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'!
Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) certainly understood the paradox of looking into the fabric of our minds – to ‘see’ beyond that which we look with and that which we look at and through. This process, for a Ch’an Master at least, was not considered a contradiction. This Chinese Ch’an method was and still is viewed as the true essence of the message of the historical Buddha (born in India)! Furthermore, the Chinese Ch’an School considers itself unique in preserving the ‘true’ transmission of the historical Buddha free of all the later modifications, distractions and pollutions that entered the various Buddhist communities. Contemporary Western scholars, of course, consider this attitude to be flawed and its assumption to be wrong. According to Western scholarship (which takes its cue from Japanese Buddhism), this ‘Chinese’ attitude is ‘ahistorical’ and nothing but a culturally bias fabrication. According to Japanese researchers (whose work stems from the 1868 Meiji Restoration) - genuine Buddhism ‘died-out’ centuries ago in China and has never recovered!
How strange it must seem to them then, when they encounter Master Xu Yun’s biography (amongst many other eminent Masters) who assert the exact the opposite! Indeed, Master Xu Yun considered many practices associated with Lamaism to be ‘corrupt’, and repeatedly asserted that the immorality and barbarity of the Imperial Japanese Army in China (1931-1945) was the product of the moral corruption of Buddhist practice in Japan. As most Westerners cannot read either the Japanese or Chinese script, they remain unaware of the War Crimes advocated and committed by various Japanese Zen teachers before and during WWII (much of it anti-Western in nature as well as being anti-Chinese) - who later became very famous in the US and lived lives of relative luxury after the War! How strange it seems that very few people have read of how Master Xu Yun heavily criticised a group of Chinese Buddhist monks who had been to Japan and returned home eating meat, drinking alcohol and with wives and children in tow! Although it is true that our minds should be that distracted by worldly matters, at the same time it is equally true that when engaging in worldly matters, the engaging itself must be morally pristine.
Of course, there are people living in Japan who are aware of these contradictions and who do seek to make amends and put historical wrongs right. In the heart of those dojo that teach genuine Zen-Ch'an all of it ‘dissolves’ into irrelevance when the correct Dharma is cultivated. I remember how respectful a delegation of Shaolin monks was treated in Japan a few years ago – particularly when they visited a small dojo whose founding ancestor had visited the Shaolin Temple on Song Mountain many hundreds of years ago! The visiting Shaolin Master studied the Chinese Transmission Documents carefully stored away and guarded in Japan – and finally declared them entirely genuine! The name and location of the dojo – together with its historical details – were taken back to the Shaolin Temple and entered in the Records of Genuine Transmission! Although truth maybe difficult to attain at times, this does not mean that we give-up the task of pursuing it. Truth must prevail over falsehood and that is all there is to it!
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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