The Monk in the Grave - An Explanation by the Venerable Master
In the summer of 1969, at a guest lecture given at the University of California at Berkeley in an "Introduction to Buddhism" class, the Master explained this verse he composed during his years of semi-seclusion in the early sixties.
Each of you now meets a monk in the grave.
Above there is no sun and moon, below there is no lamp.
Affliction and enlightenment--ice is water.
Let go of self-seeking and become apart from all that is false.
When the mad mind ceases, enlightenment pervades all.
Enllightened, attain the bright treasury of your own nature.
Basically, the retribution body is the Dharma body.
Each of you now meets a monk in the grave. You young capable people who are endowed with wisdom will no doubt ask this monk in the grave, "How did you get there?" I don't know either. You should not ask me that question. It is not important. How this monk in the grave got in there and how he got out does not pose a problem. However, I will tell you what the grave is like.
Above, no sun and moon; below, no lamp. What does this describe? Ignorance. It is ignorance that has no name. Although it has no name, it is still necessary to destroy it. Not only do I have to destroy ignorance, you also have to destroy ignorance. You say, "I haven't entered the grave, how can you call me ignorant?" Well, you haven't entered the grave yet, but in the future you certainly will. You can't avoid it. You definitely have to go in the future, because of the ignorance you have now. Having ignorance means not having any brightness. Even the highest Bodhisattvas still have a bit of "ignorance that creates appearances" which has not yet been destroyed. Therefore, all the way from Bodhisattvas down through the Nine Dharma Realms--including us ordinary people--all beings have ignorance. That's why the Buddha said that ignorance is afflictions; afflictions are Bodhi. But in order to turn afflictions into Bodhi we have to have some gung fu--spiritual skill. And so the third line of the verse says:
Affliction and Bodhi--ice is water. Because everyone has afflictions, everyone also has Bodhi. Everyone knows how to get afflicted; but we've all forgotten about Bodhi! If we forget about Bodhi then we cannot make use of it. It's like ice which originally was water but, because of a cold atmosphere, turned to ice. If there's a warm spell, it can melt the ice back into water. This is an analogy for afflictions and Bodhi. The cold atmosphere is afflictions; and the opposite, the warm sunshine, is Bodhi. What creates the cold atmosphere? Greed, hatred, and stupidity do it. What is the warm sunshine? Precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. We should diligently cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom and put to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity. That is turning afflictions into Bodhi. It's also melting the ice into water. But this is only an analogy. Don't get attached and say, "Ice is water; afflictions are Bodhi," for fear you might then go on to say, "Well, I'll just hang onto my afflictions. After all, they're Bodhi! And since ice itself is water, I'll just keep the piece of ice and see if it turns into water." That's not the right attitude. Although everyone can become a Buddha, we have to cultivate before that can happen. How do we cultivate? We must rely in the Buddhadharma to cultivate and find a Bright-eyed Good and Wise Advisor who will teach us the methods of cultivation.
Birth, death, and Nirvana; form is just emptiness. Everyone is afraid of birth and death. However, if there weren't any birth and death, there wouldn't be any Nirvana. Nirvana must be found within birth and death. Once you find Nirvana it is not necessary to seek any more. Don't "ride a donkey trying to find a donkey." We don't have Nirvana at present because we are still caught up in birth and death. If you end birth and death, then Nirvana is yours--there will be no need to search for it. And so it's said that form is just emptiness. Nirvana, too, is just emptiness.
Let go of self-seeking, be apart from the false. If you want to certify to the emptiness of people, the emptiness of dharmas--the emptiness of birth, death, and Nirvana--you must let go and see through it all. Don't keep holding on, unable to let go. If you can let go, then that's called being apart from the false. If you cannot leave the false, you are involved in climbing on conditions and you cannot get rid of your obstructions. If you are able not to know either birth or death, then you won't have any attachments at all.
When the mad mind ceases, enlightenment interpenetrates. You must stop your mad mind and your ambitious tendencies. "How do I stop?" you ask. Just stop! Is there still a "how"? Just stop! When the mad mind ceases, then you enlighten to the perfect unobstructed interpenetration of the Buddhadharma. The Buddha said, "All living beings have the wisdom and virtuous characteristics of the Buddhas. It is only because of false thinking and attachments that they are unable to certify to the attainment." He also said, "When the mad mind ceases, that ceasing is Bodhi."
Awakened, attain to the bright store of your own nature. Your own nature is a bright storehouse of light. If you can awaken to that bright treasury of light inherent in your own nature, then you can certify to the fact that basically the reward body is the Dharma body. The bright light treasury of your own nature is the Treasury of the Thus Come One. The reward body, prior to undergoing karmic retribution, is the Dharma body. And so we are now undergoing the rewards or retributions for whatever karma we created in the past. If we created good, then we receive a good reward. If we created evil, then we receive an evil retribution. But you must actually become enlightened--see your original face--before you can be certified as having perceived the light of your own nature.
What's it like when that happens? Students become professors and professors become students. Everyone is the same. Buddhas are living beings; living beings are Buddhas. If you understand this principle, you have genuine understanding. If you have not yet understood, then you still have ignorance.
Appendix II, p. 215 - 218
"Records of the Life of Ch'an Master Hsuan Hua" Part II