To Secretary Lau:
Since we parted, I don’t know whether or not you can avoid being carried away by external objects in your daily activities as you respond to circumstances, whether or not you can put aside your heap of legal documents as you look through them, whether or not you can act freely when you meet with people, whether or not you engage in vain thinking when you’re where it’s peaceful and quiet, whether or not you are thoroughly investigating This Matter without any distracted thoughts.
Thus Old Yellow Face (Buddha) has said, “When the mind does not vainly grasp past things, does not long for things in the future, and does not dwell on anything in the present, then you realize fully that the three times are all empty and still.” You shouldn’t think about past events, whether good or bad; if you think, that obstructs the Path. You shouldn’t consider future events; to consider them is crazy confusion. Present events are right in front of you: whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant, don’t fix your mind on them. If you do fix your mind on them, it will disturb your heart. Just take everything in its time, responding according to circumstances, and you will naturally accord with this principle.
It’s pleasant situations that truly give you no way to escape…
Unpleasant Situations Are easy to handle; pleasant situations are hard to handle. For that which goes against one’s will, it boils down to one word: patience. Settle down and reflect a moment and in a little while it’s gone. It’s pleasant situations that truly give you no way to escape: like pairing magnet and iron, unconsciously this and that come together in one place. Even inanimate objects are thus: how much the more so for those acting in ignorance, with their whole beings making a living within it! In this world, if you have no wisdom, you will be dragged unknowing and unawares by that ignorance into a net; once inside the net, won’t it be difficult to look for a way out? This is why an early sage said, “Having entered the world, leave the world completely,”—this is the same principle. In recent generations there’s been a type who lose track of expedient means in their practice. They always consider acting in ignorance to be “entering the world,” so then they think of a forced pushing away as the act of “leaving the world completely.” Are they not to be pitied? The only exceptions are those who have pledged their commitment, who can see through situations immediately, act the master, and not be dragged in by others.
Hence Vimalakirti Said, “For those with the conceit of superiority, falsely claiming attainment, the Buddha just says that detachment from lust, hatred, and ignorance is liberation. For those with no conceit of superiority, the Buddha says that the inherent nature of lust, hatred, and ignorance is identical to liberation.” If you can avoid this fault, so that in the midst of situations favorable or adverse there is no aspect of origination or demise, only then can you get away from the name “conceit of superiority” (applied to one who thinks he has attained but hasn’t). Only this way can you be considered to have entered the world and be called a man of power.
What I’ve Been Talking about thus far is all my personal life experience: even right now I practice just like this. I hope that you will take advantage of your physical strength and health and also enter this stable equilibrium.
Ta Hui (1088-1163) was a Ch’an Master of the Linji (Rinzai) School. His teacher was Yuan-Wu. He is known for advocating koan study and for his attention to lay practitioners.
Christopher Cleary has translated or co-translated numerous works from Zen’s Chinese history.
From Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui. Copyright © 1977 by Christopher Cleary. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc.