Mind in Buddhism and Chan:
Illuminating the mind and seeing the Nature

Religion, philosophy, and psychology have various explanations for “mind.” However, in Buddhism the mind is master. I will discuss the mind from the perspective of Buddhism and the Chan School. You may have heard the Chan saying, “illuminating the mind and seeing the nature.” What mind are we illuminating? It is the original mind, the mind that originally existed; it is ready and accessible everywhere, yet people do not know that. It is the mind that people have always had, which they have failed to notice; it is different from the mind discussed in psychology, and it is also different from spirituality. This mind has functions that are indescribable and power that is immeasurable; it is the mind that every sentient being originally has, and is also called the “original face” (“the nature”).

What is “original face?”

A university professor told me that one day, he suddenly realized that he felt he had lost himself and the world no longer existed. Yet, he discovered that he was still there; he could walk, eat, and move. He asked me what this condition might be. I preferred to remain silent because I could not tell him that this was a phenomenon of the mind, not the enlightened mind of seeing the nature, although somewhat similar. If I had explained to him in more details, it would have immediately aroused wondering thoughts in his mind along with many problems. I could only tell him, “That’s fine, as long as you can maintain that state, but don’t be attached to it. If you attach to that state, you will feel that it is great, simply wonderful, and hope to have it all the time and it will probably disappear.”

This sounds like something simply ungraspable:” The more I look up to it, the higher it appears; the more I try to penetrate it, the more impenetrable it is; when I think it is in front of me, it appears at my back.” Actually, the mind is not necessarily ungraspable; it is simply there, there’s no need to grasp it. If you try to grasp or pursue it, it is gone. Therefore, the mind can also be called “pure mind.” Or “original face, “or whatever!

In our Chan meditation camp, I tell everyone that after we develop the self, we should try to dissolve it. What this means is decreasing our self-centeredness and our attachments to the point of non-existence. Pure mind can only manifest when this so-called “self” is dissolved.


Liberated in Stilness and Motion, p.101-102
Master Sheng Yen's Talk, Given at DDM Chan Meditation Camp, April, 1994

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Illuminating the mind and seeing the Nature