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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Volume 2

The Story of the Venerable Master
Hsu Yun's Enlightenment


When the ancients applied their effort they would renounce death and forget about life. They weren’t afraid of toil. Every time they had a session, they weren’t willing to allow even a single second go by in vain, not to speak of letting a whole hour or two-hour sit go by in vain. They wouldn’t allow even a second to be wasted. When in the Way place they would only concentrate their minds, work hard, and hope that by using their effort in the right way they could one day recognize their original face and obliterate the wheel of birth and death.  

The life of the Venerable Master Hsu Yun is a popular topic for discussion these days. Today I’ll talk a little bit about the incidents surrounding the enlightenment of the Venerable Master.  

When the Venerable Hsu Yun was residing in a thatched hut on Chung Nan Mountain, he heard that the cultivators at Kao Min Monastery were going to hold ten consecutive Ch’an Sessions. They were to begin on July 19 th. So he concentrated his mind and left for Kao Min Monastery for the sake of ending birth and death. While he was descending Chou Hua Mountain, it began to rain, and it rained so hard that the roads were all submerged in water.

He remembered that along the road there was a bridge but he didn’t know that it had been wiped out by the torrential rain, and as he walked along that particular road, because the bridge had been wiped out, he slipped and fell into the river. For a day and a night—24 hours—he was tossed by the waves and bobbed up and down in the current. Now, think about this, everyone. Being in the water for a day and a night should certainly have drowned him; there’s no way that he should have made it out alive. He had made the resolve to renounce death and forget about life, and was on his way to participate in a ten-week Ch’an Session when he almost drowned. You should all ponder this: wasn’t that really a case of taking a loss?  

It so happened that there was a fisherman working along the river at that time who chanced upon the Venerable Hsu Yun, caught him in his net and pulled him out of the river. At first the fisherman thought that he’d caught a huge fish, but as soon as he pulled him out and took a closer look he realized that this was, in fact, a monk! The fisherman observed that the monk had taken in a lot of water, so he lifted him onto a large rock and proceeded to empty the water out of his lungs.

Now it’s reasonable to suppose that after being submerged in water for 24 hours like that, one could not possibly have survived. But the Venerable Hsu Yun came back to life. The fisherman next went to a local temple and told a monk there, “I caught a monk in my net while fishing,” and the monk from the temple returned with the fisherman to the scene of the accident to take a look. When he saw the Venerable Master he exclaimed, “Oh, this is the Venerable Te Ch’ing!” So he took Venerable Hsu Yun back to his temple to rest there for a few days.  

If the Venerable Master had been a person with no mind for the Way, he would have thought, “Oh, I was on my way to the session and just about drowned in the river, so I’m not going to that session now. I’m going to retreat. I’m going back to the mountain and stay there in my thatched hut.” But he wasn’t like that. He maintained his resolve to go on and participate in the session.  

So he went off to Kao Min Monastery after a few days and registered as a participant. Because he had been in the water for a day and a night he was seriously ill. In what way was he ill? His nine orifices constantly flowed with blood—his nose, his eyes, his ears, his mouth all constantly bled. And even his anus and urinary tracts flowed with blood and essence. But even though he was so sick, he still didn’t retreat and say, “I’m resigning from this session!” He went to Kao Min Monastery, determined to do the session.  

Now no one at Kao Min Monastery was aware of the Venerable Master’s condition, or that he had almost been drowned in the river. Nor did the Master bother to tell anyone. He was prepared to go into the Ch’an Hall to strike up the session. A preparatory session was held on July 15, and the actual session itself was to begin on October 15. Since the Abbot of Kao Min Monastery himself wanted to participate in the session, he requested that the Venerable Hsu Yun act as Abbot in his place so that he would be able to attend the session without having to be distracted by temple affairs. But Hsu Yun wouldn’t agree to this. And so, according to the tradition of the Ch’an Hall, the Abbot had him beaten with an incense board and scolded him, saying things like, “You haven’t brought forth the resolve of a Bodhisattva!” and gave him a big harangue.  

By that time, the Venerable Hsu Yun was like a living dead person, to the extent that even when people beat him he didn’t feel that it was painful. When people scolded him, he didn’t even hear it. He endured insult in that way. He was able to endure it all. Shortly after that, the Abbot of the local temple where Hsu Yun had stayed after his accident showed up at Kao Min Monastery, and he explained to everyone there, “The Venerable High Monk, Te Ch’ing, descended Chou Hua Mountain and on his way to this session he fell into the river and remained for a day and a night—24 hours—and then he was fished out and revived—he came back to life.” On hearing this bit of news, everyone knew that the Venerable Hsu Yun was one who had truly forsaken death and forgotten about life, in order to participate in this session. Then everyone got together and discussed it among themselves.

It was the custom that those who participated in a session took turns taking the incense board and going on meditation patrol. While everyone else was sitting, the one on meditation patrol would carry the incense board around the hall to see who was sleeping, and whoever was sleeping would get hit with the incense board. But because the Venerable Hsu Yun had forsaken death and forgotten about life in order to attend the session, everyone felt sympathetic toward his resolve and they all agreed among themselves and said to him, “You nearly drowned and you’re really sick, so you needn’t take a turn on the meditation patrol.”

Thus, he was relieved of his turn on the meditation patrol. Not having to do that, he was able to single-mindedly work hard. He concentrated with a single focus, day and night, without ever interrupting his effort. But his illness still raged. His nine orifices kept on bleeding and his essence flowed, even from his urinary tract. But in spite of that he didn’t rest; he still worked hard just as always.  

One evening, during the session, it came time for tea. Because Hsu Yun was wrapped up in investigating his hua t’ou (meditation topic), his eyes were closed. As he held out his cup—maybe the tea server was sleepy—the tea server accidentally poured hot tea all over Hsu Yun’s hand and scalded it, causing him to release the cup and let it drop to the floor. The cup fell to the floor with a crash and the sound prompted in him an instantaneous enlightenment. It was a far-reaching and profound awakening. At that moment, Hsu Yun wrote this verse:  

   The cup crashed to the floor
   With a sound crisp and clear.
   Empty space broke apart,
   And the mad mind immediately came to a halt.  

When the cup smashed to the floor, his ignorance was smashed to bits, and he found his original face. He understood everything and immediately became enlightened; becoming enlightened, he immediately understood everything.  

   Everyone should ponder over this. The Venerable Hsu Yun was such a high and lofty Sanghan. He worked very hard and subsequently was able to open enlightenment.   

What class of people are we? If we are casual and sloppy and plan to open enlightenment and certify to the fruition that way—that’s something which simply can’t be done. During a session do we go off to the toilet though we don’t really need to and pretend that we are taking care of business when actually we are just taking a rest? Is it the case that we don’t really need to drink tea but then run off and have some tea? I believe that the set-up here now is not as bad as it was in the past.

Before, on both the women’s and men’s sides there were provisions made for fixing up coffee and tea, and this and that. It was like a businessmen’s luncheon. If people wanted to eat some of this they’d eat some of this; if they wanted to drink some of that, they’d drink some of that.

In Chung Kuo, Ch’an Sessions were held in the winter and so the phrase was coined, “investigating in the winter and studying in the summer.” This is because the heat is unbearable in the summer, and if people try to meditate then they find it difficult to enter Samadhi. But when it’s cold, people have to work really hard in order to get over their fear of the cold. If they didn’t work hard they’d get so cold that they wouldn’t be able to take it. So in Chung Kuo in the winter they investigated Ch’an, and in the summer they investigated the teachings. This was called, “Ch’an in winter and study in summer.”  

   There are those of you here now who are thinking, “During this session I haven’t obtained a single advantage.” Well you should return the light and illumine within and ask yourself if you have been constantly thinking about ways to be extremely lazy and of ways to get off cheap; in that case how could you possibly get enlightened?  

   If you can’t renounce death, you will never obtain life.
   If you can’t renounce the false, you won’t obtain the true.
   If you can’t renounce suffering, you won’t obtain bliss.  

If you can’t give up what’s false, you will never obtain what’s true. True appearance has no marks. But you must first get rid of your false appearance.  

   The session is ending tonight, and it is well if any one of you has obtained the benefits of Ch’an. If you haven’t obtained any benefits, it won’t hurt to wait for a future opportunity. There’s ample time ahead; your day has not yet come. It’s only to be feared that you won’t actually produce the resolve for Bodhi and be vigorous and concentrate and work hard.

But, if you are able to do that, you will certainly accomplish the four kinds of wisdom: The Great, Perfect Mirror Wisdom; the Wonderful Contemplative Wisdom; the Wisdom of Success in What You Do; and the Level and Equal-Nature Wisdom. The Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom, the Three Bodies and Four Wisdoms, don’t come from outside. They are something that you must personally work hard for and then you will arrive at that level of accomplishment. It isn’t such an easy thing to become enlightened.  

   So, this session is ending tonight. When I told the public record of the Venerable Hsu Yun, some of you felt very regretful. You thought, “The Venerable Hsu Yun was so energetic in that session, but in this session I wasted my time and didn’t really work hard. I have truly lost a good opportunity by not working hard. Why didn’t you tell us about the Venerable Hsu Yun on the very first day of the session, and then I wouldn’t have been so lazy, and so remorseful now.”  

   If I’d told you about this on the first day in order to “entice” you to work hard, it wouldn’t have been purely your own idea. If I were to try to coerce you into working hard, to forsake death and forget about life, then it wouldn’t be you yourself that would be working hard, it’d be because I was influencing you to work hard. However, you should know that becoming enlightened is returning to one’s own home, rediscovering one’s inherent scenery. It doesn’t come from outside. I am only explaining the principles to you. Whether or not you bring forth the resolve is up to you. 

   You should never cheat yourself. Although this session is over now, you can continue to work hard. You can apply your effort at all times and in all places. Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, don’t separate from this. If you separate from this, it is a mistake. What’s “this”? “This” is just the effort you are using. No matter whether you investigate Ch’an or recite the Buddha’s name, or hold the precepts, or study the teachings—they are all fine, but you have to concentrate and not be scattered. Therefore, it’s said, “When one is concentrated it’s efficacious, but when one is scattered it just won’t work.”

It really counts when you can concentrate and prod yourself on, exhort yourself to not be so lazy and muddled and produce the resolve for the Way. If you haven’t obtained any benefits from this session, then it’ll count as a practice session. After this, if you have another opportunity, then you should really work hard.

Don’t be as scattered as you were before and so unwilling to work hard, thinking that you could get off cheap. It’s not the case that you can get off cheap. If you’re really lazy just now, it’s not so important, but because you have been like this for limitless kalpas in the past, you have fallen. You’ve fallen in the past simply because you liked to be lazy and never liked to take a loss. You always wanted to get off cheap. As a result you’ve taken an even greater loss: you have lost your inherent true gems and haven’t been able to find them.

There’s still a bit of time left to this session and then it will be over. Although this session is about to end soon, the true session is always going on, whether one is walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. One can always apply effort, and that means to do no false thinking.  

   I’ll tell you a bit more about my own experiences. I never false think at all. Why don’t I have any false thinking? Because I’ve seen through the five desires of wealth, fame, food, sex, and sleep to the point that I regard them as all empty. I’m not greedy for wealth, I am not greedy for sex, I am not greedy for fame, I am not greedy for good things to eat, nor am I greedy for sleep. If it was the case that I was greedy for wealth, then I wouldn’t take the offerings made to me and give them away for the use of the great assembly. But since I’m not greedy, when people give me money, I just give it away to everyone to use.

Some might think that this is taking a great loss, but it doesn’t matter to me. With regard to sex, everyone probably knows that I don’t even have the slightest false thoughts with regard to sex. I wouldn’t dare actually claim that I’ve cut off thoughts of sexual desire, but they have, nevertheless, disappeared. With regard to fame, I don’t want it at all. When I write essays I sign them “ant.” Take a look. How good a name is “ant”? Basically, it’s not even a name. I basically feel that I am the same as mosquitoes and ants. I don’t feel arrogant toward even them, not to mention people. I don’t want a good name or a good reputation at all.

And as for food—everyone here is aware that recently I’ve wanted to go on a raw foods diet and eat only things like raw greens and fruit, but the bowing Monks requested that I eat some cooked food, so I’ve granted their wish. Therefore, now I eat some plain boiled vegetables, but I don’t use salt or oil on them. Why don’t I eat salt or oil? Is it the case that I can’t eat them? Is it the case that if I were to eat them I would die? No. Even if that were the case, if I still wanted to eat them, I’d eat them anyway. But that’s not the case at all. The truth is I don’t want to enjoy tasty flavors. You shouldn’t weep when you hear that I don’t eat oil and salt, feeling that I’m taking a great loss. For, it’s just because I am this way that I can merit being your teacher.  

   Tonight, when you all return home, you should no longer be greedy for good flavors. You shouldn’t spend your whole day long being greedy to eat good things and then guzzle and carouse to your heart’s content playing Ma Chong and gambling. You should abstain from all those things. If you don’t gamble or go to see plays and movies, you can take the money you would have wasted to create some meritorious works instead. And then that will be enough. So those of you who gamble should abstain from it. Those who like to eat but are lazy about working should not be so gluttonous. You should correct your faults and change all of your bad habits. Change them. You can believe in what I’m telling you now. When I tell you that I don’t eat good things, I just consider that my basic duty as a cultivator.

I’m not greedy for sleep, either. I can go a few days without sleep. But when I sleep, I can sleep for a few days, or even months, being in a constant state of sleep! I am able to do that, too. Or, I can go a few months without sleep; I can do that, too. That’s how I am. You’re thinking, “Dharma Master, are you telling the truth or is this all false talk?” If you think I am cheating you, then I am; but then you should understand the reason for my cheating you. If I really wanted to cheat you, I could use other methods, so why should I do the dumb things I’ve been doing in order to cheat you? Why am I like this? It’s because I don’t have any false thinking.

So whether I sleep or don’t sleep, it’s all the same to me. Being asleep is just the same as being awake. And when I’m awake, it’s as if I were asleep. Even to the point that when I’m awake yet sleeping I can get even more work done!  

   And so you ask, “What do you do there while you’re sleeping? Get rid of mosquitoes and drive out ants?” Some people are thinking, “This talk is just too far from the truth.” Well, then go off and find someone who is talking honest talk and listen to that!  

   Now I’ve told you how I regard wealth, fame, sex, food and sleep. Name and wealth are just like clouds in the sky to me. Because of this, although I have established the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I don’t false think about it. I just let it take its own natural course in developing. I never use tricks on people in order to get them to do this and that. Now that I’ve told you the public record of the Venerable Hsu Lao, you can investigate it deeply. Those who truly want to end birth and death should study it, and then afterwards use it as a mirror. Then you will no longer be lazy. If you didn’t make a victory at this session, don’t feel too bad. Maybe next time will prove successful for you. I’ve composed a gatha for the end of this session:  

On this day, at this time, we are ending this session.
We should all continue to work hard.
Vigor, vigor—be vigorous! And don’t have any doubts.
Cast away fox doubts.
Just wait until a future time
When the opportunity ripens.
And then, Mahaprajnaparamita!

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