Pondering over a Doubtful Question

Yutang Lin

Gong An (koan) recorded circumstances of an interaction.
Hua Tou (wato) brings up doubts for incessant pondering.
Continuation of pure thought merges into absence of idea.
Chan (Zen) pondering eventually transcends consideration.


Disciple Wang Hao raised questions such as: what is the difference between pondering over a Hua Tou and repetition of Buddha name? What is a Hua Tou? Could one ponder over a Hua Tou at any time? Etc. So I wrote this in reply to his inquiry.

Gong An (koan) in Chan school refers to records of circumstances of interactions between or among ancient Chan practitioners. If a reader of a Gong An can imagine as if being present at the situation and can refrain from conceptual responses, then there may be a possibility for comprehension. As to Hua Tou (wato), it is a doubt. Once a Chan practitioner had chosen a Hua Tou (a question) that the practitioner had real doubts about, then the practitioner should give up all else and ponder over it INCESSANTLY. Pondering over a Hua Tou does not mean repetition of a question; hence it is not the same as repetition of a pure thought in chanting Buddha name or chanting a mantra. Instead, it means to brew the doubt in mind.

Continuation of a pure thought would eventually merge into oneness of thought and no thought, the original purity. Chan pondering in brewing a doubt should continue until all conceptualization effortlessly ceased, and the totality naturally reveals itself. Even though, in light of the above, they are different approaches leading to the same ultimate realm, but generally speaking, depending on people's propensities and efforts made, degrees of enlightenment attained vary from individual to individual.

Written in Chinese and translated on February 3, 2007
El Cerrito, California

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