Those of you in the meditation hall appear to be taking part in a Chan Session, but your minds are engaging in idle thinking. Your idle thoughts take you suddenly into the heavens and suddenly back to earth. Suddenly you are ghosts, then suddenly you become animals. You produce a profusion of idle thoughts, yet none of them go beyond greed, hatred, and stupidity. You claim to be diligently cultivating precepts, concentration, and wisdom, but in fact you are not cultivating precepts, concentration, and wisdom! You claim to be eliminating greed, hatred, and stupidity, yet you are not eliminating them. That's how strange it is! Not only are you this way in the present life, you are this way in life after life. That's why you rise and sink ceaselessly in the six paths of rebirth. Reincarnated as a dog, we feel we are number one. Reborn as a cat, we also feel we are number one. In general, no matter what type of creature we become, we always consider ourselves to be number one. Why is this? Because we have attachments that arise from our ignorance. If we use a true mind to cultivate the Way and work hard at Chan meditation, then we will be able to liberate ourselves from the suffering of reincarnation and realize the bliss of Nirvana.
Some people don't take their cultivation seriously, but just follow along with the crowd and waste all their time at the retreat. This is their attitude: "I just sit when the others sit, and walk when they walk. I just do what everyone else does." Such people take the matter of birth and death and simply throw it out beyond cloud nine. They don't take it at all seriously. These people are neither willing to really apply themselves, nor to dedicate themselves to cultivation. They are unwilling to beat their idle thoughts to death. They simply sit here, endlessly entertaining one idle thought after another. In a single day they may bring up eighty-four thousand idle thoughts, yet they still aren't satisfied. Idle thinking! Idle thinking! They let these idle thoughts tie their mind into knots and turn their spirits upside-down. How pathetic!
How then, can you be free of these idle thoughts? There is no other method: simply investigate your meditation topic. Although the meditation topic is also a idle thought, it can still bring your energy to a concentrated focus and prevent it from running outside. It is the method of "fighting fire with fire"; thus we use one idle thought to counter and control many idle thoughts. When one idle thought is investigated from front to back, one will no longer have idle thoughts. When one reaches the stage of having no idle thoughts, there is a chance for enlightenment to occur. At that time, a single word, a single act, a single gesture, or a single motion can serve as the key that opens the lock to your enlightenment.