Ch'an
/Zen Resource Guide

buddha statue in Kathmandu, Nepal  - photo by Joe Rizzo

The following is a project I originally completed for a Philosophy 510 class at SFSU; however, this is guide is continually being updated. - Joe Rizzo

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Introduction

Buddhism originated in India around 500 B.C. and later spread widely first in China and then throughout Japan. During the 1960's, Buddhism experienced a rise in popularity in the United States. Over the centuries, followers of Buddhism formed various schools, each practicing different methods. Hsu Yun Ho Shang Fa Hui, in the foreword to Ch'an and Zen Teaching, describes the schools as the "Five Dharma Doors ... which enable one to see through birth and death and to attain Buddhahood."

The Five Dharma Doors
Ch'an Sect (Tsung)
Discipline School (Lu Tsung)
Teaching School (Chiao Tsung)
Pure Land School (Chin Tsung)
Yoga School (Mi Tsung).
The Dharma Doors can be viewed as various paths or methods a person can follow to become an enlightened being. Hsu Yun Ho Shang Fa Hui states, ".. it is up to each man to choose the one which is suitable to his natural character and inclination, and he will surely reach his goal if he only sticks to it long enough without change of mind and deeply penetrates it." 1

Buddhist schools arose with each school focusing on a specific method of practice. For instance, the Pure Land school emphasizes "single-minded recitation of mantras and visualisation techniques." 2 . Yoga schools focus on stretching, postures, breath, and meditation. The Ch'an method emphasizes realization through one's mind. Although the methods practiced by the above schools vary, the objective of each school is similar - "enlightenment and attainment of Buddhahood."

lotus Zuikouren Lotus Flower

Overview of Ch'an

Ch'an is a branch of buddhism that focuses on meditation, realization or enlightenment through clearing the mind of all thoughts, opinions or attachments. The mind produces our vision of reality, which is distorted because of desires, passions and attachments to worldly objects. Meditation is used to quiet the mind and halt the thought process. The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra states,"Mind is matter, matter is mind. Matter does not exist outside of mind. Mind does not exist outside of matter. Each is in the other. This is called the nonduality of mind and matter." 3 Since there is no difference between mind and one's worldly surroundings, one should try to still the mind and understand the true reality of existence. Hui Neng, a young boy at the time who later went on to become the Sixth Patriarch, upon hearing the the sentence, "One should produce a thought which is no where supported" immediately became enlightened. 4
There is no distinction between self and other in Buddhism. "The basic thing is therefore to dispel, by experiment and experience, the illusion of oneself as a separate ego." 5 The idea that the ego provides an illusion of individually is now supported by a many modern scientists. Gary Zukav in The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics states,"The quantum view that all particles exist potentially as different combinations of other particles parallels a Buddhist view, again. According to The Flower Garland Sutra, each part of physical reality is constructed of all the other parts....the similarities between the two, especially in the field of particle physics, are so striking and plentiful that a student of one necessarily must find value in the other." 6


Techniques

There are five moral precepts which traditional Buddhists follow:
Nepalese Eyes image
  1. No killing.
  2. No stealing.
  3. No sexual misconduct.
  4. No false speech.
  5. No taking of intoxicants.
In addition, to the following the moral precepts, Buddhists must have astute concentration powers. The ability to focus the mind is very important. Meditation is the chief tool used by people who practice Ch'an. Since the practice of Ch'an emphasizes 'enlightenment' through the mind, various techniques were introduced to students who had problems empting their minds of all thought during meditation. Hence, the hua t'ou was introduced by monks to assist those with wandering minds.

A hua t'ou is a question a person asks himself/herself repeatedly in order to focus the mind on a single thought. The question typically leads one to inquire about his/her essential true nature, for instance, Who am I? A popular, modern day hua t'ou is, "Who is reciting the Buddha's Name?" Rather than completely clearing one's mind, the mind is focused on one single thought. Xu Yun, the Chinese Zen master who lived for one hundred and twenty years, held the following hua t'ou, "Who is dragging this corpse about?" for over thirty years.7 A person should focus on the answer to the question throughout meditation and throughout regular daily activities. The hua t'ou is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself. Utilizing this technique it is possible for people with short attention spans to focus inward and reflect on his/her existence and reality.
In addition to following the moral precepts and acquiring concentration skills, a person must also develop wisdom. Wisdom provides one with the knowledge to understand and interperet situations correctly. Thus, obedience to the five moral precepts, development of concentration skills and the acquisition of wisdom serve as three main precepts all Buddhists should strive for.

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Below is a listing of other Buddhist related files and links:

Sutras and Buddhist Texts On-line:
Zen Buddhist Texts

Take a Journey to ...

Nepal
More Nepal Information or read the Katmandu Post Newspaper
images:
*Himalayan Art

Where are local San Francisco Bay Area Meditation Centers located?
* The Zen Center, 300 Page Street, San Francisco, CA (415)863-3136
*Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center, 401 Baker St., San Francisco, CA 94117, 415-563-4459.
* Kundalini Yoga Center, 1390 Waller St., San Francisco, CA 94117, 415-864-9642.
*Kagyu Droden Kunchab, 1892 Fell Street. San Francisco, CA (415) 452-5454.
*The Meditation Center, 40 Vienna St., San Francisco, CA 94112. (415)-452-9015.
Local San Francisco Bay Area Links:
* Zen Hospice Project
* Tiger Team Buddhist Information Network
*Dharma Web
Links to other resources on the Internet:
* Ron Epstein's Buddhist Online Publications
* Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center
* Journal of Buddhist Ethics
* India World Note: Most access is restricted to subscribers.
* Buddhist Studies WWW Virtual Library
* Dharma Electronic File Archive
*Department of East Asian Languages
Shin Buddhism Network
*Buddhism - University of Oregon
NCF (Ottawa) Special Interest Group in Buddhism
Definitions of popular Buddhist related words:
bardo- intermediate state. (See 'Tibetean Book of the Dead' for better explanation).
Bodhisattva- A person who attains enlightenment, but foregoes Nirvana in order to be reborn on Earth to help others become enlightened.
Buddha- Prince Siddhartha, also refered to as Gautama, of India, was given this title. Today, the word Buddha is also used to refer to an enlightened being.
bodhi- Enlightenment.
bodhi tree- The tree that Buddha sat under when he became enlightened. The bodhi tree is often refered to as a tree of wisdom.
Bodhidharma- The 28th patriarch.
dharma- Pertaining to a rules to about existence, truth and reality.
dhyana- Meditation or abstract contemplation.
karma- Activity as governed by the laws of cause and effect. Each person is held accountable for all his/her deeds in this life and in previous lives. By doing good deeds and living in accordance to the moral precepts a person accumulates good karma.
moral precepts- The moral precepts are rules which all Buddhists must follow. The 5 moral precepts are similar to the 10 commandments in Christianity.
pranja- Wisdom inherent in all men / women.
pure land- Paradise of the West.
sadhu- People who have given up all all worldly possesions in search for enlightenment. Sadhus can be found in many parts of India.
samadhi- A deep state of meditation.
sutra- In general, sutra refers to teachings of the Buddha.
three jewels- The Buddha, or principle of Enlightenment, the Dharma, or teaching which proclaims enlightenment, and the Sangha, or community which practices the Dharma. 8
yidam- A particular deity which represents the disciple's innate enlightened nature, chosen by this guru to correspond to his own characteristics and the practice he is following. It is said the Avalokitesvara, the Lord of Great Compassion, is suiteable for everyone, so "an ordinary person," one who has not been given a specific yidam, should meditate on him. 9
zazen- meditation.



Footnotes:

1. Ch'an and Zen Teaching, Lu K'uan Yu (Charles Luk), Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1970, p22.
2. Empty Cloud, The Authobiography of The Chinese Zen Master, Xu Yun (translated by Charles Luk), 1988, p236.
3. Zen Keys, Thich Nhat Hanh, Doubleday, New York, 1995, p89.
4. The Sixth Patriarch's Sutra The Sino-American Buddhist Association, 1977, p5-6.
5. The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts, Vintage Books, New York, 1966, p20.
6.The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukav, Bantam, New York, 1979, p238-239.
7. Empty Cloud, The Authobiography of The Chinese Zen Master, p8.
8. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Guru Rinpoche according to Karma-Lingpa, Shambala, Boston & London, 1992, p.251-252.
9. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Guru Rinpoche according to Karma-Lingpa, Shambala, Boston & London, 1992, p.253.

Other Sources:

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas R. Hofstadter, Vintage, New York, 1979

Recommended Resources:
Om - a chant meaning god - oneness with all things

last modified October 1, 2013