In the Chinese Chan (Zen) tradition, there are two main approaches to awakening: the method of silent illumination (mozhao) and investigating a critical phrase (huatou). The former is a settling method of serene reflection on the nature of awareness; the latter is an explosive approach that aims to concentrate and shatter all mental states so awakening manifests.
An analogy of the practice of silent illumination is to allow a still autumn pond to clarify to the point where the water is so clear that it becomes completely transparent to the bottom, until even the bottom vanishes. The soot and dregs in the pond represent discursive thinking and wandering thoughts; the vanishing is awakening. Investigating a critical phrase engages with words and concepts to turn them against themselves, like using poison against poison. The practitioner confronts the existential dilemma with questions such as “Who am I?” or “What is it?” to develop a concentrated sense of wonderment and not knowing, where all discursiveness, conceptualization, and attachment drop away and awakening manifests.
Drawing on 12th century Chan Buddhist writings, and with the help of succinct instructions in both methods, we will explore silent illumination and investigating a critical phrase on and off the cushion, learning how to integrate them in our lives.
To learn how to practice both silent illumination and investigating a critical phrase and to integrate them in our seated meditation and in our lives.
Noble Silence and Mindful Speech:
Noble silence will be observed following the evening session through breakfast the following morning.
Some meditation and retreat experience suggested