The Venerable Mangala Thero had no interest in the Mahayana teachings. I had turned-up in Sri Lanka with my very worn copy of Charles Luk’s English translation of the ‘Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra’ - which deals in-part in the limitation of the Hinayana Path (which I personally do not associate with the Theravada School) as opposed to the broad-minded and more complete Mahayana Path. Vimalakirti – as an enlightened layman – was able to ‘turn the words’ of the more conservative monastic followers of the Buddha and prove through wisdom that their interpretation of the Dharma was incomplete and lacking in attainment and understanding. Knowing this would happen – the Buddha deliberately engineered a number of meetings between his leading disciples and Vimalakirti so that the resulting engagements would ‘push’ their development and understanding into new orbits of transcendence and universal balance! When I showed the Ve. Mangala Thero this Sutra he just appeared to ‘look through it’ as if it was not there – this was lesson number one for me! Instead, Mangala Thero handed me a copy of the Ānāpānasati Sutta and told me to master it ‘beyond the words’ and ‘beyond the limitations of the page’. He also advised that ‘in the West a superficial Buddhism has developed which plays second fiddle to technology – but in here, Sri Lanka – this is not the case!’ I saw that materially ‘poor’ people were spiritually enriched by the Dhamma in ways that most Westerners simply would not understand or recognise. In Sri Lanka, and particularly the remote forests outside of major cities, the Dhamma continued to function very much as it had done for thousands of years – empowering each individual and community through a method of mind and body self-discipline! A practitioner becomes aware of the breath, uses the awareness to ‘penetrate’ the breath, and then penetrates the empty essence from which each aspect of the breath arises, manifests and subsides as a bodily process.
Considering how Japanese Buddhism eventually abandoned the Vinaya Discipline as a formal requirement for monastic training – I was pleasantly surprised to read Master Dogen’s view on this matter as contained in his extraordinary Shobogenzo (正法眼蔵 - Zheng Fa Yan Zang) text - literally ‘Correct Dharma-Eye Storehouse’. As Dogen expresses more than one dimension of reality at the same time – it is prudent not to jump to conclusions. For instance, he states that the status of monastic ordination is far-superior to that of lay-existence on the grounds that all impurity has been abandoned through the ordination process. Dogen further criticises as ‘wrong’ all those Ch’an Masters he met in China who said that there is no difference between a Buddhist monastic and a lay-person – but is Dogen correct? He certainly makes a very powerful argument that is difficult to uproot rhetorically.
Obviously, a Buddhist monastic who commits themselves to the over-two hundred Vinaya Discipline Rules is most certainly worthy of respect – particularly as they also commit themselves to follow the numerous (similar) Bodhisattva Vows! Theravada and Mahayana monastics give-up all direct connection with the household and the worlds of politics and work. For Vajrayana monastics, however, the situation is slightly different as the Tantri School begins and ends from the position of complete enlightenment, and work from the premise that the empty mind ground (Buddha-Nature) underlies all phenomena evenly – including the monastic and lay worlds of existence. Although many Tantrikas can spend decades in isolation practicing their ‘methods’ of self-purification – it is also true that some monks and nuns of this tradition marry one another sand use the machinations of married-life as yet another type of ‘yogic practice’ seeking unity in the one and oneness in the unity.
Dogen states that not one single lay-person ever realised enlightenment during the Buddha's lifetime – but this is a mistaken notion as there are at least twenty-one examples spread throughout the Pali Buddhist Suttas recording the attainment of full enlightenment by both male and female ‘lay’ followers of the Buddha! Some were enlightened by being in the presence of the Buddha, some were enlightened when he looked directly at them, whilst others were enlightened when they heard the Buddha’s voice (and/or put his teachings into practice)! The Buddha explained this by saying that these lay-people had built extraordinarily positive karma in their previous existences which meant that their lifestyle in this existence merely needed a slight nudge for the ridge-pole of ignorance to be thoroughly smashed! Of course, this is not the typical situation for humanity as many ordain and find the life very difficult due to the very heavy and negative karma they have to carry and attempt to uproot through Buddhist practice.
Dogen does not seem to be that impressed with the example of the enlightened lay-man – Vimalakirti – despite the Buddha explaining that Vimalakirti was a thoroughly enlightened Bodhisattva who took various forms merely to ‘liberate’ those he was destined to encounter during each lifetime. Furthermore, Hiu Neng was a layman when he inherited the Ch’an Dharma and became the Sixth Patriarch (although he was ordained many years later). Within the Ch’an Records in China it is stated that men, women, children, animals and even trees and inanimate objects have experienced enlightenment! As the empty mind ground (Buddha-Nature) underlies all phenomena, and given that the enlightened mind is expansive and all-embracing, there is no situation, person, living-being or object that exists outside of it. As this is the case, how can a monastic be ‘superior’ to a lay-person'?
