When ‘new’, or recently produced, the ‘Seated Transformation Great Cylinder’ (坐化大缸 - Zuo Hua Da Gang) is usually clean, freshly varnished and exhibits pristine Buddhist (symbolic) artwork (although never in an extravagant fashion). Although not ‘sad’ or deliberately ‘sombre’ these ceramic ‘Jars’ are generally designed to be ‘uplifting’ and ‘positive’. The seated (or sometimes ‘standing’) images of the Buddha or monk is common in various numbers, often holding different hand-positions (or ‘mudra’), as is lotus flowers, Chinese ideograms, birds and other meaningful markings, etc. The primary idea represented is not the ‘sadness’ usually associated with physical death, but rather the ‘happiness’ associated with the ‘transcendence’ of the usual limitation's humanity faces when reaching the end of individual life-spans. Quite literally, the advanced Ch’an practitioner, regardless of whether they are a monk or nun, or lay-practitioner – transitions through the ‘dying process’ so that their bodies retain an upright, seated meditation posture. This eternal expression of the ‘Dharmakaya’ is then carefully placed into the ‘Great Cylinder’, which is then sealed and respectfully placed in a suitable area for a peaceful ‘storage’. This is often a quiet part of a temple, monastery, cave or even a domestic home – as the ‘Jars’ are sealed air-tight. Of course, just as the West has strict hygiene laws regarding the handling, storage and treatment of deceased bodies, so does modern China. There is a balance between religious rights and public health which is carefully (and respectfully) maintained. Occasionally, and for various reasons, these ‘Jars’ are opened years later to reveal a body that has not decayed. Sometimes, a Buddhist monk or nun might pass-away whilst sat alone in the remote forest or on top of a distant mountain - where their perfectly intact body is discovered (by accident) years later - and usually removed and respectfully placed in a ‘Great Cylinder’ or ‘Burial Jar’. In the case where a body has been sat upright for hundreds of years (often in a remote cave), sometimes it collapses with the slightest of ‘touches’ (even a faint breath) as its structure turned into dust long ago (and believed to be held together by the ‘purity’ of the intent of the practitioner). From my own experiments with seated meditation over the years, it seems that the bones and joints must be ‘perfectly’ placed so that they are in complete alignment. All unnecessary muscular tension must be removed from the body so that each bone and joint naturally ‘supports’ the bones and joints above and below its anatomical position. For this ‘alignment’ to be achieved, the mind must be ‘calm’, ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Conscious awareness must ‘permeate’’ every molecule and atom of the physical body – both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. The body then ‘transitions’ during the dying process so that the ‘Dharmakaya’ or ‘Buddha-nature’ manifests and ‘supports’ the body in retaining its upright position. When the mind is not settled or expansive, and the body is not aligned – then as soon as conscious effort ceases – the body will fall-over at the point of physical and psychological death. ACW (27.10.2020)
Author’s Note: Master Yun-Men practiced a very fluid method of Ch’an teaching. This was true to verifying degrees of all the Five Schools of Ch’an. The Cao Dong did not limit their approach to seated meditation – the Linji was not obsessed with contemplating gong-an. Each School used a general approach more like that of Master Yun-Men recorded here. Turning-Words, quoting sutras, using prevailing circumstances, shouting, silence and even a punch or kick – could all be used to assist the bottom to ‘drop-out’ the barrel. Master Xu Yun found the mummified body of Master Yun-Men still sat-up in meditation – he had been dead nearly one thousand years by the time he was rediscovered. Today, some people say the mummified body ‘went missing’ at a later day, whilst others are of the opinion that the body is still preserved and in safe-keeping. Whatever the case, it certainly seems that Master Xu Yun’s photograph remains the only evidence of its original existence in 1940. ACW (25-10-2020) (25.10.2020)
‘In the hall, the master said: “When a word is spoken, a thousand carts are in the same track which contains (as many things as there are specks of) dust but is still the teaching for conversion and salvation. But what is it worth for a true monk? If the meaning of the British and Patriarchs could be discussed, the Ts’ao Ch’i Path would be a platitude (indeed). If there is someone who can say something, please come forward.” A monk asked: “What is a talk that surpasses the teaching of the Buddha and Patriarchs?” The master replied: “Cake.” The monk asked: “Is there any connection between them?” The master replied: “Clearly.” He continued: “None of you should pretend to be men of clear insight. When I speak of the Patriarchs’ meaning, you immediately ask me about a talk surpassing the Buddha and Patriarchs. Now, tell me what are the Buddha and Patriarchs? Tell me something about the doctrine which surpasses the Buddha and Patriarchs. When I ask you about that which is beyond the three worlds, you (immediately) grasp the three worlds. Are there such things as seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing that can obstruct you? Do you have (any) sound, form or thing (dharma) which can give a clear distinction between right and wrong views? The ancient saints were compelled to me objects to point at that which was real in its whole but was (in fact) unobtainable. If I tell you that there exists something, it will be only form that already hides (the real). If you have not succeeded in entering (it), you should make your own investigation and ask yourselves why, besides wearing a robe, taking food, stooling and urinating, should so many false thoughts arise without any valid reason? There are those who take things easy and meet to study the ancients’ sayings which they memorize and use their discrimination to discuss, boasting: “I now understand the Buddha Dharma!” They speak of creepers to kill their time. Sometimes, they are not content with this and leave their parents and teachers to make long journeys. Why are they so impatient to walk? After saying this, the master took his staff and descended from his seat.’
