Shao Yun’s Recollections of Master Xu Yun

‘Dharma master Shao Yun was born in the Anhui province of eastern China in 1938. His family name was Huang (黄). Whilst in his school years, he developed an interest in Buddhist studies and read books upon the subject of the three treasures. At the age of around 19 years old (in 1956/57), he travelled to Yunjushan (Jiangxi), and encountered master Xu Yun living at Zhen Ru Monastery – the old master at this time was 117 years old. Xu Yun was in the midst of re-building the substantial monastic grounds, so that the holy area could re-capture some of the spiritual glories the site had held during the Tang and Song Dynasties. Master Xu Yun enquired as to why Shao Yun wanted to be a Ch’an monk – and the young man answered that he wanted to become a Buddha. Xu Yun was over-joyed to hear this response and immediately received him as a disciple and personally arranged for the ordination. Xu Yun gave him two Dharma names; the first was ‘Xuan De’ (宣德), or ‘Propagate Virtue’, and the second was ‘Shao Yun’ (绍云), or ‘Continues Speech’. Despite the country ofChinaexperiencing an ever chaotic political and cultural situation, Xu Yun had managed, through the example of spiritual power, to turn Zhen Ru into an oasis of Buddhist wisdom and peace. The impression received from reading Xu Yun’s autobiography is that through sheer strength of character, and despite the odds being stacked firmly against him, nevertheless, he managed to create Dharmically significant worlds within situations that were otherwise hopelessly lost. The young monk Shao Yun walked into one of these places, and has recently recorded his recollections of the experience of living life with master Xu Yun during his final years – in a speech given to Hong Kong Buddhists. Once Shao Yun had settled down to monastic life, and had gotten use to the life of a Ch’an monk, he eventually became Xu Yun’s attendant, watching over the old monk and assisting with the necessary every day duties that such a post entails. What follows is a translation from the original Chinese document entitled ‘绍云法师; 虚云老和尚神通示现’, or ‘Dharma Master Shao Yun; The Manifestation of the Monk Xu Yun’s Unhindered Spiritual Power’. Shao Yun describes the old monk Xu Yun in the following way;’

Natural Buddhist Martial Arts

‘However, within China the Ch’an school of Buddhism has always embraced martial cultivation within the context of a thorough mind development. Certain Ch’an temples – such as the Shaolin – have become very famous, but in reality many Ch’an temples have facilitated martial practice all over China. However, martial practice within the body is acknowledged as actually occurring within the mind itself, and it is through the mind that physical mastery is developed. Within the Ch’an tradition, there is no duality between the mind, body or environment, as all things arise and pass away within the mind. Martial perfection is nothing other than realising the Mind Ground.’

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.’ ‘

The Hua Tou (話頭) Method.

‘These facts demonstrate that master Dahui did not refer to his own enlightening method as either a ‘hua tou’, or indeed a ‘kan hua’, and did not view what he was doing as some thing ‘new’ and ‘original’. In fact, the impression one gets from Dahui is that he is following an older tradition that has been forgotten by those around him.’

The Implications of Ch’an Meditation

‘The sutras lead the aspirant toward enlightenment at their own pace, whilst Ch’an, in its more direct method demands that the obvious is realised here and now, and its nature not endlessly talked around. The Ch’an masters use the language of the ‘uncreate’. This is the use of ordinary conditioned human language, in a manner that does not allow for the usual conditioning to operate, and thus deprives the intellectual mind of the fuel needed to create more delusive thought. This language manifests the ‘real’ in an non-dualistic and absolute manner and can not be understood with a mere shallow cleverness. Its impact is often decisive and is designed to take the practitioner through the three gates of entry into nirvana; namely ‘voidness’, ‘formlessness’, and ‘inactivity’. Voidness empties the mind of the idea of self and others; formlessness wipes out the notion of externals, and inactivity puts a stop to all worldly activities, whilst appearing in the world – in numerous and diverse circumstances – to act as a bodhisattva and deliver all living beings from suffering.’

How To Practice Ch’an Meditation

‘This task is not easy. The ego mind will attempt to throw-up all kinds of illusions to protect its privileged status of control over an individual’s destiny. Perhaps the greatest danger is the egotistical belief that enlightenment has been attained when in fact all that has happened is that the mind, after some initial, shallow training has merely experienced a temporary sense of ‘calmness’, and afterwards assumed the dishonest position that involves the stench of false knowing.’

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