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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bodhidharma: Entrances and Practices

“Probably you all know that Bodhidharma, the monk who brought dhyana from India to China (dhyana came to be known as Chan in China, Zen in japanese, Seon in Korea, Thien in Vietnam) in the last half of the fifth century, is reputed to have described Chan as:

A direct transmission outside the Scriptures,
Not dependent on words and letters,
Directly pointing to one's own mind
Seeing into one's own nature.

So what is this Chan that we are trying to practice, and how is it practised?

Let us take a further look back in time and see how Bodhidharma saw this. Bodhidharma is reputed to be the first carrier of the Zen transmission from India to China. I say reputed to be since although historians seem to agree that he actually existed, they have little hard evidence on how and what he actually taught. The verse earlier about direct transmission is ascribed to him, and also a teaching on the "Two Entrances and the Four Practices". This is quite an important text but you may not have heard of it. Master Sheng-yen has written an introductory booklet on Chan practice entitled "In the Spirit of Chan" and in it he uses this text as the central document.

Lets look at these Entrances and Practices.

Bodhidharma spoke of there being two entries to realising your own nature. The first is Entry through Principle, in essence it is just to do it, and he describes it like this:

"Leaving behind the false, return to the true;
make no distinction between self and others.
In contemplation one's mind should be stable and unmoving like a wall."

This may well be a direct path to Enlightenment but most of us cannot manage it. We cannot manage to set our minds unmoving like a wall, and to stop making distinctions between self and others, and so on.

So he also spoke of Entry through Practice, and he described four methods. Shifu makes the point that these four are of progressive difficulty.

The first practice is of "accepting karmic retribution". Karma is a difficult concept for many of us, particularly if it involves discussion of past lives. Let us just look at it in a simple, straightforward way. Actions in the past have consequences in the present. Our actions in the past have effects which may be maturing now. Can we accept what the present delivers to us as being the result of past causes and conditions which are maturing in this present moment, without "picking and choosing" and wishing that it were otherwise? Can we notice our own tendencies not to want to accept the retribution of karma on our present lives?

The second practice is "adapting to conditions". At first glance this sounds as if it contradicts the first one. Firstly we are told to accept karmic retribution, but then we are told to adapt to the conditions that result from it. It seems we are trying to wriggle out of it! But whatever the conditions that we encounter as a result of karmic retribution, whether favourable or otherwise, it is up to us not to reject them but to make the best of them, to use them skilfully. The message of this second method is that as we accept our karmic retribution, whether unpleasant or favourable, there is no point in getting upset or excited. There is no point in getting upset when we receive a painful karmic retribution, it is only our just deserts. Similarly when something good happens there is no need to feel that something special has happened, it is only happening as a result of our past good actions and so it is natural that it should happen. Just as acceptance of karmic retribution requires non-aversion, it also requires non-grasping when the present circumstances are good. For better or for worse that is what is happening, and we need to live our lives skilfully accepting the consequences of past actions, without aversion or attachment, and adapting ourselves to the resultant present circumstances.

The first method seems to emphasize acceptance of our karmic retribution, and the second our adaptation to (but not avoidance of) the circumstances that result from karma.

The third practice is "No-Seeking". This is a higher and more difficult practice. Usually our activities are motivated by thoughts of gain for ourselves. This practice requires that we consistently engage in useful activity, and yet without thought as to our own gain. To truly practice this requires a realization of no-self. To begin practice we need an attitude of non-seeking, being willing to engage usefully with the world, but without concern as to whether the use is to ourselves or to others.

As we go through these three practices we can see a progression in the attitude required. Firstly we need an attitude of being willing and able to accept the results of our past actions maturing in the present. Secondly we must have an attitude of flexibility, being willing to adapt to and flow with these differing circumstances that arise, making the best of them, not being attached to fixed ideas of the outcome that we seek. Thirdly our attitude of non-seeking means that we do not have any attachment to any outcome at all, whether for ourselves or for others, and yet we do act.

The fourth method is "Union with the Dharma". It is a basic tenet of Buddhism that all phenomena are empty and impermanent. In this method we try to personally experience this impermanence and selflessness through direct contemplation of emptiness. This is the highest practice and allows us to reach the point of entry though principle, the first and rather difficult entrance of which Bodhidharma spoke.

It is interesting that overtly there is no recommendation to sit in meditation in the first three practices, and yet we also hear of Bodhidharma sitting in meditation for nine years facing the wall, and that he taught a new form of meditation which was called wall-gazing. As far as I can establish Bodhidharma's own teaching on this "wall-gazing" has not survived, but seeing how the teaching was hailed by his descendants as a new method it probably referred not just to the physical posture facing the wall, but also to the mental attitude and method, indeed having one's mind "stable and unmoving, like a wall" as mentioned in the first entrance through principle.

So right from the beginning of Chan, and of course going back further to the time of the Buddha, we see this balancing of meditation and other practices.”…the extended text is available at


Really famous Zen Masters, or "Watch it, whether you answer correctly or incorrectly to Zen master's question, you still get 30 whacks from the incense stick. Ouch!!!"

Mazu Daoyi, "Daji" (709-88) was an eighth generation Zen master and the second most famous behind Huineng. Mazu was the first Zen teacher acknowledged to use his staff to jolt his students into awakening. Here's a couple of lines about Mazu:

A monk asked, "What is the essential meaning of Buddhism?"

Mazu said, "What is the meaning of this moment?"


'Just sitting' can be really hard on the body. In order to loosen up the hips and the knees, and to sit in a vertical and relaxed posture, Shandora Page recommends you try out a Yoga class. Shandora is a certified and insured Ashtanga Yoga teacher who has a background in classical dance training. You can reach her at Breathing Easy Yoga. She teaches Flow, Vinyasa, Restorative and Yin Yoga out of the Comox Valley Kung Fu Academy, #3-1491 McPhee Ave. in Courtenay. Contact at 250-338-2802 or email Shandora at


Also check out
Master Cheng Yen in Facebook;
and the Western Chan Fellowship at

Unless you are willing to camp, this week may be the last opportunity to register for the upcoming Chan retreat. There are 18 people booked! Call Adrian at 250 898 8201, email or Google for information on the three day Chan (Zen) retreat Sept 10, 11, 12. at

Thursday, August 26, 2010

No shortcut to Enlightenment

5th generation Chan Master Niutou Farong (594-651) writes in the Song of Mind,

"Clearly knowing
The net of view increases"

Chan Master Sheng Yen, interprets these lines as, "When we start practicing, we see things the way normal people do--mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. After we are deep into the practice, mountains are no longer mountains, and rivers are no longer rivers. This will happen when you are practicing very single-mindedly, and people may even perceive you as a little foggy. At this stage you may not even recognize yourself in the mirror. When you finally attain enlightenment, you once again see that mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers." Song of Mind, Wisdom from the Zen Classic Xin Ming by Chan Master Cheng Yen, pg. 60.


For those of us who are interested in Mindfulness and Kids, especially teachers, we can sign up to Susan Kaiser Greenland's web site It's an extremely comprehensive site focused upon children and education, mostly in the U.S.

An interview of Joseph Goldstein is available on that site. WIKI states, Joseph Goldstein (born 1944) is one of the first American vipassana teachers (Fronsdal, 1998), co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) with Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg, contemporary author of numerous popular books on Buddhism, resident guiding teacher at IMS, and leader of retreats worldwide on insight (vipassana) and lovingkindness (metta) meditation.

While the majority of Goldstein's publications introduce Westerners to primarily Theravada concepts, practices and values, his 2002 work, "One Dharma", explored the creation of an integrated framework for the Theravada, Tibetan and Zen traditions.

Here is the interview of Joseph on the subject of mindfulness and the legal profession; and yes, we could substitute our occupation whatever it be, especially those amongst us who are in the therapeutic/helping professions. You do have to sign up to this site to see the interview.


And a second insert for this blog, Really famous Zen Masters, or "Watch it, whether you answer correctly or incorrectly to Zen master's question, you still get 30 whacks from the incense stick. Ouch!!!"

Here is a story about a ninth generation teacher, Layman Pang, "Pangyun". What's fascinating about Layman Pang, is that he, his wife, and his daughter all achieved illumination.

"When Layman pang was about to die, he said to his daughter, Ling Zhao, "Go look at the sun and see what time it is. Just when it's noon come and tell me."

Ling Zhao went to the door and looked out, saying, "The sun has just reached noon, but there's an eclipse."

When Layman Pang went to the door and looked out, Ling Zhao went to her father's seat, placed her hands together, and passed away.

Layman Pang smiled and said, "My daughter's deftness!"

He then postponed his departure from the world by seven days.

The governor of Xiangzhou came to visit Pangyun and ask about his illness.

Layman Pang said to him, "I ask that you regard everything that is as empty, nor give substance to that which has none. Farewell, The world is like reflections and echoes."

Then, placing his head on the governor's knee, Layman Pang passed away. His cremated remains were cast upon rivers and lakes. Monks and laity mourned him, saying that he was actually Vimalakirti. Three hundred of Layman Pang's poems were left to spread through the world.


Can we rest attention upon our heart for Shirley's mom, and all the flood victims in Pakistan.

There will be a class tonight at 7 p.m.

Also check out:
Master Cheng in Facebook
and the Western Chan Fellowship at

Sunday, August 15, 2010

how to meditate in daily life: be a baby bodhisattva

Here's a great audio by John Crook, a Zen teacher out of England, one whom has been accredited by Master Sheng Yen...
Crook directs his talk on how to be a baby bodhisattva in this world. And similarly on this side of the ocean, Dharma Punx Noah Levine YouTubes on how we can be a baby bodhisattva at

And a new insert for this blog, Really famous Zen Masters, or "Watch it, whether you answer correctly or incorrectly to Zen master's question, you still get 30 whacks from the incense stick. Ouch!!!"

Here is a story about the Sixth Patriarch, Dajian Huineng (678-713), one of the preeminent Zen masters in the Chan lineage.

The monk Yin Zong expounded on the Buddhist sutras. One day during his lecture a storm came up. Seeing a banner waving in the wind, he asked his audience, "is the wind moving or is the flag moving?"

Someone said, "The wind is moving."

Someone else said, "The flag is moving."

The two people held fast to their viewpoints and asked Yin Zong to say who was right. But Yin Zong had no way to decide, so he asked Huineng, who was standing nearby, to resolve the issue.

Hiuineng said, "Neither the wind nor the flag is moving."

Yin Zong said, "Then, what is it that is moving?"

Huineng said, "Your mind is moving."

...from Zen's Chinese Heritage, The Masters and Their Teachings by Andy Ferguson. This book also has a pull out chronological map of all the Zen masters whom ever graced our planet.


There will be a class this evening the 19th of August at the Salish House, Lewis Park Recreation Centre. A problem has come up in booking the Salish House. Courtenay Recreation has just informed me Thursday nights will no longer be available; they have rebooked Salish House with another program....and this after repeatedly requesting permission to use the facility same place same time. More to come. If anyone knows of a meeting place, preferably public, please let me know. Our last class at the Salish will be the 9th of September.

Also check out:
Master Cheng in Facebook
and the Western Chan Fellowship at

Saturday, August 7, 2010

3 day retreat information

For those interested in attending the three-day retreat being held at the Hermitage on Denman Island September 10 – 12 additional information is provided below.

The 2nd week of September is damp on Denman Island. Check the weather report to see if rain will be coming. You will need a raincoat.
Bring rubber boots or water resistant shoes if you want to walk in the fields. Hay fields up to your knees will get you wet up to your knees, even on an early morning July/August day, let alone a mid-September morning. I think the Hermitage is about 50 acres of forest paths and fields. You may want to walk along the trails.

Bring a good warm sleeping bag, your bedding?...why not throw in an extra blanket if you want to be toasty.
Bring a heavy is great to insulate against the damp.
Bring your meditation pillows, etc. Note, there are chairs in the meditation space if your usual practice is to use a chair while meditating.

There are only six the rest of us will be camping. You need camping equipment if you are camping. We will have to sort out who camps and who gets a cabin before we arrive at The Hermitage, based probably on necessity.
We will be meditating in a a yurt +image. They are great structures. Many, many high ranking teachers from all over the world have taught in this particular yurt.

There are showers. There are toilets.
I can attest to the chef's ability to put an amazing vegetarian meal on the dinner table. Does anyone have food allergies?

