Reflections on Chan Buddhism

Chan is beyond symbols. It is a practice that directly points to our minds.

We don’t need to avoid or get caught up in our stories. When our thoughts and feelings and perceptions arise, we can let them come and then let them go. We can return to the present moment, softening our hearts.

As the seasons change, we can be alive to that change. Before our categorizations of right and wrong, big and small, good and bad, dead and alive, past and future, and so on, life is what it is.

We can honor every moment with our presence. Our time is so precious and fleeting.

When we wash the dishes, we wash the dishes. When we go to the bathroom, we go to the bathroom. When we listen, we listen. When we walk, we walk.

Rather than trying to accomplish everything at the same time, we can do one thing at a time.

We are so often distracted by our worries and ambitions and regrets. As Seneca said, “We are more afraid of our imaginations than reality.”

When we are single-minded, we can gain clarity. We can be present, over and again.

Venerable Chang Zao said that we practice so that our minds can go from defiled to pure. When we first start to meditate, our minds may wander. With enough patience, we will eventually settle down. We will become stable.

When we meditate, we are letting life be as it is. Because we are creatures who are so used to thinking, we become attached to our thoughts. We abstract ourselves away from the moment, forgetting who we are. Usually we are living in symbols, believing that we are separate and permanent.

We often don’t notice that we are aging every moment of every day. But after a few decades pass, we might look at ourselves in the mirror, and wonder how we ever got to be so old.

We are not the same people at five or fifteen or fifty. Our thoughts, perceptions, and feelings change over the span of our development. We adapt to our environments, whether natural or social, while those environments shift around us. Even the atoms that make us who we are, such as hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, came from a process billions of years old.

We are interwoven in this universe. Yet in our ignorance, we act as if we are apart from it.

When we are present, we can naturally gain wisdom. We can begin to see the confluence of conditions that make us who we are. Without the sun, trees, and oceans, we would not be. Without our ancestors, we would not exist.

We are as old as the Big Bang and as young as a newborn. We are transforming right now.

When favorable conditions arise, we can be thankful, but they will not last. When unfavorable conditions arise, we can be thankful for their many lessons, but they will pass too. Everything can be our teacher if we are aware enough.

Chan practice is not reserved for monasteries hidden deep in the mountains. It is not only for seekers who wander alone in the wilderness. Any activity can be sacred when it is done in a space of stillness. We are practicing wherever we go, touching eternity in a single moment.

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