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Grand Master Xu (Hsu) Yun Chapter 3 - Gaining Enlightenment

Chan has two famous Masters named Han Shan: a 9th Century recluse whose name means Cold Mountain and a l6th Century teacher whose name means Silly Mountain. Cold Mountain is Chan Buddhism's greatest poet. Silly Mountain was a pretty good poet, too. He's probably Chan's second best poet.

Cold Mountain appealed to nature to lead him to peace and understanding. In finding beauty in the natural world he found beauty in himself. That's the way hermits operate. They look; they ponder; they convert loneliness into solitude.

Silly Mountain transcended himself by working for others. He strove to help ordinary folks gain enlightenment. That's a little harder than surviving frost and hunger.

Han Shan, Cold mountain, said:

    High on the mountain's peak
    Infinity in all directions!
    The solitary moon looks down
    From its midnight loft
    Admires its reflection in the icy pond.
    Shivering, I serenade the moon.
    No Chan in the verse.
    Plenty in the melody.
Han Shan, Silly Mountain, tried to put what couldn't be said into words everybody could understand:

Put a fish on land and he will remember the ocean until he dies. Put a bird in a cage, yet he will not forget the sky. Each remains homesick for his true home, the place where his nature has decreed that he should be.

Man is born in the state of innocence. His original nature is love and grace and purity. Yet he emigrates so casually, without even a thought of his old home.

Is this not sadder than the fishes and the birds?

We would all like to reflect the Moon of Enlightenment. We would all like to get home to Innocence. How do we accomplish this? We follow the Dharma.

The Buddha saw the unenlightened life's ignorance as a diseased condition. His Four Noble Truths have a medical connotation:

One, life in Samsara is bitter and painful. Two, craving is the cause of this bitterness and pain. Three, there is a cure for this malady. Four, the cure is to follow the Eightfold Path.

First, we need to recognize that we are ill. Second, we need a diagnosis. Third, we need to be assured that what's wrong with us will respond to treatment. Fourth, we require a therapeutic regimen.

Samsara is the world seen through the ego. It is a troubled and sick world because of the ego's unceasing cravings.

Trying to satisfy the demands of the ego is like trying to name the highest number. No matter how large a number we can think of, one more can always be added to it to make an even higher number. There is no way to attain the ultimate.

Dear friends, is it not true that no matter how much money a person has, he always thinks he needs a little more, that no matter how comfortable a person's home is, he always wants a place that's a little more palatial, that no matter how many admirers he has, he always needs to hear a little more applause?

Constant striving results in constant strife.

So what are we to do? First we must understand that the problems which the ego creates cannot be solved in Samsara's world of ever changing illusions. Why? Because the ego is itself an ever changing, fictional character that merely acts and reacts in response to life's fluctuating conditions - conditions which it can never quite comprehend.

It's like trying to play football when the length of the field keeps changing; and instead of one ball in play, there are twenty; and the players are either running on and off the field or sleeping on the grass. Nobody is really sure which game is being played and everybody plays by different rules. Now, anyone who was expected to be both player and referee could never find pleasure in such a game. He'd find his life on the field to be an endless exercise in fear, confusion, frustration and exhaustion.

The Eightfold Path guides, delimits, and establishes rules which are clear. Everyone can follow them.

The first step is Right Understanding.

Understanding requires both study and consultation with a Master.

Information acquired only through reading is never sufficient. Is the book accurate? If it is, do we truly comprehend what we've read? We cannot test ourselves. Think of what would happen if students devised their own tests and graded them, too. Everyone of them would get an A! But how many of them would really know their subject?

Many students of Chan read a book and then, by way of testing their comprehension, engage their friends in sophomoric arguments or regale them with lordly pronouncements. Teachers say of these discussions, "In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king."

A good teacher is indispensable. A good teacher engages us and determines if we understand what we've studied.

If we are unclear about a passage in a book, we cannot question the book. If we disagree with certain views of a teacher, we cannot skip over his instruction the way we can skip over troublesome paragraphs. It's often necessary to consult with a good teacher. There is no substitute for regular, face to face interactions.

You know, there was once a sailor who, while on leave, met the girl of his dreams. He fell madly in love with her. Unfortunately, he had to return to his ship to finish the two years of his enlistment. So he thought, "I'll not let her forget me. Every day I'll write to her. If nothing else, she'll love me for my fidelity."

Everyday, wherever he was, he wrote to her; and when he returned two years later, he learned that along about his two hundredth letter, she had married the mailman!

Dear Friends, don't be like that poor sailor who relied on the written word to achieve an understanding. Find a master who will meet regularly with you. Open your heart to him. The better he gets to know you, the better he will be able to advise and instruct you.

[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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