Author’s Note: The battle against greed, hatred and delusion in the human mind (and body) is ongoing and eternal. Within Buddhist self-cultivation there must be a rigid and uncompromising ‘honesty’ with yourselves and others. Furthermore, such ‘honesty’ must also be ‘impartial’ and ‘indifferent’. As it is the expected ‘norm’ within the practice of ‘Dhamma’ - it is not considered anything ‘special’ once established and maintained. If a practitioner either mistakenly (or purposely) believes themselves ‘Enlightened’ when still held firmly in the grip of the three taints – then hellish inner and outer karma is not just generated but is magnified through its association with a malfunctioning Dhamma! This form of destructive self-delusion (and pseudo-enlightenment) is exactly what the Buddha and his disciples warned about through their teaching! This means that the empty mind ground only underlies good, bad and neutral conditions when it is directly experienced as doing so – and NOT before. For a person whose mind is still clouded by these three taints – then the empty mind ground is NOT yet known to be a) present and b) underlying all conditioned and non-conditioned states. Without first DIRECTLY experiencing and merging with the empty mind ground – a practitioner cannot claim to be ‘Enlightened’ simply by intellectually ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ that the empty mind ground exists in theory behind ALL material states. For a genuine experience of ‘Enlightenment’ to occur, the Dhamma must be properly followed and its fruits of practice gathered in a honest manner. Only strict discipline on the psychological and physical planes will gather enough purified inner energy for a genuine breakthrough in understanding to take place. The Mahasiddhis in the Tantric tradition, for instance, often dedicate their lives to nearly impossible tasks of spiritual discipline and purification that take twelve, twenty-four (or even longer) years to achieve! Many Mahayana practitioners ‘delay’ their entry into Nibbana over many lives in order to ‘rescue’ and ‘sae’ as many beings as possible from suffering! Those of the Theravada Scholl often dedicate decades of their lives quietly sitting in the depths of the forest until their individual minds are cleared of all impurities! Again, ‘honesty’ is the key to progression. ACW (31.8.2021)
As a follower of the Dharma, I see no contradictions in any of three contemporary schools – the Theravada, the Mahayana and Vajra (Tantra)-yana – methods of achieving Enlightenment. The Dhammapada Sutta is a prime example of the Buddha’s early (and over-all) teaching – which sees the conservative Theravada School quote frequently from it (see the Visuddhimagga) - whilst completely ignoring its Mahayana and Vajrayana content – most of which contradicts the central tenants of the ‘Hinayana’ movement! Certainly, this type of ‘Sutta’ preserved in the old Pali Cannon appears to contain the seeds of both Mahayana and Vajrayana practice. This means that these pathways cannot be ‘later’ diversions from the Buddha’s orthodox teachings – but must have been present in his ‘original’ expression of the Dhamma. This suggests that there were other trends or traits of Buddhist teaching that existed side by side with the Theravada and which taught far broader and more comprehensive Dhamma-theories. As these schools did not compete or seek worldly influence and power – and given their practitioners often withdrew for years (or decades) from the world of common interaction – their presence in the historical record did not develop until much later on, when the dialectical conditions within society favoured a more comprehensive definition of the Dhamma and what it means to be ‘Enlightened’.
Although sound academic claims have been made which present the Mahayana and Vajrayana as being ‘corruptions’ of the Buddha’s original teaching – suggesting that Hinduism, Jainism and even Islamic ideas infiltrated the interpretation of the Dhamma – this model does not hold when the Dhammapada Sutta is taken into account. As the Dhammapada Sutta emanates from the ‘Word of the Buddha’, then it is his solemn expression of the Dhamma with no outside influences. Of course, the Theravada ideologues often counter this assertion by stating extracts from ultra-conservative Suttas – with each implying that only monks can achieve enlightenment who live in a forest – and no one else! The problem here, is that much of this material is now proven as being the product of additions, omissions and clever monkish editing to justify the ethos of the Theravada School. The Theravada School could get away with this in a time-period when only Buddhist monastics could read and write and the laity had to take their word for what the Buddha taught. Today, through the science of ‘Philology’, it is clear that the Dhammapada Sutta contains unaltered (ancient) content which has proven to be an embarrassment to the conservatism of the Theravada School! Indeed, evidence suggests that the Dhammapada Sutta was a much more prominent Buddhist text until the laity started using its content to ‘doubt’ the ‘conservativism’ of the Theravada School – whose editors ‘hid’ the Sutta away and started to emphasis more one-sided Dhamma-expressions.
Even at the time of the Buddha’s Parinibbana (all-round and thorough ‘extinction’) - not all the elder monks (or groups of monks) who had learned directly from him - accepted the Theravada School as being entirely correct. This is not to say that the Theravada School is ‘wrong’ - but that its claim to an ‘exclusive’ legitimacy is not fully supported by the known facts. The conservative approach of the Theravada School is suitable for those individuals who require that type of approach to learning the Dhamma. However, it is also true that the Buddha also taught a number of other interpretations of his path – each extending the depth and broadness of the concept of ‘Enlightenment’ and how it is to be applied to the world. All pathways are of equal validity and it is probably the case that most people will at one time or another in their lives – explore all three pathways. For the Theravada School a Buddhist monastic living deep in the forest (away from ALL worldly contact) occupies the ideal situation for Dhamma-study. The six senses are ‘purified’ by ‘breaking’ ALL contact with worldly interaction whilst living in a meditation hut and following the Vinaya Discipline. Overtime, the six senses are thoroughly cleaned-out as the ridge-pole of ignorance is broken through a continuous practice of seated meditation. This is achieved by permanently uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. Once nibbana is attained, no more volitional karma is produced, but the continued existence of the physical body symbolises the accumulative effects of past karma – although after the realisation of ‘Enlightenment’ - all previously bad karma is greatly reduced. When the karmic force that powers each physical existence is exhausted – then the five aggregates (physical matter, sensation, perception, thought formation and consciousness) dissolve and fall away never to ‘re-combine’.
Interestingly, the Theravada model implies that only monks can realise ‘Enlightenment’ even though numerous Pali Suttas clearly state that a number of lay-men and women also realised complete ‘Enlightenment’ during the Buddha’s lifetime. This openly contradicts the Theravada School – which suggests that if an ‘Enlightened’ monk were to return to lay-life – then his ‘Enlightened’ state would regress as his six senses would once again be ‘sullied’ through interaction with the world. The Pali Suttas that the Theravada School preserve contradict most of the accrued dogma that this school preserves. Obviously, men and women can attain ‘Enlightenment’ even if they live within the pollution of everyday society, and according to the Dhammapada Sutta - ‘Enlightenment’ can be attained in places other than a forest – with the realisers not suffering any regression by changing their living conditions. This does not mean that the over-all methodology of the Theravada School is ‘incorrect’ - but rather that as a method it fits into a broader scheme designed by the Buddha. Somewhere along the line a group of monks seeking political (worldly) power established a number of outrageous claims that have gone unchallenged. The Mahayana School (which is a collection of Sects all teaching a variant upon a theme), also states that it might be in the interests of the individual to withdraw from the sensory stimulus of the everyday world to get to grips with the unruly mind. This is not the ‘end’ of the matter by any means – but merely the beginning of an ongoing and arduous process of self-purification. Much of the Mahayana pathway is premised upon ‘Compassion’ for other beings and includes methods of wise and loving modes of behaviour whilst interacting within the ordinary world. This means that even when living within the world of delusion, the Dhamma can be followed in such a manner that benefits others whilst pursuing a much slower path of purification.
As Hui Neng (the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an) states in his Altar Sutra – once the six senses are thoroughly purged of ALL dualistic and inverted (volitional) karma, then greed, hatred and desire are PERMANENTLY uprooted never to re-appear again regardless of the situations such ‘Enlightened’ individuals are forced to exist within. (Hui Neng had to live in the hills with bandits for sixteen years but only ate the vegetables they cooked alongside their meat). Herein lies a major interpretative difference between the Theravada and Mahayana Schools. Other than this, however, the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ is essentially the same. An ‘Enlightened’ Mahayana practitioner CANNOT regress regardless of circumstances – which he or she merely adjusts themselves to (neither attached to the inner void or hindered by external phenomena). Whereas Chinese Ch’an Masters were often reticent to discuss the post-enlightenment state (to prevent pointless mimicry and ego-boosting) - the Vajrayana School of Tantra explains this process over and over again within the literature associated with the ‘Mahasiddhis’ - or ‘Enlightened’ Indian men and women all from very different backgrounds! Again, the root essence of this can be found in the Dhammapada Sutta where the Buddha explains who and what a ‘monk’ and a ‘Brahmin’ actually are! In reality, there is no difference in the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ as taught in the Theravada, Mahayana and Tantra Schools, as the experience being explained is exactly the same. It is the experience of the underlying and empty mind ground, which is the accumulation of bodily discipline and ‘stilling’ of the mind so that the karmically conditioned taints of greed, hatred and delusion are permanently uprooted.
The differences lie in how each school teaches the path to the attainment of ‘Enlightenment’ and the accumulated dogma that has manifested due to historical conditions many hundreds of years after the passing of the Buddha. The Theravada offers a narrow gate, the Mahayana advocates a wide gate and the Tantrayana states that the ‘gate’ is ‘everywhere’ and ‘wherever’ a practitioner happens to be. This is because the empty mind ground underlies all phenomena and is not limited to a forest. Whereas the Mahayana emphasises the ‘path’ over the ‘destination’ - the Tantrayana offers the ‘destination’ over the ‘path’! However, things are not always this clear in demarcation, as some Theravada teachers offer a distinctly ‘Mahayana’ approach to their conservativism, whilst a number of Mahayana teachers are so strict that they come across as typical of the Theravada School. On occasion, there are Chinese Ch’an Masters who begin with ‘Enlightenment’ (just like the Tantrayana Masters), and will not compromise, negotiate or explain what they are doing. In reality we should study all three schools and make use of their experience and expertise in the matter of freeing humanity from its ongoing and accumulated suffering! A genuine experience of the empty mind ground unleashes an uncommon wisdom which sheds light on all this and demonstrates the genuine way ahead!
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)
The Buddhist sacred texts state that meditation – that is a deliberate and willed ‘control’ and ‘development’ of the mind – can (and should) occur whilst standing, sitting, lying-down and walking. This practice of turning the attention back to the empty mind ground ‘protects’ each individual from the power of greed, hatred and delusion, and also protects society from behaviours premised upon greed, hatred and delusion. This is the most obvious ‘defence’ that conscious living grants a Ch’an Buddhist practitioner. This is ‘Dharma’ self-cultivation in action and there is no other practice as powerful or effective. The Dharma is the central core of the Budda’s teaching – with the Vinaya (monastic discipline) and Abhidhamma (monastic commentary) being very important but supplementary texts (like the three-legs of a stool). Regardless of the circumstances an individual has to live or exist within, the act of ‘seated meditation’ allows the essence of that circumstance to be actively ‘transformed’ from the inside out, or from the atomic or molecule structure! Although the construction of our surroundings may not be to our liking, we can still operate the principle of ‘non-attachment’ and cognitively and physically ‘distance’ ourselves from the painful sensations that are experienced. With a practice that is long enough and deep enough, bad experiences will eventually give-way to good or neutral conditions. If we can become truly ‘detached’, however, we can remain entirely indifferent to whatever circumstances pass across the senses of the body and traverse the surface of the mind. All of this practice serves to realise the empty mind ground and permanently rectify the ‘inverted’ mind-set that the Buddha pin-pointed as the essence of all human suffering. This is the uprooting of greed, anger and delusion. The conditions surrounding ‘seated meditation’, however, are also sound instructions for avoiding unnecessary social contact and the spreading of diseases throughout society. The Buddha recommends that an individual withdraws into a quiet area that is not too dark, or too light, that is airy but no too windy, that is isolated but not too far away from populations. This withdrawal from direct contact and habitual interaction has the by-product of a) not exposing a practitioner to disease, and b) not exposing other members in society to the spread of disease. This is exactly what is need in this troublesome time!
Although certain modern trends within Asian Buddhism appears to suggest that a Buddhist monastic follows a path that is ‘superior’ to that of the dedicated ‘lay’ Buddhist practitioner – a close and careful reading of the Pali Suttas (and their Sanskrit counter-parts) reveals a very different picture. Yes – obviously a Buddhist monastic leads an infinitely more ‘virtuous’ life than a lay-person who does not follow the Dharma and lives just for sensory stimulation and superficial emotional gratification. This the argument that the ‘morality’ of the monastic is more worthwhile than the ‘hedonism’ of the lay-person. Of course, people are free to reject this analysis and conclusion. The two alternative views are that the ‘hedonist’ is ‘equal’ or at least ‘superior’ to the ‘Monastic’ - but these different interpretations tenable? There is something ‘instinctive’ about the ‘hedonist’ - as if they have not yet evolved the ‘wisdom’ to a) ‘manage’, and b) ‘elevate’ the data received from their sensory-organs to a higher plane of existence!
A ‘hedonist’ is someone who lives in the world of greed, hatred and delusion and see no problem with this natural arrangement. As this is the situation that the Buddha states generates all of humanity’s suffering – he rejects it out of hand. This is the world of the cess-pit of dirty sensationalism that the Buddhist monastic leaves behind and it is in this sense that the lifestyle of the Buddhist monastic is said to be morally and virtuously ‘superior’ to that of the uncontrolled, undisciplined, lazy and selfish ‘hedonist’. Although the human-beings within both categories make use of ‘sensory’ stimulus, the ‘hedonist’ is entrapped by what he or she ‘feels’ and cannot ‘breakout’ of the cycle of pointless repetition – whereas the ‘monastic’ takes exactly the same ‘sensory’ stimulus and uses this data to ‘uproot’ greed, hatred and delusion, and ‘break’ free of the cycle of pointless ‘sensory’ stimulation! This is why it is untenable to suggest that within this context, the ‘hedonist’ (as a lay-person) is the ‘equal’ or ‘superior’ to the Buddhist monastic! From this point of view, it is obvious that the ‘hedonist’ lives an ‘inferior’ lifestyle to that of the Buddhist monastic.
Things are not so clear-cut when devout individuals follow the Dharma with determination and yet still live within the world of everyday concerns. This type of lay-person is very different to the ‘hedonist’ as they apply to their lives the very same Dharma that the Buddhist monastics make use of, with many such lay-people even choosing to voluntarily abide by the Vinaya Discipline to the best of their ability within the circumstances they live within. When Buddhist monastics give Dharma-Talks in China to audiences of robe-clad lay-people, he or she usually takes a humble position as within their ‘cloistered’ life, it far easier to apply the Dharma and to discipline their minds and bodies with the minimum of distractions or cares. For the devout lay-person, however, their life is full of distractions and cares that have nothing to do with the Dharma and often get in the way of its practice! Despite this, these dedicated lay-people persevere with the disciplining of their minds and bodies and apply the Ch’an method within all circumstance, good, bad and indifferent.
Despite these hindrances inherent within everyday life, both male and female lay-practitioners of the Dharma realise full and complete enlightenment! This is even mentioned in the Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist texts, and was a well-known occurrence during the Buddha’s lifetime. Although the worldly use of the senses creates obscuring barriers between the surface mind and the empty mind ground – the lay-person applies the gong-an, hua tou or chanting practice too such a high degree of commitment that the surface mind of obstruction (klesa) is smashed to pieces forever! This suggests that the sheer practice of the committed lay-person became so full of inner potential that it drilled-through the klesic obscuration and achieved full and total comprehension of the empty mind ground! In the Pali Suttas the Buddha clearly states that when the enlightened mind is realised – there is no difference between a lay-person and a monastic.
Although both may occupy very different stations in life that demand certain rules of interaction and polite communication, the essences of each individual’s understanding remain exactly the same! Both the ‘monastic’ and the ‘lay’ person are looking at and integrating with exactly the same empty mind ground so that the only differences in their lives is the social status each occupies. Vimalakirti was a very wealthy Indian who possessed a number of wives and countless children, and yet he ‘saw through’ the obscuring veil if the world and perceived the empty mind ground. Hui Neng – the Sixth Patriotic of Ch’an - was a lay-person when he inherited the Dharma (only ordaining at a later date). The Chinese Ch’an Records record a number of examples of how ordinary men, women and even children achieved full and total enlightenment! As Buddhist monasticism is premised upon humility – many such practitioners believe that the ‘lay’ path to enlightenment is by far the much harder path to take (as everything about it serves to turn away from, and obscure the empty mind ground). This is why many Chinese Buddhist monastics today, habitually place themselves ‘below’ the status of the laity. It may be that such humility contains the inherent power to encourage the ‘hedonist’ to change their lives for the better and follow the Dharma, whilst supporting, empower and ‘lifting-up’ those lay people who are already making good progress in their self-cultivation!
Many people view matter as a solid wall of obscuration that the bodily organs can ‘sense’ but do little else with. Matter can be measured and it can be manipulated, but Buddhist meditation offers another way of ‘seeing’ matter. Quantum Physics explains that matter as a solid wall is an illusion regardless of how powerful this image might at first seem. Matter, we are told, is a non-permanent assemblage of sub-atomic particles. In other words, regardless of how it seems to be, it is not ‘solid’ by any means. The Buddha, for instance, taught that material reality is comprised of atoms which flash in and out of existence at a tremendous speed! To the perceiving mind at its normal rate of frequency, this ‘flashing’ cannot be seen and so reality seems solid and unchanging. Modern science has also proven that human consciousness also flashes on and off tremendously fast – creating the false impression of perceptual permanency. When a practitioner meditates for long periods of time, the operating frequency of the mind is slowly altered and changed so that the perception of reality changes to accommodate a more scientifically correct understanding of reality. This is why the Buddha explains reality as comprising of a simultaneous perception of ‘form’ and ‘void’ - with no contradiction whatsoever! Once the base frequency of the ‘everyday’ mind is dislodged from its dominant position – the perceptual foundation sees reality from a new depth of perception. As the default position that everyone is born with is set to perceive ‘matter’ only – it is the ‘empty’ essence of material reality that needs to be penetrated, understood and normalise. This is not a matter of leaving one state of mind for another, but rather the act of ‘expanding’ the mind so that it can perceive more data per second or mili-second, etc. Matter is just as solid as before - but now its ‘empty’ nature is fully understood. Emptiness is just as pervasive as before – but now its material aspect is better understood. The Buddha never denies the existence of the physical universe – but he does advocate that humanity must develop the mind to realise a different way of ‘perceiving’ reality as it actually is.
“A man like this will not go where he has no will to go, will not do what he has no mind to do. Though the world might praise him and say he had really found something, he would look unconcerned and never turn his head; though the world might condemn him and say he had lost something, he would look serene and pay no heed. The praise and blame of the world are no loss or gain to him.” Daoist Immortal Zhuangzi
Anyone who penetrates the empty mind ground instantly realises the ‘Dao’ (道) of reality. After-all, this perception of inner ‘void’ will always accompany the enlightened person as they traverse the materiality of the external world. One is neither ‘attached’ to the bliss-like nature of the inner void – and neither are they ‘hindered’ by the attractive nature of the external world! Perception, moment by moment, is a continuous ‘integration’ of form and void so that there is no contradiction or paradox present in everyday experience. This is why chopping wood and fetching water are prime examples of expressing the genuine and true ‘Dao’.
Enlightenment within the Chinese Ch’an School is a living reality. It is not a dead teaching once known but now no longer understood. Chinese scholarship does not adhere to the various trends of interpretation extant in the West (or Japan) - as the Chinese people know their own culture. In my view it is the Cao Dong School that expresses the Chinese Ch’an School with the greatest scientific precision. The other four schools of Ch’an are all excellent in their own ways, and certainly contribute greatly to the reality of the living tradition of ancient Indian Buddhism (Dhyana) as it was transmitted into China. However, from the perspective of integrating the native Confucianism of China with the ‘foreign’ religion of Indian Buddhism – the ‘roundel’ system devised by Master Dong and Master Cao is nothing less than an Ingenious device for explaining the inner mind, the outer body and environment – and how both integrate and operate in the enlightened state!
The Cao Dong School is the personal (and preferred) lineage of Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) - even though he agreed to ‘inherit’ ALL Five Schools of Chinese Ch’an (and did not discriminate in anyway). His root teaching was the Cao Dong School and this is what he passed-on to his personal students and disciples. This is known within China as Master Xu Yun had thousands of such descendants, but it is a reality he seldom discussed in public or talked about in his biography. A Ch’an monastic, for example, must be ‘lower’ than the lowest lay-person – so that he or she can act as a supportive foundation for all lay-Dharma practice! By following the Vinaya Discipline a Ch’an monastic learns to be like the broad earth found in the ‘Classic of Change’ (Yijing), so that the ‘divine sky’ of an expansive consciousness can be correctly cultivated in the sincere Dharma student.
Charles Luk (1898-1978) inherited this Cao Dong teaching from Master Xu Yun and was tasked with transmitting it to the West. Charles Luk taught hundreds of people in the West, and I am sure he transmitted the Dharma to a number of discerning practitioners. However, Charles Luk taught my teacher - Richard Hunn (1949-2006) - who lived in the UK. One of the first instructions Richard Hunn gave me was that I was to spend at least ten years studying the ‘Book of Change’ (Yijing) - reading the profound text daily. I tended to read a single chapter ascribed to each of the 64 hexagrams and continued to repeat this cycle until the thinking (and symbolism) of the Yijing penetrated deep into my being! This is how I developed the inherent understanding of how the Five Ranks of Prince and Minister operates within the Cao Dong School.
The understanding of these five roundels is either misunderstood in the West, or only superficially grasped. Most people simply ignore it due to the influence of the Japanese Soto Master – Dogen – and his emphasis on ‘just sitting’ - but he must have studied and understood this device as a Dharma-Inheritor! By looking into the empty foundation that is beyond perception and non-perception – a Cao Dong practitioner is literally looking into the profound essence of the single roundel that contains all roundels! After-all, what other possible explanation could there be? On top of this, the Cao Dong Masters drew the ‘thunderbolt’ as a means to explain this interconnectivity and how a genuine student tends to experience an unfolding mind as it develops. Some state that this ‘thunderbolt’ may be influenced by the imagery associated with Tibetan Buddhism.
A Western (and Japanese) tendency is to view the five roundels as indicating five ‘ranks’ through which a practitioner traverses – from the lowest to the highest – as if each roundel represents a coloured belt in Judo. This is not the case at all. In the ‘Book of Changes’ there are 64 chapters – but no single chapter is considered ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ to any other! Each of the 64 chapters exists as part of the other 63 chapters – perfect in its placement, situation and function. This is exactly how the Five Ranks interact with one another. All are contained within each – and there is never an implication that a practitioner moves from one self-contained level to another! Just as consciousness is infinite – the Cao Dong roundels represent an insight into the bottomless nature of human awareness. The Buddha, of course, stated that enlightenment is that conscious awareness which exists just beyond (and behind) the ability to ‘perceive’ (form) and ‘non-perceive’ (void). Chinese Ch’an does not go beyond this.
‘The master (Dongshan) went out Yun Ch’u and together they crossed a stream. The master asked: ’Is it deep or shallow?’ Yun Ch’u replied: ‘Not wet.’ The master said: ’Rough fellow!’ Yun Ch’u asked: ‘Is the water deep?’ The master replied: ‘Not dry.’
Note from Charles Luk: ‘This dialogue between two enlightened masters is very interesting in that it reveals the absolute. We have seen elsewhere that the Dharmakaya is beyond all mathematics, including al dualism such as ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ and ‘wet’ and ‘dry’, for it is inexpressible and inconceivable.
Within the Chinese Ch’an literature in China, when a Master is asked about their daily practice, or the manner in which they lived, they all responded with the idea that they ‘adjusted themselves to circumstances’. As many wore tattered clothing, many appeared to be nothing more than wandering beggars, rather than eminent Ch’an Masters – and eminent Ch’an Masters were exactly what they were. Imagine a seeing homeless person sat near a cash-till (outside a bank) in the modern UK – and being told he is a very learned archbishop employed by the Church of England! Conventional religion – even amongst some Buddhist schools – often insists upon mimicking the very status symbols of the secular world it claims to be ‘transcending’ and ‘leaving behind’. Some priests even wear ‘designer’ robes designed to ‘stand-out’ in a crowd of the rich and famous! This is an example of being ‘subsumed by circumstance’ - the exact opposite of the Ch’an idiom of ‘adjusting to circumstance’.
The inherent ‘sickness’ of conventional existence is that the attachment to externals which hinders the spiritual development of ordinary people, becomes accepted as ‘normal’ or even ‘expected’ behaviour in many failing religions. A religious or spiritual path which fails to ‘transcend’ the very ignorance its founder claims to have overcome – is now only a ‘religion’ in name only! The following extract is translated from the Imperial Selection of Ch'an Sayings (Yu Hsuan Yu Lu). This is a collection of fourteen volumes compiled by emperor Yung Cheng, the third emperor of the the Qing Dynasty who ruled from 1723-1735AD. Before becoming emperor, he took the name Upasaka Yuan Ming and practiced the Mind Dharma extensively. And when emperor, he used to hold imperial Ch'an weeks which produced both enlightened lay people and monks alike. Of the fourteen volumes, twelve are dedicated to the sayings of Ch'an masters, one volume to the sayings of the emperor himself, and one for the sayings of his brothers and sons.
'Master Teh Ch'eng arrived at Hua Ting in the Hsiu Chou district. He sailed a small boat, adjusted himself to circumstances and passed his days receiving visitors from the four quarters. At the time, as no one knew of his erudition, he was called the Boat Monk.
One day, (Ch'an master Teh Ch'eng), stopped by the river bank and sat idle in his boat. An official (who was passing) asked him: 'What does the Venerable Sir do?' The master held up the paddle, saying: 'Do you understand this?' The official replied: 'I do not.' The master said: 'I have been rowing and stirring the clear water, but a golden fish is rarely found.
Of course. ’adjusting to circumstance’ involve ALL possible permutations of reality and not just that which involves ‘free movement’. Sometimes. ‘adjusting to circumstance’ can involve the most ‘disciplined’ of existences – such as living in a monastic community that functions through the following of an all-inclusive ‘Rule’ that regulates physical behaviour, and the type of thoughts the mind can generate (or ‘not’ generate), whatever the case maybe. A prime example of community discipline is:
The great body of the leader has the community for its house; distinctions are made appropriately, disbursal is suited to the vessel, action is concerned with the principles of peace and well-being, gain and loss are related to the source of the teaching. How could it be easy to be a model for the people?
I have never seen a leader who was lax and easy-going win the obedience of the mendicants, or one whose rules were neglected try to present the Ch'an communities from becoming barbaric and despised.
In olden times, Master Yuwang Shen sent his chief student away, Master Yangshan Wei expelled his attendant. These cases are listed in our classics, and are worthy of being taken as standards. Nowadays everyone follows personal desires, thus ruining the original guidelines for Ch'an communes to a great extent.
People nowadays are lazy about getting up, and many are deficient in manners when they congregate. Some indulge shamelessly in their appetite for food, some create disputes in their concern for getting support and honour.
It has gotten to the point where there is nowhere that the ugliness of opportunism does not exist. How can we ever have the flourishing of ways to truth and the full vigour of spiritual teaching that we Look for?’
‘Adjusting to Circumstance’ has an ‘internal’ aspect – and an ‘external’ aspect. The ‘internal’ aspect involves a practitioner fully realising and understanding the ‘form’ of material reality (which includes the body inhabited), and the ‘void’ which is the empty mind ground. The Buddha describes ‘form’ as penetrating and fully understanding the concept of ‘perception’, whilst the Buddha describes the realisation of the ‘void’ as penetrating and understanding the principle of ‘non-perception’. When the ‘form’ and ‘void’ are fully realised and understood, (using the Cao Dong ‘Five Ranks’), then both concepts are ‘integrated’ so that no difference can be found anywhere. The ‘external’ method of ‘adjusting to circumstance’ involves a permanently ‘still’ mind that does not move, being fully ‘integrated’ with each and every circumstance of the outer world that traverse across the ‘senses’. Simply described, method 1) involves the body ‘integrating’ with the realised mind, whilst method 2) involves the body ‘integrating’ with the external (material) world!
During a written conversation with long-term ICBI Member - ‘Ben’ - probably around a year or more ago, he suggested that as a spiritual and humanitarian act of compassion, the ICBI should consider ‘universalising’ and ‘internationalising’ the Cao Dong Dharma Lineage as translated from Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) to Charles Luk (1898-1978), and then to Richard Hunn (1949-2006) and his disciple Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - that is, myself. I thought this was a very good idea that encompasses the highest elements of both ‘lay’ and ‘monastic’ Buddhism, and which would further benefit the thousands of people who gain much comfort and inspiration from the Chinese Ch’an and Japanese Zen traditions. The Chinese ‘Cao Dong’ lineage, is, of course, the Japanese ‘Soto’ lineage transmitted to Japan from China during the 13th century by Master Dogen. Although I have written elsewhere about the historical, political and military realities manifesting within Mainland China during the 1930s and 1940s, these factual observations are not designed to negate or denigrate the Japanese Zen tradition, which is culturally relevant for the country and culture it serves. This is because the empty mind ground [心地 - Xin Di] (i.e. ‘non-perception’ in the Pali Suttas) underlies ALL reality without exception. When material reality manifests – it is simultaneously ‘perceptible’ (in the Pali Suttas) - bearing in-mind that the Buddha describes reality in the Four Noble Truths as arising from matter, sensation, perception, volitional thought and consciousness. As enlightenment within the Ch’an School is described as ‘being neither attached to void, nor hindered by phenomena’ - reality cannot be limited to the ‘void’ (idealism), or ‘phenomena’ (materialism). This is a reality express in the Five Ranks of Prince and Minister as preserved within the Cao Dong lineage. Therefore, anyone who sincerely puts into practice the Path of the Guild of Hui Neng (which includes and yet transcends the ‘lay’ and ‘monastic’ paths) may consider themselves ongoing inheritors of the ICBI lineage of Cao Dong as discussed and agreed with key lay and monastic Members of the Buddhist Association of China (2020). This transmission is separate and distinct from any ‘private’ arrangements or transmissions conveyed to specific individuals for various and precise reasons of spiritual development. This development depends entirely upon a self-monitoring ‘virtue’, ‘compassion’ and ‘wisdom’ and is only relevant if driven by a pure and pristine spiritual honesty. The mind must be clear and the heart must be all-embracing.
Adrian Chan-Wyles (Shi Da Dao) - (4.10.2020)
Buddhist Association of China
Adrian Chan-Wyles (釋大道 - Shi Da Dao) is permitted to retain his Buddhist Monastic Dharma-Name within Lay-society by decree of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chinese Buddhist Association (1992). A Buddhist monastic (and devout lay-practitioner) upholds the highest levels of Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows. A Genuine Buddhist ‘Venerates’ the ‘Dao’ (道) as he or she penetrates the ‘Empty Mind-Ground' through meditative insight. A genuine Buddhist is humble, wise and peace-loving – and he or she selflessly serves all in existence in the past, present and the future, and residing within the Ten Directions – whilst retaining a vegetarian- vegan diet. Please be kind to animals!
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