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!
A number of myths dominate the Western intellectual landscape regarding the history and practice of Chinese Buddhism. Many of these myths are even perpetuated within Japanese scholarship upon the subject. Eurocentric bias, cultural misidentification and blatant racism are often to blame. However, China is a vast country which continues to manifest its own culture (and destiny) regardless of the nonsense said about it in the surrounding countries. Within Chinese Buddhism, for instance, it is not uncommon to find examples of Buddhist nuns and monks ‘dying’ whilst a) sat uptight in the cross-legged meditation posture, and b) to continue hold this posture unassisted after the physical dying process has finished. Indeed, there are many famous examples of this kind in China today, with even ‘enlightened’ lay-people being able to perform this feat!
Moreover, even within modern China, for the devout Buddhist the ability to ‘leave the body’ in this manner is seen to be of great spiritual significance (similar to the shocking examples of the Vietnamese Buddhist monastics in the 1960s – who possessed the spiritual maturity and ability ‘not to move’ during the process of setting-fire to themselves in protest to US and Catholic interference in their country). Chinese Buddhism is often thought to have inherited this practice not from India (where some people believe it never existed), but rather from the very similar (if not identical) Daoist practice. This entire procedure is referred to as ‘Seated Transformation’ (坐化 - Zuo Hua) and involves the departing practitioner to retain the meditation posture with full and clear psychological awareness – whilst the breath is slowly brought to a standstill. This process functions through the conscious awareness integrating into the ‘space’ between each breath – so that the breath is finally left behind.
Situated near to the Indo-China Border is the Indian village of ‘Gue’, located in the Spiti region of the State of Himachal Pradesh in North India. As Indian collaborates with the US intrusion into Chinese territory – this area is used by the Indian government as a staging post for the 14th Dalai Lama and his ‘movement’. However, during 1975, an earthquake struck this area of Northern India and opened an old tomb that contained the mummified body of the Buddhist monk Sangha Tenzin – who was sat upright and very well preserved. In 2004, the local police excavated the tomb and removed the mummy. On discovery, it astonishing to find that the mummy was well preserved, with his skin intact and a crop of hair on his head. The mummy was eventually placed in a temple and is open to the public – despite the area being very remote and difficult to travel to.
This Buddhist monk is said to be around 500-years old and he has a name that is partly Sanskrit (Sangha) and partly Tibetan (Tenzin). He was placed in a ‘stupa’ after he died, and it is this structure that collapsed during the 1975 earthquake. His name was written on the stupa and he appears to have been protecting the area with his spiritual presence. Interestingly, Chinese Buddhist monks were performing this feat over a thousand years prior to this date (c. 1500 CE) with ‘Hui Neng’ (the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism) still sat upright in a temple in Southern China (d. 713 CE)! Even within the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand there are stories of so-called ‘samadhi suicides’ whereby a Buddhist practitioner enters such a profound state of disembodied bliss that they never re-enter their physical bodies again! Hundreds of years later, these bodies are found still sat upright in remote corners of the isolated jungle, and when ‘touched’ usually collapse into piles of dust...
Although the example of ‘Sangha Tenzin’ has attracted all kinds of Western speculations about how he actually managed to ‘mummify’ himself – claiming he starved himself, or ate special food – contradictory processes all apparently carried-out whilst absurdly ‘running’ a lit candle over his body! - the reality is that within Chinese Buddhism (a tradition all but ‘ignored’ by the West) - the ability to leave the body through ‘Zuo Hua’ is carried-out only as a product of advanced spiritual attainment that requires no other ability than to have realised the goal of one’s chosen spiritual path! In other words, to ‘die’ whilst sat upright appears all the way through the Chinese Ch’an literature and is generated through the auspices of ‘spiritual’ will-power alone! There is no trickery involved and examples of naturally dying whilst sat upright is still seen within modern China!
"I think when a person is doing something worthwhile, the pain in the early stage should be a kind of foreshadowing of joy in the later stage." —— Venerable Teacher Chan Yi (禅一)
‘Still’ the Mind – and Transform the Way the World is Perceived.
