Systematic and Practical
IS CHAN A MEDITATION?
A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi
C. M. CHEN
Written Down by
REVEREND B. KANTIPALO
First Published in 1967
IS CHAN A
Chen was still in his hermitage, but only one monk entered his door (the
listener had a tooth-ache and was confined to his room where cold winds could
not aggravate it). The transcriber was greeted cheerfully by Mr. Chen.
Chen first insisted upon wrapping the writer's knees with a thick, yellow towel
which he used himself during meditation. He began:
Is Chan a
meditation? No! It is the highest realization of the Buddha-entity-body (the
three Buddha-bodies (kayas) identified as one).
it was asked, "Why are there so many mistakes made on this subject?"
Mr. Chen answered, "It is because people do not know the essence of Chan."
Chan must be
imparted by a fully-accomplished guru, and without one, there is no Chan. When
the teacher is himself Fully Enlightened, then his disciple may receive a
realization of the Truth. No instruction, no realization, no meditation,
neither samatha nor samapatti—there are none of these things in Chan. For
these reasons one cannot treat it as a common meditation. It is itself the entity
of the Buddhahood body!
try to make Chan into Tian Tai and others say it is the same as Mahamudra or
the Great Perfection, but all such ideas are quite wrong. The Sanskrit form of
its name is "dhyana," but we do not use that name, for Chan has a
meaning beyond all dhyanas. All the patriarchs of the "Offspring
Sect" say one thing: Chan is not a meditation, not a concentration, not a
this matter, it is necessary to know the classification of Chan by purport.
This has been partially done by the Venerable Tai Xu, my guru, and in his book
he gives these five groups:
First is the Chan
for becoming a Buddha by understanding the mind.
Second is the
Patriarchal Chan, excelling that of the Buddhas.
Third is the Chan
of the Five Lines of the Transmission of the Lamp, excelling that of the
Fourth is the
Chan of masters not belonging to any Chan school.
Fifth is the Chan
in the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.
I do not
agree with this classification. A system must be unified, not as above (the
first four are according to purport but the last one refers to times). I have
another way of doing it:
Tathagata Chan of holy instruction;
Patriarchal Chan of pointing out the essence;
"Offspring Chan" of opportunity and function; and
Multitudinous-sands-of-the-Ganges Chan of mouth.
is according to the prophecies of the ancient gurus. They have indicated that
the highest Chan must pass through the feet of the offspring and that after
these five lines of transmission there will be multitudes who know about Chan.
In my opinion this is not praise but blame. It does not mean that Chan
realization has pervaded everywhere, but refers to widespread Chan of learning
but not realizing. Today, it is like this; multitudes of ordinary people like
the sands of the Ganges can speak of Chan: boys, girls—all of them.
yogi's face was serious and his tone of voice expressed great concern.
Each of the
four types of Chan mentioned above is liable to be mistaken in a particular
way. For instance, in Tathagata Chan, "xin"—meaning in this context
"heart" or "essence," as it does in the Vajrayana—is taken
instead to mean "mind." This leads to confusion of Chan with the
Idealist and Tian Tai schools.
Chan of the
patriarchs directly points out the essence and is therefore easily mistaken for
Mahamudra, where there is similar mention of the essence of truth.
The third Chan,
which teaches opportunity and function, is thought to equate with daily life,
though really this deep and true Chan is one thing and ordinary enlightened
life is quite another.
Chen gave an example of this:
in Chan is not the same as the common practice. The Chan master taking his tea
is not admiring its fragrance or taste, he is just simply tasting the truth of Chan.
It is certainly true that such masters practice Chan everywhere and at all
times, but this is quite different from most people's lives ruled by the five
poisons. This is the highest sort of meditation, even higher than the Great
Perfection, because it is more thorough in its realization.
