My name is Guo Gu, I'm a Chan/Zen teacher, author, and the founder of Tallahassee Chan Center. I started meditating over 40 years ago, ten of which as a monastic attendant and senior disciple to the late master Sheng Yen (1931-2009). I also teach as a professor of Buddhist Studies at Florida State University. Still a student of Buddhism and Chan, but I'm here to answer any questions you have about meditation - AMA!
Here are some resources I think may help many of you:
This is a helpful audio file that will guide you through the practice of progressive relaxation, and engaging fully with the body. It is helpful for any method of meditation: https://tallahasseechan.org/teachings/dharma-talks/guided-meditation/
A link to my other talks I think might answer a lot of your questions: https://tallahasseechan.org/teachings/dharma-talks/
Before you pay money for any type of meditation, check out the free ones first. Look around for local centers near you. There are also a lot of resources online as well.
Hope this helps.
I'm very interested in the use of meditation to enhance telekinetic ability including spoon bending. Have you been able to manipulate matter with your mind due to meditation? How would you suggest someone utilize meditation to help them gain telekinetic or psychokinetic skills?
Thanks for your question. Prior to seven or eight years old, kids usually are unable to distance themselves from their thoughts, thinking process. When they think of something they just become that! This is the foundation of meditation. So for younger kids, it’s best to just make things interesting for them.
I have taught meditation on hearing with younger kids, asking them to identify all the sounds in the environment (i’ve practiced this with kids at the park and so on). Alternatively you can try having them feel the different tactile sensations of the body. In other words meditation methods that are active and stimulating.
Hope this helps.
Thanks, I'll try that with her.
Āchariya Guo Gu, what is the most fruitful meditation practice you find helpful for beginning, intermediate and advanced meditators?
Thanks for your question. The most important attitude toward meditation, and life in general, is that you’re already free. That said, we all have habit tendencies and narratives that affect us—that make us feel not so free. Hence meditation practice becomes necessary. But even when we engage in meditation practice (broadly understood) we should be careful not to be so caught up with attitudes of trying to get somewhere, or trying to fix ourselves, and so on.
There is no special kind of meditation that beginners should do. Any common meditation methods would be fine. For beginners, it’s important to develop an established practice of being in the body. Because most people live in their heads, they’re divorced from how they actually feel in the body, which impact every aspect of our experience. So beginners should choose a method that’s less abstract, and brings themselves in tune with the body. Learning how to relax the body is a primary importance.
For intermediate practitioners, those who have already established a consistent meditation practice, it’s important to find and work with a teacher. The teacher will be able to cater instructions according to the students’ situation.
For advanced practitioners, there should not be a separation between meditation and non-meditation, practice and life. Whatever they cannot let go of is where they’re stuck. They’ll have to expose and work through the subtleties of habit tendencies and narratives.
Hope this helps...
I thought meditating would help me keep a relaxed and clear mind, but my traumas are as strong as ever and I can't find a way to heal. I've lost the faith I once had, and I've grown apart from meditation. Today, I feel it will serve nothing other than a means to be relaxed.
I want to go back to the way it was, with my relaxing nights, and the shrewd interoception and tranquility; it made me feel like I could take on the whole world by seeing everything (the concept of the Third Eye Chakra) and teach everyone tools to self-improve.
I'm working with a therapist, but I doubt it will help the spiritual side.
What can I do to get back to my spiritual self without fear or uninterest?
Thanks for your question. But I have to say, as long as you’re entertaining thoughts of seeking and rejecting, having and lacking, trying and giving up, it’s very difficult to find peace. Because it is precisely these attitudes that bring us dis-ease. Take care not to entertain these thoughts but at the same time develop a consistent practice just for the sake of practice. Doing progressive relaxation, being in tune with a relaxed body throughout the day is most important once your body is relaxed you will be more in tune with the undercurrent feeling tones that shape your perception and understanding and experiences. When you’re grounded and relax, you will be able to not be so affected by negative on the current tones or feelings. You will be able to be at peace.
I have some guidance meditation audio files on the Tallahassee Chan Center website. I think you should check them out and go from there. Good luck my friend! I hope this helps.
If you could condense the heart essence of the whole of your path thus far into a pithy sharing, would you mind sharing it for the benefit of all? Sort of like if you were to come up with your "take away" from a life of practice over the last 40 years, what would that be?
