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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
60 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 5 rise to vexations that spread like a disease, harm- ing the person and infecting others. No teacher is perfect, but a good teacher is careful in practice. He or she recognizes immediately when vexations are present and will not let them manifest in body and speech. If he or she demonstrates something that appears to be anger, or craving, or desire, it may be a teaching or a test for that particular student. Don’t think that if a teacher can do it, then so can you. Good teachers abide by the precepts. If they fail in their own practice, then it’s important to help them resume their practice. Good teachers will not fall prey to breaking precepts. The last thing they want is to hurt students. This is very different from people who have vexations but don’t recognize them as such. They infect others with their vex- ing views and justify their actions as “expedient means.” That said, we need to have compassion— even bodhisattvas can be under the influence of the three poisons of desire, anger, and ignorance. To practice is to have a “straightforward mind.” This doesn’t mean confrontational or outspoken. It means your heart is kind and your mind is free from vexations. The straightforward mind is a prin- ciple for Chan practice; it is also what Vimalakirti advocates in the Vimalakirti Sutra. In the story, the old granny says the way to Wutai is “Straight ahead!” She is telling us how one should go about practicing. Many people’s minds are crooked—full of sand and thorns. Some practitioners engage in practice to gain external rewards such as fame, students, money, or Buddhist paraphernalia. The more they practice, the more they accumulate. In doing so, they perpetuate grasping. In the story, the old granny was dealing with pilgrims to Wutai. Perhaps these people were hoping to see Manjushri appear before them. True practitioners of Chan ask not for Manjushri’s appearance but rather seeks to find their own wisdom. Why do you have to travel to Wutai—thousands of miles—to locate wisdom? All of these gong’an cases reveal different facets of your life as a practitioner. Ask yourself, “How do I practice?” and “What is my practice? If I go to Wutai, will it prove that I am a practitioner? If I sit at the dharma center, right in front of the teacher so he can see how well I sit, will that demonstrate that I am practicing?” What constitutes practice and non-practice? Between your own life and death, you should ask why you are here. Are you here to make something else better? Are you here to gain something? Are you here to get rid of something? and expect to eat rice, and they walk in mud and get poked by thorns. The sand is erroneous views; the thorns are the consequences. It is precisely because people erroneously think that practice leads to awakening that Chan masters recommend practice. From the Chan perspective, practice does not produce enlightenment. If it were produced, if it were gained, then it could be destroyed and lost. Don’t you know that it’s all good? The rice is already cooked. The mud has already been leveled. This is the correct view in Chan practice. So is there a need to practice? You may think, “Then what’s the point?” You must practice hard and, at the same time, know that it’s all good. You may know this intellectually, but you must personally realize it. How? Do something futile and continue to exhaust yourself until your sense of self, along with all of its attachments, drops away. Only then will you realize that within you there is something already inde- structible, limitless, and inexhaustible. You must find out for yourself. So while it may seem that practice is really to get rid of the covers that blind us to who we are, in awakening there is really noth- ing that covers or binds. Our previous efforts and struggles were just a fantasy. Yet, from the perspective of the practitioner, yes, vexations are harmful to ourselves and to those around us. So, for the sake of helping other people, we must live and be with others in harmony. We should reduce our own vexations for others, not just for ourselves. We are intimately connected to one another. But from the perspective of awakening, our buddhanature is not something that can be gained or lost or cultivated. Therefore, practice is futile. The Chan saying “cooking sand to make rice” is similar to another saying, “selling water next to a spring,” which means, of course, that people can get the water themselves. If you misunderstand this point and think you should get rid of what’s in your hand in order to get “water,” then you are mistaken. If you think like this, then everywhere you go, all the mud that you dredge through will be “full of thorns.” Everywhere you go, there will be an obstacle. Thinking that practice will give you something that you don’t already have, or that practice will help you get rid of vexations that you do have, is the mind-set of the unenlightened. Vexa- tions are the normal display of the mind. Yet practi- tioners will not succumb to them. The difference between an awakened person and the unawakened is that the former displays vexa- tions to teach sentient beings, while the latter gives