What then is
the mistake about "mouth" Chan? We have already mentioned this above.
transcriber looked up at Mr. Chen, who said, "There are some Chinese who are
very happy to think that Chan has spread everywhere," and the yogi slowly
spread his hands out as though all the world were enlightened. "It is not
right to think that because everybody can speak about it, everyone has it!
Indeed, after the time of the five schools in the Tang Dynasty, the true Chan
ended and only "mouth" Chan can now be found."
transcriber told Mr. Chen of a letter he had received from the West, in which
it was doubted whether the Zen followers in one city would ever get a Zen master
to guide them, since all their so-called "Zen" was limited to an hour
or two of sitting, with, of course, much talk in between. Mr. Chen smiled and
nodded while the transcriber told Mr. Chen that he had read it was now
considered the right thing in American colleges to carry around a book about Chan,
though by the time this book is published it will be out of date and in the
forgotten past! Mr. Chen, while obviously much troubled by the lowered
standards, nevertheless laughed at this strange misunderstanding of Chan's
among these categories is Offspring Chan and its teachings are not in the
Buddha's holy instructions (sutras, Tantras, etc.); nor is it indicated in the
essence of truth used by the patriarchs. This Offspring Chan simply uses
accomplished realization to make the disciple immediately accomplished in Chan.
It is therefore called the "Chan of Opportunity and Function."
In this, the
guru must use a method of realization and the disciple must receive that
realization with his own realization. This differs from the Great Perfection
where there is still some theory; in this Chan, an action, a song, or just
silence—such methods may be used to actualize the realization immediately.
These methods are only found in the Chan of Offspring. Some masters have used
beating, harsh words or other seemingly brutal methods—anything to make the
disciple realize. However, it is most essential to understand that it is only
because the master is already accomplished in Chan that he is able to make his
disciple attain realization.
In books on Chan
there are many secret examples related and these are very hard to comprehend.
Indeed one must have the same degree of realizational insight or one cannot
understand them. This highest samadhi was available to those who practiced the Chan
disciplines in China during the Tang Dynasty.
this," said Mr. Chen sadly, "I fear that it is only a matter of
people deceiving themselves."
A. Daily Life
instance, does the Soto Zen of daily life mean? I am acquainted with the
recorded lives of some of the Soto patriarchs and know that even they could
practice it in their everyday lives. Because: Practice of Chan in one's daily
life is very deep. How so? It is like this:
1. First one
must get entry into the "area" of Chan.
2. Then one
must get out of the "area" of Chan.
3. Then, and
only then, Chan functions in daily life.
4. The process
ends when all is reduced into the nature of Chan, without any function.
classification given here is according to the one adopted in my book, "Lighthouse
in the Ocean of Chan."
Chen sagely warned:
many Western persons like the idea of Chan in daily life.
transcriber remembers being told in a Buddhist Society by one young man with no
meditational experience, who was stacking chairs in the lecture hall,
"This is Zen, you know!") Mr. Chen pointed out:
has passed through sunyata-sublimation, one cannot possibly have accomplished
the first two stages above, so how can one come to the third?
Chen gave a simple test which all can apply to find out exactly where they
stand in this matter of daily-life practice. He said:
If one has
realized sunyata and passed through the two stages above, then not only can one
live Chan in every time and place but one will acquire supernormal powers. If
one does not possess these, there are three reasons: one has not experienced sunyata,
nor passed these two stages, and one is unfit as yet to practice Chan in
so many people are deluded on this issue and one hears so much of "Zen
groups," and so forth, it is worth noting what Mr. Chen says: "One
does not begin with Chan; after many years of great toil, one may end by
accomplishing it." For confirmation of this, see the lives of many great Chan
or Zen Patriarchs.)
Chen then elaborated on the above stages:
follower of Chan must receive the realization from his own guru and respond
with his own realization. This is called "Entering into the Chan 'Area',"
and may cover a period of many years.
2. Next, one
must "Get out of Chan 'Area'," that is, get rid of the volition of Chan.
3. When one
can exercise Chan without using a hand, then one may get some function from Chan.
At this stage, one may practice in daily life.
4. After the
previous stage, one acquires supernormal powers. When these are reduced in Chan
nature and everything is done quite naturally and purely, then one attains the
Full Enlightenment of Chan.
As we saw,
some people have the idea that Chan (being etymologically derived from Sanskrit
dhyana), is a common meditation. To show that this is far from being the case,
I offer some Gong An (koan) stories:
Once Ma Zu
was meditating in his hut while his guru Nan Yue sat outside and seemed to be
polishing a brick. When Ma Zu finally asked him what he was doing, the guru
replied: "Making a mirror." At this Ma Zu expostulated, saying that
mirrors can never be made from bricks. His guru rejoined, "Buddhas can
never be made by meditation." Ma Zu, discouraged, asked, "How?" Nan
Yue said, "If the carriage does not go, should you strike the carriage or
the oxen?" Ma Zu replied, "The oxen."
is not just meditation.
is the example of Lin Ji and his guru Huang Bo. The latter, making his rounds
among his disciples, came to Lin Ji, who at that time was only a young monk.
Lin Ji was lying down asleep on his bed. His guru knocked three times with his
staff on the bed. Lin Ji opened his eyes, saw his guru, and went to sleep again,
not heeding the master's presence. Huang Bo then knocked on the mattress three
times and turned away. When he reached his senior disciple's place, Huang Bo
found him sitting erect in meditation. He then said, "Oh, over there is a
young disciple who really knows how to practice Chan, while you,"
addressing the old monk, "only create delusion for yourself."
Chan is not
merely sitting and practicing.
A monk once
asked the patriarch Yuan An, "Making offerings to 100,000 Buddhas is not
better than giving to a person who does not practice. Then what is the error of
the Buddha?" The guru said, "It is just like a white cloud covering
the mouth of a valley, so that many, many birds do not know their nests."
cloud is like common practice, but Chan is not common, and without a cloud the
birds can go back to their nests!
Chan is truth
itself and every meditation is aimed at this: Chan. It is within every
meditation but transcends them all. That is why it always occupies the outer
circle of our diagrams. Therefore, to treat Chan as very easy in daily life is
quite foolish. It is the highest deception, and those who believe that they
possess such ability should repent of their conceit in the hour of their death.
is very dangerous to mistake Chan as easy. On the other hand, if one treats Chan
as very difficult, that is not good, either. If one can meet a Chan guru and
receive his grace, with it may come some realization; then it is not so
difficult. For those who would like to practice Chan, it is good if they read
my "Lighthouse in the Ocean of Chan." From this book they will find
out what is deep and what is shallow.
Once a monk
asked his guru, "Does Chan need the three trainings (of sila, samadhi, and
prajna)?" The guru answered shortly, "No! Such are useless
things." According to this, Chan is not a meditation. All the accomplished
teachers have simply realized; Chan has simply happened, and in this samatha
and samapatti do not exist. Even though this is the very highest school in our
whole system of meditation, it should not be counted among the meditations.
there are in the tradition of Chan training some Hua Tou, questions used as
skillful means to bring the disciple to Chan itself. These are questions or
problems of a non-rational nature which have to be cracked by concentrated
attention on them. With any questions or problems, one has doubts, and the
disciple is encouraged in Chan training to have doubts about these Hua Tou. As
it is said: "No doubt, no enlightenment; small doubt, small enlightenment;
great doubt, great enlightenment." We see from this that the last of the
poisons, that of doubt, sublimated in the Mahayana, is in Chan transmuted into
the Great Doubt necessary in Great Enlightenment.
All the five
poisons have now been treated and all our meditations are quite perfected.
the transcriber walked by himself through the outside darkness of the Kalimpong
blackout, he reflected on the inside path, outlined in all these talks, which must
also be trodden by oneself, though guided by the light of the Dharma.
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