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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Volume 1



   The sweet dew from the Bodhisattva’s willow branch
   Can cause one drop to pervade the ten directions.
   All filth and dirt are completely wiped away…  

   With these words, in June of 1970, the Kuan Yin recitation session was opened. It was the first such session ever held in the western world, and those attending, inspired by the Venerable Master Hua’s daily instructional talks, worked to their utmost reciting the name of the Bodhisattva.

   In 1962 the Venerable Master Hua brought the banner of the Orthodox Dharma to the West. In 1968 a group of young Americans asked him to speak the Shurangama Sutra. The Master consented and the Sutra Study and Practice Session lasted for ninety-six days. From that time onwards, the Master has continued to lecture daily on the Dharma, expounding such Sutras as: The Lotus Sutra, The Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra, The Earth Store Sutra, The Vajra Sutra, The Heart Sutra, and many others. Currently, at the newly established City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the Master continues to explain the King of Sutras, The Great Avatamsaka Sutra.

   In our age of moral and spiritual decay, many bemoan the advent of the “Dharma-ending Age.” But the Venerable Master has made a vow that he will not allow theDharma-ending Age to descend. Because he has taken the maintaining of the Orthodox Dharma as his personal responsibility, from the very beginning he has taught his students the fundamental importance of practicing what they learn.

   During the 1968 Study and Practice Session he spoke to his freedom-loving American disciples, telling them, “It is absolutely essential for people who want to cultivate the Way to receive the precepts…From the lectures we derive understanding, and we practice by investigating Ch’an. Through the combination of practice and understanding we can stride forward…

   An example will help to illustrate the value of combining understanding with practice. A blind man and a cripple lived together in a house. One day it caught on fire. The blind man couldn’t see and had no way to get out. The cripple could see, but he didn’t have any legs. What a predicament! Then a wise advisor told them, ‘You two can get out of this burning house. How? Cripple, let the blind man use your eyes. Blind man, let the cripple use your legs.’ They followed his advice and made the best of their situation. The cripple climbed on the blind man’s back and told the blind man where to walk. Thanks to the timely advice, they managed to save themselves.”

   From the Sutras and the teachings of the Buddha we gain understanding. From holding the precepts and through meditation we put that understanding into practice. As his students tackle the often elusive principles of the Doctrine the Master encourages them. “Do not be afraid of not understanding,” he will say. “Just be afraid that you will not practice what you know. If you do not practice, you are useless…”

   As long as there are those who practice the teachings, the Orthodox Dharma remains. In the final analysis there is no Orthodox or Dharma-ending Age. Those who practice the Orthodox Dharma live in the Orthodox Dharma Age. Those who practice deviant dharmas live in the Dharma-ending age. Those who follow the Buddha’s precepts, study the teachings, and practice them, are certain to gain wisdom and eventually reach enlightenment, even now, in our “corrupt” age. On the other hand, those who do not follow the Buddha’s instructions could not be saved, even if they were face to face with Shakyamuni Buddha himself!

   The present volume contains the Master’s lively and practical instructions given to a group of hard working cultivators of both recitation and Ch’an. As you find this volume in your hands, you can be assured of your affinities with the Dharma. In 1968 the Master said, “We have karmic connections with Shakyamuni Buddha and the Dharma which he proclaimed and which remains in the world. So now we have the opportunity to understand the doctrines. We are now in an advantageous position, even though we have been born after Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Dharma.”

   The Master has brought the Orthodox Dharma to the West. We now can hear, study and practice it. The house of the Triple World is on fire. Crippled and blinded as we may be by our degenerate age, we have been shown a way out. The world needs the light of Dharma and there is really no time to stand on the sidelines “bemoaning the descent of the Dharma-ending Age.” It is time we got down to the work at hand.

Bhikshuni Heng Yin
Buddhist Text Translation Society, July 1978

Kuan Yin

   This seven-day intensive session devoted to mindfulness of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva was held in June of 1970 at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San Francisco. Since it was the first session of its kind sponsored by the Sino-American Buddhist Association, the instruction given by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua was particularly detailed and informative, as young Americans discovered the wonder of this Dharma-door of Great Compassion.

   During the week, participants practiced sitting and walking meditation while chanting aloud and silently “Na Mwo Kuan Shih Yin Pu Sa”—Namo to the Bodhisattva who Contemplates the Sounds of the World.

Sweet Dew Hand and Eye


   Today is Sunday and this evening we will purify the boundaries. Tomorrow we will begin the Kuan Yin Recitation Session.

   Among all the Bodhisattvas, Kuan Shih Yin has the most compassionate heart and so we say “Namo to the Greatly Compassionate Bodhisattva Kuan Shih Yin.” Namo is a Sanskrit word. Translated it means “to return the life and submit respectfully.” To return your life means to offer up your heart, mind, body, and nature to Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva. To submit respectfully is to bow reverently to the ground to Kuan Yin.

   Great Compassion is great kindness and great sympathy. It is great kindness towards those for whom you don’t have an affinity, and great sympathy for those with whom you are of the same substance. You might also say there is an affinity even with those who have no affinity because there is not a single living being who does not have an affinity with Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva. Even those who have no affinity are recognized by Kuan Shih Yin as having an affinity. Most people say, “I can be compassionate towards the people I am close to.” This is not the compassion of Kuan Shih Yin.

The great compassion towards those of the same substance means that Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva is united with all living beings; there is no discrimination between this and that, no you and no me.

   The word “compassion” includes the two concepts “kindness” and “sympathy.” What is kindness? Kindness bestows happiness on others. This is not to say, “You should invite me to lunch so I can get full and bliss out.” That’s not it at all! True kindness means that, even if you have to give your own lunch away and go hungry, you do it just to make someone else happy. Great kindness differs from the limited kindness of ordinary people. Kuan Shih Yin has no limits, no boundaries.

   Sympathy is having pity on all people under heaven. The Compassionate Lord, Kuan Yin, pities all people and relieves their suffering. That which can get rid of all the suffering of living beings is great sympathy. So, in general, the two words “kindness” and “sympathy” combine to make up the word “compassion.”

   In the name Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva, “Kuan” means “to contemplate.” It refers to a kind of wisdom which enables one to contemplate. Most people can contemplate, but they don’t have wisdom. Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva has contemplative Prajna wisdom.

   The second word of the Bodhisattva’s name, “Shih” means “world.” Kuan Yin Bodhisattva contemplates all the sounds of the world. What sounds? All the sounds made by living beings – sounds of suffering, sounds of joy, sounds of right, sounds of wrong, good sounds, bad sounds, happy sounds, and sad sounds. Kuan Shih Yin follows the sounds, seeking out the living beings who make them, in order to rescue them from their suffering.

   If you are undergoing suffering, Kuan Yin Bodhisattva will contemplate the causes and conditions and say, “Why is that person suffering? It’s because in the past he did not do good deeds. The retribution he must suffer has not yet ended, so I’ll have to wait a bit.” Then, after a while, when the suffering is just about to come to an end, if there’s not a lot left over, Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva will bring it to an end and pull that living being out of the sea of suffering.

   Why are beings happy? It is because in the distant past they cultivated good roots, cultivated many blessings. So Kuan Shih Yin thinks, “I should go and cross him over and then he’ll be even happier. He will bring forth the resolve for Bodhi and eventually realized proper enlightenment.”

   Kuan Shih Yin is a Bodhisattva; “Bodh” means “enlightenment,” and “sattva” means a “living being.” A Bodhisattva is an enlightened living being; a Bodhisattva is also one who enlightens living beings. If you are able to enlighten yourself then you will be able to enlighten others.

   Among living beings, Bodhisattvas are enlightened. Basically, they are living beings, just like you and me, but they’ve chosen to cultivate the four infinite hearts: kindness, compassion, joy, and giving, and as a result they have become Bodhisattvas. If you and I and all living beings cultivate kindness, sympathy, joy, and giving, and if we practice the six perfections and the ten thousand conducts of a Bodhisattva, we, too, can become Bodhisattvas, and we will be the same as Kuan Yin Bodhisattva.

   Why haven’t we become Bodhisattvas? Simply because we do not cultivate. Today we cultivate, but tomorrow we don’t. The day after we want to cultivate again, but the following day, after lunch, we begin to retreat. We go forward a bit, then back a bit, forward a bit, then back a bit, back and forth, and we don’t become Bodhisattvas.

   Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva is Amitabha Buddha’s foremost disciple. If you recite Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva’s name, the merit and virtue derived from the recitation is the same as if you had recited Amitabha Budddha’s name. If you recite Amitabha Buddha’s name you will be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss; the same is true if you recite the name of Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva. Reciting Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva’s name for seven days is the same as reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name for seven days.

   We now begin a Kuan Yin Bodhisattva recitation session and will recite the Bodhisattva’s name for seven days. In the Amitabha Sutra, it says, “If a good man or good woman hears spoken ‘Amitabha’ and holds the name, whether for one day, two days, three days, four days, five days, six days, as long as seven days, with one heart unconfused, when that person approaches the end of life, before him will appear Amitabha and all the assembly of Holy Ones. When the end comes, his heart is without inversion; in Amitabha’s land of Ultimate Bliss he will attain rebirth.” Reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha for seven days is the same as reciting the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva for seven days and both lead to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

   Recently, one of the people attending the summer session asked me a question. I replied, “Don’t ask me. I’m not paying any attention to such matters. The Americans here can speak English and they know what’s going on. I have given my authority to them, just like Amitabha Buddha gives his authority to Kuan Yin Bodhisattva.” The summer session combines study and cultivation. If you cultivate but do not study, you are practicing blindly and you will never manage to cut off the “affliction obstacle.” If you study but do not cultivate, you will never cut off the “obstacle of what is known.” If you can’t cut off the “affliction obstacle,” you still have a self, and if you can’t cut off the “obstacle of what isknow,” you still have dharmas.

   If you have dharmas, then you have the dharma-attachment; if you have a self, you have the self-attachment and you have not realized that basically self and dharmas are empty. Therefore, you must combine study and practice. The understanding derived from study aids us in our practice and the practice aids us in our study. They harmonize. You shouldn’t cultivate your whole life away and then find that when someone asks you how to explain a sentence of Dharma, you don’t know what to say! On the other hand, you shouldn’t simply study and listen to a lot of lectures on the Sutras and then find that, when someone asks you how to cultivate, you’re speechless!

   The Kuan Yin recitation Session will last for seven days. The Amitabha Sutra says, “…whether for one day, two days…” but we will change it slightly. The Chinese word for “whether” looks like this...We are going to move the middle line a bit to the right a bit it turns into the word “suffering” So the text now reads, “…suffering for one day, suffering for two days…”

   If you don’t suffer for seven days, you’ll never be free from suffering. If you suffer through these seven days, you’ll be able to end it. If you’re afraid of suffering, you should say so right now. If you aren’t afraid, then don’t be lazy for even a second. Those who don’t want to suffer for seven days can back out and be happy for seven days. But if you are happy for seven days, in the future, you won’t be happy. On the other hand, if you suffer for seven days now, later you’ll be happy. Whether you want to be happy for seven days now and then be sad, or suffer for seven days now and then be happy, is all up to you. I won’t offer my opinion because we talk about true freedom here.

   We’re going to suffer for seven days reciting the name of Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva. You may wonder, “What is the advantage of all this suffering?

   I answer, suffering itself is an advantage. If before you couldn’t stand to suffer, but you learn to endure suffering, that, in itself, is an advantage. Some people say that when the suffering ends, the advantage is obtained, but I don’t agree. I say that suffering is itself an advantage. If you’re able to be patient and bear weariness and suffering, you’ll find it is a great help in your cultivation of the Way. When the weariness is over, the sweetness comes.

   During these seven days, perhaps you’ll be enlightened. I shouldn’t tell you this because if I do, on the one hand you’ll be greedy. If you are greedy, you won’t be sincere in your recitation and you won’t become enlightened. So I’m not going to talk about how many good points may be obtained. You should find them yourself. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want you to get greedy.

   In general, cultivate according to the Dharma and you will obtain a response. When you’re done reciting, Kuan Yin Bodhisattva will always protect you and say, “This American isn’t bad at all. He recited my name for seven days and so I will protect him because I protect the Proper Dharma.”

   I’m telling you just a little bit. If I spoke in details, I’d never finish. I wouldn’t want you to get arrogant, either, and think, “I’ve recited for seven days and Kuan Yin Bodhisattva will certainly protect me. I’m not afraid of anything. I’m really fine,” If you indulge in that kind of pride, a demon will come to hassle you and Kuan Yin Bodhisattva won’t do anything but say, “he’s really worthless. Look how arrogant he is.”

