Stilling Words and Thoughts
Excessive talking and thinking
Turn you from harmony with the Way.
Cut off talking and thinking,
And there is nowhere you cannot penetrate.
People like to talk, especially if they feel lonely. Those who tend to
talk non-stop generally have difficulty with practice, and also make it
difficult for others to practice. In our Ch'an retreat, talking is
forbidden, but there are still some people who cannot resist covertly
saying a few words. Others honor the rule and refrain from speaking,
but that does not mean that they are not talking to themselves. All day
long, while they are sitting, they come up with a theme, and then carry
on a conversation with themselves. They ponder over all sorts of
Once a certain writer attended a retreat. During the first day, he came
up with the idea for a novel. While sitting, he sketched out the plot
and the various characters. In the private interview the next day I
asked him how he had been doing, and he said, "I've been making plans
for my new novel." I said to him, "Perhaps you should go home and start
writing your novel now. Otherwise, by the end of the retreat you will
have forgotten all the great ideas you have come up with." If you talk
too much, either with your mouth or in your head, it will be difficult
to make progress. When you find it hard to concentrate, it is very easy
to start talking to yourself. You may not even be able to control it.
There is a deeper interpretation of these four lines. You should not
try to use logic or theory to answer certain questions in your
practice. Some examples are: "Why have I come here for a retreat?"
"What is the purpose of practice?" "What is enlightenment?" If you get
involved in this kind of questioning to justify your practice, then you
simply cannot practice.
After a few days of practice, many people completely stop thinking
about themselves and their outside affairs. However, they keep dwelling
on my words. Whatever I say is meant to guide your practice, but when
you are actually practicing, you should just use the method and not
think about what I may have said. The less you talk to yourself, the
closer you will be to the highest Way.
I once told a student, "You really have to practice very hard to
overcome ignorance." For two sitting periods she was constantly
thinking, "How am I ignorant?" Unable to contain it any longer, she got
up and said to me, "I can eat. I can sleep. So I am really not
ignorant." I said, "Look at a dog, a cat, a mosquito. They can eat and
rest. Are you saying that they don't have any ignorance?" Then she
said, "Tell me what to do so that I won't be ignorant." I said, "Try to
meditate and recite the Buddha's name." She went back to her cushion
and meditated on the Buddha's name. But again, she thought to herself:
"Since I am here meditating and reciting the Buddha's name, I am not
ignorant." After another two periods, she came to me again and said,
"In fact, I don't have any problems. I have been sitting here feeling
very comfortable. It is you who have vexations." Her problem was that
although she took my words seriously, she would turn them over and over
in her mind instead of actually applying the method during practice.
It is only when you no longer have any words or thoughts that the
perfect Way will manifest before you, and "there is nowhere you cannot
penetrate." The meaning is not that you can go anywhere, but that there
is no need to go anywhere, because in the state of no words and no
thoughts you are in the midst of anywhere and every place. How do you
get to the state of no words and no thoughts? By picking up the method
and putting down your attachment to other things.
Return to the root and attain the principle;
Pursue illumination and you lose it.
One moment of reversing the light
Is greater than the previous emptiness.
In practice, you may try to penetrate to the emptiness of phenomena.
But as long as illumination is directed towards outward appearances,
you miss the primal source. It is only by turning the illumination
inward that you return to the source, and get to the meaning of all
things. If you can do this even for a split second, you will transcend
the state of emptiness.
The source, or root, is Buddha nature. How do you return to the root?
By letting go of all words and thoughts and eliminating all grasping
and rejection. You must begin with a method, but at some point you must
let it go. Likewise, you should not hold on to any experiences that may
come up. When the method and experiences are no longer necessary to
you, you will have returned to the source. This source, or Buddha
nature, is the lively manifestation of great liberation and great
wisdom. In great liberation, there is nothing left. But this is not the
same as "stubborn emptiness." Liberation goes beyond both emptiness and
The previous emptiness is transformed;
It was all a product of deluded views.
Practitioners often go from attachment to existence, to attachment to
emptiness. If one thinks that emptiness is true wisdom or liberation,
under this delusion, one cannot attain the ultimate. It is natural for
people to become attached to their experiences. One student who sat
very well last night tried to repeat the experience today by recalling
exactly what he did that resulted in that great sitting. But today the
sitting went very poorly. This was due to his greed for the experience.
No need to seek the real;
Just extinguish your views.
We should not seek Buddha nature or enlightenment; rather, we should
let it come about naturally. Such questions as "When will I get
enlightened?" or "Is there a Buddha nature?" will take you even
farther away from Buddha nature, which is a totality and not something
you can grasp. Buddha nature is in the totality of your own self. Why
should it be necessary to try to attain it? And how can you get hold of
it? Don't practice with the thought of reaching Buddhahood, just put
forth your best efforts.
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