On Chan

A talk given by Guru Yutang Lin
Kandzeon Sangha Centre, Warsaw, Poland
October 17, 2010

Reviewed and revised by Guru Lin
Transcribed by Disciple Ji Hu
Interpreted in Polish by Disciple Xu Ming

I was told by Xu Ming that this is a Chan (Zen,禪) Group, and Chan itself, in some sense, is beyond words, so if I try to say something here, I am trying to show you that I am ignorant. However, because the practices of Chan that spread in the Western lands are from either Japan or China, and so actually there are differences in Chan, or Zen, due to translation. So, I need to first ask you, you know, what did you try to do when you were sitting in silence? What's your goal? I need an answer to go on. (Buddhist: Don't follow my thoughts.)That means to calm your mind.

This kind of Chan, this kind of Zen, is just pacifying the mind through concentration. And, of course, there are techniques that lead to this, and there are depths of realization in this, also. But the first step that you try to achieve is to naturally sit there and without thoughts. But actually this will take many, many years of practice to realize this. But even before you start this practice, actually you need to first have some kind of preparation in order to start the meditation to realize the goal. And that preparation is actually written in all the Sutras that are on meditation. And it says only a few words—it says that when a person realizes that there's nothing in life that's worth seeking, then he goes to a place in seclusion to start the practice. So actually even the preparation stage is very difficult, you have to give up the world first in your mind, and then also you really drop out from the world to become alone and do the practice. And I bring this out because, with this understanding, then you have to start, be less and less concerned with the world, so that your sitting will be really effective.

But how can you free your mind from worldly concerns? Of course, one way is through breathing practice, concentrating on your breathings. The reason is because mind and inner wind are inseparably connected. So, you can pacify your breathing from coarse to subtle through concentration of mind, or you can pacify your mind from running wild to one-pointedness through concentration on the breathing. And one simple but effective way to cultivate concentration or one-pointedness is the repetition of a Buddha's name or mantra. The reason is because our mind is used to grasping on something, and usually it runs wild, you know, from whatever your mind tends to like or be more concerned about. So you need to concentrate on a Buddha's name or mantra because that one is, has no connection with your original worldly and self-centered things. So this is something I recommend because, for beginners, this will be an effective way to concentrate.

And also, how to be ready by, you know, becoming less and less concerned with worldly matters? If you just say, "oh, I don't care," then you are still, you know, just self-centered, you just worry about yourself. So the way to become less concerned with the world, is by developing your Bodhicitta, that means, you know, you spend more time look at life, look at the world, and realize that everyone is suffering, so what we are doing is trying to ultimately find a way that we can come out ourselves, and then to spread the method to help others to come out. So, our renunciation is not alienation from the world, but trying to find effective way to really help the world, and it's a peaceful way and an inner revolution. So we will not do damage to the world, to others, but will eventually really help them.

Now we come to the other kind of Chan, or Zen, which is usually not really understood by most westerners, because it's something well beyond a mind free from thoughts, even after that. This kind of Chan is the Chan as recorded in the Chan Gong An's (koan's). But you have to look at how those Chan practitioners do this practice. Usually what they do is, they first started with looking for a master, and when they heard that there is some master somewhere, they give up everything and go on foot for thousands of miles to be received by the master. So, this pilgrimage is also renunciation of the worldly life. And because the pilgrimage is so difficult, you actually care more for Dharma than care for your life, you could have lost your life on the way. And when they reach the master, what do they receive? They don't receive anything; they just stayed there to serve the master. In this way they are giving up their "self," and why do they have to work so hard? Because they want to reach something that is enlightenment, that is complete transcendence of this worldly life.

But still there are some methods there. The method that has come down to us is through pondering on a question. The question has to be one that is real question to you; you are really puzzled by this question. For example, here we see one of them written there, "是什麼," what is it? "什麼" is "what," "是" is "is it." But how can you keep thinking, worrying about a question like that? Only people with high concentration can do this. So, this kind of Chan is even deeper, after you can free your mind from running wild, then you can start trying this. And if we strictly follow this kind of Zen tradition, the talk can only stop here because beyond that, is only realized through practice. But, you know, it's very rare opportunity for me to come. So, because I don't know when will be the next time, so it's rare. So I ask you another question, you want me to go on or not to go on? If I don't go on, that's strictly the Chan tradition and you have to work hard on your own. And if I go on, I maybe, not helping you but hurting you on the practice, so what's your decision? (Reply from audience: We don't know.) You don't know; I will go on. The reason is because, after all, whatever I say is just a few words, and soon you will forget, so I will not hurt you permanently.

OK. So I want to tell you what they really tried to do, the Chan practitioners. First, they renounced everything, even their "self," their life. Then they hoped that with this devotion, maybe sometimes, they suddenly fully transformed into a Buddha instantly. Before when we have a "self," it's like a cup, you know, we are inside a cup, covered by something. But now, because they have given up so much, the cup is very thin, and maybe, since they keep in this state, and they keep wondering on one question, maybe suddenly the cup can be broken or turned over, and they see the whole thing. But the whole thing is not something new, it's originally there, but you were covered, now the cover is out and you see what was actually there. Therefore, the master cannot tell you to do this or to do that, because whatever he says to do or not to do is very limited. So, whatever he says for you to follow, that will be adding another level on the cup. So, the only way to help you out is, when you wonder on the question and you think you have an answer, just tell you: that's not it. So now if you remember this, all of you can become Chan masters. But that doesn't mean that you can be a good Chan student. Because, you see, the Chan master is just trying to tell you not to grasp on anything. When you think there is an answer, that is always wrong, because the final thing is without any limit, anything that is limited is wrong. So, you remember this, and you can start even that practice, without losing sight of the real goal. So, I revealed the whole secret of Zen to you, but that doesn't mean that you can really achieve it through listening to this, because each one of us is still inside a cocoon, you have to work out from inside by yourself. So, now we can stop talking and start working on the loosening of the cocoon. See you outside someday! Yah, any question?

My centre is the centre of mind, so it's on the internet. Of course, if you want to look for me, you know, you have to become like the old Chan practitioners, go over the oceans, fly to America. Give them the cards so they know the websites, books and cards. This one (The Golden Ring) is on the first kind of Chan, concentration practice. We also have a Polish website but there has much less information there. (Xu Ming: Can you say something about the practice of giving away these things? They are very rare; not many Buddhist teachers give away many things like you do.) These books, booklets there, and cards and bookmarkers, are made by either disciples or Buddhists who do it voluntarily, so we can give it out freely; all our things are given out freely, website, too, everything free. We are just following the good example set by Guru Chen, you know, always everything Dharma, free for all. And this book, "The Golden Ring", was translated already like three years ago, and now this time, you know, through the generosity of your friend it has become available for everyone here.

Auspicious completion
November 1, 2010
El Cerrito, California


On the wall of the Zen center there are two sentences written in Chinese calligraphy hanging on two sides of the altar. One of them is already mentioned in the talk: "是什麼" (What is it?) After recording of the talk ended, I also explained about the other sentence: "放下著" (Let it go!). I said, "It means to let it go; but what is it that you let go? It is whatever you are grasping in mind at the moment."

There was a lighted candle on the altar. I asked it to be brought to where I was sitting. Then with the lighted candle held in my right hand, I said:
Once Buddha Sakyamuni held a flower in his hand and smiled. Among the audience only disciple Maha Kasyapa comprehended. And thus Maha Kasyapa is recognized as the first patriarch of Chan. Now I am holding this lighted candle, and I pray that from now on it will continue to shine Bodhi light in your mind to show you the right path toward enlightenment.

Thus the talk was concluded.

After I sent out the transcript, I recalled the above incidents that are of significance, so I recorded them here for you.

November 2, 2010
El Cerrito, California

-----Original Message-----
From: Yutang Lin
Sent: Wednesday, November 03, 2010 8:46 AM
To: Dharma Friends
Subject: Two New Works

I recalled something significant during the talk on Chan, so I added Amendments at the end of E0162.

Another transcript had just been reviewed and revised. My revisions are in yellow highlights.

May all beings attain Enlightenment soon!


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