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Dharma Talks/Teachings

On Meditation


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Everything comes from Mind.

A major basis of Buddhism is found in the saying that "Everything comes from mind." This means that everything that you experience is a reflection of mind and that there is nothing that is not a reflection of this mind. We also have another important saying― "Mind is Buddha." That is to say, everything that comes from mind is Buddha.
All of the Buddha's teachings are recorded in the Tri-pitaka of over 80,000 Sutras. But when would you ever get around to reading them all? Maybe you think it's easier just to forget about Buddhism. But all the tens of thousands of Sutras can be summed up in just one simple Chinese character, the One for Mind. All Sutras bound up as one would spell out this "Mind," and if you come to resolve this issue of Mind, you will understand all that there is to understand. Then all the Buddhas of the three periods1) will appear before you.
We also say that everything begins with mind and ends with mind. So in Buddhism the objective is to open Wisdom's Eyes so that we may see our real nature, our true selves. And this is realizing the Buddha nature within ourselves.
I really don't understand what's going on nowadays, but people start Zen meditation, and after only three or four days they claim that they have made the breakthrough to this realization of their own Buddha nature. Perhaps there are many of you here today who feel the same way. But it seems to me that you can say that only because you don't really know what your real Buddha nature is.
From Asvaghosha's The Awakening of Faith we have this:

After you complete all stages of Bodhisattvahood, and even tiny delusions are gone, you'll be able to see your real nature, and this is called supreme Enlightenment.2)

So even after completing the ten levels of sainthood and attaining Universal Enlightenment, the Bodhisattva must go beyond until the last, tiny delusions of basic ignorance found in the Alaya-vijnana3) have been removed. And it is here that one finds the Bhutatathata, the unchanging reality. This 52nd and final level is the discovery of the Buddha nature within oneself, the Supreme Enlightenment. It is also referred to as the "mystical enlightenment" and the "wonderful enlightenment of Mahayana."
From the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, we have:

When you reach the incomparable, Supreme Enlightenment, you will see the nature of Buddha; and when you see the nature of Buddha, you have reached the incomparable, Supreme Enlightenment.

This incomparable awakening, the attainment of Buddhahood, is seeing the nature of Buddha and seeing one's own Buddha nature. It is the same attainment of Buddhahood, the same level of supreme Enlightenment that we found in The Awakening of Faith.
And the Buddha spoke more about this in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:

Even if one completes the ten levels of sainthood, he still has not yet found his real Buddha nature.

So even a Bodhisattva who has completed the levels of sainthood must attain Supreme Enlightenment in order to see his Buddha nature, the Essence of Mind. Supreme Enlightenment and seeing ones Buddha nature are one and the same.
In the Yogacaryabhumi Discourse, there is another highly relevant statement:

A Bodhisattva before the level of Supreme Enlightenment is like someone looking at something in the dark.

That is to say, just as you can't discern something clearly in the dark, a Bodhisattva who has reached the level of universal Enlightenment still has a long way to go to attain Supreme Enlightenment.
Consequently, if one is to realize one's true nature, which in itself is eternal universal law, the Bodhisattva has to go beyond the darkness following both the ten levels of sainthood and the 51st level of Universal Enlightenment, and then into the Great Light.
What did the Ch'an School of China have to say about all of this? Master Yun-men Wen-yen, founder of the Yun-men school of Ch'an in the early 10th century in China, had a favorite saying:

A Bodhisattva af the tenth level of sainthood, the Dharma Cloud stage, may deliver a lecture just as perfectly as a sky full of clouds delivers rain. As far as seeing his Buddha nature, however, his eyes are covered with silk.

No matter how fine silk may be, one cannot see anything perfectly through it.
So from all of these important scriptures we can see that in both the Doctrinal and Ch'an schools, to see one's own Buddha nature was to attain Buddhahood; and in doing so one has to go beyond both the ten levels of sainthood and the level of Universal Enlightenment to reach the Supreme Enlightenment.
Think of the levels of sainthood and Universal Enlightenment as a stairway one has to go up and over the stairway to reach Supreme Enlightenment. Yet we have people today who have not even gone up the first step who claim to have reached the Supreme Enlightenment. They claim to have seen their own Buddha nature and to have attained Buddhahood. But I wonder what they mean by seeing their own Buddha nature. These claims seem to be an illness in today's Buddhism. And the problem is, where did this disease come from?
The problem seems to have begun with the Korean National Master Bojo Jinul.5) According to his Secrets on Cultivating the Mind, in dealing with the question of sudden and gradual enlightenment, he said that realizing one's true nature was a sudden, instant process, and after this one had to continually train oneself to remove deeply ingrained habits. He claimed that this instant process of enlightenment occurred during the first ten levels of Bodhisattva development, or the first stage, that of faith.
Master Bojo had been influenced by the works of master Gui-feng Tsung-mi6) of China, and Master Bojo's arguments included sudden and gradual enlightenment. but Gui-feng never stated that sudden enlightenment occurred during this Bodhisattva stage of faith. The enlightenment that Gui-feng talked about was made possible by coming to understand the theories of the Doctrinal School. But Bojo went a step further, calling sudden enlightenment the finding of one's own Buddha nature, or the equivalent of Supreme Enlightenment, and he said that it occurred during the first stage, that of faith.
So, many people are wondering how this National Master of the Goryeo dynasty could have been wrong. But all the Sutras and Discourses as well as the teachings of the patriarchs of Ch'an are explicit on this point: finding one's own Buddha nature comes after all the stages and levels of Bodhisattva development. So dare we say that master Bojo's Secrets on Cultivating the Mind is more accurate than all of these other sources I have quoted, sources which are the very foundations of Buddhism and Ch'an? It seems to me that Master Bojo's work needs some basic correction.
We're talking now about Bodhisattva development, Supreme Enlightenment, the Great Awakening. But how do we know what it is? What are our standards for determining this state? Buddhism has very clear standards concerning this.

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Clarifying The Stages

In the "Ten stages Discourse" of the Avatamsaka Sutra we find: 

At the seventh level of sainthood, one has no obstructions in dreams, and can study at one's will.

This is referring to meditation. If one falls asleep during meditation and can still concentratedly study in one's dream, then one has reached the seventh level of sainthood. A Bodhisattva who has reached this level can continue to meditate in dreams, although this may not be possible if he falls into a deep sleep. But there is a level where this is possible even in a very deep sleep. We also find from "Ten Stages Discourse":

It may look like the Bodhisattva is sleeping, but really he is not.

No matter how deep his sleep, his mind is still as clear as if he were wide awake. If one can keep this mental state of clarity all the time, through waking and sleeping, then one has reached the level of complete freedom which is beyond the eighth level of sainthood. This level of complete freedom, however, may take either of two forms.
In the first form, if one retains complete clarity even in dreams, yet still has remains of the tiny, troublesome delusions from the Alaya-vijnana, then one is called a freely-moving Bodhisattva above the eighth level of sainthood. In the second form, however, if one has eliminated these tiny delusions completely, one will find ultimate reality, and then one is said to be at the level of Tathagata.
If we look at the stages of meditation in Buddhism, the first is called "maintaining clear movement"; that is to say, no matter what you're doing in daily life, you should be maintaining an even meditation. You have to maintain constantly and evenly without disruption. At this stage, one cannot continue to meditate while sleeping, however, and does something else, like dream.
Being able to continue to meditate in dreams is called "maintaining in the middle of dreams." But maintaining in the middle of dreams is not possible in a deep sleep at this level. Being able to maintain in a deep sleep is referred to as "maintaining fever eye." Just maintaining in a deep sleep is not enough, however; one must go a step further in order to make the breakthrough to realizing one's Buddha nature.
Yet hundreds of people have come to me, people who lose their meditation while sleeping, who lose it during dreams, and even worse, who lose it in their daily activities; and they claim to have seen their true Buddha nature. They claim to have been enlightened, and they ask for my recognition. This is the current disease. People start to meditate in earnest, but a certain something overcomes them completely. All of a sudden they think at this point that they are completely enlightened, and that they are greater than the Buddha and all of our Ch'an predecessors. And once they have this affliction, many of them usually won't listen to anybody. Fortunately, after considerable persuasion, some people will get a hold of themselves and start to meditate again; but many just continue on with this disease.
Once a young monk was taken to a gathering of about 100 male Buddhists. And out of the 100, 90 claimed to have realized their Buddha nature. The monk said, "Well, why don't you go see the Great Monk at Haein-sa just to be sure?"
"What is there to ask anyone, great monk or not?" was the response. Well, if there is no need for great monks or any monks, then you have no need for Buddha, either. We must be careful of this type of thinking.
Quite some time ago, a gentleman of about 70 came to see me. He performed 3,000 prostrations, and then came to my room. I asked him why he came, and he said that he had no intentions of his own to come, but those around him had urged him to do so.
I responded with, "You're 70 years old, and you came to see me only because others insisted you should? You old goat! If you didn't want to come on your own, that's the end of it. What? Because others kept telling you to come?"
"I have meditated for some 40 years, and about 20 years ago I became enlightened. After that I went around visiting various monks, and that was rather useless, so I stopped. But people kept telling me to come and see you, so here I am."
"Well, anyway, I'm glad you came. Having listened to you speak, I can tell that you carry a gem. After all, you meditated for such a short time and all your delusions disappeared, and after just a couple of more hours of meditation this great gem appeared. But let me ask you one thing, and please be honest. If you lie, you've had it. Does that gem appear in your dreams as well?"
As his eyes got bigger, he replied, "No."
"What? Not in your dreams? You have a gem that doesn't even appear in your dreams and you dare to claim that you've meditated?
And then you march around looking for other enlightened ones? Someone like you ought to drop dead. If in a single day ten thousand people came around and beat you to death, they'd never have to pay for it!"
I then hit him with a tea kettle, but he just sat there and took the blows. Then I asked him what he was going to do, and he said that he realized how wrong he had been and that he was going to start all over again. He's still alive, now over 80, and still meditating.
This is the type of disease which is so prevalent: people claim to have a gem but it doesn't even appear in their dreams, and they go around thinking that they're the greatest thing in the world. There are people who can't rid themselves of this, people who think that they're some kind of a walking, talking gem field or diamond mine.
Maybe now you have some idea of what I am talking about when we use the term "realizing Buddha nature." Now the question is, how do we go about making this breakthrough, this awakening?

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Buddhist Methodology

In Buddhism, there are various methodologies for making the breakthrough including types of contemplation, use of mantras, Sutra study, chanting Dharani and so on. But the surest and the fastest way is meditation, and it is the best way.
Since meditation is a way to discover Mind, it is not limited to Buddhists and monks. Even Catholic priests and nuns come to Paengnyon-am, do 3,000 prostrations and receive a koan. but I don't just give a koan to anyone who comes up here-everyone must perform 3,000 prostrations first.
Just a few days ago, three Christians came and did their 3,000 prostrations. I always tell Christians that there is one condition that they must agree to concerning their prostrations. The condition is that when they prostrate, they must make a wish that all those who refute their God and who curse Jesus are the first to go to their heaven. And they think that is really nice. After all, isn't such an attitude a truly religious one? The one thing I can't fathom is how people who claim to be truly religious can go around saying that only followers of their religion will go to a wonderful place after death, and everyone else will go to some place terrible.
The Buddha always said that the greater a person curses and hurts you, the greater you should respect, help and serve that person.
Christians and other non-Buddhists have a great interest in the Buddhist way of cleansing, or training the mind. The largest Catholic convent in Korea is in Waegwan outside of Taegu, and it's run by a German nun. She's been meditating on her koan for more than ten years now, and she comes by every now and then. She says that the more she meditates, the greater the experience becomes.
When she first came to see me, I asked her what Catholics used for basic doctrine in addition to the Bible, and she replied that they studied Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.
I told her that I understood that Aquinas, after all those years of work on the book, gave up on it when it was nearing completion. At first he thought that he had found gold deep in his heart, but when nearing completion he found that instead of gold it was rotting hay. So I told her that rather than relying on Aquinas' work, she should look for what could cause such a change of heart. I told her that meditation on her koan would be a good way to do that.
There are lots of non-Buddhists who receive a koan and meditate. But for us Buddhists, meditation is the essential means of cleansing the mind before really practicing Buddhism.
There is a problem with koans, however. Some people don't know a thing about a koan and yet will go ahead with it in meditation. For these people, actually, there really is no big problem. But some people think they understand a koan immediately. They think that its something anyone can understand easily, and they talk like experts on the subject. These people are the problem.
You never really know what a koan means until the Eye of Wisdom, or Mind's Eye, is opened; that is to say, until you actually become enlightened. People who can't maintain during dreams, who can't maintain during sleep, who really don't know what they're talking about these people walk around talking as if they know it all. As I mentioned, this is a contemporary disease in Buddhism.
It's like looking at the skin and assuming that you know everything about whats under it. But meaning is not to be found in words. Our Ch'an predecessors always referred to this as "dark-call-secret-command." But this "dark call" or code means something quite different from talking. To read the Chinese character for "sky" and to think only of the blue expanse above you would be a complete misunderstanding of the character.
So you must think of all koans as "dark-call-secret-commands." This phrase seems to imply talking, but it has nothing to do with talking at all. The deeper meaning is quite different from "dark call" and you can only know this meaning when you awaken to the stage of maintaining in sleep. There is no way of communicating to you what it means before then. So people talking as though they know everything, as if they were enlightened, is the current disease among meditators.
At Komazawa Soto University in Japan, they took 30 years to complete the Encyclopedia of Zen. In reading the book, I discovered that they have all koans listed and an explanation for each. So if you read the book, you would not have any need to meditate. I have only one thing to say about this, and I say it again and again: this encyclopedia is the worst book ever to come out of Japan. How could anyone ever explain a koan?
This university is run by the Soto Sect, and Tung-shan Liang-chieh,7) founder of the Ts'ao-tung school of Ch'an in China, always said that his teacher never took the Dharma or ethics seriously, and considered it most important not to bias students in any way.
You simply cannot explain a koan. If someone does, both he and the listener wind up at a loss. It's like trying to explain colors to a blind man. He has to be able to see to really understand what you're talking about.
Liang-chieh insisted throughout his life that koans were unexplainable. Yet his descendants in Japan did years of research, compiled a book, and claim they have solved all koans. What they are doing, of course, is committing a form of treason against their founder. So perhaps they should change the name of the sect to "Treason" Sect.
There is also a leading international Buddhist scholar in Japan, Professor Nakamura Hajime. His most famous work is Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples. In this book he explains the koan, "Three pounds of hemp" as an answer to "What is Buddha?"
Professor Nakamura claim is that the answer is supposed to imply that everything in nature is absolute―Buddha is absolute, and three pounds of hemp are absolute. He argues that "three pounds of hemp" is an appropriate response to this question. That's fine for him if he wants to live in his own illusions; but I can't understand why hes trying to ruin the Buddhist tradition through such foolishness.
His master, Yu-ching Po-shou, however, was not that way at all. He readily admitted that he was an outsider as far as Zen was concerned. And that demonstrates the conscience of a true scholar. He claimed not to have been enlightened, and since he was a Doctrinal scholar, he wrote only about the history of Zen. He never spoke about Zen nor did he ever try to evaluate Zen logic. But what are we supposed to do about someone like professor Nakamura who makes all these conclusions about koans? It seems to me that such efforts can only bring about the ruination of Buddhisrn.
Hsueh-tou8 of the Wen-yen school of Ch'an was working on a koan from The Blue Cliff Records and talking with a fellow monk about the koan, "The cypress tree in front of the courtyard." In the middle of a rather heavy conversation, they noticed that a novice who had done an errand for them was standing there laughing. After the other monk had left, Hsueh-tou called the novice over.
"What were you laughing about while we were discussing the koan?" he asked.
"You're still rather blind," said the novice. "You were talking about 'The cypress tree in front of the courtyard,' but you were way off. Please listen to me for a minute..... the white rabbit turned off onto the old road, and a blue-eyed hawk saw this and went after him; but the hunting dog did not know this, and kept running around the tree."
Think of it this way. The cypress tree is the rabbit, and the wise hawk goes after it. The dumb dog, however, keeps running around the tree. He could run around the tree forever, but he would never catch the rabbit. In other words, if you keep focusing on the cypress tree, you'll never catch the meaning of the koan. Perhaps this makes clearer what I said earlier about "dark call" or underlying meaning. So now you should understand why one should not go about making literal interpretations of any koan.
Master Fo-chien Hui-ch'in9) once gave a talk about a koan, a very good one:

A Taoist god appeared above a colorful silk cloud, hiding his face with a red fan. Everyone should try to see his face, and not be bothered with the fan in his hand.

The message is clear, I think. If a god appeared before you, you'd want to see his face, wouldn't you? Would you spend your time doting on the fan? That's how it is with koans. "The cypress tree in front of the courtyard." "Three pounds of hemp," "Does a dog have Buddha nature?―all of these are like the fan in front of the god. And if you keep staring at the fan, you'll never get to see the god. How can you believe someone who stares only at the fan, but claims to have seen the god?
All koans are such "dark calls" or codes for a much greater meaning, a meaning which can never be understood or transmitted through words. Only by maintaining meditation even in deep sleep will you come to understand a koan, and not before. And when the Eye opens, you will see your true Buddha nature, and not before. And then you will understand "The cypress tree in front of the courtyard."

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Traditional Meditation

Three great Ch'an masters were responsible for the growth and proliferation of the Lin-chi school of Ch'an: the 5th Patriarch Fa-yen Wen-yi,10) Yuan-wu K'e-ch'in,11) and Ta-hui Tsung-kao.12)
Ta-hui began meditating early and became enlightened at the age of twenty. He quite mistakenly thought he was the greatest thing on earth― greater than the Buddha, greater than Bodhi-dharma. And he set out to prove it. He went to see the great masters, but as far as he was concerned, they weren't anything special. So he played his role quite well, and began developing a following. At the time, Master Wen-chun13) was head of the Huang-lung branch of Lin-chi, and Ta-hui went to visit him.
Ta-hui began spouting forth like water from a bottle, like water from a waterfall. Wen-chun said to him, "You've really found something great. But is that same gem with you in your sleep?"
"Master, I have complete confidence in everything else. But when I go to sleep, there's nothing there. I don't know why."
"There's nothing there when you sleep, but you go around feeling greater than the Buddha, greater than Bodhi-dharma? That is a disease, and you have to cure it," said Wen-chun.
Filled with this disease, Ta-hui had no choice but to start over again. Following the last words of Wen-chun, he went to see Master Yuan-wu. When he got there he found himself searching for words, and got the feeling that all of his efforts amounted to less than a single strand of a spider web. He had come with his mind made up to bury the master with his wisdom, but now didn't know what to do. "I hadn't realized how huge the universe was and what really great people there were," he thought to himself. He repented for his foolishness and arrogance.
"Master, I didn't know that I had been studying with a disease. Then I listened to what master Wen-chun had to say and continued to study, but to no avail. No matter how hard I tried, I could not keep up my study while sleeping. What should I do?"
"Forget all of your delusions, and just study as hard as you can. After all of the delusions have faded, you'll probably come, for the very first time, close to really studying."
So Ta-hui once again immersed himself in study. And then in the middle of a discourse by Master Yuan-wu, he suddenly became enlightened. According to the records, it was called "Ch'an Enlightenment," meaning that he was enlightened in a mysterious way. And it was enlightenment which he maintained whether awake or asleep and which permeated even his deepest dreams for the first time since he had begun.
So he went to see master Yuan-wu, but only to be rebuked again. Before he could say a thing, master Yuan-wu just kept on repeating "No, no." He then tossed him a koan, "The same as 'is' and 'isn't' relying on a sesame plant". Ta-hui thought he had a perfect answer for this one, but once again went down in defeat.
"No, no, you idiot. That's not what I'm thinking about. Go back and study harder" replied the master.
So Ta-hui went back and poured his everything into study. And finally he made the total breakthrough. But it was because of his confrontation with master Yuan-wu that he continued to study to the point where it consumed even his sleep. Master Yuan-wu had said, in regard to his inability to maintain during deep sleep, "How pathetic. You died during your sleep, but never came back to life."
When you have rid yourself of all delusions and can maintain even during your sleep, you come to a point when you die. But from there you have to come back to life. And how do you do that? Only by continuing to work with your koan.
There is an old saying, "Not maintaining in your sleep is a great disease." Still, just maintaining during your sleep is not enough to become aware of your Buddha nature because you still have not solved your koan. It is from that point that you must come alive again, and then become enlightened while maintaining your koan at this point, the Eye opens.
I've talked a bit about the Chinese Ch'an masters, so let me now turn a bit to a great Korean master.
One of the great Korean Zen masters was Taego,14) the First patriarch of the Korean lineage of Lin-chi. It was after about 20 years of study, at the age of 40, that he reached the point of maintaining while both awake and asleep, and soon thereafter he made the final breakthrough.
After this enlightenment, however, he was not pleased with what he saw among the Sangha. There was no one to officially recognize him, and no one who knew what he had experienced. So he went to China where he became involved with the Lin-chi school, and he brought it back with him to Korea. He was properly enlightened, and he taught properly. Everything he taught can be summed up in this one sentence of his:

Even when you enter the stage of maintaining while awake and asleep, the most important thing is not to release your koan from your heart.

When you reach the stage of constantly maintaining even in a deep sleep, you have made it to the eighth level of sainthood; but you still have not solved your koan.
So as I said before, these people who cannot even maintain through dreams and who walk around saying that they have solved their koan are suffering from a serious illness.
But if you bring some super medicine to a dying person, telling him that he will live if he takes it, and he refuses to take it and dies, what can you do? If you bring a platter full of delicacies to a starving person and he refuses to eat and dies, not eyen the Buddha can save him. Ananda served the Buddha for 30-odd years, but if he didn't do his own studying, what good was it?
To summarize, all the contents of the Tri-pitaka are contained in the Chinese character for mind. It's as simple as that. If you open the Eye, you will understand everything, and you will see all the Buddhas of the past, present and future. To open the Eye is to see your true self, to realize your Buddha nature. And the quickest way to do this is through study with the koan.
The koan is something that you don't understand even at the stage of maintaining during all waking and sleeping hours. Even if you think you have found it but cannot maintain during dreams and during deep sleep, then you haven't solved your koan. You haven't realized your Buddha nature, and you haven't opened the Eye.
So we take for a standard whether or not you maintain during deep sleep. And during this maintaining, you must hold steadfast to your koan until you die and come alive again. I hope many of you succeed in this quest. Let's all do our very best to open the Eye and to reach the wisdom of Buddhahood.

* Notes
1. Past, present and future.
2. One first experiences 51 levels of Bodhisattva development before Buddhahood: the stage of faith (10 levels), the stage of wisdom (10 levels), the stage of action (10 levels), the stage of transferring merit (10 levels) , the stage of sainthood (10 levels) , and the one level of universal Enlightenment. This is followed by the 52nd and final level, that of Supreme Enlightenment, or Buddhahood.
3. The storehouse, or store-consciousness.
4. T'ang dynasty, ?-949.
5. The title given to Junul (Goryeo dynasty, 1150-1210) posthumously.
6. T'ang dynasty, 780-841.
7. T'ang dynasty, 807-869.
8. 980-1050.
9. 1060-1l17.
10. T'ang dynasty, 885-958.
11. 1063-1135.
12. Sung dynasty, 1088-1163.
13. 1061-1l15.
14. Goryeo dynasty, 1301-1382

Annual Address, Full moon of the 6th Lunar Month, 1981, Haein-sa from Songchol-net(www.songchol.net)

About the Author

Toeong Seongcheol (1912~1993)

Master Seongcheol, standing as one of the most influential Seon Masters in the history of modern Korean Buddhism, through his exhaustive Seon spirit and his easily understood dharma lectures, led the common people to a deeper, broader understanding of Seon Buddhism.