Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:
The Sutra of the Final Teachings Left by the Buddha says, “By fixing the mind on one place, you can accomplish all tasks.” In cultivation, we must be able to master ourselves and pull together this very mind as one, fixing it on a single point—in this way, we will gain strength.
We must tune ourselves to cultivate properly in both action and stillness. Getting an education is also like this. There are two facets to the process of studying and learning: one is “stillness”, the other is “action”. Attending a classroom lecture is to be in stillness; exercising in a sports field is to be in action. These states of action and stillness must be balanced and harmonized. When action is required, we must be able to move properly; when stillness is needed, we must be able to settle down.
When circumstances require action, we should put our classroom studies completely aside and charge forward with full effort, like a thousand galloping horses, or a fierce tiger descending the mountainside. We must have this kind of vigor, but also, wherever we are, that is where the mind is. Don’t be impudent or foolhardy; otherwise, we will lack presence of mind. If the mind has wandering thoughts, our every move may easily be a blunder.
On the other hand, we must be able to settle down when listening to classroom lectures. The ancients say, “With ears deaf to things beyond the window, single-mindedly study the books of sages.” The eyes, ears, hands, and mind must all be present and focused on our studies. If we cannot settle down, sitting there looking around, listening half-heartedly, with the mind running amok like a monkey or unbridled horse, even if the instructor lectures in real earnest, the words will go right by us. We will have no way to learn effectively.
Cultivation is the same: we must tune ourselves for both action and stillness. There are reciting sutras, prostrating in repentance, and meditation. When practicing meditation, there is also walking and running meditation. We must tune ourselves to cultivate properly in both action and stillness—this means moving when we should move, and settling down when we should settle down.
Guard the mind like a city, perfect oneself in perfect sincerity
The sutra says, “By fixing the mind on one place, you can accomplish all tasks.” This is a function of our mind-consciousness. Always safeguard the six senses, do not let them be defiled by the six sense objects and do not be carried away by external conditions. If say, the eyes attach to form and the ears to sound…have contrition and repent right away. This is the most straightforward, most solid way to cultivate. If we can learn and master this way—we will surely achieve liberation in this very lifetime.
A shramana who had been practicing meditation for twelve years had yet to achieve the Way. He was ashamed by his lack of progress and asked the Buddha, “World Honored One! I have cultivated here for almost twelve years, but have yet to realize the Way and attain its fruits. My practice is not effective. Why is this so?” The Buddha asked him, “Just now, did you see that turtle in the shade by the riverbank? When an otter tried to eat it, how did the turtle protect itself?” The shramana said, “World Honored One, I did. To protect itself, the turtle drew its head, tail, and legs into its shell.”
The Buddha told the shramana, “Cultivators should know how to protect themselves, just like this turtle. The numberless kalpas of life and death we spend in samsara are all because our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind act improperly in response to conditions. When the eyes see attractive forms, we give rise to craving and delusive thoughts. When the ears hear agreeable sounds or praise, we feel delighted; but if they hear others malign us, we give rise to afflictions instead. The six senses are constantly attaching to conditions and misconstruing reality, taking external phenomena to be real and substantial. This is why we cannot realize the Way.”
Then, the Buddha spoke a gatha: “Draw in the six senses like a turtle, guard the mind like a city. Use wisdom to fight the maras, with victory comes freedom from afflictions.” In our cultivation, we should be like the turtle, “drawing in the six senses” to safeguard the wisdom life of our Dharma body. The eyes must look inward, and the ears must listen inward; “listen” and “look” inward to our intrinsic awareness.
The ancients said, “Cork the mouth like a bottle, guard the mind like a city.” It is easy for us to speak wrongly with the tongue and for the consciousness to raise distorted views. Thus, we must “guard the mind like a city,” like a garrison and its commander defending the city gate and be alert yet still.
Learning and cultivating the Way is to be like the turtle spotting an otter and quickly retracting its head and limbs. Draw the six senses to look inward and abide internally; do not look towards external phenomena. If the senses happen to look outward, then do not raise conceptualizations or craving. Like the virtuous ancients said, “Perceive sense objects without giving rise to craving; realize the truth without conceptualizing it. When no conceptualization arises with respect to the truth, therein lies the highest blessing.” If we understand this teaching, cultivation will be like moving a thousand pounds with a few ounces of leverage. If we do not understand, do not know where the Way is and the buddha is, then we will easily set about a longer route or head the wrong direction.
The Confucians teach “sincerity.” With the mind in perfect sincerity, we can accomplish all things, or to put it metaphorically, “touch stones into gold.” Here, with the mind in perfect sincerity, all dharmas return to this very mind; “perfect sincerity” is true reality.
It is said, “Nothing works without sincerity.” If the mind has no sincerity, if it lacks focus and peace, then no matter what we do, we will not succeed. Therefore, the sutra says, “By fixing the mind on one place, you can accomplish all tasks.” In cultivation, we must be able to master ourselves and pull together this very mind as one, fixing it on a single point—in this way, we will gain strength.
What is to be our own master? It is when this very mind is not driven by external conditions, yet can still clearly differentiate right and wrong, wholesome and unwholesome, proper and improper—this is to be our own master. Knowing that something is a wholesome dharma, we act to bring it forth; knowing that something is an unwholesome dharma, we never perform it—this is to be our own master. Sitting in meditation, we have no wandering thoughts or drowsiness—this is to be our own master. Thus, the Chan patriarchs said, “Be in command at every place; accord with the truth in every moment.”
Wherever we are, that is where the mind is. In terms of meditation, that means not raising wandering thoughts or falling into drowsiness, there is only this very mind always present. In terms of walking, the mind is present in the walking. In terms of performing a task, the mind is there performing the task. In terms of reciting buddhas’ names, the mind is present with the reciting. In terms of reciting a sutra, the mind is there reciting the sutra. But as soon as we are done doing, nothing remains in the mind; as soon as we are done speaking, nothing remains in the mind—after reciting a sutra, we put it down as if we had never recited it. The mind is always clear and lucid—in this way, we will be able to realize the state of non-arising and achieve bodhi. This is the sincerest [way of life].
With non-duality of samadhi and prajna, actualize the wishes of the heart.
I hope that everyone will apply this teaching. The past is already gone, so start from this very minute, this very second. Keep the mind free of scatteredness and distorted views, and always be clear, lucid, unmoving in suchness, and ever-present with the knowing of awareness—stillness and awareness must be one. “Stillness” is to be unmoving; “awareness” is to be clear and lucid; “stillness” is shamatha (calm abiding); “awareness” is vipashyana (insight contemplation). Succeeding in these two practices is to simultaneously abide in samadhi and prajna where they are non-dual.
This matter is entirely up to ourselves. We must realize the principle and apply it in practice. Having understood this, we cultivate with this very mind, never departing from its present awareness. Then, we will accomplish the Way in this life.
Chung Tai Magazine #233