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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Three day September Chan Retreat

An upcoming three day Chan retreat:

Hope your summer is going well. The Hermitage, a retreat centre on Denman Island, has made available their space for the 2nd weekend in September for a 3 day Chan retreat, the 10th, 11th, 12th with participant arrival on Thursday night. There are 6 cabins and a tenting site.

Check out the Hermitage at
By donation.
Let me know ASAP if this commitment to your practice has a pull on you.

Check out Brad Warner. He is a zen teacher with a website at and has written Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate,available at the Courtenay library. Brad Warner "shatters expectations, revealing that Buddhism isn't some esoteric pie-in-the-sky ultimate solution but an exceptionally practical way to deal with whatever life dishes out." Warner is definitely not what one would expect from a Zen teacher.

Wandering thoughts: Master Sheng Yen

In dealing with wandering thoughts the first step is to recognize when the mind is wandering. Often it comes over us so subtly that we do not even notice it. Then suddenly we notice our minds have wandered. So we have to be mindful of what we are doing in our practice. When we do detect that our minds have gone wandering it is important not to feel irritated with oneself. It simply tires you out if you take up a belligerent attitude towards your own mind! The paradoxical thing is this - that very often as soon as you can recognize the fact of wandering, the mind clears. The recognition itself can do the trick. The art of it is to repeatedly recognize the state of mind and bring it back into focus. By doing this the body energy is renewed and you have fewer periods of wandering thought. There is a daily cycle of energy with some periods when you have less than at other times. This is natural. So there is no need for a fight. Simply be attentively aware at all times.

We can make use of an analogy here. Meditation is like using a fan - the old fashioned hand-held type. You have the task of catching a feather on the fan. Every time you move the fan, the feather is likely to be blown away. Its a delicate business. You have to hold out the fan, quite still, just under the space through which the feather is sinking of its own motion. The feather then comes to rest on the top of the fan. You can imagine for yourself how difficult or easy this may be! Any use of force and the feather is lost. Yet, once you grasp the principle, it is very easy. Stilling the mind is like catching a feather with a fan. It needs patience and persistence. When practicing do not be afraid of a distracting thought. If your body has a problem do not get concerned with it If your mind is worrying - put the worry down. Keep the mind on the method - waiting for the feather to sink onto the fan.

Individual and Group Practice: Master Sheng Yen

“What is the difference between individual practice and group practice?

Mainland Chan practitioners of the past had a saying, “Going to sleep in a large temple is better than practicing alone in a small temple.” That is to say, practicing all by your self is not easy. Because working alone, you will lack the stimulus of the group. Although you know you should work hard, you do not have the power and advantages that only group practice can provide.”

“…I want to remind everyone again, group practice has more significance and benefit than individual meditation. To maximize group practice’s effectiveness, Chan hall rules must be firmly established. There should be no coming late, leaving early, or wandering aimlessly. Ask for the same strictness that would be found during a 7-day retreat. Elevate the standards in a way that will benefit diligent participants. During group practice the timekeeper and supervisor should strictly enforce the rules. As soon as people enter the Chan hall, they should feel a difference. If compliance with the rules is not requested, the influence on hard-working practitioners will resemble cooking a pot of rice porridge. The original rice may have gradually started to boil, but after a while you throw some lotus seeds in, and the boiling pot stops boiling. After a while you throw in some peanuts. And so it goes until at the end the pot has parts that are still underdone and parts that are cooked to a mush. Request of late arrivers that they not enter the Chan hall.
Tread lightly and make no noises. Avoid even the sound made by the friction of your garments. Why request all this? The reason is to foster the meditation atmosphere. Because once that atmosphere is disturbed, the feeling changes completely.”

“Group practice does more than just furnish a good atmosphere. At the same time, each person has her own mental power, a kind of serene, pure energy that will reinforce that of others. If there are 50 people, then the mental energies of 50 will interact and reinforce each other. In the process of group practice, you should be able to experience the purification of your mind and body as well as the benefits that the Dharma confers on human life.”

karmic consciousness: Master Sheng Yen

Chan Master Sheng Yen is speaking at a meditation retreat

“..So, today, I say we must also let go of inverted, upside-down views. What are some upside-down views? Clinging to karmic consciousness, constant self-referencing, wanting things, wanting to acquire Dharma, and yearning for enlightenment. But aren’t you here to acquire Dharma and enlightenment? Didn’t you come to relinquish your vexations, realizing you have suffering in your life? You may think, “Yes, I have a lot of suffering. I have vexations. I want to get rid of vexations. I want to reach enlightenment. I want to become a Buddha. I want to be reborn in the Pure Land.” Everything is “I,” “I,” “me,” “me.” These are all inverted views, and with these perspectives, one creates more suffering. We call this the “first ultimate truth,” which is that all such mind-sets create more karma and more suffering. And this is also what Huanglong means by “karmic consciousness.”

………..Chan Master Sheng Yen in Shattering the Great Doubt

A Sufi Sheik writes,

The Noose

When al-Hallaj was put in prison
For saying he was one with God,
Shebli, his friend, asked him,
“What is the love you speak of?”

“Come tomorrow and I’ll tell you,”
Al-Hallaj answered.
Tomorrow came and Shebli found him
In front of the gallows.

Al-Hallaj looked at him and said,
“Now you can see the answer:
Love begins by alluring the ‘I’
And ends like this:

“Its noose gets tighter and tighter
To squeeze out the self.
Then comes the test of the Cross
Stay if you understand; if you don’t, leave now.”

………Sheikh Ansari in Perfume of the Desert by Andrew Harvey.


First paint a cage
with an open door
then paint
something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
without speaking
without moving...
Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but he can just as well spend long years
before deciding
Don't get discouraged
wait years if necessary
the swiftness or slowness of the coming
of the bird having no rapport
with the success of the picture
When the bird comes
if he comes
observe the most profound silence
wait till the bird enters the cage
and when he has entered
gently close the door with a brush
paint out all the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the feathers of the bird
Then paint the portrait of the tree
choosing the most beautiful of its branches
for the bird
paint also the green foliage and the wind's freshness
the dust of the sun
and the noise of insects in the summer heat
and then wait for the bird to decide to sing
If the bird doesn't sing
it's a bad sign
a sign that the painting is bad
but if he sings it's a good sign
a sign that you can sign
so then so gently you pull out
one of the feathers of the bird
and you write yours name in a corner of the picture

- Jacques Prevert
(translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti)

Commentary on Faith in Mind by Master Sheng Yen

“The Way is perfect like great space,
Without lack, without excess.
Because of grasping and rejecting,
You cannot attain it.”

Great space does not refer to a nothingness, but rather to a totality. Though it includes everything, there is no individual existence. There is only the total, universal existence. Even before attaining the Way, practitioners should train themselves in the proper attitudes of one who is already enlightened. That is, they should discard the mentality of liking and disliking. So long as you practice diligently, that practice is the totality. After all, what you dislike and what you like are not separate from one another.

From pg 23, Faith in Mind …A Commentary on Seng Ts’an’s Classic

By Master Sheng Yen

To remind you, you can facebook Master Sheng Yen and you can Google Chan Community Canada to obtain sitting times in White Rock and one, three, and seven day meditation retreats. You might email Marie to be on her email list to find out about upcoming events in Vancouver.

See you Thursday 7 pm at Salish House, Lewis Park Rec.
Please don’t forget to return books.

An excerpt from the Avatamsaka-sutra by Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn

Song of Dharma Nature

The nature of the Dharmas is perfect. It does not have two different aspects.
All the various Dharmas are unmoving and fundamentally still.
They are without name and form, cut off from all things.
This is understood by enlightened wisdom, and not by any other sphere.
The One is in the many, the many are within the One.
The One is many the many are One.
Numberless kalpas are the same as one moment.
One moment is the same as numberless kalpas.

This is an excerpt from a long teaching-poem based on the Avatamsaka-sutra. It was written by a very famous master, Ui-Sang, during the golden age of the Shilla Dynasty in Korea. These verses are chanted every day in most temples in Korea. They point directly to the nature of Dharma. Many people say, "Dharma is this. Dharma is that." But what is Dharma exactly? Originally, true Dharma has no name. Dharma has no form. Even calling it "Dharma" is already a big mistake. Dharma is not Dharma, OK? You must understand that. So, Dharma or Dharma-nature are just names for your universal substance. This substance, of which everything in the universe is composed, does not have two different aspects. It does not even have two different forms. It also does not have one aspect or form. It is not one and not two. It is also not a "thing." It takes every form of every thing in the universe, and yet it takes no form, because form is completely empty. It is like electricity. Sometimes electricity appears to us by making fans move and radios emit sound. It produces air-conditioning. It can freeze water and heat a room. It can move a long, heavy train, and yet you walk around with it in your body. It can completely disappear into space. So if you say that electricity is just one thing, you are wrong. If you say that it is all these things that it does, all these actions that it performs, you are also completely wrong. Electricity is none of these things, and yet it is all of them. Similarly, rain, snow, fog, vapor, river, sea, sleet, and ice are all different forms of the same substance. They are different thing. But H2 0 is unchanging, and composes all of them according to their situation. They are all water. The same is true of Dharma-nature. It is not one and not two. That is a very important point.

So Dharma-nature is universal nature, and it takes many, many different forms. Sometimes it is a mountain, or the rivers, or the sun, the moon, the stars, this cup, this sound, and your mind. They are all the same, because they are all the same universal substance. When any kind of condition appears, Dharma-nature follows that condition, and then some form appears. But when condition disappears, then name and form disappear. That is the meaning of "everything is complete" in these lines. "Complete" is this Dharma-nature, this universal substance that goes around and around and around with no hindrance. It never lacks anything, anywhere. Sometimes it is a mountain, and sometimes it is a river, or trees, or rocks, clouds, humans, air, animals. But originally it is complete stillness. Even while taking form as everything in this universe, it is completely not moving. It takes these forms, but it is none of these forms and is not touched by these forms. Dharma-nature is the same as your true self. It cannot be understood with conceptual thinking. Books and learning cannot give you this point. One hundred Ph.D.'s will not help you attain it.

The One is in the many, the many are within the One.
The One is many, the many are One.
Numberless kalpas are the same as one moment.
One moment is the same as numberless kalpas.

Everyone believes that time and space exist. Ha ha ha ha! That's very funny! Your thinking makes time, and your thinking makes space. But no one really understands this. So these lines state that time and space are the same, and they are one. They are also not one. This One is completely empty. "The One is in the many, the many are within the One. The One is many, the many are One." That is talking about space. Everything is one point, and that one point is everything. There are not two separate things. We can think of it this way: Empty space is only one, indivisible, but in space there are many individual things-mountains, rivers, human beings, trees, dogs, cats, the sun, the moon, the stars. All of these "things" comprise space. Everything is part of space, but that space is not two, because everything is contained within it. There is nothing "outside" space.

This poem has very interesting teaching about the true nature of time, too. "Numberless kalpas are the same as one moment. One moment is the same as numberless kalpas." Time is not long or short. As we saw earlier, since our thinking minds make time, we also make it either long or short. If you practice meditation, however, you can actually perceive that in one moment, there is infinite time. In one moment, there is infinite space. In one moment there is everything! One moment is endless time and space. To most people such a statement must be describing some special realm or experience. So how big is one moment? If we want to imagine this, we can illustrate one moment as being one second divided by infinite time. That is a very short time! A camera can teach you this. There are some special cameras with very high shutter speeds. This kind of camera can photograph a speeding bullet. A moving bullet is invisible to the naked eye. When this camera shutter opens, very quickly, it "catches" the bullet on film. You can see the bullet stopped in midair, not moving. But if you look closely at the photograph, you can tell that this bullet is still moving, though it seems stopped in space. The same is true of our minds, just as they are. If you take your don't-know camera - your mind before thinking arises - and perceive just one moment, very deeply, very clearly, you see this bullet not moving. You see everything not moving. This whole world is not moving. That's very interesting! Your mind and this whole universe have the same nature. Originally everything is completely still and not moving. This sutra says, "All the various Dharmas are unmoving and fundamentally still." This is the same point. Stillness simply means our moment mind: one second divided by infinite time. We sometimes call that moment world. It is infinite in time and space, which actually means that it has no time or space.

So this gatha has very interesting poetic speech about Dharma-nature and universal substance. But this is only beautiful speech, and even the Buddha's speech cannot help your life if it does not completely become yours. Then where does universal substance come from? Where does universal energy appear? It comes from complete stillness. "The One is in the many, the many are within the One. The One is many, the many are One." So everything has it. [Hits the table.] Everything comes from complete stillness. [Hits the table.] Everything comes from this one point. Sometimes this point is called universal substance or energy, or Buddha, or God, or consciousness, or holiness, or mind, or the Absolute. [Hits the table.] These are all names, and names come from thinking. But originally, this complete stillness point has no name and no form whatsoever, because it is before thinking. Yet it is present in all things, and all things have it. In Zen there is a famous kong-an, "The ten thousand things return to One. Where does the One return?" If you attain that point [hits the table], you attain One, and you attain everything. That means you attain moment. You attain complete stillness and extinction. But mere intellectual understanding of this cannot help you. Only meditation practice can give you this experience directly. [Hits the table.] When this experience completely becomes yours, you attain your wisdom. That is the teaching of the Song of Dharma Nature.

This page copyright © Kwan Um School of Zen

The Infinite Mirror

Hi Everyone,
An upcoming three day Chan retreat:

Hope your summer is going well. The Hermitage, a retreat centre on Denman Island, has made available their space for the 2nd weekend in September for a 3 day Chan retreat, the 10th, 11th, 12th with participant arrival on Thursday night. There are 6 cabins and a tenting site. Check out the Hermitage at
By donation.
Let me know ASAP if this commitment to your practice has a pull on you.

Here follows part of a speech taken from Sheng Yen’s Facebook site:

The Infinite Mirror: Vexation is Itself Wisdom

“Attachment to phenomenon has always been confusion”

In Chan Buddhism, we talk about nature vs. phenomena, which is also described as principle vs. phenomena. Mistakenly being attached to and grasping onto phenomena leads to confusion. We dominate other people on a daily basis because we have a sense of self. I want to dominate others, and other people want to dominate me. Sometimes, we can successfully dominate other people, and sometimes we are dominated by others.

Sometimes, we think, I am going to make that person suffer. When we think like that, aren't we treating that person as an external phenomenon? The "other" that we are thinking about in our minds, is it really another person, or is it merely a thought in our mind? It's really just a thought, but we grasp onto it. In our memory, we might think, this person is so mean, I really need to make this other person suffer, but it is just a thought. When we are thinking this way, who are you really dominating? This is merely a thought, and maybe we are able to detect it when we are meditating, but in daily life, we forget and attach to the thought, thinking that it's a real person. We forget that it is merely a thought and grasp onto the notion of that person. In order to make a dream work for you, you have to treat it as a real external phenomenon, so it becomes a motivation for you. Even if your dreams come true, is it really great? Perhaps not. Only when you don't have dreams is it truly great.

Our minds give rise to thoughts, but we don't recognize them as thoughts; we think they are others, or this person. Because we grasp onto these thoughts, they accumulate momentum to the next moment. When you are looking at yourself in the mirror, you may think, I look quite nice, and other people may look at you. But who is looking at you? After you have become successful, perhaps you will think that other people will look at you with envy. Who is looking with envy? According to Dale Carnegie, you have to visualize your success. You are supposed to visualize that you are successful and everyone is looking at you with envy, but really, who is looking at you with envy? Is it others that are looking at you, or just yourself? When you think about it, it is really your previous thought looking at your latter thought and thinking that your latter thought is really yourself. It's just your wandering thoughts. So, if you become proud, you may think that other people are looking at you with envy, but it is really you that has the notion of others. You have to treat that image as others in order for you to feel proud of yourself. If you realize that these are merely wandering thoughts, there is nothing to be proud of.

Part of a Talk presented by Venerable Abbot Guo Xing, a teacher accredited by Sheng Yen: read the complete text on Facebook

To remind you, you can Facebook Master Sheng Yen; you can Google Chan Community Canada to obtain sitting times in White Rock Saturday mornings; reading nights in Vancouver on Wednesday evenings; and one, three, seven day and extended meditation retreats around the world. You might email Marie to be on her email list to find out about upcoming events in Vancouver.

Practice and Emptiness

If we understand zazen and our practice we can begin to get acquainted with ourselves, and how our troublesome emotions wreak havoc with our lives. If we really practice then very slowly, over the years, strength develops. At times this is a horrendous process. If anyone tells you differently they are not telling you about real meditation. Real meditation is by no means a flowery, blissful process. But if we really do it in time we begin to know what it is we’re after; we begin to see who we are. So I want you to appreciate your practice and really do it. Practice is not a trimming on your life. Practice is the foundation. If that’s not there nothing else will be there. So let’s keep clarifying what our practice is at this moment. And who knows, some of us might even find ourselves in a relationship that works---one that has a very, very different base. It is up to us to create that abase. So let’s just do that.

Charlotte Joko Beck
Retired Zen Master at the San Diego Zen Centre

There is the idea of emptiness and there is the experience of emptiness. Conceptual emptiness is the intellectual understanding that all phenomena are transient and therefore lack fixed and enduring reality. This is not experiential emptiness, which can only come directly from practice.

Master Sheng Yen..The Method of No Method

Finding Chan all around us: the poetry of Mary Oliver


What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that's all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They're small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them--haven't' you?--
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered--so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout--sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn't anything in this world I don't
admire. If there is, I don't know what it is. I
haven't met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It's not hard, it's in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it's love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.

Mary Oliver
American Poet

What is Chan?

If you are in White Rock on Saturday mornings, you can meditate under William's tutelage. There is also a reading group that meets on Wednesday nights in Vancouver. Contact Marie at Both free/donation.

To reorient you towards Chan, I've included an excerpt below written by William directed to the Hermitage on Denman Island, for a planned 3 day retreat site in Sept 10th, 11th and 12th of 2010.

What is Chan (Zen)

'Chan is inconceivable and inexpressible. The five principles of Chan which summarize the Chan approach are:

1. Not relying on words and languages;

2. A special transmission outside the teachings (In the expression, ‘finger pointing to the moon’, finger is referred to teaching(s);

3. Direct pointing to the mind (mind is often referred as the moon);

4. Insight into mind and seeing into one’s own nature;

5. Sudden awakening and attaining Buddhahood.

Chan is not something new brought here to the west by Orientals. Chan is present everywhere: in space without limit and time without end. Nevertheless, the teachings of Chan have been brought from India to China, and further on to Vietnam, Korea, Japan and finally the West. Although the Dharma of Mind (Chan) is beyond thinking and speech, the Dharma of Teachings is transmitted by Chan Masters in order that Chan practitioners will be able to realize Chan.

The core parts of Chan teachings are listed in the form of question and answer (Q. and A.) as follows:

1. Q. What is Chan?
A. Chan is to live an ordinary life with an ordinary mind. Ordinary life is the life of inner peace and true happiness. Ordinary mind is the mind of wisdom and compassion (loving-kindness).

2. Q. What is wisdom and compassion?
A. In our daily life, wisdom is the living attitude without putting our ‘self’ into the situation. In our daily life, compassion is the living attitude of impartially helping all sentient beings in ‘just the right way’.

3. Q. How do we cultivate wisdom and compassion?
A. Wisdom and compassion cannot be attained through cultivation; wisdom and compassion are intrinsic to all sentient beings.

4. Q. How do we manifest ‘ordinary mind’?
A. ‘Letting go of all conditions and letting not one thought arise’ is the prerequisite to investigating Chan. At the right moment of ‘not one thought arising’, the ordinary mind (Chan mind, great mind or Buddha mind) manifests simultaneously.

5. Q. What is ‘true awakening/true liberation’?
A. A truly awakened and liberated one is able to see ‘things-as-they-are’ and ‘things-in-themselves’, that is to have the profound insight of ‘Independence’ and ‘Interdependence’ (Interbeing and Interpenetration), which are manifested spontaneously from the true nature of ‘no-self’.

William Tsao

William is a Chan (Chinese Zen) teacher of both Caodong (Soto) and Linji (Rinzai) lineages. He has practiced Chan with the best known Chan Master, Sheng-Yen, in North America for sixteen years. He received Master’s Confirmation as a Chan teacher in 2004. He has been teaching Silent Illumination and Huatou Chan regularly in Canada.

The traditional Chan method called Silent Illumination begins with nothing more than putting aside all thoughts except the awareness of oneself ‘just sitting’. It’s so simple in execution that it has sometimes been called the ‘method of no method’---yet, simple as it is, the practice is subtle and profound, with the potential for ever subtler refinements as the practitioner moves toward mastery of the technique. When fully penetrated, this radical form of emptying one’s busy mind-stream leads to the vast ocean of pure awareness.

The Huatou Chan is a skillful method for breaking through the prison of mental habits into the spacious mind of enlightenment. Much like a Zen koan, the huatou is a confounding question. Typical huatous are “What is wu (nothingness)”? Or “What was my original face before birth-and-death”? But a huatou is unlike a koan in that the aim is not to produce an answer to the huatou. The practice is simple: the practitioner asks the huatou relentlessly, during sitting meditation, and as well in every other activity. The practitioner doesn’t give up; doesn’t try to think a way to an answer. The practitioner resolves to live with the sensation of questioning that arises to pervade the practitioner’s entire existence. A sense of profound wonder ultimately leads to the shattering of the sense of an independent self.

William's master, Sheng Yen, has written numerous books on Chan which I have, and will lend out. Many of them are available at Chapters, or the local book store will order them. I also have other Zen books by Japanese and American Zen authors. Three of my favourites so far are the American Zen Master John Daido Loori, the Japanese Master Katagiri Roshi, and the Zen dissident Toni Packer (who split from Phillip Kapleau's group in Rochester).

A great Chen website is As William is, John Crook is another teacher accredited by Sheng Yen. Crook's background is academia and psychology. It's an extensive site for information on Chan. You can spend the rest of your life there.

Got questions? Need a book? Give me a call 250 898 8201. Want to meet for a Zen coffee?


Cave of Tigers

Announcement: William Tsao, Accredited by Sheng Yen to teach Chan, will be in Courtenay September 10th, 11th, and 12th for a three day workshop at the Hermitage on Denman Island. More information to come.

And from Cave of Tigers: The living Zen practice of Dharma Combat, John Daido Loori on Cause and Effect…

“Teacher: When you realize responsibility for causality, you make yourself free. Prior to that time, it will seem like anything could be causing an event or creating a situation. But when you realize that you are responsible for the situations and the conditions of your life, it empowers you to do something about them. If you think that somebody else made you angry, it’s their fault and the way you solve the problem is to say, “Please stop making me angry,” or, “You made me angry; do something about it or else.” But, in reality, nobody can make you angry. It’s you who makes you angry. Once you clearly realize that, you can do something about it.

Student: So, we bring it upon ourselves.

Teacher: Exactly. Dogen said, “If you’re the effect, you must also be the cause.”

Student: Thank you for your answer.

Teacher: May your life go well.”

“While the self ultimately needs to be dissolved, in the meantime, we need this self to help us reach selflessness. To think of being selfless from the very beginning, without having gone through the path of practice, is called ‘wild fox Chan’. Just as a baby must crawl before it can walk, you must begin with your ordinary self before finding self-nature. From there you proceed by stages of practice to wisdom. Therefore, you should understand why we must start the practice with our ordinary, selfish self. It is not to be despised; it is your vehicle to selflessness.”…..from Getting the Buddha Mind by Chan Master Sheng Yen