Monday, August 30, 2010

Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism: Ch'an Mountain

Emerson talked about cultivating a mind that can resonate with the nature. Ch'an, or Zen, Buddhism, has the goal of opening the Way for students to understand their own original nature, their original mind. This mind is the key to deeper understand of ourselves and, in turn, deeper understanding of all things in nature, in the phenomenal. This post will describe that mind:

It is said that before we study Ch’an a mountain is just a mountain, as we progress in our study a mountain is not a mountain, and when we advance further in our study a mountain is just a mountain. To experience this is to experience the subtlety of Ch’an.
In this example, before we study Ch’an a mountain is just a mountain but as our study continues we gain a deepening insight into the true nature of ourselves. Ch’an study furthers our understanding of what is original in our nature. As this understanding grows, deeper and deeper, we gradually become aware of the aspects of ourselves that transcend phenomenal reality. We experience an inner reality that remains unchanging within change. This aspect of ourselves is a space of reflection that we cultivate in Ch’an study, as space, a space beyond time, our inner sanctuary. As we continue to cultivate this inner space we simultaneously begin to intuit that the phenomenal world, the outside world shares this infinite spaciousness. During this process we can begin to experience the aspects of the mountain that go beyond its superficial appearance. As we begin to understand ourselves better and better through this cultivation we can touch that which is original within us, our ‘original face, our ‘original self’. When we experience this original self we become able to contemplate the subtlety of all outside form as well. We can experience that a mountain also has its true self. At this stage we see the mountain as so much more than a mountain. We find that all form shares in an ultimate reality. When we see a new form we can understand its essence, its subtlety, its origin.

However, the mountain once again becomes a mountain for us but in a new way. We see that each form is unique in itself.. As we continue our Ch’an study we see that the various forms, the mountain for example, all have their unique characteristics. This is significant especially in human relationships because we can begin to see that each person also has a unique relationship with their self, with their original nature. This inspires a true love and value for all other forms because each form has its unique relationship with this ultimate reality. Each form if allowed to manifest its true nature has its unique function. This inspires joy because this is the beauty of life, this is the beauty of manifestation. All forms are unique manifestations of the ultimate reality with their unique characteristics and unique relationship to time and space. To experience the mountain as such is to see the mountain as a mountain.
When we first begin to study Ch’an we see the mountain is a mountain but know nothing of its subtlety. This is because we have not yet allowed our original nature to come forth within our conscious mind. That is to say that we are preoccupied with a perception of reality that is tainted by desire. This is where Ch’an, as in the koan exercises, places special emphasis on the unique relationship between the student and the teacher. The teacher helps us to bring our original nature to the surface of our consciousness. The teacher is skilled at cutting off or desires, our delusive thoughts, so that we do not expend our energy chasing phantoms, instead we begin open up space for that which is original to come forth within us. This space that opens up, is already there within the student, as it was for Shih-t’ou when he came to Hui-neng, but before the student goes to the teacher the student does not know what lies within. The unique student teacher relationship allowed Shih-t’ou to understand that he had within himself his original nature, beyond desire, beyond concept, the pure transcendent reality that is the subtlety of life.

This new understanding allows us to see that a mountain is so much more than a mountain. We can empathize with all other forms by sharing in this ultimate reality of that which is original within us. This is the key to truly understanding all beings. This is the teacher’s key as well. This is how the teacher comes to understand us “better than we understand ourselves,” as many students often describe it. A teacher with this key can see the disorientated relationship we have with our original self. A teacher with this key can empathize with that which is original and transcendent within us as it tries to come to the forefront of our consciousness. A teacher with this key can help us create a gap within our delusive thinking through which our original nature can shine forth. To become a true teacher one must have this key and learn how to use it, that is, learn how to speak to that which is highest within the student.
Our knowledge of the mountain or the student, however, is only a deep as our relationship with our original nature. We must do as Hui-neng said when he was pressed to give an esoteric doctrine. We must “turn (our) light inwardly (and) find what is esoteric within (us).” We must continually be refreshed, or ‘enlightened’, by that which is foundational within us whenever we become confused or encounter trouble. This is returning to the root, returning to our original self. When we make a habit of returning to our original nature we become increasingly aware of what is significant in life and are thus able to transcend that which is illusory. If we remember this we can live with in the Roam of Spiritual Freedom as in Chuang Tzu’s first chapter. Whenever we encounter trouble during our Roam we see it as a signal to turn our light inward and find what is esoteric within us. Thus we have spiritual freedom regardless of outer circumstances.

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