Grand Master Wei-Chueh’s Dharma Talk on SARS (in 2003)  

Origin: Some of you may remember the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak back in 2003, another coronavirus with global impact. Even though it wasn’t widespread in the United States, it still caused anxiety and fear around the world. Grand Master Wei Chueh’s Dharma talk on SARS, which is part of this week’s reading, is as pertinent to our situation today as it was almost 20 years ago. By purifying our minds, we can also purify the world.

   The whole world is now in fear of the SARS epidemic. Patients with SARS may gradually recover after undergoing some distress and quarantine; but in the more serious cases, they may succumb to the disease. Facing this epidemic, what should we do to safely get through it? This is a topic we all need to explore urgently.

  Buddhism teaches that “illness arises from karma, and karma is produced from our mind.”

  To prevent SARS, beside avoiding crowded public places, keeping our home and office clean, tidy, dry, and the air well circulated, we should also always abide in right mindfulness, freeing our mind from the poisons of greed, anger, ignorance and other negative thoughts—this is how we keep ourselves away from disease.

  SARS is a calamity we all face together. To prevent and protect ourselves from this calamity, we need to start from our minds. When we relate and treat each other with friendliness and compassion, an effective defensive system is developed within our mind. This is the best strategy to protect ourselves and to keep disease out.“Contemplate the suffering of sentient beings; bring forth the bodhi mind.”  When we see everyone in the world is in fear, it kindles in us a sense of unconditioned compassion and oneness toward all beings. We can dedicate the merits of our morning and evening service and our good deeds toward world peace, wishing all sentient beings be free from illness. When we all hold this same hope and wish, our minds will abide in right mindfulness, calmness, and compassion, free from distraction or distortion. And when our minds are free of disease, the external world will also be free of disease. When our minds are pure, the external world is also a pure land. As we all recognize this, our minds will no longer be in tune with a world of epidemic. Simply transform our thoughts, we will bring brightness and purity to this world.

Dedicate Merits from Your Practice

 During this pandemic, there are many things we can do to help protect ourselves and others. First, maintaining your personal hygiene is important and that includes:  thorough hand washing and keeping your living environment clean. Second, whenever possible, avoid going to public places and crowded areas where you may be exposed to viruses through contact with infected individuals. Last but not least, be compassionate.

 During this difficult time, it is easy to feel restless and impatient.  We might consciously or unconsciously manifest feelings of suspicion and intolerance towards others.  However, we can replace these negative emotions with tolerance and caring through understanding how difficult it is for those who are infected.  Let our compassionate hearts bring forth healing, starting with our kind thoughts and tolerance. We can mindfully chant the sutras and meditate to pacify and purify our minds.

 A Buddhist sutra states, “When the mind is pure, the land is pure.”   The physical world we live in is a reflection of our minds.  If all of us eradicate negative thoughts, we will purify our inner minds and bring light to the outer world.

 Share with us by submitting the following form either daily or weekly. This will let us know how many times you have chanted either the Heart Sutra, Diamond Sutra, or Great Compassion Mantra and how many minutes you meditated.  Let’s dedicate the merits of our collective practice to world peace and wish for everyone to be free from suffering. 

    Grand Master Wei-Chueh’s Dharma Talk on SARS (in 2003)  

    Grand Master’s Dharma Talk: from the SARS Prevention Blessing Ceremony (May 15th, 2003)

    Prevention is the Foremost Priority

    Many people are fearful about the SARS pandemic. Therefore, Chung Tai Chan Monastery is holding this special blessing ceremony to pray and dedicate merits for the speedy end of this pandemic and for the peace and prosperity of the world.

    Facing this pandemic, there are several things we can do. The foremost is prevention. There are two aspects to prevention: one is through action, the other is through the mind.

    Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Chung Tai has quickly organized a prevention headquarter to implement the protective measures set forth by the government. However, solely taking physical measures is not enough; we also need to prevent the spread of infection in our mind.

    Taking Prevention through Our Action and Mind

    Our mind is like an epidemic area. External disease and the disease in our mind are closely related. A sutra says: “sentients and non-sentients belong to the same universal perfect wisdom.” The external physical world and our inner mind may seem like two separate worlds, but in fact they are intimately connected, sharing the same essence of life; as said in a sutra, “all earth and water are my body; all fire and wind are in my being.”

    This pandemic has proven to us that we are truly interconnected and interdependent. Whether we are in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Europe, the southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere—we live and breathe the same air. When the air is polluted, everyone is harmed. Therefore, keeping the air fresh is everyone’s responsibility.

    Prior to the pandemic, many people did not pay much attention to environmental and air pollution, thinking the pollution in your area has nothing to do with the area I live in. However, this pandemic has shown us that diseases can be spread through saliva droplets in the air, door handles, elevator buttons, and other media. Therefore, when one person dies from the infection, many more lives may have already been infected; when one person is suffering from the disease, many others are catching the same disease. This pandemic has allowed us to experience and understand how closely related we are. Therefore, we need to cherish our own life, moreover, respect everyone’s life. Everyone needs to protect the air from pollution because everyone lives in the same air. Similarly, everyone needs to take part in prevention; it is not a personal choice. If we understand this world is one community we all share, then we will appreciate the importance of pandemic prevention.

    We can take effective preventive measures by drawing from the information and experience accumulated in the past. Most importantly, we must not treat the matter of prevention lightly. This is a most grave and urgent matter. This is a common disaster all people are facing, and everyone must stay alert and take precautions.

    In the Buddha’s time, there were ninety-six kinds of non-Buddhist sects whose followers would secretly put poisons in the food of the Buddha and his disciples in order to harm them. Therefore, the disciples asked the Buddha how they can prevent from being poisoned. The Buddha instructed them to chant the sampragata mantra three times before having a meal or drinking water, and chant it 108 times every morning and evening.

    Eradicating the Poisons from the Source

    We need to prevent the spread of the pandemic through both our action and mind. Of foremost importance is to eradicate the poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance in our mind. Anger is a poison. When we are angry, our face may turn blue, yellow, or white. That’s the poisonous fire of anger. If those with heart disease or high-blood pressure get angry and explode in rage, that anger will release poisons that damage the cells in their body and may even cause a shock. Similarly, the poisons of greed and ignorance will also harm our health.

    During the 15 years when the Sixth Patriarch Huineng was staying with a group of hunters, he was often asked to watch the traps, and he would release the trapped animals whenever no one was watching. One time the hunters set a fire on the mountain to force the animals to the area of the traps. However, the wind suddenly blew in the opposite direction and set the whole mountain on fire.

    To save the animals, the Sixth Patriarch sat down to meditate, abiding in Middle Way Reality with not a single thought arising. Middle Way Reality is a state transcending duality, in which the external and internal are one—mountains, rivers, the earth, the sun, moon and stars are in oneness with the earth, water, fire, and wind in our body. This state will manifest when this mind is free of thought and attachment. In this state of reality, the Sixth Patriarch gave rise to this thought: “fire is not fire in itself; fire arises from our mind; if there is no fire in the mind, fire does not arise by itself.” Because there is no poisonous fire of greed, anger, and ignorance in the Sixth Patriarch’s mind, the forest fire naturally extinguished.

    Working Together to Turn Obstacles into Opportunities and Blessings

    All phenomena are in our mind. During this SARS pandemic, we need to practice proper hygiene, keep our body healthy, and avoid crowed public places and places prone to the spread of the disease. Furthermore, we should examine our mind and check if it is infected with greed, anger, and ignorance. If so, immediately repent and make amends; this is the way to dispel the poisons in our mind.

    In practice, we wear a mask, wash our hands frequently, or even put on protective gears to prevent the infection. However, this is not enough. We have to purge the poisons in the mind through reflection, repenting and correcting our own wrongs, and maintaining a mind of equality, stillness, compassion, joy, and virtue. This way, our mind will be full of brightness, and a mind of brightness is a pure land. When our mind is not attuned to the world of disease and infection, we will naturally be free from the pandemic.

    In Buddhist cultivation, it is not enough to work on the various practices and rituals; we need to work on our mind as well. If we have not reached the level in which our pure mind, our mind of compassion, equality and non-attachment is present every moment, then at least we should let our mind abide in wholesome thoughts every moment. Keep our mind on the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the precepts, charity, or the heavens. When our mind is abiding in the Dharma and good thoughts, then we will not be attuned to the vibes of the disease.

    However, if you really cannot keep your mind on positive thoughts, then the last recourse is to pray for the blessing of the Three Jewels, to chant the sutras and mantras, or to carry the Disaster-Removing and Blessing Mantra pendant with you. Although these practices are based on religious faith and sentiment, Buddhism also teaches that:

    “When we are sincere, the buddhas will respond.”

    “Things do not arise by themselves, they need specific conditions to manifest. The Way is not illusive, it will be realized when the right conditions are met.”

    If we understand all things arise from conditions, then we will be able to turn misfortune and obstacles into opportunities and blessing any time.

