Letting Go of Attachments
Do not pursue conditioned existence;
Do not abide in acceptance of emptiness.
People can be attached either to existence, the outer world, or
emptiness, the inner void. Most of us are probably attached to
existence, clinging to our thoughts, our body, the environment around
us. On the other hand, someone attached to emptiness may think: "Since
there is nothing after death, it is the simplest solution for
everything. After I die, I won't have to worry about anything anymore."
Another emptiness attitude may be: "Since the world is illusory, then
nothing matters and I can stay detached from everything." Those who are
attached to emptiness may have a devil-may-care attitude. They may
refuse to take anything in life seriously. Or they may even be
susceptible to committing suicide.
Attachment to either existence or to emptiness are improper attitudes.
I have spoken of the dangers of attaching to existence -- grasping what
you like and rejecting what you dislike. But to say that there is
nothing to grasp and nothing to reject is also incorrect -- this would
be attaching to emptiness. A person may be meditating with a blank
mind, apparently free of all thoughts and concerns. While this may seem
to be approaching enlightenment, it is actually quite different. In the
enlightened state, a previous thought did not arise, a future thought
will not arise, and a present thought does not arise. But someone in
the blank state is just sitting there not thinking about or doing
anything. In fact, he is not practicing. Indeed he does have a thought,
which is: the previous thought arose, but it does not matter. A future
thought may arise but, again, it does not matter. As to the present
thought, let it be. This person may think that he has no attachment to
his thoughts. But actually this is far from a true state of
enlightenment. This kind of state is called "stubborn emptiness," as
opposed to true emptiness, which is a lively state of mind, full of
If you practice to a point where you feel very tranquil, stable, and
comfortable, that would be a peaceful state of mind. The best you can
attain in this peaceful condition is a high samadhi state in the
formless realm called the "emptiness samadhi." But if you become
attached to such a state you would never see your self- nature. This
would be considered an "outer path" practice.
In oneness and equality,
Confusion vanishes of itself.
Perceiving that all is one means making no distinction between sage and
sentient being, or between subject and object. This is another way of
describing the totality of space. When you experience everything as
equal, all distinctions will naturally disappear. While remembering not
to abide either in existence or emptiness, you should also know that
existence and emptiness are not separate.
Yet is everything really the same? Once I said that the Buddha sees all
sentient beings as the same, and is aware of every single thought in
the universe. Someone raised the point that if the Buddha's mind was
constantly being bombarded with such a tremendous influx of thoughts,
it would not be a very comfortable state. This would mean that the
Buddha's mind is like a garbage can and the thoughts of all sentient
beings are being dumped into it. It would be a heavy burden on the
If you take a snapshot with a high quality camera, everything in front
of the lens will be imprinted on the film in minute detail. You can see
the tip of each blade of grass and the outline of every leaf. Yet the
camera does not think: "How annoying! All this junk is trying to get
my attention." No. In one shot, it takes in everything without making
distinctions among the objects -- whether they are good or bad, long or
short, green or yellow. But just because the camera does not make
distinctions does not mean that the images on the film will appear
confused or in the wrong order. On the contrary, everything is there
clearly, and in place.
The Buddha's mind is like this. Having an equal mind means that there
is no conception of relativity between things. Everything is absolute
in the sense that there is no separation between you and others,
between past and future. Because you see everything as equal, you would
not choose one thing over another. Yet as soon as there are no longer
any differences, it is as if existence simply disappears. For example,
if everybody were male, the label "men" would no longer be meaningful,
since its only purpose is to distinguish men from women. Everyone being
the same, there would be no need for names. If you take an equal
attitude towards everything, all differences will disappear, along with
Once I handed the incense board to a student and asked him, "What is
this?" He grabbed the board and shook it a few times. He did that
because there was no name for it. We may call it an incense board but
this is only our mind making distinctions. Why must we call it "incense
During a retreat, I stood in front of a certain person. I asked him,
"Who is standing in front of you?" He replied, "An egg." I was very
pleased to be an egg.
When the retreat was over, I asked him, "Why is Shih-fu an egg?" He
answered, "When Shih-fu asked me the question I did not have any
thought whatsoever in my mind. Since I had to give an answer, I just
said something -- and the word "egg" spontaneously came out of my
mouth. Later I thought: `That isn't quite right. How can Shih-fu be an
egg? But I said it and it's said.'"
When he said "an egg," it was the correct answer. In fact, whatever he
said at that moment would have been correct because he did not have any
thought in his mind. He was in an absolute state, not making any
distinctions. But once he began to entertain doubts, he lost the
Perhaps in this retreat I will also stand in front of you and ask, "Who
is standing in front of you?" Then, recalling the story I have just
told, you may try to give a similar answer and call Shih-fu a horse.
However, this would not be correct if you have the idea of giving a
good answer. This is the mind of distinction. It is not the mind that
treats everything as equal.
Stop activity and return to stillness,
And that stillness will be even more active.
Originally your mind may be in a relatively stable state. But when you
realize that your mind is not completely unmoving, you may try to make
it even calmer. However, the effort to still your mind will cause it to
become more active. The mind that makes no distinctions is unmoving;
there are no ups and downs. If you try to eliminate the ups and downs
it would be like observing a pan of water. There are gentle ripples on
its surface. But you want the surface to be completely still, so you
blow on the water to flatten it out. This creates more ripples. Then
you press the water with your hands to stop it from moving. The outcome
is even more agitation. If you were to leave the water alone, the
ripples would eventually subside and the surface would be still. Common
sense tells us that we cannot force the water to become calm. When it
comes to practice, however, it is difficult for us to apply the same
When practicing, it is sufficient to just keep your mind on the method.
It is unnecessary to reflect upon how well you are doing, or to compare
whether you are in a better state now than you were half an hour ago.
During the evening talk, I may ask you, "How are you doing today?" At
this time you are allowed to express your feelings. But when you are
practicing you should definitely not investigate your mental state and
judge your practice.
Someone said to me, "Shih-fu, I feel very ashamed. I come to retreat
time and again and yet I never make any progress." I said, "The very
fact that you are still coming to retreat and practicing is proof that
you are making progress."
Practice with an equal mind and don't distinguish between good and bad.
Do not compare your condition before and after the retreat, or judge
whether the method you are using is right or wrong. If you find you
cannot use the method, you may change it, but first understand why you
cannot use the method. You should not let curiosity dictate your
practice, playing with one method today and another tomorrow, or
switching methods from one sitting to the next. You should see that
there are no real differences between the various methods. Hold on to
one method and go into it as deeply as possible.
This is like your love relationships. When you love someone, you should
persist in that relationship and not continually change partners.
Likewise, keep to one method and do not keep changing your conception
of practice. To change frequently will give you only trouble.
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