The Founders of Cao Dong: Part I Master Dong Shan Liang Jie (洞山良价) – [807-869]
By Adrian Chan-Wyles (ICBI)
This article first appeared in Issue 11 (Vol. 1) of Patriarch’s Vision, Spring 2016, the eJournal of the International Ch’an Buddhism Institute (ICBI).
Author’s Note: For a comprehensive academic introduction of the Cao Dong School, interested readers may access my published article:
Cao Dong Enlightenment - The Five Positions of Ruler and Minister This introduces the ‘Precious Mirror Samadhi Song’ and discusses the very important influence of the Book of Changes within the Cao Dong tradition. Indeed, trigrams and hexagrams of the Book of Changes are a foundational aspect (together with roundel symbolism) of the Cao Dong teaching of the ‘Five Positions of Ruler and Minister’. Through this Cao Dong method a practitioner of Ch’an can measure progress and gain a cognitive foothold on this ‘great affair’. This current essay deals with the manner in which Master Liang Jie (Dong Shan) learned his Ch’an, and then taught it, and seeks to examine the rather ‘fluid’ manner in which the Cao Dong masters interacted. This is like assessing flowing water, and in so doing it is intended that Ch’an practitioners will gain an insight into an often misunderstood Chinese Ch’an school of Buddhism. Part II will examine the life of Ch’an Master Cao Shan Ben Ji (曹山本寂) [840-901] – the Dharma-successor of Master Liang Jie and co-founder of the Cao Dong School. Many have enquired about the correct Cao Dong path – but few have understood the answers and as a consequence have remained in darkness. ACW 3.1.2016 ‘The master went out with Yun Ch’u and together they crossed a stream. The master asked: “Is it deep or shallow?” Yun Ch’u replied: “Not wet.” The master said: “Rough fellow!” Yun Ch’u asked: “Is the water deep?” The Master replied: “Not dry.”
Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) inherited the Cao Dong Dharma from his root-teacher Master Miao Lian (1824-1907). Although Xu Yun went on to eventually inherit all Five Houses of Ch’an, it was through the Cao Dong Dharma that he used to teach many of his disciples – both lay and ordained. Part and parcel of this transmission involves an intimate study of the Book of Changes (Yijing – or often ‘I Ching’ in the West) as this teaching of interlocking trigrams and hexagrams came to be very important for the explanation of the progression from delusion to enlightenment within Ch’an training. Whereas the Ch’an method is both direct and difficult to grasp, the Book of Change acts as a mediatory between understanding and practice and all true adherents of the Cao Dong School demonstrate a superior understanding of this ancient text. This is exactly the manner in which Charles Luk (1898-1978) learned from Xu Yun, and the method that he taught his disciple Richard Hunn (1949-2006). However, there is one other text of equal importance for the Cao Dong Ch’an practitioner and that is the Heart Sutra.
Charles Luk translated the biography of Master Liang Jie (Dong Shan) from the Chinese text entitled ‘The Finger Pointing at the Moon’. As Master Liang Jie lived during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) the information contained therein is logically referred to as being a Tang Dynasty derived text, regardless of when it may have actually been compiled later (in writing) from older oral traditions. As there is no reason to doubt the antiquity of the information conveyed, it is interesting to observe how Ch’an Buddhism was perceived at the time in China during the latter part of the Tang Dynasty. Even at this relatively early date in Ch’an history it can be observed that Master Liang Jie was born 287 years (i.e. 807 CE) after the recorded arrival in China of the Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma (i.e. 520 CE). Bodhidharma is believed to be the originator of ‘Ch’an’ in China, which is a school of Buddhism that emphasises the radical transformation of the mind over all other expedient developmental methods available within Buddhism. Contrary to popular belief, not even Bodhidharma’s original method emphasised seated meditation as the only practice for transforming the mind, and this lack of reliance upon seated meditation is seen quite clearly in the biography of Master Liang Jie. In fact seated meditation (as a distinct practice) is not mentioned at all. This is not to say that Buddhist monks training under Master Liang Jie did not practice seated meditation, but that seated meditation was not the main point of the Cao Dong method. Master Liang Jie disentangled the klesic confusion in the mind of the enquirer by ‘turning words’. This method is the true Cao Dong technique which is best explained through example: ‘(A monk) asked the master: “Usually you taught students to tread the bird’s path; what is the bird’s path?” The master replied: “(where you) meet no one.” The monk asked: “How can you tread (it)?” The master replied: “Your feet should be entirely free from egoism.” The monk asked: “Does treading the bird’s path mean (the same as) the true face?” The master said: “Why does the Venerable Friend turn things upside-down?” The monk asked: “How do I turn things upside-down?” The master replied: “If you do not turn things upside-down, why do you mistake servant for master? The monk asked: “(Then) what is the true face?” The master replied: “That which does not tread the bird’s path.”’
