Chan is a spiritual practice.
It’s not about releasing stress. It’s not about improving your mind so that you can do better at work, or improve your interpersonal relationships. It’s not about healing your body and making you feel more comfortable. Chan is a spiritual practice.
Chan can be compared to a cake. The cake has a very delicious, very nutritious, and very wonderful filling in the center, surrounded by very delicious cake with wonderful icing on the top. If you focus on releasing stress, healing the body, and clarifying the mind, you are only tasting the icing. You are missing the cake, and you never get close to even realizing what a wonderful filling it has inside.
Chan practice is challenging. It’s not a wonderful, peaceful, go-to-this-nirvana feeling every time you sit. Anybody who has ever tried Sitting Chan has experienced pain in their legs. It is very difficult sometimes, even excruciating. Mental practice can be just as challenging; just as difficult.
You need more to sustain you, to be able to get through this practice, than just superficial benefits.
It’s not that you won’t realize these things. It’s not that you won’t witness these things. It’s just that you don’t practice Chan to get these benefits; you get these benefits because you practice Chan.
There are many reasons why people come to Chan practice. They may have a lot of stress in their lives, their job or study may be difficult. They want some release from their stress. They want to find a calmer, more peaceful place. Perhaps they have other challenges in their lives that they look to Chan practice for a solution to. They may want to have more self-esteem and self-confidence from which they can develop interpersonal relationships that are deeper and more valuable. Or maybe they have some physical problem that they want to try to find solution to. Finding resolution to these problems through Chan practice is a very difficult path, if your only motivation is to find a solution to a problem.
A Japanese sensei of Zen once asked me “Why do you sit and do the seated meditation?”
I gave the answer that I thought she wanted to hear: “I want to find a peaceful, calm place. I want to relax and I want to be released from the stress of my job.”
She looked at me and said “This sitting meditation, very difficult, very challenging. You should go sit on your back porch and drink a beer. You will find this peaceful place.”
As important as these problems may seem, in relationship to what Chan practice can provide you, they’re actually very, very insignificant problems. Chan practice is interested not in releasing or relieving some temporary problem in this temporary body. It is interested in evolving your spirit to be something greater than it was. If we see ourselves as a spiritual being that has existed long before this body and will exist long after this body, then, there is an opportunity to evolve, to grow, to become something greater at the end of this life than we were when we entered it.
Chan practice is challenging. When we sit, the body hurts, the legs hurt, the back hurts, and the knees hurt, everything becomes very painful, and we need something to sustain us through that part of the practice. What you will find is that when you sit, and you breathe, at some point in your practice, you’ll find that you surpass this physical discomfort, that miraculously in the middle of the meditation, you’ll realize: it didn’t hurt today. The pain is gone, and there is something deeper, some deeper place that you went to, in this practice. The pain is no longer there. And you have evolved also, you have realized, you have witnessed surpassing the body. And this becomes the model that you carry forward.
But surpassing the body is just the first step; it just gives us some foundation, because you’ll find when you surpass the body, now you get to deal with the mind. And the mind is infinitely more challenging to resolve and surpass than the body was. The mind will raise a million different distractions and will create reasons why you’re wasting your time, why this is boring, why it hurts, why you’re not really getting the benefit. The mind will find many, many reasons to try to find a way to release itself from the challenge of being trained and eventually surpassed.
If we follow the practice, and don’t try to short-cut, without trying to do too much too fast, we can use the witness of surpassing the body. There’s a model for surpassing the mind. We’ll find once you surpass conscious mind, you’ll get to deal with sub-conscious mind. Everything that you’ve done in your life that was painful, that was difficult, that was challenging, that you still hold inside that you haven’t released, you’ll have to go through and re-live that again. Feel it with the same clarity, the same emotion, the same hurt, the same challenge, until you’re able to release it from the sub-conscious. All of the accumulated karma that you bring into this life, all that you create while you’re here, you’ll have to purge and purify, and cleanse and cultivate that also from your being.
When you resolve and surpass body, and when you resolve and surpass mind—conscious mind and subconscious mind, you’ll find that, there’s no-longer separation between these aspects of self. That the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the mind and the insight of the spirit are not separate things competing for time, trying to compete for your attention as you sit. You’ll find that the separation between them dissolves. And this is when you’ll have the opportunity for deep insight into the self, to be able to see who you are.
You strip all of these things away, and see what your true nature is, to truly achieve enlightenment within this lifetime, true happiness and peace inside that’s not dependant on circumstances or situations, but evolves of itself from within you.
This is what’s achievable from Chan practice.