I must have good "karmic roots" to have found this book. It is an excellent guide to help with Chan (Chinese Zen) practice.
I was already aware of how exceptional Master Sheng-yen is as a teacher, having read his books
Faith in Mind: A Commentary on Seng Ts'an's Classic
There Is No Suffering: A Commentary on the Heart Sutra
It was on the strength of these two books that I ordered "Attaining the Way", but I still didn't expect anything this helpful. I completed my first reading of this book a month ago and it has been helping me with my practice.
I found "Faith in Mind" more than a decade ago, sometime after I began my Buddhist (and Zen) practice. It is quite impressive but it does not go into details about Chan practice whereas in the section of this book by Master Sheng Yen (also entitled "Attaining the Way"), he provides considerable help in both Chan concepts and methods of practice. As he says, concepts and methods are the "twin pillars" that Chan relies on, without both which "your practice with lack a firm foundation". He provides help with both in his section of this book.
The book also includes sections by other Chan masters:
1) "Exhortations on Investigating Chan" by Master Boshan (1575-ca.
2) "Discourse on Chan Teaching" from the records of Master
Yuanyun Jiexian (1610-1672)
3) "The Essentials of Chan Practice" by Master Xuyun (1839-1959)
None of these works are "fillers" although Master Sheng-yen's section is certainly useful in itself. But so are the others. Master Yuanyun Jiexian's section, however, is addressed to teachers of Chan, so although it was (and will be) of use to me, it seemed advanced and answering many issues that have not become pertinent for me yet. All of these works emphasize and are informative about the role of the "doubt sensation" for Chan practice and the use of the huatou (the Chan method that uses a "baffling question" such as "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" with the intent of arousing the doubt sensation). As helpful as zazen (meditative sitting), also known as silent illumination, has been to me, I'm finding a benefit in mixing in other methods. This book was the first that led me to strongly appreciate the possible value of either the use of koans or huatous.
Master Sheng-yen's teachings on such subjects as impermanence, faith, relaxation, silent illumination ("just sitting"), the expressing of gratitude and how to regard enlightenment are among those also included in his section. Unlike other Zen teachers such as Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
who I found difficult to follow, at times paradoxical as many Zen teachers can be, I find Master Sheng-yen to be surprising clear on a subject whose attainment can be said to perhaps "take lifetimes".
Similarly, with this book I feel I am just now beginning to deepen my practice in a way I had not from traditionally esteemed books that focused on concepts or lacked guidance on practice such as
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch,
Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, Book 1,
Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei,
or a koan collection such as
Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan.
All of these works, of formidable reputation, despite how inspiring they can be for me, have overwhelmed me. But "Attaining the Way", especially Master Sheng-yen's section, seems accessible and I will keep using his advice.