Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) certainly understood the paradox of looking into the fabric of our minds – to ‘see’ beyond that which we look with and that which we look at and through. This process, for a Ch’an Master at least, was not considered a contradiction. This Chinese Ch’an method was and still is viewed as the true essence of the message of the historical Buddha (born in India)! Furthermore, the Chinese Ch’an School considers itself unique in preserving the ‘true’ transmission of the historical Buddha free of all the later modifications, distractions and pollutions that entered the various Buddhist communities. Contemporary Western scholars, of course, consider this attitude to be flawed and its assumption to be wrong. According to Western scholarship (which takes its cue from Japanese Buddhism), this ‘Chinese’ attitude is ‘ahistorical’ and nothing but a culturally bias fabrication. According to Japanese researchers (whose work stems from the 1868 Meiji Restoration) - genuine Buddhism ‘died-out’ centuries ago in China and has never recovered!
How strange it must seem to them then, when they encounter Master Xu Yun’s biography (amongst many other eminent Masters) who assert the exact the opposite! Indeed, Master Xu Yun considered many practices associated with Lamaism to be ‘corrupt’, and repeatedly asserted that the immorality and barbarity of the Imperial Japanese Army in China (1931-1945) was the product of the moral corruption of Buddhist practice in Japan. As most Westerners cannot read either the Japanese or Chinese script, they remain unaware of the War Crimes advocated and committed by various Japanese Zen teachers before and during WWII (much of it anti-Western in nature as well as being anti-Chinese) - who later became very famous in the US and lived lives of relative luxury after the War! How strange it seems that very few people have read of how Master Xu Yun heavily criticised a group of Chinese Buddhist monks who had been to Japan and returned home eating meat, drinking alcohol and with wives and children in tow! Although it is true that our minds should be that distracted by worldly matters, at the same time it is equally true that when engaging in worldly matters, the engaging itself must be morally pristine.
Of course, there are people living in Japan who are aware of these contradictions and who do seek to make amends and put historical wrongs right. In the heart of those dojo that teach genuine Zen-Ch'an all of it ‘dissolves’ into irrelevance when the correct Dharma is cultivated. I remember how respectful a delegation of Shaolin monks was treated in Japan a few years ago – particularly when they visited a small dojo whose founding ancestor had visited the Shaolin Temple on Song Mountain many hundreds of years ago! The visiting Shaolin Master studied the Chinese Transmission Documents carefully stored away and guarded in Japan – and finally declared them entirely genuine! The name and location of the dojo – together with its historical details – were taken back to the Shaolin Temple and entered in the Records of Genuine Transmission! Although truth maybe difficult to attain at times, this does not mean that we give-up the task of pursuing it. Truth must prevail over falsehood and that is all there is to it!
Polarity is a funny business. Life and death – health and illness, etc – all this often occupies the human mind (and body) above and beyond every other subject. Of course, we must also feed and house the body, but if one of these is missing, at the very least we must provide nourishment for the human-body. Many in the West fear homelessness as the weather in this part of the world is often cold, wet and difficult to endure for at least six months of the year! When I lived in Sri Lanka, poverty and good weather went hand-in-hand so that holy men and women – that is the truly committed to the realm beyond the senses – walked around in the flimsiest of attire – except the Jains who give-up even this modest association with the world! A naked body is not as much of a problem as is a naked ego...
Of course, I have heard of a Western Zen monk living (voluntarily) homeless on the streets of New York, although this was at least fifteen years ago, and perhaps more. It is not just the weather that distinguishes East from West – but history and culture as well. There is a particular ‘coldness’ to the ‘individuality’ of the West which is lacking in the ‘collective’ cultures of the East. Even so, regardless of how humanity sets about organising the external aspect of its existence, there is always the thorny issue of how the ‘inner’ life is to be approached, reconciled and processed, etc.
Is it possible to ‘give-up’ all desire for physical life – and yet continue to still ‘exist’ on this plane of reality? Can ‘we’ be both ‘here’ and ‘not-here’ simultaneously and in a manner that is not paradoxical or contradictory in any disconcerting or disruptive sense? Can there be ‘peace of mind’ and ‘health of body’ in a state that is ‘beyond all states’? I suspect that this all comes down to the balancing of what the Buddha defines as ‘perception’ and ‘non-perception’. A mind (and body) that is beyond the realms of the world still needs to be fed at least the minimum of food – hence the Buddhist monastic and the agency of ‘begging’ and/or growing their own food (with an emphasis upon vegetarianism). It is in this rarefied ‘space’ that all sophistry for the world is ‘not yet arisen’ and all is peace and tranquillity despite the nature of the external world (which ultimately must also include the ‘health’ of the physical body).
The Master said: If a student is not suitably eager to receive genuine knowledge, then I will not eagerly expound genuine knowledge. If a student does not express suitable urgency to receive genuine knowledge, then I will not urgently explain genuine knowledge. If I hold-up one corner and the student does not respectfully bring me the other three corners, then all interaction with that student immediately comes to an end. — Confucius, Analects 7.8
My above translation is exactly how an ethnic Chinese person understands this saying of the Sage known in the West as ‘Confucius’. Indeed, all interaction – even within modern China – which involves a transference of knowledge from some ‘who Knows' to someone who ‘does not know’ is premised on this short paragraph. The agency of ‘silence’ is a time where a student can re-set their mind and body to begin the interaction yet again - until the circuit is complete and the knowledge flows efficiently from teacher to student. ACW (6.6.2021)
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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