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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Volume 2

The "Zero"


Among those of you who investigate Ch’an, there are some who already know how to use their skill and are already on the road. But then for those who have just started out, you need some direction in the beginning. For those of you who already have an inkling of what Ch’an is, everything that is said is false. “Whatever can be spoken doesn’t have any actual meaning.”

   But for those of you who have newly arrived, a few words must be spoken. It’s like using a key to unlock a door. These words open the lock inside of your mind. In applying skill, the first thing is that your thoughts must be brought to a single focus—you must be concentrated. So it’s said, “With concentration there is efficacy; once scattered, everything is ruined.” Regarding the One,  

     When Heaven attains the One, it becomes pure;
     When Earth gains the One, it becomes peaceful;
     When a person attains the One he becomes a sage;
     When the ten thousand things attain the One,
       they all abide in their destiny.  

The “One” is very important. It’s the beginning of the myriad things. It’s the mother substance. “If you attain the One, the ten thousand things are all accomplished.” But if one has an attachment to the One, it’s very easy to fall into two or three—that is, one still becomes attached to shape and form and numbers. If there’s still a form to attach to, it’s not true emptiness. Well, what is true emptiness? True emptiness is just the Zero. This Zero is a numerical “0”, and it is also a circle. This Zero is not big nor small, it has no inside or outside, no past or present, it’s not positive and it’s not negative. It doesn’t fall into the sphere of numbers and yet no number is apart from the Zero. Zero is the original substance of the One. Once the Zero is broken apart, it becomes a One. In cultivation we want to cultivate back from the One to the Zero.  

   “Well, it’s said that within the Zero there is nothing at all,” you say. That’s right, but there still is a Zero and right within that Zero boundless transformations occur. That Zero is true emptiness; it’s also wonderful existence:  

     True emptiness does not obstruct wonderful existence,
     Wonderful existence does not obstruct true emptiness.     
     True emptiness isn’t empty;
     Wonderful existence doesn’t exist.
     Because true emptiness isn’t empty,
       it is therefore called wonderful existence;
     Wonderful existence doesn’t exist, and so
       it’s called true emptiness.

That’s the foremost thing one must know when cultivating. What are we cultivating? We are just cultivating the Zero. Although it’s said that when you attain the One, the ten thousand things are accomplished; when you attain the Zero there’s not a single thing. Then, not a single Dharma is set up and the ten thousand thoughts are emptied. If you want to understand that principle, you must first concentrate your mind; that means to not have any false thinking. If you can manage to not have false thoughts, you will have a response. So when it says that with concentration there is efficacy, the efficacy is just a response, as in “the response and the Way intertwine.” 

   First of all, you must focus your mind into a single concentration, and that’s not easy. And from the single concentration, to return to the Zero is even more difficult. But is it the case that since it’s not easy we won’t try? If you don’t try, then you’ll never get anywhere. Therefore we have to use effort in sitting in Ch’an. In sitting Ch’an the very first thing one must do is train oneself to sit still. If you have really stiff legs you can just sit in a way that is comfortable for you. But after you feel a bit more at ease and comfortable, then you should go on to half lotus. When you can sit in half lotus without it hurting any more then you can go on to full lotus. Only when you have trained yourself to the point that even when sitting in full lotus you no longer have any pain can you be considered to be truly investigating Ch’an.

   Investigating Ch’an is basically having nothing to do and finding something to do. You haven’t got any work to do but you look for some work to do. And so it’s a case of cultivators having some fun, playfully roaming in the human realm. You say “I don’t want to play!” Then don’t play. When you investigate Ch’an you look into a meditation topic, a word-head. “Word-head” means the head of a topic, before anything is even articulated, before the first stirring of the mind. It’s like a prelude—before a single thought has arisen. Just when you are about to engage in a thought and before you have actually done so, right at that moment, is where you investigate the word-head. To do that you must have a topic to look into. For instance, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”  

   To investigate means to drill into the topic as if you were using a chisel. It’s like using a vajra drill, drilling into iron, to bore a hole. The investigating is just that process of drilling and boring a hole. When you bring up this topic, you say “Who” is mindful of the Buddha? It’s the “Who” that you look into, savoring its flavor and looking deeper and deeper into it. You bore deeper and deeper in until you get a clue, and once you get an inkling of who it is, you get an enlightenment.

   But you can’t get to know this by using the ordinary thinking processes. You can’t say, “I’ll just take a guess at it.” That’s not it, either. It isn’t something that you can arrive at through cognition, nor is it a matter of making a hypothesis. It’s none of those. It belongs to a realm that you have never considered before. When you hit that point, suddenly you become enlightened. You smash through empty space and the five skandhas are all emptied. And that’s what’s meant when it says in the Heart Sutra,  

   When the Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshavra, was coursing in deep wisdom, he illuminated the five skandhas and saw that they are all empty…  

   Once you empty the five skandhas, you continue on to the next step: that is where Shariputra had his success, because he saw that form is not different from emptiness and emptiness is not different from form. Form is just emptiness, and emptiness is just form. Feeling, thought and consciousness are just the same way. When you can empty the five skandhas, you will not be defiled by the six sense objects. That is the first step toward realizing Buddhahood. Then it could be said that you have “stepped beyond the threshold of the Buddha’s household.” But you need to put in quite a bit of effort in order to reach this stage.  

   This time at Gold Mountain there were some laypeople from Malaysia. When they heard about investigating Ch’an—looking into the “Who” that is mindful of the Buddha over and over again, they thought it was the same as reciting “Namo Amita Fwo,” as if one’s life depended on it. But when investigating Ch’an you don’t do it in a frenzy. In order to investigate you must slow down and be very deliberate about it. You must take your time and maintain a calm and balanced state of mind. Then you can go on to investigate to enlightenment. The two words, “investigate-enlighten” make a compound. To “investigate” is just to become “enlightened.” To become “enlightened” is just to “investigate.” And so pondering over “Who” is mindful of the Buddha, and really going at it, is investigating Ch’an.  

   To have the thought “Who?” is still having a false thought. But this is a case of using poison to counteract poison. You use a single false thought to get rid of all the myriad other false thoughts. People who want to apply effort must understand this point first. Because if you don’t understand this point, then no matter how hard you work, it will be a waste of your time.  

   Now, back to the Zero. The Zero is just a “0”. You could say that people are equal to the Zero and that the Zero is just people. The “0” is the path to Buddhahood, the path to enlightenment. If you want to become enlightened, you have to understand the principle of the Zero. If you want to become a Buddha, you have to understand the principle of the Zero. At the level of common people, it’s the Zero; but when we become Buddhas, the Zero turns into the Great, Perfect Mirror Wisdom: the Great Treasury of Bright Light. The Zero can give rise to all dharmas; it can also sweep away all dharmas. So you say, “0,” “0,” “0,” and there still isn’t anything much happening,” But right within that “not anything much happening,” you find true emptiness.  

   But people seek outside and so they lose the fundamental, intrinsic Buddha-nature; they lose the original scenery of their mind ground and their inherent treasures. Instead, they forsake the root and grasp at the branches, they flow along with the current of birth and death and forget to return. They are unable to go against the flow of the six sense objects and return to the origin and go back to the source. If you want to return to the origin and go back to the source, you must begin at the place where there is absolutely nothing.

   If you want to become a Buddha, you have to start from the Zero, where there’s nothing at all. If you understand the Zero, then you can count as someone who understands the Dharma. If you don’t understand the Zero, then you don’t understand the Dharma. Because “all dharmas are not apart from the Zero and all dharmas come into being from the Zero and return to the Zero. As it is said,  

   One root extends to ten thousand ramifications,
   And ten thousand ramifications return to the one root.  

But because we don’t understand the principle of true emptiness, we forsake what is near and run after what is far away and grab for things outside and look for trouble. We add a head on top of a head. It’s like riding in a car and looking for a car, riding in a plane and looking for a plane, riding in a rocket and looking for the rocket. That’s really upside down, living as if drunk and dying as if in a dream, going against the Tao—and it’s all because of having forgotten the Zero.  

   So you shouldn’t think that this type of Dharma that has been discussed tonight is a small condition, because what I am telling you now is something that startles heaven and earth and makes the ghosts and spirits wail. I am basically disclosing to you the secrets of heaven and earth—bringing forth the original source of all Buddhas that has not been brought forth. After you hear it, if you understand, you can just use this method to go on and become Buddhas; but if you don’t understand, then you will still fall into the hells.  

   Why do we say that if you understand the Zero you can become a Buddha—why is it so simple? And why do we say that if you don’t understand the Zero you will fall into the hells? It’s because becoming a Buddha comes from the Zero, and falling into hell is just because of not understanding Zero. Heavenly demons and those of outside ways come about because they don’t understand the Zero, too. Freaks and demonic creeps are that way because they don’t understand the Zero. Also, fox spirits and weasel spirits, mountain essences and water freaks—whether it is a thing or a non-thing—all of that comes about from not understanding the Zero, and as a result a myriad shapes and forms materialize—they are all transformed from non-understanding.

   Although their shapes and forms are different, fundamentally they are just one—they are the same. That’s why the Buddha said that all living beings have the Buddha-nature, and all living beings can become Buddhas. Whether it’s a mountain essence or a water freak or any type of weird creature, li mei and wang liang ghosts, and so forth, it’s just because they don’t understand the Zero that they are the way they are. But all they have to do is return to the source and go back to the Zero, and instantaneously they will realize Buddhahood.  

   In studying the Buddhadharma, the most important thing is to cut off one’s bad habits and faults. It doesn’t matter how many Sutras you have heard or how long you have studied the Buddhadharma, if you can’t get rid of your bad habits and faults, it’s of no help to you. So I tell you quite often, “It’s easy to get by, but it’s hard to get rid of one’s anger.” It’s hard to transform your anger. You should get to the point where you don’t get angry, that is, you don’t get angry inside or outside. There are some who don’t get angry on the outside, but they hold it in and get angry on the inside; there are others who don’t hold it inside, but get angry on the outside. Here I am referring to not getting angry inside or outside, and that is to “obtain the priceless jewel.”

   You don’t vex others, or go around blaming heaven and faulting other people—you don’t bother others—and if things don’t work out for you you look for the reason within yourself. If something doesn’t go your way, return the light and look within and seek the fullness within yourself. Don’t seek outside. Instead you should study being modest and you should strive to ascend. And if you don’t blame others and have no bad feelings toward others, then no matter what happens it’ll be okay.  

   At all times you should cut off afflictions—as in the Bodhisattva vow, “Afflictions are inexhaustible, I vow to cut them off.” Basically, there are no afflictions that can’t be cut off; if you don’t produce them in the first place, what’s there to be cut off? Why do you have afflictions? Because you have bad feelings. It’s the karma from the bad feelings and ill-will you have that causes you to give rise to afflictions. So the verse says, “If afflictions are never brought forth, where can one find the offenses of bad feelings?” In that case, everything will be pure—the pure, original, wonderful, true Thus nature will appear.  

   “If you are always looking at others’ faults, then you haven’t put an end to your own suffering.” If you aren’t looking for one person’s faults, then you’re looking for another person’s faults. And if you don’t feel that this isn’t good, then you think that something else isn’t quite right. If you are looking for other people’s faults, you haven’t put an end to your own suffering. But if you can keep from being that way, you will be truly studying the Buddhadharma.

   What counts is truly practicing the Buddhadharma—really doing it, being sincere and straightforward, not just talking about it. If you can really practice, you are a true disciple of the Buddha and you will be truly propagating the Buddhadharma. If you can’t really, truly practice and you just flap your mouth and just drivel on with intellectual Ch’an “rap,” but you yourself still can’t do it, it’s totally useless.  

   No matter what Dharma you cultivate, if you cultivate it to the extreme, just that is the Pure Land. Reciting the Buddha’s name is fine; reciting mantras is effective, too. If you can clean up your mind, then even if you don’t want to be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, you will still be born there. So whatever Dharma you cultivate, if you can single-mindedly cultivate it until it becomes magical, then you will have a response just the same.  

   Question: If one is born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, even though they have offenses, is it the case that they have to return to the Saha World to exhaust those offenses, or are those offenses taken care of in the Pure Land?

   Answer: Someone who gets reborn there is eternally apart from the Three Realms. One who is born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss has already exhausted his karma. If you want to be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, you must purify and cast out your emotions. When emotion is empty, just that is the Pure Land. When one’s karma is made light, that is the Land of Ultimate Bliss, but when one’s karma is confused, that’s the Saha World.  

   Question: Of the forty-eight vast vows of Amita Buddha, one is that whoever recites Amita’s name will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss; so why is it that there are still so many people who haven’t been born there?  

   Answer: Is it the case that everyone has recited the Buddha’s name? Can you make everyone recite the Buddha’s name? If you can’t do that, then why ask such a question? Can you teach everyone to recite the Buddha’s name? If you can teach all people to recite the Buddha’s name, can you teach all the gods to recite the Buddha’s name? If you can teach all the gods, then can you teach all the animals to recite the Buddha’s name? How about the hell beings? Can you cause hungry ghosts to become happy? How about the asuras? It’s impossible! Since there are so few who recite the Buddha’s name, there are equally few who are reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. There are so many trillions upon trillions of living beings in the Saha World. Not to mention all those who have not recited the Buddha’s name, there are many who haven’t even heard of the Buddha’s name. Do you understand?  

   Everyone should look within and investigate themselves. See what you are. Today someone asked what kind of a thing he was. This may sound like a meaningless question, but in fact that’s the way it is. You can’t really say that you are some kind of “thing.” What kind of “thing” can pervade empty space to the ends of the Dharma Realm? It’s our original wisdom, the Buddhanature. If you can recognize your own Buddhanature, then why would you want to seek outside for things? There’s no up or down, no self, others, living beings, or a lifespan. So what “thing” can you find?

