Buddhist Meditations
By Master Sheng-Yen(圣严法师)
16/06/2010 05:25 (GMT+7)
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By Master Sheng-Yen(圣严法师)
中华佛学研究所所长、东吴大学哲学系 教授

        Origins of the Term Tso-ch'an
            The Chinese term tso-ch'an 坐禅( zazen ) was in
        use among  Buddhist  practitioners   even  before  the
        appearance of the Ch'an (Zen) School. Embedded in the
        term  is the word  ch'an, a derivative  of the Indian
        dhyana, which  is the  yogic   practice  of  attaining
        samadhi  in  meditation.   Literally  translated, tso-
        ch'an means "sitting  ch'an"   and has a comprehensive
        and a specific  meaning.  The   comprehensive  meaning
        refers  to any type of meditation   practice  based on
        taking  the  sitting  posture.   The specific  meaning
        refers to the methods  of practice   that characterize
        Ch'an Buddhism.
            The earliest Chinese   translations  of  Buddhist
        sutras that describe methods of samadhi appear around
        the end of the second century A.D. The most famous
        of these was the Tso-ch'an ching 坐禅经, The Sutra of
        Sitting Ch'an, translated  by K'ang Seng-hui  康僧会.
        In  the  beginning   of   the  fifth   century   A.D.,
        Kumarajiva  鸠摩罗什  translated   a large  number  of
        sutras on the practice  of samadhi.   One of these was
        the Tso-ch'an san-mei ching 坐禅三昧经.   The Sutra on
        Tso-ch'an  and Samadhi.  So we see that the term tso-
        ch'an was used in China as early as the second   cent-
        ury, and there  are at least two sutras   that use the
        term in their titles.  We know that many monks during
        this time practiced  tso-ch'an  to achieve samadhi in
        the Indian tradition.  This is especially revealed in
        the chapter  Hsi-ch'an  p'ien   习禅篇, On Cultivating
        Ch'an, in the Kao-seng  chuan 高僧传, The Biographies
        of Eminent Monks.  This was compiled in the Liang Dy-
        nasty 梁朝 (502-557).
            During the Sui Dynasty 隋朝 (589-617) the T'ien-
        t'ai 天台 master Chin-I 智顗wrote the   Hsiao  chin-
        kuan 小止观. The Minor
        Treatise on Samatha-Vipasyana.  In   it  he describes
        tso-ch'an in terms of three aspects: how to regulate
        one's body, one's breath, and one's mind. In the
        section on regulating the body, the posture of sitting
        meditation is the most important factor. In a later
        work called Ta chih-kuan 摩诃止观, The Major Treatise
         on Samatha-Vipasyana, he described   four  methods
        to attain samadhi. The first method is called samadhi
         Through Constant  Sitting 常坐三昧,  the  second,
        Samadhi Through Constant Walking 常行三昧. The third
        is Samadhi Through Half Walking, Half Sitting 半行半
        坐三昧. The fourth is The  Samadhi   Neither  Through
        walking Nor Sitting 非行非坐三昧.
        Tso-ch'an and Samadhi
            The references above show that several centuries
        before the coming of the  Ch'an   schools,  tso-ch'an
        already  reached  a  high   state of  development  in
        China, both as a practice and  a   scriptural  topic.
        These references also show the close association
        between  tso-ch'an  and samadhi   in Chinese  Buddhist
        practice prior to Ch'an.
            What is samadhi? Indian tradition  defines  nine
        levels of samadhi, each with its identifying
        characterisitcs.  For our  purposes, however, we need
        only to provide a general definition of samadhi.  If,
        through  practice, especially   tso-ch'an, one can get
        one's  mind  to a unified   state, this  state  can be
        called  samadhi.  To say  that   the  mind  is unified
        doesn't  mean that the person  has a sense or idea of
        being coextensive with the universe. Rather, it means
        that  the  mind  is simply   not moving.  There  is no
        distinction  between  inside   and  outside, self  and
         There is no sense of time and   space.  There  is
        only the sense of existence. So this state of united
        mind is called samadhi. This is not a state   of
        nothought, or no-mind, since  there   is at least  the
        awareness of self experiencing samadhi. It is a state
        of  one-thought, or one-mind, and  is not  considered
        enlightenment in Ch'an.
        Roots of Tso-ch'an in India
            In most spiritual traditions of India, the yogis
        practice  dhyana  to attain   samadhi  at its  various
        levels.  After years of austere   practice  as a yogi,
        the self-exiled  Indian prince Siddhartha   recognized
        that his realization was incomplete. He sat under the
        bodhitree  vowing  not to rise until   he had resolved
        the question  of death and rebirth.   Only when he
        became enlightened one evening, after seeing a bright
        star, did  he rise.  He had   become  the  Buddha, the
        primal transmitter of Buddhism in our epoch. The
        Buddha's experience  became the paradigm of tso-ch'an
             With the rise of Buddhism, two forms of practice
        developed.  One is called samadhi liberation  and the
        other is called wisdom  liberation.   The practice  of
        wisdom  liberation  does  not cultivate  the nine
        levels  of  samadhi.   but   goes  directly  into  the
        enlightened  state.  Ch'an follows the path of wisdom
        Tso-ch'an of the Patriarchs
            When pre-Ch'an masters practiced,   they  mostly
        used the methods given in  the   translated  Hinayana
        sutras. For them, tso-ch'an referred to   methods  of
        sitting to attain samadhi. But among the later
        masters  of Ch'an, the term was reserved   for methods
        of attaining  enlightenment  without   samadhi  as  an
        intermediate or final stage.
            The First Patriarch of Ch'an,  the  Indian  monk
        Bodhidharma 菩提达摩, arrived in China around 520 A.
        D., and established himself in the  Shao   Lin Temple
        少林寺. There he wrote the treatise, Erh ju ssu hsing
        二入四行. The Two Entries and the Four Practices. One
        of the entries was the Entry Through Principle   理入.
        This  was  in  fact  direct   penetration  to the
        experience  of Buddha-nature.   According  to  legend,
        Bodhidharma  sat facing  the wall   in the temple  for
        nine years. The posture he used was the same as those
        used by previous  masters  to attain samadhi.  He sat
        crossed legs and  concentrated  mind.   However,  the
        goal was different it was to develop wisdom   without
        going through samadhi. He did not use  the   Hinayana
        methods such as visualizing the parts of one's body.
        Bodhidharma's approach was based on  the Lankavatara
        Sutra which advised "taking no  door as  the  Dharma
        door" and "not using any language, words or  symbols
        as the foundation."
            While the historical facts of Bodhidharma's life
        are scant, there is no doubt that he practiced
        tso-ch'an. There is also little doubt that he was
        enlightened  before going to China.   Even so, when he
        settled   in  the    Shao-Lin   Temple,  he  continued
        tso-ch'an practice.  His great contribution  to Ch'an
        was   his   insistence    on   directly   experiencing
        Buddha-nature through Tso-ch'an.
              The Fourth Patriarch Tao-hsin 道信(580-651 )
        wrote Ju-tao anhsin yao fang-pien men 入道安心要方便
        门. The Methods for Entering the  Path   and  Calming
        the Mind. In it, he quoted from the Lankavatara Sutra
        and the Wen-shu  shuo po-jo ching   文殊说般若经.  The
        Prajna  Sutra  Spoken  by Manjusri.  He stresses  the
        importance  of tso-ch'an for the beginner, with
        emphasis on the right posture. The neophyte must then
        contemplate the five skandhas the material skandha of
        form (the elements), and the four mental   skandhas  :
        feeling,  perception, phenomena,  and   consciousness.
        The Manjusri  Sutra says, "He should contemplate  the
        five skandhas as originally  empty and quiescent,
        non-arising,      non-perishing,     equal,     without
        differentiation.  Constantly  thus practicing, day or
        night, whether  sitting, walking, standing   or  lying
        down, finally  one  reaches  an   inconceivable  state
        without any obstruction or form.  This is the Samadhi
        of One Act (I-hsing sanmei) 一行三昧."
            In a sense, the Fourth Patriarch  is  describing
        the two meanings of tso-ch'an in Ch'an. In the
        beginning  the  practitioner   starts  by  taking  the
        sitting posture. He will use simple and basic methods
        of  regulation  the  body   and  mind.  At an advanced
        he will not be limited to sitting, but in any posture,
         his mind will be in accord with the   Samadhi  of
        One Act.
            His disciple, the Fifth Patriarch Hung-jen (602-
        675), wrote an essay, Hsiu-hsing Yao Lun,   修行要论,
        The Essentials of Cultivation, which emphasizes
        sitting. He quoted from the I-chiao ching 遗教经, The
        Sutra of the Buddha's  Last Bequest, which says "When
        the  mind  is placed  at one point, there  is nothing
        that cannot be attained." The one-pointedness of mind
         to which he referred was not samadhi,   but  one's
        original or true mind. He also said that correct posture
        is critical. Beginners  should,  for   example,
        follow the Kuan wu-liang shou fo ching 观无量寿佛经,
        Sutra of Contemplation on the  Buddha   of  Unlimited
        Life, which says that one should  sit   upright  with
        correct thoughts, closing one's eyes and mouth,   and
        sit day and night. From many sources we can see that
        the Fifth Patriarch did sit a lot.  The   Biographies
        of Eminent Monks 高僧传 describe the Fifth Patriarch
        foregoing  sleep to sit all night. In the same book,
        Shen-hsiu 神秀(active 671-706), a disciple of Hung
        -jen 弘忍 and founder of the Northern Branch   of the
        Ch'an School, is  described  as   taking tso-ch'an as
        his main job.
            Hui-neng 惠能(638-713), who succeeded Hung-jen
        as the Sixth Patriarch, was not an advocate as
        sitting  as the path  to enlightenment.  With him, we
        have a distinction  between   tso-ch'an  which attains
        enlightenment  through  sitting, and tso-ch'an  which
        attain enlightenment without sitting.   Hui-neng had a
        different interpretation of what tso-ch'an means.  He
        said that when there is no mind, or no thoughts
        arising, that is called "sitting" (tso). When you see
        internally  that the self-nature  is not moving, that
        is Ch'an.
            This was different from the sitting tso-ch'an of
        Bodhidharma. The Sixth patriarch took his inspiration
         from the Samadhi of One Act, described in the
        Manjusri Sutra mentioned above.  The method is to put
        your mind steadfastly on the One Dharma Realm
        一法界, in which there is  no   differentiation  into
        forms. Quoting from the Vimalakirti Sutra   维摩诘经,
        he also said, "The straight-forward mind is the Path
        ." Its meaning is that all forms are   equivalent  to
        one  form.  Any  time,  any   place, whether  walking,
        standing,  sitting   or   lying  down,  there   is  no
        situation  that  is  not   an opportunity  to practice
        tso-ch'an.  In this  view   sitting  was not only  not
        necessary, but could be a hindrance.
        Fundamentals of Tso-ch'an
            As we saw above, tso-ch'an was practiced in China 
        long before the appearance of Ch'an. The   earlier
        masters practiced according to methods in the
        Hinayana  sutras,  which   emphasized  the  techniques
        collectively  known  as samatha-vipasyana.  Generally
        speaking, these  were methods  for achieving  samadhi
        through   three   aspects:   regulating   one's  body,
        regulating  one's  breathing,   and  regulating  one's
        Regulating the Body by Sitting
            To regulate the body by sitting, one should ob-
        serve the Vairocana Seven-Points of Sitting   毘卢遮那
        七支坐法. This refers to the seven rules of   correct
        sitting posture. Each of these criteria has been used
         unchanged since ancient days.
        Point One: The Legs
            Sit on the floor with legs crossed either in the
        Full Lotus or Half Lotus position. To make the   Full
        Lotus, put the right foot on the  left   thigh,  then
        put the left foot crossed over the  right   leg  onto
        the right thigh. To reverse  the   direction  of  the
        feet is also acceptable.
            To take the Half Lotus   position  requires  that
        one foot be crossed over onto the thigh of the   other.
        The other foot will be placed  underneath   the raised
            The Full or Half Lotus are the correct tso-ch'an
        according to the seven-point  method.   However,  we
        will  describe some alternative postures since  for
        various reasons, people may not always be   able  to
        sit in the Full or Half Lotus.
            A position, called the Burmese position, is
        similar  to the Half Lotus, except   that  one foot is
        crossed over onto the calf, rather than the thigh, of
        the other leg.  Another position consists in kneeling
        . In this position, kneel with the legs together. The
        upper  part  of the body can be erect   from  knee  to
        head, or the buttocks can be resting on the heels.
            If physical problems prevent sitting in  any  of
        the above positions, then sitting on a chair is
        possible, but as a last resort to the above postures.
            The positions above are given in  the  preferred
        order, the Full Lotus being the most stable, and most
        conductive to good results. Sitting   cross-legged
        is most conducive to sitting long periods with
        effective  concentration.  The position  one can take
        depends  on  factors  such   as  physical   condition,
        health, and age. However, one should use the position
        in which prolonged  sitting  (at least twenty minutes
        or  more)  is feasible  and   reasonably  comfortable.
        however, do not use a position that requires   little,
        or  the  least  effort, because   without  significant
        effort, no good results can be attained.
            If sitting on the floor, sit on a Japanese-style
        zafu (round meditation cushion)   or   an  improvised
        cushion, several inches thick. This  is   partly  for
        comfort, but also because it is easier  to   maintain
        an erect spine if the buttocks are   slightly  raised.
        Place a larger, square  pad, such as a Japanese
        zabuton,  underneath   the   cushion.   Sit  with  the
        buttocks  towards  the front half of the cushion, the
        knees resting on the pad.
        Point Two: The Spine
            The spine must be upright. This does not mean to
        thrust your chest forward, but rather to   make  sure
        that your lower back is
        erect, not just slumped. The chin must be tucked  in
        a little bit. Both of these  points   together  cause
        you to naturally maintain a very upright spine.    An
        upright spine also means a vertical spine,    leaning
        neither forward or backward, right or left.
        Point Three: The Hands
            The hands form a so-called Dharma Realm  Samadhi
        Mudra 法界定印. The open right palm is   underneath,
        and the open left palm rests in the right palm.   The
        thumbs lightly touch  to  form   a  closed  circle or 
        oval. The hands are placed in  front of the  abdomen,
        and rest on the legs.
        Point Four: The Shoulders
            Let the shoulders be relaxed, the  arms  hanging
        loosely. There should be no sense of your shoulders,
        arms or hands. If you have any  sensation   of  these
        parts, there is probably tension in those areas.
        Point Five: The Tongue
              The tip of the tongue should be lightly
        touching  the roof of the mouth just behind the front
        teeth. If you have too much saliva, you can let go of
        this  connection.  If you have no saliva  at all, you
        can  apply  greater  pressure   with  the  tip  of the
        Point Six: The Mouth
            The mouth must always be closed. At all  times,
        breath through the nose, not through the mouth.
        Point Seven: The Eyes
            The eyes should be slightly open and gazing
        downward at a forty-five degree angle.   Rest the eyes
        in that direction, trying  not to stare   at anything.
        closing  the  eyes  may   cause  drowsiness, or visual
        illusions.  However, if your eyes feel very tired you
        close them for a short while.
        Regulating the Body by Walking
            Regulating the body by walking consists of  slow
        walking and fast walking. Walking meditation is
        especially  useful  for a change of pace when engaged
        in prolonged  sitting, such  as on personal  or group
        retreats Periods of walking can be taken between
            In slow walking, the upper body should be in the
        same posture as in sitting, the difference   being in
        the position of the hands. The left palm should lightly
        enclose the right hand, which is a loosely formed fist.
        The hands should be held in front of,  but not touching,
        the abdomen.  The forearms should be parallel  to the
        ground. The attention should be on bottom of the feet
        as you walk very slowly, the steps being short, about
        the length of one's foot.  If walking   in an enclosed
        space, walk in a clockwise direction.
            Fast walking in done by walking rapidly  without
        actually running. The  main   difference  in  posture
        from slow walking is that the arms are   now  dropped
        to the sides, swinging forwards and backwards, as in
        natural walking. Take short fast steps, keeping   the
        attention on the feet.
        Supplementary Exercise
            Sitting and walking are the two basic methods of
        regulating your body. There is a supplementary aspect
        which is to exercise for a short period after sitting,
        even if you only do one sitting per day.   The form of
        exercise  is a matter  of individual   choice, but  it
        should be moderate, such as T'ai Chi 太极 or Yoga.
        Regulation the Breath
            Regulation the breath is very simple. It's  just
        your natural breathing. Do no try  to   control  your
        breathing. The breath is
        used as a way to focus, to concentrate the minds. In
        other words, we bring the two things   regulating  the
        breathing and regulating the mind - together.
        Regulating the Mind by Counting the Breath
            The basic method of regulating the  mind  is  to
        count one's breath  in  a   repeating  cycle  of  ten
        breaths. The basic idea is that by concentration  on
        the simple technique of counting,  this   leaves  the
        mind with less opportunity for  wandering   thoughts.
        Starting with one, mentally (not vocally) count each
        exhalation until you reach ten, keeping the attention
        on the counting. After reaching ten, start the cycle
        over again, starting with one. Do not   count  during
        the inhalation, but just keep the mind on the intake
        of air through the nose. If wandering thoughts   occur
        while counting, just ignore them and continue
        counting.  If wandering  thoughts   cause  you to lose
        count, or go beyond  ten, as soon as you become aware
        of it, start all over again at one.
            If you have so many wandering thoughts that keep
        ing count is difficult or impossible, you can   vary
        the method, such as counting backwards from   ten  to
        one, or counting by twos from two to twenty. By giving
        yourself best  employed  when
        your  breathing  has  naturally    descended   to  the
        abdomen.  The technique  consists   simply in mentally
        follwing  the  movements  of   the  tan-t'ien  as  the
        abdomen moves in and out as a natural consequence  of
        breathing.  This  method  is more energetic  than the
        methods  of breath counting  or following, and should
        be used only after gaining some proficiency   in those
        methods.  In  any  case, the   method  should  not  be
        General Instructions
            Although the methods of   tso-ch'an  given  above
        are simple and straightforward, it is best to
        practice  them  under  the   guidance  of  a  teacher.
        Without  a teacher, a meditator  will not be able  to
        correct  beginner's  mistakes, which   if uncorrected,
        could lead to problems or lack of useful results.
            In practicing tso-ch'an, it  is  important  that
        body and mind be relaxed. If one  is   physically  or
        mentally tense, trying to do tso-ch'an can be
        counter-productive.  Sometimes   certain  feelings  or
        phenomena arise while meditating. If you are relaxed,
        whatever  symptoms arise are usually good.   It can be
        pain, soreness, itchiness, warmth  or coolness, these
        can all be beneficial.  But in the context of
        tenseness,   these   same    symptoms   may   indicate
            For example, despite being  relaxed  when  doing
        you  may  sense  pain  in   some  parts  of the  body.
        Frequently, this may mean that tensions   you were not
        aware of are benefiting from the circulation of blood
        and   energy   induced    by  meditation.   A  problem
        originally  existing may be alleviated.   On the other
        hand, if you are very tense while doing tso-ch'an and
        feel  pain, the reason  may be that   the  tension  is
        causing  the pain.  So the same symptom  of pain  can
        indicate  two different  causes: an original  problem
        getting better, or a new problem being created.
            A safe and recommended approach is to  initially
        limit sitting to half an hour, or two half-hour
        segments, in as relaxed  a manner  as possible.  This
        refers  not only to your  inner, but also your  outer
        environment.  For beginners, if the mind   is burdened
        with  outside  concerns, it may be better  to relieve
        some of these burdens  before sitting.   For this
        reason, it  is best  to sit   early  in  the  morning,
        before dealing with the problems of the day.   Sitting
        times  may be increased  with experience.  But people
        who do tso-ch'an  for extended   periods may become so
        engrossed in their effort that they may not recognize
        their tensions.  This frequently exists because their
        minds  are preoccupied  getting   results.  So to work
        hard on tso-ah'an  means  to just   put your  mind  on
        tso-ch'an  itself.  If you can just do that, these is
        no need for tension to arise. On the contrary, deeper
        relaxation, and calming  of the body and mind  should
        uld result.
        The Tso-ch'an of "outer Paths" 外道禅
            In his Liusu t'an ching 六祖坛经,  The  Platform 
        Sutra, Hui-neng 惠能 says that if one were   to  stay
        free  from  attachment  to   any  mental  or  physical
        realms, and to think  of neither   good nor evil, that
        is, refrain from discriminating, neither   thought nor
        mind will arise. This would be the true "sitting" of
        will arise. This would be the true   "sitting"  of
        Ch'an. Here, "sitting", not limited to mere physical
        sitting, refers to a practice where the mind is   not
        influenced, disturbed, or  distracted,   by  anything
        coming up, whether internally or in the   environment.
        If you were
        to experience your self-nature, this would be called
        "Ch'an" (Kensho in Zen). To see   self-nature  is  to
        see one's  own unmoving   Buddha-nature, and is the mo
        st fundamental  level of enlightenment.   Without
        tso-ch'an  in this  sense, one cannot   attain  Ch'an.
        Hence  tso-ch'an  is the   method, Ch'an  the  result.
        Since Ch' an is sudden enlightenment, when it occurs,
        it is simultaneous with tso-ch'an.
            Hui-neng was critical of  certain  attitudes  in
        practice which did not conform to  his   criteria  of
        the true tso-ch'an which leads to Ch'an. These
        practices  are referred  to as "outer path" tso-ch'an
        because they are also found in other disciplines, for
        example, Taoism.  A couple of anecdotes will illustrate
        some of these not-Ch'an attitudes in tso-ch'an.
            The first anecdote involves a disciple  of
        Hui-neng's Nan-Yueh Huai-jang 南岳怀怀让 (677-744).
        Huai-jang observed a monk named Ma-tsu 马祖 (709-788)
        who  had a habit  of doing   tso-ch'an  all  day long.
        Realizing  this was no ordinary monk, Huai-jang asked
        Ma-tsu, "why are you cd" is mind which is involved in
        the  ordinary  world, and moves   as usual, but is not
        attached  to anything.  Another   sense comes from the
        root meanings  of the words p'ing   平 and ch' ang 常,
        and can be construed  to mean a mind which is "level"
        and  "constant", that  is, in  a  state  of  constant
        equanimity.  In  either  sense, there  is  no
        attachment.  So the point  is, the kind  of tso-ch'an
        that Ma-tsu  did before  he met Huai-jang  emphasized
        physi-  cal aspects  at the expense of being grounded
        in mind.
            The second "outer path" anecdote  also  involves
        disciples of Hui-neng. When Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien  石
        头希迁 (700-790) was a young monk, he approached the
        dying Hui-neng and asked, "Master,   after  you  pass
        away, what should I do?" Hui-neng said, "You  should 
        go to Hsing-szu". Shih-tou   understood  him  to  say
        hsun-szu 寻思, which means "seek thoughts". This was
        actually a term for the method of meditating by
        watching one's thoughts.  Shih- t'ou was unaware that
        there was another disciple of the Sixth Patriarch  by
        the name of Ch'ing-yuan  Hsing-szu   青原行思 (?-740),
        so he just assumed  that the master told him to prac-
        tice  watching  his thoughts.   After  Hui-neng  died,
        Shih-tou  constantly  sought out very isolated, quiet
        places  and spent  his time  in tso-ch'an, neglecting
        all  else, An elder  in the   assembly  saw  this  and
        "The master is dead; what are  you   doing  here  in
        empty sitting?" Shih-t'ou replied, "I am only
        following  the master's   instructions.  He told me to
        watch  my  thoughts."  The   elder  said, "you  should
        realize  you have an elder Dharma brother   whose name
        is Hsing-szu.  Why don't  you   hurry  and go to study
        with him?"
            Indeed, the tso-ch'an which consists in  sitting
        in a quiet place, immersed in tranquillity, is widely
        practiced. This kind of tso-ch'an,  which   Shih- t'ou
        practiced until he learned of his error,    was  also
        criticized by Hui-neng in the Ching-te ch'uan teng lu
        景德传灯录, The Transmission of the Lamp.  In it, he
        said, "if you hold the mind and contemplate silently,
        this is a disease and not Ch'an.   Constantly sitting,
        restraining   your  body,   how  does  this  help  the
        principle  (of attaining   enlightenment)?" Using this
        kind of tso-ch'an, one can enhance  health and mental
        calmness,  even  attain   samadhi.   But  for  a
        practitioner who has become attached to such peaceful
        meditation, the habit can become an obstacle.
            Both of these anecdotes are critical of  certain
        kinds of attitudes in practicing tso-ch'an.   Insofar
        as they are similar to "outer path"   methods,   they
        are not correct Ch'an. The masters were not critical
        of tso-ch'an itself, which is a  necessary   practice
        to make progress in Ch'an, especially for beginners.
        The great masters practiced tso-ch'an, even if   they  
        were sometimes critical  of   practitioners  who  had
        "Ch'an sickness." And most continued practicing even
        after becoming enlightened, sometimes very intensively.
             In the Biography of Eminent Monks 高僧传, it  is
        said that that Master Pai-chang Huai-hai 百丈怀海
        (720-814)  established  the   design  for  the  living
        quarters  of his  monastery.  In the meditation  hall
        there were long, connected  sleeping   platforms.  Its
        purpose was for people who had been meditation   for a
        long  time to take a break  and lie down.  From  this
        description  we can infer  that   the  intent  was for
        monks to spend most of their time in tso-ch'an, and
        only minimal time in sleeping. This in spite of   the
        fact that Pai-chang was a disciple of Ma-tsu, who as
        a master, advocated non-sitting methods.   This  same
        design was used in many future monasteries.
        The Tso-ch'an of Ch'an
            At the beginning of the article we said that the
        term tso-ch'an had both a comprehensive and a
        specific meaning. The comprehensive meaning refers to
        any type  of meditation  based   on sitting, including
        the  fundamental   methods    and  the  "outer   path"
        approaches  described  above.   The  specific  meaning
        refers to the specific methods developed   and used by
        the  Ch'an  masters  to attain   the  state  of seeing
        Buddha-nature.  This  is also   referred  to as seeing
        self-nature, wu 无, or in Japanese, kensho.   The  two
        major methods of Ch'an which have come down to us are
        the method of Silent Illumination 默照 and the method
        of the kung-an 公案. Each of these methods ultimately
        led  to  the  founding  of a major  branch  of  Ch'an
        Buddhism, respectively the Ts'ao-tung 曹洞 (Soto) and
        the Lin-chi 临济 (Rinzai) schools.
        Silent Illumination Ch'an
            The term Mo-chao Ch'an 默照禅, Silent Illumination
        Ch'an  is associated  with  the Sung  Dynasty  master
        Hung-chih Cheng-chueh 宏智正觉 (1091-1157).   However,
        the practice  itself  may be traced   back at least as
        far as Bodhidharma.  In his treatise   The Two Entries
        and the Four  Practices, the Entry   by Principle  was
        described as "leaving behind the false, return to the
        true: make no discrimination  of self and others.  In
        contemplation, one  is stable  and   unmoving, like  a
            In his verse Hsin hsin ming  信心铭,   Affirming
        Faith in Mind, the Third Patriarch, Seng-Ts'an, 僧灿
        (?-?) Says:

            The ultimate path has nothing difficult.  Simply
        avoid discrimination  and selection...The   mind
        endures out thought for ten
        thousand years.
            "one thought" refers to the mind which is
        completely  clear  and  free   from  attachment.  "The
        thousand  years"  is simply   a very long time without
        interruption.  We can read similar passages  in later
        descriptions of Silent Illumination.
            Master Shih-shuang Ch'ing-chu 石霜庆诸 (805-888)
        lived on a mountain called Shih-shuang for 20 years.
        His disciples just sat continually, even sleeping in
        the  upright  position.    In  their  stillness,  they
        looked  like so many dead tree stumps, that they were
        named  "the  dry wood   sangha."  Shih-shuang  has two
        famous phrases of advice. One was, "To sit Ch'an, fix
        your mind on one thought for ten thousand years". The
        other was, "let yourself  be like cold ashes, or like
        dry wood."
            Hung-chih himself studied for a while with Master
        K'u-mu Fa-ch'eng 枯木法成.  He was called K'u-mu (dry
        wood) because when he sat, his body resembled a block
        of dry wood. In the hands of Hung-chih, this practice
        evolved  into what he called Silent Illumination.  He
        describes  "silent   sitting"  thus: "Your  body  sits
        silently;  your  mind, quiescent, unmoving.  This  is
        genuine  effort  in practice.   Body  and mind  are at
        complete  rest.  The mouth  so still  that moss grows
        around  it.  Grass sprouts  from the tongue.  Do this
        without cease, cleansing  the mind until it gains the
        clarity  of  an  autumn   pool,  bright  as  the  moon
        illuminating the evening sky."
            In another place, Hung-chih said, "In this silent
        sitting, whatever realms may appear, the mind   is
        very clear as to all the details, yet everything  is
        where it originally is, in its own place.   The  mind
        stays on one thought for ten thousand year, yet does
        not dwell on any forms, inside or outside."
            How is Silent Illumination different from "outer
        path" tso-ch'an? In criticizing other path practice,
        Hui-neng used the phrase chu-hsin kuan-ching   住心观
        境,  or  "fixing    the   mind   on  one   thing    and
        contemplating  that  state."   This  is  a  method  of
        samadhi that
        lacks wisdom. Or more accurately, samadhi is   not  a
        method; it is a consequence, or goal of practice. It
        has no space, no time, no sense of environment.
        Silent  Illumination  is different   in that, while it
        keeps the mind still (the silent aspect), it   is  clear
        about the inner as well as the outer states (the
        illumination  aspect).  Samadhi   is  silent  but  not
        illuminating.  In Silent   Illumination  there  is  no
        abiding (chu), that is, nothing to dwell on, no place
        to  dwell   in.   In   the   deep   level   of  Silent
        Illunination,  the  mind  is   not  influenced  by  or
        disturbed  by the  environment.   However, it  is  not
        fixed in samadhi, but is in a bright state of ming 明
        ,  or  illumination.   In   Silent  Illumination   the
        meditator works continually to maintain this ming.
            To understand Mo-chao Ch'an, it is important  to
        understand that while there are no thoughts, the mind
        also is still  very  clear, very   aware.  Both the
        silence (mo) and the illumination  (chao) must be
        there. According to Hung-chih, while there is nothing
        going on in your mind, you are not unaware   that nothing
        is happening.  If your  mind  is   unknowing, this  is
        Ch'an sickness, not Ch'an. So in this state, the mind
        is  transparent.  In a sense, it   is  not  completely
        accurate  to say there is nothing   there, because the
        transparent mind is there.  But it is accurate in the
        sense that there is nothing  there that can become an
        attachment or obstruction. At this stage, the mind is
        without form.  Its power is there, its function being
        to fill the mind  with  illuminating   power, like the
        sun, shining  everywhere.  Hence, Silent Illumination
        is the tso-ch'an in which there is nothing moving but
        the mind is bright, illuminated.
            In Zen, the form of zazen called  Shikantaza  is
        quite similar to Silent Illumination. It was introduced
        in Japan by Master Dogen (1200-1252), after his return
        from study with Ch'an masters  in China.   In the book
        Fukanzazenji, the principles  of zazen   for everyone,
        he stressed the need for a foundation in the ordinary
        methods  of  zazen.  While   he  does  not  explicitly
        discuss shikant-
        aza, he does say, "You should therefore   cease  from
        therefore  cease from practice  based on intellectual
        understanding, pursuing  words  and   following  after
        speech, and learn  the backward  step that turns your
        light inwardly to illuminate yourself.   Body and mind
        of themselves  will drop away, and your original face
        will manifest.  "For Dogen, the method  of shikantaza
        is to "just sit", with no thoughts in your mind.  So,
        in a sense, the  method  is not a method  at all, but
        more  of a prescription, or guideline.   When thoughts
        are abandoned, it becomes  possible   for the mind  to
        illuminate.  It is also  then possible  to experience
        satori.  If such a non-attached   state of mind can be
        maintained, even in daily  life, regardless  of one's
        activity, whether  moving or still, you will manifest
        the wisdom function, the true Ch'an.
        Kung-an Ch'an 公案禅
            Once, after the Buddha gave a sermon to his
        senior  disciples, he picked  up a flower and without
        saying anything, held it up before the assembly.  All
        the monks, except  one, were   mystified.  Mahakasyapa
        alone knew the Buddha's  meaning, and saying nothing,
        smiled.  Thus, the Buddha transmitted   to Mahakasyapa
        the wordless doctrine of Mind.  Although this
        incident  preceded by over a thousand   years the rise
        of Ch'  an, it is often  cited   as  an example  of an
        early kungan.
            What is a kung-an? A kung-an is a  story  of  an
        incident between a master and one or more disciples,
        which involves an understanding or experience of
        enlightened  mind.  The   incident  usually,  but  not
        always,  involves  dialogue.   When  the  incident  is
        remembered  and  recorded,  it   become  a  matter  of
        "public  record", which  is the  literal  meaning  of
        kung-an.   Often  what   makes   the  incident   worth
        recording  is that, as a result of the interchange, a
        disciple  has  had  as   awakening, an  experience  of
        enlightenment.  The disciple's  mind, if only  for an
        instant, transcends  attachment and logic, and sees a
        glimpse of wu,
        emptiness, or Buddha-nature. At this instant,   there
        is a transmission of Mind 传心  between   master  and
            Master Chao-chou 赵州 (778-897), was asked by  a
        monk, "does a dog have Buddha-nature? ",   to  which
        the master replied, "Wu", meaning no,   nothing.   As
        kung-ans go, this is a basic one, but   possibly  the
        most famous. In some cases, there is no record of an
        awakening, but the story is  remembered   because  it
        contains, or expresses, meanings crucial to the
        understanding  of  enlightenment.    Here  is  another
        kungan, also involving Chao-chou.

            Chao-chou had a disciple who met an old woman on
        the road and asked her, "How do I get to   T'ai  Shan
        台山 (Mount T'ai)?" She said, "Just keep going."  As
        the monk started off, he heard the old lady   remark,
        "He really went!". Afterwards, the disciple mentioned
        this  to Chao-chou  who said, "I think  I'll  go over
        there and see for myself." When he met her, Chao-chou
        asked the same question, and she said the same thing"
        Just keep going." As Chao-chou   started off, he heard
        the  old  lady  say  again, "He  really  went!"  When
        Chao-chou  returned, he said, I've seen through  that
        old lady.  "What did Chao-chou find out about the old
        lady? What is the meaning of this lengthy and obscure
            Kung-ans occurred very early  in  Ch'an  history 
        and simply become records of incidents between
        masters  and disciples  in the   context  of practice.
        These  kunt-ans  were  very much   alive, spontaneous.
        Around  the Sung  Dynasty   (960-1279)  Ch'an  masters
        began using kung-ans from the records aso investigate
        the meaning of the historical kung-an. In his attempt
        to plumb the meaning of the kung-an, the student  has
        to  abandon  knowledge,   experience,  and  reasoning,
        since the answer is not suspectible to these methods.
        He must find the answer  by ts'an kung-an   参公案, by
        "investigating the king-an. " This
        requires his sweeping from his consciousness
        everything but the kung-an.  When there is nothing in
        his mind  but the kung-an, there  is a chance  for an
        experience of Ch'an, an awakening.
            Closely related, but not identical to the  kung-
        an, is the hua-t'ou 话头. A hua-t'ou, literally "
        head of a thought", is a question   that the meditator
        inwardly asks himself. For example, "What is wu?", or
        "Who  am I?".  As in the   kung-an, the answer  is not
        resolvable  through reasoning, but requires ts'an
        hua-t'ou  参话头, "investigating   the hua-t'ou."  The
        meditator  devotes his full attention   to repeatedly,
        incessantly, asking himself the hua-t'ou. His ou, but
        by then Chan-chou had already left, saying nothing.
            Another way kung-an and hua-t'ou are closely
        related  is  that  a hua-t'ou   can  give  rise  to  a
        king-an, and vice  versa.  For example, the  question
        "The 10, 000 dharmas return to One;   to what does the
        One return?" was originally a dimple hua-t'ou. Once a
        student asked Chao-chou  this same question, to which
        the  master  answered,   "The  fabric  I  bought  from
        Ch'ing-chou  青州 weighs  seven   chin 斤." A hua-t'ou
        became a kung-an because of the interaction   with the
        master, and the answer he gave to it.
            The central or key phrase in a kung-an frequently
        serves  as the source for a hua-t'ou.   The often-used
        hua-t'ou  "What is wu?", is derived  from Chao-chou's
        "Does a dog have Buddha-nature?" kung-an.
            P'ang Yun 庞蕴 (?-811) a lay disciple of  Ma-tsu
        马祖, resolved to follow the Path, threw his   wealth
        into the river, and became a  basket   weaver.  While
        plying his trade one day, he met a monk begging   for
        alms. Giving the  monk  some   money,   Layman  P'ang
        asked him, "what is the meaning of   giving  alms? "
        The monk said, "I don't know. What is the meaning of
        giving alms?" And Layman P'ang   replied,  "Very  few
        people have heard about it." The monk   answered,  "I
        don't understand." And Layman P'ang asked,   "who  is
        it that doesn't understand?" This incident became  a
        kung-an that gave birth to a whole series   of hua-t'
        ous of the "who" type. Some variations on  it  were
        "Who is reciting Buddha's name?", "Who is investigating
        Ch'an?", "Who is dragging a corpse? " ect.
            However, many hua-t'ous have no relationship
        whatever to kung-ans, but are simply questions
        concerning Buddha-nature that either arise spontaneously,
        or are assigned by the master as a method of practice.
            As we said, the use of the kung-an  or  hua-t'ou
        from previous records was not common until the   Sung
        dynasty 宋朝, with the  appearance of The Transmission
         of the Lamp 传灯录. This text contained many
        spontaneous kung-ans and hua-t'ous. Fen-yang
        Shan-chao 汾阳善昭 (947-1024) compiled   a collection
        of 100 kung-ans, called Hsien-hsien ipai Chih 先贤一
        百则, One Hundred Selections from Previous Sages.
        Wu-men Hui-k'ai 无门慧开 (1183-1260) compiled a
        collection of 48 kung-ans, called Wu-men kuan 无门关
        (Mu-monkan), the Gateless Gate. These all promoted and
        encouraged the use of kung-ans.
            The records of the Ch'an  sect,   including  the
        Transmission of the Lamp,  and  the   collections  of
        kung-ans, do not frequently refer to tso-ch'an practice.
        It was understood that by the time practioners   began
        to  ts'an  Ch'an,  they   already   had  a  very  good
        foundation  in tso-ch'an.  Such a basis is needed  if
        one is to effectively  practice kung-an and hua-t'ou.
        Beginners   may  get  some   usefulness   out  of  the
        constant  repetition, but  this   will  be similar  to
        chanting  a mantra.  Because   the beginner  lacks the
        ability to bring his mind to a deep quiescent   state,
        it  would   be  difficult,   if  not   impossible   to
        experience self-nature or become enlightened.
            Throughout  Ch'an   history  we read  of advanced
        practitioners who visited masters in order   to  assess
        their own understanding of Ch'an, or   certify  their
        own attainment. These  situations   were  well-suited
        for applying the methods of kung-an and hua-t'ou. It 
        is important to remember that any interchange between
         master and disciple can be an opportunity   for  a
        live, spontaneous kung-an or hua-t'ou, and that these
        practices  should not be thought  of as being limited
        to the  sayings  and questions   from  the  historical
            Ta-hui Tsung-kao 大慧宗杲 (1089-1163) was one of
        the greatest advocates of kung-an practice. From his
        record of sayings we see that he maintained that tso
        -ch'an was very necessary to  settle   the  wandering
        mind, and bring about emergent samadhi. It   is  only
        then that the student can effectively use the   kung-
        an or hua-t'ou. Even though kung-an and hua-t'ou
        practice can be done while walking, standing, or  even
        lying down, its fundamental basis is still tso-ch'an.
            If through tso-ch'an a student's mind has become
        very peaceful and  stable,  the   application  of the 
        kung-an or hua-t'ou may cause the rising of the Great
        Doubt 大疑情. This doubt is not the ordinary doubt of
        questioning  the  truth  of an assertion.  It  is the
        doubt  that arises  out of ts'an Ch'an, investigating
        Ch'an.   It  refers  to   the  practitioner's   deeply
        questioning  state  of mind as a result  of using the
        kung-an or hua-t'ou. The resolution of the kung-an or
        hua-t'ou hinges on the nurturing  of the great doubt.
        Because  the  answer  to   his  questions   cannot  be
        resolved by logic, he must continually   return to his
        question, and  in  the  process, clear  his  mind  of
        everything else except the Great Doubt.
            Eventually, this accumulated "doubt  mass"  疑团
        can disappear in one of two ways. One way   is  that,
        due to lack of concentration or energy, the meditator
        will  not be able  to sustain   the doubt, and it will
        dissipate.  Another  way is that by persisting  until
        his doubt  is like a "hot  ball of iron stuck  in his
        throat",  the  doubt    mass  will  disappear   in  an
        expollution. If the explosion has enough energy, it is
        possible  that the student  will experience  "Ch'an",
        see Buddha-nature, become enlightened.  If not, there
        will probably  still be some attachment   in his mind.
        It  is  necessary   for   a  master  to  confirm   his
        experience, since  the student, with rare exceptions,
        cannot  do that himself.  Even as great  a master  as
        Ta-hui  did not penetrate   sufficiently  on his first
        experience.  His master  Yuan-wu   K'e-ch'in  圆悟克勤
        told him, "you have  died, but you haven't  come back
        to life." He was confirmed  on his second experience.
        So  what  is a true  experience? It  takes  an  adept
        master  to tell.  If he is not   a genuine  master, he
        won't know the difference.
        Tso-ch'an After Enlightenment
            In the Sung Dynasty, Ch'ang-lu Tsung-tse  长芦宗
        颐 wrote the Tso-ch'an i 坐禅仪,The Manual of tso-ch'an.
        In it, he said that a person who has just experienced
        Buddha-nature should con-
        tinue to practice tso-ch'an. Then it is possible  to
        become like the dragon who gains the water, and   the
        tiger who enters the mountains. The   dragon  gaining
        the water returns to his ancestral home, and is free
        to dive as deep as he wishes. The tiger entering the
        mountain has no opposition; he may ascend the heights
        and roam wherever he wills. So Ch'ang-lu   is  saying
        that practicing tso-ch'an after enlightenment enhance
        and deepens one's realization.
            Yueh-shan     Wei-yen   药山惟俨   (745-828),   an
        enlightened  monk, was doing   tso-ch'an.  His master,
        Shih-t'ou  asked him, "What  are you doing  tso-ch'an
        for? " Yueh-shan answered, "Not for anything."  "That
        means  you are  sitting   idly", Shih-t'ou  continued.
        Yueh-shan  said, "If this is idle   sitting, then that
        would be for something."  The master then said, "What
        is it that  is not for anything?" The monk  answered,
        "A thousand sages won't know."
            On the one hand, we say that  persons  who  have
        had realization should do tso-ch'an to enhance their
        enlightenment;   on  the   other   hand,  we  say  the
        enlightened person sits without purpose.   What is the
        explanation? For the practitioner whose enlightenment
        is not deep, practice is necessary to deepen it;  for
        one who is deeply enlightened, practice   is just part
        of daily life.
            One day, when Ch'ao-chou was already  thoroughly
        enlightened and actively helping others, his tso-ch'
        an was interrupted by a visit from a prince. He   did
        not rise from his seat, explaining   himself  with  a
            Ever since youth I have foregone meat. This body
        is now old. When visitors come, I have  no   strength
        to rise from the Buddha-seat.
            Later, when a messenger of the prince came, Chao
        -chou did rise from his seat to greet the man.   Chao
        chou's puzzled attendant asked him why he got up  for
        the man of lesser rank.
        Chao-chou said, "When people of the first rank call,
        I receive them at my cushion. When the   second  rank
        call, I come down from my cushion. But   when  people
        of the third rank come, I go to the temple   gate  to
        greet them."  These anecdotes convey the  idea  that 
        the enlightened ancient masters still regarded
        tso-ch'an as very important.
            However, if we wish to practice the  Samadhi  of
        One Act, as advocated by Hui-neng, we will   remember
        that in the true tso-ch'an the mind does   not  abide
        in anything, hence is not limited to finding expression
        in sitting. For one who can continuously practice
        the Samadhi of One Act, the ultimate tso-ch'an   is no

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