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The Chan School of Buddhism

What is Chan?

Chinese character Chan, by Master Sheng Yen, painted in 1977 as original logo for Chan MagazineChan is the school of Chinese Buddhism popularly known as “Zen” in Japanese. It is also a term that refers to a way of living or experiencing the world. But ultimately, Chan means direct awakening to interconnectedness and impermanence, and the consequent arising of Buddhist wisdom and compassion. This awakening experience is inexpressible in words; it is inaccessible to the dualism of language and concepts. It is a state of awareness free of self-reference.

For this reason, there is a saying, “Chan is not established on words and language;” yet Chan freely uses words and language to benefit the world. The teaching starts with knowing one’s self, but the process of practice leads to a discovery of our interconnectedness with others. Direct personal experience of Chan brings about the actualization of wisdom and compassion, which leads to peace and understanding in the world.

Specifically, the Chan teaching encompasses four key elements: faith, understanding, practice, and awakening. Faith is confidence in oneself and the path. Understanding refers to the insights gained on the path. Practice transforms our negative habits and distorted views. Awakening is the actualization of wisdom and compassion. These four elements are inseparable and mutually inclusive.

Chan Practice in Daily Life

Practice should not be separated from living, and living should be one’s practice at all times. Proper practice includes cultivating mindfulness, compassion, intuition, and wisdom. Cherish yourself less and others more. Be aware of your changing mental and physical conditions. See how they affect your thoughts, words and actions. In all our actions, we should consider whether our intentions are beneficial to others. In this way, we can check ourselves before acting. If we put other people before ourselves, selfish feelings will not arise as frequently.

Considering others is as much a form of practice as meditation. Sentient beings have their own karmic causes and conditions, their own merits and virtues, their own karma. You cannot change them, nor can you take on others’ karma. Of key importance is your intention. You should sincerely try to help others, whether or not you succeed. Do not do anything that will make you feel tense, tired, or miserable. If you whip yourself all the time, you will be no use to others or yourself. Use meditation as a supporting discipline and Buddhadharma as your guide. Do the best you can, but don’t push too hard.

You can practice in any situation. During your busy day, try to find a few moments to stop, sit, relax, and clear your mind. You need not always sit on a cushion to practice for thirty minutes. You can do your practice anywhere, at anytime, at your desk, in a car, bus, or train, right now. Relax your body and mind; let clarity and a gentle smile arise from within; allow your body and mind to refresh itself.