Good evening to everyone. Perhaps there is not really any point in me talking tonight since I talked to almost every one of you today. But still, maybe there is a need for a few words about one very important aspect of practice. Today we spoke individually about the method. So I hope that now you have a clearer idea about how to use the method and how to practice. But there are other things besides the method and practice that are also important; those are what I want to talk about tonight.
I will start with a saying of the Buddha. He said there are four kinds of people in the world:
• The first are those who only think of and take care of themselves.
• The second are those who only think of and take care of other people.
• The third are those who neither think of themselves nor of other people.
• And the fourth are those who take care of themselves and take care of other people.
I think this is a useful way of presenting the varieties or differing qualities of relationships we establish. I think it’s very clear which category here is the preferable one. Of course we have to take care of ourselves. There’s no doubt about it. But we also have to take care of other people. This is really the only balanced way of being in the world. This saying of the Buddha is useful as a kind of diagnostic to see clearly where we fall in these four categories. And I’m sure all of you here know people who belong to each of those categories.
So what is the connection between our practice and this saying?
Ourselves And Others
Very often we can approach our practice from the perspective of just taking care of ourselves. Somehow it seems very natural and appropriate. We are here, it’s true, in a group. But you are told that you have to isolate your- self, that you should be concentrated only on your practice and nothing else. You have to work on your method and forget everything else. These instructions seem to support the idea that we have to take care of and think of only ourselves. But that attitude is not a right one.
Generally we live in a society in which that attitude is very much present. Individual- ism is something which is taken as standard, seen as normal and positive. Sometimes we practice with the same attitude which we normally have in life; so we practice in order to become enlightened. This is our aim: “I” want to be enlightened, and we don’t realize that this is actually a contradiction in itself.
If we are only concerned with our own practice and we only want the benefits of this practice for our own self, then it becomes counterproductive. So, how can we take care of ourselves and others in our own individual practice? That is really the question. And that is definitely possible, that is something we should do here. So, in what way can we do this?
Several times a day here we recite the four great vows. As we all recite these several times a day, maybe this whole talk tonight is completely unnecessary. Because this talk is actually about becoming aware of what we are reciting in these four great vows, and bringing that to our own practice on the cushion. If we are just concerned with ourselves when we practice it’s very easy to become obsessed with our own situation. It’s easy to have a very narrow view of what’s going on with us, and a very narrow view of practice itself.
So what we have to do is raise compassion in ourselves. We have to change orientation in our practice somehow, in order to practice not just for ourselves and our own benefit, but for the benefit of all sentient beings, or at least for the benefit of people with whom we have relationships.
And if you think a little bit more about it, you’ll see that our own suffering and
vexations, our problems which we have in life, are not just our problems. All these problems we experience in life affect other people too. We are not an island in the sense that whatever is happening to us doesn’t have any effect on other people. It has.
Once we become aware of this, we have a responsibility, and I am sure this responsibility is something which brings us to this retreat. But that responsibility has to include not just ourselves. It has to include other people too. So in our practice we have to raise this com- passionate attitude. We have to practice very hard. Not just for our own liberation but for the liberation of, I will say again, all sentient beings. But if this seems too wide, too abstract in a sense, it is better that you think of the people with whom you have relationships.
If we bring this compassionate attitude into our practice it will definitely change the atmosphere. The whole situation becomes transformed, because to practice with such attitude is actually the highest possible motivation which we can have. There are all kinds of motivations for practice. Some people just do it for health reasons; they heard that practicing meditation is good for the health of their body. Some people do it in order to eliminate stress which they feel is the result of their job. Some people want to be reborn in a better condition, so they practice for results in the next life. And some people might want to be enlightened in this life. There is a range of different motivations which can bring people to practice. But the highest of all of them is the motivation in which we want to be enlightened for the sake of all sentient beings, not just for ourselves. This is the highest possible motivation. So in what way does this compassionate motivation help our own practice?
We have to know that all our vexations in life come from our own egocentricity and selfishness. All our sufferings come from being ob- sessed with ourselves and believing that we exist separately from everyone else. Believing in this separate existence, in other words, is called ignorance, and is the root source of all our vexations. Desire, greed and hatred come about as a result of ignorance. Where there is ignorance there is always greed and hatred; all this together we can just call egocentricity and selfishness.
This egocentricity manifests itself as a very strong attachment, and this attachment is something which creates suffering. There is a very clear chain which shows how, from ignorance through attachment, we come to suffering. If we are clear about how the suffering arises in our life then the idea of practice will be very clear. And what is the basic idea of practice in Buddhism and Chan? It is liberating our awareness from this egocentricity.
Our true mind is actually captured and used by egocentricity. All this suffering is completely unnecessary. If we look at history . . . not just history, we have to look at what’s going on right now in the world . . . what a great amount of suffering people are going through! It is unbelievable how much suffering we can bring to ourselves and other peo- ple, and it is all the result of this ignorance, hatred and greed. Or, in one word, it all comes from egocentricity. So the aim of practice is to liberate us from this egocentric mind in order to find our true mind, which is free from igno- rance, hatred and greed.
This egocentricity, ignorance and all these poisons are really based on this idea of a sep- arate existence. We believe that we exist separately, and therefore being greedy and having hatred is a strategy in life – if we want to be successful, we have to use these things. On the other hand, compassion is something completely opposite from this. Compassion is the awareness of the state of being of others. If we want to be aware of others and how they feel, we have to open up. We have to stop being obsessed with ourselves. We have to extend that awareness if we want to include others in it.
We know practice wants to liberate us from this self-centeredness; having a compassionate attitude is something which helps us a great deal in that. It is like a medicine. When we raise compassion in ourselves egocentricity weakens. As our practice progresses prop- erly egocentricity completely disappears.
This compassionate attitude is not just towards others, it is the attitude we have towards ourselves also. When we raise compassion in our practice it includes us too. We actually have to dedicate our practice to ourselves and other sentient beings.
Because we create very contradictory situations in ourselves, if we practice with only ourselves in mind sometimes it increases vexations in our practice. If we have this wider view of dedicating our practice not just to ourselves but to all people with whom we interact, it give us much more power. Our vexations become much less present and our practice develops properly. I just wanted to remind you of this. Now every time you recite these four great vows, remind yourself when you work on your method in your practice on the cushion, to include all other beings. Try to practice for the sake of all. It will certainly bring a change.
Okay. And now, we intensified our practice a little bit today. I was in the interview room but I heard Chang Wen Fashi shouting in here during the walking meditation. I hope that was beneficial for your practice. I hope you’re not afraid of the shouting; you have to understand it as outer support for your inner effort. As you’re trying to practice hard from inside of yourself, it is good also to have support from the outside. All this energy from the shouting you should direct towards working on the Huatou.
Shouting can come from inside or it can come from outside. In both cases, you use it to concentrate more in questioning on the Huatou itself. So don’t be afraid of those shouts and of incense boards and anything which might be used from now on. Just concentrate fully on working on your Huatou and on asking, asking, asking. But at the same time with this compassionate attitude. You are not asking just for yourself – you are asking for the sake of all the people with whom you interact. This is the best that we can do for ourselves and others. If we practice in this way we will be in the fourth category which Buddha mentioned, and this is the most balanced one.
Okay so now continue working on your method. What is wu? What is it?
If you don’t know the answer you have to ask. Actually it is more about asking than answering. So just continue asking “What is it?”
This Dharma Talk was given on the third evening of the Winter 2011 10-Day Huatou Retreat.
Edited by Buffe Laffey.
Taken with a permission from Chan Magazine, Summer 2012.