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.
The Huayan (Flower Garland) Sutra (Sanskrit: ‘Avatamsaka’ Sutra) is a very long Mahayana text comprising of thirty-nine in-depth chapters explaining a multidimensional and interlocking system of diverse domains, realms and realities that are all connected by an identical underlying reality (from which) and within which all these diverse modes of existence manifest. The first thirty-eight chapters explain the structure, texture and function of this lucid reality, with this (final) thirty-ninth chapter actually dealing with the explorations of the (pure) young man named ‘Sudhana’. Although the Bodhisattva Manjushri instructs him to travel far and wide and receive instruction from fifty-three enlightened beings (comprised of male and female Buddhist monastics, male and female lay-people, Bodhisattvas including Manjushri himself, non-Buddhists (including Hindus), gods, goddesses and spirits, etc. Eventually, Sudhana realised that although reality is vast and enlightened-beings (representing the fifty-three stages of Bodhisattva development from ignorance to enlightenment) exist throughout the three-time periods of past, present and future – the reality is that with the correct training – this underlying (empty) reality can be ‘pierced’ and ‘realised’ here and now.
As the entirety of this multidimensional reality is interconnected by a structure that resembles ‘Indra’s Net’ - regardless of where (or ‘when’) an individual happens to be, this ‘wall of outer reality’ (reflected inwardly as a continuous stream of deluded thought) can be ‘penetrated’ through the development of meditative insight. Indeed, the final thirty-ninth chapter of the Huayan Chapter is what might be termed the ‘traditional’ Sutra-section of this text – with the other (preceding) thirty-eight chapters being an intricate and sophisticated extrapolation of this vision. Although moving around within time and space can be useful and sometimes even required for individual development – from a Ch’an perspective it is better to sit ‘like an iron mountain’ and cultivate the appropriate insight into the fabric of reality that exists everywhere and at all times. This is why the Huayan Sutra explains that reality Is comprised of four attributes which are a) noumena, b) phenomena, c) integration of noumena and phenomena and c) the unhindered functionality of all phenomena.
The ‘noumena’ is the underlying, empty mind ground, whilst the ‘phenomena’ comprises ALL of material existence. These are not two separate (parallel) states acting in concordance, but are rather two-sides of the same coin of reality. Within the deluded state, individuals cannot see beyond the phenomenal expression of reality. All they see is the (outer) material world of external objects which is reflected (inwardly) as a stream of continuous deluded thought. If a suitable meditational technique is applied to the individual mind – then the mind and body becomes ‘non-attached’ to the world of (external) material objects – a process which removes the impetus that powers the (internal) stream of deluded thoughts. Outer non-attachment is reflected within as the attainment of a ‘still’ and ‘pure’ mind. When the surface of the mind is ‘still’ there is no longer a stream of ‘obscuring’ thought which hinders insight and understanding. Like a crystal-clear lake – the individual can ‘see’ right to the bottom of the watery depths. With further training, the practitioner can fully enter into (and understand) the ‘empty’ world of the ‘noumena’ within which all things arise and pass away.
The Caodong School of Ch’an developed its Five Ranks of Prince and Minister symbology from an integration of Confucian and Daoist roundel technology, together with the use of ‘trigrams’ and ‘hexagrams’ as contained within the ‘Classic of Change’ (易經 - Yi Jing), as well as the conceptual understanding of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ (陰陽). These five-roundel schematic can also be represented by a ‘thunderbolt’ motif (commonly found within the Chinese and Tibetan traditions of ‘Tantra’). The five roundels represent the human mind as its understanding progresses from the state of ‘ignorance’ to that of ‘enlightenment’. This developmental understanding is conveyed through the ‘shading’ and ‘non-shading’ of the roundels (or the ‘lack of light’ and the ‘presence of light’). The Caodong Masters used hexagram 30 - ‘䷝’ (離 - Li) - of the ‘Classic of Change’ to represent the fully enlightened mind (and body). Within ‘Yijing’ symbology this represents ‘double fire’ or ‘yang over yang’ (as two solid yang lines firmly hold the lone and broken central ‘yin’ line in check). As this is ‘fire over fire’ - then enlightenment is shown as being ‘complete’ and expressed as existing in all directions without hindrance or limit! As the enlightened mind exists in the ever present ‘here and now’, the Caodong Masters designed their developmental schematic starting from the ever-present but as of yet unrealised ‘enlightened’ position and working backwards – generating shaded roundels that represent the various levels of deluded obscuration associated with the ‘deluded’ states.
The five roundels of the Caodong School possess the internal logic of the ‘Yijing’ - whilst further representing the methodology of the Huayan Sutra. The ‘noumena’ is identical with ‘yang’ whilst ‘phenomena’ is equated with ‘yin’ - as the two systems interlock perfectly and appear to reinforce the general thinking that underlies the structure of the Huayan Sutra. Furthermore, the ‘noumena’ is also equated with the ‘Host’ (or ‘real’) position of Ch’an – whilst the ‘phenomena’ is identified with the ‘Guest’ (or ‘seeming’ position), etc. The yin-yang concept represents a permanent interaction of ‘shade’ and ‘non-shade’ - just as the Huayan Sutra advocates the permanent interaction of the ‘noumena’ and the ‘phenomena’. There is a perfect ‘integrating’ of the ideology of the ‘Indian’ (Sanskrit) Huayan Sutra – and the Chinese yin-yang system as used by the ‘Chinese’ Ch’an School. I am of the opinion that the Huayan Sutra motivated the Caodong Masters to ‘pull’ together Ch’an methodology with the yin-yang concept and ‘Yijing’ symbology – as well as Confucian and Daoist roundel technology. The five roundels represent the gradual ‘clearing’ of a practitioner’s insight as their Ch’an training progresses clearing the delusion from the mind. Initially, the ‘host’(noumena) is ‘hidden’ within the ‘guest’ (phenomena) and cannot be readily perceived even though there is a ‘sense’ that it is out there somewhere (this is the first position)! As training progresses it is understood that the ‘guest’ is ensconced within the ‘host’ (this is the second position). With further (sustained) training there is the sudden ‘resurgence’ of the ‘host’ or ‘real’ (‘noumena’) position where the mind is permanently ‘stilled’ (represented by the third position). This is often termed the (relative) ‘enlightenment’ of the Hinayana.
With further training, the mind’s perception ‘expands’ so that the ‘noumena’ (void) and ‘phenomena’ (form) stand in a balanced opposition to one another. This demonstrates the subtle delusion of duality which still persists and this is why the Caodong Masters explain this fourth position as ‘not one’. When this last subtle barrier is dissolved – then the fifth position of ‘full enlightenment’ is achieved which the Caodong Masters describe as ‘not two’. Within Huayan Sutra thinking – this represents the perfect integration of the ‘noumena’ and the ‘phenomena’ - whereby all of the material objects in the world exist in their proper place and without hindrance or limitation of expression and functionality. From the Ch’an position, the advice is usually to be ‘neither attached to the void nor hindered by phenomena’. Once the Ch’an practitioner fully understands the ‘noumena’ and the phenomena’ - then all that remains is for the individual concerned to simply ‘adjust himself to circumstance’ whilst acting in the best interests of all living beings. This means that the ‘frequency’ of the phenomenal world one happens to exist within is fully understood and the path of least resistance is taken – unless, of course, injustice is such that a Ch’an Master is called upon to act in the best interests of humanity. Noumena and phenomena represent a totality of reality – an ebb and flow in innate and functional energy within which the mind and body manifests. If we sit and meditate ‘like an iron mountain’ here and now – then human insight will fully perceive this reality and dissolve all the delusional barriers that usually prevent this direct perception. Just as a single hexagram of the ‘yijing’ contains the essence of the other sixty-three hexagrams – one of the five Caodong roundels contains the essence of the other four. This recognition of multidimensional functionality is exactly how the Huayan Sutra has influenced the Chinese Ch’an School.
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
Author’s Note: Generally speaking, the birthdate accepted for Master Xu Yun is ‘1840-1959’, but on occasion, the date is also given as ‘1839-1959’. My own objective research suggests this date is correct, even if it seems unlikely according to today’s average life-spans. As far as I am concerned, whilst applying rigorous academic standards of research, I have been unable to disprove this date – hence my conclusion it is correct after considering all the supporting evidence. Whether Master Xu Yun was born in ‘1839’ or ‘1840’ appears to originate with his Chinese-language autobiography entitled ‘Empty Cloud Dharma Master Autobiography’ (虚云法师年谱 - Xu Yun Fa Shi Nian Pu), where the following line is recorded in the opening paragraphs: ‘道光二十年庚子一歲（一八四○年）(Dàoguāng èrshí niángēng zi yī suì (yībāsì ￮nián). This translates into English as:
‘In the 20th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang - which is also the 37th (庚子 - Geng Zi) year of the 60-year cycle of the ‘Yellow Calendar’ (黃曆 - Huang Li) - I was one (1) years old.’
