Translated from the Korean by Martine and Stephen Batchelor
When people first make the resolve to realize enlightenment, they fear false thought. Those people who have sat for a long time fear drowsy confusion. I say that people like these are not capable of doing the work, and don’t have a share in liberation from birth and death. Why is that? Because they don’t realize the scope and sphere of their false thinking, and what is more, they don’t know the places to which their drowsy thinking takes them.
You should understand that from beginningless kalpas past until the present, that which has ascended into the heavens is just your false thinking, that which has fallen into the hells is just your false thinking, that which has transformed into a cow or a horse is just false thinking, that which wants to cultivate the Way is just your false thinking, that which wants to put an end to birth and be liberated from death is just your false thinking, and that which wants to accomplish Buddhahood and become a Patriarch is just your false thinking.
You should understand that above — all the way to perfection of Buddhahood — and below — all the way into the hells, in every stupid animal and in every magical spirit — false thought is the host and master. The strength of false thought is great, so you ought to be afraid of it. And it is necessary that you get away from it. You want to get away from your false thought, but how much strength do you have? Its strength is waterproof; your strength only amounts to a single drop.
Think it over. How can the little bit of strength you have get away from the overwhelming strength of false thought? For sure you are afraid of it, but even though you try, you can’t get away from it. And unable to get away from it, you are even more afraid of it. For every day you can’t get away, you are afraid of it, but the more you fear, the less you can get away from it.
For three years, five years, you’ve lived in fear like this, and thought about getting away like this . . . straight through a whole lifetime just thinking about getting away from it and being afraid of it. Think it over. Are you still not able to do the work? Can you still find your place among those who put an end to birth and death, since you are not able to do the work?
Therefore your fear of false thinking and your fear of drowsy confusion are a mistake!
Let’s look at this again. How could you possibly get away from false thought? Basically you are totally within the sphere of false thought. Your mind is false thought, your body is false thought, the world is false thought, everything in space is false thought, and everything beyond empty space is also false thought. The mind arising, thoughts moving, movement and stillness, whatever acts and every place is all just false thought.
I ask you, ‘If you were to separate from false thought, then where would you be? Apart from false thought, what kind of a person are you?’ All of you should carefully and minutely examine this for a moment. Are you yet able to comprehend a little of what I say?
Then what do you have to do to be able to apply skill in cultivation?
When the false thought comes on even more, you should not be afraid of it. But in not fearing it, should you become fond of it? You also cannot become fond of it. You don’t fear it, so you don’t look upon it as an evil companion, and you are not fond of it, so you don’t take it as your good friend.
If you become fond of false thought, when the time comes you will fall into the hells again. Being fond of them, you want to follow and comply with them. When you follow them, you necessarily break the precepts and doesn’t breaking precepts cause you to fall into the hells?
Therefore, fear won’t do you any good, and fond regard won’t help you either. All you should do is take up ‘Who recites the Buddha’s name? Which one is it?’ Bring it up, examine it, inquire into it and search it out. But in your investigation, you are only allowed to investigate ‘Who recites the Buddha’s name? Ultimately, who is it? At the very basis of it all, who is it?’
But if you take the ‘who’ of ‘Who recites the Buddha’s name?’ and try to find out who that really is, not only is this approach investigation, it is turning in the opposite direction; it is ‘a marginal affair’ of your consciousness; it is not called investigating dhyana; it is not capable of putting an end to birth and death.
Today I will tell all of you. The straight and narrow road is just ‘Who recites the Buddha’s name? Who is it?’ You don’t know? ‘Ultimately, who is it?’ You still don’t understand at the very end. You still don’t know, and you don’t understand. Apart from this, there is not the slightest trace of thought, not the slightest trace of dust. All of you right in this place should examine the facts. Take a look! Do you still have any false thought? Do you still have any confused drowsiness? Examine this carefully for a minute, for it is not a trifling matter. When you are investigating dhyana and have to go to relieve yourselves, you go to the bathroom and then come back and pull your legs up into full lotus again. After you’ve got into the sitting posture, the period of still meditation has not yet begun — you must wait a minute. With three strokes of the wooden fish, you remain in stillness for an hour and it’s then you consider ‘Who recites the Buddha’s name?’ But as soon as you bring up this topic, the false thinking arrives. What an annoyance! You want to shake off the false thoughts, try to get away, but you can’t. What is more, as soon as you break out of your false thoughts, you get drowsy. You can’t break through that, and so you just go along with it. At the end of the period of silent meditation, again, you haven’t got anywhere. The period of running the incense (walking) is just the same. For the most part, all of you are like this. How pathetic! Going along like this to the end, to the limits of the future, there will never be a time of success.
You must see the suffering of birth and death, the suffering of the three evil paths of rebirth. In the blink of an eye, that’s where you fall! How frightening! How terrifying! My only wish is that all of you thoroughly recognize this and immediately take up ‘Who recites the Buddha’s name?’ And investigate until you penetrate through, until you have no share in birth and death. Then where will the turning in the six-path-wheel of rebirth come from? Each of you be determined. Meditate!
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First published in the April 1990 Buddhism Now.