Cultivators should take care not indulge in idle thoughts. Idle thoughts are stumbling blocks for cultivators. The states that come to test you correspond to your idle thoughts.
Buddhists should get rid of all selfish and self-benefiting thoughts. Don’t let these thoughts act up and disturb your samadhi. Transform them into thoughts of dedicating yourself to the Dharma. You should seek the Dharma, even if it means renouncing your body and mind, or even your life. Realize that:
When the Way grows a foot,
The demons grow ten feet.
When the Way grows ten feet,
The demons are right on top of you.
The more you wish to cultivate, the more tests you will have. You simply have to recognize them when they come. If you want to cultivate the Way, you cannot be greedy. If you aren’t greedy, you won’t exploit situations by trying to get money or things. You cannot have any greed, anger or stupidity. If these three poisons exist in your mind, you’ll have a lot of trouble. You don’t know what your karmic obstacles are, but as soon as you start cultivating in earnest, those demonic obstacles will appear.
If you want to learn to be good,
Your offenses will seek you out.
If you want to become a Buddha,
You have to undergo the demons first.
Guo Ting, one of the “Three Steps One Bow” monk, has finally realized that he has to seriously cultivate and find his true self. But when his mother got sick and had to go to the hospital for a minor operation, Guo Ting had all kinds of random thoughts. He started bowing to his idle thoughts. It was an extremely tough test. If he hadn’t held out, he would have been turned by that state. However, as Guo Ting’s mind was moving and his body was bowing, he used a firm will to subdue those idle thoughts.
Cultivation is not easy. Guo Ting thought he could handle any other state, but he found it unbearable to know that his mother was sick. Although he couldn’t bear it, he continued bowing every three steps. This shows that he wasn’t turned by that state.
Cultivators should take care not to indulge in idle thoughts. Idle thoughts are stumbling blocks for cultivators. The states that come to test you correspond to the idle thoughts you entertain. So I often say,
Everything is a test to see what you will do.
If you mistake what’s before your face, you’ll have to start anew.
For example, the husband cannot give up his wife, and the wife cannot give up her husband. The father cannot give up his son, and the mother cannot give up her daughter. Just that very attachment is the test, and that’s the very point where you fail in cultivation. When a state comes, it’s hard to pass the test. As it’s said,
Cultivating the Way is like climbing a hundred-foot pole.
Sliding down is easy, but going up is hard.
All of you think about it! What should you do? If you don’t advance, you’ll fall behind. If you advance, you can ascend. If you retreat, it’s easy to fall. You can ascend to the wholesome paths or fall into the evil paths. There’s a saying, “It’s hard, hard, hard! The thought of cultivation gives me the chills. I have to get up early and retire late. Morning and night, I can’t idle.” Wouldn’t you say it’s hard?
A talk given on October 25, 1983