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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
40 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 1 2 My teacher, Master Sheng Yen, first intro- duced this way of practicing silent illumination in the 1970s. His students liked the method very much, but no one was able to practice it—they just couldn’t get a handle on it, so the method fell into obscurity. In the early 1990s, through trial and error, Sheng Yen began to break down the practice into stages. He spent a decade teaching and exploring silent illumination with his stu- dents during seven- and ten-day intensive retreats in both the West and Taiwan. I translated many of Hongzhi’s teachings on silent illumination to accompany Sheng Yen’s commentaries, which are now published in several books. The latest and most representative of his teachings on silent illu- mination, The Method of No-Method: The Chan Practice of Silent Illumination, was published in 2008. Master Sheng Yen died soon afterward, in February 2009. As Master Sheng Yen’s personal attendant monk, I was one of his first students to begin following his method of silent illumination as my main practice. He would often use me as a guinea pig: I would report to him whatever state or experience I was going through as I went deeper into the practice. I practiced silent illumination under his guidance for about sixteen years, until I began using the huatou or gong’an (koan in Japanese) method. The stages of silent illumination as taught by Sheng Yen are not set in stone. They are a means to an end and signposts. It’s important to have a teacher to guide you, as each individual will have a different response to this method, grow- ing according to his or her own spiritual capacity and karmic disposition. Three Stages of Silent Illumination The practice of silent illumination taught by Master Sheng Yen can roughly be divided into three stages: concentrated mind, unified mind, and no-mind. Within each stage are infinite depths. You need not go through all the stages, nor are they necessarily sequential. Consider a room, which is naturally spacious. However we organize the furniture in the room will not affect its intrinsic spaciousness. We can put up walls to divide the room, but they are temporary. And whether we leave the room clean or cluttered and messy, it won’t affect its natural spaciousness. Mind is also intrinsically spacious. Although we can get caught up in our desires and aversions, our true nature is not affected by those vexations. We are inherently free. In the Chan tradition, therefore, practice is not about producing enlightenment. You might wonder, “Then what am I doing here, practic- ing?” Because practice does help clean up the “furniture” in the “room.” By not attaching to your thoughts, you remove the furniture, so to speak. And once your mind is clean, instead of fixating on the chairs, tables, and so on, you see its spaciousness. Then you can let the furniture be or rearrange it any way you want—not for yourself, but for the benefit of others in the room. The Teachings of Master Sheng Yen The ultimate way to practice silent illumina- tion is to sit without dependence on your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind. You sit with- out abiding anywhere, fabricating anything, or falling into a stupor. You neither enter into meditative absorption nor give rise to scattered thoughts. In this very moment, mind just is— wakeful and still, clear and without delusion. However, for many practitioners, such a stan- dard can prove too high. This method does not involve contemplating, observing thoughts, or continually scanning the body. It involves minding the act of sitting, staying with that reality from moment to moment to moment.