- Saturday Chan Class
- How to Practice Hua Tou - Part 1
Date: Saturday, May 19, 2018
Album: Saturday Chan Class
Title: How to Practice Hua Tou - Part 1
Ref ID: A00D41598A85499E92ABF39B7F7C0349
Master YongHua > Good morning everyone.
Thank you for coming.
Today is special. Look at this beautiful thing that they have ready for tomorrow's Vesak. What a beautiful vase. What is this? Huh?
Shana > The sound is low.
Master YongHua > Sound is low? It should be on. People complain all the time. The TV station complains I speak too softly. How about now, is that ok? Louder?
Audience > Louder.
Master YongHua > Still need louder? How about now?
This is how Master Xian Chi does audio check. "Hello, One, Two, Three, Four, Five."
Shana > Turn off the lights, please.
Master YongHua > Turn off the lights? It's nothing that important, don't worry.
Master YongHua > It's no big deal.
Master YongHua > I've been teaching Chan meditation for maybe about over ten years now. My Master, where I came from, my late teacher, Venerable Hsuan Hua, in the Chan class, you sit for an hour and there is a 20-minute talk. That's how I was trained. But I decided to go to talk for an hour because I realized talking is the more important part of meditation. I realized that I didn't have the guidance when I was practicing meditation; so I struggled a lot. And I sat there for years wondering about whether I am doing something right or not. You know, it comes back and haunted me for several years. Am I doing this right? And I asked, when I had problems, I asked my elder Dharma brothers, his disciples, they couldn't answer me. Later on, somehow, I lucked out and I never gave up and I resolved my own questions one after another. And I realized that if I had someone to tell me since day one, I wouldn't have to waste so many years practicing, or exploring, experimenting; I discovered things from experimentation.
Therefore I realized if I showed you why I understand, you can progress a lot quicker. In particular, what we are teaching you is what is called, truthfully, the Weiyang Markless Chan. And it will be a long time before you understand what it means, but that's truly what it is. It's Wú Xiàng (無相). Wú Xiàng Chán (無相禪).
So I did some calculation. So, typically, the last let's say we've have been teaching for 10 years, ... and we basically, every weekend we talk for an hour. And then there's a Chán Qī (禪七). So, there's about 7 weeks to 10 weeks worth. So we're talking about 20 years’ worth of instructions in Chán (禪). Today I decided that in honor of Vesak, the Buddha's birthday, I will start talking about Huà Tóu (話頭).
HUA TOU (話頭)
Master YongHua > Huà Tóu (話頭) is truly a Mahayana Dharma, it's a Mahayana method.
Master YongHua > How do we go from here? How come there's nothing?
Master YongHua > In other words, the Hinayana Buddhism does not have Huà Tóu (話頭). They don't dare touch Huà Tóu (話頭).
Master YongHua > Why not?
Master YongHua > It's because it is a way of practice for low level, all the way to the highest level. Well, not quite the highest. And what do we call highest level is enlightenment. So the methodology can handle a low level to very, very high level.
WHY WE STRESS MEDITATION
Master YongHua > In Buddhism, we stress meditation because that's the quickest way to attain enlightenment. There's nothing better, nothing quicker, more methodical, more sound, more important than Chan meditation. Over the years since ... I learned my Chan from a Chinese; my teacher is Chinese. Honestly, I don't know much about Indian meditation before they brought it to China. So, what I learned is from a Chinese. I don't know about Sanskrit teachings on meditation because I don't know Sanskrit. So I have no idea.
BUDDHIST VERSUS NON-BUDDHIST
Master YongHua > Yes?
Shana > So the externalist dharmas like the ... or Taoist
Master YongHua > Did you?
Master YongHua > XianXin, you still have that picture of that thing?
Did the lady pick it up? The picture of that guy? The book.
Master YongHua > The book.
Master YongHua > The externalist.
Ven. XianXin > Oh yeah.
Master YongHua > The icky one.
Ven. XianXin > Oh yeah.
Master YongHua > You still have it?
Ven. XianXin > Yeah.
Master YongHua > Bring it out.
Master YongHua > This is not going to be captured on the internet. We're not here to criticize people. We're here to discuss the way of practice. Meditation practice, spiritual practices. I'm not interested in criticizing teachers because that's the last thing that I want to do.
Master YongHua > What's the question again?
Shana > So in the previous, some of the previous lecture, you say if the teacher so regardless of the ... if the teacher's method leads you to, not to be able to enlightenment, or not that direction, you define it as worldly dharma versus transcedental dharma? So if ...
Master YongHua > Show them this guy.
Don't capture it on TV, okay. Do you see this? This guy here. One of the people who came to our temple, quiet often, brought this here as a gift. We knew about, I knew about this guy about five years ago. And now he came out with this very thick book here. I'm sure some of you recognize him.
Shana > Did he come here?
Master YongHua > No, he didn't come here. He wouldn't dare come here. It's not for everyone. These people aren't interested in coming here. Okay now, put it away. Cause if they don't pick it up, I will burn that. Because I don't want to help disseminate this kind of deviant stuff. That's a very, very deviant guy. And I don't know about you but I look at his picture, and this disgust, this ickiness, you know, arose in me immediately. I said OMG. The energy is so bad. That's the difference. In Mahayana, in Buddhism, we ... the energy we bring about is give you peace and bliss and calm. After you get used to it, then you see the other type of energy of the other teachers, you can tell, it's not, you don't get along. That's why we don't tolerate. I don't tolerate these types of things. It's cloudying up the teachings.
Master YongHua > Yes?
Shana > So some of the externalist practice they still can increase their Samadhi level? Up to a certain level?
Master YongHua > Up to 8th, yes.
Shana > But then, if because the methodology doesn't provide any way to go beyond the eight level of Samadhi, do you define it as worldly dharma?
Master YongHua > Yes.
But you don't say that because it's offensive to them.
Shana > I don't say it?
Master YongHua > Yeah, you don't say it.
Master YongHua > So the question, the point here is, the non-Buddhist teachers, the non-Buddhist meditation methods, Let's say transcedental.
You heard of transcedental meditation. Yes? T.M. Okay. That's non-Buddhist. Their highest level they reach is 8th Samadhi. All non-Buddhist, the highest they reach is 8th. That's it. (background chattering) Okay. But do not. Be careful not to belittle them. Because even at 8th, they are still higher than most of the monks and nuns, Buddhist monks and nuns. So there's no point in offending them and getting in trouble. You won't be able to handle their ire. So, what is the distinction? Why is it important?
WHY DO WE DISTINGUISH ABOUT 8TH SAMADHI OR HIGHER?
I give you the analogy of the difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Why do we distinguish about 8th samadhi or higher? It’s the analogy ... like you build a ten-story building. Eight story building. You need all the code requirements. I know about requirements because I have to deal with a lot of that, recently. And that means that you have a foundation that's strong enough for you to build up to eight stories. Can you go to ninth? Absolutely not. Once you build your foundation, you can go up to eight, you cannot, you don't want to build up to nine or ten, eleven, twelve; you'll be in big trouble. That's the analogy. That's why it matters the methodologies you use, you practice. Because the non-Buddhist practices, they can help you build let's say a foundation for up to eighth samadhi. But for higher, they cannot. Similarly, the Hinayana they help you build a foundation up to fourth level of Arhat, fourth stage Arhat or Pratyekabuddha. Higher, they cannot.
Whereas this Huà Tóu (話頭) here is a method of practice that builds a huge foundation.
It's humongous. So, you can build small, slowly, slowly, slowly. The more you practice the foundation gets stronger and stronger and stronger. Just like everything else; the foundation is key to growth. Okay. Okay. I repeat, you practice the Huà Tóu (話頭) here, you practice Mahayana methodologies, your foundation gets bigger and stronger as you improve.
Master YongHua > Any questions?
In ... another aspect to look at it; Okay. you go all the way to the top. Let's say that, you, some of you have potential to practice all the way. Okay. Okay. What's the requirement up there? That maybe ... That you require ... What's required up there is? Goodness. That's why, you remember the externalist that I showed you the picture? That's not goodness. You will not be able to rise very high. Because going far requires you to be a good person, in your heart. Okay. The strength of your foundation is built upon the goodness of your heart.
Master YongHua > Any questions about this?
Master YongHua > Yes?
Shana > So, if people practice Huà Tóu (話頭) doesn't mean automatically they all have some foundation.
Master YongHua > They have to improve, of course.
As they improve, see I said key words that you miss. As they improve their foundation gets stronger and bigger.
Shana > It doesn't matter what teacher and how they do it?
Master YongHua > Doesn't matter which Dharma Door you use. As you improve your foundation gets stronger and bigger. Is it clear? So, don't be attached to any particular Dharma. In our lineage we are not attached to any Dharma Door.
Master YongHua > Any other questions?
Now, in the history of the Chinese Chan meditation that I learned from, unfortunately, they made a big deal, they make a big deal out of Huà Tóu (話頭).
