Sunday, November 30, 2014

Buddhism, My Fierce Passion, by Eric

Shang Rinpoche
Eric Canzano, USA

Michael Jordan was one of my childhood heroes. In the days when I envisioned myself, like every other boy on the block, as the next basketball superstar, I would stare up at towering #23 in the same cardboard cut-out pose every morning when I woke up. I still remember descriptions of Jordan’s early days, when he would go out to the court and make 1000s of shots over and over like a machine, practicing into the night until his mother would drag him home. The title of Jordan’s little black book still sticks with me – I Can’t Accept Not Trying.
Buddhism gets cast as a haven from the desires and passions, as a way to find inner peace and calm through long sessions of quiet sitting meditation, smiles and gentle words of Asian masters and theories about letting things go. You can almost tangibly feel the longing to be that glossy, photoshopped silhouette sitting cross-legged as they stare into a valley on the bottom of the magazine cover. You try it out and keep at it, but are puzzled when the mental tranquility starts to slip away. You wonder why you still get so upset when your partner teases you; why your chest still closes up as you race to complete yet another impossible deadline; why sitting alone in your room feels empty and uncomfortable; why the tears will not stop when your grandfather dies.
The kind of Buddhism I thought I wanted was no more than a high, a buzz that drowned out the mental noise and the struggle of existence. As soon as reality hit, I was flat on the floor, again.
In the stories of the achievers – whether they are Buddhist practitioners, presidents or Michael Jordan – not one of them makes it without constant struggle. Is it possible that anyone could walk the spiritual path without facing these same struggles that make them uncomfortable, prideful, confused, doubtful and attached? When those difficult situations march over and make quick work of us, where does the drive come to get back up and throw ourselves in the ring again?
Shang Rinpoche often asks his students, “Do you want it?” I ask myself often if I really want to study Buddhism. Does it burn within me as much as Jordan, who endured endless years of repetitive practice, criticism and discouragement from his friends and family, and countless failures? As much as Rinpoche himself, who sacrifices health, sleep and all the comforts of this world to dedicate himself to teaching his students?
If I want to feel light and free, there is no need for Buddhism; I could take a flight to Fiji and float on the waves. But inevitably we must all come back to face the battles of life. Buddhism simply gives us the tools to gain calm in the calamity. I ask Rinpoche for the guidance to keep fighting with a fierce, unwavering passion for the enlightened mind and the happiness of others.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Watch Your Thoughts, by Ricky (English / Hungarian Bilingual)

Shang Rinpoche
Ricky, Hungary
The Venerable Shang Rinpoche has often urged us to watch our thoughts. After a while, I started to realize how important it was, without a clue how to do it. Rinpoche likened our mind to a dog on a leash: when we know how to control it, we can allow it a longer leash, greater freedom. Rinpoche emphasized that this was essential, so I noted it down, again, without an inkling about its meaning.

As the years went by, I tried to be more mindful, just a little bit. Finally, I discovered that actually it is possible to discern the 'bud' of a thought, and if it is a bad, unwholesome one, we can change our focus to prevent it from 'arising'. When our thoughts are wholesome, good, we can let them 'looser' while remaining ever more mindful, of course.

That reminds me of one day when we were searching for injured animals, such as cats, out on the streets. I was on my own. I looked everywhere from small, deserted alleys to the main streets. It was nighttime, quiet. Hundreds of thoughts sped through my mind, which, as a result, felt stuffy. Suddenly I realized the pointlessness of all this 'thinking', and started to become mindful. The thoughts immediately disappeared, and all I felt was solitude. It only lasted for a short time as my meditative stillness is not that great, but it was enough for me to find out that it makes sense to watch our thoughts.

Ricky, Hungary
Esznel legy!

Shang Rinpoche gyakran figyelmeztet erre bennunket. Egy ido utan kezdtem megerteni, hogy fontos, anelkul persze, hogy tudtam volna, hogyan kell. Rinpoche a tudatunkat kutyahoz hasonlitotta: amikor tudjuk, hogyan figyeljunk ra, hosszabb porazra ereszthetjuk, nagyobb szabadsagot adhatunk neki. Rinpoche hangsulyozta, hogy ez egy alapveto dolog, igy en szorgalmasan lejegyeztem, anelkul, hogy barminemu fogalmam lett volna, mit jelent.

Az evek multaval probaltam egy picit jobban figyelni a gondolataimra. Vegul felfedeztem, hogy ha akarjuk, eszrevehetjuk az uj gondolatkezdemenyt, es ha az rossz gondolat, megelozhetjuk annak megjeleneset azzal, hogy mas dologra kezdunk el figyelni. Amikor a gondolataink jobbak, tisztabbak, hosszabbra ereszthetjuk a porazt, persze ugy, hogy tovabbra is 'esznel vagyunk'.

Errol jut eszembe, egyszer serult allatokat, pl. macskakat kerestunk az utcakon. Egyedul voltam. Vegigjartam a nagyobb utcakat es beneztem a keskeny sikatorokba is. Ejszaka volt, csend es nyugalom: gondolatok szazai szaguldottak at az agyamon, ami farasztott. Hirtelen eszembe jutott, mennyire haszontalan ez a sok gondolat, es elkezdtem figyelni rajuk. A gondolatok azonnal abbamaradtak, es joleso nyugalmat ereztem. Ez csak rovid ideig tartott, mert nem tudok jol meditalni, de ahhoz eleg volt, hogy lassam, van ertelme 'esznel lenni'.

Ricky, Magyarorszag

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dream of the Red Chamber and Prajna Wisdom?

Shang Longrik Gyatso RinpocheI’ve been an avid reader all my life. Add to that the fact that I’ve never had much to talk about with my peers and you will see why I have chosen to surround myself with collections of books, a boundless world of words. While still in elementary school, I started to familiarize myself with the classic novels of China, the chapter novels from the Ming dynasty onwards, and romantic fiction. I basically read everything, including Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Nai’an, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, Investiture of the Gods by Xu Zhonglin, Li Ruzhen’s Flowers in the Mirror, The Scholars by Wu Jingzi, as well as A Romance to Awaken the World by Xi Zhousheng. Furthermore, I consumed Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu and The Peach Blossom Fan by Kong Shangren. Of course, there was one other classic, the legendary Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. This book kept me company throughout three full years of winter and summer breaks. I pretty much know it like the back of my hand, each chapter, each character, each scene.

Cao Xueqin’s came from a family of officials, his paternal great-grandfather Cao Xi was once promoted to the high-pressure position of second-level imperial bodyguard in the inner palace. His paternal great-grandmother was the wet nurse to the second Qing Dynasty Emperor, Kangxi. His paternal grandfather also held the post of Imperial Censor, as well as being a calligrapher of fine repute and skilled at the composition of poetic verse. The most peculiar thing, however, was the unusually large collection of books in his home, a fact which directly contributed to Cao Xueqin's eventual success as a novelist. It is said that wealth and honor never survive more than three generations, and the Cao family fortune dwindled starting around the time of the Qing Dynasty emperor Yongzheng. While still young, Cao Xueqin had endured the gamut of life’s ups and downs, and so was more familiar than most with the subtleties of human nature and of the mind. He was also a sentimental person, an attribute which better equipped him to portray the characters of Dream of the Red Chamber in such a vivid, life-like manner. Add to this the misfortune he experienced later in life, when he often resorted to selling paintings and writing for mere sustenance. Dream of the Red Chamber was born from such circumstances, a product of nearly a decade of blood and sweat, completed under the duress of poverty and illness.

Dream of the Red Chamber has practically become a benchmark, a treasure in the realm of classical Chinese literature research, to the extent that it has become the tentpole in academic research. As such, we’ve seen the establishment of the system of Redology (the academic field devoted to the study of this work). You could say that this entire book was penned by a poor scholar whose family fortune was on the decline. Using the literary techniques of reflection and pathos, Cao Xueqin was able to use a reflective literary structure to express his own sentiments. His family's glorious history also provided ample character studies especially of the noble and wealthy and it had also exposed him to all the myriad conditions of the world. Although the male and female protagonists (surnames Jia and Lin respectively) were principally used to drive the story arc, an intensive study of Dream of the Red Chamber reveals to the keen reader a further truth. This book not only incites high praise for the author’s imagination and scholarship, furthermore, it elicits admiration and a profound awe for his competent and extensive knowledge of the arts, music, literature, and a vast array of historical anecdotes. On my part, after several readings of Red Chamber, I feel that this novel most aptly portrays the deep meaning of the phrase, “Life is just like a play, and the play is much like life.”

During middle and high school, on account of my affinity for the Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra, I was able to recite the entire Diamond Sutra from memory. I have, on occasion, taken to reading the works of the Hundred Schools of Thought from the Warring States Periods and cross-referencing the characters, chapters, or excerpts to the various Buddhist sutras, and have gained great insights from this. The characters from Dream of the Red Chamber can be said to portray an abbreviated version of the entirety of human nature, being as they are both rich and poor, both noble and lowly, both up and down, and described in exquisite detail. We see their love and their hate, their sadness and their joy. The daily residence of the noble, the realities and helplessness of the political situation, all are revealed without reserve. Even the clothing and furniture of the times, as well as the food and diet - all are emphasized. Thus, a practitioner with a profound understanding of the Heart Sutra can experience that, even those who grow up in wealth and extravagance, experiencing a magnificent life both poetic and picturesque, in the end will also see that it was no more than dreams of grandeur, that form is none other than emptiness, and emptiness just the same as form. And so, too, with sensation, conception, volition, and consciousness. If Cao Xueqin, with his talent and wisdom, and under his circumstances, were able to meld the Buddhadharma and practice with his extraordinary life, I believe that he would certainly have been able to realize the empty nature of all phenomena, and the true meaning of the uncreated and undestroyed. It is a pity that, according to Cao Xueqin’s ultimate frustration, the begrudging reproach that he held for this world, we can see that he was unable to see past his attachments, unable to break through his stubbornness. As such, if those engaged in Redology can use the prajna wisdom of emptiness as an aid in their research, applying it to their daily lives, merging with life but remaining unaffected by it, facing their circumstances but remaining totally clear about them, employing means and yet remaining unattached, dealing with their affairs without a hint of alarm, being able to renounce the world and yet remain unrestrained by orthodoxy, this is exactly what Buddha was pointing out, the great wisdom that all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past and present garnered from within the dirt and the filth. It is my wish that everyone can bear in mind this mantra from the end of the Heart Sutra: “Dayata Om Gate Gate Para Gate Para Sam Gate Bodhi Soha” and to seek the experience of prajna wisdom and emptiness, in the end to attain ultimate liberation.

This is a piece that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, wrote as a result of an informal discussion with a group of Redology scholars from Beijing.

High Expectations, by Mara

Shang Rinpoche
Mara Horowitz
As a teacher, I hold my elementary-aged students to high standards. They are all very young and thus their characters are still in the process of being molded by parents and teachers who guide them in what is and is not acceptable behavior. The basic moral codes of not lying and being nice to others are held in high esteem in my classroom.

It takes a lot of effort to ensure that these values are upheld and I must admit to occasionally turning a blind eye to small misdemeanors in the thoughts that if the kids don’t know I know then I don’t have to use the energy and time required to enforce the appropriate disciplinary measure.

This is definitely the lazy approach and I always notice the contrast in Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche’s pedagogical method. Rinpoche will spare no effort in ensuring that his students’ decisions and actions are ethically sound. Rinpoche will not turn a blind eye.

Any group or organization has rules and regulations that participants are required to follow.  The rules at the centre are all about morality. Rinpoche insists on honesty and respect. This is a group that focuses primarily on treating others well.

Too often people tend to deviate harshly from these basic principles when we grow up and are left to our own devices. Once free from the possibility of punishment from parents or teachers, the lines or integrity may blur. Suddenly it may seem okay to lie in order to make a bigger profit or to manipulate a situation so that the outcome falls neatly in your favour. On examination, I realize that there are many instances in my daily life where my behavior would definitely warrant a reprimand had it been performed by one of my students in my classroom. As an adult I have deviated from the exact same rules that I misleadingly try and teach to my students.

It has been refreshing to be able to be a part of and communicate with a group in which such stretches of the truth and bending of the situation in order to benefit oneself are strongly discouraged. It has changed the way I face the world and inspired me to remember those same basic lessons that I am trying to teach my 7-year-old students and to apply them to my own decisions and handling of situations.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Simple and Amazing, by Jose

Shang Rinpoche
Jose Serrati, Paraguay
After living in Taipei for two years, l went back home for a two-week visit. The visit turned into an indefinite one, after the Taiwanese consul denied me the visa to return to Taiwan.  So I just continued my Taiwanese routine in my home country, as best as I could.

I practiced qigong and a bit of meditation every day, as well as a very simple technique to observe my own thoughts, learned in the course of Shang Rinpoche’s lectures. In doing this, some very simple daily activities became interesting subjects of observation. The one l can remember best is watching buses going downhill on the street where l lived. They would go full speed with engines roaring and their wheels hitting big potholes in the asphalt with loud banging noises. The noise, the colorful buses, the water from the potholes splashing in all directions - it all created a series of shocks to my senses. My mind observed attentively.

My observation practice had turned some simple daily activities into a circus of lights and sounds. At which point l realized how much my mind had been bombarded by all these sensations, without even being aware of it. As each sensation produced an emotion, l reasoned that in the past my mind must have been jumping all around, all day long.

The best, though, came afterward, not as a result of direct observation, even though observation did play a role.

I had gone to visit a friend in an area near the biggest day market in town. The place could be described as Chinatown. There, my friend invited me to a very small street stand that sold very good empanadas. The place only had one table on the sidewalk, so we took it. Suddenly, a big truck stopped almost next to our table and a couple stepped out.

They were well dressed and wore sunglasses, so l didn’t recognize them at first. Then l did. They were my former neighbors. The woman had always been nice and friendly, but l had never liked the husband. The feeling had been mutual, to the point where we had expressed this dislike for each other in many different ways throughout the years. Even after having left that neighborhood for some years, l had always kept him in a special place in my mental gallery of unpleasant people.

So here we were, after years of not seeing each other, in the middle of Chinatown, with only one table to share. What were the odds of this encounter? The wife greeted me very friendlily and l corresponded. Then out of courtesy l invited them to sit with us and introduced my friend to them. They sat very happily and in a minute we were all talking like good old friends. I simply could not believe what was happening. I didn’t dislike this guy anymore.

l went back home and recalled the event repeatedly, observing my mind very carefully. No animosity, no bad feelings, not even a trace of them. Even after remembering incidents that involved fireworks and stones being hurled at my house by his children, the thoughts produced no angry feelings. The memories where still there, but the attached feelings had disappeared. At that point l realized what had happened: l had forgiven him. A miracle had occurred. It had happened without me even realizing it.

In trying to find an explanation for this phenomena, l can only believe that l had let go of those negative feelings. Not expressly, but as the result of other practices that involved such a process. The beneficial effects of those practices had even extended beyond the scope of my awareness. The feeling now was one of relief, lightness, and peace. How to describe it? Simply amazing.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Coming Down from the Roof, by Michelle

Michelle Bradley, USA/South Africa
I used to live in this cozy little apartment on a rooftop in Tien Mu (Taipei). I’d come back from teaching yoga, and, often exhausted by what I saw as an impure world, spend most of my free time living, what I perceived, to be a very healthy lifestyle. Everything I intentionally did had a ‘deep’ meaning behind it, and I considered myself to be very much on the spiritual path.
My first Christmas in Taipei, my friend Debbie invited me to join her and some others I’d recently met at meditation class for Christmas brunch. I declined, because I was going to stay at home for three days and run my own very peaceful retreat.  About two months after that, as you’d say in Chinese, my karmic connection with my teacher Shang Rinpoche ripened, and my whole life changed. Another way of putting it is that my whole life seemingly came undone. Following Rinpoche’s advice left me feeling how the earth must feel after an earthquake. I remember once saying, “I feel like I’m dying and I don’t know what to do to get better.” Rinpoche said so gently and genuinely, “That depends on how quickly you can learn to change.”
Change is an interesting human experience. Most people are in a constant state of yearning for the things that change can bring (e.g. peace of mind, a healthier body, better relationships) but fewer are willing to face themselves and make the changes that they need to in order to overcome their specific combination of suffering (e.g. unfulfilled relationships due to stubbornness and a bad temper, poor digestion due to an inability to relax, etc.).
Rinpoche saw crystal clear from day one what I needed to adjust and internally let go of in order to really make spiritual progress.  The journey of studying with him has clarified my path in ways otherwise unimaginable. I used to feel like I was a victim of my own mind and life circumstances. I realize now that the unintentional anger, selfishness, jealousy and arrogance pervasive in my life before would never had the chance to come to light and start to transform had I, oh so healthily, just stayed up on that rooftop in Tien Mu. Or, for that matter, been in India with hundreds of other spiritual seekers on the banks of the Ganges making a fire offering, in the pristine Himalaya meditating at summertime dharma gatherings, or in downtown Manhattan attending daily meditation and yoga classes.

Almost seven years on, the hidden mental habits that controlled my life are now mental habits that I observe in my life. I’ve learnt that being on the spiritual path doesn’t mean denying or avoiding the dark side in you or in your surroundings. Anything that is there is fodder for the path, and practice means looking at whatever arises clearly. I hope that anyone in this modern busy world who is interested in genuine spiritual enquiry and truly helping others has access to teachings as pure, wise and effective as my teacher’s are.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Teaching across cultures, by David

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog Stories
David Chronowsky, USA
Walking around Taipei, I regularly see people practising qigong. A group of people in a park, a woman waiting for a bus tapping her fingers together, a security guard standing outside swinging his arms back and forth. These scenes remind me of what an important part of Chinese culture qigong is. The problem is, the only people I see practicing qigong are the older generation of Taiwanese.

At the center, Rinpoche’s foreign students gather and practice qigong (taught by Rinpoche, who is also a Daoist master) together on Sunday evenings. Its awesome and a lot of people have gained much benefit from the exercises.

We had the opportunity to teach qigong at various high schools in Taipei in order to promote relaxation and health. We went to a high school in Wenhua, an older part of Taipei, where we demonstrated the exercises on a raised stage in front of what must have been hundreds of students.

As we were going over the exercises, one of us commented on how interesting it was that a group of expats was teaching Taiwanese teenagers about their own culture. If you ask most teenagers in Taiwan about qigong they might laugh or comment that their grandparents practice it. The issue is that most don't know or don't want to learn about it. This is worrisome because when the older generation passes away there is a possibility that qigong will be largely lost with them.

The cool thing about this experience is that through learning qigong with Rinpoche, we were able to share qigong with Taiwanese who might not be familiar with it. In a way, it's a cross cultural exchange. If young Taiwanese see that  people from other countries find it cool and beneficial, they might take more interest in it and appreciate it more. It shows you that people learn to adapt cultural practices based on convenience and the environment they are in.

This experience, to learn authentic teachings from a master in traditional Eastern practices, in order to benefit myself and others, has been life-changing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dharma Hall insights on attachment by Lauren

During the several years that I spent studying at the Dharma Center supervised by Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, it was impossible not to talk about attachments. Initially, I didn’t understand why one would want to completely rid oneself of attachments. After all, aren’t attachments what lead us to follow our passions and undertake great projects, many of which benefit others? Aren’t attachments what enable us to support friends and families throughout awkward growing periods and personality clashes?  
Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog Image
Lauren studied at Rinpoche's Taipei Center for many years and returned to the US earlier in 2014.
Over time, I thought about this idea in more depth, honestly observing the amount of satisfaction or discomfort that I experienced from my interactions with others, and realized that attachments exist on every level of our awareness, coloring most of our thoughts and determining most of our preoccupations. For example, I worried about how fat I looked on a given day, or if the person sitting across the dinner table from me thought that I was reacting appropriately to what they were telling me. Although I ostensibly told myself that these concerns of how others perceived me arose from a concern for them, realistically, these attachments caused me to constantly focus on myself and prevented me from really listening to the other person. It was such a waste of mental energy, and a waste of how to experience interactions with others.

During the time that I spent at the center, I somehow came to feel lighter. While teaching English to kids who ranged from the elementary to high school age in Taiwan, I had plenty of opportunities to observe how I reacted to students who hadn’t yet learned how to reign in their emotions. I noticed how when a student suddenly got in a temper when faced with a new idea that contradicted all he previously knew about the English language, instead of responding with a mounting frustration of my own at his sudden refusal to listen, I could instead try to find the reason for his confusion and lead us in a more constructive direction.

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche
Thangka painting of Shang Rinpoche
Attachments affect every interaction that we have with others, for they determine our expectations for every given situation. We were often taught to examine our thoughts, and to accept them all, making friends with the negative ones in order to transform them. Although this sentence sounds beautiful, I’ve often struggled to understand how to actually put it into practice. 

One of Buddha Shakyamuni’s sayings stayed by me throughout all of my studies, which was not to take any teaching purely on faith, but to observe if it had any positive affect on one’s life or on other’s lives, and to go from there. In the same vein, I’ve observed that while I spent time at this center, many of the negative, or comparative thoughts that would often float around in my mind became absent at times. That lighter feeling was a reduction of mental baggage, the heaviest of anything that we can carry.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Stateless State

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Chan ZenSomeone asked me about the state of Chan (Zen), to which I replied, “There is no state in Chan.” I was then asked, “How does Chan appear?” I replied, “There is no way in which it appears.” Again, I was asked, “Which book should I read on Chan?” I replied, “Chan cannot be described by written words.” And again, “Is Chan the ultimate way to liberation?” I replied, “There is no ultimate, and no liberation in Chan.”

One day, Buddha Shakyamuni was about to speak to the assembly gathered at Mount Grdhrakuta when the King of Mahabrahman (a heavenly realm) respectfully made an offering of a golden utpala flower to the Buddha. Holding the flower, the Buddha paused without saying a word, which was quite unusual. A period of time passed and the tens of thousands of people and heavenly beings assembled there looked at each other, stumped in completely silence. Then, Mahākāśyapa (a.k.a. the Golden Dhuta) smiled in complete understanding and that was when the Buddha started speaking, “I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma Gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.”

This was the very origin and beginning of Chan. After the Buddha had passed into parinirvana, Mahākāśyapa became the first patriarch of Chan. He passed the lineage to Ananda, and it continued to be transmitted uninterrupted down generations of masters until the Indian Bodhidharma who is also identified as the 28th Patriarch. Bodhidharma journeyed east to China and passed the lineage to Huike, who became the second patriarch of Chinese Chan. The reason the teachings “did not stand upon words” was for fear that people would become too attached to the doctrines, causing even more delusive thoughts. It’s not that words are rejected altogether; for instance, when Bodhidharma verified that Huike’s realization of suchness (the Buddha-nature within), he also mentioned to Huike to rely on Lankavatara Sutra to practice (as it contains the basic and important element of the teachings). The sixth patriarch Huineng also relied on the Diamond Sutra to enter into prajna wisdom; the later master Yongming Yanshou compiled the famed treatise Zongjing Lu mainly to demonstrate the many skillful means available for practice but in the end there is only one path to Buddhahood.

The Tathagata (or patriarch) Chan is the most important amongst the different schools of Chan, which involves a mind-to-mind transmission from teacher to disciple. The uninitiated would not be able to grasp the teachings as they fall outside of the scriptures but are instead instructed directly by an accomplished teacher. For those who have read “Pointing at the Moon”, it is evident that each of the more than one thousand koans it contains is like a word game, an incomprehensible enigma. This is why Chan is commonly said to be the study for those with the highest capacities, because it does not follow any stages as found in other Buddhist paths. Instead, it directly points at the nature of mind in an extraordinary way, which is why it’s also called a “sudden approach”. After Bodhidharma, there were five Chinese patriarchs and after Huineng, the sixth, Chan split into the five sub-schools called Linji (Rinzai), Caodong (Soto), Guiyang, Fayan and Yunmen, which have subsequently proliferated throughout China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

As time went on, due to the decreasing capacities and dispositions of practitioners, convenient practice methods were interjected into the Chan school e.g. the Tiantai Buddhist school’s 25 skillful means. In contrast, patriarch Chan is set apart by its natural and uninhibited ways, not requiring that one locks oneself away in retreat leaving the world behind, not needing to withdraw from noisy places. Instead, everything the practitioner does is with diligent wisdom, be it eating, sleeping, walking, conversing or being silent. Worldly activities are no different from spiritual pursuits, afflictions are one and the same as wisdom; from the moment one opens one’s eyes to closing them, all the senses are open and receptive, not trying to avoid the world, and whatever one perceives does not have any impact on their mind as in the saying, “Regardless of the myriad phenomena arising and passing, the mind remains completely unaffected.” There are neither obstructions nor restrictions, no difference between open or closed eyes, day or night; the world of five turbidities is the perfect path of practice; self and others, right and wrong, success and failure, victory and defeat - these are all sources of blessings. There is not one pore of the body that isn’t a sacred temple. The only thing one needs to guard is the seat of the mind. “A place of lush grass, but not a single familiar face” rightly demonstrates the state of freedom and liberation as taught by patriarch Chan. If we are sometimes compelled by conditions and at other times our mind can remain unmoved amidst action or stillness, there is some way to go in our practice to really master our own mind so that when it comes to facing death, we will be able to naturally go along with whatever arising conditions with our mind being completely unaffected. It is most important that we pay attention to our every single movement, thought and subconscious activities, avoiding dualistic delusive thoughts at all costs. Persevering in this way, one will eventually see one’s true mind and break through our root ignorance.

Most Buddhist Chan practitioners today depend upon external appearances in their practice. Yet, Chan practitioners cannot be attached to appearances. The entire Dharma Realm is the Pure Land of the Buddha. But what is called “Buddha” is classified as manifestation (nirmana) and as such is unreal. It arises and is extinguished according to the connections. And so from whence comes the true Buddha? The true Buddha has only a single Pure Land in a single place. That is indubitably one’s own mind. Just as master Huangbo Xiyun had said, “If only we see that our mind is the Buddha, there is nothing to be attained and no action to be performed, Such is the state of Buddhahood, the essential nature of all Buddhas.” As such, if we can be certain that our mind is Buddha, from then on diligence becomes easy.

So contemplate on the following questions, "Where do your thoughts come from? How long do they stay? How do they vanish?” The last question is the key. When you investigate to the point where you cannot go any further in tracing where the thought has gone, then you’ll have reached the beginnings of Chan. From then on, you will observe that everything you hear and see all vanish eventually, therefore there is no point in holding on to them. If you can work hard on perfecting this understanding, you’ll eventually realize the empty nature of all phenomena. But be aware that you don’t land yourself in the false understanding of emptiness. While practicing this skill, beginners should take special measures to ensure that they keep a close eye on their self-nature lest it go astray. You can first make a clear distinction between self and others. For instance, forms, sounds, smell and tastes should be regarded as external conditions. This is to say that your mind is akin to the leash and owner of a running dog, you are clearly aware of where your pet is and what’s up their sleeves. This is the first stage of governing your mind. The next step, after you become familiar with the first stage, as soon as you perceive any situation, you immediately use it as to reflect on your self nature. This is the stage where you closely guard your mind and not be influenced by external conditions but instead they become tools for training the mind. Keep practicing this till the moment of your death. Practice it when you are experiencing both happiness and sorrow, favorable circumstances and adversities. Best even, if you can guard your mind the way you protect your eyes and heart, naturally all delusive thoughts would dissolve much like ice dissolving in blazing flames.

When it comes to investigating Chan, the state of “no-mind” is of utmost importance. Because truth lies in “no-mind”. It also provides the foundation for all meditative stillness. Therefore, there is only one thing that you should dedicate to practicing, and that is, letting go. Let go of everything, even the idea of letting go. Allow your mind to stay in an effortless state. In the end, even the very notion of practicing (correcting) the mind is unattainable. That’s when the true mind appears. Numerous thoughts come and go during the course of your practice, however, do not fall prey to their temptation and be led astray. While encountering these obstacles, or so-called demonic conditions, all you need is to apply the technique expressed in the phrase, “So long as my mind is free from the myriad things, it will not be harmed by the myriad things.” Guard your mind without coveting or rejecting. While observing thoughts, the mind remains unaffected by all of the myriad phenomena that you witnesses. Demonic obstructions will deal with themselves. Perceiving all external circumstances as if they are illusions or dreams, you are not bewitched by or attached to them. Ultimately, you will enter the state expressed by the sixth patriarch in this poem, “This self-nature is originally unmovable; This self-nature is originally non-arising and non-ceasing; This self nature is originally self-sufficient; This self nature is the origin of all phenomena.” When arriving at this state, you can catch a glimpse of the true nature of all phenomena. 

This is what I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, said to a group of passionate Chan students who had happily traveled a great distance for my humble advice. If I have made any mistakes, I beg you, virtuous readers, for forgiveness.

Indifference is Bliss, by Jose

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Student Taiwan
Jose Serrati, Paraguay
When I first arrived in Taiwan, I immediately liked the politeness involved in daily interaction. It seemed very genuine. There was one thing, though, that bothered me a lot, and this was the indifference that people showed in certain circumstances. Maybe its not accurate to call it indifference. It was more like a lack of acknowledgment.

If I accidentally bumped into someone, I would say sorry but they would completely ignore me. Or I would meet my landlady and she would only talk to my flatmate and not acknowledge my existence because we had never been introduced. Or while walking with a friend, we would bump into his friend, and they would engage in conversation, again ignoring my presence.

After a few years, I started to use these situations as a way to challenge myself, by practicing the Buddhist concept of letting go. It would still bother me, but my attitude towards it changed to: "It's not that important, why make such a big deal about it? Nobody else thinks its important anyway." So doing this showed me that my discomfort came not from a flaw in local culture, but from my own ego asking to be noticed.

Finally, practicing this self-observation for a period of time produced a further result: I understood how considerate it was of other people to not acknowledge me. It meant I had absolute freedom to behave naturally, and sometimes even to get away with small breaches in social behavior. I felt liberated, comfortable, at ease.
Now I am greatly thankful to Chinese culture for this great asset, lack of acknowledgment. I greatly enjoy going somewhere and being ignored. It makes me feel appreciated, liked, trusted. I think Taiwanese are the most considerate people in the world. They care, therefore they choose to actively ignore me. They respect me. I am also immensely grateful to Shang Rinpoche, who, through his Buddhist teachings, enabled me to transform this aspect my mind, from negative to positive.