The practice of the Dharma of Ch'an can be said to be either very easy or to be very difficult. To say that it is easy means that to abandon everything is easy. To say that it is diffcult means that to abandon everything is diffcult. Knowing this, and since Dharma is Mind and Mind is Buddha, Ch'an Master Ta-Chu Hui-Hai (Eighth Century A.D.) answered many questions put to him by Dharma masters of different sects. All his answers, according to their questions, directly pointed out that the Wonderful Dharma is Mind. Thus, he used words to silence all words.
From ancient times to the present, many people have practiced the Dharma of the Supreme Vehicle. And many of them have understood their own Mind, have seen their own Nature and have attained the Great Enlightenment. Even during this present Dharma-ending age, there are still some people of the highest potential, with sharp wisdom, who concentrate on the practice of the Dharma of Ch'an; and so some people, even in our time, arrive at the highest stage. However, there are so many other people who cannot pass through the doorway of the Dharma. Some Ch'an masters teach their students to investigate "Hua-T'ou" in a Ch'an T'ang (Ch'an Hall), but they do not understand the meaning of Hua-T'ou, nor do they know how to observe their own Mind; thus, these students only read about Hua-T'ou or talk about Hua-T'ou, never really experiencing it. If one investigates in this manner, one will never, until the year of the donkey, attain Enlightenment. The meaning of Hua-T'ou precedes words and thinking and speaking. Prior to the arising of a single thought is Hua-T'ou. After the arising of a single thought is "Hua-Wei" (lit., a word-tail). What, then, exists before the rising up of a single thought? It is just "without thought". This "without thought" is one's Original Face before birth. If one practices in this manner and with this awareness, analyzing everything diligently, then he is travelling the authentically correct path of Ch'an.
In our time, many people think they are investigating Ch'an deeply, but actually they are only "dabbling" in it, since they do not want and make no effort to understand the principles of the Dharma, do not want to repent their karma, do not want to rid themselves of bad habits, and do not want and make no effort to abandon all things. On the contrary, they seek only instant enlightenment and have no foundation or preparation. This is like climbing a tree to catch fish or trying to enter a castle in the sky. It is just impossible to succeed! We are worldly people in a poor land; and even though we have a few good roots and cultivate a few blessings in the Buddhadharma, nevertheless our karma and defilements are still deep and heavy. Even though our bodies and minds are encrusted with and burdened by ignorance, karma and defilements, we, nevertheless, wish for quick, speedy enlightenment. This is absolutely the most erroneous kind of thinking! It is just like a person who carries a very heavy burden, but who tries to walk fast to get ahead of others -- it's really impossible! One must construct a high building from the ground up!
All sentient beings in this Dharma-ending age have shallow roots and poor potential; therefore, we must practice going from shallow to deep and from gradual to sudden in our quest for Enlightenment. In actual fact, our minds and outward circumstances are originally irrelevant, but people grasp at and cling to outside things, disturbing their minds, which then become the source of defilement. This kind of trouble is a heavy load for everybody, so we must abandon all of it; otherwise we can never attain Enlightenment. The Ancient Virtuous One said: "If you hold not one single thought about anything whatsoever, it matters not what surrounds you. An iron ox never fears the lion's roar, nor does a wooden man enjoy looking at birds and flowers." Just keep this in mind!
Because of these obstacles to Enlightenment, one who practices Ch'an must put a stop to all kinds of conditions and eliminate all sorts of things -- good and evil, right and wrong, self and others, mundane and supramundane. He must abandon both the body and the mind, thinking of nothing whatsoever, letting his mind go free. If one is not bound by seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing and if one is not deluded by circumstances, then, and only then, can he truly practice Ch'an.
The Ch'an practicer should understand that past things are already past. If you do not think about it, then any thought of the past vanishes; thus, there are neither any past things nor any past mind. Furthermore, future things have not yet arrived; so if you do not wish for or seek anything, then any thought of the future vanishes; thus, there are neither any future things nor any future mind. Finally, present things are already present, so if you are just aware without grasping at or dwelling on anything and never let a thought of love or hate arise, then the thought of the present vanishes; thus, there are neither any present things nor any present mind. If you can understand the mind without being fixed anywhere or on anything, if you can just generate pure thought, neither grasping at anything nor dwelling anywhere -- that is seeing one's own Original Mind; that is seeing one's own Original Nature.
When you practice Ch'an, sit in the lotus position, close your eyes, keep your body erect and allow your mind to become clear and still. Abandon any thoughts of good or evil. When thoughts do arise, just observe each thought carefully and become aware whence it arises. Then you can become aware of false thought as it suddenly arises and suddenly dies away, as it comes and goes, never stopping for one instant. However, you, the practicer, should have patience and just be observant; then you will gain insight into the fact that such false thought has no self-nature and is originally void. You should have no impulse to follow false thought anywhere nor hold any idea about getting rid of it. Then, gradually, false thought becomes illuminated by your own mind and is suddenly stilled. Also, even if more false thought continues to arise, you should, nevertheless, still use this method: just perceive whence it arises, and do not follow it or try to get rid of it. In time, as the observer becomes very skillful, false thought gradually falls away until, without a single thought arising, there remains only still, clear voidness. While walking, standing, sitting and lying down, always practice in this manner; then you can experience "Ch'an Ting" and easily attain Enlightenment. When you let go of the dualistic idea of subject and object, then "the sound of discussion ceases and the role of thought is ended." Then, and only then, "the mouth desires to speak, but without words; the mind desires conditions, but without thought." It is just like one who drinks water; he alone knows whether it is hot or cold. It cannot be expressed in words or speech. Such is Sudden Enlightenment! All practicers of Ch'an should persevere and make a determined effort to investigate!
Dharma Master Lok To
Young Mens Buddhist Association of America
Bronx, New York
May 15, 1994
Note: To help the reader, a glossary of Sanskrit and Chinese terms has been included at the end of the text.