The book takes the form of a week-long retreat with Master Sheng Yen, with each chapter in the form of an evening talk given on a particular section of the "Song of Mind" text—giving this book a far more intimate and accessible feel than most commentaries on Zen texts and creating a feeling of being right there with the master as he brings the text to life.
The Supreme Way is not difficult
If only you do not pick and choose.
Neither love nor hate,
And you will clearly understand.
Be off by a hair,
And you are as far from it as heaven and earth.
These vivid lines begin one of the most beloved and commented upon of all Zen texts, the Hsin Hsin Ming (“Faith in Mind”), a sixth-century poem by the third Chan patriarch, Seng Ts’an. The Hsin Hsin Ming is a masterpiece of economy, expressing the profoundest truth of the enlightened mind in only a few short pages. Master Sheng Yen’s approach is unique among commentaries on the text: he views it as a supremely useful and practical guide to meditation practice. “I do not adopt a scholarly point of view or analytical approach,” he says. “Rather, I use the poem as a taking-off point to inspire the practitioner and deal with issues that arise during the course of practice. True faith in mind is the belief grounded in realization that we have a fundamental, unmoving, and unchanging mind. This mind is precisely Buddha mind.”
Here is the inimitable Master Sheng Yen at his best, illuminating the ancient texts of the Chinese Zen tradition to show how wonderfully practical they really are, even for us today. The texts, written by two of the founders of the Ts’ao-tung sect of Chan Buddhism, are poems entitled Inquiry into Matching Halves and Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi. Both emphasize the Chan view that wisdom is not separate from vexation, and both speak of the levels of awareness through which one must pass on the way to realization. Both are also works of Buddhist philosophy that can serve as guides to spiritual practice for anyone.
For the masters of the Chan tradition, poetry was a form of creative expression, but even more than that, it was a primary vehicle for teaching. Here a modern master presents ten teaching poems from the ancient masters, with illuminating commentary. “These poems flow directly from the minds of the enlightened Chan masters,” Master Sheng Yen says. “We get a glimpse into their experience at the time of, and after, their enlightenment. It is my hope that this collection of poems will give those who are interested in the practice a new way of looking at Chan.”
Complete Enlightenment is the first authoritative translation and commentary on The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, a central text that shaped the development of East Asian Buddhism and Ch'an (Chinese Zen). The text is set in the form of a transcription of discussions between the Buddha and the twelve enlightened beings(bodhisattvas), who question him on all aspects of spiritual practice.
This new translation preserves all the liveliness and nuance of the text in the original Chinese. The sutra's ancient wisdom is brought to life by the commentaries of Master Sheng-yen, one of the most revered living Buddhist masters in the Ch'an lineage. This is truly a manual for the spiritual journey toward complete enlightenment, providing the key to the deep, poetic, and practical meanings of the scripture.
Huatou is a skillful method for breaking through the prison of mental habits into the spacious mind of enlightenment. The huatou is a confounding question much like a Zen koan. Typical ones are "What is wu [nothingness]?" or "What was my original face before birth-and-death?" But a huatou is unlike a koan in that the aim is not to come up with an answer. The practice is simple: ask yourself your huatou relentlessly, in meditation as well as in every other activity. Don't give up on it; don't try to think your way to an answer. Resolve to live with the sensation of doubt that arises, and it will pervade your entire existence with a sense of profound wonder, ultimately leading to the shattering of the sense of an independent self.
Master Sheng Yen brings the traditional practice to life in this practical guide based on talks he gave during a series of huatou retreats. He teaches the method in detail, giving advice for dealing with the typical pitfalls and problems that arise, and answering retreat participants' questions as they experience the practice themselves. He then offers commentary on four classic huatou texts, grounding his instructions in the teaching of the great Chan masters.
Topics covered include
- What are the benefits of meditation?
- How do we sit in meditation?
- What are the states of meditation?
- How do we reach nirvana?
- What is absolute enlightenment?