Charles Luk: Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Second Series, Rider, (1987), Pages 194-195
‘In 1940 (when Master Xu Yun was in his 105th year of life), after the monastery of the Sixth Patriarch had been completely rebuilt. I went with the Bhiksu Fu-guo to Qujiang to search for the ancient monastery of Ling-shu, but we failed to find it. When we arrived at Mount Yun-Men, we found an old dilapidated temple in the dense thickets which contained the body of the founder of the Yun-men School.’
Charles Luk: Empty Cloud – The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun – Revised and Edited by Richard Hunn, Element, (1988), Page 131
Another Chinese language text reads:
‘According to the Biography of the Dharma-Master Xu Yun – when he arrived at the ancient Yun-Men Temple, it was in ruins and covered in a thick overgrowth of plants and bushes, etc. The only part that was still intact (and oddly preserved) was the central meditation hall which contained the mummified body of Master Yun-Men Wen-Yan (雲門文偃) [864-949]. Master Yun-Men was still sat upright in the meditation position and it seemed that the power of his spiritual insight was keeping the building from collapsing. At this time, Master Xu Yun arranged for the body of Master Yun-Men to be photographed – and requested that this picture be included as part of his biography. Later, when this mummified body went missing – this photograph remains the only evidence that the body of Master Yun-Men ever existed.’
Chinese Language Reference:
Author’s Note: As a modern academic who generally sides with logic and reason, but who has specialised in the history and culture of the many spiritual traditions throughout the world, (and who is fluent in the forensic reading, transliterating and translating of ancient and modern Chinese script), I am of the opinion (after decades of research), that the traditions surrounding the history of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism are essentially (and fundamentally) ‘correct’, and have not been subject to the kind of radical (and often dishonest) contextual alteration evident in the religions of the West. Here, the Nan Hua Temple of Northern Guangdong is said to house not only the mummified body of the 6th Patriarch Hui Neng (Still sat upright in meditation for over a thousand years), but also the mummified body of the Indian monk from West India known as Tripitaka Master Jnanabhaisajya!
Within the Chinese language, the Pali name ‘Jnanabhaisajya’ is rendered ‘智樂三藏’ (Zhi Le San Cang) and translates as ‘Wisdom Joy Three Teachings’ or ‘Meditation Happiness Tripitaka’, etc. Within Sanskrit, the Pali term ‘Jnana’ would be ‘Dhyana’ - which is ‘Ch’an’ (禪) in Chinese transliteration. The fact that the Chinese scholars used ‘智樂’ (Zhi Le) instead of ‘禪’ to express the first part of the name of ’Jnanabhaisajya’ (i.e. ‘Jnana’) - suggests a time prior to the arrival of Bodhidharma in China (c. 520 CE) and the founding of the Chinese Ch’an School. Furthermore, Jnanabhaisajya founded the ‘Bao Lin Temple’ (寶林寺 - Bao Lin Si) in 502 CE – which means his prediction of ‘170 years’ would take us to the year ‘672 CE’. This is the year Jnanabhaisajya prophesised that a ‘True Bodhisattva’ would teach the Dharma – referring to Hui Heng (638-713 CE). Hui Neng inherited the Ch’an Dharma when he was 24-years-old in 662 CE. He was ordained at 39-years-old in 677 CE. He dropped his body when he was 76-years-old in 713 CE. However, if Jnanabhaisaiya is correct and Hui Neng delivered the Altar Sutra ‘170’ years after the founding of Bao Lin-Nan Hua Temple in 502 CE – then when this Great Sutra was spoken by Hui Neng in the year 672 CE – five years before he ordained as a monk and at a time when he was still a layman! Master Xu Yun used always say that Hui Neng was a layperson when he delivered the Altar Sutra – a point of fact I have (independently and academically) proven to be correct in the above assessment of the evidence! ACW (21.10.2020)
‘As to the Pao Lin monastery, its construction was decided upon long ago by the Indian Tripitaka Master Jnanabhaisajya who came from India and who, during his journey from Nan Hai (now Canton city), passed through Ts’ao Ch’i where he drank its water which he found pure and fragrant. He was surprised and told his followers: ‘This water is exactly the same as that in West India, there must be at its source someplace of scenic beauty on which to build a monastery.’ Then he followed the stream and saw mountains and rivulets encircling one another with wonderfully beautiful peaks. He exclaimed: ‘It is exactly like the “Precious Wood” on the mountains in West India.’ Then he said to the villagers at Ts’ao Hou: ’You can build a monastery here; some 170 years later, the unsurpassed Dharma treasure will be expounded here and those who will be enlightened will be as many as the trees of these thickets. It should be called “Pao Lin monastery”.’
Charles Luk: Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Third Series – Rider, (1962), Preface: By Ch’an Master Fa Hai, disciple of the Sixth Patriarch – Photograph between Pages 14-15 – Extract Page 17 – this is a Hardback ‘First Edition’ - in later reprints the photograph of Jnanabhaisajya is ‘omitted’.
Japanese Zen Master ‘Dogen’ (道元)[1200-1253], visited Song Dynasty between 1223-1227 CE. His name is written in traditional Chinese script as ‘Dao Yuan’ - which can be literally translated as ‘Way Essence’, ‘Path Foundation’, or ‘Journey Origination’, etc. In reality, the intended meaning of this Dharma-name implies a synthesis of all three meanings, and probably means something like ‘Correctly Following the Profound Path that Leads to the Origination of the Essence’. From a Chinese Ch’an perspective, this suggests the psychological ‘realisation’ (or ‘returning’) to the ‘empty essence’ of the heart of all material reality. This would correspond with the third position of the Cao Dong ‘Five Ranks’ teaching – or the realisation of ‘relative’ enlightenment. This signifies the permanent breaking of the ridgepole of habitual (volitional) ignorance that is the driving force behind cycle re-becoming and the perpetual experience of human suffering, and is said to be ‘beyond’ the worldly already. This is the enlightenment of the Hinayana School beyond which nothing else is expected. Within the Mahayana Ch’an School, however, and particularly within the Cao Dong lineage, the fourth and fifth positions of the ‘Five Ranks’ symbolises the ‘expansion’ of the mind’s awareness, and the ‘integration’ of the ‘form’ and the ‘void’. Without ‘realising the ‘essence of the void’, however, (as the name ‘Dogen’ suggests), none of this can be successfully achieved.
Dogen’s direct Zen teacher in Japan was Master Myozen (明全 - Ming Quan) - a Dharma-name which means ‘Bright Expansion’ (or ‘All-embracing Brightness’) - referring to the state of ‘complete’ Ch’an enlightenment. Myozen was of the ‘Rinzai’ (Linji) lineage of Zen. Within Dogen’s biography entitled ‘Shari Soden-Ki' the following details are recorded:
‘Within a month after Dogen thus began pursuing the Way under Ju-Ching at T’ien-t’ung Mountain, a tragedy occurred. On the twenty-seventh day of that month in the first year of Pao-ch'ing (1225), Myozen died at the Liao-jen Hall. He had fallen ill on the eighteenth day of that month, at the age forty-two. It was in the third year of his stay in Chia. Despite the grave illness of Myoju Ajari, his teacher on Mt Hiei, Myozen had decided to come to China for the sake of the Buddha Dharma, rather than remaining to take care of his ailing teacher for the sake of the teacher-student relationship. Thus, he went to Ching-fu Monastery in Ming-chou to study under Miao yun, and then to Ching-te Monastery on T’ien-t;ung Mountain, studying under Wu-chi Liao-p'ai and Ju-ching successively. According to Shari soden-Ki, Myozen passed away in a perfect posture of meditation sitting. Not only the monks of the Mountain but laymen from the vicinity gathered to mourn his death. During the memorial service, held on the twenty-ninth day, the cremation fire radiated five colours, and three white pearls were found in the ash. In utter awe, the crowd worshipped this strange occurrence. When the bone fragments were picked up, they amounted to over 360 pieces. Throughout the Great Sung, people revered the deceased monk upon hearing of this event. A statue was erected on T’ien-t’ung Mountain in memory of Myozen.’
Takashi James Kodera: Dogen’s Formative Years in China, Routledge, (1980), Page 57
‘The master (Dongshan) went out Yun Ch’u and together they crossed a stream. The master asked: ’Is it deep or shallow?’ Yun Ch’u replied: ‘Not wet.’ The master said: ’Rough fellow!’ Yun Ch’u asked: ‘Is the water deep?’ The master replied: ‘Not dry.’
Note from Charles Luk: ‘This dialogue between two enlightened masters is very interesting in that it reveals the absolute. We have seen elsewhere that the Dharmakaya is beyond all mathematics, including al dualism such as ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ and ‘wet’ and ‘dry’, for it is inexpressible and inconceivable.
Within the Chinese Ch’an literature in China, when a Master is asked about their daily practice, or the manner in which they lived, they all responded with the idea that they ‘adjusted themselves to circumstances’. As many wore tattered clothing, many appeared to be nothing more than wandering beggars, rather than eminent Ch’an Masters – and eminent Ch’an Masters were exactly what they were. Imagine a seeing homeless person sat near a cash-till (outside a bank) in the modern UK – and being told he is a very learned archbishop employed by the Church of England! Conventional religion – even amongst some Buddhist schools – often insists upon mimicking the very status symbols of the secular world it claims to be ‘transcending’ and ‘leaving behind’. Some priests even wear ‘designer’ robes designed to ‘stand-out’ in a crowd of the rich and famous! This is an example of being ‘subsumed by circumstance’ - the exact opposite of the Ch’an idiom of ‘adjusting to circumstance’.
The inherent ‘sickness’ of conventional existence is that the attachment to externals which hinders the spiritual development of ordinary people, becomes accepted as ‘normal’ or even ‘expected’ behaviour in many failing religions. A religious or spiritual path which fails to ‘transcend’ the very ignorance its founder claims to have overcome – is now only a ‘religion’ in name only! The following extract is translated from the Imperial Selection of Ch'an Sayings (Yu Hsuan Yu Lu). This is a collection of fourteen volumes compiled by emperor Yung Cheng, the third emperor of the the Qing Dynasty who ruled from 1723-1735AD. Before becoming emperor, he took the name Upasaka Yuan Ming and practiced the Mind Dharma extensively. And when emperor, he used to hold imperial Ch'an weeks which produced both enlightened lay people and monks alike. Of the fourteen volumes, twelve are dedicated to the sayings of Ch'an masters, one volume to the sayings of the emperor himself, and one for the sayings of his brothers and sons.
'Master Teh Ch'eng arrived at Hua Ting in the Hsiu Chou district. He sailed a small boat, adjusted himself to circumstances and passed his days receiving visitors from the four quarters. At the time, as no one knew of his erudition, he was called the Boat Monk.
One day, (Ch'an master Teh Ch'eng), stopped by the river bank and sat idle in his boat. An official (who was passing) asked him: 'What does the Venerable Sir do?' The master held up the paddle, saying: 'Do you understand this?' The official replied: 'I do not.' The master said: 'I have been rowing and stirring the clear water, but a golden fish is rarely found.
Of course. ’adjusting to circumstance’ involve ALL possible permutations of reality and not just that which involves ‘free movement’. Sometimes. ‘adjusting to circumstance’ can involve the most ‘disciplined’ of existences – such as living in a monastic community that functions through the following of an all-inclusive ‘Rule’ that regulates physical behaviour, and the type of thoughts the mind can generate (or ‘not’ generate), whatever the case maybe. A prime example of community discipline is:
The great body of the leader has the community for its house; distinctions are made appropriately, disbursal is suited to the vessel, action is concerned with the principles of peace and well-being, gain and loss are related to the source of the teaching. How could it be easy to be a model for the people?
I have never seen a leader who was lax and easy-going win the obedience of the mendicants, or one whose rules were neglected try to present the Ch'an communities from becoming barbaric and despised.
In olden times, Master Yuwang Shen sent his chief student away, Master Yangshan Wei expelled his attendant. These cases are listed in our classics, and are worthy of being taken as standards. Nowadays everyone follows personal desires, thus ruining the original guidelines for Ch'an communes to a great extent.
People nowadays are lazy about getting up, and many are deficient in manners when they congregate. Some indulge shamelessly in their appetite for food, some create disputes in their concern for getting support and honour.
It has gotten to the point where there is nowhere that the ugliness of opportunism does not exist. How can we ever have the flourishing of ways to truth and the full vigour of spiritual teaching that we Look for?’
‘Adjusting to Circumstance’ has an ‘internal’ aspect – and an ‘external’ aspect. The ‘internal’ aspect involves a practitioner fully realising and understanding the ‘form’ of material reality (which includes the body inhabited), and the ‘void’ which is the empty mind ground. The Buddha describes ‘form’ as penetrating and fully understanding the concept of ‘perception’, whilst the Buddha describes the realisation of the ‘void’ as penetrating and understanding the principle of ‘non-perception’. When the ‘form’ and ‘void’ are fully realised and understood, (using the Cao Dong ‘Five Ranks’), then both concepts are ‘integrated’ so that no difference can be found anywhere. The ‘external’ method of ‘adjusting to circumstance’ involves a permanently ‘still’ mind that does not move, being fully ‘integrated’ with each and every circumstance of the outer world that traverse across the ‘senses’. Simply described, method 1) involves the body ‘integrating’ with the realised mind, whilst method 2) involves the body ‘integrating’ with the external (material) world!
As Spring transitioned into Summer (in 1945) - the Great Maser Huaixi (淮西大师 - Huai Xi Da Shi) wrote an article which made the following observation:
‘One morning, after eating (watery) porridge for breakfast, Master Xu Yun casually commented to a nearby monk: “It is my opinion that the Japanese invaders will definitely fail. I had a dream last night and saw the Japanese kneeling in defeat and asked to surrender to the Chinese government.” Soon after Master Xu Yun made this statement, the Japanese Imperial Army – which had raped and pillaged its way across China since 1931 - announced its unconditional surrender. Acting in accordance with the British, Americans and the Chinese – the Soviet Red Army had entered Northeast China (i.e. the Japanese puppet State of ‘Manchuria’) and like a giant tidal-wave had swept the usually stubborn and fanatical (Japanese) Kwantung Army out of existence! As Master Xu Yun usually took no notice of current (worldly) events, it is interesting that he made this comment. Of course, he was aware of the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity committed by the Japanese Imperial Army, as he had lived in the Southern areas of China at the time, and had been amongst the ordinary people who had directly experienced this Japanese barbarity. Indeed, the common people often said that wherever Master Xu Yun was sat in meditation – the Japanese bombs would fail to penetrate!
Master Xu Yun was ‘other worldly’ and yet he had to live in this ‘real’ world. He possessed a sharp-mind and despite his compassion, he did not suffer fools lightly. He was a strict task-master who taught his disciples and students through the use of a harsh wisdom and pure discipline. He would ensure that the mind and body would be purified through ‘correct behaviour’ of body, and that greed, hatred and delusion would be uprooted from deep within the mind. Like any good Ch’an master – he could sense arrogance, pride and ignorance, as well as hidden motives and black hearts lurking within potential students. As this corruption is even more prevalent today, not tolerating this ‘klesa’ is a mark of any competent Ch’an teacher.
Chinese Language Reference:
By Daniel Scharpenburg - Lineage Inheritor
I want to share a quote from you. I’m going to share from this text, Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi by Dan Leighton, and it’s a book I really love. Hongzhi was a Ch’an Buddhist teacher in the 1200’s, that’s the main thing you need to know.
He said, “Illumination has no emotional afflictions. With piercing, quietly profound radiance, it eliminates all disgrace. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation.”
That last sentence is very wonderful, I think.
I don’t want to get hung up on the fact that he said, “many lifetimes of misunderstanding.” I think we could easily get hung up on that, and just be thinking about reincarnation/rebirth, and I don’t want to get caught up in that.
I want to talk about how our misunderstanding comes from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation.
We misunderstand things because we are in a scenario of isolation. We think of ourselves as limited, and as separate from the people around us. We don’t always realize other people are having the same struggles we do. That’s how we create this scenario of isolation, we think we’re alone in our suffering, and that’s not true. We’re all having suffering, we’re all having problems. We’re all having similar problems, really. That’s the scenario of isolation that we’ve created.
Ram Dass - who is a Hindu spiritual teacher, not a Buddhist spiritual teacher, but he’s someone I like a lot - said, “We are not alone. Not because there are many others, but because there are none.”
I like that. It’s saying that we’re all in this together, we’re all struggling. We all have sickness, old age, and death. That’s a very important thing to remember, and I think we forget that when we get mad at each other. We forget that we’re all suffering, we’re all experiencing sickness, old age, and death. Every human being on this planet, regardless of their views, regardless of whether or not they agree with us on things, regardless of whether or not they do really awful crimes. We’re all struggling with old age, sickness, and death. We’re all seeing people we love get old and sick, and die, and we’re all getting old and getting sick and dying. We’re all in this together.
It’s sort of like we’re in a burning building, and instead of trying to get out, we’re fighting with each other about who’s going to get out first. Life is like a burning building.
That is what the scenario of isolation is and, again, we make that ourselves.
We are filled with distrust because we’ve all been kicked in the heart sometimes. Maybe we’ve all been kicked in the heart a bunch of times, but we’ve definitely all been kicked in the heart a few times. We’ve all been kicked in the heart, and that makes our heart closed, and it’s hard for us to trust others. It’s hard for us to love others. We tend to sort of project that and think, “Well I was kicked in the heart by this person; therefore, I’m going to get kicked in the heart again. Everyone’s going to let me down.”
A lot of the time, that doesn’t serve us. When we bring baggage from our previous experience into our present experience, that often does not serve us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t learn from the past, because we should, but we shouldn’t live in the past. We need to live in the here and now, and to do that is to not revisit bad things that were done to us in the past over and over. We don’t want to live in the past, and we don’t want to keep getting hurt by the same experience in the past over and over, we want to take our experience and we want to learn from it, and we want to move on.
I make that sound really simple and easy, and of course it’s not, but that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about not getting caught up in distrust. We’re talking about having an open heart. We’re talking about practices that help us learn how to open our heart so that we aren’t stuck behind a screen of distrust all the time.
We are confused, and we often don’t see the world as it really is. We see the world through a filter. I like to think of those old-timey 3D glasses when I was a kid that aren’t around anymore, where it’s red on one eye and blue on the other eye. When you put those on and you’re not watching a movie, you just see the world and it looks kind of messed up. I like to think that’s what our perception is like.
Into every experience we are bringing all of our neurosis and all our baggage. We’re bringing that into every experience in our lives, and we’re not seeing the world as it is. We’re seeing the world as we are, or as we expect it to be. That’s what we’re talking about - screens of confusion.
Rarely is the world what we expect it to be. If we can put down our screens of confusion and be in the present moment and just see the world as it is, just for a few minutes, I think it can really transform our lives.
Now I’m going to talk about hindrances. The screens of hindrance that we have. I’m going to talk about that as what we call the poisons - greed, hatred, and delusion. I’m going to zero in on hatred, because I think that is something that we all struggle with. Maybe hatred isn’t the right word, and we could call it ill-will, or we could even call it anger, I think. We think of hatred as something really extreme and that’s not what I’m talking about, I’m talking about when we wish harm on another person, or when we delight at another person experiencing harm. I’m especially talking about when we let our anger get the better of us.
Is anger ever helpful?
I want to first of all say that I think our language around anger is really good. By that I mean, we often say, “I’m angry,” and I think that’s really reflective of what anger is like a lot of the time. “I’m angry” means that anger is taking over my being. I’m not Daniel if I’m angry, I’m angry. I’m not a person if I’m angry, I’m just that feeling of anger. It’s dominating my thinking. It’s making me sweat, it’s maybe making me turn red, it’s making me lash out at things that aren’t related to what I’m angry about. It’s dominating our thinking. We say “I’m angry” because anger has that tendency to just dominate our thinking and shove everything else out.
We could instead use the language, “I’m experiencing the emotion of anger.” If we’ve got a handle on our anger, we’re not angry, it’s not dominating our thinking, we’re just experiencing the emotion of anger.
An example of what I mean. If you’ve had small children you know there are times that, for no reason, they push back. When you tell them to put on their shoes, or put on a jacket, or finish their dinner. Whatever you’re doing, there are times when kids push back for no reason. And that is irritating. There are times when children push back, and I become angry. There are times when I don’t become angry, but I experience the emotion of anger. When I become angry, I’m going to yell at them, and the secret truth is that yelling at them doesn’t really accomplish very much. Maybe some kids respond really well to being yelled at, but the kids in my house do not. They push back harder, and it escalates.
That is unskilful anger. It is unskilful anger if it escalates. It is unskilful anger if I yell at someone and they yell back, or I yell at a child who’s not listening and they don’t listen even harder. That doesn’t help anybody. That is a situation where becoming angry is not useful. I don’t always remember that, but I try to always remember that.
I think we could have all sorts of experiences like that in our lives, outside of children. Of course we could have difficult co-workers, or of course sometimes we get angry at our significant others. That’s natural. If you’re around someone all the time, or you’re very close to someone, you’re going to get angry at them sometimes.
The question that I want to ask, and I’m wondering if we can answer is: Does it help? Does it help us?
I know I’ve heard people saying, “I had a right to be angry in this situation. This person was really awful to me and I have a right to be angry.”
I don’t want to think in those terms. I don’t think it’s about having the right to be angry. Why is it about rights? It’s only about, “Is my response to this situation helping me?” Getting angry - and I want to advocate trying to experience the emotion of anger rather than getting angry - but in both cases I think we can really ask ourselves, “Is this response to the situation helpful to me?”
Because it is a response. Getting angry or feeling the emotion of anger, feeling any emotion is a response to a situation. It’s not about, “I have the right to get angry,” because I think emotions by their nature, we always have a right to have a feeling. I don’t think of feelings as justified or not justified. I think that’s a silly way to look at emotions, because it doesn’t matter. Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. Feelings just are. When they arise, we can try to manage them and try to kind of have a moment to pause and say, “Is this feeling helpful to me?” Or, “Is lashing out helpful to me? Or should I hold back?”
Rarely does lashing out in anger help anyone. It almost always ruins whatever situation you’re in. It almost always escalates and makes things worse, and makes you less happy. I don’t want to make a huge blanket statement and say anger has never helped anyone; it would be unfair to say that. I do want to say that it very rarely helps anyone. It almost always hurts.
I think maybe when we think we’re really one hundred percent right in a situation, then maybe lashing out gives us a feeling of pleasure at the time. I think that’s a thing that happens, but that kind of pleasure is fleeting. Ultimately it may give us a sense of pleasure but that doesn’t mean it’s helping the situation. That doesn’t mean it’s helping anyone.
I think we need to be very careful, and I think that’s why in Buddhism, anger is listed as one of the three poisons. It can really ruin things for you. You can lash out for one second in anger and it can ruin things for a long time. It can ruin a friendship, it can ruin a conversation, it can ruin a relationship. Anger can do all those things, and that’s why it’s listed as a poison. It’s not listed as a poison because it’s always bad, it’s listed as a poison because when it is bad, it’s really problematic. It really hurts a lot.
The truth is that extremes of all kinds hinder our ability to see the world clearly. You see what I did there? I didn’t say they prevent us from seeing the world clearly, and I didn’t say they make it impossible to see the world clearly. I am saying they hinder our ability to see the world clearly, and we need to have that in mind.
I think if you drink three beers in a row, it hinders your ability to see the world clearly. It doesn’t completely destroy your ability to see the world clearly, but it hinders it. Probably a lot of things we put into our body do, right? If I drink a bunch of coffee in a row, it also hinders my ability to see the world clearly.
I think we need to think about that. So that we know, and we can reflect and say, “Am I seeing the world clearly?”
I will not say it’s not okay to be angry, but I will say that we need to have a lot of care. A lot of self-care around anger. If we start to tell ourselves that it’s okay to be angry, we could run into trouble. And again, it's not about good or bad, we have the experience of anger because we’re experiencing anger.
We have the power to learn how to have a space in between what’s called stimulus and response. The stimulus is somebody doing something that upsets us a lot, and the response is how we handle that. If somebody says or does something that makes us angry, we can have that space where we think, “Am I going to escalate if I do something? Should I do nothing? Is doing nothing worse than doing something?”
We can have that space to think about that, and try to be clear headed. Although it’s hard, we can try to be clear headed.
It’s also suggested that anger is addictive, that it’s chemically addictive in our brains. That is kind of a scary thing to think about, right? It’s addictive because when we’re angry, we really think we’re right. We love to think we’re right. That gives us feelings that kind of bring a sort of pleasure into our minds. I think, “Because I’m angry, I must be right.” That’s kind of what we convince ourselves sometimes. Being right feels really good, therefore it’s addictive. And that is really dangerous.
I think the more we give in to anger, the more we are likely to give in to anger in the future. There are these pathways in our brain, and we strengthen these pathways when we indulge them. The more we give in to anger, the more likely we are to give in to anger. The more we create space and try to strengthen our ability to see the world clearly, and the more we engage being in the present moment, the more likely we are to do those things, too. That is how the brain works. We want to strengthen those pathways that are helpful to us, and we want to not strengthen the ones that get in our way.
Anger gets in our way. Not always, but often.
The Chinese Vinaya allows for the convention of ‘self-ordination’ should a man or woman find themselves in remote areas, or out of touch with Sangha. Later, when circumstances permit, the monk or nun should seek confirmation from a Master, although such a confirmation is not always available. Nevertheless, Chinese Ch’an Buddhism demands the strict observance of part of the Vinaya for the laity, and all the Vinaya for the monastics. On top of this commitment, everyone irrespective of status should take and keep the Bodhisattva Vow with the understanding that every monk or nun occupies a position in society less than that of the poorest lay-person. This observation (and attitude) sets the standard for the appropriate level of humility and strength of spirit. As the empty mind ground underlies the laity and the monastic community – it logically follows that outside of presumed social status – all manifestations are of the same essential foundation and value. To accept ‘transmission’ a person must have a mind free of greed, hatred and delusion – as a mind full of greed, hatred and delusion is not able to accept this task. Transmission is nothing less than the recognition of the empty mind ground recognised by the teacher in the mind of the student – the latter of whom ‘projects’ this understanding forward for the benefit of future generations! Greed, hatred and delusion must be given-up here and now in this exact moment. This is the essence of Dharma-Practice through the Guild of Hui Neng. Those who want to accept this transmission are invited to state that they have received a Cao Dong lineage through the Authority of the ICBI. ACW (4.10.2020)
During a written conversation with long-term ICBI Member - ‘Ben’ - probably around a year or more ago, he suggested that as a spiritual and humanitarian act of compassion, the ICBI should consider ‘universalising’ and ‘internationalising’ the Cao Dong Dharma Lineage as translated from Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) to Charles Luk (1898-1978), and then to Richard Hunn (1949-2006) and his disciple Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - that is, myself. I thought this was a very good idea that encompasses the highest elements of both ‘lay’ and ‘monastic’ Buddhism, and which would further benefit the thousands of people who gain much comfort and inspiration from the Chinese Ch’an and Japanese Zen traditions. The Chinese ‘Cao Dong’ lineage, is, of course, the Japanese ‘Soto’ lineage transmitted to Japan from China during the 13th century by Master Dogen. Although I have written elsewhere about the historical, political and military realities manifesting within Mainland China during the 1930s and 1940s, these factual observations are not designed to negate or denigrate the Japanese Zen tradition, which is culturally relevant for the country and culture it serves. This is because the empty mind ground [心地 - Xin Di] (i.e. ‘non-perception’ in the Pali Suttas) underlies ALL reality without exception. When material reality manifests – it is simultaneously ‘perceptible’ (in the Pali Suttas) - bearing in-mind that the Buddha describes reality in the Four Noble Truths as arising from matter, sensation, perception, volitional thought and consciousness. As enlightenment within the Ch’an School is described as ‘being neither attached to void, nor hindered by phenomena’ - reality cannot be limited to the ‘void’ (idealism), or ‘phenomena’ (materialism). This is a reality express in the Five Ranks of Prince and Minister as preserved within the Cao Dong lineage. Therefore, anyone who sincerely puts into practice the Path of the Guild of Hui Neng (which includes and yet transcends the ‘lay’ and ‘monastic’ paths) may consider themselves ongoing inheritors of the ICBI lineage of Cao Dong as discussed and agreed with key lay and monastic Members of the Buddhist Association of China (2020). This transmission is separate and distinct from any ‘private’ arrangements or transmissions conveyed to specific individuals for various and precise reasons of spiritual development. This development depends entirely upon a self-monitoring ‘virtue’, ‘compassion’ and ‘wisdom’ and is only relevant if driven by a pure and pristine spiritual honesty. The mind must be clear and the heart must be all-embracing.
Adrian Chan-Wyles (Shi Da Dao) - (4.10.2020)
Buddhist Association of China
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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