In China, some modern men and women – who have experienced a university education – decide to embrace the hard life of Buddhist monasticism. This is at the point in their lives when they could be embarking upon a ‘paid’ career, earning a salary, falling in-love and travelling the world! This is the time – much the same as in the West – where young people enjoy their lives and find their way through existence. Of course, although the language and culture are very different – modernity brings its own equivalents. Yes – the outer-layer of history, tradition and everyday culture is different in China to that found to the West – but there are certain underlying realities that prove that we are all human! Giving-up their modern clothes and shaving the styled-hair from their heads – these people are entering an entirely different world which is controlled by the strictures of the Vinaya Discipline.
The following of the Vinaya Discipline is not a ‘choice’ (as it is in Japan), but is a ‘legal’ requirement in China. Yes – the Vinaya Discipline has been ‘written’ into China’s ‘Secular Law’ so that it is a ‘Criminal Offence’ for anyone who has left society and embarked upon the Buddhist monastic path – not to follow the Vinaya Discipline (this was decided by Master Xu Yun 1840-1959). From the day of full ordination, a Chinese Buddhist monastic ‘gives-up’ all rights to a paid livelihood, marriage, off-spring and normal social interaction. From this day onwards the desire mechanism is permanently ‘switched-off’ never to be re-activated at any time! (The recipient is only bound to these rules for as long as he or she remains wearing a robe and being a monastic. Should they decide to leave this lifestyle – then they must follow the equally strict ‘disengagement’ rules so that they can ‘legally’ and ‘lawfully’ exit the Vinaya Discipline without fear of prosecution, and return to the condition of ‘lay’ life).
A Buddhist monastic must also take the Bodhisattva Vows which can never be cancelled as they do not require celibacy or living as a monastic as pre-requisites. Bodhisattva Vows exist to include the entirety of a) humanity, and b) all other life, in an all-embracing attitude of wisdom, loving kindness and compassion in all circumstances! The Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows do overlap in many of their requirements – particularly in ‘not killing’ or ‘causing to kill’. Perhaps the Vinaya Discipline can be referred to as ‘wisdom’ based leaning toward compassion – whilst the Bodhisattva Vows are premised upon ‘compassion’ leaning more toward wisdom. Within China, Buddhist monastics often undergo a ritual whereby one, two, three, six, nine, or twelve symmetrical dots are ‘burned’ onto the naked, shaven scalp (usually at different times and steady progressing in numbers as more Bodhisattva Vows are taken).
This ritual is unique to Chinese Buddhism and is believed to have started in 1288 CE (during the Yuan Dynasty) – when Shi Zhide (释志德) [(1235-1322] introduced the practice whilst Head Monk of the ‘Tianxi’ (天禧) Temple in Jinling! As the recipient receives and recites the Bodhisattva Vows – burning incense cones are placed on top of the head forming a rectangle or square-shape. This is known as the practice of applying the 'Fragrant Scar' (香疤 - Xiang Ba). The recipient must be ‘detached’ from the pain of burning – whilst understanding that the ‘world is burning’ and that ‘humanity is suffering’! The Buddhist monastic path is dedicated to the permanent uprooting of greed, hatred and delusion from the mind and body of the of the monastic, from the minds and bodies of all living beings, and from the physical environment! As this is such an awesome responsibility – the Chinese Buddhist monastic forfeits all rights to an ordinary existence...
The Sanskrit term ‘विनय’ (vinaya) carries the primary meanings of ‘courtesy’, ‘civility’ and ‘etiquette’, with the secondary meanings (depending upon context), of ‘humility’, ‘sincerity’ and the performing of an ‘act of courtesy’. Within the Chinese language, the Sanskrit term ‘vinaya’ is written using the Chinese ideogram of ‘律’ (lu4). This is comprised of a left-hand (semantic) particle ‘彳’ (chi4) - meaning ‘to walk slowly and carefully - along a path or a road’, and a right-hand (phonetic) particle of ‘聿’ (yu4) - which means to ‘use brush and paper’. When placed together as ‘律’ (lu4), the primary meanings are created of ‘regulation’ and ‘rules of the road’, and the secondary meanings of ‘statute’, ‘principle’ and ‘regulation’. As the ancient Chinese scholars were very careful to a) ‘record’ and b) ‘transmit’ the correct meanings of the then unfamiliar terms associated with Indian Buddhism into the Chinese language, and given that this translation (and understanding) is accepted by Indian scholars as ‘correct’, the Chinese definition of ‘vinaya’ may be taken as a clear indicator of the ‘original’ or ‘intended’ meaning as intended by the Buddha and his disciples. The ‘Vinaya Discipline’ is a set of rules and regulations within Buddhism, which advise upon the correct moral behaviour for the monastic (who must follow ALL the rules without exception), and the lay-practitioner (who must follow a small number of the rules whilst living within ordinary society). Whereas a monastic is ‘celibate’, the lay-person must practice ‘sexual restraint’ (and not ‘celibacy’), so that their behaviour does not cause ‘concern’ or ‘outrage’ within the lay-community. The point of the Vinaya Discipline is to effect ‘behaviour modification’ within the mind and body of the Buddhist practitioner, so that greed, hatred and delusion are permanently ‘uprooted’ from the thought patterns, and NEVER manifest again through ‘behaviour’. In this regard, the Vinaya Discipline is a ‘support’ to both monastic and lay Buddhist practice. Moreover, whereas a Buddhist monk or nun must spend months (and sometimes years) ‘preparing’ to take the Vinaya Vows (227 for men and 311 for women), a lay-Buddhist practitioner may decide to follow the entirety of the Vinaya Discipline on a voluntary basis within the context of his or her worldly life. Nothing is required for this but a firm ‘resolve’ to carry-out such an undertaking. Quite often, this leads to the situation of male and female ‘ascetics’ living in the wilderness throughout Asia, who are revered by the ordinary people for their ‘holiness’, despite never formally training as a Buddhist monastic or having entered a Buddhist monastic training facility! In many ways this reflects the Buddha’s own experiences, as no one ‘ordained’ him, and all his training was a product of self-discipline as an ascetic sat at the foot of a tree! The Vinaya Discipline acts as a ‘support’ for following the ‘Dharma’. The Dharma is the Buddha’s most important central teaching, whereas the Vinaya Discipline are a set of instructionary rules established over-time and designed to enable the following of the Dharma more efficiently. As the Vinaya Discipline is a set of rules that assist in the regulation of the mind and body, Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) was of the firm opinion that there can be no genuine Buddhism without the Vinaya Discipline being a) ‘present’, and b) ‘practiced’. This is why he rejected the Japanese convention of NOT following the Vinaya Discipline. Although anyone can choose to live in isolation as a Buddhist ‘hermit’ or ‘ascetic’, only a man or woman who has been through the official head-shaving ceremony (under a recognised Buddhist master), and who has taken the Vinaya Discipline and the Bodhisattva Vows, is considered a fully ordained ‘monk’ or ‘nun’ within the Chinese Buddhist tradition. This distinction was further enforced by Master Xu Yun in the early 1950s (at the time that he ‘rejected’ the Japanese tradition of NOT upholding the Vinaya Discipline), when he advised the government of China to make it a ‘legal’ requirement for ALL fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns to follow the Vinaya Discipline properly – or face legal action (similar to ‘breaking a contract’). Master Xu Yun took this action due to the reality of a number of Buddhist monastic communities causing trouble within lay-society through ill-discipline, interference, greed and other forms of corrupt behaviour. A lay-person, however, remains free to ‘access’ or ‘leave’ the Vinaya Discipline at any time, with no criminality attached. A lay-person may follow ALL or only a part of the Vinaya Discipline, as he or she sees fit, or as the circumstances of their life allows. The Vinaya Discipline is a powerful device that if used correctly, can cure any number of psychological, emotional and physical ailments, as well as removing deficiencies, weaknesses and all kinds of barriers or hindrances to pursuing the Dharma! A lay-person may live like a monk (or a nun) without actually entering the establishment of a Buddhist monastery, or undergoing formal ordination. Indeed, within the Chinese Ch’an School, a lay-person is expected to achieve full enlightenment exactly where they are, with the status of a Buddhist monk or nun being lower than that of the poorest lay-person! The Vinaya Discipline belongs to humanity, but over-time certain conventions have become associated with it. When Charles Luk asked Master Xu Yun ‘What is the most important Precept to follow?’ Master Xu Yun replied ‘The ‘Mind’ Precept.’ In other words, simply following an external set of rules is useless if the empty mind-ground is not penetrated and realised here and now, and in all circumstances! The empty mind-ground is exactly the same for a Buddhist monastic as it is for a lay-person! Indeed, in many ways, the life of a lay-person possesses many advantages over that of a Buddhist monastic – the latter of which is merely a beggar in robes (who is not allowed even to ‘beg’ in 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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