Dec 1, 2021

Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening by Guo Gu

Book Extract

Chan meditation master Guo Gu explains how to become the master of our own minds in this Book Extract

Book cover for Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening


We are so used to being caught up in our thoughts and feelings that we lose sight of our true nature. The key to meditation is to recognize that the host is not the guest. The comings and goings of thoughts and feelings are like guests coming into our homes. Would you let guests run your house? Of course not. You’re the host. You may consult them, but you must be the one to make any final decisions. Most of the time, trouble comes when we listen to the guests - our fleeting thoughts and feelings - and ignore our responsibility as hosts. For example, some people are extremely affected by self-disparaging thoughts. But why should our happiness depend on passing thoughts? Our true nature, buddha-nature, is already free and liberated. 

Who is the host, though? That’s the million-dollar question. How do we recognize our true nature? We have to use a method of practice with the right attitudes of contentment and great interest. These two primary attitudes reveal the Chan principles of no-thought, no-form and non-abiding, as well as the prerequisites of confidence and determination. With these right attitudes, we will be able to directly perceive the host.

Our practice will flourish when we have the right attitudes. Depending on whether we’re scattered or drowsy, energetic or fatigued, clear or hazy, a method of practice can be used in a relaxed or intensive way. A method is not fixed. We make it come alive with the attitude we bring to it. Most of us have to start with a relaxed approach. Why? Because most of us are very tense, whether we realise it or not. With a tense body and mind, it is impossible to see what kind of attitude we’re bringing to our practice. And while a more intense practice can be an antidote for a lazy or hazy practice, it cannot last long. The ability to practice with intensity takes skilfulness, because the body should be completely relaxed with only the mind focussed wakefully on the method. Thus, the intense approach is established on the foundation of relaxation. The first thing to learn, then, is a relaxed method of practice. 

(Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening by Guo Gu, pub. Shambhala Publishing 2021)

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