11 Anxiety With narrow views and doubts, Haste will slow you down. Those who take up the s
With narrow views and doubts,
Haste will slow you down.
Those who take up the study of Buddhism before their views have
expanded are subject to fears and doubts. They doubt the method and
whether they can reach their objective. Like those who have narrow
views and only see what is in front of their eyes, it is a shallow and
This is a common problem on retreat. Everyone should believe that even
if they cannot become enlightened this time, they can do so in the
future, either in this lifetime or the next. Do you have faith that
your method can lead you to enlightenment? Or do you think that it is
just the beginning, that later you will learn more advanced methods? Do
you believe that Ch'an practice is reliable? Some people may think: "I
just came here to take a look. Later, there will be things to learn in
Over the years I have met many people who lack faith. Because of this
they reach a certain point and cannot go any further. They may have a
partial faith. They may have confidence in themselves but do not trust
the method. Or they have faith in the method but do not entirely trust
the teacher. Some people may trust the teacher but doubt what levels
can actually be reached with Ch'an. This mixture of faith and doubt
prevents them from having a deep experience.
Of course, if there were no sense of doubt in the beginning, you would
not be motivated to practice. After practicing diligently, you will
gradually resolve the problem of doubt. It all depends on your karmic
roots. When those with deep karmic roots come in contact with the
teachings of Ch'an, they quickly accept them.
But those with shallow roots have obstacles which prevent them from
believing in themselves, the method, or the teacher. The first
requirement of Ch'an is faith. You should believe that you are the ones
with deep karmic roots; otherwise, why would you have come to this
Ch'an retreat? Compared to the multitude of people in the world, those
who can undergo Ch'an training are very few.
Perhaps you still do not believe in yourself, the method, or what I am
talking about. But, beginning now, I hope you will start having faith.
It does not matter if you are not enlightened yet. Just like a blind
person being guided by someone who sees, a person who is not
enlightened can borrow a teacher's guidance and experience. It does not
matter if you started out with narrow views, as long as you can emerge
from them. When you try to understand or judge matters that are beyond
your background and experience, it is natural to have some doubts. Use
a mind of faith to cure your doubts. It is very important to give rise
to a great faith to achieve results. You should have complete faith in
what I am teaching. As to the environment, it does not matter whether
this is the ideal place to practice.
But the sooner you want to get results, the longer it will take to get
anywhere. Once someone was driving me to an appointment. Since he
wanted to get me there as quickly as possible, he decided to take a
short cut. Though the road was shorter, it turned out that the traffic
was heavier than on the normal route. Another case was a person who was
required to take the English equivalency exam in order to apply for a
U.S. visa. She thought of a quick method: Before she actually wrote
anything down, she would first skim through the entire test to weed out
the answers she did not understand. But by the time she went through
this first reading, the time was up and nothing was on the answer
It is the same with practice. If you keep asking yourself, "When am I
going to get enlightened?" you will always be in that state of mind and
never get anywhere. It is the same when you have trouble getting to
sleep and you look at the other people sleeping soundly around you. If
you become anxious and keep worrying, "Why can't I sleep? Let me
sleep!" you will never get to sleep.
The more you want benefits from Ch'an, the further you will be from
obtaining them. In fact, you will only increase your vexations. You may
be a highly intelligent person who works very hard and has good karmic
roots. But if you are anxious to get enlightened, you have created a
barrier between yourself and enlightenment. A tree should be watered
very gradually as it is growing. Do not be in a hurry to eat the fruit.
Consider the story about an inexperienced farmer who planted a field of
rice. After the crop sprouted, he kept going out to look at it and
saying, "Why isn't it growing any faster?" Then he thought of an idea
to help it grow. He pulled each stalk out a little taller. The next day
he said, "I think I'll go out and help them again." But when he
surveyed the field, all the shoots had died.
There is a Chinese saying: "You can't dig a well with one scoop."
Another one is: "You can't eat a cake in one bite." It is better for
the digestion to chew food until very fine before swallowing. It is the
same with practice. Don't try to swallow your practice in one gulp;
chew it patiently. You have to be careful and meticulous.
Attach to it and you lose the measure;
The mind will enter a deviant path.
When you grasp onto something, find a happy medium. For example, if you
grasp the incense board too tightly, you will hurt the person you are
hitting, and may even break the board. But if you hold it too loosely,
you cannot aim accurately. You have to hold it just right -- not too
tight, not too loose. In any activity, you have to find just the right
way to do it. This is difficult to accomplish without practice.
I constantly tell people on retreat to relax -- mentally and
physically. But some people do not know how to do this. Others are too
relaxed. As soon as they sit down, they slump over. You cannot practice
Even though your mind is relaxed, you should hold tightly onto the
method. Stick to the method and do not let it go. But sometimes people
take this advice and become nervous and tense. For instance, in
counting the breath, some may become so intent on holding to the method
that they end up holding onto the breath itself, thus breathing
unnaturally. Or they try to get rid of stray thoughts by counting and
breathing faster and faster. This tenses the body. You should hold
tight to the method, but at the same time you should not let yourself
get tense. To illustrate this, suppose you are walking along a road and
it starts bearing to the right. If you keep to a one-track frame of
mind of just sticking to the present thought, you will not allow for
the bend in the road and walk straight ahead into a tree.
Once I gave someone the hua-t'ou "What is wu?" I told her to keep her
mind on this one thought, moment to moment, to never leave this
question. After a while, her mind jumped to something else, and it
became, "I am wu." Rather than correcting herself, she thought,
"Shih-fu told me to stay on the present thought." She kept repeating
the statement, "I am wu." Finally, she said to me, "There's really no
point in this. I already know the answer. There is nothing." (The
literal meaning of wu is "nothingness.")
When I tell you to hold onto the method, it does not mean to grasp it
blindly. Sometimes you have to adjust. I am teaching one method but
everyone is unique. Their background, physique, age, experience, are
all different. If you just take what I say literally, it could be that
you heard it wrong, or that you start practicing it wrong. Therefore,
you cannot go by that entirely. You have to test it out by experience.
You must be aware of what is going on. If your breath is not flowing
smoothly, that should be a signal that you are not practicing
correctly. Ask me about it. There was a student who was sitting in the
"correct" posture, but his backside became very painful. He was
putting too much pressure on his tailbone. I advised him to lean
slightly forward and straighten his back so that this bone would not
touch the cushion. If you come across a problem like this, you should
not continue on in pain because you think that you are doing as I
instructed. Of course I would not teach you something that causes you
pain. You just sometimes have to make your own adjustments.
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank