My Buddha is better than yours
Informal discussion on the practice of Huatou in our lineage
My Buddha is better than yours! My practice beats yours! No way your silly thing rides you to enlightenment before me… and we could go on and on. Of course, we never hear that per se. But that is what we can ‘read’ between the lines sometimes, both in others that we may interact with… and in us, lets be honest.
There is a natural tendency in each of us to think that our choices and references are better than the ones that people around us assume. That is a crucial part of our practice: doubting. Not staying on any position or thought. But its easy to say, not so easy to do… how to do that anyway?
Well, the great chance for a teacher are his student questions. Each question demands to deeply search and expound, to adapt an answer to his student needs and capacities. And I had a teacher who, through his questions, obliged me to go deeper and deeper in my own relation to our main practice: reflecting on the Huatou to shed light on the MindGround. That student was a serious practitionner of a Japanese School of Buddhism for 20 years. During these two decades he practiced and, above all, studied. In this school of Nichiren Buddhism he meet tremendous people, and especially an old and compassionate teacher. When his teacher had to come back to Japan, he left the school and continued practicing and studying for years on his own.
One day he came to know my own teachings and come to see me because he knew that Master Hsu Yun and his followers were, generally, sincere Buddhists who praised the Lotus Sutra. He also had in mind that Hsu Yun himself actually studied Huatou Meditation with a Tientai master. He then asked me to teach him our “Tientai Chan Meditation style”.
“What a soup” I thought, he seemed to blend everything.
He was sincere and dedicated to his practice but he had one big problem. He was a real connaisseur of Japanese Buddhism, knowing all his schools, teachings and practices and he tried to paste his understanding of Japanese Buddhism on Chinese Buddhism.
And we could say they have lots in common, but they grew totally differently. Lots of Japanese schools existed previously in China but almost none was identified as a separate school per se. Take Pure Land tradition, in Japan it exists as a different school (we could say schools because of different splits), in China it is a feature of almost all Lineages and Schools (note that these years some are trying to create a distinctively Pure Land school based on Japanese Models).
In his mind, we had a common ancestry, the historical Buddha of course, but more importantly in his eyes: Tientai Buddhism. Tientai Buddhism is the first True form of Chinese Buddhism, putting toguether the core of Mahayana principles of philosophy based on the Prajna, Nirvana and Lotus Scriptures; giving a skeleton to meditation practices based on the traditional Shamatha-Vipassana understood as Zhi-Guan/Stopping and Seeing; and becoming a symbol of Chinese Mahayana itself. And Chan Buddhism, wich is different from Tientai Buddhism per se, can be seen as a direct path of Mahayana Buddhism taking its roots in Tientai Buddhism as the core of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism.
So he wanted his practice to come closer to Chih-i and his Zhi-Guan thing (jp. Shikan). Thus, I introduced him to the practice of repeating the name of Amitabha, as I would with every student. Oh my, what did I do? He recited with the utmost sincerity, and almost rage, the sayings of Nichiren against Pure Land schools of his time. Giving me more and more evidences showing that one must certainly not repeat Amida’s name he noted that I wasn’t paying attention to him for a few seconds. ‘Did you understood?’ he asked. And yes, I was understanding that it would take time. Time to make him realise that all Buddhas share the same nature. Time to realise that the Buddha gaves to his disciples 84.000 skillful means to enlightenment and that repeating Buddhas names was one of them. It would take time for him to understand how different Chinese Buddhist monasteries are than Japanese ones. In a Chinese Chan monastery, you can find monks of PureLand or Tientai or any school of Chan. The Abbot himself may be a master from a different Lineage… time to break all the barriers that he built by his years of sincere, yet sectarian, study (or “reading with one eye only” as one of my old teachers used to say).
But Nevertheless, through the years of relation and common practice we had he is a student that helped me understand more profoundly how deeply linked to Tientai Buddhism the teachings of master HsuYun on the practice of Huatou are.
All his questions helped me to go back to one thing. The importance of Seeing our Own Nature as stated by the 6th Patriarch of Zen, master HuiNeng, is the same thing as Seeing the Empty MindGround trough the barrier of Huatou. Master Chih-i used to talk about Cessation to relate to the ending of normal thought and the entering into real concentration were one is able to look deeply into things without getting attached to things.
But more importantly, master Hsu Yun added his own flavor to Huatou. It is often said that they are now mostly two active schools of Chan Buddhism active in China, LinJi (jp.Rinzai) and CaoDong (jp.Soto) (forgetting that Master HsuYun re-established both GuiYan and YunMen Lineages). One generally assumes, from the Japanese context, that Linji Chan is all about gongans (jp. koans) and that CaoDong Chan is all about MoChao (silent illumination). Well, Yes and No. Most monks in these schools practice Huatou, and as I said different lineages may be found at a single monastery under the same abbot and master. So this grid isn’t a good one.
To teach my student I used to talk about Dahui’s use of Huatou, which is very near the use of great teacher of the 17th, Hanshan Dequing. Hanshan was a life model for master Hsu Yun, he rebuilt temples and spoke from the Heart of his practice, outside a specific school or lineage. In Dahui and Hanshan teachings, the Huatou is nothing more than another skillfill mean that Chan people use because they need “one poison to cast all poisons (of thought)”. a skillfull mean for the Direct and sudden practice that Chan is. But the purpose was only to realize one’s MindGround, once the True Nature realised there is no need to cultivate the skillfull mean anymore. It is very similar to the raft to the other shore that Shakyamuni Buddha used himself several times. That is totally in line with the old masters view that one must first realize is own mind, and only then cultivate (sudden enligthenment, gradual practice).
But master Hsu Yun shared the Huatou practice as he received it from his Tientai teacher, old master Yung Ching. Also, master Hsu Yun wanted to root his practice on the practice of reciting Amitabha’s name, as this simple practice could be done by everyone, and that he was a friend and admirer of Pure Land master Yin Kuang and shared his understanding. Master Hsu Yun, taking care of the students of this Dharma Ending age, prepared us a practice that embodied the different key aspects of Chinese Chan Buddhism in a very direct and simple way. It is important to practice discipline and aquire concentration in order to look deeply in us to let our True Nature shine through the vieils of ignorance, these are the tenets of Tientai Buddhism and are the basis of Chan Buddhism. He deeply advocated to respect Amitabha and his Pure Land that could be viewed as our Own Nature, integrating thus the Pure Land view BUT he was very careful for the silly students of this ending dharma age. Master Hsu Yun never gave as an advice the fact of stopping the practice of Huatou after seeing the Mindground. And that can seem to be nothing but it is a huge gift. You see, some Zen schools have the view, at least today poor pracitionner, that once the True Nature is seen … that is it nothing as to be done anymore. But master Hsu Yun gave us the advice to just keep ‘maintaining the Huatou’. Once the Huatou is drilled to it’s bottom… well, just continue this simple practice. It is as simple as that. With the aknowledgment of this constant attention and practice, master Hsu Yun keeps us from stopping at any point thinking that “the job is done”. He also doesn’t try to represent only one Chan school, all his life he acted as a testimony that our acts could be the embodiement of the Heart of the Five schools of Chan. And wich school of Chan you are in doesn’t really matter when one practices Chan/Zen with an utmost effort and sincerity. Chan is a trap you see, a master can show you the path, as a friend on the way which is ahead of you on a mountain track. But once he gave you the method, you are the only one who can walk on the same path. Once the Huatou is given, no one can walk the path of “generating and keeping the Great Doubt” in your place.Simply continuing our practice with determination and compassion, we wave the Vajra-Sword of Huatou until the True Mind of every being shines in every place.
Like that student, we all wave our views, likes and dislikes all day. May we simply wave the Vajra-Sword of Huatou, turn the light on the Mindground and humbly continue on the mountainous path to Enlightenment.