A Conversation with Hsu Yun by John Blofeld

A Conversation with Hsü Yün



After living with Uncle for a few months and continuing my lessons to private students, I felt a great urge to travel again, if only for a few days. I had just been reading the Sutra of Hui Nêng (Wei Lang) which relates how a reputedly illiterate man became Sixth Patriarch of the Zen Sect well over a thousand years ago. Another monk had composed a poem comparing an enlightened mind to a bright mirror on which no dust (illusion) can collect. On having this read to him, Hui Nêng replied with another poem in which he declared that the ‘mirror’ has no existence and asked whereon such dust can collect. In this way he expressed his intuitive understanding of the voidness of all phenomena, including both illusions and the separate minds of individuals. This expression of enlightened understanding of Zen’s deepest truth won for him the Fifth Patriarch’s symbolical robe and bowl. After his death all those centuries ago, his body had miraculously resisted decay and, according to widespread belief, was still to be seen at the Nan Hua Monastery in North Kwangtung…

… The present Abbot was no other than the Venerable Hsü Yün (虚云 / Xū Yún), who was believed to be well over a hundred years old, though still able to walk as much as thirty miles a day. He was renowned all over China as the greatest living Master of Zen; so I was delighted to hear the unexpected news that he had just returned after an absence of several months spent in a distant province. Not long after my arrival, I excitedly followed the Reverend Receiver of Guests to pay my respects to this almost mythical personage. I beheld a middle-sized man with a short, wispy beard and remarkable penetrating eyes. He was not precisely youthful-looking as I had been led to expect, but had one of those ageless faces not uncommon in China. Nobody could have guessed that he was already a centenarian. Finding myself in his presence, I became virtually tongue-tied and had to rack my brains for something to say, although there was so much I could profitably have asked him. At last, I managed to ask:

“Is this famous monastery purely Zen, Your Reverence?”

“Oh yes,” he answered in a surprisingly vigorous voice. “It is a great centre of Zen.”

“So you do not worship Amida Buddha or keep his statue here?”

The question seemed to puzzle him, for he took some time to reply.

“But certainly we keep his statue here. Every morning and evening we perform rites before it and repeat the sacred name while circumambulating the altar.”

“Then the monastery is not purely Zen,” I persisted, puzzled in my turn.

“Why not? It is like every other Zen monastery in China. Why should it be different? Hundreds of years ago there were many sects, but the teachings have long been synthesized – which is as it should be. If by Zen, you mean the practice of Zen meditation, why, that is the very essence of Buddhism. It leads to a direct perception of Reality in this life, enabling us to transcend duality and go straight to the One Mind. This One Mind, otherwise known as our Original Nature, belongs to everybody and everything. But the method is very hard – hard even for those who practise it night and day for years on end. How many people are prepared or even able to do that? The monastery also has to serve the needs of simple, illiterate people. How many of them would understand if we taught only the highest method? I speak of the farmers on our own land here and of the simple pilgrims who come for the great annual festivals. To them we offer that other way – repetition of the sacred name – which is yet the same way adapted for simple minds. They believe that by such repetition they will gain the Western Paradise and there receive divine teaching from Amida Buddha himself –teaching which will lead them directly to Nirvana.”

At once reluctantly and somewhat daringly I answered: “I see. But isn’t that a kind of –well, a sort of – of – er – deception? Good, no doubt, but…”

I broke off, not so much in confusion as because the Venerable Hsü Yün was roaring with laughter.

“Deception? Deception? Ha, ha, ha, ha-ha! Not at all. Not a bit. No, of course not.”

“Then Your Reverence, if you too believe in the Western Heaven and so on, why do you trouble to teach the much harder road to Zen?”

“I do not understand the distinction you are making. They are identical.”

“But…”

“Listen, Mr P’u. Zen manifests self-strength; Amidism manifests other-strength. You rely on your own efforts, or you rely on the saving power of Amida. Is that right?”

“Yes. But they are – I mean, they seem – entirely different from each other.”

I became aware that some of the other monks were beginning to look at me coldly, as though I were showing unpardonable rudeness in pertinaciously arguing with this renowned scholar and saint; but the Master, who was quite unperturbed, seemed to be enjoying himself.

“Why insist so much on this difference?” he asked. “You know that in reality there is nothing but the One Mind. You may choose to regard it as in you or out of you, but “in” and “out” have no ultimate significance whatever – just as you, Mr P’u, and I and Amida Buddha have no real separateness. In ordinary life, self is self and other is other; in reality they are the same. Take Bodhidharma who sat for nine years in front of a blank wall. What did he contemplate? What did he see? Nothing but his Original Self, the true Self beyond duality. Thus he saw Reality face to face. He was thereby freed from the Wheel and entered Nirvana, never to be reborn – unless voluntarily as a Bodhisattva.”

“Yet, Reverence, I do not think that Bodhidharma spoke of Amida. Or am I wrong?”

“True, true. He did not. But when Farmer Wang comes to me for teaching, am I to speak to him of his Original Self or of Reality and so on? What do such terms mean to him? Morning and evening, he repeats the sacred name, concentrating on it until he grows oblivious of all else. In time, after a month, a year, a decade, a lifetime or several lifetimes, he achieves such a state of perfect concentration that duality is transcended and he, too, comes face to face with Reality. He calls the power by which he hopes to achieve this Amida; you call it Zen; I may call it Original Mind. What is the difference? The power he thought was outside himself was inside all the time.”

Deeply struck by this argument and anxious, perhaps, to display my acquaintance with the Zen way of putting things, I exclaimed:

“I see, I see. Bodhidharma entered the shrine-room from the sitting-room. Farmer Wang entered it through the kitchen, but they both arrived at the same place. I see.”

“No,” answered the Zen Master, “you do not see. They didn’t arrive at any place. They just discovered that there is no place for them to reach.”

An Extract from The Wheel of Life by John Blofeld, Rider and Company, 1959

Source: https://thebamboosea.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/a-conversation-with-hsu-yun-john-blofeld/

The Four Ennobling Truths and the Four Immeasurable Vows

The Four Ennobling Truths and the Four Immeasurable VowsIMG_20200901_144851

When one develops some interest in the Buddhist teachings, one of the first teachings he’ll find will be the one called the “Four noble Truth”. And we must say it is probably the most shared one of the whole Buddhist spectrum. For most of the Buddhist traditions, may they be Southern Theravada or Northern Mahayana, it is the first and most central teaching given by the historical Buddha. It is a quadruple path, a synthetic composition, gathering the great aspects of his doctrine. It is a fact that this teaching is part of the teaching corpus of every single Buddhist school, from the more traditionnals to the more modern ones.

 

But what is the content of these crucial “Noble Tuths”?

 

First, as we said earlier it is a synthetic way of looking at the crucial steps of the Buddhist path towards enlightenment. It points, thus, to the fact that the path we choose to follow, far from being a static journey, is “a dynamic harmony”. We could say it is a process, an ennobling process in a way. An ennobling process that is put into practice and flourish in our lifes day after day. We could say then that these “Noble Truths” could be called “Ennonbling Truths” to put the accent on the progressive and experiential aspects of these Truths.

 

So, what about these “Ennobling Truths”?

 

We can find this teaching in the First Sutra of the Buddha, relating his first teaching after his enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.

We could say in essence that they consist in:

 

The Truth of dukkha

The Truth of the origin of dukkha

The Truth of the Cessation of dukkha

The Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of dukkha

 

Isn’t it clear now? Seriously, what is this dukkha that seems so central? It is generally translated as “suffering”… and here it is the famous preconception about Buddhism being Nihilist is back in your minds. More seriously, we could translate it as “the suffering born from insatisfaction” or lets say the suffering born from always wanting something new, always wanting to escape from impermanence by doing or wanting something. In a certain way it is the suffering born from our incessant tendency to occupy our mind and energy, what is sometimes described in the Buddhist teachings as the constant “craving”, or “desire” that seems inherent with being alive.

 

And to put it in a more Zennish way, that is the whole paradox, that is a great gongan (koan)… There is a craving which is inherent to being alive, and at the same time the Buddhist path has is consecration in Nirvana… which is exactly the end of this craving. Then how to attain this Nirvana, while being, at the same time, both alive and without cravings.

 

Well … that is not the Buddhist path. It’s a Western, very modern and quite nihilist, view of the Buddhist path.

 

There is nothing about having no desires at all in the Buddhist teachings, the whole practice of Chan/Zen Buddhism is to, ultimately, not fall into following our profound personal tendencies, the game of our Ego. But understanding that the practice is not a path of total suppression that could only result into tensions and problematic psychological subeffects is essential, because that’s the exact contrary of what True Buddhist Practice should be leading to.

 

This question could be the subject of a book by itself and I won’t carry on, but just share some basic contextual informations. In Mahayana Buddhism there is a central concept shared by the Indian scholar Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, (150 CE), in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, the concept of the “Two Truths”. The Two Truths of Nagarjuna, namely the “absolute truth” or “non-conditional reality” and “conventional truth” or “relative reality”. Nagarjuna states that there is no fundamental difference between these two truths, altought we feel the contrary because we are driven by our Ego. This is the Essence of the “Heart Sutra” and the majority of the Prajnaparamita Sutras.

 

“Śāriputra, form is not different from emptiness, and emptiness is not different from form. Form itself is emptiness, and emptiness itself is form

 

In Zen, we usually express this reality in terms of polarities: Form-Emptiness, Absolute-Relative, Nirvana-Samsara. But in none of these major Mahayana traditions we can find an opposition, in terms of contradiction or duality, in the two parts of these polarities. They are fundamentaly One, yet they are Multiple manifestation. And the One Net behind all these realities is fundamentally “Empty”, we could say it is a realm of “pure possibilty” of manifestation.

 

The Four Noble Truths are a simple yet synthetic formula, but it can also feel like an immense “mental cliff”, of a pharaonic difficulty suddenly rising in front of the sincere practitioner. Indead, the Four Noble Truths are of an almost gigantic scale, so much indeed that we could be horrified in front of the arduous task to accomplish.

 

Luckily for us, Shakyamuni Buddha didn’t just proclamed the the Four Noble Truths, he also revealed the Path leading to that “Cessation” when revealing the Eightfold Path. This teaching is also accepted by every school of Buddhism, even if every tradition has its own way to put it in practice. They simply don’t understand it the same way, and more profoundly, don’t make it a living reality in the same way.

 

This being said, lets get back to the Four noble Truths. What objectives do they pursue?

 

Asking oneself sincerely this question could quickly, and prosaicly, lead into asking oneself ”what has the Buddha to propose? And could maybe lead into asking “what is the utility of Buddhism”?

 

Each Buddhist tradition defines answers in his own terms, basically it is not a matter of definition or philosophy. It is about experimenting the reality that the Buddha named “Cessation” (ch.: Chi or Zhi ; jp.: Shi) of Suffering. This is the cessation, the end, of the insatisfaction born from our natural tendency to “build, nourrish and believe” in a “separate self”, or “ego”, which in the Buddhist view is purely conventional. I believe this conventional “I or Ego”, isn’t a bad thing per se, we need this kind of concept to deal with others in our day to day life. But “nourrishing this concept” as a reality, not conventional but as the “core of reality”, is a consequence of our own confusion or ignorance of “what we really are”. In this process, resides the beggining of a “profound gearing” in ourselves that inevitably separates us from “What we are” as a living reality.

 

We could thus summarize saying that the Buddha showed us a path to get out of the confusion we live into, a confusion that is the source of our suffering and insatisfaction. It is thus a method that puts us in front of “what we are” beyond our own illusions, in a non-separate or non-dual way. Here too, every Buddhist tradition elaborated their own terms to qualify the “non-separate reality” that we both “are” and “participate with”, beyond illusion, confusion, and thus beyond words.

