If you want to avoid going around in circles, nothing compares to seeking Buddhahood. If you want to seek Buddhahood, Buddha is mind. Need mind be sought afar? It is not apart from the body.
The material body is temporal, having birth and death. The real mind is like space, unending and unchanging. Thus it is said, "When the physical body decays and dissolves back into fire and air, one thing remains aware, encompassing the universe."
Unfortunately, people today have been confused for a long time. They do not know that their own mind is the real Buddha. They do not know that their own essence is the real Dharma. Wishing to seek Dharma, they attribute it to remote sages; wishing to seek Buddhahood, they do not observe their own mind.
If you say that there is Buddha outside the mind, and there is Dharma outside of essence, and want to seek the Way of Buddhahood while clinging tightly to these feelings, even if you spend ages burning your body, branding your arms, breaking your bones and taking out the marrow, wounding yourself and copying scriptures in your own blood, standing for long periods of time without sitting down, eating only once a day, reading the whole canon and cultivating various austere practices, it will be like steaming sand to produce cooked rice; it will only increase your own fatigue.
Just know your own mind and you will grasp countless teachings and infinite subtle meanings without even seeking. That is why the World Honored One said, "Observing all sentient beings, I see they are fully endowed with the knowledge and virtues of Buddhas." He also said, "All living beings, and all sorts of illusory events, are all born in the completely awake subtle mind of those who realize suchness."
So we know that there is no Buddhahood to attain apart from this mind. The Realized Ones of the past were just people who understood the mind, and the saints and sages of the present are people who cultivate the mind; students of the future should rely on this principle.
People who practice the Way should not seek externally. The essence of mind has no defilement; it is originally complete and perfect of itself. Just detach from illusory objects, and it is enlightened to suchness as is.
If Buddha-nature is presently in our bodies, it is not apart from ordinary people. Then why do we not perceive Buddha-nature now?
It is in your body, but you do not perceive it yourself. At all times you know when you are hungry, you know when you are thirsty, you know when you are cold, you know when you are hot; sometimes you get angry, sometimes you are joyful-ultimately, what is it that does all this?
Now then, the material body is a compound of four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Their substance is insentient; how can they perceive or cognize? That which can perceive and cognize has to be your Buddha- nature.
This is why Linji said, "The four gross elements cannot expound the Teaching or listen to the Teaching. Space cannot expound the Teaching or listen to the Teaching. Only the solitary light clearly before you, that which has no form, can expound the Teaching or listen to the Teaching."
What he called that which has no form is the stamp of the truth of all Buddhas, and it is your original mind. So the Buddha-nature is presently in your body; what need is there to seek outside?
You say that the two categories of sudden enlightenment and gradual practice are guidelines followed by all sages. If enlightenment is sudden enlightenment, what is the need for gradual practice? If practice is gradual practice, why speak of sudden enlightenment? Please explain the meanings of sudden and gradual further, to eliminate doubts.
As for sudden enlightenment, as long as ordinary people are deluded, they think their bodies are material conglomerates and their minds are random thoughts. They do not know that inherent essence is the true body of reality. They do not know that their own open awareness is the real Buddha. Seeking Buddha outside of mind, they run randomly from one impulse to another.
If a real teacher points out a way of entry for you, and for a single instant you turn your attention around, you see your own original essence. This essence originally has no afflictions; uncontaminated wisdom is inherently complete in it. Then you are no different from the buddhas; thus it is called sudden enlightenment.
As for gradual practice, having suddenly realized fundamental essence, no different from Buddha, beginningless mental habits are hard to get rid of all at once. Therefore one cultivates practice based on enlightenment, gradually cultivating the attainment to perfection, nurturing the embryo of sagehood to maturity. Eventually, after a long time, once becomes a sage; therefore it is called gradual practice. It is like an infant, which has all the normal faculties at birth, but as yet undeveloped; only with the passage of years does it become an adult.
By what expedient means can we turn our minds around instantly to realize our inherent essence?
It is just your own mind; what further expedient means would you apply? If you apply expedient means to go on to seek intellectual understanding, this is like wanting to see your own eyes because you think you have no eyes if you cannot see them. As long as you have not lost them, that is called seeing eyes. If you have no more desire to see, does that mean you imagine you are not seeing? So it is also with one's own open awareness. Since it is one's own mind, how can one yet seek to see it? If you seek understanding, then you do not understand it. Just know that which does not understand; this is seeing essence.
In terms of my present state, what is the mind of open awareness of silence and emptiness?
Answer: What enables you to ask me this question is your mind of open awareness of emptiness and silence; why do you still seek outside instead of looking within? I will now point directly to the original mind in you, to enable you to awaken; you should clear your mind to listen to what I say.
Throughout the twenty-four hours of the day, you operate and act in all sorts of ways, seeing and hearing, laughing and talking, raging and rejoicing, affirming and denying: now tell me, ultimately who is it that can operate and act in this way?
If you say it is the physical body operating, then why is it that when people's lives have just ended and their bodies have not yet decomposed at all, their eyes cannot see, their ears cannot hear, their noses cannot smell, their tongues cannot talk, their bodies do not move, their hands do not grip, their feet do not step? So we know that what can see, hear, and act must be your basic mind, not your physical body.
Indeed, the gross elements of this physical body are inherently empty, like images in a mirror, like the moon reflected in water; how can they be capable of perfectly clear and constant awareness, thoroughly lucid, sensitive and effective, with countless subtle functions? Thus it is said, "Spiritual powers and subtle functions - drawing water and hauling wood."
But there are many ways of access to the principle. I will point out one entryway, by which you can return to the source. Do you hear the cawing of the crows and the chattering of the jays?
Student: I hear them.
Now turn around and listen to your hearing essence; are there still so many sounds in it?
Student: When I get here, all sounds and all discriminations are ungraspable.
Marvelous, marvelous! This is the Sound Seer's gateway into the principle. Now let me ask you further: You say then when you get here all sounds and all discriminations are totally ungraspable. Since they cannot be grasped, does that not mean that there is empty space at such as time?
Student: Originally not empty, it is clearly not obscure.
What is the substance that is not empty?
Student: It has not form; there is no way to express it in words.
This is the life of the Buddhas and Zen masters; do not doubt anymore. Since it has no form, could it have size? Since it has no size, could it have bounds? Because it has no bounds, it has no inside or outside. Having no inside or outside, it has no far or near. With no far or near, there is no there or here. Since there is no there or here, there is no coming or going. Because there is no going or coming, there is no birth or death. Having no birth or death, it has no past or present. With no past or present, there is no delusion or enlightenment, no ordinary nor saint, no contamination nor purity, no judgment, no wrong notions: it is the true nature, in principle root of all living beings.
Those who realize this and keep to it sit in one suchness and are immutably liberated. Those who stray from this and turn away from it traverse the six courses and go round and round for eternity. Therefore it is said that straying from the One Mind to traverse the six courses is "departure," or "disturbance," while awakening to the realm of reality and returning to the One Mind is "arrival," or "tranquility."
Son Master Chinul
Secrets of Cultivating the Mind was composed by Chinul (1158 - 1210).
Taken from Minding Mind
A Course in Basic Meditation, edited and translated by Thomas Cleary (1995)