“Bring the mind over, I’ll help you to calm it.” ﹘ A method of Chan practice to pacify one’s mind

Dr. Chen Pingkun, School of Life and Values at Dharma Drum University, gave a talk on  “‘Bring the mind over, I’ll help you to calm it.’ -- A method of Chan practice to pacify the mind” in the afternoon of May 21. As the second lecture for the Introductory Lecture Series on Chan Culture, the speech has drawn an audience of over 40 people.

In his lecture, Dr. Chen first pointed out the significance of the method of pacifying the mind in Chinese Chan Buddhism. By illustrating the various teachings on the method of pacifying the mind in Chan tradition, he pointed out how a Chan practitioner can pacify his or her mind, explored its theoretic basis, and guided the audience to find the way to pacify their minds amidst this world of impermanence.

At the outset of the speech, Professor Chen raised a question for everyone to ponder: Does the “mind” have a certain place to abide or not? Here, the “mind” refers to the mind in the sense of “mind consciousness”. Most people often abide their mind in their career, family, and child, and therefore they take these things as the object of their abode. Their minds are hung up on certain objects or things, and become entangled or constrained. Once the object or thing is no longer there, their minds tend to feel empty. Therefore, Professor Chen raised a further question: If the objects or things are constantly changing and our minds have no fixed place to abide, how could we really pacify our minds?

Based on the above question he raised, Dr. Chen started to explain the early Chan teaching on pacifying the mind, and then further explored the theory of mind-nature and right efforts as stated in the Platform Scripture of the Sixth Patriarch, to explained the method taught by the Sixth Patriarch Master Huineng. Dr. Chen pointed out that we can access the concept of “mind”, as reflected in Master Huineng’s teaching on the state of mental activities, in three levels: the conscious mind, the mind of fundamental nature, and the mind of self-awakening. The conscious mind refers to our sensations, cognition, imaginations, feelings, and thinking process, which are the mental activities that we experience in our daily life. The mind of fundamental nature refers to the wisdom of non-duality that transcends all kinds of positive and negative values and consciousness, without falling into any certain state of conscious mind. The mind of self-awakening refers to the inner momentum and condition that enables us to transcend and transform, as well as a conviction of our inner strength required for the attainment of Buddhahood, namely, the mental function of self-awareness. As to the meaning of “nature”, it refers to the fundamental essence of our mental activities, which is identical in the meaning of the mind of fundamental nature. In the Platform Scripture of the Sixth Patriarch, the “self-nature of true-suchness” represents a concept established through actual practice and cultivation.

Dr. Chen explained that the Chan teachings of Huineng are a process to the realization of wisdom by “facing the world while transcending all the concepts and phenomena”. Concretely speaking, it requires us to be aware of the various conditions of our “conscious mind” in operation, activate our value judgment to head toward the path of liberation and freedom, and thus attain Buddhahood through our mind of self-awakening which is an innate function of life. Then by means of three interconnected practice methods of “non-thought”, “marklessness”, and “non-abiding”, the true-suchness and self-nature can be realized. This is how “delusion” is being transformed into “awakening”, as the contents of one’s life begin to change.

Toward the end of the lecture, Dr. Chen invited everyone to contemplate on a question: Does “pacifying the mind” mean “when one’s mind is not moving”? And why bother to pacify the mind when living in this ever-changing, impermanent world? Actually, by “pacifying the mind” it does not mean to keep the mind unmoving. Rather, it is about training our mind, our mental activities, to abide in a state of constant stableness, to prevent them from being disturbed, pulled around, and trapped by the ever-changing phenomena when living in this transient world. By doing so we are able to achieve a better quality of life. Finally, in the question-and-answer session Dr. Chen shared with the audience their own experience in the teaching and practice of Chan. All participants looked forward to the next reunion.