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==== ==== Self-help and spirituality presented with humor and straightforward language. ==== ====

Zen Buddhism originated in China where it is known as Ch'an. They key characteristic of Ch'an is the cutting off of all thought and conception in order to see our original self, the original source of what we could understand as our most spiritual self. It is said that before we study Ch'an a mountain is just a mountain, as we progress in our study a mountain is not a mountain, and when we advance further in our study a mountain is just a mountain. To experience this is to experience the subtlety of Ch'an. In this example, before we study Ch'an a mountain is just a mountain but as our study continues we gain a deepening insight into the true nature of ourselves. Ch'an study furthers our understanding of what is original in our nature. As this understanding grows, deeper and deeper, we gradually become aware of the aspects of ourselves that transcend phenomenal reality. We experience an inner reality that remains unchanging within change. This aspect of ourselves is a space of reflection that we cultivate in Ch'an study, as space, a space beyond time, our inner sanctuary. As we continue to cultivate this inner space we simultaneously begin to intuit that the phenomenal world, the outside world shares this infinite spaciousness. During this process we can begin to experience the aspects of the mountain that go beyond its superficial appearance. As we begin to understand ourselves better and better through this cultivation we can touch that which is original within us, our 'original face, our 'original self'. When we experience this original self we become able to contemplate the subtlety of all outside form as well. We can experience that a mountain also has its true self. At this stage we see the mountain as so much more than a mountain. We find that all form shares in an ultimate reality. When we see a new form we can understand its essence, its subtlety, its origin. However, the mountain once again becomes a mountain for us but in a new way. We see that each form is unique in itself. As we continue our Ch'an study we see that the various forms, the mountain for example, all have their unique characteristics. This is significant especially in human relationships because we can begin to see that each person also has a unique relationship with their self, with their original nature. This inspires a true love and value for all other forms because each form has its unique relationship with this ultimate reality. Each form if allowed to manifest its true nature has its unique function. This inspires joy because this is the beauty of life, this is the beauty of manifestation. All forms are unique manifestations of the ultimate reality with their unique characteristics and unique relationship to time and space. To experience the mountain as such is to see the mountain as a mountain. When we first begin to study Ch'an we see the mountain is a mountain but know nothing of its subtlety. This is because we have not yet allowed our original nature to come forth within our conscious mind. That is to say that we are preoccupied with a perception of reality that is tainted by desire. This is where Ch'an, as in the koan exercises, places special emphasis on the unique

relationship between the student and the teacher. The teacher helps us to bring our original nature to the surface of our consciousness. The teacher is skilled at cutting off or desires, our delusive thoughts, so that we do not expend our energy chasing phantoms, instead we begin open up space for that which is original to come forth within us. This space that opens up, is already there within the student, as it was for Shih-t'ou when he came to Hui-neng, but before the student goes to the teacher the student does not know what lies within. The unique student teacher relationship allowed Shih-t'ou to understand that he had within himself his original nature, beyond desire, beyond concept, the pure transcendent reality that is the subtlety of life. This new understanding allows us to see that a mountain is so much more than a mountain. We can empathize with all other forms by sharing in this ultimate reality of that which is original within us. This is the key to truly understanding all beings. This is the teacher's key as well. This is how the teacher comes to understand us "better than we understand ourselves," as many students often describe it. A teacher with this key can see the disorientated relationship we have with our original self. A teacher with this key can empathize with that which is original and transcendent within us as it tries to come to the forefront of our consciousness. A teacher with this key can help us create a gap within our delusive thinking through which our original nature can shine forth. To become a true teacher one must have this key and learn how to use it, that is, learn how to speak to that which is highest within the student. Our knowledge of the mountain or the student, however, is only a deep as our relationship with our original nature. We must do as Hui-neng said when he was pressed to give an esoteric doctrine. We must "turn (our) light inwardly (and) find what is esoteric within (us)." We must continually be refreshed, or 'enlightened', by that which is foundational within us whenever we become confused or encounter trouble. This is returning to the root, returning to our original self. When we make a habit of returning to our original nature we become increasingly aware of what is significant in life and are thus able to transcend that which is illusory. If we remember this we can live within the Roam of Spiritual Freedom as in the first chapter of the Chuang Tzu. Whenever we encounter trouble during our Roam we see it as a signal to turn our light inward and find what is esoteric within us. Thus we have spiritual freedom regardless of outer circumstances. Thus we see that to see the second and third stages of perceiving the Ch'an mountain depend on our capacity to see our own original nature. This nature illuminates that which we share with all forms. From the viewpoint of what transcends form, we accurately see the difference of each form, its unique function and its manifestation of its true nature. By returning to our original nature, delusive, confused thinking eventually passes by harmlessly. We can endure any troubles by remaining in the subtlety that exists beneath the illusory difficulty. In this subtle space we can endure slander, delusive thoughts, or any kind of outside trouble in the infinity of our true nature. We can see that beyond the trouble, at its root, at its source, is true nature. The Ch'an Mountain is just an example of any outside phenomena, any circumstance. We could say that before we began Ch'an study, trouble was trouble, then as we continued our study we saw trouble as not trouble, then finally we saw trouble as trouble. We can replace any form including Self with the mountain. In the example of trouble we first encountered trouble and became entangled seeing the trouble as real. Later we saw only the infinite beneath the trouble thinking that the trouble had no reality. Finally, we see the trouble as existing with a certain amount of superficial reality, but we do not become attached or entangled in the trouble because we understand the infinite true nature underlying the outside circumstance.

This subtlety that exists in all forms, this origin, is the space from which true objectivity can be practiced. Most importantly this subtlety can give us perspective. When we cultivate what is esoteric within us, we can access insight into the true nature of an individual form. Through this we can experience true empathy for outside phenomena. We can see how it is that they flourish, how they best fulfill their unique function. We can revel in the vast diversity of form. This is why people who have encountered spiritual masters describe the master as seeing them as if they were the only person who ever existed. The master sees them as such because every person is unique in time and space. A spiritual master is like a connoisseur of form, especially human form, enjoying the richness and excitement of each unique moment, each unique form. This is how one can feel empathetic joy. This is how one can feel joy in every moment. This is how one can have a feeling of love of life, appreciating each experience, each encounter, as a unique manifestation of subtlety. Understanding the subtlety also allows us to have a carefree feeling, a roam of spiritual freedom, because we always have the original nature which is so very broad, so very vast, transcending the seriousness inherent in the life of attachments. So we see that what is essential is understanding the subtlety of our original nature because our own original nature is the key to unlock the suchness of all things. Ch'an, of course, has a history of clever pupils who say clever things that may sound like the subtlety of Ch'an but the master knows whether this is only a conceptual understanding. The student may delude his/herself into thinking that they have great conceptual achievement. This is why it is essential for the student to study under a true master. This master will continually cut off such delusional thinking, guiding the student to look within. Once such conceptual thinking is exhausted through the patience of the master, the student can begin to experience inner time, inner space. Then the student can explore this experience until the master helps guide the student to the experience of true self nature. This inner space, the students true self nature, was always there within the student. The master, of course, always saw it within the student. Through the combined effort of the master and student, the student becomes aware of this self nature. The student then has to develop this key to phenomenal reality. In time the student will become disciplined in seeing others' true suchness. Then the student must develop insightful, skillful means to help turn the light of others inward by helping to cut off their desires, opening a space to allow true nature to shine forth. If the student learns to help others in this way, over time, through developing the skillful means, then perhaps he/she may also become a teacher opening the way for others to see their original, most spiritual, nature.

Adam Dietz is a recent PhD graduate in Philosophy and Religion, specifically in the field of Asian and Comparative studies. Much of his coursework was oriented toward Buddhist studies. Adam has recently published his first book entitled "Original Confucianism: An Introduction to the Superior Person." He also runs the blog "Ethics and Spirituality Today" and welcomes your feedback on these sights.

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==== ==== Self-help and spirituality presented with humor and straightforward language. ==== ====

How to Reach Your Spiritual Self  

This book is about learning to live consciously. It is a unique blend of self-help and spirituality presented with humor and straightforward...

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