through Chan Meditation
Emily Tam | Police Evidence Coordinator & Technician
Unusual Childhood with Countless Dreams
My childhood memories go back far and are as vast as my countless dreams, and
I think they are far better (and sometimes scarier) than any movie I’ve ever seen. I have
had many varied experiences (along with some supernatural ones) which “normal” people
would find hard to believe. Ever since I was little, I have had dreams of deities, both
heavenly and demonic.
Since a child, I have always revered the Virgin Mary & Guan Yin (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva). I went to a Catholic elementary school, but at home we were Buddhists.
Whenever I see the Virgin Mary’s or Guan Yin’s picture, I always feel from them a motherly warmth, a familiar connection. I had a feeling that they are the same being
but only look different. As I grew older, I wanted to be closer to Guan Yin, but I didn’t
know how. Then I got a Guan Yin charm necklace as a present, then a framed picture
of Guan Yin to pray to, and then a couple of short phrases or mini-mantras to chant to
protect myself. I chanted them because I believed in Guan Yin wholeheartedly.
Many Obstacles and Questions in Life
I have had several experiences in life where I was at death’s door but survived. Initially, I was ungrateful because I didn’t want to come back to this world; I never felt that I belonged “here” and always wanted to leave. Then I had a frightening experience where reciting a mantra saved me. I eventually accepted that I was stuck
here…for now, temporarily. I kept questioning more and more my existence and asking in my prayers: “Why isn’t it my time yet?”; “Why am I here?”; “What karmic
debts do I have that deserve so much hardship?”; “What is my purpose in this life?”; “Is there something I need to do or a mission to complete?”; “What should I do?”
Then it occurred to me that I should recite “Guan Yin’s Great Compassion Mantra.” For some reason, I can’t remember why, I just felt strongly that I needed to
memorize it. It didn’t take long to memorize the 84 lines. Initially, I didn’t recite it consistently every day as I should have. In hindsight, I think this contributed to my problems. But as time went by, many more hardships later, I started becoming more
consistent with reciting it. I also began sincerely asking the heavens for guidance. That was my first step in learning what “asking sincerely” means.
Then things started happening that I had dreamt of, and I began receiving more signs
of guidance simply by listening to or seeing certain words. If I didn’t get it, it would
be repeated. Sometimes I felt I was being tested while being directed to a certain path.
One example is the following dream I had:
I dreamt I was in a dark building searching for a child. I found a boy who was being held in a room filled with others who were being controlled by a demonic spirit (a tall dark
shadow), I grabbed the boy, lifted him onto my back and ran. I couldn’t find my way out,
but found an unlocked door. The room I entered was all white and filled with natural white light, but there was no exit. Before us, a warrior with a huge sword sat in a chair
with his back toward us. He arose and turned toward us. I was in awe, but I immediately
kneeled down on my right knee, placed my fist to my heart, bowed my head, and begged,“Please! General Guan Yu (Guan Yu is famed for his loyal service to Liu Bei who founded the state of Shu
Han in the Three Kingdoms period. Guan Yu is now worshipped as a god and bodhisattva in some Asian countries),
could you please help us?” He chuckled while stroking his beard with his right hand, his
left holding a crescent-shaped sword. Then with his right hand, he turned and pointed to
a rear door that had suddenly appeared, and gestured for me to exit there. I immediately
walked over and opened the door to see the clear blue sky. I saw another tall building but
there was no ground to walk on and reach it (I’m afraid of heights too)! I looked back at Guan
Yu thinking, “Are you for real?” He chuckled and gestured for me to go ahead. I trusted
him so I stepped out and onto a cloud. I was so scared of the height that I woke up! Now
THAT was a true “leap of faith”!!
Life Gets Better Little by Little
Eventually, things happened that lead me to start a vegetarian diet, and I concluded it was due to my constant recitation of the Great Compassion Mantra. In addition, I also used to feel disgusted by some insects and killed them, but then I began to feel
compassion to not harm them. I’m still squeamish about touching them so I use a tissue or something to pick them up.
When I took a trip to California to visit my friends, I also wanted to visit a temple,
so I asked my own spirit guides to help me decide. I picked up my cellphone and did
a search using Yelp. The first temple that came up was the Lu Mountain Temple but
there was no review. However, I felt a connection to the name so I went there. While
speaking with the temple’s nuns, they said it was fate that had brought me because they didn’t advertise on Yelp.
Learning and Practicing Chan Meditation
Lu Mountain Temple also taught me (or should I say retaught me) the Chan practice of
sitting in the lotus position. As a child I was able to sit in this position easily and did
it for fun, but never very long. I eventually forgot about it until I began going to the
temple regularly. When a nun asked a group of us beginners to cross our legs and sit
in the lotus position, I was able to, but not as comfortably as when I was a child. She
taught us how beneficial it is to sit that way, the longer the better. She said our goal
should be to gradually sit in that position longer and longer until we could do it forone hour without pain.
When I returned home, I would sit in the lotus position while reciting the additional mantras I had learned. Initially, I was only able to cross my legs for 10-15
minutes at a time, but with determination, I gradually pushed it up to 30 mins, then 45 mins, then 1 hour. What I learned was that the more preoccupied I was by worldly
matters, the greater the pain was during my meditation. I work as a police department
evidence coordinator and technician. Not to brag, but many consider me the “go to person,” so I’m always busy with many last-minute deadlines and interruptions. My patience is constantly being tested.
Finding the Path Home At Last
I have learned so much in my four years of Chan practice as a Buddhist student, and
now I feel I have finally found the way home.
I have noticed a huge difference in my life from before and now. When I catch a cold, I don’t stay sick as long as I used to. I have learned to let go of things and worries much more easily, and I feel calmer and more content. My mind is sharper, and I have more patience. Patience is my biggest obstacle to overcome, but I’m still
working on it!
I have learned how to sincerely ask the Buddhas for help and what to ask for. The
key is in the Buddhist teachings! I have always received answers and/or guidance, but
I was not always able to grasp it or see it as clearly as I do now.
Now, I have no negative feelings towards insects and spiders, and I am able to pick them up and deposit them outdoors.
Finally, after my second trip to see my teacher at Lu Mountain Temple, I understand why I always felt that I didn’t “belong here” and that yearning feeling of
wanting to “go home,” not in the form of a direct answer but through self-awareness.
No matter how many places I have travelled to and lived, even though I found comfort in certain places and made connections with certain people, it wasn’t enough to fill the
void within me; it was all temporary. Through Buddha’s teachings, I now have a path
that can lead me home.
Emily Tam is a Chinese American with a 16-year-old son. She is a civilian evidence technician for a local police department in California, USA.