When Master Xu Yun gave up his body in 1959 – he was 119-years-old and well within his 120th year of life – whilst being in his 101st year as an ordained Buddhist monk following the Dharma and Vinaya. As this was his ‘last’ incarnation’, he decided to die like the Buddha lying on his right-side (which he did without trouble in-front of Master Ti Guang). Many other Ch’an monastics and lay practitioners, however, attempt the tradition of ‘seated transformation’ (坐化 - Zuo Hua) - whereby an advanced Buddhist practitioner attempts to leave his or her body whilst sat upright in the crossed-legged meditation position. History records that some Masters have been able to leave and re-enter their bodies at will- even some days after being pronounced ‘dead’. It is said that a true Dharma-Successor is able to perform this feat as a demonstration of their enlightened realisation, and is often used as a method of quality-control even within modern China (where a surprising number of devout Buddhists still ‘die’ sitting-up in the proscribed manner). As Dharma-Practice requires a completely honest and compassionate mindset, all genuine Dharma-Successors are expected to at least try and pass away in this manner. This is my intention if conditions allow (with my partner photographing the process). Of course, there is no guarantee this process will unfold as intended, but the point is that I am willing try.
The hermit of Lotus Flower Peak held up his staff and showed it to the assembly saying, “When the ancients got here, why didn’t they consent to stay here?”
There was no answer from the assembly, so he himself answered for them, “Because they did not gam strength on the road.”
Again he said, “In the end, how is it?” And again he himself answered in their place, “With my staff across my shoulder, I pay no heed to people – I go straight into the myriad peaks.”
Blue Cliff Record – Case 25
A Ch’an Week Retreat is an intensive period of focused seated meditation, that extends over a clearly defined time-period. This is a tradition within the Chinese Ch’an School that involves the monastic and lay community practicing together without any distinction. All sit together, and all follow the full Vinaya Discipline for the duration of the Retreat. If a Ch’an practitioner sits properly, (as observed by the Japanese Zen Master – Dogen), then the ‘Mind Precept’ is established. The Mind Precept is a ‘still’ mind (relative enlightenment) that has uprooted all vestiges of greed, hatred and delusion, and which has expanded to include the entire environment (full enlightenment). In this pristine state, all material things arise and pass-away within an all-embracing (and reflective) void. It is an emptiness that contains all things, and which is devoid of any and all delusive thinking premised upon habitual dualism. This bright and still mind manifests boundless wisdom (prajna), compassion (karuna) and loving-kindness (maitri), and is the basis of every rule - not only within the Vinaya Discipline - but also the Bodhisattva Vows. By adopting a clear state of mind and a disciplined mode of bodily behaviour, the Ch’an practitioner generates the conditions to a) realise enlightenment, and b) deepen an already experienced enlightening experience. Those who enter a Ch’an Week Retreat who are already fully enlightened, offer a great Bodhisattva service to humanity (and the universe), as their presence ‘purifies’ the fabric of existence, and generates ‘strength’ for all those still struggling on the Path! Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) always taught that there is no point forcibly adhering to the Vinaya Discipline if the mind of the practitioner is full of confusion (klesa) - and lacks a clarity of insight into the state of ‘stillness’. From a karmic perspective, if a mind is infected with dualistic desire, then negative karma will carry-on being produced (premised upon ‘volitional’ thought), regardless of the behaviour of the body. In such a situation, bodily action may well conform to the outer spirit of the Vinaya Discipline, but as the mind is impure, delusion carries-on being produced as before. This is an ‘inward’ betrayal of the spirit of the Vinaya Discipline. Monks, nuns or lay-people (who live like this), will be exposed sooner or later. Eventually, the sheer weight of this contradiction will eventually lead to an outer abhorrent behaviour that matches the corrupt state of the inner mind. This is why the mind must be ‘cleaned’ through the use of the hua-tou and the gong-an methods. Sitting in disciplined meditation for an extended period of time is an excellent method to begin this training, and to deepen this training once experience has been gained and progress made. Although the mind is impermanent, as declared by the Buddha, it is important that all greed, hatred and delusion is uprooted from its functioning, and that the empty mind ground is penetrated and clearly understood.
