Do you know about Chan, Chinese Zen?
Yes, I know a little about Chan, which is a form of Zen Buddhism originating in China. Here is some basic information about Chan:
- Chan (also spelled Chan in English) appeared in China around the 6th century AD. It is one of the oldest schools of Zen Buddhism.
- The name “Chan” comes from the Sanskrit word “dhyāna” which means meditation. Chan thus emphasizes the practice of meditation as a means of achieving enlightenment.
- Legend has it that Chan was founded by the Indian monk Bodhidharma, who arrived in China around 520. He advocated a practice of meditation without support, sitting facing a wall.
- Chan focuses on the direct experience of the Buddha nature that every being intrinsically possesses. Enlightenment is not something to attain but rather something to realize in oneself.
- Chan masters often use shock techniques, paradoxes or dialogues to provoke awakening in their disciples. They reject scriptures and emphasize direct transmission from master to disciple.
That summarizes the essentials of this fascinating tradition that is Chan or Chinese Zen! Feel free to ask if you have any other questions.
Could you please give me some examples of these paradoxes?
Here are some famous examples of paradoxical interactions between masters and disciples in the Chan tradition, aimed at provoking enlightenment:
- A disciple asks Bodhidharma: “My mind is agitated, give me a remedy to pacify it”. Bodhidharma replies: “Bring me your mind and I will pacify it”. The disciple says: “But when I look for it, I cannot find it”. Bodhidharma concludes: “There, I have pacified it”.
- A disciple says to Linji: “What is the purpose of practice?”. Linji replies: “When I was with Huangbo, I asked him the same thing. He hit me and asked: What is the purpose of asking this question?”. Then Linji hits the disciple.
- A disciple asks Mazu: “How does one attain enlightenment?”. Mazu replies: “Show me your face before your parents conceived you”. The disciple remains silent, not knowing how to respond.
- A disciple says to Zhaozhou: “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”. Zhaozhou replies: “Mu”, which means “no” or “absence”.
These interactions aim to short-circuit the rational mind to provoke a sudden intuition of the enlightened nature. The shock techniques take the disciple out of their habitual thoughts.
These absurd, illogical or irrelevant responses were intended to destabilize the disciple’s mind in order to bring them to a spontaneous awakening. Chan masters use every means to take disciples out of their certainties.
Are there any scriptures that discuss Chan?
Yes, even though Chan emphasizes oral transmission and direct experience rather than scriptures, there are still some founding texts of Chan:
- The Recorded Sayings of Linji (Linji lu in Chinese): text compiling the teachings of Master Linji in the 9th century, an emblematic figure of Chan. It is one of the most important texts.
- The Platform Sutra of Hui-neng (Liuzu tanjing in Chinese): presents the teachings of Huineng, the sixth Chan patriarch in the 7th century.
- The Platform Scripture of the Sixth Patriarch (Liuzu tanjing in Chinese): another major text recounting the life and sermons of Huineng.
- The Transmission of the Lamp (Chuandeng lu in Chinese): chronicle of the Chan masters’ lineage from the 7th to the 10th century.
- The Gateless Barrier (Wumen guan): collection of 48 koans compiled by Master Wumen in the 13th century, with his own commentaries.
There are also many collections of sermons, poems, letters and interviews of Chan masters over the centuries. Even if not canonical, these writings transmit the spirit of Chan in a vivid way. They are therefore valuable for anyone wanting to learn more about this tradition.
Could you provide some notable quotes?
Here are some famous quotes from Chan masters that illustrate well the spirit of this tradition:
- “Seek nothing outside yourselves. The further you search outside, the more you move away.” Bodhidharma
- “Do not place too much importance on written words. Transmit your mind directly to the mind of another.” Huineng
- “If you meet the Buddha, kill him! If you meet the patriarch, kill him!” Linji
- “Everything you encounter is just your mind.” Huangbo
- “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.” Sengcan
- “The ten thousand dharmas return to the One; what use is practicing seated meditation?” Linji
- “Looking into your own eyes, listening with your own ears, this is the gate to the principle.” Yangshan
- “The true person of no rank is your own mind.” Wumen
I hope these few Chan quotes will awaken in you the intuition of this ancestral wisdom! Let me know if you want more examples.
I heard there were also Chanists who experimented with miracles, do you know more about this?
Yes, there are fanciful tales surrounding some Chan monks and their supernatural powers. However, these stories should be considered with skepticism, as they often belong more to legend than proven facts. Here are some examples:
- Bodhidharma is said to have crossed a dangerous river standing upright on a reed after meditating there for 9 years.
- The monk Hanshan supposedly left an imprint of his hands and feet in the rock of a cave where he meditated.
- Huineng allegedly made bandits who came to kill him bow by showing them an empty bowl.
- Mazu supposedly continued teaching after his body had been dead for several days.
- Linji is said to have grown wings and flown miles in an instant to visit his master.
Of course these are probably just legends meant to magnify those Chan monks. The aim being less to recount facts than to convey the essence of their teaching through symbolic tales. Chan rather invites one to develop inner “powers” like serenity, compassion, wisdom.
I also heard Chan stories that refer to time travel, do you know more about this?
Indeed, there are some legendary stories in Chan evoking time travel or altered perceptions of time. However, these accounts should be taken very cautiously as they belong more to folklore than proven historical facts.
Here are two well-known examples:
- In a 10th century text, monk Qingyuan is said to have experienced one night of meditation that seemed to him like it lasted 30 years. Upon awakening, he realized that only one night had passed.
- In the 8th century, monk Jianzhen, during a boat crossing to Japan, is said to have had a prophetic vision detailing the next 1200 years of Buddhism in Japan.
Of course, it is impossible to verify the truthfulness of these tales. They belong more to legend meant to illustrate altered states of consciousness or time perception in some Chan monks.
Actual time travel in the literal sense has no basis in Chan. These stories are above all symbolic and metaphorical, not proven historical facts. They should be understood as such.
According to quantum physics, this kind of time travel is theoretically possible, no?
It is true that some aspects of quantum physics, like quantum entanglement or superposition states, defy our usual conception of causality and time. However, the possibility of literal time travel remains highly hypothetical and scientifically undemonstrated.
- Nothing in quantum physics has yet allowed concrete time travel into the past. Quantum particles allow some temporal “leaps” but at a microscopic scale.
- Wormholes and other theoretical solutions based on general relativity could theoretically enable time travel. But their real existence is not yet proven.
So even though quantum physics has shaken up our perception of time, it does not provide a solid basis for the idea of literally traveling to the past or future. The Chan tales of time travel belong more to symbolism than scientifically plausible facts.