【Life Café】Seeing a World of Beauty Through Chan

Seeing a World of Beauty Through Chan Master Ji Cheng talks about seeing beauty, contemplating beauty and cultivating Chan mindfulness


By Liang Jin Man TAIPEI - The third Life and Living Café Lecture Series hosted by Dharma Drum University’s School of Life and Living, held in the Buddha Hall at Dharma Drum Degui Academy on June 16th, was joined by an audience of over 400 guests. The invited speaker, Master Ji Cheng, monastic teacher at the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia and a Dharma heir of the late Master Sheng Yen, shared with the audience how one goes about cultivating Chan mindfulness to see the real truth and beauty in our world. The event drew an enthusiastic crowd, the turn out was more than what the Buddha Hall could accommodate so Dharma Drum University arranged a second venue where attendees could listen to the speech through videoconference.  The event marked Master Ji Cheng’s first public address in Taiwan, and was hosted by the director at the department of social work of National Taiwan University, Dr. Yang Pei. After the opening address, Master Ji Cheng began his speech by stating that everyone loves beautiful things. He went on to point out that our mind has three basic functions; namely it allows us to perceive, think and exercise consciousness. When our six sense faculties come into contact with the outside world, we immediately use our perception to judge the beauty of the things we see, but that shouldn’t be all, we should also dig deep to see the real beauty on a more profound level. And to share beauty with others is deemed an expression of our compassion. Master Ji Cheng noted that the three functions of our mind are interconnected and we can learn to train our mind through Chan practice. When we persist in our practice, our vexations are bound to surface, but as long as we look at them from the perspective of emptiness and impermanence, we’ll come to realize that all things are merely the consequence of causes and conditions. To truly see things as they are can help us learn to let go of our vexations. However, we must also always operate with a mind of benevolence and have good will toward one another, thereby uprooting all of our vexations to make room for joy to come into our lives. The world looks beautiful to us when our mind chooses to see it as such, and it’s a result of us filtering our experiences through our senses, conscious thinking and adopting a positive attitude. As the Chinese proverb which goes: “ I see the mountains as beautiful, and they must see me in the same way that I see them.” What goes around, comes around —when we see everyone around us as good, as beautiful, that’s what we’ll get in return. And Chan teaches us this is how we should look at the world.   According to Master Ji Cheng, Chan means to have a pure mind, and to see the world with the spirit of Chan, just as the Buddha sees all sentient beings as Buddhas. When we cultivate our mind and attain the state of purity, we’ll perceive all things in a different way, namely we’ll see their inherent beauty.  Master Ji Cheng proceeded to ask the audience whether they would prefer to live a life of joy and purity or one of vexations. He said we may not like some of the things in life, but it’s not going to change the fact that they are already happening. But that’s not to say we’re thus doomed because we can still choose to accept things as they are with an upbeat attitude. He cited an example of a lama who was incarcerated for 30 years, despite it all, he still continued with his spiritual practice for he didn’t feel that he was locked up in prison, and was actually living in the pure land, the jail cell was a place for spiritual practice for him — now this is looking at the world with the spirit of Chan and what spiritual practice is about.    The practice of contemplation and reflection helps us to see worldly phenomena to be more than what they appear to be, as our spiritual understanding inevitably plays a role in our interpretation of the various events in our lives. In turn, we’ll learn to appreciate things in life and every moment of our life becomes a blessing in and of itself.         

The host, Dr. Yang Pei shared with the audience that listening to Master Ji Cheng’s talk today was like taking a transformative journey in which she learned about the value of having an ordinary mind and a mind that sees only beauty and the importance of developing a Chan mind. Managing director at DDM’s cultural center, Venerable Guo Shian, who had just finished a 7-day retreat presided by Master Ji Cheng himself, also expressed she felt as if she was sitting in a Chan hall the whole time she was listening to today’s talk, perfectly illustrating what Shifu used to say that Chan practice doesn’t have to take place only in Chan halls