When your life takes the form of a query, says Guo Gu, then you’ve got entered the observe of huatou.
You’ve in all probability heard this well-known gong’an (Jpn., koan), based mostly on an change between a monk and Chan grasp Zhaozhou:
The monk requested, “Does a canine have buddhanature?” Zhaozhou responded, “Wu [No]!”
It’s a puzzling change. All beings have buddhanature, so why did Zhaozhou say no? Why would the monk even ask such a query? The place is my buddhanature? Why is it that I can’t manifest it?
The genius of the premodern Chan masters was of their realization that the existential wonderment underlying such questions might be leveraged as a technique of observe.
That observe known as huatou.
The That means
There are two vital points of huatou observe. The primary could be discovered within the that means of the phrase itself. Huatou (pronounced: hua-tow) actually means the supply (tou) of spoken phrases (hua). Most of us are so conditioned by phrases, and the tales we make with them, that seldom can we study what lies past, or earlier than, them. What’s the supply of spoken phrases? Why do phrases matter a lot to us? Why can we allow them to outline us? How is it that ideas, emotions, and concepts emerge anyway? Meditators are all too accustomed to the approaching and going, rising and ceasing of wandering ideas and emotions—the beginning and demise of every second. However from the place do ideas come? To the place do they recede? What’s it?
Chan masters realized that this power of questioning — or wonderment — was extra priceless than constructed explanations or solutions.
Huatou factors to this supply, this abyss of the unknown. One thing unfathomable is current in us, and it can’t be described by phrases. The location of awakening is the place all of the roads of rumination and story-making are lower off. Any of the names for this—buddhanature, tathagatagarbha, sunyata, nirvana, anatman (no-self), and so forth—are simply useless phrases. What’s that which lies earlier than these notions? What’s it? That is the that means of huatou.
The opposite vital side of huatou observe is that it evokes a way of not realizing or angst that mirrors the not realizing and angst we’ve got towards the nice query of beginning and demise. Like Shakyamuni Buddha’s nice wonderment and non secular quest to resolve the anguish of beginning and demise, our personal observe of huatou straight confronts this wonderment and quest for decision—not by phrases, discursive reasoning, or ruminations, however by making the query itself the experiential middle of our non secular observe. The truth is, all of the arhats and lineage masters of the previous resolved their basic existential investigation on this method. Chan masters realized that this power of questioning—or wonderment—was extra priceless than constructed explanations or solutions. When this wonderment culminates and bursts, we’re freed, liberated from beginning and demise.
Within the Track dynasty (960–1279), Chan masters of all persuasions and lineages collected and commented on gong’ans, however it was Chan grasp Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163) who used huatou, or “vital phrase,” to concretize gong’ans right into a poignantly concise methodology of observe. In precise meditation observe, the huatou is a query or phrase that’s derived from the turning-point, punchline, or crux of the tales within the gong’an collections (resembling Wumenkuan, the Gateless Barrier). Important phrases may come up naturally in life from happenstance that gives an perception.
Dahui extensively advocated the huatou “What’s Wu (No)?” derived from the well-known gong’an in regards to the canine. Zhaozhou’s “no” will not be the other of “sure,” neither is it a denial of buddhanature in canine. Practitioners can’t observe huatou with a thoughts of sure and no, existence or nonexistence, acquire or loss, having or missing. “Solutions” can’t be accepted, as a result of solutions inevitably function throughout the realm of phrases and concepts. All the pieces have to be left behind. All one must do is solely convey forth this vital phrase with an earnest want to know: “What’s it? What’s No?”
After Dahui, the huatou methodology turned the dominant mode of Chan observe, no matter practitioners’ lineage affiliation. Many alternative phrases have been used, however the nature of observe is basically the identical.
The Follow and Significance of Wonderment
Dahui’s emphasis on the spirit of the query turned a technique unto itself. When utilizing the huatou methodology, one should domesticate a decisive “sense of wonderment” (Chn., yiqing; Jpn., gijo). The secret’s to by no means depend on any mental understanding, private expertise, wit, cause, logic, and even any Buddhist educating. All the pieces have to be put down. Merely convey forth the sense of not realizing with regard to the vital phrase till the sense of wonderment turns into so nice that it shatters into awakening.
Because the essence of the huatou methodology, this wonderment is the gateway to awakening and liberation. All huatous level again to this not realizing. Nice wonderment is nonconceptual but potent and all-consuming. Bizarre folks don’t usually really feel this form of wonderment as a result of they’re too occupied with phrases and concepts—all of that are simply fabrications, derived from delusion. Despite the fact that there will probably be cases in life once we are inevitably confronted by the query of life and demise, most individuals will attempt to insulate themselves from these conditions or distract themselves with different actions to keep away from going through this existential concern.
Consciously meditating on a huatou is the other. It deliberately aggravates our existential concern and brings this wonderment into clear focus, resulting in an abiding sense of not realizing that finally lodges into the depths of our psyche. When there may be nice and all-consuming wonderment with regard to life and demise, there may be nice awakening; small wonderment, small awakening; no wonderment, no awakening.
There are completely different flavors and depth of wonderment. With small doses of curiosity, one might get a glimmer of “not realizing” in a thoughts free from wandering ideas, however this situation might subside rapidly. Intermediate levels of wonderment will last more, however the power and depth won’t be ample to maintain momentum or progress. Nonetheless, when one can generate an all-consuming nice ball of wonderment, all the things collapses into that wonderment. One turns into absorbed till there may be nothing left however wonderment itself. As Chan grasp Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1238–1295) mentioned, when this happens, it’s inconceivable to cease it; the wonderment continues in its personal accord. Ultimately, a momentous bursting of the wonderment will observe. This sudden dropping away of self and world is awakening, the place greedy vanishes. The world is new, recent, clear—because it has at all times been, with out self.
One might start huatou observe by merely repeating the unanswerable query. For instance, “What’s No?” or “The myriad dharmas return to the one, however the place does the one return to?” or just, “What’s it?” Mechanical repetition is of little assist, so there have to be an earnestness accompanying the asking of the vital phrase. When the flavour of wonderment kicks in, real investigation begins, and wandering ideas will vanish. However nonetheless, the sense of wonderment could also be inconsistent—typically current, different instances not. Due to this fact, intensive retreats could also be crucial, which offer events for practitioners to dive deeply within the wonderment whereas being supported by the group and the trainer. This can be a valuable alternative. Below these situations the wonderment might grow to be all-consuming.
Gaofeng described the workings of the wonderment in an intensive retreat setting like this:
On this method, strolling is simply this ball of wonderment; sitting is simply this ball of wonderment; placing on garments and consuming rice is simply this ball of wonderment…the wonderment reaches a degree the place no efforts are wasted, and it’s at this level that one features energy…. From morning to night, from head to toe, the wonderment turns into a single pervasive, seamless piece. Shaken, it doesn’t waver; nudged, it doesn’t go away. Radiant and potent, it’s at all times current. It is sort of a boat that flows with the currents, and not using a want in your palms [to guide the oars]. That is the event when the wonderment features energy.
—from Chan Grasp Gaofeng Yuanmiao’s Discourse Report
This gaining of energy refers to awakening itself. Within the midst of the unified, all-consuming wonderment, the physique and thoughts are one; the questioning and wonderment are one; the atmosphere and oneself are one. This state is a novel type of samadhi, through which the questioning prevents one from falling right into a quiescent, immobile state. As an alternative, the concentrated energy of this unified wonderment leads headlong into the explosion of prajna, or knowledge of no-self. Some practitioners and academics consider that awakening is solely the expertise of oneness, an embodiment of the query. That is unfaithful and insufficient. Oneness will not be awakening, as a result of oneness have to be shattered to ensure that real selfless knowledge to manifest.
Each day Life
The observe of the huatou methodology should not be restricted to sitting. Many individuals consider that seated meditation is the best way to observe buddhadharma. Definitely, meditation has its place in buddhadharma, however for huatou observe, seated meditation is barely a basis; it’s the actions of day by day life—strolling, working, and navigating the ups and downs of human interactions—that convey huatou observe to life. As a result of huatou observe is natural, not formulaic in any respect, the sense of wonderment cultivated by this observe could be all-encompassing, not restricted to immobile sitting. Dahui mentioned:
If you happen to could be clear on the juncture of responding to numerous situations, then as time passes, immersed in observe, your observe will naturally be entire and seamless. What’s “the juncture of responding to numerous situations”? It’s the second of pleasure and anger; the instances whenever you discern the varied affairs at work; whenever you socialize with colleagues or associates; whenever you spend time together with your partner; when your thoughts offers rise to good and unhealthy; whenever you face challenges and encounter situations—all of those are alternatives for awakening! You have to bear in mind: when worldly feelings come up, don’t use pressure to suppress them.
…Solely convey forth what the monk requested Zhaozhou, “Does a canine have buddhanature?” Zhaozhou mentioned, “No!” In that second, worldly passions will dissipate in their very own accord. Wordiness will solely give rise to extra phrases, which is able to at all times be deceptive. Tens and 1000’s of explanations [within buddhadharma] simply level to this. If immediately you lose your life by this “No!” then you definately’ll notice that these explanations are solely floating flowers in your imaginative and prescient.
—from Chan Grasp Dahui Pujue’s Discourse Information
Dharma observe can’t be like a passion, doing it whenever you really feel prefer it. Nor can it’s an escape, doing it when issues aren’t going nicely. Follow must be “entire and seamless.” That is notably true for huatou, which is to be maintained amidst day by day life. One additionally wants an skilled, certified trainer who has the skillful means to work with college students, adapting to their inclinations and temperament to convey forth the scholar’s full potential. But, irrespective of how nice or skillful a trainer could also be, or how poignant a huatou is, if an individual solely has a lukewarm curiosity within the deeper questions of life and demise, wonderment can’t be sustained. It takes nice conviction, nice willpower, and most significantly, nice wonderment about beginning and demise.
Everybody experiences this wonderment otherwise, and the way rapidly or simply a practitioner produces the nice ball of wonderment relies on the individual’s karmic capability. Nice wonderment and the bursting of awakening typically come spontaneously to folks with eager karmic capability, even with out the steerage of a grasp. Nonetheless, such awakening experiences are normally shallow, a short lived glimpse of selfless state.
The analogy I’ve for such a state is sort of a needle piercing by a paper. The piercing could also be real, and there’s a gap, however the paper is principally nonetheless there after it’s pierced. The piercing is awakening; the paper is the self.
I’ve met a number of individuals who had such a glimpse of awakening spontaneously earlier in life, however they’ve spent an excessive amount of time looking for out what precisely they skilled or attempting to recreate it. In lots of circumstances, their expertise has grow to be yet one more object of attachment. With no expert trainer, they could really feel smug or particular. Worse, in the event that they observe on their very own, they could develop deranged understandings of their expertise or unwanted effects from their non secular path.
Within the case of people with uninteresting karmic capacities, even small quantities of wonderment could be extraordinarily troublesome to generate. But the potential for awakening remains to be there. In the course of the time of the Buddha, the arhat Cudapanthaka was such an individual. His life was closely burdened by karmic psychological obstacles, and plenty of thought-about him to be dull-witted. However because of the skillful steerage of the Buddha, being instructed to attentively sweep and take away the mud and filth from the vihara, he was in a position to notice awakening. Thus, all folks alongside the spectrum of karmic capability can deepen their observe and finally expertise nice wonderment and awakening. However the significance of steerage can’t be overstated.