A number of myths dominate the Western intellectual landscape regarding the history and practice of Chinese Buddhism. Many of these myths are even perpetuated within Japanese scholarship upon the subject. Eurocentric bias, cultural misidentification and blatant racism are often to blame. However, China is a vast country which continues to manifest its own culture (and destiny) regardless of the nonsense said about it in the surrounding countries. Within Chinese Buddhism, for instance, it is not uncommon to find examples of Buddhist nuns and monks ‘dying’ whilst a) sat uptight in the cross-legged meditation posture, and b) to continue hold this posture unassisted after the physical dying process has finished. Indeed, there are many famous examples of this kind in China today, with even ‘enlightened’ lay-people being able to perform this feat!
Moreover, even within modern China, for the devout Buddhist the ability to ‘leave the body’ in this manner is seen to be of great spiritual significance (similar to the shocking examples of the Vietnamese Buddhist monastics in the 1960s – who possessed the spiritual maturity and ability ‘not to move’ during the process of setting-fire to themselves in protest to US and Catholic interference in their country). Chinese Buddhism is often thought to have inherited this practice not from India (where some people believe it never existed), but rather from the very similar (if not identical) Daoist practice. This entire procedure is referred to as ‘Seated Transformation’ (坐化 - Zuo Hua) and involves the departing practitioner to retain the meditation posture with full and clear psychological awareness – whilst the breath is slowly brought to a standstill. This process functions through the conscious awareness integrating into the ‘space’ between each breath – so that the breath is finally left behind.
Situated near to the Indo-China Border is the Indian village of ‘Gue’, located in the Spiti region of the State of Himachal Pradesh in North India. As Indian collaborates with the US intrusion into Chinese territory – this area is used by the Indian government as a staging post for the 14th Dalai Lama and his ‘movement’. However, during 1975, an earthquake struck this area of Northern India and opened an old tomb that contained the mummified body of the Buddhist monk Sangha Tenzin – who was sat upright and very well preserved. In 2004, the local police excavated the tomb and removed the mummy. On discovery, it astonishing to find that the mummy was well preserved, with his skin intact and a crop of hair on his head. The mummy was eventually placed in a temple and is open to the public – despite the area being very remote and difficult to travel to.
This Buddhist monk is said to be around 500-years old and he has a name that is partly Sanskrit (Sangha) and partly Tibetan (Tenzin). He was placed in a ‘stupa’ after he died, and it is this structure that collapsed during the 1975 earthquake. His name was written on the stupa and he appears to have been protecting the area with his spiritual presence. Interestingly, Chinese Buddhist monks were performing this feat over a thousand years prior to this date (c. 1500 CE) with ‘Hui Neng’ (the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism) still sat upright in a temple in Southern China (d. 713 CE)! Even within the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand there are stories of so-called ‘samadhi suicides’ whereby a Buddhist practitioner enters such a profound state of disembodied bliss that they never re-enter their physical bodies again! Hundreds of years later, these bodies are found still sat upright in remote corners of the isolated jungle, and when ‘touched’ usually collapse into piles of dust...
Although the example of ‘Sangha Tenzin’ has attracted all kinds of Western speculations about how he actually managed to ‘mummify’ himself – claiming he starved himself, or ate special food – contradictory processes all apparently carried-out whilst absurdly ‘running’ a lit candle over his body! - the reality is that within Chinese Buddhism (a tradition all but ‘ignored’ by the West) - the ability to leave the body through ‘Zuo Hua’ is carried-out only as a product of advanced spiritual attainment that requires no other ability than to have realised the goal of one’s chosen spiritual path! In other words, to ‘die’ whilst sat upright appears all the way through the Chinese Ch’an literature and is generated through the auspices of ‘spiritual’ will-power alone! There is no trickery involved and examples of naturally dying whilst sat upright is still seen within modern China!
When I access Chinese-language Daoist texts (from China) I notice that the dates for lives lived by the Daoist Masters are often extraordinary long! This is not always the case, but often enough to matter. Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) was not a Daoist - but as a Ch'an Buddhist Master - he lived into his 120th year. By accident, over the years I have found myself minutely researching his life to see if I can find any hint of misunderstanding, mis-recording, omission, or error - and I have found no such thing. In fact, when I extended the search to cross-reference key events of his life with a) well-known world events, and b) the biographies of others - at every single point everything overlaps and interconnects perfectly!
I cannot find an academic 'error' in the construction or the content of Master Xu Yun's biography! Xen Cue Lu (Xu Yun's biographer) - questioned Master Xu Yun a number of times about his birth-date, but each time Master Xu Yun repeated exactly the same (traditional) Chinese birthdate! As a number of Western commentators were pouring scorn on Xu Yun's assumed age (even when he was still alive) - Charles Luk respectfully approached Master Xu Yun to ask about his birthdate, and yet again the time period covering 1839-1840 was given (sometimes Xu Yun's dates are given as '1839-1959' which is correct due to the difference between the traditional Chinese calendar and the Western calendar).
Then, the internal evidence within his biography definitely supports this birthdate - particularly the contents of letters received from the two teenaged girls who briefly lived with him following their marriage. Both had eventually become Buddhist nuns and much later independently stated his birth year as '1840' - confirming that he left home when he was nineteen-years of age (in 1859) to ordain as a Buddhist monk! Again, both women confirmed that the marriage was not consummated.
"I think when a person is doing something worthwhile, the pain in the early stage should be a kind of foreshadowing of joy in the later stage." —— Venerable Teacher Chan Yi (禅一)
‘Still’ the Mind – and Transform the Way the World is Perceived.
Nowadays, there is a popular offline saying that you have to learn to talk to your body. The first stage of transforming our meditative state is the most difficult, so let yourself persevere more every day, such is the reality of a step by step accumulation, do you think this is a feasible solution?
Master Chan Yi:
In fact, in the early stages of meditation, there must be certain goals, and even a requirement to temper yourself. For example, in physical education classes – you do pull-ups – but when you are tired, the teacher will tell you, please insist on doing the last two in a much more conscious manner. That kind of painful training is what people are most reluctant to do. I think that when a person is doing something, the pain in the early stage should be a foreshadowing of joy in the later stage.
