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!'
Ch’an Buddhism Spreads Westward - Chinese Ch'an Vs Western Analytical Thought - A Short Comparison (2007)
December 06, 2007 09:30 China’s Five Thousand Years of Culture Network - Editor: Xue Fei (薛斐)
The main contribution of (Western) Analytical Philosophy in the history of human thinking is: it believes that many problems that bother people are actually not problems at all, they are just "false problems." Some questions have not been answered satisfactorily for a long time, not because people have limited abilities, but because the way of asking questions is inherently problematic. Once you follow the train of thought of asking questions in this way, you will sooner or later lead people into a dilemma of infinite ‘no answer’. Therefore, analytical philosophy strives to drive all false questions out of the scope of human thinking, so that people can obtain peace of mind by simply ‘not thinking’ about certain topics.
Similarly, Chinese Ch’an also states that there are many false problems, but its technique of dealing with these problems is different to that of analytical philosophy. Chinese Ch’an teaches that only by restoring the ‘genuine’ or ‘underlying’ questioner (or ‘perceiving the empty mind ground from which ALL questions arise’) can the problems these questions represent be avoided in the genuine sense. Therefore, just as the Western academic scholars might ‘give voice’ to these false questions - the Chinese Ch’an Master refuses to give a positive answer, but crucially, (and often a point not acknowledged in the West) the Ch’an Master does not give a negative answer.
However, it should be pointed out that the distinction between true and false questions within analytical philosophy is also inherently problematic: if the boundary is meaningless (and lacks ‘substance’), then the true question, regardless of its scope, cannot be properly ‘fixed’, ‘located’ or even ‘asked’; on the other-hand, if the question is too meaningful - and possesses definite ‘boundaries’ of import, then it cannot represent the problem of inherent ‘falsity’ as it has ‘concretised’ into something ‘real’ and ‘limited’ in time and space. The recent developments in Western thinking are repeatedly attempting to explain this dialectical problem and double-bind, but in so doing, tend to favour the ‘negation’ of the question. This has led some Western scholars to mistakenly assume that they are implementing a ‘Chinese Ch’an solution’, but this is not the case.
As far as Ch’an is concerned, all questions are unnecessary movements of the surface mind, nothing but habitual contrivances that manifest as ‘false questions’ mistakenly interpreted as being both ‘valid’ and structurally ‘three-dimensional’ in the material world! The tetrelemma of Nagarjuna explains the Ch’an position – 1) everything ‘is’, 2) Everything ‘is not’, 3) Everything both ‘is’ and ‘is not’ and 4) everything is neither ‘is’ and ‘is not’ - so what's the problem? Only the intrinsic realisation of the ‘self-nature’ (as the ‘empty mind ground’) denotes a "person who is not deceived by others", and ‘who understands the law perpetually at peace’. Once enlightened, the problems of defilement, true delusion, life and death - and many other conflicts - although not resolved in the conventional sense, have been completely eliminated in the delusional sense. In other words, all (deluded) questions disappear before they ‘arise’ - as the habitual (inner) conditions that formulate a ‘dualistic’ and ‘suffering-inducing’ question in the mind - have been perpetually ‘removed’.
In contrast, the development of analytic philosophy is very incomplete. It merely attempts to persuades people not to pay attention to the various problems relating to ‘value’ and ‘freedom’ that are incapable of being subjected to ‘reason’, leading to these metaphysical issues still plaguing everyone who lives a serious life. Ch’an Buddhism is different. Its resolution of problems brings people a real "usefulness", which is the tranquillity and clarity of the whole (united) inner and outer being. The Ch’an method permeates the depths of people's hearts and breaks the source of delusion in one fell swoop. How can the complexity and difficulty the Ch’an method employs be conceived and inferred through the narrow experiences and thinking associated with everyday existence?
In summary, what this article is trying to illustrate is just this: Ch’an Buddhism is a part of the entire Buddhist system, no matter how much Ch’an surpasses the Buddha and the ancestors. If you want to keep your understanding of Ch’an from deviating, you should also find a basis within the sutras and understand it from the entire Buddhist philosophical background. At present, there are no other thought systems that can properly interpret Ch’an. If you abandon the scriptures, rely on your own brains, and adhere to Ch’an with some kind of thinking that suits your taste, even if you don’t enter the cave of deluded ghosts, you will eventually fall into a ‘dead void’. These are the products of a lack of genuine knowledge with regard to Ch’an self-cultivation. The ‘Perfect Enlightenment’ Sutra (圆觉经 - Yuan Jue Jing) says ‘The Tathagata-Realm is infinite and an individual mind (and heart) cannot fathom its vastness through an egotistical self-effort – which is like a firefly trying to impossibly burn the infinite dimensions of Mount Sumeru!’ The Western mind needs to breakout of its own self-contained isolation and comprehend the limitations that this cultural programming entails.
From an 'old' transmission document translated in the English language. An extract of the 'Xin Xin Ming' (信心銘) as compiled by the Third Chinese Ch'an Patriarch - 'Sangcan' (僧璨) - given to humanity and all living-beings!
This is 'Great Master Xing Yun' who is a very famous Ch'an Buddhist Monk and 48th Lineage Inheritor of the Linji Ch'an Tradition. He was born on August 19th, 1927 in Jiangsu province during the time of the 'Republic of China'. A year later - in 1928 - the 'Republic' Government would attack and destroy the famous Shaolin Temple (situated in Henan) because the Head Monk refused to endorse this regime. Master Xing Yun is currently 94-years-old and employed at the National Taiwan University and is considered one of the greatest Bhikshu Calligraphers in the world! He is also founder and ongoing supporter of the 'Fo Guang' (Buddha Light) Movement. Interestingly, he is recorded as supporting the 'Chinese National Party' in Taiwan. Taiwan is a part of Mainland China currently under the control of the Republican Government that was defeated on the Mainland in 1949 and which is now supported by the US, etc. Some small islands and a very tiny area of the South Coast of the Mainland are allowed to be administered by the Taiwan regime. He is currently the world president of the International Buddhism Association and the honorary president of the World Buddhist Friendship Association. Although within China we are all support one or other of the political divide - we tend to keep the 'Dharma' pure of any political interference. Indeed, Master Xing Yun is considered a great humanitarian in the world and has been presented numerous awards. Below, he discusses the issues surrounding establishing and administrating a Ch'an Buddhist monastery on traditional grounds. I present this here, for those Taiwanese (and other) Chinese language readers who quietly support all of our 'English' publications without a bad word!
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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.
Prior to the 1950s, the world Buddhist community more or less agreed with the traditional Chinese dating of the Buddha. This dating is still used in ‘New’ China and stems from Indian Buddhist monks arriving in China and transmitting the Dharma. The best text explaining this in my opinion, is that included in the Chinese-language biography of Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) edited my Cen Xue Lu (between 1952-1961 in various editions) - but which is omitted from the English-language translation rendered by Charles Luk (copyrighted to ‘1960’ as ‘extracts’ of Xu Yun’s Dharma Words appearing in Ch’an and Zen Teachings First Series – but not published until 1974 as a separate book under the guidance of Roshi Philip Kapleau). I tracked-down the Chinese-language original of this text and translated it a few years ago. This can be found in the relevant section of the original Chinese language chapter of Xu Yun’s autobiography (虛雲和尚年譜), covering the year ‘1953/54’, which is entitled ‘末法僧徒之衰相’ – this translates as ‘Degeneration of the Sangha in the Dharma-ending Age’. Within this text, Master Xu Yun explains the following:
‘Two years ago, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Chinese Buddhist Association, where everyone present discussed the Dharma. The main issues concerned included the corrupt Dharma practices of certain Buddhists that were destroying the Buddha’s teachings from within, and the attitude of the government towards Buddhism in the light of this distorted practice – this is why the government sent representatives to attend. At this conference many devout followers of the Buddha attended and were encouraged to give their views and opinions. It was suggested that the Bodhisattva Precepts as taught in the Brahmajala Sutra (梵網經– Fan Wang Jing), the Vows contained in the Vinaya Discipline in Four Parts (四分律 – Si Fen Lu), the Pure Regulations of Ch’an Master Baizhang (百丈清規 – Bai Zhang Qing Gui) and all such established Buddhist laws should be abolished, because they cause harm to young people, and are detrimental to the wellbeing of men and women. Furthermore, it was also suggested that the ordained Sangha should be reformed and no longer wear the traditional robes associated with monks and nuns. The justification for these suggestions was premised upon the belief that traditional Buddhist practice was merely a form of backward feudalistic conservativism, and that the issue was actually about religious freedom. It was proposed that monks and nuns should be allowed to get married, drink alcohol and eat meat, and be free of any disciplinary requirements. As soon as I heard these words, I instantly had a strong reaction against them, and thoroughly disagreed with their content. I treated these suggestions with contempt. The idea of abandoning the celebration of the Buddha’s birthday stemmed from the observation that different Buddhist traditions celebrate this event at different times. As far as I am concerned, this tradition is a legitimate Dharma-practice in China that is based upon the teachings of Indian Dharma-teacher Kasyapa-Matanga (摩騰法師 – Mo Teng Fa Shi) who travelled to China during the 1st century CE, met with, and instructed Emperor Ming (明帝 – Ming Di) of the Latter Han (r. 58-75 CE). Matanga taught that the Buddha was born during the 51st year (of the 60-year cyclical sequence found within the traditional Chinese lunar calendar) in the year of tiger, which is represented by the Chinese astrological symbols of the heavenly stem ‘Jin’ (甲) and the earthly branch ‘Yin’ (寅). Matanga further stated that the Buddha’s birth correlates to the 8th day of the 4th lunar month.
(Translator’s Note: In the Western year 2015 CE – the traditional Chinese Buddhist Calendar stood at 3042/43 years since the birth of the Buddha – this means that according to Chinese Buddhist tradition, the Buddha was born around the year 1029/28 BCE. If it is agreed that he lived around 80 years – then the Buddha entered nirvana in the year 949/48 BCE.)
The exact date of the Buddha’s birth occurred in the 24th year of the rule of the Zhou Dynasty monarch – King Zhao (昭王) – who reigned 1052-1002 BCE. Therefore the Buddha’s birth occurred in the year 1028/29 BCE according to Matanga. The shramana (沙門 – Sha Men) – or Buddhist monk known as Tan Mo Zui (曇謨最) – is recorded in the Wei Dynasty (386-557 CE) Book of History (魏書 – Wei Shu) as stating that the Buddha was born on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month, which was during the 24th year of the reign of the Zhou Dynasty monarch – King Zhao. The Buddha entered nirvana on the 15th day of the 2nd lunar month, which occurred in the 52nd year of the rule of the Zhou Dynasty monarch – Mu Wang (穆王) – who reigned 1001-947 BCE). This means that the Buddha died around 949/48 BCE. Throughout all of the subsequent Chinese dynasties, this tradition has been preserved and upheld. From the time of the Zhou Dynasty’s King Wang until now (1952/53) – it is agreed that 2981/82 years have passed since the time of the Buddha’s birth.’
The modern dating suggesting the Buddha lived roughly around 563-483 BCE (or even later) stems from the first reliable dating of an event in India – which is taken (by Western scholars) as the 327 BCE invasion of India by Alexander the Great. When this is used as a chronological anchor it can be cross-referenced with the stone stele associated with Emperor Ashoka (r. 268-232 BCE) - which record sections of the Buddha’s teachings together with dynastic dating – Western scholars proposed what seemed to be a logical assessment of the available data. This led to the Theravada schools adopting tis new Western dating in the 1950s and removing 500 years of off the previously held dating about the Buddha. This is to say that prior to 4th World Buddhist Conference of 1956 (held in Nepal) - most of the Buddhist world held an opinion that mirrored the dating held in China. Even today, modern Chinese scholarship still upholds the original dating of the Buddha as correct and the Western dating as flawed (that is an opinion that appears logical but which ignores certain facts whilst lacking concrete knowledge about other facts). Interestingly, a number of modern Indian academics also reject the ‘new’ Western dating and state that the old Chinese dating is correct.
The Chinese scholar-sage – known as ‘Confucius’ in the West – lived between 551-479 BCE and with these dates would have been a contemporary of the Buddha (according to Western reconning). Whereas Confucius and his disciples were highly literate (as representatives of the Chinese nobility) - the Buddha, although very well educated as a high-caste Hindu, nevertheless was illiterate and could not read and write! Although educated in armed and unarmed martial arts, yoga, State-craft, love-making and scripture recollection, etc, the Buddha did not have to learn how to read and write. Furthermore, none of the Buddha’s disciples (regardless of caste) could read or write. The onus was to use the facility of ‘memory’ to store, recall and pass-on the long and complex spiritual and secular texts that defined ancient Indian culture. Education within Indian society was aural and practical. Reading and writing was known – but was only reserved for use in the royal court. Here, a specially trained Minister of State would ‘write down’ all the decisions taken by the ruler and all the laws passed so that a permanent record of the law of the State could be made. When required, this Minister would access the record and remind the ruler (who could not read) what the establish law was.
I am of the opinion that the epoch of the Buddha and the epoch of Confucius are two different historical periods. This can be discerned by the attitude toward the art of reading and writing and upon how the two different societies related to the concept of literacy. It is important to remember that at this time Chinese rulers and scholars maintained a high level of respect for Indian culture and were quite happy to import it for their own enrichment. Given this is the case, I doubt that India would have been essentially ‘illiterate’ whilst China was ‘literate’. How can this disparity be explained? I suspect the Buddhist context in India dates to around 1000 BCE – with a similar situation existing within Zhou dynasty China (with both cultures first developing literacy amongst the ruling elites via superstition, mythology and divine oracles, etc. I suspect that by around 500 BCE, both cultures had developed, solidified and expanded literacy amongst a much larger social elite, with the written word now being associated with the recording and expressing of the highest and most sublime spiritual and secular philosophies! If the Buddha had really lived around 500 BCE (like Confucius) it is likely that reading and writing would have been far-spread and routinely used by all spiritual teachers and their students!
At no time do the Chinese records talk of Indian culture as being less advanced or backward when compared to Chinese culture. On the contrary, the Chinese attitude is always one of respect and in many respects ‘awe’! It is doubtful that such an attitude would have existed if Indian culture was found to be ‘illiterate’ whilst China’s cultural elite were by comparison – highly literate. Such an idea is counter-intuitive. This being the case, why does the Western dating suggesting the Buddha lived at the same time as Confucius but was illiterate? The Sui Dynasty Records (581-618 CE) state that a number of Brahmanical texts (now lost) had been earlier transmitted to China (date unknown). In the early days the flow of progressive culture was definitely from India to China and I find it odd that a culture with no developed literacy tradition would be instructing a society with a fully developed and sophisticated literacy tradition! It is far more likely that the historical Buddha lived around 1000 BCE and at that time India and China were at a similar state of cultural development regarding the use of literacy. India’s genius lay in its developed use of the human-mind which it was willing to share with the world! By 500 BCE, again India and China were at similar stages of cultural development and literacy usage – and yet China still acknowledged India as the bedrock of progressive and advanced thinking and culture!
“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.
Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) certainly understood the paradox of looking into the fabric of our minds – to ‘see’ beyond that which we look with and that which we look at and through. This process, for a Ch’an Master at least, was not considered a contradiction. This Chinese Ch’an method was and still is viewed as the true essence of the message of the historical Buddha (born in India)! Furthermore, the Chinese Ch’an School considers itself unique in preserving the ‘true’ transmission of the historical Buddha free of all the later modifications, distractions and pollutions that entered the various Buddhist communities. Contemporary Western scholars, of course, consider this attitude to be flawed and its assumption to be wrong. According to Western scholarship (which takes its cue from Japanese Buddhism), this ‘Chinese’ attitude is ‘ahistorical’ and nothing but a culturally bias fabrication. According to Japanese researchers (whose work stems from the 1868 Meiji Restoration) - genuine Buddhism ‘died-out’ centuries ago in China and has never recovered!
How strange it must seem to them then, when they encounter Master Xu Yun’s biography (amongst many other eminent Masters) who assert the exact the opposite! Indeed, Master Xu Yun considered many practices associated with Lamaism to be ‘corrupt’, and repeatedly asserted that the immorality and barbarity of the Imperial Japanese Army in China (1931-1945) was the product of the moral corruption of Buddhist practice in Japan. As most Westerners cannot read either the Japanese or Chinese script, they remain unaware of the War Crimes advocated and committed by various Japanese Zen teachers before and during WWII (much of it anti-Western in nature as well as being anti-Chinese) - who later became very famous in the US and lived lives of relative luxury after the War! How strange it seems that very few people have read of how Master Xu Yun heavily criticised a group of Chinese Buddhist monks who had been to Japan and returned home eating meat, drinking alcohol and with wives and children in tow! Although it is true that our minds should be that distracted by worldly matters, at the same time it is equally true that when engaging in worldly matters, the engaging itself must be morally pristine.
Of course, there are people living in Japan who are aware of these contradictions and who do seek to make amends and put historical wrongs right. In the heart of those dojo that teach genuine Zen-Ch'an all of it ‘dissolves’ into irrelevance when the correct Dharma is cultivated. I remember how respectful a delegation of Shaolin monks was treated in Japan a few years ago – particularly when they visited a small dojo whose founding ancestor had visited the Shaolin Temple on Song Mountain many hundreds of years ago! The visiting Shaolin Master studied the Chinese Transmission Documents carefully stored away and guarded in Japan – and finally declared them entirely genuine! The name and location of the dojo – together with its historical details – were taken back to the Shaolin Temple and entered in the Records of Genuine Transmission! Although truth maybe difficult to attain at times, this does not mean that we give-up the task of pursuing it. Truth must prevail over falsehood and that is all there is to it!
"I think when a person is doing something worthwhile, the pain in the early stage should be a kind of foreshadowing of joy in the later stage." —— Venerable Teacher Chan Yi (禅一)
‘Still’ the Mind – and Transform the Way the World is Perceived.
