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.
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.
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
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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