Right Mindfulness

by on Apr 11, 2017Zen Master Dae Kwan

In Hong Kong we have a retreat center, Gak Su Temple, which is situated on the beautiful Lantau Island in a historic area called Luk Wu (Deer Pond). Luk Wu has a practicing history of more than 130 years, and many great Chinese monks have practiced and gotten enlightenment here. The well-known Chinese monk, Ven. Xu Yun (Empty Cloud), once led a retreat in this area.

            This past winter we held a three-month Kyol Che retreat in Gak Su Temple. One day during the formal meal, I heard some chanting from a nearby temple. As soon as I heard the chanting, I got a headache. When this strong headache appeared, some past experiences with this temple also appeared in my mind. At that time I asked myself a few questions: Why do you let this sound of the chanting control you? Why do you give power to this chanting? What is this? As soon as I asked these questions, the headache disappeared. I was able to come back to this moment and continue the formal meal, and at the same time listen to the sound of the chanting as it came without any emotions!

            Right mindfulness in Chinese is 正念. The first part, 正, means “right” and the second, 念, means “mindfulness.” The second character is itself made up of two characters: 今 means “now” or “present.” And 心 means “mind” or “heart.” So right mindfulness means how to correctly pay attention to this moment!

            Zen practice is not only focused on our experience with the body and the mind; it is also about how we keep a clear mind, wide like space, and how we use this clear mind like the tip of a needle, moment to moment. This is similar to sewing. If one makes a small mistake when sewing a straight line, the entire garment would not be correct. It is the same with our practice. When one has right mindfulness, one will not be deluded or chase after what is appearing and disappearing in front of us.

            So keeping big questions—such as “What am I?” or “What is this? Only don’t know . . .”—without any labeling will help us return to who we really are and not who we think we are! You can try this when you have a headache or any emotions or thinking. Then this mind by itself will be able to pay attention to what you are doing right now without any hindrance, without making pure or not pure, happy or sad, indulgence or rejection. This is how we use right mindfulness to sew our mind. This is the Zen path of not repeating the habit of our karma. We can follow and act, moment to moment, according to correct situation, correct relationship and correct function.

            One of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teachings that can help us attain don’t know, or a clear mind, is before-thinking. Don’t-know mind is a direct and powerful tool that opens up the inner treasures of the eightfold path in order to help ourselves and this suffering world! 

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