Nowadays, there is a popular offline saying that you have to learn to talk to your body. The first stage of transforming our meditative state is the most difficult, so let yourself persevere more every day, such is the reality of a step by step accumulation, do you think this is a feasible solution?
Master Chan Yi:
In fact, in the early stages of meditation, there must be certain goals, and even a requirement to temper yourself. For example, in physical education classes – you do pull-ups – but when you are tired, the teacher will tell you, please insist on doing the last two in a much more conscious manner. That kind of painful training is what people are most reluctant to do. I think that when a person is doing something, the pain in the early stage should be a foreshadowing of joy in the later stage.
As we are used to a certain way of living before, now that we are entering a time of dramatic transformation, there is often a feeling of discomfort. This feeling of discomfort is not because the training is suitable, nor is it physical, but rather it exists because the ‘habits’ of the mind are not suitable. I often say that sitting in meditation is actually the simplest way of life. Simply cross your legs and sit there quietly - for 5-10 minutes – what is difficult about that? Within this practice we can develop insight into the patterns of our own mind (as if it is like our ‘shadow’), and when fully understood, we can strive to change this conditioning and transform our lives! Just as the numerous levels of patterning are dissolved, replaced and reconstructed – the mind begins to ‘think’ in a new way and the body relates to the environment so that there is no conflict (or damage done). Although we all enter this task from many different directions, we all begin to end-up in exactly the same location of improved inner health and harmonious outer relationships.
"It turns out that meditation does not rely on others – and you should not be attached to meditation. Indeed, meditation only works when you place the right amount of effort in its practice – nothing more and nothing less. Meditation is only a ‘method’, or a ‘tool’ which humans have developed to achieve certain types of inner and outer transformation. It is not a permanent feature in your lives because once it has achieved its intended function – it will be placed down just like any ‘tool’ you no longer have a use for. When you have located and penetrated the empty essence of your mind – then meditation will have achieved its purpose.” Master Chan Yi (禅一)
Three Layers of Meditation
I once met a senior who had learned meditation from (the enlightened lay-practitioner) Master Nan (Nan Huaijin - 南怀瑾) in Taihu University Hall. He told me that you should relax when you sit in meditation, and when you are all relaxed, let your thoughts naturally ‘flow’; don’t grab them or attempt to artificially control their direction. Simultaneously we remain broadly ‘aware’ of the flow of thoughts. I think this is a good start. After you have such an understanding, you immediately relax regarding the matter of meditation, a relaxation from the inside to the outside. This is how I slowly improved from 5 minutes to at least 45 minutes. So Master Chan Yi, this is my personal experience, and I also want to hear your opinions.
Master Chan Yi:
In fact, if you have the opportunity to come to our Shaolin Temple (on Songshan), you will find that we are holding a very popular and effective programme entitled the "Ch’an Self-Cultivation Camp" (禅修营 - Chan Xiu Ying) of Shaolin Temple. I have been involved in this and also interviewed many students. Prior to attending, life for them in modern China is so good they are safe and worry-free - but they would like somekind of spiritual outlet. Then, suddenly someone suggests the possibility that they should learn to meditate – and so they seek-out the monks at the Shaolin Temple. At the beginning, meditation seems like a fun game – particularly for people whose everyday lives are so materially comfortable – but then something interesting happens. Once the mind is ‘stilled’ and ‘strengthened’ through meditation, the superficial contentedness is ‘pierced’ and an entirely ‘new’ insight into reality manifests! Many people have never experienced the sheer ‘joy’ and ‘bliss’ of ‘sitting still’, or having ‘no purpose’ - and preferring ‘isolation’ over the noisiness of modern living. As the journey begins – and the student spirals upward in attainment – the student understands that meditation can be ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in equal measure. To gain the ‘pleasure’ we must accept the ‘pain’ without expressing a preference for one over the other,
When we ordinary people learning to meditate, we can regard it as a part of our lives. Just like if you start from tomorrow, you can read a book for ten minutes at the desk before going to bed every night; or read two ancient poems, you don’t need to do too much, you just need to be able to sit down and read it by candlelight (or similar) every day. I don’t want to ask whether I can remember it, or whether I can read it for a longer time, just stick to it. In fact, meditation is also such a requirement: you only need to do it, and after doing it, you will find that you personality, behaviour and understanding has completely transformed beyond what it once was. If we persist, we might even begin to enter the sublime and truly divine states! All this takes is a regular dedication to a method on a daily basis. This is how any skill is mastered in this world.
When the muscles of the arm contract so that a heavy weight held in the hand can be ‘lifted’ - nothing in this process grants any knowledge as to how muscles work, or how movements are controlled by the spine or brain, etc. Similarly, when a gland secretes hormones – none of this process (in and of itself) grants any ‘special’ knowledge into the nature of glands or hormones – and yet, when the brain ‘secretes’ thought – it is assumed that this process of secreting ‘thought’ possesses the ability to ‘see into’ the inherent biological nature of a) the brain, and b) the mind, but is this a reasonable assumption? If the functions of other biological processes give no ‘special’ knowledge about the inner workings of a bodily organ – why should the secretion of ‘thought’ from the brain produce any substantially ‘different’ mode of knowledge?
Of course, the brain is not a ‘normal’ bodily organ despite the fact that it does regulate (together with the spine) virtually all other organs (and biological processes) in the body. The brain does this whilst generating the appearance of the ‘mind’ - from which ‘thoughts’ are believed to emerge. This ‘thought’ capacity has evolved to allow the brain to see its own processes (to a certain extent), whilst also being able to perceive processes in the external environment. With regards the perception of ‘inner’ processes, the capacity of the brain is severely limited, with no amount of contemplative thinking producing the exact size and shape of the brain doing the ‘thinking’. To acquire this knowledge, the physical organ of the brain (usually ‘dead’) would have to examined ‘outside’ of its usual skull-casing by another (living) human-being. In other words, a living brain examines the dead brain of a now ‘non-living’ human-being. A living human-being can observe their own arm lifting a weight in a manner which does not apply to the functioning of their own brain – and herein lies the fundamental difference.
The historical Buddha (in ancient India), for example, described the functioning of the ‘mind’ but never envisioned all this as an operation of the brain. I mention this as monastics within Early Buddhism often sat and meditated in graveyards and burning-ghats – and often contemplated the decaying of bodies left to ‘rot’ in the open by families too poor to afford a proper burning and disposal ceremony. Although the skull is often intact for those who have experienced natural deaths, there was probably cases of severely injured individuals where it was possible for the Buddhist monastics to ‘observe’ the brain. This could not have been very common, and certainly the Buddha does not speak of a ‘brain’ as such, despite linking the ‘sensation’ of the environment to specific sense-organs located within the body. This may be because the Buddha defined the ‘mind’ as a sensory organ which ‘senses’ thought – hence the ‘six senses’ found within Buddhist philosophy. Indian philosophy tends to view human consciousness as being various ‘frequencies’ of ethereal energy (perhaps ‘light’ energy). This gives the impression that the external world is constructed of light-energy that also ‘exists’ inside the body. This leads to the interplay of ‘void’ (consciousness empty of greed, hatred and delusion), and ‘form’, or all material stuff. As the Buddha advocated the psychological and physical ‘exiting’ of the world of sorrow – he had no need to develop a sophisticated anatomy and physiology – although he came very close to doing this by default of his ‘logical’ assessment of perception.
Unless we are exposed to the insides of the human-body in a scientific setting – no amount of inner gazing will produce an accurate picture of the ‘actual’ structures of the inner-body – or ‘how’ these structures fit-together and function in a healthy individual. All of this knowledge would slowly emerge in the various medical systems of the world – and very slowly at that. It is only in the last two-hundred years or so, that a reasonably accurate view of the human-body has been developed and utilised in the healing of humanity. Perhaps the Buddha got as far as any reasonably enlightened human-being could get, and in so doing did develop a ‘science’ of perception that was unusually perceptive for the time. Of course, our education systems allow us to ‘see’ much more in a short space of time, but no amount of this kind of study offers a short-cut to realising the ‘enlightenment’ advocated by the Buddha. Even though general education has moved-on, the Buddha’s enlightenment is still very difficult to realise. A well-balanced path would seem to involve a sound academic education coupled with a regular meditative practice. My view is that modern education is very important, but it doesn’t invalidate the path of the Buddha. If anything, I would suggest that modern education actually serves to ‘alienate’ humanity ever more from a perception of its pure spiritual essence. The Buddha’s enlightenment of compassion, loving kindness and wisdom – coupled with the accomplishments of modern science will produce an all-round human-being and effective Bodhisattva!
When ‘new’, or recently produced, the ‘Seated Transformation Great Cylinder’ (坐化大缸 - Zuo Hua Da Gang) is usually clean, freshly varnished and exhibits pristine Buddhist (symbolic) artwork (although never in an extravagant fashion). Although not ‘sad’ or deliberately ‘sombre’ these ceramic ‘Jars’ are generally designed to be ‘uplifting’ and ‘positive’. The seated (or sometimes ‘standing’) images of the Buddha or monk is common in various numbers, often holding different hand-positions (or ‘mudra’), as is lotus flowers, Chinese ideograms, birds and other meaningful markings, etc. The primary idea represented is not the ‘sadness’ usually associated with physical death, but rather the ‘happiness’ associated with the ‘transcendence’ of the usual limitation's humanity faces when reaching the end of individual life-spans. Quite literally, the advanced Ch’an practitioner, regardless of whether they are a monk or nun, or lay-practitioner – transitions through the ‘dying process’ so that their bodies retain an upright, seated meditation posture. This eternal expression of the ‘Dharmakaya’ is then carefully placed into the ‘Great Cylinder’, which is then sealed and respectfully placed in a suitable area for a peaceful ‘storage’. This is often a quiet part of a temple, monastery, cave or even a domestic home – as the ‘Jars’ are sealed air-tight. Of course, just as the West has strict hygiene laws regarding the handling, storage and treatment of deceased bodies, so does modern China. There is a balance between religious rights and public health which is carefully (and respectfully) maintained. Occasionally, and for various reasons, these ‘Jars’ are opened years later to reveal a body that has not decayed. Sometimes, a Buddhist monk or nun might pass-away whilst sat alone in the remote forest or on top of a distant mountain - where their perfectly intact body is discovered (by accident) years later - and usually removed and respectfully placed in a ‘Great Cylinder’ or ‘Burial Jar’. In the case where a body has been sat upright for hundreds of years (often in a remote cave), sometimes it collapses with the slightest of ‘touches’ (even a faint breath) as its structure turned into dust long ago (and believed to be held together by the ‘purity’ of the intent of the practitioner). From my own experiments with seated meditation over the years, it seems that the bones and joints must be ‘perfectly’ placed so that they are in complete alignment. All unnecessary muscular tension must be removed from the body so that each bone and joint naturally ‘supports’ the bones and joints above and below its anatomical position. For this ‘alignment’ to be achieved, the mind must be ‘calm’, ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Conscious awareness must ‘permeate’’ every molecule and atom of the physical body – both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. The body then ‘transitions’ during the dying process so that the ‘Dharmakaya’ or ‘Buddha-nature’ manifests and ‘supports’ the body in retaining its upright position. When the mind is not settled or expansive, and the body is not aligned – then as soon as conscious effort ceases – the body will fall-over at the point of physical and psychological death. ACW (27.10.2020)
Author’s Note: Master Yun-Men practiced a very fluid method of Ch’an teaching. This was true to verifying degrees of all the Five Schools of Ch’an. The Cao Dong did not limit their approach to seated meditation – the Linji was not obsessed with contemplating gong-an. Each School used a general approach more like that of Master Yun-Men recorded here. Turning-Words, quoting sutras, using prevailing circumstances, shouting, silence and even a punch or kick – could all be used to assist the bottom to ‘drop-out’ the barrel. Master Xu Yun found the mummified body of Master Yun-Men still sat-up in meditation – he had been dead nearly one thousand years by the time he was rediscovered. Today, some people say the mummified body ‘went missing’ at a later day, whilst others are of the opinion that the body is still preserved and in safe-keeping. Whatever the case, it certainly seems that Master Xu Yun’s photograph remains the only evidence of its original existence in 1940. ACW (25-10-2020) (25.10.2020)
‘In the hall, the master said: “When a word is spoken, a thousand carts are in the same track which contains (as many things as there are specks of) dust but is still the teaching for conversion and salvation. But what is it worth for a true monk? If the meaning of the British and Patriarchs could be discussed, the Ts’ao Ch’i Path would be a platitude (indeed). If there is someone who can say something, please come forward.” A monk asked: “What is a talk that surpasses the teaching of the Buddha and Patriarchs?” The master replied: “Cake.” The monk asked: “Is there any connection between them?” The master replied: “Clearly.” He continued: “None of you should pretend to be men of clear insight. When I speak of the Patriarchs’ meaning, you immediately ask me about a talk surpassing the Buddha and Patriarchs. Now, tell me what are the Buddha and Patriarchs? Tell me something about the doctrine which surpasses the Buddha and Patriarchs. When I ask you about that which is beyond the three worlds, you (immediately) grasp the three worlds. Are there such things as seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing that can obstruct you? Do you have (any) sound, form or thing (dharma) which can give a clear distinction between right and wrong views? The ancient saints were compelled to me objects to point at that which was real in its whole but was (in fact) unobtainable. If I tell you that there exists something, it will be only form that already hides (the real). If you have not succeeded in entering (it), you should make your own investigation and ask yourselves why, besides wearing a robe, taking food, stooling and urinating, should so many false thoughts arise without any valid reason? There are those who take things easy and meet to study the ancients’ sayings which they memorize and use their discrimination to discuss, boasting: “I now understand the Buddha Dharma!” They speak of creepers to kill their time. Sometimes, they are not content with this and leave their parents and teachers to make long journeys. Why are they so impatient to walk? After saying this, the master took his staff and descended from his seat.’
Charles Luk: Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Second Series, Rider, (1987), Pages 194-195
‘In 1940 (when Master Xu Yun was in his 105th year of life), after the monastery of the Sixth Patriarch had been completely rebuilt. I went with the Bhiksu Fu-guo to Qujiang to search for the ancient monastery of Ling-shu, but we failed to find it. When we arrived at Mount Yun-Men, we found an old dilapidated temple in the dense thickets which contained the body of the founder of the Yun-men School.’
Charles Luk: Empty Cloud – The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun – Revised and Edited by Richard Hunn, Element, (1988), Page 131
Another Chinese language text reads:
‘According to the Biography of the Dharma-Master Xu Yun – when he arrived at the ancient Yun-Men Temple, it was in ruins and covered in a thick overgrowth of plants and bushes, etc. The only part that was still intact (and oddly preserved) was the central meditation hall which contained the mummified body of Master Yun-Men Wen-Yan (雲門文偃) [864-949]. Master Yun-Men was still sat upright in the meditation position and it seemed that the power of his spiritual insight was keeping the building from collapsing. At this time, Master Xu Yun arranged for the body of Master Yun-Men to be photographed – and requested that this picture be included as part of his biography. Later, when this mummified body went missing – this photograph remains the only evidence that the body of Master Yun-Men ever existed.’
