Misconceptions about Ch'an in the West are premised upon a lack of genuine insight into Chinese culture and Chinese language sources. This approach 'assumes' things to be true because of a general lack of authentic knowledge. Once a misconception is developed in the West it is then 'shared' and 'spread' throughout the population. Like Halley's Comet - such an error of interpretation circumnavigates the Western thought community with monotonous regulatory This error of thought is nothing other than a habit of thought tat should be realised as such and thoroughly abandoned! The 'Hua Tou', for instance, is NOT a 'crucial' or 'critical' phrase as the deluded Zennists would have you believe. On the contrary, any and all 'hua tou' performs the function of 'returning' the six-senses (and their sensory-data) back to the 'empty mind ground' which is neither 'perception' nor 'non-perception'. It is that simple. This suggests that whatever the deluded Zennists can generate in their habitual surface mind - the 'hua tou' can return to its 'empty essence' - as no arbitrary thought formation is exempt from this process. Confusing the 'hua tou' (話頭) with a 'gongan' (公案) and vice versa is laughable and just the tip of the iceberg for the average Western Ch'an practitioner. All these pitfalls can be negated by applying the Hua Tou method properly and in all circumstances - this is part of how the Dhamma will protect you in ALL circumstances! Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) taught that the proper use of the 'Hua Tou' is a continuous and unending process of returning sense-data to its empty mind ground essence! In this sense, and to this extent, there can be no legitimate answer to the use of the Hua Tou (as each answer must also be 'returned'), and no satisfactory 'completion' for the contemplation of a 'gong-an'. The Western intellect, as sharp and concise as it is, is not designed to answer the Hua Tou and gong-an problem - as any answer emerging from and lying within the domain of duality itself merely serves as another contrived part of the problem that require deconstruction! In other words, it is clear that Westerners CANNOT 'out-think' or 'out-contrive' the Hua Tou and gpng-an methods as both are simultaneously comprised of pre-thought, current thought and post-thought components that exist superimposed one strata upon the other, so that each facet of inherent awareness immediately adjusts for the other, should it come under any undue (external) pressure from the adherent! The 'this worldly' approach exhibited by Zennists tends to turn the Hua Tou (and 'gong-an') into nothing more than an exotic fetish competing for 'clicks' and 'prevalence' on internet searches! It is the 'other world' that a practitioner of Chinese Ch'an should be aiming - if only to 'release' the ultimate non-substantiality of the 'inner' and the 'outer'!
Polarity is a funny business. Life and death – health and illness, etc – all this often occupies the human mind (and body) above and beyond every other subject. Of course, we must also feed and house the body, but if one of these is missing, at the very least we must provide nourishment for the human-body. Many in the West fear homelessness as the weather in this part of the world is often cold, wet and difficult to endure for at least six months of the year! When I lived in Sri Lanka, poverty and good weather went hand-in-hand so that holy men and women – that is the truly committed to the realm beyond the senses – walked around in the flimsiest of attire – except the Jains who give-up even this modest association with the world! A naked body is not as much of a problem as is a naked ego...
Of course, I have heard of a Western Zen monk living (voluntarily) homeless on the streets of New York, although this was at least fifteen years ago, and perhaps more. It is not just the weather that distinguishes East from West – but history and culture as well. There is a particular ‘coldness’ to the ‘individuality’ of the West which is lacking in the ‘collective’ cultures of the East. Even so, regardless of how humanity sets about organising the external aspect of its existence, there is always the thorny issue of how the ‘inner’ life is to be approached, reconciled and processed, etc.
Is it possible to ‘give-up’ all desire for physical life – and yet continue to still ‘exist’ on this plane of reality? Can ‘we’ be both ‘here’ and ‘not-here’ simultaneously and in a manner that is not paradoxical or contradictory in any disconcerting or disruptive sense? Can there be ‘peace of mind’ and ‘health of body’ in a state that is ‘beyond all states’? I suspect that this all comes down to the balancing of what the Buddha defines as ‘perception’ and ‘non-perception’. A mind (and body) that is beyond the realms of the world still needs to be fed at least the minimum of food – hence the Buddhist monastic and the agency of ‘begging’ and/or growing their own food (with an emphasis upon vegetarianism). It is in this rarefied ‘space’ that all sophistry for the world is ‘not yet arisen’ and all is peace and tranquillity despite the nature of the external world (which ultimately must also include the ‘health’ of the physical body).
Using a ‘mala’ - or a set of ‘Buddha Beads’ - can be done in a variety of ways. As each bead is purposely ‘moved’ through the guiding finger and thumb, quite often a mantra is recited, or perhaps a short sentence from a Sutra, etc. Other times, the practitioner may sit quietly and ‘look within’ as the beads proceed. A Buddhist mala is usually made of 108, 54 or 27 beads – which while threaded upon a cord may well be divided at regular points by a smaller ‘dividing-bead’. Sometimes, no dividing-beans are used. The cords are tied so that the mala is held in a permanent ‘round’ shape. The beads can be crafted from wood, glass, jade or various other precious stones. Quite often, mala of differing quality and bead quantity are associated with the various holy places of China and produced locally for famous temples to sell to pilgrims, or for people to present as ‘gifts.
Some of the smaller mala are designed to be easily worn around the left wrist, whilst the larger type is worn around the neck. Generally speaking, the latter is worn only by ordained Buddhist monks and nuns. The way I prefer to use the mala is through the perfection of pure ‘touch’. This uses the sense of ‘touch’ gained between the thumb and finger which forms a thought in the mind of ‘bead’. As ‘bead’ is a word – this word can be ‘returned’ to its non-perception essence (i.e., the empty mind ground). This is how the sense of touch is used as a hua tou using beads. At the advanced level – the word ‘bead’ does not need to be formed – and the bare sensation of ‘touching’ the bead serves as the meditative object ‘returned’ to its source.
When I was a Ch’an monk I was provided with a large (and heavy mala) constructed from beads made of jade. This was a sign of reassurance for the laity (rather like a ‘cross’ within Christianity). As I was permitted to retain my ordained name of ‘Shi Da Dao’ when I was sent out into the world to spread compassionate action – I was also permitted to keep my mala and my ‘black’ robe – which is indicative of the Cao Dong lineage. This large mala spends most of its time hanging on the family shrine nowadays. Although the sense of ‘hearing’ is considered the most efficient and promising sense for humans to return to the empty mind ground, any of the other five Buddhist senses can be used if a practitioner has developed suitable concentrative strength.
As the monks and nuns often lived in isolated areas – or went on perilous journeys that were once plagued by banditry and all kinds of occasional lawlessness – different systems of self-defence were created that did not violate the Vinaya Discipline. Objects such as the walking staff, begging bowl and even mala were often modified for combat usage. The ‘fighting-mala’ that I was shown in China was made of metal beads threaded onto thin metal wire. It also had a ‘weighted’ end similar to a ‘throwing-dart’. This type of self-defence was premised upon a mind stripped clear of greed, hatred and delusion – and physical movements designed to ‘nullify’ (but not ‘perpetuate’) the violence being unjustly inflicted upon the monastics. There is quite literally ‘nothing happening’ in a constructive manner – with all sensation relating to the six senses spontaneously being ‘returned’ to the empty mind ground.
The text that requires study is that of the Surangama Sutra as translated by Charles Luk. This should not be confused with the ‘Surangama-Samadhi Sutra’ as translated into English by Etienne Lamotte. The latter is useful but different - as it describes the Early Mahayana and the conversion to following the Dharma by Mara – in the form of a conversion between the Buddha and the Bodhisattva Drdhammati. In both Sutras is the found in-depth discussion of the state of ‘Samadhi’ - or ‘one-pointed’ concentration of the mind achieved through dedicated and focused meditation practice. As this Buddhist practice is considered ‘world-altering’ and ‘heroic’ - both Sutras take the name ‘Surangama’ to indicate the ‘Heroic’ nature of such practitioners. The ‘Concentration’ of the mind facilities the attainment of ALL further states of understanding and enlightenment within the Buddhist tradition regardless of school. Whatever a distinctive Buddhist School might advocate – it cannot be achieved without first mastering ‘Samadhi’. Like the Vimalakirtia Nirdesa Sutra, the Surangama Samadhi Sutra was first translated into the Chinese language by Kumarajiva – the famous Buddhist scholar.
Charles Luk’s translation of the ‘Surangama Sutra’ also includes a shortened commentary by Ch’an Master Han Shan Deqing 1546–1623). This Sutra is much more indicative of the ‘directness’ of the Ch’an Method, and defines ‘Samadhi’ as containing ‘three’ distinct attributes of attainment 1) self-evidencing, 2) perception, and 3) form. Correct training penetrates the alaya – or ‘eighth consciousness’ - and smashes forever the false notion of a permanent ‘self’ or ‘soul’ as favoured by many other religions. The Buddha discusses with various Bodhisattvas the merits of using one or other of the ‘six senses’ advocated within Buddhist thought as a means to ‘breakthrough’ the chaotic surface mind (and thus ‘stilling’ it), as well as transcending the dangerously seductive ‘empty-mind’ (which can often produce a very strong ‘attachment’ and ‘world-denying’ tendency). For ‘form’ and ‘void’ to be understood as ‘identical’ whilst simultaneously representing radically different states of being – both concepts must be fully realised, penetrated and transcended without error, doubt or hesitation.
Whilst the ‘hearing’ facility is presented as the most efficient method of entering the stream of consciousness in a pro-active manner – it is also true that he other ‘five’ senses can also be used with the caveat as each is not as efficient or as easy as the ear. These are the senses of ‘thinking’, seeing’ ‘smelling’, ‘tasting’ and ‘touching’, etc. Together with the hearing capacity – ALL sensory data (regardless of its ‘type’) can be equally ‘turned’ and directed back inward toward its non-perceptual origination (from within the empty mind ground). My experience is that relative enlightenment is the realisation of a ‘still’ mind by successfully return just one bodily-sense back to its empty non-perceptual essence. Although this is considered complete enlightenment in the Hinayana School – this is not so in the Mahayana School.
As the Lankavatara Sutra states – the six senses are like six knots in a length of string – untie one knot and they all untie simultaneously! This means that when the ‘hearing’ is successfully returned – through a period of further disciplined Ch’an training – the other five senses are then realised as returning to exactly the same empty mind ground and the perceptual awareness of the mind is experienced as ‘expanding’ and embracing all things. This is the stage of ‘full’ enlightenment as taught by the Ch’an School and which was confirmed by the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng in his ‘Altar Sutra’, etc. Certainly, when in a natural state of enlightened repose, the Ch’an practitioner inhabit all six senses simultaneously being a) continuously ‘returned’ to the empty essence, whilst b) continuously radiating wisdom, loving kindness and compassion from the empty mind ground and into the world through the permanently ‘purified’ six senses. This is the Cao Dong Lineage as conveyed by Master Xu Yun (1840-1959)
When ‘emptiness’ is genuinely ‘seen’ into (rather than ‘imagined’ as being penetrated), a practitioner of Ch’an cannot help but remain in a permanent state of spiritual rapture. This reality is continuously ‘loving’ and ‘humorous’. It is ‘full’ of humour, but what does this mean? Obviously, the presence of humour does not mean that everything is ‘funny’, as many things that pass in-front of the senses (and across the surface of the mind), are anything but ‘funny’ - and yet humour remains... Humour lightens perception and transforms experience. It defuses conflict and removes anger. Humour has no interest in greed, and does not take ‘differences’ too seriously, whilst acknowledging the validity of how things are distinctive in their own unique ways. Humour is peace, and peace is the way through which ‘emptiness’ is perceived. Surely, the cultivation of humour is preferable to the habitual presence of ‘fear’ and ‘indecision’. Being ‘British’ by accident of birth (or direction of karma), I was always struck by how ‘funny’ the Ch’an and (Japanese) Zen dialogues are! Everything seems to be ‘diverted’ away from the ‘obvious’. Many become frustrated when their habits of thought ‘demand’ that questions and answers should only be a ‘certain’ way - which are constructed in a predictable manner - so that the answers can be ‘guessed’. Is this really spiritual development? I think not. Such an approach is a ‘lazy’ manifestation of the same inner and outer status quo, the very same status quo that we are all attempting to ‘transcend’, or ‘see beyond’.
Of course, things are only ‘funny’ if we ‘sense’ the humour implicit in the situation. When the British academic - John Blofeld - sought out Master Xu Yun in 1930s China, one of the first things Xu Yun pointed-out was that the ‘reality’ he was seeking was not only ‘here and now’, but had been even in the UK! Not only this, but Xu Yun stated (on numerous occasions) that we must transform exactly ‘where we are’ and turn it into a ‘Bodhimandala’ - a sacred or holy place of intensive, spiritual activity. The activity intended is that of intensely ‘looking within’ here and now. A ‘drilling into’ material reality, no less, using the hua tou method. Wherever a Ch’an practitioner places his or her meditation mat, then that is where this great matter will be decided! Yes, we can spend time moving from here to there, and from there to here, but eventually we must all settle-down and face our klesic demons, so to speak. Change for change’s sake only draws-out the process for no reason. When master Xu Yun slept in a cow-shed, what did the cows think? More to the point, what did the monks think? Particularly those who sought-out more comfort and greater status? What about those visiting officials (with their airs and graces) who visited the Temple to meet what they thought was a ‘great’ spiritual being? A dishevelled Xu Yun would emerge from the hay-stack and ask what they wanted... When the tyrant Chiang Kai-Shek visited Xu Yun, Xu Yun did not care who he was. He spent the time telling him off for ‘forcing’ the Chinese people to embrace Western Christianity which he (Xu Yun) thought was not compatible with Chinese culture! Afterwards, Xu Yun would not let the matter pass, and actually ‘wrote’ a letter to Chiang Kai-Shek going over all the same points he had made!
Part of Ch’an humour is a spiritual fearlessness. This obviously manifests in time, but is ‘timeless’ in essence. Ch’an humour is loving and wise. The underlying ‘emptiness’ of material reality is very different to the material reality that manifests within it – and yet there is no conflict or contradiction. Everything we need is ‘here’. It is the ‘method’ for seeing this that is required. When returning from Burma (Myanmar) with a large Buddha statue, the workmen with Xu Yun said that could not proceed as there was a giant boulder blocking the road which they could not collectively move. Xu Yun explained that he was a frail old man, and that they had been paid to carry the Buddha statue for him! As a weak and old man, how was he supposed to get the Buddha statue back to China if they could not perform simple tasks involving youthful strength? After contemplating the situation for a few minutes, Xu Yun picked up the boulder with ease and threw it to the side of the road, clearing a way through! The workmen were astonished, bowed to the ground and picked-up the statue and were on their way! The humour in this situation obviously made the boulder appear very ‘light’ to Master Xu Yu, who used the situation to clear the minds of the workmen.
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!
- ICBI Blog: Mind-Ground (心地)
- ICBI China Office (Beijing)
- Master Xu Yun
- Degeneration of the Sangha in the Dharma-ending Age By Ch’an Master Xu Yun
- Ch’an Master Jing Hui - History of Master Xu Yun’s Complete Biographical Text
- Xu Yun’s Humanistic Spirit Transmitted into the Modern Era
- Master Xu Yun & Modern Chinese Politics
- On Why Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) Rejected Japanese Zen
- Master Xu Yun Memorial Photographic Library
- Dharma Master Ji Qun (济群) Explains Profound (Dharmic) Happiness
- Chinese Buddhism & Vegetarianism
- Qianfeng Daoism (UK)
Ch'an Guild of Hui Neng (慧能禅宗协会)
- CGHN Membership Certificate
- Master Ti Guang – Karma
- Master Ti Guang – Mind That Does Not Deviate
- Meditation Instrument - Fragrant Board
- Ch’an Daily Work
- Horse Hair Dust-Whisk in Chinese Ch’an Buddhism
- New Shaolin Temple in China
- Master Yuan Chun: Universal Dharma
- Modern Chinese Art and Ch’an Buddhism
- The Huatou and Pain Management
- Martial Virtue (武德–Wu De)
- Seated Transformation (坐化 – Zuo Hua)
- Guiding Principles
- ICBI Projects
- Direction of the ICBI
- Journal of the ICBI
- Contact Us
©opyright: Site design, layout & content International Ch'an Buddhism Institute (ICBI). No part of this site (or information contained herein) unless otherwise stated, may be copied, reproduced, duplicated, or otherwise distributed without prior written permission from email@example.com
Proudly powered by Weebly