Global Buddhist Community

​{Dharma Talk} Discover the True Mind

by Abbot Venerable Guo Xing
From a talk given at the Chan Meditation Center on Februrary 13, 2011. Translated by Echo Bonner, transcribed by Lingyun Wang and edited by Buffe Maggie Laffey.
The practice of the methods of Huatou and Silent Illumination is to discover the true mind. According to the Shurangama Sutra, the mind you are using now to listen to my talk is actually the deluded mind, not the true mind. Therefore, whether you think my talk is good or not good— this is all from your deluded mind. You may not understand what that means now, but at least you have heard that this is the deluded mind that you are using. The root cause of the cycle of samsara is that sentient beings take the mind that seizes upon conditions (deluded mind) as the self-nature. The deluded mind always includes a discriminating mind and discriminable phenomena, which is made up of the six objects—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thoughts. Since sentient beings take this attaching and rejecting mind as their mind, they have lost their true, wondrous mind of nirvana— the original mind departing from all phenomena.
Silent Illumination practice emphasizes "do not illuminate upon the conditions." This means that
1) the object that the mind relates to is not the true mind;
2) the conditions or objects in phenomena are irrelevant to the true mind; and
3) the illuminating function of the true mind does not need an object to relate to.
However, since sentient beings are used to attaching and discriminating phenomena they must work hard to return to their original unmoving, and non-attaching mind. When the mind is in a non-dual status, beyond subject and object, we call it enlightenment.
The original true mind is non-dual. Due to a single unenlightened thought (ignorance), the Three Subtle Appearances (ignorance, the subject seeing, and the object being seen) arise. Sentient beings live with this dual mode in every moment of their lives. They cannot see self-nature in the phenomena.
Master Sheng Yen once said, "when the enlightened one sees, she/he sees both self-nature and phenomena at the same time." Just like a mirror reflecting objects—all the objects are within the mirror. If you seek the Dharma outside the mind, you become an externalist, just like saying that the objects in the mirror are external objects.
Now, a question for you—I am right now talking about the Dharma; am I within your mind or outside your mind? Answer: "Inside." Everyone knows the standard answer. Through practicing Silent Illumination, we will have the ability to see that people and language are just images in our mind. Silent Illumination means that we don't attach to or reject any of the phenomena arising in our mind. One stage in Silent Illumination practice is to contemplate totality. In our daily life, when we interact with people, if we can contemplate the totality of all phenomena within our mind, and are not attached to a particular object, we will be content with any images or sounds arising in our mind without like, dislike or any discrimination.
Master Sheng Yen spoke many times about the phrase "Mind arises without abiding anywhere." Non-abiding means that mind has no attachment to any sense objects, just as the sun shines on everything, with no discrimination. The sun does not give someone more sunshine, because it likes that person, or that person needs more warmth. Similarly, it will not withhold sunshine, because that person has done many unwholesome deeds. Have you ever seen such a sun? The sun always shines equally in all places with no discrimination.
That is the Chan method that the Caodong School promotes. Pure awareness is equal, while the phenomena vary. However, within the diverse phenomena, there is the equally existing pure awareness. Just as the sun shines equally on everything, pure awareness resides equally in all phenomena without arising or extinguishing. The essence of true awareness is unmoving, so we call it tranquility. The manifestation of true awareness is diverse, moving, rising and perishing. Sentient beings, in attaching themselves to manifested phenomena, lose their true mind (emptiness). The enlightened one is aware of true nature and phenomena at the same time.
The practice of Silent Illumination and Huatou is to return to the original mind. The returning process includes four key stages: 1) no attachment and no rejection; 2) emptiness of all phenomena; 3) shattering of emptiness; and 4) manifestation of true awareness.
The mind originally has no subject, object, empty space or a world. Due to that one deluded thought, space came into being, then the continuation of the world, living beings, and karmic retribution. We transcend sentient beings from the cycle of samsara to nirvana, which is beyond duality, and beyond space. Enlightenment is to see the emptiness in all phenomena, shattering the empty space, with true awareness present. At that moment, one will realize that no phenomenon is apart from the self, but no single phenomenon is the self. The above is not a word game.
The Chan practice of Silent Illumination and Huatou is to return from the deluded dual mind to true awareness. What is the difference between the two methods? Silent Illumination is based on the enlightened status, where emptiness and awareness are inseparable from all phenomena. The method of Huatou is to investigate "what is wu?" Using Huatou, it is easy for one to recognize external phenomena, then let it go. One continues letting go until the empty space is let go, then true awareness manifests. When the great doubts are shattered, there is no further question about when or how to get enlightened since one is already enlightened.
Huatou differs from Silent Illumination in that Huatou is letting go of phenomena, while Silent Illumination is within phenomena, letting go of the attaching and rejecting mind. The Dharma Drum Lineage of Chinese Chan Buddhism carries on both Silent Illumination and Huatou methods. Master Sheng Yen considered Silent Illumination as the main method, because this Chan method can easily apply to daily life, and can be related to the fourfold foundation of awareness in Theravada Buddhism, and Mahamudra and Dzogchen in Tibetan Buddhism.
No matter which method is used, it is all about the deluded mind (from the one deluded thought, then, space, world, living beings, and karmic retribution) returning to the original mind (no karmic retribution, no sentient being, no world, and no empty space). Chan practice is supposed to point directly to the true mind, with no need of gradual practice. If a Chan Master questions you, and with that question, you directly experience the enlightenment status, we call it sudden enlightenment. If you have heard the Dharma for over 10 or 20 years, and have not yet experienced the enlightenment status, we call it gradual practice.

For example, a Chan Master asks, "Where are you from?" You answer, "I am coming from home." This is called gradual practice. If you answer, "No coming, no going," then, the Master says, "You pretend to know the answer." If you kick the Master, it looks like some enlightenment. Then the Master kicks you back. After several interactions, it will be clear whether you are enlightened or not. An enlightened person, at any moment, has the true mind being the phenomena.
In summary, sentient beings take the images in their mind as one's true mind. Some practitioners knew that Shifu had mind-reading power, therefore, they were very much afraid that Shifu would know what they were thinking, so as soon as they saw Shifu, they started to chant the Buddha's name. Do you think Shifu would take your wandering thoughts as you? Only those who have mind-reading power but still take the five skandhas as sentient beings will spy on another's mind. It does not matter if you have illusory thoughts or chant the Buddha's name, the enlightened ones will not take them as you. The picture drawn by the mind is not the mind pen. The mind pen of sentient beings is pure and perfect. Therefore, when an enlightened one sees sentient beings, they see the pure and complete.
If you think my talk today is just so-so, that means you took my words as me. Understand I have not talked about anything at all today.