Master Xu Yun lived into his 120th year, and his lay disciple Charles Luk was in his 80th year when he passed away. Richard Hunn, the Ch’an student of Charles Luk lived into his 57th year before he was struck down with cancer. He was diagnosed in August 2005 with cancer of the pancreas, liver and lungs. He was told that he had less than three months to live and that chemotherapy might be able to give him a few more weeks. In the evening following this shattering news, Richard Hunn telephoned me fromKyoto,Japan and we spoke for over three hours. This conversation took place between 12 midnight and 3am British Summer Time (BST). He said, in a matter of fact manner, that things were growing in him that should not be growing. The conversation was spacious and all pervading, Richard calmly did most of the talking, discussing both the correct and false Ch’an teaching – and stressing the importance of his teacher’s (Charles Luk) translation work, and the authentic presence of master Xu Yun through its words. This was further contextualised through the statement that the true Dharma was the emanation of the Buddha himself, and that corrupt paths that spread false Ch’an should be avoided, but that those who perpetuate such error should be treated with compassion and kindness, as this example will eventually lead such people to the straight path. He talked at length about the requirement to always apply the Ch’an method from the Mind Ground without fear or discrimination. Although the Chinese tradition of ‘lineage’ was important, and recognising the fact that the historical Ch’an lineage of Charles Luk could be traced back to the Buddha himself, nevertheless, the concept of ‘lineage’ existed only within the mind and should not be emphasised over the more important development of the mind itself. The realisation of the Mind Ground is the only real lineage – and as this does not exist in conventional time and space – the concept of lineage itself is ultimately ‘empty’ of any profound meaning. In the year or so preceding this time, Richard had been mentioning that his stamina was not what it use to be, and that he would get tired at unexpected moments. One such time involved Richard when he was participating in his weekly Kyudo practice (Japanese traditional archery) – one moment he was able to draw the bow with vigour, the next moment his physical strength failed. The transition from a reasonably fit man to that of a person experiencing the beginnings of a terminal illness was that stark. Apparently some Japanese people described him as having ‘old eyes’ at this time. In August 2005, Richard was given just three months to live. He did start Chemotherapy, but he also began extensive qigong exercises, prolonged meditation and acupuncture as means to assist the body and prepare the mind. As matters transpired the combination of old and new medical methods extended his life by another 14 valuable months – time that Richard used to good effect getting his affairs into order. Throughout this time his physical condition deteriorated rapidly in distinct stages. With the experience of every deterioration, Richard would stabilise for a month or two, before experiencing the next debilitating stage. His mind held the dying process together, despite the many difficult things the body had to endure. The physical pain and suffering was immense at times, and the terrible effects of such a demise should not be down played – parts of the dying process from illnesses such as this might be better described as ‘horrific’, but Richard refused to identify with the dying body itself, instead he said that he was grateful for its existence and that it had served his purposes well. The form and void ever intermingled in his words. Behind the drama of the situation that unfolded, his mind stayed clear and bright throughout the experience. He passed away sat-up in aKyoto hospital bed. Richard Hunn was an enlightened Ch’an master whose life touched many people. The point contained in the manner of the ending of his life serves to demonstrate that the ‘extraordinary’ is very much a part of the ‘ordinary’.
It may seem strange to begin an article about one’s Ch’an teacher with a description of the end of his life, but Ch’an master Ta Kuan (1543-1604) once commented that if you want to know the true spiritual attainment of another being, watch the manner with which they pass away – at such times nothing can be hidden. The end of a life is often a demonstration of that life itself. There was a great spiritual lesson in Richard Hunn’s passing but few actually witnessed it for themselves. This example lives on through the words used to express it in writing. It is certainly not a matter of blind faith, or indeed an ‘other worldly ’explanation that is required to explain these events, but rather an appreciation of the absolute ‘ordinariness’ of the enlightened mind itself. It is mundanity seen clearly, but through a vision that wipes all discrimination away in an instant. The ordinary is the extraordinary when seen clearly. Ch’an is harsh to the ego because it sees right through, to the empty Mind Ground. Its insight does not let the ego’s delusion dominate for a single instant. Ch’an is harsh toward the ego due to the directness of its vision. False Ch’an, of course, mistakes the ego for the Mind Ground and absolutely nothing changes as a result, accept that ignorance now thinks itself enlightened. Suffering beyond words exists in the world of red dust. Richard told how Charles Luk described the beating of Xu Yun by the Red Guards (when he was well over 100 hundred years old), when translating from the original Chinese text in vivid detail, but how some of the injuries were so appalling that Charles left them untranslated. One such detail describes how the Venerable Xu Yun’s teeth were broken and knocked out of the gum by kicks, punches and blows from blunt weapons. Despite the numerous internal injuries and bleeding from his private parts, Xu Yun stabilised his body (through meditation) and managed to heal many of the injuries. This example inspired Richard Hunn throughout the duration of his illness, comparing Xu Yun’s example to the emaciated Buddha’s ‘smile of unbearable compassion’. The unbearable is endured by seeing through to its empty essence whilst fully in the midst of experiencing the suffering – there is no denial or hiding from the reality itself. False Ch’an sets up distinctions between this and that – its practitioners talk about transcendence as a theory, or some far off distant attribute or ambition. The directness of realisation is lacking in their rhetoric and their inability reduces their practice to the mere collection of lists of empty and pointless facts about Ch’an. Students are misled due to the endless stream of deluded nonsense, because they can not distinguish authenticity from fiction. False Ch’an sets up barbs designed to catch the unexpecting and is designed to pull the student into the ego mind of the group leader who has assumed the mantle of ‘teacher’. It is a seductive process that completely undermines the entire purpose of the Buddha’s Ch’an. It is existent within the environment here and now and its effects should be guarded against. In this regard Richard Hunn did not see his role as ‘inventing’ any thing new, but agreed with the Confucius when he described his role merely as a conveyor of tradition. Richard benefitted fully from master Xu Yun’s teaching as directly taught to him by his Ch’an teacher Charles Luk, and through his translations – and it is this wisdom that he conveyed to the next generation. His role, up until the end of his life, was that of a facilitator of reliable Ch’an knowledge and wisdom. He did not distinguish between East and West, although he was at home in both cultures. He disagreed that Buddhism can be made ‘Western’, but asserted that Buddhism, defined as the actual experience enlightenment, could not realistically be limited to the term ‘Eastern’ – as the experience of the Mind Ground is the same for everyone regardless of their expedient ethnicity. The Buddha had taught that if others tried to understand him through his physical appearance and presence, they would not understand him at all. It is only through his teachings (Dharma) that he could be understood, and in no other way. The Buddha’s enlightenment is a unique event in human history, and is essentially ‘ahistorical’ in nature. It can not be measured or judged by the deluded mind that it transcends. The assertion that Buddhism can be any thing other than an experience of ‘here and now’ is the product of the deepest delusion that leads many into the abyss of wearing robes designed in Asia, having a shaven head and a Sanskrit name, whilst simultaneously denying the validity of ‘Asian’ spiritual thinking in the West, replacing the Buddha’s teachings with the dead ash of materialism. The point is that all culture is suitable for the time and place it manifests and in today’s multicultural world cultures readily mix and merge at regular intervals. Indian Buddhism has spread throughout the world, adapting within many cultures as it has taken root. There is a marked difference between an adaptation process that sees the original ethnic Buddhist culture respected as it is integrated with, and the wanton destruction of that distinctiveness by movements that feel an attachment to a racial, ethnic or nationalist identity that has no place in Buddhist thought, whilst merely mimicking its Asian outer form. Richard Hunn believed that enlightenment has no definite outer culture and that Buddhas have appeared throughout history – including Greek thinkers like Socrates, Plato and Plotinus, etc. The outer garb of their appearance is of no interest, and to decide that one particular outer garb should be substituted for another is an exercise in pure folly. Plotinus, like the Buddha, cared little for his own outer form. In one of his letters, Richard mention that the ‘immutable’ is the same for Hui Neng as it was for Henry VIII. Buddhism can not be ‘Western’ because it has never been ‘Eastern’, regardless of its geographical origination.
Richard Hunn kept an eye on the political situation in the UK and the world. One of his heroes was Ch’an master Dahui (1089–1163). Not only did Charles Luk and Richard Hunn follow the Ch’an letter writing tradition, but both readily acknowledged the genius and bravery Dahui – a prolific letter writer of Song Dynasty China. He often spoke his mind regardless of the risks involved. This habit eventually got him in trouble with the imperial authorities and resulted in his punishment and exile. However, despite the misfortunes that befell him, he never compromised the truth and did not cease to teach even when banished to remote areas away from his students. Song Dynasty China had fully functioning postal service and Dahui made full use of its reach, communicating with a varied collection of individuals about the intricacies of their Ch’an training. For Dahui, Ch’an practice was not just a passive ‘looking within’, but rather once the Mind Ground had been fully realised, the resulting development of ‘wisdom’ (prajna) has to be used in the outer world, for the betterment of all. This can include commenting on corruption in the country, as it causes suffering to the people. Richard Hunn was often visibly shaken and shocked by the various acts of brutality meted out by governments against their people. This, in the UK included numerous incidences over the years in the way the Police mercilessly beat unarmed protestors – and then charged those who tried to defend themselves with ‘resisting arrest’. On the world stage he thought that Buddhist monks, through the use of their education and insight, should use this ability to influence the direction of governmental policies – allowing for the conditions to prevail that allow for the peaceful practicing of the Dharma. Dahui’s example demonstrates that one does not have to remain silent in the world of expedient form as that simply allows delusion to always retain the upper hand. It is also true that to speak out in this manner opens the speaker to the possibility of all kinds of reprisals. Some times even remaining silent is no protection from vicious responses, and if oppression is allowed to build without any kind of wise resistance, eventually everyone becomes its victim. Speaking out is not without its problems even within a modern Western democracy. Richard experienced this first hand when he was approached for help by a young man who had escaped from what can only be described as a British Buddhist cult. This earnest young man had originally entered a particular Buddhist community to study the legitimate Dharma, but instead found himself groomed by the order’s founder and subsequently sexually abused over a number of years. Because of the help Richard correctly extended to this person, the Buddhist order in questioned launched a highly vicious hate campaign against him in the Norwich area. This kind of situation is fairly common place in the world of red dust, and demonstrates that the deluded mind will always behave in this way. In many ways the outer world of expedient politics reflects the inner world of ego politics, with no difference between the two. Wisdom creates the conditions for precise action. If the Mind Ground is made clear, all expedient conditions dissolve into its essence. Charles, Richard and Dahui taught their Ch’an with an astonishing ability that saw the exact use of the right word at the right time. There was no hesitation, only the hitting of the centre of the target found in the first rate application of the Ch’an Method. The reality of the situation is never ignored even if its structure is fully recognised as delusionary.
The Buddhapadipa Temple, situated near Wimbledon Common, is a wonderfully peaceful and dharmically vibrant place. It is comprised of a large house, a temple complex, a Buddhist school for Thai children, two small flats, a car park and large grounds – very much like a park with a small river running through its centre and a number of small wooden bridges crossing it at intervals. A paved pathway weaves it way through the grounds, with verse from the Dhammapada carved into wooden plaques placed along the way. There is a Buddha Grove for outside meditation and a similar area for children to play and create. This temple represents the Theravada tradition of Thailand and is sponsored by the king of that country. Twice a week the monks hold meditation sessions in the evenings, and then again at weekends. People are able to stay within the temple over a period of time, free of charge to study the Dharma. It is here in the early 1970’s that Richard Hunn spent much time meditating and scripture reading to such an extent that then abbot suggested that he should consider ordaining as a bhikkhu. The meditation sessions at Buddhapadipa are very well structured and last around 90 minutes each time. Usually the first 45 minutes are dedicated to walking meditation which occurs across the width of the hall, with each participant directed to focus attention upon the exact placement, location and movement of each footstep, coupled with awareness of the breath as it enters the nose and leaves the mouth. This meditation includes a structured 180 degree turning procedure when the meditator reaches the edge of hall, allowing the participant to walk back the other way without hindrance. This is moving meditation and it is designed to harness the moving mind and the unsettled body and bring them into a state of calmness. When completed, the next 45 minute session is based upon seated meditation with a concentration upon the breath. This is stillness meditation. Both moving and stillness meditation seek to induce a state of tranquillity within the practitioner. Richard would couple this training with the hua tou method (guided by Charles Luk), making much progress in the process. This demonstrates that Ch’an practice can happen any where regardless of circumstance. The solid structure of the Theravada tradition in Wimbledon facilitated the Ch’an practice providing a relevant framework irrespective of any apparent difference in philosophical approach between the two systems. Indeed, such was the strength of meditational practice at the Buddhapadipa, in 1975 Richard Hunn travelled to Hong Kong for a period of training with his Ch’an master Charles Luk which resulted in a major breakthrough or awakening. Following this event, Charles Luk asked Richard Hunn to take forward the lineage of Ch’an to the next generation, and in the process to try and keep the English translations of key Buddhist texts in print for the benefit of all. This included a request to assist Charles in the bringing together of Xu Yun’s English translation of his autobiography into one volume – extensively re-editing it in the process. Richard Hunn was given by Charles the Chinese Buddhist name of Upasaka Wen Shu. Around this time Charles Luk was working on an English translation of the Lankavatara Sutra – but Charles would pass away in 1978, before this work could be published. This work remains unpublished to this day.
In the meantime Richard was pursuing an academic career in Chinese Buddhist studies, and for a time ran the Chinese Buddhist Association at Essex University. This part of his life is rather diverse, involving an Oxford University sponsored research programme about the famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, which involved a trip to Zurich and a meeting with Jung’s grand daughter. At this time Richard was shown a document written in Jung’s handwriting apparently expressing his belief that reincarnation might well be a real phenomena. This, and similar work was kept from the public by the Jung family because they thought that its content might diminish Jung’s academic standing. Richard’s interest with Jung arose because of Jung’s contact with Charles Luk. In 1961, when Jung was on his death bed, he was reading Luk’s first volume of Ch’an and Zen Teachings. Jung had his secretary write to Luk and explain that when Jung read what master Xu Yun taught, and when Xu Yun explained the realisation of the mind – Jung felt that he himself could have said just that! Much later, whilst living in Japan, Richard stumbled upon Jung’s entire published works in English in a small bookshop for a very small price. Before this, however, Richard had settled in Norfolk founding the Norwich Ch’an Association. Many people would visit Richard’s home and seek Ch’an instruction, and on occasion Charles Luk would even send one or two people, notably Chinese students from Malaysia. This was all going on around his work within the multicultural unit of the BBC programme Pebble Mill, which amongst other things was planning a research trip to film at the caves Dun Huang in China– before it experienced a dramatic funding cut. In between all these endeavours Richard would hold Ch’an Weeks, or set time periods for Ch’an meditation that involved all those concerned being literally locked into the Ch’an meditation process. Some times one or two would attend, other times would see twenty or more people. Not only this, but Richard was not sectarian in his approach and he often held Ch’an weeks for other Ch’an groups, working upon the premise that the empty mind underlies all equally. This is not to say that there was no criticism, but that whatever criticisms there may have been were usually the product of personality clashes, misunderstandings and occasionally the observation of some poor behaviour or the exercising of bad judgement, etc. This requirement for exactness was probably a habit required within British academia. Richard Hunn was becoming a very good reader and writer of Chinese script, particularly that involving often difficult religious and philosophical concepts written in varying scripts. In this regard, he not only worked to keep Charles Luk’s translations in print, but spent much time working on his own English translations of Chinese texts. This work included Ch’an poems, Ch’an dialogues, Chinese sutras and commentaries – none of this work is published – although Richard once told the author of this essay that a number of Ch’an poems he translated were presented for constructive criticism to a well known Ch’an master living in the West, but the presentation was met only with silence and the incident was forgotten at the time. A year or so later a book of Ch’an poems was published in this master’s name, and amongst them were Richard’s poems, exactly as he had translated them. The author of this book did not credit Richard Hunn as the translator, but any one familiar with Richard’s style will know immediately which poems are his. Ups and downs upon the path are part of normal life. A long time after his death, a Western Ch’an practitioner accused Charles Luk (a person she had never met) of stealing photographs of Xu Yun from another Chinese Ch’an master! These stories are obviously the product of a very weak mind, and serve to demonstrate the absurd length to which the ego will go to preserve its fiction of assumed spiritual practice and false pretentions to power. Xu Yun, like his student Charles Luk always emphasised honesty and moral discipline, a practice Richard thoroughly agreed with. Despite this trivia Richard carried on his translation of the Chinese book known as the Book of Changes (Yijing). Samples of this book went down very well at the Frankfurt Book Festival (around 1990), with German and French editions being agreed. However, this was conditional upon the completion of certain other planned translations. After moving to Lancashire to continue his studies at Lancaster University, his marriage began to fail, and this failure led eventually to him deciding to migrate to Japan to continue his studies there – particularly upon the subject of the early Ch’an presence in Japan. These tumultuous changes,, happening as they did in quick succession, removed the settled circumstances that are conducive to book writing and research and as a consequence, the three book deal that would have seen the Book of Changes published never materialised. It is interesting to note that as well the transmission of the Ch’an Dharma, Charles Luk also encouraged Richard Hunn to study the Book of Changes, a text that Richard greatly valued and discussed with his students. Texts that elicited a similar profound interest and respect were Confucius’ Analects, the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi, amongst many others.
Armed with research funding, Japan offered a new era for Richard Hunn. He settled in Kyoto to continue his academic studies, taking a job teaching English at a local college to supplement his income. Although already working upon a book entitled ‘Zen in China: The Roots of Tradition’, his research began to focus upon the roots of Ch’an Buddhism in Japan. In particular, much of this study centred round Mampukuji – very much an old Chinese Ch’an temple built in 1661, situated near Kyoto. Richard preferred Kyoto because it was an old Japanese city that had not been bombed during WWII, and as a consequence was a peculiar blend of ancient and modern mixed together. Many of Japan’s traditional martial arts training halls (dojo) are to be found Kyoto and it is within one such dojo that Richard Hunn (together with his Japanese wife) took up the practice of Kyudo. This martial arts practice supplemented his interest in Taijiquan, and to a lesser extent Gongfu. Richard found the martial arts interesting and in the early 2000’s, during his visits to the UK, he would often look in upon a family gongfu training hall in south London. He knew that many Chinese Ch’an masters were also proficient in the martial arts and practiced other types of qi cultivation, as did his teacher Charles Luk. Indeed, in his book entitled ‘Taoist Yoga’ Luk translated the spiritual teachings of Daoist master Chao Pi Chen who is recorded as being born in 1860, but mysteriously never recorded as actually dying. This has led many to believe that he had achieved true immortality, or that he had ridden to heaven on the back of a dragon. No pictures are provided in Luk’s book of master Chao Pi Chen – but around 2004, whilst reading through dozens of Japanese journals and newspapers, Richard Hunn finally discovered one such photograph:
Of particular interest is the method known as the five healing breaths – a Daoist visualisation technique that combines special verbalised sounds with breath direction and control. Both Charles and Richard emphasised this practice to keep the inner body fit and healthy during extended periods of meditation when actual physical activity is necessarily at a minimum. The mind guides the breath (qi) into a particular organ – such as the heart or liver, etc, and through the vibration of the accompanying sound, alters the qi balance in that organ. A specific sound equates with a particular organ – and the sounds are not considered inter-changeable. The sounds are designed to invigorate and stimulate the organ concerned. The practice is remarkable and can be performed sitting or standing and is accompanied by preparatory exercises that consist of the self-massaging of the face and ears, as well as a teeth tapping exercise and the gentle tapping of the back of the head with the fingers, etc. Although there are separate and distinct Daoist schools and traditions, there is often much interaction between Daoist qi cultivation and Ch’an Buddhist practice, after-all much of this practice is common knowledge and very much an everyday Chinese cultural activity. Daoist qi cultivation may be considered directly related to the Buddha’s emphasis upon breath awareness. This kind of similarity may explain the Chinese myth that suggests that the Daoist sage Laozi left China, to travel to India, where he became known as the Buddha. When Indian Buddhism finally arrived in China, it was believed (by some) to simply be a form of Chinese Daoism coming back to China, after it had taken root elsewhere.
The year 1992 marked a distinct turning-point in the life of Richard Hunn. He explained much later that when he left the UK – apart from his family – he cut-off virtually every other tie so that he could put his energies into settling into a new country. For many, he simply appeared to vanish without a trace. This was not so much an intentional act – but rather very much an attribute of the time. One or two people have contacted the author of this essay over the years to tell their interaction with Richard at this pivotal point in his life. One person was ‘phoned by Richard, who was enquiring about short-term places to stay in Japan, whilst another spent some time with Richard near to his departure and explained that they discussed over many days about the choices that lay a head. AtLancasterUniversityhe was pursuing a doctorate in philosophy and any major relocation, especially one that involved thousands of miles away, would obviously interrupt such studies. In the end Richard consulted the Book of Change – a book he much admired and respected – and it advised that it was now ‘safe’ to ‘cross the great water’, and cross the great water he did. Once inJapanthe focus of his academic work shifted to that county’s part in the transmission of Ch’an Buddhism from China– and as ‘Zen’ to the rest of the world. Eventually he re-married and settled down to a happy and peaceful existence, visiting the UK occasionally to bring his Japanese language students to see the sights of London. In the early 2000’s, whilst visiting the author, he would travel to the Buddhapadipa Templein Wimbledon and lead an hour or two of Ch’an meditation. This also occurred at the Foguang temple in the heart of London– making use of the meditation hall when not being used for official purposes. At one such visit Richard Hunn donated a Chinese-English Buddhist dictionary to the library there, which can probably still be found on its shelves to this day. Although Richard was not a member of the Foguang movement, or endorse its agenda, he did not criticise it either. He felt that the library in the temple – containing books in both Chinese and English – was an excellent device for studying Dharma, hence his decision to donate a very expensive dictionary to it, so that if people required, they could work out translations for themselves. Unfortunately such thoughtfulness is often only manifest in one direction, as when the book was presented to a temple volunteer, it was snatched away and no word of thanks was offered. When Richard passed away a short eulogy for him was placed of the Foguang UK website – only to be removed by a Foguang moderator – who said that as Richard was not a fully paid-up member of the temple, a eulogy was not permitted. The important point in all this that, as master Xu Yun taught, it is the possession of exact knowledge that enables the correct path to be followed to enlightenment – nothing else should be of concern. This is why Richard Hunn, in his 2004 visit to the UK, suggested to the author that it would be a good idea to set-up a free, basic, but workable website to focus the world Ch’an community through the teachings of master Xu Yun as translated and transmitted by Charles Luk. This website was to facilitate an East – West dialogue through the filter of Chinese Buddhism. Its layout was purposely decided to be simple and not eye-catching. Its content was to be reliable Ch’an information in English, from legitimate Chinese sources. Its function was to emphasis self-sufficient meditation practice regardless of personal circumstance and irrespective of gender, ethnicity or race, etc. This website was set-up toward the end of 2004 – and to distinguish it from Japanese Zen Buddhism was originally called ‘Chinese Ch’an Buddhism Forum-UK’. It offered ‘mind to mind’ instruction from Richard Hunn in Japan, and Richard’s Dharma successor in the UK. When Richard died in 2006 the forum was renamed in his honour – ‘The Richard Hunn Association for Ch’an Study’. It has had two web addresses associated with it:
The second address (although no longer working) has an interesting story attached to it. In 2011, the forum administrator (the author of this essay) was contacted by a very polite young man from the UK. Over a couple months, discussion was had regarding Ch’an Buddhist philosophy, the Ch’an method and how this fitted in with Chinese martial arts practice. During these interactions the young man revealed that he had been caught up in the terrorist bomb blasts in London in 2007. Indeed, he was one of the injured victims. Out of appreciation for the forum, and due to this young man’s thoughtful and generous nature, he purchased the second web address so that the forum user may access it more readily when required. The forum’s structure is to remain plain so as not to encourage egotism. That is it is not to be used as a form of ego entertainment, or be of a shallow intellectual attraction. The forum itself is an illusion – an expedient means – designed only to assist others gain self-knowledge through the assistance of good guiding advice. Richard Hunn had a very good sense of humour and often saw the irony in many of life’s situations. He would have laughed at a recent email from a so-called ‘zennist’ website that although including an article about master Xu Yun, Richard Hunn and the author of this essay, nevertheless was refusing to list Richard’s Ch’an forum because, ‘it is not interesting enough to be listed for my readers’! All structures are empty and the forum just as much. It contains the best of Richard Hunn – his goodness limited to a computer screen – use it well.
The authentic teachings of Richard Hunn are preserved at this link:
Richard Hunn Association for Ch’an Study – www.chan-forum.org