Avoiding the Ten Evil Acts (Dasa Akusala)
A) The Three Evil Acts Associated with the Bodily-Action: 1) Killing 2) Stealing 3) Adultery
B) The Four Evil Acts Associated with Speech: 4) Lying 5) Slander 6) Harsh Words 7) Profitless Talk
C) The Three Evil Acts Associated with the Mind: 8) Greed 9) Hatred 10) Delusion
As Buddhism is a Form of Mental Hygiene – the Following Must Be Uprooted through Meditation:
1) Greed (Abhijjha), 2) Hatred (Vyapada), 3) Ill-Will (Kodha), 4) Enmity (Upanaha), 5) Belittling (Makkha), 6) Pretension (Palasa), 7) Envy (Issa), 8) Jealously (Macchariya), 9) Hypocrisy (Maya), 10) Craftiness (Satheyya), 11) Obduracy (Thambha), 12) Vieing (Sarambha), 13) Conceit (Mana), 14) Haughtiness (Atimana), 15) Infatuation (Mada), and 16) Unheedfulness (Pamada).
As these ‘darken the mind’ they must be ‘uprooted’.
Ten Moral Acts (Dasa Kusala)
1) Giving (Dana), 2) Moral Conduct (Sila), Meditation (Bhavana), 4) Respecting the Worthy (Apacayana), 5) Ministering to the Worthy (Veyvavacca), 6) Offering Merit (Pattidana), 7) Partakingbof Merit (Pattanumodana), 8) Hearing the Teaching (Dhammasavana), 9) Teaching the Dhamma (Dhamma Desana) and 10) Rectification of False Views (Ditthijjukamma).
The reality of living in the material world is entirely a matter of casual circumstance. Most people make their way through life in any way they can, regardless of the inherent conditions (good, neutral or bad, etc). The Ch’an masters in the old days were very strict and did not care whatsoever about casual circumstance. Their main emphasis was only to direct the attention ‘inward’ so that the empty mind ground can be fully cognised and integrated with. There is no gossip or discussion tolerated about the nature of the times, with only ‘looking within’ viewed as a valid approach to existence. The Ch’an masters advised that we must ‘adjust ourselves to circumstance’, whilst the mind is turned inward and the interior of conscious awareness illuminated through continuous concentration. This is the essence of the Buddha’s method. Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) lived an extraordinary life and was involved in very important times in historical development, but he was continuously ‘indifferent’ to what was happening around him, whilst taking every ‘correct’ action that was required at the time. Looking within with strength and purpose is not a denial of material reality, but is the acknowledgement of the Buddha’s method. The Ch’an method is nothing but the direct realisation of the empty mind ground so that it becomes the place of permanent abode – an abode which generates loving-kindness, compassion and wisdom!
I respect the Theravada School and have trained with its monks and nuns many times. I admire its Dhamma and work to protect and preserve it in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar, etc. However, there are certain differences of view which I wish to explore (although in my own training, I see no difference). The Theravada view (for many but not all) is that the senses are purified when the body (and mind) is removed from direct contact with a polluting environment (such as when entering a forest temple or monastery, etc). Only a monastic can purify their minds fully, with a lay man purifying his mind to a lesser degree than the average monastic, but certainly more so than a lay woman. The Ch’an School rejects this view. As the empty mind ground underlies ALL phenomenal existence, the idea that only monks (or nuns) can fully realise it does not hold, and is contradicted by the numerous examples of enlightened lay men and women in the Pali Suttas, and the Ch’an tradition (including children) within China (Vimlakirti is perhaps the greatest Indian example), but what does this difference mean in reality? The Theravada method suggests that enlightenment - I.e. the uprooting of greed, hatred and delusion – is dependent upon circumstance and is only possible if an individual is ‘removed’ from direct contact with the ordinary world. Then, the corrupting influence of the three taints diminishes and eventually falls away (as all stimulus ceases). However, should such an individual be plummeted back into the ordinary world, then this deluded mechanism would re-active and the mind be yet again consumed by greed, hatred and delusion. The Ch’an method ensures that whilst living in isolation, or at least relative peace for a while, the mind calms to a considerable degree so that the hua tou and gong-an methods can ‘return’ ALL sensory stimulus back to the empty mind ground from which it originated. Once the hearing has been returned, all the other five senses are also returned, and the empty mind ground fully penetrated and realised. This experience automatically ‘purifies’ the six senses in a permanent manner that cannot ever be re-corrupted. This is why the Ch’an School advocates the ‘Ch’an Week’, or periods of intense meditative activity interspersed with weeks (or months) of quite ordinary and mundane activity. This explains why many Ch’an monastics either return to lay life to spread compassion and wisdom throughout society, or hold office or other positions within the lay world as monastics with no problem whatsoever. It makes no difference where their expedient body resides, as the six senses have been fully imbued (and transformed) through the presence of a pervasive and all-embracing ‘emptiness’ which is as purifying as it is compassionate and full of loving kindness. This reality further explains why many Ch’an practitioners refuse to ordain in China, as there is no need to do so.