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Bodhidharma and the Spirit of Chan

On Sunday, April 12, 2009, Bill Wright gave a dharma talk entitled, "Bodhidharma and the Spirit of Chan", based on the booklet, "In the Spirit of Chan" written by Master Sheng Yen. This booklet is a summary of the origins of Chan and Chan theory and practice based primarily on the teachings of Bodhidharma.

According to Chan tradition, Bodhidharma is an Indian Buddhist monk who brought Chan Buddhism from India to China during 500 CE, about a thousand years after the life of Buddha. Buddhism was already in existence in India for a thousand years by the time it was introduced to China.

Bodhidharma brought four basic teachings to China. They are:
1. Everything arises from the mind
2. The nature of the mind is Buddha nature
3. All sentient beings have Buddha nature
4. To realize original nature, observe the mind

Bill Wright explained that the basic nature of all beings is the capacity to become a Buddha, a being with infinite wisdom and infinite compassion. If our fundamental nature is Buddha nature, why do we have suffering? Where does suffering come from? Suffering comes from the same place as everything else—the mind. Everything arises from mind.

The basic problem we have in life is that we don't respond appropriately to things that happen to us. We're not really wise about the way things work. This is because our minds are clouded with vexations, or negative mental states. So we just react without knowing what the best thing to do is, and those reactions create more bad karma which later comes back to us and becomes a vicious cycle. Meditative practice is to try to get those vexations to dissipate so that Buddha nature can be revealed.

Not a lot of texts are attributed to Bodhidharma. There is one very short text called the "Two Entries and the Four Practices”. There are two entrances to the realization of the original nature. The first is called “Entry through Principle", which states:
· Abandon the false (vexations), return to the true (original nature)
· No discrimination between self and others (the outside universe)

According to Bill Wright, when your buddhanature is fully realized, you understand that there is no real difference between you and everything else in the universe. Everything is interconnected, impermanent, and ever changing. Understanding these principles and the coexistence of ordinary reality and ultimate reality allows sentient beings to react to the environment appropriately. Continual practice of awareness of the mind clears vexations until they are stopped completely.

The second entry to the realization of the original nature is the "Four Practices":
1. Accept karmic retribution
2. Adapt to changing conditions
3. No seeking (no self)
4. Union with the Dharma (emptiness)

Of the two Entries, the first one, entry into principle sounds simple, but actually, is very difficult to do. The second, the four practices, is actually more of a step-by-step, progressive approach. For most people, this is the way to go because most of us are not ready to practice entry through principle. You have to work your way through these four practices in order to get to the state where entry through principle is possible.

Buddha nature is like the sun warming the earth. Vexations are like clouds blocking the sun and its light. Meditative practice and the understanding of the principles of Chan is the way to clear the clouded mind of vexations and allow the light of Buddha nature to shine for the benefit of all sentient beings.

(By Elvin Troche)

References: The Spirit of Chan by Master Sheng Yen http://www.chan1.org/ddp/talks/spiritchan.html
This booklet is free and available at CMC.

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