Embarking on the Practice- I


Embarking on the Practice - Faith in Mind

The Supreme Way is not difficult
If only you do not pick and choose.
Neither love nor hate,
And you will clearly understand.
Be off by a hair,
And you are as far apart as heaven from earth.

The sole purpose of a Chan retreat is to practice. You should keep your attention entirely on practice, without trying to attain any results. Since many of you have travelled far, or have worked hard to set aside the time, you have a great deal invested in this retreat. It is natural that you want to gain something. But once you enter the retreat, you must put aside any specific hopes.

Trying to Catch a Feather with a Fan?

Practicing with a goal in mind is like trying to catch a feather with a fan. The more you go after it, the more it eludes you. But if you sneak up on it slowly, you can grab it. The aim of practice is to train your patience and forbearance, to train your mind to become calm and stable. Any attachment or seeking will prevent your mind from settling down.

The More You Drive Yourself, The More Tense

Today someone told me that the more he worked on the hua-tou the more tense he felt. It was as though his mind had become knotted up. His problem is that he wants to see quick results. Pursuing the hua-tou intensely with a desire to get enlightened is like tying yourself up and then poking yourself with a knife. The more you drive yourself the more tense you will feel. If any part of your body feels painful, you should try to relax it. Any involuntary movement of the body while sitting is also due to tension. Thus it is important to constantly maintain a state of relaxation.

Place Your Mind Directly on the Method Itself

Related to this, are the problems that may develop from fixing your attention on a particular part of the body. For instance, some people try to make their breath flow smoothly. But in trying to control the breath, it becomes abnormal.

Don’t pay attention to any phenomenon that occurs to the body; if you are concerned with it, problems will arise. It is the same with the mind. You will be unable to practice unless you disregard everything that happens to you mentally. If you feel distressed or pained in any way, just ignore it. Let it go and return wholeheartedly to the method. Place your mind directly on the method itself; concern yourself with nothing else.

We Are Burdened with Ideas

The Supreme Way in the first line of the poem refers to the sage of Buddhahood. The wisdom of the Buddha is not difficult to perceive; it can be attained in the instant between two thoughts. The reason for this is that it has never been separated from us. It is always present. In fact, we all desire to realize this Supreme Way. If so, why are we unable to attain it?

The second line explains what prevents us. It is because we are always trying to escape our vexations. Precisely because we want to acquire the Buddha’s insight and merits, we are unable to perceive Buddha nature.

Another reason why we cannot see our Buddha nature is that we are burdened with ideas. We make distinctions between samsara and nirvana, sentient beings and Buddha, vexations and enlightenment. These ideas obstruct our perception of Buddha nature.

To paraphrase lines there and four: As soon as you discard your likes and dislikes, the Way will immediately appear before you. Here, Seng Tsan has something in common with Tao Hsin, the Fourth Patriarch, and Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch. The latter two frequently said that when you stop discriminating between good and evil, you will immediately perceive your original face. In other words, you will understand the Supreme Way.

Extended Reading:
Embarking on Practice-II

Abstrat from Faith in Mind - A Guide to Chan Practice
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