This demonstrates how Master Liang Jie ‘turned words’. Turning words was the main Cao Dong method for enlightening those who had already trained their minds and bodies, and who were very close to a major awakening. As the inner vital force had been accumulated and strengthened through following the Vinaya Discipline and strengthening concentration through seated meditation, Master Liang Jie was able to push the enquirer out of delusion and into enlightenment simply though the power of his ‘turning words’ technique. This must not be confused with the persuasive use of rhetoric, which is simply the use of nice words to appeal to the ego, but should be understood as a unique use of language that automatically transcended the limitation of language, whilst returning all words to their essentially empty root. As all words are delusionary that emerge from the ego, the Cao Dong master ‘turns’ each and every one back upon itself, and draws the enquirers attention firmly toward the empty root through by-passing the intellectual capacity (which is attached to sophistry and meaning). This method probably emerged from the time of Master Liang Jie’s youth when he was an apprentice to a learned monk who specialised in the recitation and study of the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra concentrates upon the understanding and realisation of ‘void’ and ‘form’ as two distinct realities that are one in both essence and functionality. Every word that is uttered in the unenlightened state represents the world of apparent form ‘cut-off’ from its empty base by delusion in the mind. Master Liang Jie perfected the method of ‘turning’ the word so that its ‘empty’ (void) base could be clearly discerned. Once emptiness (void) has been clearly discerned, stabilised and understood as reality, then ‘form’ (i.e. word and all material things) must be ‘integrated’ into it. This is why the Buddha in the Heart Sutra states that ‘void is form, and form is void.’ In the fully realised state, no difference in essence exists between ‘void’ and ‘form’, whilst in the deluded state there exists no end in the continuous and confusing differentiations.
When he was young Master Liang Jie developed a natural gong-an and hua-tou for himself through the confusion he felt when reading the following lines from the Heart Sutra: ‘There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.’
As he was aware that he possessed eyes, ears, a nose, a tongue, body and mind, he asked his teacher why the sutra would state what appeared to be the opposite to perceived reality? This question was the beginning of a developmental journey that would end in the founding of a major Ch’an School that was acknowledged as one of the ‘Five Houses’ of Ch’an Buddhism in China. The Heart Sutra raised a ‘great doubt’ in Master Liang Jie’s mind, and this led him to call on a number of enlightened masters to request instruction and seek guidance. On Wu Xie Shan a monk named Ling Mo shave his head, and at aged 21 years of age he was ordained on Song Shan – a mountain famous for both its Daoist and Buddhist centres of learning. This is the home of the famous Shaolin Temple (the birthplace of Ch’an in China) – although Master Liang Jie’s Chinese language biography does not specify the exact temple within which he received his Buddhist ordination – it is likely that it was at this temple. After these important events, Master Liang Jie set out to seek good counsel upon the ‘great matter’ and the first master that is recorded as assisting him was Nanquan Puyuan.
Master Nanquan Puyuan (749-835) was the Dharma Inheritor of Master Mazu Daoyi (709–788) – the founder of the highly influential Hongzhou School of Ch’an Buddhism. When Master Liang Jie met with Master Nanquan Puyuan, an interesting Ch’an dialogue developed: ‘Nanquan asked his disciples: “Tomorrow we will offer vegetarian food to (the late master) Mazu; (do you think) he will come?” As no one answered, the master (Liang Jie) came forward and replied: “He will wait for a companion to come.” Nanquan said: “Although this man is young, he is qualified for the training.” The master replied: “The Venerable Friend should not oppress a good man by regarding him as a worthless fellow.”’
This positive exchange links Master Liang Jie with the formative tradition of Master Mazu (through his enlightened disciple Nanquan) and the Hongzhou School of Ch’an. Furthermore, through Master Mazu, Master Liang Jie is directly connected with the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an in China – Huineng (638-713). Master Liang Jie’s reply to Master Nanquan, although clever and insightful (as he already demonstrated a profound understanding of ‘void’ and ‘form’), did not yet present the perfect integration of ‘void’ (Mazu’s enlightened ‘empty’ essence) and ‘form’ (Mazu’s physical function which had now withdrawn and would no longer appear). Master Nanquan had set a ‘trap’ to test whether his disciples discriminated between ‘void’ and ‘form’. None would answer through fear of rebuke, but only Master Liang Jie had the courage to express his understanding. As Master Liang Jie was ‘ready’ to break through the final barrier, Master Nanquan stated that he was suitable (through further development of insight) to penetrate the ultimate position. Master Liang Jie demonstrated that this was correct by ‘turning’ Nanquan’s words stating (in veiled form) that as all beings are already enlightened, and given that he had already seen into this ‘great matter’ with clarity, why should he separate his perfect self-nature into the dualism of ‘subject’ (enquiring disciple) and ‘object’ (Dharma)? Master Nanquan understood Liang Jie’s reply and affirmed its understanding by remaining silent.
Master Weishan Ling You (沩山灵祐) [771-853] was the founder of the Weiyang School of Ch’an Buddhism (together with his principal disciple Yangshan Huiji 813–890). Sometimes Weishan Ling You is pronounced ‘Guishan Ling You’ and therefore his school is also known by the alternative pronunciation of ‘Guiyang’. Master Weishan was the disciple and Dharma Inheritor of Master Baizhang Huaihai (百丈懷海) [720-814]. Master Baizhang Huaihai was the disciple and Dharma Inheritor of Master Mazu Daoyi (馬祖道一) [709-788] – mentioned by Master Nanquan Puyuan above. Master Weishan Ling You’s Ch’an lineage is linked directly to the Sixth Patriarch Huineng. When Master Liang Jie called on Master Weishan Ling You he had a specific problem to be solved. Whereas the Heart Sutra stated that all things are empty, Master Liang Jie had heard that a prominent Ch’an teacher elsewhere in the country had said that inanimate objects expound the Dharma. This had further caused doubt in Liang Jie’s mind. If all things are ‘empty’, then how can ‘inanimate objects’ expound the Dharma? This was a subtle discrimination in Master Liang Jie’s mind as he did not yet understand that it is precisely because all things are ‘empty’ that ‘inanimate objects’ are able to expound the Dharma. Master Liang Jie related the teaching of the State Master Hui Chung to Master Weishan. Hui Chung stated that in the Avatamsaka Sutra it states that ‘All lands expound (the Dharma); all beings expound it; and all things in the three times expound it.’ After listening to Master Liang Jie, Master Weishan indicated that he had something to say on this matter:
‘Weishan raised a dust-whisk and asked: “Do you understand (this)?” The master replied: I do not; will you please explain (it to me)?” Weishan replied: The mouth which my parents gave me will never explain it to you. The master asked: “Is there someone else who also reveres (and knows) the Dao, like you?” Weishan replied: “From here, you can go to Yu Hsien district in Li Ling prefecture where there is, close to the stone house, a man of Dao staying at Yun Yan monastery. If you can look at bending grass to find out the direction of the wind, you will certainly treasure his (teaching).” The master asked: “How is this man?” Weishan replied: “Previously he asked this old monk: “How should I carry on your (teaching)?” This old monk replied: “You should absolutely stop all leakage.” He asked: “Would I in any way still be incomparable with your doctrine?” The old monk replied: “The most important thing is not to say that this old monk is staying here.”’
Throughout all these enlightened dialogues, Master Liang Jie is building understanding as to what constitutes ‘void’ and what defines ‘form’ – whilst seeking to ‘integrate’ these two distinct aspects (which have never been separate). This involves directly perceiving how void and form interact without ever sullying one another, and yet never being ‘different’ in any permanent or substantial manner. It can be said that Master Liang Jie’s Ch’an training is simply the unfolding of the deep and profound meaning of the Heart Sutra. As Liang Jie’s biography demonstrates, sitting in meditation may build mental strength and vigour, but in the final analysis it is through enlightened dialogue with qualified Ch’an masters that the final position is reached. This is the Chinese Ch’an tradition of Cao Dong which is very different from the modern Japanese school of Soto Zen which advocates ‘silent sitting’. The Chinese school of Cao Dong is dynamic and not static, and it is to Master Liang Jie’s interaction with Ch’an Master Yun Yan (his principal teacher) that must now be examined as it was through Yun Yan that Liang Jie came into possession of what would become a foundational Cao Dong Ch’an text entitled the ‘Precious Mirror Samadhi Song’. The following personal information about Yun Yan is drawn from my English translation of a short Chinese language version of his biography, as this background information is not included in the narrative found within Charles Luk’s Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Second Series: ‘Yun Yan Tan Sheng (云岩昙晟) [781—841] was born into a family surnamed ‘Wang’ (王), and was a native of Jianchang County (now known as Yongxiu County) Jiangxi province. Such was his reputation that he is considered a Tang Dynasty Ch’an Patriarch. He first studied with Master Baizhang Huaihai but did not realise enlightenment. He then travelled to Yao Mountain (药山 – Yao Shan) and trained with Ch’an Master Weiyan (惟俨). Master Weiyan confirmed Yun Yan’s enlightenment and transmitted the Mind Law (心法 – Xin Fa) certificate to him. After this he went to live in Tanzhou (now the Changsha area of Hunan province), where he stayed on Yun Yan Mountain in You County (which is part of the area known as Liling). Thereafter he became known as Yun Yan Tan Sheng, and amongst his many disciples was Dong Shan Liang Jie. Ch’an Master Dong Shan Liang Jie – together with his disciple Cao Shan Ben Ji (曹山本寂) – founded the Cao Dong School which is recognised as one of the Five Houses of Ch’an Buddhism.’ 
After leaving Master Weishan, Liang Jie travelled to see Master Yun Yan. It is through his verbal interaction with Yun Yan that Liang Jie realised enlightenment. He did this by continuing his enquiry into why it is that the various objects of existence are able to expound the Dharma (even though he could not yet ‘hear’ such an occurrence). This ‘great doubt’ drove him forever onward – and within Cao Dong Ch’an a ‘great doubt’ is considered a major pre-requisite for further development – as without it there is no inner spark to ignite the fuel that powers self-development. This is because if there is no ‘doubting’ the nature of existence as it appears to the deluded mind, then there exists no real incentive to breakout of confusion and perceive the empty mind ground (noumenon) that lies behind all surface movement (phenomena):
‘He immediately asked Yun Yan: “When inanimate objects expound the Dharma, who can hear it?” Yun Yan replied: “The Inanimate can.” The master asked: “Does the Venerable Sir hear it?” Yun Yan replied: “If so, you will not hear my expounding of the Dharma.” The master asked: “Why do I not hear it?” Yun Yan raised his dust-whisk and asked: “Do you hear it?” The master replied: “No.” Yun Yan said: “If you do not hear the Dharma expounded by me, how can you hear that expounded by inanimate objects?” The master asked: “From what sutra is quoted the sentence ‘All inanimate objects expound the Dharma’?” Yun Yan said: “Have you not read the Amitabha Sutra which says: ‘Streams, birds, trees and groves (in the Western Paradise) all intone Buddha and Dharma’?” Thereupon, the master was awakened (to the profound meaning) and chanted the following gatha:
It is so wonderful, so wonderful. Dharma taught by the inanimate cannot be conceived. To hear it with the ears is naught to understand, Only can it be known when voice is heard by eyes.
The master then asked Yun Yan: “(What shall I do about) old habits which still remain?” Yun Yan replied back: “What have you practised of late?” The master replied: “I have not even practised the (four) Noble Truths.” Yun Yan asked: “Are you happy about all this?” The master replied: “I do not say that I am not happy but my happiness is that of one who finds a brilliant gem hidden in a heap of ordure.” The master then asked Yun Yan: “How does one perceive it?” Yun Yan replied: “Just ask the inner man who knows it.” The master said: “It is seen when (it) asks a question.” Yun Yan asked: “What does it say to you?”’
Master Liang Jie left Yun Yan after this major breakthrough. He now clearly perceived the empty mind ground (relative enlightenment) but did not yet know how to integrate this ‘void’ with ‘form’, despite the fact that Yun Yan had taught directly how to do this. However, as Yun Yan had planted the seeds of enlightened cause and effect in Liang Jie’s mind, it was only a matter of time until he realised the integration of the void and form. This situation is not uncommon in the ‘direct’ school of Ch’an that does not rely upon any expedient methods or graduated paths. Although some people immediately realise ‘emptiness’ and its ‘integration’ (through an expansive mind) with material existence, many others require further training to reach this ultimate position. As no mention of meditation is mentioned in Liang Jie’s case, it is logical to assume that it was the agency of ‘enlightened dialogue’ that led directly to his breakthrough. The ability of the enlightened Ch’an masters to ‘turn words’ is both empowering (as it automatically builds the inner strength of the enquirer) and developmental. Although Liang Jie had not yet reached the ultimate position, the ‘roots’ for such a realisation had been firmly planted by Yun Yan, and what was now required was an appropriate ‘co-operating’ cause in the physical world to turn the mind of Liang Jie into the permanently ‘correct’ position. This is not a random or casual affair, but a product of a certain science of mind that is understood by all truly enlightened Ch’an masters. This is how Liang Jie experienced full enlightenment:
‘(In spite of the farewell chat), the master still harboured some doubts about what Yun Yan had said to him. Later, he happened to cross a stream and upon seeing his reflection in the water, he was awakened to the (profound) meaning (of Yun Yan’s words) and chanted the following gatha:
“Shun elsewhere to seek ‘him’ Or from him you will stray. As I go on alone I meet him everywhere. He is what I am now But I’m not what he is. Such should one’s comprehension be To unite with thusness.”
This realisation signifies the completion of Master Liang Jie’s journey into enlightenment and his full understanding of the message contained within the Heart Sutra. Through enlightened dialogue with a number of eminent Ch’an masters, he was able to fully distinguish the ‘void’ from the ‘form’, and the ‘form’ from the ‘void’. By seeing his reflection in the stream, the duality of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ fell away forever and Liang Jie’s unified mind was able to perceive its true self-nature which then expanded into perfect enlightenment (with all things appearing to arise and pass away within the great void). After this, out of compassion for humanity, Ch’an Master Liang Jie devised the Five Positions of Ruler and Minister so that all beings could easily ascertain the ‘real’ (void) from the ‘seeming’ (form), and understand how to penetrate straight to the heart of the matter (See my linked article in the Author’s Note for an indepth study of this schemata). Other well-known terms used are the ‘host’ (void) and ‘guest’ (form), as well as ‘noumenon’ (void) and ‘phenomena’ (form), all of which refer to the distinct aspects of the same single and unifying teaching. The five positions are not separate ‘steps’ distinct from one another, but are rather descriptions of an ever deepening penetration of insight into the true nature of ‘void’ and ‘form’, their interaction and final (and permanent) reconciliation. Therefore Master Liang Jie taught that one’s understanding can be of three basic kinds, a) from that of the delusion position of ‘form’ (guest), b) from that of relative enlightenment (host), c) and from that of perfect and complete enlightenment (host in host). However, Liang Jie further diversifies these three realisations into five distinct stages of understanding, with the first two positions (i.e. void in form and form in void) describes the deluded both without and with knowledge of the void – but not yet its realisation. The third positon is the resurgence of the void (relative enlightenment) which is experienced as a ‘still’ mind with the realisation of emptiness being limited to the head (a situation many Ch’an masters refer to as ‘sitting atop of a hundred foot pole’). Position four represents the ‘balancing’ (i.e. inter-facing) of ‘void’ and ‘form’, but not yet their ‘integration’. This is a transitional stage between position three (relative enlightenment and position five (full enlightenment) and still retains a subtle duality (between void and form). Position five is the integration of void with form and form with void – so that the mind’s awareness expands to include the entire environment and everything within it.
Master Liang Jie taught that words can be emerge from delusion, from the position of relative enlightenment, or from the position of full enlightenment. Words that are not in accordance with the ‘host’ position (relative enlightenment) or the ‘host in host’ position (full enlightenment), are not performing an enlightened function, are inverted and produced by a delusional mind that operates the wrong way around. Words that are ‘turned’ are produced by an enlightened mind and are in accordance with a mind that operates in the correct manner. When a deluded enquirer approaches a Ch’an master desperately and sincerely searching for enlightenment, the master takes the deluded words and skilfully ‘turns’ them back to their enlightened source (i.e. the empty mind ground from which they originally arose), so that the enquirer can be made aware of the true and empty nature of the true mind. A Ch’an master can turn words because it is obvious that (deluded) words are functioning in an inverted manner. Unenlightened enquirers, however, as they have not yet realised the empty mind ground, are unable to express words correctly so that they clearly express the enlightened position. Out of compassion the enlightened Ch’an master takes these words and uses them in a correct manner. As the deluded mind does not understand this mechanism. It interprets such behaviour as ‘odd’ or ‘unusual’, but this is a complete misreading and demonstrates the presence of delusion:
‘(A monk) asked the master: "If the diligent and constant wiping of dust did not ensure the inheritance of the robe and bowl, who was really qualified for them?" The master replied: "One who did not enter the door." The monk asked: "In spite of this, the (robe and bowl) could not be refused him." The master again said: "The (mere) saying that 'essentially there is not a thing' did not qualify the speaker for winning the robe and bowl. (Try to) say who was qualified for them; here one should know how to 'turn’ one's words. Tell me what words can be (properly) turned?"’
When ‘turning’ the mind the ordinary run of events cannot be used because such a reality simply confirms the inverted or deluded functionality of the mind. Events that have unfolded in a well-known and logical pattern no longer have any meaning when the words used to describe those events are ‘turned’ (back upon themselves) to enlightenment the mind of an enquirer to its empty essence. Nothing is as it seems and yet everything stays exactly the same. This is not an attack on logic (as the Ch’an method is not counter-logic) but is rather a re-statement of the use of logic from a higher perspective (the insight of which the ancient Chinese describe as ‘virtuous’). This is how Master Liang Jie described his experience with Yun Yan to a disciple he intended to enlighten:
‘As vegetarian food was being prepared for offering on the anniversary of Yun Yan’s (attainment of) nirvana, a monk asked the master: “What instruction did you receive from (the late master) Yun Yan? The master replied: “Although I was with him, I did not receive any instruction.” The monk asked: “If he did not give you any instruction, why are you now preparing food to offer (in his memory)?” The master replied: “How dare I contradict him?” The monk asked: “Since the Venerable Sir called on Nanquan first, why are you now preparing food for offering to Yun Yan’s memory?” The master replied: “I do not hold him in honour because of his great virtues and his Buddha Dharma; I do so only because of his refusal to reveal (the truth) to me.” The monk asked: Since you are about to offer food in memory of the late master, do you still agree with him?” The master replied: “I half agree and half disagree with him.” The monk asked: “Why do you not entirely agree with him?” The master replied: “If so, I will do him a great injustice.”’ 
Ageing, illness and death are facts of life even for enlightened people. After spending years propagating (and preserving) the Ch’an Dharma, Master Liang Jie’s karmic connection came to an end and in his last days he continued how to teach from the empty mind ground despite the changes that were occurring in his body. He stated that even if one were ill, that there was always the empty mind ground that is always beyond every duality. Every enlightened Ch’an master exhibits this empty mind ground without exception through the changing phenomena that signifies existence. From an enlightened Ch’an perspective, illness, old age and death are not errors unless the mind is still attached to such states. When the mind is detached, expansive and all-encompassing, then it is understood that everything changes and that it is the nature of matter that it will decay from one state into another.
‘When his nirvana was approaching, the master said to his disciples: “I have only a worthless name in this world; who can eradicate it for me? As they did not answer, a monk came forward and said: ‘I ask the Venerable Master his Dharma name.” The master replied: “My worthless name has already faded away.”’
‘A monk asked the master: “The Venerable Sir is unwell but is there anyone who is never ill?” The master replied: “Yes, there is.” The monk asked: “Does the one who is never ill still look at you?” The master replied: “(On the contrary,) the lot falls on this old monk to look at him.” The monk asked: “How does the Venerable Master look at him?” The master replied: “When this old monk looks at him, he does not see any illness.” The master then asked the monk: “When you have this leaking shell, where will you go to meet me?“ The monk could not reply.’
The reality that the empty mind ground represents is not born, and therefore does not die, has no need for health and cannot get ill. As it is never young, it cannot die. As its nature is ’empty’ and ‘boundless’ it can hold all things without exception. The physical body, although manifesting within the empty mind ground is subject to the cause and effect of birth and death, youth and old age, and good health and illness, and yet whatever changes it goes through it does not affect the empty nature of reality. In the fully enlightened state, there is no duality between ‘void’ (empty mind ground) and ‘form’ (physical reality). Realising the Dao in the Ch’an sense is the attainment of the integration of void and form so that the flux of the outer world becomes a manifestation (or ‘function’) of the inner appreciation of the empty mind ground (or ‘stillness’) so that no differentiation can be discerned. In this position the enlightened being is neither attached to the void nor hindered by phenomena. Master Liang Jie skilfully ‘turns words’ to reveal the empty mind ground which he has already realised, and to which his function (as a living being) must now return as his body is entering the dying process.
‘The master then gave his disciples the following gatha:
Of students as many as the Ganges’ sand not one is awakened, Their faults lie in their search for tracks left by others’ tongues. To forget forms and wipe out traces, Diligently walk within the void.
After saying this, he ordered his head to be shaved and (his body) bathed, after which he put on a robe and struck the bell to bid farewell to the community. As he sat down and passed away, the monks wept sadly without interruption. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and said: “Leavers of homes should be mindless of externals; this is true practice. What is the point of being anxious for life and death?
The master then ordered a stupidity-purifying meal and seeing that his disciples were strongly attached to him, he postponed (his death) for seven days. (On the last day,) he entered the dining hall behind his disciples and after taking food, said: “I am all right; when I am about to leave, you should all keep quiet.” Then he returned to the abbot’s room where he sat cross-legged and passed away.
His death took place in the third moon of the tenth year of the Hsien T’ung reign (April-May 869) at the age of sixty-three and the Dharma age of forty-two. The emperor conferred upon him the posthumous title of ‘Ch’an Master Wu Pen’ (Awakened (to the) Fundamental).’
Appendix I – How Ch’an Master Jiang Jie Got His Name
Master Liang Jie’s relates the following information:
‘At Leh T’an, he saw the assembly leader Ch’u, who said:
“It is so wonderful, so wonderful. The realms of Buddha and Dao are inconceivable.”
The master asked: “I do not ask about the realms of Buddha and Dao, but who is talking about these realms? The leader remained silent for a long while without answering and the master said: “Why do you not speak quickly?” The leader replied: “To wrangle about it is (simply) to miss it.” The master said: “No mention (of it) has even been made; why do you talk about a wrangle that would miss it? The leader could not answer and the master said: “Buddha and Dao are but names and terms; why do you not bring out the teaching (of the sutras to amplify their meaning)?” The leader asked: “What does the teaching say?” The master replied: “(It says that) when the meaning is understood, all words (should be) forgotten.” The leader observed: “This is bringing out the teacher’s meaning to make the mind sick.” The master asked: “Is the sickness of one talking about the Buddha and Dao slight or severe?” The leader could not reply and suddenly died the following day. (For this reason,) the master was at the time called ‘Liang Jie, the killer of the assembly leader.’’
The name pronounced ‘Liang Jie’ in modern pinyin is written as ‘良价’ in the Chinese language. The character ‘良’ (liang2) usually refers to something that is ‘good’ or of ‘value’ (such as a good character), it can also refer to a ‘leader’ or ‘head’ of a group of people or community. Such a person possesses a natural intuitive ability (that is not necessarily dependent upon book learning) and knows how to get things done without conflict or delay. Such a person is fit to be a ‘leader’ of a monastic community. The character ‘价’ (jie4) can refer to a servant or middleman, or to something being great or good. However, it also carries the meaning of ‘to cry all night’ and to make a ‘deafening sound’ (attributes that perhaps can be associated with ‘mourning’) – but it can also mean to receive a ‘shock to the heart-mind’, and has been used in the past to signify ‘farewell’ – denoting a definite parting (such as that experienced when a person dies, etc). When taken within the context of Liang Jie’s biography, the name can be interpreted as the ‘killer of the assembly leader’, or ‘he who has made the assembly leader leave’, as there may well be a play on words in operation. The name could suggest that the leader’s lack of self-knowledge was solved through his exchange with Liang Jie, and that this led to the death of his ‘ego’, or ‘obscuring’ ignorance. The situation could be taken as ‘good’ if the assembly leader was enlightened by Liang Jie, and simultaneously ‘sad’ as the enlightenment appears to be linked to his physical death (hence ‘crying’ and ‘farewell’). The above exchange does not seem to have had an immediate enlightening effect upon the assembly leader, but this is not to say that sometime before his death the following day, he did not experience a profound awakening. For a name that appears to be of a negative nature when translated into English, the Chinese characters for ‘Liang Jie’ remain overtly positive, as the achievement of enlightenment is considered more important than the experience of physical death, as enlightenment is in effect an ‘escape’ from the endless rounds of rebirth. This may explain why Master Liang Jie was happy to be known by this name, as it gives the impression of ‘freeing leaders’ from their delusion.
 Luk Charles, Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Second Series, Rider, (1987), Page 147. Charles Luk states (about this exchange) the following in Footnote 6: ‘The dialogue between two enlightened masters is very interesting in that it reveals the absolute. We have seen elsewhere that the Dharmakaya is beyond all mathematics, including all dualities such as “deep” and “shallow” and “wet” and “dry”, for it is inexpressible and inconceivable.’
 Ibid – Pages 141-142. In Footnote 1 (Page142) Charles Luk states: ‘”To tread the bird’s path” is a Ch’an expression which means forsaking all attachments to ego, the real and the unreal for realising the self-nature which is free from all traces. A flying bird leaves no traces in the air like the self-nature which leaves no traces anywhere for it is omnipresent and is beyond location and direction as Huang Po put it. Therefore, “treading the bird’s path” is Ch’an training, the object of which is to realise the true face. The monk mistook the training for the enlightenment and the master scolded him for taking the servant for master. Upon enlightenment one will leave behind the method of training and will not tread the bird’s path anymore. The master taught the monk to forsake both ego and dharma in order to realise the absolute reality.’
 I am indebted to the Chinese language research information provided by Upasika Sheng Hua, who contacted a Ch’an monk (currently serving at the Yunmen Temple in China) regarding the Issue of where Liang Jie was ordained. The Venerable Monk advises: ‘我认为很可能是少林寺。中国佛教常用山名代替寺名，以体现对寺名的敬重（避讳），比如，提到“云（居）山”，都知道是云居山真如禅寺。’ This translates as: ‘I think it is very likely that he (Liang Jie) was ordained at the Shaolin Temple. Within (the history of) Chinese Buddhism it is common to find temples referred to by the mountain upon which they reside. This is a reflection of the respect (or high regard) within which a temple is held. The temple name is often not used because of this ‘taboo’ which ensures a sense of sacredness. The Zhenru Temple, for instance, is almost always known as ‘Yunju’ after the Yunju Mountain - the area of its location.’
 Ibis – Page 128. In Footnote 2 (Page142) Charles Luk states: ‘Dong Shan’s reply means: Mazu had attained enlightenment and was omnipresent. He waited only for one who had also realised his self-nature to behold his omnipresent body.’
 Ibid – Pages 129-130. In Footnote 1 (Page 130) Charles Luk defines ‘bending grass’ as: ‘A Chinese idiom meaning that Dong Shan should not expect a clear explanation from Yun Yan but should look at bending to find out the direction of the wind, i.e. he should look beyond the words and terms used by the man of Dao to realise the truth.’ In Footnote 2 (Page 130) Charles Luk defines ‘leakage’ as: ‘You should not allow your mind to leak, i.e. to wander outside and search for externals. If you say that this old monk is staying here, you will give rise to the idea of a dwelling place, the idea of which will hold you in bondage.’
 Luk Charles, Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Second Series, Rider, (1987), Pages 130-131. In Footnote 2 (Page 131) Charles Luk clarifies the non-practicing of the Four Noble Truths: ‘A quotation from the Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, Chapter VII, which says: ‘The Patriarch asked Hsing Szu: “What did you practice of late??” Hsing Szu replied: “I did not even practice the Noble Truths.”’ The answer meant that the master was already an unconcerned man, or one who had no interest in appearances. In Footnote 3 (Page 131) Charles Luk states: ‘The inner man is the mind “who knows it”, i.e. who knows itself.’
 Ibid – Page 132. In Footnote 3 (Page 132) Charles Luk states: ‘Before crossing the stream and seeing his reflection in the water, the master had realised only a minor awakening (a minor satori) but when he understood the deep meaning of Yun Yan’s words: “Just this one is,” he realised a major awakening (major satori), hence his complete enlightenment which was possible because his fully aroused potential could perform its function of seeing his own reflection in the water. In Footnote 3 (Page 132) Charles Luk clarifies Liang Jie’s ‘enlightened’ gatha: ‘The real Self cannot be sought elsewhere for if one seeks it, one will stray from it. I have forsaken all conceptions and am now independent of the phenomenal world. Because of this disentanglement from all attachments, my self-nature manifest itself and is omnipresent. My self-nature is what I am now for the real comprises also the seeming, but my physical body is only an illusion which cannot be my real face. He who understands his “Self” in this way, will be in the condition of suchness.’
 Ibid – Page 134. In Footnote 2 (Page 134) Charles Luk states: ‘If Yun Yan had revealed the Dao to the master, the latter would have clung to names and terms and would never have realised it.’
 Ibid – Page 156. In Footnote 2 (Page 156) Charles Luk states: ‘The absolute cannot be named and I have attained enlightenment which cannot be expressed in words. Even when he was about to die, he still thought of urging his disciples to realise the Dao.’
 Ibid – Page 156. In Footnote 3 (Page 156) Charles Luk states: ‘The monk’s first and second questions were intelligent, but he was still deluded and could not answer the master’s last question. The one who is never ill, does not look at externals for if he does, he will split his undivided whole into subject and object and will not be the real one. However, it was the master who looked at him to attain enlightenment and to become one who was never ill. The present illness of the master was that of his illusory bodily form and did not affect his enlightened nature.’
 Ibid – Pages 156-157. In Footnote 1 (Page 157) Charles Luk states: ‘We have seen elsewhere that an enlightened master usually said to a dying monk: “You know only how to go but do not know how to come.” He thus warned the pupil that the latter had attained only position (4) “guest returning to host” and that his achievement was incomplete, urging him to achieve position (5) “host in host” to attain perfect enlightenment. In the text above Dong Shan who had passed away, returned to life to show to his disciples that he was free to go and to come, i.e. his was absolute achievement, or position (5). Thus before his departure, he took the trouble to awaken them according to the Dharma of his own Sect.’
'Licchavi Vimalakirti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, ’Reverend Sariputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the triple world. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behavior without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.' Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra