoughts of drowsiness or boredom, and furthermore, it implies that every thought is always clear and lucid; we are the master of our thoughts. With this mastery, this mind that we think with is then the true self. It is like what Confucian scholars have said, “Clearness and brightness are within oneself.” The mind of clearness and brightness is our original mind. When we find our original mind, we find our true self.

Most people often say, “I am very busy today.” But we are not busy for ourselves; we are busy for others. This is because we have not yet found our true self. Which one is actually the self? Think about it. Defining the self is not simple. According to Buddhism, the self that ordinary people usually identify with is just a combination of physical matter and mental elements. Physical matter makes up our body, which includes the elements of earth, water, fire, and air. These four great elements are originally empty in nature, i.e., empty of inherent, independent existence. Because of our attachments, especially attachments to our false self, these four great elements become non-empty, and consequently bring us various problems. There are also all kinds of mental activities in our mind, including delusive thoughts, ignorance, and emotions such as pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy. Together, these activities can be categorized into the four mental aggregates, which are feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness. If we can transform the attachments and the delusive, ignorant mental activities into purity, impartiality, and the absolute in accord with Reality as it is, then we will find our true self, and our life in this world will truly become that of a sage. This is then a meaningful and worthwhile life.

D. The Mind and External Environment

This fifth floor of life, Chan, is our true refuge for peace and stability. It is very firm and solid within. Nothing can disturb it. Even an atomic bomb or nuclear missile cannot destroy this fifth story, the Chan mind, because it transcends time and space. Even though we are all physically in the same continuum of time and space, each of us has different perceptions of time and space. For example, it seems to us that 24-hours-in-a-day is only an instant in the long years of our human life. So, when we see its birth in the morning and its death at night in the short life of a small insect, we feel it’s very pitiful that its life is so short. But this is not the case to the insect, for its perception of time is very different from ours; one day to us may be 10 or 20 years to the insect. It is recorded in the Buddhist sutras that the closest heaven to us is the Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings. The lifespan in this heaven is 500 years, and a day and night in this heaven is 50 years to us. Above this heaven is the Trayastrimsha Heaven, which is also the Heaven of the Jade Emperor in Taoism. The lifespan in this heaven is 1,000 years, and one day and night in this heaven is 100 years to us. Why? It is because the minds of heavenly beings are more lucid, pure, and tranquil. If our mind can attain that state, even though we are still in the desire realm, and still have desires for food and sex, it will be the same as being in the Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings.

Therefore, all conditions in the external environment cannot be separate from this very mind. If this mind is pure and lucid, virtuous and luminous, we will then be in resonance with the dharma realm of the heavens; it will be as if we were in heaven. If our mind contains vexations, ignorance, worry, and fear, then we are now in hell. As long as we are sowing the cause for hell in the present, we will certainly reap the effect of going to hell in the future. If our mind gives rise to joy in the daytime, we will surely have good dreams at night. If our mind is filled with fear and vexations, we will certainly have bad dreams at night. Indeed, the dream states can be very mysterious and profound, forming a unique personal universe. From this, the function of our mind-consciousness can be really wondrous and subtle.

E. Reflecting Inward

If we want to attain ultimate liberation and complete transcendence, we can only reach it through examination, reflection, and Chan practice. With these practices, our Bodhi mind can then manifest. This Bodhi mind is also called the true mind or the original mind. When this very mind manifests, that is then our true self. When the true mind manifests, we will enjoy virtues and merits. We must understand this and put it into practice to develop perfect confidence in this teaching.

Chan teaching says that realizing the mind is like drinking water; only when one drinks the water can one know its warmth or coolness. Only when we experience this very mind ourselves can we really know how to realize it. Yet realizing it is not enough; we still need to constantly maintain this clear and lucid mind. And how do we maintain it? We must keep this mind free from faults. If we are at fault, we should immediately recognize it, examine it and reflect upon it. This is a progression of the mind’s cultivation. In ancient China, Confucius had a disciple named Che PoYu who had practiced this method of self-examination and reflection. He used to say, “Living for 20 years, one knows the faults of 19 years;” that is, when he was 20 years old, he knew that he had been wrong for 19 years of his life. This is self-examination and reflection. In the same way, after practicing for 50 years, one knows the faults of 49 years. If we constantly work diligently in this direction of self-examination and reflection, we will surely find the path of the mind, find our own world, and attain the ultimate state of peace and stability in life. Nevertheless, most people today do not know how to examine and reflect within; they only see the faults of others, feeling that this is not right, or that is wrong, but do not recognize their own faults.

In Buddhism, there is a saying, “Ordinary people have no faults, whereas the sages have many.” What is the meaning of the statement that ordinary people have no faults? Because ordinary people do not understand themselves, they always look outward. They do not know that they should first examine themselves and reflect upon their behavior, so they always think that they have no faults. The sages, on the other hand, often reflect and examine themselves. With magnanimous minds, they tolerate others, forgive others, wish to bear all responsibilities and further correct their own shortcomings. If we could all use this mentality to encourage ourselves and reflect upon ourselves, then we will not be far from the state of the sages. This is what Buddhism and Chan teach; this is the truth of life, and indeed worthy of everyone’s diligent pursuit. If everyone can practice this way, we will all be moving toward the fifth floor of the five-story building of life, and find our very own profound, vast, and boundless true space.

Beginning the Journey Into Chan

I. Enter the Heart of Chan practice

What is Chan?

Some people ask, “What is Chan?” The Buddhist sutra clearly states, “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 the Buddha’s mind. All of the Buddhist sutras and scriptures, i.e., the Twelve Canons in the Tripitaka, or the recorded words of the Buddha, as well as all of his actions, originate from this very mind. With the scientific advances of today, most people tend to revere or worship science without realizing that science is the culmination of human wisdom. To generate wisdom, we need to have a mind of purity and clarity; the mind should be peaceful and serene, at ease and tranquil. The ancient sages have taught, “Live simply and our aspirations become clear; in tranquility we reach the farthest goal.” If we wish to have wisdom, we must maintain this mind of purity, clarity, and awareness.

Chan is the mind of the Buddha. When we study Buddhism and cultivate the Way, we must strive to walk with the Buddha. The ancients have reminded us,

I look in awe at the lofty peaks,
I strive to follow virtuous deeds
Thought they seem unattainable
The mind can aspire to it.

Thus, we must learn from the Buddha’s wisdom, compassion, samadhi (or concentration mastery), as well as his blessings and virtues, his countless merits, his miraculous powers, and his skillful means. Yet where do these qualities come from? They are generated by the mind. This mind is not the scattered mind that most people experience every day. It is not a mind of greed, hatred, ignorance, or pride; nor is it a mind of jealousy and vengeance. Then what kind of mind is it? It is the Chan mind, the true mind of the Buddha. Chan tells us how to obtain a mind of samadhi, purity, awareness, and complete awakening. Based on this understanding, Chan is wisdom, the wellspring of life. If we wish to have a meaningful and fulfilling life, we must use the methods of Chan practice to achieve the goal.

Chan is also right mindfulness, right samadhi. Right mindfulness is the mind that is free from delusions and confusion, and is always in control. When this mind is lucid and pure, it has samadhi power, is at ease and free from vexations. Then our will, our spirit, and our wisdom will be of great help to us in all circumstances. On the other hand, if this mind is unstable and worrisome; if we do not understand the real principles of life; if we only see the riches before us; if we only pursue the mundane, pursue extravagant and decadent pleasures, or pursue fame and fortune, this is an ordinary mundane existence, without much meaning. Why? Because living a life of material and sensual pleasure-seeking and thinking that death is the end of it all is to misunderstand the true meaning of life and reality. Furthermore, it is a life of superficiality and vanity. In contrast, if we realize that this mind harbors infinite wisdom and countless merits, then this mind is an infinite treasure-house. When we recognize this principle and practice diligently, we can realize this Chan mind; then this mind of ours is a pool of living water. At all times, our wisdom, all of our strength, and even all of our various merits are inexhaustible. Thus, this is a life filled with joy.

Chan is not lofty and unattainable. We only need to realize this very mind, our inherent Buddha nature; then, whether we are walking, sitting, sleeping, hauling wood, or carrying rice, we will realize that every action is Chan. As long as we let go of the mind’s vexations, delusions, and attachments, that is Chan.

II. The Importance of Chan Practice

Practicing Chan can calm the body and mind and help us incorporate the Buddha’s teaching into daily living to improve our lives. When we realize this mind, in all our actions, whether we are walking, staying, sitting, or lying down, we will be at ease. We will feel nothing lacking, have no delusive thoughts, and not be confused. It is like discovering a wide open road that we can walk firmly on forever.

Our vexations arise mainly because of the delusions that cloud or obscure our original mind. The aim of Chan practice is to realize this originally pure and lucid mind, and to realize that this pure and lucid mind is present at every moment. We will then be at ease. We will also realize that everyone possesses this inherent Buddha nature; hence, we will not feel that we are insignificant, or lacking, or worthless.

In our present society, most people seek and emphasize material things. Unfortunately, no one gains satisfaction from these worldly pursuits. If we understand that Buddhism offers us another possibility, another world of the spirit, then no matter whether we are rich or poor, noble or lowly, we will understand that vexations can be transformed to Bodhi, which is awakening or enlightenment, and that peace and stability of body and mind is available to everyone.

When people with high receptiveness can understand Buddhism, they can use their minds of compassion to help all sentient beings and use wisdom to serve society. If those who are less receptive can understand Buddhism, their minds will be free from vexations and envy. People in our present society often have feelings of envy and hatred. When they see others with wealth and power, their minds tend to lose their equanimity. If they can understand the Buddhist principle of causality, realize this clear, pure original mind, and constantly abide in this mind, they can serve society without discriminating between self and others. Purity and clarity of the mind are true wealth. The mind is filled with endless merits and treasures.

Chan practice enables us to understand that the inner realm of the mind is our true refuge and that we no longer need to seek blindly for external things such as fame and fortune; practicing Chan also facilitates the awareness that we no longer need to envy others. When we reach this understanding, then we can fully manifest our inner compassion and wisdom. If people from all levels of society have this understanding in common, we will have peace and stability in this world.

Because most people have vexations and delusive thoughts clouding their minds, they do not experience higher spiritual understanding. If we can let go, eradicate our vexations, and sever our attachments, then this mind will be like a pool of still water, unperturbed by the slightest wind. It will be like a mirror, unstained by any impurities. At this time, one truly experiences true wisdom and miraculous powers, because miraculous powers and true wisdom cannot be sought from the outside, they are the mind’s original ability. This mind harbors infinite wisdom and power. Chan practice seeks to discover this hidden wisdom and power. As the Chan patriarchs have said, “Awaken the mind to see its true nature; seeing the true nature, one becomes a Buddha.” If we can let go and get rid of our vexations such as greed, anger, ignorance, and pride, and thus uncover our inherent wisdom, then we will turn knowledge into wisdom and realize perfect enlightenment. After vexations are eradicated, the mind becomes calm and tranquil; the body naturally becomes healthy. When we practice in this direction—toward discovering our inherent wisdom—it is the Way; it is Chan. Chan is samadhi, perfect absorption; it is right concentration; it is what the Diamond Sutra refers to as the “mind of non-abidance.” When this mind becomes peaceful and tranquil, is at ease and like a pool of still water, that is the true meaning of Chan practice.

III. The Wondrous Functions of Chan

The Chan patriarchs have said, “Hauling wood and carrying rice are miraculous powers and wondrous skills.” This is truly realizing the Chan mind. Chan is like the water’s source. When we find this source, this water is inexhaustible. This is living water; it is not stagnant. When we discover our original mind, it is like discovering the water’s source.

The inherent wisdom and merits in the minds of sentient beings are exactly the same as those in the Buddha. The Buddhist sutra states, “It is not a bit more in the sage, nor a bit less in the ordinary person.” When one becomes a Buddha or Bodhisattva, this mind does not increase the least bit. In all sentient beings, even in insects and animals, this original nature is not decreased the least bit. If we wish to open up this mind that has long been entrapped by our defilements, we must follow a method. The Buddhist sutra says that there are 84,000 dharma doors. It is like having 84,000 keys. Each person’s mind is imprisoned by different defilements. Therefore, we need 84,000 different keys to open the doors of our minds. When we understand this principle, we realize that it is worthwhile for everyone to seek the truths of Buddhism. The meaning of Chan lies in purifying and elevating this very mind—from opposites to the absolute, from a coarse mind to a fine mind. The Buddhist sutra says, “The mind of a sentient being is the coarse within the coarse, the Bodhisattva’s mind is the refined within the coarse, the Buddha’s mind is the refined within the refined.” Because it is the refined within the refined, the Buddha’s mind can clearly understand every problem.

Most people do not know how to use this mind. The Doctrine of the Mean states, “When expanded, it permeates the six directions; when withdrawn, it is well hidden.” This means that when we open up our mind, it contains the whole dharma realm, the whole universe. When we constrict our mind, no one can find it—thieves cannot steal it, robbers cannot seize it. The Buddhadharma also says, “When we expand our mind, it contains the whole world, when we constrict it, it is in a dust mote.” The mind’s miraculous powers and wondrous skills are inconceivable. When this mind is awakened, it is Buddha; when it is deluded, it is a sentient being; when erroneous views arise, then it is Mara or the devil. If we understand this principle, we not only can become the “master of the country,” but the “master of the whole universe.” Isn’t this the real great wealth and prestige of life? When we think this way, our mind is indeed at rest, and life becomes more fulfilling and meaningful. This is the doctrine of Chan.

The famous poet Tao YuanMing wrote the following poem:

My hut is in the mundane world
Yet with no clamor from horses and carriages;
You ask how I can manage.
My mind is distant, so my place is remote.
Gathering chrysanthemums beneath the east arbor
South Mountain leisurely comes into view.
The mountain aura is beautiful from dawn to dusk,
Flying birds return in each other’s company.
There is true meaning here:
Wishing to describe it, one has forgotten the words.

This poem describes the realm of Chan. What is the “mountain aura” spoken of here? What is the “flying bird”? The flying bird is the freedom of this mind and the mountain aura is the sphere of this mind. “There is true meaning here”—true meaning is the True Mind spoken by the Buddha, it is the mind at ease. “Wishing to describe it, one has forgotten the words” means that truth defies description, yet it does not hurt to make an attempt.

The state of Chan can be basic or profound, which corresponds to shallow awakenings or profound awakenings. It is like going to school—from kindergarten to elementary school, all the way up to college; it also involves different levels of comprehension. The ancients have taught, “A hundred great enlightenments, a thousand small enlightenments.” This teaching denotes the levels of the enlightened mind and the various breakthroughs in the understanding of life and the universe.

How can we harmonize the mind with the environment? That is exactly what Chan can help us to do. When we are awakened to Chan, we will be in perfect harmony and be at ease at all times. Whether we are hauling wood or carrying rice, receiving or sending off guests, every act is the Way. Although our outer environment undergoes myriad changes and transformations, our mind’s realm always dwells in suchness and is always knowing and clear. This is the subtle, wondrous function of Chan.

These days there are people who go to temples just to seek help from the Four-sided Buddha. People have heard that the Four-sided Buddha is very responsive; therefore they vie with each other to go and pay respect to him. Think about it. Where is the Four-sided Buddha? We should know that all Buddhas are equal. All dharmas are equal. Amitabha Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, Medicine Buddha, and even all Buddhas of the ten directions are all the same; their wisdom, miraculous powers, merits and blessings, samadhi, and compassion, are all at the highest level. When you understand the mind of Chan, you will be able to observe and understand even the tiniest things in the world. If you can do this, you are now the Four-sided Buddha. This is what the broad meaning of Chan implies.

Yet regarding the narrow definition of Chan, it is this very mind. For example, if we chant the Buddha’s name until the mind becomes unperturbed, that is Chan. Chanting the sutras, the mantras, practicing concentration and meditation, studying Chan, these are all different methods; they are meant to help us turn our conceptual understanding to nondualistic wisdom, to unify body and mind, and to arrive at the realm of the absolute of this very mind.

No matter whether the meaning is broad or narrow, Chan cannot be separate from this very mind. If we do not deviate from our original nature and are masters of our minds at all times, then this is precisely the wondrous manifestation of Chan.

Mountain Pilgrimage

Mountain Pilgrimage

A mountain pilgrimage is a diligent practice of body and mind. With the forehead and four limbs touching the ground, one prostrates every three steps. The mouth and the mind recite the Buddha’s name. By being diligent in body, speech, and mind we eradicate karmic obstacles and transform karma; then blessings and wisdom will increase and everything will be auspicious. We let go of self and others, of right and wrong, gain and loss, grasping and rejecting, kindness and enmity. We see through all things and let go of them, single-mindedly reciting the Buddha’s name without a single deluded thought. The mind that is reciting becomes totally clear.

A mountain pilgrimage is also a very meaningful practice; it fulfills the six paramitas—charity, precepts, tolerance, diligence, samadhi (meditation), and prajna (wisdom). Cultivating these six paramitas is the bodhisattva way. The meaning of a mountain pilgrimage is profound and far-reaching; it benefits self and others, helps us to extinguish vexations and attain enlightenment. The mountain pilgrimage builds resolve to attain nirvana. If we don’t have good resolve in our mountain pilgrimage, it’s as mundane as doing routine tasks like exercising, socializing or sightseeing. Making a mountain pilgrimage without resolve does not have great merit.

If we understand the principle of the six paramitas in the mountain pilgrimage, we can obtain the benefits of the Dharma without obstacles. A mountain pilgrimage is a good preliminary practice in cultivating the Way. After we have made this preliminary effort, we will gradually achieve success in our cultivation.

Click here to read Grand Master’s dharma lecture on Six Paramitas Mountain Pilgrimage.

 

Meditation Class Guidelines

Picture11Welcome to the meditation classes at Buddha Gate Monastery! Before coming, please read and follow these tips and guidelines:

  • Arrive 15 minutes early so that you have time to sign in, get situated and be ready to meditate.
  • Keep valuables at home or locked in your car.
  • No liquids or food are allowed in the Chan (Zen) Hall, Lecture Hall or Library; no non-vegetarian food.
  • Recordings and photography are prohibited.
  • Turn off your cell phone completely (i.e., no vibrate mode) or leave it in your car. You can check your phone during breaks.
  • Keep everything cleared from the center aisle leading to the Buddha, including your legs and feet.
  • Bring papers and pen for note taking, and a binder to store the handouts.
  • Commit to attending at least eight classes.

Dress code:

  • Wear comfortable and modest attire and socks. No midriffs, bare shoulders, see-through, or low cut tops; no shorts, torn clothing or bare feet. Optional meditation clothing may be obtained at the monastery reception desk.
  • Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, as you will be expected to remove your shoes when entering the Chan Hall. Socks are required.
  • The Monastery is a scent-free environment; please avoid scented aftershave, perfume, oils and lotions.

See you in class!

Buddha Gate Monastery

Vajraputra

 The literal meaning of Vajraputra is Diamond Seed. Vajraputra symbolizes the invincible power of compassion and wisdom. One of the stories of Vajraputra is that he instructed Ananda (famous for his extraordinary memory by which he was able to retain all of the Buddha’s teachings), to harmonize the understanding of the Dharma with the practice toward Arhatship.