Getting It Just Right is the Middle Way
A Talk by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
In the Dharma-door of investigating Chan, you must fix your attention on what you are doing. At all times, you should return the light and reflect within. Don't be too tense, and don't be too slack. It's said,
Too tight, and it'll break.
Too slack, and it'll be loose.
Neither tight nor slack, and
it will turn out right.
But neither tense nor slack is the Middle Way. Walking, standing, sitting and lying down, don't be apart from this. Once you leave this, you have missed it. What is this? It's the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way.
In investigating Chan, you must be impartial, not leaning to one side. Don't go too far, and don't fail to go far enough. If you go too far, or not far enough, it's not the Middle Way. If you don't fall into the two extremes of emptiness and existence, then that's the Middle Way. It's said, `The Middle Way is neither emptiness nor existence.' It is True Emptiness and Wonderful Existence. Do not be attached to true emptiness, and do not be obstructed by wonderful existence, for true emptiness and wonderful existence cannot be grasped or renounced. You cannot take hold of them or let go of them. That's the true emptiness and wonderful existence.
When you are applying effort, you should finish what you start; only then will you accomplish anything. As it's said, "Carry it through from beginning to end." You shouldn't "put it in the sun for one day and freeze it for ten," retreat in the face of difficulty, or give up halfway--that's the behavior of people without backbone. The ancients said,
In cultivation, don't be afraid to go slowly.
Just be afraid of standing still.
In your daily investigation of Chan, be mindful of your own meditation topic, and slash through all your idle thoughts with your vajra-jewelled sword of wisdom. When idle thinking is severed, wisdom will arise. With the light of wisdom, you can smash through the gloom of ignorance. Once ignorance is smashed, you can transcend the Three Realms, escape birth and death, and crash your way out of the wheel of life [the twelve links of conditioned co-production].
Those who apply effort in cultivating the Way must have patience. No matter how hard it is, you must patiently bear it. With patience you can reach the other shore. So in joining this Chan Session, you all should not be afraid of hardship. It's said,
"When bitterness ends, sweetness comes."
If you don't start at the very bottom, you can't reach the top. Remember that a ten thousand foot skyscraper is built from the ground up. It isn't built in mid-air. Therefore, Chan cultivators must start with the basics, which are to get rid of idle thinking. If you can stop your idle thoughts, then at that point,
The moon appears in the waters of a pure heart;
There are no clouds in the sky of a calm mind.
When the heart is at peace, all problems go away. When the mind is still, the myriad things are in harmony. As it is said:
True wealth is stopping the mind and cutting off thought:
True fields of blessings are devoid of all selfish desires.
One investigates Chan just to get rid of the false and
keep the true. It is also to pan for gold, to look for gold dust in the
sand, which is a difficult task. But if you want to find gold, you have to
look in the sand, and be patient. Do you want to understand your inherent
Buddha-nature? Do you want to understand your mind and see your nature? Then
you must patiently cultivate, study and investigate, and when enough time
has passed, you will suddenly penetrate and enlighten to the fact that it is
originally this way!