As we are used to a certain way of living before, now that we are entering a time of dramatic transformation, there is often a feeling of discomfort. This feeling of discomfort is not because the training is suitable, nor is it physical, but rather it exists because the ‘habits’ of the mind are not suitable. I often say that sitting in meditation is actually the simplest way of life. Simply cross your legs and sit there quietly - for 5-10 minutes – what is difficult about that? Within this practice we can develop insight into the patterns of our own mind (as if it is like our ‘shadow’), and when fully understood, we can strive to change this conditioning and transform our lives! Just as the numerous levels of patterning are dissolved, replaced and reconstructed – the mind begins to ‘think’ in a new way and the body relates to the environment so that there is no conflict (or damage done). Although we all enter this task from many different directions, we all begin to end-up in exactly the same location of improved inner health and harmonious outer relationships.
"It turns out that meditation does not rely on others – and you should not be attached to meditation. Indeed, meditation only works when you place the right amount of effort in its practice – nothing more and nothing less. Meditation is only a ‘method’, or a ‘tool’ which humans have developed to achieve certain types of inner and outer transformation. It is not a permanent feature in your lives because once it has achieved its intended function – it will be placed down just like any ‘tool’ you no longer have a use for. When you have located and penetrated the empty essence of your mind – then meditation will have achieved its purpose.” Master Chan Yi (禅一)
Three Layers of Meditation
I once met a senior who had learned meditation from (the enlightened lay-practitioner) Master Nan (Nan Huaijin - 南怀瑾) in Taihu University Hall. He told me that you should relax when you sit in meditation, and when you are all relaxed, let your thoughts naturally ‘flow’; don’t grab them or attempt to artificially control their direction. Simultaneously we remain broadly ‘aware’ of the flow of thoughts. I think this is a good start. After you have such an understanding, you immediately relax regarding the matter of meditation, a relaxation from the inside to the outside. This is how I slowly improved from 5 minutes to at least 45 minutes. So Master Chan Yi, this is my personal experience, and I also want to hear your opinions.
Master Chan Yi:
In fact, if you have the opportunity to come to our Shaolin Temple (on Songshan), you will find that we are holding a very popular and effective programme entitled the "Ch’an Self-Cultivation Camp" (禅修营 - Chan Xiu Ying) of Shaolin Temple. I have been involved in this and also interviewed many students. Prior to attending, life for them in modern China is so good they are safe and worry-free - but they would like somekind of spiritual outlet. Then, suddenly someone suggests the possibility that they should learn to meditate – and so they seek-out the monks at the Shaolin Temple. At the beginning, meditation seems like a fun game – particularly for people whose everyday lives are so materially comfortable – but then something interesting happens. Once the mind is ‘stilled’ and ‘strengthened’ through meditation, the superficial contentedness is ‘pierced’ and an entirely ‘new’ insight into reality manifests! Many people have never experienced the sheer ‘joy’ and ‘bliss’ of ‘sitting still’, or having ‘no purpose’ - and preferring ‘isolation’ over the noisiness of modern living. As the journey begins – and the student spirals upward in attainment – the student understands that meditation can be ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in equal measure. To gain the ‘pleasure’ we must accept the ‘pain’ without expressing a preference for one over the other,
When we ordinary people learning to meditate, we can regard it as a part of our lives. Just like if you start from tomorrow, you can read a book for ten minutes at the desk before going to bed every night; or read two ancient poems, you don’t need to do too much, you just need to be able to sit down and read it by candlelight (or similar) every day. I don’t want to ask whether I can remember it, or whether I can read it for a longer time, just stick to it. In fact, meditation is also such a requirement: you only need to do it, and after doing it, you will find that you personality, behaviour and understanding has completely transformed beyond what it once was. If we persist, we might even begin to enter the sublime and truly divine states! All this takes is a regular dedication to a method on a daily basis. This is how any skill is mastered in this world.
When the muscles of the arm contract so that a heavy weight held in the hand can be ‘lifted’ - nothing in this process grants any knowledge as to how muscles work, or how movements are controlled by the spine or brain, etc. Similarly, when a gland secretes hormones – none of this process (in and of itself) grants any ‘special’ knowledge into the nature of glands or hormones – and yet, when the brain ‘secretes’ thought – it is assumed that this process of secreting ‘thought’ possesses the ability to ‘see into’ the inherent biological nature of a) the brain, and b) the mind, but is this a reasonable assumption? If the functions of other biological processes give no ‘special’ knowledge about the inner workings of a bodily organ – why should the secretion of ‘thought’ from the brain produce any substantially ‘different’ mode of knowledge?
Of course, the brain is not a ‘normal’ bodily organ despite the fact that it does regulate (together with the spine) virtually all other organs (and biological processes) in the body. The brain does this whilst generating the appearance of the ‘mind’ - from which ‘thoughts’ are believed to emerge. This ‘thought’ capacity has evolved to allow the brain to see its own processes (to a certain extent), whilst also being able to perceive processes in the external environment. With regards the perception of ‘inner’ processes, the capacity of the brain is severely limited, with no amount of contemplative thinking producing the exact size and shape of the brain doing the ‘thinking’. To acquire this knowledge, the physical organ of the brain (usually ‘dead’) would have to examined ‘outside’ of its usual skull-casing by another (living) human-being. In other words, a living brain examines the dead brain of a now ‘non-living’ human-being. A living human-being can observe their own arm lifting a weight in a manner which does not apply to the functioning of their own brain – and herein lies the fundamental difference.
