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On Investigating a Meditation Topic

To "investigate" means to look, to look for the one who is reciting the Buddha's name.
参话头,就是研究“念佛是谁?谁在念佛?”这句话的来龙去脉。所谓: 大疑大悟, 小疑小悟, 不疑不悟。
When we investigate a meditation topic, we examine the question, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" back and forth. It's said that, When one has a large doubt, then one's enlightenment can be large. When one has a minor doubt regarding this topic, one's enlightenment will be small; When one has no doubts about this topic, one will have no enlightenment.
A thoroughgoing investigation of this topic, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" acts as an adamantine sword which can mow down and sever every thought of desire. All that remains is the single thought of the meditation topic; no other thoughts are left. At that moment the resolve for the Way can come forth.
Before a Chan Meditation Session, we always have a Buddha Recitation Session. After the recitation session, we hold the Chan Session; this way we can expect better results. First we recite the Buddha's name, and then we investigate the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" To "investigate" means to look, to look for the one who is reciting the Buddha's name. Is it a ghost? Which ghost is it? Is it a person? Which person is it? Is it me? After I die will I still be able to recite? After I'm put in the coffin, no one will be reciting. Find the final answer to the question "Who?" How about the asker of "Who"? Can you tell who is reciting the Buddha's name? Who is asking? You can't find out. No matter how long you look, you won't find out who it is. If you actually find out "Who?" then you won't have the least bit of idle thinking left. Why do you still have idle thoughts? It's because you haven't found out "Who?"
这个“谁”字,可以找上一个大劫。老修行坐在那里不动,就是在定中找这个“谁”字。因为专参这个“谁”字,一切妄想没有了,豁然开悟,在黑暗中现出光明,什么都看见了。所谓: 迷时千卷少, 悟时一字多。
This question of "Who" can be sought for a great eon. When you see those meditation adepts sitting absolutely still, it's because they are working on finding the "Who." Their search for this one word brings them to a state of concentration where not even one idle thought arises. Suddenly at that point, they can get enlightened and, in the midst of darkness, bring forth bright light that shows them absolutely everything. It's said, When one is confused, an entire library of books is too few; But when one is enlightened, even a single word is too many.
This expresses the principle we use to investigate the meditation topic. Anyone who can be entirely free of idle thoughts is a person with skill. Anyone who entertains idle thoughts is someone whose spiritual skill is still immature. This is the central idea underlying the practice of Chan meditation.
The skill of Chan meditation comes from concentrating the mind and looking into the topic, so that when walking, sitting, and reclining, you are investigating at all times. To sum it up, you must work at it constantly. Don't pass up this opportunity to investigate. This is why during the Chan session no one bows to the Buddha, recites Sutras, does ceremonies, or eats in the formal style. At lunchtime we take our meal, then we hurry back to the meditation hall and continue to meditate. When one has to go to the bathroom, one takes care of business and then returns immediately to the hall to continue to meditate. We don't want to waste even one minute or second of the session, because who knows in which minute or second we'll become enlightened? This is why we treasure every moment of time.
As it's said, "Do not depart from this!" Don't depart from what? Don't depart from the question, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" This "Who" is a wisdom-sword that cuts through the seven emotions and six desires. Once you've gotten rid of your faults and habits for good, your fundamental nature can appear. Once your fundamental nature appears, the fruition of Bodhi will be accomplished.
我们在参禅期间,要面对现实,克服一切环境,抱定宗旨。苦就是快乐的开始,我常对你们说: 受苦是了苦, 享福是消福。
As we work at Chan, we must maintain a practical attitude regarding the surrounding states. We must not lose sight of our principles. Bear in mind that pain is the forerunner of pleasure. As I often tell you, To endure suffering is to end suffering; To enjoy blessings exhausts blessings.
古人说: 祸兮福所依, 福兮祸所附。
The ancients said, Disasters bring blessings along; Blessings usher in catastrophes.
This means that following a run of bad luck we often encounter very lucky events. Disasters often follow lucky events. The phenomena of the world come in pairs of opposites.
Who knows how much evil karma we've created in the past? For this reason, we must endure the retribution. If we can work hard at our meditation and courageously advance, then when we've patiently endured our karmic retribution to its end, we can accomplish our work in the Way. Pay heed to this, all of you! No matter whether we encounter states that please us or states that go against the grain, we must patiently endure them all. Even the ones we can't endure, we still need to endure.
Cultivating the Way is simply a matter of gaining the ability to endure. As it's said, "Patience is a priceless jewel." You can experience true happiness only if you can bear up under all situations. As martial artists know, when an inexperienced fighter steps onto the mat to spar, he often forgets the moves he has just learned. Once the match is over, he recalls his techniques, but it's too late. Cultivating Chan is the same way. When a situation comes up, you have to endure it; you have to be willing to suffer a loss. Grit your teeth, and when you make it through the gate of difficulty, you'll gain a bit of self-mastery.
Chan meditation requires that you cultivate this same way morning and evening. In the morning you should practice Chan meditation, and in the evening you also must practice Chan meditation. When you cultivate long enough, you'll naturally succeed. But you must be patient. If your back aches, pay it no mind. If your legs hurt, pay them no attention. Simply turn your thoughts to single-minded investigation of "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" This method will prevent you from indulging in random thoughts, and it will help you gather back your body and mind. You must make them pure, until not even one idle thought arises. When your mind no longer leaves the topic, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?" and you can bring up these words over and over, when you don't forget them for even an instant, then you'll have realized the aim of your effort.
参话头是一个妄想,杂念是多个妄想。用以毒攻毒的办法,所以用参话头的妄想来控制多个妄想,慢慢将妄想一个一个消灭,不再起作用。这时候,无论什么境界来了,都不会迷惑。你分析清楚,就不会走火入魔,古德说: 宁可千生不悟, 不可一日着魔。
To investigate the meditation topic is one idle thought; our scattered thoughts are a great many idle thoughts. Employing the method of fighting fire with fire, we use one idle thought to stop the many idle thoughts. Slowly, one by one, we bring these random thoughts under control and eradicate them, so they no longer arise. At that time, no matter what situation appears, you won't be deluded by it. You will discriminate clearly and not become possessed by demons. The ancients said, It would be better to go without enlightenment for a thousand lifetimes, Than to be possessed by a demon for even a single day.
As we cultivate Chan meditation, we must be cautious and circumspect, and not get carried away. We must be proper, magnannimous, and forthright, so that demons have no chance to trouble us. Idle thoughts open the door to demons, but the meditation topic is the Dharma-treasure that exorcises those demons.
一九八○年禅七 十二月开示
A talk given during a Chan Session in December, 1980