A Guide to Sitting Chan

By Chan Master Changlu Zongze
Translated by Guo Jue

Chan Master Zongze Cijue Ji lived in the Changlu
Monastery from 1086-1093. He was a teacher in both the Chan and Pure
Land traditions; in 1089 he led a recitation retreat during which he
encouraged both monastic and lay practitioners to chant Amitabha
Buddha. The work translated here, originally titled "Zuo Chan" (Sitting
Chan), strongly influenced the writing of Zen Master Dogen Zenji and
the development of the Soto lineage in Japan. 

One who aspires to attain wisdom as a bodhisattva
should first give rise to the mind of great compassion, generate great
vows and cultivate samadhi diligently in order to deliver all sentient
beings, without seeking liberation for oneself. With this mindset, one
lets go of all phenomena and brings the myriad engagements [of the
mind] to rest. Whether one is moving or resting, the body and mind
should be unified without a break. One should eat and drink with good
measure, not consuming too much or too little. One should sleep just
adequately, without deprivation or idleness.

When one intends to engage in sitting Chan practice,
one should find a quiet place, prepare the seat with adequate cushions,
and then loosen any clothing that is tight.

Having done so, one assumes a serene and orderly
demeanor and sit in the full-lotus posture, i.e., placing the right
foot on the left thigh, and the left foot on the right thigh.
Alternatively, one can sit in the half-lotus posture, by placing the
left foot on the right thigh. Then proceed to place the right hand on
top of the left foot, the left hand on top of the right hand, with the
thumbs touching each other.

Straighten one’s upper body slowly and lean forward
swaying the body to the left and to the right. After that, settle down
and sit upright. Do not sit tilting to the left or right, or to the
front or back. Allow the spinal vertebrae to align naturally like a
stupa. However, do not stretch the body too much. That may result in
the quickening of the breath and thus disturb the peace of mind.

The ears should be aligned to the shoulder and the
nose to the navel. Let the tongue touch the upper palate. Close the
mouth and the jaws together lightly. 

Leave the eyes slightly open so that one will not
fall into a stupor. The samadhi one attains will be the most powerful
with the eyes open. In ancient times, many eminent monks practiced with
their eyes open. Chan Master Fayun Yuantong also disapproved of
engaging in sitting Chan practice with eyes closed. He referred to this
as practicing in the "ghost caves of the dark mountains". The meaning
of his admonition is profound and only one who is accomplished realizes

After the posture is set, and the breathing calmed, one relaxes the lower abdomen.

Do not entertain any wholesome or unwholesome
thoughts. When a thought arises, one should be aware of it immediately.
With this awareness, the thought will disperse instantly. Eventually,
one would cease to be involved with all phenomena, and one’s practice
would naturally become seamless. This is the essential technique of
sitting Chan practice.

Sitting Chan practice is a Dharma gate through which
peace and happiness can be cultivated. However, many people become sick
engaging in this practice. This is because they do not know how to use
their minds properly. If one applies the practice properly, one’s body
will naturally be light and at ease, one’s mind will be comfortable and
sharp, and one’s awareness will be clear and bright. The taste of
Dharma enriches one’s spirit, bringing the pure joy of quiescence. For
those who are enlightened, practicing in this manner is like dragons
receiving water, and like tigers roaming freely in the mountains. For
those who are not yet enlightened, practicing in this manner is like
blowing air into a fire, there is no need to exert much effort. If they
understand clearly and correctly, it is definite that they will succeed.

However, when one’s practice advances, one may
encounter more demonic phenomena, as there are numerous favorable and
unfavorable conditions along the way. As long as one can maintain
proper mindfulness in the present moment, nothing will become an
obstruction. These demonic states are clearly delineated in various
texts, including the
Surangama Sutra, Master Gui-Feng’s Guide to Cultivation and Realization Based on the Sutra of Complete
, and the Great Samatha-Vipasyana [by Master Zhi-Yi]. In order to take proper precautions, one should not ignore these texts.

When one intends to get out of samadhi, move the body
slowly and stand up in a gentle and peaceful manner. There should be no
abrupt motions. Afterwards, one should protect one’s samadhi power all
the time, practicing expediently in all situations, as if one is
protecting a little baby. That way, the power of samadhi will be
attained easily.

One must know that the cultivation of Chan samadhi is
most urgent. If one’s mind cannot settle down in Chan samadhi, even
though one may advance in the practice of contemplation, one will still
feel lost. The extraction of pearls from the bottom of the ocean is
best done when there are no waves. When the water is disturbed, the
task will become difficult. Likewise, when the water of samadhi is
clear and pure, the pearl of the mind will manifest by itself.
Therefore the
Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says: The unhindered pure wisdom arises from samadhi. The
Lotus Sutra says: One should go to a quiet place free of
disturbance to cultivate and regulate one’s mind. Let the mind settle
and be immovable, like Mount

Therefore, it is through practicing in conditions
that are quiet and free of disturbance that one can transcend the
worldly and enter into the saintly. When one’s life comes to the end,
to be able to expire while sitting or standing, one must rely on the
power of samadhi. For those who are determined to accomplish the goal
of liberation in one life, it is possible that they may still be
wasting time [even with their strong determination]. For those who keep
on procrastinating [without giving rise to a firm determination], what
can they do but to follow the force of karma [helplessly]? That is why
the ancient masters have the following admonition: Without the power of
samadhi, it is as if one is capitulating in front of the door of death;
it is as if one merely closes one’s eyes and returns empty handed,
having roamed around like a vagabond. I hope that my fellow Chan
practitioners will read this article frequently [and use what they
learn to] benefit themselves and others, so that all will attain
complete enlightenment together.


1 Response to “A Guide to Sitting Chan”

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    October 19, 2008 at 08:58

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