Zuo Ch'an Yi - (坐禅仪) The Ch’an School’s Correct Method for the Practice Of Seated Meditation
The Chinese text entitled ‘坐禅仪’, or ‘Zuo Ch'an Yi’ translates satisfactorily into English as ‘Seated Meditation Regulation’, and appears in the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist manual entitled ‘禅苑清规’, or ‘Ch'an Yuan Qing Gui’, which translates as ‘Rules of Purity for Ch’an Monasteries’. This manual was compiled in 1103 CE by the emanate Chinese Buddhist named Changfu Zongze who lived during the Song Dynasty and represents one of the earliest attempts to formulate a regulatory manual for Ch’an communities – although traditionally the work by Tang Ch’an master Bai Zhang (720–814), entitled ‘百丈清规’, (or ‘Bai Zhang Qing Gui’) is considered older. In this respect, the manual of master Baizhang is written in a descriptive, narrative style that suggests the correct ‘Buddhist’ conventions for the organising of a Ch’an community – it is a ‘rule’ in a broad sense. Changfu Zongze’s text, by way of comparison, although not as old as master Bai Zhang’s work, nevertheless, may be described as providing a specific guide to personal behaviour within a Ch’an monastic community – as its structure offers detailed advice in the form of exact ‘rules’. The chapter entitled ‘Zuo Ch'an Yi’ (‘Seated Meditation Regulation’) is found on page 101 of the Chinese language edition of the ‘Ch'an Yuan Qing Gui’ published in 2001 - and appears approximately half-way through the book. It is generally believed to have been written by Changfu Zongze himself, but to have been independently in circulation (as a separate, distinct text) both prior to its inclusion in the ‘Ch'an Yuan Qing Gui’ in 1103, and after that time. As a collection of instructions regarding meditation, it may well represent the earliest representation of Ch’an meditative practice prior to the splitting of the school into the ‘Five Houses’. This text advocates the exploration of other meditation manuals – which is in accordance with Changfu Zongze’s known preference that the Pure Land method should be integrated with that of the Ch’an practice. Finally, the Japanese Zen master Dogen (1200-1253) used this text to form his ‘Za Zen Gi’, or ‘Rules for Seated Meditation’, despite the fact that Dogen criticised Changfu Zongze for his ‘liberal’ approach to the meditative practice. I have retained the distribution of paragraphs found within the Chinese text, so that English readers may appreciate the intended emphasis of the original author.
The person who wishes to be a Bodhisattva must understand that Great Compassion (Mahakaruna) is the pre-requisite for the development of Wisdom (Prajna). Great Vows must be taken so that the state of Samadhi can be cultivated. All beings are to be saved and selfishness discouraged. Do not be attached to external images, and abandon involvement in the multitude of external events. Equalise the mind and body so that they become ‘one’, and experience no duality between ‘motion’ and ‘stillness’.
Measure (and regulate) the intake of food and water – neither too little nor too much. Balance the requirement to sleep – neither too long nor too short in time.
To meditate effectively, find a quiet place and sit on a thick mat. Loosen the belt and clothing.
Adopt an orderly, awe-inspiring deportment that makes everything equal, and then sit in the full crossed legged (lotus) position. First place the right foot upon the upper left leg (i.e. ‘thigh’) area, and then place the left foot upon the upper right leg (i.e. ‘thigh’) area – both feet with the soles upward. However, the half crossed legged (lotus) position may also be adopted whereby the left leg is laid across the right leg – with the left foot resting upon the right upper leg (i.e. thigh) area.
Then on the left foot, place the right hand (palm upwards). Rest the left hand (palm upwards) on the palm of the right hand and allow the thumbs to touch. Calmly and gently lift and raise the torso forward with the inward breath - and then exhale – simultaneously shacking (or vibrating) the body left and right. Then allow the body to settle so that the correct (and upright) sitting posture is achieved. Do not lean to the left, to the right; do not bend forward or lean backward. Use control of the body to make the bones of the waist, back, neck and head all align with one another – this will prevent the breath from becoming shortened and disturbed.
The ears should be aligned with the shoulders; the nose with the navel. The tongue should touch the palate and the lips and teeth should be closed.
