Cultivating a Strong Character

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Resonate with Inner State

Strong character can be developed and nurtured through education, art, and religion, but these avenues of self improvement are not entirely dependable. Some, lured by the temptations of fame, fortune, and power, take up education, art, or religion, and appear to be of noble or saintly character, but in the depths of their hearts, they may harbor unspeakable ambitions and schemes.


There are hypocrites who are highly educated and bad people who attend churches and temples. This is because religious doctrine, ethics, and art are imposed from the outside—sometimes in a very authoritarian manner—so they do not necessarily resonate with one’s inner state.

Cultivating Strong Character via Chan Meditation

Chan meditation is the best way to cultivate strong character. It enhances character through practice and self-realization, not through external dogma or pressure. Outwardly imposed ethics and morals are unnecessary because Chan practice is itself a path of self-awareness, self-discipline, and self-transformation. Moreover, not only do we benefit, but, more importantly, so do those around us.

Religious doctrine, ethical standards, and moral judgments change according to time, environment, and individual attitudes, so that throughout history many new religious doctrines and practices have emerged in response to social and environmental forces, Buddhism not excluded.

Facing, Affirming, and Harmonizing the Self

While Chan is a school of Buddhism and does not deny its teachings, it transcends the boundaries of Buddhism as an established religion. It is a timeless spiritual path that adapts to human needs. It aims to nourish and strengthen body and mind through a fourfold process of facing, affirming, harmonizing, and emptying the self. This process is like peeling an onion. When the layers of deluded thinking are peeled off, there is no objective and subjective self to be seen. The peeling away of delusion is accomplished through meditation practice, specifically through the practice of concentrating the mind and developing insight into the nature of mind.


When our minds are concentrated and clear, we can understand ourselves deeper and discover our strengths and shortcomings. This stage is called “facing the self.” The next stage is called “affirming the self,” where we accept all that is good and not good about ourselves. At this stage, we become aware of our negative behavior patterns, but the power of concentration and mindfulness prevents us from being overcome by them. Only then can we truly enter the third stage: “harmonizing the self.” Here we refine the self by engaging in wholesome activities and abandon harmful ones. Finally, “emptying the self” refers to realizing that there is no permanent “self” to be found. What we identify as our opinions, views, and experiences continually change, as do the external circumstances that accompany them. Everything we consider as “I” or “mine” is intimately connected with the world. While there is consistency in our mental continuum from one moment to next, we see that our thoughts constantly change and are connected to everything around us. There is no independent, unchanging “self” within us. A direct experience of this interconnectedness and impermanence is liberating—the practitioner realizes that all things are connected and yet nothing is rigid or fixed. Realizing the emptiness of the self is like peeling an onion, at the core, there is no core to be found.

Like Peeling an Onion, But No Core to be Found

While Chan is a school of Buddhism and does not deny its teachings, it transcends the boundaries of Buddhism as an established religion. It is a timeless spiritual path that adapts to human needs. It aims to nourish and strengthen body and mind through a fourfold process of facing, affirming, harmonizing, and emptying the self. This process is like peeling an onion. When the layers of deluded thinking are peeled off, there is no objective and subjective self to be seen. The peeling away of delusion is accomplished through meditation practice, specifically through the practice of concentrating the mind and developing insight into the nature of mind.


When our minds are concentrated and clear, we can understand ourselves deeper and discover our strengths and shortcomings. This stage is called “facing the self.” The next stage is called “affirming the self,” where we accept all that is good and not good about ourselves. At this stage, we become aware of our negative behavior patterns, but the power of concentration and mindfulness prevents us from being overcome by them. Only then can we truly enter the third stage: “harmonizing the self.” Here we refine the self by engaging in wholesome activities and abandon harmful ones. Finally, “emptying the self” refers to realizing that there is no permanent “self” to be found. What we identify as our opinions, views, and experiences continually change, as do the external circumstances that accompany them. Everything we consider as “I” or “mine” is intimately connected with the world. While there is consistency in our mental continuum from one moment to next, we see that our thoughts constantly change and are connected to everything around us. There is no independent, unchanging “self” within us. A direct experience of this interconnectedness and impermanence is liberating—the practitioner realizes that all things are connected and yet nothing is rigid or fixed. Realizing the emptiness of the self is like peeling an onion, at the core, there is no core to be found.


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