 

Now, these concepts could seem easier to understand… beware, as we all know but forget to often, it is one thing to intellectually understand the concepts, it is another to put them in practice and to express them in our lives And here is an important aspect of the Buddhist teachings, they aren’t dogmas that should be learn by heart, but a realization that we must make flourish ourselves, in the fertile ground of our daily minds.

 

Of course, when looking for inspirations in the Buddhist teachings, we might be found guilthy of a certain affinity for what looks exotic, Asian, just different from our Western, largely Christian based background. And, in a way, it is a kind of skillful mean. We might first be interested in Buddhism because of all these exotic particularities, we will face soon or later an important matter… we don’t live in an antique Asian city, our everyday life is far from Brahmans and mango groves, and it might be disapointing at some point. But it is an important step to make in the Path, a needful realization to pass from a passive admiration to an “experimental realization”. Realizing the Truth of the Buddha’s teaching in our life and actualizing it, wich means “acting in accordance with this profound realization”, is a matter of harmonizing with each situation, and it is thus totally linked to different societal and cutural contexts we might face, Asian or Western.

 

Thus the task remains gigantic and we may be very enthousiast and dedicate, it is still very difficult to express these realities in our lifes. That is why the Zen masters of the past transmitted a teaching that is a “wonderful lever”, the “Four Immesurable Vows”.

 

These “Four Vows” are often said to be “Bodhisattva” vows, wich is an error. They are vows of immesurable scale that are a tool to the practitioner on the Bodhisattva’s Path. But too often in our informal Zen Centers, the term “bodhisattva” is used to named different things.

 

The Four vows first, but also the so-said “Bodhisattva precept”. These precepts are in fact the precepts of the “Brahma Net Sutra”, a major Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism and a sort of earlier version of the Avatamsaka Sutra. They consist, in general, in the 10 major precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra, the “lesser” 48 precepts being generally unknown to most Zen Buddhists.

 

Most Zen people never read the sutra, they thus don’t understand that these precepts are a practical articulation of a 10 step Bodhisattva Path described in the first part of the Sutra. To their defense, most Japanese monasteries, in a fashion instored by Saicho of the Tendai Sect of Japanese buddhism, only read the seconf half of the Brahma Net Sutra, the one including the precepts. Lacking thus the articulation between the two.

 

I must also note that China had his own relation to the precepts and in particular the “Bodhisattva precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra”. But they didn’t retract their view of the original 10+48, they originally didn’t generalized these precepts to every single Buddhist follower and certainly didn’t used the name “Bodhisattva” to designate a lay follower who just took his first vows, as it is so often found in most Zen Centers today.

(These notions will probably the subject of a future article in the following months… )

 

Now that these distinctions have been made, lets get back to the Four Vows. They are in fact a profound aspiration to realize the Four Noble Truths in our lives, to realize our True Nature and to harmonize with all things trough Compassionate actions.

 

We can thus put side by side the Four Noble Truths and the Four Immesurable Vows:

 

The Truth of Suffering : I vow to save all Beings

The Truth of the origin of Suffering : I vow to cut down all Illusions

The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering : I vow to master all Dharmas

The Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering : I vow to realize the Way

 

The Buddha revealed the context, the processes that are alive in us, and makes us fooly believe in an individual and separated being in a lot of early suttas. From his first sermon, he proclamed the Four Noble Truth and lightenned the “poisonus process” in wich we engaged ourselves trough our habits and thoughts, wich are the first two Truths. He then proclamed the possibility to put an end to this poisonus process and explicited the Path leading to the end of this Self Illusion or Self-Hallucination, the two last Truths.

 

In all this what about the Four Vows? They are wonderful skillful means, pure aspirations to help us practice. They are like good seeds to plant, nourish and maintain on the Path that the Buddha gave us, the Eightfold Path.

 

Thus, each of these four vows is a method, very skillful indeed, to maintain in us a strong aspiration and dedication to realize the Four Noble Truths in our lives. But these aren’t a trivial thing, these are vows. A Zen practitioner should give importance to what he says, to what is being planted and nourished in his own MindGround. Taking vows isn’t a trivial thing indeed, but what a wonderful help.

 

Next time you recite them in your Zen Center, remember how they are related to the Four Noble Truths and, with simplicity and humility express your True Nature by a profound bow to All Buddhas and All Beings, without distinctions of time and space.

 

Amituofo!

Song of the Open Door to Dharma Winds

Song of the Open Door to Dharma Winds

IMG_20200723_092527

Heaven, earth, sun, moon, mountains, rivers, this vast world is in truth the Grand Kasaya of the Buddha. 

Every day, however, you enter through the six doors, seeking what has never left you. Stop losing your precious life! On the Zen pathless way, keep faith in your Buddha Nature, harmonize with the masters, their teachings and their methods. At every moment, investigate Zen. At every moment, look with sincerity deep inside of What Is, without adding anything. 

Right View, Right Action. Naturally, Manifest your Universal Nature. Wherever you are, when your mind is confused, shines the flame of Attention! By the attention to the breath, by the recitation of a sacred formula or by the practice of Wu/Mu, enter into Inner Silence. 

Established in Concentration, turn the Light of Attention inward. At this moment, who is attentive to the breath? Who recites the sacred formula? Where is Wu/Mu? Sincerely observe the root of what is born and what dies, without attaching to birth or death. 

Established in the Union, Concentration and Observation in harmony, All sounds are the Subtle Breath! All sounds are sacred formulas! All sounds are Wu/Mu! In the letting go, the voice of KuanYin / Kannon resonates everywhere. 

The True Door has no door. Here, neither mundane nor sacred, just the authentic person. Samadhi Sans-Traces is free of shapes and space, within the shape and the space … The Cosmic Breath. So go, without traces, and let your True Nature manifest itself in you, through you, around you.

Amituofo! Amituofo! Amituofo!

 

Rev. YaoXin Shakya

« True Zen »

« True Zen »

img_20161026_101431

Some seek « true Zen » by discriminating against other traditions for what they do or do not do, say or do not say. To be right or wrong, however, does not make sense in Zen. Only the fact of manifesting the truth matters. The one that is lived, chewed and re-chewed, the one that everyone experiences and expresses differently.

No one can manifest reality as experienced intimately by another person. No one can do it for you. Finding out who is right or wrong is like discussing the quality of the frame when the house is on fire. Often it’s just fallacy and rhetoric … but it’s not Zen.

So, Zennists, Chanists and Buddhists of all stripes, show YOURSELF the way you experience the Way. Do not base your practice on arguments, which is why others would be wrong to experience the practice in this or that way. There are a thousand colors in the rainbow of traditions. All teach the same truth:

Zen is the personal manifestation of our universal nature. This encompasses all things in all places, in us and around us, without any distinctions.

Amituofo!

Making Great Vows

Making Great Vows

img_20161230_085547

When one develops some interest in the Buddhist teachings, one of the first teachings he’ll find will be the one called the “Four noble Truth”. And we must say it is probably the most shared one of the whole Buddhist spectrum. For most of the Buddhist traditions, may they be Southern Theravada or Northern Mahayana, it is the first and most central teaching given by the historical Buddha. It is a quadruple path, a synthetic composition, gathering the great aspects of his doctrine. It is a fact that this teaching is part of the teaching corpus of every single Buddhist school, from the more traditionnals to the more modern ones.

 

But what is the content of these crucial “Noble Tuths”?

 

First, as we said earlier it is a synthetic way of looking at the crucial steps of the Buddhist path towards enlightenment. It points, thus, to the fact that the path we choose to follow, far from being a static journey, is “a dynamic harmony”. We could say it is a process, an ennobling process in a way. An ennobling process that is put into practice and flourish in our lifes day after day. We could say then that these “Noble Truths” could be called “Ennonbling Truths” to put the accent on the progressive and experiential aspects of these Truths.

 

So, what about these “Ennobling Truths”?

 

We can find this teaching in the First Sutra of the Buddha, relating his first teaching after his enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.

We could say in essence that they consist in:

 

The Truth of dukkha

The Truth of the origin of dukkha

The Truth of the Cessation of dukkha

The Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of dukkha

 

Isn’t it clear now? Seriously, what is this dukkha that seems so central? It is generally translated as “suffering”… and here it is the famous preconception about Buddhism being Nihilist is back in your minds. More seriously, we could translate it as “the suffering born from insatisfaction” or lets say the suffering born from always wanting something new, always wanting to escape from impermanence by doing or wanting something. In a certain way it is the suffering born from our incessant tendency to occupy our mind and energy, what is sometimes described in the Buddhist teachings as the constant “craving”, or “desire” that seems inherent with being alive.

 

And to put it in a more Zennish way, that is the whole paradox, that is a great gongan (koan)… There is a craving which is inherent to being alive, and at the same time the Buddhist path has is consecration in Nirvana… which is exactly the end of this craving. Then how to attain this Nirvana, while being, at the same time, both alive and without cravings.

 

Well … that is not the Buddhist path. It’s a Western, very modern and quite nihilist, view of the Buddhist path.

 

There is nothing about having no desires at all in the Buddhist teachings, the whole practice of Chan/Zen Buddhism is to, ultimately, not fall into following our profound personal tendencies, the game of our Ego. But understanding that the practice is not a path of total suppression that could only result into tensions and problematic psychological subeffects is essential, because that’s the exact contrary of what True Buddhist Practice should be leading to.

 

This question could be the subject of a book by itself and I won’t carry on, but just share some basic contextual informations. In Mahayana Buddhism there is a central concept shared by the Indian scholar Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, (150 CE), in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, the concept of the “Two Truths”. The Two Truths of Nagarjuna, namely the “absolute truth” or “non-conditional reality” and “conventional truth” or “relative reality”. Nagarjuna states that there is no fundamental difference between these two truths, altought we feel the contrary because we are driven by our Ego. This is the Essence of the “Heart Sutra” and the majority of the Prajnaparamita Sutras.

 

“Śāriputra, form is not different from emptiness, and emptiness is not different from form. Form itself is emptiness, and emptiness itself is form

 

In Zen, we usually express this reality in terms of polarities: Form-Emptiness, Absolute-Relative, Nirvana-Samsara. But in none of these major Mahayana traditions we can find an opposition, in terms of contradiction or duality, in the two parts of these polarities. They are fundamentaly One, yet they are Multiple manifestation. And the One Net behind all these realities is fundamentally “Empty”, we could say it is a realm of “pure possibilty” of manifestation.

 

The Four Noble Truths are a simple yet synthetic formula, but it can also feel like an immense “mental cliff”, of a pharaonic difficulty suddenly rising in front of the sincere practitioner. Indead, the Four Noble Truths are of an almost gigantic scale, so much indeed that we could be horrified in front of the arduous task to accomplish.

 

Luckily for us, Shakyamuni Buddha didn’t just proclamed the the Four Noble Truths, he also revealed the Path leading to that “Cessation” when revealing the Eightfold Path. This teaching is also accepted by every school of Buddhism, even if every tradition has its own way to put it in practice. They simply don’t understand it the same way, and more profoundly, don’t make it a living reality in the same way.

 

This being said, lets get back to the Four noble Truths. What objectives do they pursue?

 

Asking oneself sincerely this question could quickly, and prosaicly, lead into asking oneself ”what has the Buddha to propose? And could maybe lead into asking “what is the utility of Buddhism”?

 

Each Buddhist tradition defines answers in his own terms, basically it is not a matter of definition or philosophy. It is about experimenting the reality that the Buddha named “Cessation” (ch.: Chi or Zhi ; jp.: Shi) of Suffering. This is the cessation, the end, of the insatisfaction born from our natural tendency to “build, nourrish and believe” in a “separate self”, or “ego”, which in the Buddhist view is purely conventional. I believe this conventional “I or Ego”, isn’t a bad thing per se, we need this kind of concept to deal with others in our day to day life. But “nourrishing this concept” as a reality, not conventional but as the “core of reality”, is a consequence of our own confusion or ignorance of “what we really are”. In this process, resides the beggining of a “profound gearing” in ourselves that inevitably separates us from “What we are” as a living reality.

 

We could thus summarize saying that the Buddha showed us a path to get out of the confusion we live into, a confusion that is the source of our suffering and insatisfaction. It is thus a method that puts us in front of “what we are” beyond our own illusions, in a non-separate or non-dual way. Here too, every Buddhist tradition elaborated their own terms to qualify the “non-separate reality” that we both “are” and “participate with”, beyond illusion, confusion, and thus beyond words.

 

Now, these concepts could seem easier to understand… beware, as we all know but forget to often, it is one thing to intellectually understand the concepts, it is another to put them in practice and to express them in our lives And here is an important aspect of the Buddhist teachings, they aren’t dogmas that should be learn by heart, but a realization that we must make flourish ourselves, in the fertile ground of our daily minds.

 

Of course, when looking for inspirations in the Buddhist teachings, we might be found guilthy of a certain affinity for what looks exotic, Asian, just different from our Western, largely Christian based background. And, in a way, it is a kind of skillful mean. We might first be interested in Buddhism because of all these exotic particularities, we will face soon or later an important matter… we don’t live in an antique Asian city, our everyday life is far from Brahmans and mango groves, and it might be disapointing at some point. But it is an important step to make in the Path, a needful realization to pass from a passive admiration to an “experimental realization”. Realizing the Truth of the Buddha’s teaching in our life and actualizing it, wich means “acting in accordance with this profound realization”, is a matter of harmonizing with each situation, and it is thus totally linked to different societal and cutural contexts we might face, Asian or Western.

 

Thus the task remains gigantic and we may be very enthousiast and dedicate, it is still very difficult to express these realities in our lifes. That is why the Zen masters of the past transmitted a teaching that is a “wonderful lever”, the “Four Immesurable Vows”.

 

These “Four Vows” are often said to be “Bodhisattva” vows, wich is an error. They are vows of immesurable scale that are a tool to the practitioner on the Bodhisattva’s Path. But too often in our informal Zen Centers, the term “bodhisattva” is used to named different things.

 

The Four vows first, but also the so-said “Bodhisattva precept”. These precepts are in fact the precepts of the “Brahma Net Sutra”, a major Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism and a sort of earlier version of the Avatamsaka Sutra. They consist, in general, in the 10 major precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra, the “lesser” 48 precepts being generally unknown to most Zen Buddhists.

 

Most Zen people never read the sutra, they thus don’t understand that these precepts are a practical articulation of a 10 step Bodhisattva Path described in the first part of the Sutra. To their defense, most Japanese monasteries, in a fashion instored by Saicho of the Tendai Sect of Japanese buddhism, only read the seconf half of the Brahma Net Sutra, the one including the precepts. Lacking thus the articulation between the two.

 

I must also note that China had his own relation to the precepts and in particular the “Bodhisattva precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra”. But they didn’t retract their view of the original 10+48, they originally didn’t generalized these precepts to every single Buddhist follower and certainly didn’t used the name “Bodhisattva” to designate a lay follower who just took his first vows, as it is so often found in most Zen Centers today.

(These notions will probably the subject of a future article in the following months… )

 

Now that these distinctions have been made, lets get back to the Four Vows. They are in fact a profound aspiration to realize the Four Noble Truths in our lives, to realize our True Nature and to harmonize with all things trough Compassionate actions.

 

We can thus put side by side the Four Noble Truths and the Four Immesurable Vows:

 

The Truth of Suffering : I vow to save all Beings

The Truth of the origin of Suffering : I vow to cut down all Illusions

The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering : I vow to master all Dharmas

The Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering : I vow to realize the Way

 

The Buddha revealed the context, the processes that are alive in us, and makes us fooly believe in an individual and separated being in a lot of early suttas. From his first sermon, he proclamed the Four Noble Truth and lightenned the “poisonus process” in wich we engaged ourselves trough our habits and thoughts, wich are the first two Truths. He then proclamed the possibility to put an end to this poisonus process and explicited the Path leading to the end of this Self Illusion or Self-Hallucination, the two last Truths.

 

In all this what about the Four Vows? They are wonderful skillful means, pure aspirations to help us practice. They are like good seeds to plant, nourish and maintain on the Path that the Buddha gave us, the Eightfold Path.

 

Thus, each of these four vows is a method, very skillful indeed, to maintain in us a strong aspiration and dedication to realize the Four Noble Truths in our lives. But these aren’t a trivial thing, these are vows. A Zen practitioner should give importance to what he says, to what is being planted and nourished in his own MindGround. Taking vows isn’t a trivial thing indeed, but what a wonderful help.

 

Next time you recite them in your Zen Center, remember how they are related to the Four Noble Truths and, with simplicity and humility express your True Nature by a profound bow to All Buddhas and All Beings, without distinctions of time and space.

 

Amituofo

 

The Koans and us

The Koans and us

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Gongans/koans are important texts, they are part of our history and was bequeathed to us by the masters of the past. Now, it is often used too systematically, no need to go through all the gongans to practice, as the japanese rinzai schools have done, this is not our way. The gongans are what HsuYun called tail words, they are the manifestation, a posteriori, of an exchange which led someone to awakening. But we must never forget that the gongan only bore these fruits when the individual was close, the individual has practiced for many years before, the gongan is therefore only the tail, the end, of the process. This is why our tradition, which can use koans, will especially stick to the word head (huatou), to the central question of the gongan. This can bring us back through introspection to the same achievement as the gongan. But our party is to say that we do not need to pass through hundreds of gongan, the practitioner of the huatou will often have only one all his life, sometimes two or three if he does not bear fruit and that the master redirects the student’s practice according to his needs. But fully realizing our nature does this only once. Now where it makes sense is that it’s not enough to have gotten a great kensho and then that’s it, once the nature of our mind is recognized, the only one is born the beginning of the way of chan, of naturalness, and therefore the possibility of simply practicing zazen, pcq the practitioner will be able to really enter into samadhi with his one spirit.

 

Our way is therefore, the recitation of the name and the precepts in the daily life to sit our practice, then the practice of the huatou to open the doors, the veils, and to recognize our spirit by penetrating into the chan, (sometimes several huatou are necessary on a lifetime), and then only the practice of serene naturalness, the royal samadhi of zuochan (the practice of all too often trivialized zazen).

 

Regarding the practice, do not worry about your achievements. Never weighted, never introduces good or bad, the reduction of the respiratory rate, or the superficial chi which circulates are side effects of our practice. Some schools focus on these phenomena, for us they are only things that happen, it is important to know them so as not to get carried away by them. There is, however, no point in denying them.

 

Classically, Zen treats them all as makkyo if not the students so attached and do nothing more than try to reproduce its possible states of grace, or to avoid very disturbing states … to the detriment of real practice: to realize our heart -spirit, our true nature.

The beginning of the path can be expressed in terms of a method for realizing the nature of the mind, but once the land of the mind is recognized, we are outside of all methods, chan is pure naturalness! This is real zazen, no more words are useful, just the serene and luminous presence.

It is a process towards serene naturalness. In short, a mystical path since it is located in experience, beyond words and conventions, a reversal of our brains where all perceptions remain but where the self, the ego has disappeared (that’s the satori from when we recognize our true nature). In short, a natural state where we recognize that there is nothing to take away and nothing to add!

 

The practice of recitation allows the same path. First discipline and firmness in practice. Then, when the practice is stable, a voluntary turning inward, towards the root of this spirit, beyond perceptions and other manifestations, we illuminate the base of the spirit. By dive with openness and concentration, at one point the recitation is done by itself ‘without recitation’ say the texts. By dive in with concentration and relaxation, ‘he who’ disappears and we experience the recognition of our Land of the Spirit. And only then the possibility of a serene naturalness practice (recitation in naturalness, this Just Now that we know well). At this stage, the zazen is not only the seat or the recitation, in a word the chan has been penetrated and we continue to dig and to walk towards ourselves but in all simplicity.

 

Asking too many questions can become a brake on the relaxation necessary to dive into the deepest practice and experience this reversal of the spirit which leads years to realization, to the recognition of its luminous vastness.

We must persevere without asking questions, give ourselves to practice until immolating ourselves in it, until our whole being burns there and a new being is reborn, but yet no different. This is the entrance to the mystical path. It takes this very mystical passage, based on trust in the Amitabha Buddha, on his universal light, before heto understand the nature of the spirit and to be able to practice the True Direct Way.

 

I hope that it will help you a little and that it will bring more answers than questions. You must cultivate faith, yes the word is dropped. But not blind faith, faith that is born of trust and knowledge. Understanding intellectually the nature of amitabha and its pure land as only the mind is important, but at some point it is also a hindrance. Unnecessary intellectualization.

 

It is sincere faith / trust in our true nature, in the pure land of the Buddha of life and light which allows us to be reborn and to receive our teaching (realizing our nature and living in serene naturalness-so). .. it is necessary to go beyond oneself, and thus enter into chan … right here and now.

Cessation, samadhi and Satori

Cessation, samadhi and Satori

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Samadhi is a Natural consequence of the practice towards knowing our true nature. Through deep and purified consciousness. Samadhi is only a deep state of consciousness, but not usual consciousness. It is a state of temporary withdrawal from the ego, often accompanied by a deep realization and an ecstatic state, especially when it is experienced the first time. It’s a gradual, deep track, like a stone going slowly to the depths of a seemingly bottomless lake. Unlike the instant satori, the ego simply disappears there, torn from the illusion it exerts on us, it gives way to the experience of reality without masks and judgments, the ease of the ego-free.

 

The way of cessation consists in the search for samadhi, by any practice gradually allowing concentration and a calm and serene mind, thus experimenting more and more subtle forms of consciousness. In these states it may seem that self-consciousness disappears for longer and longer moments, from its moments can emerge deep realizations. Cessation is therefore the way of calm, of progressive pacification of the body, of breaths and thoughts. It is a fabulous means which can lead to experiences of the same nature of Satori, kenshos (moments of deep realization by the momentary withdrawal of the ego, often experienced as ecstasies or beatitudes.

 

But it is very different from Satori, from what I have studied, practiced and especially received from Ming Zhen and all my masters: it is the same nature this (a withdrawal of the ego which allows to taste directly what is ) but it is different in two ways: its sudden appearance and its profound implications.

It’s no longer a temporary withdrawal from the ego, it’s an ego to be taken out of this body, and out of awareness of who we are: neither an ego / mind, nor a physical body, nor anything that is outside of that … here is a fundamental gongan!

The experience is stronger and above all more lasting. Attention, this experience, the satori, also lasts only a few seconds, after this experience the ego is still BUT it no longer takes, it’s like “having seen the world through the eyes of the mountains and going back to live in the body of an ant ”, you don’t get caught.

 

We have had a real experience of the fact that there is no differentiated thing called ego, neither with us nor with others, only houses of cards that we build like children. We have built chimeras and we firmly believe in them, more firmly than what we are told about the reality of our deep experiences.

 

Our way is, by the practice of the concentration in zuo chan to reach the cessation (of which the achievement is gradual and carrying experiences, but attention !!! Once reached, samadhi has nothing gradual, l ‘to reach is to see the earth of the spirit, to understand how our spirit really is. But there is still the presence of doubts, of the ego and these games, in short it is not yet satori.

From there, we practice simplicity, the naturalness of zazen, or we continue what we practiced with simplicity. We recognized the nature of his spirit and we practice the return, « residing and living simply according to the precepts ».

So we polite ourselves, while waiting for the right moment, of the harmony which suddenly, after years of practice ranging from concentration to cessation, from cessation to samadhi, to the realization of samadhi as “serene naturalness”, has the experience of satori. No more ego or traces of doubt, just certainty and freedom!

 

It is a journey that corresponds to the main phases of our lineage, the Indian patriarchs bequeathed us the sutras, the precepts and the practices of concentration and observation which leads to Cessation and to the Samadhis, the Chinese Patriarchs bequeathed to us the Samadhis based on naturalness, and the masters succeeding them the practices leading to just practice, and differences, from Samadhi THEN, after years of practice, to the suddenness of Satori. (Those who transmitted gongans and Huatou to us to see our Spirit directly (Linji, Yunmen, Chenglu), and those who left us the calm and serene way, and direct, the royal zuochan or zazen (Chihi, Bodhidharma, Huineng, Huangpo) , to deepen our harmony with what is, waiting WITHOUT WAITING !!!, since everything is already there, the Satori which will only be fortuitous and sudden. Masters like Hanshan and HsuYun have transmitted to us the whole Buddhist way, anchored in the Chinese Mahayana and allowing us to make this journey in ourselves, towards ourselves and the world.IMG_20200413_184850

Knowing the sacred

Knowing the sacred

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Knowing the sacred and recognizing the true divine where it is, that’s how we recognize a practitioner of the way.

He is not attached or disgusted by concepts like that of god or divine. It is he who sees in the ideas of others a latent, vestigial form of Christianity when they use when they use a Christian term to designate the divine / sacred universal.

Those are precisely those who are trapped in concepts, and whose minds are so influenced by the latent forms of Christianity. The proof is that he does not perceive the universal significance of the sacred. And implies an obligatory relation between the divine and the divinity.

Besides the judeo Christian heritage which always serves as benchmarks, even if he stands in opposition to him, he can only conceive of the divinity as a creator, which is not a real problem since ‘it is BUT the divinity is not an external, separate element.

Everything and everyone participates. It is neither exterior nor interior, which would be a limited view. It is emptiness itself. This emptiness and our Buddhist nature, our universal nature which embraces all form and everything.

Amituofo!

Walking to ourselves

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Once upon a time there was a 10 years old boy asking himself questions. The boy was quite happy and his hard working immigrant parents had done everything they could to assure him the most comfortable life they could afford. He was raised by a Jewish mother and a Catholic father and was sent to a good Catholic school… so everything was OK.

Of course, he had learned from his mother that she had cancer but that didn’t know what it really meant. His mother seemed to be fine to him, she was still smiling, playing with her kinds and just being the extraordinary mom they always had. One day however, he understood what cancer was. Cancer was the sickness that made mom loose her hair and cry when she thought she was alone. Of course, his world fell apart. Like the young Gautama getting out of his golden palace, he began to look around him and realize that there was life and death in this world and that things were impermanent. In his words « why we suffer ».

In his Catholic school he had the opportunity to get interested in religion and began to ask the priests and monks he encountered about it. At the age of twelve, he had been authorized to stay twice at an urban monastery for a whole week-end to partake the monks duties and liturgy. But being also from a Jewish background, he would also go to the local synagogue every Friday.

And soon the spiritual child would share his week-ends between boy scouts and diverse liturgical services. At that time being a 12 years old and going by oneself to church or school  was still quite normal… things have change a bit. His parents being very open and seeing his spiritual urge, just let him go to several services on weekends and soon he was familiar with not only his Catholic and Jewish background but also with Protestant and Orthodox Christianity.  Asking questions, studying the texts and coming back with more questions that child felt that there was something more than what his eyes could see, there was something more to life than its end… death. Being from an immigrant family the child became obsessed with History and Religion, with what could tell his story and the story of the societies he was living in. But still, something was missing and the little child had that same inner doubt that made him ask himself all the existential questions one could ask: Why? How? Who?

Of course, people knowing me know the little boy was me. So there I was urging for what I felt was a real lack. There had to be something more to the world than the differences. You are different from your brother, from your neighbor, from … something didn’t felt right, at a deeper level I knew that everyone was kind of the same when in love, when in pain, when hungry, angry, …

From my own eyes, all these priests and rabbis I had been asking for questions for years were talking the same truth. We are not only impermanent things determine to die but we had a soul, something permanent and holy that we shared with God… What a relief. But yet, how to live that truth?

So, in my early adolescence I was searching for the methods to « polish the soul » if I may say. Prayers, good deeds, prostrations, services, contemplation… And I gradually encountered what I may know call the « power of silence ». When I shut up, my mind would shut up and was not alone in that inner silence. Things have gone and come but there was a relief there, a raft, a shelter. After sometime, I realized that letting time to silence, the quality of silence itself deepened, I was more concentrated and simply joyful to be in the presence of silence.

Of course, I was also an adolescent with friends and parties to go to. And the adolescent mindset being what it is, I was all about taking my spiritual thirstiness into action too, but in a more systematize way.

At that time, between 14 and 15 probably, I was deeply in love with a Vietnamese girl. And the only thing I could see to spend some time with her, her parents being very attentive to her not going to parties and such, was at her local Buddhist pagoda. So, I enrolled in the school journal and said I would wrote a column on spirituality, as people knew I was into that kind of thing… they just accepted right away.

So, there I was at her local temple, I could see her and talk to her… with her parents always being on sight. That thing never really got anywhere. But I had committed to do a series of articles on Buddhism so I was kind of obliged to go to that temple several times. After the first six articles I had promised to the journal, I found myself returning to the pagoda every Sunday and not at church anymore.

Very naturally, I felt quite at home in the pagoda. An old lay Buddhist man took the time to explain me the whole liturgy, the purpose of the different parts of it and everything. And so I began to read about Buddhism and identify as a Buddhist but never in contradiction with my previous Judeo-Christian background. I felt more of a complementarity. Soon, I realized that Buddhism was a really huge community with a wide range of philosophy, psychology and what interested me the most meditation practices. And I began to see that all the Christian or Jewish practices existed in a way or another in the « Library of Buddhist Practices ». That could seem nothing, but to me it made the certitude that it was the right path to me. Yet, Buddhism is very diverse and I still had to find what branch of Buddhism was the best for me.

And than I made the error every convert may make… I became more catholic than the pope. Suddenly, I had some certitudes, I read Walpola Rahula’s basic Teachings of the Buddha book and thought I knew the real stuff. Thus, the very family oriented and devotional Vietnamese pagoda, with their devotion to Amitabha Buddha and Zhunti GuanYin all wrapped in colorful lights and fabrics… just felt below my great knowledge and aspirations. I didn’t knew it but I had become a little sectarian know it all… or more simply a Buddhist jerk.

So I did go to the most authentic Theravadha authorities I could find from the Burmese and Thai traditions and attended their classes. They were lovely communities but again I didn’t felt in the right spot. Partly because I was a self oriented jerk lacking compassion and partly because this idea that you had to be a monk to experience the real stuff just didn’t sound to my hears. Of course, everyone could be a monk for a limited period of time, which is very very common, but still… didn’t felt right.

One day I realized from a Buddhist friend that a small Tibetan center existed two blocks away from home… Big cities you know, sometimes you don’t even know your own neighbor. So I went. At that time, I was quite sure I knew all kind of practices available to a spiritual seeker but encountering the Vajrayana sure was something I didn’t expected. I knew it from books but being in the presence of the teachers and the ceremonies and all that was amazing to my adolescent mind. Yet, what caught me was that I knew that beyond the deity practices (yidam), that were by themselves a true source of compassion… including the self compassion I probably lacking at the time, were the Dzogchen or Mahamudra. The texts relating to Mahamudra and Dzochen that encountered in this path just blew my mind. No need to look for our true self in an infinite quest, just here, just this clear mind … a taste of freedom that I would never forget.

When I used to go to the Vietnamese pagoda I didn’t quite understood what Mahayana Buddhism was all about and, in a funny way, I had to encounter Vajrayana to understand the heart of Mahayana Buddhism. Because from a young age I knew that there was not only impermanence, death and suffering but now I knew that I had the same Nature than the Buddhas and that holy « soul » was not from a different essence. Nirvana could be find in this very life. The Tibetan tradition had masters in his lineage that were prostitute or butchers, just normal dudes and that felt right.

So I went to ceremonies and attended training sessions for some years. The Dzogchen and Mahamudra texts were profound and, again quite funnily, they lead me to meet some Zen guys who presented me Zen and Daoist text. I could find in these Zen texts, the same « taste of freedom » that I was still striving for. But the setting was very different. These guys Patriarchs were really normal men… maybe a bit too much. Look at it for yourself: a Blue eyed dark skinned stranger as a first Patriarch, a disabled arm missing guy for second, and a leper for third Patriarch, not mentioning my favorite one, the illiterate one for sixth Patriarch.

So, I tried to go to Zen groups or dojos. And I could see that each group had is very own way to adapt not only the teachings and practices to their reality but also the material aspect of it. That could seem stupid but until that time I was so spiritual I was very denying of the material side of life… So seeing these groups adapting so beautifully and simply to their houses, community centers or Zen centers, finding ways to express their Zen thing with what they could really touched me. It was not only a discource for the mind but also a praxis for the body. And in ways I had find these in all other traditions, Buddhist or not, but so complicated by rituals and formulas and gestures and … that in comparison the minimal (yet no so simple) form of most Zen groups seemed very open and humble in comparison. It was just right for me, every little thing just seem to be at his very place… and thus I had found mine. And their, quite astonishingly, I found an old friend who had been around all the time: inner silence. The possibility to just be, to fully be, with body and mind. To enter into unity with that Silence. What the old master call the silent part of Emptiness… that that place with no inner chit chat, a place of vastness and union with silence.

And my Zen life went on for years on that path. Of course, I found sectarian and ridiculous views and attitudes in Zen just as I did in other groups. But I had find something that felt true beyond the differences, words, traditions, beyond myself. That blissful encounter with Amitabha light. Zen is samadhi, Silence and Union, a direct and mystical encounter with our very own Buddha Nature. But Emptiness as several sides and experiencing merely the Empty side of emptiness is still being totally blind.

And after some years, being very serious about the matter of Zen, I entered kind of a dark zone, a zone of deadly emptiness, deadly stillness in meditation… something didn’t felt right anymore. I was part of a very friendly and precious Zen community at the time, which is still very active on the Internet, they do an amazing job.

But I didn’t find in the Zen world I knew the answers of what was in fact a Zen disease. And fortunately it is at that time that I encountered our Zen Order and my main teacher since, Ming Zhen Shakya. First trough her book « the Seventh World of Chan » which gave me the answers I needed and then personally. Trough her teachings and advices, I became to understand that I had to accept things fully, to embrace my whole existence. And after some turmoils too long to explain, I really found the beauty of Zen in an Orthodox Christian Retreat. I came to realize that « seeing Zen » or entering Samadhi wasn’t enough. All the Zen masters had given their advices but I hadn’t hears to listen. Entering Zen is crucial but it is only the beginning of the Zen path. One must enter the inner road of Self Transformation through the letting go of the small self the Big Self manifests. That Was the Zen of manifestation.

No matter what faith, Buddhist school or Christian school of thought, some of the mystical members of these school would have direct experience of what is beyond words, that is entering Zen, entering our Universal Nature. But What is very peculiar to each one of us is that we have to manifest that Universal truth in our own way, our own lives, our own acts. And that is a « never ending actualization of Zen ». So that it takes a whole life to manifest what a Zen life is. No shortcuts, no sectarian door on the side to enter the Truth quicker or express it louder than anyone else. We must experience and then manifest Zen in our very life in our own very way.

The little boy is now  way older, he has a wife, kids, house and all the joys of life. May he never forget that Life, Love, or as we say : Zen, is a life process to manifest.

May all being find the presence of inner Silence and unite with its Universal Truth.

My Buddha is better than yours

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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.