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MASTER XU YUN (1840-1959) BODHIMANDALA SITE
Ch'an master Xu Yun spent his life devoted to the Buddha-Dharma. Even as a child, he was not interested in the ways of the material world. Due to the karma fruits of his previous existences his co-operating causes with the Dharma were very strong. When still in his late-teens, Xu Yun ordained as a Ch'an Buddhist monk. He eventually passed away in his 120th year. His long life spanned the imperial, republican and communist eras of Chinese history. He dedicated his life to the restoring of Chinese Buddhism and Chinese Buddhist holy sites - in this regard, he is often referred to as 'Han Shan Come Again', out of respect for the other gret revivor of Chinese Buddhism during the Ming Dynasty - the enlightened Ch'an master Han Shan (1546–1623) - indeed Han Shan and Xu Yun share the same ordination name of 'De-qing'.(德清). The name ‘虛雲’ (Xu Yun) is interesting. Of course, it is not Xu Yun’s ordained name (De-qing), but rather one that he assumed whilst wondering through the mountains of China, whilst dedicating himself to meditation. In the year 1900/1901, northern China was caught-up in the trauma of the Boxer Uprising – a martial arts based, ‘spiritualised’ movement, that sought to remove the foreign colonial presence from China. This presence was viewed as causing the famine, drought and civil unrest that plagued China at the turn of the century. Whilst in Shandong at this time, master Xu Yun was confronted by a foreign soldier who pointed a gun at him, and asked if he was afraid to die? Xu Yun replied that if it was his time to die at the hands of this soldier, then go ahead and shoot! Hearing this, the soldier allowed Xu Yun to leave without hindrance. He travelled to Beijing just as the collective foreign armies were destroying the Boxer forces and sacking Beijing itself. The imperial family fled Westward (to Xian), taking Xu Yun with them. Shortly after his arrival, Xu Yun climbed mount Zhong-nan, built himself a hut and changed his name to ‘Xu Yun’ (虛雲) so as to avoid detection and meditate in peace. The name is literally translated as ‘Empty Cloud’, but probably does not refer to a ‘cloud’ that is ‘empty’. Xu ‘虛’ (xu1) is comprised of the particle ‘丘’ (qiu1), which depicts a space between small hills, and the particle ‘虍’ (hu1) which is a tiger’s head facing left. This suggests a space between two or more objects, within which something moves or roams. Xu Yun, being a master of Buddhist termonology would have known that the preferred Chinese word for ‘emptiness’, (as in the emptiness within an object, such as a room or a bag), is that of ‘kong’ (空). This Chinese word ‘kong’ equates with the Sanskrit word ‘sunyata’, or ‘void’. It contains the particle 穴 (xue2), which depicts a cave, and 工 (gong1) representing a device to stamp earth down. This ideogram represents the empty space within a cave, or the space ‘revealed’ by the stamping down of soil. As master Xu Yun had travelled into the wildness between mountains, and considering that he did not wish to be known to the world – that is, becoming an insubstantial ‘cloud’ – it follows that this time he drifted like a cloud in the space between the mountains. The name ‘Xu Yun’ then refers not to a cloud ‘empty’ of all ‘content’, (as in ‘Kong Yun ’空雲’) but rather to a cloud that is free to move as it pleases within the empty space it occupies.
Charles Luk (1898-1978), (whose Chinese name is Lu Luan Yu - 陸寬昱) - was a notable Buddhist scholar, having trained in Tibetan Buddhism, Daoist 'neidan' cultivation, and of course, Ch'an Buddhism under the guidance of master Xu Yun. Indeed, master Xu Yun, after coming into contact with various Westerners searching for authentic Ch'an instruction, asked Charles Luk to translate key Chinese Buddhist texts into English. Charles Luk committed himself to this task between 1956 and his passing in 1978. He produced ten important translations within his lifetime, including the seminal 'Empty Cloud Autobiography', and thus introduced the English speaking world to this extraordinary Chinese Ch'an master. He was exiled to Hong Kong from 1949 onwards, but continued to teach the Ch'an method, as well as maintaining a world-wide written correspondance. One of his personal Ch'an students was Richard Hunn - who received instruction from 1969 until 1978. When Richard Hunn was in Hong Kong in 1975, Charles Luk confirmed his realisation of the Ch'an Dharma, and asked him to take on master Xu Yun's request to keep the authentic Ch'an Dharma available in the West. At that time, Charles Luk was working upon a translation of the Lankavatara Sutra - a translation that has never seen the light of day.
Richard Hunn (1949-2006) was a British Sinologist who trained in the Ch'an Dharma under Charles Luk. He founded the Norwich Ch'an Association, and held Ch'an Weeks of meditation in the UK. He also wrote for the Middle Way - the journal of the Buddhist Society, London. In an attempt to keep Charles Luk's publications in print and in circulation, he routinely kept in contact with the publishing world. In 1980, he produced a re-print of Luk's 'Empty Cloud Autobiography', and then in 1988 - through Element Books - re-edited, updated and made additions to Charles Luk's original manuscript of the autobiography, introducing a new generation to the emanant Ch'an master. In 1992, Richard Hunn (Upasaka Wen Shu) left the UK to live in Japa, where he continued his studies of the roots of Ch'an in Japan. He lived in the historical city of Kyoto, where he practiced Japanese traditional archery, as well as leading Japanese stiudents in Ch'an meditation. Every year he would visit the UK, where he kept in contact with his Ch'an Dharma student Shi Da Dao. This training lasted from 1989 until 2006 - when Richard Hunn passed away from a sudden illness. Just prior to his passing, he asked Shi Da Dao to carrying-on master Xu Yun's instruction and maintain the availability of authentic Ch'an Buddhism in the West. Both Charles and Richard practiced the Ch'an letter writing tradition. This tradition is continued today through the site's current custodian (Shi Da Dao), who can be contacted through the form provided.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.