Discourses (cont.)

3. Discourses of Master Po Shan

When working on Zen, the important thing is to generate the I chin 9 [doubt-sensation]. What is this doubt-sensation? For instance: Where did I come from before my birth, and where shall I go after my death? Since one does not know the answer to either question, a strong feeling of "doubt" arises in the mind. Stick this "doubt-mass" onto your forehead [and keep it there] all the time until you can neither drive it away nor put it down, even if you want to. Then suddenly you will discover that the doubt-mass has been crushed, that you have broken it into pieces. The Masters of old said:

The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening;
The smaller the doubt, the smaller the awakening.
No doubt, no awakening.

When working on Zen, the worst thing is to become attached to quietness, because this will unknowingly cause you to be engrossed in dead stillness. Then you will develop an inordinate fondness for quietness and at the same time an aversion for activity of any kind. Once those who have lived amidst the noise and restlessness of worldly affairs experience the joy of quietness, they become captivated by its honey-sweet taste, craving it like an exhausted traveler who seeks a peaceful den in which to slumber. How can people with such an attitude retain their awareness?

When working on Zen, one does not see the sky when he lifts his head, nor the earth when he lowers it. To him a mountain is not a mountain and water is not water. While walking or sitting he is not aware of doing so. Though among a hundred thousand people, he sees no one. Without and within his body and mind nothing exists but the burden of his doubt-sensation. This feeling can be described as "turning the whole world into a muddy vortex."

A Zen yogi should resolutely vow that he will never stop working until this doubt-mass is broken up. This is a most crucial point.

What does this "turning the whole world into a muddy vortex" mean? It refers to the great Truth, which from the very no-beginning-time has existed latent and idle— it has never been brought forth. Therefore a Zen yogi should bestir himself to make the heavens spin and the earth and its waters roll; he will benefit greatly from the rolling surges and tossing waves.

When working on Zen, one should not worry about not being able to revive after death;10 what should worry him is whether he can die out from the state of life! If one can really wrap himself up tightly in I chin, the realm of movement will be vanquished naturally without his making any specific effort to vanquish it, and one's distracted thoughts will be purified spontaneously without effort to purify them. In a wholly natural way, one will feel his six senses become spacious and vacuous. [When one reaches this state], he will awaken to a mere touch and respond to the slightest call. Why then should one worry about not being able to revive?

When working on Zen, one should concentrate on one koan only, and not try to understand or explain them all. Even if one were able to do so, this would be merely intellectual understanding and not true realization. The Lotus Sutra says: "This Dharma is not comprehended through thinking and intellection." The Total Enlightenment Sutra [Yuan Chiao Chin] declares: "To perceive the Realm of Enlightenment of the Tathagata with the thinking mind is like attempting to burn Mount Sumeru with the light of a firefly; never will one succeed."


When working on Zen, he who works with absorbtion will feel as if he had lifted a thousand-pound load; and even if he wants to put it down, he cannot do so.

In ancient times people could enter into Dhyana while tilling the land, picking peaches, or engaging in any business. It was never a matter of sitting idly for prolonged periods, engaged in forcefully suppressing one's thoughts. Does Dhyana mean stopping one's thoughts? If so, this is a debased Dhyana, not the Dhyana of Zen.

When working on Zen, the most harmful thing is to rationalize, conceptualize, or intellectualize the Tao with one's mind. If one does so, he will never reach Tao.

When working on Zen, one knows not whether he is walking or sitting. Nothing is present to his mind but the Hua Tou. Before breaking through the doubt-mass, he loses all sensation of his body or mind, let alone of such states as walking or sitting.

