Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) inherited all Five Schools of Ch'an Buddhism. So respected was his spiritual attainments that he was even transmitted lineages that he had not formally trained within - but whose teachers recognised that his depth of insight, humility and compassion fully equalled the divine levels of attainment that their schools demanded! In other words, without going out of his room, he knew all things (to quote the 'Book of Changes'). Chinese culture is very different to that of the modern West - despite the obvious similarities and intersections.
Within the schools of Chinese spirituality - individuals can live very long periods time - and lineages can be passed from long-dead Masters to living Teachers and Practitioners! There is no need to justify any of this, it is just how things are - pure and simple. Lineages are like streams that flow into mighty rivers and then the sea! A genuine lineage should have a compelling force all of its own that propels adherents toward the intended spiritual goal! A true lineage is like an ever-moving conveyor-belt that moves everything along - continuously - and in the same direction! We must all set a good example for our colleagues, students and descendants! If we cultivate virtue and set a good example - then by our pure actions we are 'adding' momentum to the lineages we represent!
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection is elegant. Sometimes individuals mistakenly assume that evolution moves only in one direction only – as if for change to be valid it must be ‘progressive’ in a non-stop trajectory of development. The reality is something quite different. In fact, evolution occurs just as much by ‘regression’ as it does by ‘progression’ - such is the random nature of its unfolding. The human big-toe, for example, is actually a ‘deformed’ thumb similar that found on the human-hand today. At one time in human development, an early version of ‘us’ could climb trees and hold onto branches with the minimum of effort early in our development – similar to chimpanzees and other extant monkeys. However, when early humans took to pedal walking upright (along the ground), the thumbs on the ‘lower hands’ quite literally ‘devolved’ into a far more rigid ‘toe’ to aid balance and stability whilst standing, walking and running on two legs. This development ‘freed’ the human-hands to develop all kinds of dextrous activities which resulted in tool-making and the beginnings of the transformation of the environment.
Positive developments within human evolutionary development, therefore, are not always ‘progressive’, and yet such ‘negative’ changes make way for some quite stunning improvements in human-activity and thought-processing, etc. This observation can be applied to the individual with regards self-cultivation. Not every change in life is ‘positive’ or necessarily ‘conducive’ to well-being or progression, and yet if used in an appropriate manner, can be adapted to advance our psycho-physical developments outside of our perceived safety zones. Sometimes, for human-beings to develop more completely, it is the ‘uncomfortable’ and the ‘unthinkable’ that must be embraced and treated like a long-lost friend. To achieve this, as individuals we must bravely advance into situations that usually we would possess no possible reason to be associated with.
Many people, living in the modern world, are trained from birth to prefer those situations that confuse them least. Inherently, this also means that we tend to choose to live in situations that challenge us least. In a very subtle manner, we avoid the very challenges and conditions that would develop us the most, if only we allowed ourselves to manifest within them. Fear of failure, fear of suffering and fear of ridicule often keeps us from bravely exposing us to situations whereby we would not ‘voluntarily’ venture. Perhaps it is helping a homeless person covered in lice, urine and excreta, or assisting a disabled person with no social skills. It could be less obvious than this – such as mingling with those who hold intolerable ideological or political ideas. It could be an atheist mixing with a religionists – or a Socialist with a fascist, etc. My point is that sometimes, we must not artificially shut ourselves off from various realities just because we do not ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ them. Compassion and loving kindness work best when applied in situations and circumstance where neither of these attributes are thought to exist.
If we firmly understand whatever spiritual, political or social reality we subscribe to, then our reasoning and logic should be so strong that exposure to contradictory ideas and situations should not ‘weaken’ but only ‘strengthen’ our resolve. Difference, although very real and tangible, should not be considered as an excuse for walling ourselves off from expressing a greater love for humanity whilst cultivating an insight into the spiritual essence of all reality. The Daoist sage Zhuangzi once said that a truly enlightened being must be indifferent to praise or blame – surely the only way to test this is to voluntarily enter into situations where we would usually never choose to enter. We must bring ‘light’ to the darkest corners of the Earth through such undertakings!
The Phowa technique involves the expansion of consciousness from being confined to the inside of the head and body - to fully embracing the entire external world. The 'inner' and 'outer' are fully integrated - but not limited to this 'integration'. This is reflected in Stages Four and Five of the Cao Dong Prince and Minister Schemata. Therefore, the individual consciousness can only pass through the Brahma-Chakra (at the top of the skull) at the moment of physical death if full enlightenment (and an all-embracing mind) has been realised by the practitioner beforehand. Charles Luk sought-out a Mongolian Lama to clarify this issue as most Chinese Ch'an Masters remained 'indifferent' to questions of 'death', 'dying' and 'after-life', etc. Although Phowa is interesting, and represents a realised state that is part of the full Ch'an enlightenment - it is not required as a separate teaching. How to transition between the apparent states of 'living' and 'dying' is clearly exhibited within the Ch'an Records Charles Luk translated. However, as individuals we are 'free' to seek spiritual instruction from whatever spiritual tradition suits our needs at the time of enquiry. For instance, it strikes me that 'humility' is the spiritual power behind genuine 'internal' martial arts - and represents a vast reservoir of universal power above, beyond and below the entirety of existence - and that's just my preference!
I have been engaged in the activity of Buddhist meditation for over three decades. In that time, I have experienced a number of ‘states’ marked by enhanced perception and awareness. These achievements have been confirmed by comparing their attributes with those described within Buddhist Sutras, and through examination by various Buddhist masters. The methods used has involved following the breath, chanting Pali and Sanskrit mantras, contemplating sections of Buddhist Sutras, considering the various ‘gong-an’ (Public Records) preserved within the Chinese Ch’an School, and the use of the ‘hua tou’ (word head) method. There has also been the direct instruction from a number of Buddhist Masters.
Today, whilst sat in deep meditative absorption, it is often the case that an intense sense of ‘pressure’ begins to be felt in the centre of the forehead (between the eyes). This pressure starts off slowly and builds in intensity so that a great physical pleasure and bliss is experienced. With practice, this feeling can manifest very quickly, often as soon as the eyes are closed and the meditation begins. It feels to me as if a matrix of small (but interconnected) muscles (laying across the flat-bone of the forehead) begin to gently ‘contract’ and resonate in a process that is something akin to sexual pleasure. As far as I am aware, this is a purely ‘physical’ response to the meditative process and although not easy to experience, is certainly not ‘mysterious’ in origin or manifestation.
What is its purpose? The experience of what is referred to as the ‘opening of the third eye’ seems to be designed to focus (and alter) the conscious patterning of the mind. Before these muscle contract in this manner, the surface (and deep mind) must have been previously ‘calmed’ and ‘stilled’ for quite some time, before this reaction can be triggered. The pleasurable feeling is intense when fully realised. Although similar to a continuous sexual orgasm experienced across the forehead, there is also a similarity with the effects of a very strong drug which produces a similar effect in the body. Unlike a drug, however, (or sexual experience), the ‘third eye’ can persist for hours producing continuous waves of physical bliss that only comes to an end when formal meditation ceases, and there are absolutely no side-effects as there is with medical stimulants.
These intense waves of physical pleasure (emanating from the centre of the forehead) focus the pure psychic energy and elevates the frequency of the mind patterning so that spiritual ‘light’ appears to flood the head, permeates the interior of the body, and then flows out into the environment. It is as if the muscular contraction of the forehead is a natural process that transforms the manner in which the mind functions and relates to the rest of the body and the environment.
I suspect the experience of the ‘third eye’ is a natural process of human evolution designed as a method that initiates personal healing and serves as a natural pain-killer (similar to teachings found within the Daoist traditions). As regards the broader subject of religious interpretation, the process of the contraction of the muscles across the forehead is often ‘mystified’ and associated with divine intervention and external spiritual stimulation. In this model, the opening of the ‘third eye’ is viewed as a non-physical event entirely dependent upon theistic entities and the suspension of physical laws, etc. I certainly have no problem with these interpretations – but such ideas do not tally with my personal experiences. Always think for yourself and find your own way.
Artist: Yang Bo (杨勃)｜ Contemporary Spirit · Young Oil Painting Artist Series - 2017-05-19 13:31
Supervisor: Guangdong Federation of Literary and Art Circles
Organizer: Guangdong Lingnan Fine Arts Publishing House
杨勃 ｜ 当代精神 · 青年油画艺术家系列 - 2017-05-19 13:31
As Spring transitioned into Summer (in 1945) - the Great Maser Huaixi (淮西大师 - Huai Xi Da Shi) wrote an article which made the following observation:
‘One morning, after eating (watery) porridge for breakfast, Master Xu Yun casually commented to a nearby monk: “It is my opinion that the Japanese invaders will definitely fail. I had a dream last night and saw the Japanese kneeling in defeat and asked to surrender to the Chinese government.” Soon after Master Xu Yun made this statement, the Japanese Imperial Army – which had raped and pillaged its way across China since 1931 - announced its unconditional surrender. Acting in accordance with the British, Americans and the Chinese – the Soviet Red Army had entered Northeast China (i.e. the Japanese puppet State of ‘Manchuria’) and like a giant tidal-wave had swept the usually stubborn and fanatical (Japanese) Kwantung Army out of existence! As Master Xu Yun usually took no notice of current (worldly) events, it is interesting that he made this comment. Of course, he was aware of the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity committed by the Japanese Imperial Army, as he had lived in the Southern areas of China at the time, and had been amongst the ordinary people who had directly experienced this Japanese barbarity. Indeed, the common people often said that wherever Master Xu Yun was sat in meditation – the Japanese bombs would fail to penetrate!
Master Xu Yun was ‘other worldly’ and yet he had to live in this ‘real’ world. He possessed a sharp-mind and despite his compassion, he did not suffer fools lightly. He was a strict task-master who taught his disciples and students through the use of a harsh wisdom and pure discipline. He would ensure that the mind and body would be purified through ‘correct behaviour’ of body, and that greed, hatred and delusion would be uprooted from deep within the mind. Like any good Ch’an master – he could sense arrogance, pride and ignorance, as well as hidden motives and black hearts lurking within potential students. As this corruption is even more prevalent today, not tolerating this ‘klesa’ is a mark of any competent Ch’an teacher.
Chinese Language Reference:
I am contacted every so often, and asked whether this site is still ‘active’ - as if its function is conventional and similar to the other sites. Of course, this is not true. The translation work that inspired Charles Luk (1898-1978), and (my teacher) Richard Hunn (1946-2006) was first suggest by the Venerable Old Monk – Xu Yun (虚云) [1840-1959) - because he had a dream (either sleeping or during meditation), that the Chinese Ch’an Dharma would spread to the West (as it historically had done from India to China), and that its methods would help endless numbers of Westerners. There was a time of intense activity, as I was provided with authentic Chinese language texts from my Mainland Chinese academic colleagues and fellow ethnic Chinese Ch’an practitioners. This activity has understandably slowed-down lately, as the amount of texts available has diminished. Our success has been to translate those readily available. More will undoubtedly become available in time, but I tend to prefer a more ‘natural’ approach to this process, and patiently ‘wait’ for genuine Chinese language texts to make themselves available. Although I am an academic specialising in the translation of Chinese historical and philosophical texts into English, the texts involving Xu Yun take a lot of spiritual energy to handle correctly. It is not a simple case of exchanging one set of words for another, as a deep and profound meaning must be a) perceived, b) understood, and c) translated and transliterated into a modern and reliable English translation. English speakers must receive (in their ethnic language) the correct meaning that Xu Yun (and his disciples) intended in their ethnic (Chinese) language. This is a special type of translating that is different to its conventional cousin. Simply exchanging words, (even the ‘correct’ word) is not good enough, as anyone with a dictionary and the requisite will-power can do that. I was trained by Richard Hunn for seventeen years, but even then, I was reticent to start translating full-time. Then, I met a number of very kind and encouraging Mainland Chinese people working in the UK, who encouraged me to start this project and formally take-over from Richard Hunn. As a consequence, we have built-up a compendium of good quality Chinese Ch’an texts that are rare in the West and designed to inspire readers to sit strongly and look within using the hua tou (Who is hearing?) - with a persistent (but gentle) power of concentration...