Unifying the Mind Merely stagnating in duality, How can you recognize oneness? If you fail
Unifying the Mind
Merely stagnating in duality,
How can you recognize oneness?
If you fail to penetrate oneness,
Both places lose their function.
Whenever you make distinctions, your mind is in opposition. Opposition
implies duality. How is this relevant to practice? A practitioner
usually wants to attain enlightenment or ultimately, Buddhahood. But
this creates a duality of subject and object. The person who is seeking
to attain is separate from the attainment, the object of his search. In
seeking to become one with the Buddha, he separates himself from it.
This is a state of opposition.
Or, perhaps the practitioner knows very well that he has never been
separate from the Buddha. But since he has not yet experienced this
unity, he seeks the Buddha within himself. Yet even seeking the Buddha
within himself creates opposition between his searching mind and the
Buddha within. This way, oneness can never be attained.
If that is true, is it correct to practice without seeking anything at
all? Every day we chant the Four Great Vows. The fourth is: I vow to
attain Supreme Buddhahood. What is the purpose of chanting this vow if
aspiring to attain Buddhahood sets up an opposition? On the other hand,
if we do not define our goal, is practice possible?
If you really believe there is no separation, then it is possible to
practice without opposition. You must have faith in the fundamental
unity to truly begin practicing. However, most people remain in
duality. They acknowledge only one God, but they also see themselves as
separate from God. There is still a duality. But in Ch'an, at the very
beginning of your practice, you must have faith in non-duality. It is
the same unity in the kung-an : "The myriad dharmas return to one. To
what does the One return?" In other words, if all existence comes from
one God, where does God come from?
The emphasis of Faith in Mind is on practice. Many of you are
practicing counting the breath. The goal of this method is to reach a
unified, or single-minded state. After you get to the point where there
are no thoughts other than counting, eventually the counting just
naturally stops. The numbers disappear, the breath disappears, and the
idea of counting the breath is gone. The only thing left is a sense of
existence. Using a Ch'an method such as the hua-t'ou may have a similar
result in the beginning stages. At a certain point, the hua-t'ou may
disappear, or you simply cannot use it anymore. But this does not
always mean that you have reached a single-minded state. You may still
have the thought of trying to use the hua-t'ou. Only when the thought
of practicing is gone will your mind be in a peaceful state of oneness.
A person who has experienced oneness is different from an ordinary
person. His faith is stronger than one who can at best intellectually
understand what it means to have no distinctions in one's mind. To
personally experience it is quite another thing.
In Taoism there is the saying that the one gives rise to the two, and
the two give rise to the multiplicity of things. We should not think
that the Third Patriarch is confusing Taoism with Buddhism. It is just
that he employs Taoist terminology to express the teachings of
Buddhism. The highest goal of Taoism is the attainment of the Way, but
this is not the same goal as that described in Faith in Mind, for Ch'an
transcends oneness. But we must get to the state of oneness before we
can go beyond it.
The practice of Ch'an should progress in this sequence: scattered mind,
simple mind, one mind, no mind. First we gather our scattered thoughts
into a more concentrated, or simple, state of mind. From this
concentrated state we can enter the mind of unity. Finally, we leap
from the unified mind to the state of no mind. This final process can
be accomplished more quickly using the Ch'an methods of hua-t'ou or
To go from one mind to no mind does not mean that anything is lost;
rather, it means that you are free of the unified state. Someone who
dwells in one mind would either be attached to samadhi, or else would
feel identified with a certain deity. It is only after you are freed
from this unity and enter no mind that you return to your own nature,
also called "wu," or Ch'an. Even though this progression in the
practice takes place, while you are actually practicing you should not
think to yourself: "I am striving to concentrate my mind. I want to get
to the state of one mind, to the state of no mind." If you have such
ideas of seeking, you will be in trouble. Just concern yourself with
your method; persist with your method to the very end. This in itself
is close to a state of unity. If you hold to it, eventually you will
reach a point where the method disappears and you will experience one
Once a meditator in his sixties said to me, "Shih-fu, I am very old. I
may not have many years left. I really would like to get enlightened as
soon as possible. If I don't get enlightened before I die, I will have
wasted my life." I said, "Precisely because you are so old you
shouldn't have any hopes of getting enlightened. Just practice." The
man asked, "How can you tell me to practice and not show me how to get
enlightened?" I replied, "If you have the idea of enlightenment, that
is already your downfall; you cannot make much progress. If you do
nothing but practice, at least you will approach the state of
enlightenment. Even if you never get enlightened, the effort is never
Banish existence and you fall into existence;
Follow emptiness and you turn your back on it.
In the Sung dynasty there was a famous prime minister by the name of
Chang Shang-Yin who was opposed to Buddhism. He wrote many essays
purporting to refute Buddhism, and he would spend every evening
pondering over how he could improve the essay he was then working on.
His wife, observing his obsessive involvement and struggle with his
writing, asked him, "What are you doing?" He said, "Buddhism is really
hateful. I'm trying to prove there is no Buddha." His wife remarked,
"How strange! If you say there is no Buddha, why bother to refute the
Buddha? It is as if you are throwing punches into empty space." This
comment turned his mind around. He reflected: There may be something to
Buddhism after all. So he started studying Buddhism and became a
well-known, accomplished lay practitioner of Ch'an. In fact, Chang
Shang-Yin and Ch'an master Ta-Hui Tsung-Kao  had the same master,
Thus if you try to destroy something, you are still bound up by it. For
instance, suppose you try to clear a blocked pipe by pushing another
object into it. Whatever was originally in the pipe is pushed out, but
the new object is now blocking the pipe. When you try to use existence
to get rid of existence, you will always end up with existence.
When you throw something away, it is gone. But does it cease to exist?
In local terms, yes. In the broader picture, however, that is not the
case. On this earth, no matter how hard you try to throw anything away,
it will still stay somewhere on the earth.
There is a Chinese novel called Monkey. The hero is a "supermonkey" who
is so powerful that he can travel a distance of 180,000 miles in one
somersault. In the story, he was journeying to the Western Paradise of
Amitabha Buddha. On the way, he came upon five tall mountain peaks. He
figured that it would take one leap to get to the other side. First he
took a rest, urinating at that spot. Then he somersaulted over the
mountains. After he landed, he noticed a funny smell. He thought, "Some
shameless monkey must have taken a leak here." Actually, he had never
gotten to the other side of the mountains. He had just somersaulted
back to the original spot. The five mountains in the story symbolize
the five skandhas within which sentient beings are trapped. All of
your actions will boomerang back to you and you will have to take the
consequences. If you throw anything away, it will be you who has to
clean it up. You may think that you can avoid responsibility by passing
it on to another person. In the short term, it may work. But
ultimately, you have to deal with it yourself, and in addition, you
have caused trouble to others.
Therefore you should not try to get rid of your vexations. Rather, you
should be willing to accept them. Once someone said, "Shih-fu, my
karmic obstructions are too great. Please recite mantras to remove them
from me." I replied, "And what will happen to these karmic obstructions
when I remove them from you? Should they become Shih-fu's?" If you have
difficulties you should not consider them problems. If you are obsessed
with these difficulties and try to eliminate them, you are only getting
yourself into greater trouble. Those who have just begun to practice
experience many problems with their bodies and minds. They are
constantly saying, "I have to overcome all these problems." But in
trying to eliminate their problems, they struggle. This is what is
meant by "Banish existence and you fall into existence."
The second line, "Follow emptiness and you turn your back on it,"
refers to practitioners who have experienced certain breakthroughs, and
are approaching the state of emptiness. They may think, "I have
eliminated all vexations. I no longer have any ignorance or
attachment." But staying at this level would be considered "outer path"
practice. The best these practitioners can do is reach the emptiness
samadhi, the highest level of the formless realm.
I have known many people who were extremely diligent and took their
practice very seriously in the beginning, but gave up too soon. It is
just as if when one side senses it is losing the battle, suddenly all
resistance is gone and they are defeated very quickly. As long as
everything is going well, they continue normally; but as soon as
something goes wrong, everything simply collapses. So it is with
certain practitioners who have been working hard and then suddenly stop
completely. They feel that practice is basically useless. They think it
is a great deception, because they have put a lot of energy into
overcoming their problems, and have not eliminated them at all. In
fact, their efforts have only increased their mental vexations, and
have created physical ones as well.
Because of this, many people consider serious or energetic practice
demonic. They think it is not normal to devote oneself so completely to
practice. Such criticism is usually unjustified. However, it is true
that a practitioner who does not know what he is doing may get into
deep trouble, especially without proper guidance. He may not be in a
demonic state, but very likely his practice cannot last long. It is
good to have a diligent and objective attitude towards practice. But to
be attached to the idea of overcoming your problems will only lead to
* * *
 kung-an: (Japanese: koan). Literally, a "public case," a Ch'an
method of meditation in which the practitioner energetically and
single-mindedly pursues the answer to an enigmatic question posed
by the master, or ponders the meaning of a famous recorded
encounter between a master and disciple of the past.
 Ta-Hui Tsung-Kao (1089-1163), known as the greatest advocate of
kung-an practice, is often contrasted with his contemporary,
Hung-Chih Cheng-Chueh, the greatest teacher of the silent
illumination method. More disciples were enlightened under Ta-Hui
than any other Ch'an master, and he is also noted for spreading the
teachings of Ch'an among the laity. A compilation of his writings
and talks is available in English under the title Swampland
 the five skandhas: the five categories, or "heaps," of existence --
form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness.
* * * * * * * *
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank