The UK has the highest Covid19 death-rate in the world! To date, over 100,000 men, women and children have died. Covid19 is no respecter of class, gender or age – we are all equally susceptible to its deadly embrace! In the Classic of Change (Yijing) - Hexagram 36 is entitled ‘明夷’ (Ming Yi). This is often translated as ‘Darkening of the Light’ or ‘Brightness Obscured’ with both renderings describing a time when the outside world (literally, figuratively – or both) – is plunged into a natural state of actual perpetual darkness (such as experienced during unusual weather conditions, volcanic activity, earthquake or Tsunami, etc), or is subject to corrupt leaders, debilitating warfare, illness, famine or drought, etc. The ‘brightness’ that denotes a progressive and vibrant society has been compromised so that normal activity in the world has become severely restricted or even non-existent due to the danger that is present.
In fact, ‘明夷’ (Ming Yi) can convey a more in-depth explanation of events depicted in the situation. Indeed, ‘明’ (ming2) is constructed using the left-hand particle of ‘日’ (ri4) denoting ‘sun’ - and the right-hand particle ‘月’ (yue4) referring to the ‘Moon’. As both the ‘Sun’ and the ‘Moon’ are shining with full intensity, the Chinese ideogram means a situation of out and out ‘Brightness’. In the ancient Chinese-language texts – this ideogram referred to a time of day when the Sun is rising in the sky and the Moon has not yet disappeared – that is ‘Dawn’ - a time of great hope and inspiration for a new day ahead! This is the ‘ideal’ situation involving human society that is a ‘positive’ and ‘inspiring’ tine of unending clarity and insight – which allows great things to be achieved without end!
As the ideogram ‘夷’ (yi2) is entering the situation, however, things have changed for the worse. This change is dramatic, traumatic, and out and out ‘negative’! There is no redeeming features and civilised human society has suffered a terrible set-back! The ideogram ‘夷’ (yi2) is comprised of the inner particle of ‘大’ (da4) which translates as ‘great’, ‘big’, or ‘large’, etc, literally ‘something greater than a person’. The outer ideogram is ‘弓’ (gong1) which refers to the use of a ‘bow’ as a weapon. This ‘bow’ is manufactured from a suitably ‘curved’ tree-branch which is strong and yet flexible. Due to this association, this particle can also carry the meaning of ‘bend’, ‘arch’, or ‘curve’, etc. That is, ‘something that is not straight’, or ‘departs from the norm’, etc. When placed together, ‘夷’ (yi2) can refer to a ‘great’ non-Han people who were experts in the use of the bow and arrow - and who lived to the ‘East’ of the Central Plane. In later times, this ideogram was used to refer to any disruptive population, group or tribe that continuously attacked and disruptive the everyday cultural activity of the Han people.
As the ‘明夷’ (Ming Yi) Hexagram (36) uses the latter meaning of ‘interference from barbarians’ - this gives a clue when this Hexagram’s commentary was formulated (or at least ‘settled’) - which would have been after the life of Confucius (probably around 300 BCE). Confucius tends to see this tribe as ‘ancient’ rather than ‘disruptive’ - but in later times, this concept took-on the meaning of ‘obliterate’, ‘eradicate’ and ‘destroy’ through ‘violence’. As something bad has happened in society – the ‘wise-person’ turns-away from all forms of social interaction and intently ‘looks within’ to perfect his or her character. This is achieved through silent and seated meditation, interspersed with periods of study deep and profound philosophical texts that assist this process. This fits-in with the current Covid19 Crisis which involves a withdrawal from interacting within normal society to prevent the spread of the illness and keep one another (and the entirety of society) safe! Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) would have told us all to behave ourselves and behave with civility and discipline!
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.