Question and Answer Session

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Question and Answer Session

We can take some questions from the audience.

Master Sheng Yen:
All the difficult questions should be given to His Holiness!

Questioner:
Venerable Sheng-yen, does Chan belong to the Vajrayana teachings or do the Vajrayana teachings belong to Chan?

Master Sheng Yen:
Because I have never studied Tantra, it is better for His Holiness to answer this question. However, if we say that the two, Tantra and Chan, are really the same, and learning either one of the two is like learning both, then I would have to say that there may be a problem with this idea! There are similarities and differences within the two traditions.

His Holiness:
Generally, it is stated that the profundity of the Vajrayana teachings really comes from their sophistication in meditation practices. Therefore, when classifying the Vajrayana teachings within the category of the three baskets or three discourses, we see them as part of the sutras. That is because we view the Vajrayana teachings as sophisticated developments of dhyana practices.

Questioner:
To engage in the practice of Dharma, first you have to listen, then study, and then contemplate. But it seems that in the practice of emptiness, sometimes faith alone can lead to the experience of wisdom. Is that true?

Master Sheng Yen:
Let ms answer this question first. When Chan Buddhists talk about enlightenment, they distinguish between "enlightenment through intellectual understanding" and "actualized enlightenment" or experiential realization. For example, if seeing dependent origination means seeing the Dharma, and that also means seeing the Buddha, is that enlightenment? Personally, I would consider that a kind of "enlightenment through intellectual understanding." It is not the same as actualized enlightenment or true realization. Genuine enlightenment requires personal experience of the wisdom of emptiness-prajna.

His Holiness:
In general, in the Tibetan tradition we tend to use the world enlightenment to refer to the level of superior beings, the noble ones or "aryas."

Questioner:
What is the difference between practicing emptiness and gaining insight into emptiness or gaining enlightenment?

Master Sheng Yen:
What is the difference or relationship between practice and enlightenment? Those with very sharp karmic potential may be able to attain enlightenment very quickly, but they may still lack certain accumulation of merit and virtue. This means that after their enlightenment they need to continue to practice. As for others, before their enlightenment, at the stage of accumulation, they need to amass the necessary factors such as virtue to reach enlightenment.

Questioner:
When you become enlightened, if you are fully enlightened, and if you are a Buddha, then there is no need to practice. If there is no need to practice, why do we recite that last line of the prayer, the prayer that we may always be able to engage in bodhisattva deeds?

His Holiness:
When we talk about the deeds of the bodhisattva, we can discuss it in two aspects. One aspect is engaging in the bodhisattva deeds to perfect one's self, to attain full enlightenment. Once you become fully enlightened, you do not need to engage in the bodhisattva deeds. The second aspect is that, since your vow is to seek the well-being of other sentient beings, even after your full enlightenment, you will engage in the deeds of the bodhisattva.

Questioner:
Master Sheng Yen, in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, is there an understanding of a separate approach to enlightenment outside the framework of the Four Noble Truths; and if so, what is the approach?

Master Sheng Yen:
There is no separate understanding apart from the Four Noble Truths. However, I should clarify that the sudden enlightenment approach does not include any discussion of a sequential or gradual path. So, if you do not want to take the sequential or gradual path, the best thing may be for you to practice Chan! But this approach does not mean it is easy. It does not mean that you are getting something for nothing. Because even if you are enlightened without going through the gradual path, then even after enlightenment, you have to continue to practice!

As we noted before, some people practice on the causal ground and others on the ground of fruition. Even Shakyamuni Buddha, after attaining Buddhahood, practice meditation daily. I ask His Holiness how he practice every day, because His Holiness is a practitioner of great realization, but he told me that every day he still spends over three hours in meditation and prostration. This is the way of many great masters of the Chan tradition.

Questioner:
Master Sheng Yen, what is being negated in the context of understanding emptiness? What, exactly, is being emptied? What is True Suchness?

