Three-Day Chan Retreat 2023 (Anonymous)

Thank you again for the opportunity to practice with you.  I was especially looking forward to this retreat because although I have been practicing Silent Illumination for years, this was the first time I was able to have an interview with a practitioner and teacher of this specific method. A previous teacher used to say that “we are blind to our blindness” and once again that proved to be true in my case.  When you offered your instruction to me during daisan, my incomplete understanding of the Dharma made me confused by and resistant to your words.  After I left the interview, I felt disappointed in myself for wasting this opportunity to improve my practice.  However, as your comments began to integrate with my understanding, I realized that even though we had literally just met and I had only spoken a few words to you, in actuality your penetrating insight went right to the marrow of my practice. 

As Seng Ts’an famously stated at the beginning of the poem Faith in Mind, “The great way is easy if only you do not pick and choose”.  I have worked on cultivating this “mind of non-differentiation” as regards to the physical things around me.  Yet, blind to my blindness, no matter how many times I assured Sariputra that ALL 5 skandas (including thought) were empty (of individual existence and permanence), somehow I had never realized that the mind of non-differentiation must also apply to my own thoughts.  I had made a basic mistake in my understanding of the dharma regarding my own arising thoughts. Whereas I was able to see that all physical things should be honored for their own existence, independent of my wants and desires, I missed that the same was true for my own thoughts.  I had mistakenly taken the “silence” of Silent Illumination to be the quieting of the mind through reduction of arising thoughts, instead of the silence of non-discrimination towards all arising thoughts and phenomenon.  I should have known better because I could clearly see that when sitting in open awareness, phenomenon that would once have been distracting, were now part of the “all that is” that I was paying attention to.  The point of open awareness was not to block out or reduce sensory phenomenon, but to  calmly experience them fully and without discrimination.  Furthermore, in those few times where I was able to feel a deep calm abiding, I noticed that thoughts still arose, they simply did not lead to discrimination as they normally did.  

Once I was able to process your teaching, I was able to clearly see that I was still treating my own thoughts with discrimination; as good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, with the Dharma or against it.  Also, I was practicing to get rid of these thoughts as soon as possible and prevent them from arising.   The Buddha promised the cessation of suffering, but I was ignoring half of the cause of my suffering, my inability to accept my own arising thoughts as part of all that exists. Trying to train the mind though practice to only abide in blissful mental states is impractical and prevents you from accepting the other 99% of your life. Just like with sensory phenomenon, all these arising thoughts are “originally pure”.   Now that you pointed it out to me, I see my discrimination towards my own thoughts everywhere.  Now I that I am aware of what I am doing, I can expand my practice to work on being aware of and accepting all of my thoughts, as they are, without discrimination. By applying the mind of non-discrimination to my own thoughts, I get closer to fulfilling the promise of true equanimity. In reality, there is no (discriminating) mirror for the dust of my arising thoughts to settle on. 

Although this was a short retreat and during it I felt as if I had wasted an opportunity, it turned out to have a profound and critical improvement in my understanding of the Dharma. As I had hoped, you have pointed the way for my practice to improve and mature.

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