Xu Yun’s Letter to Chiang Kai-shek


In the early months of 1943 (when Xu Yun was in his 104th year), he had a conversation with the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) regarding the Buddhist teachings (Dharma), the philosophical principles of materialism and idealism, and the theology of Christianity.  Thirteen years earlier, Chiang Kai-shek had converted to (Methodist) Christianity in 1929, and since that time had believed that China’s future could be moulded and directed from principles contained within the Bible itself, and this belief influenced policies such as the ‘Three Principles of the People’ and the ‘New Life Movement.’  Xu Yun discussed these matters personally with Chiang Kai-shek, and then wrote his answers down in the form of a letter. This letter appears in the complete Chinese text of Xu Yun’s autobiography (Xu Yun He Shang Nian Pu) – in the chapter dealing with the notable events of his 104th year – but is not contained within the English translation created by Charles Luk (1898-1978).  This may be explained by the fact that Luk could have been working from an earlier, less complete Chinese edition.   The scholar, Cen Xue Lu (1882-1963), who worked as Xu Yun’s editor in Hong Kong, created a number of Chinese editions throughout the 1950’s, with each new edition expanding to include more information and facts.  Within the English translation, an editorial note (written by Charles Luk) is found which explains that the letter itself had already been rendered into English and published in the World Buddhist Wesak Annual in 1965 – around the time that Luk was working upon the autobiography itself.  As the 1965 version of the letter is difficult to find, this new rendition has been produced from the original Chinese text and is designed to introduce a new generation to this remarkable Xu Yun text.

Xu Yun’s Letter to Chiang Kai-shek – 1943/44.

Buddhism is an international religion today, and it alone contains the complete teaching about reality.  The other two dominant forces in the world are monotheism and materialism, but these two teachings either deny, or do not recognise the Buddhist theory of karma that operates on every plane of reality.  The Christian god rewards those who believe in him, but punishes those who do not, therefore Christianity can not maintain peace in the world.

God is the mind, and the mind is god.  Therefore, like the mind, the god concept must be empty of any permanent substance.  By turning the gaze within, the three realms of desire, form and formlessness can be clearly discerned.  Christianity does not recognise the karmically created universe, but instead believes that the universe was created by a god and operates through different, unconnected laws.  The materialists do not accept even the presence of a god or a religious concept, and view the world merely as an unfolding of random, disconnected events.

Buddhism may be described as idealistic, but idealistic philosophy is a very broad subject.  Generally speaking, the various systems of idealistic thinking are not the same as that of Sakyamuni Buddha, as they are not the consequence of the enlightened experience.  Sakyamuni Buddha saw clearly the delusion of birth and death and how living beings are trapped in its cycle, through the generation of greed, hatred and delusion within the mind.  Those who follow the materialist path do not recognise that the processes of their inner mind create the world they inhabit.  The Christian world is based upon a duality between those who believe and accept the existence of a god concept (the ‘good’), and those who do not believe or accept the god concept (the ‘evil’).  Sakyamuni Buddha saw reality clearly.  He taught that duality is an illusion, and that any one who looks into their minds effectively, will see through this illusion.  Cultivated wisdom sees the world clearly; when looking at a buffalo, the buffalo is clearly seen, but when insight is lacking, the buffalo might be seen as present, when in fact it is absent.  Or when the buffalo is present, only part of its physical appearance is perceived.  The (deluded) dualistic viewpoint of the world does not perceive the totality of reality as created by the mind – as a consequence, its vision is incomplete.  Buddhist meditational practice is the effective method for permanently wiping-out delusion and duality.       

Buddhism as a complete philosophy, not only teaches about how the physical universe is created (through karmic habit), but also clearly and concisely teaches how the physical body (through the sense organs) relates to the world, and how the body and mind can be ordered so that the Mind Ground can be realised through meditation.  As the physical universe emerges from the deluded mind, the Surangama Sutra teaches how the deluded mind can be disentangled from all externals.  This complete understanding of existence and non-existence pre-dates modern science.  The bodhisattva vow of compassion (to save all living beings), permeates the Buddhist Sutras and is a great service to the world.

Buddhism is a complete philosophy that does not use trickery or deceit to confuse the people.  There are people following Buddhism from every walk of life, because Buddhism has the power to unite religion and science.  More than this, however, Buddhism brings the three religions of China– i.e. Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism – into a great accord.  Buddhism is like a stove that melts everything together – acknowledging the essential, unchanging ‘origin’ of all things. 

Today (1943), the country of Japan takes Buddhism as a national religion – but its leaders behave like uneducated warlords and defame the true teachings of the Buddha which are based upon compassion and respect for all life.  The warlords of Japan blindly believe in the use of military force, and in their ignorance, believe that invading countries and killing innocent people leads to karmic merit.  This distorted thinking will end in defeat.

This is an example of ignorance dictating the understanding of Buddhism.  This is what happens when superstition rules society, and a national religion is deliberately distorted to meet temporary political and military objectives.  The people are deceived by such actions, and their karmic fruits become ever more hellish.  Buddhism has clear regulations to guide its presence within society, so that the Dharma does not become corrupted.  The Buddha’s doctrine clearly explains, step by step, how to gather the senses, and return the concentration back to the Mind Ground.  Buddhist teaching is an antidote to confusion both within and without.  Wherever Buddhism is practiced, within the home or the monastery, the Mind Ground emanates compassion to all beings on every plane.  The bodhisattva continuously works for the welfare of all living beings.  For these reasons Buddhism can be used as a positive force within the State. 

Killing others is caused by evil intent within the mind.  The bodhisattva does not live this way, because through following the Buddha’s path, all evil intent is swept away.  When ignorance remains murder with all kinds of weapons may be the result, but by cultivating goodwill and positive karmic merit, this kind of misconduct is eradicated.  Such is the guiding strength of the path of the Buddha, which reveals all truth in a solid manner.

The bodhisattva, whose conduct is derived from the cultivation of universal wisdom and unending compassion within the absorption of meditation, does not avoid the danger and difficulties of life.  A bodhisattva manifests four good conducts (amongst others) in relation to the everyday interaction with living beings all motivated by loving kindness; first there is the compassionate generating and sharing of worldly resources and wealth, without discrimination.  Secondly, the Buddha-dharma is taught to people in a manner that they can understand, and good advice is always given because the bodhisattva understands the true nature of all things.  Thirdly, the bodhisattva demonstrates the karmic benefit of good behaviour for all beings, and that by following the Buddha’s path life can be protected.  Fourth, the bodhisattva unites all beings through the example of wisdom and selfless conduct, this achievement is because the true character of all those encountered is fully understood.  This is why the path of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva is positive for society and the world.

The Mahayana teaching of the bodhisattva transcends all other paths and is cultivated at its root through meditation and bodily discipline created by following the Buddhist precepts.  As the Mahayana – the ‘great path’ – is open to all beings, it may be called universally useful as a teaching.  Another of its practices is that of the Pure Land, where chanting the Buddha’s name with a sincere heart eventually wipes away all bad karma and sows the positive karmic seeds of future enlightenment.  This direct method is viewed by materialists (who advocate atheism) to be a mere superstitious practice, but they are quite wrong in their assumptions.  Mindfulness is a very powerful spiritual practice; it is not comprised of magic or imagination.  Praying to the Buddha penetrates the Dharmadhatu, as Mind Ground looks toward Mind Ground.  Those without wisdom do not understand this and rely on blind faith; this is why they do not progress in their training.          

The bodhisattva path that seeks the supreme Dao is open to any one, male or female, lay-person or monastic.  Buddhist cultivation can be practiced within the home, amongst family and friends, or in a setting away from the ordinary dealings of the world.  The concept of ‘family’ is extended beyond that of those linked by birth, and incorporates all beings into one great community (datong), based upon compassion and wisdom.  In this regard the notion of filial piety is re-interpreted to mean that it is a bodhisattva’s sworn duty to ferry all beings across the sea of samsara to the shores of nirvana. 

The opinion of Mr Sun Yat-sen is that:  “Buddhism is the essence of benevolence; Buddhism is the mother of philosophy and religion.  It is also the foundation of the nation, and supports the nation through its spiritual power.  The people can not live without the idea of religion, and Buddhist research methodology can compliment scientific thinking.”

Buddhism, through its wisdom and compassion, has the potential to bring the people together both nationally and internationally, into one accord (datong).  The Buddhist philosophy has had a beneficial effect upon Chinese academic thought, and it is important that freedom of religion is maintained in China.  Buddhism shares a common spiritual essence with Daoism and Confucianism, bringing unity to the three religions.  Through the study of the Buddhist method, the mind and body are ordered, and superstition and ignorance are abandoned. 

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.


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