Nowadays, there is a popular offline saying that you have to learn to talk to your body. The first stage of transforming our meditative state is the most difficult, so let yourself persevere more every day, such is the reality of a step by step accumulation, do you think this is a feasible solution?
Master Chan Yi:
In fact, in the early stages of meditation, there must be certain goals, and even a requirement to temper yourself. For example, in physical education classes – you do pull-ups – but when you are tired, the teacher will tell you, please insist on doing the last two in a much more conscious manner. That kind of painful training is what people are most reluctant to do. I think that when a person is doing something, the pain in the early stage should be a foreshadowing of joy in the later stage.
As we are used to a certain way of living before, now that we are entering a time of dramatic transformation, there is often a feeling of discomfort. This feeling of discomfort is not because the training is suitable, nor is it physical, but rather it exists because the ‘habits’ of the mind are not suitable. I often say that sitting in meditation is actually the simplest way of life. Simply cross your legs and sit there quietly - for 5-10 minutes – what is difficult about that? Within this practice we can develop insight into the patterns of our own mind (as if it is like our ‘shadow’), and when fully understood, we can strive to change this conditioning and transform our lives! Just as the numerous levels of patterning are dissolved, replaced and reconstructed – the mind begins to ‘think’ in a new way and the body relates to the environment so that there is no conflict (or damage done). Although we all enter this task from many different directions, we all begin to end-up in exactly the same location of improved inner health and harmonious outer relationships.
"It turns out that meditation does not rely on others – and you should not be attached to meditation. Indeed, meditation only works when you place the right amount of effort in its practice – nothing more and nothing less. Meditation is only a ‘method’, or a ‘tool’ which humans have developed to achieve certain types of inner and outer transformation. It is not a permanent feature in your lives because once it has achieved its intended function – it will be placed down just like any ‘tool’ you no longer have a use for. When you have located and penetrated the empty essence of your mind – then meditation will have achieved its purpose.” Master Chan Yi (禅一)
Three Layers of Meditation
I once met a senior who had learned meditation from (the enlightened lay-practitioner) Master Nan (Nan Huaijin - 南怀瑾) in Taihu University Hall. He told me that you should relax when you sit in meditation, and when you are all relaxed, let your thoughts naturally ‘flow’; don’t grab them or attempt to artificially control their direction. Simultaneously we remain broadly ‘aware’ of the flow of thoughts. I think this is a good start. After you have such an understanding, you immediately relax regarding the matter of meditation, a relaxation from the inside to the outside. This is how I slowly improved from 5 minutes to at least 45 minutes. So Master Chan Yi, this is my personal experience, and I also want to hear your opinions.
Master Chan Yi:
In fact, if you have the opportunity to come to our Shaolin Temple (on Songshan), you will find that we are holding a very popular and effective programme entitled the "Ch’an Self-Cultivation Camp" (禅修营 - Chan Xiu Ying) of Shaolin Temple. I have been involved in this and also interviewed many students. Prior to attending, life for them in modern China is so good they are safe and worry-free - but they would like somekind of spiritual outlet. Then, suddenly someone suggests the possibility that they should learn to meditate – and so they seek-out the monks at the Shaolin Temple. At the beginning, meditation seems like a fun game – particularly for people whose everyday lives are so materially comfortable – but then something interesting happens. Once the mind is ‘stilled’ and ‘strengthened’ through meditation, the superficial contentedness is ‘pierced’ and an entirely ‘new’ insight into reality manifests! Many people have never experienced the sheer ‘joy’ and ‘bliss’ of ‘sitting still’, or having ‘no purpose’ - and preferring ‘isolation’ over the noisiness of modern living. As the journey begins – and the student spirals upward in attainment – the student understands that meditation can be ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in equal measure. To gain the ‘pleasure’ we must accept the ‘pain’ without expressing a preference for one over the other,
When we ordinary people learning to meditate, we can regard it as a part of our lives. Just like if you start from tomorrow, you can read a book for ten minutes at the desk before going to bed every night; or read two ancient poems, you don’t need to do too much, you just need to be able to sit down and read it by candlelight (or similar) every day. I don’t want to ask whether I can remember it, or whether I can read it for a longer time, just stick to it. In fact, meditation is also such a requirement: you only need to do it, and after doing it, you will find that you personality, behaviour and understanding has completely transformed beyond what it once was. If we persist, we might even begin to enter the sublime and truly divine states! All this takes is a regular dedication to a method on a daily basis. This is how any skill is mastered in this world.
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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