Why I Remember Richard Hunn

Upasaka Wen Shu

Happy Days!

Why do we remember prominent people?  There are all kinds of reasons for this to happen; some times it is for prestigious reasons, other times it is because of close emotional ties, it can even be for contrived reasons or reasons of a less than honest motivation, etc.  I have chosen to remember Richard Hunn because when I first made contact with him, I knew he ‘knew’.  This statement has to be viewed within a certain context to make full sense.  I have trained in my life with a number of excellent teachers – all of whom are remembered in one appropriate way or another.  For around three years I lived as a monk, in seclusion, as well as receiving Dharmic instruction inSri LankaandHong Kong– much of my spiritual activity has been facilitated through my family connections to the British Chinese community, etc.  I have had Ch’an teachers who wish to remain ‘unknown’, and even today, I continue to receive Ch’an instruction from a female hermit who lives in the mountains of China – she sees no reason for her name to be known, and is difficult to contact – her wisdom, however, is second to none. 

Every teacher that I have encountered, (including the American Baba Ram Dass), has provided an essential piece of the puzzle toward the realisation of ‘oneness’ and the purification of the mind.  There is not a scale of ‘worth’ that these beings fit into, but rather they represent (through their individual presences), a matrix of spiritual pathways designed to point the practitioner in the direction that is appropriate for their particular journey.  Richard Hunn did not want to be remembered, but he did want the memory of his teacher – Charles Luk – and that of master Xu Yun to be kept in the public domain through the excellent translation work that was the result of their spiritual connection.  Just before Richard Hunn passed away in 2006 he told me that I was to continue his translation work when he was gone, and that for three years I was not to tell any one about the fact that he had passed on this task to me, or explain the Ch’an lineage he was a part of.  In the Chinese tradition, a child usually mourns a father for three years with out a break – as Confucius taught that for the first three years of a life, a baby is totally dependent upon the parents, and that it is a child’s duty to repay this kindness with three years of respect upon the passing of the parent.  This type of behaviour was not unknown to me, and so I and my family set about remembering Richard Hunn as if he were part of the family – which of course, we very much considered him to be.

It should be of no surprise that Charles Luk sent students from Asia to train with Richard in theUK, or that whilst at Essex University Richard ran the Chinese Buddhist Association – which facilitated Chinese Buddhist practice in both the Chinese and English languages.  Richard, of course, had travelled toHong Kongto train with Charles Luk and was very familiar with Chinese culture.  He even described himself, on one occasion as being ‘Anglo-Chinese’.  This ability to understand and penetrate another culture was a skill that he had down to a very fine art.  In a room full of different people, he could make every one feel individually well and at ease, but when it came to Ch’an instruction, he was like a roaring tiger that makes its point once only and then walks majestically away.  Through his connection with Charles Luk, he had fully penetrated the Mind Ground and lived an existence that flickered between planes – all of the time.  Yes – as a person living in the world, his surface life was full of drama, but this drama was always contextualised by the presence of the great void.  Although I said earlier that I knew he ‘knew’, it also has to be said that he also ‘knew’ when you knew, and when you did not ‘know’ – such was the refinement of his understanding.  Master Xu Yun, who has inspired, and continues to inspire many, entrusted Charles Luk to take the Ch’an Dharma into the West through the translation of Chinese texts.  Master Xu Yun use to very carefully choose the people he entrusted with vital work, for all his compassion, he did not suffer fools (although he continuously forgave them), and used his wisdom to see into the future and understand the karmic effects of certain actions in the present.  Master Xu Yun chose many different people for many varying tasks, but it was Charles Luk that he gave the very important task of translating Chinese texts into reliable English.  These translated works are often quite brilliant and breath-taking in their lucidity, and it is no exaggeration that the footnotes alone could make separate books of highly technical explanation.  Richard Hunn spent much of his life keeping these books in publication in the days before the internet – this was the task given to him by Charles Luk.  A secondary, but just as important task involved the continuing of the tradition of creating reliable English translations of Chinese Buddhist texts into English.  Of course, both Charles and Richard understood that the kind of linguistic skill required to perform this task takes time to perfect and is not easy.  However, Richard Hunn, as an Englishman, committed himself to the study of the Chinese language and his acquired skill culminated in the 1988 edition of Empty Cloud – Xu Yun’s English biography originally created by Charles Luk and re-edited by Richard himself.  There were many other translations that Richard completed – including one of the Book of Change (Yijing), that publishers were interested in, but for various reasons these never saw publication.  Often, Richard refused to have the text changed to suit the petty whims of a publisher’s requirement – and the deal fell-through.

What must not be forgotten in all of this assessment is that of the excellent grasp of English that Charles Luk possessed.  In theUK, by and large we must learn Chinese to translate, but for Charles it was the other way around – he had to learn English – and learn it he did.  His translations are flawless and in what might be described as perfect English.  He very cleverly (and quickly) rendered complex Indo-Chinese terms and Chinese ideograms into a reliable English translation that fully conveyed the original meaning, which lost nothing in through the process of translation, if any thing, Luk’s English translations actually managed to gain in meaning as they were being produced.  In many ways this continues the tradition of the great Indian and Chinese scholars who originally confronted one another’s very different cultures, and through the correct use of the mind, managed to make bridge-heads of understanding that future generations could built-upon.  This type of translation, although very academic in one respect, has to also be a product of a developed mind tutored within the tradition that is being described.  It is not just a product of the intellect, but rather a distinct function of acquired ‘prajna’ through authentic Ch’an practice.  It is an ability that can not be fully described through the use of logic and in many ways remains something of a mystery.  A dry translation has no depth or wisdom about it and reads very much like a shopping list – just a jumble of unrelated articles, etc.  A good translation is full of a wisdom that reaches out to the reader – as if the mind of the reader is creating the text as it is read.  A good translated Ch’an text reveals the Mind Ground – that is all.                            

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