The Method of Chan is the method of Settling the Mind


Settling the Mind

Chan provides the methods and concepts to help people settle their minds. In his youth Shakyamuni Buddha witnessed the suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death, but did not know how to gain liberation from these things. So, leaving home to practice, he became enlightened to the way of settling the mind. Then, he taught the Dharma for 49 years, all with the intent to help human beings settle their minds. He told us that though the body requires material aid and medical care, the mind needs the salvation of buddhaharma.

Physical health is important, but if the mind is unhealthy, even if one appears physically healthy, one is still a sick person. Many people think themselves physically health who wouldn’t even know if they were sick; if they don’t feel discomfort they think they are healthy. But there are few people who think that their minds are completely healthy, free of problems, and normal.

Relaxing Body and Mind, Letting Go of Vexations

To be physically healthy exercise is required, but for mental health it is the opposite; one requires sufficient stillness in the mind. It is better for the body to exercise every day, but for the mind it is better to be still sometimes. People have the habit of exercising every day, but very few have the habit of stilling the mind everyday for a period of time. In Chan, mental therapy consists in practicing methods for setting the mind and includes two aspects: relaxing the body and mind, and letting go of all worries. It would be useless to know about the methods and not practice them, so practice is necessary. However, this kind of relaxing and letting go is not permanent because ordinary people cannot forever let go of their worries in one attempt. They may be able to do it for a few minutes, but no longer than that. But even this temporary letting go is so that one will ultimately let go for good. In other words, letting go of one’s worries permanently usually starts with letting them go temporarily.

Gradual and Sudden Means

In Chan, there is the gradual approach to enlightenment and there is also the sudden approach. “Gradual” means practicing the methods to make the mind healthier, and “sudden” means not using any specific method, and putting down vexations all at once to achieve sudden enlightenment. Therefore, many people like sudden enlightenment. Sudden enlightenment without practice is possible but very rare, and afterwards people usually still need to practice in everyday life. This means finding periods of time in a day, or when there are problems in the mind, to help oneself by relaxing the body and mind


Chan and Mental Health,
Liberated in Stillness and Motion, pp 34-36,

Given at the Taipei Theater; New York, November 6, 1995.

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