   So you can’t say that people evolved from apes. The theory of evolution claims that people came from apes. Well, then, what did apes come from? You could say that apes came from mice. Is that right or not? Or maybe apes came from rabbits. Is there any principle to that? Rabbits can’t change into apes, so how is it the case that apes can become people? Well, even if I grant you that people came from apes, then why is it that in the present time there isn’t a single case of an ape that is changing into a person? Who now has seen an ape turning into a person? There is no foundation for this type of theory.  

   You say, “People were created by God.” Well, if people came from God, then who created God? You say, “God has always existed.” But, if God has always existed, then why is it that people haven’t always existed? What proof do you have that God has always existed? What proof do you have that in the beginning there weren’t any people? If there’s a God, then there are people; if there is no God, then there are no people. Why is that? It’s because people gave God his name. It isn’t that God said, “Well, I am God.” That would be like you yourself saying you are God. He would be a phoney, trumped-up god.

   And so there is this God who says, “Whoever believes in me can’t become a god. I’m the only one who can be God. I am always going to be God. Every day I’m the only God.” At all times you are God, but since you are always God, why do you need people to believe in you? In that case, whether or not they believe in you you would still be God, so why do you need people to believe in you if that’s the case? Isn’t that totally lacking principle? Look into it. Why am I saying this? Because people are just too superstitious.  

   Now back to the theory of evolution which says that people descended from apes. What’s the basis for this theory? Well, you say, “There’s historical proof.” That’s your kind of evidence, but I don’t see it that way. Why? Because I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, so I don’t accept it. It’s a figment of the imagination, a groundless theory that is a product of fantasizing. It’s like writing a science fiction novel.  

   Ultimately, what’s it all about? People come from the Buddha-nature. Not only do people come from the Buddha-nature, but all living beings come from the Buddha-nature, and all can become Buddhas. Every living being can become a Buddha. It’s all equal. It’s not to say that only one person can be the Buddha. The Buddha is not the only one Buddha. And he doesn’t say, “As long as you believe in me, it doesn’t matter whether you have created offenses, you can still be born in the heavens.” If that were the case, then God could excuse everyone of their offenses. God would be like a harborer of criminals, because they wouldn’t have had other places to go to hide and so he helped them out. And then he said, “If you don’t believe in me, even if you do good, you will still fall into the hells.” This doesn’t contain any public principle, so as a theory it doesn’t hold up. 

   People come from the Buddha nature. And people make a further transformation and become animals. Animals come from people. That’s the truth. That just doesn’t mean that during the life of a person he suddenly turns into an animal or any other kind of being. It happens after death. After one dies, if one has merit and virtue one can be born in the heavens or become an asura, or maybe a person again. People can go up and be autocrats and kings or they can go down and become beggars. It’s just a matter of one’s own merit and virtue and how many offenses one has made. If one creates offenses, one must fall. Maybe one falls into the hells, or becomes a hungry ghost or maybe one will become an animal. It’s not fixed.  

   Someone asked me, “Are there such things as ghosts?” and my answer was, “Are there people?” If you think there are people, why would you think there weren’t any Ghosts? Ghosts just come from people. People fall and become ghosts. If people rise they become spirits or immortals, and if they go even higher, they become Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. So Buddhism and Taoism start out the same, but Buddhism is ultimate and gets to the very basis. It reaches to the ultimate point. Taoism stops about half way. That also goes for Catholicism and Protestantism, Mohammedanism, and so on. They are all just stops along the Way. If someone doesn’t have any perseverance he just goes as far as finishing high school and doesn’t go on to college.

Cultivation is the same way. Taoists and so forth are those who just don’t wish to go on to college. Confucianism is comparable to elementary school, Taoism to high school, and Buddhism to college. That’s a very simple analogy. You can’t say that high school students aren’t really students, nor that elementary school students aren’t really students, and that only college students are really students. They are all students and they are all in the process of study. Those who study the Buddhadharma are likened to those who graduate from high school and go on to college to further study.

   But we can’t look down upon high school students. Those in high school can’t look down upon those in elementary school, either, because that’s just being arrogant. We want to encompass the ten thousand things, and with a compassionate and kind heart attract all and bring them all in.  

   Here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas we want to become Buddhas. If you want to repay the kindness of the four-fold assembly, just don’t get angry. The slightest bit of anger can burn up all your merit and virtue. So here’s a Ch’an verse for this session:

     Within the Way place of the Ten Thousand Buddhas,
     We select the ten thousand Buddhas.
     The Mahayana is proclaimed all around, above and below.
     With one thought not produced, the entire substance manifests.
     But if the six organs move, then one is covered by clouds.  

Everyone, investigate those four lines. Don’t spend your time and effort involved in the six sense organs. Work on your mind ground. Don’t renounce the root and go for the branches. You need to settle the basic question, the question of birth and death.

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