The mental attitude of a practitioner seeking a teacher

The mental attitude of the practitioner

For a practitioner beginning mental resolution, the seeking of an excellent teacher and coming to know an excellent teacher was truly important. But even more important was the attitude and determination of the practitioner who was seeking the teacher. The important moral element that the practitioner has to possess is the believing mind and mental resolution, and the spirit of forgetting the body for the Way, discarding the body and mind for enlightenment.

The practitioner must give rise to a great mental resolution to be enlightened on the basis of the firm belief that one is originally the Buddha. Without this basic condition, the sincere mind that has to seek out a teacher will not arise. In the state of non-mental resolution, the consultation of teachers all over will just be as the words say, nothing more than bowing to the teachers, and it will be difficult to face one’s lot as a wandering practitioner all alone.

Let us look at the story of the second patriarch of the Seon lineage, Seon Master Huike, personally seeing his master, Bodhidharma, as introduced in the Zutangji.

When Huike lived in his village he studied Confucianism and Taoism for a long time. But his mind was not at ultimate repose, and to obtain that peace of mind he sought out the patriarch Bodhidharma who was facing a wall at Shaolin Monastery. At first Bodhidharma would not listen to the entreaty of the monk Huike who asked to be made a disciple. Even though he made the request a number of times, the patriarch wordlessly just gazed at the wall, was silent and did not reply.

The time was December, winter, and so the snow fell in sheets. Huike stood in the courtyard and begged, but he did not hear a single word asking him to come in. The snow kept falling until it was about to reach Huike’s knees. When it was deep in the night, the lower half of Huike’s body was buried in the snow. But even so he kept his hands together in obeisance and just stood. He did not retire. And only then did Bodhidharma look around at Huike and let out a word.
“What do you seek that you have come here?”
“What I seek is you, Master. Please open wide the gate of ambrosia (of the teaching) and save this sentient being.”
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, “The supreme enlightenment of the Buddha is the fruit of hard practice over many eons. You, with a trivial intention wish to hear this greatest of teachings.”
So Huike, with the guidance he had, cut off his own left arm and took it to the patriarch. He was showing his determination in forgetting his body for the Dharma by discarding (a part of) his own body. As soon as he did this, Bodhidharma accepted Huike as a disciple.
“When the Buddha and the bodhisattvas sought the Dharma they did not consider the body as a body. Now since you have cut off your arm and shown your faith, you are worthy to seek the Dharma.”
Huike asked, “My mind is not at ease. By all means, please put my mind at ease.”
The patriarch replied, “Bring that uneasy mind to me and I will calm your mind for you.”
“Even though I seek the mind, I cannot find it.”
“If you cannot find it, how can that be your mind? I have already calmed your mind.”
Hearing these words, Seon Master Huike then and there was greatly enlightened.

In order to seek the Dharma from his master, Seon Master Huike showed the enlightened awareness he had treasured by cutting off his arm. Until he even cut one arm off, from where would the mind to seek the Way that forgot the body for the Dharma have emerged so that he could become a pupil? That emerged of course from the earnest desire to seek the original face of his mind. The passion to seek the Dharma does not even take into account the question of living or dying. Similarly, through an earnest desire, Seon Master Huike staked his life and sought the then teacher, Bodhidharma. After confirming the mental attitude that he kept, Bodhidharma permitted him to become a disciple and gave him instruction, and he was immediately enlightened then and there.

How should a practitioner receive a teacher?

A master for a practitioner has a very different meaning than a worldly master has. The master of a practitioner, being a person who directs the student’s whole life, is an object of devotion to whom the student must commit his whole life and receive him on that basis. And so the object that empties us of our form of self genuinely is only the master. If one thinks on this point that the master is right and on that point I am correct, such a master cannot play a role of a true master.

Sometimes, because of a long accumulated bad karma, one only sees the master’s failings as major, and is disappointed. If then one criticizes him that is an error. For example, just as when the moon is bright one cannot see the stars in the night sky, so likewise if the faith is deep, the mind that sees the failings of the master completely disappears. Therefore, when one comes to see the master’s faults, one must consider that one’s own faith is insufficient. In this sense, the student must be honest with himself. While looking back regarding oneself, and while shedding light impartially and fairly again and again on one’s own mental resolution, one must have a mind of humility endlessly.

Meditators who study Seon must stake their whole life on the master they have selected for themselves. Once one has made a selection, one must have an attitude of pushing on until the end. Of course, the master must be a clear-eyed lineage master who has correct knowledge and views. Even if he is not a clear-eyed lineage master, one must venerate as a master a person whose practice and life, words and actions are at one. The practitioner must believe in and follow that master. Once one has come to accept the master’s guidance, one must serve the master with an absolutely humble mind that has put aside egotism and subjectivity from within one. This study develops as far as one believes.

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