Ch’an Teachings


1. Original/Inherent Enlightenment (Buddha nature)

This teaching is called tathagata-garbha. It is based on emptiness and the interrelated nature of existence.

Although we are stuck in ignorance and suffering, our true nature is awakened. At our core we are pure and luminous and free. We have defilements that prevent us from seeing our true nature. If we can just transcend our emotional baggage, neuroses, and preconceptions, then our true nature can shine forth like the sun.  We have an innate positive tendency toward awakening, a basic goodness at our core.

These ideas can give us confidence and a more positive outlook toward the world around us. Our being can give us a sense of wonder and joy, instead of shame and self-judgment.  Enlightenment is the result of seeing into our true nature and manifesting it here and now.

We can have brief experiences of enlightenment that are later clarified by longer ones. Because our true nature is to be enlightened, it can come about in all sorts of ways and contexts.

By realizing our Buddha nature, we move beyond habitual selfish and self harming actions and live in a naturally more compassionate and positive way.


“Since Buddha is made by your own nature, do not look for him outside your body. If you are deluded in your own nature, Buddha is then a sentient being; if you are awakened in your own natures, sentient beings are then Buddhas.” – Huineng.


2. Non-duality

All is one. There is no separation between ‘self’ and ‘other’. There is an assumption that, as individuals, we stand apart from whatever situations we are in. If we can start to see ourselves as part of the world around us, instead of separate from it, we can stop  making enemies out of everything all the time.

We want to develop a feeling of wholeness, of interconnectedness and participation in the world. Cultivating feelings of separation and distance don’t serve us very well.

We cultivate through the ‘Samadhi of oneness,’ a concentrated attention on the present moment. This is a practice of mindful meditative action.

“The samadhi of oneness is straightforward mind at all times, walking, staying, sitting, and lying.” -Huineng

If we can dwell in this Samadhi of oneness then we won’t feel so separate from the world around us all the time.

3. No Thought

There is an interconnected reality beyond our delusions of separation and division. The way we come to understand this is through non-clinging, where we transcend the obstacles to awakening. We train in awareness. We can come to a state called ‘no thought’, an open state of mind, free of concepts, that allows us to experience reality directly. This isn’t really a state where we aren’t thinking, but an un-entangled state of being, where our thoughts don’t own us. When we act from the perspective of ‘no thought’ we can respond with complete compassion and attention in all situations, untouched by our suffering and baggage. We can act as bodhisattvas.

“No thought is not to think even when involved in thought. . . To be unstained in all environments is called no-thought. If on the basis of your own thoughts you separate from environment, then, in regard to things, thoughts are not produced. If you stop thinking of the myriad things, and cast aside all thoughts, as soon as one instant of thought is cut off, you will be reborn in another realm.”



4. Importance of Practice

The Bodhisattva path isn’t something  we do, really. It is our way of life. Enlightenment isn’t attained through study or philosophy, but through practice.

“Good friends, see for yourselves the purity of your own natures, practice and accomplish for yourselves. Your own nature is the Dharmakaya [“Body of the Teaching,” the Ultimate Truth] and self-practice is the practice of Buddha; by self-accomplishment you may achieve the Buddha Way for yourselves.” -Huineng

To attain enlightenment one must be Enlightened. But we already are. We learn how to be enlightened only by manifesting the enlightenment that’s already there. Buddhist practice is Buddhist action.