Thanks for your great question! I would say what sums up my practice so far is: It’s All Good—even through the ups and downs of life. Of course I’m not saying my practice is all good. It’s not! But what little I have learned in this process is that everything is practice. That’s what makes it good. By practice, I mean the process of exposing, embracing, responding, and letting go.
Hope this is useful.
Sometimes, I have difficulty acting with bodhicitta intentions when having difficult interactions with others. What sort of practical methods could be used to remedy that impediment?
Thanks for your question. The different Buddhist principles and ideals should not be used as a measuring stick for ourselves. They are meant to inspire us, but we are where we are. That said, it’s important to prime ourselves for different practices. And the most important thing is the conditions of our body and minds/hearts. If the conditions are not conducive, we cannot force ourselves. If we do, it will feel contrived.
To prime ourselves we begin with the body. Our body must be relaxed and grounded. If the body is not in the state, all of these Buddhist ideals will not be embodied, they would just be abstract notions. So you have to, in those situations, relax your body from head to toe and feel grounded to earth. Practice this. Once the body is relaxed and grounded, you would be able to adjust and soften the undercurrent feeling tone of your heart, and see that everyone is actually trying their best— even though the way they do it may be harmful for others. At this time you will have a little more sympathy for others. It would be easier to generate understanding and kindness.
I have given some talks on this, and the MP3 file is on the Tallahassee Chan Center website. Feel free to check them out. I hope this helps.
I used to live in a city with a Zen temple, and I did some meditation there when my schedule permitted. I recently moved to a very rural place. How do I develop a meditation practice at home without the support of teachers / other meditators?
Thanks for your question. You’re not alone! There are so many people in the same situation as you. I would suggest two things.
First, that you don’t divide between meditation practice and your life. Sustained practice involves being in tune with our body and the undercurrent tone of feelings in all situations. And you have them with you all the time! This practice involves exposing, embracing, responding and tuning, and letting go. You can let go of difficulties and vexations if they are not exposed. We can’t respond to them if we cannot embrace and except them first. This is the first general principal.
Second, develop a reasonable doable formal meditation schedule every day, every week. And then once in a while you can change it up a bit. There is seated meditation as practice, mindful work as practice, reading buddhist works as practice, etc. give yourself a schedule, if you like.
A couple of decades ago I developed a practice for my students, which I call “one minute Chan.” Five times a day, or five situations that you find yourself in every day, for one minute relax your body, be content, and engage with whatever that you’re doing. The task should be something that you already do every day—don’t create more burdens by adding more things that you have to do—such as first bite of lunch, the same elevator ride that you take, the same walk that you take, etc. for the first minute do them relaxingly, wholeheartedly, joyfully. Do this for three months, and then move on to five other things.
In other words words, transform whatever that you’re doing daily life consciously as part of your practice. In time there will not be much separation between what is considered practice and what is not.
Hope this helps.
Is there anything deeper or more advanced to zen meditation than focusing on your breath and centering your attention/awareness?
I have been practicing zen meditation for a couple months with long sessions (20-40 minutes), and sometimes I feel stagnate. As if I have stood apart from my thoughts to a high degree and then dont know what to do. Should I simply continue to observe? Is there a deeper technique or direction I should be going once most of my thoughts have distanced themselves from me?
The few times I have felt a complete presence of being apart from thoughts, I never know how to process that experience, which usually brings thoughts rushing back about how unique and bewildering that experience was.
There are two distinct methods within the Chan/Zen tradition. The first is called meditation on the critical phrase (huatou or gong’an). The second is called silent illumination (mozhao). I’ve spoken on these two methods extensively and the audio files are on the Tallahassee Chan Center website. I have also published on them. You can check it out at the website.
This is not the place to go into details about them, but if you find yourself completely present, free from discursive thinking, at this time your body should still be there. So ground yourself in the embodied experience of being present. There’s a sense of body weight routed to earth, there is embodied experience of being relaxed, and there’s a clarity of these. This, then, can be your method at the time.
I hope this helps.
First, I appreciate your work in Judge. Speaking of which, do you see any parallels in the punk movement and chan/zen? Personally, the DIY mindset, community orientation, acceptance of vegetarians, and the strange relationship with violence, etc. There seem to be some similarity in ideas that I find interesting.
Second, I was listening to a talk you gave on silent illumination. In it you cited Hongzhi. I've looked into silent illumination being taught by zen masters and can't find any actual textual support aside from Dogen and Hakuin, but the argument can be made that they're frauds. I don't know if any extant texts from Hongzhi or Rujing who are associated with silent illumination as well. I find the topic interesting, but without textual support, I haven't looked much into it.
I'm a big fan of Linji's, "Find the stillness in motion, and the motion in stillness." My interest in silent illumination is partly spurred by that, but also the controversy over meditation in zen to begin with. I meditate, but I wouldn't say zen masters teach it. To me, Bodhidharma was using meditation but not teaching it. I think he was trying to say it can't be taught. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Thanks for your many questions! I’ve done an interview about the early part of my life exploring hard-core straight edge punk music and meditation. It’s online somewhere if you search it. Yes I think there are some parallels.
There’s a book called Cultivating the Empty Field, which is a translation of some of Hongzhi’s writings. You can check that book out. This year Shambala publications will also publish my own translation of Hongzhi’s writings with my commentaries on silent illumination practice. So you can keep an eye out for that one as well.
As for meditation, I just answered someone’s question about that. We are already free. But we don’t feel so liberated, that’s why people meditate. It’s not that meditation “produces” freedom or awakening. It doesn’t. It simply makes the conditions ripe for us to realize our inherent freedom.
Silent illumination is not a “method” of meditation practice. It is simply a poetic literary expression for our inherent freedom which has two aspects: stillness and luminosity, selflessness and dynamic function, samadi and prajna—these are expressed as silent illumination. in other words, silent illumination is your true nature, already awakened. Practice is about removing that which conceals this.
Hope this helps.
Which traditional texts really resonate with you, and/or have been fruitful and beneficial for you along the path?
The Platform and Vimalakirti sutras.
Before I shifted to a different practice, I did practice some meditation. I currently don't practice meditation since we already practice Zen in other ways.
So here's my question: I find it very curious how some practices have a single focal point in meditation. From internet english speakers, I heard that some meditation practices focus on breathing. From my point of view, it isn't very different from a daily practice of focused chanting (what I am currently doing) and flow state.
However, previously I have been taught to meditate by thought watching, that is with zero focal point and seeing and ignoring any thoughts that come up. I find that it increases self-awareness.
what kind of circumstances in which type of meditation should be recommended? Should a beginner do breath type meditation or thought watch? Then when would be a good time to try out the other method? Are there other meditation methods?
Or maybe the simplest answer is to let 缘分 decide what kind of practice I end with and follow their roadmap lol. They always say to 一门精进 after all.
Thanks for your question. Indeed different circumstances of people require different methods. Meditation on the breath is a foundational method. By using it, people will give rise to different psychosomatic responses and experiences. Understanding these, a teacher would be able to know how the student works and what method the student should use.
An analogy of this is like you have a seed that you don’t know what kind of plant it’s from. So the first thing you do is put it in the ground maybe add some fertilizer some water and see if it grows. Once it grows, sprouts, and by observing the shape of the leaves and the way it grows, you would be able to tell what kind of plant it is, and how to nourish the plant.
The same is with meditation on the breath. The teacher does not really know what works for a student unless a student begins to practice. Once a student started half experiences then the teacher with a be able to tweak the method or change the method for student to continue. Everyone works differently. That’s why it’s important to have a teacher. In the beginning, maybe is not so important. But once a person starts to have experiences, a teacher is a must. Does that make sense?
I hope this helps.
How do you body scan? And what do you do with your eyes? I tend to visualize my body parts but keep being told this is wrong.
Thanks for your question. I teach a foundational practice for meditation called progressive relaxation in which you would, through tactile sensations, feel the skin, the muscles, the tendons relaxing from head to toe. In this foundational practice you treat the eyes also as muscles for relaxing. It’s very important to relax the eyes and meditation practice.
If you do visualizations, this is engaging in abstract thinking. It is a bit harder to relax the body. Besides, most people are really not in tune with the body and their bodies are tense. So doing the foundational practice is very important. Please go to the Tallahassee Chan Center website I have audio files of guided meditation which will teach you how to relax the body.
Hope this helps.
Sorry for probably a dull question, but this is what interests me the most now. How to actually become a real Buddhist and not a fake one? If I want to call myself Buddhist, what should I do to match this title? I have searched through the internet, but there were so few answers that I have decided to ask my question straight to you. Thanks for the answer
Thanks for your question. It's not dull at all. Usually a person becomes a Buddhist by publicly making a commitment to take the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) as a "refuge," before a representative of the Sangha, i.e., Buddhist monastic order. This short ceremony is called Taking Refuge.
"Refuge" means recognizing, relying, and applying the values of the Three Jewels in one's life. You may want to consult this short essay: http://www.dharmadrum.org/content/chan_garden/chan_garden2.aspx?sn=40
Hope this helps!
