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Venerable Old Monk Tong Yong (1899-2010) - Profound Dharma-Talk
Translator’s Note: This is an English translation of the Chinese text entitled ‘经典的师徒对话’ or ‘Profound Master – Disciple Dialogue’, with the characters ‘经典’ indicating an unusual wisdom in operation, such as that found in the ancient or ‘classical’ texts. Master Tong Yong was a Pure Land and Ch’an practitioner renowned for his strict following of the Vinaya Discipline. He was born in 1899 and died in 2010 – in his 111th year of age. In 1942 he ordained as a Buddhist monk at the Da Ping Temple (大坪寺- Da Ping Si) – a centre for the combined practice of both Pure Land and Ch’an on Mount Emei. The dialogue translated below is said to have occurred in his one hundredth year of life which means it took place in 1999. He became very famous in both old and new China not only for his dedicated Buddhist practice and profound Dharma-teaching, but also for his traditional martial arts skills, and was recognised as a lineage inheritor of the Emei Style Monkey Boxing (峨眉派猴拳 – E Mei Pai Hou Quan). Master Tong Yong does not accept a superficial interpretation of Dharma practice and readers are advised to clear their minds of all obscuration before reading further.
The memory of the eminent and venerable old monk known as ‘Tong Yong’ (通永老和尚 – Tong Yong Lao He Shang) is revered on Mount Emei (峨眉山 – E Mei Shan) where he spent much of his life. He is considered a ‘sacred treasure’ because of the insight and high moral virtue he possessed. On Mount Emei he gained liberation and enlightenment under the Great Monk Sheng Qin (圣钦大和尚 – Sheng Qin Da He Shang) who had earlier attained enlightenment at the Gaomin Temple [高旻寺 – Gao Min Si] situated in Yangzhou – where a tablet was raised commemorating the event which reads ‘Breaking Attachment’ [破参牌 – Po Can Pai). Mr Yuan Huan Xian (袁焕仙) – the founder of the Vimalakirti Monastery (维摩精舍 – Wei Mo Jing She) in Chengdu, and who was the Ch’an and Chinese Studies master of the Great Ch’an Master Nan Huai Jin (大师南怀瑾 – Da Shi Nan Huai Jin) has confirmed this fact.
On Mount Emei – when the Venerable Old monk was one hundred years old – he gave a Dharma-talk about the cultivation of the Buddha Mind Law (修佛心法 – Xiu Fu Xin Fa). In this master – disciple dialogue, around 90% of what many consider legitimate practice (and attachment to it) is over-turned through the precise and devastating use of ancient wisdom.
Disciple: I sit in meditation every day, read the sutras, and kowtow (磕头 – Ke Tou). Will such efforts ensure the attainment of Buddhahood?
Master: Certainly not.
Disciple: How can this be?
Master: Because the Buddha did not realise Buddhahood through seated meditation.
Disciple: How did the Buddha realise Buddhahood?
Master: The Buddha never gave rise to the ‘idea’ of gaining Buddhahood.
Disciple: What then, did the Buddha think?
Master: Every day the Buddha gave rise to selfless thoughts of sincere charity so that the well-being of all beings in the world could be improved and the attainment of their enlightenment assured. Every day the Buddha gave rise to selfless thoughts regarding how he could help others by leaving behind selfish concerns. Every day the Buddha gave rise to selfless thoughts. Every day the Buddha selflessly thought about how to bear responsibility for others without letting anyone know about his good intention. This selfless attitude is achieved by giving-up desire. When desire is given-up there is no more selfish concerns for the individual. In such a situation one’s wants and needs become minimal and a caring attitude toward the well-being of others is naturally cultivated, even though there is no desire to be known. The Buddha was quite happy not to be known in the world whilst he was sincerely searching for his own enlightenment.
Disciple: So when I think of Buddha every day, this is motivated by desire. If I cultivate a practice premised upon desire, then I will never be able to uproot or transcend desire, as the very method used to put an end to desire is creating the very same desire! What I need to do is cultivate a selfless practice premised upon the upholding of vows.
Master: Yes. Whereas the Buddha never gave rise to grasping thought – your practice is premised exactly upon grasping thought. If you give rise to desiring thoughts, how can you realise a non-desiring Buddhahood? This is not what the Buddha taught. Furthermore, the state of Buddhahood is beyond all effort (and karma production), as effort and karma production are attributes of the world of ordinary deluded beings.
Disciple: So if I give-up my desires, will I then achieve Buddhahood?
Master: Of course not. Purposely ‘giving-up desire’ is itself a ‘desire’ that cannot escape from the duality of success and failure. This is the mind firmly stuck within duality with no means of getting out. In such a situation there is no achievement of Buddhahood.
Disciple: How then, can I escape from the round of birth and death? What should I do?
Master: If you ‘feel’ that there is ‘abandoning’, then there is no real ‘abandoning’. Do you understand how the Buddha gives things up?
Disciple: Yes – is it through the generation of selfless (i.e. originating from the realisation of non-self) blessings and good merit for all beings?
Master: Yes – by truly uprooting all desire and notions of ‘self’ there is the simultaneous generation of immeasurable virtue. Are you like this?
Disciple: I am not sure, perhaps I am not?
Master: Do you understand how to truly generate virtue?
Disciple: Do not give rise to selfish thoughts, but only strive to help others.
Master: This is only a shallow understanding of the surface level of form, which is empty of any understanding or merit. Why is this? It is because this shallow understanding is not the realisation of non-self in the mind. If non-self is not realised the habit of attachment (to form) is not broken, and in this deluded state how can genuine virtue be generated? It is only through training the mind and transforming it at its deepest level that virtue is produced. Virtue is the product of ‘stilling’ all thoughts in the mind, and this is only achieved through correctly applying the Vinaya Disciple. As you live within lay society and do not follow this kind of discipline, you are surrounded by the deluded belief in ‘self’ and ‘selfishness’. Your life is one of deluded concerns and requirements within which there is no opportunity to generate a ‘true intention’ to purify the mind by uprooting all notions of ‘self’ and all the attachment to delusion a sense of ‘self’ entails. You live in the world of dualistic cause and effect and have not been able to generate a ‘true intention’ that purifies the mind and secures virtue. Furthermore, as you do not follow the Vinaya Discipline, and you make no effort to uproot ignorance in the deepest part of the mind, you routinely participate in the daily breaking of the Buddha’s rules (designed to purify karma)! As you mistake the external ‘minister’ that represents the world of ‘form’ (you ignore the inner ‘ruler’) that represents the ‘void’ aspect of mind. You cannot uproot the deluded belief in self, or the taints of greed, hatred and delusion. You cannot achieve this realisation because you are not able to generate the requisite ‘true intention’ to make this breakthrough. If you make no genuine effort to realise enlightenment (and thoroughly purify your mind), how can enlightenment be realised?
Disciple: Then I must dedicate myself to quietening the mind whilst leading a pious life.
Master: Do you know how to really quieten the mind? Talking about it and doing it are two entirely different matters. If the mind is stuck in delusion and is always thinking, this cannot be achieved. Constantly thinking about ‘stillness’ is not ‘stillness’, and only talking about the ‘Vinaya Discipline’ is not the practice of the ‘Vinaya Discipline’. Do you really understand how to proceed?
Disciple: I did not understand that ‘stilling’ the mind and realising ‘non-self’ was such a complex and difficult task – can you please instruct me in this matter?
Master: How can ‘stilling’ the mind and realising ‘non-self’ be achieved anywhere but here and now, in the immediate present? You cannot see this and all you say is that you must build it ‘day by day’. If you carry-on along this worthless dualistic path, what will you achieve? It goes without saying that even if you follow the Buddha’s teachings and lead a pious life, you will not escape the hellish karma of cause and effect, simply because nothing has fundamentally changed inwardly (as there has been no ‘stilling’ of the mind and uprooting of the false belief in a permanent ‘self’). If you live this superficial existence with a Buddhist sutra in your hand, then you are guilty of committing slander (against the Buddha and his teaching) every single day.
Disciple: Your words have shocked me and I am physically shaking and mentally confused! Will you please guide me on the right path to enlightenment?
The master, moved with compassion, said: You must firmly look into the empty essence of the mind (here and now) and resolutely abandon the sensory world and break all attachment to externals. Only then will you uproot the delusion of a permanent self and the dualistic world of delusion that it inhabits. This is how you develop virtue and compassion for others. (It is not a matter of superficial changes whilst living an outwardly deluded life, but rather a profound ‘turning about’ at the deepest recesses of the mind). Whilst existing amidst the delusion of dualistic karma you must be indifferent to yourself and others whilst turning the mind’s awareness inwards. We must all bear our own karma and not allow our minds to be drawn into dualistic attachment. It is up to others to bear their own karma (and purify their own minds). You must not be attached to what you think is ‘good’ and repulsed by what you think is ‘bad’. This is nothing but the deluded mind attached to the superficial, external world. You must lay it all down (here and now) and be free of duality so that the mind becomes ‘still’ (and then expands and becomes all-embracing) free of any notions of corrupting selfhood that is self-obsessed. This is how the mind, body and environment become completely ‘clean’ of all delusion (and effortlessly generates virtue and compassion not tainted by egoism).
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.