Perhaps when we came to Chan practice, we wanted to attune our body to be a little healthier, or use the practice to clear up some emotional entanglement. When we leave the meditation hall or the method we use, our problems remain with us. The reason we say that Chan practice is separated from our life is that the busy and hectic conditions of daily life keep creating problems. The time we have for meditation is so scarce, how is it possible to clear up all the problems? If our practice is merely on the surface, regardless of how we practice, we can only deal with problems on the surface.
The methods in Chan practice help us discover that when we sit still — for instance, focusing on the breath or reciting the Buddha’s name — the mind can be calm and at ease and at the same time have clarity. With the practice of Chan methods, the function of calm and clarity of the mind is integrated and enhanced and therefore can do its job effectively. This function does not “arrive” because we added practice; instead, the originally inherent function of the mind is manifested when we implement the methods.
Sometimes in sitting meditation, problems appear but do not seem to bother us. For example, those who can sit well may have leg pain, but it does not interfere with their concentration. This indicates that their mind is settled and steady so they are not affected by the leg pain. Is the leg pain there? Yes. But the mind is not moved by it.
When there is leg pain, we can simply deal with the pain. However, more often than not, our mind is disturbed. This is why we practice — to train and cultivate the mind to maintain its calm and clear condition. All the problems still exist — the wandering thoughts will still run endlessly; but they do not need to disrupt our mind. If we can continue like this for an extended period of time, when we interact with people in daily life, as we express our opinions or carry out necessary tasks, we will be able to flow in harmony with causes and conditions.
We cannot say the causes and conditions of life do not exist. However, prior to practice, when we face them, our mind is scattered and coarse; calm and clarity could not function effectively, so powerlessly we follow our habits or external situations, in which we create more problems. But now we focus our mind on the method and collect its inner strength and energy, helping the mind to maintain calm with clarity. Even though external conditions still fluctuate, they will not upset us. At such times, we can see more clearly the causes and conditions of the occurrence, have sounder judgment, and make more sound decisions. The responses we give will be in accord with the situation and more appropriate. Doing so will not leave the so-called “after effect” or create more problems that might have followed otherwise. All this is due to the fact that we kept the mind still and clear; the mind functioning under such conditions has strength and power. This gives us confidence that it is not a problem to handle any situation and that difficulties can be solved if approached properly.
Thus, returning to the mind’s function of calm and clarity is very important. If we cannot give rise to such function during the practice of the method, then our meditation only deals with superficial issues. This is why some people believe that sitting meditation solves merely a surface level of problems, not knowing that it can enable the innate ability of the mind to function. Developing correct perspective is critical in practice. With right understanding, all methods will and can work in any situation, for all techniques are for the purpose of assisting to maintain this condition. When applying a method, the strength of the mind gradually converges and then extends to everyday life. In day-to-day circumstances, we apply methods to help continue this natural function, so no matter what situation we are in, the tranquil and intelligent function can manifest itself.
When we have practiced well to a point where we do not need to use any method and this innate function of the mind can naturally flow out; then, such a mind is called “Buddha mind”, or “Chan mind”, which is actually our mind’s natural condition. Under such circumstances, you do not need to add anything; it will operate effortlessly on its own. Before we reach this point, though, we use methods to assist it.
If our Chan practice follows such an approach, the entire process will not be the challenge we imagined. Practice becomes integrated with life, as our whole life is a function of the mind. If this mind is clear and clean, if samadhi and wisdom work as one and are not separated, our whole life will be in natural harmony. This is an essential understanding in Chinese Chan practice. (Now due to time constraint, we will end this talk here.)
(A public talk given in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 8, 2014. Chinese transcription by Yawen Hsu. Photo by Kongzhu Shi.)