Many people view matter as a solid wall of obscuration that the bodily organs can ‘sense’ but do little else with. Matter can be measured and it can be manipulated, but Buddhist meditation offers another way of ‘seeing’ matter. Quantum Physics explains that matter as a solid wall is an illusion regardless of how powerful this image might at first seem. Matter, we are told, is a non-permanent assemblage of sub-atomic particles. In other words, regardless of how it seems to be, it is not ‘solid’ by any means. The Buddha, for instance, taught that material reality is comprised of atoms which flash in and out of existence at a tremendous speed! To the perceiving mind at its normal rate of frequency, this ‘flashing’ cannot be seen and so reality seems solid and unchanging. Modern science has also proven that human consciousness also flashes on and off tremendously fast – creating the false impression of perceptual permanency. When a practitioner meditates for long periods of time, the operating frequency of the mind is slowly altered and changed so that the perception of reality changes to accommodate a more scientifically correct understanding of reality. This is why the Buddha explains reality as comprising of a simultaneous perception of ‘form’ and ‘void’ - with no contradiction whatsoever! Once the base frequency of the ‘everyday’ mind is dislodged from its dominant position – the perceptual foundation sees reality from a new depth of perception. As the default position that everyone is born with is set to perceive ‘matter’ only – it is the ‘empty’ essence of material reality that needs to be penetrated, understood and normalise. This is not a matter of leaving one state of mind for another, but rather the act of ‘expanding’ the mind so that it can perceive more data per second or mili-second, etc. Matter is just as solid as before - but now its ‘empty’ nature is fully understood. Emptiness is just as pervasive as before – but now its material aspect is better understood. The Buddha never denies the existence of the physical universe – but he does advocate that humanity must develop the mind to realise a different way of ‘perceiving’ reality as it actually is.
“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.
Polarity is a funny business. Life and death – health and illness, etc – all this often occupies the human mind (and body) above and beyond every other subject. Of course, we must also feed and house the body, but if one of these is missing, at the very least we must provide nourishment for the human-body. Many in the West fear homelessness as the weather in this part of the world is often cold, wet and difficult to endure for at least six months of the year! When I lived in Sri Lanka, poverty and good weather went hand-in-hand so that holy men and women – that is the truly committed to the realm beyond the senses – walked around in the flimsiest of attire – except the Jains who give-up even this modest association with the world! A naked body is not as much of a problem as is a naked ego...
Of course, I have heard of a Western Zen monk living (voluntarily) homeless on the streets of New York, although this was at least fifteen years ago, and perhaps more. It is not just the weather that distinguishes East from West – but history and culture as well. There is a particular ‘coldness’ to the ‘individuality’ of the West which is lacking in the ‘collective’ cultures of the East. Even so, regardless of how humanity sets about organising the external aspect of its existence, there is always the thorny issue of how the ‘inner’ life is to be approached, reconciled and processed, etc.
Is it possible to ‘give-up’ all desire for physical life – and yet continue to still ‘exist’ on this plane of reality? Can ‘we’ be both ‘here’ and ‘not-here’ simultaneously and in a manner that is not paradoxical or contradictory in any disconcerting or disruptive sense? Can there be ‘peace of mind’ and ‘health of body’ in a state that is ‘beyond all states’? I suspect that this all comes down to the balancing of what the Buddha defines as ‘perception’ and ‘non-perception’. A mind (and body) that is beyond the realms of the world still needs to be fed at least the minimum of food – hence the Buddhist monastic and the agency of ‘begging’ and/or growing their own food (with an emphasis upon vegetarianism). It is in this rarefied ‘space’ that all sophistry for the world is ‘not yet arisen’ and all is peace and tranquillity despite the nature of the external world (which ultimately must also include the ‘health’ of the physical body).
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!
‘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!
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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