I remember how in the beginning, when I was still practicing in a pagoda in a cemetery, I only took one main meal of rice every day without having to eat again. In this way, I could meditate 18 hours a day, and with so much time for practice, my mind became pure and stable. After that, to make even more progress, I took up fasting as a practice. Before I entered the fast, I had a dream in which I dreamed that my stomach had been cut off, and this told me that I had to embark upon a juice fasting retreat. The reason why I would do such a retreat of eating less, or fasting, is because, when you practice in a cemetery or when you fast, you learn to reduce your delusive thoughts. The power of Samadhi (concentration) in Chan is totally separated from delusive thoughts. It is only when you cut off your delusions that you’ll be able to develop the power of Samadhi. And it is only when you have developed that power of Samadhi that you will be able to free yourself.
Because of material abundance, people nowadays eat too much and ruin their health by doing so. Therefore, eating smaller portions, gradually eating less, is good for our health. As spiritual practitioners we should not crave food too much, and instead make enough time for practice. Since food is also a source and accumulation of greed, anger and ignorance, we reduce that greed, anger and ignorance by eating less. And thus we will be slowly be able to better comply with the instructions on spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice means making use of different methods in order to arrive at a spiritual awakening. But no matter which method we apply, if we cannot cut off our delusive thoughts, we will not be able to return to the origin. In Chan, you need to make room for leisure, you need to relax and calmly let go, so that no matter what you do, it is always effortless and not contrived.
Human life is a life in the cycle of rebirth. Rebirth means that we don’t know where we will go for our next life; and one rebirth might last hundred millions of years. For example, the life of a conch shell can reach ten thousand years, which means that it cannot learn anything for ten thousand years. In this life we are so lucky to have been born a human being, and thus to be able to encounter Buddhist teaching and to study Buddhism. This chance is just as rare and incredible as that of a turtle coming across a piece of wood in the middle of a great ocean and putting her head through a hole in that wood. Therefore, to be able to encounter Buddhism is really such a difficult thing. I hope that all of you will treasure this precious Karma which is so difficult to obtain; that you will study and practice Buddhist Teaching and learn freedom in this life.
Dharma Master Hsin Tao (translated by Maria Reis Habito)