This will be the largest cultural exchange event held by the Shaolin Temple in the new era with the largest number of participants, the richest content and the most Diverse Form of Spiritual and Martial Arys!. diverse forms.
Chinese Ch’an is beyond words and sentences. Of this, we can all agree. However, I have just made use of ‘words and sentences’ to convey an entire list of concepts, albeit in an efficient use of language. The point is that each word (spelt correctly) is used like an arrow ‘shooting’ toward the target. Nothing can stop it, and its direct is clear. A Ch’an teacher knows ‘exactly’ where the target is and ‘how’ it must be reached. Enquirers are not clear where the target is, or how they are to reach it. The interaction between ‘teacher’ and ‘enquirer’ is one of directing the arrow toward the target. Or, to explain it another way, the teacher ensures that the target is in the right place when the enquirer releases the arrow toward it! Two people, one arrow and a single target.
Depending upon what is required, the Ch’an teacher either adjusts the direction of the arrow, or alters the position of the target. Once the two are ‘connected’ as ‘one’ - then the method for achieving contact immediately becomes irrelevant as the arrow no longer requires adjusting or the target moving. Language is important as a means to convey understanding and context, but the torrent of words create a cascade of meaning that never ends – even though each word contains only a limited over-all meaning. Language is accumulative. Meaning and understanding is accrued over-time – and yet sometimes the deliberate ‘non-use’ of language can be an important lever in the process of re-aligning meaning, reason, logic and understanding.
A Ch’an teacher can deploy words and sentences with the thunder of an avalanche – or the gentleness of a quiet cave interior. Both may appear to be a little frightening and intimidating – but both have their developmental purpose. The hua tou deals exclusively with words. Actually, it deals specifically with the ‘origin’, ‘manifestation’ and ‘dissipation’ of each word as it emerges from the empty mind ground, becomes fully ‘established’ in the mind as a thought, and then ‘dissolves’ back into nothing. If a Ch’an practitioner studies the hua tou for years on end, he or she is studying the essence of all literature as it arises in the mind! This worked for the Sixth Patriarch – Hui Neng – who was illiterate when he first realised enlightenment. Although he could not read or write (a common experience for around 90% of Chinese people living within feudal China), nevertheless, if a text was read to him, he could fully explain its deep and profound meaning!
The Chinese Ch’an School is said to have been brought to China from India in the 6th century CE by the Indian Buddhist monk – Bodhidharma. The Scripture associated with his transmission was the Lankavatara Sutra. Although associated with the Yogacara School today within popular Buddhism, a debate exists as to its actual place within Buddhist development history, with researchers such as Florin Giripescu Sutton stating that the structure of this Sutra is more evident of a Hinayana-Mahayana crossover, rather than being comprised of a purely ‘idealistic’ arrangement. (See: FG Sutton’s book entitled ‘Existence and Enlightenment in the Lankavatara-sutra'). From my training within the Chinese Ch’an School, I believe FG Sutton’s interpretation is correct. The Chinese Ch’an School is never one-sided in its interpretation of reality, and would not accept a purely ‘material’, or ‘idealistic’ interpretation of reality. However, the Chinese Ch’an School does accept the concept of an ‘integration’ of a (realised) reality that is the perfect synthesis of ‘form’ (matter) and ‘void’ (empty space). Of course, enlightenment involves the ‘turning about’ (Paravritti) of the deepest aspect of the human-mind.
The Standard Sanskrit Dictionary defines the term ‘Paravritti’ (परावृत्ति) in the following ways:
barter, rebounding, revolving, change, recoiling, turning back or round, exchange, restoration of property, interchange, returning, not taking effect, reversion of a sentence or judgement and turning about.
Within the context of Mahayana Buddhist Sanskrit (as used in the Lankavatara Sutra), the term Paravritti’ (परावृत्ति) means: ‘change’, ‘turning around’, ‘returning’ and ‘turning about’.
It implies the permanent ‘turning about’ (as a ‘realised’ achievement of enlightenment) that occurs in the deepest (alaya-vijnana) level of the mind. The ‘deluded’ mind – which is the mind that first embarks upon the path of enlightenment – is ‘inverted’ by nature and definition of the Buddha. To rid the mind of this ‘suffering-inducing’ inversion of mind, an individual must participate in the practice of meditation as a method of effective self-cultivation. Within the Chinese Ch’an School this process involves the use of gong-an contemplation and hua tou investigation. When the inner potential is suitably strengthened, there is a ‘breakthrough’ so that the ridgepole of ignorance is broken, and the inverted-mind is rectified into the non-inverted mind of complete enlightenment. A very good definition of ‘turning about’ (Paravritti) is as follows:
‘Discrimination not rising, there is a turning-back (parāvṛtti), and there is no dependence on anything … When there is a revulsion (parāvṛtti) from discrimination, one is removed from death and destruction; … " (* 8) Gotra (眞性) according to T'ang. (* 9) Parāvṛtti, turning-over, or turning-up, or turning-back’
This ‘turning about’ equates to the third position of the Cao Dong Five Ranks – where the ridge-pole if ignorance is finally broken and a ‘still’ and ‘peaceful’ state of mind is attained. Although only the ‘relative’ (or ‘Hinayana’) position of enlightenment, nevertheless, it is already ‘beyond the worldly’ - because the dualism and discrimination premised upon on it - no longer arises in the mind. There is a ‘revulsion’ toward ALL discrimination - which is the essence (and ‘cause’) of delusion in the mind and suffering in the body and environment. From here, Mahayana enlightenment is achieved through further training (as the Cao Dong of the Five Ranks positions of four and five are traversed).
Within the written Chinese language, the Sanskrit term ‘परावृत्ति’ (Paravritti) is represented by the two ideograms ‘反射’ (Fan She). When read together, the concept of a ‘reflection’ (as from a ‘mirror’) is conveyed. Within the Surangama Sutra, the perfectly entitled mind is described as an infinite mirror ‘reflecting’ the entirety of material reality! Through this permanent (and ‘apparent’) reflection, the ‘inverted’ mind is remedied and human perception assumes the ‘correct’ or ‘enlightened’ orientation. (When describing the state of enlightenment to the unenlightened – the analogy of a ‘reflecting mirror’ is invariably used). The ideogram ‘反’ (fan3) carries the meaning of ‘reflect’, ‘repeat’ and ‘return’, etc, whereas the ideogram ‘射’ (she4) means ‘emit’, ‘shoot’ (an arrow) and ‘accurately project’, etc. This means that the Chinese interpretation of the Sanskrit term ‘Paravritti’ means to ‘turn back (i.e. to ‘reflect’) with a perfect accuracy’. These are characteristics of the perfectly enlightened mind within the Chinese Ch’an position.
Indian Sanskrit Reference: