Two Interpretations of the Buddha’s Middle Way (Majjhima Patipada)


Many people encounter Buddhism through a book, leaflet, documentary or group, and are therefore introduced to the subject through the particular interpretation implicit in those modes of knowledge transference. In the age of the internet, it can be argued that a greater degree of detail is available for the study of Buddhism, but the fact remains that as Buddhist philosophy is a complex subject, generally speaking a new student requires some sort of developmental guidance – or ‘narrowing’ of approach – to make sense of it all. This returns to the issue of entering Buddhism through a single gate of interpretation, and remaining unaware of the broader history and divergent philosophical development of Buddhist thought, or the various and distinct cultures that have become associated with the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia and the world. This insularity is compounded if the Buddhism encountered is being used for nefarious or illegitimate reasons. On the other hand, a misunderstanding of Buddhism can lead to the development of ‘quietism’, whereby an individual uses the excuse of being a ‘Buddhist’ not to get involved in important issues involving the well-being, development or safety of humanity. Even the Buddha interceded in the political milieu of his day, if he thought his personal presence could influence kings toward more humane policies, save human or animal life, or even prevent wars. He used the mediating device of cultivated wisdom as a means to ascertain when to act in the world, and when not to act in the world. This was not an interfering function that he took likely, and he advised many of his followers to sit and meditate for a considerable time so as to generate the wisdom required. Simply following personal prejudices, or current popularist trends was not the Buddha’s ‘middle way’. In essence, the Buddha inwardly followed the path of realising non-self, and of uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. On the outer the plane, the Buddha pursued policies that defused aggressive situations that were not dependent upon the belief of ‘self’ (religious or otherwise), and which advocated non-greed over greed, non-hatred over hatred, and non-delusion over delusion. His approach was that people would not treat one another in a selfish or barbaric manner if they understood the insubstantial and ever changing nature of reality. This approach included the deconstruction of the theistic religious belief system prevalent in his time.

The Buddha’s direction of inner and outer movement was defined as pursuing the ‘middle way’ (majjhima patipada), but within Early and Later Buddhist thought, this term has two distinct (and on the surface, very different) interpretations. The first statement must make it clear that all forms of Buddhism adhere to the teachings contained within the Four Noble Truths, and that within this schematic, the concept of the ‘middle way’, or ‘middle path’ is the directly philosophical consequence of the Buddha’s teachings as recorded in the ‘Fourth Noble Truth’. The full title of this teaching is the ‘Path of the Fourth Noble Truth which Leads to the Cessation of Profound Dissatisfaction’, or in Pali ‘Dukkha Nirodha Gamini Patipade – Ariya Sacca). Herein, the Buddha presents eight guidelines which all Buddhists (both lay and monastic) should follow as a means to create a better life free of suffering. This eight guidelines are:

  1. Right Understanding (Samma Ditthi)
  2. Right Thought (Samma sankappa)
  3. Right Speech (Samma vaca)
  4. Right Action (Samma kammanta)
  5. Right Livelihood (Samma ajiva)
  6. Right Effort (Samma vayama)
  7. Right Mindfulness (Samma sati)
  8. Right Concentration (Samma samadhi)

Together with various other instructions pertaining to thought and action in everyday life, the Buddha prescribed an ethical path of meditation (i.e. mind operation modification), and behaviour modification, primarily through adherence to the numerous rules designed to regulate moral behaviour (i.e. ‘sila’). For a Buddhist monastic, these guidelines were strictly (and literally) followed so that every thought, feeling, emotion and action was fully cognised and experienced in a ‘detached’ (or ‘impersonal’) manner. For the lay-Buddhist, the guidelines were followed in a more flexible manner, but with the emphasis being placed on the maintenance of virtuous thought and action in every situation. All Buddhists, for instance, regardless of status, are expected by the Buddha never to kill, or create the conditions for killing to occur. The same is expected with regards to stealing, inappropriate sexual thoughts and actions, speech motivated by greed, hatred and delusion, and food and drink termed ‘intoxicants’ that cloud the good judgement of the mind. Obviously, the Buddhist monastic follow hundreds of vows, but these five are essential to the entirety of the Buddha’s path, and are indicative of the psycho-physical nature of his moral teaching. For the Buddha, the greater the discipline applied to meditation and moral discipline, the quicker (in theory) a practitioner will escape the wheel of suffering and dissatisfaction. However, despite certain trends of thought found in various lineages of the more conservative extant schools of Buddhism, the Buddha did acknowledge (in the Pali Suttas) that committed lay-people (both male and female) could realise ‘nibbana’ through meditation or moral discipline, or on rare occasions, simply by being in the Buddha’s psychological and physical presence. The main point to take from this is that Buddhist monastic have an advantage in as much as their living situation is geared entirely away from worldly affairs, and completely toward the cessation of profound dissatisfaction and suffering. Although lay-people are at a disadvantage, this does not mean that they should not try, or that they are inherently unable to realise enlightenment. In many ways it is this tolerant attitude of the Buddha (found within Early Buddhism) that permeates Mahayana thinking.

The Mahayana School becomes historically observable around the 1st century CE, and is assumed to be a later development of the Buddha’s thought away from the definitional confines of what is termed ‘Early Buddhism’. Although the suttas of the Pali Canon are later developments out of Early Buddhism, it is logical to assume that much of the former is recorded in the latter. The Mahayana ‘sutras’ – by way of comparison – are written in Sanskrit, but also retain virtually everything that exists within the Pali Canon, despite the fact that various philosophical concepts have been developed beyond the foundational premise as originally laid-down by the Buddha. Having established this fact, it is also true that the ‘original’ premise of the Buddha’s teachings is still recorded in the Mahayana sutras, and have not been ‘expunged’ in an act of eradication. This means that the Buddha is presented as teaching two different but inherently ‘related’ versions of his Dharma – one for beginners, and another for the advanced (this is how the Mahayanists explain the dual nature of their own sutras). Some lineages of the Theravada School (which must never be conflated with the ‘Hinayana’ or ‘Small Vehicle’ movement), hold the viewpoint that the Mahayana School is a distortion of the Buddha’s pristine message, whilst others (such as Ven. Walpola Rahula), are of the opinion that definite philosophical parallels exists between the Pali and Sanskrit texts. This situation is fluid and need not delay us when examining the concept of the ‘middle way’ as conceived within the Pali and the Sanskrit texts. The Theravada School follows the Pali Canon and perceives the ‘middle way’ as an individual, through an act of will, steering his or her mind and body on a psychological and physical course, conducive to reducing and eradicating negative karma-producing habits in the real world. This means maintaining a trajectory that treads a path ‘exactly between the two extremes of everything that exists (i.e. the material universe), and everything that does not exist in an obvious material sense (such as states of mind, emotionality and rarefied levels of conscious development). This may also be interpreted as understanding the world of physical matter as a) existing, but b) being ’empty’ of any permanency or substantiality. To understand this reality requires the development of the mind and its awareness capacity. This includes directly perceiving the fact that within the five aggregates that define an individual, there is no ‘atma’ or ‘soul’, and consequently no link to a theistic entity controlling the world from afar. This means that the Pali term ‘sunna’ means that the existing world (according to the Buddha) is ’empty’ of certain things, and that as a consequence, everything exists in a ‘relative’ or ‘interdependent’ state.

The Mahayana School views the ‘middle way’ primarily through the philosophy of the Madhyamika School (founded by Nagarjuna), which states that the physical world is non-existant and therefore ’empty’ of ALL reality. The world of physical matter is insubstantial, impermanent and ‘non-existing’. This means that the ordinary human assumption of an existing subject-object ‘duality’ is an illusion that must be transcended through a developed mind. In Sanskrit ‘sunya’ (i.e. ’emptiness’) refers to two distinct aspects or realisations. The first is that of experiencing a personal mind free of greed, hared, and delusion, and known not to possess a ‘soul’ or any other ‘permanent’ aspect. This is the enlightenment that the Mahayana School associates with the Hinayana School – as it signifies a ‘personal’ nirvana. The full Mahayana enlightenment requires that a mind empty of personal delusion (i.e. ‘relative enlightenment’) must experience a radical expansion so that its fundamental awareness appears to ‘expand’ and become all-embracing of its environment (or the entirety of existence). Within the Mahayana School, a practitioner must adopt a path that is neither attached to the void, nor hindered by the world of phenomena. This includes the realisation that the material world is ’empty’ of any substantiality, but that ’emptiness’ itself is also ’empty’. In Early Buddhism the Buddha appears to be saying that the world is ‘real’ but ‘insubstantial’, whilst in Later Buddhism the Buddha appears to be saying that although the physical world appears to be ‘real’, in reality it is not. This divergence has happened due to the inclusion in the Mahayana (Sanskrit) Canon of a number of ‘new’ texts which convey this ‘modified’ interpretation, whilst still claiming to be utterances of the historical Buddha. Early Buddhism steers a ‘middle way’ between the existing world and its insubstantiality, whilst Later Buddhism adopts a non-dual position that perceives the physical world as being ’empty’, and that emptiness’ being ’empty’ of any substantiality. The Mahayana School, although containing all the teachings found in the Pali texts, nevertheless seems to be suggesting that whereas Early Buddhists were required to adopt a lifestyle of physical discipline – Later Buddhists could realise enlightenment by assuming a certain philosophical point of view, whilst meditating on the realisation of that view. Chinese Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), whilst being an adherent of the Mahayana School, rejected this notion and stated categorically that enlightenment could only be realised if the Vinaya Discipline was strictly followed. This was because he was well-read, and had studied virtually all the Buddha’s teachings over his long-life. As a consequence, he had a developed and mature over-view of the entirety of the Buddha’s path – both Early and Later. Although he acknowledged that enlightenment could happen in an instant, he never negated the importance of behaviour modification as a means for ordinary people to reform their lives and realise enlightenment. From 1931 to 1945, Master Xu Yun witnessed the barbaric behaviour of invading Japanese troops in China, and he associated this barbarism with Japan’s abandonment of the Vinaya Discipline.

The middle path for early Buddhists more specifically meant that an adherent had to maintain a perfect psychological and physical balance between the world of matter, and ethereal world of eternal spirit – recognising the conditioned reality of the former – whilst rejecting the entire notion of the latter (eternal spirit is demolished and replaced with the realisation of ever rarefied and subtle levels of conscious awareness). There is the cultivated development of non-attachment to physical objects (and the physical world in general), with a simultaneous cultivation of non-identification with thoughts and feelings in the mind and body. The central concept for early Buddhism is that of the essential reality of ‘dharmas’ or material (rupa) and immaterial (arupa) objects and states. The world of matter is ‘real’ irrespective of its unstable nature – and ‘mind’ (manas), and its functioning (citta), as well as its ability to generate bare conscious awareness (vijnana), are all considered rarefied extensions of matter, to the extent where they may be interpreted as ‘immaterial’ states emanating from a material base. The Buddha states that there are suffering-inducing conditioned states of being, and there are suffering-transcending states of non-conditionality, the latter of which are achieved by following the ‘middle path’. The Mahayana progression disagrees with the idea that all ‘dharmas’ (i.e. the world of matter in its many forms) are intrinsically ‘real’, but instead asserts that the world of matter is ultimately ’empty’ (sunya) of any intrinsic reality. This is despite the fact that the Buddha clearly states that ‘matter’ is the basis of his analysis of reality and the foundation through which his self-cultivation method operates. Whereas Early Buddhists might ‘retire’ from the world to seek a secluded practice, the Mahayana practitioner might suggest that all that needs to be changed is the inner mind and its perception of the outer world. It is the human mind that is ‘defiled; (klesa), and which needs to be ‘cleaned’ through meditation in the Mahayana School. The realisation of the ‘non-reality’ of existence leads to a ‘pure’ mind free of suffering-inducing tendencies (i.e. negative psychological states), and unwise physical actions. The Mahayana demands a radical subjective transformation, and not a shift in ontological understanding. Whereas, within Early Buddhism there is a shift from the state of ‘samsara’ to that of ‘nirvana’, (as if the former is left behind and the latter is entered), within the Mahayana, ‘nirvana’ is found in the midst of ‘samsara’ through clearing the mind of the obscuring ignorance that ‘hides’ this reality from direct perception. This can happen because both states are considered equally ’empty’ of any intrinsic reality, and as this ‘sunya’ is considered the only reality, its realisation cuts through all apparent dualities. As ’emptiness’ is ’empty’ of any inherent relativity, the ultimate position for the Mahayanist remains ultimately ‘beyond words’. As it is ‘beyond words’, this allows the re-entry of the Buddha’s original teaching (found within Early Buddhism) into the equation, as the exact definition of reality defies any exact conceptual explanation. The Buddha’s method only points a ‘middle path’ toward its realisation. This is why the state of nirvana is understood to be non-conditioned.

On Why Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) Rejected Japanese Zen

Interesting to read the attacks on Xu Yun’s age (purported to have been 120 years of age at his death) emanating from pro-Western Taiwan Chinese sources (which generally eulogise the Westernised and Christianised Chinese scholar Hu Shih). Hu Shih – a man who thought Chinese traditional culture was inferior to that of the West (due to the manner in which he was academically trained in the West) – launched his attack upon Xu Yun’s reputation and integrity in 1959, when the anti-Chinese Cold War offensive was beginning to gain momentum, led as it was by CIA activity in the Tibetan part of China. It can only be surmised that this was in response to (or ‘revenge’ for) Xu Yun ‘staying’ within Revolutionary China, meeting with the ‘new’ Chinese Authorities, and actively assisting in guiding that government in its ‘modern’ presentation of Buddhism. Xu Yun informed Zhou Enlai (his disciple), and Mao Zedong that the practises of ‘modern’ Japanese Buddhism were no good for China, and that it must be written into Chinese secular law that Buddhist monks and nuns ‘must’ legally follow the entirety of the Vinaya Discipline with no exceptions. Xu Yun stated that a ‘lay’ person was not a Buddhist monastic, and that a Buddhist monastic must be celibate, a strict vegetarian and not to drink alcohol.

Bearing these facts in-mind, it is curious that one or two ‘Zen’ groups in the West claim fictitious lineage links to Xu Yun (which are not recognised or accepted in Mainland China), and fail to understand that Xu Yun did not practice ‘Zen’, had a low opinion of Japanese Buddhism, and was disgusted by the general lack of morality and restraint demonstrated by imperial Japanese soldiers in China between 1931 to 1945. The main reason Xu Yun rejected ‘Zen’ was because Japanese Buddhism in general had rejected the following of the Vinaya Discipline centuries ago, and allowed lay men and women to undergo ‘mock’ ordinations, to get married, participate in all kinds of worldly activity (including warfare), eat meat and drink alcohol. Secondary reasons involved the sullying and distortion of the Linji and Caodong lineages (and others) that had spread to Japan, and the misunderstanding of basic Ch’an idioms, methods and techniques. Needless to say, these ‘fake’ Zen-Ch’an lineages propagated in the West can be easily dismissed by contacting the ‘alleged’ associated Ch’an temples in China, and asking the presiding Head Monks whether any non-Chinese people have received ‘Dharma Transmission’ in modern times, and been granted ‘official’ permission to use the Japanese term ‘Zen’ in replacement of the Chinese term ‘Ch’an’ in Western language translation. The answer will always be the same, and that answer is ‘no’. This being the case, it means that all the so-called ‘Zen’ lineages are either completely fictitious, or linked to authentic ‘Zen’ lineages in Japan. Whatever is the case, there is no genuine link to a) Ch’an Master Xu Yun, and b) authentic Chinese Ch’an Buddhism. Although there are respectful relations between certain Japanese ‘Zen’ sects and their Chinese Ch’an counter-parts, this does not imply a ‘direct’ lineage transmission link. Of course, this situation is problematic as the Japanese government currently refuses to acknowledge the War Crimes its soldiers committed in China between 1931-1945 – many of which Xu Yun relates in his biography.

Ch’an Master Jing Hui – History of Master Xu Yun’s Complete Biographical Text


Original Chinese Language Text By: Ch’an Master Jing Hui (净 慧)

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Translator’s Note: This is an English language translation of the original Chinese language text entitled ‘《虚云和尚全集》编辑说明’, as found on the Chinese language internet, uploaded onto the official website representing the Bailin Temple. Ch’an Master Jing Hui (1933-2013) is considered in China to be one of the greatest personal disciples of Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), who not only took on the complete Five Houses of Ch’an teaching into the next generation (teaching tens of thousands of people in the process – including many non-Chinese students), but worked tirelessly until his death, researching and compiling each and every memory, anecdote and story concerning the long life of Xu Yun himself. This effort led to a much expanded and more detailed account of Xu Yun’s life than is found in the original 1950’s biography. Firstly, when Xu Yun (and his disciples) started compiling his biography at the Yunmen Temple in 1951 – Master Xu Yun was still alive (believed to be 112th years old at the time). Secondly, this original biography was taken out of Xu Yun’s direct hands after this date, with his disciples compiling what they thought were the most important points and interpretations of events. Thirdly, this manuscript was ‘transported’ piecemeal out of China at the time, to Xu Yun’s chosen editor – the former Nationalist scholar and political activist – Cen Xue Lu [岑学吕] (1882-1963) – residing in Hong Kong. Fourthly, and needless to say, the biography arrived in ‘waves’, and the early versions were incomplete (containing the occasional ‘error’, later ‘corrected’ by Cen Xue Lu). Even the ‘finished’ version extant in 1961 contained only the basic chronological framework (later translated into English as ‘Empty Cloud’ by Charles Luk), which Ch’an Master Jing Hui subsequently fully edited, revised, and expanded into a much richer and all-round text recording the extraordinary life of Master Xu Yun. What follows is the history of the development of Xu Yun’s biography as understood by Master Jing Hui. Needless to say, as matters stand, this complete version of Xu Yun’s biography has not yet been translated into English.  ACW 4.4.2017

Ch’an Master Xu Yun must be considered the pre-eminent of Chinese Buddhist monks, who was directly responsible for preserving traditional Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, and directly facilitating its entry and survival into the modern age. Xu Yun’s entire life was dedicated to reviving and invigorating the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist (ancestral) tradition, and in so doing, strengthened and supported all Schools of Buddhism. Through all his actions he worked to assist those in trouble, and relieve the suffering of those in poverty. This selfless attitude toward others was premised upon a strict following of the Vinaya Discipline, and an equally strict self-sufficiency for all Ch’an practitioners. In this way, the Wisdom of the Buddha was not only generated in the mind (through successful meditation practice), but also manifested in the environment as compassionate and knowledgeable actions (that helped all beings without question). Quite often, Xu Yun drifted from place to place (with his robe-sleeves blowing in the wind), and tolerated quite often terrible hardship to teach the Buddha-Dharma to whoever would listen, or who needed assistance in some way. The manner in which he guarded his thought, speech and action was highly ‘virtuous’ (德 – De), and it was his virtue that sustained all his endeavours. Even if the last thousand years of Chinese Buddhist history is taken into account, the example that Master Xu Yun exhibited remains extraordinarily ‘rare’. The Great Master Tan Xu (倓虚) assessed Xu Yun’s life in the following manner:

‘It is obvious from reading his biography that the Great Master spent his entire life propagating the True Dharma. His entire life was dedicated to the authentic Buddhist way of life, which was sustained by a mind powered by a great source of energy (大气 – Da Qi). This strength of purpose meant that Xu Yun could face the physical bitterness of life, but his powerful mind would remain unaffected by external events. He made life better for innumerable beings through his wise and compassionate actions, which included the re-building and renovations of dozens of temples. At times his physical life was unbearable due to the suffering he experienced, and he faced danger so many times that it seemed like he had nine lives. Xu Yun never discriminated and treated all beings equally. This is why his Ch’an Dharma has spread all over world, including other parts of Asia, Europe and the USA. His virtuous upholding of the Five Traditions (五宗 – Wu Zong) of Ch’an throughout his life, and never deviating from the Empty Mind Ground for a single moment (even when in the midst of terrible suffering), resulted in him living into his 120th year of life. As he clearly followed and cultivated the ‘Dao of Virtue’ (道德 – Dao De), he grew long in the tooth, and produced a very rare enlightened manifestation in the world that had not been seen in over a thousand years. When all this is taken into account, it seems obvious that Master Xu Yun was a rebirth of a Great Bodhisattva.’

Master Xu Yun taught students from every corner of the world, and due to his immense (and enlightened) virtue, this profound influence directly led to the authentic Ch’an Dharma being spread to many different countries. As a disciple of Xu Yun, I consider it my duty to continue in this process of spreading the Chinese Ch’an teaching to every corner of the world by working on Master Xu Yun’s biography, and making its narrative as complete as possible. The influence of Chinese Buddhism is far-reaching entirely because of Xu Yun’s virtue, which is forever ‘shining’ in the void. Just as important as Xu Yun’s complete biography, are his ‘Dharma’ (法 – Fa) teachings, within which he clearly explains the authentic Ch’an path. Together, the biography and the Dharma-teaching can only strengthen the peaceful spread of Chinese Buddhist practice throughout the world.

The ancient masters stated: ‘The authentic text transmits the correct tradition.’ Although all genuine disciples of Xu Yun know that the reality of Ch’an lies beyond the written word, nevertheless, it is through the skilful use of the written and spoken word by a qualified Ch’an master that tis underlying (empty) reality is revealed. If the words of Xu Yun are lost, then his Ch’an Dharma teachings face a major hurdle against its transmission to future generations. Xu Yun’s recorded sayings demonstrate what is to be considered the ‘True’ and ‘Correct’ Dharma interpretation. This is important in a world where many false Dharma teachers convey an incorrect Dharma that deviates completely from what Xu Yun clearly taught. If Xu Yun’s biography and Dharma Words are preserved, those who peddle delusion in place of wisdom, can be easily exposed in the hope that they will adjust their understanding and adopt the ‘True’ path. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that a ‘complete’ record of the life of Xu Yun be gathered together, edited and conveyed to the present and future generations.

When looking back at the editorial process of the compiling and editing of Xu Yun’s biography, it is clear that there has been many editions over the last 50 years, which have involved alterations, additions, mistakes, and clarifications from the early 1950’s to the present time. The gathering of Xu Yun’s biography began in the early 1951 following the upheaval surrounding the ‘Yunmen Incident’ (云门事变 – Yun Men Shi Bian). This was edited from a coherent biography by the scholar Cen Xue Lu, into a text he entitled ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yu Biographical Sequence’ (虚云和尚年谱序 – He Shang Nian Pu Xu). The first edition of this biography was published in 1953 (outside of Mainland China) and contained a section on Xu Yun’s Dharma Teachings (法汇 – Fa Hui). This edition had two further revised and corrected editions (making three in all worked-on directly by Cen Xue Lu). This work ceased with the death of Cen Xue Lu in 1963. When first published in the Spring of 1953, its relatively small print-run sold-out very quickly throughout the Chinese diaspora. This was the very successful first edition.

As the first edition was very hastily edited and arranged, it therefore contained many errors. Cen Xue Lu, aware of the situation, sent a copy of this edition with a trusted assistant to Mount Yunju, where it was shown to Master Xu Yun, who carefully worked through the text, correcting all the errors as they appeared. This re-edited text was then conveyed back to Cen Xue Lu in Hong Kong, and now contained all the information concerning the biographical events of Xu Yun between 1952 to August, 1956. Cen Xue Lu then re-read the text, re-edited where required, and clarified the chronology of events, and Xu Yun’s Dharma Teaching (some of which had occurred after 1952). The finished product was published in July, 1957, and it was this second edition that Cen Xue Lu considered ‘complete’ and textually ‘correct’. Then during the 8th month of the lunar calendar (a month after Xu Yun’s death in 1959), the final biographical and Dharma Teaching details reached Cen Xue Lu – who updated the text – this formed the (second update and) third edition of Xu Yun’s complete biography, which was published in the autumn of 1961.

The fourth (revised) edition of Xu Yun’s biography and Dharma Words was arranged in 1982, by the renowned Mahayana (lay) scholar known as ‘Le Chong Hui’ (乐崇辉), who lived in Taiwan. This edition included many stories about Xu Yun from Buddhist practitioners living in other countries, such as Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong. This wealth of information formed a substantial increase in the stories relating to the life of Master Xu Yun and his Dharma Teaching, and served to demonstrate just how respected Xu Yun was outside of his native China. This updated version of Xu Yun’s biography was published in June, 1982, together with an explanatory note, clearly demarking the ‘new’ material, and explaining where it had originated.

Toward the end of 1990, I was in Hebei province, assisting in the renovation of the Zhaozhou (赵州) Bailin (柏林) Ch’an Temple. This was an activity designed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Master Xu Yun. At this time, I also finished a book I had started 28 years previously, hastily designed to be something of a ‘sequel’ to Master Xu Yun’s official biography. Although of little importance, I sought to discover as of yet uncollected stories about Master Xu Yun from the people of Mainland China, of which there are many. As this book was a product of my own grasping, it does not possess a great deal of merit, but the stories that were relayed to me by others who remembered Master Xu Yun, are very valuable indeed. I entitled this book ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’ (虚云和尚法汇续编 – Xu Yun He Shang Fa Hui Xu Bian), copies of which can still be found here and there. I subsequently re-edited and revised this book, giving it the new title ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Record of Dharma Words’ (虚云和尚开示录 – Xu Yun He Shang Kai Shi Lu). Both these books were published and distributed throughout China.

In 1996, during the three altars, great ordination ceremony at the Da Jue (大觉) Ch’an Temple situated on Mount Yunju, the old venerable monk Fu Yuan (佛源), commissioned the renowned scholar-monk Dharma Master De Hui (德慧) of the Xiu Yuan (修元) Ch’an Temple, to fully update and revise my 1990 edition of Xu Yun’s biography (i.e. ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’), for use on the Mainland of China (and elsewhere). This 1996 version constituted the official ‘fifth’ edition of Xu Yun’s biography, and contained the best record as of yet, ever collected about Master Xu Yun’s life. This was published in Taiwan through a Mahayana Buddhist publishing house carrying the ‘new’ title of ‘Old Venerable Master Xu Yun’s Biography and Dharma Teaching’ (虚云老和尚年谱法汇 – Xu Yun Lao He Shang Nian Pu Fa Hui), and remains the most popular version of Xu Yun’s life throughout the Chinese diaspora. For good fortune, this edition received a print-run of 10,000 copies. Interestingly, this edition is also popular amongst those who can read the Chinese language in the West.

However, despite everyone’s best efforts to acquire ever more information about Master Xu Yun, it becomes ever more clear as the years go by, that even the best editions of Xu Yun’s biography suffer quite simply from a lack of information in many crucial places. This is because we have not been able to fill-in all the gaps in our knowledge of Xu Yun’s life, despite the great improvements in interpretation. This stems from the fact that Cen Xue Lu was not working on the Mainland of China during his foundational efforts, and was cut-off from direct contact with Xu Yun. He readily admits the limitations he had to work within, but this lack of knowledge has followed Xu Yun’s biography right-up to the present, where we have continuously worked to rectify it. Quite often there is a natural barrier involving times long ago, involving incomplete historical records, issues with geographical areas, linguistic problems, personal limitations, difficulty with research, trouble accessing or interpreting the records associated with imperial and Republican China, together with a host of other problems difficult to pin-point. Of course, as the older generation falls away, a library of memories disappears with each loss. Of course, research became easier in the 1990’s, with many photographs of Xu Yun coming to light, together with more biographical detail. Since then it has become apparent as certain sections of his biographical life has become clearer, where the weaknesses lie, and it is to these areas of our research, that we must turn our attention. Another area of concern is editorial deficiencies which involve:

1) In the matter of correct chronology, a number of dates (i.e. ‘years’ and ‘months’), names and places are not recorded in proper fashion or correct order, and were not subsequently corrected. This means that these foundational errors have followed through into all later (and expanded) editions.

2) In the chronology of events, many of the ‘local’ stories are presented in a much too simple fashion, and lack corroborating and supporting information. This needs to be expanded to offer a more convincing narrative, including proper names and correct historical data.

3) Master Xu Yun taught several large gatherings (which are well attested to), but his Dharma Teaching given in these sessions is sometimes reproduced ‘word for word’ in other parts of the text. This is odd as it includes time periods decades before the teaching was given. This needs to be acknowledged and resolved.

4) The section dealing with ‘Memories’ does add valuable information, but its data is haphazard and disparate in nature. This needs to be further edited and where possible, related to the already existing biography, to give these memories a reliable historical context.

5) As there exists no ‘index’, or ‘list’ of contents, the average reader cannot easily navigate the volume and seek-out specific sections when required.

To this end, the Hebei Province Buddhist Association, in 1990, did begin a new ‘revised’ addition of Xu Yun’s biography to celebrate the repairs at the Bailin Temple. The intended title for this work was ‘Xu Yun Sutra Printing for Merit’ (虚云印经功德藏 – Xu Yun Yin Jing Gong De Cang), the publishing of which was intended to coincide with the reprint of my ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’ in 1991, but for more than a decade, the editors spent their time seeking and collecting more information. However, during the Spring of 2005, the editors felt that they had collected enough information, and invited the renowned ‘lay’ Buddhist scholars ‘Ming Yao’ (明尧) and ‘Ming Jie’ (明洁) to begin the processes of compiling this new and expanded edition on behalf of the Hebei Ch’an Study Institute. This is known as the ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Complete Work’ (虚云和尚全集 – Xu Yun He Shang Qian Yi) and was published 3 years later (in 2008). It is distinguishable from all the other versions (including my own), as it is comprised entirely of first-hand accounts gathered from the general public, and very much reflects how the ordinary people perceived and remembered Xu Yun. As such, this is not a follow-up version to the already extant Xu Yun literature. This is reflected in its usage of ancient categorisation, which includes ‘Dharma Expression’ (法语 – Fa Yu), Dharma Words (开示 – Kai Shi), Book Learning (书信 – Shu Xin), Cultural Precedent (文记 – Wen Ji), Poetry Verse (诗偈 – Shi Ji), Regulation Clarification (规约 – Gui Yue), Biographical Records (年谱 – Nian Pu), Biographical Information (传记资料 – Chuan Ji Zi Liao), Memorial Record (追思录 – Zhui Si Lu) and Non-Specific Records (杂录 – Za Lu) – making 10 sections in total. The editors worked through Cen Xue Lu’s third addition and as far as possible corrected the chronological errors, and this information is identified as the ‘Original Material’. Except for the Biographical Records, Memorial Record and Non-Specific Records, all other categories are divided into ‘Original Material’ and ‘Additional Material’, with the latter containing source notes for the new information. The ‘Biographical Information’ is comprised of first-hand material in two respects. The first is already extant articles containing well-recorded biographical information, and the second is comprised of information gathered from temple records and the press – this might also include records containing only partial information about Xu Yun. First-hand biographical information was gained from such books as ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun’s Path of Life’ (虚云和尚画传 – Xu Yum He Shang Hua Chuan), compiled by Ch’an Master Xuan Hua (宣化), and the ‘Life of Venerable Monk Xu Yun’ (虚云和尚传 – Xu Yun He Shang Chuan), compiled by He Mingdong (何明栋), as well as ‘In the Footsteps of Old Venerable Master Xu Yun’ (虚云老和尚的足迹 – Xu Yun Lao He Shang Zu Ji), compiled by Shi Wei Sheng (释惟升), amongst many other examples.

The ‘Memorial Record’ section is not limited to the memories of those who met Master Xu Yun, but also includes articles written about events that Master Xu Yun was a part of. Of course, such documents also carry important biographical material, and this can be used in other categories to good effect, but such material still derives from the ‘memory’ of a specific event. Also, many, if not all of these memories are extremely ‘personal’ in nature, and are not quite the same as objective history because of this fact. There is a similarity, but the objective is different. In addition, many poems recalling Xu Yun were written by future generations, and although important, it was felt that these should be placed in the ‘Memorial Record’ category – as they are few in number – rather than in the ‘Poetry Verse’ section proper.

The ‘Non-Specific Records’ (which can also be referred to as ‘Miscellaneous’), is different in construction to the other 9 categories, in as much as its content is disparate and diverse in nature. Much of the material describes the relationship between the general public and Master Xu Yun from perspectives that cannot strictly be included in the other categories, but which is nonetheless of historical interest. This includes partial references about Xu Yun in unrelated works, prefaces, short articles, letters, memoirs, and learning experiences written before the official inscriptions and memoirs, and records the general respect that Master Xu Yun received from the general public even before he was famous throughout the nation, and at different times throughout his long life. However, as there is far too much of this material (that could probably make two separate volumes on its own), not all of it was included in this edition (due to time constraints). This means that there is more Xu Yun material available to be drawn upon by future generations, should the need arise.  I think that when the time is ripe, a detailed index of research articles should be compiled and added to the edition for research purposes.

Differences with Cen Xue Lu’s Early Editions

In this (2005) Mainland Chinese edition, the compilers have fully revised the ‘Biographical Records’ and moved away from Cen Xue Lu’s arrangement (because of its confusion of categories in a number of areas).

1) For instance, where Cen Xue Lu drew on all kinds of different records, letters and notes to build a narrative or support a hypothesis – all these ‘different’ texts have been extracted out of the general biographical narrative, and re-placed into the ‘correct’ category of analysis.

2) Where Cen Xue Lu often accepted statements whilst offering no clarification (due to time constraints), ample historical notes have been added that explain context convention, and where relevant – legality, etc.

3) Cen Xue Lu used the ‘dynastic’ style of dating – which is out of date and confusing to modern readers. To remedy this, the old dates are retained, but the modern (Western) date is added in brackets up to 1949 – after this date, however, China officially adopted the ‘new’ (Western) calendar, and this is reflected in the biography by only using the modern dating after 1949.

4) Between 1946 to 1959, Cen Xue Lu does not offer any historical background to the events unfolding in China. This omission creates a false impression in the mind of the average reader, and suggests that ‘nothing of importance’ happened. This error has been corrected, and all relevant historical developments have been included. This will help people understand the prevailing historical conditions within which Master Xu Yun lived at the time.

5) The 1959 version of Xu Yun’s biography had a number of dating errors, misspelt names and places, and issues surrounding historical clarity – all of these errors have been carefully identified and corrected.

Needless to say, the creation of the ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Complete Work’ (2005) is not the effort of a single person (like the early versions), but is rather an ongoing collaboration of countless individuals representing the various generations. This has been, and will continue to be, an ongoing project motivated by compassion and wisdom not only throughout China, but also throughout the world. This book has been motivated by loving kindness and a collective (focused) mind, and the end result is something to be admired and respected in equal measure. It is as if the entire world has been motivated by the example of Master Xu Yun to gather information, and form an authoritative edition of his life. This is why people at home and abroad should be acknowledged for all their help and support. Of particular help has been the Malaysian Dharma Master Su Wen (素闻), Mr Song Lianwang (宋连旺), of the Huadian Weiye Book Company, Mr Li Yangquan (李阳泉), Mr Ye Bing (叶兵) of the Guangzhou Guangdong Vocational and Technical College of Communications, and so on. In addition, there was Dharma Master Zong Shun (宗舜), My Ji Huachuan (纪华传), Mr Zhang Jinde (张金德), Mr Ma De(马德), and Mr Huang Gongyuan (黄公元) and so on. All these people (and more) gave a lot of help in achieving this project.

In the Autumn of last year, I visited the Wujiang Taihu University, and had the opportunity to visit the venerable old gentleman Nan Huaijin (南 怀瑾). At this time he agreed to assist in the editing of the ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Complete Work’, and compiled an introductory commentary to the text of over 10,000 words! Within this text, venerable old Nan explained how the early versions of Xu Yun’s biography was hampered by a lack of corroborating historical information, but that in this ‘new’ edition, most of this problem had been removed through ongoing and thorough research. As a consequence, therefore, the entire biography of Master Xu Yun had been improved dramatically for the benefit of all beings.

A very welcome and important development in recent years has been the increasing attention paid by the academic community in China, to the importance of the life of Master Xu Yun. This is true of Mr Fang Litian (方立天) of Renmin University of China, and Mr Chen Bing (陈兵) of Sichuan University, all of whom threw their academic weight behind the project and publicised the research efforts far and wide. Also important was the Shandong couple Ming Dao (明道) and Ming Xin (明信), the Beijing couple Hao Heming (郝合明) and Zhou Qiong (周琼), and Dharma Master Su Wen (素闻). These people assisted with the final publication by generously donating money to cover the many and numerous costs – for which they will earn a great karmic merit for their selfless attitudes. For all this help given to the memory of my old Master Xu Yun – I offer a sincere and deep bow of gratitude.

Just as China has modernised (since 1949), so has the practice of Chinese Buddhism. It can be truthfully stated that it was Master Xu Yun who initiated the survival of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism into the modern age, and that through his expert guidance, the Buddha-Dharma has strengthened as it has been shown to be relevant to the modern world. In this regard, many different people from varying backgrounds were most willing to assist in the project of creating a Xu Yun biographical text that is suitable for the modern-day, but which is simultaneously free of error and bias, and faithfully records the pre-modern era. Although this work is significant, it is also true to say that there has been many great difficulties in carrying it out. Working in the background has been some very old first generation disciples of Master Xu Yun who have lived into the modern age, such as Venerable Old Master Ben Huan (本焕), Venerable Old Master Fu Yuan (佛源), Venerable Old Master Sheng Yi (圣一), Venerable Old Master Yi Cheng (一诚), and Venerable Old Master Chuan Yin (传印), all of whom spiritually and materially led the entire project. As these men are highly respected within modern China, when they came forward, their spiritual power enthused the entire project with vigour and confirmed its unhindered success on all levels. As many of these great masters had assisted me with my (1990) book entitled ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’, and were happy for me to co-ordinate their efforts for this ‘new’ project. As for myself, although my input has been slight, I have respected without end, the Dharma-power of these great masters, who concentrated their efforts upon ensuring that the Ch’an Dharma was correctly presented throughout, with an emphasis upon personal discipline as the foundation for genuine Ch’an practice. It must not be forgotten that Master Xu Yun placed a great emphasis upon upholding the Vinaya Discipline – without which he taught there could be no genuine Chinese Buddhist practice. Although temporal history is one thing, and correct Dharma interpretation quite another, these Great Masters understood that both aspects and interpretations of reality must come harmoniously together in this single volume. In this manner, all beings could be uplifted and led on the right path of understanding – which is exactly what Master Xu Yun advocated. In all other respects, these Great Masters quietly follow the Vinaya Discipline and have no interest in the world of dust.

Finally, I would like to urge future generations to learn from this edition, and where possible, work toward making it even better when the time is right. This is because despite all our best efforts, there still remain areas of Xu Yun’s biography that need improvement through future research. This is natural, as a work of this importance and magnitude invariably involves numerous individuals – each with their own particular speciality, understanding and knowledge. What must not be forgotten is that Xu Yun’s biography is not just a ‘dry’ text of historical information, but also records and transmits the genuine Ch’an Dharma to all of humanity. I call on all beings to read this completed (2005) edition, and record and report any errors that might become apparent. If we all do this, then eventually Xu Yun’s biography will become a near perfect text, like the classic books of the past, only relevant for the modern age.

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2017.

The Sangha Kommune (僧伽公社) Defined


Ch’an Master Caotang siad:

There is nothing special to leadership – essentially it is a matter of controlling the evils of biased information and autocracy. Do not just go by whatever is said to you first – then the obsequities of petty people seeking favour will not be able to confuse you.

After all, the feelings of a group of people are not one, and objective reason is hard to see. You should investigate something to see its benefit or harm, examine whether it is appropriate and suitable or not; then after that you may carry it out.

True Record of Sushan (Song Dynasty)

The Chinese Buddhist monastic community is referred to as a ‘Sangha’ (Sanskrit for ‘spiritual community’), whereby men and women form a voluntary association premised upon following a strict set of rules known as the ‘Vinaya Discipline’. Within this community, there is ‘equality’ between all members, with the leaders being those who have followed these rules for the longest times. This is because such people are thought to have more experience at adhering to the Vinaya Discipline (which includes celibacy and vegetarianism), and are therefore able to effectively advise all others through the difficult times they my face in their practice. As those with little experience have less to share, they are not considered leaders whilst more experienced practitioners live in the vicinity. Of course, this is a relative matter depending upon the size of population of a community, and the length of time it has existed, and the quality of the masters (male or female) that have led it. Those who cannot keep the Vinaya Discipline (of over 200 rules) generally choose to leave on their own accord, with those who confess breaking the major rules being asked to leave and expelled from the monastic community (due to the bad example they set). However, the term ‘Sangha’ is often more loosely applied to the devout or dedicated lay community, the members of which follow at least 5, 8 or 10 vows as a life routine, and who regularly visit the local temple and volunteer their time in worthwhile social or charitable activities. In this manner, the monastic Sangha teach and guide the lay Sangha, and the lay Sangha applies the Buddha’s teachings of compassion, loving kindness and wise action to the outside the temple, and thereby expand the Buddha-Dharma beyond the temple. As the Buddha originally taught that there is no ‘difference’ in enlightened essence between the monastic and lay community, the monastics do not consider themselves ‘superior’ and the lay community does not consider itself ‘inferior’ to one another. The principle of ‘Sangha, therefore, denotes a sacred space defined and maintained through the principles of psychological and physical self-discipline and learning, premised upon a general attitude of mutual respect. The Sangha, in both essence and function, is a model for a ‘commune’ operating through the vigorous principles of  equality’, ‘discipline’ and ‘wisdom’. These are the principles embodied within this blog – regardless of the scope of its subject matter.


The term ‘Kommune’ is taken from the German word for ‘Commune’, and is directly related to the principles of Scientific Socialism, as formulated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Indeed, within German language editions of the works of Marx and Engels, the term ‘Kommune’ is often encountered. This type of ‘Kommune’ is also a voluntary association, albeit distinctly ‘modern’ in origination, and designed to serve the Revolutionary needs of the Proletariat – or the mass of peasants forced to work in the industrialised factories produced by the oppressive capitalist system. Working 12 to 16 hours a day, strictly by the clock, whilst being dictated to by brutal managers and the movement and operation of monotonous machines, these peasants were transformed into self-disciplined and highly exploited automatons of industry, waiting for the right historical epoch to free themselves from their endless toil for little reward. Just as the collective mind is ‘dulled’ by endless hours of repetitive toil, it is ‘freed’, ‘activated’ and ‘expanded’ when encountering the strictures of Scientific Socialism, and a non-resisting ‘false consciousness’ is replace by a resisting ‘true consciousness’. Generally, when the mind is freed from the straitjacket of oppression, the body soon follows, even though it is equally true that if the body is freed by a Revolution caused by others, then the mind soon follows! In these post-modem times, proletariat ‘true consciousness’ is much more amorphous in manifestation, particularly as factory work becomes ever less prevalent in the West. Although the modes of capitalist exploitation change with the epoch, the nature of capitalist exploitation (and class distinction) remains exactly the same. Striving for the establishment of a ‘Kommunistic’ society remains the duty of all right-minded working class people across the globe, with the Marxist principle of ‘Internationalism’ replacing nationalism and racism, etc. The point is that the ‘true consciousness’ of the working class is premised entirely upon non-hatred for one another, as this hatred has been imported into the working class by the very capitalists that exploit them! By rejecting capitalism, the working class is rejecting the greed, hatred and delusion that underlies all capitalist thought and action. This working class mission is no less ‘sacred’ than its Buddhist counter-part, and shares exactly the same essence. The author of this blog strives to agitate for the peaceful achievement of both inner and outer Revolution amongst by any means necessary (to quote Malcolm X).


Having defined two interpretations of ‘Kommune’, it is important to also emphasis the pivotal notion of ‘education’ and the training of the human mind to discern a relevant ‘truth’ in any given situation or circumstance. Learning in a classroom, through a book, encounter groups, political meetings, protest marches, meditation sessions, or the internet, are all crucial aspects of ‘refining’ the memory and ‘honing’ the intellect. The thought processes (and emotionality) must be ‘calmed’ for the sake of ‘wise’ action and non-action when young, so that avoidable errors and mistakes are reduced to the minimum, and progressive activity increased to the maximum (to selflessly benefit humanity).  This is not always easy, and the ability to recognise non-efficient thought-patterns and behaviours should also be cultivated as a means toward achieving self-forgiveness, and the forgiveness of others. The important point is that the mind should be kept in a positive frame of operation, so that the body can be used for various types of ‘enlightened’ political, cultural and social action. The physical body must be clearly (and cleanly) directed by the mind (the seat of volition), and kept physically fit through appropriate activities. This psycho-physical training sets the stage for the refined individual to understand the frequency and quality of inner and outer energy, and immediately understand the best action (if any) to take, or instantly ‘know’ when others are ‘lying’, or presenting ‘untruth’ as ‘truth’. This ability can be further used to generate ‘correct’ work that counters the lies of a society motivated entirely by greed, racism and an indifference to the suffering of humanity and other life forms. Therefore, this ‘Sangha Kommune’ blog is a work in progress that covers a bewildering array of topics, opinions, and research data. By taking a step back away from its content – the general reader will begin to understand the underlying (and motivating) paradigm. This is essentially a ‘Kommunist’ zone where all beings are automatically ‘freed’ at the point of contact. The need for money is already ‘transcended’, and the energy frequency of the Sangha Kommune should be used by all to achieve a state of permanent ‘freedom’ in all circumstances. This is a space of permanent Cyber Kommunism, and ongoing Revolutionary activity in the form of ‘exposing’ and ‘dissolving’ the bourgeois system and its redundant mode of capitalist organisation.


Ch’an Wuzu said:

The Ch’an community is a place for the moulding of Sages and ordinary people, and for nurturing and developing potential ability. It is a source of teaching,. Even though many people are living together, gathering in kind, they are guided and made equal. Each has a transmission from the teacher.

Now in many places they do not strive to maintain the standards of the Sages of the past. Biased feelings of like and dislike are many, with people bending others to what they personally think is right. How should later students take an example?

Records of Equanimity (Song Dynasty)

The Zen of No Ch’an


There are two ways of approaching this subject, one is ‘ahistorically’ (i.e. existing outside of the realms of observable, verifiable and recordable history), and the other ‘historically’ (i.e. existing within of the realms of observable, verifiable and recordable history).  To add a clarification, the former is purely ‘psychological’ in nature, whilst the latter is ‘material’ in nature.  Ahistorical Ch’an and Zen does not depend upon the passing of history, or the recognition of cultural trends and cultural difference, whilst historical Ch’an and Zen is defined by the sum total of its recorded historical experience.  If it is assumed that the Ch’an and Zen schools share a commonality in history that purports to ‘reveal’ or ‘discover’ an underlying realm of psychological reality that is realisable by all beings, and which shares certain and definite identifying markers not dependent upon the passing of history (as regardless of the epoch, this realisable state always manifests in the same way), then Ch’an and Zen are ‘ahistorically’ identical.  However, if Ch’an and Zen are interpreted through the rubric of unfolding material history (as observed on the physical plane), then it is obvious that from this ‘historical’ point of view, Chinese Ch’an Buddhism and Japanese Zen Buddhism are not the same.  Richard Hunn (1949-2006) dedicated the last 15 years of his life to researching on the ground, the roots of Chinese Ch’an in Japan.  To facilitate this study, he relocated to Kyoto in 1991, and centred his studies around Manpuku-Ji, or the Chinese Ch’an Manpuku Temple, situated in the Uji area of Kyoto.  This temple was founded in 1661 by the Chinese Ch’an monks Yin Yuan Long Qí, and Mu Yan.  However, although the Chinese Ch’an lineage of Linji (Rinzai) had already been established in Japan many centuries earlier, the Linji tradition as conveyed from China at this time was viewed as ‘different’ by the Japanese to their existing ‘Rinzai’ lineage.  In other words, the ancient tradition of Linji Ch’an as conveyed to Japan from Mount Huangpo (situated in China’s Fujian province), during the early Qing Dynasty, was not accepted as ‘Rinzai’ Zen by the Japanese, but instead given the separate designation of ‘Obaku’ Zen.  What distinguished this transmission of Ch’an to Japan was that it was brought directly by Chinese Ch’an monks, and not conveyed by Japanese monks who had first travelled to China to learn, before bringing that knowledge back to their homeland.  This is why, even today, the Manpuku Temple is viewed as ‘Chinese’, despite now being staffed by Japanese Zen monks.  This indicates that even then, there was a ‘disconnect’ between Chinese Ch’an and Japanese Zen, a widening gulf of difference that was compounded by the teachings of Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1786) – who radically ‘altered’ the manner in which the ‘koan’ was used within Linji Japanese Zen, departing considerably from the Chinese Ch’an teachings regarding the use and purpose of the ‘gongan’.  The Meiji Restoration of 1868 saw a rapid modernisation of Japan and the embracing of a rightwing nationalism that viewed Buddhism as ‘foreign’.  Buddhist schools were encouraged to move away from their Chinese roots and become more ‘Japanese’.  This led to the Soto (Caodong) lineage of Japanese Zen abandoning koan practice altogether and embracing a form of ‘quietism’ not known within the original Caodong teachings in China. Japan’s defeat during WWII, and its subsequent re-emergence as a major bulwark of US foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, has led to a number of continuing misconceptions in the West.  Japanese Zen as it exists today is used as a filter to interpret Chinese Ch’an Buddhist history and culture (excluding any ‘Chinese’ view of their own history).  This is an obvious inversion of reality, as Japanese Zen did not give rise to Chinese Ch’an – on the contrary – it was Chinese Ch’an that gave rise to Japanese Zen, and it is Japanese Zen that has developed away from that original blue-print.  So prolific has this misunderstanding become, that in 2000, the American academic Andrew Ferguson felt compelled to publish his book entitled ‘Zen’s Chinese Heritage – The Masters and Their Heritage’, as something of the corrective of the Western habit of conflating Japanese Zen with Chinese Ch’an.  Even JC and Thomas Cleary, in their numerous (and excellent) translations of Chinese Ch’an Buddhist texts into English, always referred to ‘Ch’an’ as ‘Zen’.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Charles Luk (1898-1978) was forced (by his British publishers) to call his English translations of Chinese Ch’an texts ‘Ch’an and Zen’, when in fact his work had absolutely nothing to do with Japanese Zen.

Those who have lived through any historical point covering the last 60 years or so in the West, will have been exposed to the ahistorical notion that contemporary Japanese Zen Buddhism is exactly the same as, and superior to, its progenitor Chinese Ch’an Buddhism.  To put it bluntly, this is a racially inspired lie perpetuated through the development of Japanese fascistic nationalism (after 1868), and its encouragement to be accepted as the ‘norm’ by the forces of Western imperialism prior to WWII, and the post-WWII US-led anti-Communist movement, that was designated by its Western perpetuators as the ‘Cold War’.  This Western embracing of a corrupted Japanese Zen was intensified after WWII, when the ‘New China’ was declared (and established) in 1949.  Correct Japanese Zen that operates respectfully within the philosophical and traditional confines of its Chinese Ch’an past does still exist in Japan, but it is not this type of Zen that the Japanese government exported abroad throughout the international community, and it is not this Zen which has taken root in the West.  This is because after 1868, Japan embarked upon a rapid modernisation plan which sought to mimic the outward military power of the Western imperial presence throughout Asia, together with the draconian, hierarchical and non-democratic policies and rhetoric of European colonies.  In other words, Japan adapted its traditional martial culture to serve a form of fascistic modernity (imported from the West), that was enthused with notions of racial superiority.  To this, the Japanese added a sense of ‘spiritual’ superiority.  Therefore, the inhabitants of any country that surrounded the island nation of Japan, were automatically deemed racially and spiritually ‘inferior’ simply because they were not ‘Japanese’.  Post-1868 Japan took-on the Western habit of colonial domination and set about establishing their own overseas empire, which included the invasion of China from the early 1930’s until Japan’s eventual defeat in 1945 – although, of course, this included the Japanese colonial domination of the Chinese island of Taiwan from 1895-1945. Japan had been steadily re-writing its own history from 1868 onwards, slowly but surely extricating itself from its obvious Chinese cultural past.  Overnight, new myths and legends were created to falsely explain Japan’s past, which included allusions to gods, dragons and swords, but no mention of China – even the Japanese language – which was originally Chinese script, was ‘altered’ to make it appear ‘less Chinese’.  Chinese Ch’an Buddhism in Japan became a major target for this revisionist make-over.  Trends within the Rinzai (Linji) and Soto (Caodong) lineages developed methods and dogmas that did not exist within Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, and which were not viewed as effective or genuine by the Chinese Ch’an masters.  It is this breakaway from authentic Chinese Ch’an wisdom and knowledge that became established in the West as being a true representation of Japanese Zen, and the subsequent academic and practical conflation of this Japanese-generated distortion of Zen with authentic Chinese Ch’an Buddhism as practised on Mainland China (and throughout the Chinese diaspora).  The Rinzai School developed the manic holding and repeating of a ‘koan’ (Ch: ‘gong-an’) in the mind – a teaching which does not exist in the Tang Dynasty Records of the Linji School preserved in China, whilst the Soto School resorted to a form of ‘silent illumination’ that also cannot be found within the same Tang Dynasty Records explaining the Caodong approach.  In reality, the Linji School did not stress sitting with a koan, and the Caodong did not emphasis sitting with an empty (and undirected) mind.  Both schools (like the other three established ‘Houses’) emphasised the ‘turning about’ of the mind at its deepest recesses by any means that worked. This included (in both the Linji and Caodong Schools) meeting the right masters, sudden actions, enlightened statements, Dharma combat, seated meditation (without sutra reading), sutra reading, and everyday activities.  A gong-an was not artificially held as a device to ‘still’ the mind, but was rather the product of enlightened dialogue and exchanges between a master and his students.  These methods either created complete enlightenment ‘here and now’, or carried the dedicated student through various stages of understanding to the final goal.  The hua tou method (originating as it does within the Surangama Sutra), turns the mind’s awareness back to the empty mind ground.  This was the preferred method of the Caodong School, but it must also be acknowledged that the Tang Dynasty Records (and other such Ch’an texts) reveal that the realisation of enlightenment occurred ‘outside’ of the meditation hall, during ordinary and mundane activities.  This was the result of the previously correct and committed (and ongoing) practice of disciplining the mind and body during formal periods of training.  Simply sitting without direction, or manically ‘attaching’ the mind to the very words and phrases that the Ch’an method exists beyond, do not constitute genuine Ch’an practice, and do not lead to authentic enlightenment breakthroughs.  The Ch’an Dynasty Records regarding the ‘Five Houses’ of Ch’an can be read in English translation in Charles Luk’s ‘Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Second Series’ (Rider, 1987).  For an academic study of the denigration of modern Japanese Zen Buddhism, please access the excellent ‘Zen At War’ by Brian Daizen Victoria – a Soto Zen priest in modern Japan.  Many Japanese Zen masters imported into the West by the US government after WWII (as part of an anti-Chinese Communist policy of turning the Western attention away from Chinese culture and political influence), were in fact complicit in Japanese war atrocities (either directly or indirectly) during WWII, but at the time, ordinary Westerners, many of whom could not read, write or speak the Japanese language, had no way of discovering this disturbing past.  This included well-known masters such as DT Suzuki, Sawaki Kodo, Daiun Harada Roshi, Namtembo, Lida Toin, Daiun Giko, Seki Seisetsu, Yamazaki Ekiju,  Harada Daiun Sogaku, Yanagida Seizan, Yamada Mumon, Asahina Sogen, Ichikawa Hakugen, Yasutani Hakuan and Omori Sogen, amongst many others.  Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, on the other hand, was the recipient of this Japanese imperialist aggression both before and during WWII – witnessing the many atrocities.  Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), recorded in his autobiography (Empty Cloud) many such incidents.  One such story has him responding to the Japanese attempted bombing of the Buddhist temple he was in, by sitting in Ch’an contemplation in the Meditation Hall, so that the Japanese aeroplanes collided with one another and their dropped bombs did not explode.  Master Xu Yun was of the opinion that the degradation of Japanese Zen Buddhism was in part due to that country abandoning the requirement of its Buddhist monastics to follow the Vinaya Discipline after ordination.  This deficiency meant that the supposed monastics were in fact not ‘monastics’ at all as defined by the Buddha, and remained lay people, regardless of shaving heads, wearing robes and assuming a monastic name.

As moral discipline (sila) is the foundation of good quality meditation (dhyana), no enlightenment (prajna) could be realised.  The Japanese abandonment of the Vinaya Discipline was the abandonment of the heart of Ch’an Buddhism.  In the early 1950’s, Master Xu Yun persuaded the new government of China to integrate the Buddhist Vinaya Discipline into its secular law, and make it a matter of ‘legal’ responsibility for individual Buddhist monks and nuns in China to uphold the Vinaya Discipline.  This secular requirement also means that no Buddhist group, lineage or school in China can unilaterally decide to ‘abandon’ the practice of the Vinaya Discipline. As modern Japan continues its historical abandonment of the Vinaya Discipline, it is obvious that contemporary Chinese Ch’an Buddhism is very different in practice to Japanese Zen Buddhism.  This distinction is further compounded by the divergent practises developed by the Japanese Rinzai and Soto Zen Schools, that are neither practised or recognised as ‘valid’ within the Chinese Buddhist cultural milieu.  Of course, this does not necessarily mean that there are no authentic Zen Buddhists in Japan or the West, as there undoubtedly are, but these practitioners understand the purpose of the Vinaya Discipline and voluntarily apply its strictures to their daily practice.  On the other hand, although Ch’an does not distinguish in essence between a monastic and a lay person (as both emerge equally from the empty mind ground, and can both realise enlightenment), nevertheless, it is also true that a ‘monastic’ is a monastic, and a ‘lay person’ is a lay person.  The former follows all the Vinaya Discipline, whilst the latter follows only a small part of the Vinaya Discipline.  There does exist legitimate Zen Buddhism in Japan, but this is not the same as the Japanese Zen that spread across the globe following WWII.  The corruption of this kind of Zen has been noted by a number of academics, including Thomas Cleary.  Needless to say, the traditional Chinese Ch’an Buddhist – Master Xu Yun – had no formal or informal ties or connections to Japanese Zen Buddhism, and never practised (or advocated others to practice) a Japanese Zen that does not follow the Vinaya Disciple, and which deviates from established Ch’an practice.

The Buddha, Non-Literate Wisdom, and Why Ch’an is Beyond Words and Letters


Author’s Note: Many in the West are so understandably taken by the Buddha’s use of modernistic logic and reason in his expression of the ‘science’ of perceptual psychology, that they remain unaware that the Buddha either could not read or write, or if he could, never made any reference to this ability in the thousands of teachings attributed to him.  However, writing in November 1880, TW Rhys Davids and H Oldenberg, state (in the Introduction to Part I of their English translation of the Vinaya Discipline) that ‘writing’ was known to have existed during the formulation of the Vinaya Discipline, as it is mentioned on more than one occasion in the main body of that text, and within its associated commentarial ‘Notes’.[1]  Admittedly, its mention is not common, but its presence is contextually interesting: 

1) In Mahavagga I (45), for instance, it is explained that a man who had become a bhikkhu had in fact previously committed the crime of theft, and that the king had it ‘written’ that this man, once found, should be executed. 

2) In Mahavagga I (49) 1, it is stated that the parents of the Upali, suggested that if he learned the art of writing, then after their deaths, he could earn a living for himself. 

3) The Third Paragika Rule of the Vibhanga states any bhikkhu who kills a person, or brings about the death of a person, must be expelled from the Sangha.  In the Notes associated with this Rule, an example is given of attempting to cause death to another by persuading them that suicide leads to salvation.  It is stated that such an underhand activity might well be made not by word of mouth, not by messenger, but rather in ‘writing’.  Even if such corruption of the Dharma is made in writing, (and not spoken) it nevertheless constitutes a ‘Dukkata Offence’.  If another takes his life foolishly believing that in the suffering associated with self-inflicted death there is salvation, he who causes the death is guilty of a ‘Paragika Offence’. 

4) Again, the Vibhanga states that Buddhist nuns must renounce all attachment to the world and not participate in any worldly activity – except that of ‘learning to write’. 

These brief extracts contained within a very long ancient text, suggest that writing was probably known during the Buddha’s lifetime, and was used by the king and his government for official announcements, could be used to communicate in private life, and as a means to make a living that was available to both women as well as men.  However, despite these references, it is also clear by assessing all the implements that could be kept within the ordained Sangha community, that there is no mention of:

a) Pens (or similar writing devices).

b) Paper (or similar recording devices).

c) Existing texts containing important teachings.

The Buddha never taught that texts should be written-down, and learned through correctly reading the text.  On the contrary, in Mahavagga II (17) 5, 6, it is related how a group of bhikkhus had no one within their community who knew how to recite the ‘Patimokkha’ (Code of Monastic Discipline).  The answer was to send a bhikkhu to another Sangha community, and ‘learn’ this body of knowledge by word of mouth and accurately commit to memory. In the Mahavagga III, 5, 9, there is the story of a Upasaka (male lay follower of the Buddha) who sent word to the local Sangha living in his area, that he had received a teaching from the Buddha, and was concerned that if left too long, he might forget it.  A bhikkhu was immediately sent to learn this ‘sutta’ by heart, and bring it back to the Sangha community to spread its message (so important was this task that the Rule forbidding bhikkhus travelling in the rainy season was temporarily suspended).  In the Anguttara Nikaya (Katukka-Nipata and Pankaka-Nipata) there is an injunction that monks should ensure that they pass on (by word of mouth) the knowledge of the Buddha’s teachings they possess to others, before they themselves die and the teaching is permanently ‘cut-off’ at the root.  It seems that writing at the time of the Buddha (whenever that exactly was), was known but not yet associated with spiritual training or religious movements.  It could be that the sparse references to ‘writing’ in the Vinaya Discipline were added at a later date through faults in memory, transmission or transference, or included much later when the teachings were eventually committed to writing in 1st century BCE Ceylon (within the Theravada tradition).  Whatever the case, the Buddha NEVER mentions reading and writing, and obviously did not consider such abilities relevant to finding enlightenment on his path.  This appears to be the case in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions.  In the Buddha’s time it was perfectly natural and expected for a great scholar to have gained immense knowledge and wisdom through direct ‘seeing’ and ‘perceiving’, but not through the agency of reading and writing.  ACW 9.9.2016

‘When reading the early Buddhist literature we must not forget how these works originated.  The Buddha himself and his disciples could not write.  It was an old tradition in Indian cultural life that compositions in prose as well as poetry should be learned literally by heart, and they were in this way transferred from generation to generation.  Matter that is conserved in this way will necessarily get a special character.’

Pali Buddhist Texts Explained to the Beginner: By Rune EA Johansson, Curzon, (1981), Page 11

One of the reasons I was told that Hui Neng (the Sixth Patriarch of Buddhism) was (and remains) so popular in China, is that although perfectly and completely enlightened, like the vast majority of Chinese people prior to 1949, he was illiterate.  He could not read or write due to his humble family background and lack of formal education.  However, this inability did not prevent him from realising the empty mind ground – or that reality which underlies all psycho-physical functionality and acquired abilities.  If a student had a question about a sutra, Hui Neng would have that student read-out the section, and then he would wisely express his profound understanding through the spoken word.  Another reason Hui Neng is so popular (and important) to the Chinese Buddhist tradition, is that the Indian Buddha – Siddharta Gautama (the man believed to have initiated the Ch’an tradition), was himself illiterate.  The Buddha’s illiteracy is the hidden reason why Chinese Ch’an Buddhism is not dependent upon words and letters, or words and sentences. For many people in the modern world, brought up with abundant Buddhist scriptures (bound neatly in endless books), this seems an unlikely fact.  How can a system of such profound and logical thought, which is distinctly ‘modern’ in its presentation, be the product of an individual who could not read or write?  Indeed, so powerful was his penetrative insight into the nature of reality, that Western science and philosophy is still considering its impact upon the sum-total of the knowledge humanity possesses.  It seems that nearly every year or so lately, this or that advanced physics paper compares favourably the philosophy of the Buddha with contemporary scientific findings.  Even that modern genius Albert Einstein looked upon Buddhism with respect.  In other words, those who are now the product of mass literacy and sophisticated educational systems, look upon the ‘illiterate’ philosophy of the Buddha as if it had been produced at Oxford or Harvard after years of written research, lectures, data gathering, debate and refinement.

Of course, the Buddha’s system was a matter of personal will-power, and not institutional or group endeavour.  By an act of intense will, the Buddha managed to change the historically conditioned manner in which his brain functioned.  He managed to permanently ‘alter’ the thought-patterns of his mind so that they ‘shifted’ from the superstitious thinking associated with theology, and into that of modern logic and reason.  The Buddha’s Enlightenment mirrored entirely the European Enlightenment that would happen thousands of years after his lifetime, (and may well have pre-dated) and been far more sophisticated than its ancient Greek counter-part founded in Miletus by Thales.  The Greeks certainly developed logic and reason, but its early evolution is ponderous, inconsistent, and generally incomplete.  Greek logic and reason developed over centuries, and has been the product of many great thinkers using their minds in a new manner – but the Buddha’s system of thought appears to have evolved solely from his own efforts, and appeared suddenly in ancient India with no historical precedent.  Yes, the Buddha borrowed meditation from the Yoga School, and made use of pre-existing ideas such as polytheistic gods, rebirth and karma, but at no time did he use these terms in their historically correct context.  The Buddha made use of pre-existing terms, whilst thoroughly rejecting the historical premises for those terms.  Gods and rebirth were no longer ultimately real, but only appeared to exist as long as individuals believed in them (disappearing altogether when the mind achieved ‘enlightenment’).  Karma was transformed from a semi-divine and deterministic power, (as vague as it was fatalistic within Brahmanic thought), to the acknowledgement that everything operates in the universe through morally neutral cause and effect, and that through volition, or the state of mind of the individual, good, neutral or bad experiences could be experienced.  The Buddha saw that the minds of all beings are default set to function in the unenlightened state through the agency of greed, hatred and delusion, and that ‘enlightenment’ is the state of mind left after greed, hatred, and delusion have been uprooted through meditation.

The Buddha, through his Four Noble Truths, assessed that existence for a living being is ‘nama-rupa’ (mind and body integrated – see Chain of Dependent Origination), and that the notion of an underlying and permanent self was an illusion.  As the Buddha defined enlightenment by way of what it is not, the notion of ‘emptiness’ is very important in his system of thought.  The enlightened state is not greed, hatred or delusion.  The enlightened state is not the literal belief in polytheistic (or monotheistic) gods.  The enlightened state is not the blind acceptance of a deterministic karma that is partly determined by personal actions, and partly directed by the will of punishing or rewarding gods.  Enlightenment is not the acceptance of, or practical experience of rebirth.  Enlightenment is not the acceptance of, or practical experience of a ‘soul’ theory.  In other words, a fully enlightened and rational mind, is a mind ‘emptied’ of all delusion and irrationality.  This ‘emptiness’, however, has a practical realisation within Ch’an Buddhism, and is not just defined by the ‘absence’ of things. Yes, all delusion in the mind must be uprooted, but delusion is defined as the erratic and chaotic movement of the surface mind, that must be ‘stilled’ through meditation, or after a rigorous dialogue encounter with an enlightened master.  Once ‘stilled’, this obscuring layer is removed and the practitioner can see directly into the empty nature of the psychic fabric of the mind.  Once this understanding permeates all six senses, it appears to ‘expand’ and encompasses all that which it senses.  All this was realised by the Buddha without the need to read or write, and the power of his insight was such, that we are still discussing it today.  Hundreds of years after his lifetime, his sutras – which had been passed on from generation to generation by monks tasked with remembering them by word of mouth – were eventually committed to paper and comprehensively recorded in writing.

Although the Buddha could not read and write, and despite the fact that in the modern world ‘illiteracy’ is associated with a lack of education and knowledge, this cannot be said to be the case in ancient India.  The Buddha was a high caste Indian who had received a very sophisticated Brahmanic education, including Vedic studies, yoga, martial arts, and preparation for ruling and leadership.  All these arts were conveyed not through the written word, but rather through the recalled spoken word and in remembered actions.  It was a very sophisticated education in an age before reading and writing came to dominate education.  When Buddhism spread to China in the 1st century CE, reading and writing had already been raised to the level of spiritual attributes by the scholar-sage Confucius.  The Ch’an School produced very learned masters in the Buddhist literature but always remembered that the Buddha’s enlightenment was achieved prior to the era of wide-spread reading and writing, and constituted a unique and entirely different mind-set.  The Buddha’s knowledge and wisdom was not attained by ‘reading’ the ‘words’ explaining what others understood, or claimed to understand.  His ‘Buddhi’ (i.e. ‘intuitive’ knowledge) was a direct perception of reality in its most pristine and unmediated realisation (beyond and unsullied by the obscuring clutter of intellectualised words and letters).  The Ch’an School resided in a highly literate China that put a great stock on the written word as a civilising tool (despite the fact that only about 10% of the people could read or write).  The Ch’an School technique appears to refer back to a time in Indian history before the Buddha-Dharma was rendered into the written word, and became sullied by intellectual attachment, and shallow understanding.  Although this is a common knowledge within China, it is virtually unknown in the West, with many scholars referring to Ch’an as a later development, and offering no understanding as to its ‘beyond words’ motif.  It is quite often the case that Western scholars do not reference Chinese language source materials, but instead rely upon antiquated, and quite often flawed Japanese scholarship that misinterprets and misconstrues Chinese Buddhist history.

When reading and writing was associated with Western religion, its use was very different to that found in modern society, where ample texts are available and subject to individualistic consumption. Contemporary reading usually involves one person absorbing one text as if the act of ‘reading’ should be an entirely ‘private’ affair.  However, given that in the past throughout the world it was common for only a very select minority of people to possess the ability to read and write, reading was often a ‘shared’ experience, with texts being read aloud rather than silently.  In this regard, Jean Leclerc states:

‘…in the Middle Ages, as in antiquity, they read usually not as today, principally with the eyes, but with the lips, pronouncing what they saw, and with the ears, listening to the words pronounced, hearing what is called the “voices of the pages”…  Doctors of ancient times used to recommend reading to their patients as a physical exercise on an equal level with walking, running, or ball-playing.’[2]

It seems logical to assume that even after teachings were written down, their recitation followed on from the time of recitation from memory, and that initially at least, despite the shift in conveyance from memory to bamboo strip, leaf or paper, the manner in which the text was handled followed all the conventions of a ‘remembered’ text for hundreds or thousands of years.  The Buddha might have thought that as there was no real difference in how a text was recited, it was more efficient and functional for a Sangha that prided itself on a lack of possessions, (and which referred to its adherents as ‘bhikkhus’, or ‘beggars’), that the use of memory – common for the time – was by far the preferred (and perhaps superior) method of conveyance.  After-all, the Buddha’s method of transformation has the centre of its activity in the mind, and the perfecting of memory could well have been considered as important as perfecting the jhana states, and the uprooting of greed, hatred, and delusion.  The Buddha’s relationship to reading and writing can be logically assessed as:

i) He could read and write and never mentioned this ability throughout his 45 years of teaching.

ii) He could not read or write, but knew about these abilities and thought them irrelevant to his path.

iii) He could not read or write, and was unaware that such an ability existed.

If the Buddha was illiterate, it is curious that he would give permission in the Vinaya Discipline for his nuns (bhikkunis) to learn how to write, whilst advising them to renounce all other worldly activities.  As Andrew Skilton points out in his excellent ‘Concise History of Buddhism’ (see ‘Preface’), the received Pali texts of the modern Theravada School exhibit, in part, definite evidence of sectarian editing. Even so, as this school allots a superior position to a man and a subordinate position to a woman, it is difficult to envisage why women (and not men) would be granted the ability to read and write by the Buddha (whose original ‘liberal’ teachings should not be conflated with any particular school that arose after his passing).  Whatever the case, the Buddha-Dharma inherited by the Chinese Ch’an School does not discriminate between men or women, and is not reliant upon the ability to read and write.  Reading and writing is simply a function of the mind, that in and of itself represents a ‘moving surface’ mind that does not perceive reality.  This is why Ch’an masters advise that all activities be ‘laid down’ and the attention turned firmly within.  This includes no reading of books, or communicating in writing for the duration of the Ch’an training.

A final consideration is this; the Chinese explorer (and devout Buddhist pilgrim) Fa Xian (法顯) [337-422] – whose name literally means ‘Dharma Manifested’ – visited India (and other Buddhist countries) in search of Buddhist sutras between 399-414 CE. Kanai Lal Hazra states in his book entitled ‘Buddhism in India as Described by the Chinese Pilgrims AD 399-689’, the following information:

‘Fa-hein (Fa Xian) and his friends returned to Pataliputra from Banaras.  Fa-Hein’s aim was to obtain complete sets of the Vinaya texts. But he could not find any written volume.  Because in the various places of Northern India the Vinaya texts were handed down orally from teacher to teacher.  Then in a monastery he found a copy of the Mahasanghika Vinaya.  “The copy of the rules is the most complete with the fullest explanation.”  This was accepted by the Buddhist monks in the Buddha’s lifetime and was used by the monks of the First Great Assembly.  Fa-hein also obtained a manuscript of the Sarvastivada rules in six or seven thousand gathas.’[3]

