Chan Practice

There are many problems of human existence which can never be solved, even in this age of scientific and technological advances. The earth’s energy supplies are always diminishing, the human body is constantly decaying. Still, in the face of inevitable destruction we strive to improve the conditions of human life. But science alone is not the answer. The human mind and body can derive great strength from Ch’an meditation. In those most gifted, it works naturally and unconsciously. But even persons of the most ordinary talents, at any time, in any situation, can achieve power, serenity and understanding if they master the technique of meditation with the help of a Ch’an master. Even the first step of learning to meditate– enduring the physical discomforts of sitting in a particular position for a long time– teaches the beginner the discipline needed for transcending human frailty.

Professor of Psychology at Kyoto University, Dr. Sato Yukimasa, has listed some psychological effects of meditation: increase of patience and reasoning power; stabilization of emotion and mind; refinement of personality; and finally, attainment of enlightenment. H.U. Zaburo, M.D., cites physical conditions which can be relieved through meditation; namely, nervousness, insomnia, high blood pressure, etc. While psychological and bodily results are not the main concern of Ch’an meditation, these aspects may be interesting and persuasive for beginners. Later they will learn to focus on spiritual enlightenment as the supreme goal.

Much of human mental and physical energy is diverted from useful application through distractions, random thoughts and emotions. This disturbs the mind and upsets the balanced workings of the organs. When the workings of one’s nervous system are out of balance, the effects are seen in the personality. Various aspects of the character become dominant. Only an unusually superior individual can channel these strong energies in positive ways. Most often the nervous imbalance produces negative personality traits. But the mental serenity which results from correct Ch’an meditation practices, promotes the proper functioning of all bodily systems. The practice of meditation is greatly concerned with the process of breathing. Proper breath control induces the optimum functioning of the nervous and circulatory systems. When the flow of blood is stimulated through deep breathing, the regenerative capabilities of the body are enhanced. Thus many ailments can be corrected and longevity is promoted.

Human personality can be shaped by external training, like study of arts, religion, etc. But the personality can only be effectively perfected from the inside. Ch’an meditation imposes no external restraints on the character, but instead molds it through self-realization and self-liberation. When meditation is practiced properly and consistently with the instruction of a Ch’an master, one’s true and perfect character is gradually revealed, and perfect enlightenment is brought nearer and nearer.

– Excerpt from Chan Magazine, Vol 1 by Chan Master Sheng Yen

“You know you want to benefit from daily practice, but you don’t know how to go about doing it.

First, you should have a proper mental attitude towards practice. Second, you should use a method.

Before you practice, it is important to relax your body and mind. But be careful not to try too hard – you might become tense; or relax too much – you might fall asleep. Both extremes are wrong. That’s why a proper, balanced mental attitude is important.

Tell yourself that the time you practice is the best part of the day. The little time we do spend sitting is precious. If you have this attitude, you will not feel tense or sleepy.

If meditation seems burdensome, it will be hard to persist in practice. Before you sit, remind yourself to feel happy about what you’re about to do. Think of sitting as if it is your final break of the day, the time when you leave work, or are about to go out for the evening. It is a time of release, relaxation, and enjoyment. There are no worries – you let everything go.

Make sure your posture is correct. Once you have settled into your posture, forget about your body. Otherwise you will not be able to relax. Tell your mind to be free. Watch your mind; see where it goes, but don’t follow it. When you follow your thoughts you’re allowing them to control you. Once you realize that you have been following wandering thoughts, they depart on their own.

When you follow wandering thoughts, you are restricting your awareness to a particular train of thought. If thoughts arise, then notice your breath. If your breath is long and smooth, then you are comfortable. If your mind is clear, just sit. Make sure that you continue to sit in the correct posture.

I hope you can do this. Don’t think you have to sit because you owe somebody something.”

– Excerpt from Zen Wisdom by Chan Master Sheng Yen

Although the methods of meditation given above are simple and straightforward, it is best to practice them under the guidance of a teacher. Without a teacher, a meditator will not be able to correct his mistakes, which if uncorrected, could lead to problems or lack of useful results.

In practising meditation, it is important that body and mind be relaxed. If one is physically or mentally tense, trying to meditate can be counter-productive. Sometimes certain feelings or phenomena arise while meditating. If you are relaxed, you will not be affected by whatever arises. It can be pain, soreness, itchiness, warmth or coolness; these are all natural reactions from meditation. But in the context of tenseness, these same symptoms may become obstacles.


For beginners, if the mind is burdened with outside concerns, it may be better to relieve some of these burdens before sitting. For this reason, it is best to sit early in the morning, before dealing with the problems of the day. Sitting times may be increased with experience. But people who meditate for extended periods may become so engrossed in their effort that they may not recognise their tensions, because their minds are preoccupied with getting results. So to work hard on meditation means to just put your mind on meditation itself, not on any results. If you can do that, tension will not arise. On the contrary, deeper relaxation, and calming of the body and mind should result.