The Ch'an Training
From the Hsu Yun Ho Shang Fa Hui
Tr. Lu K'uan Yu (Charles Luk)
MASTER HSU YUN'S DISCOURSE IN THE CH'AN HALL
(Dear friends,) you have been coming frequently
to ask for my instruction and I really feel ashamed (of my incompetence).
(Every day) from morning to evening, you have been all hard
at work splitting fire-wood, tilling the fields, moving earth
and carrying bricks. In spite of this, you still remember your
religious duties; this earnestness of yours does indeed warm
the heart of other people. I, Hsu Yun, feel really ashamed of
my incompetence in religion and lack of virtue. I am not qualified
to give instruction and can only pick up a few sentences left
behind by the ancients in reply to your questions.
PRELIMINARIES TO THE
METHOD OF TRAINING
There are many kinds of method but I will deal
briefly with them.
PREREQUISITES OF THE
PERFORMANCE OF RELIGIOUS DUTY
(1) Firm belief in the (law of) causality
Whoever One may be, especially if striving to
perform one's religious duty, one should believe firmly in the
law of causality. If one lacks this belief and does whatever
one likes, not only will one fail in the performance of religious
duty, but also there will be no escape from this law (of causality)
even in the three unhappy ways. An ancient
master said: 'If one wishes to know the causes formed in a previous
life, one can find them in how one fares in the present life;
if one wishes to know the effects in the next life, one can
find them in one's deeds in the present life.' He also said:
'The karma of our deeds will never be wiped out even after hundreds
and thousands of aeons (but) as soon as conditions become ripe,
we will have to bear the effects ourselves.' The Surangama Sutra
says: 'If the causal ground is not a true one, the ripening
(fruit) will be distorted' Therefore, when one sows a good cause,
one will reap a good fruit (and) when one sows an evil cause,
one will reap an evil fruit; when one sows melon (seeds) one
will gather melons (and) when one sows beans, one will gather
beans. This is the plain truth. As I am talking about the law
of causality, I will tell you two stories to illustrate it.
The first story is about
the massacre of the Sakya clansmen by the Crystal King (Virudhaka). Before the advent of Sakyamuni Buddha, there was near Kapila town
a village inhabited by fishermen, and in it was a big pond.
It happened that because of a great drought, the pond ran dry
and all the fish were caught and eaten by the villagers. The
last fish taken was a big one and before it was killed, a boy
who never ate fish, played with it and thrice knocked its head.
Later, after Sakyamuni Buddha's appearance in this world, King
Prasenajit who believed in the Buddha-dharma,
married a Sakya girl who then gave birth to a prince called
Crsytal. When he was young, Crystal had his schooling in Kapila
which was then inhabited by the Sakya clansmen. One day while
playing, the boy ascended to the Buddha's seat and was reprimanded
by others who dragged him down. The boy cherished a grudge against
the men and when he became king, he led his soldiers to attack
Kapila, killing all its inhabitants. At the same time, the Buddha
suffered from a headache which lasted three days. When His disciples
asked Him to rescue the poor inhabitants, the Buddha replied
that a fixed Karma could not be changed. By means of his miraculous
powers, Maudgalyayana rescued five hundred
Sakya clansmen and thought he could give them refuge in his
own bowl which was raised up in the air. When the bowl was brought
down, all the men had been turned into blood. When asked by
His chief disciples, the Buddha related the story (kung an)
of the villagers who in days gone by had killed all the fish
(in their pond); King Crystal had been the big fish and his
soldiers the other fish in the pond; the inhabitants of Kapila
who were now killed had been those who ate the fish; and the
Buddha Himself had been the boy who thrice knocked the head
of the big fish. (Karma was) now causing Him to suffer from
a headache for three days in retribution for his previous act.
Since there colud be no escape from the effects of a fixed Karma,
the five hundred Sakya clansmen, although rescued by Maudgalyayana,
shared the same fate. Later, King Crystal was reborn in a hell.
(As cause produces effect which in turn becomes a new cause)
the retribution (theory) is inexhaustible. The law of causality
is really very dreadful.
The second story is that of (Ch'an master) Pai
Chang who liberated a wild fox. One day,
after a Ch'an meeting, although all his disciples had retired,
the old master Pai Chang noticed an elderly man who remained
behind. Pai Chang asked the man what he was doing and he replied:
'I am not a human being but the spirit of a wild fox. In my
previous life, I was the head-monk of this place. One day, a
monk asked me, "Does a man practicing self-cultivation,
still become involved in the (theory of) retribution?"
I replied, "No, he is free from the (theory of) retribution."
For this (reply) alone, I got involved in retribution and have
now been the spirit of a wild fox for five hundred years, and
am still unable to get away from it. Will the master be compassionate
enough to enlighten me on all this?' Pai Chang said to the old
man: 'Ask me the same question (and I will explain it to you).'
The man then said to the master: 'I wish to ask the master this:
Does one who practices self cultivation still get involved in
the (theory of) retribution?' Pai Chang replied: 'He is not
blind to cause and effect.' Thereupon, the old man was greatly
awakened; he prostrated himself before the master to thank him
and said: 'I am indebted to you for your (appropriate) reply
to the question and am now liberated from the fox's body.
I live in a (small) grotto on the mountain behind and hope you
will grant me the usual rites for a dead monk.' The following
day, Pai Chang went to a mountain behind (his monastery), where
in a (small) grotto he probed the ground with his staff and
discovered a dead fox for whom the usual funeral rites for a
dead monk were held.
(Dear) friends, after listening to these two
stories, you will realize that the law of causality is indeed
a dreadful (thing). Even after His attainment of Buddhahood,
the Buddha still suffered a headache in retribution (for His
former act). Retribution is infallible and fixed karma is inescapable.
So we should always be heedful of all this and should be very
careful about creating (new) causes.
