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January 6, 2014

Hua Tou: A Meditation Method of Ch’an Buddhism.

Hua Tou is supposed to be a direct method to perceiving the Empty Mind Ground and attaining Enlightenment.

It’s creation is credited to a Ch’an Master named Dahui Zongghao in the 1100s. Whereas many Ch’an teachers of the time were only interested in what we would call ‘preaching to the choir’, spreading Dharma among people who were already monks, he had other ideas. He was interested in making Ch’an more lay oriented. He wanted to bring the Dharma to more people. So he made the effort to create a meditation practice that could easily be done all the time, even during ordinary activities.

He emphasized that one did not have to be a monk or nun to attain Enlightenment. I think it might be a good practice for people that have a lot of trouble sitting still and meditating.

So, how does one practice Hua Tou?

It’s simply asking yourself a ‘who’ or ‘what’ question. It can be done either in sitting meditation or in daily life. Practicing it within sitting meditation and then bringing it to your daily life is what is usually recommended.

Example: I am sitting and meditating and asking myself over and over in my head “Who is sitting here meditating?” Any time I have a stray thought, I bring myself back to the question. I might also ask “Who is having this stray thought?” In this way, I am deconstructing the Self.

Other Example: I am sitting and meditating and asking myself “What’s this?” every time a sensation or thought arises. I just label it and (hopefully) let it go. So, I can label, “restlessness”, “urge to get up”, “thoughts about what I’m doing after this”, “itch on my leg”, etc.

Other schools of meditation have this same kind of concept with a different name, I’m sure.

This method can also be used in daily life. It’s just a form of paying attention. Like the old saying, “When you’re chopping wood, chop wood. When you’re carrying water, carry water.”

I think a modern version of this is “When you’re driving, drive.”

“The important thing is to stick to Hua Tou at all times, when walking, lying or standing. From morning to night observing Hua Tou vividly and clearly, until it appears in your mind like the autumn moon reflected limpidly in quiet water. If you practice this way, you can be assured of reaching the state of Enlightenment.” ~ Ch’an Master Xu Yun

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Patrick Dinkfeld

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