Chan Methods / Practices


Dharma Joy and Chan Delight

As we all have vexations, we often feel uneasy; since on this retreat we have heard the Buddhadharma, we should use it to dissolve the vexations.

Chan practice requires both the guidance of concepts and the cultivation of body and mind. The guidance of concepts consists of dissolving the vexations in our mind through hearing Buddhadharma; from this we derive the joy of the Dharma.


The methods of practice

When this seven-day Chan retreat ends after breakfast tomorrow morning, I hope that you all have experienced the “joy of the Dharma in every moment, and abiding in the bliss of Cha in all places.”

As we all have vexations, we often feel uneasy; since on this retreat we have heard the Buddhadharma, we should use it to dissolve the vexations.

Chan practice requires both the guidance of concepts and the cultivation of body and mind. The guidance of concepts consists of dissolving the vexations in our mind through hearing Buddhadharma; from this we derive the joy of the Dharma. We use the concepts to help ourselves eliminate delusions and attachments, and to eradicate self-centeredness. Whenever confronted with difficulties or distress, we apply the concepts of Buddhadharma to relieve the pressure, the burden, the uneasiness in our minds.

To cultivate our body and mind we use the methods of Chan---sitting meditation, prostrating to the Buddha, chanting, and so on. These methods enable us to replace wandering thoughts with right thought until gradually and finally, we reach the stage of no-thought. Through this process, we will attain the delight of Chan.

Unifying Body and Mind

After we replace our wandering thoughts with the right thought, our self-centeredness goes from a scattered state to one of concentration. When we are concentrated, we gain control of ourselves. When concentrated mind becomes unified mind, we find that our own existence is not important any more – the self no longer stands in opposition to the environment and other people, the body no longer stands in opposition to the mind. Since there is no opposition, the body has no burden; moreover, there is no seeking or rejecting – thus, the mind remains in a state of peace and happiness.

According to sutras, in a time and a place without the Buddhadharma, one can still derive immeasurable joy just by hearing a spirit, deity, or supernatural transformation of someone who speaks a line or two about the Dharma. In our world there are many who have not heard the Buddhadharma; but you here not only heard the Dharma, you listened to it for a whole week. Although you have not yet attained liberation, you can, at any time, apply Buddhadharma to help resolve your various mental and conceptual challenges. Since you practice at all times under the guidance of the Buddhadharma, not for a single moment should you feel despair, distress, sorrow, hatred, or jealousy.

Knowing about Dharma Joy

Now, what Buddhadharma have you heard after all? Having listened to the Dharma for seven days you might ask, “How can we make ourselves happy? Which lines of words will make us joyful?” If so, it is because you heard so much Buddhadharma during seven days that you became somewhat confused about what it is. This is like breathing air every day without being keenly aware that it is air that gives us life and vitality.

During seven days, did you hear about cause and effect, causes and conditions, faith, repentance, and shame? Did you hear about making offerings, making vows, transferring merit, relaxing the body, and opening the mind?
You heard these words: “Don’t close the door of mind or keep it tightly blocked. Open up the mind to let all thoughts come and go freely, yet without mentally grasping or rejecting anything” And so on.

Do these words count as Buddhadharma? In fact, these are all the outline of Buddhadharma, and can be said to be the essentials of Buddhadharma too.

By believing in the Three Jewels, you will not be disoriented, not knowing which direction to go; by believing in the law of cause and effect, you will not blame fate or others, nor be carried away by your success. By believing in cause and conditions, you will not regard a distressful matter as something permanent, and a fortunate thing as something substantial. By applying the sense of shame, you will not be prideful or conceited, nor will you be jealous.

We vow to make offerings; making offerings means dedicating our body and mind to the Three Jewels to receive and cultivate Buddhadharma and to contribute to sentient beings. After we have dedicated ourselves, our own problems are not as important as before, because sentient beings are more important than ourselves. When you can regard sentient beings as more important than yourself, you will not be troubled by yourself anymore, so you will of course be joyful!

Buddhism teaches us to have few desires, to be content, and to feel shame. Only by having few desires and being content can we have a calm and stable mind for studying and practicing Buddhadharma. Only by having few desires and being content will we truly generate a mind of shame. Only after we feel shame will we be able to repent the evils and karmic hindrances we have created in the past. Only after repentance will we obtain peace and happiness. This is the Buddhadharma and this will brings us Dharma Joy.

When I elaborated above, it shows that there are really many things that can make us elated in the Dharma joy. The sutra says, “It is rare to hear the Buddhadharma, yet we have heard it. “ You have been able to listen to a lot of Buddhist teachings during the past seven days. Even though you have not personally realized the essence or empty nature of all dharma (phenomena), you should feel all the more joyful for being able to hear the right Dharma (teaching) of the Buddha.

Experiencing Chan Delight

During these seven days we have worked intensively to train our body and mind. When we first entered the Chan Hall, we had lots of hindrances because our body had not yet adapted to the life of Chan practice; we felt stressed, painful, and uncomfortable. However, after practicing sitting meditation, the muscles and nerves became relaxed; the body’s energy flowed smoothly, enabling it to feel calm and relaxed, as if relieved of a heavy burden. This kind of relaxed, calm, and serene sensation brings us the delight of Chan.

We used Chan methods to focus our attention, make our scattered, chaotic mind gradually become concentrated, and then become unified or close to it. At this time motional fluctuations, and the sense of not being able to control ourselves naturally diminished; we were living a life full of self-confidence, vigor, with a bright and calm mind. We always knew what situations we were in, and always knew that all we needed to do was try our best, and there was no concern about gain or loss, or comparing ourselves with others, or feeling worried, sorrowful, or afflicted. Isn’t this the delight of Chan?

During seven days, I constantly taught you to relax the body and mind, and you were able to do so little by little. Since you know that you can turn the tension of your body and mind into relaxation, this means that you already began to have a taste of Chan delight.

Knowing How to Relax

When doing seated meditation, we can practice relaxing our body and mind. We can also practice this at any time. If we can practice the method of relaxation for a period of time, we will be able to relax our body and mind at any time. To relax the body and mind is to rest. When the brain cannot but rest, we allow it to rest. When the body, muscles, and nerves are tense, we make them rest. If we can let the brain and body take a full rest, without using the brain to think, without seeing with the eyes, or hearing with the ears, or touching with the body, how comfortable it will be! To keep our body and mind settled, relaxed, and at ease in daily life is also an experience of Chan delight. Therefore, in the surroundings where we live our life, we can abide in the delight of at all places.

This morning I talked about Chan delight and Dharma joy. They are interrelated and mutually coherent, and you have now possessed at least one kind of them. So, after you go away from the seven-day retreat, my best wishes for you are that you feel the joy of the Dharma in every moment, and abide in the delight of Chan in all places.

Talks given by Master Sheng Yen,
Chan Meditation Center, New York, June 1, 1990

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