Posted in zen

The Zen Method of Awakening

All things are connected and impermanent.

The world is a reflection of the mind and the Zen method is nothing other than an effort at an intuitive understanding of these facts. There is nothing else to it.

The mind realizes its own essence and in this way no longer perceives itself and the outer world as two separate and unconnected realities.

Zen masters of ancient times told their students to “lay it all down” and “have no concern for the world.” There are many stories of people becoming enlightened only from hearing a word or seeing an action at an appropriate moment, usually delivered by a master. But much of this activity is the result of a long-term meditation practice in which the practitioner has spent time building up their inner potential.

Experiences of awakening, the dropping away of body and mind, can occur during meditation, but it can also occur during ordinary life. In any case, this cannot happen without some cultivation of the ordinary mind.

The Zen method of awakening doesn’t engage the ordinary, intellectual, conscious flow of our minds. As our minds are deluded, delusions would get in the way. Instead, the Zen method seeks to engage the empty “mind ground” directly. All of our perceptions and thought patterns are products of the ordinary state of mind and we are seeking to disengage from them.

We are, instead, turning our gaze firmly within, away from externals, so that the essence of our true nature can be realized and integrated with, challenging our perception of duality and attaining realization that all things exist in a deep emptiness.

A Zen practitioner is considered a spiritual warrior who declares a firm intention to transcend our deluded nature now.

Seated meditation is an important practice that can be done anywhere.

A seated physical posture must be chosen that can be held for around 25 minutes. We must declare our dedicated intention to transcend both time and space. The illusion of time and space manifests in our minds as boredom and agitation. We must overcome these.

The practitioner must set the mind upon its true nature and not get distracted by anything while in the act of meditation. Over time, the spiritual sense of detachment spreads from existing during meditation to existing more and more often.

The body must sit on the floor in a way that is straight and upright. The legs should be arranged in a folded manner. The spine should be straight and the shoulders should not slump. The face should be relaxed and the eyes should be gently closed. The left hand should lie on top of the right hand in the lap, with the tips of each thumb touching. This posture is said to allow energy to flow without being hindered.

Breathing should be deep, with each breath entering and leaving through the nose.

Posture and position are used to guide us through the gate on our spiritual journey. Once the gate is entered, the meditation method is used to deliver us to our true nature.

At the beginning concentration is probably weak, but practice will strengthen it. The mind must be taught how to focus on a single point. This point, when turned inward, digs through our delusion. The simplest way this can be developed is by the practice of following the breath.

Inward and outward breathing must be followed in every moment and an awareness develops. The breath itself emerges and disappears but with practice we develop a perception of the spaces in between. Concentrating the mind on the breath focuses it inward, toward its own true nature.

The truth is our true nature is always present, but we can’t see it. So, this method removes the false barrier created by our delusion so that the emptiness that contains all things can be glimpsed.

Sometimes reliance on the breath is not always powerful enough. In ancient times, meditators would practice for a long time, but only meeting an enlightened master who could give some kind of demonstration or teaching could enlighten them. That said, the student must always have the potential built up. The teacher is only pointing at what is already there. Preparatory meditation was always essential to working with a teacher.

Zen practitioners can use many different meditation methods. Master Hsu Yun used the hua tou method, which is asking yourself over and over, “who am I?”

Some people like to meditate staring at a complicated mandala. And some like to chant, either vocally or in their minds. The outward form isn’t that important, although I have found following the breath to be the most effective method for me.

What’s important is that we should be disciplined and gather the mind to a focus so that effort can be applied with unceasing determination.

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Posted in ch'an, zen

Hsu Yun: Empty Cloud

 

“Set the time of sitting! Make it just as long as it takes one fragrant incense stick to burn down.

In that time we can thread the basic principles of Buddhism into a lovely string of pearls.”

~ Hsu Yun

Ch’an Master Hsu Yun lived to be 120. He lived from the mid 1800s until the mid 1900s and never traveled to the West—but many westerners traveled to the East to learn from him and his influence is felt here.

As a child, he saw monks performing a funeral service for his grandmother. Seeing these monks gave him inspiration; he started tracking down and reading sutras and he fell in love with the Dharma.

At the age of 19, he ran away from home to become a monk. This means he spent 100 years studying and practicing the Dharma full time—that’s longer than any teacher I can think of.

His teachings helped Ch’an Buddhism survive into the modern age. He is given credit for keeping Ch’an alive in a time when it could have easily fallen apart.

Hsu Yun’s philosophy is heavily characterized by three things.

One, he was a strong proponent of the Hua tou, or what’s this, method of meditation.

Two, he was known for giving the same amount of respect to layman as to monks. He said that laymen were as capable of attaining Enlightenment as monks. In some lineages of Buddhism, there are those that disagree, that think that monks are the only ones capable.

Three, he talked about Enlightenment. In many Buddhist traditions, discussing the actual experience of Enlightenment is frowned upon. Master Hsu Yun wanted to guide people to awakening to their Buddha Nature and he didn’t think there was a problem with talking about it in simple and direct ways.

He actually described his own experience of Enlightenment with two gathas:

“1 – A cup fell to the ground
With a sound clearly heard.
As space was pulverised,
The mad mind came to a stop.

2 – When the hand released its hold, the cup fell and was shattered,
‘Tis hard to talk when the family breaks up or someone dies.
Spring comes with fragrant flowers exuberating everywhere;
Mountains, rivers and the great earth are only the Tathagata.”

He didn’t talk about Enlightenment as something we have to achieve, however. Rather, he said that Enlightenment was something that was with us already, we just have to realize it.

From his Enlightenment at the age of 54 until his death, Xu Yun traveled around the countryside teaching sutras, transmitting the precepts, building temples, and starting seminaries for novices, Buddhist associations for laymen and free Buddhist schools for children.

In the 1930s, when he was in his 90s, Hsu Yun decided that spreading Ch’an to the West was a good idea. So, he asked his lay student Charles Luk, to translate as many Ch’an teachings into English as possible. (Charles Luk was very prolific in these translations and many of them are available online.)

A lot of the Japanese style, Zen, has come to the West. Quite a bit of the Korean style, Son, has come to the West as well, but very little of the original Ch’an Buddhism has come.

As a result of his long life and lack of scandals, Hsu Yun is revered in China and is slowly becoming known in the West.

He spent his life rebuilding temples across China and visiting other Buddhist teachers; it is thought that Chinese Buddhism might have died out without his century of work preserving it.

Thanks to Master Hsu Yun, a transmission of Chinese Buddhist teaching has spread from China out into the rest of the world.

Thanks to Master Hsu Yun, there are authentic Ch’an lineages that are growing and spreading.

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Hua Tou: What’s this? Meditation

Hua Tou is supposed to be a direct method to perceiving the Empty Mind Ground and attaining Enlightenment.

It’s creation is credited to a Ch’an Master named Dahui Zongghao in the 1100s. Whereas many Ch’an teachers of the time were only interested in what we would call ‘preaching to the choir’, spreading Dharma among people who were already monks, he had other ideas. He was interested in making Ch’an more lay oriented. He wanted to bring the Dharma to more people. So he made the effort to create a meditation practice that could easily be done all the time, even during ordinary activities.

He emphasized that one did not have to be a monk or nun to attain Enlightenment. I think it might be a good practice for people that have a lot of trouble sitting still and meditating.

So, how does one practice Hua Tou?

It’s simply asking yourself a ‘who’ or ‘what’ question. It can be done either in sitting meditation or in daily life. Practicing it within sitting meditation and then bringing it to your daily life is what is usually recommended.

Example: I am sitting and meditating and asking myself over and over in my head “Who is sitting here meditating?” Any time I have a stray thought, I bring myself back to the question. I might also ask “Who is having this stray thought?” In this way, I am deconstructing the self.

Other Example: I am sitting and meditating and asking myself “What’s this?” every time a sensation or thought arises. I just label it and (hopefully) let it go. So, I can label, “restlessness”, “urge to get up”, “thoughts about what I’m doing after this”, “itch on my leg”, etc.

Other schools of meditation have this same kind of concept with a different name, I’m sure.

This method can also be used in daily life. It’s just a form of paying attention. Like the old saying, “When you’re chopping wood, chop wood. When you’re carrying water, carry water.”

I think a modern version of this is “When you’re driving, drive.”

“The important thing is to stick to Hua Tou at all times, when walking, lying or standing. From morning to night observing Hua Tou vividly and clearly, until it appears in your mind like the autumn moon reflected limpidly in quiet water. If you practice this way, you can be assured of reaching the state of Enlightenment.” ~ Ch’an Master Hsu Yun


 


 

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