Although the Theravada School Buddhist texts were committed to the written form around the 1st century BCE, it appears that in North India during the 5th century CE (some six hundred years later), there were schools of Buddhism that still retained the oral tradition of passing on the teachings by word of mouth, and that had not transferred their remembered Buddhist knowledge into readable form.  This behaviour appears to be an adherence to a much older tradition that had survived for at least a thousand years or more since the lifetime of the Buddha. Contrary to Theravada rhetoric that it, and it alone, retains the oldest version of the Buddha’s teachings, the above text makes it clear that in 5th century CE India, it was the Vinaya of the Mahasanghika School that was considered not only the oldest extant version at the time, but also the body of knowledge used to ‘fix’ the teachings at the First Buddhist Council (held soon after the Buddha’s death).  It is interesting to note that Bodhidharma, the Indian Buddhist monk that brought the ‘Dhyana’ (Meditation) School to China (where it became known as ‘Ch’an’) in the year 520 CE, arrived only 106 years after Fa Xian had returned from India (in 414 CE).  It is logical to speculate that Bodhidharma was very well aware that certain Indian Buddhist schools still existed that had refused to abandon the tradition followed by the Buddha, which emphasised the realisation of enlightenment during a developmental process that was not dependent upon the use of words and letters, or the ability to write words and read sentences.  Of course, as time went by, the ability (and necessity) of societies and cultures to make written records of their existences became ever more important, and the Dhyana (Ch’an) tradition probably represents a vibrant Buddhist school of India (and China), which preserved in essence the ‘pre-literacy’ tradition prevalent in ancient India at the time of the Buddha, whilst fully accommodating the contemporary necessity to embrace modern trends of scholarship premised upon the ability to read and write.  This historical development explains the apparent contradictory nature of the Ch’an School which possesses masters who have an advanced grasp and understanding of the most complex and difficult Buddhist written texts, whilst simultaneously demanding with an iron will, that all Ch’an students immediately ‘give-up’ and ‘abandon’ their reliance upon, and attachment to, their ability to read and write.  This Ch’an attitude is not a rejection or abandoning of literacy skills, on the contrary, it is the temporary suspension of a particular cognitive function of the mind that constitutes ‘movement’ in the mind, and is associated with inner psychological turmoil.  The ability to read and write is not the issue.  The issue is that the Buddha taught (in a pre-literacy age), that all functionality of the mind must be ‘stilled’ if the surface mind is to be ‘calmed’.  It is only when the surface mind becomes ‘still’, that a penetrative insight is able to perceive the deep and essentially non-substantive ‘empty’ mind ground from which all perception emerges and returns.  The ability to read and write simply allows the surface mind to add images of letters and words in combinations that represent various and continuous ‘attachments’ to surface movement.  The Ch’an method of the ‘hua tou’ (話頭), unknown as it was in pre-literacy India, was devised in China as a means in part, to combat that country’s reliance upon literacy skills in all areas of its culture (including spiritual development).  The ‘word head’ implies the principle of ‘ante word’, ‘word origin’, or ‘before word’, and refers to the ‘empty’ underlying mind ground from which the conception of a mental image emerges.  In the unenlightened state, the obscuring surface of the mind appears as a constant and self-replicating barrier of confusion and chaos.  It seems that one surface image automatically gives rise to another image in quick succession, with no gaps observable in the process.  The hua tou creates the enquiring word ‘who?’, and through an act of will, ‘turns’ it back toward the base of its origination (in the empty mind ground), and away from its apparent (and incorrect) manifestation in the surface mind.  Although one thought appears to give rise to the next in a lineal fashion, (like one word logically following the next in a correct grammatically structured sentence), this is incorrect from a Ch’an Buddhist perspective.  Thoughts (or ‘words’) only appear to follow one another in a continuous succession – this is an expedient or superficial truth. It is ‘correct’ only from the position of the surface (or ‘seeming’) mind, and is not correct from the perspective of the deep (or ‘real’) mind.  Thoughts (or ‘words’) do not really follow on from one after another, but in reality continuously ‘emerge’ or ‘bubble-up’ from the deep and empty recesses of the psychic fabric.  This being the case, it follows that the Ch’an method of ‘turning words’, particularly in relation to the hua tou, is a developed technique designed to counter the otherwise ‘solid’ surface structure generated in the mind through the ability to read and write.  During sustained training, the hua tou quite literally acts as a cognitive ‘drill’, and enables the practitioner to break through the accrued levels of psychological conditioning.  Of course, the hua tou method can be used effectively by literate or illiterate people, as all beings experience the steady stream of deluded thought that flows across the surface of the mind, but it is particularly useful for those caught up in their own intellectual understanding, which has been acquired through, and is inherently linked to the ability to read and write.  This non-reliance upon literacy skills as a means to acquire enlightenment explains why the tradition of Ch’an patriarchs begins with the Buddha holding-up a flower in an act of non-verbal communication with Mahakasyapa.  The Buddha’s enlightenment, as preserved within the Chinese Ch’an School, is the direct realisation of the ‘essence’ or ‘origination’ of thought in the deep mind, which must never be mistaken or conflated with the manifestation or functionality of thought in the surface.


©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.


[1] See ‘Sacred Books of the East’ Series, Edited by Max Muller, Vol. 13 [Vinaya Texts Part I], Vol. 17 [Vinaya Text Part II] and Vol. 20 [Vinaya Texts Part III] –  as re-published in 1982 by Motilal Banarsidass – Pages ix-xxxvii of Part I.

[2] Williams, Paul, Mahayana Buddhism – the Doctrinal Foundations, Routledge, (1994), Page 38 – Leclerc 1961: 34)

[3] Hazra, Kanai, Lal, Buddhism in India as Described by the Chinese Pilgrims AD 399-689, Munishiram Manoharlal, (3011), Pages 4-5

Master Xu Yun: Chinese Schools of Buddhism


Transcriber’s Note: Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) interpreted all legitimate Buddhist schools as sharing a single (and unsullied) root in pure Dharma, and forbade discrimination between these effective paths by those who followed them.  This is because one pure path shines brightly (like a boundless mirror), and reflects the essence of all other legitimate paths.  However, Xu Yun clearly criticises those paths that are obviously ‘aDharmic’ in nature or intent, (because of the karmic damage these corrupt methods inflict upon the individual and society at large).  A recurring issue in this regard, is those ordained Buddhist monastics who do not follow the Vinaya Discipline. Also of note is Master Xu Yun’s obvious profound education regarding the history of early Pali Sutta Buddhist schools extant in ancient India.  As a representative of the traditional Mahayana School from an earlier era, we can conclude that Master Xu Yun’s attitude in 19th and 20th century China, is that of the early Mahayana movement thousands of years ago in ancient India (passed unsullied from one generation to the next), before it became obscured by certainties of modernity and the complexity of international relations, and that such an attitude fully accommodated (and did not reject) the pre-Mahayana Schools (some of which were eventually transmitted to China), even though many of these early Dharma Schools do not acknowledge the validity of the Mahayana path, or indeed the special position the Chinese Ch’an method ascribes to itself.  Master Xu Yun was a consummate diplomat in his Dharma teaching, perhaps demonstrating that real Buddhist practice always possesses an element of the ‘political’ about it, regardless of whatever age it manifests within.  ACW 8.9.2016

Shanghai Prayer Meeting for World Peace – 17th December, 1952

Ch’an Master Xu Yun Taught:

The most popular methods in use today are Chan and Pure Land. But it is regrettable that many members of the Sangha overlook the rules of discipline without knowing that the Buddhadharma is based on discipline (sila), meditation (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna); it is like a tripod which cannot stand if one of its legs is lacking. This is so important a thing that no students of the Buddhadharma should disregard it. The Chan transmission began when, in the assembly on Vulture Peak, the World-Honoured One held up a flower – a gesture which was acknowledged by Mahakasyapa with a smile. This is called ‘the sealing of mind by mind’ and is the ‘Transmission Outside the Teaching’. It is the foundation of the whole Buddhadharma. The repetition of Amitabha’s name, sutra-reading, and concentration upon mantras are also designed to help us escape from birth and death. Some say that Chan is a sudden method while the Pure Land and Mantrayana are gradual ones; it is so, but this is only a difference in names and terms because in reality all methods lead to the same result. Hence the Sixth Patriarch said, ‘The Dharma is neither instantaneous nor gradual, but man’s awakening may be slow or quick.’ If all methods are good for practice and if you find one which suits you, practice it; but you should never praise one method and vilify another, thereby giving rise to discrimination. The most important thing is sila (discipline) which should be strictly observed. Nowadays there are corrupt monks who not only disregard the rules of discipline, but who say that to observe them is also a form of clinging; such an irresponsible statement is harmful and dangerous to beginners. The Chan doctrine of the Mind was handed down through Mahakasyapa and his successors in India and reached China where it was eventually transmitted to Master Hui-neng, its Sixth (Chinese) Patriarch. This was the Transmission of the Right Dharma which then flourished (all over China).

The Vinaya-discipline School began with Upali, who received it from the Lord Buddha who declared that sila is the teacher of all living beings in the Dharma-ending-age. After Upagupta, it was divided into five schools (the Dharmagupta, Sarvastivada, Mahisasaka, Kasyapiya and Vatsuputriya). In China, Dao-xuan (a celebrated monk of the Tang Dynasty) of Mount Nan studied the Dharmagupta, wrote a commentary on it and founded the Vinaya School, becoming its Chinese Patriarch.

The Tian-tai School was founded in China by Hui-wen of the Bei-qi Dynasty (550-78) after he studied Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika Shastra and realized the Mind-ground. Du-shun (d.640) studied the Avatamsaka Sutra and subsequently founded the Hua-yan School, which was later called the Xian-shou School after its Third Patriarch.

Hui-yuan (d. 416) founded the Pure Land School which was handed down through its Nine Patriarchs. Its Sixth Patriarch, Yanshou Yong-ming (d. 975) and three succeeding ones, were enlightened Chan Masters who spread the Pure Land doctrine, and the two schools (Chan and Pure Land) intermingled like milk and water. In spite of the division of the Buddhadharma into different schools, these do not stray from the underlying meaning revealed by the Buddha when he held a flower aloft. Thus we realize that Chan and Pure Land are closely related and that the ancients were painstaking when they taught the Buddhadharma.

The Yogacara (Mi-zong) School was introduced in China by Vajrabodhi (who arrived there in 619). It was spread by Amogha (d. 774) and then flourished thanks to the efforts of Chan Master Yi-xing (672-717). The above expedient methods of teaching the Buddhadharma are mutually complementary and should never be categorized as separate denominations, contrary and hostile to one another, for this would run counter to the intentions of the Buddhas and Patriarchs. An ancient said that they are but like yellow leaves given to children to prevent them from crying.

Empty Cloud: Translated by Charles Luk and Edited by Richard Hunn, Element, (1988), Pages 149-150

Bhikkhus and Politics


Declaration of the Vidyalankara Pirivena

Passed unanimously on February 13, 1946 (Ceylon)

Transcriber’s Note:  This important historical text, in world revolutionary Buddhism, has been copy typed from the book entitled ‘The Heritage of the Bhikkhu’ by the Venerable Dr Walpola Sri Rahula (Grove Press, 1974 – Appendix II – Pages 131-135).  This book first appeared in 1946 in the Sinhalese language entitled ‘Bhiksuvage’, and was a protest against British colonial rule of the island nation, the Christianisation of its people, and the suppression of the Buddhist monastic community (or ‘Sangha’).  The Christian missionaries deliberately perpetuated the myth that Buddhist monastics (who historically had led the lay community and participated fully within lay society) were to mimic the cloistered behaviour of their Christian counter-parts.  This British imperialist policy of enforced isolation, removed the Ceylonese Buddhist monks from direct contact with the lay Buddhist community, so that the Christian missionaries could work unhindered in their task of mass converting the Buddhist masses to the Christian faith.  A number of bourgeois Ceylonese (who had become wealthy under British rule, and had gained a certain measure of political power) openly campaigned for the British system of suppressing the Sangha to remain in place, and for the Buddhist monastics to stop ‘meddling’ in political matters.  Unbelievably, certain Buddhist monastics with authority acquiesced to this imperialist decree, and issued local dictates forbidding the monks under their jurisdiction from assisting the lay Buddhist community, or from opposing the implementation of British (Christian) imperialist rule.  This situation prompted the leaders of the ‘Vidyalankara Pirivena’ (an important Buddhist monastic university founded in 1875), to issue this text entitled ‘Bhikkhus and Politics’, reaffirming that Buddhist monastics – ever since the time of the Buddha – have always acted in the best interests of the lay community, and have resisted any and all attempts to initiate political policies detrimental to the people’s well-being.  The Ven. Walpola Rahula dedicates his book ‘The Heritage of the Bhikkhu’ in the following manner: ‘To the memory of those thousands of bhikkhus and others who sacrificed their lives in the political struggle in Ceylon in 1971’.  The venerable bhikkhu is referring here to an island-wide Marxist-inspired uprising, that was ruthlessly and brutally put-down by the Ceylonese authorities.  There is more than a hint of Buddhism and Marxism acting in concord within Walpola Rahula’s book, and in this text issued by the Buddhist academic authorities.  ACW 4.9.2016

The Buddha permitted bhikkhus to change minor rules of the Vinaya if they so desire.  Nevertheless, there is no historical evidence to show that the bhikkhus of the Theravada school have on any occasion actually changed the rules of the Vinaya.  Likewise, we do not say that even now they should be changed.

But it has to be admitted that the political, economic, and social conditions of today are different from those of the time of the Buddha, and that consequently the life of bhikkhus today is also different from that of the bhikkhus at that time.

In those days the ideal of monks generally was to realise nirvana in their very lifetime.  In later times their ideal was to exert themselves to the best of their ability in activities beneficial to themselves and others with a view to realising nirvana in a future life.

It is clearly seen that as a result of this very change, a great many other changes not known in the earlier days took place in the life of bhikkhus in later times.

The extent to which the life of monks today has undergone change can be clearly grasped when we take into consideration the prevailing conditions of life in temples, monasteries, and pirivenas, the teaching and learning of Sinhala, Sanskrit and such other subjects, the present system of examination, the editing and writing of books and journals, conferring and accepting nayakaships and such other titles, participation in various societies and being elected as officers in them.  It has to be accepted, therefore, that, although the rules of the Vinaya have remained unaltered, the life of monks has undergone change and that this change is inevitable.

We believe that politics today embraces all fields of human activity directed towards the public weal.  No one will dispute that the work for the promotion of the religion is the duty of the bhikkhus.  It is clear that the welfare of the religion depends on the welfare of the people who profess that religion.  History bears evidence to the fact that whenever the Sinhala nation – which was essentially a Buddhist nation – was prosperous, Buddhism flourished.  We, therefore, declare that it is nothing but fitting for bhikkhus to identify themselves with activities conducive to the welfare of our people – whether these activities be labelled politics or not – as long as they do not constitute an impediment to the religious life of a bhikkhu.

We cannot forget that from the earliest days the Sinhala monks, while leading the lives of bhikkhus, were in the forefront of movements for the progress of their nation, their country, and their religion.

Even today bhikkhus by being engaged actively in education, rural reconstruction, anti-crime campaigns, relief work, temperance work, social work and such other activities, are taking part in politics, whether they are aware of it or not.  We do not believe that it is wrong for bhikkhus to participate in these activities.

We believe that it is incumbent on the bhikkhus not only to further the efforts directed towards the welfare of the country, but also to oppose such measures as are detrimental to the common good.  For example, if any effort is made to obstruct the system of free education, the great boon which has been recently conferred on our people, it is the paramount duty of the bhikkhu not only to oppose all such efforts but also to endeavour to make it a permanent blessing.

In ancient days, according to the records of history, the welfare of the nation and the welfare of the religion were regarded as synonymous terms by the laity as well as by the Sangha.  The divorce of religion from the nation was an idea introduced into the minds of the Sinhalese by invaders from the West, who belonged to an alien faith.  It was a convenient instrument of astute policy to enable them to keep the people in subjugation in order to rule the country as they pleased.

It was in their interests, and not for the welfare of the people, that these foreign invaders attempted to create a gulf between the bhikkhus and the laity – a policy which they implemented with diplomatic cunning.  We should not follow their example, and should not attempt to withdraw bhikkhus from society.  Such conduct would assuredly be a deplorable act of injustice, committed against our nation, our country, and our religion.

Therefore, we publically state that both our bhikkhus and our Buddhist leaders should avoid the pitfall of acting hastily, without deliberation and foresight, and should beware of doing a great disservice to our nation and to our religion.

K. Pannasara

Principal, Vidyalankara Pirivena,

Tipitaka-Vagisvaracarya Upadhyaya

Chief High Priest of Colombo

and Chilaw Districts

February 2, 1946, Vidyalankara Pirivena


Nama-Rupa: The Mind-Body Essence of Buddhism


‘Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states.  Mind is chief; mind-made are they.  If one speaks or acts with a wicked mind, because of that, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.

Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states.  Mind is chief; mind-made are they.  If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one’s shadow that never leaves.’ 

(The Dhammapada: Translated by Narada Thera, (1993), Pages 1-5)

Buddhism is not a religion, nor is it an idealistic theology or philosophy.  The Buddha did not teach that the mind creates physical matter (the idealism of religion), nor did he advocate that all there is to existent is physical matter.  In fact, the Buddha taught ‘nama-rupa’ – that existence is an integration ‘mind’ and ‘matter’.  A misunderstanding in the West regarding the teachings of Yogacara (a misunderstanding that ‘contradicts’ the Buddha by assuming that the temporary agency of ‘mind’ is ‘permanent’), has misled many into assuming that Buddhism is a theistic religion that advocates a form of mind-led theological ‘creationism’.   This is compounded by inadequate or wrong translations of the opening stanzas of the Dhammapada, which give the false impression that the physical universe is ‘created’ by the ‘mind’ (translated correctly by Narada Thera – see above).  Others have wrongly assumed that as the Buddha taught that there was ‘no permanent self’ (or ‘soul’), his path must be one of hard materialism.  The Buddha acknowledged that a conscious mind exists (whilst rejecting ‘idealism’ and ‘creationism’) within a physical environment (whilst rejecting ‘deterministic materialism’), and that these two distinct entities are inherently entwined and functionally integrated.  When all the accruement of misunderstanding is wiped away, what is clear is that the Dharma is a science, and that the Buddha’s teaching represents humanity’s first ‘science’ premised upon the use of ‘logic’ and ‘reason’.  The Buddha’s development of the use of logic and reason represents a departure from the use of ‘imagination’ as the prime-mover of human understanding,  The Buddha developed logic and reason through an act of will, motivated by his need to truly ‘understand’ reality as it directly presented itself to his senses. The Buddha’s sustained awareness upon his bodily functions and responses to environmental stimuli, without recourse to the old theology and philosophy of Brahmanism, essentially ‘re-aligned’ his thought processes, (so that his inner mind correctly ‘reflected’ his external environment).  This ability to a) generate cognitive awareness (without recourse to theology), and b) thereby directly ‘perceive’ the objective world, are the prerequisites for building logic and reason.  The Buddha was a person living in ancient India, who through an act of will, quite literally ushered in a new epoch in human thinking.  By the use of old systems of (yogic) meditation applied in new ways, he rejected mysticism, emotionalism, superstition and the literal belief in gods and spirits.  Through this act of will, he freed his own mind from the conditionality of the era within which he lived, and can be described, therefore, as being the first ‘modern’ human.

Buddhism can seem very complex, because as a body of knowledge comprising of at least 5.000 sutras, and thousands of commentaries, its content can seem too broad to fully or easily comprehend in a short space of time.  This is because the Buddha spent around 45 years teaching exactly the same message to thousands upon thousands of different people, in a manner that best suited the varying understanding and ability of his audiences.  Broadly speaking, he viewed the fast-track to enlightenment as that of the ‘home-leaver’ (or forest-dwelling ‘monastic’), and the slow-track as that of the ‘house-holder’ (or ‘town-dweller’), but recognised that both groups could realise exactly the same enlightenment if his teachings were appropriately applied.  In the earliest strata of sutra, the Buddha teaches ‘equality’ between social groups (thereby rejecting ‘caste’ and the ‘racism’ that justified it), and between men and women (although ‘later’ insertions from sources external to Buddhism, appear to add an unnecessary element of misogyny, that is not in anyway inaccordance with the spirit of the Buddha’s original teaching).  Certain interpretations of the Vinaya Discipline also discriminate against people with disabilities entering the Sangha as a monk or nun, but again, such proscriptions are not suitable for the Buddha’s teachings upon compassion and loving kindness, and represent a monkish ‘editing’ of the original (and pristine) teachings of the Buddha, away from his original intention of self-empowerment through the development of logic and reason, and toward a factional understanding (relevant to this or that school vying for doctrinal authority).  As the development of logic and reason rejects theology and any bigotry premised upon it, then misogyny and discrimination against the disabled are ‘illogical’ and obviously not part of the original Buddhism.  Stripping away the layers of religiosity in this manner from the outer shell of Buddhism in this manner, is the quintessential exercising of both logic and reason.  The Buddha taught that pursuers of the way must never take anything upon ‘blind faith’, or accept ‘surface’ presentations.  His use of logic and reason ‘deconstructed’ each and every philosophical or theological system it encountered, to get to the root of its founding ignorance, or wisdom.

Regardless of how Buddhism has developed over the last two to three thousand years, the Buddha never intended monastics to be lay-people, or lay-people to be monastics.  This flawed interpretation is tantamount to making a ‘category error’ that nullifies the Buddha’s otherwise pristine logic and reason.  If the categories of those following his Dharma are not understood in the correct manner, then it follows that the prescribed paths that he taught for each ‘specific’ entry-stream will not work.  A lay person who claims to be a monk, but who eats meat, drinks alcohol, kills and engages in sexual activity, is not a monk, and the monkish path will not work for that person.  As the monkish path will not work, more suffering is produced for that lay individual (thus contradicting and defaming the logical path of the Buddha). Conversely, hellish karma is produced if a fully ordained Buddhist monastic does not follow the Vinaya Discipline, but instead behaves as if he or she is a lay person.  If ordinary people seeking guidance in escaping from suffering, see a monk or nun eating meat, drinking alcohol, or engaging in sexual activity, then they will not encounter the Buddha’s ‘true’ path of logic and reason, and mistakenly think that the Buddha was corrupt as a teacher.  This assessment has nothing to do with theology or superstition, but is a product of the correct reading of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ in the mind and body, and through behaviour – the effect such modes of behaviour have upon the environment (and all beings living within it).

The Buddha explained that physical existence is ‘nama-rupa’, or ‘mind-body’.  This analysis is found in the received Chain of Dependent Origination (specifically in the 4th link which is conditioned by consciousness [mind], and which in turn conditions the sixfold sense-base [body]).  This ‘mind-body’ nexus is also present in the variations of the Chain of Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda), as well as a crucial aspect of ‘insight’ (Vipassana) meditation, where the correct ‘understanding’ and ‘perception’ of the mind and body nexus is considered an essential component of Buddhist developmental training.  The sutras further state that the mind and body are mutually supporting, inseparable, and interdependent, as if they were two sheaves of reeds leaning against one another for support – take away one, and the other drops to the ground.  The Buddha explained that ‘logical’ and ‘rational’ existence is the dependent interplay of the conscious mind, living body, and ‘sensed’ environment, and that ‘idealism’ (or ‘imagined’ existence) was not reality, and neither was a ‘material’ existence devoid of any conscious or functioning mind (existing within a living body).  Reality for the Buddha appears very pragmatic when his system of thought is stripped of accrued mysticism and religiosity.  Existence for a human-being is a continuous ‘integration’ and ‘interaction’ of consciousness and matter.  This position of the Buddha excludes ‘idealism’ and metaphysical notions of ‘materialism’.  Whatever reality is when properly perceived, it cannot, within Buddhist philosophy, be reduced to the theology of ‘idealism’ (the Buddha is not a ‘god’), or reduced to an inert ‘material’ universe (devoid of conscious awareness).  For the Buddha, reality is as much ‘consciousness’, as it is ‘material’, whilst avoiding the traps of ‘idealism’ and hard ‘materialism’.  The world is undoubtedly comprised of material elements, that is beyond dispute for the Buddha, and the conscious mind is irrefutably ‘aware’ of its own functionality and the world around, but as this insight is the product of logic and reason, no other spurious explanation is required.  The imaginations of religions, and the machinations of hard materialists represent a departure from the Buddha’s pristine use of logic and reason, and are, therefore, rejected by him as being one-sided and incorrect definitions of reality.  For the Buddha, reality is a non-dichotomised integration of mind and matter.

How ‘Ch’an and Zen Teachings’ Came About


The three volumes entitled ‘Ch’an and Zen Teachings’ are the extensive translation of key Chinese Ch’an Buddhist texts extant within China and throughout the Chinese diaspora.  These volumes do not cover Japanese Zen Buddhism in anyway.  The title was a compromise between the translator Charles Luk, and his British publishers who actually wanted all references to Chinese Ch’an removed, and replaced with ‘Japanese Zen’ – creating the false (and inverse) impression that China practises a form of ‘Japanese’ Buddhism, when in fact it is Japanese ‘Zen’ that derived historically from Chinese Ch’an.  It was only after Charles Luk threatened to ‘pull out’ of the publishing contract, that Rider & Co offered a ‘compromise’ whereby both ‘Ch’an’ and ‘Zen’ were to be used in the title, with no further alterations to the translated texts contained therein.  However, the point of these Chinese Ch’an translations into English, was to be a ‘corrective’ to the post-WWII dominance of Japanese Zen in the West, and the often ‘corrupted’ interpretations offered by a number of so-called ‘Zen’ teachers.  Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), who had lived through the barbarous Japanese occupation of China, was of the opinion that the murderous Japanese behaviour was a direct result of that country abandoning the following of the Vinaya Discipline, and considering ‘lay people’ to be ‘ordained’ Buddhist monks, despite the fact they ate meat, drank alcohol, engaged in sexual activity, and routinely took life.  Even in Xu Yun’s autobiography (that highlights in parts, Japanese atrocities in China), the British publishers insisted that he be erroneously (and disrespectfully) referred to in the title as a Chinese ‘Zen’ master.  It must be understood that Master Xu Yun requested that Charles Luk ‘translate’ Chinese Ch’an texts as a ‘corrective’ to the deluded excess demonstrated by many Japanese Zen practitioners during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) in China, and elsewhere in the world.  Charles Luk’s work had absolutely ‘nothing’ to do with ‘Japanese Zen’, which is a separate and distinct subject of no historical or cultural relevance to the people of China.

%d bloggers like this: