Ch’an: The Interplay of Movement and Stillness

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Patriarchal Ch’an, as I have experienced it, refers to the method of realising the empty mind ground here and now, and integrating this realisation with all physical matter, without relying upon any one training method or technique. This does not mean that no technique is practised, but it is a recognition that whatever method is employed, it is only expedient. Within the male dominated Confucian culture of ancient China, men were assumed to be spiritually more able than women, and this led to the Ch’an School referring to its own lineage in masculine terms, although simultaneously maintaining the philosophical position that the empty mind ground is realisable by anyone – be it man, woman and child – and that women are just as able as men. Whereas Master Linji often criticised those Buddhist who sat in meditation for not engaging the world, and the Cao Dong Masters criticised those who engaged the world for not sitting in meditation, the truth of the matter is that all Ch’an Schools generally allowed the practice of all methods at appropriate times, just as long as a sense of ‘detachment’ prevailed. What the Ch’an Masters criticised was an ‘attachment’ to method, but this has often been misinterpreted as a criticism aimed at a method. Attachment to a method changes that method into a means of further imprisonment, whilst a non-attached attitude allows a method to work fully upon freeing a deluded mind from its attachments to internal states and external stimuli (i.e. ‘neither attached to the void nor hindered by phenomena’ as Richard Hunn once remarked to me). When the historical Buddha was alive he freed people with his presence, his words and his meditational method. The Ch’an School preserves this multifaceted approach in China, and its method is really a ‘non-method’ that includes all pathways but is limited to none.

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