The eyes should remain slightly open so as to prevent sleepiness. To meditate in this manner ensures a very powerful attainment of Samadhi. In ancient times, monks studying meditation sat in this fashion – with the eyes slightly open. The Ch’an master called Fayan Yuantong would loudly blame those who meditated with their eyes closed – accusing them of abiding in the ‘Black Mountain Spirit Cave’. This has a deep meaning for those who practice this method of meditation and understand this wisdom.
The body should be settled and stable. The inward and outward breaths should be balanced so that qi (vital force) is distributed evenly. Tension should be released from the entire mid-section, freeing the area of the navel.
Do not give rise to good and bad thoughts. When a thought arises – be aware of it – awareness dissolves the thought. When this method is applied over a long period of time - all thoughts are forgotten and oneness is attained. This is important to master the skill of seated meditation (Zuo Ch'an).
It is my humble opinion that the practice of seated meditation (Zuo Ch'an) is the Dharma Gate of joy and ease. Some practitioners may develop hatred for this method and become ill – this is because they do not follow the instructions and apply the method correctly. In this respect the mind is used without a virtuous cause. However, if virtue is cultivated and this method fully understood, then the body is transformed as the four great elements of Buddhism (earth, water, fire and air), are experienced with an insightful attitude of contented lightness. The spiritual essence will become openly apparent and obvious. Thoughts become bright and correct. The taste of the Dharma supports the spiritual essence – and this creates an experience that is peaceful, pure and content. One who understands this truth is like a dragon that has discovered the water, or a tiger that has located the mountains. The correct method (of mind development) requires no other effort (once its exact practice is established) as it contains within it an inherent power (that is self-sustaining) – like the wind blowing the flames and making them stronger as a result.
As one progresses to higher levels of awareness, demons may be plentiful causing all kinds of agreeable and disagreeable experiences. However, if the mind is kept straight and true – these demons can do no harm. Texts such as the ‘Surangama Sutra’, Tian Tai’s ‘Calm Insight’ (Zhi Guan), and Guifeng’s ‘Cultivation Realization Regulations’ (Xiu Zheng Yi), explain clearly how these demons might be encountered, and how practitioners can prepare themselves in advance - therefore familiarity with these texts means that there is no worry over this issue.
When coming out of the state of Samadhi (i.e. a deep, undisturbed mind), remain very calm and do not move the body suddenly, or with undue haste – a state of serenity should be maintained through the transition from one state to another.
When formal meditation practice is over, it is important to maintain the power of developed Samadhi (in everyday life) through appropriate means. Protecting the power of Samadhi should be a serious undertaking – like that of protecting the life of a baby. In this way the power of Samadhi will continue to easily increase.
Practicing meditation (and realising Samadhi) is the most important single teaching. If meditation is not practiced and perfected through the realisation of a tranquil and insightful mind (Dhyana), then there will be a complete lack of understanding and no sense of direction. Therefore the pearl (of wisdom) is found when the water is still – if the water is disturbed the pearl can not be found. When the mind is settled it is pure and clear (like undisturbed water) – within this clarity the pearl of the mind naturally manifests. Therefore, The Complete Enlightenment Sutra says; ‘A pure and clean wisdom (that penetrates everywhere unhindered) – originates within the practice of meditation.’ The Lotus Sutra says; ‘In a quiet place he practices meditation by controlling the mind. He sits motionless like Mount Sumeru.’
The ability to leap over (and go beyond) the ordinary and the holy state is entirely dependent upon the practice of Dhyana, or Ch'an. The ability to abandon this body whilst sitting, and to flee this life whilst standing - is entirely dependent upon the power of Samadhi. Even if there is a life of meditative training, it may not be enough time. Those who do not commit themselves fully to this practice can not overcome the habit of karma. For this reason an ancient has said ‘If the power of Samadhi is not present, then one will yield easily at the gate of death. Closing the eyes after achieving nothing (in this life) results in endless waves of (deluded) existence.’ Good fortune and friendship has brought us together to study Ch’an. This text should be read over and over again, so that its deep meaning is refined (and understood). This will benefit the self as well as all others – and as a consequence all beings will attain to true enlightenment.
Extracted from the Ch'an Yuan Qing Gui (禅苑清规) 2001 Edition – Page 101.
'Licchavi Vimalakirti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, ’Reverend Sariputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the triple world. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behavior without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.' Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra