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.


A Bird's Buddha Nature

    There is another story to help you realize that this awareness is the Buddha nature. Do not have a single trace of doubt, because if you do, it will be difficult to attain enlightenment. There was a prime minister whose name was Pei Du; he was a devout Buddhist and studied Buddhism in depth. One day, while he was in the great Xiang Guo Monastery, he saw a sparrow that landed on top of the Buddha statue's head, left his droppings and flew away. The prime minister was very disturbed by this scene and started thinking: the scriptures say that every sentient being has Buddha nature so a sparrow certainly does also; but why did this bird leave his droppings on the Buddha's head? So Pei Du asked the abbot of the temple for an explanation. The abbot responded by saying that certainly the sparrow has Buddha nature. Indeed it is very intelligent; it knows that Buddha is very compassionate, that is why it left its droppings on the head of the Buddha instead of leaving it on the head of a hawk! So the fact that the sparrow knows where it is safe and where it is not, this "knowing" is its Buddha nature. Don't think that Buddha nature is something too remote or too profound to understand; it is just this mind which knows and which is aware. Everyone has this mind that can distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; it is just that this mind is often deluded and beset with afflictions, thus generating karma that makes us suffer and lose our calm and peace. This is the mind of an ordinary person. If we are absolutely clear that we have this Buddha nature then that is enlightenment.

Maintaining the Enlightened Mind

    Once we are enlightened, we need to maintain this Buddha nature. How do we maintain this Buddha nature (so that it will always manifest)? We approach it in two ways-in stillness and in motion. "We cultivate it in stillness, and fortify it in motion." When we are in stillness, for example, during a Zen meditation retreat, when we try to keep this awareness clear, unscattered, and in control for 3 minutes, 5 minutes and longer, throughout the seven days, we will definitely make immense progress. In the Shurangama Sutra it states, "Cessation of delusion is enlightenment." The word "rest" is very important. Our mind is always going, so in sitting meditation we let the mind rest and remain unmoved; we do not think about the past, the present or the future. When we think about the past, we cling to the past; when we think about the present and the future, we cling to the present and the future. The Diamond Sutra states, "The past mind is intangible, the present mind is intangible, and the future mind is intangible." The past is already past, there is no way that we can get it back; therefore, it is useless to reminisce about the past. If the past was pleasant, thinking about it makes us sad. If the past was sad, thinking about it just adds to our suffering. There is no need to think about the present, it is so fleeting; speculating about the future is just dreaming. So where should the mind be? It should "function without abiding." The past is intangible, so do not dwell in the past; the present is intangible, so do not think about the present, then the mind is not dwelling on the fleeting moment; the future is intangible, so do not speculate about the future, then the mind is not dwelling in future dreams. Thus this mind is clear and without deception, it is the profound mind of the Tathagata, it is the original mind, our original nature. If you can maintain this enlightened state of mind for one minute, for three minutes or for ten minutes then you are a Buddha for one minute, three minutes or ten minutes. This is called "maintaining the holy womb." If you can practice this way then you are truly on the Path. Many people want to practice but they don't know where the path is. There are many ways of practicing, such as chanting the sutras, repenting, performing good deeds, and sitting meditation. If we do all these practices without realizing the true mind, we are just doing preliminary work. Because our ignorance and attachment are deeply rooted, we need to practice these virtuous acts to help us temporarily get rid of the pollutants in our mind. If we continue practicing this way, when the time is right, our original nature will suddenly manifest and we will become enlightened, become enlightened to this mind of non-abidance.

    The non-abiding mind is the absolute truth. It transcends time and space. In sitting meditation, it takes just one instant, this one instant in which we realize our original mind-it feels utterly tranquil, clear and pure, and hours can pass in what seems like a moment. As the saying goes, "Living in the mountain/there is no sense of time/meanwhile in the mundane world/a thousand years have passed." "No sense of time" refers to this absolute mind, where time and space do not exist. This is to go beyond this world. To go beyond this world is not something that happens after death. If we realize this original mind, we are immediately transformed from the mundane to the holy, and our world becomes the Pure Land. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch states, "Having the right view is to transcend this world. Having deviant views is to remain in the mundane world." This is truly the supreme right view, the enlightened understanding of the Tathagata.

    Because of the nuances of the mind, the world that we perceive is also different. For example, this lecture hall is bright when we turn on the light; it becomes dark when we turn off the light. Is this room dark or bright? Here in the United States it is daytime right now, but in Taiwan it is nighttime. Is it daytime or nighttime now? During the day humans see more clearly than at night. Yet there are many animals that see more clearly at night. All the different phenomena that we perceive are due to our awareness, our mind that perceives differently according to varying conditions.

    There is a famous Chinese poem that says, "Calmly observe and the myriad phenomena become self-evident. Nature narrates itself perfectly." If the mind can quiet down then you'll naturally understand many principles. If the mind is scattered and restless then it is like trying to admire the flowers while riding away on a horse, you won't be able to discern anything. Therefore, "Sudden awakening to the original mind and directly becoming a Buddha" is really very important, very relevant to our living and our lives.

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