Giving Up Expectations
Do not abide in dualistic views;
Take care not to seek after them.
As soon as there is right and wrong
The mind is scattered and lost.
Dualistic views refer to the discriminating mind. They include any
doubts about the correctness of your method, or whether your decision
to attend this retreat was a right or a wrong one. If you lack faith,
you will doubt the method you are using. On the other hand, if your
confidence is too strong, then you will be expecting something out of
the practice. Neither extreme is beneficial.
To come to a retreat merely out of curiosity shows a lack of faith in
yourself and in the practice; it would be impossible for you to get
good results. From the very beginning you are denying yourself the
possibility of doing well on retreat. At the same time, you may harbor
certain resentments: you may get annoyed at the people around you, or
even at your own body when your legs cause you pain. You may be
critical of the food, or the style of the retreat.
Having too much faith in yourself is likewise a problem. Someone who
was extremely confident came to one retreat. He was highly intelligent,
and a top student. He thought: "If a person like me cannot get
enlightened, then who can?" After one day of practice, his back ached,
his legs hurt, and he began to question if this was the way to get
enlightened. One evening in the Ch'an hall, he heard me say, "If you
can do it, sit through the night." He concluded that in order to get
enlightened, he should forgo sleep. By midnight his eyes were heavy,
but he forced himself to continue sitting. After three days of this, he
was totally exhausted and he said to me, "Now I have some idea of this
enlightenment you are talking about. Basically you just have to go
Practice is like cooking rice. If you use a gentle flame the rice will
be perfect and easy to digest, whereas with a high flame, it will burn
before it is done. One should practice with a very relaxed attitude. If
you do not abide in duality, neither having too much nor too little
confidence, then what should you do? You have not come here to get
enlightened, but to practice. It is not important whether you have a
good grasp of the matter and can enter the practice deeply or not. Just
do not have any doubts about the method or whether you have the "right
stuff" to practice. Do not underestimate yourself. If others can
practice, then at least you can try.
Once a student who did well on her first retreat came a second time. At
first everything went fine, but then a problem arose. While sitting it
occurred to her that counting the breath was really boring. If she
spent her time reciting the name of the Buddha, she thought, then at
least she would be accumulating merit. But what was the use of counting
from one to ten? Towards evening she said to me, "Shih-fu, I don't want
to stay on this retreat.
One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. Even a kid in
kindergarten can do that. Why should I waste my time here?" When your
mind strays from the method, problems will appear. In fact, the method
is inherently meaningless. It is irrelevant to discuss whether it
brings merit or not. The purpose of a method is to train your mind. You
can raise the same objection about prostrating to the Buddha, or
morning and evening chanting. Why should practice take these forms?
People often wonder: If Ch'an is a method of sudden enlightenment which
does not depend on meditation, then why do we practice meditation and
go on seven-day retreats? If someone objects that these things are
unrelated to Ch'an, I say that if you want to study Ch'an I will
instruct you in exactly these methods. In order to practice, you must
believe in your teacher and in his methods. If you search for methods
on your own, you may not find anything and eventually give up
practicing. Or you may find something weird and end up in a demonic
state, with mental and physical problems.
Someone once said to me, "I only believe in ancient Ch'an." I asked,
"What do you mean by `ancient Ch'an'?" He replied, "Whereas the
so-called Ch'an masters of today teach people to meditate, ancient
Ch'an does not require any practice. My enlightenment experience came
from the ancient, direct method, without any practice. I have been to
many masters looking for one who would confirm my experience.
Unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful so far." He was not actually
interested in studying with a master, but in obtaining the credentials
to spread the Dharma on his own. After a brief conversation, I realized
that this person was not quite straight in his mind, and said to him,
"I am not enlightened myself, so how can I tell whether you are
enlightened or not?" He said, "Strange. If you say you are not
enlightened, then how can you teach Ch'an?" I said, "I may not be
enlightened myself, but I can teach others to get enlightened. For
example, it is not necessary for a cardiologist to have heart problems
to treat others successfully." He said, "In that case, am I capable of
teaching Ch'an to others?" I replied, "Since I don't know anything
about you I can't answer that question."
Meditation should just be a part of life. If you have other
motivations, it will lead to problems. When you approach the practice
with any expectations, you will not be able to sit well. Not only
should you not have any expectations of getting enlightened or becoming
a Ch'an master, but you should not even expect to be free from your
pain. Do not hope that your legs or back will stop hurting. Do not try
to overcome the pain as if you had to burst through a barrier. Simply
accept the pain. You may not feel very happy about it, but at least do
not resent it. If you cannot accept it, then ignore it and turn your
mind to the method. When the pain becomes too great to ignore, place
your attention on the pain itself. Disassociate yourself from the part
of your body that is painful. Let it ache away. If you can take this
attitude, eventually it will go away. When you really get into the
practice, all bodily sensation will disappear.
The important thing is not to have any resentment against your
suffering, or any expectations of happiness. As soon as ideas such as
suffering versus happiness arise, your mind will already be straying
from the method, caught up in duality.
You are all aware that this Center is not an ideal environment for
practice. The neighbors hammer against the walls. Outside there is a
continual stream of traffic and airplanes passing overhead. Yet even in
the midst of this noisy and crowded world we are given a small area to
practice. So we should not let our minds be distracted by what is going
on outside or by what comes in contact with our senses.
On retreat you are living with many people which may create an
uncomfortable environment. You don't feel free or find it as convenient
as at home. On the other hand, the presence of others will encourage,
almost force you to practice. Even if you are not practicing
energetically, at least you will make an effort to appear to be
practicing. When people sit together, they can be of great benefit to
each other. Whether you practice well or not, treasure this rare
opportunity and do your best.
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