HUA TOU (THE VIETNAMESE)
You know, ... It's to the point where the Vietnamese have some Vietnamese monk who are going around teaching people Huà Tóu (話頭) which he does not understand at all. He passed away anyway already. So these people read some books in Chinese ... He's Vietnamese, Chinese-Vietnamese and then he taught Huà Tóu (話頭) because no one else understood Huà Tóu (話頭). Because most of the Vietnamese don't understand, don't know Chinese or are mostly Hinayana roots. So he confused the picture of the Huà Tóu (話頭); he confused me for a long time.
HUA TOU (THE TAIWANESE)
And then the Taiwanese are even worse. There are many Taiwanese teachers who teach Huà Tóu (話頭) and some of them are pretty famous, pretty rich, pretty powerful. They teach Huà Tóu (話頭) and they don't understand Huà Tóu (話頭). Level is too low for them to be able to understand Huà Tóu (話頭). Meaning they practice Huà Tóu (話頭) their entire life and they really made no progress. Therefore, they use the word, you know, the name Huà Tóu (話頭) to impress the donors and so forth. And you don't know any better. The donors don't know any better. It's unfortunate because it makes, creates even more confusion about the Huà Tóu (話頭).
HUA TOU (THE JAPANESE)
Let's mention the Japanese. Japanese learn Huà Tóu (話頭) from a Chinese. The Asian Buddhism basically revolves around Chinese Buddhism. And therefore, the Japanese had to go to China to learn the Huà Tóu (話頭). They popularized the word 'koan' which is from Chinese called gōng'àn (公案). We owe the popularity of the Huà Tóu (話頭), the koan, to the Japanese, in the Western world. So that's their contribution. But in terms of practicing the koan, the public records, it's ... they are, they are not, (Filler words) again it's a lot of words, a lot of noises, but no, very little substance, no substance if you ask me. So, they are attached to marks. Okay. See, the Japanese, they learn from the Chinese and they understand, they reach a certain level. This is my personal opinion again. Okay. Please take it with a grain of salt. They learn Buddhism from the Chinese, learn Chan from the Chinese, brought it back to their country and they somehow let it evolve into something that has marks. Therefore, the culture, in the culture, it permeates their culture. You see the Zen gardens, the Zen arrangement of flowers and so forth; that's attachment to marks. I like it. I like, happened to like the Zen garden, happen to like the Zen flower arrangements, but it's not Chan. It's Chan with marks. So their Huà Tóu (話頭) is not quite there either.
HUA TOU (THE KOREANS)
And then we went to Korea a couple of months ago. Their Buddhism is that when you meditate, the prevailing methodology is Huà Tóu (話頭). And that is why and they are very dedicated meditation practitioners. And that's what's remarkable about Korean Buddhism. They are very traditional. So traditionally, they always emphasize the Huà Tóu (話頭). So that's why I met so many monks who, in the meditation retreats for many years and it shows because they reach Arhat's level, to 1 to 4, which is a lot of them. Many, many, many of them. But, they ... I ... hope to come back and find more monks because those monks, those types of monks is very hard to find. I hope they practice Huà Tóu (話頭) to a much higher level. Because enlightenment again, Huà Tóu (話頭), this dharma door here brings you all the way to enlightenment, not just Arhatships. It's still too slow; Arhats are still too slow for a Huà Tóu (話頭).
