In the DharmaMind group we use the ancient Chinese training model known as silent illumination as our framework of training. This form of practice, attributed to the 12th century Chan master Hongzhi Zhengjue, was later taken to Japan by the famous Soto Zen master Dogen Zenji; he reshaped it to suit the Japanese temperament and culture and renamed it shikantaza, commonly translated as ‘just sitting’.
Although we are a wholly western dharma-practicing group with no direct connection to any established traditions, we nevertheless embrace the original Chinese practice often described in paradoxical terms as the ‘practice of no practice’. Because we have no obligation to express any connection to eastern ways we do not find it necessary to follow any of the cultural or traditional trappings that create the familiar images associated with Chan or Zen, which drape over what is, in essence, a wholly natural path to freedom and understanding. We consider the dharmic training model we follow to be wholly natural and authentic, with nothing further needing to be added or taken away. It is by training with this model in our group that we learn to wake up to and identify the conditioned mind, with its duality and its misunderstanding of how things really are.
To aid understanding of how this often-misunderstood form of training can be cultivated I use a metaphor called ‘blue sky, white cloud’, to help create an opening into the understanding of what is meant by silent illumination; and of how it is possible to bring this understanding to the meditation cushion and daily living – how silently-illuming can bring liberation from suffering.
For more depth on this subject and more about our training, please follow the links to ‘Blue Sky, White Cloud’ and ‘Shamatha and Vipashyana’. My latest book covers the whole of the training extensively.