Many people are surprised to learn that Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) was subject to a more or less continuous stream of allegations claiming that he routinely ‘broke’ the Vinaya Discipline and the Bodhisattva Vows. These assertions were usually made by common people with an axe to grind for some reason or other. The fact that no one took these allegations seriously is simply because no one who mattered believed any of it to be true. Master Xu Yun was accused of seducing young girls and women, as well as pursuing homosexual relationships with young monks. When these reports were found to be groundless – Master Xu Yun was accused of amassing money and using it to lead a life of luxury and leisure! Again, no evidence was ever found and so these allegations were ignored like all the others. When he was married (in his late teens) Master Xu Yun never touched his two wives. Years later, this was confirmed by these (now elderly) ladies who had become ordained Buddhist nuns after their husband left to become a monk around 1858. These ladies were virginal when they entered the Buddhist nunnery.
My personal experience of Chinese monastic communities, as well as from the memories of other Western people who also lived as a Buddhist monk in China, confirm that homosexuality (as well as any type of sexual expression) was not present. This is because the facility of human desire is ‘turned inward’ and transmutated into pure spiritual light and energy that emanates from the centre of the forehead and from there permeates the entire body and environment. This process detaches sexual energy from the sexual organs and diverts the imagination of the mind away from sexual fulfilment through the sexual organ, focusing on ‘returning’ all this sensation back toward the empty mind ground. There is no outward sexual reaction or perversion within the average Chinese Ch’an monastery because the subject-object dichotomy that drives the sexual drive within delusive society no longer exists.
There is a point in this process where the sexual drive is transformed forever regardless of circumstance. Although a conducive environment is beneficially to start with, eventually, once the six senses are permanently ‘purified’ and ‘cleansed’, then a lay-men such as Vimalakirti and Hui Neng (prior to the latter’s eventual ordination) where able to live within ordinary society and yet never break their Vinaya Discipline. Vimalakirti had a number of wives and numerous children – and yet the Buddha stated that he ‘never’ broke the vow of celibacy. Vimalakirti also criticised the Buddha’s ordained disciple Upali (a Master of the Vinaya Disciple) for being attached (in the wrong) way to the ‘letter of the law’. Vimalakirti stated that being ‘attached’ to celibacy in such a one-sided manner was as bad as being mindlessly attached to sexual pleasure! The answer is that ‘pleasure’, ‘pain’ and ‘neutrality’ are all perceived to be equally ‘empty’ of any and all permanent reality. All emerge from the empty mind ground as karmic attributes that simply take the form that is implicitly conditioned within each strand of expression. This Mahayana penetrating of all phenomena is very different to Upali’s Hinayana notion of just avoiding ‘pleasure’, etc.
It is the same for ‘praise’ and ‘blame’, as both are equally ‘empty’ of any intrinsic or separate value. A practitioner who has penetrated the empty mind ground exists in a permanent state of divine indifference and are unmoved by either praise or blame. Reacting to the ignorance of others with the same ignorance does not happen because it cannot happen. Once the empty mind ground has been permanently penetrated, understood and integrated with, then there is never any slipping back to a more deficient position of understanding. People who operate through the ego are continuously attempting to make some kind of social gain through manipulating those around them. A Ch’an Master sees this straightaway and reveals the underlying reality of those who approach with ulterior motives. All is wisdom, loving kindness and compassion.
‘...After my death, if you carry out my instructions and practise them accordingly, my being away from you will make no difference. On the other hand, if you go against my teaching, no benefit would be obtained, even if I continued to stay here.’
Then he uttered another stanza:
“Imperturbable and serene the ideal man practises no virtue.
Self-possessed and dispassionate, he commits no sin.
Calm and silent, he gives up seeing and hearing.
Even and upright his mind abides nowhere.”
Having uttered this stanza, he sat reverently until the third watch of the night. Then he said abruptly to his disciples, “I am going now,” and in a sudden passed away. A peculiar fragrance pervaded his room, and a lunar rainbow appeared which seemed to join up earth and sky. The trees in the wood turned white, and birds and beasts cried mournfully.
...The Patriarch inherited the robe when he was 24, had his hair shaved (i.e. was ordained) at 39, and died (sat upright) at the age of 76. For thirty-seven years he preached for the benefit of all sentient beings. Forty-three of his disciples inherited the Dharma, and by his express consent, became his successors; while those who attained enlightenment and thereby got out of the rut of the ordinary man were too numerus to be calculated.
The Altar Sutra of Hui Neng (Chapter 10 – His Final Instructions)
The paradox of the Chinese Ch’an tradition is that it expects lay-people and monastics alike to realise full enlightenment - ‘here and now’. What does this mean? Regardless of the circumstances of an individual’s life, the insight capacity of the mind must be turned inward with such a high degree of focus and precision, that perception is permanently ‘altered’ so to ‘see’ and ‘understand’ more than what was understood before. Being a Buddhist monastic is no guarantee of success in realising enlightenment, just as being a lay-person should be no barrier. Individuals will learn at their own pace and in their own way, with all kinds of psychological and physiological factors coming into play (traditionally referred to as ‘personal karma’). The ‘language of the uncreate’ is unique to Chinese Ch’an Buddhism and uses language in such a way that does not allow the habitual ‘dualism’ of conventional communication to come into play during an ‘enlightening’ interaction or dialogue. The convention of ‘dualism’ preserves delusive states of mind, and prevents clarity of insight from developing. This is why Ch’an masters (in ancient times) developed this mode of non-communication, although when Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) taught during the 19th and 20th centuries, he often used a modern example of logic and reason to describe the history, method and purpose of the Ch’an School. Indeed, whilst encouraging his disciples to fully penetrate (and realise) the empty mind-ground, he would often warn against the cultural habit of many people attending Ch’an Week Retreats to descend into ‘mystical’, or ‘nonsensical’ states of mind, each of which was nowhere near the authentic realisation of the empty mind ground! Uttering nonsense about ancient masters, does go much beyond the nonsense being uttered! However, once the empty mind ground is realised, then every word spoken by the Buddha is understood exactly and clearly, as is every odd action and utterances of the ancient Ch’an masters!
‘Mind is the root of the myriad phenomena. All phenomena are born from mind. If you can completely comprehend mind, the myriad practices can completely comprehend mind, the myriad practices are complete.’
The Western world is attempting to apply the methods of modern science to each of its societies as a means to prevent the spread of a new type of pneumonia. Ordinary freedoms are suspended, commerce curtailed and politics geared toward controlling the situation. Many of us gravitate around our homes – which is the same for the rich as it is for the ordinary – we are all equal when we film ourselves self-isolating on social media. In the Book of Change (Yijing) it advises that in such times there is a ‘darkening of the light’, and we should adjust ourselves to this new circumstance, look within and work on our own shortcomings. This is a time of true and genuine monasticism in its purest sense. The mind should not be allowed to wander or speculate about the outside world. Whilst not catching or spreading the virus, we must use this situation as a blessing and not a punishment. The empty mind ground is always present and underlies all phenomena equally, good, bad or neutral. We can transform even the worst of situations by directly perceiving the empty mind ground ‘here and now’.