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HUA TOU AND KOAN
So what is Huà Tóu (話頭) here? What is koan? What's the difference between koan, gōng'àn (公案), and Hua tou? Okay. First of all, the koan are all public records. It's actually based on ... it's recorded interchanges between Chan Masters and their students, or their counterparts. Is that clear? Yes? How do they record it because usually it's kind of private. So how is it recorded because usually it is private. ... and how did it get to us? Is it accurate because I think like ... Is it accurate? The teacher and the student (inaudible) to record this. (Filler words) I don't know. Okay. (Filler words) I'm just grateful it's recorded. Okay. I'm not a scholar. I'm not approaching Chan from a scholarly perspective. Okay. This is my bias. Okay. I'm no scholar. I'm actually not that well educated, Okay. Compared to so many of you who have PhD's and so on. Today I'm low, low level. Okay. I'm, I'm glad I finished college. I'm so happy already. So, ... I don't approach Chan from a scholarly perspective, Okay. I concentrate on results. Does it bring me to enlightenment? Or ... Is he enlightened or did his disciples who practiced Chan from him became enlightened? That's my guage, that's my basis for comparison. Okay. It doesn't matter, doesn't matter whether it is accurate or inaccurate. I don't know. Okay. (Filler words) As long as it works, who cares? Yes? Even if it's wrong and yet it helps us become enlightened. So much the better! Okay. Yes? It doesn't matter whether accurate or not accurate. Okay. Whether it helps us or not. But these are treasures, personally I find these they may, I believe them to be mostly accurate. And sometimes I enjoy reading these koan's. I got lucky, I enjoy, I say, "Oh wow, this is cool!" "Wow." Okay. So, it's fun. It's fun for me. So that's my bias as well. Chan meditation is a lot of fun for me. Okay. So, what happened is ... in the past you have these Great Teachers, Great Chinese teachers and there's so much wisdom. Why are they, are they Great? They're Great not because they're famous. Okay. Just like today, there's many monks who are very, very famous. I can think of 2 or 3, maybe 4. And I don't feel that they are Great Teachers. So, I see these Great Teachers, they're Great Teachers to me, because of the way they train their students. Okay. And one of them is my late teacher. Okay. Okay. That's just for your reference. So, you see these interchanges, this recorded, things between their teacher and their counterparts, or colleagues or their students. Okay. And because it's such a long story so they condense it to one phrase only, which is called gōng'àn (公案). So gōng'àn (公案) and Huà Tóu (話頭), that's the relationship. So far so good? And so that's the relationship. The Huà Tóu (話頭) is basically a condensed phrase of the koan associated with it, that people use to practice. Instead of sitting there and say, "Oh, Master Hsuan Hua met with his disciple Héng Shí (恆實). He said, you know, so and so. Héng Shí (恆實) said so and so. Master Hsuan Hua said so and so, so and so." That's too long. Basically condensed to one thing. Idiot, for example. It's a phrase. Okay. So when you contemplate, Idiot, you know what's happened between the two of them. Okay. For example. Okay. You contemplate that. Okay. We need to move quickly because time is running out; we're running out of time. ... I'm so wordy ... How come I can't even ... (Filler words) It's not working; it's not working anymore. Okay. So ... what is Huà Tóu (話頭) then? *Huà Tóu (話頭) is actually, literally, it translates into word-head or in essence it's a critical phrase of that lesson in Chan. Is that clear? It's confusing because people never explained it to you this way. ... It wasn't explained to me this way 20 years ago. Okay. All right? (Filler words) But if you contemplate this Huà Tóu (話頭), Okay. this word-head. And we go to contemplation later. Okay. Later. A little bit later; do not jump the gun. Okay. *Don't confuse me, because I wondered about the word contemplation for many, many years as well. Okay ... So, what happened is this Huà Tóu (話頭) here, if you contemplate this Huà Tóu (話頭) here, this Huà Tóu (話頭) here, ... will, is actually refers to the origin, the source of a thought, a word, a phrase that arises. So it's before that arises. Okay. Word-head meaning that the head of the word. Meaning it's on top of the word. Meaning that before the word arises in your mind, in your mouth; what is that? Is that clear? (silence) So far so good? Any questions? (silence) So before you speak, before you're able to formulate the thought. What is that? That state before you're able to formulate. That is what the Huà Tóu (話頭) is going to help you discover, that state of mind. Is it clear? (background chattering) It's no big deal. If you don't understand it's no big deal either. If you understand it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't matter. Trust me; it doesn't matter. I'm only elaborating this for you so that ... you cease to be impressed by all these so-called teachers. Say, "Oh, I practice Huà Tóu (話頭) and I'm such a big deal." It's not. It's not a big deal. Okay. It's just one form of practice, that's all. It's one of the many, many Chan Dharma Doors. It's no big deal. Trust me. Okay. So far so good? (Filler words) So, this practice here again, the Huà Tóu (話頭) is a special kind of practice that helps you discover your state of mind before a thought arises. Aint that cool? Yes? (Filler words) For example, before you say. "I like it! I like it," Okay. What is that state of mind before you formulate that thought? You don't know right? I love it! I hate it! Okay. So cute! Okay. Before that arises, what is the state of mind? (background chattering) All right? Huà Tóu (話頭) enables you to see that. So far so good? If you can see that then you are enlightened. (background chattering) All right? That's all there is to it. That's why it's such a clever way. This is why these geniuses taught us the Huà Tóu (話頭) to help become enlightened by challenging us, by peaking our curiosity. (background chattering) Okay. Okay. So that's how it enables, this method enables looking into the nature and they ask us to contemplate which is asking open ended question. Lock brains in and it makes us keep on contemplating that; it cannot be rationalized. It's not by sitting there and thinking. Okay. That's what most people do. They sit there and they rationalize, they try to think. Let me see. Hmm. He called me stupid. Maybe it's because I didn't brush my teeth this morning. Or is it because I look ugly. Or it could be that I didn't close my garage. Okay. It's not that; you don't sit there and keep on rationalizing and thinking. Okay. (Filler words) Okay ... But as you contemplate, the nature of the contemplation, because it dwells on your curiosity, it generates doubt in your mind. (silence) Okay. And the doubt there, that nature of doubt you have, determines the nature of your enlightenment. The bigger the doubt, the bigger your higher level of enlightenment. Is it clear? So doubt is very important. (background chattering) So far so good? (background chattering) Hmm. (background chattering) Why is it not working today? Okay. And time is running out. So we have a few more minutes. So we have to go through this. Very quickly. (laughter) Okay. And what happens is that ...