(2) Strict observance if the rules of
In striving to perform one's religious duty,
the first thing is to observe the rules of discipline. For discipline
is the fundamental of the Supreme Bodhi; discipline begets immutability
and immutability begets wisdom. There is no such thing as self-cultivation
without observance of the rules of discipline. The Surangama
Sutra which lists four kinds of purity, clearly teaches us that
cultivation of Samadhi (-mind) without observance of the rules
of discipline, will not wipe out the dust (impurities). Even
if there be manifestation of much knowledge with dhyana, this
also will cause a fall into (the realm of) maras (evil demons)
and heretics. Therefore, we know that observance of the rules
of discipline is very important. A man observing them is supported
and protected by dragon-kings and devas, and respected and feared
by maras and heretics. A man breaking the rules of discipline
is called a big robber by the ghosts who make a clean sweep
of even his footprints. Formerly, in Kubhana state (Kashmir),
there was nearby a monastery a poisonous dragon which frequently
played havoc in the region. (In the monastery) five hundred
arhats gathered together but failed to drive away the dragon
with their collective power of Dhyana-samadhi. Later, a monk
came (to the monastery) where he did not enter into Dhyana-samadhi;
he merely said to the poisonous dragon: 'Will the wise and virtuous
one leave this place and go to some distant one.' Thereupon,
the poisonous dragon fled to a distant place. When asked by
the arhats what miraculous power he had used to drive away the
dragon, the monk replied: 'I did not use the power of Dhyana-samadhi;
I am only very careful about keeping the rules of discipline
and I observe a minor one with the same care as a major one.'
So, we can see that the collective power of five hundred arhats'
Dhyana--samadhi cannot compare with a monk's strict observance
of the rules of discipline.
If you (retort and) ask me (why) the Sixth Patriarch said:
'Why should discipline be observed if the
mind is (already) impartial?
Why should straightforward men practice Ch'an ?'
I will ask you back this question: 'Is your
mind already impartial and straightforward; if the (lady) Ch'ang
O came down from the moon with her naked
body and embraced you in her arms, would your heart remain undisturbed;
and if someone without any reason insults and beats you, will
you not give rise to feelings of anger and resentment? Can you
refrain from differentiating between enmity and affection, between
hate and love, between self and other, and between right and
wrong? If you can do all this, then you can open your mouth
widely to talk, otherwise it is useless to tell a deliberate
(3) A firm faith
A firm believing mind is the fundamental of
one's training for performing one's religious duty, because
faith is the mother (or begetter) of the beginning (or source)
of right doctrine, and because without faith, no good will derive
therefrom. If we want to be liberated from (the round of) births
and deaths, we must first have a firm believing mind. The Buddha
said that all living beings on earth had (inherent in them)
the meritorious Tathagata wisdom which they could not realize
solely because of their false thinking and grasping. He also
expounded all kinds of Dharma doors (to enlightenment) to cure
(all kinds of) ailments from which living beings suffered. We
should, therefore, believe that his words are not false and
that all living beings can attain Buddhahood. But why have we
failed to attain Buddhahood? It is because we have not gone
into training according to the (correct) method. For example,
we believe and know that bean curd can be made with soybean
but if we do not start making it, soybean cannot turn into bean
curd (for us). Now assuming that soybean is used for making
bean curd, we shall still fail to make it if we do not know
how to mix it with gypsum. If we know the method, we will grind
the soybean (put the powder in water), boil it, take out the
bean grounds and add a suitable quantity of gypsum powder; thus
we will certainly get bean curd. Likewise, in the performance
of our religious duty, Buddhahood will be unattainable not only
because of lack of training, but also because of training not
in conformity with the (correct) method. If our self-cultivation
is practiced according to the (correct) method, without either
backsliding or regret, we are bound to attain Buddhahood.
Therefore, we should firmly believe that fundamentally
we are Buddhas, we should also firmly believe that self-cultivation
performed according to the (correct) method is bound to result
in the attainment of Buddha-hood. Master Yung Chia said (in
his Song of Enlightenment):
'When the real is attained, neither ego nor
And in a moment the avici karma is eradicated.
If knowingly I lie to deceive living beings, my tongue
Will be pulled out for aeons uncountable as dust and sand.'
The old master was very compassionate and took
this boundless vow to urge those coming after him to develop
a firm believing mind.
(4) Adoption of the method of training
After one has developed a firm faith, one should
choose a Dharma door (to enlightenment) for one's training.
One should never change it, and when one's choice has been made,
either for repetition of the Buddha's name, or for holding a
mantra, or for Ch'an training, one should stick to it for ever
without backsliding and regret. If today the method does not
prove successful, tomorrow it shall be continued; if this year
it does not prove successful, next year it shall be continued;
and if in the present lifetime it does not prove successful,
it shall be continued in the next life. The old master Kuei
Shan said: 'If one practices it in each succeeding reincarnation,
the Buddha-stage can be expected.' There are some people who
are irresolute in their decisions; today after hearing a learned
man praise the repetition of Buddha's name, they decide to repeat
it for a couple of days and tomorrow, after hearing another
learned man praise Ch'an training, they will try it for another
two days. If they like to play in this manner, they will go
on doing so until their death without succeeding in getting
any result. Is it not a pity?
METHOD OF CH'AN TRAINING
Athough there are many Dharma doors (to enlightenment),
the Buddha, Patriarchs and Ancestors were
agreed that the Ch'an training was the unsurpassed wonderful
door. In the Surangama assembly, the Buddha ordered Manjusri
to choose between the (various modes of) complete enlightenment,
and (he chose) Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's (method) of using
the faculty of hearing, as the best. When we turn back the hearing
to hear our self-nature, this is (one of the methods of) Ch'an
training. This place is a Ch'an hall in which we should discuss
this Ch'an training.
