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Grand Master Xu (Hsu) Yun Chapter 2 - Chan Training

Many people begin Chan training by thinking, "Well, since all is Maya or Samsaric illusion, it doesn't matter what I do or how I do it. The only thing that's important is gaining Nirvana. So, since there's no such thing as good or evil, I'll do what I want." It does matter what we do. Chan is a branch of the Buddhist religion and as Buddhists we must adhere to ethical precepts. Samsara or no Samsara, we obey the Precepts. And in addition to this, we also follow the strict rules of discipline which govern our training. Let's start with the training rules:

While there are many different methods that may be followed, before beginning any of them, a practitioner must meet four basic requirements:

       Illustration by Yao Xin
He or she must:

1. Understand the Law of Causality. 2. Accept the rules of discipline. 3. Maintain an unshakable faith in the existence of the Buddha Self. 4. Be determined to succeed in whichever method he chooses.

I will explain each of these four prerequisites:

First, the Law of Causality simply states that evil produces evil and good produces good. A poison tree yields poison fruit while a healthy tree yields good.

Conceptually, this appears to be simple; but in actuality it is rather complex.

Evil deeds are a vile investment. They guarantee a return in pain, bitterness, anxiety and remorse. There is no profit to be had from actions that spring from greed, lust, anger, pride, laziness, or jealousy. All such motivations merely serve the ego's ambitions. Evil deeds can never promote spiritual fulfillment. They only guarantee spiritual penury.

On the other hand, good deeds, provided they are not done conditionally - as an investment that will yield some future reward, will bring to the doer of them peace and spiritual fulfillment.

An egoless good deed is very different from a contrived good deed. On the surface, the effect may seem the same; help or kindness that is needed is given. But the person who helps another with the hidden expectation of receiving some future benefit, usually does evil, not good. Let me illustrate this point:

In China there was once a Prince who loved birds. Whenever he found an injured bird, he would feed and nurse it back to health; and then, when the bird had regained its strength, he would set it free with much rejoicing.

Naturally, he grew quite famous for his talent as a loving healer of wounded birds. Whenever an injured bird was found anywhere in his kingdom, the bird would quickly be brought to him, and he would express his gratitude to the thoughtful person who brought it.

But then, in order to curry the Prince's favor, people soon began to catch birds and to deliberately injure them so that they could take them to the palace.

So many birds were killed in the course of capture and maiming that his kingdom became a hell for birds.

When the Prince saw how much harm his goodness was causing, he decreed that no wounded bird should ever be helped.

When people saw that there was no profit to be gained from helping birds, they ceased harming them.

Sometimes it happens that our experiences are like this Prince's. Sometimes, when we think we're doing the most good, we learn to our chagrin that we're actually causing the most harm.

Perform a good deed in silence and anonymity! Forget about rejoicing. A good deed should have a very short life, and once dead, should be quickly buried. Let it rest in peace. Don't keep trying to resuscitate it. Too often, we try to turn a good deed into a ghost that haunts people, that keeps reminding them of our wonderful service - just in case they start to forget.

But what happens when we are the recipient of someone else's kindness? Well, then, we ought to let that good deed gain immortality. Letting someone else's good deeds live is much more difficult than letting our own good deeds die. Let me illustrate this, too.

There once was a grocer, a kind and decent man who valued all his customers. He cared for them and wanted them all to be healthy and well-fed. He kept his prices so low that he did not earn much money, not even enough to hire someone to help him in his little shop. He worked very hard in his honest poverty, but he was happy.

One day a customer came and told him a sad story. Her husband had been injured and would not be able to work for several months. She had no money to buy food for him and for their children. "Without food," she wept, "we will all die."

The grocer sympathized with her and agreed to extend credit to her. "Each week I'll provide you with rice for seven days and vegetables for four days," he said, "and that surely will be enough to sustain your family's health; and then, when your husband returns to work, you can keep to the same menu while paying off your account. Before you know it, you'll all be eating vegetables seven days a week."

The woman was so grateful. Every week she received rice for seven days and vegetables for four.

But when her husband returned to work she had to decide whether to pay off her old debt while continuing to eat vegetables only four days a week or to patronize a new grocer and eat vegetables seven days a week. She chose the latter and justified her failure to pay her debt by telling people that her former grocer had sold her rotten vegetables.

How often, when we want something badly, do we promise that if we are given what we desire, we will dedicate our lives to demonstrate our gratitude? But then, once we receive what we so ardently sought, our pledge weakens and dies, almost automatically. We quickly bury it, without ceremony. This is not the Chan way.

And so, just as a farmer who sows soy beans does not expect to harvest melons, we must not expect, whenever we commit selfish or immoral or injurious acts, to harvest spiritual purity. Neither can we hope to hide from our misdeeds by removing ourselves from the location in which we committed them, or to assume that time will expunge the record of them. Never may we suppose that if we just ignore our misdeeds long enough people whom we have injured will conveniently die, taking to the grave with them our need to atone for the damage we have caused. It is our good deeds that we must bury... not our victims or broken promises.

We may not think that because there is no witness around to question us, we will not have to answer for our misdeeds. Many old Buddhist stories illustrate this principle. Let me tell you a few of my favorites:

During the generation that preceded Shakyamuni Buddha's life on earth, many of his Shakya clansmen were brutally massacred by the wicked king, Virudhaka, the so-called "Crystal King".

Why did this terrible event occur?

[Introduction]  [Chapter 1]  [Chapter 2]  [Chapter 3]  [Chapter 4]  [Chapter 5]  [Chapter 6]
[Chapter 7]  [Chapter 8]  [Chapter 9]  [Chapter 10]  [Chapter 11]  [Chapter 12]  [Chapter 13]
Last modified: July 11, 2004
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