Chinese Language Reference:
Japanese Zen Master ‘Dogen’ (道元)[1200-1253], visited Song Dynasty between 1223-1227 CE. His name is written in traditional Chinese script as ‘Dao Yuan’ - which can be literally translated as ‘Way Essence’, ‘Path Foundation’, or ‘Journey Origination’, etc. In reality, the intended meaning of this Dharma-name implies a synthesis of all three meanings, and probably means something like ‘Correctly Following the Profound Path that Leads to the Origination of the Essence’. From a Chinese Ch’an perspective, this suggests the psychological ‘realisation’ (or ‘returning’) to the ‘empty essence’ of the heart of all material reality. This would correspond with the third position of the Cao Dong ‘Five Ranks’ teaching – or the realisation of ‘relative’ enlightenment. This signifies the permanent breaking of the ridgepole of habitual (volitional) ignorance that is the driving force behind cycle re-becoming and the perpetual experience of human suffering, and is said to be ‘beyond’ the worldly already. This is the enlightenment of the Hinayana School beyond which nothing else is expected. Within the Mahayana Ch’an School, however, and particularly within the Cao Dong lineage, the fourth and fifth positions of the ‘Five Ranks’ symbolises the ‘expansion’ of the mind’s awareness, and the ‘integration’ of the ‘form’ and the ‘void’. Without ‘realising the ‘essence of the void’, however, (as the name ‘Dogen’ suggests), none of this can be successfully achieved.
Dogen’s direct Zen teacher in Japan was Master Myozen (明全 - Ming Quan) - a Dharma-name which means ‘Bright Expansion’ (or ‘All-embracing Brightness’) - referring to the state of ‘complete’ Ch’an enlightenment. Myozen was of the ‘Rinzai’ (Linji) lineage of Zen. Within Dogen’s biography entitled ‘Shari Soden-Ki' the following details are recorded:
‘Within a month after Dogen thus began pursuing the Way under Ju-Ching at T’ien-t’ung Mountain, a tragedy occurred. On the twenty-seventh day of that month in the first year of Pao-ch'ing (1225), Myozen died at the Liao-jen Hall. He had fallen ill on the eighteenth day of that month, at the age forty-two. It was in the third year of his stay in Chia. Despite the grave illness of Myoju Ajari, his teacher on Mt Hiei, Myozen had decided to come to China for the sake of the Buddha Dharma, rather than remaining to take care of his ailing teacher for the sake of the teacher-student relationship. Thus, he went to Ching-fu Monastery in Ming-chou to study under Miao yun, and then to Ching-te Monastery on T’ien-t;ung Mountain, studying under Wu-chi Liao-p'ai and Ju-ching successively. According to Shari soden-Ki, Myozen passed away in a perfect posture of meditation sitting. Not only the monks of the Mountain but laymen from the vicinity gathered to mourn his death. During the memorial service, held on the twenty-ninth day, the cremation fire radiated five colours, and three white pearls were found in the ash. In utter awe, the crowd worshipped this strange occurrence. When the bone fragments were picked up, they amounted to over 360 pieces. Throughout the Great Sung, people revered the deceased monk upon hearing of this event. A statue was erected on T’ien-t’ung Mountain in memory of Myozen.’
Takashi James Kodera: Dogen’s Formative Years in China, Routledge, (1980), Page 57
‘The master (Dongshan) went out Yun Ch’u and together they crossed a stream. The master asked: ’Is it deep or shallow?’ Yun Ch’u replied: ‘Not wet.’ The master said: ’Rough fellow!’ Yun Ch’u asked: ‘Is the water deep?’ The master replied: ‘Not dry.’
Note from Charles Luk: ‘This dialogue between two enlightened masters is very interesting in that it reveals the absolute. We have seen elsewhere that the Dharmakaya is beyond all mathematics, including al dualism such as ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ and ‘wet’ and ‘dry’, for it is inexpressible and inconceivable.
Within the Chinese Ch’an literature in China, when a Master is asked about their daily practice, or the manner in which they lived, they all responded with the idea that they ‘adjusted themselves to circumstances’. As many wore tattered clothing, many appeared to be nothing more than wandering beggars, rather than eminent Ch’an Masters – and eminent Ch’an Masters were exactly what they were. Imagine a seeing homeless person sat near a cash-till (outside a bank) in the modern UK – and being told he is a very learned archbishop employed by the Church of England! Conventional religion – even amongst some Buddhist schools – often insists upon mimicking the very status symbols of the secular world it claims to be ‘transcending’ and ‘leaving behind’. Some priests even wear ‘designer’ robes designed to ‘stand-out’ in a crowd of the rich and famous! This is an example of being ‘subsumed by circumstance’ - the exact opposite of the Ch’an idiom of ‘adjusting to circumstance’.
The inherent ‘sickness’ of conventional existence is that the attachment to externals which hinders the spiritual development of ordinary people, becomes accepted as ‘normal’ or even ‘expected’ behaviour in many failing religions. A religious or spiritual path which fails to ‘transcend’ the very ignorance its founder claims to have overcome – is now only a ‘religion’ in name only! The following extract is translated from the Imperial Selection of Ch'an Sayings (Yu Hsuan Yu Lu). This is a collection of fourteen volumes compiled by emperor Yung Cheng, the third emperor of the the Qing Dynasty who ruled from 1723-1735AD. Before becoming emperor, he took the name Upasaka Yuan Ming and practiced the Mind Dharma extensively. And when emperor, he used to hold imperial Ch'an weeks which produced both enlightened lay people and monks alike. Of the fourteen volumes, twelve are dedicated to the sayings of Ch'an masters, one volume to the sayings of the emperor himself, and one for the sayings of his brothers and sons.
'Master Teh Ch'eng arrived at Hua Ting in the Hsiu Chou district. He sailed a small boat, adjusted himself to circumstances and passed his days receiving visitors from the four quarters. At the time, as no one knew of his erudition, he was called the Boat Monk.
One day, (Ch'an master Teh Ch'eng), stopped by the river bank and sat idle in his boat. An official (who was passing) asked him: 'What does the Venerable Sir do?' The master held up the paddle, saying: 'Do you understand this?' The official replied: 'I do not.' The master said: 'I have been rowing and stirring the clear water, but a golden fish is rarely found.
Of course. ’adjusting to circumstance’ involve ALL possible permutations of reality and not just that which involves ‘free movement’. Sometimes. ‘adjusting to circumstance’ can involve the most ‘disciplined’ of existences – such as living in a monastic community that functions through the following of an all-inclusive ‘Rule’ that regulates physical behaviour, and the type of thoughts the mind can generate (or ‘not’ generate), whatever the case maybe. A prime example of community discipline is:
The great body of the leader has the community for its house; distinctions are made appropriately, disbursal is suited to the vessel, action is concerned with the principles of peace and well-being, gain and loss are related to the source of the teaching. How could it be easy to be a model for the people?
I have never seen a leader who was lax and easy-going win the obedience of the mendicants, or one whose rules were neglected try to present the Ch'an communities from becoming barbaric and despised.
In olden times, Master Yuwang Shen sent his chief student away, Master Yangshan Wei expelled his attendant. These cases are listed in our classics, and are worthy of being taken as standards. Nowadays everyone follows personal desires, thus ruining the original guidelines for Ch'an communes to a great extent.
People nowadays are lazy about getting up, and many are deficient in manners when they congregate. Some indulge shamelessly in their appetite for food, some create disputes in their concern for getting support and honour.
It has gotten to the point where there is nowhere that the ugliness of opportunism does not exist. How can we ever have the flourishing of ways to truth and the full vigour of spiritual teaching that we Look for?’
‘Adjusting to Circumstance’ has an ‘internal’ aspect – and an ‘external’ aspect. The ‘internal’ aspect involves a practitioner fully realising and understanding the ‘form’ of material reality (which includes the body inhabited), and the ‘void’ which is the empty mind ground. The Buddha describes ‘form’ as penetrating and fully understanding the concept of ‘perception’, whilst the Buddha describes the realisation of the ‘void’ as penetrating and understanding the principle of ‘non-perception’. When the ‘form’ and ‘void’ are fully realised and understood, (using the Cao Dong ‘Five Ranks’), then both concepts are ‘integrated’ so that no difference can be found anywhere. The ‘external’ method of ‘adjusting to circumstance’ involves a permanently ‘still’ mind that does not move, being fully ‘integrated’ with each and every circumstance of the outer world that traverse across the ‘senses’. Simply described, method 1) involves the body ‘integrating’ with the realised mind, whilst method 2) involves the body ‘integrating’ with the external (material) world!
‘What is Maha? It means “Great”. The capacity of the mind is as great as that of space. It is infinite, neither round nor square, neither great nor small, neither green nor yellow, neither red nor white, neither above nor below, neither long nor short, neither angry nor happy, neither right nor wrong, neither good nor evil, neither first nor last. All Buddha Ksetras (lands) are as void as space. Intrinsically our transcendental nature is void and not a single Dharma can be attained. It is the same with the Essence of Mind, which is a state od “Absolute Void” (I.e. the voidness of non-void).
Learned audience, when you hear me talk about the Void, do not at once fall into the idea of vacuity, (because this involves the heresy of the doctrine of annihilation). It is of the utmost importance that we should not fall into this idea, because when a man sits quietly and keeps his mind blank he will abide in a state of Voidness of Indifference.
Learned Audience, the illimitable Void of the universe is capable of holding myriads of things of various shape and form, such as the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, rivers, worlds, springs, rivulets, bushes, woods, good men, bad men, Dharmas pertaining to goodness or badness. Devi planes, hells, great oceans and all the mountains of the Mahameru Space takes in all these, and so does the voidness of our nature. We say that the essence of Mind is great because it embraces all things, since all things are within are nature.
When we see the goodness or the badness of other people we are not attracted by it, nor repelled by it, nor attached to it; so that our attitude of mind is as void as space. In this way, we say our mind is great. Therefore we call it ‘Maha’ (Great).
Wong Mou-Lam, The Sutra of Hui Neng, San Yang, (1929), Pages 28-29
Whereas scientists are not sure where the COVID19 infection came from, the Buddhist response is one of enhanced loving-kindness, compassion and wisdom. The Buddha’s compassion never wavered during his lifetime, regardless of what he experienced. In times of hardship, chaos and disaster, the minds and bodies of ordinary people become infected with a ‘fear’ that permeates every waking moment and is the basis for every action. All is change. Fear comes and fear goes and during these times, we must not become ‘attached’ or ‘polluted’ by this process – this is exactly the same requirement for monastics as it is for the laity as the ‘mind ground’ underlies all evenly. Sit strongly, breathe deeply and return all sensation to its empty essence. Still the mind and expand the awareness as from this all universal love, compassion and wisdom will flow! If you are ill, sit like an iron mountain until you can ‘see through’ the phenomenon of discomfort! The enlightened mind is like a giant (empty) and round mirror (with no limits) that reflects all things!
Shi Da Dao
At 3:03 pm (GMT+8) on February 1, 2020 (the eighth day of the first lunar month), the 93 years old Venerable Master Jing Kong (净空) will hold a non-exclusive (collective) Buddhist Prayer Meeting involving 300 million people world-wide. Anyone can join regardless of where you are. This Buddhist Prayer Meeting will take 3 minutes and involve the ‘good intention’ of generating the inner and outer conditions for personal, community, national and international ‘Peace and Good Health’. This will involve a special section for the people of Wuhan, Hebei province – the epicentre of the recent SARS outbreak.
Old Venerable Master Jing Kong would like to explain that everyone is welcome – atheist or theist, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, religious or non-religious. This is not about religious faith, but rather compassion and loving kindness for the welfare of all beings! The suggested ritual is as follows:
1) Namo Shakyamuni Buddha (chant times 3)
2) Namo Amitabha Buddha (chant times 3)
3) Namo Guanyin (chant times 3)
4) Pray for Wuhan, I wish China good health, May the world be peaceful!
5. Hope you and your family are healthy. Hope the patient recovers and the doctor is safe. I hope the epidemic will clear up.
(Due to the time difference, and the fact that people around the world may not read this straightaway, Master Jing Kong says that anyone can do this at any time to generate the good inner and outer conditions according to their own circumstance).
One-hundred and twenty years ago, in Changan, the ancient capital of China, there was hunger, drought and plagued. Old Master Xu Yun (虚云) prayed for snow in August and it was frozen for thousands of miles. Today after 120 years, the world will change because of your collective efforts!
Original Chinese Language Text:
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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