Chan/Zen Mind: Thoughts on Direct Experience and Perceptions; Keys to Happiness and Peace.

28 May


Zen/Chan thought encourages the practitioner to study with the whole body and mind, through this way of practicing the student can have a direct experience.

Consider that everything in life is geared towards the encouragement, development and discovery of our true nature.

Just reading about the subject can give some understanding from an intellectual perspective, which is a necessary part, but may be lacking in the complete direct experience.

We need together intellectual and physical to actualise practice and to fully understand and experience something.

So this is also the case when studying martial arts, it is necessary to have strong conviction to study with mind but also in body too.

Direct experience will come when you are completely at one with your activity and when you have no concept of self.

When this occurs all concepts of right and wrong disappear.

Our opinions are dropped; there is no subject or object, therefore no “two” of something.

We can then break free from superstitions, philosophical opinions and even religious beliefs.

For example a skilful martial artist can use his sword to cut a fly off his friends nose without cutting the friend.

To have fear of cutting the nose is not true practice.

When you do something have strong determination to do it, without an idea of skilful or not, dangerous or not, just do it. When you do something with this kind of conviction it is true practice.

When I was training recently with my master, a highly skilled practitioner, I did feel fear when confronted by this way stronger opponent, but soon discovered that when you can focus the mind and stay in the present moment you could respond appropriately. I tried to not let my mind create illusionary situations, for example “this is going to turn out bad!!!” Or “golly gosh”, or words to a stronger effect, “this is going to hurt!!”

When you can forget preconceived ideas of self, like ‘who am I?’, then the mind can become open to all possibilities. Then you can act with clear and focused attention. Then you can see your true nature.

When we can forget about the self, we can respond to the moment that is occurring now.


This is why martial arts training, particularly in Shaolin Kung Fu, is considered a method or way to Chan/Zen enlightenment or a way to discover your true nature. The Venerable Abbot Shi Suxi (释素喜) 1924 – 2006, 30th generation Shaolin Monk, highlighted how Chan comes before Quan (fist).

Could it be that Chan can be Quan and Quan can be Chan?

When you can develop this true understanding and practice.

It is beyond any feeling of fear, good or bad, right or wrong.

Another example is I sometimes can become discouraged by the state of our current world, every time I turn on the news there is war, destruction, people behaving and acting inhumanly. I say to myself why is this happening, why are people so cruel and heartless, how can I make a difference, how can I change this, but I soon realised that this way of thinking is impossible, I would get angry or sad and despondent and sometimes even feel ashamed to call myself a human being knowing that these atrocities are happening in the world.

Sometimes to cope I will ignore it saying, this is nothing to do with me, I’m not a part of this. But I realised that this too is a limited way to respond and ignoring a situation doesn’t make it better, stop it from happening, or as you all well know, make it go away.


I soon realised this way of thinking is painful, limited and useless. It cannot help or change anything and most importantly doesn’t assist you in helping to discover your true nature.

So what to do, what could I do?

I thought about the questions that many people ask about life; like how can we create peace, happiness and fulfilment in life? When all of this is going on around us?

I realised that to gain peace it is not enough to just change our environment or to physically try to help/make all the people change or awaken in the world.

Even though we should continue to help others, this in turn will create happiness, but we cannot expect them to change, this only causes suffering and pain when the expectation is not achieved, and for some in this lifetime can be an impossible task.

So my old patterns of thinking were also an impossible task, like trying to squeeze water from a stone.


So here is the insight………..

We can guide people, inspire people; enlighten them by our own actions.

We cannot be responsible for the actions of others, but what we can be responsible for is our own actions, thoughts and behaviour.

The only real peace we can truly gain is inner peace, and then everything you see will be peaceful.

So how do we achieve inner peace?

Well this could be very difficult or very simple, there are many paths and methods, but as we explored in the text above, whatever path or method you choose, do it with all your body, heart and mind with full commitment and determination.

To truthfully seek, we need to persist in our practice even when we become discouraged. We will have then ‘attained’ when the urge to give up has been overcome……eventually.

Consider this:

“To an awakened mind even destruction could be peaceful.”

                                                       SHI YAN MING (from Uk Shaolin Temple)

 I state that I am far from this level of awareness, I have many days where I forget and need reminding, I’m just a beginner after all, but a beginners mind is worth consideration, don’t you think?

I leave you with an extract from the great Chan master Sengcan, the fourth patriarch of Chan Buddhism.

This is his only surviving work called the Hsin Shin Ming (xinxinming), or “Trust in Mind.” This poem—thought to be one of the earliest Chan treatises. ENJOY X


Trust in Mind –

The Great Way is not difficult
 for those who have no preferences

When love and hate are both absent
 everything becomes clear and undisguised

Make the smallest distinction however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything

To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind 

When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail

Things are objects because of the subject (mind),
the mind (subject) is such because of things (object)

Understand the relativity of these two 
and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.

In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
 and each contains in itself the whole world.
 If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine 
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.

In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.

To come directly into harmony with this reality 
just say when doubt rises “not two”.
 In this “not two” nothing is separate, 
nothing is excluded.

 The Way is beyond language, 
for in it there is
 no yesterday
 no tomorrow
 no today.



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