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.
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!
Original Chinese-Language Author: Li Man (李满)
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
From 1840 to 1959 marked the 120-years that Master Xu Yun - the Great Master of Ch’an - lived in the world! Among the modern masters, the longevity of the Old Ch’an Master Xu Yun has always been considered the most outstanding existence in the world. This is because he lived a long time, and is the only monk to have lived through the reigns of Five Emperors and Four Dynasties. During ancient times, the longevity of practitioners in China was not uncommon, but such a longevity as exhibited by Master Xu Yun is rare in the modern world. Master Xu Yun, who broke the world's usual concept of life-expectancy, seemed to indicate the inevitability of his own longevity in his attitude towards life and death. When Master Xu Yun was 117-years-old, he left a Last Will and Testament that no one could not understand at the time. In this Will he said:
"After I die, assist the process of putting a yellow robe upon my dead body and place it in a coffin. Then a day later, move the coffin to the foot of the mountain - West of the cowshed – where it is to be cremated. After the cremation - mix my ashes with sugar, flour, and oil, knead the mixture into nine balls - and then throw each ball mindfully into the river, so that the creatures living in the water are provided with a good meal."
As Master Xu Yun was so famous and greatly respected, there were many people who "requested that the ashes be scattered into the rivers and seas after cremation" acting in accordance with his Will. They respectfully asked for the ashes to be kneaded into flour, oil, and sugar into ball so that the fish could be fed. Despite following his wishes, his request puzzled a number of people as Master Xu Yun followed the Vinaya Discipline strictly and never ate meat of any kind. Why would he ask the fish to eat his remains without them knowing? The answer is that when human-bodies are buried – creatures feed on the decaying flesh during the natural processes of decomposition (despite the investment in all types of expensive coffins designed to ‘stop’ or ‘delay’ this process). Master Xu Yun wanted to provide the fish with food to prolong their lives – as fish are usually not required to follow the Vinaya Discipline and are free to eat anything they can find as food. Although cremated in the Buddhist tradition, Master Xu Yun did not want to deprive the fish of a good meal!
At noon (on 12th day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar) in 1959, Master Xu Yun ascended into the divine-sky riding on back of crane as it flew Westward! One day after his death, his disciples cremated his bones and according to his instructions the ashes were crushed into fine powder, and oil, sugar, flour and flour were used to make pellets which were thrown into the Yangtze River. After Master Xu Yun’s ash-pellets were thrown into the river - the fish and shrimps came in groups, and within a short while, Master Xu Yun’s ashes became a delicacy that nourished and prolonged life. I don't know how the disciples of Xu Yun felt when they witnessed this situation. As ordinary people, they will sigh and sigh. Master Xu Yun’s way of saying goodbye to the physical existence, and his indifferent attitude towards his own flesh, really surprised the world! In fact, Master Xu Yun’s move is an indirect demonstration: In his eyes, his ashes are just an insignificant image in the mortal world. His calm and detached attitude towards his own flesh contained great wisdom for life: life and death were just a trivial matter that couldn't be more ordinary. This kind of indifferent attitude towards life and death - Master Xu Yun possessed when he was 61-years-old. At that time, during the time of the Gengzi Boxing Uprising, the Boxers rioted in all counties in Shandong against Western oppression. Master Xu Yun was heading towards Wutai yet again. On the way, he met a foreign soldier who was accustomed to killing innocent Chinese people. This foreign soldier pointed a gun at him and asked in bad Chinese: "Are you afraid of death?" When Master Xu Yun first saw this, he stood (inwardly quiet) and outwardly ‘still’ - offering no response. After a short time, he calmly said: “I am indifferent to life and death. If I must die by your hand – then so be it. Please proceed.” Seeing Master Xu Yun’s serene expression, the foreign soldier was unnerved and started to panic. After a stalemate for a few seconds, the foreign Soldier said: "You can go!" When later generations heard of this story, they were amazed. Master Xu Yun was able to escape this disaster because of his indifference to life and death. Those who can live freely and easily in the world are mostly those who are not attached to death and life. Xu Yun’s longevity probably has a great association with his calm attitude towards death. It is said that when the body of Master Xu Yun was cremated, more than a hundred colourful relics were found amongst the ashes. These relics - like his ashes that fed the fishes and shrimp - have now been placed in various locations considered to be of great spiritual significance. Master Xu Yun’s use of ashes to nourish the lives of others also reflects the concepts of "cherishing good luck" and "benefiting others" which he upheld throughout his life.
Master Xu Yun believes that there are two kinds of blessings for human beings, one is cultivated in the previous life, and the other is accumulated in this life. Master Xu Yun advocated thrift throughout his life, which is also a manifestation of his cherishing the generation of good karma.. Master Xu Yun once said:
"The blessings of a person in this life are pre-determined by inherent causes developed in previous lives. You must not just 'enjoy your blessings' in this life without ‘cultivating’ further blessings for the future through virtuous actions."
It is worth noting that “enjoying your blessings" as mentioned by Master Xu Yun here, also includes the meaning of "benefit". He advocated that people should not only cherish the blessings of this life, but also do more good deeds to accumulate merit, commonly known as "benefit" or ‘good karma’. "The blessings experienced in this life are fixed in past lives." This concept of blessings in Master Xu Yun includes "how much food to eat in this life and how much clothes to wear" and so on. This is also the source of Master Xu Yun’s advocacy of frugality throughout his life. He believes that food and possessions, etc. As used in one's life are the consequences of good causes laid in previous lives, so only by practicing frugality can one's life be rewarded in the long-run. In this case, the comparison with "eating" is a little bit blunter: How much food you eat in this life is earned in your previous life, and when this amount is reached, your present life will come to an end. This is probably the reason why Buddhist monks always practice thrift. Whether in the mortal realm, in the monastery or wandering around, Master Xu Yun was always very frugal. Like most spiritual monks, he has always insisted on not eating after lunch. On weekdays, Master Xu Yun’s food has always been simple and plain. Master Xu Yun’s personal assistant, Master Shao Yun (绍云), once said (when recalling the years, he spent with the eminent monk):
"The porridge and vegetables that the old monk (Xu Yun) ate were all made by us. They are the same as those eaten by the ordinary monks. If there are no guests, he would never add another dish."
The porridge in Master Shao Yun’s mouth is the food cooked with a little bit of rice mixed with a lot of sweet potatoes, and the dishes here, are sweet potato leaves and branches fried with salt. And more often, their food is just sweet potatoes. It is hard to imagine that this was the meal of the 117-year-old Master Xu Yun when he was at the Yunju Shan monastery in Jiangxi. Master Shao Yun also recounted a past event that made him profoundly remember. Master Shao Yun said that Yunju Mountain was very high at the time, with an altitude of more than 1,100 meters. Because of the severe winter weather, the sweet potatoes hidden in the cellar were basically black when they were taken out for consumption, and it was very bitter to cook them....
At the Yunju Mountain Zhenru Zen Temple Sweet potato is still bitter, sweet potato skin is even more unpalatable. Therefore, Master Shao Yun and Master Qi Xian (齐贤) picked out the bitter and astringent sweet potato skins and placed them on the side of the table. After they finished eating, Master Xu Yun picked up the sweet potato skins and ate them without making a sound. Later, the young Master Shao Yun asked the old monk incomprehensibly:
"You are so old venerable, and those sweet potato skins are so bitter! How can you still eat it?"
After listening, Master Xu Yun only half-opened his eyes and slowly said,
"This is food! You can only eat it, not waste it."
Normally, no matter where Master Xu Yun eats, he will pick it up and eat what he sees someone spilling rice grains, even if the rice grains have been scattered on the ground. Once, Master Xu Yun also had a meal with the leaders of the Religious Department at that time, and the leaders were very uncomfortable saying:
"Old monk, the rice has fallen on the ground and is soiled, so we can't eat it."
But Master Xu Yun only calmly said: "It doesn't matter! These are all grains, and not one can be wasted." Master Xu Yun treated the grains the same way he treated the clothes he wore. According to the memories of people who have had contact with Master Xu Yun - no matter whether spring, summer, autumn or winter - he always only wore a rotten jacket, that is, a long gown that is patched up. In winter, he added a cotton coat to it, and in summer he wore only a single gown. Once, the straw mat on which Master Xu Yun slept was broken. Master Shao Yun saw that eventually the mat had been broken several times and the hole was too big, so he proposed:
"Let's take the mat to our permanent residence and change it for a new one."
At that time, a straw mat was only two yuan, but Master Xu Yun became angry after hearing this, and he yelled:
"What a blessing! I want to enjoy this mat – it's almost new!"
In the end, no one could allow this any longer and carried-out secret repairs when Master Xu Yun was outside. In life, the frugal Master Xu Yun often taught his disciples:
"You must be disciplined when cultivating wisdom, so that cultivating good fortune is better than wasting good fortune."
He once warned his disciples and said:
"If you waste all your blessings and enjoy the rewards; you will become a person without blessings. It’s as if you made money from business in the past, and you put it in the bank. If you no longer work hard to make money, and just enjoy it, the bank’s savings will all soon be spent, so if you go on, you will be in debt."
In the eyes of Master Xu Yun, only by constantly cultivating good roots and benefiting others, the blessings can continue. This is why the human life span is also a kind of blessing. Xu Yun believes that if a person is "produce enough merit" enough in this life, he is likely to live longer than his destined life. If mortals lead an excessive and self-indulgent life, then they will use-up all their positive karma very quickly and this will shorten their life-expectancy! Quite often, a lack of food or even continuous illness is often a sign that all the good karma has been exhausted. As well as respecting good fortune and working to benefit others, Master Xu Yun also emphasised the continuous carrying-out of good deeds! Master Xu Yun continued to perform goods deeds as a major facet of Ch’an training! Master Xu Yun not only practiced Ch’an Buddhism, but also continued to rebuild all the Buddhist temples that had fallen into disrepair! Furthermore, Master Xu Yun also trained countless numbers of monastics and lay-practitioners in the correct practice of Ch’an Buddhism! Among his disciples are the Buddhist monks ‘Yi Cheng’ (一诚) and ‘Chuan Yin’ (传印) - two great and virtuous Buddhist monks who both served as the ‘President’ of the Buddhist Association of China!
In 1913, the second year of the Republic of China, Master Xu Yun personally came forward to prevent a possible war. At that time, some princes and living Buddhas in Tibet were influenced by the British and Indian governments - and refused to recognize the government of the Republic of China. Against this historical background, Yuan Shikai (袁世凯) secretly ordered the governor of Yunnan - Cai E (蔡锷) - to send troops to Tibet. In order to avoid being overwhelmed, Cai E had to ask Master Xu Yub for help. After receiving Cai E's request for help, Master Xu Yun ventured into the Tibetan area, and then he invited the respected Toho Karmapa of Tibet. Under the lobbying of His Holiness Toho, the living Buddha in Tibet finally recognized the government of the Republic of China, and a war was averted. Master Xu Yun said that the good karmic roots he had already planted in the past allowed him to influence the situation as he did. If he had not followed the Vinaya Discipline properly in this life (and before) - thousands of people would have surely lost their lives!
At the age of 120, Master Xu Yun's body became weaker and weaker due to a serious illness. His disciple urged him to see a doctor, but he said calmly:
"It's okay, my causal connection with this world is about to break."
On the day he left the world, Xu Yun thanked his disciples for working with him to rebuild the monastery. After that, he told his disciples:
“Uphold the Vinaya Discipline, practice the correct concentration, and use wisdom to eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion.”
After a pause, he gave his last words in this life just as he was leaving the world:
"Cultivate right thinking and mindfulness so that you can have a fearless spirit when facing everyone and everything in the entire world. If you are tired, please go back and rest!"
After speaking, he put his hands together to say goodbye to everyone. When the disciples returned an hour after they left, Master Xu Yun had passed away safely.
Posted on 2019-08-20
Original Chinese Language Article:
As individuals we have direct access only to our own mind and body, as our ability to single-handedly change the external world is severely limited. The Vinaya Discipline is designed to change the mind and body – or those things we can more readily change instantaneously. Everything else is mediated through the influence of our well-chosen words and precise actions. With purity of intent – our mind (and behaviour) is free of greed, hatred and delusion. In this way an individual can slowly influence the world - one drip at a time can. This can illicit substantial change given the right circumstance, but it is more likely to see small but profound changes. Influence in the Dharmic sense is ‘local’ on the interpersonal level, although the internet enhances the reach of Dharmic literature in all directions.
