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Chinese Ch’an is beyond words and sentences. Of this, we can all agree. However, I have just made use of ‘words and sentences’ to convey an entire list of concepts, albeit in an efficient use of language. The point is that each word (spelt correctly) is used like an arrow ‘shooting’ toward the target. Nothing can stop it, and its direct is clear. A Ch’an teacher knows ‘exactly’ where the target is and ‘how’ it must be reached. Enquirers are not clear where the target is, or how they are to reach it. The interaction between ‘teacher’ and ‘enquirer’ is one of directing the arrow toward the target. Or, to explain it another way, the teacher ensures that the target is in the right place when the enquirer releases the arrow toward it! Two people, one arrow and a single target.
Depending upon what is required, the Ch’an teacher either adjusts the direction of the arrow, or alters the position of the target. Once the two are ‘connected’ as ‘one’ - then the method for achieving contact immediately becomes irrelevant as the arrow no longer requires adjusting or the target moving. Language is important as a means to convey understanding and context, but the torrent of words create a cascade of meaning that never ends – even though each word contains only a limited over-all meaning. Language is accumulative. Meaning and understanding is accrued over-time – and yet sometimes the deliberate ‘non-use’ of language can be an important lever in the process of re-aligning meaning, reason, logic and understanding.
A Ch’an teacher can deploy words and sentences with the thunder of an avalanche – or the gentleness of a quiet cave interior. Both may appear to be a little frightening and intimidating – but both have their developmental purpose. The hua tou deals exclusively with words. Actually, it deals specifically with the ‘origin’, ‘manifestation’ and ‘dissipation’ of each word as it emerges from the empty mind ground, becomes fully ‘established’ in the mind as a thought, and then ‘dissolves’ back into nothing. If a Ch’an practitioner studies the hua tou for years on end, he or she is studying the essence of all literature as it arises in the mind! This worked for the Sixth Patriarch – Hui Neng – who was illiterate when he first realised enlightenment. Although he could not read or write (a common experience for around 90% of Chinese people living within feudal China), nevertheless, if a text was read to him, he could fully explain its deep and profound meaning!
‘We are here to inquire into the hua-tou which is the way we should follow. Our purpose is to be clear about birth and death and to attain Buddhahood. In order to be clear about birth and death, we must have recourse to this hua-tou which should be used as the Vajra King’s precious sword to cut down demons if demons come and Buddha’s if Buddhas come so that no feelings will remain and not a single thing (Dharma) can be set up. In such a manner, where could there have been wrong thinking about writing poems and gathas and seeing such states as voidness and brightness? If you made your efforts so wrongly. I really do not know where your hua-tou went. Experienced Chan monks do not require further talks about this, but beginners should be very careful.’
Master Xu Yun (113-114 years-old) - Ch’an Week - 1953-1954 – Fourth Day - Jade Buddha Temple (Shanghai)
Master Xu Yun never wastes a single word. This is because he is never confused as to the origin of a single thought. Master Xu Yun exists (psychologically and physically) within the permeant realisation of the empty mind ground. According to the historical (Indian) Buddha, ‘life’ as we experience it is unsatisfactory, seldom stable and prone to disappointment and ultimate dissolution. Physical life begins through the chemical explosion of conception, and ends when the body naturally shuts-down (during biological death), or is extinguished early through accident, illness or disaster, etc. Master Xu Yun lived through many such episodes throughout his extraordinarily long life (of two-cycles of the Chinese Zodiac). He lived within the space of the enlightened mind as explained in the Surangama Sutra. This is described as a round, all-embracing mirror that sees everything and rejects nothing. Like the sun – such a realised state shines on everything equally – bringing light and loving kindness to all phenomena whilst clearly distinguishing between this and that. This is why Master Xu Yun described the enlightened state as being ‘this and thus’ in his final years.
What many believe to be exalted states experienced when training in methods of self-cultivation, are nothing more than marks of progression and subtle expressions of delusion that must be ruthlessly ‘cut-down’ without hesitation. Buddhas in the mind are only shadows in the imagination, nothing else. Being obsessed with a shadow is not the realisation of ‘enlightenment’ but just more delusion indulged in a more favourable direction. These achievements signify spiritual ‘dead-ends’ that many reach and mistake for the state of ultimate ‘enlightenment’. Practitioners then become satisfied to remain in these dark corners of the imagination and to lead all other into the same cul-de-sac of doom! When attachment mixes with a false attainment, then an individual will not be able to move-on for very long extended periods of time. All is lost as darkness replaces light – and ignorance dominates genuine wisdom.
This quagmire can be avoided or escaped simple by applying the hua-tou correctly and effectively. What was once inevitable instantaneously ‘melts’ away as the hua-tou detaches the mind’s faulty awareness from this delusion and turns it toward the empty mind ground. This demonstrates the power of a) delusions to fool and distract the mind, and b) for the hua-tou method to quickly resolve this issue. The hua-tou is a very effective method of self-cultivation now only found in the Chinese Ch’an School of Buddhism (and the various lineages that have spread to other countries). Looking within is a matter of proper view – nothing else. Looking correctly will reveal the empty mind ground – looking incorrectly will reveal the delusion of the mind which cannot be escaped. Settling the body and directing the awareness is more important than all the passing phenomena of the external world (good or bad) - and has nothing to do with existential circumstance. This is why Ch’an is both difficult and easy.
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!
The Buddhist Sutras state that at the point of enlightenmet realisation - all karmic activity ceases and all gods-goddesses are understood to be non-existent. Indeed, the only karma left is the lifespan of the current human-body - which must be lived-out - but with any potential (debilitating) effects greatly diminished through the - volitionl capacity of subject-object attachment - being transcended. Of course, this matter is complicated by the Bodhisattva principle which states that an appropriate 'deluded thought' is produced at the point of physical death so as to initiate yet another bodily existence (through force of habit) - which is selflessly used to help all other life-forms - whatever they may be (human, animal, environment and alien, etc). Pali scholars suggest this Mahayana teaching is 'nonsense' - whilst Mahayanists consider it natural and inevitable - take your pick. However, when an existence is completely 'finished' (as with Buddha and Master Xu Yun) - the individual concerned enters 'parinrivana' and that is very much that. Remember, the gong-an (koan) literature contain a wealth of wisdom regarding these matters. When enlightened Masters are asked what they have been practicing of late - they often reply 'not even the four noble truths.' Why practice an expedient teaching when one's mind (and body) exists in a permanent state of integration with the ultimate position (i.e. the 'empty mind ground')?
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
Author’s Note: Charles Luk wrote this Foreword for the British Buddhist – John Blofeld – who had spent time in pre-Revolutionary China (working as an academic in the various Universities) studying Chinese Buddhism and Daoism in his leisure time. During that time, John Blofeld even had a personal encounter with Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) - the details of which are recorded in his biography entitled ‘The Wheel of Life’. John Blofeld also travelled all over Asia before marrying an Asian woman and settling in Thailand. The ‘materialism’ Charles Luk discusses requires clarification. The Buddha recognised that the physical world existed in-front of the senses and that the human mind was ‘attached to that which it ‘sensed’. This physical world, however, exists in a continuous state of flux (or ‘change’), and is ‘empty’ of any substantiality or permanent entity. In the enlightened state, the physical world does not ‘disappear’ as if by magic, but is rather transformed through the attainment and realisation that it is ‘free’ of self, ‘free’ of greed, ‘free’ of hatred and ‘free’ of delusion! The mind is disentangled from its habitual attachment to existing material externals, and the inherently ‘empty’ mind ground is realised, cultivated and developed (as described by the Cao Dong School’s Five Ranks). The Chinese Ch’an School combines the practical teachings of the Pali Suttas and the sublime teachings of the Mahayana Sutras and forms a perfect synthesis of understanding. Charles Luk uses the term ‘materialism’ to describe the mind’s attachment to physical externals, and humanity’s obsession with accumulation of wealth and material goods through the unbridled indulgence of ‘greed’. Charles Luk laments the fact that in the early 1960s, (the time of his writing), people were more interested in the accumulation of external profit, rather than the inner process of spiritual attainment. Whereas the exclusive possession of material goods seldom grants the assumed well-being associated with amassing profit – Charles Luk states that through the proper self-cultivation associated with the inner journey of Ch’an development, true peace of mind and relief from suffering is secured! This ability to ‘self-heal’ - Charles Luk says – resides in the minds of all human-beings! The material world is not necessarily or inherently ‘bad’ per se, but becomes so, depending upon how human-beings decide to relate to it. This is why the enlightened position of the Ch’an Master is described as being ‘neither attached to the (realised) void nor hindered by (the existing) phenomenal world’. Interestingly, Charles Luk discusses the concept of the ‘patient endurance of the uncreate’. After realising relative enlightenment, (or stage three of the Cao Dong School’s Five Ranks System), the perception of emptiness only exists within the mind (or ‘head’) of the individual practitioner. To traverse into the fourth and fifth positions of the Five Ranks – a practitioner must sit with ‘patience’ whilst contemplating the void with non-attachment and adjusting themselves to circumstances. This requires the maintaining of an ‘indifference’ to those circumstance. When this process is facilitated successfully, the emptiness within the head ‘expands beyond the bony limitation of the skull – and ethereally embraces the entire environment (and everything within it). Within phonetical Sanskrit the ‘patient endurance of the uncreate’ is written as ‘anutpattidharmakshanti’, whilst in Sanskrit script it is written as ‘अनुत्पत्तिधर्मक्षान्ति’. ‘Anutpatti’ translates as ‘unborn’, ‘non-born’ ‘uncreated’ - whilst ‘dharma’ represents the ‘entirety of reality’, and ‘kshanti’ equates with ‘patient endurance’. Material reality both ‘exists’ and yet is ‘uncreated’. It takes the practice of the right method of meditation to understand this reality - whilst abiding within the state of eternal patience and endurance (or perseverance). The Standard Sanskrit Dictionary describes this state as being a ‘preparation for a future state, and acquiescence in the state and moral condition which is yet to come.’ A possible Chinese translation is - anutpatti (uncreate) ‘起源’ (Qi Yuan) or ‘that which has not yet come to fruition – but which will eventually germinate and spring-up and sprout from the ground (when watered)’ - reality (dharma) ‘達摩’ (Da Mo) which means ‘unencumbered material reality which is realised (and encountered) everywhere without hindrance’, and ‘尚蒂‘ (Shang Di) ‘to continuously uphold and esteem without hindrance or obstruction’. Therefore, the Sanskrit term ‘अनुत्पत्तिधर्मक्षान’ (anutpattidharmakshanti) is translated into the Chinese language as ‘起源 達摩尚蒂’ - although, of course, there may be other examples generated at different times and in various places as Dynasties (and policies) came and went. Incidentally, the ‘Da Mo’ is exactly the same as that found in the Chinese translation of the name of the Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma - ‘菩提達摩’ (Pu Ti Da Mo). ACW (22.10.2020)
Respectfully dedicated to that true Buddhist, learned scholar, and author and translator of many valuable Ch’an texts, Charles Luk
FOREWORD by Charles Luk
The ancients had their unexcelled ways of teaching which seem strange to the people of this modern age of materialism, not only in the West but also in the East. For the human mind is now more concerned with material than with spiritual values; it seeks only the satisfaction of its ever-increasing desires – though these are the very cause of our sufferings – and it casts away ‘its own treasure house’, which is its paradise of eternal bliss. So long as we allow our minds to discriminate and to grasp at illusion, the ancient teaching will seem strange, even stupid and silly, to us. However, if we succeed in disengaging our minds from externals – that is if we stop all our discriminating and discerning – the profundity of that teaching will become apparent to us, for it inculcates not only theory but also that practice which will give immediate results in the sphere of reality; for a teaching cannot be regarded as complete unless it gives the practical method of reaching the ultimate goal. When the Great Pearl preached his Dharma of instantaneous Awakening, he taught its doctrine, its aim, its substance and its function; thus his teaching consists not only of the right interpretation and correct understanding of theory but also of the practical realisation of substance and function, which are the two essentials of complete enlightenment. In other words, he taught the right Dharma which is immanent in everyone and which does not come from outside.
The Master’s numerous quotations from Mahayana Sutras, together with his unsurpassed interpretations and comments, show that all great master read the whole Tripitaka before or after their enlightenment, and refutes the unjustifiable contention that sutra can be dispensed with in the Transmission of Mind introduced into China by the Twenty-Eighth Patriarch Bodhidharma.
The Great Pearl urged his listeners not to let their minds abide anywhere and at the same time to keep from illusory non-abiding, so that a state of all-pervading purity and cleanness would appear of itself. And even this pure state should not be clung to, in order to release the mind from all remaining relatives and thereby attain realisation of the ‘patient endurance of the uncreate’ (anutpattidharmakshanti) which is an essential condition of complete enlightenment. Thus, his instruction followed exactly the same pattern of the Dharma as laid down by the Buddha who said in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment that his disciples should keep themselves again and again from all illusions, including the illusionary idea of keeping from them, so as to wipe out all traces of subject and object until nothing further remained to be avoided – for only then could bodhi appear in full.
Therefore, Part One of this book gives the Mahayana instruction for self-realisation of mind, for perception of self-nature and consequent attainment of Buddhahood. And Part Two contains the dialogues between the Great Pearl and those who came to him for instruction. If we seriously follow this teaching and practise self-cultivation, beginning with the mind as the starting point, there is every possibility that we shall succeed in reaching the same mental states as those described by the Great Pearl in his twenty-eight-line gatha.
(Upasaka Lu K’uan Yu)
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:
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: