Ch’an in daily life
On July 14th, 2012, Venerable Guo Xing, the Abbot of the Dharma Drum Retreat Center and the Chan Meditation Center in USA, guided a Living Ch’an Workshop at the Dharma Drum Mountain Vancouver Center in Richmond, B.C. Canada. I was happy to recognize a few familiar faces from the Office and to meet some of my colleagues’ friends.
Venerable Guo Xing began the Workshop by explaining the meaning of “Ch’an”. He said, “Ch’an” is meditation in daily life, as we talk, work, walk, eat, play, run, interact with others... Through this Living Ch’an Workshop, the Venerable hoped that we would incorporate the concepts and methods introduced into our daily life.
The Venerable then showed us a video clip of two blindfolded young women passionately kissing - two chimpanzees - thinking they were the young men they saw before they were blindfolded. Only after their eye covers were removed, did they realize otherwise, and were shocked and embarrassed. The Venerable then posed this question “Did the girls’ pleasure come from kissing chimpanzees or from thinking they were kissing young men.”
Next, the Venerable showed us a series of striking photographs including women in different poses, costumes, makeup, various scenes, and asked us if we felt comfortable or uncomfortable for each photo. Our answers included “beautiful woman”, “deceiving woman”, “gruesome”, “pleasant”… He then corrected us by pointing out that “beautiful woman”, “deceiving woman”, or “gruesome”,… was not a feeling, but rather a judgment and perception coming from our past experiences.
He asked us to close our eyes and relax. Right afterward, he asked us to open our eyes and study the same photographs. This time, our reactions to the photographs were much less drastic than before our relaxation exercise. We felt neither comfortable nor uncomfortable about the photographs as they were only images, one after the other, and there were no living persons in these photographs.
Through a PowerPoint presentation, he introduced the concept of karmic consequence. In every moment, we receive instantaneous karmic consequences from our action, speech and thoughts. Our state of mind and body is the result of the consequence we choose to bear.
He further illustrated that the results of our karmic consequences appear in our body, speech, sensation and mind. In our body, it appears through facial expressions, body language, and tension in our muscles; in our speech, it appears through the content, choice of words, tone, and volume. Our karmic consequences also appear in our senses in the form of relaxation or tension and happiness or vexation.
By realizing the interrelated operational principle of body, sensation, mind and speech, we are able to control our instant karmic consequence. He then further illustrated, by examples, this interrelated operational principle.
First, he explained how our body, sensation, mind and speech influence each other. For example, when we are angry, our body is tense, our mind is agitated, our voice is raised. He then gave us a scenario for a group exercise, where we were asked to act out a conversation with our family member as we normally would do, then, we were asked to change any one of the four elements: attitude, relaxation, volume, tone, and play out the scenario again. One striking moment for me was when Gisele acted out her phone call with her father after having relaxed her body and mind, the volume and tone of her voice lowered drastically and became softer; even, the words she chose turned gentler. She told us that after she relaxed her body and mind, it was not possible for her to converse with her father in an uptight and anxious feeling as before. Her harsh words automatically became mellow.
Then, the Venerable explained results are directly derived from causes; e.g., anger will cause an uncomfortable sensation, and will not lead to a joyful sensation. For example, when we are waiting for a red traffic light to turn green, we constantly look at our watch and stare at the red light, our body is tense and stiff, the stomach is tight, we feel agitated, we think there are too many red lights along the road and that they are the cause of our being late. In this moment, our state of mind is impatient. However, if we are in the car with our girl friend or boy friend, we will be smiling and holding hands, our body is relaxed and feels comfortable, we feel happy, we hope that the red light will never turn green.
Through an ingenious series of striking photographs and a film, the Venerable led us to realize that our reactions to the external environment, people and occurrences are merely responses to images created by the mind. He further led us to experience this realization during our daily activities, through a series of exercises and group discussions on several scenarios that resemble our daily activities such as sitting, looking, walking, moving and interacting with others. A few of these exercises and group discussions are:
(1) relaxation exercise
After the relaxation exercise, we were asked to retain the relaxation of our body and mind and the awareness of the external environment at the 90% to 10% ratio while carrying out the following group exercises and discussions.
(2) concurrently walk and converse with others while holding a straw with a ping pong ball on the top of the straw and placing our name tag on the top of our head while retaining the relaxation of our body and mind and the awareness of the external environment in the 90% to 10% ratio
(3) talk about ourselves to the others and then hear others’ feedback with our eyes close
When we close our eyes, the grasping for others’ facial expressions, body languages and our own body reactions and sensations were impossible. In general, the destruction from the external environment was not in existence. Then, it was clear that the words we say were from our mind and the words of others’ feedback were also arising from within our own mind. Moreover, our reactions to others’ feedback were our own and occurring in our own mind. The experience was incredible because it was as if we are having conversation with ourselves.
(4) in a university budget meeting, the budget was handed out… The exercise was to successfully negotiate the transfer of $5000 from the other departments and, at the same time, have the proponents surrender the money willingly and happily.
The Venerable used the terms of “to king” others and “to be kinged” by others. The Venerable explained that “to king” (to control) and “to be kinged” (to be controlled) are happening all the time in our daily life; e.g., back seat driver. While going through the exercise by retaining the relaxation and awareness at the 90% to 10% ratio, the whole process was carried out in a calm and harmonic atmosphere. There was no party kinging and no parties being kinged. It turned out that a mutual agreement was reached, and the $5000 was successfully won over and everyone was happy.
Venerable Guo Xing concluded the Workshop by encouraging us to actualize and to realize that all phenomena, including our thoughts, are merely images created by our mind, and our reactions to the external environment, people and occurrences are merely responses to images created by the mind. And, there are no lives, no minds in these images. Phenomena exist, however, we can not see the phenomena as is, instead, we see our own perceptions about the phenomena. In addition, our perceptions are products of our experiences. Similarly, when we are engaging in conversations with others, in reality, there is no person who is talking, no listener, and there is no conversation. However, we are continuously grasping, interpreting and filtering what we hear through our own experiences and perceptions. Hence, we do not realize that our reactions to the external environment, people and occurrences are merely responses to images created by the mind.
Through this one-day workshop, we learned that we mistake the images created by the mind for what is actually out there. By going deeper, leading us through teachings, a series of exercises and group discussions, the Venerable showed us how to reflect inwardly, and realize that we have the choice to be happy. And, we have an option to live mindfully and joyfully every moment of our lives.