Basic Buddhist Doctrine

In the context of the traditional focus on the soul, the self, the mentalism, and the doctrine of Karma and rebirth characteristic of the other Indian religions, Buddhism taught Four Noble Truths:

1.Life is suffering.

2.Suffering comes from desire.

3. Suffering can be ended by ending desire.

4. The eightfold path is the way to eliminate desire.

Nietzsche liked the directness of the first noble truth. Where Christianity disguised its hatred of life behind moral concepts such as "sin," Buddhism formulated its pessimism in stark, positivist terms. Nietzsche saw the second as the "nihilistic" attitude they shared with Christians. This opposition to one's natural desires signals a "decadance" morality.

The eightfold path includes right views. right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right contemplation. The goal of doing everything right is Nirvana. The opposite of Nirvana is Samsara--the cycle of life and death--the belief in reincarnation was hardly a source of comfort to Buddhists. It doomed us to endless cycles of lives of suffering. Suicide is no help! Only Nirvana is escape.

The historical development of Buddhism in India resembled that of Christianity in Europe. At first it struggled with little success until it was adopted by an emperor. What the emporer liked was how the religion helps him motivate people to die for him. Then, with state sponsorship, it grew into the dominant religion in India for a time. During that time it was transferred to China, Japan, Korea, and South-East Asia. Then it declined in its home and survived mainly in its adopted homes.

In both the Christian and Buddhist cases, the fusion of political power with religion made an unstable mixture, prone to schisms as the adherents struggled for control of the politically potent doctrine. In Christianity this produced first the Catholic/Eastern Orthodox and then the Catholic/Protestant split. In Buddhism, the major schism was between the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) and the Theravada or Hinayana (Small Vehicle). The Great Vehicle schools dominated China and the Small Vehicle One issue between them was altruism vs. egoism. The ideal of the Theravada was the Arhat who, like the historical Buddha, achieved Nirvana and "drops out." The Mahayana ideal, by contrast was the historical Buddha after being persuaded to remain in life. The Boddhisattva, on the brink of achieving Nirvana, voluntarily returns to cycle through Samsara and wait/work until all sentient creatures are enlightened simultaneously. The Mahayana tended to view Sakyamuni as merely one historical manifestation of a universal Buddha-nature shared by all. There were many Buddhas before him, many after and many around at this very moment. Every Boddhisattva who achieved is still with us--maybe one is sitting next to you.

Clearly, this Mahayana reformation helped make Buddhism morally acceptable in China where selfishness virtually defined evil. The "Great vehicle" claim that everyone could achieve Nirvana coincided with Daoist egalitarian views as well as the orthodox Confucian doctrine that all could become a Yao or a Shun (Sage). It is no accident that the most successful schools of Buddhism in China were Mahayana sects. The more egalitarian they were the more successful over time. Many elaborations of Mahayana Buddhism revoved around the distinction between Nirvana and Samsara. They analyzed many metaphysical and epistemological doctrines in terms of the status and nature of Nirvana.

One of the more recognizably philosophical schools of Buddhism was the Yogacara, the idealist school. According to Yogacara, Samsara, the world of appearance, was an illusion created by the mind. The elements of existence (Dharma) to which we cling when we have desires are the impermanent, unreal illusions generated by six or seven layers of consciousness. The cosmic sum of all consciousness was the Buddha-mind. Yogacara denied the downplayed the individual/whole distinction but emphasized a temporal distinction. The world of experience is a sequence of infinitesimal time-slices of consciousness. Each slice creates its successor by "perfuming" (Karma). That we desire the illusion to continue keeps the succession of conscious states alive and accounts for the continuity of objects and the coherence of objects of consciousness.

Our belief in the objects of consciousness are a kind of "clinging" that gives them permanence. If we can fully realize (real-ize or make real) or appreciate this illusory nature of the world, then it will cease. We will have escaped the grip of desire that stimulates consciousness and end any further illusions.

No future illusions means no consciousnessindividual or cosmic. When conscious illusions cease, that is Mahayana Nirvana. One of the illusion is of individuality in minds. So enlightenment is enlightenment of the universal, Buddha-mind. Enlightenment of one is not enlightenment since it maintains the illusion of an individual.

Yogacara is an intellectual version of Buddhism because Nirvana consists in a kind of awareness: a philosophical insight or "enlightenment." The Yogacara school survived in China under the name "Consciousness Only School" -- still the purest example of a mentalist idealism in the Chinese tradition.

Madhyamika Buddhism is similarly intellectual and totalistic, but it in neither so mentalist nor phenomenalist. [1] Its focus is more on logic and endless argument. It teaches that while the dharma, the elements of existence, are impermanent and unreal, they are the production of something real and unchanging. This something cannot be captured in language and anything we try to say about it can be rebutted. Even saying "it is" can be rebutted by argument that "it is not" and "it neither is nor is not" by "it both is and is not." We continue this pattern of "refutation" until we give up and lapse into silencethen we are enlightened.

Everything is a manifestation of this ultimate, incommunicable one. Sakyamuni himself was a historical manifestation of this Buddha-nature. Having no word for it, we may call it tathagata ('thus-come -- and instantly gone). Enlightenment comes from realizing or apprehending this reality without clinging to any of the inherently contradictory beliefs about it. In the Buddha nature, all individual being dissolves, the individual soul merges with the absolute and egoistic consciousness ends--Nirvana!

The History of Buddhism in Asia

The first historical evidence of Buddhism in China was near the end of the Han Dynasty--about 200 A.D. Colonies of Buddhist traders, travelers and missionaries introduced it into the "Central Kingdom." The Han, after 400 years of rule, was beginning to break down. After it had collapsed and in the "period of disorder" that followed, Confucianism was implicitly discredited. Daoism, with its more contemplative, detached and ironic character, rose again. Intellectuals found the tedious moralistic rhetoric of Confucianism disingenuous and increasingly took refuge in speculative metaphysical discussions and mystical paradox. This development was called "dark learning" 玄學 and the discourse style was called "pure conversation" 清 談 . Daoists "pure conversation" mixed both stupor and euphoria from abstruse metaphysical discussion with that from good wine, poetry, women and other intoxicants. The most popular topic was the puzzle of 有 無 (being/non-being) which would prove to fit neatly with Buddhist speculation about the nature of Nirvana.

Buddhists took advantage of this institutionalized form of discussion and joined with Daoists in their exploration of the mysteries. The Madhymika doctrine particularly suited this style and had the further advantage of being neither as mentalist nor inherently elitist. If the Buddha nature is in everything, then everything has/is Buddha nature. Buddha-nature is both perfectly real and also identical with Nirvana (nothing). The Buddha nature became a handy counterpart to the metaphysical Daowhich some though was and others . And, like popular Daoism, Madhymika had a tendency to reject language--although on quite different grounds.

The Yogacara or Consciousness-Only school introduced the exciting notions of 'consciousness', 'sense data', 'experience' and the psychology of inner mental contents, ideas, beliefs, and desires. These became part of Buddhist terminology in all the later schools, but the Consciousness-Only school itself did not last long or achieve great influence. The strongest schools over time in China were those which emphasized the Mahayana doctrine of universal salvation and metaphysical holism--Tien Tai 天 台 , Hua Yan 華 嚴 , Pure Land 清 土 , and Chan/Zen .

Let us pause for a quick word about the place of Japan in the history of East Asian Buddhism. Japanese intellectuals had long since adopted Chinese characters as their written language, although spoken Japanese is as distant from Chinese dialects as from German. They had already imported Chinese Confucianism and Daoism but the greatest period of borrowing from China came at the height of the Buddhist influence in China. They eventually sent missionaries all the way into India for Buddhist training. However, in Japan's more more controlled and stratified social system, the schools took on a quite different character. The most notable contrast is Chan (Zen) which in China was the most egalitarian, most "free" of the Buddhist schools. In Japan it became the "property" of the ruling Samurai class and shared its disciplined, esoteric, and authoritarian character.

In China, the dominant schools tended to be those which stressed a natural, practical approach to religious life and downplayed the metaphysical skepticism and idealism. The mystical attitude toward religiousity dominated both ritual and doctrinal features. In Tibet, the ritual form was much stronger, and in the West, the focus (as it is in Christianity) tends to be on doctrine.

All these schools nominally accepted a collection of Buddhist scriptures (sutras) known as the Tripitika. However, rival schools "ordered" them differently and disagreed on other sutras. The most important sutras in Chinese Buddhism included the Prajnaparamitra, the Lotus and the Diamond Sutras.

The Development of Chan (Zen) in China

The character pronounced "Chan" in Chinese ("Zen" in Japanese) was originally a transliteration of the Sanskrit term "dyana" meaning meditation. Chan is a school that does not "believe in" meditation, yet emphasizes and practices meditation. People sit in meditation pondering the claim that meditation cannot lead to enlightenment.

A story is told of Hui-neng's famous disciple, Huai-rang (677-744), in the record of the latter's sayings: "Ma-zu lived in the Quan-fa Monastery on the Southern Peak. There he occupied a solitary hut in which all alone he practiced meditation (chan) paving no attention to those who came to visit him. . . One day (Huai-rang) kept grinding a brick in front of the hut, but Ma-zu still paid no attention. This having continued for a long time, (Ma-zu) finally asked: 'What are you doing?' The Teacher (Huai-rang) replied that he was grinding to make a mirror. 'How can a mirror be made by grinding bricks? asked Ma-zu. Replied the Teacher: 'If a mirror cannot be made by grinding bricks, how can a Buddha be made by practicing meditation?"

Fung History p. 391

Chan comes to understand meditation in a Daoist sense: an attitude of "total absorption" than can accompany any normal living activity. Sitting meditation is among the normal activities, but Chan gives us no particular reason to do that in preference to innumerable others. Enlightenment/meditation can be achieved in any of them. How do the Chanists arrive at this focus on 'practice.'

First, let us draw attention to Buddhism's famous "paradox of desires." Its logic explains the move to the Boddhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism. According to the four noble truths, desire leads to suffering and overcoming desire is the way to achieve Nirvana. Suppose an individual seeker gets close to Nirvana--he overcomes his desire for wealth, status, sex, and then eventually even his desire for food, drink, and finally his desire to breath and live. Now is he able to enter Nirvana? Not yet. He still has one desire left--the desire to enter Nirvana. Only when he overcomes that one can he achieve it. He does! Standing on the brink of extinction, he no longer wants to go there, so he turns around and re-enters the cycle of Samsara--he is the Boddhisattva who voluntarily returns.

Similar paradoxes lurk behind the Yogacara and Madyamika systems. In the Yogacara system of illusions, the theory seems to say the minds and their illusions are all that exists. If they exist, they are realreal ideas. As such, they are not illusions. The world of appearances is identical with the Buddha-mindit is what there is.

In the Madyamika system, we learn that the Buddha-nature is the only reality. If I is the only reality, then there is nothing that is not Buddha nature. Since there is nothing but Buddha nature everywhere Buddha nature is pure--there is nothing to be mixed with it. Hence you and I are pure Buddha nature. We have nothing to do or achieve.

Chan Buddhism can be viewed as pushing the implicit logic of Buddhism to reject the original goal of Buddhism--the quest for Nirvana. Chan is Buddhist atheism. The gradual development of this perspective, however, is a complex one in China and is made even more challenging by a pedagogical practice among Chan masters"never tell to plainly." Each person should come to her own realization.

There are two stories of the development of Chan in Chinaan internal (pious) and an external (historical) story. According to the internal story, in the context of a particularly profound lecture, the Buddha stopped and sitting in silence, merely twirled a flower. A wordless doctrine was thus immediately apprehended by one Kashyapa, who smiled. This began a line of direct mind-to-mind transmission of some doctrine incommensurate with language. The transmission went through 28 "teacher-student generations" to the famous Boddhidharma who came to China.

