Chan | Zen Mind: Thoughts on Direct Experience and Perceptions; Finding Keys to Happiness and Peace.

Chan | Zen Mind: Thoughts on Direct Experience and Perceptions; Finding Keys to Happiness and Peace.

Zen or Chan thought encourages the practitioner to study with the whole body and mind.  Through this way of practise the student can develop a direct experience and gain inner peace and harmony. 

Chan (the Chinese form of Zen) considers that everything in life is geared towards the development and discovery of our true nature.

Reading about the subject can give some understanding from an intellectual perspective, but if you wish to obtain direct experience you will also need to physically practise. Together we need the intellectual wisdom and physical practise to actualise and fully realise the experience itself. 

Exploring the Theory 

This theory can be applied to other practises including the study of Martial Arts, a discipline I have spent many years developing and working on.  

Direct experience comes when you are completely at one with your activity and when you have no concept of self. When this occurs all concepts of right and wrong disappear. Our opinions are dropped; there is no subject or object, therefore no “two” of something. We can then break free from superstitions, philosophical opinions and even religious beliefs. A skilful martial artist can use his sword to cut a fly off his friends nose without cutting the friend.

It is said that, “to have fear of cutting the nose is not true practise.”

When you do something have strong determination to do it, without an idea of skilful or not, dangerous or not, just do it. When you do something with this kind of conviction it is true practice. 

I was training recently with my kung fu master, a highly skilled practitioner of Shaolin Martial ArtsWhen confronted by my stronger and more skilful opponent, I  felt extremely fearful. But this fear momentarily past as soon as I was able to focus my mind and stay in the present moment. This mindset allowing me to respond  appropriately to any movements that came  thereafter.

Its so easy for the mind to create  illusionary situations, for example “this is going to turn out bad!” or “golly gosh”, or words to a stronger effect, “this is going to hurt!!” 

When you can forget preconceived ideas of self, like ‘who am I?’, then the mind can become open to all possibilities. Then you can act with clear and focused attention. Then you can see your true nature.

When we can forget about the self, we can respond to the moment that is occurring NOW. 

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Chan realisation underpins the Shaolin Kung fu training. The way to enlightenment or realisation is through the discovery of your true nature. The Venerable Abbot Shi Suxi (释素喜) 1924 – 2006, 30th generation Shaolin Monk, highlighted how Chan comes before Quan (fist).

Could it be that Chan can be Quan and Quan can be Chan?

When you can develop this understanding and practise. It goes beyond any feelings of fear, of good or bad, or right and wrong.

Chan in The World Today 

In the current state of our world affairs it can often feel discouraging. We are bombarded by negative news of war, destruction, and people generally behaving and acting inhumanly.

We ask ourselves why is this happening and how can we make a difference? or how can I CHANGE this?”, but you will soon realise that this way of thinking is impossible, getting angry, sad and despondent or even  ashamed knowing that these atrocities are happening in the world is futile.   

Some other coping mechanisms develop.   We may  ignore it saying, this is nothing to do with me, I’m not a part of this. But this too is also limited. We all know that ignoring a situation doesn’t make it better  or  make it go away.

This way of thinking may be painful, limited and even useless, and  may not  help or change anything at all. Most importantly it may not  assist you in  any way  towards the  discovery of  your true nature.

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How to Find Peace and Happiness

I myself have thought about these dilemmas and situations  many times and turned to Chan philosophy  to try to  help me to understand.  How can I  create peace, happiness and fulfilment in my life with all this chaos around me.

I meditated on it  and arrived at this:

Peace and peace of mind comes from a change within oneself. Trying to make others change is futile.

We can guide people, inspire people; and enlighten them by our own actions.

We cannot be responsible for the actions of others, but what we can be responsible for is our own actions, thoughts and behaviour.

The only real peace we can truly gain is inner peace, and then everything you see will be peaceful.

So how can we achieve inner peace?

This could be very difficult or very simple, there are many paths and methods, but as we explored in the sections above, whatever path or method you choose, do it with all your body, heart and mind with full commitment and determination and you will discover it.

To truthfully seek, we need to persist in our practice even when we become discouraged. We will have then ‘attained’ when the urge to give up has been overcome.

Consider this:

“To an awakened mind even destruction could be peaceful.”

                                                                                                      SHI YAN MING (from UK Shaolin Temple)

I myself am far from this level of awareness. I have many days where I forget and need reminding.  I just have a beginners mind after all.

I leave you with an extract some attribute to the great Chan Master Sengcan, the fourth patriarch of Chan Buddhism.

This is his only surviving work called the Hsin Shin Ming (xinxinming), or “Trust in Mind.” This poem was thought to be one of the earliest Chan treatises.


 “Trust in Mind –

The Great Way is not difficult
 for those who have no preferences

When love and hate are both absent
 everything becomes clear and undisguised

Make the smallest distinction however,
 and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything

To set up what you like against what you dislike 
is the disease of the mind 

When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail

Things are objects because of the subject (mind), 
the mind (subject) is such because of things (object)

Understand the relativity of these two 
and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.

In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
 and each contains in itself the whole world.
 If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine 
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.

In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.

To come directly into harmony with this reality 
just say when doubt rises “not two”.
 In this “not two” nothing is separate, 
nothing is excluded.

 The Way is beyond language, 
for in it there is
 no yesterday
 no tomorrow
 no today.”