When working on Zen, one should not just await the coming of Enlightenment with an expectant mind. This is like a man on a journey who sits idly by the road and expects his home to come to him. He will never arrive home this way. To get there he must walk home. Likewise, when working on Zen, one never reaches Enlightenment merely by waiting for it. He must press forward with all his mind to get this Enlightenment. Attainment of the great Enlightenment is like the sudden blossoming of the lotus flower or the sudden awakening of the dreamer. One cannot by waiting awaken from a dream, but he does so automatically when the time for sleep is over. Flowers cannot bloom by waiting, but blossom of themselves when the time has come. Likewise Enlightenment is not so attained, but comes on its own when conditions are ripe. In other words, one should exert all his strength to penetrate into the Hua Tou, pressing his mind to the utmost in order to achieve realization. Do not misunderstand what I have said and just wait for awakening to come. In the moment of awakening, the clouds vanish and the clear sky shines vast and empty; nothing can obscure it. In this moment heaven spins and the earth somersaults. An entirely different realm appears.

The Masters of old said: "Tao, like the great Void, is all-inclusive. It lacks nothing and nothing remains in it." If one has really attained the state of flexible hollowness,11 he sees no world without and no body or mind within. Only then can he be considered as having drawn near the entrance [of Tao].

When working on Zen, one should know these four important points: To work on it with absolute detachment and complete freedom in a painstaking, direct, continuous, and flexible-hollow way.

Without directness, exertion becomes completely wasted; and without exertion, directness is useless because it alone can never bring one to the entrance [of Tao], Once the entrance is reached however, one should maintain an uninterrupted continuity in order to attain a state conforming with Enlightenment. Once this state is achieved, one should strive to be flexible-hollow. Only then can one reach the state of wonder.12

In days of old people often drew circles of lime [on the ground] to signify determination that, until they realized the ultimate Truth, they would never go outside of the circle. Nowadays people frivolously draw circles in wanton folly, pretending they possess a free and lively spirit. How laughable this is!

If, during your work, you experience comfort or lightness, or come to some understanding or discovery, you must not assume that these things constitute true "realization." Some time ago, I, Po Shan, worked on the Ferry Monk's koan, "Leaving no Trace." One day, while reading the book of The Transmission of the Lamp, I came upon the story in which Chao Chou told a monk, "You have to meet someone three thousand miles away to get it [the Tao]." Suddenly I felt as if I had dropped the thousand-pound burden and believed that I had attained the great "realization." But when I met Master Pao Fang I soon saw how ignorant I was, and I became very ashamed of myself. Thus you should know that even after one has attained Wu (Satori) and feels safe and comfortable, he still cannot consider the work done until he has consulted a great teacher.


Zen-work does not consist in merely reciting a koan. What is the use of repeating a sentence again and again? The primary thing is to arouse the "doubt-sensation," no matter what koan you are working on.

When working on Zen, it is important not to lose the right thought. This is the thought of tsen, meaning "to bore into." 13 If one loses the thought of tsen, he has no alternative but to go astray. Some Zen yogis absorb themselves in quiet meditation and cling to the feeling of quietness and limpidity. They regard this experience of absolute purity, devoid of a speck of dust, as Buddhism. But this is just what I mean by losing the right thought and straying into lucid serenity. Some Zen yogis regard the consciousness-soul that reads, talks, sits, and moves as the prime concern of Buddhism. This, also, is going astray. Some who suppress distracted thought and stop its arising consider this to be Buddhism. They, however, are going astray by using delusory thought to suppress delusory thought. It is like trying to press down the grass with a rock or to peel the leaves of a plantain, one after another—there is no end. Some visualize the body-mind as space, or bring the arising thoughts to a complete stop like a standing wall, but this, also, is going astray.

When working on Zen, to merely arouse the "doubt-sensation" is not enough. One must break right through it. If he cannot seem to do so, he must put forth all his strength, strain every nerve, and keep on trying.

Chao Chou said, "For the past thirty years I have never diverted my mind except when eating or dressing." He also said, "If you put your mind on the principle, sit and look into it for twenty to thirty years, and if you still do not understand, come and chop off my head!"

Yun Men said, "There are two kinds of sickness that prevent the 'light' j from being penetratingly free. First, the yogi feels that it does not illuminate at all places and times, and that something continues to appear before him. Second, although he may have penetrated through the voidness of all Dharmas, yet, hazily and faintly, there still seems to be something existing. This, also, is a sign that the light is not penetratingly free.

"There are, likewise, two illnesses of the Dharmakaya. First, if one who, having obtained the Dharmakaya, still cannot throw off the clinging of Dharma and who retains the self-view, he adheres only to the side of the Dharmakaya. Second, if one penetrates through the Dharmakaya but is not able to let go of it, he should be extremely cautious, and carefully examine his realization—if the slightest breathing-trace [of an object] remains, this, also, is an illness."

My comment on this is that the fault stems from the fact that a man regards the object as the Truth. He has not yet completely cut off the "thing itself" or penetrated through it, nor has he turned his body around and exhaled.14 If anyone reaching this state lets in diverting thoughts, he will be demon-possessed and, in making a vain display of his knowledge, will work more harm than good.

Hsuan Sha said: "Some people claim that the nature of Wisdom inheres in the vivid-clear one [consciousness], that that which is conscious of seeing and hearing is the Wisdom itself. They [regard] the Five Skandhas [the consciousness group] as the Master. Alas, such teachers only lead the people astray! Such are, indeed, misleaders! Let me now ask you: If you consider this vivid-clear consciousness to be the true being, then why, during sleep, do you lose this vivid-clear consciousness? Now do you understand? This error is called 'recognizing the thief as one's own son.' It is the very root of Sangsara, which generates and sustains all habitual thinking and delusory ideas."

Finally, Hsuan Sha said: "... some people begin to collect their thoughts, suppress their minds, and merge all things into the Emptiness. They close their eyelids and hide their eyeballs. As soon as distracting thoughts arise, they push them away. Even when the subtlest thought arises, they immediately suppress it. This kind of practice and understanding constitutes the very trap of the dead-void heretics. Such practitioners are living dead men. They become callous, impassive, senseless, and torpid. They resemble stupid thieves who try to steal a bell by stuffing their own ears!"

Admonishments to Those Who Cannot
Bring Forth the "Doubt-Sensation"

When working on Zen, some people, owing to their incapability of raising the "doubt-sensation," begin to delve into books and words. They try to employ the sayings and teachings of the Buddhas and Patriarchs, rationalizing them to produce explanations of the koans. They ratiocinate about the koans instead of "boring into" (tsen) them. They resent being asked to answer koans too difficult for them to solve. Such people should find good teachers; otherwise, they will become demon-possessed, and no one can save them.

When working on Zen, some people, owing to their incapability of raising the "doubt-sensation," begin to suppress the arising of thoughts. When all thoughts have been suppressed, these people experience a lucid and pure serenity, thoroughly clear, without the slightest taint. This, however, constitutes the very root source of the consciousness which they cannot break through. This is the consciousness within the realm of life and death (Sangsara). It is not Zen. Their fault is that at the start of their Zen practice they did not work penetratingly enough on the Hua Tou: thus, the doubt-sensation did not arise. As a result they either suppress thought and become dead-void heretics, or, plunging into self-indulgent conceit, they mislead and cheat the ignorant, diverting people's faith and hindering their progress on the Bodhi Path.

When working on Zen, some people, owing to their incapability of raising the "doubt-sensation," begin to indulge themselves in all kinds of liberties. They pretend to live and act as "free and liberated" persons. When they meet others, they begin to sing and dance, to laugh and to "carry on." They compose poems on the river bank and sing hymns in the woods. Elsewhere, they chat and tell jokes. Some pace the bazaars and market places, declaring themselves "accomplished men." Whenever they see charitable Masters building temples, establishing orders, meditating, praying, or engaging in any kind of good works, they clap their hands, laugh, and ridicule them. With pride, vanity, and self-conceit, they ridicule the upright. Unable to practice Tao themselves, they create hindrances for others. Unable to recite the sutras and practice the devotions, they nevertheless impede the efforts of others to do so. They themselves cannot tsen-Zen [bore into Zen], but they hinder others in their tsen-Zen work. Although they cannot found temples or preach the Dharma, they oppose others doing so. When good Masters deliver public sermons, they come forward and pelt them with embarrassing questions, showing off before the public by asking one more question and demanding one more answer, by clapping their hands, or by making silly remarks. Wise Masters behold these actions as though watching ghosts at play. If the Master pays no attention to their ridiculous antics, these Zen lunatics tell everyone that he is an ignoramus. Ah, what a pity! How sad! All this happens because these people have been overrun by their Sangsaric thoughts for a long time. Having gone astray on the path of devils, they commit innumerable sins. Once their former good Karma is exhausted, they will go straight to Hell! Oh, what a pitiful affair!

Admonishments to Those Who Can
Bring Forth the "Doubt-Sensation":

When working on Zen, if one can bring forth the "doubt-sensation," he is then in conformity with the principle of the Dharmakaya. He sees the whole earth brightly illuminated, without the slightest obstacle. But if he assumes that this is the Tao, and is unwilling to release it, he sits only on one side of the Dharmakaya and is unable to cut off the root of life. It seems to him that there is still something in the Dharmakaya to understand, something that can be taken hold of and enjoyed. He does not realize that such thoughts are childish. Because such a person has not cut off the liferoot [the cause of Sangsara], he is sick through and through. This is not Zen. If one reaches this state, he should put all of his body and mind into the work and take up this great matter, still [knowing that] no one is there to take it up. The Masters of ancient times said:

Bravely let go
On the edge of the cliff.
Throw yourself into the Abyss
With decision and courage.
You only revive after death.
Verily, this is the Truth!

When working on Zen, if one can bring forth the "doubt-sensation," he is then in conformity with the principle of the Dharmakaya, and the whole world turns into a vortex. Immersed in the tossing waves and surging billows, he will enjoy himself greatly. However, when the Zen yogi reaches this state, he is apt to become attached to this wonderful experience which so fully absorbs him. Thus he will not progress further, even if pushed; nor will he turn back, even if he is pulled down. Consequently, he cannot put all his body and mind into the Work. He is like a tramp who has discovered a hill of gold. While knowing it clearly to be gold, he nevertheless cannot take it away with him and enjoy it at will. This is what the old Masters called "the treasure guard." Such a man is sick through and through. This is not Zen. When one reaches this state, he should disregard danger and death; only then will he conform with the Dharma.

As Master Tien Tung said, "The whole universe [then] becomes like cooked rice. One can dip his nose [in the bowl] and eat as much as he likes." Therefore, if at this stage he cannot do this, it is as though he were sitting beside a rice basket, or floating in the ocean— he cannot eat the rice or drink the water. He is hungry and thirsty unto death! Of what use is this? Therefore the proverb says, "After Enlightenment one should visit the Zen Masters." The sages of the past demonstrated the wisdom of this when, after their enlightenment, they visited the Zen Masters and improved themselves greatly. One who clings to his realization and is unwilling to visit the Masters, who can pull out his nails and spikes, is a man who cheats himself.

When working on Zen, if one is able to bring forth the "doubt-sensation" in conformity with the principle of the Dharmakaya, he will then see that the mountains are not mountains and that the water is not water. The whole earth becomes suddenly complete, lacking nothing But just as quickly, when a discriminatory thought arises in his mind, a curtain seems to have been drawn before him, veiling his body and mind. When he wants to take up his [realization of the Dharmakaya], it refuses to return to him. He attempts to break through it, but it cannot be broken. Sometimes, when he takes it up, it seems to be there; but when he puts it down, it becomes nothing. I call such a man "one who cannot open his mouth and exhale, who cannot shift his body and change his pace." At that moment he can do nothing for himself. When one reaches this state, his entire body becomes full of sicknesses. This is not Zen. The point is that people in ancient times practiced Zen in a single-minded manner! Their minds were sincerely focused. When they brought forth the "doubt-sensation," they saw that the mountain was not a mountain and that the water was not water; but they did not bring up any discriminatory reflections or arouse any second thoughts. Stubbornly and steadfastly they pushed forward; and then, suddenly, the "doubt-sensation" was broken up and their entire bodies became full of eyes. Then they saw that the mountain was still a mountain and that the water was still water. There was not the slightest trace of voidness to be found. From whence, then did all these mountains, rivers, and the great earth itself come? Actually, not a thing has ever existed. When one reaches this state, he must go to the Zen Masters; otherwise, he is apt to go astray again. Because the wrong path, below "the cliff of decaying trees," has still one more branch running from it. If one reaches this state but still continues to work hard for advancement and does not stumble over the decaying trees, I, Po Shan, will gladly work with him as my companion and friend in Zen.

When working on Zen, if one can bring forth the "doubt-sensation," he is then in conformity with the principle of the Dharmakaya. Nevertheless, at times there seems to be an appearance of something hazy before him as though some concreteness still existed there. While clinging to this hazy appearance and doubting this and that, he tells himself that he has understood the truth of Dharmakaya and realized the nature of the Universe. He is unaware that what he sees is illusory, a vision created by blinking. He is sick through and through. The man who has really plunged into the Truth [should feel] like this:

As the world stretches ten feet,
The old mirror widens to match it.
With his fearless body against the whole Universe,
He cannot find the six organs, sense objects, or the great earth.

Since in this state the organs, senses, all objects, and even the great heaven and earth become empty and nothing exists, where can one find any trace of body, objects, materials, and that hazy appearance of something existing? Master Yun Men also pointed this trap out to us. If one can clear up this error, the other faults will automatically dissolve. I always warn my students that many kinds of sickness prevail in the realm of the Dharmakaya. Here the important thing is to catch the most deadly disease once. Only then will one recognize the very root of this illness. Even if all sentient beings on this great earth practiced Zen, none of them would be immune from catching the sickness of Dharmakaya. Of course, this does not apply to people full of blindness and stupidity.

When working on Zen, if one can bring forth the "doubt-sensation," he is then in conformity with the principle of the Dharmakaya. Thereupon he ponders what the old Masters have said:

The whole earth is but one of my eyes,
But a spark of my illuminating light;
The whole earth is in this tiny spark within me.

He then begins to intellectualize, and quotes sayings from the sutras, such as, "All the truths in the infinite universes are found within a tiny mote of dust." With such sayings he tries to conceptualize the truth, and is unwilling to make further efforts to progress. In fact, he becomes trapped in a situation wherein he can neither die nor stay alive. Although, with this rationalized understanding, he considers himself an enlightened being, actually, his body is full of sickness. He has not yet gained Zen. His experience may accord with the Principle [Li], but if he cannot pulverize this experience and reduce it to nought, all his acquired understanding is only fit to be called a "hindrance to Li" [Truth]. He has fallen on the very edge of the Dharmakaya. Furthermore, since he has been dragged along by his conceptualizing mind, he can never penetrate to the depth of Li. Unable to strangle this unwieldy monkey, how can he revive from death? A Zen student should know that from the very beginning, when the "doubt-sensation" arises, he should try to bring it into conformity with Li. With this conformity achieved, he should try to plumb its very depths. Reaching the depths, he should then perform a complete somersault from the top of an eight-thousand-foot cliff—plunging down to the plain, then springing up out of the Jang River waving his hands. This is the way a great man should work on Zen.

When working on Zen, if one can bring forth the "doubt-sensation," he is then in conformity with the principle of the Dharmakaya. While walking, standing, sitting, or sleeping, he always feels as if enveloped in sunlight or living in the glow of a lamp. But sometimes the whole experience seems flat and tasteless. Then he drops everything completely and meditates until he reaches a state as limpid as water, as lucent as a pearl, as clear as the wind, and as bright as the moon. At this time he feels his body and mind, the earth and the heavens, fuse into one pellucid whole—pure, alert, and wideawake. This, he begins to think, is the ultimate Enlightenment. The fact is that he really cannot turn his body about and exhale, or walk through the market with his hands at his sides; nor is he willing to visit the Zen teachers for appraisal or advice. He may also form some strange ideas about the Illuminating Purity and call his experience true Enlightenment. As a matter of fact, his body reeks with sicknesses. He has not yet gained Zen.

When working on Zen, if one brings forth the "doubt-sensation," he is in accord with the principle of the Dharmakaya. He may then consider the Dharmakaya as something supernatural. With this notion in mind, he begins to see lights, the aura, and all sorts of different visions. He believes these to be holy revelations and, with great pride, begins to tell people about them, claiming that he has attained the great Enlightenment. In fact, however, sicknesses infest his body. This is not Zen. He should have known that all these visions could only have been produced by focalizing his own delusory thoughts; or that they were the conjurations of demons taking advantage of the opportunity; or, possibly, that they were sent by heavenly beings or gods, such as Indra, to test him. The meditation practices of the Pure Land School furnish an example of the first case, that is, the creation of visions through focalizing delusory thoughts. The practitioners of the Pure Land School meditate on images of the Buddhas, concentrating on visualizing them until they see visions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as stated in the sutras of the Sixteen Observations. All these experiences, which accord with the teaching of the Pure Land School, are good, but they are not Zen.


The second case, the opportunity taken by demons to invade the mind of the meditator to confuse him with delusory visions, is clearly described in the Surangama Sutra: "If, while realizing the emptiness of the five aggregates, the mind of the yogi is still attached to anything, demons will conjure up various forms before his eyes."


An example of the third case is that of the god Indra, who conjured up dreadful figures to frighten Gautama Buddha before his enlightenment. When Buddha was not frightened, Indra called up forms of beautiful women to allure him, but Buddha had no desire toward them. Whereupon Indra appeared before Buddha in his original form, made obeisance, and said: "The great mountain can be moved, the great ocean can be drained, but nothing can shake your mind." A Zen proverb also says:

The feats of demons are exhaustible,
But not an old man's mind.
For how can he exhaust it
When he sees and hears nothing?

A man who is truly working on Zen has no time for illusory visions or even for a second thought, not though a sharp knife be pressed against his throat. If one's experience really conforms to the Truth, he realizes that there is no object outside of his own mind. Can he find a vision apart from the mind which mirrors it?

When working on Zen, if one brings forth the "doubt-sensation," he is in conformity with the principle of the Dharmakaya. He is then apt at all times to feel a lightness and ease of body and mind, feeling thoroughly free in all activities and circumstances, and that nothing can hinder him. This, however, is merely the sign of the initial stage of one's meeting with the Tao. It is just the action of the four elements harmonizing within the physical body. Temporary and contingent, it is a state by no means absolute or permanent. When uninformed persons reach it, they take it for the great Enlightenment, shrug off their doubt-sensation, and make no further efforts to advance in Zen Work. Although to some extent able to enter into the Truth [Li], they do not realize that the roots-of-life are still not yet cut out of them. Therefore, all they have gained still lies within the framework and functioning of the inferential consciousness. They are sick through and through. They have not yet gained Zen. They have failed to reach a deep state of "truth" at the outset, and have turned about too soon. Even though they may possess a deep understanding, they cannot apply it; even though they have acquired the "live remark" (Chinese: huo chu),15 they should still continue to cultivate and preserve it in quiet retreats near a river or in a forest. They should never be anxious to become Zen Masters at once, or allow conceit and pride to rule them.

The point is that in the very beginning, when the "doubt-sensation" arises, it congeals into a thick, ball-like mass. At this crucial time the important thing is to let this doubt-mass break up by itself. This is the only way to make a profitable gain. Otherwise, if understanding only a little of the Li principle, one casts the doubt-mass away immediately, he will certainly not be able to have a thorough death and a real breakthrough of the doubt-sensation [l-chin]. This is not practicing Zen. Such a one may label himself a Zen Buddhist, but he will only fritter his life away. The course he should take is to visit the great Zen Masters, because they are the great physicians of Zen, capable of curing the serious illnesses of Zen students. They also serve as generous and sagacious patrons who may fulfill all one's wishes. At this stage one should never let contentment or conceit keep him back from seeing the Zen Teachers. He should recognize that unwillingness to see those who know more than he does is the disease of egotism. Among all the sicknesses of Zen, none is worse than this.

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