Ch’an Practice for Christians

Jesus Christ (6 BCE – 30 CE)

The interface between Ch’an Buddhist practice and Christian practice is that of contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is preferably ‘silent’, and comprised of a single, meaningful, one-syllable word. This is a practice akin to mantra chanting within Hindu and Buddhist practice. The differences in philosophy and theology are irrelevant to the point being made. This is a method of process and not an argument of content. Differences remain just that – ’differences’ – as this is the beautiful essence of diversity! The ‘hua-tou’ (word-head) method of ‘stilling’ the mind often involves the intense repeating of a single word of enquiry. Usually, this is a profound ‘questioning’ of ‘who’ we are and ‘why’ we are ‘here’. One such hua-tou is ‘Who is hearing’ often preferred by Old Master Xu Yun (1840-1959). This returns all sound stimulus entering the ear to its perceptual essence – and then penetrates the next level of ‘non-perception’. The penetrating of perception is the understanding of matter, whilst the infiltrating of non-perception is the awakening of ‘emptiness’. When one sense is returned in this way, (within Buddhism it is the sense of ‘hearing’ that is considered the most direct pathway), then all senses are automatically returned at the point of attainment. The hua-tou is often shortened to just ‘Who?’ within advanced Ch’an practice.  Now, for our Christian brothers and sisters, the word ‘Who?’ used during hua-tou practice can be substituted for something relevant to your faith but acting in accordance with Christian contemplative practice, the content of this prayer must be simple and direct. Such useful words can be ‘love’, ‘peace’, ‘god’, ‘Christ’, truth, ‘serve’ and ‘hope, etc. The mind will be ‘stilled’ and the essence of matter realised. Continued practice will then penetrate the emptiness of non-perception wherein the boundless essence of the Christian god dwells. The word is repeated continuously, whilst the ‘essence’ or ‘origin’ of the word is sought without let-up! Where do the words come from? How do they form in the psychic structure of the mind? During one second no word exists – but during the next second the word exists – what happened in-between? Where do our thoughts come from? How does our brain-mind process all the data from everyone one of our senses? ‘Who is loving?’. ‘Who is searching for god?’, ‘Who is seeking peace’ and ‘Who seeks hope?’, etc. A meaningful sentence to a Christian can soon be ‘shortened’ as strength of practice increases.  

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