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Tuesday, September 20, 2016
On Saturday the Venerable Guo Hui held his second lecture on the Complete Enlightenment Sutra. The hall was packed and many people had their pads out, ready to take notes. The amount of enthusiasm for such a difficult sutra was impressive to say the least, although I should have expected it after two years at Dharma Drum Vancouver Center.
As we saw above, tso-ch'an was practiced in China long before the appearance of Ch'an. The earlier masters practiced according to methods in the Hinayana sutras, which emphasized the techniques collectively known as samatha-vipasyana. Generally speaking, these were methods for achieving samadhi through three aspects: regulating one's body, regulating one's breathing, and regulating one's mind.
When pre-Ch'an masters practiced, they mostly used the methods given in the translated Hinayana sutras. For them, tso-ch'an referred to methods of sitting to attain samadhi. But among the later masters of Ch'an, the term was reserved for methods of attaining enlightenment without samadhi as an intermediate or final stage.
In most spiritual traditions of India, the yogis practice dhyana to attain samadhi at its various levels. After years of austere practice as a yogi, the self-exiled Indian prince Siddhartha recognized that his realization was incomplete. He sat under the bodhi tree vowing not to rise until he had resolved the question of death and rebirth. Only when he became enlightened one evening, after seeing a bright star, did he rise. He had become the Buddha, the primal transmitter of Buddhism in our epoch. The Buddha's experience became the paradigm of tso-ch'an practice.
The references above show that several centuries before the coming of the Ch'an school, tso-ch'an already reached a high state of development in China, both as a practice and a scriptural topic. These references also show the close association between tso-ch'an and samadhi in Chinese Buddhist practice prior to Ch'an.
The Chinese term tso-ch'an 坐禪(zazen) was in use among Buddhist practitioners even before the appearance of the Ch'an (Zen) School. Embedded in the term is the word ch'an, a derivative of the Indian dhyana, which is the yogic practice of attaining samadhi in meditation. Literally translated, tso-ch'an means "sitting ch'an" and has a comprehensive and a specific meaning. The comprehensive meaning refers to any type of meditation practice based on taking the sitting posture. The specific meaning refers to the methods of practice that characterize Ch'an Buddhism.
The Heart Sutra teaches that suffering comes from ignorance, attachment to self, and confusion caused by afflictions; it also teaches us how to live with purpose, to ultimately fulfill the four great vows and to cultivate a non-abiding mind. But we are stubborn and refuse to give up our afflictions easily, for ignorance and self-attachment are at the roots our perceived existence. Nevertheless, it is through our will and our vows, the wellsprings of action, that we arouse the bodhi-mind , and begin the process of enlightenment. This willingness is crucial, because it is not easy to change our old ways, however destructive or comforting they may be. But the choice, as always, is ours. By following the bodhisattva path to its end, we will ultimately exhaust all ignorance, cross the ocean of suffering, and reach anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. This is the far-reaching and profound message of the Heart Sutra.
Of the contemplations of the sense faculties, that of the mind itself is the most difficult. Buddhadharma analyzes the mind into its individual components to better understand its nature and workings, but all the components function together in a seamless, ever-changing continuum. The major components are the six consciousnesses (vijnanas), the faculty of mind (mana) and its objects (dhatus), and base-consciousness (citta).
As a practitioner of Chan meditation, I’ve been fumbling about an appropriate method for nearly 10 years. Trying hard on the method of Huatou, I participated in a few 7-day Huatou retreats, yet ended up merely “reciting” the huatou so far, unable to give rise to any doubt sensation. Silent Illumination, on the other hand, seems intangible and difficult to pin down, even though I’ve already tried hard in 3 or 4 Silent Illumination retreats. I’ve been trying to find out the key problem and wonder whether “relaxing the body and mind” could be the critical issue.
While Buddhists do not believe in the existence of a creator-god, the existence of the universe cannot be doubted, nor can the existence of life be denied. According to Buddhism, the most basic elements that comprise the universe are empty of self-nature, and the elements that comprise life are also devoid of self-nature. This lack of a separate self-nature, called emptiness, is the only unchanging truth in the universe. That it is an unchanging truth implies that emptiness has no beginning and no ending: emptiness is the true state in which the universe and life have always existed.
To find your real self, you must lose yourself. I tell my students that they must put aside thoughts about their own birth and death if they are to get anywhere. A meditator who is full of thoughts about himself, thoughts of improving his health, or of gaining limitless freedom, will attain neither wisdom nor freedom.