Three things are essential in Zen meditation. The first is Great Faith. The second is Great Courage. The third is Great Doubt. If any one of these is missing, it becomes like a tripod cauldron that is missing one leg—it is of no use at all.
Correct meditation practice is much like tuning the strings of an old lute: find the right chord between too tight and too loose, and beautiful music can appear. But overexertion makes you prone to all kinds of attachment, while negligent, inattentive practice leads only to deeper ignorance. It is best to practice Zen with a calm and clear mind—constantly attentive and not-moving.
There are those who study only words and speech, who may seem to be enlightened when they open their mouths to speak. In reality, however, when faced with everyday situations, they become so flustered that they do not know what to do. This shows the difference between the nature of words and the nature of actions.
If you do not wish to be touched by life and death, you must firmly hold the "one thought" and break through in a flash. Only there can you be truly freed from life and death.
And yet even though you have broken through the appearance of even a single thought, you must still find a keen-eyed master to check whether you have attained a correct insight.
My hope is that all practitioners of the Way completely believe in their true self. You should neither lack confidence nor give rise to pride.
The point of practicing is simply to cut off worldly thoughts. The enlightenment experience of all saints and sages is nothing other than this.
It is really not necessary to try to discard the mind of a sentient being. And searching for something like "correct" dharma is also a big mistake. Simply strive to keep your true self from becoming defiled: that is all.
To practice cutting off all defilements is to practice a dualistic way, whereas just keeping the mind where no defilements arise is called "nirvana."
To empty your mind, simply reflect deeply right into it. Then you can truly have faith that, in reality, the appearing and disappearing of even one thought is itself an illusion: There is, in fact, no "thing" that ever actually appears.
If you know that the arising thought is itself unreal delusion, you are already free. What need is there for employing skillful means? Freed from any delusion, you are already enlightened, so there is no need for gradual progress.
Sentient beings abide in complete stillness, with nothing moving in the least: nothing appears or disappears. It is sometimes called "the birthless." Yet they make the delusion of "life" and "death" and "Nirvana/salvation," and believe that they are real, like seeing flowers appearing and disappearing in the sky.
We can sometimes say "Bodhisattvas save sentient beings by leading them into Nirvana." And yet, in reality, there are no "sentient beings who attain any kind of "Nirvana."
It is entirely possible to attain a sudden enlightenment, whereas in actuality, mind-habits cannot be eliminated just as instantly.
Pure and clear wisdom that functions with no hindrance arises from correct meditation. When mind is plunged into meditation, one perceives clearly the appearing and disappearing of things in the world.
If while encountering myriad situations your mind does not give rise to thinking, this is what we mean by "unborn." The "unborn" nature is "before thinking," and before thinking is itself "Nirvana" or salvation.
Some people may be under the impression that we practice dharma in order to attain Nirvana. But this is a mistake. Mind is originally calm and perfectly clear, just as it is. Attaining this realization is true "Nirvana" or salvation. This is why it is taught, "All dharmas are originally marked by "Nirvana."