William has said he wants people to arrive by Thursday evening so that he may start classes at 6 a.m. If that is impossible to do because of work obligations etc, the earliest ferry from Buckley Bay Friday morning is 7 a.m. He wants Friday arrivals ready to meditate by 9 a.m. That means catching a really early mainland to Vancouver Island ferry. Then, it takes about 1 hr 15 minutes to get to Buckley Bay from Nanaimo.

Friday, August 6, 2010

just sitting and upcoming retreats

Chan master William Tsao will be leading the Denman Island retreat on the Sept 10th to 12th, and the one day retreat in White Rock.

Be Completely in the Present

At the first stage of just sitting, you know very clearly that you are sitting there. You sense your whole body sitting there, and you also sense certain parts of your body. You may have sensations that are obvious as well as others you are not aware of. Nevertheless, you are very clear about sitting there. This clarity is illumination. What about being distracted by sensations like pain, soreness, or itchiness. If you don't respond to them, this is silence. This is just sitting, the beginning stage of Silent Illumination practice. Some may think, all right, I'm itchy but I'm not going to scratch. But if you have a strong urge to scratch, you are already scratching. It is the same with leg pains. "My leg hurts, but I'm not going to move it. Don't react. Don't react." That is already responding to the pain. And since you have responded, just scratch the itch, straighten the leg and get it over with. Then go back to just sitting."

...from The Method of No-Method by Chan Master Sheng Yen, Pg. 26.


The energy of anger: Ram Dass interviews Thicht Nhat Hanh


A one-day retreat will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday August 21st at the White Rock Community Centre. There will be a lunch break from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. Please bring a lunch with you. Cost is by donation. For participants in the Courtenay area, please request a registration form from Adrian.

Those who only wish to attend the morning group meditation may do so.

William hopes you have been able to practice your method and sends his blessings.


There will be no class this coming Thursday night Aug. 12th in Courtenay.


Also check
Facebook Master Cheng Yen and

Monday, August 2, 2010

One day retreat this Sunday the 8th in Courtenay

There is a one day retreat this Sunday the 8th in Courtenay 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. And in either Vancouver or White Rock, at the end of August, another one day retreat will occur. Call Adrian to register.

"So, I think that's some background to Khandro Rinpoche's statement: "Anger is always a waste of time." I think we have to unpack the word "anger." It's not so much avoiding feeling of irritation and frustration--it's acting out on them. Maybe we should use the word "aggression." But then, you know, then there's the "but". That's what this woman had in mind when she said, "But what about things that are really terrible?"--like battery, or murder, or all kinds of very aggressive things that are done to people that we need to take issue with. And that's when Khandro Rinpoche said, "I didn't tell you to leave behind your critical intelligence."
.....from Meditating with Anger, Rita Gross, City Center, 22 July 1998..Spring 1999 in Windbell...Teachings from the San Francisco Zen Center 1968 to 2001, available in the Courtenay Public Library.

"Dr. Albert Sweitzer gave up fame as a musician to become a doctor in a small African village that was rife with disease. Without fear, he worked for many years among sick people, saving many lives without falling ill himself. Similarly, an enlightened person can mingle at all levels of society, able to help them without being influenced by them. There is a Chinese proverb: "If you find yourself on a pirate ship, it is best to become a pirate." The way of enlightened people is somewhat like this. Finding themselves on a pirate ship, they will become like pirates and gain their trust. Eventually they will turn those pirates into good people. That's a very difficult task."

...from The Fourth Evening Lecture...the ox mind is free from The Method of No-Method by Chan Master Sheng Yen, and is available in the Courtenay Public Library

The places That Scare You...a guide to fearlessness in difficult Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun in the lineage of Chogyam Trungpa, is a resident teaher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia: 4 CD's are available for loan.

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 this Thursday the 26th 7 pm at Salish House, Lewis Park Rec.

Upcoming retreat on the 10 to 12th of September

The Hermitage is an amazing place to do a retreat. Lots of forest and farm land to silence the mind and contact your original nature. There are six cabins and marvelous sites in which to camp. Lisa Devenish, a fabulous vegetarian chef and Lama Rodney's wife will be doing the cooking. The retreat is by donation. There are six cabins and multiple tent sites. Unless you live on Denman/Hornby, arrive Thursday evening because of ferry schedules. The retreat starts at 8 a.m. Friday and ends Sunday at 4:00

Check out the Hermitage at