A lot of people seem to labor under the misapprehension that what practicing Buddhism calls for are merely such activities as doing seated meditation, recitation of Buddha’s name and recalling his great deeds, performing all the worshipping-Buddha rituals, poring over the Buddhist Scriptures and so on. I would beg to aver that this is misapprehension! A practitioner is of course a mortal. As mortal beings, none of us, the laity as well as the monastic practitioners, is isolated from the everyday mundane life. Everybody needs to consume food, to have clothes to put on, and to be sheltered from the elements. Those practitioners who do not lead a monastic life need to support their families. Therefore neither a practitioner nor a lay person is entitled to be supported or provided for by somebody else merely because he or she practices Buddhism. He or she should be called deliberately bedeviling the community or family he or she belongs in, if pretentiously claiming to be so entitled. I myself am drastically opposed to such a behavioral pattern as is described in a ditty which reads:
To beguile my time,
I usually saunter along a stream.
When tired of my aimless roam,
I’d just sit down wherever I like,
There I’d idly gaze at the clouds scudding across the sky.
At night, slumber falls upon me spontaneously.
Even when I chance to wake up in the wee hours,
A nice herbal brew, by my waiter, is timely to be served me.
My delectable meals are always ready,
Impeccably anticipating my hunger.
I deem such a behavioral pattern or such a way of living as described in the ditty despicably selfish. It is completely absurd to try to practice self-cultivation in seclusion. In other words, self-cultivation must be executed in the context of everyday life. Otherwise practicing self-cultivation would remain a sheer hoax or a fiasco. I am of the opinion that whatever pattern of self-cultivation a practitioner would opt for—self-cultivation carried on in a monastic institution or in a practitioner’s own home—the top priority for him or her, when starting his or her self-cultivation career, is to adapt his or her self-cultivation
<1> to the very environment he or she lives in and <2> to the habits of everybody in his or her immediate surroundings.
In other words, he or she needs to test his or her fortitude in
<a> observing the Chan precepts, <b> breaking away from his or her fond attachments to whatever might temporarily invoke obsessions in him or her, and <c> withstanding the attacks of delusions.
I believe I have here expatiated on the correct path a practitioner’s self-cultivation career should surge along. The path is not only correct in orientation but normal and feasible for most practitioners to take and incorporates all the twists and turns a practitioner might encounter in his or her endeavor to finally uncover Buddha-nature in his or her essence of mind. To push ahead along the path with his or her self-cultivation program, a practitioner is bound, with the passage of time, to find his or her exertion really rewarding. And in this I unswervingly believe. If a practitioner can timelessly devote himself or herself to doing things, large or small, to benefit others, he or she should be rightly acclaimed a de facto living Buddha. A habitually unselfish individual is the one whose noble-mindedness is predestined from birth and who never knows the need to worry about any obsessions or attachments. In the past decades our nation was urged to learn from virtues and merits of Mr. Lei Feng (雷锋) who was typically unselfish in nature and most diligent in doing various kinds of socially beneficial deeds. I have consistently acclaimed him as a reincarnated Buddha. We, Chan practitioners, should learn from Mr. Lei Feng his particular way of purifying his psyche by means of submerging himself in all aspects of the everyday mundane life. It is a sheer misapprehension that what Chan self-cultivation requires a practitioner to fulfill consists only of
<1> doing seated meditation, <2> reciting Buddha’s name and recalling his great deeds, and <3> performing worshipping rites and chanting the Buddhist Scriptures.
The three form a ritual trinity for a practitioner of course and are in a sense indispensable for Buddhism as a whole. But the said ritual trinity is at its best a secondary dharma-gate to contribute to a practitioner’s self-cultivation career and does not constitute a universally feasible policy needed for ensuring the success of a self-cultivation program, even though the trinity can exercise some positive influence on or strengthen the intensity of some practitioners’ self-cultivation programs. If a practitioner would choose to prioritize the secondary dharma-gate over any other related dharma-gate, that would certainly result in either an impaired self-cultivation foundation or a retarded progress in self-cultivation. So far as seated meditation is concerned, it should be counted an important procedure in the spacious precincts of self-cultivation. But practicing seated meditation in order to secure Samadhi is not resorted to by Buddhists alone. A spectrum of other religious faiths than Buddhism—such as Yogic meditation practiced by Yogis in India, Taoism in China—also practice the seated meditation. Besides there are some varied patterns of seated meditation such as “vowed silence precept” (默语戒), “meditation executed behind closed door” (闭关). In a word, it is not wise for a Chan practitioner to cling to, or to drop, a certain secondary dharma-gate simply out of loyalty to a certain Buddhist sect or order. What need to be taken into consideration by a Chan practitioner in opting for a secondary dharma-gate are
<1> his or her own specific capacity for absorbing the impact a proposed dharma-gate is supposed to exert, and <2> his or her concrete habits and living conditions.
As for the primary dharma-gate a Chan practitioner is required to adopt, he or she must absolutely not try to shun it. (From My Heart My Buddha)