Master Sheng Yen:
Emptiness means being free from the two extreme of existence and mere nothingness, nor is one attached to the middle! That is the Middle Way, the teaching of Madhyamika. As for True Suchness, it is a teaching from the Consciousness-only and the Tathagatagarbha schools. It is very simple to understand True Suchness. When you truly understand vexation, vexation is not different from True Suchness. Foolish people who are enmeshed in all kinds of afflictions all the time and do not recognize them cannot know True Suchness. If you know your own negative afflictions very well, then you are in accordance with True Suchness. When all afflictions, including the very subtle vexation, have been eliminated, that is Buddhahood. So I have to say that vexation is True Suchness! Without afflictions or vexation, True Suchness has no existence. True Suchness is merely a conventional name. This may be very difficult to understand.

Questioner:
Venerable Sheng-yen, can one attain Buddhahood with just skillful means or wisdom alone?

Master Sheng Yen:
(Comment to the translator) "Why do you always pick out ones for me? Give some to His Holiness!" (Laughter in the audience)

Questioner:
Is there such a thing as clairvoyance and precognition? Can anyone comment on this?

His Holiness:
Often, when I asked questions of my senior tutor Ling Rinpoche, he came up with rather strange, some quite strange answers. One day I began to suspect that he might have other sources of knowledge, so once I asked him directly, "Do you sometimes have clairvoyant experiences? He said, " I don't know, but sometimes certain types of knowledge seem to arise in me that are rather weird." So, clairvoyance or precognition seems to be a real possibility.

Of course, I have met people who claim to have clairvoyance, but I am rather doubtful and quite skeptical, but Ling Rinpoche is someone I have known since childhood, so I can trust him. But I have also met people who claim to have clairvoyance and precognition and act as if they possess such knowledge, but I must say I am rather skeptical in these cases. When I visited Taiwan, I noticed there was quite a sizable community of Tibetan lamas and monks. I warned them not to pretend to have high realization that they do not possess. Particularly, they should not pretend to have clairvoyant powers or precognition, because their pretense might be revealed.

When talking about precognition or clairvoyance, we can say that theoretically, the ability to know is an inherent property of consciousness and mind, and even in our ordinary experiences, we sometimes have certain premonitions of what might happen, We may have premonitions in the morning, sort of a certain sense of intuition. These, I think are indications of the seed for such cognitive powers that lie within us. It seems that through the application of meditative practices, and particularly single-pointedness of mind, we begin to sharpen the focus of our memory and mindfulness. In that way, it seems our recollection or ability to recollect experiences becomes stronger and stronger. Once that power of recollection is sharp, the potential for precognition increase. That is at least the theoretical basis for believing in precognition. So, it seems that precognition or clairvoyance seems to arise in different forms in different people.

During the Seventh Dalai Lama's time, there was a highly realized master named Dag-pu-Lobsang-Denbe-Gyaltsen (1714-1762), who was universally recognized as someone with clairvoyant power. Once a great Gelugpa master, Jang-gya-Rolbay-Dojay (1717-1786), asked him, "how does this knowledge arise in you?" Dag-pu-Lobsang-Denbe-Gyaltsen replied that whenever he had to seriously think about something, a given subject or matter, he would focus on the first image that appear in his mind, which was usually a bell. On top of that bell would appear certain images, and patterns that arose would give him certain premonitions. Of course, in the Highest Yoga Tantra teachings, these are specific practices that are supposed to enable people to develop that kind of power. The sutras do speak of clairvoyance, but usually based on visual and audio perceptions only-never through olfactory perceptions. Even in our ordinary experiences, we can cognition objects at a distance through our visual perception and audio perception, not through scent. Therefore, the power of clairvoyance is limited.

Master Sheng Yen:
There are definitely such supernatural powers as clairvoyance, and for a person with faith in the Dharma to deny the existence of such clairvoyance or supernatural power would be inappropriate. But Shakyamuni Buddha warned his disciples not to use such power carelessly. In fact, the Chinese Chan tradition forbids practitioners and masters to use or even to talk about such powers. Relating this ability to ourselves, we see that foolish people hope to gain such supernatural powers so that they can help themselves. People with wisdom, on the other hand, use their own insights to handle affairs in their lives. To use wisdom to resolve problems, all you have to do is use it once. Dealing with problems through supernatural powers yields only temporary solutions; the problems will not only not be resolved, but they will reemerge. This dialogue is called appropriately the "wisdom teachings," not the supernatural teachings.

His Holiness:
I would like to take this opportunity to express my special appreciation to Venerable Chan Master Sheng Yen.

Master Sheng Yen:
Thank you.


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