Teachings - Chan Practie Pricinples
The Principles Of Chan

The principle of Chan is taking body and mind from a state of confusion and disparity through a condition of one-mind to the experience of no-mind (or no-thought). This is the result of letting go of one's clinging attachment to the sense of "I," and to the illusion of the permanence of the self and phenomena.

The sixth Chinese Chan patriarch, Huineng (638-713), once said, "From ancient times up to the present, all teaching have established no-thought (or no-mind) as the main doctrine, no-form as the substance, and non-abiding as the basis." No-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No-thought is not to think even when involved in thought. No-abiding is the original nature of humankind." These "no's" are more commonly known as the idea of "no self," or as the substance-lessness of the self. When practicing, the "ordinary mind" is the Path, advocated Chan Master Mazu. Whether you are walking, standing still, sitting, or lying down, everything is Chan practice. He taught that the bodhisattva path is neither the path of the ordinary people or of the sages. You should not intentionally practice for gain, or get involved in what is right or wrong, grasping and rejecting. This is what he called the "ordinary mind."

Chan and Sitting Meditation

Chan practice is not equivalent to sitting meditation, but a Chan practitioner must have experience with sitting meditation as a foundation for Chan itself.

The contexts of sitting meditation, samadhi, and Chan are all different. Sitting meditation allows you to relax the body and put your brain at rest; samadhi can help you reach the unification of the body and mind; and, lastly, the highest level of samadhi allows the previous thought and latter thought to be united at every single thought. However even at the highest level of samadhi, one still cannot let go of self-centeredness. In Chan practice, once the state of samadhi is relinquished, the wisdom of no self would naturally appear.

There are many ways to cultivate samadhi, and sitting meditation is only one of the methods. Enlightenment in Chan is not only dependent on sitting meditation, but is a basic training when one starts to practice Chan. In fact, many methods, such as Buddha name chanting, Sutra recitation, repentance, prostration, and praying, are all used to concentrate the mind, and the initial effort to cultivate Chan is to train you on how to concentrate the mind.

Sitting meditation is beneficial to both our body and mind. It can help develop bodily health and mental balance, reduce attachments, and calm the brain overall. Furthermore, meditation could allow for the realization of wisdom in addition to the cultivation of spirituality. However, from the perspective of Chan, the wisdom aroused from meditation could still be affected by vexations, without the proper guidance of Buddhadharma. This is because self-centeredness still exists; consequently, vexations and suffering will arise once one encounters conflicts with people, issues, and the environment.

There are three principles that we need to pay attention to for sitting meditation: 1. Adjust the body posture, 2. Adjust the breaths, 3. Adjust the mind (concentration)

1. Adjust the body

This could be divided into 2 parts: stillness and moving. For the moving part, one can do some gentle and non-strenuous exercise; for the stillness part, one can sit with a proper posture that allows the body to feel balanced, comfortable, soft, and without pressure on any part of the body. The proper sitting posture can calm the body and concentrate the mind, as well as allow the body’s energy to flow more smoothly throughout the whole body. Meditation is not limited to only sitting; one could also meditate during walking, standing or lying down, but the important point is to relax, and be calm and at ease. Not having a scattered mind is the foundation of Chan.

2. Adjust the breath

One’s breath should be even and smooth, to allow the mind to settle down and be calm. The relationship between the breaths and the mind is very close; in order to adjust the mind, one must start from adjusting one’s breath. The breath is associated with body posture; if the body is slouched or not naturally curved, the breaths will not be smooth. In fact, the nerves and muscles will be in a tense state, thereby causing the breath to be unnatural as well. Therefore, one must maintain the correct posture in all states, whether sitting, standing, and lying down, in order to stay natural and comfortable. However, relaxing the body does not mean letting go of the practice and being lazy, as the mind must still be in a very clear state. Adjusting the breath refers to maintaining natural and steady breathing, by enjoying the breaths rather than trying to control them.

3. Adjust the mind

Collect thoughts that are moving, scattered, and conflicting with the outside world. In the beginning, one can use the method of cessation and contemplations (including counting the breaths, contemplating impurities, reciting Buddha’s name, prostrating, sitting meditation, etc.) to collect the thoughts and concentrate the mind. Watch your thoughts using thoughts, and in the end the thoughts that are being watched no longer arise, and the thoughts that are able to watch the thoughts also disappear. All the external phenomena still exist; however, the inner mind is in quiescence and stillness, meaning that it does not move or stir. Adjusting the mind does not mean adjusting emotions, but rather, refers to adjusting your vexed mind to a pure mind, or adjusting your vexed mind to the mind of wisdom and compassion. Not only is this the function of practice, but it is also the state of real practice.

The main purpose of sitting meditation is to concentrate the scattered mind and calm the unbalanced mind. Only after the scattered thoughts disappear does one gradually attain a unified mind. Usually, when people reach the state of unified mind, they would think that they have dissolved the self and reached the level of no self. In reality, that is still the level of sitting meditation or the level of samadhi. There are differences in samadhi experiences; therefore, samadhi can be divided into the four levels of dhyana and eight stages of samadhi, which are still within the range of the unified mind, and are thus not considered to be in the state of true wisdom of no mind. As explained above, the experience in certain samadhis may not be the same as the samadhi in Chan School, or from the perspective of Chan and enlightenment in Chinese Buddhism.

Therefore, what exactly is the samadhi in Chan? According to the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra: “Externally, to transcend characteristics is ‘meditation’ (chan). Internally, to be undisturbed is ‘concentration’.” “Do not see right and wrong, the good and bad, the transgressions and disasters of people.” The mind stays undisturbed while contacting all kinds of external phenomena. “In every single thought, see that the self-nature is innately pure and clear.” These phrases illustrate how the samadhi in Chan means a clear contemplation from wisdom, and is not a fixed samadhi state, because if one still abides in the state of samadhi (unified mind), that means the person has not departed from all attachments yet.

What does attachment mean? It means that when you face any person, any object, or any issue, the first emphasis is what “I” saw, and judgments of evaluations were further added in, and that is called attachment. What does “non-attachment” mean, in Chan? For a person without attachment, when any object, any issue, or any person is shown in front of him/her, he/she would not add any judgment, but would give the appropriate response to the other person.

We could most easily detect attachment to our self-centeredness when it is involved with our children/parents, intimate relationships, and money; and, second to those would be our fame and our values. To practitioners, the hardest attachment to dissolve is the attachment to self-achievement and experiences. A practitioner can usually let go of anything but his or her own point of view and experiences, so he or she still has arrogance. Therefore, as long as there is still an existence of the self or self-values, one has not reached true liberation or attained wisdom without outflows.

In Chan, enlightenment is called “seeing the nature,” and after seeing the nature, one must maintain it and nurture it; therefore, one still requires Chan practice to cultivate enlightenment after becoming enlightened. Although the Chan lineage has emphasized that an enlightened person’s viewpoints are exactly the same as the Buddha’s, an enlightened being is still not Buddha. This is similar to a method that Tibetan practitioners use: while they visualize that they are the Buddha, even after they have completed the practice, they are still the same people, not the Buddha. However, they would have gained more compassion compared to before the practice.

Therefore, Chinese Chan masters practice diligently before they are enlightened. After enlightenment, they would find better teachers to help them because they have a better understanding of who is a good teacher, at which point they practice even harder.

Chan does not always require sitting meditation. The Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra stated: “In this teaching of seated meditation, one fundamentally does not concentrate on mind, nor does one concentrate on purity, nor is it motionlessness.” It also stated: “there are also those who teach meditation [in terms of] viewing the mind, contemplating tranquility, motionlessness, and nonactivation. You are supposed to make an effort on the basis of these. These deluded people do not understand, and in their grasping become mixed up like all of you here. You should understand that such superficial teachings are greatly mistaken!” The Sixth Patriarch thinks thus: “Samadhi is the essence of wisdom, and wisdom is the function of Samadhi.” Therefore, we haven’t seen many descriptions about the Sixth Patriarch’s sitting practice. There was a story about the Sixth Patriarch’s successor, Chan Master Huairang. One day, Master Huairang saw Mazu Daoyi doing meditation, and Mazu claimed his purpose of sitting was to become Buddha. Hearing this response, Master Huairang took a brick out and started grinding this block of brick. Mazu Daoyi asked: “why are you grinding this block of brick?” Master said: “to make a mirror out of it.” Mazu asked: “how could grinding a block of brick ever make a mirror?” Master said: “if grinding a block of brick can never make a mirror, how could sitting meditation ever allow one to become Buddha?”

From the Pure Rules of Baizhang, we did not see a record of how much time practitioners should practice sitting meditation, but one finds phrases such as “one day of no work is a day of no eating.” This illustrates that his main practice was to work on the mountain fields and the farms.

In fact, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng was the same way. Before seeing the Fifth Patriarch Hongren, he was a woodcutter, and after seeing the Fifth Patriarch, who did not ask him to do sitting meditation; instead, the Sixth Patriarch was sent to winnow rice in the kitchen. We must understand that when he was at work, his mind was constantly in a very calm and steady state, without any emotional fluctuations. And this type of person could very likely reach true enlightenment.

However, correct guidance in the right view of practice must be provided in order for one to reach enlightenment. For Master Huineng to reach enlightenment was when he heard the “Diamond Sutra,” which allowed him to discover the similarities and differences between “attachment and non-attachment”, “self and no-self.”

Therefore, having the right viewpoint is crucial. The Chan School indicates that “Chan does not postulate a thesis in words,” which means not to be attached with language or words; however, you still need to obtain the message and correct guidance from the words, and this is called “realizing the principle through teaching.”

If the Sixth Patriarch did not hear the verse “not abiding anywhere, give rise to the mind” in the Diamond Sutra, he would not have gotten enlightened; conversely, if he was attached to this verse, he would not have gotten enlightened either. Therefore, Chan uses an analogy of the pointing finger and the moon as representing scriptural teaching and enlightenment. Without the finger, a lost person would not know where the moon is; however, if the lost person would only look at the finger and not where the finger is pointing (the moon), the finger becomes pointless. If the lost person followed the finger and saw the moon, the finger becomes useless as well.

Since ordinary people generally are not able to calm the mind even when they are in a quiet state, they need to do sitting meditation. In other words, it does not require sitting meditation to realize enlightenment in Chan, but the concentration gained from sitting meditation would help one realize enlightenment. However, only doing sitting meditation cannot guarantee enlightenment.

All in all, the Chan School believes that beginners should proceed to do sitting meditation as a practice, because sitting posture can train and benefit the body, and allows practitioners to concentrate the mind and let go of wandering thoughts. But one should clearly note that the School of Chan is called the School of the Mind, for its main goal is to train the mind. The first step is to concentrate the scattered mind to concentrated mind; secondly, to reach the state of unified mind; and, thirdly, advance to the highest level of no mind which has no self, no form and no attachment, which is considered as the state of enlightenment (seeing the nature).

Therefore, the true practice in Chan is not to cultivate the body, but to transcend the world of body and mind after cultivating the body and mind, which is called liberation and ease. This mind uses the present thought to observe its prior and latter thought, clearly knowing what the mind activities and tendencies are, and clearly knowing what it is doing. The purpose is to train the mind, and not be moved or bothered by the external stimuli, and this state of cultivation is called “the mind that does not move with the external environment.”

Cultivating the mind does not only allow one’s mind to stay put as one's external environment changes, but also could change the external environment according to one’s mental state. Yet, it requires a high level of practice. In our daily life, if our mind could stay steady and concentrated without being so scattered, our behaviors will influence others and change the surrounding environment. If we could settle our mind and thoughts to be soft and peaceful, we could also help others to settle down their mind as well.

Three Stages of Chan Meditation

This is the part 2 of a talk given by Master Sheng Yen in 1977, at the beginning of his teaching career in the US. It was originally published in a small pamphlet.

At present, the methods of meditation that I am teaching in the West are divided into three stages.


With regard to the body, we stress the demonstration and correction of the postures of walking, standing, sitting and reclining. At the same time we teach various methods of physical exercise for walking, standing, sitting and reclining. They are unique exercise methods combining Indian Hatha Yoga and Chinese Daoyin, and can bring physical health as well as results in meditation. Thus, one who practices Chan and has obtained good results will definitely have a strong body capable of enduring hardship. For the mind we emphasize the elimination of impatience, suspicion, anxiety, fear and frustration, so as to establish a state of self-confidence, determination, optimism, peace and stability.

A good student, after five or ten lessons here, will reach the first stage and be able to obtain results in the above two areas. One of our student's reports stated: This kind of Chan class is especially good for someone like myself who, by profession or habit, has been used to having the brain functioning just about every minute of the day. I often find this Chan sitting very helpful as rest or relief. So even for no greater purpose, this Chan class has been very useful and should be highly recommended. In the first lesson of each class, I always ask each of the students individually his or her purpose in learning Chan, whether he or she hoped to benefit the body, or sought help for the mind. The answers show that the latter were in the majority. This indicates that people living in American society today, under the strain and pressure of the present environment, suffer excessive tension, and many have lost their mental balance. Some are so severely tense that they have to consult a psychiatrist. Among those who come to learn Chan, I have one woman student, an outstanding lecturer in a well-known university, who asked me at the first meeting if I could help to relieve her from tense and uneasy moods. I told her that for a Chan practitioner this is a very simple matter. After five lessons she felt that Chan was a great blessing to her life.

The method of the first stage is very simple. Mainly it requires you to relax all the muscles and nerves of your entire body, and concentrate your attention on the method. Because the tension of your muscles and nerves affects the activity of the brain, the key is therefore to reduce the burden on your brain. When your wandering thoughts and illusions decrease, your brain will gradually get a little rest. As its need of blood is reduced, more blood will circulate through the entire body. Meanwhile, because of the relaxation of the brain, all the muscles also relax; thus your blood vessels expand, you feel comfortable all over, your spirit feels fresh and alert, and your mental responses are naturally lighter and more lively.

If one's object of study is just to acquire physical and mental balance, and not to study meditation proper, then one will probably feel that the completion of the first stage is enough; but many students are not content with this, and indeed, some from the outset are looking for the goal of the second stage.


The first stage only helps to bring concentration to your confused mind; but when you practice concentration, other scattered thoughts continue to appear in your mind-sometimes many, sometimes a few. The concept of your purpose in practicing Chan is for mental and physical benefits. This is a stage where your concept is purely self-centered. There is no mention of philosophical ideals or religious experience. When you reach the second stage, it will enable you to liberate yourself from the narrow view of the "I". In the second stage you begin to enter the stage of meditation. When you practice the method of cultivation taught by your teacher, you will enlarge the sphere of the outlook of the small "I" until it coincides with time and space. The small "I" merges into the entire universe, forming a unity. When you look inward, the depth is limitless; when you look outward, the breadth is limitless. Since you have joined and become one with universe, the world of your own body and mind no longer exists. What exists is the universe, which is infinite in depth and breadth. You yourself are not only a part of the universe, but also the totality of it.


When one reaches the height of the second stage, he realizes that the concept of the "I" does not exist. But he has only abandoned the small "I" and has not negated the concept of basic substance or the existence of God; you may call it Truth, the one and only God, the Almighty, the Unchanging Principle, or even the Buddha of Buddhism. If you think that it is real, then you are still in the realm of the big "I" and have not left the sphere of philosophy and religion.

The Effects of Chan Meditation


The physiological and psychological benefits of meditation derive from concentrating the mind, either on an abstract or concrete object. This is best accomplished through seated meditation. There have been many studies of the benefits of seated meditation in general and Chan specifically. According to Zen no susume (The Recommendation of Zen) by Dr. Koji Sato, Professor of Psychology at Kyoto University in Japan, regular practice of Chan meditation produces the following ten psy-chological and physiological effects:

1) Increased patience,
2) Curing of various allergies,
3) Strengthening of willpower,
4) Enhancement of the power of thought,
5) Refinement of personality,
6) Rapid calming of the mind,
7) Mood stabilization,
8) Raised interest and efficiency in activity, and
9) Elimination of various bodily illnesses.

Furthermore, Usaburo Hasegawa, M.D. writes in Shin igaku zen (New Views on Medicine and Zen) that Chan meditation proves effective in the treatment of some of the following diseases:

1) Neurosis,
2) Gastric hyperacidity and hypoacidity,
3) Insomnia,
4) Chronic constipation.
5) High blood pressure.

In recent years, studies at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison have shown that meditation boosts the immune system and increases the activity of the frontal cortex íX the area of the brain associated with positive emotion. Meditation produces a variety of psychological benefits, including reduction of anxiety, enhanced sense of well-being, increased empathy, and a greater sense of self-actualization.

In the 1970s and 80s, most scientific study focused on concentration meditation. Herbert Benson, M.D. had many researches showing how concentration can enhance one’s physiological response regarding stress. Meditative concentration can be achieved in any posture: walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. Whether engaged in contem-plation, silent prayer, prostration, recitation, or even close observation or attentive listening, whenever we are single-minded, there is the possibility of attaining meditative concentration. Most people, beginners and more experienced practitioners alike, will find that achieving deep concentration in the midst of daily life is very difficult. Deep concentration may happen, but it cannot be sustained or regenerated at will. It is for this reason that the specific Chan methods of seated meditation and instruction from a qualified Chan teacher are necessary.

Physiological and psychological benefits can also come from insight or mindfulness meditation. Current scientific studies tend to focus on this type of meditation. Studies show that mindful meditation helps people be aware of their thought patterns and negative habits. As a result of developing awareness, many people become less influenced by these thoughts. The most well-known researchers in this field are Jon Kabat-Zinn and Daniel Goleman (who borrowed Buddhist ideas and developed the concept of Emotional Intelligence).

To those who have personally experienced the benefits of Chan meditation, these scientific reports are not necessary. To beginners who would like to try meditation, these reports are encouraging.

Read full text of “The Effects of Chan Meditation” booklet.

In the Spirit of Chan

Perhaps some of you have heard the saying Chan (Zen) is not established on words and language and Chan is a transmission outside conventional teachings. But if Chan does not rely on words, why would anyone want to read a Chan book? Is not that a contradiction? Although Chan is not established on words, it has, among the many sects of Buddhism in China, left behind the most writing. The primary goal of these writings, however, is to show you or teach you that Chan is not established on words and language and that Chan is a transmission outside the conventional teachings. So there is a reason for you to read such a book.

The word Chan can mean enlightenment, and enlightenment can be understood to mean realizing the first meaning, or the ultimate truth. In Chan, there is also what is called secondary meaning, or conventional truth. Conventional truth can be expressed in words and concepts, but the primary, or ultimate, truth of Chan can not be expressed in words. In the Chan tradition, sometimes the ultimate truth is compared to the moon, and the conventional truth compared to a finger pointing at the moon. No one would mistake the finger for the moon. Words, language, ideas, and concepts are like the finger and can express just the conventional truth. These words and concepts only point to the ultimate truth. The ultimate truth can be called mind, original nature, or Buddha-nature. It is something everyone must experience for himself or herself. It can never be fully described.

The Origin of Chan

What is the source of Chan? According to the Chan lore, the monk Bodhidharma brought Chan from India to China in about 500 C.E., more than a thousand years after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death. But India history contains few records of the interim period, so we know relatively little about the origins of Chan practice.

We do know stories and legends that describe the origins of Chan. Most famous is the account of the transmission of the Dharma (Buddhist truth or law) to Mahakashyapa, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, who became the First Patriarch in the Chan lineage. The story is this: One day during a sermon at Vulture Peak, Shakyamuni Buddha held a flower in his hand in front of the assembly and did not speak. No one seemed to know what this gesture meant, but Mahakashyapa smiled. The Buddha said, “The Treasure of the Eye of the True Dharma, the Wondrous Mind of Nirvana; only Mahakashyapa understands.” This event marks the beginning of the Chan lineage and the master-to-disciple transmission that continues to this day. This story was unknown to Buddhist history until the tenth-century Song dynasty. But the literal truth of the story is not as important as the message it contains about the nature of Chan.

Shakyamuni Buddha had two other disciples, one very bright and the other quite dull. The first disciple, Ananda, had a power mind and a fabulous memory. However, he never attained enlightenment during Shakyamuni’s life time. Ananda thought that Buddha would reward his intelligence with enlightenment. It never happened. After Buddha enter nirvana, Ananda hoped Mahakashyapa would help him.

After Buddha’s passing, Mahakashyapa tried to gather 500 enlightened disciples together in order to collect and record the Buddha’s teachings. He would find only 499. Some suggested that he invited Ananda, but Mahakashyapa said that Ananda was not enlightened and therefore was unqualified for the assembly. He said that he would rather have the gathering at all than allow Ananda’s attendance.

But Ananda persisted. Mahakashyapa turned him away three times. Ananda said, “Buddha has entered nirvana. Now only you can help me reach enlightenment!” Mahakashyapa said, “I am very busy. I can not be of help. Only you can help yourself.” At last, Ananda realized that he had to rely on his own efforts if he wished to attain enlightenment. He went off to a solitary and secluded place. As he was about to sit down, he attained enlightenment! Why? At that moment he relied on no one and dropped all of his attachments.

Another story describes the dim-witted disciple name Suddhipanthaka, or Small Path. All except Small Path could remember Buddha’s teachings. If he tried to remember the first words of a phrase, he forgot the second, and vice versa. Buddha gave him the job of sweeping the ground, since he did not seem fit to do anything else.

After he had swept the ground for a very long time, Small Path asked, “The ground is clean, but is my mind-ground clean?” At that moment everything dropped from his mind. He went to see the Buddha, who was very pleased with his accomplishment and affirmed that Small Path had become enlightened.

These are recorded in the early texts as true stories, but their meaning goes beyond their original context. The first story illustrates that in practice, knowledge and intelligence do not necessarily guarantee enlightenment and the second story shows that even a slow person can attain enlightenment. Although Shakyamuni Buddha, Mahakashyapa, and Shariputra were people of great learning, Chan has less to do with great learning than with the problem of the mind that is filled with attachments. Enlightenment can be reached only when one’s mind is rid of attachments.

It is said that twenty-eight generations of transmissions occurred from the time of Mahakashyapa to the time of Bodhidharma, who is considered the First Patriarch of Chinese Chan. His teachings were transmitted through a single line for five generations until the time of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng (638-713), whose many disciples established many branches, some of which still survive today. Master Sheng Yen is the 62nd lineage holder of Chan from Huineng and the 57th generation in the Linji (810-866) tradition. In the Caodong lineage, Master Sheng Yen is the 50th generation descendant of the co-founder, Master Dongshan (807-869).

Chan is not precisely the Buddhism brought by Bodhidharma from India, but Bodhidharma brought certain insights to China, and the Chan tradition is related to these. He taught that everything comes from the mind, that the nature of the mind is Buddha-nature, that Buddha-nature is inherent in every sentient being, and that the essential method for realizing this original nature is beholding the mind. These ideas were controversial when they were first presented in China, because they seemed to contradict the more complicated philosophies and practices of other Buddhist schools, but they are really just basic Buddhism, stripped to its essence.

There is a famous story about the enlightenment of Bodhidharma’s disciple Huike that illustrates the bare-bone nature of Bodhidharma’s Chan. Huike went to Bodhidharma and said, “Master, could you calm my mind for me?” Bodhidharma said, “Hand over your mind and I will calm it for you!” Huike searched within and then told Bodhidharma that he could not find his mind. Bodhidharma then said, “There, I have already calmed your mind for you.” This is the account of Huike’s enlightenment. Those of you who have been on retreat and suffered a lot of pain in your legs from sitting meditation apparently need not have done so. Unfortunately, you did not meet Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma’s Two Entries and Four Practices

There is an important work attributed to Bodhidharma called The Two Entries and Four Practices, in which he details more explicitly what sentient beings must do to realize their true nature. The “two entries” are entry through principle and entry through practice. Entry through principle means directly seeing the first principle, or original nature, without relying on words, descriptions, concepts, experience, or any thinking process. Entry through practice refers to the gradual training of the mind.

Bodhidharma describes entry through principle as follows: “Leaving behind the false, return to the true; make no discriminations between self and others. In contemplation, one’s mind should be stable and unmoving, like a wall.” This may sound like the direct, easy path to enlightenment, but it is in fact the most difficult. If we think of Bodhidharma’s own enlightenment as an entry through principle, then we would have to say that it only came after a lifetime of practice, culminating in his nine years of meditation facing a wall in a cave of Mount Song. Actually, the method used to accomplish entry through principle is precisely this phrase, “One’s mind should be stable and unmoving, like a wall.” This does not mean that the mind is blank; on the contrary, it is alert and clear, illuminating everything with awareness and responding with compassion. This is ideal, and it is the state of mind referred to in entry through principle.

The second entry to attaining realization is through practice, of which there are four: accepting karmic retribution, adapting to conditions, no seeking, and union with the Dharma. Each practice is progressively more advanced, and therefore, they should be followed in order.

The first practice, “accepting karmic retribution,” involves recognizing the effects of karma, cause and consequence. Karma is a Sanskrit term that translates literally as action. When we carry out an action, a karmic force remains and that leads to a consequence in the future, whether in the present existence, or in a future one. The karmic effect of a particular action is not permanently fixed. Because the continued performance of new actions modifies the karmic force accordingly, but in all cases, there is a cause-and-consequence relationship, and the consequence will be similar in nature to the case. Therefore when we face adversity, we should understand that we are receiving the karmic retribution from countless previous actions in countless previous lives. When we pay back some of our debts, we should feel happy that we have the capacity to do so. If we have this perspective, then when misfortunes arises, we will be tranquil and without resentment. We will not suffer from disturbing emotions or be discouraged or depressed. This is an important practice.

Karma, or cause and consequence, has to be understood and applied in conjunction with the Buddhist concept of causes and conditions makes it possible for things to happen. We can not and should not run away from our responsibilities and the retribution caused by our karma. But we should try to improve our conditions and karma. If things can be improved, we must try to make them better. If they can not be changed, then we should accept them with equanimity as karmic retribution.

It might be easy to confuse the principle of causes and conditions with that of cause and consequence. In fact, the two principles are intimately connected with each other, and it is difficult to talk about one without mentioning the other. From the standpoint of cause and consequence, we can say that the earlier event is the cause and the latter event is the consequence. One event leads to the next. A cause, however, can not lead to a consequence by itself. Something else must occur, must come together with the cause, to lead to a consequence. This coming together of events and factors is referred to as causes and conditions. A man and woman together do not automatically lead to children. Other factors must come together in order for he cause (parents) to lead to the consequence (children). Parents, children, and the other factors involved are all considered causes and conditions.

Causes and conditions can also be thought of as “dharmas”, a Sanskrit term referring to all phenomena, whether physical or mental. This meaning is distinct from “Dharma”─with a capital D─which refers to the teachings of the Buddha, and the methods and principles of practice. However, even the teachings of the Buddha and the methods of practice are themselves phenomena, or dharma.

In any case, the condition (one dharma) that intersects with a cause (another dharma) must have itself been caused by something else, and so on and so on, infinitely in all directions throughout space and time. All phenomena arise because of causes and conditions. Any phenomenon that arises is itself a consequence of a previous cause and arose because of the coming together of causes and conditions. This leads to the concept of conditioned arising, also known as dependent origination, which means that all phenomena, or dharma, no matter when or where they occur, are interconnected.

Since all dharmas are the consequences of causes and conditions, their arising is conditional. This includes not only arising and appearing but also perishing and disappearing. A person begin born is a phenomenon, and a person dying is phenomenon; a bubble forming is a phenomenon, and a bubble bursting is a phenomenon; a thought appearing is a phenomenon, and a thought disappearing is a phenomenon. All dharmas arise and perish because of causes and conditions.

The second of the four practices recommended by Bodhidharma is “adapting to conditions”. It also requires an understanding of causes and conditions. Adapting to is conditions means that we should do our best within the constraints of our environment. If our circumstances are fortunate or something good happens to us, we should not get overly excited. Good fortune, like bad, is the result of karmic retribution. Why should we feel excited when we are only enjoying the fruits of our bank accounts. By the same token, we should not be overly proud, because good fortune, like bad, is the result of many causes and conditions coming together. How can we take credit for our accomplishments, when they depend so much on the good will of others, on the sacrifices of our parents, on the circumstances of history? The practice of adapting to conditions means that you accept your karma, or cause and consequence, without being overly joyful, self-satisfied, or disappointed.

Accepting karmic retribution and adapting to conditions are very helpful practices in daily life. They allow us to improve our conditions and karma and maintain a positive attitude toward life. They help us enjoy equanimity in the face of changing circumstances, improve our behavior, and keep our relationships harmonious. These teachings of Bodhidharma are not hard to understand, and any ordinary person can make use of them. If we can apply them in daily circumstances, we will fulfill our responsibilities. In this way, life will be more meaningful.

The third of Bodhidharma’s four practices is “no seeking”. There is a Chinese saying that “people raise children to help them in old age, and people accumulate food in case of famine”. Today, people in the West may not raise children just to support them in old age, but people probably still accumulate food, or wealth, in case of hardship. This attitude is not the attitude of no seeking. In the practice of no seeking, we continually, diligently engage in useful activity, yet we have no thought that this activity is for our personal gain now or in the future. We do not look for personal benefits. This is not easy, and it is a higher level of practice than the second practice. In fact, in order to completely avoid self-centered activity, we must make the difficult step of realizing that the self does not exist.

What we commonly think of as the self is an illusion. It is nothing in itself at all but a name we give to our continuous interaction with the environment. We constantly see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think, and it is cascade of sensations, perceptions, and judgments, thought after thought, that we identify as the self.

To say that the self is an illusion, however, is not to say that the self is a hallucination. The self is not a mirage. We say that the self is illusory because it is not a stable entity but, rather, is a series of events that are forever changing in response to a constantly changing environment. The self is not a thing that stays the same, and as such, we say that the self is an illusion. For the same reason, all phenomena are selfless. All things change from moment to moment, evolving and transforming into something else. The self, therefore, is a false existence ceaselessly interacting with a false environment.

The practice of no seeking is an advanced practice because it is the practice of no-self. While it is normal for people to begin to learn and practice Buddhism for their own benefit, eventually, through practice, their self-centeredness falls away. They find themselves busy because others need their help, and they provide what is needed. Such a person no longer even thinks about attaining enlightenment.

When you have ceased to be concerned about your own attainment, then you are enlightened. Otherwise there will always be subtle, wandering thoughts and attachment to the desire to do something for you. If you want to free yourself from all worldly vexations and suffering and if you desire liberation, you are still attached to yourself. It is only when you have no concern about your own enlightenment that you can truly be enlightened. The practice of no seeking is the practice of this enlightened state.

The fourth of Bodhidharma’s practices, “union with the Dharma”, is a basic tenet of Buddhism that all phenomena are impermanent and do not have an intrinsic self. In the practice of union with the Dharma, we try to personally experience this impermanence and selflessness through direct contemplation of emptiness. This is the highest practice of Chan, and it leads to the highest attainment. It is the practice that allows us to reach the point of “entry through principle” that we talked about earlier.

But where does a practitioner begin? Different Buddhist sects employ many methods of practice that can be used by beginners, such as reading the scriptures, making vows, doing prostrations, mindfulness, and meditating on the breath. These methods all help us to go from scattered mind, which is confused, emotional, and unstable, to a mental state that is tranquil and in harmony with our environment. The very first thing we should do is relax the body and mind. If we can relax, we will be healthier and more stable and will relate to others more harmoniously.

There is a Buddhist householder who comes to the Chan Center who is very nervous. His nervousness makes other people feel nervous. When he talks to you, his body is tense, as if he is about to attack you or defend himself. People react to this kind of behavior; it disturbs them. When I told him to relax his body, he responded in a tense, forced voice, “I am already relaxed!” He is constantly fearful and insecure, and because of the problems these feelings cause, he became to the Chan Center seeking help. He wanted to learn meditation, so I taught him to gradually relax his body and then his mind. If we can not relax, there is no way we can meditate; and if we can not meditate, the practice of no seeking is completely impossible. This man was impatient and thought that if he got enlightened all his problems would disappear. He said to me, “Master, I do not want anything; I just want the method to get enlightened quickly. Give me the methods as soon as possible.” I answered, “Such a method has not been invente. If I could invent a guaranteed, speedy method of enlightenment, I could probably sell it for quite a lot of money.”

Now I have invented the following method, and I offer it free of charge to whomever wishes to learn. The method is to relax your body and mind. It is easy and simple. Do not ask whether it can lead you to enlightenment. First you should be able to relax, and later we can talk about enlightenment. Close your eyes, lean back in your chair, and relax your muscles. Completely relax your eyes. It is very important that your eyelids be relaxed and do not move.

There should not be any tension around your eyeballs. Do not apply any force or tension anywhere. Relax your facial muscles, shoulders, and arms. Relax your abdomen and put your hands in your lap. If you feel the weight of your body, it should be at your seat. Do not think of anything. If thoughts come, recognize them and pay attention to the inhaling and exhaling of your breath through your nostrils. Ignore what other people are doing, and relax. Do not entertain doubts about whether what you are doing is useful.

The principle of this method is to relax─to be natural and clear. Keep each session short, but practice frequently. In the beginning, each session should be ten minutes or less, gradually working your way up to twenty to thirty minutes if you can do it without too much discomfort. If you do it longer, you will probably feel restless or fall asleep. You can use this method a few times a day; it will refresh your body and mind and eliminate some of the confusion in your daily life. Gradually you will gain the stability of body and mind that makes it possible to, eventually, enter the gate of Chan.

Chan: The Gateless Gate

Chan is often referred to as the gateless gate. The “gate” is both a method of practice and a path to liberation; this is “gateless,” however, in that Chan does not rely on any specific method to help a practitioner achieve liberation. The methodless method is the highest method. So long as the practitioner can drop the self-centered mind, the gateway into Chan will open naturally.

The primary obstacle to attaining wisdom is attachment to the self. When you face people, things, and situations, the notion of “I” arise immediately. When you attach to this “I”, you categorize and judge everything else accordingly: “This is mine; that is not. This is good for me; that is not. I like this; I hate that.” Attachment to the idea of self makes true clarity impossible.

But how might we define non-attachment means that when you face circumstances and deal with other people, there is no “I” in relation to whatever may appear in front of you. Things are as they are, vivid and clear. You can respond appropriately and give whatever is needed. Clear awareness of things as they are, in this state of selflessness, is what Chan calls wisdom. Giving whatever others may need with no thought of the self is what Chan calls compassion. Wisdom and compassion describe the awareness and function of the enlightened mind. In Chan, these two can not be separated, and both depend on putting down the attachment to self.

As the Chan school evolved, two forms of practice developed, which correspond roughly to Bodhidharma’s two entries, the one through principle and the other through practice. The method o Silent Illumination is the specialty of the Caodong tradition, while Linji tradition advocates the method of gonan and huatou. Both approaches can lead to enlightenment, the realization of no-self.

The term Silent Illumination, or Mozhao, is associated with the Song dynasty Master Hongzhi Zhenjui (1091-1157), although the practice itself can be traced back at least as far as Bodhidharma and his concept of entry through principle. Five generations later, the great Master Yongjia (665-713) wrote about “clarity and quiescence” in his Song of Enlightenment. Quiescence refers to the practice of silencing the mind, and clarity refers to contemplation, illuminating the mind with the light of awareness.

Hongzhi himself described the “silent sitting” as thus: “your body sit silently; your mind is quiescent, unmoving. This is genuine effort in practice. Body and mind are at complete rest. The mouth is so still that moss grows around it. Grass sprouts from the tongue. Do this without ceasing, cleansing the mind until it gains the clarity of an autumn pool, bright as the moon illuminating the evening sky.”

In another place, Hongzhi said, “In the silent sitting, whatever realm may appear, the mind is very clear to all the details, yet everything is where it originally is, in its own place. The Mind stays on one thought for ten thousand years, yet does not dwell on any form, inside or outside.”

To understand Silent Illumination Chan, it is important to understand that while there are no thoughts, the mind is still very clear, very aware. Both the silence and the illumination must be there. According to Hongzhi, when there is nothing going on in one’s mind, one is aware that nothing is happening. If one is not aware, this is just Chan sickness, not the state of Chan.

So in this state, the mind is transparent. In a sense, it is not completely accurate to say that there is nothing present, because the transparent mind is there. But it is accurate in the sense that nothing can become an attachment or obstruction. In this state, the mind is without form or feature. Power is present, but its function is to fill the mind with illumination, like the sun shining everywhere. Hence, Silent Illumination is the practice in which there is nothing moving, but the mind is bright and illuminating.

A gongan is a story of an incident between a master and one or more disciples that involves an understanding or experience of the enlightened mind. The incident usually, but not always, involves dialogue. When the incident is remembered and recorded, it becomes a “public case”, which is the literal meaning of the term. Often what makes the incident worth recording is that, as the result of the interchange, a disciple had an awakening, an experience of enlightenment.

Master Zhaozhou was asked by a monk, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” The Master replied, “Wu”, meaning nothing. This is a basic gongan, possibly the most famous on record. Here is another gongan, also involving Zhaozhou. Zhaozhou had a disciple who met an old woman and asked her, “How do I get to Mt. Tai?” She said, “Just keep going!” As the monk started off, he heard the old woman remark, “He really went!” Afterward, the disciple mentioned this to Zhaozhou, who said, “I think I will go over there and see for myself.” When he met the old woman, Zhaozhou asked the same question and she gave the same response: “Just keep going!” As Zgaozhou started off, he heard the old lady said as she had last time, “He really went!” When Zhaozhou returned, he said to the assembly, “I have seen through that old woman!” What did Zhaozhou find out about that old woman? What is the meaning of this lengthy and obscure gongan?

Around the time of the Song dynasty (960-1276), Chan masters began using recorded gongan as a subject of meditation for their disciples. The practitioner was required to investigate the meaning of the historical gongan. To penetrate the meaning of the gongan, the student has to abandon knowledge, experience, and reasoning, since the answer is not accessible by these methods. The student must find the answer by can (pronounced: tsan) gongan, or “investigating the gongan.” This requires sweeping from consciousness everything but the gongan, eventually generating the “doubt sensation,” which is a strong sensation of wonder and an intense desire to know the meaning of the gongan.

Closely related, but not identical to the gongan is the huatou. A huatou─literally, “head of a spoken word”─is a question that a practitioner asks himself or herself. “What is Wu?” and “Who am I?” are commonly used huatous. In the huatou practice, one devotes one’s full attention to repeating the question incessantly. The gongan and the huatou methods are similar in that the practitioner tries to arouse the great doubt sensation in order to eventually shatter it and awaken to enlightenment.

Chan Master Dahui Zhong gao (1089-1163), one of the greatest advocates of huatou practice, maintained that sitting meditation is necessary to settle the wandering mind before a student can effectively use a gongan or huatou. A scattered mind lacks the focus or energy necessary to generate the great doubt, so in training students, Master Sheng Yen first give them a method to unify the shattered mind. Once the student’s mind is stable and concentrated, the application of gongan or huatou may cause the great doubt to rise. This doubt is not the ordinary doubt of questioning the truth of an assertion.

It is the fundamental uncertainty, the existential dilemma, which underlies all of our experiences: the question of who we are and the meaning of life and death. Because the question inherent in the gongan or huatou can not resolved by logic, the practitioner must continually return to the question, nurturing the “doubt mass” until it is like a “hot ball of iron stuck in his throat”. If the practitioner can persist and keep the energy from dissipating, the doubt mass will eventually disappear in an explosion that can wipe away all doubt from the mind, leaving nothing but the mind’s original nature, or enlightenment.

It is also possible, and perhaps more likely, that the explosion will lack sufficient energy to completely cleanse the mind of attachment. Even as great a master as Dashui did not penetrate sufficiently in his first explosive experience. His teacher Yuanwu (1063-1135) told him, “You have died, but you have come back to life.” His enlightenment was confirmed on his second experience.

Therefore, it is very important to have a reliable Shifu (the Master), or teacher, guiding one through all stages of practice. At the outset, attempting to generate the great doubt before the mind is sufficiently stable would, at best, be useless and, at worst, give rise to a lot of anxiety. And finally, any experience one has as a result of the practice must be confirmed by an adept master. Only a genuine master will know the difference between a true and a false enlightenment.

The practice of gongan or huatou is an aggressive, explosive approach toward enlightenment; the practice of Silent Illumination is a more peaceful way. Both, however, require the same foundation: a stable and unified mind. And both have the same purpose: the realization of the nature of mind, which is the nature of emptiness, Buddhist-nature, wisdom and enlightenment.

Chan Practice and Faith

People interested in Chan practice often find it difficult to have religious faith. As faith is intrinsically emotional, and Chan practitioners emphasize personal cultivation to gain physical and mental benefits or the experience of Chan, they find it hard to accept religious faith. This is actually a great mistake.

Many people think that Chan practice depends solely on their own efforts, requiring self-reliance, while those who practice by reciting the Buddha’s name depend solely on external help. Both of these views are incorrect. In reality, Chan practice also requires external help, and the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name also requires one’s own effort. One can hardly become an accomplished Chan practitioner through one’s own efforts alone. In India, China and Tibet, all meditators need the support and the assistance of teachers, Dharma-protecting deities, and the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. That is why Chan monasteries in China erect and worship the status of Dharma-protecting deities, such as the eight divisions of divinities and the four deva kings.

In the past, eminent masters often encouraged Chan practitioners to “entrust their bodies to the monastery and their lives to the Dharma-protecting deities”, during Chan meditation. Under this approach, you do not need to be concerned about your body, since it will be taken care of by the masters on duty. You simply follow the monastery’s routines. However, to achieve good results in your practice, you need the support of Dharma-protecting deities. Without such assistance, one may run into demonic hindrances. Trying to practice Chan solely based on one’s own efforts, without believing in the power of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Dharma-protecting deities, cannot be considered practicing Buddhism at all.

Chan practitioners should believe that, in addition to meditating diligently and working on Chan, they need to accumulate merit and cultivate virtue. The idea that one can attain enlightenment or liberation by meditating on one’s own is itself an obstacle that precludes real liberation. How can a self-seeking person become enlightened? Therefore, the Chan school also emphasizes practices such as giving and repentance. If one does not show concern for the benefit of all sentient beings, sincerely give of oneself for others, and devotedly practice giving and making offerings, it will be quite difficult to succeed in spiritual practice.

In the past, many as-yet-unenlightened Chan masters at large monasteries engaged in “work cultivation”, performing all kinds of manual labor for their masters and monasteries. Such work included carrying water, chopping wood, cooking and other kitchen chores, growing vegetables, as well as cleaning up and maintaining the monastery and grounds.

At traditional Buddhist monasteries, forty-eight types of work were performed by monastic practitioners. Even today, they are relieved of complex tasks only during seven-day Chan retreats to avoid distractions. Otherwise, every monastic is assigned long-term tasks. Therefore, during our seven-day Chan retreats, we make it a rule to ask every participant to do some simple chores.

Chan monasteries encourage monastics to give their spare clothing, money or other possessions to the needy, keeping only the most basic necessities. In the past, a typical monastic Chan practitioner’s belongings weighed just a little over one kilo, because they gave away whatever came into their possession.

From these examples, we can see that a Chan practitioner must be ready to make offerings and practice giving, as well as give away unnecessary personal belongings to those who need them. Unfortunately, many Chan practitioners today are presumptuous, arrogant, selfish and petty, and lack faith. This is a pity and quite dangerous. How did this happen? It is because people who take up Chan practice hope to have physical and mental experiences such as stability, joy and health. However, once these objectives are achieved, they see those achievements as the product of their own efforts, rather than the result of a spiritual response from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, or the support of Dharma-protecting deities in the monastery. Nor do they believe these effects are due to the skilful guidance of a venerable Master or certain teacher. As a result, they become arrogant, conceited and complacent, lacking both belief and a sense of respect.

“Faith” means that, in spite of our own limited capacities and knowledge, we believe in the existence of certain realities. This can best be illustrated by the Chinese expression: “We look up to a sage’s noble behavior like looking up to a lofty mountain. Unattainable though it may seem, we yearn for it in our hearts.” When we see a lofty mountain, even though we are as yet unable to reach its peak, we still believe that there must be great masters residing yonder, and the scenery must be fantastic. The higher we climb, the more we discover things we have never seen before. This is belief based on admiration. Standing far below, we revere what is high above us, generating a belief that there must be some unknown power above that can help us. But if our faith is insufficient, we will not be able to believe in things that Buddhism talks about that are beyond our ken, and our spiritual practice will not be effective.

Chan Buddhism advocates belief in our own nature, that is, the belief that we ourselves can attain Buddhahood, and that we are originally the same as all Buddhas, not lacking in any single attribute of a Buddha. Chan Buddhism asserts that if only we let go of our self-centeredness, we will instantly see our “original face,” so we can all attain Buddhahood. Our original face is the Buddha in our own nature. The Buddha-nature is inherent in us, not acquired after cultivation. For this reason, many people misunderstand Chan Buddhism and neglect the importance of faith.

The basic theory that we are all intrinsically Buddhas is correct. But in practice, it does not quite work that way. As an illustration, everyone may become a parent, but does that mean a newborn baby is a parent? He or she has yet to grow up and reach adulthood. He or she is not a parent yet, and is still a baby. Will a baby become a parent in the future? Not necessarily. Those who take monastic vows at an early age and practice celibacy will not become parents, nor will those who are married but infertile. In theory, everyone can be a parent. But in actuality, it is not necessarily so.

Similarly, in a democratic society, every citizen has the right to vote, and be elected to office. However, while the majority has the right to vote, few have the opportunity to be elected. Due to a lack of ability or causes and conditions, we can only vote, but can never be elected. There are, however, those who, upon hearing that in Chan teaching “everyone has the Buddha-nature,” fancy themselves as equivalent to Buddhas with perfect wisdom, even though they are nothing but ignorant, mediocre people. Seeing Buddha images, they not only refuse to prostrate, but scoff, saying that as present Buddhas themselves, they do not prostrate to past Buddhas. They think, “I already have a Buddha within. Why bother to worship clay or wooden statues of Buddhas, or their painted images?”

Such people believe that only their own mind is the Buddha and that there is no Buddha outside their mind. When they see other people making prostrations, they call it attachment. When people prostrate to a venerable master, these self-proclaimed Chan practitioners shake their heads and sigh, “There is no need to prostrate to the Buddha, let alone a monastic.”

One time, while someone was prostrating to me, they were pulled up by a lay practitioner who said to them, “Do not prostrate! Do not harm the master!” I, to whom the followers made prostrations, was being harmed? I was puzzled, so I asked, “What do you mean? How is he harming me?

He said, “If you are really an eminent monk of great attainment, do you still need to have people prostrate to you? If you do, that means there is attachment in your mind. The more people prostrate, the more you feel like an eminent monk. You will not attain liberation and enlightenment your whole life.”

I thought to myself, “Well! He has a point.”

The lay practitioner continued, “If you really attained liberation, then when he prostrates to you, you should reproach him saying, ‘Don’t be attached to anything. Since one should have no notion of self, person, sentient beings, or beings with a lifespan, naturally there should be no notion of master and disciple. Why bother to make prostrations!”

Oh! This layman has a really sharp tongue. I asked him, “Do you prostrate to the Buddha?”

He said, “I prostrate to the Buddha within.”

I asked, “How do you do that?”

He replied, “I do not do it with my body, but with my mind.”

I asked, “How do you do it with your mind?”

He said, “Achieving a free and easy state of mind is prostration. Having no obstructions in the mind is prostration.” What he meant is that there is no need to prostrate to Buddhas or bodhisattvas, and he believed in nothing but himself. Actually, this is neither Buddhism nor Chan, but a type of arrogant, demonic view that lacks faith. This kind of person may have had some minor experiences in meditation and developed a kind of overconfidence, which we call “pride of superior attainment.” After having read some specious Chan texts, they are caught up in erroneous views. While in this life, they think they have already attained liberation. Once they die, they may be reborn in the heavenly realm if they have great merit. However, because they do not have the right view and understanding or believe in the Three Jewels, they will fall into a miserable plane of existence once they have exhausted their karmic rewards in heaven. If they have an improper attitude, do not keep the precepts, and always do evil, they will fall into hell as fast as an arrow.

Therefore, Chan masters believe in the existence of heaven, hell, Buddha land, and worlds of troubles. Only to highly advanced Chan practitioners who are practicing vigorously but still harbor some attachment in their minds would a Chan master say, “There is no Buddha, no Dharma, and no Sangha, There is no heaven and hell.” Chan masters say this because liberation can never be attained if one’s mind is attached to the Three Jewels, heaven, or hell. On the other hand, beginning Chan practitioners must be reminded to make a clear distinction between cause and effect, and between ordinary people and sages. Otherwise, in speaking against attachment, they become trapped in inverted views, reversing cause and effect, and, as ordinary people, passing themselves off as sages. Ordinary people are just ordinary people. We should not fancy ourselves as ancient Buddhas who reappear in this world, equal in all respects to the Buddhas of the past, present and future.

Chan practice is not just sitting meditation. Chan practice is not about just talking big, or solely seeking enlightenment and wanting to be equal to all past, present and future Buddhas. While promoting Chan teachings, we should also emphasize the importance of faith. In so doing, we can make it easier for people to practice successfully and help uplift their character.

Chan methods also require that we let go of our attachment to the self. This must start with having faith, practicing giving, and keeping the precepts. Eliminating this attachment requires a sense of shame, humility, gratitude, and repentance. We should also have faith in the Three Jewels, Buddhas and bodhisattvas, the various Dharma-protecting deities, and Chan patriarchs, as well as the teachers who guide us in our practice.

Contrarily, if you are so arrogant that, having barely embarked on the Chan path, you refuse to prostrate to the Buddhas, respect the Dharma and Sangha, or believe in the various Dharma-protecting deities, then do not even think about the possibility of attaining enlightenment or seeing your true nature.

The Essentials of Ch'an Practice

This is a tentative translation of a discourse by the modern Ch'an patriarch Master Xuyun (1839-1959), who is also known by his English name, Empty Cloud. Translated by Ven. Guo-gu Bhikshu

The Prerequisites and Understanding Necessary to Begin Ch'an Practice

1. The Objective of Ch'an Practice:

The objective of Ch'an practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating its impurities and seeing into one's true self-nature. The mind's impurities are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self-nature is the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas and sentient beings are not different from one another. To experience this wisdom and virtue, leave, leave behind duality, discrimination, wrong thinking and attachment. This is Buddhahood. If one cannot do this, then one remains an ordinary sentient being.

It is because you and I are defiled that we have been wandering lost and confused through samsara for limitless kalpas; and that we cannot immediately cast off wrong thinking and see our original nature. For this reason we must practice Ch'an.

The prerequisite for Ch'an practice is to eradicate wrong thinking. Shakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject. His simplest and most direct teaching is the word "stop" from the expression "stopping is Bodhi." From the time when Bodhidharma transmitted Ch'an teachings to today, the winds of Ch'an have blown far and wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among the many things that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those who came to study with them, none is more valuable than the saying, "Put-down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise."

This expression is truly the prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an. If you cannot fulfill this requirement, then not only will you fail to attain the ultimate goal of Ch'an practice, but you will not even be able to enter the door of Ch'an. How can you talk of practicing Ch'an if you are entangled by worldly phenomena with thought after thought arising and passing away?

2. Put Down All entangling conditions

"Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise" is a prerequisite for the practice of Ch'an. Now that we know this, how do we accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of superior abilities, can stop all thoughts forever, arrive directly at the condition of non-arising, and instantly experience Bodhi. such a person is not entangled by anything.

The next best kind of practitioner users principle to cut off phenomena and realizes that self-nature is originally pure. Vexation and bodhi , Samsara and Nirvana -- all are false names which have nothing to do with one's self-nature. All things are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or reflections.

Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great earth itself are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing, yet never obstructing the original surface. Do not bed captivated by the arising, abiding, changing and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and aversion, grasping and rejecting. Give up your whole body, as if you were dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objecting. and the six sense organs, the six sense objects and the six sense consciousness will naturally disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body ---hunger, cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger--- will no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation --- when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena.

When all phenomena are renounced , wrong thoughts disappear, discrimination does not arise, and attachment is left behind. When thoughts no longer arise, the brightness of self-nature manifests itself completely. At this time you will have fulfilled the necessary conditions for Ch'an practice. Then, further hard work and sincere practice will enable you to illuminate the mind and see into your true nature.

3. Everyone Can Instantly Become a Buddha:

Many Ch'an practitioners ask questions about the Dharma. The Dharma that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you try to explain things, the true meaning is lost. When you realize that "one mind" is the Buddha, from that point on there is nothing more to do. Everything is already complete. All talk about practice or attainment is demonic deception.

Bodhidharma's "direct pointing at the mind, seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood" clearly instructs that all sentient beings are Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized, one can harmonize with the environment yet remain undefiled. The mind will remain unified throughout the day, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. This is to already be a Buddha. At this point there is no need to put forth effort and be diligent. Any action is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest thought or word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed task. Do it by your-self. do not seek outside yourself for it.

All sentient beings --- who wish to avoid rebirth for eternal kalpas in the four forms of birth and the six paths of existence; who eternally sink in the sea of suffering; and who vow to attain Buddhahood and the four virtues of Nirvana (eternity, joy, self, purity) ----- can immediately attain Buddhahood if they wholly believe in the sincere words of the Buddha and the patriarchs, renounce everything, and think neither of beings, made by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is it a baseless, empty vow.

The Dharma is exactly that. It has been elucidated again and again by the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted us with the truth. They do not deceive us. Unfortunately, sentient beings are confused and for limitless kalpas they have experienced birth and death in the sea of suffering, appearing and disappearing, endlessly taking on new forms of life. dazed and confused, entangled in the worldly dust of the six senses with their backs to enlightenment, they are like pure gold in a cesspool. Because of the severity of the problem, Buddha compassionately taught 84,000 Dharma doors to accord with the varying karmic roots of sentient beings, so that sentient beings may use the methods to cure them-selves of 84,000 habits and faults, which include greed, hatred, ignorance and desire.

4. Investigating Ch'an and Contemplating Mind:

Our sect focuses on investigating Ch'an. The purpose of practicing Ch'an is to "Illuminate the mind and see into one's true nature." This investigation is also called " Clearly realizing one's self-mind and completely perceiving one's original nature."

Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came to the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually evolved. Most Ch'an practitioners, before the Tang and Sung dynasties, became enlightened after hearing a word or half a sentence of the Dharma. The transmission from master to disciple was the sealing of Mind with Mind. There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday questions and answers only untied the bonds. It was nothing more than prescribing the right medicine for the right illness.

After the Sung Dynasty, however, people did not have such good karmic roots as their predecessors. They could not carry out what had been said, For example, practitioners were taught to "Put down everything" and " Not think about good and evil, "but they could not do it. They could not put down everything, and if they weren't thinking about good, they were thinking about evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating gong an [and hua to].

When one begins looking into a hua to, one must grasp it tightly, never letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin. It concentrates on one point. It doesn't try different places and it doesn't stop until it gets through. Thus, in terms of hua to, the objective is to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method is a last resort, just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow. drastic measures must be taken to cure the patient.

The ancients used gong ans, but later on practitioners started using hua tos. Some hua tos are: "Who is dragging this corpse around?" "Before you were born what was your original face?" and, "Who is reciting Buddha's name?"

In fact, all hua tos are the same. There is nothing uncommon, strange, or special about them. If you wanted to, you could say: "Who is reciting the sutras?" "Who is reciting the mantras? "Who is prostrating to the Buddha? " Who is eating?" "Who is wearing these clothes?" "Who's walking?" "Who's sleeping?" They're all the same. The answer to the question "who" is derived from one's Mind. Mind is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of Mind ; Mind is the origin of all thoughts. Innumerable dharmas generate from the Mind ; Mind is the origin of all dharmas. In fact, hua to is a thought. Before a thought arises, there is the origin of words. Hence, looking into a hua to is contemplating Mind. There was Mind before your parents gave birth to you, so looking into your original face before you were born is contemplating Mind.

Self-nature is Mind. When one turns inward to hear one's self-nature, one is Turning inward to contemplate Mind. In the phrase, "Perfectly illuminating pure awareness," pure awareness is Mind and illumination is contemplation. Mind is Buddha. When one recites Buddha's name one contemplates Buddha. Contemplating Buddha is contemplating Mind.

Investigating hua to or "looking into who is reciting Buddha's name" is contemplating Mind. Hence, contemplating Mind is illuminating pure awareness. It is also illuminating the Buddha-nature within oneself. Mind is nature, pure awareness, Buddha. Mind has no form, no characters, no directions; it cannot be found in any particular place. It cannot be grasped. Originally, Mind is purity, universally embracing all Dharma realms. No inn or out, no coming or going. Originally, Mind is pure Dharmakaya.

When investigating hua to , the practitioner should first close down all six sense organs and seek where thoughts arise. Practitioners should concentrate on the hua to until they see the pure original mind which is apart from thoughts. If one does this without interruption, the mind becomes fine, quiet tranquil, silently illuminating. At that moment the five skandhas are empty, body and mind are extinguished, nothing remains. From that point, walking, standing, sitting and lying down are all done motionlessly. In time the practice will deepen, and eventually practitioners will see their self-nature and become Buddhas and suffering will cease.

A past patriarch named Gaofeng(1238-1295) once said: "You must contemplate hua to like a falling roof tile sinking endlessly down into a pond ten thousand feet deep. If in seven days you are not enlightened, I will give you permission to chop off my head. "These are the words of an experienced person. He did not speak lightly. His words are true.

Although many modem day practitioners use hua tos, few get enlightened. This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today have inferior karmic roots and less merit. Also, practitioners today are not clear about the purpose and path of hua to. Some practitioners search from east to west and north to south until they die, but still do not penetrate even one hua to. They never understand or correctly approach the hua to. They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect and attach only to the tail of the words.

Hua to is One Mind. This mind is not inside, outside, or in the middle. On the other hand, it is inside, outside, and in the middle. It is like the stillness of empty space prevailing every where.

Hua to should not be picked up. Neither should it be pressed down. If you pick it up, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you press it down you will become drowsy. These approaches are contrary to the nature of the original mind and are not in accordance with the Middle Path.

Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts. They think it is difficult to tame them. Don't be afraid of wandering thoughts. Do not waste your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them. Do not attach to wandering thoughts, do not follow them, and do not try to get rid of them. As long as you don't string thoughts together, wandering thoughts will depart by themselves.

Lectures on the Methods of Practice in the Ch'an Hall

1. Introduction:

Many people come to ask me for guidance. This makes me feel ashamed. Everyone works so hard --- splitting firewood, hoeing the fields, carrying soil, moving bricks --- and yet from morning to night not putting down the thought of practicing the Path. Such determination for the Path is touching. I, Xuyun, repent my inadequacy on the Path and my lack of virtue. I am unable to instruct you and can use only a few saying from the ancients in response to your questions. There are four prerequisites concerning methods of practice: (1) Deep faith in the law of cause and consequence; (2) Strict observance of precepts; (3) Immovable faith (4) Choosing a Dharma door method of practice.

2. Essentials of Ch'an Practice:

Our everyday activities are executed within the Path itself. Is there anywhere that is not a place for practicing the Path? A Ch'an Hall should not even be necessary. Furthermore, Ch'an practice is not just sitting meditation. The Ch'an Hall and Ch'an sitting meditation are for sentient beings with deep karmic obstructions and shallow wisdom.

When one sits in meditation, one must first know how to regulate the body and mind. If they are not well regulated, then a small harm will turn into an illness and a great harm will lead to demonic entanglements. This would be most pitiable. Walking and sitting meditation in the Ch'an Hall are for the regulation of body and mind. There are other ways to regulate the body and mind, but I will talk about these two fundamental methods.

When you sit in the lotus position, you should sit naturally straight. Do not push the waist forward purposely. Doing so will raise your inner heat, which later on could result in having sand in the corner of your eyes, bad breath, uneasy breathing, loss of appetite, and in the worst case, vomiting blood. If dullness or sleepiness occur, open your eyes wide, straighten your back and gently move your buttocks from side to side. dullness will naturally vanish. If you practice with an anxious attitude, you will have a sense of annoyance. At that time you should put everything down, including your efforts to practice. Rest for a few minutes. Gradually, after you recuperate, continue to practice. If you don't do this, as time goes on you will develop a hot-tempered character, or, in the worst case, you could go insane or fall into demonic entanglements.

There are many experiences you will encounter when sitting Ch'an, too many to speak of. However, if you do not attach to them, they will not interfere with you. This is why the proverb says: "See the extraordinary yet do not think of it as being extraordinary, and the extraordinary will retreat." If you encounter or perceive an unpleasant experience, take no notice of it and have no fear. If you experience something pleasant, take no notice of it and don't give rise to fondness. The Surangama Sutra says: " If one does not think he has attained a supra mundane experience, then this is good. On the other hand, if one thinks he has attained something supra mundane, then he will attract demons."

3. How to Start the Practice: Distinction Between Host and Guest:

How should one begin to practice? In the Surangama assembly, Kaundinya the Honored One mentioned the two words "guest" and "dust." This is where beginners should begin their practice. He said, "A traveler who stops at an inn may stay overnight or get something to eat. When he is finished or rested, he packs and continues his journey, for he does not have time to stay longer. If he were the host, he would have no place to go. Thus I reason : he who does not stay is called a guest because not staying is the essence of being a guest. He who stays is called a host. Again, on a clear day, when the sun rises and the sunlight enters a dark room through an opening, one can see dust in empty space. The dust is moving but the space is still. That which is clear and still is called space; that which is moving is called dust because moving is the essence of being dust." Guest and dust refer to illusory thoughts, whereas host and space refer to self-nature. That the permanent host does not follow the guest in his comings and goings illustrates that permanent self-nature does not follow illusory thoughts in their fleeting rise and fall. therefore it was said, "It was said, "If one is unaffected by all things, then there will be no obstructions even when one is constantly surrounded by things." The moving dust does not block the clear, still empty space; illusory thoughts which rise and fall by themselves do not hinder the self-nature of Suchness. Thus it was said, "If my mind does not arise, all things are blameless." In such a state of mind, even the guest does not drift with illusory thoughts. If he understands space and dust, illusory thoughts will no longer be hindrances. It is said that when one recognizes an enemy, there will be no more enemy in your mind. If one can investigate and understand all this before starting to practice, it is unlikely that one will make serious mistakes.

4. Hua tou and doubt

The ancient patriarchs pointed directly at Mind. When one sees self-nature, one attains Buddhahood. This was the case when Bodhidharma helped his disciple to calm his mind and when the sixth Patriarch spoke only about seeing self-nature. All that was necessary was the direct understanding and acceptance of Mind and nothing else. There was no such thing as investigating hua to. More recent patriarchs, however, saw that practitioners could not throw themselves into practice with total dedication and could not instantaneously see their self-nature. Instead, these people played games and imitated words of wisdom, showing off other people's treasure and imagining it was theirs. For this reason, later patriarchs were compelled to set up schools and devise specific ways to help practitioners, hence the method of investigating hua to.

There are many hua tos, such as "all dharmas return to one, where does this one return to?" What was my original face before I was born?" and so on. The most common one, however, is "who is reciting the Buddha's name?"

What is meant by hua to? Hua means the spoken word; to means the head or beginning, so hua to means that which is before the spoken word. for example, reciting Amitabha Buddha is a hua, and hua to is that which precedes one's reciting the Buddha's name. The hua to is that moment before the thought arises. Once the thought arises, it is already the tail of the hua. The moment before the thought has arisen is called non-arising. When one's mind is not distracted, is not dull, is not attached to quiescence, or has not fallen into a state of nothingness, it is called non-perishing. Single-mindedly and uninterruptedly, turning inward and illuminating the state of non-arising and non-perishing is called investigating the hua to, to taking care of the hua to.

To investigate the hua-t', one must first generate doubt. doubt is like a walking cane for the method of investigating hua to. what is meant by doubt? For example, one may ask, :who is reciting the Buddha's name?" Everyone knows that it is he himself who is reciting the name, but is he using his mouth or mind? If it is his mouth, then after the person dies and the mouth still exists, how come the dead person is unable to recite Buddha's name? If it is the mind, then what is the mind like? It cannot be known. Thus there is something one does not understand, and this gives rise to a slight doubt regarding the question of " who."

This doubt should never be coarse. The finer it is the better. At all times and in all places, one should single-mindedly watch and keep this doubt, and keep it going like a fine stream of water. Do not get distracted by any other thought. When the doubt is there, do not disturb it. When the doubt is no longer there, gently give rise to it again. Beginners will find that it is more effective to use this method when stationary rather than when moving; but you should not have a discriminating attitude. Regardless of whether your practice is effective or not or whether you are stationary or moving, just single-mindedly use the method and practice.

In the hua to, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" The emphases should be on the word "who." The other words serve to provide a general idea, just like in asking, "Who is dressing?" "Who is eating?" "Who in moving their bowels?" "Who is urinating?" "Who is ignorantly fighting for an ego?" "Who is being aware?" "Regardless of whether one is walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, the word "who" is direct and immediate. Not having to rely on repetitive thinking, conjecture, or attention, it is easy to give rise to a sense of doubt.

Hence, hua to's involving the word "who " are wonderful methods for methods for practicing Ch'an. But the idea is not to repeat, " Who is reciting Buddha's name?" like one might repeat the Buddha's name itself; nor is it right to use reasoning to come up with an answer to the question, thinking that this is what is meant by having doubt. There are people who uninterruptedly repeat the phrase, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" They would accumulate more merit and virtue if they repeatedly recited Amitabha Buddha's name instead. There are others who let their minds wander, thinking that is the meaning of having doubt, and they end up more involved in illusory thoughts. This is like trying to ascend but descending instead. Be aware of this.

The doubt that is generated by a beginning practitioner tends to be coarse, intermittent and irregular. This does not truly qualify as a state of doubt. It can only be called thoughts. Gradually, after the wild thoughts settle and one has more control, the process can be called can (pronounced ts'an which means to investigate or look into). As one's cultivation gets smoother, the doubt naturally arises without one's actively inducing it to. At this point one is not aware of where one is sitting. One is not aware of the existence of a body or mind or environment. Only the doubt is there. This is a true state of doubt.

Realistically speaking, the initial stage cannot be considered cultivation. One is merely engaging in illusory thoughts. Only when true doubt arises by itself can it be called true cultivation. This moment is a crucial juncture, and it is easy for the practitioner to deviate from the right path:

(1) At this moment it is clear and pure and there is an unlimited sense of lightness and peace. However if one fails to fully maintain one's awareness and illumination (awareness is wisdom, not delusion; illumination is samadhi, not disorder), one will fall into a light state of mental dullness. If there is an open-eyed person around, he will be able to tell right away that the practitioner is in this mental state and hit him with the incense stick, dispersing all clouds and fog. Many people become enlightened this way.

(2) At this moment it is clear and pure, empty and vacuous. If it isn't, then the doubt is lost. Then it is "no content," meaning one is not making an effort to practice anymore. This is what is meant by "the cliff with dry wood" or "the rock soaking in cold water. " In this situation the practitioner has to " bring up." "Bring up" means to develop awareness and illumination. It is different from earlier times when the doubt was coarse. Now it has to be extremely fine --- one thought, uninterrupted and extremely subtle. With utter clarity, it is illuminating and quiescent, unmoving yet fully aware. Like the smoke from a fire that is about to go out, it is a narrow stream without interruption. When one's practice reaches this point, it is necessary to have a diamond eye in the sense that one should not try to "bring up" anymore. To "bring up" at this point would be like putting a head on top of one's head.

Once a monk asked Ch'an master Zhaozhou, "What should one do when not one thing comes?" Zhaozhou replied, "Put it down." The monk asked, "If not one thing comes, what does one put down?" Zhaozhou replied, "If it cannot be put down, take it up." This dialogue refers precisely to this kind of situation. The true flavor of this state cannot be described. Like someone drinking water, only he knows how cool or warm it is. If a person reaches this state, he will naturally understand. If he is not at this state, no explanation will be adequate. To a sword master you should offer a sword; do not bother showing your poetry to someone who is not a poet.

5. Taking Care of hua tou and Turning Inward to Hear One's Self-nature:

Someone might ask, "How is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara's method of turning inward to hear self-nature considered investigating Ch'an?" I have previously explained that taking care of hua to is being, moment after moment, with only one thought, single-mindedly shining the light inward on "that which is not born and not destroyed." Inward illumination is reflection. Self-nature is that which is not born and not destroyed. When "hearing" and "illuminating" follow sound and form in the worldly stream, hearing does not go beyond sound and seeing does not go beyond form. However, when one turns inward and contemplates self-nature against the worldly stream, and does not pursue sound and form then he becomes pure and transparent. At that time "hearing" and "illuminating" are not two different things.

Thus we should know that taking care of the hua to and turning inward to hear self-nature does not mean using our eyes to see and our ears to hear. If we use our ears to hear or our eyes to see, then we are chasing sound and form. As a result we will be affected by them. This is called submission to the worldly stream. If one practices with one thought only, single-mindedly abiding in that which is not born and not destroyed, not chasing after sound and form, with no wandering thoughts, then one is going against the stream. This is also called taking care of the hua to or turning inward to hear one's self-nature. This is not to say you should close your eyes tightly or cover your ears. Just do not generate a mind of seeking after sound and form.

6. Determined to Leave samsara and Generating a Persevering Mind:

In Ch'an training the most important thing is to have an earnestness to leave birth and death and to generate a persevering mind. If there is no earnestness to leave birth and death, then one cannot generate the "great doubt" and practice will not be effective. If there is no perseverance in one's mind, the result will be laziness, like a man who practices for one day and rests for ten. The practice will be incomplete and when great doubt arises, vexations will come to an end by themselves. When the time comes, the melon will naturally depart from the vine.

I will tell you a story. During the Ching dynasty in the year of Geng Ze (1900) when the eight world powers sent their armies to Peking, the Emperor Guang Xu fled westward from Peking to Shanxi province. Everyday he walked tens of miles. for several days he had no food to eat. On the road, a peasant offered him sweet potato stems. after he ate them, he asked the peasant what they were because they tasted so good. Think about the emperor's usual awe-inspiring demeanor and his arrogance! How long do you think he could continue to maintain his imperial attitude after so long a journey on foot? do you think he had ever gone hungry? Do you think he ever had to eat sweet potato stems? At that time he gave up all of his airs. After all, he had walked quite a distance and had eaten stems to keep from starving. Why was he able to put down everything at that time? Because the allied armies wanted his life and his only thought was to save himself. But when peace prevailed and he returned to Peking, once again he became proud and arrogant. He didn't have to run anymore. He no longer had longer had to eat any food that might displease him. Why was he unable to put down everything at that time? Because the allied armies no longer wanted his life. If the emperor always had an attitude of running for his life and if he could turn such an attitude toward the path of practice, there would be nothing he could not accomplish. It's a pity he did not have a persevering mind. When favorable circumstances returned, so did his former habits.

Fellow practitioners! Time is passing, never to return. It is constantly looking for our lives. It is more frightening than the allied armies. Time will never compromise or make peace with us. Let us generate a mind of perseverance immediately in order to escape from birth and death! Master Gaofeng (1238-1295) once said, "concerning the practice, one should act like a stone dropping into the deepest part of the pool --- ten thousand feet deep --- continuously and persistently dropping without interruption toward the bottom. If one can practice like this without stopping, continuously for seven days and still be unable to cut off one's wandering, illusory thoughts and vexations, I, Gaofeng, will have my tongue pulled out for cows to plow on forever. "He continued by saying, "When one practices Ch'an, one should set out a certain time for success, like a man who has fallen into a pit a thousand feet deep. All his tens of thousands of thoughts are reduced to one --- escape from the pit. If one can really practice from morning to dusk and from night to day without a second thought, and if he does not attain complete enlightenment within three, five, or seven days, I shall be committing a great lie for which I shall have my tongue pulled out for cows to plow on forever." This old master had great compassion. Knowing that we would probably be unable to generate such a persevering mind, he made two great vows to guarantee our success.

7. Enlightenment and Practice

The patriarch, Hanshan (1546-1623), once said, "There are practitioners who get enlightened first and then start their cultivation, and those who practice first and then get enlightened. However, there are two kinds of enlightenment: insight through reason and insight through experience. If a person realizes Mind by following the teachings of the Buddha and the patriarchs, it is considered insight through reason. One with such an experience will only have a conceptual understanding. In all circumstances he will still be powerless. The mind of the practitioner and the environment are separate and do not reach totality. Therefore, his experience is an obstruction. It is called simulated Prajna and is not real practice.

"On the other hand, those who become enlightened through practice stick to their methods in a straightforward manner until they force themselves into a corner. suddenly their last conceptual thought disappears and they completely realize Mind. It is like seeing your father at a cross road there is no doubt. It is like drinking water: only the person drinking knows if it is warm or cold. There is no way to express it. This is real practice and enlightenment. Afterward, the practitioner will still have t deal with different mental states that arise in accordance with his experience. He will still have to get rid of strong karmic obstructions and wandering and emotional thoughts, leaving only pure Mind. This is enlightenment by experience.

"concerning true enlightenment experiences, there are deep and shallow ones. If one puts effort in following the fundamental principle, destroys the nest of the eighth consciousness and overturns the dark caves of ignorance, then one head directly for enlightenment. There is no other way. Those who achieve this have extremely sharp karmic roots and experience deep enlightenment.

"Those who practice gradually experience shallow enlightenment. The worst case is when someone attains little and is satisfied. One should not take illusions, like shadows created by light, for enlightenment. Why? Because they do not chop down the root of the eighth consciousness. The experiences these people have are manifestations of their own consciousness. Believing such an experience to be real is like mistaking a thief for your son. an ancient said, 'Because cultivators believe that the activities of their consciousness are real, they do not recognize what is real. This is the reason for their transmigration through innumerable kalpas of birth and death. Ignorant people take consciousness for their true selves. 'Therefore, you must pass through this gate.

"On the other hand, there are those who experience sudden enlightenment and cultivate gradually. Although these people have experience deep enlightenment, they still have habitual tendencies that they cannot eliminate immediately. At this point , progress depends on circumstance. It all depends on the clarity of their practice in different situations. They have to use their enlightened principle to illuminate these situations. while passing through them they can check their minds. If they can melt away one percent of the external appearances, then they will have gained one percent of their Dharmakaya. By eliminating one percent of their wandering thoughts, one percent of their original wisdom will manifest. This is how one can strengthen one's experience."

Listening to Hanshan's words, we can see that it is not important whether someone is enlightened or not. Those who understand enlightenment either through reason or experience have to continue their practice and follow it through. The difference is that those who are enlightened first and then cultivate are like old horses who are familiar with the road. They will not go the wrong way. It is much easier than cultivating first and then getting enlightened.

Those who are enlightened are rooted and are not like those who understand enlightenment through reason. People with the latter understanding are shaky. Their experience is superficial. those who are enlightened through experience are more likely to derive benefit form their practice. Even at the age of eighty, the elder master Zhaozhou (778-897) still traveled. For forty years, the master used his mind without any wanderings; he only investigated the word "nothingness." He is a great model. Do you doubt that the master was enlightened? He truly reminds us not to be satisfied when we have little and not to praise ourselves highly.

There are those who, after reading a few sutras or collections of talks of Ch'an masters, say things like, "The mind is the Buddha," and , "It is throughout the three periods and ten directions." Their words have nothing to do with the fundamental principle. They firmly believe that they are ancient Buddhas who have come back again. When they meet people, they praise themselves and say that they have attained complete enlightenment. Blind followers will even brag for them. It is like mistaking fish eyes for pearls. They do not know the difference between the real and the false. They mix things up. It not only makes people lose faith; it also gives rise to criticism. The reason the Ch'an sect is not flourishing is mainly because of the faults of these crazy people. I hope you can be diligent in your practice. Do not start something false. Do not speak about Ch'an with empty words. You must investigate seriously and attain real enlightenment. In the future you can propagate the Dharma and be a great master, like a dragon or an elephant in the animal kingdom, and help Ch'an Buddhism to flourish.

8. Investigating Ch'an and Reciting Buddha's Name

Those who recite Buddha's name usually criticize those who investigate Ch'an and those who investigate Ch'an usually slander those who recite Buddha's name. They seem to oppose each other like enemies. Some of them even wish that the others would die. This is a terrible thing to have happen in Buddhism. There is a saying which goes something like this: "A family in harmony will succeed in everything, whereas a family in decline is sure to argue. "With all of this fighting among brothers, it is no wonder that others laugh at us and look down at us.

Investigating Ch'an, reciting Buddha's name, and other methods are all teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. The original Path is not separate from these methods. It is only because of the different karmic roots and mentalities of sentient beings that different methods are taught. It is like giving different antidotes for different poisons. Later on, patriarchs divided Buddha's teaching into different sects corresponding to different theories. Because the needs of people differ at different times, patriarchs propagated the Dharma in different ways.

If an individual practices a method that fits his character, then regardless of which Dharma door he uses., he can penetrate the Path. Actually, there are no superior and inferior Dharma doors. Furthermore, Dharma doors are interconnected. all are perfect and without obstruction. For example, when one recites the Buddha's name to the point of one-mindedness, is this not investigating Ch'an? When one investigates Ch'an to the point of no separation between the investigator and that which is being investigated, is this not reciting the real characteristic of the Buddha? Ch'an is not other than the Ch'an within the Pure Land and Pure Land is not other than the Pure Land within Ch'an. Ch'an and pure Land are mutually enriching, and they function together.

However, there are people who favor one view over another, and from these distinctions arise different ideas and opinions, which can unfortunately lead to praising oneself while slandering others. Such people are like fire and water. They cannot exist together. they have misunderstood the intention of the patriarchs who started the different sects. These people are unintentionally responsible for damaging, slandering and endangering Buddhism. Is this not sad and pitiable?

I hope that all of us , no matter which dharma door we practice, understand the Buddha's principle of not discriminating and not arguing. We should have the mind of helping one another so that we may save this ship which floats amidst dangerous and violent waves.

9. The Two Kinds of difficulty and Ease with Practitioners experience

There are two kinds of difficulty and ease practitioners face on the Path, and which they experience depends primarily on the shallowness or depth of their practice. The first kind of difficulty and ease is associated with beginners, while the second kind corresponds to advanced practitioners.

The symptoms of the common beginner's disease are: incapability of putting down wandering thoughts, habitual tendencies, ignorance, arrogance, jealousy, greed, anger, stupidity, desire, laziness, gluttony, and discrimination between self and other. All these fill big bellies. How can this be in accordance with the Path?

There are other kinds of people who are born into wealthy and noble families. Never forgetting their habitual tendencies and bad influences, they cannot endure one bit of difficulty or withstand any hardship. How can these people practice the Path? They do not consider the status of our original teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, when he decided to become a monk.

There are other people who know a few words but do not understand that the ancients were actually tests to evaluate practitioners' levels of understanding. These people think they are smart. Every day they scrutinize the recorded sayings and writings, talk about Mind and Buddha, explain and interpret the teachings of the ancients. Talking about food but not eating it, counting the treasure of others and not owning it themselves, they think they are extraordinary people. They become incredibly arrogant. But when these people become seriously ill, they will cry out for help; and at the end of their lives they will panic and become bewildered. At that time, what they have learned and understood will be useless, and it will be too late to regret.

There are other people who misunderstand the saying, " Originally we are Buddhas." These people say that the original self is complete and that there is no need for rectification. All day long they loaf about with nothing to do, following their emotions, wasting their time. These people praise themselves as eminent people and conform to causes and conditions. In the future these people will suffer greatly.

Then there are people who have determined minds to practice, but who do not know where to begin their endeavors, or who are afraid of wandering thoughts. Unable to get rid of their thoughts, they abide inn vexation all day long, thinking about and mourning their heavy karmic obstructions. Because of this their determined minds backslide.

There are also those people who want to battle till death with their wandering thoughts. Furiously, they tense up their fists and push out their chests and eyes. It seems like they are involved in something big. Ready to die in battle against their wandering thoughts, they do not realize that wandering thoughts cannot be defeated. These people end up vomiting blood or going insane.

There are people who fear falling into emptiness. Little do they know that demons have arisen in their minds. They can neither empty their minds nor get enlightened. And there are those who strongly seek enlightenment, not understanding that seeking enlightenment and wanting to attain Buddhahood are all grave wandering thoughts. One cannot cook sand hoping to eat rice. They can seek until the year of the donkey and they still won't get enlightened. sometimes people become elated when occasionally they sit through a couple of peaceful sittings. These situations are like a blind turtle whose head happens to pass through a small hole in a piece of wood floating in the middle of the ocean. It is not the result of real practice. In their elation these people have served to add another obstruction.

There are those who dwell in false purity during meditation and enjoy themselves. Since they cannot maintain a peaceful mind within activity , they avoid noisy places and spend their days soaking in stale water. There are numerous examples of this. for beginners, it is very difficult to find entrance to the Path. If there is illumination without awareness, then it's like sitting in stale water waiting to die.

Even though this practice is hard, once you find entrance to the path, it becomes easier. What is the easiest way for beginners? There is nothing special other than being able to "put it down." put what down? Put down all vexations arising from ignorance. Fellow practitioners, once this body of ours stops breathing, it becomes a corpse. The main reason we cannot put it down is because we place too much importance on it. Because of this, we give rise to the idea of self and other, right and wrong, love and hate, gain and loss. If we can have a firm belief that this body of ours is like a corpse, not to cherish it or look upon it as being ourselves, then what is there that we cannot put down? we must learn to put it down anywhere, anytime, whether walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, whether in motion or still, whether resting or active. we have to hold onto the doubt of the hua to internally, and externally, and externally ignore everything. Continuously keep this up, calmly and peacefully, without a moment of extraneous thought, like a long sword extending into the sky. If anything comes in contact with the sharp edge, it will be extinguished without a trace or sound. If one could do this, would he still be afraid of wandering thoughts? What could harm him? Who is it that would be distinguishing between movement and stillness? Who is it that would be attached to existence or emptiness?

If there are fears of wandering thoughts, then you have already added another wandering thought. If you feel you are pure, then you are already defiled. If you are afraid of falling into emptiness, then you are already dwelling in existence. If you want to become a Buddha, then you have to know is the entrance to the Path. afterward, carrying water and gathering firewood are not separate from the wonderful Path. Hoeing and planting fields are all Ch'an opportunities (Ch'an ji). Practicing the Path is not limited to sitting cross-legged throughout the day.

What difficulties are encountered by advanced practitioners? Although some have practiced until the emergence of genuine doubt and possess both awareness and illumination, they are still bound by birth and death. Those who have neither awareness nor illumination fall into false emptiness. To arrive at either of these situations is truly hard. After reaching this point , many people cannot detach themselves further. They stand at the top of a ten thousand foot pole unable to advance. Some people, having progressed to this stage and being skilled in practice, and having sidestepped situations they cannot solve, think that they have already eradicated ignorance. They believe that their practice has reached home. Actually, these people are living in the wave of ignorance and do not even know it. When these people encounter a situation that they cannot solve --- where they must be their own master --- they just give up. This is a pity.

There are others who reach real doubt, gain a little wisdom from the experience of emptiness, and understand a few ancient gong ans; and then they give up the great doubt because they think they are completely enlightened. These people compose poems and gathas, act arrogantly and call themselves virtuous men of the Path. Not only do they fool themselves, they also mislead others. They are creating bad karma. In other cases there are those who mistake the words of Bodhidharma, "To isolate from external conditions, internally the mind becomes still, like a wall, and one can enter the Path, " or the Sixth Patriarch's, "Not thinking of good or evil, at this time what is your original face, venerable Ming?" They think that meditating by rotten wood or by large boulders is the ultimate principle. These people take the illusory city as their treasured palace. They take the temporally guest house as their home. This i s what the gong an of the old woman who burned down the hut to reprimand one such living corpse refers to.

What is the easy way for these advanced practitioners? Do not be proud and do not quit in the middle of cultivation. In the midst of well-meshed continuous practice, you have to be even finer. While practicing in a cautious and attentive manner, you have to be more careful. When the time comes, the bottom of the barrel will naturally drop off. If you cannot do this, then find a virtuous teacher to pry off the nails of the barrel and pull out the joints.

Master cold Mountain once chanted: "On the peak of the highest mountain, the four directions expand to infinity. Sitting in silence, no one knows. The solitary moon shines on the cold spring. Here inn the spring there is no moon. is high in the sky. Though I'm humming this song, in the song there is no Ch'an. "The first two lines of this song reveal that the appearance of real nature does not belong to anything. The whole world is filled with bright and pure light without any obstructions. The third line speaks of the real body of Suchness. Surely, ordinary people cannot know this. Even the Buddhas of the three periods do not know where I abide. Therefore, no one can know the path. The three lines beginning with, "The solitary moon shines on the cold spring," is an expedient example of the level of Master Cold Mountain's practice. The last two lines are mentioned because he is afraid that we will "mistake the finger for the moon." He especially warns us that words and language are not Ch'an.

10. Conclusion:

I have said too much and have interrupted your practice. It is like pulling vines. The more one pulls, the more they tangle together. whenever there are words, there is no real meaning. when the ancient virtuous masters guided their students, either they used sticks or shouted. There were not so many words. However, the present cannot be compared with the past. One has no choice but to point a finger at the moon. After all, which is the finger? Which is the moon? Investigate!

What is Enlightenment

Enlightenment is seeing one’s self-nature. Some call this nature "buddha-nature" or the "nature of emptiness." When one has no attachment to the notion of "self," one's attitude in dealing with any situation is called wisdom.

Wisdom is basically a selfless attitude. When wisdom manifests, one's nature is seen. The notion of "self" here can refer to an individual self, a group of selves, or the universe as an all-encompassing self.

When you practice, you might encounter all kinds of physical and mental experiences. For example, you may feel like you are in the state of unity,,or you may even feel like you have completely unified with the universe. These phenomena may enhance your confidence and faith in your practice and in the Dharma. This is not, however, genuine enlightenment.

Genuine enlightenment must be in accord with the principles described by the Sixth Patriarch of Chan, Master Huineng: no-form, no-thought, and no-abiding. When the mind functions without abiding, it is called "no thought". No form means no unchanging or definite form. Wherever there are phenomena, there is illusion.

To Realize Inherent Wisdom

A talk Delivered on May 7, 1997, during a Ch'an retreat in Poland, and edited by Earnie Heau.

What is Ch'an? We may call Ch'an "mind"; we may also believe that this mind needs to be cultivated, so that it may become enlightened, may acquire wisdom. I say to you that there is in truth nothing to cultivate, nothing to acquire, for wisdom is inherent in every mind. Even so, most people don't know how to manifest this inherent wisdom. However, the Buddha in his great compassion taught us how to realize wisdom. We call this method Ch'an.

So people may think that Ch'an, or Zen, is something exotic that originated in India, got transmitted to China, then to Japan, and then to the West. A story illustrates the mistaken idea that Ch'an is something external to ourselves, that we can get it from a teacher. The story is about the Indian monk Bodhidharma, who introduced Ch'an to China in the sixth century. A monk asked his Ch'an master: "What did Bodhidharma bring from the West [India]?" The Ch'an master replied, in effect, "Nothing. He just told people that the Dharma of Ch'an is already here."

Likewise, the Dharma of Ch'an is already here and has always been; it is in each and every one ofyour hearts and minds. My only task is to remind you and to point out the correct concepts and methods to realize this truth. When the concepts that guide the method are correct and when the method is applied precisely, correctly, and diligently, the way of practice is right. Then this Dharma of Ch'an can manifest from your heart/mind. When that happens, you can realize inherent wisdom.

I would like to share with you the concepts and the methods of Ch'an. Correct concept, or understanding, is most important, and then comes correct method.

Ch'an relies on meditation, but to be enlightened does not require meditation. To understand what I am saying, let us consider what wisdom is, what enlightenment is. Wisdom, or enlightenment, refers to a state of mind where vexations have been extinguished. Vexations are all the delusory mind-states that proceed from attachment to the idea of self. All thought, judgment, discrimination, and seeking based on self-centeredness are considered vexations.

You come to retreat to benefit from practice. So you begin with self-interest, and this is fine. However, once you engage in the practice, you should put aside considerations of benefit. All you have to do, and all you must do, is practice with effort and consistency. If you have ideas of gaining or getting rid of something, you will just generate more vexations. Yes, the ultimate purpose of Ch'an is to realize enlightenment, and yes, Ch'an even talks about sudden enlightenment. But real progress is always gradual and involves stages.

First, learn how to concentrate the mind. Through concentrated mind, you can further unify the mind. Then you can dissolve and melt away your unified mind to attain no-mind, or enlightenment. So these three stages-concentrated mind, unified mind, and no-mind-come through gradual and focused practice.

I guide individuals according to their experience and situation. I may have someone begin with counting the breath. I may tell another person to begin straightaway with gong an or hua to practice. Very simply put, a gong an, or koan in Zen, is an anecdote of someone's enlightenment experience. For example, my grandmaster, Xu Yun (Empty Cloud), was holding a cup into which hot tea was being poured. Some of the tea spilled on his hand, and he dropped the cup. On hearing the cup shatter on the floor, Xu Yun experienced enlightenment. This story is a gong an. Meditating on or "investigating" a gong an, you focus all your energies on penetrating the meaning of the gong an. If you turn the story into a question such as "Who was enlightened when the cup broke?" and use that as a practice method, that is a hua to.

However, no matter what method you use, you go from scattered mind to concentrated mind and from there to unified mind. Then one can shatter this unified mind and experience no-mind, or enlightenment. Be assured, it is impossible to have a scattered mind and experience realization. On the other hand, please don't mistake the unified mind, the state of oneness, to be enlightenment. They are not the same.

So let's look more closely at unified mind. There are three stages of unified mind. The first is unity of body and mind. This is when the body sensation falls away, leaving only the experience of the practice itself. If you are doing breath-counting and you reach this state, you become the breath counting.

The second stage is when the practice itself disappears. For example, you are breath-counting, and as you become more concentrated, the numbers fall away; there is no more counting. There is only the awareness of breathing and clarity of mind, yet there is no thought of "I am only aware of my mind being clear." Moment to moment is the same, just this awareness. This second stage of unified mind is also when the words of the gong an fall away leaving only the awareness of working on the gong an, each moment like the other, without self-consciousnes.

The third kind of unified mind comes from raising what is called the "doubt sensation" or "doubt mass." For example, by energetically and persistently practicing a gong an, you may reach a point at which in your mind there are no more words, and even the gong an itself has fallen away; there is just this growing mass of energy. This energy is accompanied by a sense of wonder, of surrender to unknowing, but at the same time of intensely wanting to know. This doubt mass can become so great that one's mental absorption is complete. At some point, discriminating mind falls away.

Two things may happen. First, the doubt mass can be shattered, perhaps by some action or words heard or spoken, and one may experience enlightenment as in the case of Xu Yun. The second is that the doubt mass may dissipate, leaving the practitioner with a deep sense of peace and oneness. The practitioner may experience detachment from anything internal or external, even sensing no environment. Some may think this is an enlightenment experience, but this is still a unified state because this very sense of no inside, no outside, comes from a sense of self. At this stage, the sense of self may be extremely subtle, but it is there nevertheless.

To experience no-mind is the true Ch'an. It takes a master of deep enlightenment to ascertain if someone else has reached just a oneness state or a genuine no-self state. Teachers who themselves only reached this deeper oneness state cannot truly judge whether a student has really experienced enlightenment. If they believe themselves to be enlightened, they may mistakenly certify students who have only reached this unified mind state. If these teachers, believing in their own enlightenment, stop practicing, they will never know the state of no-self, and that is unfortunate.

Ch'an history is full of stories about disciples whose experiences were not confirmed by a master. Sometimes they left believing that the masters were incompetent because of this. But there are also cases where disciples later became enlightened masters themselves and were truly grateful to some earlier teacher for not validating their premature experiences. This allowed them to persist and continue their practice and, in time, achieve true realization.

I hope you will all put forth your best efforts in your practice. Do not concern yourself with enlightenment. I say this even though I just spent some time telling you what enlightenment is. But you need to begin with correct views, and that is what I have tried to give you. To practice Ch'an, one needs dedication and effort. Whatever you experience in practice, whether it be concentrated mind or even a deep unified state, if there is seeking, there is no enlightenment. My purpose is to guide you from a scattered to a concentrated mind, from a concentrated mind to a unified mind, from a unified mind to no-mind.

To cultivate the mind is most important and achievable. But even if you cannot reach no-mind, just to have periods of concentrated mind is good and contributes to progress. To reach no-mind, to reach enlightenment, may sound extremely difficult. Certainly, without correct concepts and correct methods and without a good guide, it is very difficult. However, if one has correct views and a correct method and the knowledge to use it, it is possible to realize your inherent wisdom. I believe that regarding concept and views on practice, you have heard clearly and you have understood.