Although I follow the Vinaya Discipline and the Bodhisattva Vows as a married layman – when I was a cloistered Ch’an monk I was continuously reminded of the need to practice ‘humility’. A Buddhist monastic is nothing but a ‘beggar’ - albeit a beggar who has direct access to the sublime teachings of the Dharma! A beggar owns nothing, controls nothing and drifts from place to place when not anchored by a regular monastic routine. He or she has no worries because the world of worries has been thoroughly renounced. There is nothing ‘superior’ about being socially useless. Furthermore, the hexagrams of the ‘Yijing’ (Classic of Change) are built line by line from the base upwards. Whether or not the hexagram is ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ depends on the first two lines! It is these two foundational lines that hold and secure the other four lines in place and give the entire hexagram meaning. As the Buddhist monastic is the foundational support for Chinese society, he or she must comprise the lowest two lines of the six-lined structure. This is how the four higher lines that constitute Chinese culture are supported and ‘lifted-up’ by the bottom two lines which gain their broad and universal power through a complete and humble attitude with no wants or fears. Within the Yijing – lines always move upwards from the base so if a Buddhist monastic comprised the upper two-lines there is no ‘supporting’ action for the underlying four lines - as these two lines above are moving forever upward on their own and will soon be out of the picture!
Buddhist monastics are empowered because they are ‘humble’ and voluntarily take the weight of society upon their shoulders! However, this should not fall into an ‘elitist’ position that nullifies the very purpose of ‘humility’! Given the correct conditions, a good teacher and an effective method – anyone can realise complete and total enlightenment. Even today in China, Ch’an monastics are always humble and unassuming. They always possess the attitude that they are ‘nothing’ and that they exist to support and serve society. As there is no ego involved, none of this has anything to do with money or status. It is just the next thing to do. Having said all this, I believe Dogen may be protesting about the ‘dishonest’ mind often found within lay-society which pretends it is enlightened and contrives to exploit others and make profit out of seeming to help! These people are making hellish karma for themselves and are their own worst enemy.
Author’s Note: The battle against greed, hatred and delusion in the human mind (and body) is ongoing and eternal. Within Buddhist self-cultivation there must be a rigid and uncompromising ‘honesty’ with yourselves and others. Furthermore, such ‘honesty’ must also be ‘impartial’ and ‘indifferent’. As it is the expected ‘norm’ within the practice of ‘Dhamma’ - it is not considered anything ‘special’ once established and maintained. If a practitioner either mistakenly (or purposely) believes themselves ‘Enlightened’ when still held firmly in the grip of the three taints – then hellish inner and outer karma is not just generated but is magnified through its association with a malfunctioning Dhamma! This form of destructive self-delusion (and pseudo-enlightenment) is exactly what the Buddha and his disciples warned about through their teaching! This means that the empty mind ground only underlies good, bad and neutral conditions when it is directly experienced as doing so – and NOT before. For a person whose mind is still clouded by these three taints – then the empty mind ground is NOT yet known to be a) present and b) underlying all conditioned and non-conditioned states. Without first DIRECTLY experiencing and merging with the empty mind ground – a practitioner cannot claim to be ‘Enlightened’ simply by intellectually ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ that the empty mind ground exists in theory behind ALL material states. For a genuine experience of ‘Enlightenment’ to occur, the Dhamma must be properly followed and its fruits of practice gathered in a honest manner. Only strict discipline on the psychological and physical planes will gather enough purified inner energy for a genuine breakthrough in understanding to take place. The Mahasiddhis in the Tantric tradition, for instance, often dedicate their lives to nearly impossible tasks of spiritual discipline and purification that take twelve, twenty-four (or even longer) years to achieve! Many Mahayana practitioners ‘delay’ their entry into Nibbana over many lives in order to ‘rescue’ and ‘sae’ as many beings as possible from suffering! Those of the Theravada Scholl often dedicate decades of their lives quietly sitting in the depths of the forest until their individual minds are cleared of all impurities! Again, ‘honesty’ is the key to progression. ACW (31.8.2021)
As a follower of the Dharma, I see no contradictions in any of three contemporary schools – the Theravada, the Mahayana and Vajra (Tantra)-yana – methods of achieving Enlightenment. The Dhammapada Sutta is a prime example of the Buddha’s early (and over-all) teaching – which sees the conservative Theravada School quote frequently from it (see the Visuddhimagga) - whilst completely ignoring its Mahayana and Vajrayana content – most of which contradicts the central tenants of the ‘Hinayana’ movement! Certainly, this type of ‘Sutta’ preserved in the old Pali Cannon appears to contain the seeds of both Mahayana and Vajrayana practice. This means that these pathways cannot be ‘later’ diversions from the Buddha’s orthodox teachings – but must have been present in his ‘original’ expression of the Dhamma. This suggests that there were other trends or traits of Buddhist teaching that existed side by side with the Theravada and which taught far broader and more comprehensive Dhamma-theories. As these schools did not compete or seek worldly influence and power – and given their practitioners often withdrew for years (or decades) from the world of common interaction – their presence in the historical record did not develop until much later on, when the dialectical conditions within society favoured a more comprehensive definition of the Dhamma and what it means to be ‘Enlightened’.
Although sound academic claims have been made which present the Mahayana and Vajrayana as being ‘corruptions’ of the Buddha’s original teaching – suggesting that Hinduism, Jainism and even Islamic ideas infiltrated the interpretation of the Dhamma – this model does not hold when the Dhammapada Sutta is taken into account. As the Dhammapada Sutta emanates from the ‘Word of the Buddha’, then it is his solemn expression of the Dhamma with no outside influences. Of course, the Theravada ideologues often counter this assertion by stating extracts from ultra-conservative Suttas – with each implying that only monks can achieve enlightenment who live in a forest – and no one else! The problem here, is that much of this material is now proven as being the product of additions, omissions and clever monkish editing to justify the ethos of the Theravada School. The Theravada School could get away with this in a time-period when only Buddhist monastics could read and write and the laity had to take their word for what the Buddha taught. Today, through the science of ‘Philology’, it is clear that the Dhammapada Sutta contains unaltered (ancient) content which has proven to be an embarrassment to the conservatism of the Theravada School! Indeed, evidence suggests that the Dhammapada Sutta was a much more prominent Buddhist text until the laity started using its content to ‘doubt’ the ‘conservativism’ of the Theravada School – whose editors ‘hid’ the Sutta away and started to emphasis more one-sided Dhamma-expressions.
Even at the time of the Buddha’s Parinibbana (all-round and thorough ‘extinction’) - not all the elder monks (or groups of monks) who had learned directly from him - accepted the Theravada School as being entirely correct. This is not to say that the Theravada School is ‘wrong’ - but that its claim to an ‘exclusive’ legitimacy is not fully supported by the known facts. The conservative approach of the Theravada School is suitable for those individuals who require that type of approach to learning the Dhamma. However, it is also true that the Buddha also taught a number of other interpretations of his path – each extending the depth and broadness of the concept of ‘Enlightenment’ and how it is to be applied to the world. All pathways are of equal validity and it is probably the case that most people will at one time or another in their lives – explore all three pathways. For the Theravada School a Buddhist monastic living deep in the forest (away from ALL worldly contact) occupies the ideal situation for Dhamma-study. The six senses are ‘purified’ by ‘breaking’ ALL contact with worldly interaction whilst living in a meditation hut and following the Vinaya Discipline. Overtime, the six senses are thoroughly cleaned-out as the ridge-pole of ignorance is broken through a continuous practice of seated meditation. This is achieved by permanently uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. Once nibbana is attained, no more volitional karma is produced, but the continued existence of the physical body symbolises the accumulative effects of past karma – although after the realisation of ‘Enlightenment’ - all previously bad karma is greatly reduced. When the karmic force that powers each physical existence is exhausted – then the five aggregates (physical matter, sensation, perception, thought formation and consciousness) dissolve and fall away never to ‘re-combine’.
Interestingly, the Theravada model implies that only monks can realise ‘Enlightenment’ even though numerous Pali Suttas clearly state that a number of lay-men and women also realised complete ‘Enlightenment’ during the Buddha’s lifetime. This openly contradicts the Theravada School – which suggests that if an ‘Enlightened’ monk were to return to lay-life – then his ‘Enlightened’ state would regress as his six senses would once again be ‘sullied’ through interaction with the world. The Pali Suttas that the Theravada School preserve contradict most of the accrued dogma that this school preserves. Obviously, men and women can attain ‘Enlightenment’ even if they live within the pollution of everyday society, and according to the Dhammapada Sutta - ‘Enlightenment’ can be attained in places other than a forest – with the realisers not suffering any regression by changing their living conditions. This does not mean that the over-all methodology of the Theravada School is ‘incorrect’ - but rather that as a method it fits into a broader scheme designed by the Buddha. Somewhere along the line a group of monks seeking political (worldly) power established a number of outrageous claims that have gone unchallenged. The Mahayana School (which is a collection of Sects all teaching a variant upon a theme), also states that it might be in the interests of the individual to withdraw from the sensory stimulus of the everyday world to get to grips with the unruly mind. This is not the ‘end’ of the matter by any means – but merely the beginning of an ongoing and arduous process of self-purification. Much of the Mahayana pathway is premised upon ‘Compassion’ for other beings and includes methods of wise and loving modes of behaviour whilst interacting within the ordinary world. This means that even when living within the world of delusion, the Dhamma can be followed in such a manner that benefits others whilst pursuing a much slower path of purification.
As Hui Neng (the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an) states in his Altar Sutra – once the six senses are thoroughly purged of ALL dualistic and inverted (volitional) karma, then greed, hatred and desire are PERMANENTLY uprooted never to re-appear again regardless of the situations such ‘Enlightened’ individuals are forced to exist within. (Hui Neng had to live in the hills with bandits for sixteen years but only ate the vegetables they cooked alongside their meat). Herein lies a major interpretative difference between the Theravada and Mahayana Schools. Other than this, however, the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ is essentially the same. An ‘Enlightened’ Mahayana practitioner CANNOT regress regardless of circumstances – which he or she merely adjusts themselves to (neither attached to the inner void or hindered by external phenomena). Whereas Chinese Ch’an Masters were often reticent to discuss the post-enlightenment state (to prevent pointless mimicry and ego-boosting) - the Vajrayana School of Tantra explains this process over and over again within the literature associated with the ‘Mahasiddhis’ - or ‘Enlightened’ Indian men and women all from very different backgrounds! Again, the root essence of this can be found in the Dhammapada Sutta where the Buddha explains who and what a ‘monk’ and a ‘Brahmin’ actually are! In reality, there is no difference in the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ as taught in the Theravada, Mahayana and Tantra Schools, as the experience being explained is exactly the same. It is the experience of the underlying and empty mind ground, which is the accumulation of bodily discipline and ‘stilling’ of the mind so that the karmically conditioned taints of greed, hatred and delusion are permanently uprooted.
The differences lie in how each school teaches the path to the attainment of ‘Enlightenment’ and the accumulated dogma that has manifested due to historical conditions many hundreds of years after the passing of the Buddha. The Theravada offers a narrow gate, the Mahayana advocates a wide gate and the Tantrayana states that the ‘gate’ is ‘everywhere’ and ‘wherever’ a practitioner happens to be. This is because the empty mind ground underlies all phenomena and is not limited to a forest. Whereas the Mahayana emphasises the ‘path’ over the ‘destination’ - the Tantrayana offers the ‘destination’ over the ‘path’! However, things are not always this clear in demarcation, as some Theravada teachers offer a distinctly ‘Mahayana’ approach to their conservativism, whilst a number of Mahayana teachers are so strict that they come across as typical of the Theravada School. On occasion, there are Chinese Ch’an Masters who begin with ‘Enlightenment’ (just like the Tantrayana Masters), and will not compromise, negotiate or explain what they are doing. In reality we should study all three schools and make use of their experience and expertise in the matter of freeing humanity from its ongoing and accumulated suffering! A genuine experience of the empty mind ground unleashes an uncommon wisdom which sheds light on all this and demonstrates the genuine way ahead!
The Huayan (Flower Garland) Sutra (Sanskrit: ‘Avatamsaka’ Sutra) is a very long Mahayana text comprising of thirty-nine in-depth chapters explaining a multidimensional and interlocking system of diverse domains, realms and realities that are all connected by an identical underlying reality (from which) and within which all these diverse modes of existence manifest. The first thirty-eight chapters explain the structure, texture and function of this lucid reality, with this (final) thirty-ninth chapter actually dealing with the explorations of the (pure) young man named ‘Sudhana’. Although the Bodhisattva Manjushri instructs him to travel far and wide and receive instruction from fifty-three enlightened beings (comprised of male and female Buddhist monastics, male and female lay-people, Bodhisattvas including Manjushri himself, non-Buddhists (including Hindus), gods, goddesses and spirits, etc. Eventually, Sudhana realised that although reality is vast and enlightened-beings (representing the fifty-three stages of Bodhisattva development from ignorance to enlightenment) exist throughout the three-time periods of past, present and future – the reality is that with the correct training – this underlying (empty) reality can be ‘pierced’ and ‘realised’ here and now.
As the entirety of this multidimensional reality is interconnected by a structure that resembles ‘Indra’s Net’ - regardless of where (or ‘when’) an individual happens to be, this ‘wall of outer reality’ (reflected inwardly as a continuous stream of deluded thought) can be ‘penetrated’ through the development of meditative insight. Indeed, the final thirty-ninth chapter of the Huayan Chapter is what might be termed the ‘traditional’ Sutra-section of this text – with the other (preceding) thirty-eight chapters being an intricate and sophisticated extrapolation of this vision. Although moving around within time and space can be useful and sometimes even required for individual development – from a Ch’an perspective it is better to sit ‘like an iron mountain’ and cultivate the appropriate insight into the fabric of reality that exists everywhere and at all times. This is why the Huayan Sutra explains that reality Is comprised of four attributes which are a) noumena, b) phenomena, c) integration of noumena and phenomena and c) the unhindered functionality of all phenomena.
The ‘noumena’ is the underlying, empty mind ground, whilst the ‘phenomena’ comprises ALL of material existence. These are not two separate (parallel) states acting in concordance, but are rather two-sides of the same coin of reality. Within the deluded state, individuals cannot see beyond the phenomenal expression of reality. All they see is the (outer) material world of external objects which is reflected (inwardly) as a stream of continuous deluded thought. If a suitable meditational technique is applied to the individual mind – then the mind and body becomes ‘non-attached’ to the world of (external) material objects – a process which removes the impetus that powers the (internal) stream of deluded thoughts. Outer non-attachment is reflected within as the attainment of a ‘still’ and ‘pure’ mind. When the surface of the mind is ‘still’ there is no longer a stream of ‘obscuring’ thought which hinders insight and understanding. Like a crystal-clear lake – the individual can ‘see’ right to the bottom of the watery depths. With further training, the practitioner can fully enter into (and understand) the ‘empty’ world of the ‘noumena’ within which all things arise and pass away.
The Caodong School of Ch’an developed its Five Ranks of Prince and Minister symbology from an integration of Confucian and Daoist roundel technology, together with the use of ‘trigrams’ and ‘hexagrams’ as contained within the ‘Classic of Change’ (易經 - Yi Jing), as well as the conceptual understanding of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ (陰陽). These five-roundel schematic can also be represented by a ‘thunderbolt’ motif (commonly found within the Chinese and Tibetan traditions of ‘Tantra’). The five roundels represent the human mind as its understanding progresses from the state of ‘ignorance’ to that of ‘enlightenment’. This developmental understanding is conveyed through the ‘shading’ and ‘non-shading’ of the roundels (or the ‘lack of light’ and the ‘presence of light’). The Caodong Masters used hexagram 30 - ‘䷝’ (離 - Li) - of the ‘Classic of Change’ to represent the fully enlightened mind (and body). Within ‘Yijing’ symbology this represents ‘double fire’ or ‘yang over yang’ (as two solid yang lines firmly hold the lone and broken central ‘yin’ line in check). As this is ‘fire over fire’ - then enlightenment is shown as being ‘complete’ and expressed as existing in all directions without hindrance or limit! As the enlightened mind exists in the ever present ‘here and now’, the Caodong Masters designed their developmental schematic starting from the ever-present but as of yet unrealised ‘enlightened’ position and working backwards – generating shaded roundels that represent the various levels of deluded obscuration associated with the ‘deluded’ states.
The five roundels of the Caodong School possess the internal logic of the ‘Yijing’ - whilst further representing the methodology of the Huayan Sutra. The ‘noumena’ is identical with ‘yang’ whilst ‘phenomena’ is equated with ‘yin’ - as the two systems interlock perfectly and appear to reinforce the general thinking that underlies the structure of the Huayan Sutra. Furthermore, the ‘noumena’ is also equated with the ‘Host’ (or ‘real’) position of Ch’an – whilst the ‘phenomena’ is identified with the ‘Guest’ (or ‘seeming’ position), etc. The yin-yang concept represents a permanent interaction of ‘shade’ and ‘non-shade’ - just as the Huayan Sutra advocates the permanent interaction of the ‘noumena’ and the ‘phenomena’. There is a perfect ‘integrating’ of the ideology of the ‘Indian’ (Sanskrit) Huayan Sutra – and the Chinese yin-yang system as used by the ‘Chinese’ Ch’an School. I am of the opinion that the Huayan Sutra motivated the Caodong Masters to ‘pull’ together Ch’an methodology with the yin-yang concept and ‘Yijing’ symbology – as well as Confucian and Daoist roundel technology. The five roundels represent the gradual ‘clearing’ of a practitioner’s insight as their Ch’an training progresses clearing the delusion from the mind. Initially, the ‘host’(noumena) is ‘hidden’ within the ‘guest’ (phenomena) and cannot be readily perceived even though there is a ‘sense’ that it is out there somewhere (this is the first position)! As training progresses it is understood that the ‘guest’ is ensconced within the ‘host’ (this is the second position). With further (sustained) training there is the sudden ‘resurgence’ of the ‘host’ or ‘real’ (‘noumena’) position where the mind is permanently ‘stilled’ (represented by the third position). This is often termed the (relative) ‘enlightenment’ of the Hinayana.
With further training, the mind’s perception ‘expands’ so that the ‘noumena’ (void) and ‘phenomena’ (form) stand in a balanced opposition to one another. This demonstrates the subtle delusion of duality which still persists and this is why the Caodong Masters explain this fourth position as ‘not one’. When this last subtle barrier is dissolved – then the fifth position of ‘full enlightenment’ is achieved which the Caodong Masters describe as ‘not two’. Within Huayan Sutra thinking – this represents the perfect integration of the ‘noumena’ and the ‘phenomena’ - whereby all of the material objects in the world exist in their proper place and without hindrance or limitation of expression and functionality. From the Ch’an position, the advice is usually to be ‘neither attached to the void nor hindered by phenomena’. Once the Ch’an practitioner fully understands the ‘noumena’ and the phenomena’ - then all that remains is for the individual concerned to simply ‘adjust himself to circumstance’ whilst acting in the best interests of all living beings. This means that the ‘frequency’ of the phenomenal world one happens to exist within is fully understood and the path of least resistance is taken – unless, of course, injustice is such that a Ch’an Master is called upon to act in the best interests of humanity. Noumena and phenomena represent a totality of reality – an ebb and flow in innate and functional energy within which the mind and body manifests. If we sit and meditate ‘like an iron mountain’ here and now – then human insight will fully perceive this reality and dissolve all the delusional barriers that usually prevent this direct perception. Just as a single hexagram of the ‘yijing’ contains the essence of the other sixty-three hexagrams – one of the five Caodong roundels contains the essence of the other four. This recognition of multidimensional functionality is exactly how the Huayan Sutra has influenced the Chinese Ch’an School.
Prior to the 1950s, the world Buddhist community more or less agreed with the traditional Chinese dating of the Buddha. This dating is still used in ‘New’ China and stems from Indian Buddhist monks arriving in China and transmitting the Dharma. The best text explaining this in my opinion, is that included in the Chinese-language biography of Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) edited my Cen Xue Lu (between 1952-1961 in various editions) - but which is omitted from the English-language translation rendered by Charles Luk (copyrighted to ‘1960’ as ‘extracts’ of Xu Yun’s Dharma Words appearing in Ch’an and Zen Teachings First Series – but not published until 1974 as a separate book under the guidance of Roshi Philip Kapleau). I tracked-down the Chinese-language original of this text and translated it a few years ago. This can be found in the relevant section of the original Chinese language chapter of Xu Yun’s autobiography (虛雲和尚年譜), covering the year ‘1953/54’, which is entitled ‘末法僧徒之衰相’ – this translates as ‘Degeneration of the Sangha in the Dharma-ending Age’. Within this text, Master Xu Yun explains the following:
‘Two years ago, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Chinese Buddhist Association, where everyone present discussed the Dharma. The main issues concerned included the corrupt Dharma practices of certain Buddhists that were destroying the Buddha’s teachings from within, and the attitude of the government towards Buddhism in the light of this distorted practice – this is why the government sent representatives to attend. At this conference many devout followers of the Buddha attended and were encouraged to give their views and opinions. It was suggested that the Bodhisattva Precepts as taught in the Brahmajala Sutra (梵網經– Fan Wang Jing), the Vows contained in the Vinaya Discipline in Four Parts (四分律 – Si Fen Lu), the Pure Regulations of Ch’an Master Baizhang (百丈清規 – Bai Zhang Qing Gui) and all such established Buddhist laws should be abolished, because they cause harm to young people, and are detrimental to the wellbeing of men and women. Furthermore, it was also suggested that the ordained Sangha should be reformed and no longer wear the traditional robes associated with monks and nuns. The justification for these suggestions was premised upon the belief that traditional Buddhist practice was merely a form of backward feudalistic conservativism, and that the issue was actually about religious freedom. It was proposed that monks and nuns should be allowed to get married, drink alcohol and eat meat, and be free of any disciplinary requirements. As soon as I heard these words, I instantly had a strong reaction against them, and thoroughly disagreed with their content. I treated these suggestions with contempt. The idea of abandoning the celebration of the Buddha’s birthday stemmed from the observation that different Buddhist traditions celebrate this event at different times. As far as I am concerned, this tradition is a legitimate Dharma-practice in China that is based upon the teachings of Indian Dharma-teacher Kasyapa-Matanga (摩騰法師 – Mo Teng Fa Shi) who travelled to China during the 1st century CE, met with, and instructed Emperor Ming (明帝 – Ming Di) of the Latter Han (r. 58-75 CE). Matanga taught that the Buddha was born during the 51st year (of the 60-year cyclical sequence found within the traditional Chinese lunar calendar) in the year of tiger, which is represented by the Chinese astrological symbols of the heavenly stem ‘Jin’ (甲) and the earthly branch ‘Yin’ (寅). Matanga further stated that the Buddha’s birth correlates to the 8th day of the 4th lunar month.
(Translator’s Note: In the Western year 2015 CE – the traditional Chinese Buddhist Calendar stood at 3042/43 years since the birth of the Buddha – this means that according to Chinese Buddhist tradition, the Buddha was born around the year 1029/28 BCE. If it is agreed that he lived around 80 years – then the Buddha entered nirvana in the year 949/48 BCE.)
The exact date of the Buddha’s birth occurred in the 24th year of the rule of the Zhou Dynasty monarch – King Zhao (昭王) – who reigned 1052-1002 BCE. Therefore the Buddha’s birth occurred in the year 1028/29 BCE according to Matanga. The shramana (沙門 – Sha Men) – or Buddhist monk known as Tan Mo Zui (曇謨最) – is recorded in the Wei Dynasty (386-557 CE) Book of History (魏書 – Wei Shu) as stating that the Buddha was born on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month, which was during the 24th year of the reign of the Zhou Dynasty monarch – King Zhao. The Buddha entered nirvana on the 15th day of the 2nd lunar month, which occurred in the 52nd year of the rule of the Zhou Dynasty monarch – Mu Wang (穆王) – who reigned 1001-947 BCE). This means that the Buddha died around 949/48 BCE. Throughout all of the subsequent Chinese dynasties, this tradition has been preserved and upheld. From the time of the Zhou Dynasty’s King Wang until now (1952/53) – it is agreed that 2981/82 years have passed since the time of the Buddha’s birth.’
The modern dating suggesting the Buddha lived roughly around 563-483 BCE (or even later) stems from the first reliable dating of an event in India – which is taken (by Western scholars) as the 327 BCE invasion of India by Alexander the Great. When this is used as a chronological anchor it can be cross-referenced with the stone stele associated with Emperor Ashoka (r. 268-232 BCE) - which record sections of the Buddha’s teachings together with dynastic dating – Western scholars proposed what seemed to be a logical assessment of the available data. This led to the Theravada schools adopting tis new Western dating in the 1950s and removing 500 years of off the previously held dating about the Buddha. This is to say that prior to 4th World Buddhist Conference of 1956 (held in Nepal) - most of the Buddhist world held an opinion that mirrored the dating held in China. Even today, modern Chinese scholarship still upholds the original dating of the Buddha as correct and the Western dating as flawed (that is an opinion that appears logical but which ignores certain facts whilst lacking concrete knowledge about other facts). Interestingly, a number of modern Indian academics also reject the ‘new’ Western dating and state that the old Chinese dating is correct.
The Chinese scholar-sage – known as ‘Confucius’ in the West – lived between 551-479 BCE and with these dates would have been a contemporary of the Buddha (according to Western reconning). Whereas Confucius and his disciples were highly literate (as representatives of the Chinese nobility) - the Buddha, although very well educated as a high-caste Hindu, nevertheless was illiterate and could not read and write! Although educated in armed and unarmed martial arts, yoga, State-craft, love-making and scripture recollection, etc, the Buddha did not have to learn how to read and write. Furthermore, none of the Buddha’s disciples (regardless of caste) could read or write. The onus was to use the facility of ‘memory’ to store, recall and pass-on the long and complex spiritual and secular texts that defined ancient Indian culture. Education within Indian society was aural and practical. Reading and writing was known – but was only reserved for use in the royal court. Here, a specially trained Minister of State would ‘write down’ all the decisions taken by the ruler and all the laws passed so that a permanent record of the law of the State could be made. When required, this Minister would access the record and remind the ruler (who could not read) what the establish law was.
I am of the opinion that the epoch of the Buddha and the epoch of Confucius are two different historical periods. This can be discerned by the attitude toward the art of reading and writing and upon how the two different societies related to the concept of literacy. It is important to remember that at this time Chinese rulers and scholars maintained a high level of respect for Indian culture and were quite happy to import it for their own enrichment. Given this is the case, I doubt that India would have been essentially ‘illiterate’ whilst China was ‘literate’. How can this disparity be explained? I suspect the Buddhist context in India dates to around 1000 BCE – with a similar situation existing within Zhou dynasty China (with both cultures first developing literacy amongst the ruling elites via superstition, mythology and divine oracles, etc. I suspect that by around 500 BCE, both cultures had developed, solidified and expanded literacy amongst a much larger social elite, with the written word now being associated with the recording and expressing of the highest and most sublime spiritual and secular philosophies! If the Buddha had really lived around 500 BCE (like Confucius) it is likely that reading and writing would have been far-spread and routinely used by all spiritual teachers and their students!
At no time do the Chinese records talk of Indian culture as being less advanced or backward when compared to Chinese culture. On the contrary, the Chinese attitude is always one of respect and in many respects ‘awe’! It is doubtful that such an attitude would have existed if Indian culture was found to be ‘illiterate’ whilst China’s cultural elite were by comparison – highly literate. Such an idea is counter-intuitive. This being the case, why does the Western dating suggesting the Buddha lived at the same time as Confucius but was illiterate? The Sui Dynasty Records (581-618 CE) state that a number of Brahmanical texts (now lost) had been earlier transmitted to China (date unknown). In the early days the flow of progressive culture was definitely from India to China and I find it odd that a culture with no developed literacy tradition would be instructing a society with a fully developed and sophisticated literacy tradition! It is far more likely that the historical Buddha lived around 1000 BCE and at that time India and China were at a similar state of cultural development regarding the use of literacy. India’s genius lay in its developed use of the human-mind which it was willing to share with the world! By 500 BCE, again India and China were at similar stages of cultural development and literacy usage – and yet China still acknowledged India as the bedrock of progressive and advanced thinking and culture!
Whilst Easterners are too busy modernising too be that bothered with Ch’an lineage transmissions – many Westerners, by way of contrast, attempt to ‘collect’ transmissions as if they are badges denoting rank or promotions signifying success! This is a complete cultural misreading and is usually accomplished by a huge psychological and physical barrier of ‘dishonesty’ which they feel cannot be seen. On the contrary, those trained in authentic Ch’an Buddhism are able to immediately ‘see through’ this disguise the moment it is made apparent. Many such people who have approached me cannot get pass, over or around me – as I sit like a heavy boulder in their path. I am not going anywhere and have no interest in banal conversation – show me your insight or go away. I do not care what you think (or do not think) as it is all a creation in your own head dependent upon your own conditioning in life – come to me when you have cleared it up and attained ‘stillness’ of mind, expansion of mind or integration of ‘form’ and ‘void’.
Other than that, we have nothing to talk about unless I deem it worthwhile and to the benefit of your own development. All this hold doubly-true for those who still decide to follow fake spiritual teachers in the West and support fraudulent lineages after I have explained the genuine Ch’an Dharma to them. This is why it makes no difference if we maintain an ‘open’ transmission as an act of ‘compassion’ on the ICBI site – as it is each individual’s behaviour that either validates or invalidates such an initiative – and the ICBI can withdraw such a fluid transmission if an individual concerned acts in a disrespectful, dishonourable, dishonest or disruptive manner.
Such individuals cannot uphold the ICBI lineage and claim to still support fake teachers and false transmissions! Furthermore, it is not the place of the ICBI to confirm or deny to individuals which lineages are ‘fake’ or ‘fraudulent’ as this is your own responsibility. The ICBI is a spiritual platform with its historical roots in China and it is Chinese culture which defines its everyday functioning. The ICBI colleagues in Beijing chose the UK as its first non-China base as a springboard into the West. As there are no plans for any further expansion – the UK is considered the cradle of genuine Ch’an outside of China. I will guard this gate for my Chinese colleagues for as long as my life will last and I will assist all and sundry to realise the empty mind ground – but for your own sakes – I certainly will not indulge anyone’s ego!
ACW – SDD (13.8.2021)
The Buddhist sacred texts state that meditation – that is a deliberate and willed ‘control’ and ‘development’ of the mind – can (and should) occur whilst standing, sitting, lying-down and walking. This practice of turning the attention back to the empty mind ground ‘protects’ each individual from the power of greed, hatred and delusion, and also protects society from behaviours premised upon greed, hatred and delusion. This is the most obvious ‘defence’ that conscious living grants a Ch’an Buddhist practitioner. This is ‘Dharma’ self-cultivation in action and there is no other practice as powerful or effective. The Dharma is the central core of the Budda’s teaching – with the Vinaya (monastic discipline) and Abhidhamma (monastic commentary) being very important but supplementary texts (like the three-legs of a stool). Regardless of the circumstances an individual has to live or exist within, the act of ‘seated meditation’ allows the essence of that circumstance to be actively ‘transformed’ from the inside out, or from the atomic or molecule structure! Although the construction of our surroundings may not be to our liking, we can still operate the principle of ‘non-attachment’ and cognitively and physically ‘distance’ ourselves from the painful sensations that are experienced. With a practice that is long enough and deep enough, bad experiences will eventually give-way to good or neutral conditions. If we can become truly ‘detached’, however, we can remain entirely indifferent to whatever circumstances pass across the senses of the body and traverse the surface of the mind. All of this practice serves to realise the empty mind ground and permanently rectify the ‘inverted’ mind-set that the Buddha pin-pointed as the essence of all human suffering. This is the uprooting of greed, anger and delusion. The conditions surrounding ‘seated meditation’, however, are also sound instructions for avoiding unnecessary social contact and the spreading of diseases throughout society. The Buddha recommends that an individual withdraws into a quiet area that is not too dark, or too light, that is airy but no too windy, that is isolated but not too far away from populations. This withdrawal from direct contact and habitual interaction has the by-product of a) not exposing a practitioner to disease, and b) not exposing other members in society to the spread of disease. This is exactly what is need in this troublesome time!
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!
Dear ICBI Members
I experienced this practice and found it sharpens the mind and clears the senses. The incense cones burn at a very high temperature and the searing pain is immense - but also highly localised. Beneath the skin of the scalp is the hard bone of the skull so damage is mostly skin-related, although the pain can continue for some time. Within Chinese medicine, however, moxibustion is very well-known as a method for clearing qi-energy channels and preventing or reducing the chance of infection. These cones are placed along the Governing Vessel and the qi, jing (and developing shen) circulate up the back and over the top of the head before descending down through the centre of the face and into the upper mouth. The tongue connects the upper mouth with the lower mouth so that these congealed energies can freely pass down into the Conception Vessel and into the groinal area (this is the circulation of the microcosmic orbit). I suspect Shi Zhide started this practice in 1288 CE as a means to 'unblock' excessive 'yin' energy (or 'negative' qi) trapped in the head area so that the habitual ignorance of humanity could be more easily 'broken' when the Ch'an meditative method is applied. As I was ordained in a 'fighting' order of Cao Dong monks - this practice was also believed to open the energy channels to such an extent that no incoming power from another's martial blow could cause any damage! As the incoming energy connects with the opened energy channels - it is simply 'absorbed' (like water rushing down the drain) and immediately redistributed throughout the system with no blockages being caused. Whatever the case, the mind must be 'stilled' and 'expanded' and this medical ritual assists this process.
Peace in the Dharma
ICBI UK - Admin
In China, some modern men and women – who have experienced a university education – decide to embrace the hard life of Buddhist monasticism. This is at the point in their lives when they could be embarking upon a ‘paid’ career, earning a salary, falling in-love and travelling the world! This is the time – much the same as in the West – where young people enjoy their lives and find their way through existence. Of course, although the language and culture are very different – modernity brings its own equivalents. Yes – the outer-layer of history, tradition and everyday culture is different in China to that found to the West – but there are certain underlying realities that prove that we are all human! Giving-up their modern clothes and shaving the styled-hair from their heads – these people are entering an entirely different world which is controlled by the strictures of the Vinaya Discipline.
The following of the Vinaya Discipline is not a ‘choice’ (as it is in Japan), but is a ‘legal’ requirement in China. Yes – the Vinaya Discipline has been ‘written’ into China’s ‘Secular Law’ so that it is a ‘Criminal Offence’ for anyone who has left society and embarked upon the Buddhist monastic path – not to follow the Vinaya Discipline (this was decided by Master Xu Yun 1840-1959). From the day of full ordination, a Chinese Buddhist monastic ‘gives-up’ all rights to a paid livelihood, marriage, off-spring and normal social interaction. From this day onwards the desire mechanism is permanently ‘switched-off’ never to be re-activated at any time! (The recipient is only bound to these rules for as long as he or she remains wearing a robe and being a monastic. Should they decide to leave this lifestyle – then they must follow the equally strict ‘disengagement’ rules so that they can ‘legally’ and ‘lawfully’ exit the Vinaya Discipline without fear of prosecution, and return to the condition of ‘lay’ life).
A Buddhist monastic must also take the Bodhisattva Vows which can never be cancelled as they do not require celibacy or living as a monastic as pre-requisites. Bodhisattva Vows exist to include the entirety of a) humanity, and b) all other life, in an all-embracing attitude of wisdom, loving kindness and compassion in all circumstances! The Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows do overlap in many of their requirements – particularly in ‘not killing’ or ‘causing to kill’. Perhaps the Vinaya Discipline can be referred to as ‘wisdom’ based leaning toward compassion – whilst the Bodhisattva Vows are premised upon ‘compassion’ leaning more toward wisdom. Within China, Buddhist monastics often undergo a ritual whereby one, two, three, six, nine, or twelve symmetrical dots are ‘burned’ onto the naked, shaven scalp (usually at different times and steady progressing in numbers as more Bodhisattva Vows are taken).
This ritual is unique to Chinese Buddhism and is believed to have started in 1288 CE (during the Yuan Dynasty) – when Shi Zhide (释志德) [(1235-1322] introduced the practice whilst Head Monk of the ‘Tianxi’ (天禧) Temple in Jinling! As the recipient receives and recites the Bodhisattva Vows – burning incense cones are placed on top of the head forming a rectangle or square-shape. This is known as the practice of applying the 'Fragrant Scar' (香疤 - Xiang Ba). The recipient must be ‘detached’ from the pain of burning – whilst understanding that the ‘world is burning’ and that ‘humanity is suffering’! The Buddhist monastic path is dedicated to the permanent uprooting of greed, hatred and delusion from the mind and body of the of the monastic, from the minds and bodies of all living beings, and from the physical environment! As this is such an awesome responsibility – the Chinese Buddhist monastic forfeits all rights to an ordinary existence...
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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