Homage in all Ten Directions, I supplicate to the Three Jewels with reverence and humbly implore the celestial guardians. This monk as an ordinary being has yet to complete my own task, and dare not intercede for others. Nonetheless during this waning period of the Dharma, I am stepping forward to share my understanding with great trepidation and penitence, having neither realization nor attainment. The great spirit shall attest that my intention of offering Seven Verses For A Sangha is not for personal profit and fame. I prostrate and supplicate that should this writing manage to spread and contribute through a few words or phrases to the spiritual advancement of beings, that all merits accrued shall be dedicated to the Dharma Realm, where all beings may partake in the realization of their Full Awakening. I further repent all faults in misleading beings due to confusion arising from my words and their meaning, and may the Buddha receives, guides, and bestows upon us a measure of wisdom that is within our capacity to fathom. May the Three Jewels and the celestial guardians descend upon us with compassion and loving-kindness, and bestow us with blessings and confirmation. With most earnest devotion and tears of gratitude, once again I prostrate and supplicate.
Seven Verses For a Sangha
- Entering the Sangha, one severs all evil, which includes greed, anger, and ignorance in order to cease all vexation.
- Following the Sangha, find a good role model and choose wisely who to follow in order to improve yourself with a mind that is calm without craving.
- Non-differentiating in the Sangha, without distinction between self and others, the mind remains at ease.
- Surpassing the Sangha, one ends suffering and breaks through all habits, ego, and attachments by attaining no mind, no form, and no attachments.
- Leading the Sangha, after attaining deep enlightenment one utilizes wisdom and skillful means for the benefit of others.
- Stabilizing the Sangha, calmly abiding in the emptiness of the primordial nature, one is adaptable in all encounters and opportunities.
- Perfecting the Sangha, the merit of complete fulfillment that is attained forms Buddha’s magnificent body.
Entering the Sangha, one severs all evil, which includes greed, anger, and ignorance in order to cease all vexation. Entering the Sangha means an assembly of wisdom and compassion, an assembly of those practicing the equal abiding of samadhi and wisdom, and an assembly in accord with the non-duality of essence and form. In the waning era of Dharma, practitioners lack diligence and prefer individual activities such as leisurely travels that waste precious time but are regarded a care-free and pure life style, as if that is even anywhere near comparable to the ancient sage’s who lived alone in straw huts in wilderness. They fail to recognize this approach will only lead to their downfall since it nurtures habitual tendencies, having nothing to do with spiritual cultivation; it blinded them to the truth and deceived themselves and others. As one enters an assembly of practitioners, the emphasis should be on the awareness of the grave danger of birth and death and the constant contemplation of impermanence without complacency. Without serious inner cleansing and discipline, how can one make great contribution to the propagation of Buddha Dharma? How can one deserve to receive the nectar of dharma bestowed upon us by the Buddha? How can we face those who protected and supported us in the Dharma? How can we repay the debt of abandoning our loved ones in order to enter the Path? One should recognize that entering the assembly is the principal means for training by assimilation, for the abandoning of self-attachment, and for the polishing away of habitual tendencies. At the same time, one must dedicate diligently to his precepts and meditative concentration, establish correct and proper views and understandings, and diligently engage in all supportive practices in order to build the foundation for future enlightenment and actualization of spiritual fruition. Severing evil and cultivating wholesomeness are the ways to initiate the entrance into an assembly of practitioners. Without cutting off all evils, one will be afflicted; with afflictions, the mind will surely be disturbed; a disturbed mind will ceaselessly fan the flame of birth and death. Therefore, severing all evil is the pre-requisite for entering an assembly. Upon entering the pure assembly of the Sangha, one puts to an end the evil of habitual defilements that turn the wheel of birth and death; entering the assembly’s daily practice and recitation, one puts to an end the evil of controversy due to undisciplined thoughts and unrestrained speech; entering the assembly of right understanding, one puts to an end the evil of self-conceit based on deviant thoughts and false principles; entering the assembly of service and merit cultivation, one puts to an end the evil of complacency un-deserving of the trust and offering of dharma supporters.
To accomplish this task, one must arouse the aspiration for the Path and abiding in the mind teaching as the essential point of training. Just as wheels cannot do any good without the axle, if one can sincerely dedicate to the training and assimilation in an assembly, evil will be eradicated, goodness will be nurtured, and the mind’s true nature shall gradually emerge and culminate in the actualization of the spiritual fruition. This is the essential point of entering an assembly.
Following the Sangha, find a good role model and choose wisely who to follow in order to improve yourself with a mind that is calm without craving. Activities unguided by rules will never lead to real accomplishment; a vase, without the proper molding, will never have a beautiful shape; spiritual awakening, without the guiding example of the Buddha, can never be realized. Those following a spiritual assembly must discern wisely and seek the company of beneficial fellow practitioners. Following an assembly of disciplinary rules, one cuts off defilements of mundane thoughts and habits; following an assembly of complete restrain and diligence, one cuts off persistent attachments and entanglements since the beginning-less past; following an assembly of kindness and compassion, one cuts off the stubbornness of greed and hatred; following an assembly of ethical purity, one cuts off the flow of evil and defilement. Having set one’s sight on a role model, one must abide in peace and dedicate single-mindedly to spiritual cultivation. As we can see from reading the examples of ancient practitioners, many began by studying the scriptures and became learned in both the philosophical and ethical teachings yet in their heart they found no certainty and stability. Then through the admonition of a spiritual master, a great illness, or a profound inquiry of spiritual truth, they seek the true dharma that will settle their mind once and for all. After a chance encounter with the principle of sudden enlightenment, they embark on a journey of spiritual pilgrimage, reading the recorded verbal teaching of patriarchs, seeking audience with lineage masters, facing up to one’s true nature under the skillful means of awakening hit and shout, having penetrated to the essential meaning of a saying or part of a phrase, they attained realization of the mind’s nature and enjoyed the nectar of blessing of that realization for the rest of their lives. Genuine inquiry will lead to true realization. Besides following the footsteps of virtuous elders, one must energetically engage in inner inquiry for the sake of liberating all beings, following the exemplary conduct of the ancient patriarchs, with the ultimate goal of actualizing Buddhahood as the goal, while mindful of spiritual work of cutting off external-grasping tendencies and external-seeking thoughts and restraining habitual tendencies through the principle of the mind’s nature. It is not until all mind contaminants have settled that they can be perceived and eliminated in order to restore the primordial purity of the mind. “Following an assembly” is not done blindly without discerning the principle of causes and effects and right and wrong. Take heed and keep this in mind! Ancient sages reminded us: “The friendship among gentleman is as light in taste as water; the intermingling among the wicked is sticky like honey.” It was also stated that: “The gathering of cunning persons may last all day long, but their conversations are rather short on meaning.” How could one not be attentive of this danger?! A true practitioner would rather not deal with extraneous matter beyond one’s self. One contemplates the arising of phenomena, reflect all external manifestations upon the mind. They practice seeing through and letting go all habitual defilements that go against the Path. Even one scintilla of attachment can be the root of birth and death. Daily conduct must be guided by dharma instead by people. To be guided by people, one will invariably fell in the grips of gossips and judgements. On the other hand, when guided by dharma all actions will lead to the destruction of attachment and the elevation of the spirit. If one follows the assembly in performing service labor, abide in peace in the group dwelling, be well-versed in recitation, ethical conduct, and liturgy, investigate and study deeply the Three Treasuries (Tripitaka), calmly sit in meditation and Zen inquiry, restraint and contemplate the mind’s nature, rest without thoughts in the midst of external disturbances, and finally taming the mind. If one practice thus, he will be able to make spiritual progress.
Non-differentiating in the Sangha, without distinction between self and others, the mind remains at ease. When one first enters the Sangha, the differences between oneself and others are apparent, and the mind is difficult to tame in other’s company. Between oneself and others many obstacles may arise; inner and outer confusions abound. Everyday one focuses on making a small measure of progress that so his observance of precept and concentration will increase without interruption. When one’s pure karma grows, wisdom and merit will also increase. As one’s wholesome roots mature, his sense of urgency regarding impermanence will compel him forward in his practice. Appreciating the compassion of ancient sages and the inevitability of confronting the Six Realms of Reincarnation, a natural longing for the liberation of all beings emerges and inspires him to seek the realization of the mind’s true nature. When the sense of urgency becomes all-consuming, one’s practice will be disciplined and all-encompassing – as the mind yields no opportunities for grasping anything else. Having restrained all gross habitual tendencies, the eyes and ears no longer discriminate forms and sounds. Even in the midst of an assembly, in receiving and sending off visitors or others, in group chanting and during meal, while in sitting and walking mediation, and when performing duties and service labors, there is not a single impression to hold on to and not a single thing to be remembered. Myriad phenomena, heaven and earth, shrines and bodhisattvas, bells and dharma instruments, all appears as reflections in a mirror, unobstructed and free. To the practitioner, there is not even an assembly while he is in the midst of one. The ancients said, “When one’s mind dwells upon the Path, there are no afflictions.” As long as the practice of engaging the Zen inquiry is uninterrupted, the mind settles itself where all grasping comes to an end. At this juncture, how can one have any concerns other than the grave matter of birth and death? Therefore with pretence, one sees not and hears not the assembly due to the intensity of his spiritual aspiration that shuts down any attention toward passing judgements of right and wrong. Taking a deeper view, non-differentiation in the assembly is due to a mind that is detached from form. The Mind teaching is the compass of spiritual cultivation; the mind’s essential nature is the goal of realization. Since all phenomena are created by the mind; the mind is inseparable from phenomenon and phenomenon is inseparable from the mind; mind and phenomenon are not-two. There are no phenomena outside the mind, and no phenomena without the mind; all phenomena is just as it is, neither internal nor external, neither subjective nor objective, and manifestations and essence are as one. The Buddha’s teaching on the mind essence came to us through his genuine compassion, as was often said, “When sentient beings fell ill, so do I.” This is the truth. The mind and phenomena are mutually dependent, there has never been phenomena able to exist independent of the mind. Phenomenon is the expressed form of the mind; the mind is the essence of phenomenon. The wise ones utilizes both desirable and undesirable situations to reflect upon their own mind and destroy habitual defilements – this is genuine practice. Without eliminating the defilements, an obscured mind cannot free itself from birth and death regardless how much scriptures one studies and regardless of how much he practices meditation, mantras, recollection of the Buddha, repentance, or austerity. Only the elimination of defilement can lead one to peace. Without this work, it is impossible to actualize spiritual attainment. If one can deepen his practice through the gradual training in the principle of the non-duality of essence and form such that habitual defilements becomes weakened and diluted, then he will not encounter any obstacles while in the midst of an assembly.
Surpassing the Sangha, one ends suffering and breaks through all habits, ego, and attachments by attaining no mind, no form, and no attachments. In the Zen lineage, enlightenment means “breaking limitation.” Having eradicated attachment and realized the truth means one has broken limitation. Every sentient being has its own unique limitations which has the nature of being of birth and death. All sentient beings lives under their own limitations, drifting with karma, unable to be free. However all limitations arise from attachments – if the mind has no attachment there will be no obstacle, without obstacle one breaks free of limitations. In the Three Realms (desire realm, form realm, formless realm) and the Six Realms of Reincarnation, each sentient being has its own limitation. Human beings have the limitations of being human; hungry ghosts have the limitation of being a hungry ghost, even celestial beings have their own limitations. Only sages who have broken through their limitations, or even having reached the state of no-limitation, can live free, meaning they have no more barriers to cross. In other words, with non-abiding in the three minds (past, present, future mind), all barriers have already been crossed. The sutra stated, “There has never been any dharma that is mastered through laxity.” Those engaged in Zen inquiry achieves realization as profound as the depth of their struggle. The so-called Three Gates of Zen are Initial Gate, the Further Gate, and the Prison Gate. The concept of the Three Gates was devised by the compassionate sages in order show different levels of ignorance. Although it is a skillful means for teaching, it does indeed reflect the reality that there are different levels of ignorance. The ancients taught, “Breaking through the Initial Gate, one obtains no-mind; passing the Further Gates, one attains no form; breaking out of the final Prison Gate, one obtains no abiding.” It was also taught, “Breaking the Initial Gate, one clarifies his view. Though the conceit of ‘I’ is finally cracked open, all habitual tendencies remain. Like an individual who, trapped in a room, finally sees the garden through a broken window. Such person has gone through a minor episode of ‘death’ that revived his spirit to some degree. He is also like a person who gets glimpse of the heaven through the opening at the end of a long narrow tube. Those passing the Further Gate have vastly elevated their wisdom and view. With even more of the self conceit destroyed, habitual tendencies have greatly diminished. Like someone situated in a garden, his view of reality is now much broadened. Having gone through death of the old self and a rebirth, he enjoys a higher degree of freedom. Those breaking free of the final Prison Gate puts to a complete end the conceit of selfhood, eradicated the nest of ignorance and liberated his Dharmakaya. However, his habitual tendencies have not completely cleared away. Like a person standing in emptiness, he enjoys freedom in all directions without obstacles but is not yet firmly rooted in reality, his freedom from birth and death is not yet assured. Like a new born baby, he must take care to abide constantly in this state of attainment. Once this state becomes actualized as a reality, he can make great strides in manifestation, becoming the teacher of gods and humans and expound the teaching on behalf of the Buddha to preserve and sustain the wisdom of the Buddha. The principle of Zen inquiry is to utilize the function of the mind to turn awareness back toward its essence until one realizes the non-duality of essence and function of the true mind, this is summed up in the phrase, “Turn awareness back toward its own nature; that nature is the unsurpassed truth.” This principle works by applying poison against poison, pulling a nail with another nail, and using a single-minded focus, such as the doubt sensation, to break the fundamental attachment of the mind itself, namely the conceit ‘I am’. This fundamental attachment is so deep and so entangled with all defilements that without using the most potent of all poisons how can it be destroyed, how can it be rooted out to reveal the mind and save one’s life? To inquire the self-nature is to restraint the scattering mind from many directions to a few directions and eventually down to a singular mind, and ultimately reach the state of no-mind where subject-object dichotomy vanished and where attachments gave way to realization – this is the principle of the practice. Doubt sensation is the pillar for engaging the Hua-Tou, the source of the discriminating mind, which is the entry point of enlightenment.