The historical Buddha (in ancient India), for example, described the functioning of the ‘mind’ but never envisioned all this as an operation of the brain. I mention this as monastics within Early Buddhism often sat and meditated in graveyards and burning-ghats – and often contemplated the decaying of bodies left to ‘rot’ in the open by families too poor to afford a proper burning and disposal ceremony. Although the skull is often intact for those who have experienced natural deaths, there was probably cases of severely injured individuals where it was possible for the Buddhist monastics to ‘observe’ the brain. This could not have been very common, and certainly the Buddha does not speak of a ‘brain’ as such, despite linking the ‘sensation’ of the environment to specific sense-organs located within the body. This may be because the Buddha defined the ‘mind’ as a sensory organ which ‘senses’ thought – hence the ‘six senses’ found within Buddhist philosophy. Indian philosophy tends to view human consciousness as being various ‘frequencies’ of ethereal energy (perhaps ‘light’ energy). This gives the impression that the external world is constructed of light-energy that also ‘exists’ inside the body. This leads to the interplay of ‘void’ (consciousness empty of greed, hatred and delusion), and ‘form’, or all material stuff. As the Buddha advocated the psychological and physical ‘exiting’ of the world of sorrow – he had no need to develop a sophisticated anatomy and physiology – although he came very close to doing this by default of his ‘logical’ assessment of perception.
Unless we are exposed to the insides of the human-body in a scientific setting – no amount of inner gazing will produce an accurate picture of the ‘actual’ structures of the inner-body – or ‘how’ these structures fit-together and function in a healthy individual. All of this knowledge would slowly emerge in the various medical systems of the world – and very slowly at that. It is only in the last two-hundred years or so, that a reasonably accurate view of the human-body has been developed and utilised in the healing of humanity. Perhaps the Buddha got as far as any reasonably enlightened human-being could get, and in so doing did develop a ‘science’ of perception that was unusually perceptive for the time. Of course, our education systems allow us to ‘see’ much more in a short space of time, but no amount of this kind of study offers a short-cut to realising the ‘enlightenment’ advocated by the Buddha. Even though general education has moved-on, the Buddha’s enlightenment is still very difficult to realise. A well-balanced path would seem to involve a sound academic education coupled with a regular meditative practice. My view is that modern education is very important, but it doesn’t invalidate the path of the Buddha. If anything, I would suggest that modern education actually serves to ‘alienate’ humanity ever more from a perception of its pure spiritual essence. The Buddha’s enlightenment of compassion, loving kindness and wisdom – coupled with the accomplishments of modern science will produce an all-round human-being and effective Bodhisattva!
Original Chinese-Language Author: Li Man (李满)
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
From 1840 to 1959 marked the 120-years that Master Xu Yun - the Great Master of Ch’an - lived in the world! Among the modern masters, the longevity of the Old Ch’an Master Xu Yun has always been considered the most outstanding existence in the world. This is because he lived a long time, and is the only monk to have lived through the reigns of Five Emperors and Four Dynasties. During ancient times, the longevity of practitioners in China was not uncommon, but such a longevity as exhibited by Master Xu Yun is rare in the modern world. Master Xu Yun, who broke the world's usual concept of life-expectancy, seemed to indicate the inevitability of his own longevity in his attitude towards life and death. When Master Xu Yun was 117-years-old, he left a Last Will and Testament that no one could not understand at the time. In this Will he said:
"After I die, assist the process of putting a yellow robe upon my dead body and place it in a coffin. Then a day later, move the coffin to the foot of the mountain - West of the cowshed – where it is to be cremated. After the cremation - mix my ashes with sugar, flour, and oil, knead the mixture into nine balls - and then throw each ball mindfully into the river, so that the creatures living in the water are provided with a good meal."
As Master Xu Yun was so famous and greatly respected, there were many people who "requested that the ashes be scattered into the rivers and seas after cremation" acting in accordance with his Will. They respectfully asked for the ashes to be kneaded into flour, oil, and sugar into ball so that the fish could be fed. Despite following his wishes, his request puzzled a number of people as Master Xu Yun followed the Vinaya Discipline strictly and never ate meat of any kind. Why would he ask the fish to eat his remains without them knowing? The answer is that when human-bodies are buried – creatures feed on the decaying flesh during the natural processes of decomposition (despite the investment in all types of expensive coffins designed to ‘stop’ or ‘delay’ this process). Master Xu Yun wanted to provide the fish with food to prolong their lives – as fish are usually not required to follow the Vinaya Discipline and are free to eat anything they can find as food. Although cremated in the Buddhist tradition, Master Xu Yun did not want to deprive the fish of a good meal!
At noon (on 12th day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar) in 1959, Master Xu Yun ascended into the divine-sky riding on back of crane as it flew Westward! One day after his death, his disciples cremated his bones and according to his instructions the ashes were crushed into fine powder, and oil, sugar, flour and flour were used to make pellets which were thrown into the Yangtze River. After Master Xu Yun’s ash-pellets were thrown into the river - the fish and shrimps came in groups, and within a short while, Master Xu Yun’s ashes became a delicacy that nourished and prolonged life. I don't know how the disciples of Xu Yun felt when they witnessed this situation. As ordinary people, they will sigh and sigh. Master Xu Yun’s way of saying goodbye to the physical existence, and his indifferent attitude towards his own flesh, really surprised the world! In fact, Master Xu Yun’s move is an indirect demonstration: In his eyes, his ashes are just an insignificant image in the mortal world. His calm and detached attitude towards his own flesh contained great wisdom for life: life and death were just a trivial matter that couldn't be more ordinary. This kind of indifferent attitude towards life and death - Master Xu Yun possessed when he was 61-years-old. At that time, during the time of the Gengzi Boxing Uprising, the Boxers rioted in all counties in Shandong against Western oppression. Master Xu Yun was heading towards Wutai yet again. On the way, he met a foreign soldier who was accustomed to killing innocent Chinese people. This foreign soldier pointed a gun at him and asked in bad Chinese: "Are you afraid of death?" When Master Xu Yun first saw this, he stood (inwardly quiet) and outwardly ‘still’ - offering no response. After a short time, he calmly said: “I am indifferent to life and death. If I must die by your hand – then so be it. Please proceed.” Seeing Master Xu Yun’s serene expression, the foreign soldier was unnerved and started to panic. After a stalemate for a few seconds, the foreign Soldier said: "You can go!" When later generations heard of this story, they were amazed. Master Xu Yun was able to escape this disaster because of his indifference to life and death. Those who can live freely and easily in the world are mostly those who are not attached to death and life. Xu Yun’s longevity probably has a great association with his calm attitude towards death. It is said that when the body of Master Xu Yun was cremated, more than a hundred colourful relics were found amongst the ashes. These relics - like his ashes that fed the fishes and shrimp - have now been placed in various locations considered to be of great spiritual significance. Master Xu Yun’s use of ashes to nourish the lives of others also reflects the concepts of "cherishing good luck" and "benefiting others" which he upheld throughout his life.
