Personal Experiences of Authentic Zen Practice

Linmu (Chinese Arahant)

After the previous post, some friends wanted to know what authentic Zen practice is. Here, I'll briefly share some of my experiences.

Anyone with meditation experience knows that after social interactions, when you sit down in a quiet room to meditate, your mind often continues to generate thoughts related to those interactions. These thoughts can take the form of conversations, debates, and discussions with others. They persist for a long time, making it challenging to find inner stillness and leaving you exhausted. I often wondered why these distracting thoughts seemed to linger. What was the underlying reason?

One day, I realized that my mind kept generating these thoughts because I was constantly thinking about a particular person. When the thought of that person arose, so did inner dialogues with them. Conversely, if I didn't think about that person, the mental dialogues ceased. Now, I was alone in my meditation room; no one was there to engage in a conversation with me. So why should I keep generating thoughts about someone, allowing these endless dialogues to wear me out?

I decided to let go whenever thoughts of any person arose. By relinquishing these thoughts about others, the inner dialogues in my mind ceased, and my mind became clear.

After continued practice, I noticed that even when I didn't think about someone, there were still inner dialogues going on. It was not entirely pure. Why was this happening? I realized that even without thoughts about a specific person, there were habitual thoughts about people in general. These were habitual patterns of thought that translated any known phenomenon into language. However, I no longer needed to describe my experiences to anyone. So why not let go of all language and just stay in pure awareness?

This practice involved imagining as if there were no one else in the world except me. With this, the ceaseless stream of words in my mind stopped, and inner peace emerged.

Continuing this practice, I found that when the inner dialogues ceased, my awareness began to manifest in the form of mental images. For example, when I heard a bird's call, I saw an image of a bird, even though I didn't actually see the bird. How were these images arising?

I realized that simply being aware of something was equivalent to thinking about it. Regardless of whether there was actually a bird making a sound, the resulting image wasn't genuine. So why should I pay attention to these unreal mental images?

Upon realizing that all phenomena of knowledge were like this, I stopped generating any mental images. I decided not to engage with any mental constructs. I stayed in pure knowing without the arising of any mental images.

Once this became stable, I discovered that when I heard a sound, only the knowing was present in that moment. Knowing came first, followed by thoughts about the sound, hearing, ears, self, here, there, inner, outer. If knowing didn't arise first, none of these thoughts emerged. Knowledge was the origin of all of this.

Furthermore, I found that all external knowledge worked in the same way. When knowledge arose, thoughts followed, and when knowledge ceased, thoughts ceased as well. These thoughts came into existence and vanished based on conditions. They neither originated from nor connected with me. After this, I ceased to engage with any external knowledge or thoughts. When I stopped thinking externally and let go of external thoughts, external knowledge ceased.

With this practice, I discovered that when you know about sound, it's laden with impurities and movement. Knowing about ears is also impure and dynamic. But when you know without thoughts about form, sound, smell, taste, touch, there is no thinking, no movement, and the internal and external senses cease. Inner stillness is achieved, without impurities, without movement.

It's like a room with a burning candle. If there's a draft, the flame flickers and moves. When there's no draft, the flame is still.

It's also like a person standing in a thorny bush. If you move, it's painful, and you become aware of the thorns. If you stay still, there's no pain, and you don't notice the thorns.

Continuing this practice, I realized that even in this state, thoughts and thinking persisted. Having thoughts means having activity and involves rebirth. If life ended at this moment, nothing would cease to exist; it would simply be the end of these thoughts. There's nothing to fear. If life continued, nothing would be perpetuated; it would merely be the rebirth of these thoughts. Rebirth leads to suffering. When I saw the harmlessness of thoughts not arising and the danger of their arising, my mind inclined toward non-action, and I let go of all thoughts.

The experiences mentioned above naturally arose during my continuous meditation practice. This process took approximately two years and involved a wide range of experiences that are challenging to systematically summarize. Therefore, I've written down what I believe to be the most pivotal aspects of my journey for your reference, my friends.