HOW DO YOU CONTEMPLATE?
Master YongHua > So how do you contemplate?
Okay. Contemplation means that you focus on the phrase itself, to the exclusion of everything else. You think about the phrase, for example, next the phrase I want to teach you is "Who is mindful of the Buddha's name?" Okay. That's the phrase. So what you do is you keep on repeating in your mind, that's what contemplation is. You repeat in your mind, "Who's mindful of the Buddha's name?" [Chinese] And Korean ... There you go. [Korean] (Master trying to speak Korean) ... (laughter) Okay. So you keep on repeating that. Okay. (background chattering) As you repeat that, the extraneous thoughts arise. Okay? Yes? You say, "Ooo. Uh, what's for lunch today?" Ooo, running out of time. Okay. So why don't we do that for a few minutes and see what I mean. Can we do a few mintues? You want to? So what you do is ... let's contemplate this for now, for a few minutes. All right? Does it make sense? Not just theory, let's do it today. Right now. Okay. Okay. So, what you do is you sit in full lotus. Okay. Hopefully. And then you put your hands together. Yeah. Like this, in this mudra here. Uh-huh. And then you close your eyes or you open your eyes if you'd like. I don't care what you do with your eyes, but I prefer to close my eyes. And then you formulate the thought, "Who's mindful of the Buddha's name?" Whether it's in English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Sri Lankan, ... Yiddish, I don't care. Okay. It doesn't matter. So you keep on ... Let's do that for a few minutes, shall we? Okay. Hmm. So you repeat in your mind that phrase. (practice in session) (Master rings the bell) Okay. I'm sorry, we're running out of time. Okay. So I need to shorten this a little bit to explain to you. So contemplation simply means that you look, you think about the phrase at the exclusion of the other thoughts. Okay. So you concentrate on that. So, for example, when you contemplate this, you have to worry about your breathing or not? Do you? (background chattering) Of course not! Because if you stop breathing you're dead already; you can't contemplate. Right? So why worry about breathing? You see that? So this methodology, you don't have to worry about breathing. Yes? So if you chant Ēmítuófó (阿彌陀佛) continuous like that, is that considered the same? No. It's different. No. This is who's ... I explain more next week. Okay. There's a lot more. Okay ... You ask this question. I need more time to explain to you why, we, the meaning of this phrase here. But we don't have enough time. So right now, today, all I have time for you is show you the mechanics. Because I don't know about you but for some people when they say, "Who's mindful of the Buddha's name?" then somehow you lock onto that thought and reduce stress, immediately. Yes or no? Yes. There's a difference right away. Okay. You forget about your stress, you have no more worries for those moments. That's how you reduce your stress right there. Okay. It really, really works. Okay. *So that's, all that means is contemplate is that, follow that, do not think, don't try to rationalize. Okay. Any other thoughts are not welcome. That is contemplation. Is that clear? Is not clearer ... I cannot think of any clearer definition of contemplation. That the Chinese Chan teachers use the word and no one really could explain to you, clearly. Okay. All right.
CONTEMPLATION IS NOT THE SAME AS RECITING THE BUDDHA'S NAME
This is not quite the same as you reciting the Buddha's name; it's quite different. It's totally different. The use is different. Because right here, there's a question, it's not a recitation but it's a question. You ask yourself a question. You're not reciting the Buddha's name. You're not reciting the Bodhisattva's name. You’re not reciting the mantra. But you're asking yourself a question.
Master YongHua > Is that clear?
Master YongHua > There's a question mark here. The Huà Tóu (話頭) is a question.
Master YongHua > All right?
Master YongHua > So far so good?
Master YongHua > Okay.
Master YongHua > Thank you.
Master YongHua > That's it for today.