I am pleased to present  you with the Chan Saying of  Chinese Chan Buddhism which is the root of  the well-known Japanese Zen. The Chinese Chanrepresents a unique and refreshingly Sinitic reinterpretation of theBuddhism brought from India — the Holy Land of the Buddha. Chan reflects wisdom, humor, and compassion. Chan raises life to the level of art.  It manifests the perfection of life by revealing the original nature that underlies all phenomena.  Chinese Chan Buddhism emphasizes “the transmission from mind to mind” in preserving its wisdom.

Today, the practitioners of the modern Chan encourage people to apply  “Free the heart from hatred, Free the mind from worry, Live simply, Give more and Expect less”  in managing one’s life. (Note:  Chinese ChanBuddhism is called Zen Buddhism in the West.)

The following Chan Saying are some extracts taken from the book entitled “Asian Thought and Culture – Actualizing Buddhism in Daily Life and Building the Pure Land in Our Midst,”  printed in 1991, written by Venerable Master Hsing Yun who is the 48th Patriarch in the Lin-Ji (Japanese Rinzai) line of  Chan.   Please visit Buddhist Teachers  of this website to learn more about  Master Hsing Yun.

In “Asian Thought and Culture,” Master Hsing Yun states,

Kung-An (Japanese, Koan) — literally  “Public  Document,” it originally meant a controversial  case constituting a legal precedent, in which some issue of understanding is raised beyond the meaning of the words.  In Chan, a Kung-An is a phrase from a sutra or teaching on Chan realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master, each points to the nature of ultimate reality.  Essential to a Kung-An is paradox, i.e. that which is “beyond thinking,” which transcends the logical or conceptual.  Thus, since it cannot be solved by reason, a Kung-An is not a riddle.  Solving a Kung-An requires a leap to another level of comprehension.”



After Bodhidharma , or Da Mo, came to China in 520 A.D. to spread Buddhism, his Chan Buddhism replaced the tradition of itinerant alms-begging with communal living.  The monastic training came to encompass all the work essential to everyday life –cleaning, cooking and gardening, as well as meditation.  So, we can view the great Chinese Chan masters as our progenitors in mindful living, since many of their teachings point directly to the everyday chores that we might rather high-mindedly neglect.

The following is a popular Chan story.  A monk said to his master, “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”  “Have you eaten your rice porridge?” asked the master.  “Yes, I have,” replied the monk.  “Then you had better wash your bowl,” said the master.

The Chan master tells us to open our eyes and awaken in our own backyard.  The kitchen is not only the heart of a home, it can also be the heart of a mindfulness practice.  In cooking and cleaning, we move beyond ourselves and into compassionate care of everything and everyone around us.


The following are some of the popular Kung-An (Koan) that ancient Chan masters taught new students to meditate on.  The Koan is a spiritual question.

“What was my obligation before I was born?”

“Who is meditating on the Buddha?”

“What was my original face before my parents gave birth to me?”

“What was the sound of  ‘one hand clapping’?”

“What was the meaning of ‘the Patriarch’s Coming from the West?'”



“Master!  I cannot see what you see, nor can I do what you do.”

The beauty of the Buddha is that he did not promise to remove the ills of the world; he empowered us to bring compassion to them.

A Chan master sees things through his mind’s eye.

Buddha is Mind and Mind is Buddha.

Buddha is a normal person without illusions, and mundane people are Buddhas with illusions.

Everyone’s Pure Mind is a Buddha Mind – everyone has an equal opportunity to develop into a Buddha.

Everyone possesses a Pure Mind, which is formless, empty, acutely aware and all-knowing.

Each drop of water contains the taste of all water, and each thought contains the wisdom of all of existence.

Chanis just like the flowers, the painting, and the seasoning.

Chan is feeling your way along in the dark.  Then, you are careful and sensitive to what is happening.

The most important point in practicing Chan is to find out for yourself how to do things.

When life is complemented by the flavor of Chan, the meaning of life will be grasped more clearly.

Sitting in meditation is a means of practicing Chan, but it is not the purpose of Chan practice.

Not even a single drop of water should be wasted.

Every being has the potential for enlightenment just as surely as every sesame seed contains oil.

Although a drop of water is very small, the vast ocean is made up of water drops.

Chan is not something which we should boast.

Chan is not necessarily found in what appears to be pleasant or beautiful.

The eye of wisdom can see Chan even in a rag with bad smell.

Practicing Chan, one will find a pearl wrapped in rags.

The practice of passing on robes and alms bowls represents the teaching of Chan.

Everything in this world has its use.  Things only differ in their kinds of use.

Chan is not something that can be imitated.

Chan is something that we have to understand through our own minds.

The purpose of practicing the Dharma is to subdue the thief of the mind.

To catch a mountain thief is easy, but to catch the thief of the mind is very difficult.

Chan is something that cannot be explained by the mere use of language.

Chan is realized through practice and not just by mere speech.

Great vows can only be made by people who possess great compassion.

The Buddha teaches beings everywhere, just as the moon reflects on all water.

If you are seeking for the Buddha, then your mind is the Buddha.

If you are asking about the Buddha’s teaching, then no-mind is the teaching.

“The mind itself is Buddha” implies that Buddha must be realized by means of the mind.

The Law of Cause and Effect (Karma) follows us like our shadows.

Buddhahood will never be attained if one is only concerned with self-cultivation.

Although you have worked diligently, if you do not use your everyday mind, how can you attain enlightenment?

Doubt can also lead one onto the path of Chan.

Chan is beyond common knowledge.

The middle path and the everyday mind are the basis of enlightenment.

It is important that we leave ourselves some room to move around, and allow ourselves some time to think.

Regardless whether a person is good or evil, we should help the person to bring out his or her true nature.

How strange that people constantly chase after external goods and neglect the true treasure hidden within themselves.

To go with the flow, like clouds and water, this is really being carefree.

Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.

Everything the same; everything distinct.

One man’s garbage is another man’s beauty.

People who are intelligent do not necessarily have to see in order to believe.  They can use their judgement to decide.

Everything in this world is impermanent.

Attachment to the things we like is not proper conduct for a Chan practitioner.

In this world, the most difficult thing to do is to let go.

It is equally difficult to detach ourselves from things that we like and things that we dislike.

Killers who lay down their knives are potential Buddhas.

In the world of Chan, the real cannot be false, the false cannot be real.

If one is enlightened, then the whole universe contains the Buddha‘s teaching.

Only someone with great courage will advance when it is time to advance and retreat when it is time to retreat.

When you are thinking neither of good nor of bad, at this very moment, what is your original face?

Phenomena of any sort will not occur if the right conditions are not present.

One who drinks water knows the coldness and warmth for oneself.

One who refueses to take any responsiblities is not a sentient being and does not have the Buddha-nature.

If we accomplish nothing, it is because we refuse to take the responsibility.

Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.”

Obstacles are not walls, nor are places without obstacles empty; form and emptiness are by nature the same.

Once you are awakened to the nonsubstantiality of self, you see that there is no distinction between the Buddha’s face and your own.

Chan is wisdom — a supreme wisdom which can be humorous as well.

Be grateful to the master for not having revealed everything to you, and thank him for giving you the opportunity to attain enlightenment on your own.

Chan has the power to inspire others as well as to give a person the capacity of realizing the true nature within oneself.

Even a thick bamboo forest can’t stop water from trickling through; how can high mountains restrain clouds from floating?

Those who really embody the Truth would never flaunt their wisdom.

“I have been busy making a seamless pagoda.”  This answer implies that since the spiritual body of the Buddha is boundless, one is making a seamless  (or boundless) pagoda as an instrument of worship.

Some Chan students can comprehend and experience the Dharma as soon as they are exposed to it.  It has much to do with the cultivation in their previous lives.

The torch of wisdom enlightens the minds of all beings.

The development of mindfulness can lead to virtues, such as love and generosity.

Our pure mind is eternal, boundless and liberated.  If we would just open our Mind, and be more flexible, we could be happier and achieve so much more.

Realization is not attained merely through the studying of scriptures.

If one meditates diligently, one can also behold one’s own Buddha-nature.

When you find your own self, your true self, you start to find the beauty in all things because the beauty exists in you.

To bring peace to the world, each of us must take on the responsibility of discovering inner peace within us.

The pure moon, which is often used as a symbol of the Enlightened One, travels in the state of ultimate emptiness.  Dwelling in the infinite space of wisdom, the Buddha is truly liberated from care and worry.

When you’re going somewhere you need signs on the road to guide you.  The statues and images of Buddhasrepresent ideas, and are signs for us on the path to enlightenment.

One monk was telling Bodhidharma  or Da Mo (who was the founder of Chinese Chan Buddhism and ShaolinKung Fu) that all things are empty.  Then, Da Mo banged him on the head.  The monk responded, “Ow! Why did you hit me?”  Da Mo said, “If all things are empty, how do you feel that?”  So, in one sense, all things are empty, but at the same time all things are filled.

When Bodhidharma  went from India to teach Buddhism in China, the monks were weak.  Their bodies weren’t strong.  They would meditate good, but they’d fall asleep.  So Da Mo gave them Kung Fu, a physical way to meditate.  Then, with a strong body and a strong mind, the monks could reach enlightenment that their mind was yearning for.

The answer of  “Since it is neither the mind moving nor the banner moving, how can your mind move?” was superior compared to the answer of “It is neither the wind moving nor the banner  moving.  It is your mind that is moving.”

“What was the meaning of ‘the Patriarch’s Coming from the West?'”  The Patriarch’s purpose in coming from the West was to instill the state of no-mind.  Bodhidarma  was the first Patriarch of Chan Buddhism and the twenty-eighth Patriarch of Indian Buddhism.  He arrived in China from India around the sixth century C.E.  He was the Patriarch referred to in the famous Kung-An “What was the Meaning of the Patriarch’s Coming from the West?”

“Master!  Kuan Yin has one thousand hands and one thousand eyes. Please tell me, which eye is the real eye?”  asked a Chan student.  “Throughout the body are hands and eyes!”  replied the master.

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Yin, started out as a male figure, and increasingly became represented as a feminine figure.  She has made a vow to leave no one behind, and is often represented with a thousand eyes and hands, to see the world’s suffering and to be able to respond effectively with many eyes and hands.  Kuan Yin does not criticize anyone, she realizes that everyone will be a Buddha one day.

“Master!  We’ve been away from each other for twenty years, but you’re still living such a busy life,”  asked a Chanstudent.  “I’ve been swimming in the sea of the Buddha-truth.  No one in this world lives a more joyful life than I do.  I am happy with what I do each day.  I simply do not have time to get old!”  replied the master.

“If Buddhist monasteries should be peaceful and quiet, why do monastics beat the wooden fish and the drum?”  “The beating of the wooden fish and drum resounds beyond the heavens.”  When a fish swims in the water, it never closes its eyes.  Thus, the wooden fish represents zealous practice.  And, beating the drum symbolizes putting an end to Karmas and bring forth true happiness.

“If one can study Buddhism as a lay person, why does one need to take on the monastic life and wear the monastics’ robe?”   “Although a peacock is gloriously adorned with beautiful colors, it cannot fly as far as a swan.”



(Spring Liao, 12/11/09)