In our cultivation, we need to know how to “protect ourselves” which means how to protect our pure awareness. Being free from wondering thoughts to keep the six senses pure is the way toward enlightenment. All dharmas derive from our minds. When the mind is pure, the land is pure. If our mind is impure, the land is impure. When this mind is awakened to the truth, the six senses are pure; when this mind is deluded, the six senses are defiled. The mind is the head of the six senses. If this mind is in command, the six senses will be pure. In Chan Buddhism, there is a saying that the mind should be “clear and calm” which means to work on the purification of consciousness.
Focus Inward and Guard Sense-Access
There was a monk who meditated by a river. He had been practicing meditation for twelve years, yet he couldn’t completely cease his wandering thoughts. One night, Shakyamuni Buddha found out and decided it was the time to assist this monk to become enlightened, so the Buddha went to the riverside and walked with him. They happened to see a turtle climbing on the riverbank and at the same time, there came an otter. The otter wanted to eat the turtle. In order to protect itself, the turtle retracted its head, tail, and limbs into its shell.
Shakyamuni Buddha then asked the monk, “Did you see the turtle? How did the turtle protect itself when it saw the otter coming?” The monk replied, “In order to protect itself and save its life, the turtle withdrew its head, tail, and legs into its shell.” The Buddha told the monk, “Our cultivation saves our true lives, the Dharma body and wisdom life. Physical life is impermanent and is in the hands of King Yama and the ghost of impermanence. How do we protect ourselves? We should be like the turtle and retreat our six-sense organs, eyes looking inside and ears hearing inward. Ordinary beings in the mundane world like to see and hear outward, observe others instead of themselves, and chase outward things nonstop. They don’t know how to reflect inward and examine whether they give rise to good or bad thoughts. They don’t know how to watch their mental status, arising, ceasing, and wandering. So, our practice must start from the six senses. When the six senses are pure, we will realize the state of non-arising.” The Buddha uttered a verse,
“Hide our six senses like the turtle tucks itself into the shell.
Protect our mind like the bulwark of a castle.
Use our wisdom to fight against our vexatious devil.
When our wisdom wins, we will obtain the true liberation.”
After hearing the verse, the monk attained enlightenment.
Most people want to become enlightened, and it will be great to be enlightened. But if we cannot yet realize this mind, we can start its cultivation from practice. “Hide our six senses like the turtle tucks itself into the shell.” means to hide our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and consciousness. Withdraw our six senses inward instead of reaching outward just like the turtle retracted its head, tail, and limbs into its shell. The Diamond Sutra states, “non-abiding.” If we can free our six senses from the attachments to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and dharmas, we can really protect our Dharmakaya (the true life of wisdom), the original true nature.
The mind is the most important among the six sense organs. Thus, the next step is to “protect our mind like the bulwark of a castle.” In ancient times, a castle had four main gates at the cardinal points. There were guardians to watch over the gates to protect from the invasion of robbers and bandits. Our body is like a castle and the six senses are like six gates. When we open the six gates, the bandits of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and dharmas come into the castle. That’s why we need to guard our six senses in our cultivation. The mind is the most important one among our six senses. We need to attentively protect our mind as we guard the castle. Once our mind moves or gives rise to a single wandering thought, we should immediately detect it and see through it.
Stay Aware and Wise, Forever Rest from Afflictions
The virtuous ancients said, “Guard our mouth like corking a bottle. Protect our mind like bulwarking a castle.” Ordinary beings create bad deeds easily through their mouths. Buddhist practice is based on the Five Precepts and Ten Wholesome Deeds. This is also the fundamental method that all Pratyekabuddhas, Shravakas, and Bodhisattvas practice. If we can really implement the Five Precepts and Ten Wholesome Deeds, it will assist our meditation practice. In the Ten Wholesome Deeds, the “no false speech,” “no divisive speech,” “no abusive speech,” and “no frivolous speech” are categorized as “Guard our mouth.” “Reflect inward all the time” and “do not give rise to thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance, doubt, and erroneous views” are to “Protect our mind like bulwarking a castle.” Once a single vexation arises, use the Chan (Zen) practice to penetrate it right away by asking inwardly in your mind: “Who?”. If we don’t know how to see through vexation by the Chan (Zen) way, we can give rise to a thought of regret or repentance, or we can chant Mantras or the Buddha’s names. The purpose of all these methods is to prevent us falling into the wrongdoings of bodily conduct, verbal speech, and mental activities.
The Buddha said, “Use our wisdom to fight against our vexatious devil.” The “wisdom” means the enlightened mind, the mind with wisdom. The “devil” is our delusive thoughts. In our mind, there is wisdom and the devil. Like the ancients said, one is ethical principles, and the other one is human desire. Cultivation is like fighting with the self. If we win, at present we are a Bodhisattva; if we are defeated and flee, we become sentient beings in the mundane world life after life (or even plunge to wretched realms due to bad karmas). We can use our wisdom, the power of meditation, repentance, chanting the Sutras, upholding the precepts, or the “Six Dharma Gates To the Sublime” such as breath counting, mindfulness of breathing, and stabilizing the breath and mind, which are the ways to fight against our vexations until they cease. This is our victory. “When our wisdom wins this battle, we will obtain the true liberation” means when we always stay wise, there is no opening for the suffering of birth, aging, illness, and death. We will not be compelled by the ghost of impermanence, and we will not be terrified or horrified anymore. We will be really at ease and at peace.
Cultivation is to reform ourselves, renovate our body and mind, make our bodily conduct, verbal speech, and mental activities pure, and thus we reinvent ourselves. Not only do we implement physical practice, but we also need to work hard on our minds. In our daily practice, while we meditate or contemplate, this pure non-abiding mind is manifest. If we cannot make this happen all the time, at least always manifest wholesome thoughts. Make this mind abide by wholesome thoughts, the Buddha’s teaching and good deeds. The is called “Be mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the precepts, the practice of giving, the heavenly blessings.” , and “examine, reflect, and correct our conduct”. This means we use awareness to clear out our delusive thoughts, and we use remorse or repentance to disinfect our mind and restore its purity. Always maintain our mind in right mindfulness and keep a mind of equanimity, an unmoved mind, compassionate mind, joyful mind, and meritorious mind. Hence our minds will be bright and our minds will be pure lands. Our cultivation will be accomplished.
 Six mindfulnesses: This is the method to collect our thoughts and stay away from deviant path. Be mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the precepts, Dana (the practice of giving), heavenly blessings (which result from different degrees of wholesome deeds).