Whilst Easterners are too busy modernising too be that bothered with Ch’an lineage transmissions – many Westerners, by way of contrast, attempt to ‘collect’ transmissions as if they are badges denoting rank or promotions signifying success! This is a complete cultural misreading and is usually accomplished by a huge psychological and physical barrier of ‘dishonesty’ which they feel cannot be seen. On the contrary, those trained in authentic Ch’an Buddhism are able to immediately ‘see through’ this disguise the moment it is made apparent. Many such people who have approached me cannot get pass, over or around me – as I sit like a heavy boulder in their path. I am not going anywhere and have no interest in banal conversation – show me your insight or go away. I do not care what you think (or do not think) as it is all a creation in your own head dependent upon your own conditioning in life – come to me when you have cleared it up and attained ‘stillness’ of mind, expansion of mind or integration of ‘form’ and ‘void’.
Other than that, we have nothing to talk about unless I deem it worthwhile and to the benefit of your own development. All this hold doubly-true for those who still decide to follow fake spiritual teachers in the West and support fraudulent lineages after I have explained the genuine Ch’an Dharma to them. This is why it makes no difference if we maintain an ‘open’ transmission as an act of ‘compassion’ on the ICBI site – as it is each individual’s behaviour that either validates or invalidates such an initiative – and the ICBI can withdraw such a fluid transmission if an individual concerned acts in a disrespectful, dishonourable, dishonest or disruptive manner.
Such individuals cannot uphold the ICBI lineage and claim to still support fake teachers and false transmissions! Furthermore, it is not the place of the ICBI to confirm or deny to individuals which lineages are ‘fake’ or ‘fraudulent’ as this is your own responsibility. The ICBI is a spiritual platform with its historical roots in China and it is Chinese culture which defines its everyday functioning. The ICBI colleagues in Beijing chose the UK as its first non-China base as a springboard into the West. As there are no plans for any further expansion – the UK is considered the cradle of genuine Ch’an outside of China. I will guard this gate for my Chinese colleagues for as long as my life will last and I will assist all and sundry to realise the empty mind ground – but for your own sakes – I certainly will not indulge anyone’s ego!
ACW – SDD (13.8.2021)
“A man like this will not go where he has no will to go, will not do what he has no mind to do. Though the world might praise him and say he had really found something, he would look unconcerned and never turn his head; though the world might condemn him and say he had lost something, he would look serene and pay no heed. The praise and blame of the world are no loss or gain to him.” Daoist Immortal Zhuangzi
Anyone who penetrates the empty mind ground instantly realises the ‘Dao’ (道) of reality. After-all, this perception of inner ‘void’ will always accompany the enlightened person as they traverse the materiality of the external world. One is neither ‘attached’ to the bliss-like nature of the inner void – and neither are they ‘hindered’ by the attractive nature of the external world! Perception, moment by moment, is a continuous ‘integration’ of form and void so that there is no contradiction or paradox present in everyday experience. This is why chopping wood and fetching water are prime examples of expressing the genuine and true ‘Dao’.
Enlightenment within the Chinese Ch’an School is a living reality. It is not a dead teaching once known but now no longer understood. Chinese scholarship does not adhere to the various trends of interpretation extant in the West (or Japan) - as the Chinese people know their own culture. In my view it is the Cao Dong School that expresses the Chinese Ch’an School with the greatest scientific precision. The other four schools of Ch’an are all excellent in their own ways, and certainly contribute greatly to the reality of the living tradition of ancient Indian Buddhism (Dhyana) as it was transmitted into China. However, from the perspective of integrating the native Confucianism of China with the ‘foreign’ religion of Indian Buddhism – the ‘roundel’ system devised by Master Dong and Master Cao is nothing less than an Ingenious device for explaining the inner mind, the outer body and environment – and how both integrate and operate in the enlightened state!
The Cao Dong School is the personal (and preferred) lineage of Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) - even though he agreed to ‘inherit’ ALL Five Schools of Chinese Ch’an (and did not discriminate in anyway). His root teaching was the Cao Dong School and this is what he passed-on to his personal students and disciples. This is known within China as Master Xu Yun had thousands of such descendants, but it is a reality he seldom discussed in public or talked about in his biography. A Ch’an monastic, for example, must be ‘lower’ than the lowest lay-person – so that he or she can act as a supportive foundation for all lay-Dharma practice! By following the Vinaya Discipline a Ch’an monastic learns to be like the broad earth found in the ‘Classic of Change’ (Yijing), so that the ‘divine sky’ of an expansive consciousness can be correctly cultivated in the sincere Dharma student.
Charles Luk (1898-1978) inherited this Cao Dong teaching from Master Xu Yun and was tasked with transmitting it to the West. Charles Luk taught hundreds of people in the West, and I am sure he transmitted the Dharma to a number of discerning practitioners. However, Charles Luk taught my teacher - Richard Hunn (1949-2006) - who lived in the UK. One of the first instructions Richard Hunn gave me was that I was to spend at least ten years studying the ‘Book of Change’ (Yijing) - reading the profound text daily. I tended to read a single chapter ascribed to each of the 64 hexagrams and continued to repeat this cycle until the thinking (and symbolism) of the Yijing penetrated deep into my being! This is how I developed the inherent understanding of how the Five Ranks of Prince and Minister operates within the Cao Dong School.
The understanding of these five roundels is either misunderstood in the West, or only superficially grasped. Most people simply ignore it due to the influence of the Japanese Soto Master – Dogen – and his emphasis on ‘just sitting’ - but he must have studied and understood this device as a Dharma-Inheritor! By looking into the empty foundation that is beyond perception and non-perception – a Cao Dong practitioner is literally looking into the profound essence of the single roundel that contains all roundels! After-all, what other possible explanation could there be? On top of this, the Cao Dong Masters drew the ‘thunderbolt’ as a means to explain this interconnectivity and how a genuine student tends to experience an unfolding mind as it develops. Some state that this ‘thunderbolt’ may be influenced by the imagery associated with Tibetan Buddhism.
A Western (and Japanese) tendency is to view the five roundels as indicating five ‘ranks’ through which a practitioner traverses – from the lowest to the highest – as if each roundel represents a coloured belt in Judo. This is not the case at all. In the ‘Book of Changes’ there are 64 chapters – but no single chapter is considered ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ to any other! Each of the 64 chapters exists as part of the other 63 chapters – perfect in its placement, situation and function. This is exactly how the Five Ranks interact with one another. All are contained within each – and there is never an implication that a practitioner moves from one self-contained level to another! Just as consciousness is infinite – the Cao Dong roundels represent an insight into the bottomless nature of human awareness. The Buddha, of course, stated that enlightenment is that conscious awareness which exists just beyond (and behind) the ability to ‘perceive’ (form) and ‘non-perceive’ (void). Chinese Ch’an does not go beyond this.
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.
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)
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.
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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