Master Xu Yun believes that there are two kinds of blessings for human beings, one is cultivated in the previous life, and the other is accumulated in this life. Master Xu Yun advocated thrift throughout his life, which is also a manifestation of his cherishing the generation of good karma.. Master Xu Yun once said:
"The blessings of a person in this life are pre-determined by inherent causes developed in previous lives. You must not just 'enjoy your blessings' in this life without ‘cultivating’ further blessings for the future through virtuous actions."
It is worth noting that “enjoying your blessings" as mentioned by Master Xu Yun here, also includes the meaning of "benefit". He advocated that people should not only cherish the blessings of this life, but also do more good deeds to accumulate merit, commonly known as "benefit" or ‘good karma’. "The blessings experienced in this life are fixed in past lives." This concept of blessings in Master Xu Yun includes "how much food to eat in this life and how much clothes to wear" and so on. This is also the source of Master Xu Yun’s advocacy of frugality throughout his life. He believes that food and possessions, etc. As used in one's life are the consequences of good causes laid in previous lives, so only by practicing frugality can one's life be rewarded in the long-run. In this case, the comparison with "eating" is a little bit blunter: How much food you eat in this life is earned in your previous life, and when this amount is reached, your present life will come to an end. This is probably the reason why Buddhist monks always practice thrift. Whether in the mortal realm, in the monastery or wandering around, Master Xu Yun was always very frugal. Like most spiritual monks, he has always insisted on not eating after lunch. On weekdays, Master Xu Yun’s food has always been simple and plain. Master Xu Yun’s personal assistant, Master Shao Yun (绍云), once said (when recalling the years, he spent with the eminent monk):
"The porridge and vegetables that the old monk (Xu Yun) ate were all made by us. They are the same as those eaten by the ordinary monks. If there are no guests, he would never add another dish."
The porridge in Master Shao Yun’s mouth is the food cooked with a little bit of rice mixed with a lot of sweet potatoes, and the dishes here, are sweet potato leaves and branches fried with salt. And more often, their food is just sweet potatoes. It is hard to imagine that this was the meal of the 117-year-old Master Xu Yun when he was at the Yunju Shan monastery in Jiangxi. Master Shao Yun also recounted a past event that made him profoundly remember. Master Shao Yun said that Yunju Mountain was very high at the time, with an altitude of more than 1,100 meters. Because of the severe winter weather, the sweet potatoes hidden in the cellar were basically black when they were taken out for consumption, and it was very bitter to cook them....
At the Yunju Mountain Zhenru Zen Temple Sweet potato is still bitter, sweet potato skin is even more unpalatable. Therefore, Master Shao Yun and Master Qi Xian (齐贤) picked out the bitter and astringent sweet potato skins and placed them on the side of the table. After they finished eating, Master Xu Yun picked up the sweet potato skins and ate them without making a sound. Later, the young Master Shao Yun asked the old monk incomprehensibly:
"You are so old venerable, and those sweet potato skins are so bitter! How can you still eat it?"
After listening, Master Xu Yun only half-opened his eyes and slowly said,
"This is food! You can only eat it, not waste it."
Normally, no matter where Master Xu Yun eats, he will pick it up and eat what he sees someone spilling rice grains, even if the rice grains have been scattered on the ground. Once, Master Xu Yun also had a meal with the leaders of the Religious Department at that time, and the leaders were very uncomfortable saying:
"Old monk, the rice has fallen on the ground and is soiled, so we can't eat it."
But Master Xu Yun only calmly said: "It doesn't matter! These are all grains, and not one can be wasted." Master Xu Yun treated the grains the same way he treated the clothes he wore. According to the memories of people who have had contact with Master Xu Yun - no matter whether spring, summer, autumn or winter - he always only wore a rotten jacket, that is, a long gown that is patched up. In winter, he added a cotton coat to it, and in summer he wore only a single gown. Once, the straw mat on which Master Xu Yun slept was broken. Master Shao Yun saw that eventually the mat had been broken several times and the hole was too big, so he proposed:
"Let's take the mat to our permanent residence and change it for a new one."
At that time, a straw mat was only two yuan, but Master Xu Yun became angry after hearing this, and he yelled:
"What a blessing! I want to enjoy this mat – it's almost new!"
In the end, no one could allow this any longer and carried-out secret repairs when Master Xu Yun was outside. In life, the frugal Master Xu Yun often taught his disciples:
"You must be disciplined when cultivating wisdom, so that cultivating good fortune is better than wasting good fortune."
He once warned his disciples and said:
"If you waste all your blessings and enjoy the rewards; you will become a person without blessings. It’s as if you made money from business in the past, and you put it in the bank. If you no longer work hard to make money, and just enjoy it, the bank’s savings will all soon be spent, so if you go on, you will be in debt."
In the eyes of Master Xu Yun, only by constantly cultivating good roots and benefiting others, the blessings can continue. This is why the human life span is also a kind of blessing. Xu Yun believes that if a person is "produce enough merit" enough in this life, he is likely to live longer than his destined life. If mortals lead an excessive and self-indulgent life, then they will use-up all their positive karma very quickly and this will shorten their life-expectancy! Quite often, a lack of food or even continuous illness is often a sign that all the good karma has been exhausted. As well as respecting good fortune and working to benefit others, Master Xu Yun also emphasised the continuous carrying-out of good deeds! Master Xu Yun continued to perform goods deeds as a major facet of Ch’an training! Master Xu Yun not only practiced Ch’an Buddhism, but also continued to rebuild all the Buddhist temples that had fallen into disrepair! Furthermore, Master Xu Yun also trained countless numbers of monastics and lay-practitioners in the correct practice of Ch’an Buddhism! Among his disciples are the Buddhist monks ‘Yi Cheng’ (一诚) and ‘Chuan Yin’ (传印) - two great and virtuous Buddhist monks who both served as the ‘President’ of the Buddhist Association of China!
In 1913, the second year of the Republic of China, Master Xu Yun personally came forward to prevent a possible war. At that time, some princes and living Buddhas in Tibet were influenced by the British and Indian governments - and refused to recognize the government of the Republic of China. Against this historical background, Yuan Shikai (袁世凯) secretly ordered the governor of Yunnan - Cai E (蔡锷) - to send troops to Tibet. In order to avoid being overwhelmed, Cai E had to ask Master Xu Yub for help. After receiving Cai E's request for help, Master Xu Yun ventured into the Tibetan area, and then he invited the respected Toho Karmapa of Tibet. Under the lobbying of His Holiness Toho, the living Buddha in Tibet finally recognized the government of the Republic of China, and a war was averted. Master Xu Yun said that the good karmic roots he had already planted in the past allowed him to influence the situation as he did. If he had not followed the Vinaya Discipline properly in this life (and before) - thousands of people would have surely lost their lives!
At the age of 120, Master Xu Yun's body became weaker and weaker due to a serious illness. His disciple urged him to see a doctor, but he said calmly:
"It's okay, my causal connection with this world is about to break."
On the day he left the world, Xu Yun thanked his disciples for working with him to rebuild the monastery. After that, he told his disciples:
“Uphold the Vinaya Discipline, practice the correct concentration, and use wisdom to eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion.”
After a pause, he gave his last words in this life just as he was leaving the world:
"Cultivate right thinking and mindfulness so that you can have a fearless spirit when facing everyone and everything in the entire world. If you are tired, please go back and rest!"
After speaking, he put his hands together to say goodbye to everyone. When the disciples returned an hour after they left, Master Xu Yun had passed away safely.
Posted on 2019-08-20
Original Chinese Language Article:
Original Chinese Language Text: ‘Human Existence Book of Origin’ (人生书本 - Ren Sheng Shu Ben)
Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD
Translator’s Note: The (Mainland) Chinese Language internet is a treasure-trove teeming with these kinds of texts just waiting to be discovered, translated and shared. As I follow Master Xu Yun’s instruction to ‘never charge money for Dharma instruction’, I am able to translate as I encounter rather than waiting to traverse the petty-politics that dominate the bourgeois publishing industry in the West. This text is a Dharma-Talk given by an unnamed Buddhist Master who has inherited both the Chinese Ch’an Dharma and the Chinese Tantrayana tradition. As you can see, despite the outer differences of different Buddhist schools and techniques, all share a common spiritual essence. These types of texts test my translation and inter-cultural skills as simply reading Chinese characters is not enough when confronted with wisdom of this type. I have had to spend a number of days on this project – leaving off when things became too opaque - and disappearing into my own mind for a few hours to search out and extract the implicit meaning. ACW (31.1.2021)
Although the Naga creature is a snake in India, within the Ch’an tradition it is often referred to as a ‘dragon’. If a person’s consciousness is not yet expanded and all-embracing, the ‘qi’ (气) flow will be erratic and move independently up and down the body without control. This is where a distinction should be made between ‘气’ (Qi) which is energy acquired from food, drink and exercise – and ‘炁’ (Qi) which represents congenital q-energy bequeathed by both parents at conception. Whereas ‘炁’ is pre-natal - ‘先天 ‘ [Xian Tian] - (that is, active in the body prior to birth), ‘气’ (Qi) only becomes active ‘post-birth’ (后天 - Hou Tian) and replaces fully the earlier (and far ‘purer’) bodily energy flow. As for terminology, ‘先天’ (Xian Tian] literally translates as ‘Earlier Divine Sky’ (which symbolises ‘life’ in the process of becoming), whilst (后天 - Hou Tian) means ‘Latter Divine Sky’ - the state of life already born and functioning in the world. Enriched qi (炁) is related to the ‘Earlier Divine Sky’ because it is unsullied and thoroughly pure – whilst mundane qi ‘气’ represents the ‘Latter Divine Sky’ stage which sees life involved in a constant battle for survival and prevention of instability!
As human-being expend qi ‘气’ energy during the day – at night the body attempts to replenish its supply through the generation of ‘night qi’ (夜气 - Ye Qi). This type of qi-expression only manifests at night if individuals sleep properly. Poor sleep leads to poor ‘night qi’ being generated and in extreme cases, it has been shown that those who do not sleep for days or weeks on end can sometimes die from this lack of proper routine! To younger generations, it is often taught that the human body – like a mobile telephone battery – needs to be recharged regularly to work properly! The ‘Central Channel’ (中脉 - Zhong Mai) is also called the ‘Spirit Channel’ (灵脉 - Ling Mai). There is no such energy-channel found within Traditional Chinese Medicine. It ascends up - through the centre of the torso - from the Sea-Bed Chakra (perineum) to the Crown Chakra (fontanelle) travelling as a straight channel. This is a unique two-way channel which facilitates the flow of essential and vital energy both ways (that is ‘simultaneously’) along the same single meridian. This is different from conventional meridians with TCM (and Daoist thinking). Conventional meridians are divided into yin and yang, with the yang meridian flowing up the head, and the yin meridian flowing out in the direction of the hands and feet. Each energy channel is dedicated to directing qi-flow in one direction only.
The main Central Channel is the route through which the ‘Spirit of the Snake’ (灵蛇 - Ling She) will ‘raise’. When the human consciousness is as yet undeveloped, it is what is termed ‘constricted’ or ‘compressed’. This means it is as yet undeveloped, ascended, expanded and all-embracing. This journey of conscious development begins with the ‘snake’ of consciousness beginning its journey of awakening by gently emerging from the ‘Sea-Bed' (海底 - Hai Di) Chakra (轮 - Lun) and ascending to the Crown (顶 - Ding) Chakra (轮 - Lun). This supplies an enriched nutrient comprised of qi (炁 ) - vital force - and jing (精) - ‘essential nature’ - which assists the ‘stilling’, ‘cleansing’ and ‘expanding’ of ‘conscious awareness’ (神 - Shen). This feeds into the Governing Channel (任脉 - Ren Mai) - running up the backbone - and the Conception Vessel (督脉 - Du Mai) - running down the front of the torso, etc. This flow is also reversed – whereby this energy circulation (as distinct from blood flow) ‘returns’ to the Sea-Bed Chakra for spiritual and physical renewal. This cyclic developmental process rejuvenates the entire (mind) and body!
Naga Samadhi self-cultivation, however, does not ‘focus’ upon qi rejuvenation. Although this will happen quite naturally, this is not the primary purpose. Buddhist self-cultivation is designed to uproot every trace of greed, hatred and delusion from the psychic fabric of the mind and the behavioural patterns of the body. This process ‘stills’ the mind for the penetration and realisation of the empty mind ground – so that the conscious awareness ‘expands’ and becomes ‘all-embracing’. Material reality is understood to arise and pass away (moment after moment) within a great and all-embracing void! Any genuine Ch’an practitioner, however, who realises enlightenment will also gain an intricate experiential awareness of the energy channels of the body, and will directly understand the importance of the Central Channel and its processes. Indeed, within Chinese Ch’an Buddhism it is impossible to realise a genuine enlightenment without first experiencing the reality of ‘qi-flow’ and mind and body rejuvenation. The Buddha’s method is superior and so includes all known possible methods of self-development.
When a baby is born, if the child is healthy and free of injury, etc, then he or she already exists in a natural state of ‘Naga Samadhi’ due to their continuous and ‘inherent’ purity of being. However, as the child grows, unless they live in very unusual circumstances, they are transformed by the ‘desires’ they experience in relation to external objects. This generates a suppression of conscious awareness that is inhibited by its tendency toward viewing reality in a self-limiting ‘subject-object’ dichotomy. As deluded and dualistic thinking becomes ‘normalised’ - ‘desire’ pushes the ‘Naga Samadhi’ back into the ‘Sea-Bed’’ Chakra. Consciousness is ‘suppressed’ by this path of worldly development. Duality generates the conditions for greed, hatred and desire to permeate and pollute the mind. The ‘Naga Samadhi’ is pushed back into its essential base whilst the ‘empty mind ground’ is obscured. The mind and body become thoroughly polluted and loses any sense of identity with the highest spiritual realities.
As the ‘Divine Sky’ is permanently divorced from the ‘Broad Earth’, the spiritual practitioner is given the task of applying the appropriate methods of meditation. Buddhist meditation is a method that ‘reverses’ this explained polluting process. Greed, hatred and delusion are permanently ‘uprooted’ so that the empty mind ground will be perfectly perceived. This is how the pristine nature of the mind (心性 - Xin Xing) is both perfected and fully realised. This is often described as the practice and realisation of the ‘Tathagata Ch’an’ (如来禅 - Ru Lai Ch’an) - which relies upon the practice of the ‘Four Jhana’ (四禅 - Si Ch’an) and the ‘Eight Concentrations’ (八定 - Ba Ding). This sets thr groundwork for the rising of the ‘Naga Samadhi’ - which does yet re-appear. The next stage is the cultivation of the ‘Patriarch’s Ch’an’ (祖师禅 - Zu Shi Ch’an). The realisation of the ‘Patriarch’s Ch’an’ coincides with the rising of the ‘Naga Samadhi’ - as the two events are synonymous.
The theory of the ‘Naga Samadhi’ is very simple. Its ‘Great Path’ (大道 - Da Dao) should not be complicated through over-thinking. Give-up deluded living and pointless desire. Do not pursue worldly fame or public recognition. Withdraw from society and sit quietly to ‘look within’ with strength and clarity. This is how ‘virtue’ (德 - De) is generated. It is a matter of ‘giving-up’ modes of thought and behaviour that are of no use to cultivating the mind (and body). Do not pursue fame and fortune. Do not become caught-up in superficial spiritual practices that seek only to cultivate limited selfish motives. The first priority to establish a ‘still’ and ‘peaceful’ mind (平稳的心 - Ping Wen De Xin). When the ‘mind’ does not ‘move’ (不动 - Bu Dong) and is all-expansive – it is naturally in the state of ‘Naga Samadhi’. It is very simple to explain but very difficult to achieve! Living within the five evil worlds means that everyone has their own particular problems to ‘uproot’ and ‘transcend’ as the sorrows of existence know no bounds. The Ch’an method ‘returns’ all thought to its ‘empty’ origins to penetrate and realise the empty mind ground. If the mind is not ‘stilled’ and ‘expanded’ - the individual will continue to experience endless suffering through repeated experiences of birth and death! For the Ch’an practitioner – the way out of this predicament is simple – as ‘It is like chopping wood and carrying water’ - this is how the Naga Samadhi is clearly perceived through a purified mind engaged in the midst of ordinary events! Do not fear life and do not fear death – the Naga Samadhi can traverse the three realms without difficulty or hindrance!
The human mind is like the sea. Even if the sea is calm, the waves below surface may be rough. Many people suffer from insomnia because their minds cannot settle down. Ask what trouble them? He can't tell. And yet there is always upset and delusion. This is because most people can only observe their own surface consciousness. They lack the insight to observe the consciousness that lies beneath the surface and which is suffering terrible turmoil! This is exactly where beginners have to start. They must build the strength of their concentration so that they can penetrate the depth of their own mind and perceives its inner workings. Realising ‘stillness’ is the first significant attainment but it is not the ultimate realisation of ‘emptiness’. As important as this is – this is only ‘emptiness’ only within the head – also known as ‘sat on the hundred-foot pole’. A further stage of successful training has to be accomplished. A genuine practitioner must ‘let go’ of this stage of ‘attachment’ to relative ‘emptiness’ so that the conscious awareness ‘expands’ to ‘embrace’ all of existence! This achieved by not falling into the habits of everyday life (such as writing posts, reading books or thinking about unnecessary things). Those who achieve the ‘Four Jhana’ and ‘Eight Concentrations’ will have no trouble realising the Naga Samadhi as the empty mind ground underlies all these authentic states of attainment. The Naga Samadhi does not have to ‘retract’ as the mind is cleared of all ‘klesa’ or habitual defilements. This allows the Naga Samadhi to shine forth in a permanent manner for all to see! This is how the Naga Samadhi benefits the world with its wisdom, loving kindness and compassion!
As you ‘still’ the mind you are gathering and focusing the qi and jing which builds to such a powerful extent that a wave of internal energy will eventually pulsates through the mind and body! This is the rising of the Naga Samadhi united in essence with all genuine Buddhist states of attainment! When the inner potential reaches a certain frequency of intensity - ‘emptiness’ limited to the head dissolves into an ‘all-embracing’ emptiness that expands beyond the limits of the physical body and permeates out into the physical universe! This is how the Naga Samadhi becomes a permanent expression of enlightenment in the world! Eventually, as the experience ‘matures’ and settles down, all energy flow becomes peaceful and less obviously dramatic as the enlightened state ‘normalises’ and becomes ‘nothing special’.
Chinese Language Source:
As individuals we have direct access only to our own mind and body, as our ability to single-handedly change the external world is severely limited. The Vinaya Discipline is designed to change the mind and body – or those things we can more readily change instantaneously. Everything else is mediated through the influence of our well-chosen words and precise actions. With purity of intent – our mind (and behaviour) is free of greed, hatred and delusion. In this way an individual can slowly influence the world - one drip at a time can. This can illicit substantial change given the right circumstance, but it is more likely to see small but profound changes. Influence in the Dharmic sense is ‘local’ on the interpersonal level, although the internet enhances the reach of Dharmic literature in all directions.
I suspect that Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) ‘sensed’ this in an intuitive manner when he requested that key Chinese Buddhist texts be translated into the English-language. This is the state of sublime communication that allows humanity to gain knowledge about its own intrinsic nature. What else is needed? Certainly not more of the mundanity that defines the daily existence of most ordinary people. Looking within must be carried-out with strength and purpose. Having access to texts that support and clarify this procedure is the gift that Master Xu Yun bequeathed the world. Those who carry-out his instructions must be ‘like nothing’ in the eyes of others. They must refuse all payment, avoid all honours and then pass away quietly in obscurity so that their names be lost forever. What freedom this is!
Living each day is a blessing brought by nature. Time is far too long for many – and painfully short for others. Injustice permeates reality, this is true, but the Dharma allows a certain and definite virtue to radiate outward into the world and assist all beings without end or discrimination. This is the realised ‘void’ as it permeates out into physical ‘form’ Sometimes, having to ‘live’ is an act of courage for some people, whilst for others life seems far too easy. The Dharma transcends all differences and sets humanity ‘free’ from the limitations of bodily existence. Living within a body as if the boundaries of the body not exist! Allow the awareness of the conscious mind to transcend the body and embrace the entirety of creation! This is the power of the void! This is how we build something that endures – something which is spiritually superior and far outlasts the existence of the human body!
The best transmissions of the Dharma happen naturally and unexpectedly. The worst are contrived and actively sought-out. The first example is ‘pure’ whilst the second example is ‘impure’. The problem is that the ego is attracted to transmission – but is entirely unable to meet the demands of such a responsibility! There are no short-cuts to be depended upon by humanity. This can only happen if the principle of humility has been thoroughly embraced, penetrated and integrated with. There is no other way. Transmission cannot be ‘bluffed’ like a business meeting designed to make or encourage material profit. How could it be? As humanity ‘takes’ continuously from those who have inherited the Dharma! Being able to continuously ‘give’ without end, acknowledge or reward is the reality of genuine Ch’an transmission!
Although ‘selling’ the Dharma in the West in fairly normal and to be expected, the historical Buddha never once asked for any type of payment for sharing his wisdom. Indeed, he rejected all forms of commerce and replaced all exchange of goods and services with the simple act of ‘begging’. In China, an emperor outlawed deliberate begging by the Ordained Buddhist Sangha and instead stated that each monastic must be a strict vegetarian and till the ground to grow their own food (as farmers). This is because in the old days, the peasant population of China was already very poor and often had barely enough food for their own survival. Not to be a material burden to the ordinary people, Buddhist monastics had to take care of their own bodily sustenance whilst still providing ‘free’ Dharma-instruction. On occasion, however, Buddhist monastics who are on pilgrimage, are often given food as they walk along the road by the laity they encounter. As it is not expected or demanded – this interaction is tolerated within Chinese culture.
Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) stipulated that all Dharma-instruction should be a) the product of correct understanding, b) correct discipline and c) correct motive. This means that providing an individual has undergone adequate training – then the resultant Dharmic-understanding must be provided ‘free of charge’ (‘correct motivation’). This is to prevent those with money (but no ‘wisdom’) ‘purchasing’ influence over the Dharma-teacher and compromising the integrity of the Dharma. Needless to say, anyone who actively or deliberately ‘charges’ for the Dharma is not a genuine Dharma-teacher and is to be avoided. The accepting of ‘donations’, however, is a different matter but a donation must not be a precursor to teaching the Dharma. If any sense of ‘grasping’ is evident in the mind of the recipient, then he or she is not a true Dharma-teacher.
Using a ‘mala’ - or a set of ‘Buddha Beads’ - can be done in a variety of ways. As each bead is purposely ‘moved’ through the guiding finger and thumb, quite often a mantra is recited, or perhaps a short sentence from a Sutra, etc. Other times, the practitioner may sit quietly and ‘look within’ as the beads proceed. A Buddhist mala is usually made of 108, 54 or 27 beads – which while threaded upon a cord may well be divided at regular points by a smaller ‘dividing-bead’. Sometimes, no dividing-beans are used. The cords are tied so that the mala is held in a permanent ‘round’ shape. The beads can be crafted from wood, glass, jade or various other precious stones. Quite often, mala of differing quality and bead quantity are associated with the various holy places of China and produced locally for famous temples to sell to pilgrims, or for people to present as ‘gifts.
Some of the smaller mala are designed to be easily worn around the left wrist, whilst the larger type is worn around the neck. Generally speaking, the latter is worn only by ordained Buddhist monks and nuns. The way I prefer to use the mala is through the perfection of pure ‘touch’. This uses the sense of ‘touch’ gained between the thumb and finger which forms a thought in the mind of ‘bead’. As ‘bead’ is a word – this word can be ‘returned’ to its non-perception essence (i.e., the empty mind ground). This is how the sense of touch is used as a hua tou using beads. At the advanced level – the word ‘bead’ does not need to be formed – and the bare sensation of ‘touching’ the bead serves as the meditative object ‘returned’ to its source.
When I was a Ch’an monk I was provided with a large (and heavy mala) constructed from beads made of jade. This was a sign of reassurance for the laity (rather like a ‘cross’ within Christianity). As I was permitted to retain my ordained name of ‘Shi Da Dao’ when I was sent out into the world to spread compassionate action – I was also permitted to keep my mala and my ‘black’ robe – which is indicative of the Cao Dong lineage. This large mala spends most of its time hanging on the family shrine nowadays. Although the sense of ‘hearing’ is considered the most efficient and promising sense for humans to return to the empty mind ground, any of the other five Buddhist senses can be used if a practitioner has developed suitable concentrative strength.
As the monks and nuns often lived in isolated areas – or went on perilous journeys that were once plagued by banditry and all kinds of occasional lawlessness – different systems of self-defence were created that did not violate the Vinaya Discipline. Objects such as the walking staff, begging bowl and even mala were often modified for combat usage. The ‘fighting-mala’ that I was shown in China was made of metal beads threaded onto thin metal wire. It also had a ‘weighted’ end similar to a ‘throwing-dart’. This type of self-defence was premised upon a mind stripped clear of greed, hatred and delusion – and physical movements designed to ‘nullify’ (but not ‘perpetuate’) the violence being unjustly inflicted upon the monastics. There is quite literally ‘nothing happening’ in a constructive manner – with all sensation relating to the six senses spontaneously being ‘returned’ to the empty mind ground.
The text that requires study is that of the Surangama Sutra as translated by Charles Luk. This should not be confused with the ‘Surangama-Samadhi Sutra’ as translated into English by Etienne Lamotte. The latter is useful but different - as it describes the Early Mahayana and the conversion to following the Dharma by Mara – in the form of a conversion between the Buddha and the Bodhisattva Drdhammati. In both Sutras is the found in-depth discussion of the state of ‘Samadhi’ - or ‘one-pointed’ concentration of the mind achieved through dedicated and focused meditation practice. As this Buddhist practice is considered ‘world-altering’ and ‘heroic’ - both Sutras take the name ‘Surangama’ to indicate the ‘Heroic’ nature of such practitioners. The ‘Concentration’ of the mind facilities the attainment of ALL further states of understanding and enlightenment within the Buddhist tradition regardless of school. Whatever a distinctive Buddhist School might advocate – it cannot be achieved without first mastering ‘Samadhi’. Like the Vimalakirtia Nirdesa Sutra, the Surangama Samadhi Sutra was first translated into the Chinese language by Kumarajiva – the famous Buddhist scholar.
Charles Luk’s translation of the ‘Surangama Sutra’ also includes a shortened commentary by Ch’an Master Han Shan Deqing 1546–1623). This Sutra is much more indicative of the ‘directness’ of the Ch’an Method, and defines ‘Samadhi’ as containing ‘three’ distinct attributes of attainment 1) self-evidencing, 2) perception, and 3) form. Correct training penetrates the alaya – or ‘eighth consciousness’ - and smashes forever the false notion of a permanent ‘self’ or ‘soul’ as favoured by many other religions. The Buddha discusses with various Bodhisattvas the merits of using one or other of the ‘six senses’ advocated within Buddhist thought as a means to ‘breakthrough’ the chaotic surface mind (and thus ‘stilling’ it), as well as transcending the dangerously seductive ‘empty-mind’ (which can often produce a very strong ‘attachment’ and ‘world-denying’ tendency). For ‘form’ and ‘void’ to be understood as ‘identical’ whilst simultaneously representing radically different states of being – both concepts must be fully realised, penetrated and transcended without error, doubt or hesitation.
Whilst the ‘hearing’ facility is presented as the most efficient method of entering the stream of consciousness in a pro-active manner – it is also true that he other ‘five’ senses can also be used with the caveat as each is not as efficient or as easy as the ear. These are the senses of ‘thinking’, seeing’ ‘smelling’, ‘tasting’ and ‘touching’, etc. Together with the hearing capacity – ALL sensory data (regardless of its ‘type’) can be equally ‘turned’ and directed back inward toward its non-perceptual origination (from within the empty mind ground). My experience is that relative enlightenment is the realisation of a ‘still’ mind by successfully return just one bodily-sense back to its empty non-perceptual essence. Although this is considered complete enlightenment in the Hinayana School – this is not so in the Mahayana School.
As the Lankavatara Sutra states – the six senses are like six knots in a length of string – untie one knot and they all untie simultaneously! This means that when the ‘hearing’ is successfully returned – through a period of further disciplined Ch’an training – the other five senses are then realised as returning to exactly the same empty mind ground and the perceptual awareness of the mind is experienced as ‘expanding’ and embracing all things. This is the stage of ‘full’ enlightenment as taught by the Ch’an School and which was confirmed by the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng in his ‘Altar Sutra’, etc. Certainly, when in a natural state of enlightened repose, the Ch’an practitioner inhabit all six senses simultaneously being a) continuously ‘returned’ to the empty essence, whilst b) continuously radiating wisdom, loving kindness and compassion from the empty mind ground and into the world through the permanently ‘purified’ six senses. This is the Cao Dong Lineage as conveyed by Master Xu Yun (1840-1959)
Adrian Chan-Wyles (釋大道 - Shi Da Dao) is permitted to retain his Buddhist Monastic Dharma-Name within Lay-society by decree of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chinese Buddhist Association (1992). A Buddhist monastic (and devout lay-practitioner) upholds the highest levels of Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows. A Genuine Buddhist ‘Venerates’ the ‘Dao’ (道) as he or she penetrates the ‘Empty Mind-Ground' through meditative insight. A genuine Buddhist is humble, wise and peace-loving – and he or she selflessly serves all in existence in the past, present and the future, and residing within the Ten Directions – whilst retaining a vegetarian- vegan diet. Please be kind to animals!
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