By Daniel Scharpenburg

There are numerous branches of Buddhism and sometimes people ask me what is different about the Ch’an tradition.

What sets it apart from other traditions?

In Ch’an Buddhism the wisdom that leads to Enlightenment is transmitted.

Since the emptiness, or non-self nature of things, is the central idea of Mahayana Buddhism, it is hard to explain in words by definition.

The idea in the Ch’an tradition is that wisdom, or the mind seal, can be transmitted non-verbally from master to student. It is a personal and direct transmission from one who is already Enlightened to one in need of Enlightenment. In the Altar Sutra this lineage is traced back from the sixth Chinese Patriarch back to the Buddha.

The Sudden Enlightenment school of Ch’an Buddhism is the one that is represented in the Diamond Sutra. It became the standard interpretation of Ch’an teachings. It embraces an intuitive method of spiritual training aimed at discovering ultimate reality. Ultimate reality resides within us.

This reality is the fundamental oneness which pervades all things. It is called emptiness, that nothing exists apart from everything else. All things are one. It is from this emptiness that all things come and are what they are. Thus, nothing is independent.

One who comes to Enlightenment sees all things as a manifestation of this unity. The realization of the emptiness of things leads to a non-attachment. But, the goal isn’t to withdraw from things, but rather to continue to experience things but with the realization of their emptiness.

In Ch’an Buddhism the absolute is identified with our minds. The being who is Enlightened understands his mind to be identical with the absolute—without duality—especially between subject and object.

All things are connected and all things are one.

In the sudden Enlightenment school of Ch’an Buddhism, meditation helps calm the mind and eliminate dualistic thought in order to see reality as it truly is, in a nondualistic way. Enlightenment is sudden because it is our true nature and therefore can come upon us at any time.

One can prepare for Enlightenment by studying sutras and deep meditation, but Enlightenment comes all at once.

Since Enlightenment is intuitive, the teacher can try to help his student think intuitively by giving deeper teachings such as koan or hua tou meditation. But, the teacher can’t walk the path for the student.

They can only point the way.


Photo: peepingbird/tumblr

Editor: Dana Gornall