Knowing when to ‘assert’ and when to ‘give-way’ are important attributes for any spiritual traveller. As human-beings, we can find ourselves in all kind of circumstance as the day unfolds and our life progresses. Much of this will be mundane, but occasionally reality will take a shocking turn for the worst! No one saw the Covid19 pandemic arriving and virtually everyone was taken by surprise – despite numerous horror films over the years expressing narratives involving dystopic futures on a planet ravished by some type of illness, plague or other torturous device! Usually, such story-lines involve society collapsing back into an armed feudalism where brutality is the order of the day. Only the strong survive by preying on the weak. Of course, due to poverty and asymmetric economic development around the world, many people already live in these hellish conditions. I would add that even within the so-called ‘civilised’ areas of the world – killing and barbarity still exists – although it is hidden to a far greater extent (like a bad dream that people would rather forget).
Most people grow-up in the world learning to survive. Indeed, this is a crucial and necessary skill. It is not the skill of the huntsman or gathering skills of the scavenger – but rather the ability to navigate the character and personality of our fellow human-beings. Children can be cruel and adults can be deceptive – for many these observations are facts of life. This imbalance in the inner and outer environment must be dealt with in one way or another. Ch’an is not an easy undertaking because it requires a devoted self-effort to take on our own inner world before we set about attempting to make changes in our outer worlds. Many will attack and ridicule any attempt at self-discipline – but for the world to be a better place – self-discipline is exactly what is required. Looking within with clarity and steadfastness eventually develops to looking without with wisdom and knowledge!
Our personal circumstance can vary wildly through our lives. Many will experience poverty, homelessness, abuse and all kinds of deprivations – whilst others will experience only affluence and relative well-being, etc. The point is that regardless of the differences that define our outer existence, the empty mind ground is exactly the same for all beings! Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) lived a life continuously ‘gazing’ at the empty mind ground without any deviation whatsoever! More to the point – Master Xu Yun integrated his expedient self (or that which will eventually fall away) with the permanent and ever-present empty mind ground! Regardless of the situation he found himself in, or the circumstances he had to traverse – Master Xu Yun judged human reality not from the ego infected with greed, hatred and delusion – but rather from the pure and clean empty mind ground which underlies all reality and permeates the universe without end! Knowing where to place oneself in the phenomenal world - so as to maximise compassion, wisdom and loving kindness – is exactly possessing the skill of ‘moving’ and remaining ‘still’ in all situations!
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: