Awareness of Vexations
Object is object because of the subject;
Subject is subject because of the object.
Know that the two
Are originally one emptiness.
In one emptiness the two are the same,
Containing all phenomena.
These lines describe a non-discriminating mind in which,
nevertheless, there is perfectly clear discrimination.
In the course of practice, the more negative things you discover about
yourself, the clearer you will be as to the road you should walk. After
leaving mainland China, I was conscripted into the Nationalist army in
Taiwan. At that time, everything was in a state of confusion and the
troops were crowded together in a warehouse. In this warehouse there
were no windows or lights, and at night people couldn't see their way
to the toilet so many just relieved themselves where they were. Others
who decided to feel their way outside ended up stepping on the mess in
the dark. However, at daybreak one could see the shit very clearly and
avoid it. It was a mistake to imagine that just because you couldn't
see it, there was no shit on the floor.
Those who have never taken up the practice are like the people in that
dark room. No matter where they walk, they step into shit. Coming to
retreat is like putting a light into the room. Maybe the light will
only stay on for a minute, but at least you can see some of the problem
areas. Gradually, you will be able to tell exactly where the shit is
and where it isn't. The more you know, the less likely you will step in
it. But to get angry when you discover problems would just be adding
trouble to trouble. It would be as if, after realizing you stepped on
some shit, you did it again just to punish yourself. Retreats are like
road repair. When there is a problem underneath the road, the workers
break up the pavement in order to fix the cables, pipes, or whatever is
faulty. After they finish the work, they pave over it again and
everything is just as it was before. Likewise, in order to make our own
repairs, we have to break up the road and mess things up temporarily.
Thus discovering one's problems in the course of practice is very
useful, but do these problems actually exist?
Yes, the miseries of the retreat are quite real. You are truly tired
and uncomfortable. You are definitely in this place and not some other.
Yet you must look at non-existence from the point of view of existence.
When you can't concentrate on the method, when you haven't gotten
enough sleep, and when your legs are painful, it is all really
happening. But originally your legs were not painful. It was only after
you started sitting that they became painful. If you stretch out your
legs they will no longer be painful. Thus when you experience pain you
should keep in mind that it doesn't have a true existence. If it did,
it would be there even when you were not meditating.
Though some of you have trouble concentrating, it cannot be that during
the entire retreat there has not been at least once when you could
concentrate to some extent. If you can use your method even for a very
short time, that already lets you know that your scattered mind does
not have true existence. Do not be fearful when your mind is scattered;
just recognize that it is temporary. But when you succeed in
concentrating, is that mind real? Of course not. If the mind were truly
concentrated, it could not become scattered again. Now if both the
scattered mind and the concentrated mind are unreal, that means there
is originally no mind. If this is so, it should be very easy to
progress in the practice. To be aware that mind does not exist will
strengthen your faith, even though you have not experienced no mind. So
long as you have faith in the non-existence of mind you can keep on
practicing without any anxiety or disappointment.
A small setback does not mean that you have failed; it is just that the
time has not yet arrived. If you climb half-way up a mountain, you
cannot say that you have failed. You just need to continue climbing
until you reach the summit. One time I was in a car with a few people,
driving up a mountain. After two hours, I asked the driver, "What's
going on? We don't seem to be getting anywhere on this mountain." He
said, "Actually, we have reached the top. It was a very flat, gradual
Now let us look at existence from the point of view of emptiness. For
example, a monk cannot say that women do not exist just because he does
not have relationships with them. There is a story I often tell from
the kung-ans. A monk who was practicing Ch'an was being supported by an
old woman, who provided him with a hut and daily offerings of food. One
day she decided to test his practice. She told her beautiful daughter
to bring the monk his food, and then embrace him. The next day, the old
woman asked the monk, "How did you find my daughter?" He replied, "Like
dry wood leaning against a cold rock." With that, she grabbed a broom
and shooed him away, saying, "All this time I thought you were a man of
Although this monk had reached a deep level of practice, he had not yet
realized Ch'an. Being attached to emptiness, he denied existence.
During a retreat, you can enter a state where you do not taste your
food or know where you are walking. You do not recognize the person you
are looking at. In this condition, your body follows the normal
routine, but your mind is totally absorbed in the method. You have
entered the great doubt sensation.
Prior to this, when your mind is still scattered, I tell you to
concentrate carefully on whatever you are doing, and to maintain a
total awareness of every action. When you are completely focused, you
may slip into the next stage, where you lose awareness of your body,
even as it continues to function smoothly and automatically. The third
level is a return to total awareness. However, unlike the first level,
there are no scattered thoughts whatsoever. When you are eating, you
are just eating. When you are sleeping, you are just sleeping. No more,
Originally you had to work very hard on your method, but when you get
to the second level, everything flows naturally. The practice just
keeps moving like a ball rolling down a hill. At that time, even though
you are practicing very well, you would not think of yourself as
practicing. This is called the true existence of emptiness. That is to
say, you feel that nothing exists, but your mind is really there,
working on the method. The experience of one's method and body
disappearing can be due to two factors. On the one hand, one can slip
into a kind of nebulous state out of pure laziness. On the other hand,
a person using the method very well is just like someone so accustomed
to riding a horse that they forget the horse beneath them. This is a
A person who has arrived at enlightened mind is looking at existence
from the standpoint of emptiness. Once a Ch'an master was asked by his
disciple, "If many calamities were to appear before you at once, what
would you do?" The master answered, "Red is not white and green is not
yellow. Whatever it is, that's what it is." But isn't seeing whatever a
thing is how everybody sees things all the time?
During the Sung Dynasty, China was invaded by the Mongols. When a band
of warriors descended on a certain town, everyone fled, including the
soldiers and the monks in the temples. When the Mongols entered the
gates, they found that one Ch'an master had remained. Thinking that he
stayed behind as part of a plot, they brought him before their general.
When asked why he did not flee, he said, "Everybody has to die
sometime. I could die here. I could die there. Why should I flee?" The
general asked, "You are not afraid of death?" The monk replied, "I
would not say that I am hoping to die. But if my time has come, then
that's that." The general said, "I'm going to kill you." The monk
replied, "All right. But I want to tell you something first. Don't
think that you are killing me. Is your sword capable of killing wind or
water? If you slice into water, you just separate it for an instant and
then it comes together again. If you cut off my head, you just separate
it from my body, but your killing me is your own business. It has
nothing to do with me, because I neither desire nor fear death." That
is to say, after enlightenment everything exists, but not the self.
We have talked of emptiness from the point of view of existence and
existence from the point of view of emptiness. Both existence and
emptiness are existing and non-existing. Do you understand? Don't worry
if you don't. If you truly grasp the meaning, you are already
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