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By Daniel Scharpenburg

The Ch’an Buddhist Tradition has four key ideas:

1) Do not attach to words and sentences

2) Teach outside of tradition

3) Point directly to the mind.

4) Perceive the mind’s true nature and attain Buddhahood.

These are the principles that are the foundation of Ch’an Buddhism.

With these sentences, fundamental understanding can be achieved and the principles of Ch’an training become clear.

It is said that Ch’an cannot be explained in words. The labels we use can and do often serve as a distraction. We can learn a lot about Ch’an history and theory from reading or listening to compelling Dharma talks, but we can’t really understand if we don’t practice ourselves.

There is often more truth in silence than there is in words. It is important that the teachings have been preserved in words, but learning without practice isn’t helpful.

Ch’an theory is explained in two source texts. The writing of the Patriarch Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng represent the framework of Ch’an theory. There are many texts about the method of the Ch’an tradition but they all derive from the philosophies of these two Ch’an masters.

Bodhidharma said, “There are many ways to enter the path, but in reality this does not go beyond two distinct methods; method one is entry through principle, whilst method two is entry through conduct.”

Bodhidharma goes on to say:“Entry through conduct (method two) is associated with four practices which must be observed,” but that ‘entry through principle’ is the essence of the Ch’an path and explains the Ch’an tradition.

The first method represents insight developed through meditation. The second represents our sincere and diligent effort to walk the Buddhist path. Both of these are very important.

Ch’an conveys the core of Buddhist thought in only a few words. Bodhidharma explains entry through principle in this way:

“Those who enter through principle understand that all beings—whether enlightened or unenlightened—share exactly the same true nature.”

In reality, we all have the same Buddha nature, and we can manifest this Buddha nature right now. Bodhidharma says that: “The Buddha-nature is obscured by a layer of dust which prevents the real from manifesting.”

Everyone has Buddha nature but it is obscured by delusion.

Bodhidharma said:

“Give-up delusion and return to the real by concentrating (and stilling) the mind so that a broad and all inclusive mind is achieved. Then there is no self or other and no difference between a sage and an ordinary person.”

Bodhidharma tells us that to clear away delusion we must concentrate and still the mind so that we can find a deeper and broader awareness.

This leads us to a mind that is free from delusion so there are no distinctions between sacred and secular or a sage and an ordinary person. Delusion originates from thinking in dualistic terms that see boundaries between self and other as being real. This is why we can’t realize oneness of mind. In this state of delusion it’s hard to see our Buddha-nature.

Many of us think of enlightenment as something that is far away, but it’s actually here right now. Our delusions can be broken through immediately here and now.

If we practice with a sincere motivation to overcome our delusions, then our Buddha nature will manifest.

This can happen right now and is the entire reason the Ch’an tradition exists. Ch’an practice is a powerful method for attaining Enlightenment, not in some future life, but right now.

When we practice, we should be motivated to follow the Buddha’s example. If we do this we can enter a spiritual state and be as one with the Buddha and the Ch’an Patriarchs. This is how we can transform the ordinary deluded mind and reveal our true nature. This realization is the essence of the Ch’an principle and is what sustains the tradition.

When awakening occurs it is like coming to life or waking up from a dream. This is the Dharma that the patriarchs and masters have transmitted through the years.

This spirit of awakening is what lies at the center of Ch’an. It is all about complete freedom from suffering.

This method breaks down the barriers to attaining enlightenment and crosses over duality into a state of cosmic oneness that is true freedom.


Photo: (source)

Editor: Dana Gornall