A full and complete ‘Ch’an Week Retreat’ was held within the Donghua Ch’an Temple between the 25th - 31st of August, 2014. The content and format of this meditation session remained basically the same as the two previous two Ch’an Week Retreats, except that the requirements for the students on this occasion was much stricter, with more than 90% of the students voluntarily requesting a far greater silence! In order to facilitate the reduction of ‘delusive’ movement in the mind and to facilitate the ‘stilling’ of the mind ‘realisation’ – the three-meals served each day in the ‘Fast Hall’ (斋堂 - Zhai Tang) were administered each day according to the Strict Vinaya Discipline as required by the ‘Arahant’ (罗汉 - Luo Han) tradition of rules followed by ordained Buddhist monks and nuns. The lay practitioners were amazed to experience this vehicle for ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ stillness and benefitted greatly from its practice! For many of the lay-practitioners – tis was the first-time they had encountered a deliberately ‘conscious’ approach to ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ - realising just how integrated with ‘greed’, ‘hatred’ and ‘delusion’ such apparently ‘mundane’ activities can involve!
The 'Great Venerable' - and 'Head Monk' - Qi Xiang (起香): 'All Things Are Gathered Together from Across the Ten Directions into a Single 'Still' Moment. This is where You Learn 'Wuwei' (无为) - Or How 'Action' and 'Inaction' Embrace One-Another Without Conflict. The Realised 'Empty' and 'Still' Mind Permeates and 'Purifies a Complete Buddha-Field! All This is Achieved Through Cultivating an All-Embracing 'Empty Mind' Within Which All-Thing Arise and Pass Away!'
Considering how Japanese Buddhism eventually abandoned the Vinaya Discipline as a formal requirement for monastic training – I was pleasantly surprised to read Master Dogen’s view on this matter as contained in his extraordinary Shobogenzo (正法眼蔵 - Zheng Fa Yan Zang) text - literally ‘Correct Dharma-Eye Storehouse’. As Dogen expresses more than one dimension of reality at the same time – it is prudent not to jump to conclusions. For instance, he states that the status of monastic ordination is far-superior to that of lay-existence on the grounds that all impurity has been abandoned through the ordination process. Dogen further criticises as ‘wrong’ all those Ch’an Masters he met in China who said that there is no difference between a Buddhist monastic and a lay-person – but is Dogen correct? He certainly makes a very powerful argument that is difficult to uproot rhetorically.
Obviously, a Buddhist monastic who commits themselves to the over-two hundred Vinaya Discipline Rules is most certainly worthy of respect – particularly as they also commit themselves to follow the numerous (similar) Bodhisattva Vows! Theravada and Mahayana monastics give-up all direct connection with the household and the worlds of politics and work. For Vajrayana monastics, however, the situation is slightly different as the Tantri School begins and ends from the position of complete enlightenment, and work from the premise that the empty mind ground (Buddha-Nature) underlies all phenomena evenly – including the monastic and lay worlds of existence. Although many Tantrikas can spend decades in isolation practicing their ‘methods’ of self-purification – it is also true that some monks and nuns of this tradition marry one another sand use the machinations of married-life as yet another type of ‘yogic practice’ seeking unity in the one and oneness in the unity.
Dogen states that not one single lay-person ever realised enlightenment during the Buddha's lifetime – but this is a mistaken notion as there are at least twenty-one examples spread throughout the Pali Buddhist Suttas recording the attainment of full enlightenment by both male and female ‘lay’ followers of the Buddha! Some were enlightened by being in the presence of the Buddha, some were enlightened when he looked directly at them, whilst others were enlightened when they heard the Buddha’s voice (and/or put his teachings into practice)! The Buddha explained this by saying that these lay-people had built extraordinarily positive karma in their previous existences which meant that their lifestyle in this existence merely needed a slight nudge for the ridge-pole of ignorance to be thoroughly smashed! Of course, this is not the typical situation for humanity as many ordain and find the life very difficult due to the very heavy and negative karma they have to carry and attempt to uproot through Buddhist practice.
Dogen does not seem to be that impressed with the example of the enlightened lay-man – Vimalakirti – despite the Buddha explaining that Vimalakirti was a thoroughly enlightened Bodhisattva who took various forms merely to ‘liberate’ those he was destined to encounter during each lifetime. Furthermore, Hiu Neng was a layman when he inherited the Ch’an Dharma and became the Sixth Patriarch (although he was ordained many years later). Within the Ch’an Records in China it is stated that men, women, children, animals and even trees and inanimate objects have experienced enlightenment! As the empty mind ground (Buddha-Nature) underlies all phenomena, and given that the enlightened mind is expansive and all-embracing, there is no situation, person, living-being or object that exists outside of it. As this is the case, how can a monastic be ‘superior’ to a lay-person'?
Although I follow the Vinaya Discipline and the Bodhisattva Vows as a married layman – when I was a cloistered Ch’an monk I was continuously reminded of the need to practice ‘humility’. A Buddhist monastic is nothing but a ‘beggar’ - albeit a beggar who has direct access to the sublime teachings of the Dharma! A beggar owns nothing, controls nothing and drifts from place to place when not anchored by a regular monastic routine. He or she has no worries because the world of worries has been thoroughly renounced. There is nothing ‘superior’ about being socially useless. Furthermore, the hexagrams of the ‘Yijing’ (Classic of Change) are built line by line from the base upwards. Whether or not the hexagram is ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ depends on the first two lines! It is these two foundational lines that hold and secure the other four lines in place and give the entire hexagram meaning. As the Buddhist monastic is the foundational support for Chinese society, he or she must comprise the lowest two lines of the six-lined structure. This is how the four higher lines that constitute Chinese culture are supported and ‘lifted-up’ by the bottom two lines which gain their broad and universal power through a complete and humble attitude with no wants or fears. Within the Yijing – lines always move upwards from the base so if a Buddhist monastic comprised the upper two-lines there is no ‘supporting’ action for the underlying four lines - as these two lines above are moving forever upward on their own and will soon be out of the picture!
Buddhist monastics are empowered because they are ‘humble’ and voluntarily take the weight of society upon their shoulders! However, this should not fall into an ‘elitist’ position that nullifies the very purpose of ‘humility’! Given the correct conditions, a good teacher and an effective method – anyone can realise complete and total enlightenment. Even today in China, Ch’an monastics are always humble and unassuming. They always possess the attitude that they are ‘nothing’ and that they exist to support and serve society. As there is no ego involved, none of this has anything to do with money or status. It is just the next thing to do. Having said all this, I believe Dogen may be protesting about the ‘dishonest’ mind often found within lay-society which pretends it is enlightened and contrives to exploit others and make profit out of seeming to help! These people are making hellish karma for themselves and are their own worst enemy.
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:
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)
Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) often advised against a type of ‘False Ch’an’ which must be avoided. Of course, there are many types of ‘false’ states of mind which can be grasped and mistaken as ‘enlightenment’. This is described as being the product of subtle stages of deficient perception and attachment. One example of this (from a position of developed ability) is described as ‘sitting atop of the hundred-foot pole’ - which is the stage of attainment which involves ‘attachment’ to a ‘still’ but as of yet ‘non-expanded’ and ‘non-all-embracing' mind-set. This usually happens after a practitioner achieves the ‘stillness’ of mind attainment which is often associated with the enlightenment of the Hinayana School. It is a definite achievement, yes, but it is not the enlightenment of the Mahayana School. This is the enlightenment of the Arahant and not that of the Bodhisattva. This is the stage achieved by the five-hundred Arahants who walked out during the Lotus Sutra - when the Buddha first explained the enlightenment of the Bodhisattva.
After training for a long time, a dedicated practitioner will eventually ‘still’ the mind so that the ‘chaotic’ mind of the beginner is transcended and a wondrous (but limited) emptiness of mind is penetrated. However, as this limited state can only be preserved by ‘attaching’ one’s awareness to it – there is no transition to the stage of the Bodhisattva enlightenment. The Buddha’s Ch’an is synonymous with the Hinayana School – whilst the Patriarch’s Ch’an equates to that of the Bodhisattva attainment. The Buddha’s Ch’an is the achievement of the a ‘still’ mind (explained in the Sutras) that is as of yet ‘non-expanded’ - whilst the Patriarch’s Ch’an (which is beyond ‘words and sentences’) is the fully expanded enlightenment of the Bodhisattva.
Within the Ch’an School the tradition of using the symbolism of being ‘stuck’ atop a hundred-foot pole originates with the Great Master Zhaoxian (招贤大师 - Zhao Xian Dai Shi) - also known as ‘Jing Cen’ (景岑) - who was from Hunan and lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). His story is recorded in the Chinese-language text entitled ‘Five Lamps Meeting at the Source’ (五灯会元 - Wu Deng Hui Yuan). As these twenty volumes of Ch’an history was compiled in 1252 CE – all the recorded stories happened prior to this date. Great Master Zhaoxian said:
“Sitting ‘still’ upon a hundred-foot pole – is not the ‘true’ attainment. Step-off to make progress. Then, the whole-body will manifest throughout the Ten Directions.’
Chinese Language Reference:
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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