    “Things do not arise by themselves”: Just Like today, we can be here for this blessing ceremony because all the necessary conditions for this event have come together. With the strength and power of the Three Jewels, the inherent virtue of our true nature, as well as the power of our vows, this ceremony will then generate positive influence and effect. When we all share this understanding, when all the positive conditions are present, then together we will achieve inconceivable virtue and merit.

    Getting Through Misfortune by Right Mindfulness and Compassion

    Today, everyone is sincerely and respectfully attending this ceremony. Shifu hopes you will bring this mind of sincerity, respect, compassion, as well as equality, modesty, and softness—all these good thoughts back to your family and work place, then you can prevent the spread of the pandemic everywhere, which is the goal of this ceremony.

    Buddhism is based on equality:

    “Great is the kindness that is unconditioned; great is the compassion when all are one.”

    “I seek not comfort and pleasure for myself; I seek only to liberate all sentient beings from suffering.”

    “When sentient beings are joyful, the buddhas are also joyful.”

    Abiding by these vows and thoughts, our mind will enter the realm of the bodhisattvas, which is beyond the harm of SARS and other diseases. This is the meaning and goal of this peace and blessing ceremony. Finally, may all of us be blessed with good health, peace and happiness.

    [:en]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.[:]

    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.

    Gratitude: Recognizing, Appreciating and Repaying Kindness

    Buddha  says we should endeavor to repay the four types of kindness. Therefore, we must  first recognize kindnesses, and then appreciate them, and only then, can we  repay the kindnesses through our own actions. First we should recognize the  many kindnesses of:

    the Three Jewels,
    our parents and teachers,
    our society and country,
    all sentient beings.

    A threshold question to ask ourselves is;  who is kind to us?  If we think about it,  it is both people we know, as well as those who we don’t know. If we  contemplate this, we can come to realize a pure and tranquil state of  mind. If, on the other hand, we do not  acknowledge the many kindnesses experienced in our day-to-day lives, we will  feel discontented and prone to complaints.

    How can we repay the four types of kindness? One way is to  contemplate with compassion that all people are kind and supportive. Everyone  in the world, including our relatives, co-workers, teachers, parents and even  people we don’t know, help us and care for us on a daily basis. We can think  about how, when we are born, we relied on our parents to raise, take care of,  and educate us. Then how teachers patiently instructed us and we learned knowledge and skills from them. Our society and nation provide the  conditions necessary for us seek jobs and lead constructive lives. Without  this network of support, we can’t survive; we can’t achieve success in our  career or our home life. In addition to this support, we also benefit from the  guidance of the Three Jewels that gives us the inspiration to develop wisdom, helps us to  overcome delusions  and transcend the suffering of samsara. All  sentient beings, all things and surroundings  sustain us directly or indirectly. By contemplating this way, we can become  sincerely grateful.

    When we are able to acknowledge that our parents, teachers,  countries, all sentient beings and we, ourselves, are all interdependent in  this world, it’s called, “recognition.”   When we can truly recognize this fact, we will give rise to a grateful  mind. Moreover, we will sincerely want to take positive actions to repay these  many kindnesses.

    How can we repay these  kindnesses?

    By practice and making positive achievements in  our studies and careers.
    By cultivating good deeds, virtues, merits and  meditation.
    By working hard in our daily lives with a  grateful mind.

    A contented mind is the fountainhead of happiness. If we can recognize, appreciate, and repay  the four types of kindness, we will generate a contented mind.

    In this modern world, filled with its emphasis on efficiency and  competition, a contented mind may sound unusual. However, as the saying goes, “A contented  mind is a perpetual feast.” It’s optimistic, flexible, and infinitely  useful.

    One of the causes for unhappiness and worry is discontent. For  example, when you get a job, you may not feel satisfied. You might find  yourself thinking of the job’s disadvantages. Your work day is too long. Your  employer is too bossy. Your co-workers are selfish. You feel annoyed by the type  of work and you feel your talent is buried. When you have all these negative  thoughts, you are, in fact, deluded. Alternatively, if you contemplate with a  grateful mind, “It’s not easy to get a job. This job is created by various  conditions from the support of our society, I am so fortunate to get such a  job,” you can then cherish and respect the job. Gratitude is generated from  your own mind and your own attitude. You can feel joyful and contented with  your work and co-workers with such a “right attitude”.

    In our world so full of material desires, our worries and  vexations tend to increase. There is often corruption of ethical and moral  concepts and the living environment has become more chaotic. People don’t know  where their mind should dwell. Nevertheless, if we know the truths of:  recognizing, appreciating, and repaying the kindnesses, and practice these in  our daily life, we will eradicate our delusions, harmonize interrelationships  with all sentient beings and create a promising future life.