“Through many kalpas, because of your ear-organ, you hanker after external sounds; your hearing of mystic sounds begets attachment to them; your hearing of evil sounds causes the harm of 108 illusions. Such retribution of your hearing evils brings about evil things and your incessant hearing of evil sounds produces entanglements.” —the Lotus Sutra

practice 39 fall 1999

Once, when Kang Xi, the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty, was a crown prince he went to Wu Tai Mountain to meditate. He usually practiced Chan (Zen). One day, as he was taking a walk around the temple grounds, he heard an evening bell toll. Suddenly, the ringing no longer came from the bell, but it peacefully resonated from deep within his mind.

Upon experiencing such a rare phenomenon, he asked one of the courtiers by his side with great delight, “How does that bell sound to you?” A monk standing next to the courtier, who was not even addressed by the prince, abruptly interrupted the conversation to impress the prince, saying, “My lord, even the sound of a black crow is Buddha’s teaching.” In that moment, a severe disgust arose in the prince’s mind at the way the monk tried to impress him, completely destroying the prince’s samadhi—the meditative stare characterized by calm, stability, and the absence of distraction.

According to Master Baek, hearing the sound of the bell as the sound of one’s mind is a hard level to achieve for a spiritual practitioner because it means that one’s ego has melted away. He said that if the ringing resembles the sound of the bell and the sound of your mind, your practice is halfway there. If the ringing sounds like it comes entirely from the bell, then you should know that you are just starting on your spiritual path. To test our stages of development, our teacher asked us from time to time where we thought the sounds from outside—such as that of a bell, gong, or carriage—were coming from.

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