What's your favorite pizza? ....one with everything?
I appreciate your humor. Well, I eat pizza once in a while. Not one with everything, usually just spinach or mushrooms with pesto sauce!
Do you recall the moment your doubt-driven seeking ceased? What was that experience like for you and what brought about that pivotal turning point? For some it was a phrase, for some a sound, for some a sight, for some a sensation, etc.
Also, when teaching do you employ expedients such as striking your student with a staff or a slap, shouting, etc? If so, how effective has it been? If not, why not?
Thanks for your questions. If you’re referring to awakening experiences, it’s not once and for all moment. The practitioner inevitably have breakthroughs again and again and again and again. Sometimes deep, lasting for months, while other times shallow, like a glimpse. Our self-referential tendencies are deep rooted.
My first experience happened in 1995. I was going through a difficult time and my teacher was away; I had no one to rely on. I’ve given up on awakening and remembered something that my teacher said to me a long time ago: “body like a rag mind like a mirror— offer yourself!” Then I start practicing for myself I treated my body like a rag doing everything that no one else wanted to do. Let others take advantage of me without complaint, but clear about what’s happening. Whenever my attachments arose I just put it down. It was then that I entered the gateless barrier of Chan. They have been subsequent experiences. That said, even though others see me as their teacher, I am still a student of Chan.
As for styles of teaching, I really use stick. We’re in a different culture, different time. Methods that you mention very rarely works. Most of the time, they leave side effects and have not so good outcomes.
I hope this helps.
What’s your view on Muay Thai? I know it has a heavily Buddhist background in Thailand.
Thanks for your question but I know for a little about that.
I have done many types of meditation over the past 20+ years. Most instructors usually guide people through meditations that are slow and relaxing. I am trying to diversify my meditations at this point, however, so I am wondering if you have any unique ideas for meditation that is more energetic or fast paced?
Relatedly, I am good at doing one thing at a time with focus, which many meditation instructors I have encountered teach. What I am not as good at is cognitive task switching and/or multitasking. For example, if someone asks me a question while I am busy reading, I often don't hear the beginning of what they are saying and it is difficult to shift my attention away from my book. When we are done talking, it then takes me a moment to get back into reading and remember what I just read moments ago. Or another example, if someone is trying to have a conversation with me while I am cooking, I am much more likely to make little errors like accidentally overcooking something or forgetting to add an ingredient. Do you have any unique ideas for meditation practices to improve cognitive task switching or multi-tasking?
Thanks for your question. Our cognitive capabilities vary from person to person— each of us is limited by our own neurological synaptic wiring. And mistakes are bound to happen. Meditation may help in improving our cognitive functioning, but it really isn’t meant for that. Instead meditation is really meant for alleviating us from emotional afflictions, vexations, and causes of suffering. That said, there are practices that develops our overall awareness without being linear in our focus. Silent Illumination would be one; loving kindness is another. Interested in them, you’re welcome to the website which has talks and guided meditation practices on them.
Hope this helps.
Ācārya, you are both a meditation teacher/practioner and involved in Buddhist studies academia, not unlike some others in the field such as Bhadanta Anālayo. Can you talk about this path into academia, and whether or not you think it is important for Buddhist academics to have direct training in practice lineages before going for their degrees (or during their programs)?
I ask as an undergraduate interested in Buddhist studies along multiple fronts (philosophical, historical, anthropological, linguistic, etc.) but who's own personal Buddhism is more about devotion and faith than about practice in this life. I would say that I'm probably like an ordinary, if slightly more devout, Buddhist layperson (in that I don't do much sitting meditation, I go to temple for pūjā and such and I might do a buddhānusṃrti informally), only with strong academic inclinations. Do you think I would be a better scholar of Buddhism if I actually had experience in more advanced Buddhist practice? Do you feel that you are a better scholar of Buddhist studies by virtue of your personal advanced practice?
Thanks for your question. Analayo bhikkhu was recently on one of my retreats. He’s a friend. Different strokes for different folks. It really depends on what topics you study academically that determine whether personal experience is relevant or not. Also personal experiences can sometimes skew ones findings. If you are just doing historical work in Buddhist Studies, there’s really no need for personal experience.
Hope this helps.
Given that Zen Masters consistently and explicitly reject the cultivation of virtue, compassion for all beings, and wisdom, why do you teach things like:
Proper practice includes cultivating mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom
Given that Zen Masters consistently and explicitly reject meditation as related to their teaching, like in the following excerpt:
Virtuous monks, when I state that there are no dharmas outside, the student does not comprehend and immediately tries to find understanding within. He sits down cross-legged with his back against a wall, his tongue glued to the roof of his mouth, completely still and motionless. This he takes to be the buddhadharma of the patriarchal school. That’s all wrong.
Why do you then teach the following which you claim is related to zen?
In the Buddhist tradition, meditation is understood as self-cultivation, a process of working with our mind and body to develop focus and clear perception. The aim for developing focus and clear perception is to realize our true nature and bring out our full potential in wisdom and compassion and share it with the world.
Thanks for your questions. There are no Chan/Zen masters and there are no fixed Chan/Zen “teachings.” In fact, there’s no fixed “thing” in anything. To hold up the ancient Zen masters’ teaching as a standard is like picking up someone’s chewed up gum on the floor and putting it in one’s mouth chewing it. Why would you want to do that? There is no juice in already chewed up gum. But if you wish to do so that’s fine.
Some people need A, so a teacher gives A. Other people need B, so B is given. What works for one person may not work for another. What works in the past may not work in the present.
Hope this helps.
Thanks for your question. There are no fixed Chan/Zen teachings. To say Chan/Zen is one thing or another is already off the mark.... probably exemplifies one’s own attachment more than what Chan/Zen is supposed to be. As for Buddhism, its spirit is the same as Chan/Zen. Hope this helps.
Thank you for doing this AMA! I'm a Vajrayana practicioner, and I've seriously considered becoming a monk over the years, it's usually when I'm frustrated and get the feeling that no matter what I do, society has a vested interest in chasing Samsaric delusions of wordly wealth, power and prestige. Our value system is 100 percent antithetical to what the Buddha taught, so I figure why not turn your back on something so life-destroying. But then I think to myself, I should stay and make worldly secular life a part of my practice, I.e. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere. But then I see alot of modern Buddhism being watered down to appeal to western beginners, so that it fits non-threateningly in our consumer culture, becoming perverted in the process and turned into things like; meditation as a relaxation technique, an overemphasis on love and light, bordering on New Age foofy stuff.
So, how did you do it? How do you do it? how do you square your practicing the Dharma with everyday life? Really and truly being "no one" in a world that worships the individual seems a bit futile to me. And what made you take off your robes?
Again, I hope I'm not too late. And thank you so much for what you do with this life. Invaluable
Thank you for your question. In my experience and observation, putting on robes doe not make one holy; wearing lay clothes does not make one worldly. I left monasticism so I can bring the teachings beyond the monastic walls. Practicing as a layperson is a lot harder than being sheltered in a nice environment. But practice takes all forms. Under the sheltered environment one can develop certain aspects of practice (meditative absorption); and in the complexity and ups and downs of daily lay life, one can really see the emotional afflictions and self-grasping.
I don’t really judge the types of teaching that is “watered down”; there is a place for that and some people do find it useful. There is no fixed teaching in Buddhadharma. They’re all expedient means.
Do you have a teacher you can discuss your concerns with? The reality of monastic life may be very different than what you imagined it to be. Perhaps you can stay at a monastery for extended period time and observe for yourself.
Samsara is all engulfing, including monasteries. It is up to us to make samsara the arena for awakening. Opposing it won’t help.
I hope this is useful.
Is Silent Illumination, Shikantaza and Dzogchen all the same method under different names? If not, what is the difference and how does a person practice your style of meditation?
Thanks for your question. These approaches to practice have the same aim: awakening. Instructions, as far as I know it, however, are different. I have published and given talks on silent illumination sometimes I also mention shikantaza. You can explore then I’ll tell Tallahassee Chan Center website.
I hope this helps!
Hi Guo Gu! I've started practicing meditation for 4 years but even if i'm already relaxed, after a meditation session i always feel tired and sleepy. Is there a way to prevent gettin sleepy?
Thanks for your question. Without knowing more context, it’s hard to pinpoint the causes for drowsiness. You could examine the physiological and psychological conditions before and during your meditation. Sometimes sleepiness is caused by physiological conditions such as poor posture. Other times drowsiness can be caused by the attitude that we bring to practice or even a misapplication of the method is self.
Many practitioners start to become drowsy 10 to 15 minutes into the sitting, and have allowed this tendency to become a sort of habit. If this is a pattern he will be very difficult to uproot.
