Chan and Modern Life

​In the Spirit of Chan

From the book: In the Spirit of Chan
Perhaps some of you have heard the sayings "Chan is not established on words and language" and "Chan is a transmission outside conventional teachings." But if Chan does not rely on words, why would anyone want to read a Chan book? Isn't that a contradiction? Although Chan is not established on words, it has, among the many sects of Buddhism in China, left behind the most writing. The primary goal of these writings, however, is to show you or teach you that "Chan is not established on words and language" and that "Chan is a transmission outside the conventional teachings." So there is a reason for you to read such a book.
The word "Chan" can mean enlightenment, and enlightenment can be understood to mean realizing "the first meaning," or "the ultimate truth." In Chan, there is also what is called "secondary meaning," or "conventional truth." Conventional truth can be expressed in words and concepts, but the primary or ultimate, truth of Chan cannot be expressed in words. In the Chan tradition, sometimes the ultimate truth is compared to the moon, and the conventional truth is compared to a finger pointing at the moon. No one would mistake the finger for the moon. Words, language, ideas, and concepts are like the finger and can express just the conventional truth. These words and concepts only point to the ultimate truth. The ultimate truth can be called the mind, original nature, or Buddha nature. It is something everyone must experience for himself or herself. It can never be fully described.