ESSENTIALS OF CH'AN
Our daily activities are performed within the
truth itself. Is there a place that is not a Bodhimandala?
Fundamentally a Ch'an hall is out of place; moreover Ch'an does
not mean sitting (in meditation). The so-called Ch'an hall and
the so-called Ch'an sitting are only provided for people (who
encounter) insurmountable obstructions (of their own) and who
are of shallow wisdom in this period of decadence (of the Dharma).
When one sits in this training, one's body and
mind should be well controlled. If they are not well controlled
a small harm will be illness and a great harm will be entanglement
with the demon, which is most regrettable. In the Ch'an hall,
when incense sticks are burned for your walking or sitting,
the aim is to ensure the control of body and mind. Besides this,
there are many ways to control body and mind, but I will deal
briefly with the essential ones.
When sitting in Ch'an meditation, the correct
position is the natural one. The waist should not be pushed
forward, for to do so is to pull upward the inner heat with
the result that after the sitting, there will be tears, bad
breath, uneasy respiration, loss of appetite and even vomiting
of blood. Neither should the waist be drawn backward with dropped
head, for this can easily cause dullness. As soon as dullness
is felt, the meditator should open his eyes wide, pull up his
waist and gently shake his buttocks, and dullness will disappear
If the training is undergone in hot haste, one
will feel a certain annoying dryness in the chest. In this case,
it will be advisable to stop the training for the time a half-inch
of the incense stick takes to burn, and resume when one feels
at ease again. If one does not proceed in this manner, one will,
as time goes on, develop a hot and excitable character, and
in the worst case, one may thereby become insane or get entangled
When the Ch'an sitting (in meditation) becomes
effective, there will be (mental) states which are too many
to enumerate, but if you do not cling to them, they will not
hinder you. This is just what the proverb says: 'Don't wonder
at the wonderful and the wonderful will be in full retreat.'
Even if you see evil spirits of all kinds coming to disturb
you, you should take no notice of them and you should not be
afraid of them. Even if Sakyamuni Buddha comes to lay His hand
on your head and prophesies (your future
Buddhahood) you should not take any notice of all this and should
not be delighted by it. The Surangama Sutra says: 'A perfect
state is that in which the mind is undisturbed by the saintly;
an interpretation of the saintly is entanglement with all demons.'
HOW TO BEGIN THE TRAINING:
DISTINCTION BETWEEN HOST AND GUEST
How should one start the (Ch'an) training? In
the Surangama assembly, Arya Ajnatakaundinya talked about the
two words 'Foreign Dust' and this is just
where we should begin our training. He said: 'For instance,
a traveler stops at an inn where he passes the night or takes
his meal, and as soon as he has done so, he packs and continues
his journey, because he has no time to stay longer. As for the
host (of the inn), he has nowhere to go. My deduction is that
the one who does not stay is the guest and the one who does
stay is the host. Therefore, a thing is foreign when it does
not stay. Again in a clear sky, when the sun rises and sunlight
enters (the house) through an opening, the dust is seen moving
in the ray of light whereas the empty space is unmoving. Therefore,
that which is still is voidness and that which moves is dust.'
Foreign dust illustrates false thinking, and
voidness illustrates self-nature, that is the permanent host
who does not follow the guest in the latter's coming and going.
This serves to illustrate the eternal (unmoving) self-nature
which does not follow false thinking in its sudden rise and
fall. Therefore, it is said: 'if one is unmindful of all things,
one will meet with no inconvenience when surrounded by all things.'
By dust which moves of itself and does not inconvenience voidness
which is cleafly still, one means that false thinking rises
and falls by itself and does not hinder the self-nature which
is immutable in its Bhutatathata (suchness, thatness) condition.
This is the meaning of the saying: 'If the mind does not arise,
all things are blameless.'
(The meaning of) the above word 'foreign'
is coarse and (that of) 'dust' is fine. Beginners should dearly
understand (the difference between) 'host' and 'guest' and will
thus not be 'drifted about' by false thinking. By advancing
further, they win be clear about 'voidness' and 'dust' and thus
will experience no inconvenience from false thinking. It is
said: 'when (false thinking) is known, there will be no harm.'
If you inquire carefully into and understand all this, over
half of what the training means will become quite clear to you.
HUA TOU AND DOUBT
In ancient times, the Patriarchs and Ancestors
directly pointed at the mind for realization of self-nature
and attainment of Buddhahood. like Bodhidharma who 'quietened
the mind' and the Sixth Patriarch who only talked about 'perception
of self-nature', all of them just advocated the outright cognizance
(of it) without any more ado. They did not advocate looking
into a hua t'ou, but later they discovered that men were becoming
unreliable, were not of dogged determination, indulged in playing
tricks and boasted of their possession of precious gems which
really belonged to others. For this reason, these ancestors
were compelled to set up their own sects, each with its own
devices; hence, the hua t'ou technique.
There are many hua t'o us, such as: 'All things
are returnable to One, to what is (that) One returnable?' 'Before you were born, what was your real face?'
but the hua t'ou: 'Who is repeating Buddha's name?' is widely
in use (today).
What is hua t'ou? (lit. word-head). Word is
the spoken word and head is that which precedes word. For instance,
when one says 'Amitabha Buddha', this is a word. Before it is
said it is a hua t'ou (or ante-word). That which is called a
hua t'ou is the moment before a thought arises. As soon as a
thought arises, it becomes a hua wei (lit. word-tail). The moment
before a thought arises is called 'the un-born'. That void which
is neither disturbed nor dull, and neither still nor (one-sided)
is called 'the unending'. The unremitting turning of the light
inwards on oneself, instant after instant, and exclusive of
all other things, is called 'looking into the hua t'ou' or 'taking
care of the hua t'ou'.
