Master Xu Yun: Dao of Wu Wei


Master Xu Yun (in his 114th year of age) relates the following story in his autobiography:

This method of setting a time-limit for personal experience of the truth is likened to a scholars’ examination. The candidates sit for it and write their compositions according to the subjects, for each of which a time-limit is set. The subject of our Chan week is Chan meditation. For this reason, this hall is called the Chan Hall. Chan is dhyana in Sanskrit and means ‘unperturbed abstraction’. There are various kinds of Chan, such as the Mahayana and Hinayana Chans, the material and immaterial Chans, the Sravakas’ and the Heretics’ Chan. Ours is the unsurpassed Chan. If one succeeds in seeing through the doubt (mentioned yesterday) and sitting on and cracking the life-root,* one will be similar to the Tathagata. For this reason, a Chan Hall is also called a Buddha’s selecting place. It is called a Prajna Hall. The Dharma taught in this hall is the Wu Wei Dharma.** Wu Wei means ‘not doing’. In other words, not a single thing can be gained and not a single thing can be done. If there be doing (samskrta), it will produce birth and death. If there is gain, there will be loss. For this reason, the sutra says: “There are only words and expressions which have no real meaning.’ The recitation of sutras and the holding of confessional services pertain to doing (samskrta) and are only expediencies used in the teaching school. As to our Sect, its teaching consists in the direct self-cognizance for which words and expressions have no room. Formerly a student called on the old Master Nan-quan and asked him: ‘What is Dao?’ Nan-quan replied: ‘The ordinary mind is the truth.’ Every day we wear robes and eat rice; we go out to work and return to rest; all our actions are performed according to the truth.  It is because we bind ourselves in every situation that we fail to realize that the self-mind is Buddha.

(Empty Cloud: Translated by Charles Luk [1988], Page 160)

* Life root – a root or basis for life, or reincarnation, the nexus of Hinayana between two life-periods, accepted by Mahayana as nominal but not real. The Chinese idiom ‘to sit on and to crack’ is equivalent to the Western term ‘to break up’.

**Wu Wei. Asamkrta in Sanskrit – anything not subject to cause, condition or dependence; out of time, external inactive, supramundane.

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