10 Making Comparisons Not seeing fine or coarse, How can there be any bias? +quot;Fine or
Not seeing fine or coarse,
How can there be any bias?
"Fine or coarse" refers to the deepness or shallowness of practice. I
have often cautioned you against comparing your practice with that of
others or your own self at different times. Such comparisons are only
subjective. Today someone burst out crying in the meditation hall. One
person may have thought, "Oh, she's not doing so well." Another, "I
think she's becoming enlightened!" Or else, "Maybe she's going crazy."
None of these thoughts may represent the true situation. Whether she
felt pain or sorrow, became enlightened, or went crazy, it's her
business. It has nothing to do with anyone else. Making comparisons
inevitably means judging others.
When you are sitting, refrain from looking around and sizing people up.
A common type of comparison people make on retreat is to see someone
sitting through three periods and think, "How can he do that? Don't his
legs hurt? Boy! My legs hurt all the time. I can barely get through one
period." Sometime later, the person does move a little and they say to
themselves, "Ha! Probably his legs are hurting now. So he's not so
special after all."
These are examples of comparing yourself to others, but you can also
compare yourself to yourself. Perhaps you are having a miserable time
from day one. Your legs hurt, you are generally uncomfortable and
cannot get into the spirit of practice. You feel plagued with problems,
but there comes a day when suddenly you feel great. Your body is
comfortable and your mind is calm. You are pleased by this change of
affairs and say to yourself, "I finally got it." You have become so
excited, you can no longer meditate. Later when your meditation is not
as pleasurable, you may try to analyze how you sat so well that one
time and why you are so uncomfortable now.
Comparing good and bad is just deluded thinking. As long as you are
immersed in these wandering thoughts, you will not enter the proper
conditions for practice. Do not concern yourself with anything going on
around you. Nor should you be concerned with anything going on inside
yourself. Focus fully on the method and do not make external or
internal comparisons. If you can do that, your practice will be
On the first night, I said that you must begin by isolating yourself.
There are four stages of progressive isolation. First, isolate yourself
from your affairs outside the retreat. Next, ignore the environment
within the retreat itself. As far as you are concerned, you are the
only person here. Take another step further and put aside all thoughts
of the past and future. Finally, forget the thought that has just
passed or the thought to come. Narrow yourself down to the thought of
the present moment. You are reduced to a tiny, tiny point, which is
concentrated on the method. Even so, a demon can come and grab you,
because you still have that miniscule point left. But if you can
continue to focus on the method single-mindedly, it will be easy for
you to depart from even that one thought.
No matter how disturbing your surroundings or your inner mind, you
should take clear note of it and avoid feeling any aversion. Any
feelings of good or bad regarding the environment or ourselves are
actually projections of our own deep-seated emotional attachments.
Events and things have no intrinsic good or evil qualities.
For instance, this incense board is just a piece of wood. There is
nothing good or bad about it, but when an inexperienced monitor hits
someone in the wrong place -- say, the neck or shoulder blade -- the
person may react to the board in a negative way. The monitor may also
blame the incense board for being awkward to use. But someone who is
hit by an adept monitor will feel very good and consider the board a
great help. Likewise, the monitor may think that this is a particularly
good incense board since it is easy to wield.
Today I cut my finger trying to open a stuck window. I may have thought
that something was wrong with the window, but the window is an inert
object. It is not its fault that I hurt my finger. Perhaps I should
blame my hand instead, but a hand is only flesh and bone. When flesh
and bone are applied to a window, there is nothing in that event itself
that can be called good or bad.
The enlightened individual does not see things as bad, good, coarse or
fine. There are no good or bad people in the world. Someone may think,
"If a good person is the same as a bad person, wouldn't this create a
lot of confusion?" This problem does not arise for one who is deeply
enlightened. In the past, those who attained great enlightenment had
strong hearts of compassion. They dedicated the remainder of their
lives to saving other living beings. Sakyamuni Buddha himself devoted
forty-odd years to teaching and saving sentient beings. It is not that
the Buddha wants to save sentient beings. It is just that sentient
beings need to be saved. Whether or not he saves particular beings is
not up to him, but up to the beings themselves. If there are beings
that are capable of being saved, then the Buddha saves them. If there
are those who are too difficult to save, then he does not save them. He
does not blame them for being too difficult to save, nor does he
condemn them to hell. This is not the attitude of the Buddha or the
The Buddha's response to sentient beings can be likened to a mirror. In
itself, a mirror contains no image or particular characteristic. It
merely reflects whatever you put in front of it, as it is, without
hindrance. Likewise, the Buddha teaches people according to their
differing requirements. If someone needs a demon, a demon will appear;
if they need the Buddha, then the Buddha will appear; if someone needs
Ch'an practice, then Ch'an methods appear. The Buddha does not conceive
these things and try to push them on others. Rather, his compassionate
response is just an automatic reflection of a person's own mind.
This is why there are various levels in Buddhism. It is a recognition
of the many different capacities of sentient beings. Whatever an
individual's tendency, they can find a level of the teachings that is
right for them.
One who is really involved in the practice becomes like a mirror,
without discrimination or biases. When you reach the point where the
method disappears and even you disappear, your mind will be a mirror --
containing nothing, reflecting perfectly.
The Great Way is broad,
Neither easy nor difficult.
The purpose of using Ch'an methods in training students is to sweep
away any attachments that remain in their minds. If they desire to
attain Buddhahood, the master may say, "There is no Buddha." No doubt,
it is necessary to have a certain attachment to the method, to gain
some result, such as samadhi or enlightenment. But when your mind is a
steady stream, uninterrupted by extraneous thoughts, the Ch'an master
will push you to let go of the idea of practice, to break your
attachment to striving for an end.
There are a few stories of Ch'an patriarchs and their students which
illustrate this. One student went up to his teacher and said, "I want
to practice to attain the Way." The teacher said, "There is no Way to
be attained by practice." Another student declared, "I want to attain
liberation." His teacher replied, "Who is holding you back?" There was
a student who said, "I have heard it said that Sakyamuni Buddha left
home, practiced for many years, and attained enlightenment." His
teacher commented, "Hah. What a pity. If I had seen him, I would have
given him a good beating and thrown him to the dogs."
You may think that these teachers are destroying Buddhism by making
such statements. But actually they are working to remove even the
slightest attachment in the student's mind. When a person really
understands what it is to have a mind free of discrimination, he can be
considered capable of practice. To reach this point, faith is of the
utmost importance. Some may think, "Sakyamuni Buddha and the patriarchs
left the home life and cultivated for many years before they attained
enlightenment. As for me, I don't think I'm up to becoming a monk (or a
nun.) So what's the use of practicing?" If you consider practice to be
difficult and painful, then practice is difficult and painful. But if
you consider it easy, then it's very easy. Practice itself is neither
difficult nor easy. As I said before, there is nothing inherently good
or bad in events themselves. Discriminations of good and bad, difficult
and easy, are in our own minds and have nothing to do with the
Someone asked me how you can be concerned about alleviating suffering
if you hold the concept that there is nothing really good or bad. An
illustration I gave previously may explain it. While you are sitting,
your leg becomes painful. But as soon as you stretch it out, the pain
goes away. There is no question that it hurts, but the pain is not real
because it does not endure. It is capable of changing and disappearing.
It is the same with good and bad. They are subject to change. Bad can
become good. That bad exists is only a particular way of seeing and
dealing with things. Pain is still pain, but what is important is your
understanding of its nature. From that perspective, you can learn to
alleviate your own suffering. When it comes to seeing the suffering of
others, you can reflect on your own experience. Even though you tell
yourself that suffering is empty, you still feel pain. Likewise, in
teaching others, even though you may say that suffering is
non-existent, you cannot deny their experience of suffering. As far as
they are concerned, pain is direct and real. Thus, from the perspective
that suffering is unreal, you still respond to that unreal experience.
You strive out of compassion to alleviate the suffering of others.
There are two ways of understanding that practice is neither difficult
nor easy. A beginning practitioner can only understand it
intellectually. He may believe that practice is neither difficult nor
easy, but this is quite different from knowing directly through
experience that difficulties are just fabricated by the mind. There is
nothing difficult about practice itself. The individuals themselves
bring difficulty to the practice. During retreat, one person may find
practice extremely difficult, and another may find it easy. It can even
be different for the same person at different times. It has to do with
our mental attitude, or the way we approach it.
People respond to difficulty in different ways. Some people become so
overwhelmed by troubles in their practice, they end up without any
discrimination, letting go of their hopes as well as their despair. As
a result, the instant they turn their minds towards practice, they get
a good result. Although this may happen, it is not the case that
everybody needs to go through the same kind of process. In fact, when
some people encounter trouble, it does not reinforce their practice at
all. On the contrary, they are unable to practice. Their minds are
filled with thoughts of misery and a sense of failure.
You should have faith that every method is a good method and every
individual is good practitioner. After all, if you are not a good
practitioner, why are you still here after five days?
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank