Category Archives: Master Hsu Yun

For Mr. HE Jingtian, a Layman of Great Compassion By Master Hsu Yun

For Mr. HE Jingtian, a Layman of Great Compassion By Master Hsu Yun

Once, he competed for reputation,
And struggled for advantage in the world
As the Chu and the Han chased each other through the Gates of Qin.

Yet, in a nap, no longer than it takes to cook millet,
In a brief dream, he entered that peerless realm of emptiness.

This hero who solved the riddle of the world!
This man who sleeps as well on featherbed or grass!
Who copes with all the world’s events
And doesn’t calculate priorities.
With empty hand does he command the yin and yang of time.

It’s so hard for the Buddha to save us!
We take a wrong turn a thousand times.
Those who truly crave liberation
Must quickly take advantage of their time.

The Buddha’s words will shine like the white moon,
Illuminating the path that’s otherwise unlit.
The Temple Bell will awaken the sincere but sleeping…
Dong… Dong… again, again, it calls.

Think about the chances! Born as human beings!
Intelligent and strong! But our minds are seared with troubles
And we’re desperate for refuge from ourselves.

I’ve learned the teachings of the Dharma
And store that knowledge in my heart.
Guarding it keeps me safely here at home.

I know that what seems to exist came out of nowhere.
And what seems to disappear, never went away.
Appearing and vanishing – the illusions of coming and going.
Another illusion, a sadder one, is that we two human beings
Can ever stay together long.

Master Hsuan Hua ,Right View on non-attachment

“Good Knowing Advisors, the ability to cultivate the conduct of not dwelling inwardly or outwardly, of coming and going freely, of casting away the grasping mind, and of unobstructed penetration, is basicaly no different from The Prajna Sutra.”

~ Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng
Continue reading Master Hsuan Hua ,Right View on non-attachment

Writing a Chant Poem on Fu Guo Dreaming of the Ocean By Grand Master Hsu Yun

Poems express a person’s feelings
And this can cause both profit or loss.
A teacher uses allegory to convey meaning.
And metaphor makes it easier to speak his truth.

So this moldy old man uses pen and ink for his explanations.
All my life I’ve been foolish and dull.

Sometimes I look at something and I think it’s so wonderful.
And then I realize I was pointing out a fact
That was as obvious as the moon.

The “poise of a dying man”, teachings of Master Hsu-Yun

The “poise of a dying man”

teachings of Master Hsu-Yun

“Beyond meditation practice, there is attitude. A beginner must learn to cultivate what is called, “the poise of a dying man”. What is this poise? It is the poise of knowing what is important and what is not, and of being accepting and forgiving. Anyone who has ever been at the bedside of a dying man will understand this poise. What would the dying man do if someone were to insult him? Nothing. What would the dying man do if someone were to strike him? Nothing. As he lay there, would he scheme to become famous or wealthy? No. If someone who had once offended him were to ask him for his forgiveness would he not give it? Of course he would. A dying man knows the pointlessness of enmity. Hatred is always such a wretched feeling. Who wishes to die feeling hatred in his heart? No one. The dying seek love and peace.”

Sutra of the Past Vows of EARTH STORE BODHISATTVA with commentary on Sutra by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Namo Earth Store Bodhisattva

Namo Ti Tsang Wang P’u Sa

Namo Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva

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with commentary on Sutra by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua


FROM ANCIENT TIMES, the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva has been one of the most popular Chinese Buddhist sutras.  “Earth Store” is a literal rendering of the bodhisattva’s original Sanskrit name, Ksitigarbha.  In the Buddhist pantheon, he is one of the most highly celebrated bodhisattva, along with Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, and Samantabhadra.  These four represent the four basic Mahayana qualities:  Manjusri represents great wisdom; Avalokitesvara, great compassion; Samantabhadra, great meritorious deeds; and Ksitigarbha, the great vow – the vow to help and to cross over all sentient beings.  “If I do not go to hell (to help them there), who else will go?” is the famous pronouncement of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha.

In the seventh century A.D., this sutra was translated by Siksananda from the Sanskrit into Chinese, but not until this publication has it ever been translated into English.  Dharma Master Heng Ching’s work is not a critical study in the traditional Western scholarly sense.  However, it bears special importance, as it is accompanied by the comprehensive commentary of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua.  Without such an accompaniment, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for Western readers to understand the significance and applications of this sutra.

One of the aims of the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions is to make available religious teachings that were previously inaccessible to the English-speaking student of religion.  In this light, the Institute is honored to publish this invaluable source of learning and awareness.

The Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions

APRIL 1974



Master Hsu Yun

Master Hsu Yun

There are many kinds of method but I will deal briefly with them.


(1) Firm belief in the (law of) causality

Whoever One may be, especially if striving to perform one’s religious duty, one should believe firmly in the law of causality. If one lacks this belief and does whatever one likes, not only will one fail in the performance of religious duty, but also there will be no escape from this law (of causality) even in the three unhappy ways.[1] An ancient master said: ‘If one wishes to know the causes formed in a previous life, one can find them in how one fares in the present life; if one wishes to know the effects in the next life, one can find them in one’s deeds in the present life.’ He also said: ‘The karma of our deeds will never be wiped out even after hundreds and thousands of aeons (but) as soon as conditions become ripe, we will have to bear the effects ourselves.’ The Surangama Sutra says: ‘If the causal ground is not a true one, the ripening (fruit) will be distorted’ Therefore, when one sows a good cause, one will reap a good fruit (and) when one sows an evil cause, one will reap an evil fruit; when one sows melon (seeds) one will gather melons (and) when one sows beans, one will gather beans. This is the plain truth. As I am talking about the law of causality, I will tell you two stories to illustrate it.

The first story is about the massacre of the Sakya clansmen by the Crystal King (Virudhaka).[2] Before the advent of Sakyamuni Buddha, there was near Kapila town a village inhabited by fishermen, and in it was a big pond. It happened that because of a great drought, the pond ran dry and all the fish were caught and eaten by the villagers. The last fish taken was a big one and before it was killed, a boy who never ate fish, played with it and thrice knocked its head. Later, after Sakyamuni Buddha’s appearance in this world, King Prasenajit[3] who believed in the Buddha-dharma, married a Sakya girl who then gave birth to a prince called Crsytal. When he was young, Crystal had his schooling in Kapila which was then inhabited by the Sakya clansmen. One day while playing, the boy ascended to the Buddha’s seat and was reprimanded by others who dragged him down. The boy cherished a grudge against the men and when he became king, he led his soldiers to attack Kapila, killing all its inhabitants. At the same time, the Buddha suffered from a headache which lasted three days. When His disciples asked Him to rescue the poor inhabitants, the Buddha replied that a fixed Karma could not be changed. By means of his miraculous powers, Maudgalyayana[4] rescued five hundred Sakya clansmen and thought he could give them refuge in his own bowl which was raised up in the air. When the bowl was brought down, all the men had been turned into blood. When asked by His chief disciples, the Buddha related the story (kung an) of the villagers who in days gone by had killed all the fish (in their pond); King Crystal had been the big fish and his soldiers the other fish in the pond; the inhabitants of Kapila who were now killed had been those who ate the fish; and the Buddha Himself had been the boy who thrice knocked the head of the big fish. (Karma was) now causing Him to suffer from a headache for three days in retribution for his previous act. Since there colud be no escape from the effects of a fixed Karma, the five hundred Sakya clansmen, although rescued by Maudgalyayana, shared the same fate. Later, King Crystal was reborn in a hell. (As cause produces effect which in turn becomes a new cause) the retribution (theory) is inexhaustible. The law of causality is really very dreadful.

The second story is that of (Ch’an master) Pai Chang who liberated a wild fox.[5] One day, after a Ch’an meeting, although all his disciples had retired, the old master Pai Chang noticed an elderly man who remained behind. Pai Chang asked the man what he was doing and he replied: ‘I am not a human being but the spirit of a wild fox. In my previous life, I was the head-monk of this place. One day, a monk asked me, “Does a man practicing self-cultivation, still become involved in the (theory of) retribution?” I replied, “No, he is free from the (theory of) retribution.” For this (reply) alone, I got involved in retribution and have now been the spirit of a wild fox for five hundred years, and am still unable to get away from it. Will the master be compassionate enough to enlighten me on all this?’ Pai Chang said to the old man: ‘Ask me the same question (and I will explain it to you).’ The man then said to the master: ‘I wish to ask the master this: Does one who practices self cultivation still get involved in the (theory of) retribution?’ Pai Chang replied: ‘He is not blind to cause and effect.’ Thereupon, the old man was greatly awakened; he prostrated himself before the master to thank him and said: ‘I am indebted to you for your (appropriate) reply to the question and am now liberated from the fox’s body.[6] I live in a (small) grotto on the mountain behind and hope you will grant me the usual rites for a dead monk.’ The following day, Pai Chang went to a mountain behind (his monastery), where in a (small) grotto he probed the ground with his staff and discovered a dead fox for whom the usual funeral rites for a dead monk were held.

(Dear) friends, after listening to these two stories, you will realize that the law of causality is indeed a dreadful (thing). Even after His attainment of Buddhahood, the Buddha still suffered a headache in retribution (for His former act). Retribution is infallible and fixed karma is inescapable. So we should always be heedful of all this and should be very careful about creating (new) causes.

(2) Strict observance if the rules of discipline (commandment)

In striving to perform one’s religious duty, the first thing is to observe the rules of discipline. For discipline is the fundamental of the Supreme Bodhi; discipline begets immutability and immutability begets wisdom. There is no such thing as self-cultivation without observance of the rules of discipline. The Surangama Sutra which lists four kinds of purity, clearly teaches us that cultivation of Samadhi (-mind) without observance of the rules of discipline, will not wipe out the dust (impurities). Even if there be manifestation of much knowledge with dhyana, this also will cause a fall into (the realm of) maras (evil demons) and heretics. Therefore, we know that observance of the rules of discipline is very important. A man observing them is supported and protected by dragon-kings and devas, and respected and feared by maras and heretics. A man breaking the rules of discipline is called a big robber by the ghosts who make a clean sweep of even his footprints. Formerly, in Kubhana state (Kashmir), there was nearby a monastery a poisonous dragon which frequently played havoc in the region. (In the monastery) five hundred arhats gathered together but failed to drive away the dragon with their collective power of Dhyana-samadhi. Later, a monk came (to the monastery) where he did not enter into Dhyana-samadhi; he merely said to the poisonous dragon: ‘Will the wise and virtuous one leave this place and go to some distant one.’ Thereupon, the poisonous dragon fled to a distant place. When asked by the arhats what miraculous power he had used to drive away the dragon, the monk replied: ‘I did not use the power of Dhyana-samadhi; I am only very careful about keeping the rules of discipline and I observe a minor one with the same care as a major one.’ So, we can see that the collective power of five hundred arhats’ Dhyana–samadhi cannot compare with a monk’s strict observance of the rules of discipline.
If you (retort and) ask me (why) the Sixth Patriarch said:

‘Why should discipline be observed if the mind is (already) impartial?
Why should straightforward men practice Ch’an ?’[7]

I will ask you back this question: ‘Is your mind already impartial and straightforward; if the (lady) Ch’ang O came down from the moon[8] with her naked body and embraced you in her arms, would your heart remain undisturbed; and if someone without any reason insults and beats you, will you not give rise to feelings of anger and resentment? Can you refrain from differentiating between enmity and affection, between hate and love, between self and other, and between right and wrong? If you can do all this, then you can open your mouth widely to talk, otherwise it is useless to tell a deliberate lie.’

(3) A firm faith

A firm believing mind is the fundamental of one’s training for performing one’s religious duty, because faith is the mother (or begetter) of the beginning (or source) of right doctrine, and because without faith, no good will derive therefrom. If we want to be liberated from (the round of) births and deaths, we must first have a firm believing mind. The Buddha said that all living beings on earth had (inherent in them) the meritorious Tathagata wisdom which they could not realize solely because of their false thinking and grasping. He also expounded all kinds of Dharma doors (to enlightenment) to cure (all kinds of) ailments from which living beings suffered. We should, therefore, believe that his words are not false and that all living beings can attain Buddhahood. But why have we failed to attain Buddhahood? It is because we have not gone into training according to the (correct) method. For example, we believe and know that bean curd can be made with soybean but if we do not start making it, soybean cannot turn into bean curd (for us). Now assuming that soybean is used for making bean curd, we shall still fail to make it if we do not know how to mix it with gypsum. If we know the method, we will grind the soybean (put the powder in water), boil it, take out the bean grounds and add a suitable quantity of gypsum powder; thus we will certainly get bean curd. Likewise, in the performance of our religious duty, Buddhahood will be unattainable not only because of lack of training, but also because of training not in conformity with the (correct) method. If our self-cultivation is practiced according to the (correct) method, without either backsliding or regret, we are bound to attain Buddhahood.

Therefore, we should firmly believe that fundamentally we are Buddhas, we should also firmly believe that self-cultivation performed according to the (correct) method is bound to result in the attainment of Buddha-hood. Master Yung Chia said (in his Song of Enlightenment):

‘When the real is attained, neither ego nor dharma exist,
And in a moment the avici karma[9] is eradicated.
If knowingly I lie to deceive living beings, my tongue
Will be pulled out for aeons uncountable as dust and sand.’[10]

The old master was very compassionate and took this boundless vow to urge those coming after him to develop a firm believing mind.

(4) Adoption of the method of training

After one has developed a firm faith, one should choose a Dharma door (to enlightenment) for one’s training. One should never change it, and when one’s choice has been made, either for repetition of the Buddha’s name, or for holding a mantra, or for Ch’an training, one should stick to it for ever without backsliding and regret. If today the method does not prove successful, tomorrow it shall be continued; if this year it does not prove successful, next year it shall be continued; and if in the present lifetime it does not prove successful, it shall be continued in the next life. The old master Kuei Shan said: ‘If one practices it in each succeeding reincarnation, the Buddha-stage can be expected.’ There are some people who are irresolute in their decisions; today after hearing a learned man praise the repetition of Buddha’s name, they decide to repeat it for a couple of days and tomorrow, after hearing another learned man praise Ch’an training, they will try it for another two days. If they like to play in this manner, they will go on doing so until their death without succeeding in getting any result. Is it not a pity?


Athough there are many Dharma doors (to enlightenment), the Buddha, Patriarchs and Ancestors[11] were agreed that the Ch’an training was the unsurpassed wonderful door. In the Surangama assembly, the Buddha ordered Manjusri to choose between the (various modes of) complete enlightenment, and (he chose) Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s (method) of using the faculty of hearing, as the best. When we turn back the hearing to hear our self-nature, this is (one of the methods of) Ch’an training. This place is a Ch’an hall in which we should discuss this Ch’an training.


Our daily activities are performed within the truth itself. Is there a place that is not a Bodhimandala?[12] Fundamentally a Ch’an hall is out of place; moreover Ch’an does not mean sitting (in meditation). The so-called Ch’an hall and the so-called Ch’an sitting are only provided for people (who encounter) insurmountable obstructions (of their own) and who are of shallow wisdom in this period of decadence (of the Dharma).

When one sits in this training, one’s body and mind should be well controlled. If they are not well controlled a small harm will be illness and a great harm will be entanglement with the demon, which is most regrettable. In the Ch’an hall, when incense sticks are burned for your walking or sitting, the aim is to ensure the control of body and mind. Besides this, there are many ways to control body and mind, but I will deal briefly with the essential ones.

When sitting in Ch’an meditation, the correct position is the natural one. The waist should not be pushed forward, for to do so is to pull upward the inner heat with the result that after the sitting, there will be tears, bad breath, uneasy respiration, loss of appetite and even vomiting of blood. Neither should the waist be drawn backward with dropped head, for this can easily cause dullness. As soon as dullness is felt, the meditator should open his eyes wide, pull up his waist and gently shake his buttocks, and dullness will disappear automatically.

If the training is undergone in hot haste, one will feel a certain annoying dryness in the chest. In this case, it will be advisable to stop the training for the time a half-inch of the incense stick takes to burn, and resume when one feels at ease again. If one does not proceed in this manner, one will, as time goes on, develop a hot and excitable character, and in the worst case, one may thereby become insane or get entangled with demons.

When the Ch’an sitting (in meditation) becomes effective, there will be (mental) states which are too many to enumerate, but if you do not cling to them, they will not hinder you. This is just what the proverb says: ‘Don’t wonder at the wonderful and the wonderful will be in full retreat.’ Even if you see evil spirits of all kinds coming to disturb you, you should take no notice of them and you should not be afraid of them. Even if Sakyamuni Buddha comes to lay His hand on your head[13] and prophesies (your future Buddhahood) you should not take any notice of all this and should not be delighted by it. The Surangama Sutra says: ‘A perfect state is that in which the mind is undisturbed by the saintly; an interpretation of the saintly is entanglement with all demons.’

The Ch’an Training
From the Hsu Yun Ho Shang Fa Hui
Tr. Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk)

[1]By going to (a) the hell of fire, (b) the hell of blood, where the inhabitants devour each other like animals and (c) the Asipattra hell of swords, where the leaves and grass are sharp-edged swords.

[2]This story was related by the Buddha himself.

[3]King of Sravasti and a contemporary of the Buddha. He was killed by his son, Virudhaka, known as the Crystal King and the Evil Born King, who supplanted him.

[4] Maha-Maudgalyayana, or Maudgalaputra, was one of the ten chief disciples of the Buddha, and was specially noted for his miraculous power; formerly an ascetic, he agreed with Sariputra that whichever first found the truth would reveal it to the other. Sariputra found the Buddha and brought Maudgalyayana to Him; the former is placed on His right, the latter on His left.

[5]This story is recorded in ‘The Transmission of the Lamp’ (Ching Te Ch’uan Teng Lu) and other Ch’an collections.

[6]In his previous life. the old monk had already succeeded in disentangling his mind (from its attachment to the phenomenal. However, he could not get away from Samsara because of the karma of misguiding his former disciple about retribution. In his present transmigration, he had realized a singleness of mind about leaving the world of animals and had thereby acquired the occult power of transforming his fox’s body into that of an old man. However, he still clung to the dual view of the existence of ego (subject) and fox (object) and could not free himself from this last bondage. Pai Chang’s words had a tremendous effect on the old man, releasing his mind from his doubt about his self-nature which fundamentally was pure and contained neither cause nor effect. Being free from this last bond, his self-nature now returned to normal and could function without further handicap; it could hear the master’s voice by means of its function. When function operated normally, its essence manifested itself; hence enlightenment.

[7]See ‘The Altar Sutra of the Six Patriarch,’ Chapter 3.

[8]The name of a very beautiflil lady who, according to a popular tale, stole the elixir of life and fled with it to the moon where she was changed into a frog.

[9]Avici is the last and deepest of the eight hells, where the culprits suffer, die, and are instantly reborn to suffering without interruption.

[10]As punishment for verbal sins.

[11]The Patriarchs are the six Patriarchs of China. The Ancestors are the great Ch’an Masters who came after the Patriarchs. Hsu Yun is now called an Ancestor.

[12]Bodhimandala: truth-plot, holy site, place of enlightenment.

[13]A custom of Buddha in teaching His disciples, from which the burning of spots on the head of a monk is said to have originated. The eventual vision of the Buddha is merely an impure creation of the deluded mind and does not really represent Him in His Dharmakaya which is inconceivable. Many meditators mistake such visions for the real and become involved with demons. (See Surangama Sutra.)

“Develop a skilful and progressive mind” Lecture, Master Hsu Yun ,Shanghai 1953

“Develop a skilful and progressive mind”

Master Hsu Yun 1840 - 1959


Master Hsu Yun Shanghai 1953

If all of us develop a skilful and progressive mind in quest of the truth, we will all be awakened to it. The ancients said:

“It is easy for a worldly man to win Buddhahood,
(But) hard indeed is it to bring wrong thinking to an end.”

It is only because of our insatiable desires since the time without beginning that we now drift about in the sea of mortality, within which there are 84,000 passions and all sorts of habits which we cannot wipe out. (In consequence), we are unable to attain the truth and to be like Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are permanently enlightened and are free from delusion. For this reason, (Master) Lien Ch’ih said:

It is easy to be caught up in the causes of pollution,[73]
(But) to earn truth producing karma is most hard.[74]
If you cannot see behind what can be seen,
Differentiated are (concurrent) causes,
(Around you) are but objects which, like gusts of wind,
Destroy the crop of merits (you have sown).[75]
The passions of the mind e’er burst in flames,
Destroying seeds of Bodhi (in the heart).
If recollection[76] of the truth be as (intense as) passion,
Buddhahood will quickly be attained.
If you treat others as you treat the self;
All will be settled (to your satisfaction).
If self is not right and others are not wrong,
Lords and their servants will respect each other.
If the Buddha-dharma’s constantly before one,
From all passions this is liberation.

How clear and how to the point are these lines! The (word) pollution means (the act of) making unclean. The realm of worldly men is tainted with desires of wealth, sensuality, fame and gain as well as anger and dispute. To them, the two words “religion” and “virtue” are only obstacles. Every day, they give way to pleasure, anger, sorrow and joy and long for wealth, honor, glory and prosperity. Because they cannot eliminate worldly passions, they are unable to give rise to a single thought of the truth. In consequence, the grove of merits is ruined and all seeds of Bodhi are destroyed. If they are indifferent to all worldly passions; if they give equal treatment to friends and foes; if they refrain from killing, stealing, committing adultery, lying and drinking intoxicating liquors; if they are impartial to all living beings; if they regard other people’s hunger as their own; if they regard other people’s drowning as if they get drowned themselves; and if they develop the Bodhi mind, they will be in agreement with the truth and will also be able to attain Buddhahood at a stroke. For this reason, it is said: “If recollection of the truth be (as intense) as passions, Buddhahood will quickly be attained.” All Buddhas and saints appear in the world to serve the living, by rescuing them from suffering, by bestowing happiness upon them and by aiding them out of pity.

We can practice self-denial as well as compassion for others, thus foregoing all sorts of enjoyment. (if we can do so), no one will have to endure suffering and there will remain nothing that cannot be accomplished. It will follow that we will be able to obtain the full fruit of our reward, in the same manner as a boat rises automatically with the tide. When dealing with others, if you have a compassionate and respectful mind, and are without self-importance, arrogance and deception, they will certainly receive you with respect and courtesy. On the other hand, if you rely on your abilities and are unreasonable, or if you are double-faced aiming only at (your own enjoyment of) sound, form, fame and wealth, the respect with which they may receive you, will not be real. For this reason, Confucius said: “If you respect others, they will always respect you. If you have sympathy for others, they will always have sympathy for you.

The Sixth Patriarch said:

Although their faults are theirs and are not ours, should we discriminate, we too are wrong. “[77]

Therefore, we should not develop a mind which discriminates between right and wrong and between self and others. If we serve other people in the same manner as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas did, we will be able to sow Bodhi seeds everywhere and will reap the most excellent fruits. Thus, passions will never be able to hold us in bondage.

The twelve divisions of the Mahayana’s Tripitaka were expounded by the World Honored One because of our three poisons, concupiscence, anger and stupidity. Therefore, the aims of the twelve divisions of this Tripitaka are: discipline (s’ila) imperturbability (samadhi) and wisdom (prajna). Their purpose is to enable us to wipe out our desires, to embrace (the four infinite Buddha states of mind): kindness (maitri), pity (karuna), joy (mudita)[78] and indifference (upeksa)[79] and all modes of salvation,[80] to eliminate the delusion of ignorance and the depravity of stupidity, to achieve the virtue of complete wisdom and to embellish the meritorious Dharmakarya. If we can take such a line of conduct, the Lotus treasury[81] will appear everywhere.

[73] Nidina or cause of pollution, which connects illusion with the karmic miseries of reincarnation.

[74] Good karma which leads to enlightenment.

[75] Accumulation of merits leading to realization of the truth.

[76] Smrti in Sanskrit.

[77] Quotation from a hymn chanted by the Sixth Patriarch-(Cf. Altar Sutra, Chapter II).

[78] Joy on seeing others rescued from suffering.

[79] Rising above these emotions, or giving up all things, e.g. distinctions of friend and foe, love and hatred, etc.

[80] The Six Paramitas are: dana (charity), sila (discipline), ksanti (patience or endurance), virya (zeal and progress), dhyana (meditation) and prajna (wisdom).

[81] Lotus treasury: Lotus store, or Lotus world, thePureLandof all Buddhas in their Sambhogakaya, or Reward bodies.

Passage taken from:

Daily Lectures at Two Ch’an Weeks – I
given at the Jade Buddha Monastery, Shanghai, in 1953
(From the Hsu Yun Ho Shang Nien P’u)
Tr. Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk)

Only One Heart -Master Hsu Yun

Only One Heart -Master Hsu Yun

Gaze into the Emptiness, the illusory changings of this world.
Enter the Emptiness. Others have. It’s not so hard.
Is there any place that’s unreachable when you make the effort?
Don’t be left behind because you’ve confused yourself over this.

Here! Let me rap you on the head with my stick!
Shut up, foolish face! Stop talking a minute!
Don’t be so quick to argue!
The mystery is so exquisite! It can’t be discussed!

Yes, I recite the Buddha’s name… or is the Buddha reciting mine?
What’s the recitation for anyway?
There’s only One Heart and It’s in the Pure Land.
The Buddha is my own True Nature.

The Buddha and me! We’re one, not two. So are you!
You’re chanting to this? You are this!
Come, hold on to this reality! Don’t be swept away into illusion.
History is an endless lie.

Let today be the day that the clouds and fog lift.
Don’t let a wisp of them remain.
Let your body live here, but keep your spirit evanescent.
See that when it’s free,
It can’t be bogged down into those old familiar ruts

Mirror Pond on Mount Taibo in Shanxi -Master Hsu-Yun

Mirror Pond on Mount Taibo in Shanxi

by Master Hsu-Yun

The water and my mind have both settled down
Into perfect stillness.
Sun and moon shine bright in it.
At night I see in the surfaceThe enormous face of my old familiar moon.
I don’t think you’ve ever met the source of this reflection.
All shrillness fades into the sound of silence.
But now and then a puff of mist floats across the mirror.It confuses me a little
But not enough to make me forget to forget my cares.

English version by

Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun

Essentials Of Chan Practice Parts 1 & 2 -Master Hsu-Yun

Essentials Of Chan Practice part 1 & 2 -Master Hsu-Yun  (source)


The Prerequisites and Understanding Necessary to Begin Chan Practice

1. The Objective of Chan Practice

The objective of Chan practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating its impurities and seeing into one’s true self-nature. The mind’s impurities are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self nature is the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas and sentient beings are not different from one another. To experience this wisdom and virtue, leave behind duality, discrimination, wrong thinking and attachment. This is Buddhahood. If one cannot do this, then one remains an ordinary sentient being.

The prerequisite for Chan practice is to eradicate wrong thinking. Sakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject. His simplest and most direct teaching is the word “stop” from the expression “stopping is Bodhi.” From the time when Bodhidharma transmitted Chan teachings to today, the winds of Chan have blown far and wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among the many things that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those who came to study with them, none is more valuable than the saying, “Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise.”

This expression is truly the prerequisite of Chan. If you cannot fulfil this requirement, then not only will you fail to attain the ultimate goal of Chan practice, but you will not even be able to enter the door of Chan. How can you talk of practicing Chan if you are entangled by worldly phenomena with thought after thought arising and passing away?

2. Put Down All Entangling Conditions

“Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise” is a prerequisite for the practice of Chan. Now that we know this, how do we accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of superior abilities, can stop all thoughts forever, arrive directly at the condition of non-arising, and instantly experience Bodhi. Such a person is not entangled by anything.The next best kind of practitioner uses principle to cut off phenomena and realises that self-nature is originally pure. Vexation and Bodhi, Samsara and Nirvana – all are false names which have nothing to do with one’s self-nature. All things are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or reflections.

Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great elements, as well as the mountains, rivers and great earth itself are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing, yet never obstructing the original surface. Do not be captivated by the arising, abiding, changing and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and aversion, grasping and rejecting. Give up your whole body, as if you were dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objects and six sense conciousnesses will naturally disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body – hunger, cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger – will no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation – when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena.

When all phenomena are renounced, wrong thoughts disappear, discrimination does not arise, and attachment is left behind. When thoughts no longer arise, the brightness of self-nature manifests itself completely. At this time you will have fulfilled the necessary conditions for Chan practice. Then, further hard work and sincere practice will enable you to illuminate the mind and see into your true nature.

3. Everyone Can Instantly Become a Buddha

Many Chan practitioners ask questions about the Dharma. The Dharma that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you try to explain things, the true meaning is lost. When you realize that “one mind” is the Buddha, from that point on there is nothing more to do. Everything is already complete. All talk about practice or attainment is demonic deception.

Bodhidharma’s “Direct pointing at the mind, seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood” clearly states that all sentient beings are Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized, one can harmonize with the environment yet remain undefiled. The mind will remain unified throughout the day, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. This is to already be a Buddha. At this point there is no need to put forth effort and be diligent. Any action is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest thought or word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed task. Do it by yourself. Do not seek outside yourself for it.

The vow to deliver all sentient beings, made by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is it a baseless, empty vow. The Dharma is exactly that. It has been elucidated again and again by the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted us with the truth. They do not deceive us.

4. Investigating Chan and Contemplating Mind

Our sect focuses on investigating Chan. The purpose of practising Chan is to “Illuminate the mind and see into one’s true nature.” This investigation is also called “Clearly realizing one’s self-mind and completely perceiving one’s original nature.”

Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came from the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually evolved. Most Chan practitioners, before the T’ang and Sung dynasties, became enlightened after hearing a word or half a sentence of the Dharma. The transmission from master to disciple was the sealing of Mind with Mind. There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday questions and answers untied the bonds. It was nothing more than prescribing the right medicine for the right illness.

After the Sung dynasty, however, people did not have such good karmic roots as their predecessors. They could not carry out what had been said. For example, practitioners were taught to “Put down everything” and “Not think about good or evil,” but they could not do it. They could not put down everything, and if they weren’t thinking about good, they were thinking about evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating gongans (ie. Koans) and hua-t’ous.1

When one begins looking into a hua-t’ou, one must grasp it tightly, never letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin. It concentrates on one point. The mouse doesn’t try different places and it doesn’t stop until it gets through. Thus, in terms of hua-t’ou, the objective is to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method is a last resort, just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow, drastic measures must be taken to cure the patient.

The ancients used gongans, but later on practitioners started using hua-t’ou. Some hua-t’ous are: “Who is dragging this corpse around?” “Before you were born what was your original face?” and “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?”

In fact, all hua-t’ous are the same. There is nothing uncommon, strange or special about them. If you wanted to, you could say: “Who is reciting the sutras?” “Who is reciting the mantras?” “Who is prostrating to the Buddha?” “Who is eating?” “Who is wearing these clothes?” “Who is walking?” “Who is sleeping?” They are all the same. The answer to the question “who” is derived from one’s Mind. Mind is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of Mind; Mind is the origin of all thoughts. Innumerable Dharmas generate from the Mind; Mind is the origin of all Dharmas. In fact, hua-t’ou is a thought. Before a thought arises, that is Mind. Before a thought arises there is the origin of words. Hence, looking into a hua-t’ou is contemplating Mind. There was Mind before your parents gave birth to you, so looking into your original face before you were born is contemplating Mind.

Self-nature is Mind. When one turns inward to hear one’s self-nature, one is turning inward to contemplate Mind. In the phrase, “Perfectly illuminating pure awareness,” pure awareness is Mind and illumination is contemplation. Mind is Buddha. When one recites Buddha’s name one contemplates Buddha. Contemplating Buddha is contemplating Mind.

Investigating hua-t’ou or “looking into who is reciting Buddha’s name ” is contemplating Mind. Hence contemplating Mind is contemplating pure awareness. It is also illuminating the Buddha-nature within oneself. Mind is nature, pure awareness, Buddha. Mind has no form, no characters, no directions; it cannot be found in any particular place. It cannot be grasped. Originally, Mind is purity, universally embracing all Dharma realms. No in or out, no coming or going. Originally, Mind is pure Dharmakaya.

When investigating hua-t’ou, the practitioner should first close down all six sense organs and seek where thoughts arise. Practitioners should concentrate on the hua-t’ou until they see the pure original mind which is apart from thoughts. If one does this without interruption, the mind becomes fine, quiet, tranquil, silently illuminating. At that moment the five skandas are empty, body and mind are extinguished, nothing remains. From that point, walking, standing, siting and lying down are all done motionlessly. In time the practice will deepen, and eventually practitioners will see their self-nature and become Buddhas and suffering will cease.

A past patriarch named Kao-feng (1238-1295) once said: “You must contemplate hua-t’ou like a falling roof tile sinking endlessly down into a pond ten thousand feet deep. If in seven days you are not enlightened, I will give you permission to chop off my head.” These are the words of an experienced person. He did not speak lightly. His words are true.

Although many modern day practitioners use hua-t’ou, few get enlightened. This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today have inferior karmic roots and less merit. Also, practitioners today are not clear about the purpose and path of hua-t’ou. Some practitioners search from east to west and from north to south until they die, but still do not penetrate even one hua-t’ou. They never understand or correctly approach the hua-t’ou. They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect and attach only to the tail of the words.

Hua-t’ou is One Mind. This mind is not inside, outside or in the middle. On the other hand, it is inside, outside and in the middle. It is like the stillness of empty space prevailing everywhere.

Hua-t’ou should not be picked up. Neither should it be pressed down. If you pick it up, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you press it down you will become drowsy. These approaches are contrary to the nature of the original mind and are not in accordance with the Middle Path.

Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts. They think it is difficult to tame them. Don’t be afraid of wandering thoughts. Do not waste your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them. Do not attach to any wandering thoughts, do not follow them, and do not try to get rid of them. As long as you don’t string thoughts together, wandering thoughts will depart by themselves.

1 A classic hua-t’ou is a brief pithy sentence or question which is the main point or “punchline” of a koan story. (JHC)


Methods of Practice in the Chan Hall

By Master Hsu Yun.

This is part two of a translation of a text by the great Chan master of the early part of the 20th century, Hsu Yun (1839-1 959). It is reprinted by permission of the Institute of Chung Hwa Buddhist Culture, New York, from Chan Newsletter 87, August 1991. The first part of this talk appeared in New Chan Forum No.4. Spring 1992.

1. Introduction:

Many people come to ask me for guidance. This makes me feel ashamed. Everyone works so hard – splitting firewood, hoeing the fields, carrying soil, moving bricks – and yet from morning to night not putting down the thought of practising the Path. Such determination for the Path is touching. I, Hsu-Yun, repent my inadequacy on the Path and my lack of virtue. I am unable to instruct you and can use only a few sayings from the ancients in response to your questions. There are four prerequisites concerning methods of practice:

  1. Deep faith in the law of cause and consequence
  2. Strict observance of precepts
  3. Immovable faith
  4. Choosing a Dharma door method of practice

2. The Essentials of Chan Practice:

Our everyday activities are executed within the Path itself Is there anywhere that is not a place for practising the Path? A Chan Hall should not even be necessary. Furthermore, Chan practice is not just sitting meditation. The Chan Hall and Chan sitting meditation are for sentient beings with deep karmic obstructions and shallow wisdom.

When one sits in meditation, one must first know how to regulate the body and mind. If they are not well regulated, then a small harm will turn into an illness and a great harm will lead to demonic entanglements. This would be most pitiable. Walking and sitting meditation in the Chan Hall are for the regulation of body and mind. There are other ways to regulate the body and mind, but I will talk about these two fundamental methods.

When you sit in the lotus position, you should sit naturally straight. Do not push the waist forward purposely. Doing so will raise your inner heat, which later on could result in having sand in the comer of your eyes, bad breath, uneasy breathing, loss of appetite, and in the worst case, vomiting blood. If dullness or sleepiness occur, open your eyes wide, straighten your back and gently move your buttocks from side to side. Dullness will naturally vanish. If you practice with an anxious attitude, you will have a sense of annoyance. At that time you should put everything down, including your efforts to practice. Rest for a few minutes. Gradually, after you recuperate, continue to practice. If you don’t do this, as time goes on you will develop a hot-tempered character, or, in the worst case, you could go insane or fall into demonic entanglements.

There are many experiences you will encounter when sitting Chan, too many to speak of. However, if you do not attach to them, they will not interfere with you. This is why the proverb says: “See the extraordinary yet do not think of it as being extraordinary, and the extraordinary will retreat.” If you encounter or perceive an unpleasant experience, take no notice of it and have no fear. If you experience something pleasant, take no notice of it and don’t give rise to fondness. The “Surangama Sutra” says: “If one does not think he has attained a supramundane experience, then this is good. On the other hand, if one thinks he has attained something supramundane, then he will attract demons.”

3. How to Start the Practice: Distinction between Host and Guest

How should one begin to practice? In the Surangama assembly, Kaundinya the Honoured One mentioned the two words “guest” and “dust”. This is where beginners should begin their practice. He said, “A traveller who stops at an inn may stay overnight or get something to eat. When he is finished or rested, he packs and continues his journey, for he does not have time to stay longer. If he were the host, he would have no place to go. Thus I reason: he who does not stay is called a guest because not staying is the essence of being a guest. He who stays is called a host. Again, on a clear day, when the sun rises and the sunlight enters a dark room through an opening, one can see dust in empty space. The dust is moving but the space is still. That which is clear and still is called space; that which is moving is called dust because moving is the essence of being dust.” Guest and dust refer to illusory thoughts, whereas host and space refer to self-nature. That the permanent host does not follow the guest in his comings and goings illustrates that permanent self-nature does not follow illusory thoughts in their fleeting rise and fall. Therefore it was said, “If one is unaffected by all things, then there will be no obstructions even when one is constantly surrounded by things.” The moving dust does not block the clear, still empty space; illusory thoughts which rise and fall by themselves do not hinder the self-nature of Suchness. Thus it was said, “If my mind does not arise, all things are blameless.” In such a state of mind, even the guest does not drift with illusory thoughts. If he understands space and dust, illusory thoughts will no longer be hindrances. It is said that when one recognizes an enemy, there will be no more enemy in your mind. if one can investigate and understand all this before starting to practice, it is unlikely that one will make serious mistakes.

4. Hua-t’ou and Doubt:

The ancient patriarchs pointed directly at Mind. When one sees self-nature, one attains Buddhahood. This was the case when Bodhidharma helped his disciple to calm his mind and when the Sixth Patriarch spoke only about seeing self-nature. All that was necessary was the direct understanding and acceptance of Mind and nothing else. There was no such thing as investigating hua-t’ou. More recent patriarchs, however, saw that practitioners could not throw themselves into practice with total dedication and could not instantaneously see their self-nature. Instead, these people played games and imitated words of wisdom, showing off other people’s treasure and patriarchs were compelled to set up schools and devise specific ways to help practitioners, hence the method of investigating hua-t’ou.

There are many hua-t’ous, such as “All dharmas return to one, where does this one return to?” “What was my original face before I was born?” and so on. The most common one, however, is “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?”.

What is meant by hua-t’ou? Hua means the spoken word; t’ou means the head or beginning, so hua-t’ou means that which is before the spoken word. For example, reciting Amitabha Buddha is a hua, and hua-t’ou is that which precedes one’s reciting the Buddha’s name. The hua-t’ou is that moment before the thought arises. Once the thought arises, it is already the tail of the hua. The moment before that thought has arisen is called non-arising. When one’s mind is not distracted, is not dull, is not attached to quiescence, or has not fallen into a state of nothingness, it is called non-perishing. Singlemindedly and uninterruptedly, turning inward and illuminating the state of non-arising and non-perishing is called investigating the hua-t’ou or taking care of the hua-t’ou.

To investigate the hua-t’ou, one must first generate doubt. Doubt is like a walking cane for the method of investigating hua-t’ou. What is meant by doubt? For example, one may ask, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” Everyone knows that it is he himself who is reciting the name, but is he using his mouth or mind? If it is his mouth, then after the person dies and the mouth still exists, how come the dead person is unable to recite Buddha’s name? If it is the mind, then what is the mind like? It cannot be known. Thus there is something one does not understand, and this gives rise to a slight doubt regarding the question of “who”.

This doubt should never be coarse. The finer it is the better one should singlemindedly watch and keep this doubt, and keep it going like a fine stream of water. Do not get distracted by any other thought. When the doubt is there, do not disturb it. When the doubt is no longer there, gently give rise to it again. Beginners will find that it is more effective to use this method when stationary rather than when moving; but you should not have a discriminating attitude. Regardless of whether your practice is effective or not or whether you are stationary or moving, just singlemindedly use the method and practice.

In the hua-t’ou, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” The emphasis should be on the word “who”. The other words serve to provide a general idea, just like in asking, “Who is dressing?”, “Who is eating?”, “Who is moving their bowels?”, ”Who is urinating?”, ”Who is ignorantly fighting for an ego?”, ”Who is being aware?”. Regardless of whether one is walking, standing, sitting or reclining, the word “who” is direct and immediate. Not having to rely on repetitive thinking, conjecture, or attention, it is easy to give rise to a sense of doubt.

Hence, hua-t’ou’s involving the word “who” are wonderful methods for practising Chan. But the idea is not to repeat, “Who is reciting Buddha’s name?” like one might repeat the Buddha’s name itself; nor is it right to use reasoning to come up with an answer to the question, thinking that this is what is meant by having doubt. There are people who uninterruptedly repeat the phrase, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” They would accumulate more merit and virtue if they repeatedly recited Amitabha Buddha’s name instead. There are others who let their minds wander, thinking that is the meaning of having doubt, and they end up more involved in illusory thoughts. This is like trying to ascend but descending instead. Be aware of this.

The doubt that is generated by a beginning practitioner tends to be coarse, intermittent and irregular. This does not truly qualify as a state of doubt. It can only be called thoughts. Gradually, after the wild thoughts settle and one has more control, the process can be called “ts’an” (ts’an means to investigate or look into). As one’s cultivation gets smoother, the doubt naturally arises without one’s actively inducing it to. At this point one is not aware of where one is sitting. One is not aware of the existence of a body or mind or environment. Only the doubt is there. This is a true state of doubt.

Realistically speaking, the initial stage cannot be considered cultivation. One is merely engaging in illusory thoughts. Only when true doubt arises by itself can it be called true cultivation. This moment is a crucial juncture, and it is easy for the practitioner to deviate from the right path:

  1. At this moment it is clear and pure and there is an unlimited sense of lightness and peace. However, if one fails to fully maintain one’s awareness and illumination (awareness is wisdom, not delusion; illumination is samadhi, not disorder), one will fall into a light state of mental dullness. If there is an open-eyed person around, he will be able to tell right away that the practitioner is in this mental state and hit him with the incense stick, dispersing all clouds and fog. Many people become enlightened this way.
  2. At this moment it is clear and pure, empty and vacuous. If it isn’t, then the doubt is lost. Then it is “no content”, meaning one is not making an effort to practice any more. This is what is meant by “the cliff with dry wood” or “the rock soaking in cold water”. In this situation the practitioner has to “bring up”. “Bring up” means to develop awareness and illumination. It is different from earlier times when the doubt was coarse. Now it has to be fine – one thought, uninterrupted and extremely subtle. With utter clarity, it is illuminating and quiescent, unmoving yet fully aware. Like the smoke from a fire that is about to go out, it is a narrow stream without interruption. When one’s practice reaches this point, it is necessary to have a diamond eye in the sense that one should not try to “bring up” any more. To “bring up” at this point would be like putting a head on top of one’s head.

Once a monk, asked Chan master Chao-chou, “What should one do when not one thing comes?” Chao-chou replied, “Put it down”. The monk, asked, “If not one thing comes, what does one put down?” Chao-chou replied, “If it cannot be put down, take it up”. This dialogue refers precisely to this kind of situation. The true flavour of this state cannot be described. Like someone drinking water, only he knows how cool or warm it is. If a person reaches this state, he will naturally understand. If he is not at this state, no explanation will be adequate. To a sword master you should offer a sword; do not bother showing your poetry to someone who is not a poet.

5. Taking Care of Hua-t’ou and Turning Inward to Hear One’s Self-Nature:

Someone might ask, “How is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s method of turning inward to hear self-nature considered investigating Chan?”. I have previously explained that taking care of hua-t’ou is being, moment after moment, with only one thought, singlemindedly shining the light inward on “that which is not born and not destroyed”. Inward illumination is reflection. Self-nature is that which is not born and not destroyed. When “hearing” and “illuminating” follow sound and form in the worldly stream, hearing does not go beyond sound and seeing does not go beyond form. However, when one turns inward and contemplates self-nature against the worldly steam, and does not pursue sound and form, then he becomes pure and transparent. At that time, “hearing” and “illuminating” are not two different things.

Thus we should know that taking care of the hua-t’ou and turning inward to hear self-nature does not mean using our eyes to see and our ears to hear. If we use our ears to hear or our eyes to see, then we are chasing sound and form. As a result we will be affected by them. This is called submission to the worldly stream. If one practices with one thought only, singlemindedly abiding in that which is not born and not destroyed, not chasing after sound and form, with no wandering thoughts, then one is going against the stream. This is also called taking care of the hua-t’ou or turning inward to hear one’s self-nature. This is not to say you should close your eyes tightly or cover your ears. Just do not generate a mind of seeking after sound and form.

6. Determined to Leave Samsara and Generating a Persevering Mind:

In Chan training the most important thing is to have an earnestness to leave birth and death and to generate a persevering mind. If there is no earnestness to leave birth and death, then one cannot generate the “great doubt” and practice will not be effective. if there is no perseverance in one’s mind, the result will be laziness, like a man who practices for one day and rests for ten. The practice will be incomplete and fragmented. Just develop a persevering mind and when great doubt arises, vexations will come to an end by themselves. When the time comes, the melon will naturally depart from the vine.

I will tell you a story. During the Ch’ing dynasty in the year of K’eng Tse (1900) when the eight world powers sent their armies to Peking, the Emperor Kuang-hsu fled westward from Peking to Shen Hsi province. Everyday he walked tens of miles. For several days he had no food to eat. On the road, a peasant offered him sweet potato stems. After he had eaten them, he asked the peasant what they were because they tasted so good. Think about the Emperor’s usual awe-inspiring demeanour and his arrogance! How long do you think he could continue to maintain his imperial attitude after so long a journey on foot? Do you think he had ever gone hungry? Do you think he ever had to eat sweet potato stems? At that time he gave up all of his airs. After all, he had walked quite a distance and had eaten stems to keep from starving. Why was he able to put down everything at that time? Because the allied armies wanted his life and his only thought was to save himself But when peace prevailed and he returned to Peking, once again he became proud and arrogant. He didn’t have to run any more. He no longer had to eat any food that might displease him. Why was he unable to put down everything at that time? Because the allied armies no longer wanted his life. If the Emperor always had an attitude of running for his life and if he could turn such an attitude toward the path of practice, there would be nothing he could not accomplish. It’s a pity he did not have a persevering mind. When favourable circumstances returned, so did his former habits.

Fellow practitioners! Time is passing, never to return. It is constantly looking for our lives. It is more frightening than the allied armies. Time will never compromise or make peace with us. Let us generate a mind of perseverance immediately in order to escape from birth and death! Master Kao-fung (1238-1295) once said, “Concerning the practice, one should act like a stone dropping into the deepest part of the pool – ten thousand feet deep – continuously and persistently dropping without interruption toward the bottom. If one can practice like this without stopping, continuously for seven days, and still be unable to cut off one’s wandering, illusory thoughts and vexations, I, Kao-fung, will have my tongue pulled out for cows to plough on forever”. He continued by saying, “When one practices Chan, one should set out a certain time for success, like a man who has fallen into a pit a thousand feet deep. All his tens of thousands of thoughts are reduced to one – escape from the pit. If one can really practice from morning to dusk and from night to day without a second thought, and if he does not attain complete enlightenment within three, five or seven days, I shall be committing a great lie for which I shall have my tongue pulled out for cows to plough on forever”. This old master had great compassion.

The Song of the Skin Bag – Master Hsu Yun

The Song of the Skin Bag
Written by Master Xu-Yun in his 19th year
From “Empty Cloud: The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master”.
Translate by Charles Luk. Rev. and edited by Richard Hunn

The Song of the Skin Bag, (1) the skin bag is sung. Before the empty aeon (2)

it had neither name nor form,

After the Buddha with awe-inspiring voice (3) it became a hindrance.

Three hundred and sixty tendons are linked within the body (4)

Enclosed by four and eighty thousand pores.(5)

Divided it splits into heaven, earth and man,

United it combines the four elements.

It supports heaven, props up earth,

But what of its mettle?

Understand cause and effect, discern the times

Survey the stupidity of past and present.

Because of wrong clinging to illusory forms,

Parents are involved and wife and children loved.

By vain indulgence in delusion karma is left behind,

The Song of the Skin Bag, the skin bag is sung.

Drinking wine and eating meat upset the mind-nature,

Indulgence in pleasure and desire leads to utter ruin

When officialdom is strong to oppress the innocent(6)

And traders artful against their consciences, how long

Will their wealth and power last, the their pride and their extravagance?

The poor and lowly will not so last while there is cruelty and violence.

Discrimination between self and others leads to inequality,

Destroying living beings as worthless things.

Thinking and discerning cause desire, stupidity and hatred,

While becoming lost in heresies invites self-destruction..

Killing, stealing, adultery and lying have no end,

And rude behavior to others increases attachment and aversion.

To scold the wind and curse the ram is disrespectful to the gods,

While depression comes from ignorance of birth and death.

When leaving a cow’s womb to enter a mare’s belly

Who will sing of or lament your change of form?

Many evil acts without a good deed will make

Aimless and toilsome your transmigration.

Entering the three evil realms, falling into hell (7)

Causes suffering to animals and hungry ghosts.

The ancient sages would oft repeat their warning,

Likewise the morning bell and drum at eve are to change your bean.

Good and evil karma bring certain retribution,

Escape then, worldly men, from the five periods of impurity.(8)

The Song of the Skin Bag, the skin bag is sung;

If the owner of form is not entangled by it,

For illusory matter to interdependence owes its name –

He can readily turn his mind within

To contemplate in sovereign case.

With no desire for fame and for wealth no craving,

Cut off all liking and from the world retire.

With no love for wife and no affection for children

Enter a monastery to keep the discipline;

Look for learned teachers, seek out their teaching

On Chan practice and meditation to O’er-leap the three worlds.(9)

Store what you see arid hear, forsake all causal clingings

To escape for ever from the worldly way.

By taming the six senses and stopping all your thoughts,

With neither self nor other, no trouble will remain,

Unlike worldly men who sigh when mist and dew disperse. (10)

With one robe to cover you and food enough

To satisfy your hunger, keep yourself in shape.

Give wealth away, sacrifice your body and life

Without a second thought as when you spit or sneeze.

Keep pure the discipline, be without fault

And correct in your deportment.(11) Be not angry

When insulted, bear no hatred when you are beaten,

Forget all derison by enduring the unendurable.

Without deviation, without interruption

Hold for ever the one thought of Amitabha.

Let there be no dullness, no confusion,

But like the fir and cypress defy the bitter cold.

Doubt no more the Buddha, doubt no more the Dharma;

With innate wisdom look clearly into what you see and hear,

Bore the paper, cut the hide(12) and go back

To the source, for self-liberation means

Returning to the spring and source of reality.

There is neither ‘non-existence’ nor emptiness

Exposed is the potentiality divine, wondrous and inconceivable

When you reach here al lgrievance ends.

Hurrah, for now you realize the goal.

With the ten titles of Buddha (13) you will teach a myriad worlds.

Aha, that same leaking shell (14) is now

The omnipresent Buddha-body. (15)

Clearly good and evil karmas are infallible, so why

Rely on falsehood instead of practicing the truth?

When the absolute is split the two extremes appear,

The spiritual mind turns into heaven and earth.

Kings and ministers are noble owing to their past karmas,

None are rich or noble, poor or humble without previous cause

Where there is birth – there will be death,

Why grumble since this is known to everyone?

For wife, children (and self), for happiness and wealth

All prospects are spoiled by anger and desire.

For what fame or gain did I trifle

Away my last nineteen springs? (16)

Frustrations of a thousand, nay ten thousand kinds

Harass and make your life yet more unbearable.

When you grow old with failing sight and snow-white hair

You will have vainly passed a lifetime ignorant of virtue.

From day to month, from month to year in vain will you

Regret that months and years turn like a wheel.

Who is an immortal in this world of ours?

‘Tis better to revere once more the cloud of compassion (17)

Ánd on a famous mountain or in some renowned place

To live at ease in transcendental bliss

Do not you know how fast the temporary flies?

Respectfully ponder a few expedient sentences,

Recite Amitabha’s name, see clearly into birth and death,

Then enjoy happiness beyond the reach of others.

Practice Chan, seek out its aim; the pure

And the spiritual are only this.

With clear tea and vegetarian food the mind

Errs not enjoying Dharma night and day.

Forsake both self and other, relinquish ‘you’ and ‘I’

Treat friend and foe alike forgetting praise and censure

When the mind is free from hindrance and disgrace

Do Buddhas and Patriarchs regards its Oneness as being without use?

The World-Honoured One renounced his love to climb the snowy mountains(18)

While Avalokitesvara left home to become a son of the Buddha. (19)

In the days of Yao and Shun(20) lived Zhao and Yu,(21)

When the throne was offered to Zhao he washed his ears.(22)

Remember Zhang Zi-fang and Liu Cheng-Yi

Who cast away their glory, retiring from the world.

In this period of termination when troubles lie ahead, (23)

Why do you not awaken to vie with the ancestors?

To indulge in ignorance, commiting the ten evils

Exhaust  your ingenuity and wins the world’s contempt.

Wars, epidemies, droughts and floods are frequent,

Dearth, famine and strife succeed each other and

When weird tales prevail misfortune follows.

‘Midst earthquakes, landslides and tidal waves

What will you do in order to escape?

Evil acts in past transmigrations

Cause present falsehood and frustration

When poor and in trouble virtue should first be cultivated,

Then in a monastery worship with virtuous heart the King of the Law,

Repentance and reform from past wrong deeds improve your lot.

Call on learned teachers, seek your experience to seal,

First learn, then leave both birth and death to realize the Mind-nature,

Impermanence exposed reveals eternity.

Path lies in path within your practice.

the saints and sages left clear sayings to reform the world,

Slight not then the teaching of the Tripitaka.

With earnestness and deep sincerity

I urge all human beings to be righteous

Take not my words as idle nor forget them,

for self-cultivation leads to perception of self-nature.

Hasten your practice, be ever zealous,

For the sowing of Bodhí is the direct cause of awakening.

the nine stages alter rebirth in the lotus are testified by the Buddha,

An Amitabha will take you to the Western Paradise.

Lay down your bag of skin, leap en the Vehicle Supreme.

This is the Song of the Skin Bag, hearken to it friends !


Notes Source

1. The human body is likened to a skin-bag which obstructs our realization of the truth.

2. The empty aeon is regarded as coming after that of the destruction of the world systems and preceding that of their formation, the latter being followed by that of ‘existence’.

3. Bhimsa-garjita-ghosa-svara-raja (short form Bhímsa-raja) or the King with awe-inspiring voice, the name of countless Buddhas, successively appearing during the aeon free from misery, decay, calamities, epidemics, etc.

4. The digit 3 symbolizes the past, present and future, or time. The digit 6 stands for the six worlds of existence and the six directions north, south, east, west, the zenith and nadir, or space.

5. The digit 8 stands for the eight consciousnesses and the digit 4 for the four elements: earth, water, fire and air which constitute the human body.

6. The Master’s father was an official.

7. The three evil realms: hungry ghosts, animals and hells.

8. The five periods of impurity: (1) the aeon in decay when it suffers deterioration giving rise to form; (2) Deterioration of views, selfishness etc., arising; (3) Passions and delusions arising from desire, anger and stupidity in which pride and doubt prevail; (4) the subsequent increase in human miseries and decrease in happiness and <5) the gradual shortening of human life to ten years.

9. The Triple realms’ of Desire, form and formlessness.

10. All worldly men are grieved about the impermanence of things which are likened to mist and dew.

11. That is, while walking, standing, sitting and reclining.

12. Bore the paper of the sutras to extract the correct meaning and pierce the ox-hide ignorance to realize the truth.

13. The ten titles of a Buddha are: (1) Tathagata, He who comes thus as do all other Buddhas; the absolute ‘coming’; (2) Arhat or one worthy of worship; (3) Samyak-sambuddha, Omniscient; (4) Vidyacarana-sampanna perfect knowledge and conduct; (5) Sugata, the well-departed; (6) Lokavid, knower of the world; (7) Anuttara, the peerless lord; (8) Purusadamya-sarathi, the tamer of passions; (9) Sasta deva-manusyanam, teacher of gods and men; (10) Bhagavat or Lokanatha, the World-Honoured One.

14. The illusory human body.

15. The spiritual body appearing in full.

16. Xu-Yun complained that he had wasted his time until his 19th year before succeeding in escaping from home.

17. The over-spreading, fructifying cloud of compassion, the heart of the Buddha.

18. The Himalayas. According to the Chinese Buddhist tradition, this symbolizes the Buddha’s renunciation ascent on the Bodhi-path.

19. A bodhisattva, son of ‘the Buddha’s family’.

20. The golden age of Chinese history when the country was ruled by the wise Emperors Yao and Shun.

21. Yao knew that Zhao and Yu were two sages and offered to abdicate in their favour but both declined,

22. When Zhao heard of Yao’s offer the throne to him, he went to the river bank to wash his ears from the ‘impurity’ of the offer.

23. The present period of the Dharma-ending age.

24. The nine stages of progression as described in the Sutra of Amitabha.

Entrance to the Way -Master Hsu Yun

Entrance to the Way – Master Hsu Yun

So many people enter the hall to practice.
How many of them carry that long sword
The sword of Heavenly Reliance?

Everything has to be hacked to pieces.
Saints, demons, everything!
Blood has to be splattered all over the mansions of heaven.

That’s the Direct Teaching!
Pull down those golden locked gates to the Profound
That guard the Entrance to the Way.

Be fierce when you sit! Make your sitting a blade that hacks through the
wilderness of incomprehension.
Let your eye pierce the Emptiness!
Expose that True Face
The One that was yours before your mother gave birth.