   People who cultivate must not be arrogant or self-satisfied. So it is said, “You can go ahead and eat too much. It’s not important. But if you talk too much you’re in for trouble.” If you eat too much, at the very most you’ll be uncomfortable and have to make arrangements to move the food. But if you talk too big, say you brag that you can lift five hundred pounds, you’ll go to lift it, strain something, and spit blood. What I’m getting at here is, if you have not yet realized the karma of the Way, do not talk arrogantly, whatever you do.

   Don’t say, “I can do everything,” because as soon as you say it, a demon will come to test you. The demon, however, is really an aid to your progress in the Way. As soon as you say that you have put everything down, the very thing that you can’t put down will arrive to test you; it will come to see what you will do. At that time, if you’ve really put it down, you will know. If you haven’t put it down, you’ll be pretty clear about that too.

   Once I said a very arrogant thing. I said, “I’m not afraid of demons. Cultivators fear demons, but I don’t . I don’t fear any demons at all – earth demons, heavenly demons, human demons, or ghostly demons.’” As soon as I said it, a sickness demon got me so sick that I didn’t know anything at all. After that, I understood that you have to be careful in everything that you do never to boast.

   Now, I have something to say that’s very arrogant, but I don’t pay attention to how arrogant it is; I just go ahead and say it: “Everything’s okay.” Good and bad, birth and death – I see them all as the same. They are no problem at all. Whether people believe in me or not makes no difference. Even sickness and death is no problem. I just don’t see them as problems. I’ve said this many times, and have run into no difficulty.

   Tonight we will begin the session. This is the first time a Kuan Yin Session has been held in America and the participants must all be number one. No one can be number two. Everything I do has to be tops, with no runners-up. And I don’t want anyone else to trail behind either.

   You may think, “You just like to be No. 1!”

   Of course I do! If I didn’t like to come out on top, how could I teach all of you to be Number Ones, too?

   Now, let’s begin the session!

Kundi Hand and Eye

   The Summer Sutra Study and Recitation Session is a method of cultivation for the summer months. This winter we will begin a period of fourteen Ch’an weeks—ninety-eight days, two days short of a hundred days. It will be much harder than the Summer Session, which is merely an entrance exam for the big meditation session. How can you pass? You should not even want your own life; just insist on cultivating.

   “isn’t this insanity?” you may ask, “cultivating to the point of going nuts, cultivating until you don’t even want to live anymore? Wanting to do nothing but cultivate?”

   Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Everyone is crazy these days. If you’re not crazy, they think you are. Maybe it is true and maybe it isn’t. although practically everyone is crazy, they just don’t realize they’re crazy.

   Some people accuse me of being crazy, and I say, “Maybe I am and maybe I’m not,” because there are no fixed dharmas. Everything is made from the mind. If there is craziness in your mind, you’re crazy; if there is no craziness in your mind, you’re not. All dharmas arise from the mind. When the mind arises all dharmas arise; and when the mind does not arise all dharmas perish. Now, during the session, the mind will not arise and dharmas will not arise. The state of non-production and non-extinction will manifest.

   We just completed a ceremony which is called “sprinkling clean.” Those who have studied Buddhadharma know what “sprinkling clean” means, but those who have not studied Buddhadharma don’t know what we are doing—muttering “Na mwo Na mwo, Mwo la Mwo la,” taking a bowl of water and sprinkling it all over. Someone says, “I know. You were getting ready to sweep the floor and so you sprinkled water on the ground so the dust would not fly around.”

   No. It’s not to keep the dust down, but rather to keep the demons from flying around, because there are demons everywhere. Whenever one convenes a Dharma assembly in a Bodhimandala, one should sprinkle it clean. Otherwise demons may come to disturb the Bodhimandala and cause a lot of trouble. “Sprinkling clean” keeps them away.

   The water is called “sweet dew,” Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s sweet dew. It chases out all demons and ghosts so that the Bodhimanda says,

     The sweet dew from the Bodhisattva’s willow branch
__ Can cause one drop to pervade the ten directions.
     All filth and dirt are completely wiped away.
     Causing the platform to be totally clean and pure.

   Although we are sprinkling clean, it is not that we are actually using water. This is the verse that we recite when “sprinkling clean.” Now that I have explained it, you understand what we are doing.

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