I suspect that Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) ‘sensed’ this in an intuitive manner when he requested that key Chinese Buddhist texts be translated into the English-language. This is the state of sublime communication that allows humanity to gain knowledge about its own intrinsic nature. What else is needed? Certainly not more of the mundanity that defines the daily existence of most ordinary people. Looking within must be carried-out with strength and purpose. Having access to texts that support and clarify this procedure is the gift that Master Xu Yun bequeathed the world. Those who carry-out his instructions must be ‘like nothing’ in the eyes of others. They must refuse all payment, avoid all honours and then pass away quietly in obscurity so that their names be lost forever. What freedom this is!
Living each day is a blessing brought by nature. Time is far too long for many – and painfully short for others. Injustice permeates reality, this is true, but the Dharma allows a certain and definite virtue to radiate outward into the world and assist all beings without end or discrimination. This is the realised ‘void’ as it permeates out into physical ‘form’ Sometimes, having to ‘live’ is an act of courage for some people, whilst for others life seems far too easy. The Dharma transcends all differences and sets humanity ‘free’ from the limitations of bodily existence. Living within a body as if the boundaries of the body not exist! Allow the awareness of the conscious mind to transcend the body and embrace the entirety of creation! This is the power of the void! This is how we build something that endures – something which is spiritually superior and far outlasts the existence of the human body!
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)
Translator’s Note: As a scholar reading Chinese texts regarding the life and times of Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), I am aware that Master Hai Deng (1902-1989) was a disciple of Xu Yun and generally very well respected at the Zhenru Temple. For a short-time, Master Hai Deng served as ‘acting’ Head Monk (Abbot). He is photographed with Xu Yun and was a very sincerely and well-respected Ch’an monk. As far as I am aware, he made no claims about his own abilities. Within Master Hai Deng’s biography, it states that he trained in the branch of the Shaolin Temple situated in Sichuan province – a point of fact not mentioned in this article. When Master Xu Yun checked Master Hai Deng’s credentials – he was satisfied that everything was in order and that no fraud was being enacted. However, another close disciple of Master Xu Yun was the Old Venerable Monk Ti Guang (体光). Master Ti Guang was with Master Xu Yun when he passed away. Master Ti Guang was also an expert in Chinese martial arts and one-day ‘challenged’ Master Hai Deng to a ‘fight’ that tests skill. When this event happened – Master Ti Guang quickly defeated Master Hai Deng who accepted the outcome without any sense of resentment. This fight took place in the grounds of the Zhenru Temple. ACW (24/1.2021)
In the 1980s, China’s domestic development entered the fast lane, and cultural life was unprecedentedly active. It was no longer the case of the dominance of a model drama – as a hundred schools of thought contended. The movie - "Sichuan Unusual Records" (四川奇趣录 - Si Chuan Qi Qu Lu) filmed by Hong Kong Great Wall Films - became an overnight sensation once it was broadcast. This Movie featured Master Hai Deng who – despite his old age – was still able to perform amazing martial feats of strength, agility and endurance! He was filmed supporting his entire bodyweight (in an inverted position) seemingly ‘balancing’ through the power of just two fingers. This became known in the West as the cultivated practice of ‘Two-Finger Zen’ (二指禅 - Er Zhi Ch’an). Even young people find it difficult to perform ‘hand-stands’ and even less could hold their bodyweight even through a single palm! As this was the case, how could this old Ch’an Buddhist monk (who was already in his 80s) still be able to perform such a feat? Of course, because of this footage and photographs – Master Hai Deng became instantly famous all over China! There were rumours that things were not as they seem even at the time – but these were viewed as the product of jealousy, disrespect and ignorance. Master Hai Deng was an old Ch’an Buddhist monk who had spent his life quietly cultivating the Dharma and training with some of the most famous Buddhist practitioners (such as the Great Master Xu Yun 1840-1959).
What really made Master Hai Deng's reputation instantly rise to its apex was his contribution to the documentary film entitled "Shaolin Temple" (少林寺 - Shao Lin Si). At that time, martial arts films were in the ascendant and were the most popular themed. Although the ticket price was comparatively small - the box office still made 160 million! This Shaolin Temple film became an immediate hit in China and throughout the world! Much was made of the abilities of Master Hai Deng’s superb martial arts abilities. It was said he fought off all evil forces that attacked China and led the resistance against Japanese aggression! These stories took on a mind of their own and were repeated far and wide - with each re-telling adding more and more layers of incredible detail! Generally speaking, Master Hai Deng was unaware of most of this additional bolstering as he was not asked whether any of it was correct. As a mature Ch’an monk - Master Hai Deng’s attitude was that ‘winning and losing’ did not matter as he maintained a ‘still’ and ‘all-embracing’ mind.
After the death of Master Hai Deng in early 1989 - a man named Jing Yongxiang (敬永祥) published a long biography "The Hai Deng Phenomenon - The God-Making Movement of the 1980s" (海灯现象——八十年代的造神运动 - Hai Deng Xian Xiang – Ba Shi Nian Dai De Zao Shen Yun Dong). This was designed to clear-up all the misunderstandings about Master Hai Deng and in so doing, set the historical record ‘straight’. What is significant about this author is that he was the first journalist to highlight Master Hai Deng’s extraordinary martial arts skills in the early 1980s! This was when he worked as a Reporter for a local Newspaper. Jing Yongxiang had heard that there was an extraordinary ‘old’ Ch’an Buddhist monk living in the area – and he decided to interview him – eventually penning a 940-character article.
Jing Yongxiang explains in his book that he is responsible for the hysteria that eventually developed around Master Hai Deng. This was never his intention when he first wrote of Master Hai Deng, his spiritual lineage and martial arts abilities despite being in his 80s – that matters would escalate and cascade out of control – so that a media blitz would be caused both in China (and abroad)! He feels that this situation is his responsibility and that he must put matters right. The question everyone asks is whether Master Hai Deng possessed extraordinary abilities or not? Master Hai Deng was born in 1902, into a family with the surname ‘Fan’ (范). This family lived in Jiangyou area of Sichuan province. His mother died when he was young, and he was brought up by his father (who was a tailor) and lived in poverty.
When he was seven-years-old, he began the study of martial arts with his uncle, and then started taking his academic career seriously. Indeed, he excelled as a scholar and at fourteen-years-old he earned a scholarship (by coming ‘first’ in the examination) to enter Mianyang Normal University. During each year of study Master Hai Deng earned first-place out of the entire class. Two years later, Master Hai Deng graduated in first-place. He felt he was too young to work as a primary school teacher – and so he travelled to Chengdu instead – where he was admitted to the Sichuan Law and Political School and Police Supervisor School – both being judicial schools. Master Hai Deng became adept in economics – but at twenty-six-years-old, he encountered two Shaolin monks who had escaped warlords (in Henan) and had come to Chengdu to hide. This was 1928 – the year the Nationalist Government in China decided to destroy the famous Shaolin Temple and kill the monks, etc. Master Hai Deng (whose lay-name was ‘Fan Wu Bing’ 范无病) saw these monks performing their martial arts and was immediately drawn to the Shaolin tradition!
As these Shaolin fighting arts are complex and difficult to learn – Master Hai Deng decided to stay with the Shaolin monk named ‘Great Master Ru Feng’ (汝峰大师 - Ru Feng Da Shi) for a number of days. However, Master Ru Feng stated that ‘Shaolin martial arts are not usually passed-on in this manner. If you sincerely want to learn, you must pay your respects at the East Mountain.’ Such an effort would require thirty-two lamps to be lit for the Buddha – which would require a very large amount of burning-oil! This might be where he acquired the Dharma-name of ‘Hai Deng’ (海灯) - or ‘Sea of Lamps’! Master Hai Deng must have passed all the required tests and acts of worship – as he was permitted to study ‘Tong Zi Gong’ (童子功), ‘Lian Jing Hua Qi’ (炼精化气) and ‘Lian Jing Huan Shen’ (炼精化神), etc. An issue here is this. The Shaolin Temple Boxing System is renown as a style specialising in ‘External’ (外 - Wai) technique – and yet according to this list – Master Hai Deng was initiated into the very different ‘Internal’ (内 - Nei) system of training.
Afterwards, Master Hai Deng visited many famous temples requesting instruction - and integrated hundreds of different fighting techniques to mature his martial arts ability. During this period, he went to the very strict Shaolin Temple (in Henan) to ask eminent monks for advice. However, Master Hai Deng’s request was refused because he was not a Ch’an monk ordained at the Shaolin Temple – and was not a lay-person (from a ‘known’ local family) registered at the Shaolin Temple. As the Head Monk had not personally authorised Master Hai Deng to receive instruction from the Great Monk Ru Feng – there was some confusion as to how he had come into possession of genuine Shaolin knowledge. During the 1950s - Master Hai Deng became famous for entering fighting tournaments and beating the local and regional champions with ease! During this time, he even trained under Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) at the Zhenru (真如) Ch’an Temple situated on ‘Yunju’ (云居) Mountain in Jiangxi province. For a short-time – at the insistence of Master Xu Yun – Master Hai Deng was the 'acting’ Head Monk (Abbot) at the Zhenru Ch’an Temple (whilst the actual Head Monk was away on a special mission). He returned to and settled in his hometown of Jiangyou during the late 1960s. In 1982, Shaolin Principal Monk Shi Xingzheng - [释行正] (appointed as Shaolin Head Monk at the end of 1983) passed through Jiangyou and had a good chat with Master Hai Deng. Master Hai Deng was invited (with his disciples) to visit the Shaolin Temple in Henan – and stay for a while as a ‘Wandering Monk’ (行脚僧 - Xing Jiao Seng)
This time period coincided with the popularity of the movie entitled "Shaolin Temple". His disciples lost no time in writing a manuscript about the origins of Master Hai Deng and his ‘mystical’ association with Shaolin. Generally speaking, what goes on deep inside the Shaolin Temple is off-limits to the media with little knowledge being in the public domain. The Shaolin Temple proper is very different to the numerous Wushu Colleges that surround it and which offer disciplined martial arts study to the general public. As the stories of Master Hai Deng multiplied and spread – the media falsely believed that he was the ‘Head Monk’ (Abbot) of the Shaolin Temple of Henan. This caused a problem in the usually tranquil temple as Master Hai Deng (and his disciples) possessed no authority or status whatsoever. They were simply ‘invited’ guests who had outstayed their welcome. To remedy this situation, the actual Head Monk – Shi Xingsheng - personally issued an ‘Eviction Order’ which saw Master Hai Deng (and his disciples ‘expelled’ from the Shaolin Temple!
After he became famous, Master Hai Deng participated in frequent social activities, starred in movies and even visited the United States - serving as a martial arts instructor. All this was vigorously exaggerated by the media, and he became famous. This was all added to by the popularity of the film ‘Shaolin Temple’ - which saw ‘myth’ and ‘reality’ become entwined. This is how a simple Ch’an monk was mistakenly believed to be a high-ranking member of the Shaolin Temple who possessed ‘mystical’ powers! It was even believed that Master Hai Deng was the only person to possess the ‘genuine’ martial art (and health-giving) exercises associated with Bodhidharma! Of the three arts he is associated with, a number of experts have expressed ‘doubts’ about the quality of transmission. These arts are 1) 'Tong Zi Gong’ (童子功) - or ‘Virginal (Yang) Purity (or ‘Young Boy’) Cultivation’, 2) 'Two-Finger Zen’ (二指禅 - Er Zhi Ch’an) and 3) 'Plum Blossom Stake' (梅花桩 - Mei Hua Zhuang) - ‘Standing and Stepping on High Logs’. (In the South of China this is often referred to as ‘Wahlum Forest’, etc).
In the famous documentary – which saw Master Hai Deng perform the two-finger Ch’an hand-stand - he was old and this accomplishment had a greater symbolic significance. In his youth he had performed variants of this exercise – changing position, altering the hands and body orientation, etc. Indeed, Master Hai Deng was very famous for this ability – but he seldom performs the exercise on one-hand whilst holding a full hand-stand! It is unclear whether he was ever able to perform this exercise – even when young! Most witnesses recall that whenever they remember seeing Master Hai Deng performing this exercise – he invariably used one-hand (and two-fingers) whilst his feet touched the floor and his body was side-on! What happened during the filming was that the director had Master Hai Deng’s feet pulled-up into position by a rope around each ankle. Once in the inverted upside-down position – both ropes were removed and 80-year-old Master Hai Deng did legitimately ‘hold’ the position (with one foot supported on the wall but cleverly hidden through camera-work). After some minutes, Master Hai Deng was helped down and back onto his feet.
Chinese Language Reference:
史海寻踪 - 发布时间：20-03-0722:59
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