Gradual Cultivation and Sudden Enlightenment

This talk was given by Grand Master Wei Chueh on December 22, 2001, at Buddha Gate Monastery. It was translated orally by Ven. Jian Hu, then transcribed and edited into its present form.


Functions of the Mind

    We can understand this mind from three different perspectives: from its function, from its characteristics, and from its essence. How big is our mind? Everything in the past, present, and future is contained in this mind. The world in all directions, north, south, east, and west, above and below, all space and time are within our mind. The mind is infinite; it has no boundaries. There is a well-known Chinese saying that the mind knows no distance. The mind can function regardless of distance, far or near. For example, with the war on terrorism that is going on right now, the United States and other countries have sent troops to Afghanistan. Families of the soldiers back home may be very worried. One night the wife may dream that her husband is sick. She calls and finds out that the soldier is indeed sick. Why is this? It is because the mind knows no distance. No matter how far, whether separated by mountains or oceans, the mind can still function. When the mind is constantly thinking about something, we reach a certain level of concentration that generates power. We sleep in a small bed but the mind can dream of mountains and oceans and vast space. Sometimes you have good dreams where you are very happy and when you wake up it all vanishes. When you have a nightmare, the fear you have is very real. Your dreams seem so real but in fact they are really intangible. These are all the functions of the mind. A blind person can walk using a walking stick. There are blind artists who can make sculptures. This is what the mind can do when it is very concentrated. This mind is very profound and subtle. People are used to using their eyes to look outward and their ears to listen to outside sounds. If we can learn to look inward and listen within, we will be able to reach tranquility and peace very quickly.

    There once was a Chinese man who had severe arthritis and had been bedridden for eight or nine years. One day the house suddenly caught fire and everyone in his family grabbed their precious belongings and escaped outside. After the house burned down, they suddenly remembered that the sick man was still inside the house. Surely he was killed! Everyone felt very sorry and mourned for him. Suddenly, they heard the man yelling from a hill asking them to bring him down. Surprised, they asked him how he got up there in the first place. He said that when he saw the fire, he forgot about his arthritis and ran up the hill! They said, "If you could go up, you can come down the same way." He said, "But my arthritis hurts so badly that I cannot move!" If we can learn to focus the mind, it can be very powerful.

    Practicing the Dharma and meditation teaches us how to focus and use our mind. To use this mind we need to awaken the mind. Once awakened, we can purify the mind. Then we can return to the original source. That is what we mean by: "To enlighten the mind is to realize the true nature, to realize the true nature is to become a Buddha." Once enlightened, one is the Buddha; unenlightened, one is an ordinary being. If the mind has vexations and creates bad karmas then one falls into the suffering realms; if the mind has evil views then one becomes the devil.

Purity of the Mind

    I think that everyone wants to realize the true nature of this mind. Where is this mind? In fact this mind is right here, all of it is ever-present. The great Zen master Bodhidharma has said, "In your eyes, it is called seeing; in your ears, it is called hearing; in your nose, you can smell the fragrance; in your tongue, you can detect the sweetness, sourness, and all the flavors of the food; in your hands you can grab things, and in your feet it is the walking." These are all functions of the mind. So if everyone has this mind already, why can't we all become Buddhas? It is because of our delusions and attachments. If we can get rid of these two problems, our mind will be like still water or like a clear mirror; our mind can radiate light and move the earth. People use their eyes to look at the outside world; when we see the good and the bad then we start to discriminate and mental afflictions arise. When our ears hear others praising us, we are overjoyed, and when others criticize us, we become angry. So, afflictions and prejudice often arise from the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. In this way our mind is like a pool of muddy water, unable to produce great power, unable to function wisely. It is important for us to reflect and examine ourselves. When our eyes see things we should not cling to them; when receiving praise we should not be overjoyed; when slandered we should not be upset. At all times the mind remains calm and peaceful. This is what the Diamond Sutra says, "Let the mind function without abiding." When our six sense organs (eyes, ears, ˇKconsciousness) are in contact with the six "dusts" (form, sound, ˇK dharmas), we will know what is right or wrong; we will know what is bad or good and yet the mind is not polluted. We are fully aware yet we do not crave or cling to things. In this way our senses revert to purity.

    A Zen master once said that Zen practice is to "walk through a flower field / without a single leaf clinging on you." What does that mean? It means that everywhere we go and in everything we do, the mind is free from attachment and delusions. We are aware but we do not cling. This is how we purify the mind and our sense organs. This is called sitting on the platform of white lotuses. The lotus blossom grows out of dirty muddy water but it is very pristine and pure. Our mind should be like that, rising from impurities but free from contamination.

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