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Frequently Asked Questions About Ch'an/Zen

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Question: What is Ch'an/Zen?

Answer: What is Ch'an Zen? Ch'an is the name of mind. What is mind? Mind is the substance of Ch'an. Bodhidharma came from the West and expounded only the direct pointing at man's mind. At first, the term Ch'an was not used, but the outcome of this direct pointing was the subsequent awakening (of followers of the sect). In their questions and answers, that (which had no name) was referred to as Ch'an (for convenience's sake). However, Ch'an cannot be understood by learning or by a lucky chance. When the [[self-mind (svacitta) is realized, either speech or silence, and motions or stillness, is unexpectedly Ch'an.

At the moment of this unexpected Ch'an, automatically the mind manifests itself. Thus we know that Ch'an does not stray from mind and that mind does not stray from Ch'an. Ch'an and mind are, therefore, two names of the same substance.

-- From the _Chung Feng Kuang Lu_

Question: What is the mind of Zen?

Answer: Here is what Zen Grandmaster Hsi Yun says, "This pure mind, the source of everything, shines on all with the brilliance of its own perfection, but the people of the world do not awake to it, regard only that which sees, hears, feels, and knows as mind."

Question: Does Ch' an/Zen teach no reliance on the words of the Buddha?

Answer: No. Here are the words of the Zen Grandmaster Tsung-mi, "If one just depends on the sayings of the Buddha and does not infer for himself, his realization will be no more than a matter of baseless faith. If one just holds on to direct perception, taking what he perceives for himself to be authoritative without comparing it to the sayings of the Buddha, then how can he know whether it is true or false."

Question: Isn' t Zen a transmission outside the scriptures?

Answer: How can the assertion "outside of scripture" have meaning without first knowing what is "inside scripture"? In addition, the familiar quatrain to which you are referring was first introduced by Nan-ch'uan P'u-yüan. What this means is that it was not the original and true teaching of Zen which did not include this slogan, having only three slogans.

Question: Is the main teaching of Zen to sit on a pillow and achieve mindlessness?

Answer: No. Here is what Zen Grandmaster Shên-hui says, "If it is right to sit in zazen, then why should Vimalakirti scold Shâriputra for sitting in meditation in the woods?" Again, here is what Zen Grandmaster Lin-chi says, "There are bald-headed and blind monks who after eating rice and satisfying their hunger, immediately sit in zazen to look into their mental activities and arrest their thoughts so that the latter cannot arise again. These people hate disturbance and seek quiet; this is the way of heretics."

Question: So what is this "zazen"?

Answer: According to Zen Grandmaster Shên-hui it means, "to see into one's original nature".

Question: Is Zen the path of 'sudden enlightenment'?

Answer: Here is what Zen Grandmaster Shên-hui has to say, "All those who want to learn the Way must achieve Sudden Enlightenment to be followed by Gradual Cultivation. It is like child-birth, which is a sudden affair, but the child will require a long process of nurture and education before he attains his full bodily and intellectual growth."

Question: Does Zen teach that all beings have actual Buddha-nature?

Answer: No. Here is what Lord Buddha says, "Good sons! If it is said that the Buddha-nature abides in sentient beings, it is wrong." [[[Mahâparinirvâna]] Sutra]

Question: Is our true mind just ordinary thoughts?

Answer: No. This is misleading, tending to be the modern . cult. interpretation of traditional Ch. an. Here is what Zen Grandmaster WuChu said, "True mind does not follow thoughts when they are created, and it does not follow thoughts when they become extinct.... This spiritual essence is ultimately unobtainable and imperceptible, but can be seen by the eyes as suchness. It is nothing but the object of intuitive attainment."

Question: Are modern books on Zen pretty reliable?

Answer: It depends. Books like _Three Pillars of Zen_ which claims to speak authoritatively on behalf of Soto and Rinzai is really a "New Religion" book about Sanbo Kyodan Zen founded in 1954. Please be advised that the lion's share of American Zen masters who have published thus far have no legalities with Japanese Zen institutions - and most originally came from the Sanbo Kyodan Zen line separating from it afterwards, like Kapleau, Aitken, Joko Beck, Glassman, etc.

Question: So should I not read books by these authors?

Answer: And I am just saying beware. They don't paint a complete picture of Zen.