When you sit in meditation, check your posture, the attitude that you bring to meditation, which should be contentment, and make sure that your body is relaxed and grounded to earth. When you actually engage in the method of your meditation you should give rise to great interest... Each moment is a new beginning, every moment is fresh. Appreciate and love your method of practice.
I hope this helps.
For the practice of Silent Illumination are there any traditional texts you would recommend other then Hongzhi’s writings? I’ve never seemed to find many texts that relate to the practice even when it’s always said to be the counterpart of Huatou which is endless things written about it...
Also, how does Silent Illumination lead to sudden awakening? Since it seems much more similar to traditional meditation practices then Huatou which aims specifically for breaking through the karmic mind.
Thanks for your question. Silent illumination traditionally is really not a “method” of practice. It is just a poetic literary expression for awakening—a termed that was in circulation in the 12th century China. silence refers to selflessness; elimination refers to the functions of this selfless wisdom. For this reason, you won’t find the exact coinage “silent illumination” in pre-12th century texts. At the same time, it is everywhere in Chan literature, albeit in another word combinations like “quiescent luminosity,” “sudden and perfect shamata-vipashyanana,” “true emptiness and sublime function,” etc.
Master Yongjia of the 7th century articulated this in his writings. Unfortunately, only a small part of his writings are translated. In the Platform Sutra of Huineng, there are also passages that delineate the principle workings of the awakened mind (chps on seated meditation and prajna). I have a book coming out on silent illumination, in which I talk about this more extensively. So you can keep an eye on that.
The “sudden” in sudden awakening in Chan means different things in huatou or gong’an and silent illumination. Silent illumination practice is sudden because it is in accordance with the intrinsic qualities of our minds. In huatou and hong’an methods, sudden means it aims to use poisoned against poison, frustrating the rational, discursive mind and turn it in on itself with the sense of wonderment, which leads to dropping away of self-attachment. Both are sudden methods. Neither means that by using the method you actually realize awakening sooner.
I hope this helps.
Hello! Namo Amitabo! I lived near a Chan center founded in California and thought it was a wonderful place. It was founded by Master Hua. It was my first exposure to Chan practice. I would like to be more involved in Chan meditation for my son and I, but we have no Chan centers that I can find near me here in northern Kentucky. How can I participate in Chan outside of attending services? Can you recommend a good website for publications?
Thanks for your question. There are lots of resources online about Chan Buddhism. You can visit the Tallahassee Chan Center website for example. Or you can visit the website of the Chan meditation center in New York.
I hope this helps
What are your feelings on the movements within Zen, perhaps best exemplified in Grassroots Zen, to “Westernize” the practice in ways that are less patriarchal, hierarchal, and less attached to the various rituals (like the tea ceremony) that are associated with a stereotypical “traditional” Zen? Or, more generally, attempts to “localize” the practice to a given region and culture?
Thanks for your question. I think that’s an inevitable and necessary process. Best, GuoGu.
Thank you so much for doing this AMA. I hope to do one of your retreats this year and meet you in person. There isn't a zen/chan center near me so I don't have access to a teacher other than the texts.
1) Do you ever do any type of video chat based interview/checkins with your students?
2) How do you establish the student-teacher relationship in chan, especially when you live several hours driving distance away?
3) Do you think it's possible to reach complete or deep realization(s) on your own by studying the texts and meditating without an official teacher, i.e. without living under or having regular access to a teacher?
These are the main struggles in my practice. I worry that I'm truly "getting it" since I'm not able to have my experiences verified, or that I'm going down the wrong path, etc.
Thanks for your questions. I'll answer your them in line. 1) I usually use skype or zoom to work with my students who are in other states/country. 2) it depends on whether a teacher wants to work with you; I usually don't accept students without having them do an intensive 7-day retreat with me. 3) It is theoretically possible, of course. However, it would be very hard. If possible, it's always good to talk with a teacher to verify whatever experiences one may have. Best wishes, Guo Gu
What's your opinion of non-religion-based mindfulness practices like Jon Kabat-Zinn's MBSR program? What do you think Chan Buddhism teachings and practices add that you wouldn't get from a Westernized program like MBSR?
Thanks for your question. MBSR is about developing awareness, healing oneself, gaining more peace and clarity in life. all of which are quite beneficial. Chan/Zen is about realizing one’s own inherent freedom (awakening), in the midst of and despite the ups and downs of life.
I hope this clarifies.
Do you believe you can heal physical illness in the body with meditation? Do you need to do a special type of meditation?
Thanks for your question. It depends on what kind of physical illness, and of course there are limits to what meditation can do. It’s best to speak with a meditation teacher in person to discuss the possibilities. Hope this helps.
What's the best practice for cultivating awareness?
Awareness is not something we don’t have in this moment. It’s just that our awareness is distracted, scattered. So the cultivation part is about not being so distracted and scattered.
An easy way to begin this is not to make a “thing” out of it and being present to whatever task you’re doing concretely at the moment: walking, eating, standing, lying down, sitting, talking with people, etc. and not get so caught up with notions and ideas. In time, your body and mind would be more integrated, less in the head space. Then even when engaging in more complex tasks when using the thinking mind, our awareness would be still be focused, not distracted.
Hope this is useful.
I want to learn to meditate so I can calm down a little easier. Someone told if I meditate with a goal in mind, I’ll never achieve my goal.
Can I meditate to help calm down?
Thanks for your question. If we anticipate and seek after something, our hearts and minds are already agitated. Therefore, we’re not at peace and won’t be calm. It is the grasping and rejecting, the sense of having and lacking, that agitate us and make us not calm.
Chan/Zen meditation addresses this grasping and rejecting mind. There are some resources, audio files of talks I’ve given, on the Tallahassee Chan Center website that you can check out.
I hope this helps.
It seems with the Japanese version of Chan, especially Soto, there is a general aversion to "skillful means" which results in a dogmatic version of meditation. Things like following the breath, body scan, loving-kindness meditation, etc. are rare or absent. Is it like this in Chan too or is just in Zen? I ask since you linked to guided meditations in relaxing the body and loving-kindness. Is that normal in Chan or just your own personal ecumenical take on Buddhist meditation techniques?
Thanks for your question. Chan teachers are generally more flexible adaptive. I hope this answers your question.
Thank you for this ama. I have a question that is not about meditation in particular, but i do hope you can give me some insight.
I’ve been doing meditation for a long time now, changed a lot about my life in a positive way. Im an overall healthy person, wife, two kids. I am very happy and have absolutely no reason to complain.
But, i still have a feeling that something is missing. Its hard for me to describe but it feels like I am not complete. I’m sure that it’s nothing materialistic but something more like a feeling inside.
Is there a way for me to understand this feeling? Or is it just left overs from the past?
Thank you for taking time to read my question!
Thanks for your question. To be honest, it’s difficult to answer because different people have different lives and experiences. There’s so much undercurrent tones of experiences beneath our consciousness that make us feel one way or another. Without knowing you it’s hard for me to pinpoint. That said, it is quite common for people to feel a sense of lack, something unfulfilling, Feeling that they want this current moment in your life to be other than what it is. Going on a vacation, taking up a new hobby, all of these will not ultimately resolve this matter. My suggestion is to find a teacher that you resonate with and go on an intensive retreat. A lot of things will surface and be exposed in the process, which would shake things up a bit and will also invigorate your life and practice.
I hope this helps!
How does one with severe anxiety get started? I have tried a number of times and I can’t seem to quiet my mind enough to actually start. I find I’m easily distracted by ANY sounds/movement in the room.
Thanks for your question. In this case it is best to join a group practice of meditation. It may be easier in a group setting. Also ask a teacher for instructions. There could be so many things going on that cannot be answered over the Internet. May you be well and best wishes!
Any ways to use meditation for not being able to sleep? If so, what is the best way you have found for doing this?
Thanks for your question. Have you seen your family doctor about this? I ask because insomnia may be due to physiological issues. But generally if you learn progressive relaxation, relaxing the body systematically from head to toe, relaxing the skin, the muscles, the tendons, while lying in bed, this may help you to fall sleep better.
What exactly are you supposed to meditate to? From what I can tell, you just sit with your legs crossed and go Oooohmmmm for a period of time, which gets annoying. Also, are you supposed to think about anything when you meditate?
Thanks for your question. I invite you to explore the Tallahassee Chan Center website. There’s more information there that will answer your questions.
I hope I'm not too late for this. I've really been trying to get into mindfulness meditation lately, mostly through guided meditations (Like the free Headspace app stuff). The problem is that I'm going to school, fully employed, family with two kids, and studying for extra stuff at work. I fall asleep 90% of the time, even when I'm not tired. I've tried walking meditation (hated it), open eyed meditation (couldn't concentrate), and half-eyed meditation looking at a small tea candle in the dark (still fell asleep).
I really want to meditate, and I feel better if I can stay awake, but I can't help but fall asleep if I close my eyes. Thoughts?
Thanks for your question. It sounds like you are simply fatigued physically. Why don’t you try to integrate mindfulness to things that you already do? Daily tasks such as walking eating driving, etc. The principle is, whatever the task at hand, your heart mind is right there. As for the method, be aware of the movements and sensations. Try this for three months. Once you’re able to integrate mindfulness to your life, you will find it easier to sit down and do seated meditation.
I hope this helps.
Is it true that meditation is just about learning to be in the moment?
Thanks for your question. There are many forms of meditation. being in the moment is just the beginning. If you wanna know more about Chan or Zen meditation, you can visit the Tallahassee Chan Center website and look around there. There are a lot of information that may answer your questions. Best wishes!
I’ve read two schools of thought on meditation.
One states (and I’m summarizing here) that the purpose is to slow down, generate calm, learn to focus, build concentration, and become mindful.
The other states that it is to increase your anti-fragility. To toughen up your mental strength by exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations (sitting with only yourself for an extended period of time) and hence increase your tolerance for mental pain - I.e. day to day setbacks, pain of growth, etc. Similar to enduring the physical pain of exercising to grow your muscles so they can improve and do more.
What would you say the purpose is? Are either of these two schools of thought correct?
Thanks for your question. There are multiple ways of interpreting meditation including but beyond those two that you mentioned. The important question is what works for you. So I invite you to explore and engage with meditation; you may find you have your own understanding of it.
May you begin your meditation path!
For folks with psychological conditions that impact empathy (e.g. autism, BPD, APD), what teachings are the most beneficial?
Thanks for your question. First, it really depends on the extent of the psychological condition. There may be neurological pathways that inhibit appropriate empathy in the person. What it really comes down to is a set of skills that the person needs to learn, such as learning to exchange self with others, picking up cues about how others may feel, cultivating loving kindness, etc. it’s a case-by-case situation, but generally cultivating mindfulness and clarity will engage different aspects of our minds and will have a positive affect. Good instructions are necessary.
Second, for those of us who are working with people with psychological conditions, love and patience are most important. It is our love for them that can help them take the first step to living meaningfully.
I hope this helps.
What is the difference between Realization and Experience in Zen?
Also, is turning the light inwards (or tracing the radiance inwards) the same as the koan use of "who am I" and Silent Illumination?
Lastly, is Silent Illumination the same as Shikantaza?
Thank you. 🙏
Thanks for your questions. To be brief, they’re different! I have given a talk on each of your questions before. You can check them out on the Tallahassee Chan Center website.
I’m sorry for such a brief answer... but he would be more fruitful if you have something more substantial to explore and work with in a full talk or published articles. You can find them on the centers website.
How do you personally see the relationship being between study and practice?
Thanks for your question. To me everything is practice: exposing, embracing, responding, letting go. It’s All Good.
I hope this helps.
Will mediators get spiritual assistance or blessings from deities by following certain ritual protocols reciting mantras?
Thanks for your question. Certain traditions claim that it would help. From the Chan/Zen perspective, it is better to use wisdom to resolve one’s difficulties. Relying on anything other than wisdom is bound to have side effects. As for what is wisdom, I invite you to explore more about Buddhadharma and Chan.
I hope this helps.
Do you believe in the existence of siddhis/riddhis?
Have you met anyone who demonstrated them? If not, have you heard credible reports of riddhis from people you trust?
I apologize for this seemingly inappropriate question, but this is personally a problem for me. If riddhis don't exist (as it seems likely), then this causes a lot of difficulty in having faith in the doctrines of Buddhism (and also Hinduism), since if they were mistaken about riddhis or deliberately misleading the followers, they could be doing the same with Buddhism's more mundane claims.
Thanks for your question. These experiences are certainty real. But from the Chan perspective, they are kind of like side effects from practice. Most seasoned practitioners, to one extent or another, will have some experiences of them. However, they’re nothing to seek after or cultivate. Chan aims for freedom, not these psychosomatic states.
Hope this helps.
What is a good book that presents the various types of meditation techniques that are available in the Buddhist fold?
Thanks for your question. I don’t think there is one book out there that covers all systems of Buddhist meditation. Even if they were they will be so general that may not be so useful.
Meditation is an organic process and as you engage with It, different psychosomatic responses occur, and your path unfolds accordingly. So it’s important to have a teacher as a guide to help you navigate through them.
If there’s one teacher that you find an affinity with, you can read their books.
I hope this helps.