When one looks into a hua t'ou, the most
important thing is to give rise to a doubt. Doubt is the crutch
of hua t'ou. For instance, when one is
asked: 'Who is repeating Buddha's name?' everybody knows that
he himself repeats it, but is it repeated by the mouth or by
the mind? If the mouth repeats it, why does not it do so when
one sleeps? If the mind repeats it, what does the mind look
like? As mind is intangible, one is not clear about it. Consequently
some slight feeling of doubt arises about 'WHO'. This doubt
should not be coarse; the finer it is, the better. At all times
and in all places, this doubt alone should be looked into unremittingly,
like an ever-flowing stream, without giving rise to a second
thought. If this doubt persists, do not try to shake it; if
it ceases to exist, one should gently give rise to it again.
Beginners will find the hua t'ou more effective in some still
place than amidst disturbance. However, one should not give
rise to a discriminating mind; one should remain indifferent
to either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness (of the hua t'ou)
and one should take no notice of either stillness or disturbance.
Thus, one should work at the training with singleness of mind.
(In the hua t'ou): 'Who is repeating the
Buddha's name?' emphasis should be laid upon the word 'Who',
the other words serving only to give a general idea of the whole
sentence. For instance (in the questions): 'Who is wearing this
robe and eating rice?', 'Who is going to stool and is urinating?',
'Who is putting an end to ignorance?', and 'Who is able to know
and feel?', as soon as one lays emphasis upon (the word) 'Who',
while one is walking or standing, sitting or reclining, one
will be able to give rise to a doubt without difficulty and
without having to use one's faculty of thought to think and
discriminate. Consequently the word 'Who' of the hua t'ou is
a wonderful technique in Ch'an training. However, one should
not repeat the word 'Who' or the sentence 'Who is repeating
the Buddha's name?' like (adherents of the Pure Land School)
who repeat the Buddha's name. Neither should one set one's thinking
and discriminating mind on searching for him who repeats the
Buddha's name. There are some people who unremittingly repeat
the sentence: 'Who is repeating the Buddha's name?'; it would
be far better merely to repeat Amitabha Buddha's name (as do
followers of the Pure Land School) for this will give greater
merits. There are others who indulge in thinking of a lot of
things and seek after everything here and there, and call this
the rising of a doubt; they do not know that the more they think,
the more their false thinking will increase, just like someone
who wants to ascend but is really descending. You should know
Usually beginners give rise to a doubt which
is very coarse; it is apt to stop abruptly and to continue again,
and seems suddenly familiar and suddenly unfamiliar. This is
(certainly) not doubt and can only be their thinking (process).
When the mad (wandering) mind has gradually been brought under
control, one will be able to apply the brake on the thinking
process, and only then can this be called 'looking into' (a
hua t'ou). Furthermore, little by little, one will gain experience
in the training and then, there will be no need to give rise
to the doubt which will rise of itself automatically. In reality,
at the beginning, there is no effective training at all as there
is only (an effort) to put an end to false thinking. When real
doubt rises of itself, this can be called true training. This
is the moment when one reaches a 'strategic gateway' where it
is easy to go out of one's way (as follows).
Firstly, there is the moment when one will experience
utter purity and boundless ease and if
one fails to be aware of and look into the same, one will slip
into a state of dullness. If a learned teacher is present, he
will immediately see clearly that the student is in such a state
and will strike the meditator with the (usual) flat stick, thus
clearing away the confusing dullness; a great many are thereby
awakened to the truth.
Secondly, when the state of purity and emptiness
appears, if the doubt ceases to exist, this is the unrecordable
state in which the meditator is likened to one sitting on a withered tree
in a grotto, or to soaking stones with water.
When one reaches this state, one should arouse (the doubt) to
be immediately followed by one's awareness and contemplation
(of this state). Awareness (of this state) is freedom from illusion;
this is wisdom. Contemplation (of this state) wipes out confusion;
this is imperturbability. This singleness of mind will be thoroughly
still and shining, in its imperturbable absoluteness, spiritual
clearness and thorough understanding, like the continuous smoke
of a solitary fire. When one reaches this stage, one should
be provided with a diamond eye and should
refrain from giving rise to anything else, as if one does, one
will (simply) add another head upon one's head.
Formerly, when a monk asked (Master) Chao Chou:
'what should one do when there is not a thing to bring with
self?' Chao Chou replied: 'Lay it down.' The monk said: 'What
shall I lay down when I do not bring a thing with me?' Chao
Chon replied: 'If you cannot lay it down, carry it away.' This is exactly the stage (above mentioned) which is like that of
a drinker of water who alone knows whether it is cold or warm.
This cannot be expressed in words and speeches, and one who
reaches this stage will clearly know it. As to one who has not
reached it, it will be useless to tell him about it. This is
what the (following) lines mean:
'When you meet a fencing master, show to
him your sword.
Do not give your poem to a man who's
not a poet.'
TAKING CARE OF A HUA
T'0U AND TURNING INWARD THE HEARING TO HEAR THE SELF-NATURE
Someone may ask: 'How can Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's
"method of turning inward the hearing to hear the self-nature"
be regarded as Ch'an training?' I have just talked about looking
into the hua t'ou; it means that you should unremittingly and
one-pointedly turn the light inwards on 'that which is not born
and does not die' which is the hua t'ou. To turn inwards one's
hearing to hear the self-nature means also that you should unremittingly
and one-pointedly turn inwards your (faculty of) hearing to
hear the self-nature. 'To turn inwards' is 'to turn back'. 'That
which is not born and does not die' is nothing but the self-nature.
When hearing and looking follow sound and form in the worldly
stream, hearing does not go beyond sound and looking does not
go beyond form (appearance), with the obvious differentiation.
However, when going against the mundane stream, the meditation
is turned inwards to contemplate the self-nature. When 'hearing'
and 'looking' are no longer in pursuit of sound and appearance,
they become fundamentally pure and enlightening and do not differ
from each other. We should know that what we call 'looking into
the hua t'ou' and 'turning inwards the hearing to hear the self-nature'
cannot be effected by means of the eye to look or the ear to
hear. If eye and ear are so used, there will be pursuit after
sound and form with the result that one will be turned by things
(i.e. externals); this is called 'surrender to the (mundane)
stream'. If there is singleness of thought abiding in that 'which is not
born and does not die', without pursuing sound and form, this
is 'going against the stream'; this is called 'looking into
the hua t'ou' or 'turning inwards the hearing to hear the self-nature'.
EARNESTNESS ABOUT LEAVING
SAMSARA AND DEVELOPING A LONG ENDURING MIND
In the Ch'an training, one should be in earnest
in one's desire to leave the realm of birth and death, and develop
a long enduring mind (in one's striving). If the mind is not
earnest it will be impossible to give rise to the doubt, and
the striving will be ineffective. Lack of a long enduring mind
will result in laziness and the training will not be continuous.
Just develop a long enduring mind and the doubt will rise of
itself. When doubt rises trouble (klesa) will come to an end
of itself. As the ripe moment comes (it will be like) running
water which will form a channel.
I will now tell you a story I personally witnessed.
In the year K'eng Tsu (1900), when eight world powers sent their
expeditionary forces to Peking (after the Boxer rebellion),
I followed Emperor Kuang Hsu and Empress Dowager Tz'u Hsi when
they fled from the capital. We had to hurry towards Shen Hsi
(Shensi) province; each day we walked several tens of miles,
and for several days we had no rice to eat. On the road, a peasant
offered some creepers of sweet potato
to the (hungry) emperor, who found them savory and asked the
man what they were. You can imagine that when the emperor who
used to put on airs and had an awe-inspiring reputation, had
to run some distance he became very hungry. When he ate creepers
of sweet potato, he gave up all his airs and awe-inspiring attitude.
Why did he walk on foot, become hungry and lay down everything?
Because the allied forces wanted his life and he had only one
thought, that of running for his life. Later, when peace had
been concluded, he returned to the capital, putting on once
more his airs with his awe-inspiring reputation. Again he would
no longer walk in the street and did not feel hungry. If he
did not find some food savory, once more he could not swallow
it. Why was he (again) unable to lay down every-thing now? Because
the allied forces no longer wanted his life and because his
mind was not set on escaping. If he now applied the same mind
(previously) set on running for his life to perform his religious
duty, was there anything he could not do? This was due to the
fact that he did not have a long enduring mind, and as soon
as favorable conditions prevailed, his former habits appeared
Dear friends, the murderous demon of impermanence
is constantly looking for our lives and will never agree to
conclude peace with us! Let us hastily develop a long enduring
mind to get out of birth and death. Master Yuan Miao of Kao
Feng said: 'If one sets a time limit for success in the Ch'an
training, one should act like a man who has fallen to the bottom
of a pit one thousand chang deep. His
thousand and ten-thousand thoughts are reduced to a single idea
on how to escape from the pit. He keeps it up from morning to
evening and from evening (to the following) morning, and has
no other thought. If he trains in this way and does not realize
the truth in three, five or seven days, I shall be guilty of
a verbal sin for which I shall fall into the hell where tongues
are pulled out.' The old master was earnest in his great mercy
and being apprehensive that we would not develop a long enduring
mind, he took this great vow to guarantee (our successes).
DIFFICULTY AND EASINESS
IN CH'AN TRAINING
There is difficulty and easiness in the Ch'an
training, both for beginners and for old practicers.
DIFFICULTY FOR BEGINNERS:
THE REMISS MIND
The most common defects of a beginner lie in
his inability to lay down his habits of false thinking; of (self-indulgence
in) ignorance caused by pride and jealousy; of(self-inflicted)
obstructions caused by concupiscence, anger, stupidity and love;
of laziness and gluttony; and of (attachment to) right and wrong,
to selfness and otherness. With a belly (breast) filled with
all the above (defects), how can he be responsive to the truth?
Others are young gentlemen who are unable
to get rid of their habits and are incapable of the least condescension
and of enduring the smallest trouble; how can they undergo the
training in performance of their religious duties? They never
think of our original teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, and of His
standing when He left home. Some people who know a little literature,
use their knowledge of it to interpret the ancients' sayings,
boast of their unequalled abilities and regard themselves as
superiors. When seriously ill, they cannot
bear their sufferings with patience. When they are about to
die, they lose their heads and realize that their usual knowledge
is useless. Thus their repentance will be tardy.
Some are serious in their religious duties but
do not know where to begin their training. Others are afraid
of false thinking and are unable to put an end to it. So they
worry about it all day long and blame their karmic obstructions
for it, thus falling away in their religious enthusiasm. Some
want to resist false thinking to the death by angrily clenching
their fists to keep up their spirits and by thrusting out their
chests and widely opening their eyes as if there is really something
very important to do. They want to fight to a finish against
their false thinking; not only will they fail to drive it away
but they will thereby vomit blood or become insane. There are
people who are afraid of falling into voidness but they do not
know they are thus giving rise to the 'demon'. Consequently,
they can neither wipe out voidness nor attain awakening. There
are those who set their minds on the quest of awakening and
who do not know that to seek awakening and to desire Buddhahood
are nothing but a great falsehood; they do not know that gravel
cannot be turned into rice and they will thus wait until the
year of the donkey for their awakening.
There are (also) those who can manage to sit
(in meditation) during the time one or two incense sticks take
to burn and thereby experience some joy, but this is only likened
to the blind black tortoise which stretched its head through
the hole of a floating log. It is just
a rare chance and not (the result of) true training. Moreover,
the demon of joy has already slipped into their minds. There
are cases of the enjoyable state of purity and cleanness realizable
in stillness but not realizable in disturbance and for this
reason meditators avoid disturbing conditions and look for quiet
places. They do not realize that they have already agreed to
become servants of the demon of both stillness and disturbance.
There are many cases like the above. It is really
difficult for beginners to know the correct method of training;
awareness without contemplation will lead to confusion and instability,
and contemplation without awareness will result in immersion
in stagnant water.
EASINESS FOR BEGINNERS:
LAYING DOWN OF (THE BURDEN OF) THINKING AND GIVING RISE TO A
Although the training seems difficult, it becomes
very easy once its method is known. Where does easiness lie
for beginners? There is nothing ingenious in it because it lies
in 'laying down'. Laying down what? (The burden of) distress
(klesa) caused by ignorance. How does one lay it down? You have
all been at the bedside of a dead man. If you try to scold him
a few times, he will not be excited. If you give him a few strokes
of the staff he will not strike back. Formerly he indulged in
ignorance but now he cannot do so any more. Formerly he longed
for reputation and wealth but now he no longer wants it. Formerly
he was contaminated by habits but now he is free from them.
Now he does not make distinctions and lays down everything.
Dear friends, please look at all this. When we have breathed
our last, this physical body of ours will become a corpse. Because
we cherish this body, we are unable to lay down everything,
with the resultant creation of self and other, right and wrong,
like and dislike, and acceptance and rejection. If we only regard
this body as a corpse, we will not cherish it and will certainly
not consider it as ours. (If so) is there anything we cannot
We only have to lay down everything, day and
night, no matter whether we walk, stand, sit or recline, in
the midst of either stillness or disturbance, and whether busy
or not; throughout our bodies, within and without, there should
be only a doubt, a uniform, harmonizing and continuous doubt,
unmixed with any other thought, in other words, a hua t'ou which
is likened to a long sword leaning against the sky, which we
will use to cut down a demon or Buddha should either appear.
Thus we will not fear false thinking; who then will disturb
us; who will distinguish between disturbance and stillness and
who will cling to existence and non-existence? If there be fear
of false thinking, this fear will increase false thinking. If
there be awareness of purity, this purity will immediately be
impure. If there be fear of falling into non-existence, there
will immediately be a fall into existence. If there be desire
to attain Buddhahood, there will immediately be a fall into
the way of demons. (For this reason) it is said: 'The carrying
of water and fetching of firewood are nothing but the wonderful
Truth. The hoeing of fields and the cultivation of soil are
entirely ch'an potentialities.' This does not mean that only
the crossing of legs for sitting in meditation can be regarded
as Ch'an training in the performance of one's religious duty.
DIFFICULTY FOR OLD
PRACTICERS: INABILITY TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD AFTER REACHING
THE TOP OP A HUNDRED-FOOT POLE
Where does difficulty lie for an old practicer?
In his training, when his doubt has become genuinely real, his
awareness and contemplation are still linked with the (realm)
of birth and death, and lack of awareness and contemplation
is (the cause of) his fall into (the realm of) non-existence.
It is already difficult to reach these stages, but there are
many who are unable to get beyond them, and are content to stand
on the top of a hundred-foot pole without knowing how to take
a step forward. Others who, after reaching these stages, are
able to achieve in the stillness some wisdom which enables them
to understand a few kung ans left behind by the ancients; they
also lay down the doubt, thinking they have attained a thorough
awakening, and compose poems and gathas, twinkle their eyes
and raise their eyebrows, calling themselves enlightened; they
do not know that they are servants of the demon.
There are also those who misunderstand the meaning
of Bodhidharma's (words:)
'Put an end to the formation of all causes without,
and have no panting heart within; then with a mind like a wall, you will be able to enter the Truth'
and the Sixth Patriarch's (words:)
'Do not think of either good or evil; at this
very instant, what is the Venerable Hui Ming's real face?'
They think that sitting with crossed legs like
withered logs in a grotto is the best Pattern. These people
mistake an illusion-city for a place of precious things,
and take a foreign land for their native village. The story
of the old lady burning the hut serves to scold these (logs
of) dead wood.
EASINESS FOR OLD PRACTICERS:
CONTINUATION OF CLOSE AND UNINTERRUPTED CH'AN TRAINING
Where does easiness lie for old practicers?
It lies only in the absence of self-satisfaction and the continuation
of the close and uninterrupted (Ch'an) training , the closeness
should be much closer, the continuance much more continuous
and the subtleness much more subtle. When the ripe moment comes,
the bottom of the barrel will drop off of itself; otherwise one will have to call on enlightened masters who will
help one to pull out (the remaining) nail or stake (of obstruction).
Master Han Shan's Song is:
High on a mountain peak
Only boundless space is seen.
How to sit in meditation, no one knows.
The solitary moon shines o'er the icy pool,
But in the pool there is no moon;
The moon is in the night-blue sky.
This song is chanted now,
(But) there's no Ch'an in the song.
The first two lines show that that which is
truly eternal is solitary and does not belong to anything else,
and that it shines brightly over the world without encountering
any obstruction. The following (third) line shows the wonderful
body of Bhutatathata which worldly men
do not know and which cannot be located
(even) by all Buddhas of the three times; hence the three words:
'no one knows'. The next three (fourth, fifth and sixth) lines
show the old master's expedient expounding of this state. The
last two lines (seventh and eighth) give a special waffling
to all of us, lest we mistake the finger for the moon,
that is none of these words are Ch'an.
My talk is like a heap of things and is also
(like what we call) the drag of creepers
and an interfering interruption (because) wherever there are
words and speeches, there is no real meaning.
When the ancient masters received their students, either they
used their staffs (to beat them) or they shouted (to wake them
up) and there were not so many complications.
However, the present cannot be compared with the past, and it
is, therefore, imperative to point a finger at the moon.
Dear friends, please look into all this; after all, who is pointing
his finger and who is looking at the moon?'
By going to (a) the hell of fire,
(b) the hell of blood, where the inhabitants devour each other
like animals and (c) the Asipattra hell of swords, where the leaves
and grass are sharp-edged swords.
This story was related by the
King of Sravasti and a contemporary
of the Buddha. He was killed by his son, Virudhaka, known as the
Crystal King and the Evil Born King, who supplanted him.
 Maha-Maudgalyayana, or Maudgalaputra,
was one of the ten chief disciples of the Buddha, and was specially
noted for his miraculous power; formerly an ascetic, he agreed
with Sariputra that whichever first found the truth would reveal
it to the other. Sariputra found the Buddha and brought Maudgalyayana
to Him; the former is placed on His right, the latter on His left.
This story is recorded in 'The
Transmission of the Lamp' (Ching Te Ch'uan Teng Lu) and other Ch'an
In his previous life. the old
monk had already succeeded in disentangling his mind (from its
attachment to the phenomenal. However, he could not get away from
Samsara because of the karma of misguiding his former disciple
about retribution. In his present transmigration, he had realized
a singleness of mind about leaving the world of animals and had
thereby acquired the occult power of transforming his fox's body
into that of an old man. However, he still clung to the dual view
of the existence of ego (subject) and fox (object) and could not
free himself from this last bondage. Pai Chang's words had a tremendous
effect on the old man, releasing his mind from his doubt about
his self-nature which fundamentally was pure and contained neither
cause nor effect. Being free from this last bond, his self-nature
now returned to normal and could function without further handicap;
it could hear the master's voice by means of its function. When
function operated normally, its essence manifested itself; hence
See 'The Altar Sutra of the Six
Patriarch,' Chapter 3.
The name of a very beautiflil
lady who, according to a popular tale, stole the elixir of life
and fled with it to the moon where she was changed into a frog.
Avici is the last and deepest
of the eight hells, where the culprits suffer, die, and are instantly
reborn to suffering without interruption.
As punishment for verbal sins.
The Patriarchs are the six
Patriarchs of China. The Ancestors are the great Ch'an Masters
who came after the Patriarchs. Hsu Yun is now called an Ancestor.
Bodhimandala: truth-plot, holy
site, place of enlightenment.
A custom of Buddha in teaching
His disciples, from which the burning of spots on the head of a
monk is said to have originated. The eventual vision of the Buddha
is merely an impure creation of the deluded mind and does not really
represent Him in His Dharmakaya which is inconceivable. Many meditators
mistake such visions for the real and become involved with demons.
(See Surangama Sutra.)
See Master Hsu Yun's 'Daily
All things are returnable to
One-mind, to what is One-mind returnable?
This hua t'ou is sometimes
wrongly translated in the West as: Before your parents were born,
what was your original face? There are two errors here. The first
is probably due to the wrong interpretation of the Chinese character
'sheng'. which means 'born' or 'to give birth'. Then 'original'
is wrong because it suggests creation or a beginning. The self-nature
has no beginning, being outside time. The correct rendering is:
Before your parents gave birth to you, what was your fundamental
Doubt is as indispensable to
hua t'ou as crutches are to the cripples.
Lit. utter purity and extreme
lightness. When the meditator succeeds in putting an end to all
his thoughts, he will step into 'the stream' or correct concentration
in which his body and its weight seem to disappear completely and
to give way to a bright purity which is as light as air; he will
feel as if he is about to be levitated.
Lit. thus clearing away the
fog that darkens the sky. As soon as the confusing dullness is
cleared away, the self-nature, now free from hindrance, is able
to function normally and will actually receive the beating, hence
Avyakrta or Avyakhyata, in
Sanskrit; unrecordable, either as good or bad; neutral,
neither good nor bad, things that are innocent and cannot be classified
under moral categories.
 when the mind is disentangled
from the sense-organs, sense data and consciousness, one reaches
a state described as: 'holding fast to the top of a pole', or 'silent
immersion in stagnant water or 'sitting on the dean white ground'.
(See Han Shan's 'Song of the Boardbearer'.) One should take a step
forward in order to get out of this state called 'a life', the
fourth of the four laksanas (of an ego, a personality, a being
and a life) mentioned in the Diamond Sutra, otherwise the result
one will achieve is no better than 'soaking stones with water'
which never penetrates stones. if from the top of a hundred-foot
pole one takes a step forward, one will reach the top of a high
peak from which one will release one's last hold and leap over
Diamond eye: indestructible
eye of Wisdom.
A superfluous and unnecessary
thing that will obstruct the training.
The monk became thoroughly
awakened after hearing Chao Chou's reply. His first question means:
'What should one do when one becomes disentangled from sense-organs,
sense-data and consciousnesses?' He did not know that he was still
entangled with this awareness of ego and preservation of ego. (See
Han Shan's commentary on The Diamond Cutter of Doubts). Chao Chou's
reply 'Lay it down' means: 'Lay down even the thought you are still
burdened with, for this very thought of not carrying a thing with
you holds you in bondage.' The monk argued: 'As I do not carry
a single thing with me, what shall I lay down?' Chao Chou replied:
'If you really have got rid of all your false thinking, there will
only remain your self-nature which is pure and clean and which
you should carry away with you, because you cannot get rid of it.'
The monk, now released from his awareness of ego or last bondage,
realized that only his self-nature remained which was free from
all impediments and which he could not get rid of, for Chao Chou
told him to carry it away. It was this very self-nature of his,
now pure and clean, which actually heard the master's voice, hence
These two lines come from Lin
Chi (Rinzai in Japanese) whose idea was that one could talk about
enlightenment with an enlightened person and that it was useless
to do so when meeting a deluded man, for the truth was inexpressible
and could only be realized after rigorous training. The first line
'When you meet a fencing master, show to him your sword' was illustrated
when Han Shan met Ta Kuan and sat cross-legged face to face with
him for forty days and nights without sleeping. (See Han Shan's
Autobiography). The second line 'Do not give your poem to a man
who's not a poet' was proved by the Sixth Patriarch, who urged
his disciples not to discuss the Supreme Vehicle with those who
were not of the same sect, but to bring their palms together to
salute them and make them happy. (See The Altar Sifra of the Sixth
i.e. to accord with the world,
its ways and customs; to die.
Realm of birth and death.
i.e. succees is bound to follow.
in China, only starving people
eat creepers of sweet potato which is used as food for pigs
Chang: a measure of ten Chinese
Literally 'sons of officials';
equivalent of the French term 'fils a papa'.
One of the ten wrong views.
Animals and birds were chosen
by the ancients as symbols for lunar years, such as a rat, buffalo,
tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog
and pig. As a donkey was not one of them, the year of the donkey
can never come round, i.e. these people can never attain enlightenment.
The Samyuktagama Sutra says:
'There was a blind tortoise countless aeons old which stretched
out its head once every century. There was a log with a hole through
it, floating in the sea and tossed about by high waves raised by
winds of gale force. The tortoise stretched its head through the
hole. . . .' This shows the rareness of the chance as compared
with the difficulty of the blind black tortoise succeeding in putting
its head through the hole in the floating log.
i.e. differentiation between
stillness and disturbance.
Ancient masters used to twinkle
their eyes and raise their eyebrows to reveal the self-mind to
their disciples. In the above text, those who have only made some
progress but are still unenlightened, ape the ancients to prove
their attainment of the truth.
when the mind is like a wall,
it will remain indifferent to all externals.
See The Altar Sutra of the
Quotation from the Lotus Sutra
in which the Buddha urged His disciples not to stay in the illusion-city
or incomplete Nirvana but to strive to reach the Perfect
An old lady supported a Ch'an
monk for twenty years and used to send every day a sixteenn-year-old
girl to bring him food and offerings. One day. the old lady ordered
the girl to ask him this question: 'How is "it" at this
very moment?' The monk replied:
'A withered log in a cold cave
After three winters has no warmth'.
The girl gave the monk's reply to the old lady who said: 'I have
been making offerings to one who can prove only that he is a worldly
fellow.' Thereupon, she sent him away and set fire to the hut.
(See The Imperial Selection of Ch'an Sayings). The monk reached
only the top of a hundred-foot pole but refused to take a step
forward. As he was only dead wood, the old lady was angry, sent
him away and destroyed the hut.
 i.e. the bottom of the barrel
full of black lacquer, or ignorance; when it drops off; the barrel
will be emptied of lacquer and enlightenment will be attained.
Han Shan (Cold Mountain) should
not be confounded with Han Shan (Silly Mountain) whose autobiography
has been translated by me into English.
The high purpose of one desirous
of escaping from mortality.
The magnitude of his high aim.
Worldly men turn their backs
on the transcendental which they do not know.
The solitary moon symbolizes
enlightenment which is independent of the phenomenal and is the
absolute which does not brook interference from any quarter. The
pool is a symbol of the self-nature which avoids all worldly things
and is disentangled from them. The line means the attainment of
enlightenment by self-nature.
The self-nature is fundamentally
pure and clean and does not gain anything, even the moon, symbol
of enlightenment, when it is awakened, or lose anything, when it
is under delusion. If there be a moon, or enlightenment in it,
it will not be absolute and will not be pure and clean.
The enlightened self-nature
neither comes nor goes for it is immutable and pervades everywhere
in the Dharmadhatu, symbolized by the blue sky which is pure and
The song is chanted in praise
of that which is pure and clean and does not contain an atom of
Ch'an, because Ch'an is only an empty name with no real nature.
Bhutatathata: the real, thus
always, or eternally so; i.e. reality as contrasted with unreality,
or appearance, and the unchanging or immutable as contrasted with
form and phenomena. Bhuta is substance, that which exists; tathata
is suchness, thusness, i.e. such is its nature.
If it can be located anywhere,
it will not be the absolute and will not be all embracing.
When a finger points towards
the moon, wise men look at the moon whereas the ignorant look at
the finger and do not see the moon, or the truth. This parable
was used by the Buddha when teaching His disciples.
Readers will notice that footnotes
 to  on this page seem somewhat
different from Master Hsu Yun's commentary on the song, and will
realize that Han Shan's poem was excellent in that it can be interpreted
either 'perpendicularly' or 'horizontally' as the learned ancients
put it, provided there be no deviation from its main purport. My
footnotes describe a student striving to achieve enlightenment
whereas my master Hsu Yun describes the state of an enlightened
master. Gathas and poems chanted by the ancients are like a prism
or spectrum of multi-levelled meanings. as Mr. L Groupp, an American
Buddhist of New York, ably puts it.
Creepers: unnecessary things
which do not concern the real.
Words and speeches cannot express
the inexpressible. Red meaning is the reality which cannot be described
Beating and shouting are to
reveal the master's self-nature which beats and shouts and the
student's self-nature which is beaten and hears the shout. The
beating and shouting are in accord with Bodhidharma's direct pointing
at the self-mind for realization of the self-nature for attainment
The finger is an expediency
used to reveal the moon, or enlightened self-nature, but one should
not ding to the finger and overlook the moon which is pointed at.
One who points at the moon
and one who looks at the moon are the self-mind of the master and
the self-mind of the student respectively, again a direct pointing
at the self-mind for realization of self-nature and attainment
of Buddhahood, as taught by Bodhidbarma.