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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over

Volume 2

If You Just Keep Reciting


   I see that people are not very clear about the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name, and so they do the reciting very sloppily and don’t perfect their skill. In cultivation, investigating Ch’an is just mindfulness of the Buddha, and mindfulness of the Buddha is investigating Ch’an. People who are able to investigate Ch’an are the ones who are able to be mindful of the Buddha, and being able to be mindful of the Buddha gives you the ability to investigate Ch’an.


   People who are mindful of the Buddha are the Buddha, whereas that cannot yet be said of those who investigate Ch’an. The reason is that when you are reciting the Buddha’s name, “Namo Amita Buddha, Namo Amita Buddha,” then the only thing in your mind is a Buddha, and eventually you will become a Buddha. The reason Amita Buddha comes to guide living beings is that living beings have already turned into Buddhas, and so he leads their true nature to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and then:  

       The flower opens and one sees the Buddha.  

   But those who investigate Ch’an are still looking for the Buddha, wondering, “Who’s reciting the Buddha’s name?” They are searching, and don’t dare admit they are the Buddha they are mindful of. Instead, they look into, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” “Who is able to be mindful of the Buddha?” “Reciting the Buddha’s name is who?” They keep looking and looking, running outside.

   But when you are mindful of the Buddha, the Buddha comes back into your nature and you don’t have to search outside. Buddha recitations are held so that for an entire week you don’t have any other false thoughts—you’re just mindful of the Buddha, and then you can become one with the Buddha. If you can do that, then you are sure to be reborn in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. So the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name is especially fine.  

   “Well, what about investigating Ch’an?” you may ask. It’s good too. But when you investigate Ch’an you have to suffer. First, there is the pain to put up with, and then you have to make sure at all times you’re not having false thoughts. If you compare the two, Ch’an is harder than reciting Buddha which you can do any time and anywhere: “Namo Amita Buddha, Namo Amita Buddha.”

   If you are mindful of the Buddha, the Buddha will be mindful of you, and when the two mindfulnesses merge, you become a Buddha. This is a very wonderful Dharma-door! You haven’t looked into it carefully, so you don’t know its good points, and very few people attended when we held the session. It ended today, and now I’ll tell you: You really missed a good chance. You missed it this year, but I hope that next year—this—year—you’ll retrieve the chance and decide, “If there’s another Buddha recitation session, no matter what, I’ll take time off, however busy I am, and come recite ‘Namo Amita Buddha.’”  

   I’ll tell you something else that is the absolute truth: What I like most is reciting Amita Buddha’s name. When I’m asleep I recite, “Namo Amita Buddha,” and I recite it in my dreams. When I’m walking or if I’m standing, I’m reciting, “Namo Amita Buddha.” Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down are all done reciting, “Namo Amita Buddha.” Amita Buddha is standing all around me, because Amita Buddha wants to become one with me so there is no difference between us. Would you say that was wonderful or not? Is there anything that could be more wonderful?  

   Reciting the Buddha’s name is the most wonderful of Dharma-doors. You haven’t recited to the point that you have skill, so you don’t know what I’m talking about. But when you get to that point, then to the exhaustion of empty space and the Dharma realm everything turns into “Namo Amita Buddha.”  

   You may say, “What use is there in that?”  

   Well, what use is there in your not reciting? There’s nothing better than to be able to be with the Buddha every day. I’m not trying to give you regrets by saying this, but this year it’s really too sad that you missed the opportunity. Why do I say that? Several millions of years have gone by without ever encountering a Dharma assembly for reciting the Buddha’s name, but this life we have managed to meet that wonderful Dharma and the conditions were about to ripen.

   All of you think it over; in this country how many places are there where Buddha recitation sessions are held? Not just in America, but in the entire Western hemisphere, there are very few such places—for I’m constantly looking into history, and there aren’t any. But now that we have had the chance, we’ve missed it. So, next year if there’s another Buddha recitation session held, no matter what, don’t miss your chance! Cultivation has to be actually practiced, you really have to do it!  

   In investigating Ch’an, not only do you yourself fail to become a Buddha, you even lose yourself! See how you wonder, “Who recites the Buddha’s name?” Basically you’re the one reciting, but you fail to recognize who you are and wonder “Who?” What’s the point in losing yourself? That’s not so important, but you even lose the Buddha! For you have to look for the Buddha outside. You investigate, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” Without it occurring to you to ask, “Who is it who is the Buddha?” “Who is being Buddha?” “Who becomes the Buddha?” Even if someone does investigate, “Who becomes a Buddha?” they are likely to figure, “Oh, it’s him; it isn’t me,” and get it wrong too. It’s very easy to take the wrong road, which is why Ch’an Master Yung-Min-Shou said:  

     With Ch’an and with Pure Land,
       One is like a tiger wearing horns.
     This life a teacher of people,
       In the future a Buddha—Patriarch.
     With Ch’an but without Pure Land,
       Nine out of ten take the wrong road.  

That happens because you start to have doubts like, “Oh, it’s not me who becomes a Buddha. I can’t become a Buddha.” Yet, even though it’s easy to go astray, there are lots of people who cultivate Ch’an, for if no one cultivate it, that Dharma won’t exist. I, too, investigate Ch’an, and I’ve been looking for a long time for who’s reciting the Buddha’s name, all over the place. Have I had any luck? Well, I’m not looking anymore. Why not? It’s because now I’m learning to be lazy, and smart. I’m not as dense as I was before.  

   You may say, “Oh, we can do that too!”     

   You can try if you want—it will work if you are able not to have any false thinking. But if you still have false thinking, you have to keep on looking. You have to employ the Dharma to stop false thinking. But once you’ve stopped the false thoughts, you no longer need to use the Dharma.  

   By saying this I’m causing people to have lots of false thoughts, such as, “It’s not my fault that I missed the chance to do the Buddha recitation session this year. It’s because the Abbot didn’t tell us clearly. If I had known before, I would have made sure not to miss the chance.”  

   I did tell you clearly, several million years ago; but you didn’t pay attention and forgot. So now I’ve told you again. There were people I caused to miss the chance, since they wanted to go home and visit their parents instead of doing the session and I said okay.  

   Now you may wonder, “How can the Abbot do that, and make them miss such a chance? I have my reason. I thought, “It’s also a good thing for them to be filial. They can practice filial piety first, and cultivate afterwards.” So it was my fault. I know that if I had said, “No! No one is allowed to go on vacation! Everyone has to stay and do the session,” that lots of people would have participated. But I didn’t say that, though a time may come when I do. Actually, though, you can do what you want, and “everything’s okay!”  


   The Ch’an School Dharma is apart from words and speech, and so it is not established from language—yet it is not really apart from words. Even the name, “Ch’an School,” involves language. We who cultivate the Way should be cultivating non-attachment, whether it be to good and evil, fine or ugly, right or wrong, slight or important, great or small—none of that should be attached to. And we should cultivate and practice all 84,000 Dharma doors, for each is foremost. There aren’t 84,000 second-rate ones or, for that matter, 84,000 important ones or unimportant ones. So when you cultivate the Way, if you cultivate even the seemingly most insignificant Dharma door to accomplishment, then it counts, and again it’s your cultivation of it that counts if the Dharma door is as big as Mount Sumeru. It’s not the case that the slight one is not important, while the one huge as Mount Sumeru is.  

     From the small comes the great,
       The near becomes the far,
     Starting near goes to far, 

That’s how one has success in cultivation. It’s not to say, for example, “I’m not going to eat things I don’t like the taste of, and I’ll eat more of those foods that appeal to me more.” People who cultivate the Way have to be heroically vigorous in cultivating whatever Dharma they are involved in. Although it may seem to be the most insignificant Dharma door, but if you are able to cultivate it, you can accomplish your Way karma. And it may be the most important Dharma, but if you can’t cultivate it, your Way karma won’t be accomplished.

   If you fail to recognize an important Dharma, it becomes unimportant; an unimportant Dharma, if recognized, becomes important. It all depends on whether you recognize it or not. For example, when you eat, do you know what the things you eat taste like? If you do, then you’ll have feelings about whether they taste good or bad. But if you aren’t aware of what they taste like, you won’t know if they taste good or bad or what. As it is said:  

     In the door of Buddha’s work
       Not one dharma is rejected.
     In the substance of True Suchness,
       Not one speck of dust is set.  

   You can take any Dharma and cultivate it to accomplish Buddhahood. But in the self-nature of True Thusness, not even a dustmote can remain, which is why its light is all-pervasive.  

   The reason that one sits to cultivate the Dharma of investigating Ch’an is so one won’t have any thoughts. It specified before that if only a single thought is not produced, that is called the Buddha. But can you go without producing a single thought? As you sit there you think of all sorts of things you don’t ordinarily think of, and remember a lot of long-forgotten circumstances that suddenly pop up again. Historical events from 700 and 800 years back now return to mind. Is that having a single thought arise? Of course not. How can you get there then?

   I’ll tell you straight today: there isn’t any way. There isn’t any way to keep a single thought from arising—but you can get so that a single thought is not destroyed. For if it’s destroyed, it can be produced, and if produced, it can be destroyed. But if you prevent its destruction you’ll keep it from arising. How can you do it thought? Well, take for example the one thought, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” you can keep that “Who?” going non-stop. “Who?” it’s searching for the “who,” not reciting “who?” As long as you keep searching, that single thought isn’t destroyed, and therefore it won’t be produced. A single thought not being produced is the Buddha.  

   That’s what the doctrine of the Ch’an School is all about. If you can be such that not one thought is produced or destroyed, then the light of your wisdom will appear.  

It’s not that you sit there and grit your teeth, square your eyes, and press all thoughts down with your fists so they can’t get up. The more you try to do that, the more trouble you will have. Tell them not to arise and they’ll insist on arising. You’ll be holding mother thought down, but father thought will arise. Or father thought will stop, but older brother thought will come along, with younger brother holding up the rear. Pretty soon the whole family of six types of relations will be grabbing at you—seventh and eighth—the whole “kit and caboodle.”

   “Seventh” is the seventh consciousness which will pull at you, and the eighth consciousness will drag you from the other side, a tug-of-war with you in the middle. The six types of close relatives are consciousnesses one through six. You’ll be sitting there trying to investigate dhyana, and this one will want to chat with you, another to investigate a certain question. The eyes have visual questions, the ears auditory questions, the nose its nose questions and the tongue its tongue questions, the body has body questions, and the mind mental ones.

   The eyes will say to you, “Have you forgotten that beautiful form we saw today? So pretty! Did you like it or not?” The ears will say, “The music we heard today sounded so good, let’s go listen to it again tomorrow.” The nose will pose the question, “Evening in Paris smells so good, wouldn’t you like to smell it again?”

   The tongue will propose, “There’s not much point in just smelling the aroma of the best-tasting food. Only if it is tasted and eaten are its advantages obtained.” The body will say, “I get the advantage, not you!” The mind will says, “The feeling is entirely with me. None of the rest of you count.” Those six types of relations hold a debate, and the seventh and eighth work at their tug-of-war. That really messes people up when they try to investigate Ch’an.

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