By Daniel Scharpenburg
The path is sometimes called The Gateless Gate.
This represents both the methods of practice and the path to enlightenment. It’s called gateless because there’s really nothing stopping you. What we’re talking about is not a secret. There’s not really anything special about it. We’re just trying to put down our crap and be in the world in a more authentic way.
Sitting meditation is the first method. Our minds become less selfish and our awareness becomes more stable and clear. This stretches the limits of our minds so that wisdom can develop. With this practice we are regulating our body, breath and mind.
We regulate the body by relaxing in a correct posture. We’re also encouraged to take care of our physical well being.
We regulate the breath because it connects to the outside world. We regulate it by simply bringing our attention to it.
We regulate the mind by learning to control. We are learning how to unify our scattered thoughts.
The purpose of this practice is to concentrate and unify our minds.
But even when we’ve learned to do this, we can still struggle with attachment to the self, so there’s another level to this. Attachment to the self is what gets in the way of wisdom the most. When we enter a situation, our notation of I manifests. I call this I-Me-Mine. We bring all our baggage and neuroses into every situation and so we don’t see things as they really are. We project our confusion onto the world and most of the time we aren’t even aware of this.
If we can attain our true selves, then we can face the world as it really is. We can see what is in front of us and respond appropriately. Everything can be more vivid and clear. Enlightenment is sometimes described as seeing your true nature or attaining your true self.
Sengcan said, “The way is not difficult if you don’t pick and choose.” This means what I stated above. We just have to put down our crap and the path will manifest naturally.
Matsu said, “Ordinary mind is the way.” He was saying it’s nothing special. Once we learn how to put down our crap and face the world with a calm and even mind, everything we do is our practice.
I want to talk about two methods that have come down to us through the Chan lineage.
Silent Illumination is said to keep the mind still and to bring clarity. This is meditation without a focus. We are turning our minds to not focus on anything, to just be present with our experience, which is sometimes called formless practice. It’s different from other practices that have anchors, like following the breath or mantra meditation. In Silent Illumination we’re just present—just witnessing what our minds are doing. Sit and see what happens.
If you sit for a little while, things will settle. Thoughts come and go, like clouds passing through.
Some people think beginners can’t do this practice; that you have to start with something else before your mind is ready for this. I humbly disagree with that point of view. I think your true nature is awakening, so this practice is worth trying. And if it doesn’t work for you, then try something else.
The other practice I want to talk about today is called Investigation.
This is a practice where we have a question and give it our complete attention. The question is something we can’t really answer. “Who am I?” “What’s happening right now?” When we bring questions like these to mind and just reflect on them over and over, this strengthens our ability to focus and shows us something about how our minds work.
Those are, of course, just the briefest of explanations. I just wanted to show you the gate. Entering is up to you.
Editor: Dana Gornall