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Grand Master Xu (Hsu) Yun Chapter 5 - Stages of Development

What stages do we pass through as we progress towards enlightenment?

First, as we meditate, we may experience a moment of utter purity and lightness. We may even feel that our body is beginning to levitate or that our mind is rising up right out of our body so that we can look down and see ourself sitting below. These experiences are very strange to learn about, and stranger still to experience. What is strangest of all is that so many people experience them.

Second, we may experience a state of egoless purity in which we merely witness the objects and events of our environment, without being in any way affected by them. Sensory data do not reach us. We remain as unaffected by

  Painting by Yao Xin
events around us as a stone resting in water. Whenever we reach this state we should strive to remain aware and alert and conscious of the experience.

Third, we may hear a great clap of thunder which nobody else hears, yet we could swear it shook the entire house. Or the sound we alone hear may be like the buzzing of a bee or the note of a distant trumpet. These auditory experiences would be very unusual to the average person, but to the person who practices Chan, they're quite ordinary.

Whenever we have a strange, inexplicable experience - a vision, perhaps, we should discuss it with a master and not with others who may mislead out of ignorance or malice. Too often a Chan practitioner who hasn't been able to get anywhere in his own program will denigrate the experience of someone else.

What should we do when we can't meditate at all, when we sit down and experience only restlessness? We should approach ourselves gently as if we were children. If a child were learning to play a musical instrument, he would not be taught musical theory and notation and the particulars of his instrument and an entire composition all at once. No, a child would be taught incrementally, with short instruction sessions and short practice sessions. This is the best way. An accomplished musician can easily practice eight hours each day, but not a beginner. A beginner needs to achieve a continuing series of small successes. In that way he cultivates patience, confidence and enthusiasm. A long series of small successes is better than a short series of failures. We should set small goals for ourselves; and we shouldn't task ourselves with larger goals until we have mastered all the little ones.

Beyond meditation practice, there is attitude. A beginner must learn to cultivate what is called, "the poise of a dying man". What is this poise? It is the poise of knowing what is important and what is not, and of being accepting and forgiving. Anyone who has ever been at the bedside of a dying man will understand this poise. What would the dying man do if someone were to insult him? Nothing. What would the dying man do if someone were to strike him? Nothing. As he lay there, would he scheme to become famous or wealthy? No. If someone who had once offended him were to ask him for his forgiveness would he not give it? Of course he would. A dying man knows the pointlessness of enmity. Hatred is always such a wretched feeling. Who wishes to die feeling hatred in his heart? No one. The dying seek love and peace.

There was a time when that dying man indulged himself with feelings of pride, greed, lust and anger, but now such feelings are gone. There was a time when he indulged his bad habits, but now he is free of them. He carries nothing. He has laid his burdens down. He is at peace.

Dear friends, when we have breathed our last, this physical body of ours will become a corpse. If we strive now to regard this physical body as a corpse, that peace will come to us sooner.

If we regarded each day of our life as if it were our last day, we wouldn't waste one precious minute in frivolous pursuits or in grudging, injurious anger. We wouldn't neglect to show love and gratitude to those who had been kind to us. We wouldn't withhold our forgiveness for any offense, small or great. And if we had erred, wouldn't we ask for forgiveness, even with our dying breath?

Well then, if this is the great difficulty for a beginner, what obstacle does an intermediate practitioner face? Results! After he cultivates the discipline of the Buddha Dharma, he must continue to tend his garden as he awaits the ripening of the Holy Fruit! However, his waiting must be passive waiting. He cannot expect or schedule the harvest season. In farming, it is possible to estimate how long beans will take to mature or apples to ripen. But Enlightenment will come when it will come.

When it comes, the meditator will suddenly experience his True Nature. He will also understand that his ego truly is a creature of fiction, a harmful illusion. Now, with confusion eliminated, he will become imperturbable. He will develop a singleness of mind, a oneness that will shine in purity and be absolute in tranquility. Naturally, when he reaches this stage, he must act to preserve this Diamond Eye of Wisdom. He must be vigilant in not allowing his ego to reassert itself since to do so would be a foolish attempt to graft a second useless head onto his neck.

Whenever we reach the egoless state of perfect awareness, we find it impossible to describe. The situation's rather like an observer who watches a fellow drink a glass of water. Was the water warm or cool? The observer can't tell but the fellow who's done the drinking does know. If the observer disagrees, can they argue about it? No. Can we debate enlightenment with the unenlightened? No. Such discussions would be futile. Chan Master Lin Ji used to say, "Fence with fencing masters. Discuss poetry with poets." A person who has reached the egoless state can communicate this experience only to someone else who has reached it.

But after Enlightenment, then what?

After Enlightenment, we experience the Great Bodhisattva adventure. In our meditations we enter Guan Yin's realm. This is the most wonderful world of all.

But after this, the accomplished practitioner must separate himself from Chan, graduate, so to speak, and be what he has studied to become: a person who seems to be quite ordinary, just another face in the crowd. Who would guess that this face is an Original Face? Who would guess that this person has been one person and two persons and then three persons and now is one person again, a person who is living out the life of the Buddha Self? No one could guess from merely looking.

And so the final problem the practitioner faces is actually to enter the Void that beginning students like to theorize about. He must attain "no-mind". Instead of proceeding in any one direction, he has to expand in all directions, or as Han Shan (Cold Mountain) would say, "into infinity". In Chan we also call this "letting go of the hundred-foot pole".

Chan is a slippery hundred-foot pole. It is difficult to climb. But once a practitioner does find himself sitting on top of it, what does he do next? He lets go. He steps off into empty space. He cannot cling to Chan. He has discovered what it means to be egoless, but now he must live out the results of that discovery. His actions can't be deliberate and contrived. And so he achieves spontaneity and becomes one with reality. No need to struggle further.

So, gaining Chan is the difficult task when we begin; and letting go of Chan is the difficult task when we end.

The woman or man of Chan doesn't sit atop the hundredfoot pole and stare at his Enlightenment diploma. He reads the diploma, shouts "Kwatz!", and tosses the diploma to the four winds. Then he jumps off the pole into infinity.

Dear friends, although enlightenment may be reached by entering many different Dharma doors, the Buddha, the Six Patriarchs, and all the Chan Ancestors are in agreement that the most wonderful of all portals is the Door of Chan.

[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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