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Huatou Chan Meditation: The Way of the Ancestor Masters

On Friday, June 5, 2009, Venerable Guo Ru, first disciple of Master Sheng Yen, gave a lecture at CMC entitled, "Huatou Chan Meditation: The Way of the Ancestor Masters".

Venerable began the talk with an explanation of the purpose for practicing the method of huatou, which is to cultivate the bodhisattva path, which is cultivating compassion and wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to confront causes and conditions.

Huatou is the vehicle for experiencing the pure mind and the beginning for generating bodhicitta or the altruistic mind. Power and strength is derived from bodhicitta, so that through wisdom, one can interact with the complexities of daily life or "worldly dust". They are no longer obstacles, but opportunities to refine the pure mind.

To illustrate the journey towards the bodhisattva path, Venerable told the story of Subhuti, who visited 53 spiritual teachers, mastered their teachings and eventually perfected the bodhisattva path. When he completes his learning, he is told to return to his first teacher, thus exemplifying the return to the root and branch, or the fundamental mind which is wisdom, or true nature, and all manifest form.

According to Venerable Guo Ru, the "huatou" method has been taught by Chan Masters as a way for practitioners to know the self and to ultimately liberate the self. All ignorance and afflictions arise from not knowing who we are.

Lacking control of ourselves, we have vexations and self-grasping. The purpose of practicing huatou is to liberate ourselves from this bondage to the self. This illuminating of our mind allows us to see our true self nature, which is the nature of emptiness. How does the huatou method to help practitioners accomplish this?

Huatou can be translated to mean "source of the spoken word". Investigating the huatou means to examine that which occurs before thoughts arise. This investigation points to our original, liberated mind (Buddha-mind) and the mind of emptiness.

To conceptually understand is not enough; one must personally experience this. To practice huatou, one repeatedly asks in one’s mind a single question with an urgent desire for an answer but without relying on thinking. Questions such as, "What is wu (nothingness)?"

"Who is dragging this corpse around?" and "What was my original face before birth and death?" are used because they can not be resolved by logical or conceptual thinking. This constant questioning of the huatou allows one to generate what is called the "great doubt". This "doubt" is an intense uneasiness and wonderment that one must know the meaning of the huatou.

Through this focusing of the mind and wanting an answer, one forces one's self-centeredness into a corner. When the right causes and conditions allow this "great doubt" to explode, one's sense of self will dissolve and enlightenment will occur.

Enlightenment is the manifestation of wisdom. It's a mind free from fear, expectation, and the attitudes and thoughts that stem from self-centeredness. It's a letting go of the viewpoint in which the world revolves around us. With the disappearance of self-attachment, compassion will naturally arise. That is the mind of enlightenment. And that is the path of huatou.

(by Roger Ngo and Chang Jie)

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