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Life is Chan

Though Wang Tian was a proficient doctor who had seen many patients’ death, he lived in fear of death every day. On the way to a patient’s home, he met a wandering monk and asked him, “What is Chan?”
The wandering monk answered, “I don’t know how to tell you, but I’m sure once you are enlightened, you wouldn’t fear death.” Under the instruction of the wandering monk, Wang Tian then went to visit Master Nanyin.
Wang Tian came to Master Nanyin’s dwelling, told him the purpose of his visit and asked for advice about Chan enlightenment.
Master Nanyin said, “It’s not difficult to learn Chan. Now that you are a doctor, you should treat your patients well. That is Chan.” Later on, with only a vague idea of what Chan was, Wang Tian paid another three visits to Master Nanyin, but every time Master Nanyin said, “A doctor shouldn’t waste time staying in a temple every day. Go back to take care of your patients.”
Wang Tian was puzzled about how such enlightenment could help remove his fear of death. Thus, he complained in his fourth visit, “A wandering monk told me that once a person was enlightened, he wouldn’t fear death any more. Every time I came to you, you always told me to look after my patients carefully, of which I have a good understanding. But if this is the so-called Chan, there is no need for me to consult you any longer.”
Master Nanyin patted Wang Tian on the shoulder with a smile and said, “I’m too strict with you. Let me give you a gong’an (a thought-provoking story about Chan masters’ interactions with disciples and other interlocutors) to think about.”
The gong’an which Master Nanyin wanted Wang Tian to practice was the hua tou (a meditation topic, the crucial phrase or punch line of a gong’an) of “Zhaozhou’s Wu (emptiness)” – Master Zhaozhou’s meditation topic about whether a dog had Buddha nature or not. Wang Tian had contemplated the gong’an of “wu” painstakingly for two years before he told Master Nanyin his state of mind. Master Nanyin replied, “You haven’t reached the state of Chan.” Without being frustrated, Wang Tian continued to contemplate the gong’an. After a year and a half, he finally felt clear in mind and figured out the puzzlement gradually. “Wu” was the truth. Wang Tian treated his patients well without realizing it was a good treatment. He, thus, released himself from the fear of death.
In the end when he visited Master Nanyin, Master Nanyin just said one sentence with a smile, “When you succeed in the transformation from self-forgetting (wang wo) to non-self (anatman, wu wo), you have a heart of Chan then.”
Having seen too many people suffering from the birth, aging, diseases and death of humankind, Wang Tian became afraid of death, just as he said, “When I see others die, my heart burns with anxiety not because of the mourning for others but the worry about myself.” Master Nanyin asked him to attend to his patients well, which is a way to practice Chan. If one abandons their responsibility and love, how can they reach the state of Chan? Not until he succeeded in investigating the gong’an of “wu” could he transform from mindness (you xin) to non-mindness (wu xin), from self (atman, you wo) to non-self (anatman, wu wo), from life (utpanna, you sheng) to non-life (anutpanna, wu sheng). This is the state of non-death.

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