The Caodong School was founded in China in the 800s by a teacher named Dongshan.
The primary focus of the Caodong School is what’s called “mozhao”, silent illumination. This can be understood as an integrated practice of the two traditional styles of meditation, shamatha (calming) and vipashyana (insight). But it’s not just calming and insight, which were already thoroughly practiced and established before the Caodong School came into being. It’s based on really resting the mind on it’s natural function, dwelling in the Buddha nature that is already present in each of us.
It can be traced back to Bodhidharma, who sat for nine years facing a wall in a cave.
Ch’an Master Hongzhi referred to this practice as “cultivating the empty field”.
One way to categorize this practice is as an objectless meditation. This is a definition in terms of what it is not. One just sits, not concentrating on any particular thing.
Most traditional meditation practices involve focusing on something; a mantra, the breath, sounds, a mandala. And we can do some of these things as supplements to our practice. But the core is just sitting, just being here now.
Silent Illumination is focused on a clear and non-judgmental attention to everything arising in our experience. Be here now.
Because the Caodong School is a practice lineage, this is the center of the school.
A Master named Shitou said, ” “Turn around the light to shine within, then just return. Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk, innocent.”
With this practice, we are turning our minds inward.