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Increase and Decrease

Now let us look at the third dualism: “neither increasing nor decreasing.” Your weight may increase by a few pounds, and you may think it is either good or bad. In our appearance-conscious society, where gaining weight has a bad name, many people try to live up to a conventional image of beauty by working away their fat. If it has no impact on health, what are a few pounds more or less? Every time l return from a trip, people tell me I have lost more weight. If this were true, I would have disappeared by now. This is an example of how increasing and decreasing are relative things in people’s mind.

Perceptions of “increasing and decreasing,” however, are not as subjective as “pure and impure.” Usually something concrete is happening. For example, when Russia sold Alaska to the United States, the size of the United States increased and the size of Russia decreased. In a legal, political sense, this actually happened. But, from the point of view of the Earth’s total mass, did anything really increase or decrease?

The Chan Center used to be one building. Now it is two. Recently we purchased a retreat center in upstate New York. Perhaps one day we will have a center in Manhattan. We seem to be increasing. Who knows what will happen in the future? After I die, and the monks and nuns die, and many years pass, perhaps the Chan Center will be no more. You might make a lot of money this year, but you also may have many expenses and end up with nothing. When we build a house we use materials from the earth. Someday the house will decay and the materials will again become part of the earth. The earth has not gained or lost anything. The same is true for your body. Ultimately there is no such thing as increase or decrease, but in the process of phenomena arising and perishing, it appears as such.

In our practice we are concerned with process. We do not focus on beginnings and ends. The practice is the goal. The process is not born or destroyed, not absolutely pure or impure, does not increase or decrease. In itself, practice does not have much meaning. What matters is what we do with it. Therefore, we do say that through our practice afflictions will decrease and wisdom will increase. These are just convenient explanations to give us a sense of purpose.

There are two sayings by Chan Master Xuyun that I like. The first is, “Constantly, we must do Buddha activities, which are like flowers in the sky.” Buddha activities refer to practice, but how can practice be like non-existent flowers do not exist in the sky? The second saying is, “Everywhere we must build cages for practice, which are like reflections of moon on water.” The reflected moon is only an illusory image of the real moon. The meaning of this statement is that, although practice is an illusion, we still need it as a process.

 --There Is No Suffering P.0059-0060

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