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 Text: ‘Human Existence Book of Origin’ (人生书本 - Ren Sheng Shu Ben)
Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD
Translator’s Note: The (Mainland) Chinese Language internet is a treasure-trove teeming with these kinds of texts just waiting to be discovered, translated and shared. As I follow Master Xu Yun’s instruction to ‘never charge money for Dharma instruction’, I am able to translate as I encounter rather than waiting to traverse the petty-politics that dominate the bourgeois publishing industry in the West. This text is a Dharma-Talk given by an unnamed Buddhist Master who has inherited both the Chinese Ch’an Dharma and the Chinese Tantrayana tradition. As you can see, despite the outer differences of different Buddhist schools and techniques, all share a common spiritual essence. These types of texts test my translation and inter-cultural skills as simply reading Chinese characters is not enough when confronted with wisdom of this type. I have had to spend a number of days on this project – leaving off when things became too opaque - and disappearing into my own mind for a few hours to search out and extract the implicit meaning. ACW (31.1.2021)
Although the Naga creature is a snake in India, within the Ch’an tradition it is often referred to as a ‘dragon’. If a person’s consciousness is not yet expanded and all-embracing, the ‘qi’ (气) flow will be erratic and move independently up and down the body without control. This is where a distinction should be made between ‘气’ (Qi) which is energy acquired from food, drink and exercise – and ‘炁’ (Qi) which represents congenital q-energy bequeathed by both parents at conception. Whereas ‘炁’ is pre-natal - ‘先天 ‘ [Xian Tian] - (that is, active in the body prior to birth), ‘气’ (Qi) only becomes active ‘post-birth’ (后天 - Hou Tian) and replaces fully the earlier (and far ‘purer’) bodily energy flow. As for terminology, ‘先天’ (Xian Tian] literally translates as ‘Earlier Divine Sky’ (which symbolises ‘life’ in the process of becoming), whilst (后天 - Hou Tian) means ‘Latter Divine Sky’ - the state of life already born and functioning in the world. Enriched qi (炁) is related to the ‘Earlier Divine Sky’ because it is unsullied and thoroughly pure – whilst mundane qi ‘气’ represents the ‘Latter Divine Sky’ stage which sees life involved in a constant battle for survival and prevention of instability!
As human-being expend qi ‘气’ energy during the day – at night the body attempts to replenish its supply through the generation of ‘night qi’ (夜气 - Ye Qi). This type of qi-expression only manifests at night if individuals sleep properly. Poor sleep leads to poor ‘night qi’ being generated and in extreme cases, it has been shown that those who do not sleep for days or weeks on end can sometimes die from this lack of proper routine! To younger generations, it is often taught that the human body – like a mobile telephone battery – needs to be recharged regularly to work properly! The ‘Central Channel’ (中脉 - Zhong Mai) is also called the ‘Spirit Channel’ (灵脉 - Ling Mai). There is no such energy-channel found within Traditional Chinese Medicine. It ascends up - through the centre of the torso - from the Sea-Bed Chakra (perineum) to the Crown Chakra (fontanelle) travelling as a straight channel. This is a unique two-way channel which facilitates the flow of essential and vital energy both ways (that is ‘simultaneously’) along the same single meridian. This is different from conventional meridians with TCM (and Daoist thinking). Conventional meridians are divided into yin and yang, with the yang meridian flowing up the head, and the yin meridian flowing out in the direction of the hands and feet. Each energy channel is dedicated to directing qi-flow in one direction only.
The main Central Channel is the route through which the ‘Spirit of the Snake’ (灵蛇 - Ling She) will ‘raise’. When the human consciousness is as yet undeveloped, it is what is termed ‘constricted’ or ‘compressed’. This means it is as yet undeveloped, ascended, expanded and all-embracing. This journey of conscious development begins with the ‘snake’ of consciousness beginning its journey of awakening by gently emerging from the ‘Sea-Bed' (海底 - Hai Di) Chakra (轮 - Lun) and ascending to the Crown (顶 - Ding) Chakra (轮 - Lun). This supplies an enriched nutrient comprised of qi (炁 ) - vital force - and jing (精) - ‘essential nature’ - which assists the ‘stilling’, ‘cleansing’ and ‘expanding’ of ‘conscious awareness’ (神 - Shen). This feeds into the Governing Channel (任脉 - Ren Mai) - running up the backbone - and the Conception Vessel (督脉 - Du Mai) - running down the front of the torso, etc. This flow is also reversed – whereby this energy circulation (as distinct from blood flow) ‘returns’ to the Sea-Bed Chakra for spiritual and physical renewal. This cyclic developmental process rejuvenates the entire (mind) and body!
Naga Samadhi self-cultivation, however, does not ‘focus’ upon qi rejuvenation. Although this will happen quite naturally, this is not the primary purpose. Buddhist self-cultivation is designed to uproot every trace of greed, hatred and delusion from the psychic fabric of the mind and the behavioural patterns of the body. This process ‘stills’ the mind for the penetration and realisation of the empty mind ground – so that the conscious awareness ‘expands’ and becomes ‘all-embracing’. Material reality is understood to arise and pass away (moment after moment) within a great and all-embracing void! Any genuine Ch’an practitioner, however, who realises enlightenment will also gain an intricate experiential awareness of the energy channels of the body, and will directly understand the importance of the Central Channel and its processes. Indeed, within Chinese Ch’an Buddhism it is impossible to realise a genuine enlightenment without first experiencing the reality of ‘qi-flow’ and mind and body rejuvenation. The Buddha’s method is superior and so includes all known possible methods of self-development.
When a baby is born, if the child is healthy and free of injury, etc, then he or she already exists in a natural state of ‘Naga Samadhi’ due to their continuous and ‘inherent’ purity of being. However, as the child grows, unless they live in very unusual circumstances, they are transformed by the ‘desires’ they experience in relation to external objects. This generates a suppression of conscious awareness that is inhibited by its tendency toward viewing reality in a self-limiting ‘subject-object’ dichotomy. As deluded and dualistic thinking becomes ‘normalised’ - ‘desire’ pushes the ‘Naga Samadhi’ back into the ‘Sea-Bed’’ Chakra. Consciousness is ‘suppressed’ by this path of worldly development. Duality generates the conditions for greed, hatred and desire to permeate and pollute the mind. The ‘Naga Samadhi’ is pushed back into its essential base whilst the ‘empty mind ground’ is obscured. The mind and body become thoroughly polluted and loses any sense of identity with the highest spiritual realities.
As the ‘Divine Sky’ is permanently divorced from the ‘Broad Earth’, the spiritual practitioner is given the task of applying the appropriate methods of meditation. Buddhist meditation is a method that ‘reverses’ this explained polluting process. Greed, hatred and delusion are permanently ‘uprooted’ so that the empty mind ground will be perfectly perceived. This is how the pristine nature of the mind (心性 - Xin Xing) is both perfected and fully realised. This is often described as the practice and realisation of the ‘Tathagata Ch’an’ (如来禅 - Ru Lai Ch’an) - which relies upon the practice of the ‘Four Jhana’ (四禅 - Si Ch’an) and the ‘Eight Concentrations’ (八定 - Ba Ding). This sets thr groundwork for the rising of the ‘Naga Samadhi’ - which does yet re-appear. The next stage is the cultivation of the ‘Patriarch’s Ch’an’ (祖师禅 - Zu Shi Ch’an). The realisation of the ‘Patriarch’s Ch’an’ coincides with the rising of the ‘Naga Samadhi’ - as the two events are synonymous.
The theory of the ‘Naga Samadhi’ is very simple. Its ‘Great Path’ (大道 - Da Dao) should not be complicated through over-thinking. Give-up deluded living and pointless desire. Do not pursue worldly fame or public recognition. Withdraw from society and sit quietly to ‘look within’ with strength and clarity. This is how ‘virtue’ (德 - De) is generated. It is a matter of ‘giving-up’ modes of thought and behaviour that are of no use to cultivating the mind (and body). Do not pursue fame and fortune. Do not become caught-up in superficial spiritual practices that seek only to cultivate limited selfish motives. The first priority to establish a ‘still’ and ‘peaceful’ mind (平稳的心 - Ping Wen De Xin). When the ‘mind’ does not ‘move’ (不动 - Bu Dong) and is all-expansive – it is naturally in the state of ‘Naga Samadhi’. It is very simple to explain but very difficult to achieve! Living within the five evil worlds means that everyone has their own particular problems to ‘uproot’ and ‘transcend’ as the sorrows of existence know no bounds. The Ch’an method ‘returns’ all thought to its ‘empty’ origins to penetrate and realise the empty mind ground. If the mind is not ‘stilled’ and ‘expanded’ - the individual will continue to experience endless suffering through repeated experiences of birth and death! For the Ch’an practitioner – the way out of this predicament is simple – as ‘It is like chopping wood and carrying water’ - this is how the Naga Samadhi is clearly perceived through a purified mind engaged in the midst of ordinary events! Do not fear life and do not fear death – the Naga Samadhi can traverse the three realms without difficulty or hindrance!
The human mind is like the sea. Even if the sea is calm, the waves below surface may be rough. Many people suffer from insomnia because their minds cannot settle down. Ask what trouble them? He can't tell. And yet there is always upset and delusion. This is because most people can only observe their own surface consciousness. They lack the insight to observe the consciousness that lies beneath the surface and which is suffering terrible turmoil! This is exactly where beginners have to start. They must build the strength of their concentration so that they can penetrate the depth of their own mind and perceives its inner workings. Realising ‘stillness’ is the first significant attainment but it is not the ultimate realisation of ‘emptiness’. As important as this is – this is only ‘emptiness’ only within the head – also known as ‘sat on the hundred-foot pole’. A further stage of successful training has to be accomplished. A genuine practitioner must ‘let go’ of this stage of ‘attachment’ to relative ‘emptiness’ so that the conscious awareness ‘expands’ to ‘embrace’ all of existence! This achieved by not falling into the habits of everyday life (such as writing posts, reading books or thinking about unnecessary things). Those who achieve the ‘Four Jhana’ and ‘Eight Concentrations’ will have no trouble realising the Naga Samadhi as the empty mind ground underlies all these authentic states of attainment. The Naga Samadhi does not have to ‘retract’ as the mind is cleared of all ‘klesa’ or habitual defilements. This allows the Naga Samadhi to shine forth in a permanent manner for all to see! This is how the Naga Samadhi benefits the world with its wisdom, loving kindness and compassion!
As you ‘still’ the mind you are gathering and focusing the qi and jing which builds to such a powerful extent that a wave of internal energy will eventually pulsates through the mind and body! This is the rising of the Naga Samadhi united in essence with all genuine Buddhist states of attainment! When the inner potential reaches a certain frequency of intensity - ‘emptiness’ limited to the head dissolves into an ‘all-embracing’ emptiness that expands beyond the limits of the physical body and permeates out into the physical universe! This is how the Naga Samadhi becomes a permanent expression of enlightenment in the world! Eventually, as the experience ‘matures’ and settles down, all energy flow becomes peaceful and less obviously dramatic as the enlightened state ‘normalises’ and becomes ‘nothing special’.
Chinese Language Source:
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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