Dear Friends, according to ancient wisdom: If a man wishes to be happy for an hour, he eats a good meal; If he wishes to be happy for a year, he marries; If he wishes to be happy for a lifetime, he grows a garden; If he wishes to be happy for eternity, he examines a Hua Tou.
So, what is a Hua Tou? It is a statement designed to concentrate our thoughts upon a single point, a point that exists in the Original Mind's "head", a point immediately before the thought enters our ego consciousness. It is a "source" thought.
Let us examine the Hua Tou, "Who is it who now repeats the Buddha's name?" Of all the Hua Tou questions, this is the most powerful. Now, this Hua Tou may be stated in many different ways, but all the ways indicate one basic question, "Who am I?" Regardless of how the question is stated, the answer must be found in the same place that it originated: in the source, the Buddha Self. The ego cannot answer it.
Obviously, quick and facile answers are worthless. When asked, "Who is it who now repeats the Buddha's name?" we may not retort, "It is I, the Buddha Self!" and let it go at that. For we must then ask, "Who is this I?" We continue our interrogations and our confrontations. A civil war goes on inside our mind. The ego fights the ego. Sometimes the ego wins and sometimes the ego loses. On and on we battle. What is it that makes my mind conscious of being me? What is my mind, anyway? What is consciousness?
Our questions become more and more subtle and soon begin to obsess us. Who am I? How do I know who I am? These questions go round and round in our minds like tired and angry boxers. Sometimes, we may want to quit thinking about the Hua Tou, but we find we can't get it out of our mind. The bell won't ring and let us rest. If you don't like pugilistic metaphors you could say that the Hua Tou begins to haunt us like a melody that we just can't stop humming.
So there we are - always challenged, always sparring. Needless to say, a Hua Tou should never degenerate into an empty expression. Many people think they can shadowbox with their Hua Tou and just go through the motions of engagement. While their minds are elsewhere, their lips say, "Who is repeating the Buddha's name? Who is repeating the Buddha's name? Who is repeating the Buddha's name?" This is the way of feisty parrots, not of Chan practitioners.
The Hua Tou has meaning. It is a question that has an answer and we must be determined to find that answer.
I know that "Who am I?" sounds like a simple question, one we ought to be able to answer without difficulty. But it is not an easy question to answer. Often it is extremely puzzling.
Ver em Empty Cloud, The Teachings of Xu Yun