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Grand Master Xu (Hsu) Yun Chapter 3 - Gaining Enlightenment

What shall we do when an elderly nun or priest begins to slumber in the Meditation Hall? Should we strike him with a stick? Are we confusing laziness with sleepiness? Perhaps the sleepy person has been up most of the night tending to the sick. Should we punish him if, in his exhaustion, he begins to drift into sleep? No. We should offer him some strong tea. If he wants to perk up, he drinks the tea. But if he takes a little catnap we should let him rest. Perhaps a person's noisy breathing or restlessness is actually a symptom of illness. Should we punish the sick person and add to his discomfort? No. This is not the Chan way.

What should we do once, of course, we are sure that his noisiness has not arisen from fatigue or illness? We should use the sound of his breathing or his movements as we would use the sound of an auto's horn or a child's shout. We should just register the noise without thinking about it at all. We should not let our ego get involved in the noise. Just let it pass through our minds unhindered, like a guest at an inn. A guest enters and departs. We don't rummage through the guest's belongings. We don't detain it with gossip or idle chatter.

You know, the Buddha once asked Manjushri to choose between the different methods of attaining enlightenment. "Which was the best?" he asked. Manjushri easily chose Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva's method of using the faculty of hearing as the best.

Always remember that when meditating on sound it is essential to remove the ego from the listening process and to let the non-judgmental Buddha Self record the sounds that enter our ears. In whatever place we do this, we make that place a Bodhimandala, a sacred place in which enlightenment may be obtained.

We do not need to be in a mediation hall to practice this technique. Every day, in all of our ordinary activities, wherever we happen to be, we can practice it. We shouldn't try to limit our practice of Chan to those times in which we are in a Chan Meditation Hall. In fact, the function of a meditation hall is really only to provide a place of minimal distraction for those people who have difficulty in keeping their attention focussed on what they are doing.

Sometimes people like to go to meditation halls because they need to be forced to meditate. They won't practice at home alone. Why should a person have to be forced to have a beautiful experience? How foolish this is!

Sometimes people go to meditation halls because they want to meet friends there. This is a misuse of Chan. It is converting Chan from a Path to Enlightenment into just another dead-end, Samsaric trail; and isn't that a pity?

3. Meditation on a Specific Object

Sometimes a guest is not a transient. Sometimes a guest comes to the inn with the intention of staying awhile. Well, then the host must pay him special attention.

The innkeeper does not investigate the guest-object before he lets him sign the register. This is another way of saying that before sitting down to meditate we do not go and study the object that we will be meditating on.

Suppose we pick as our object a rose. This is a particularly nice object for Chan meditation because, after all, roses are one of China's gifts to world horticulture.

A rose can engage our senses in many ways.

After we have attained calmness and regulated our breathing, we begin by gently closing our eyes and trying to construct a rose in our mind. We do not allow ourselves to digress into personal recollections about roses.

We see a stem - how long it is, how thick, how green, and so on. We see thorns, their shape, their points, their arrangements on the stem. Again, we don't digress into thinking about specific occasions when we were stuck by thorns. Perhaps we gingerly feel the thorn, but only in our mind. Then we come to the various parts of the flower. Depending on our knowledge of botany we assemble the flower... pistil, stamen, petals, and so on. The petals are so soft. What color are they? The pollen is so yellow and powdery. We see the yellow dust on nearby petals. A rose has fragrance. What is the specific scent of our rose? We actually begin to smell it.

This is how to meditate on a rose or on any object. Remember, we never allow ourselves to digress into "Roses I have known..." or instances in the past when roses were given or received. No thinking at all! We just become aware of a rose in all its parts and sensations.

Soon, the rose will glow in our mind. The rose will be of such exquisite beauty that we will know we have seen the Ideal Rose of Heaven, itself. Afterwards, we may squeal with delight. Not many people are permitted to view one of Heaven's treasures.

4. Meditation on the Buddha's Name

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of the West, is very important. Chinese people pronounce Amitabha Amitofo. And so, repeating the name Amitofo is an excellent practice.

First, we keep in our mind an image of the Buddha Amitabha. We also acknowledge our great debt to him. Did not the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara-Guan Yin spring from his brow? Where would Mahayana salvation be without our beloved Guan Yin? So we keep the Buddha in our mind as we repeat his sacred name.

What is the wrong way to repeat the Buddha's name? That's easy to describe. Think of a sick person who is given a bottle of penicillin pills. Think of him sitting there holding the unopened bottle repeating "penicillin, penicillin, penicillin". Will that cure him? No. He must take the penicillin into himself. He must swallow and assimilate it. Merely repeating the name of the medicine will not cure him.