“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 Sanskrit term ‘विनय’ (vinaya) carries the primary meanings of ‘courtesy’, ‘civility’ and ‘etiquette’, with the secondary meanings (depending upon context), of ‘humility’, ‘sincerity’ and the performing of an ‘act of courtesy’. Within the Chinese language, the Sanskrit term ‘vinaya’ is written using the Chinese ideogram of ‘律’ (lu4). This is comprised of a left-hand (semantic) particle ‘彳’ (chi4) - meaning ‘to walk slowly and carefully - along a path or a road’, and a right-hand (phonetic) particle of ‘聿’ (yu4) - which means to ‘use brush and paper’. When placed together as ‘律’ (lu4), the primary meanings are created of ‘regulation’ and ‘rules of the road’, and the secondary meanings of ‘statute’, ‘principle’ and ‘regulation’. As the ancient Chinese scholars were very careful to a) ‘record’ and b) ‘transmit’ the correct meanings of the then unfamiliar terms associated with Indian Buddhism into the Chinese language, and given that this translation (and understanding) is accepted by Indian scholars as ‘correct’, the Chinese definition of ‘vinaya’ may be taken as a clear indicator of the ‘original’ or ‘intended’ meaning as intended by the Buddha and his disciples. The ‘Vinaya Discipline’ is a set of rules and regulations within Buddhism, which advise upon the correct moral behaviour for the monastic (who must follow ALL the rules without exception), and the lay-practitioner (who must follow a small number of the rules whilst living within ordinary society). Whereas a monastic is ‘celibate’, the lay-person must practice ‘sexual restraint’ (and not ‘celibacy’), so that their behaviour does not cause ‘concern’ or ‘outrage’ within the lay-community. The point of the Vinaya Discipline is to effect ‘behaviour modification’ within the mind and body of the Buddhist practitioner, so that greed, hatred and delusion are permanently ‘uprooted’ from the thought patterns, and NEVER manifest again through ‘behaviour’. In this regard, the Vinaya Discipline is a ‘support’ to both monastic and lay Buddhist practice. Moreover, whereas a Buddhist monk or nun must spend months (and sometimes years) ‘preparing’ to take the Vinaya Vows (227 for men and 311 for women), a lay-Buddhist practitioner may decide to follow the entirety of the Vinaya Discipline on a voluntary basis within the context of his or her worldly life. Nothing is required for this but a firm ‘resolve’ to carry-out such an undertaking. Quite often, this leads to the situation of male and female ‘ascetics’ living in the wilderness throughout Asia, who are revered by the ordinary people for their ‘holiness’, despite never formally training as a Buddhist monastic or having entered a Buddhist monastic training facility! In many ways this reflects the Buddha’s own experiences, as no one ‘ordained’ him, and all his training was a product of self-discipline as an ascetic sat at the foot of a tree! The Vinaya Discipline acts as a ‘support’ for following the ‘Dharma’. The Dharma is the Buddha’s most important central teaching, whereas the Vinaya Discipline are a set of instructionary rules established over-time and designed to enable the following of the Dharma more efficiently. As the Vinaya Discipline is a set of rules that assist in the regulation of the mind and body, Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) was of the firm opinion that there can be no genuine Buddhism without the Vinaya Discipline being a) ‘present’, and b) ‘practiced’. This is why he rejected the Japanese convention of NOT following the Vinaya Discipline. Although anyone can choose to live in isolation as a Buddhist ‘hermit’ or ‘ascetic’, only a man or woman who has been through the official head-shaving ceremony (under a recognised Buddhist master), and who has taken the Vinaya Discipline and the Bodhisattva Vows, is considered a fully ordained ‘monk’ or ‘nun’ within the Chinese Buddhist tradition. This distinction was further enforced by Master Xu Yun in the early 1950s (at the time that he ‘rejected’ the Japanese tradition of NOT upholding the Vinaya Discipline), when he advised the government of China to make it a ‘legal’ requirement for ALL fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns to follow the Vinaya Discipline properly – or face legal action (similar to ‘breaking a contract’). Master Xu Yun took this action due to the reality of a number of Buddhist monastic communities causing trouble within lay-society through ill-discipline, interference, greed and other forms of corrupt behaviour. A lay-person, however, remains free to ‘access’ or ‘leave’ the Vinaya Discipline at any time, with no criminality attached. A lay-person may follow ALL or only a part of the Vinaya Discipline, as he or she sees fit, or as the circumstances of their life allows. The Vinaya Discipline is a powerful device that if used correctly, can cure any number of psychological, emotional and physical ailments, as well as removing deficiencies, weaknesses and all kinds of barriers or hindrances to pursuing the Dharma! A lay-person may live like a monk (or a nun) without actually entering the establishment of a Buddhist monastery, or undergoing formal ordination. Indeed, within the Chinese Ch’an School, a lay-person is expected to achieve full enlightenment exactly where they are, with the status of a Buddhist monk or nun being lower than that of the poorest lay-person! The Vinaya Discipline belongs to humanity, but over-time certain conventions have become associated with it. When Charles Luk asked Master Xu Yun ‘What is the most important Precept to follow?’ Master Xu Yun replied ‘The ‘Mind’ Precept.’ In other words, simply following an external set of rules is useless if the empty mind-ground is not penetrated and realised here and now, and in all circumstances! The empty mind-ground is exactly the same for a Buddhist monastic as it is for a lay-person! Indeed, in many ways, the life of a lay-person possesses many advantages over that of a Buddhist monastic – the latter of which is merely a beggar in robes (who is not allowed even to ‘beg’ in China)!
Adrian Chan-Wyles (釋大道 - Shi Da Dao) is permitted to retain his Buddhist Monastic Dharma-Name within Lay-society by decree of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chinese Buddhist Association (1992). A Buddhist monastic (and devout lay-practitioner) upholds the highest levels of Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows. A Genuine Buddhist ‘Venerates’ the ‘Dao’ (道) as he or she penetrates the ‘Empty Mind-Ground' through meditative insight. A genuine Buddhist is humble, wise and peace-loving – and he or she selflessly serves all in existence in the past, present and the future, and residing within the Ten Directions – whilst retaining a vegetarian- vegan diet. Please be kind to animals!
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