The ‘Geng Zi’ year for this cycle corresponds to the Western (solar) year of ‘1840’ - which is confirmed as the 20th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang. Master Xu Yun states that he was born in this year, and was simultaneously ‘one years old’. How could this be? In traditional Chinese thinking, when a child is born, they are already one year old (as they have spent around that time in the womb). Out of respect, when a person dies, a year is added to their life out of respect, but this does not seem to have happened in Xu Yun’s case. Xu Yun was born in 1840, and was considered one year old at the time. This explains the line in the autobiography, but what is odd is that even in China there is a ‘doubt’ about the exact meaning of this sentence. In the English translation of this autobiography – termed ‘Empty Cloud’ by Charles Luk (1898-1978) - the birth year is given as 1840, and the birthdate as the 29th day of the 7th lunar month – which equates to the Western date of the 26th of August, 1840. It would seem that some people are of the opinion that Master Xu Yun was born in 1839 but chooses to explain his birth under the calendar date of ‘1840’. At least this is the only reasoning I have so far been able to discover. As we are engaged in remembering the 60th anniversary of Xu Yun’s Parinirvanna, it is important that we consider all aspects of his existence and passing.
According to the lunar calendar of China, the date of the 29th day of the 7th month is significant as it is simultaneously the birthday of Master Xu Yun (虚云), and the day on which the birth of Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (既是地藏 - Ji Shi De Cang) is also commemorated. When the details of Master Xu Yun’s extraordinarily long-life are looked backed upon, it is true to say that there would be few who would remain ‘unmoved’ by his example, of suffering and dedication. Even when very young, he had no interest in the ordinary (outside) world and often refused to leave the house, but when older he gave-up the life of the householder and extensively traversed the mountains and the waterways. After practicing the Dharma for over a hundred years, all his sufferings were forgotten (and made trivial) compared to the vastness of his realised enlightenment and extent of the power of his physical appearance in the world. Master Xu Yun led others steadfastly to the ‘other shore’, and like the Moon reflected water, he was able to inspire others to penetrate the empty mind ground and perceive that which is beyond all duality.
This article has been written on the 29th day of the 7th lunar month (2008). This day each year is commemorated as the ‘Day of Manifestation’ of the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (a metaphysical appearance ‘free’ of human parents, conception or conventional birth), and the actual ‘birthday’ of Master Xu Yun (1839-1959) - the product of the amorous interaction of his two human-parents. The family of the Venerable Old Monk Xu Yun (虚云老和尚 - Xu Yun Lao He Shang) was originally from the ‘Xiangxiang’ (湘乡) area of Hunan province, situated in central China. Master Xu Yun was born on the 29th day of the 7th lunar month, during the 19th year of the reign of the Qing Dynasty Emperor named ‘Daoguang’ (道光) - which equates to the year ‘1839’. His family name was ‘Xiao’ (萧), and he was given the (ordained) Dharma-Names ‘Gu Yan’ (古岩) - or ‘Ancient Rock’ and ‘De Qing’ (德清) - or ‘Virtuous Clarity’. However, in his 61st year of life (1900-1901), after much travelling and hardship, Master Xu Yun retreated into the remote hills and changed his name to ‘Empty Cloud’ (虚云 - Xu Yun) as a means to escape attention and practice meditation in isolation. According the Chinese lunar calendar, Master Xu Yun left his body on the 12th day of the 9th month, in the year 1959. He passed away in the ‘Reality Thusness’ Temple (真如寺 - Zhen Ru Si), situated on ‘Yun Ju’ (云居) Mountain, in Yongxiu County, Jiangxi province. Master Xu Yun was in his 120th year, and his 101st year as an ‘ordained’ Ch’an Buddhist monk. His relics are preserved at the ‘South Enlightenment’ Temple (南华寺 - Nan Hua Si), situated near Shaoguan City in Guangdong province.
Old Master Xu Yun is acknowledged as legitimately inheriting ALL five Dharma-gates (or ‘lineages’) of the Ch’an School. The five Ch’an gates are 1) Linji lineage (临济宗 - Lin Ji Zong) 2) Caodong lineage (曹洞宗 - Cao Dong Zong) 3) Wei Yang lineage (沩仰宗 - Wei Yang Zong) 4) Yunmen lineage (云门宗 - Yun Men Zong) and 5) Fayan lineage (法眼宗 - Fa Yan Zong). This is why Master Xu Yun is known today as the ‘Ch’an Lineage - Grand Authority’ (禅宗泰斗 - Ch’an Zong Tai Dou). Indeed, throughout his lifetime he has incomparably and greatly contributed to the inheritance and promotion of Ch’an Buddhism.
When he was 17 with his mind set on leaving the world, his father arranged for him to marry two young women – one surnamed ‘Tian’ (田) and the other surnamed ‘Tan’ (谭) - but Master Xu Yun ignored them and continued his life of living quietly and meditating in isolated parts of the house. In this way he retained the purity of his mind, heart and body with no impurity of any kind. With every thought he directed his attention toward the Buddha without fail. At 19 years old he bid farewell to his two ‘wives’, and quietly left the family home to head into the hills in search of Buddhist ordination. He eventually reached the ‘Bubbling Spring’ Temple (涌泉寺 - Yong Qi Si), where, at the age of 20 years old, he received full Bodhisattva Vow and Vinaya Discipline Ordination from Venerable Old Master Miaolian (妙莲老和尚 - Miao Lian Lao He Shang).
The Old Venerable Xu Yun dedicated his lifetime to self-cultivation and worked very hard to purify his mind and body, and to attain full enlightenment. He lived alone on top of mountains and deep within caves for several years. As he sat in meditation radiating peace and compassion, the wild animals were not afraid of him, and he lived next to wolves and tigers with no fear whatsoever. When thirsty he drank rain water or dew, and when hungry he ate wild pine cones and whatever vegetables grew around him. When his practice was well-established, he visited the four great (holy) mountains in search of instruction and to share his extensive knowledge, wisdom and experience. At forty years old, Master Xu Yun decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai (五台山 - Wu Tai Shan) – prostrating after every third step – in atonement for the pain and suffering his birth and life had caused his parents culminating at the ‘Dharma Culture Temple’ (法华寺 - Fa Hua Si) situated on Mount Putou (普陀山 - Pu Tou Shan). After years of travelling and suffering from hunger, cold, snow, heat and disease, Master Xu Yun finally arrived at Mount Wutai. At least twice on the journey he was in terrible and desperate danger, but was rescued on each occasion by the timely intervention of the Bodhisattva Manjushri (文殊菩萨 - Wen Shu Pu Sa), whose compassionate function is to rescue people in distress whilst adopting various incarnations and disguises.
Even when Master Xu Yun was 95 years old (in 1934/1935) he was still working hard (and making light of discomfort) when he repaired the ‘Southern Culture Temple’ (南华寺 - Nan Hua Si) of the 6th Patriarch Hui Neng (惠能) situated in ‘Caoxi’ (曹溪) in Guangdong province. The 6th Patriarch Hui Neng left his body in 713 CE and he has remained sat-upright in the cross-legged meditation posture ever since. He also repaired a resurgent temple at Yun Men (云门) also in Guangdong province. It is believed that Master Xu Yun practiced Ch’an meditation in at least 15 different temples and holy places. He inherited the ‘Five Houses’ (五宗 - Wu Zong) of the Ch’an School (禅门 - Ch’an Men) and single-handedly rejuvenated life back into the lineages of the Six Great Patriarchs (六大祖庭 - Liu Da Zu Ting) of the Ch’an tradition. In 1953, he was promoted to be the Honorary President of the Chinese Buddhist Association. Throughout his life, Master Xu Yun often endured that which no ordinary person could (or should) endure. After his illness during the ‘Yun Men Incident’, Master Xu Yun dictated his autobiography to his nearest disciples. When asked to write a poem as a short over-view of his life, Master Xu Yun wrote:
‘Witnessing 5 emperors and 4 dynasties, continuously experiencing the 10 vicissitudes of life.
Immense suffering is the normal human condition, without a doubt all life is impermanent.’
The ‘Five Emperors’ are: 1) ‘Daoguang’ (道光), 2) ‘Xianfeng’ (咸丰), 3) ‘Tongzhi’ (同治), 4) ‘Guangxu’ (光绪) and 5) ‘Xuantong’ (宣统). The Four Dynasties are the: a) Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, b) Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, c) Republic of China and d) People’s Republic of China. The ‘10 vicissitudes’ of life are: I) born in a fleshy-sack, ii) hungry and covered in snow, iii) life-threatening dysentery, iv) bleeding from the mouth, v) falling into water and nearly drowning, vi) serious illness, vii) suspended by a rope in water, viii) abdomen cut-open, ix) whole body paralysed like dead wood and x) whole body beaten. Having lived into his 120th year of life, obviously there are many, many interesting and wonderful stories associated with his practice, experience and adventures. Collections to access include ‘Empty Cloud Dharma Master Autobiography’ (虚云法师年谱 - Xu Yun Fa Shi Nian Pu), and the popular TV-Series in Mainland China entitled ‘One Hundred Year of Empty Cloud’ (百年虚云 - Bai Nian Xu Yun). With regard to the latter, many who watch are reduced to tears to witness the selfless attitude and conduct of Master Xu Yun!
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2019.
Original Chinese Language Text: http://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1643153104898406572&wfr=spider&for=pc
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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