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Prerequisites of the Ch'an Training
From the Hsu Yun Ho Shang Fa Hui
Tr. Lu K'uan Yu (Charles Luk)

The object of Ch'an training is to realize the mind for the perception of (self-) nature, that is to wipe out the impurities which soil the mind so that the fundamental face of self-nature can really be perceived. Impurities are our false thinking and clinging (to things as real). Self-nature is the meritorious characteristic of the Tathagata wisdom which is the same in both Buddhas and living beings. If one's false thinking and grasping are cast aside, one will bear witness to the meritorious characteristic of one's Tathagata wisdom and will become a Buddha, otherwise one will remain a living being. For since countless aeons, our own delusion has immersed us in the (sea of) birth and death. Since our defilement has (already) lasted so long, we are unable instantly to free ourselves from false thinking in order to perceive our self-nature. This is why we must undergo Ch'an training. The prerequisite of this training is the eradication of false thinking. As to how to wipe it out, we have already many sayings of Sakyamuni Buddha and nothing is simpler than the word 'Halt' in His saying: 'If it halts, it is Enlightenment (Bodhi)'.[1]

    The Ch'an sect from its introduction by Bodhidharma after his arrival in the East until after the passing of the Sixth Patriarch, spread widely all over the country and enjoyed great prosperity, unknown before and after that period. However, the most important thing taught by Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch was only this: 'Expel all concurrent causes; do not give rise to a single thought.' To expel all concurrent causes is to lay them down. [2]  Therefore, these two sentences: 'Expel all concurrent causes. Do not give rise to a single thought', are the prerequisites of Ch'an training. If these two sentences are not put into actual practice, not only will the training be ineffective, but also it will be impossible to start it, for in the midst of causes which rise and fall, thought after thought, how can you talk about Ch'an training?

    Now we know that (the sentences): 'Expel all concurrent causes. Do not give rise to a single thought' are the prerequisites of Ch'an training; how can we fulfill these prerequisites? Those of high spirituality are able to halt for ever the arising of a single thought until they reach (the state of) birthlessness and will thereby instantaneously realize enlightenment (bodhi) without any more ado. Those of lower spirituality will deduce the underlying principle [3]from facts [4]  and will thoroughly understand that the self-nature is fundamentally pure and clean and that distress (klesa) [5]  and enlightenment as well as birth, death and Nirvina are all empty names having no connexion whatever with self-nature; that phenomena are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble and a shadow; and that the four basic elements constituting the physical body, as well as mountains, rivers and the great earth which are within self-nature, are just like bubbles in the sea. These phenomena rise and fall following one another in succession without intefering with the essence (of self-nature). Therefore, one should not follow illusion in its creation, stay, change and annihilation and give rise to feelings of joy, sadness, attachment and rejection. One should lay down everything with which one's body is burdened, thus becoming exactly like a dead man. The outcome will be that sense-organs, sense-data and consciousness will vanish and that concupiscence, anger, stupidity and love will be eliminated. When all our feelings of joy and sadness, of the cold of hunger and the warmth of one's fill, of honour and dishonour, of birth and death, of happiness and misery, of blessing and calamity, of praise and censure, of gain and loss, of safety and danger, and of handicap and help, are all cast aside, this is the true laying down (of everything). To lay down a thing is to lay down everything for ever, and this is called the laying down of all concurrent causes. When all concurrent causes have been laid down, false thinking will vanish with the non-arising of differentiation and the elimination of all attachments. When one reaches this state of the non-arising of a single thought, the brightness of self-nature will appear in full.[6]Then only can the prerequisites of Ch'an training be entirely fulfilled. Further efforts in the true training and real introspection will be required if one wishes to be qualified for realizing the mind for the perception of self-nature.

    Recently, Ch'an Buddhists often came to inquire (about all this). As to the Dharma, fundamentally there is no such thing, because as soon as it is expressed in words, the meaning will not be true. Just see clearly that mind is Buddha and there will be no more ado. This is self-evident and all talks of practice and realization are the demon's words. Bodhidharma, who came to the East to "directly point at man's mind for the perception of self-nature leading to the attainment of Buddhahood", clearly indicated that all living beings on earth were Buddhas. The outright cognizance of this pure and clean self-nature together with complete harmony with it, without contamination from attachment (to anything)[7]and without the least mental differentiation, while walking, standing, sitting and lying by day or night [8]is nothing but the self-evident Buddha(hood). It does not require any application of mind or use of effort. Moreover, there is no place for either action or deed, and no use for words, speech and thought. For this reason, it is said that the attainment of Buddhahood is the most free and easy thing which relies only on oneself and does not depend on others. If all living beings on this earth are not willing to pass long aeons through the successive four kinds of birth [9]  in the six realms of existence [10]  to stay permanently immersed in the sea of suffering, and if they wish to attain Buddhahood with the accompanying enjoyment of true eternity, true bliss, true personality and true purity [11],they should sincerely believe the true words of the Buddha and Patriarchs, and lay down all (attachments) without thinking of either good or evil; all of them will cenainly be able to become Buddhas on the spot. All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Patriarchs of past generations did not take the vow of liberating all living beings without warrant for so doing; they did not take vain vows and did not tell a deliberate lie.

    The (qualification) above referred to, is in the state provided by nature [12]. Moreover, the Buddha and Patriarchs had expounded it again and again, and their injunction in this respect had also been repeated; theirs were true words, words corresponding to reality, which did not contain an atom of falsehood and deception. However, all living beings on this earth have been, for countless aeons, deluded and sunk in the bitter ocean of birth and death, rising and falling in their endless transmigrations. Being deluded, confused and upset, they turn their back on enlightenment and unite with impurities. They are just like real gold thrown into a manure pit where it not only falls into disuse but is also deplorably soiled. Because of His great mercy, the Buddha was compelled to set up 84,000 [13]  Dharma doors (to enlightenment) so that living beings of different natural capacities could use them to cure the 84,000 ailments caused by their habitual concupiscence, anger, stupidity and love. In the same way you are taught to use a shovel, brush, water and cloth to wash, brush, polish and scrub the dirty piece of gold. Therefore, the Dharma doors expounded by the Buddha are all excellent Dharmas which enable one to see through birth and death and to attain Buddhahood, the only question being the adaptability or otherwise of individual potentialities. These Dharma doors should not be divided arbitrarily into superior or inferior ones. Those introduced into China are: the Ch'an Sect (Tsung), the Discipline School (Lu Tsung), the Teaching School (Chiao Tsung), the Pure Land School (Chin Tsung), and the Yoga School (Mi Tsung). Of these five Dharma doors, it is up to each man to choose the one which is suitable to his natural character and inclination, and he will surely reach his goal if he only sticks to it long enough without change of mind and deeply penetrates it.

    Our sect advocates the Ch'an training. This training centres on 'realization of mind (and) perception of self-nature', that is an exhaustive investigation into one's fundamental face. The Dharma door which consists in the 'clear awakening to the self-mind and through perception of the fundamental nature' has been handed down ever since the Buddha held up a flower until after Bodhidharma's coming to the East, with frequent changes in the method of practice. Up to the T'ang (935) and Sung (1278) dynasties, most adherents of the Ch'an sect became enlightened after hearing a word or sentence. The transmission from master to disciple did not exceed the sealing of mind by mind, and there was no fixed Dharma (taught). In their questions and answers (the role played by a master) was only to untie the bonds (fettering his disciple) [14]according to available circumstances, just like the giving of an appropriate medicine for each particular ailment. In and after the Sung dynasty, human potentialities became duller, and the instructions given by the masters were not carried out by their disciples. For instance, when they were taught to 'lay down everyting' and 'not to think of either good or evil', practisers could not lay down anything and could not stop tiunking of either good or evil. Under these circumstances, the ancestors and masters were compelled to devise a 'poison-against-poison' method by teaching their followers to inquire into a kung an [15]  or look into a hua t'ou. [16]Their disciples were even taught to hold a meaningless hua t'ou as firmly as possible (in their minds), without loosening their grip even for the shortest possible moment, in the same way as a rat will (stubbornly) bite the board of a coffin at a fixed spot until it has made a hole. The aim of this method was to use a single thought to oppose and arrest myriad thoughts because the masters had no alternative. It was like an operation which became imperative when poison had been introduced into the body. There were many kung ans (devised by the ancients but) later only hua t'ous were taught such as: 'Who is dragging this corpse here?'[17]  and 'What was my fundamental face before I was born?' In the present day, the masters use the hua t'ou: 'Who is the repeater of Buddda's name?'

    All these hua t'ou have only one meaning which is very ordinary and has nothing peculiar about it if you look into him 'Who is reciting a sutra?', 'Who is holding a mantra?', 'Who is worshipping Buddha?', 'Who is taking a meal?', 'Who is wearing a robe?', 'Who is walking on the road?', or 'Who is sleeping?', the reply to 'Who?' will invariably be the same: 'It is Mind.' Word arises from Mind and Mind is head of (i.e. ante-)Word. Thought arises from Mind and Mind is head of Thought. Myriad things come from Mind and Mind is head of myriad things. In reality, a hua t'ou is the head of a thought (i.e. ante-thought). The head of thought is nothing but Mind. To make it plain, before a thought arises, it is a hua t'ou. From the above, we know that to look into a hua t'ou is to look into the Mind. The fundamental face before one's birth is Mind. To look into one's fundamental face before one's birth is to look into one's mind. Self-nature is Mind (and) to 'turn inwards the hearing to hear the self-nature' is to 'turn inward one's contemplation to contemplate the self-mind'.

    The sentence:'The perfect shining on the pure Awareness' means this:'the pure awareness' is mind and 'to shine on' is to look into. Mind is Buddha and to repeat the Buddha's (name) is to contemplate the Buddha. To contemplate Buddha is to contemplate mind. Therefore, to 'look into a hua t'ou' or 'to look into him who repeats the Buddha's name is to contemplate the mind or to contemplate the pure essence of awareness of the self-mind, or to contemplate the self-natured Buddha. Mind is self-nature, is awareness and is Buddha, having neither form nor location, and being undiscoverable. It is clean and pure by nature, penetrates everywhere in the Dharmadhatu, does not enter or leave, neither comes nor goes, and is fundamentally the self-evident pure Dharmakaya Buddha.

    A practiser should keep under control all his six sense-organs and take good care of this hua t'ou by looking into where a thought usually arises, until he perceives his pure scelf-nature, free from all thoughts. This continuous, close, quiet and indifferent investigation will lead to a still and shining [18]  contemplation (the outcome of which will be) the outright non-existence of the five constituent elements of being (skandhas) [19]  and the wiping out of both body and mind, without the least thing being left behind. Thereafter, this absolute immutability (should be maintained) in every state, while walking, standing, sitting and lying by day or night. As time goes on, this achievement will be brought to perfection, resulting in the perception of self-nature and the attainment of Buddhahood, with the elimination of all distress and suffering.

    Ancestor Kao Feng [20]  said: 'When a student looks into a hua t'ou with the same steadiness with which a broken tile when thrown into a deep pond plunges straight down 10,000 changs [21]  to the bottom, if he fails to become awakened in seven days, anyone can chop off my head and take it away.' Dear friends, these are the words of an experienced master, they are true and correspond to reality, they are not deceitful words to cheat people

    Then why in the present generation are there not even a few men who attain enlightenment in spite of the great number who hold a hua t'ou (in their minds)? This is because their potentialities are not so sharp as those of the ancients. It is also because students are confused about the correct method of training and of holding a hua t'ou. They go to various places in the four quarters, seeking instruction, and the result is that when they get old, they are still not clear about the meaning of a hua t'ou and how to look into it. They pass their whole lives clinging to words and names, and applying their minds to the tail of the hua t'ou. [22]They inquire into (the sentences): 'Look into him who repeats the Buddha's name' and 'Take care of the hua t'ou', and the more they look and inquire into these sentences, the more they get away from what these sentences stand for. [23]  Thus how can they be awakened to the self-evident Wu Wei (transcendental) Supreme Reality, and how can they ascend the undisturbable Royal Throne? When gold powder is thrown into their eyes, they are blinded: how then can they send out the great illuminating ray? What a pity! What a pity! They are all good sons and good daughters who leave their homes in quest of the truth, and their determination is above the average. What a pity if they labour to no purpose! (For this reason) an ancient master said: 'It is better to remain unenlightened for a thousand years than to tread the wrong path for a day.'

    Self-cultivation for awakening to the truth is easy and is (also) difficult. For example, when we turn on the electric light, if we know how, in a finger-snap there will be light and the darkness which has lasted for a myriad years will disappear. If one does not know how to turn on the light, the electric wires will be interfered with and the lamp will be damaged, resulting in an increase of passions and ignorance. There are also some people who, while undergoing Ch'an training and looking into the hua t'ou, get entangled with demons and become insane, while others vomit blood and fall sick. [24]Are the fire of ignorance bursting into flame and the deep-rooted view of self and other [25]  not the obvious causes of all this? Therefore, practisers should harmonize body with mind and become calm, free from all impediments and from (the view of) self and other so as to bring about a perfect unison with their latent potentialities. Fundamentally, this method used in Ch'an training is invariably the same, but the training is both difficult and easy to beginners as well as to old hands.

    Where does its difficulty lie for a beginner? Although his body and mind are mature for it, he is still confused about the method of undergoing it, and since his practice is ineffective, he will either become impatient or spend his time in dozing with this result: 'A beginner's training in the first year, an old hand's training in the second, and no training in the third year.'

    Where does its easiness lie for a beginner? It only requires a believing, a long enduring and a mindless mind. A believing mind is, firstly, belief that this mind of ours is fundamentally Buddha, not differing from all Buddhas and all living beings of the three times in the ten directions of space, and secondly, belief that all Dharmas expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha can enable us to put an end to birth and death and to attain Buddhahood. A long enduring mind consists in the choice of a method to be put into continuous practice in the present lifetime, in the next life, and in the life after next. The Ch'an training should be continued in this manner; the repetition of the Buddha's name should be continued in this manner; the holding of a mantra (mystic incantation) should be continued in this manner and the study of sutras, which consists in putting into practice the teaching heard (i.e. learned from the Scriptures), should be continued in this manner. The practice of any Dharma door (to enlightenment) must be based on Sila [26]  and if the training is undergone in this manner, there is no reason why it will not be successful. The old master Kuei Shan [27]said: 'Anybody practising this Dharma without backsliding in three successive lives can surely expect to attain the Buddha-stage.' The old master Yung Chia said: 'If I utter deceitful words to cheat living beings, I shall be prepared to fall into the tongue-snatching hell for aeons as numberless as atoms.'

    By mindlessness is meant the laying down of everything [28]  so that the practiser will become like a dead man who, while following others in their normal activities, does not give rise to the least differentiation and attachment, and lives as a mindless religious man.

    After a beginner has acquired these three kinds of mind, if he under-goes the Ch'an training and looks into, for instance, the hua t'ou: 'Who is the repeater of Buddha's name?' he should silently repeat a few times:'Amitibha Buddha' and then look into him who thinks of the Buddha and where this thought arises. He should know that this thought does not arise either from his mouth or body. If it arises from either his mouth or body, why when he dies, cannot his body and mouth, which still exist, give rise to this thought? Therefore, he knows that this thought arises from his mind. Now he should watch (and locate) where his mind gives rise to this thought and keep on looking into it, like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse, with his exclusive attention concentrated upon it, free from a second thought. However, its sharpness and dullness should be in equal proportions. It should never be too sharp for that sharpness may cause illness. if the training is undergone in this manner, in every state, while walking, standing, sitting and lying, it will be effective as time goes on, and when cause comes to fruition, like a ripe melon which automatically falls, anything it may happen to touch or come into contact with, will suddenly cause his supreme awakening. This is the moment when the practiser will be like one who drinks water and who alone knows whether it is cold or warm, until he becomes free from all doubts about himself and experiences a great happiness similar to that when meeting one's own father at the cross-roads.

    Where do both easiness and difficulty lie for an old hand? By old hand is meant one who has called on learned masters for instruction and has undergone the training for many years during which his body and mind were mature for it and he was clear about the method which he could practise comfortably without experiencing any handicap. The difficulty met by a monk who is an old hand lies in this feeling of comfort and clearness in which he stops and stays. Thus, because of his stay in this illussion-city, he does not reach the place of precious things (i.e. the perfect Nirvana). He is fit only for stillness but is unfit for disturbance and his training is, therefore, not completely effective for really full use. In the worst case, the practiser will, when coming into contact with his surroundings, give rise to feelings of like and dislike and of acceptance and rejection with the result that his false thinking, both coarse and fine, will remain as firm as before. His training will be likened to the soaking of a stone in water and will become ineffective. As time goes on, weariness and laziness will slip into his training which will become fruitless in the end. When such a monk is aware of this, he should immediately give rise to the hua t'ou again and rouse his spirits to take a step forward from the top of a hundred-foot pole (he has reached)[29]until he reaches the top of the highest peak on which he will firmly stand or the bottom of the deepest ocean where he will walk (in every direction). He will cast away (his last link with the unreal) and will walk freely everywhere, meeting face to fice (lit. substance to substance, or essence to essence) with Buddhas and Patriarchs.Where is the difficulty? Is this not easy?

    Hua t'ou is One-Mind. This One-Mind of yours and mine is neither within nor without nor between the two. It is also within, without and between the two and is like Space which is immutable and is all-embracing. Therefore, the hua t'ou should not be pulled up or pushed down. If it is pulled up, it will cause disturbance, and if it is pushed down, it will cause dullness, and so will be in contradiction with the mind-nature [30]  and not in line with the 'mean'. [31]Everybody is afraid of false thinking which he finds difficult to control, but I tell you, dear friends, do not be afraid of false thinking and do not make any effort to control it. You have only to be aware of it but should not cling to it, follow it or push it away. It will suffice to discontinue your thinking and it will leave you alone. Hence, the saying: 'The rise of falsehood should be immediately cognized, and once cognized, it will quit.'

    However, in his training, if the practiser can turn this false thinkmg to his own advantage, he will look into where it arises and will notice that it has no independent nature of its own. At once, he will realize the non-existence of this very thinking and will recover his fundamental mindless nature, followed immediately by the manifestation of his pure self-natured Dharmakaya Buddha which will appear on the spot.

    In reality, the real and the false are the same (in nature); the living and the Buddhas are not a dualism; and birth-death and Nirvina as well as enlightenment (bodhi) and distress (klesa) all belong to our self-mind and self-nature and should not be differentiated, should not be either liked or disliked and should not be either grasped or rejected. This mind is pure and clean and fundamentally is Buddha. Not a single Dharma is required (in the quest of enlightenment). Why so much complication? Ts'an! [32]


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[1] The full sentence is: The mad mind does not halt; if it halts, it is Bodhi, i.e. enlightenment.

[2] In Ch'an terminology, "to lay down causes or thoughts" is to lay down the heavy load of   causes or thoughts to free the mind from defilement.

[3] Underlying principle: theory, noumenon.

[4] Facts: activity, practice, phenomenon.

[5] Klesa: distress, worry, trouble and whatever causes them.

[6] This is the state described in Han Shan's "Song of the Board-bearer".

[7] Even attachment to the self-nature is also an impurity which should be cast aside.

[8] Literally 'during the two six-hour periods of the day'. Each day is divided into two six-hour periods. one for day-time and one for night-time.

[9] Birth from eggs, wombs and humidity, and by transformation.

[10] Worlds of gods (devas), men, spirits (asuras), animals, hungry ghosts and hells.

[11] The four transcendental realities in Nirvana expounded in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.

[12] i.e. 'self-so'. so of itself, natural, of course, se1f-existing, the self-existent.

[13] The digits 8 and 4 symbolize respectively the eighth Vijnana or Consciousness and the four basic elements of the physical body, and mean the deluded self-nature (8) held in bondage in the illusory body (4), i.e. Space. The three following zeros symbolize Time, and so long as one remains under delusion, it will be immaterial to add 10, 100, or 1,000 zeros at the end of the number. However, when one attains enlightenment in one finger-snap. the digits 8 and 4 or Space will disappear and the line of zeros, or Time, will have no meaning.

[14] i.e. freeing his disdples from restraint caused by delusion.

[15] Kung an, or koan in Japanese = A dossier, or case-record; a cause, public laws, regulations; case-law. Problems set by Ch'an masters upon which thought is concentrated as a means to attain inner unity and illumination. The meaning of a kung an is irrevocable and kung an is as valid as the Law.

[16] Hua t'ou = ante-word, or ante-thought, i.e. the mind before it is stirred by a thought. It is the mind in its undisturbed condition. The holding of a hua t'ou in the mind is the looking into the self-mind until its realization. It is also the turning inward of the faculty of hearing to hear the self-nature, for the disentanglement of mind (subject) from external objects.

[17] i.e. who is dragging here this physical body of yours?

[18] The essence of the rnind is still and its function is shining.

[19] The 5 skandhas: form, feeling, ideation, reaction and consciousness.

[20] Kao Feng was the teacher of Chung Feng whose 'Sayings of Chung Feng' (Chung Feng Kuang Lu) were read by Han Shan before the latter began his Ch'an training. (See Han Shan's Autobiography.)

[21] Chang: a measure of ten Chinese feet.

[22] when the sentence 'who repeats the Buddha's name?' is merely repeated by a practicer who only grasps its meaning, he thinks of the 'tail' of the hua t'ou, instead of its head or ante-word, that is the mind. Thus he wrongly applies his mind to 'tall' instead of 'head'.

[23] The master means that these people fail because they set their discriminating minds on grasping the meaning of these sentences, whereas in the training, their minds should first be disentangled from all discriminations.

[24] If an evil thought is allowed to slip into the concentration of mind while holding a hua t'ou, this thought will replace the hua t'ou and may grow out of proportion and become difficult to subdue. If it be a strong desire which cannot be satisfied, the resultant frustration may cause insanity. One's breath should never be interfered with, and concentration of mind should never be on the chest as it may affect the lungs and cause the vomiting of blood.

[25] View of dualism which should be wiped out.

[26] Sila= precept, command, prohibition, discipline, rule, morality.

[27] Master Kuei Shan(Wei Shan) and his dssciple Yang Shan were founders of the Kuei Yang(Wei Yang) Sect (Ikyo in Japanese), one of the five Ch'an Sects in China.

[28] i.e. free from all attachments, which are likened to a burden which one should lay down.

[29] This state of stillness is fully described in Han Shan's 'Song of the Board-bearer' (see Han Shan's Autobiography) and in Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's 'Complete Enlightenment' when he said: 'Both the hearing and its object came to an end but I did not stay where they ended.'

[30] Mind-nature: immutable mind-body, the existing fundamental pure mind, the all, the Tathagata-garba

[31] Mean: between the two extremes.

[32] Ts'an(Can): to inquire, investigate, look into. Usually at the end of a meeting, a master mutters this word to urge his disciples to inquire into or ponder over the real meaning.

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