Silent Illumination (mozhao) is a formless meditation practice.
The Buddhism I really teach is Silent Illumination Chan. Its is a meditation practice founded entirely in the awakening of our true nature in the here and now.
These words aren’t used for no reason. “Silent” represents the core of our being. Some people prefer words like “emptiness” or “no self.”
What’s that? It’s our mind before thinking. Before we think about our baggage or the projections we put on the world. We have a lot of narratives and constructs around ourselves and the silence represents what’s underneath all that. There is what’s been called a “don’t know mind” or “beginner’s mind” that exists underneath these layers.
I call it silence.
When we can engage this silence, we can gain some insight. We can see that things are impermanent and that everything is connected. Sometimes this is called Selflessness, which is a kind of heavy and hard to understand word. It just means that we are part of the world. We didn’t come into the world, we came out of it and we are connected to everything.
The silent part of our mind is free from the coming and going of all our distracted thoughts and delusions.
We could say the silence is like the sky and all our thoughts and delusions, all of our bullshit, is clouds passing through. They just pass through and they’re gone. We don’t have to do anything except: not obsess about the clouds. The sky isn’t really effected by the clouds, and you don’t have to be effected by your shit.
The true nature of your mind is free from disturbance. And we can tune into that silence even when we’re in the middle of turmoil—even when everything is going wrong. That silence is still there. It’s not something outside of us. It’s not something we’re trying to gain; it’s there underneath. The nature of the mind is free of all that nonsense. And I call it silence.
Illumination represents the natural function of our minds, which is wisdom. This is related to silence because it’s that empty nature that allows this wisdom to appear. This is openness—mental freedom—the ability to change and liberate ourselves.
Illumination is the function of wisdom and it responds to the needs of ourselves and others.
It’s where we learn how to see things as they really are and have a more dynamic and clear view of the world around us. This is clarity beyond the stories we tell ourselves and our self image. It’s the sky without the clouds.
The practice is sometimes called “the method of no method” and that’s why some may find it difficult at first. Silent Illumination isn’t really a practice. It’s rooted in the idea that we already have the wisdom we are seeking.
To compare it to other forms of meditation, Buddhist meditation is usually put in categories of either calming (samatha) or insight (vipassana). One of these is designed to help bring stability to our scattered minds. The other is to gain insight into the nature of our minds.
Silent Illumination includes both. Traditionally it’s said that calmness leads to meditative absorption and insight leads to wisdom. In Silent Illumination these aren’t practiced separately. They’re practiced together because the truth is there is no separation. The true nature of calm is silence.
So how do we do it?
In sitting meditation we don’t try to do anything. We don’t need to try to force the clouds to go away. We just try to be aware of each moment. Just pay attention to the sitting that you’re doing.
We’re not trying to follow the breath; we’re not trying to keep a mantra. We’re not visualizing anything. We’re just being here. Be with your body sitting. Stop doing everything else and just sit. Every time you get distracted, just come back to sitting and notice how sitting feels.
Just be here.
When we sit in this way, the mind calms down and calmness (samadhi) comes. And after we do it a little while, wisdom (prajna) follows. And even if you have powerful experiences, even if you think you’ve made some wonderful attainment, still just come back to the sitting. This is all there is.
This is just a brief introduction. My favorite practice is the method of no method.