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The Key to Training the Mind—Chan Practice

Training the mind cannot be achieved overnight; it takes daily practice. When hit by any unexpected situation, our many years of practice will then come into play and help us deal with it without panicking and losing our emotion. There are many methods in Chan practice that can be used to train our mind. We can practice the following methods in our daily life, thereby allowing us to focus and concentrate our mind with clear awareness, in order to constantly rein in our mind. Doing so will transform our afflicted mind into one of purity.

As an internationally renowned Chan teacher, Master Sheng Yen frequently offered guidance to practitioners from different parts of the world. He specified two approaches to Chan practice: conceptual guidance, and the training of body and mind. Regarding conceptual guidance, Master Sheng Yen used Buddhist concepts to guide people to release their mental afflictions thus attaining joy in the Dharma. We can constantly use the concepts to help ourselves eliminate our deluded thoughts and attachments, thereby letting go of our ego, or self-centeredness. When experiencing difficulties and vexations, we apply Buddhist concepts to release our mental stress, burdens, and strains. To train the body and mind, we can use the practice methods—primarily sitting in meditation, prostrating to the Buddha, and reciting or chanting the Buddha's name, the dharani/mantra, and the sutra—to help us develop right mindfulness, instead of indulging in deluded thoughts. Gradually, we'll be able to use right mindfulness to gather our scattered thoughts into a unified state of mind, eventually reaching the state of no-mind. In the process of our practice, we may attain the joy of Chan.

In his book, Liberated in Stillness and Motion, (動靜皆自在), Master Sheng Yen introduced a few simple methods of Chan practice:

1. Relaxing the body and mind

Try to sit in a natural and comfortable position. Relax your body with hands placed on thighs and feet placed flat on the floor. Next, close your eyes without exerting any force in your eyeballs, and lean your back against the chair. Relax your facial muscles, followed by your shoulders, hands, thighs, abdomen, and continue to scan the whole body. Clear your mind of all thoughts, while paying slight attention to your breath without trying to control it. Instead, simply enjoy the sensation of comfortable relaxation in this moment.

2. Unifying the body and mind

You find your body no longer a burden to your mind. Although still aware of the existence of your body, you no longer worry about the physical reactions of the body. You are in harmony with the surrounding environment, as if being unified with the whole universe. At this point, your self-centeredness is still present. Only by further letting go of your body and mind can you attain the state of no-self.

3. Letting go of body and mind

Letting go does not mean giving up. Your body and thoughts still exist and are operating as normal. However, you are no longer grasping and attaching to your self-centeredness. This is how you gradually enter the state of no-self through your experience of practice over time. The no-self as you have realized it may be different from the conceptual no-self, but the latter certainly helps bring about its true realization. People nowadays tend to pursue quick results, expecting to achieve "sudden" enlightenment or awakening merely by resorting to intellectual and conceptual knowledge.
In fact, training the mind requires skill to cultivate concentration. Besides sitting meditation practice, prostrating to the Buddha, reciting the sutra, Buddha's name, and the dharani/mantra, as well as transcribing the sutra can also help us calm and stabilize our body and mind. If we can persevere with our daily practice for an extended period of time, we'll naturally experience a peaceful and steady mind, and are less likely to be affected and disturbed by the surrounding environment.

Extended Reading:

Modern People's Mental Issues - Too many wandering thoughts

Modern People's Mental Issues - Materialistic Obsession

Modern People's Mental Issues - Chronic Depression

Modern People's Mental Issues - Intense Anger

Buddhist Methods for Training the Mind - The Seven Stages to Regulate the Mind

The Key to Training the Mind—Chan Practice

The Key to Training the Mind—Single-minded, undisturbed concentration through Buddha-name recitation

The Key to Training the Mind—A focused mind through upholding a dharani/mantra

Resource: Issue 316 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Venerable Guo Shyang
Translation: Pin-an Chen (陳品安)
Editing: Keith Brown, Chia-cheng Chang (張家誠)