In China it went through 5 more generations still emphasizing orthodox meditation and the search for enlightenment, when the 5th patriarch announced a competition for who would be the 6th. Everyone assumed Shen Xiu, acknowledged as the most brilliant student, would win the competition. But Hui Neng, an illiterate peasant from Guangdong province proved to have spontaneous and immediate insight and received the coveted transmission. The internal story is contained in the famous Platform Sutra of the 6th Patriarch.

"My stern father was originally from Fa Yang. He was banished to Xinzhou in Ling Nan (Guangdong), where we lived as peasants. My father soon died and my aging mother was left alone. We moved to Nan Hai, poor and in bitter straits, I sold wood in the market place."

Once a customer bought firewood and ordered it delivered to his shop. When the delivery was made, and I had received the money, I went outside the gate, where I noticed a customer reciting a Sutra. Upon once hearing the words of this Sutra: "One should produce that thought which is nowhere supported," my mind immediately opened.

Thereupon I asked the customer what Sutra he was reciting. The customer replied, "The Diamond Sutra."

Then I asked, "Where do you come from, and why do you recite this Sutra?"

The customer said, "I come from Tong Chan Monastery in Qi Zhou, Huang Mei Province. There the Fifth Patriarch, the Great Master Hong Ren dwells, teaching over one thousand disciples. I went there to bow and heard and received this Sutra. The Great Master always tells the Sangha and laity only to uphold The Diamond Sutra. Then, they can see their own nature and straightaway achieve Buddhahood."

I heard this and desired to go and seek the Dharma, but recalled that my mother had no support. From past lives there were karmic conditions which led another man to give me a pound of silver, so that I could provide food and clothing for my aging mother. The man instructed me further to go to Huang Mei to call upon and bow to the Fifth Patriarch.

After I had made arrangements for my mother's welfare, I took my leave. In less than thirty days I arrived at Huang Mei and made obeisance to the Fifth Patriarch, who asked me,"Where are you from and what do you seek?"

I replied, "Your disciple is a commoner from Xin Zhou in Ling Nan and comes from afar to bow to the Master, seeking only to be a Buddha, and nothing else."

The Patriarch said, "You are from Ling Nan and are therefore a barbarian, so how can you become a Buddha?"

I said, "Although people are from north south, there is no north or south in the Buddha nature. The body of the barbarian and that of your holiness are not the same, but what distinction is there in Buddha nature?"

The Fifth Patriarch intended to argue further, but seeing people gathering around, he ordered me to go off with them to work. I withdrew to the back courtyard where an attended ordered me to split firewood and pound rice.

More than eight months had passed when the Patriarch one day suddenly saw Hui Neng and said, "I think these views of yours can be of use but fear that evil people may harm you. For that reason I have not spoken to you. Did you understand the situation?"

I replied, "Your disciple knew the High master's intention and has stayed out of the front hall, so the others might not notice him."

One day the Patriarch summoned his disciples together and said, "I say to you: for worldly people, life and death are serious matters. All day you make offerings seeking fields of blessings; you do not try escape the bitter sea of life and death. If you are confused about your self-nature, how can blessings save you? Each of you return, look to your own thoughts and use your mind's original wisdom to compose a verse. Give it to me. After I see it, I will give the robe and Dharma to you if you understand the grand idea and will designate you as the sixth patriarch. Hurry off! Do not delay!

The serious students (from the North) heard this and withdrew, whispering to one another, "we normal students hardly need to tap our minds and burden our intellect to compose a verse to submit. What use could this be? Shen Xiu is our advanced instructor and transmitter of the teaching. Certainly he will be the one to obtain it. It would both be wrong of us to write a verse and a waste of effort."

Shen Xiu thought, "The others are not submitting verses because I an their teacher. I must compose a verse and give it to the High Master. If I do not, how will he know whether my mind's views and knowledge are sound or silly? If I decide to submit a verse to seek the Dharma, that is good. However, if I do it to get the recognition as patriarch, that is bad. How would my mind then be different from that of a commoner seeking a high position? Still, if I fail to submit a verse, in the end I will not obtain the Dharma. This is a mess!"

After composing his verse, Shen Xiu tried several times to turn it in but whenever he got to the front hall, his mind became agitated and distraught, and his entire body broke into a sweat. He tried thirteen times and finally dare not submit it. Then he thought, "It would be better to write it on the wall so the High Master will see it suddenly. If he says it is good, I will come forward, bow, and say, 'Xiu did it.' If not, then I have wasted my time on this mountain receiving honor from others. And as to further cultivation--what can I say?"

At midnight, holding a candle, he wrote the verse on the wall of the South corridor without anyone knowing. This was the verse:

The body is a Bodhi tree,

The mind a bright mirror stand.

Time and again wipe it clean,

And let no dust alight.

After writing this, Shen Xiu returned to his room. . . .

The Patriarch ordered his disciples to light incense and bow before the verse, and to recite it. They did and said, "Excellent!"

At the third watch, the Patriarch called Shen Xiu into the hall and asked him, "Did you write this verse?"

Shen Xiu said, "yes, in fact, Xiu did it. . . .

The Patriarch said, "The verse which you wrote shows that you are close but have still not seen your original nature. You are at the front gate. . . . "Go ponder for a day or two then write another poem and show it to me. If you have entered the gate, I will transfer the robe and Dharma to you."

Shen Xiu bowed and left. Several days passed, but he was unable to compose another poem. His mind was agitated and confused and his thoughts and mood were uneasy. He was as if in a dream; whether walking or sitting down, he could not be happy.

Two days later, a young boy was chanting the poem and passed by the threshing room. Hearing it only once, I realized the writer had not yet penetrated to his original nature. Although I had received no teaching, I already understood the poem. I asked, "What poem is that?"

"You wouldn't know, Barbarian," replied the boy. "The Master has declared that birth and death are serious matters for people. He wants to transmit the robe and Dharma and ordered his students to compose poems for him to examine. Whoever has awakened to the deep insight will inherit the robe and Dharma and title of Sixth Patriarch. Our senior teacher, Shen Xiu, wrote this 'verse without marks' on the wall of the south corridor. The Great Master ordered us to recite it. cultivating in accord with that verse, one avoids falling into the evil and that is the poem's great merit."

I replied, "I would like to recite it and be like it, Oh great one. I have been pounding rice for eight months or more and have never even been to the front hall. I hope that you, great one, will take lead me to the verse to bow." The boy did.

I said, "Hui Neng cannot read. Please, Superior One, read it to me." Then an official from Jiang Zhou, named Zhang Riyong, read it out loud. After hearing it, I said, "I, too, have a verse. will the official please write it for me?"

The official replied, "You, too, can write a verse? That is strange!"

I said to the official, "If you wish to study the supreme Bodhi, do not slight the beginner. The lowest people may have the highest wisdom; the highest people may have the least wisdom. If you slight other, you create limitless,unbounded offenses."

The official said, "Recite your verse and I will write it our for you. If you obtain the Dharma you must take me across first. Do not forget these words."

Hui Neng's verse reads :

Originally Bodhi has no tree,

Nor the mirror any stand.

Basically nothing can be;

Where can dust land?

When they finished writing this verse, people were surprised. They all exlaimed, "Strange indeed! We shouldn't judge someone by appearance. How is it that so quickly he has become a living Bodhisattva?"

The Fifth Patriarch saw the astonished crowd and worried that they might start a riot. So he erased the verse with his shoe and said, "This one,too, doesn't understand perfectly."

The crowd then agreed.

The next day the patriarch secretly came to the threshing floor where he saw me treading rice carrying a stone tied to my body. He said, "A seeker of dao would give up his life for the Dharma, wouldn't he?" Then he asked, "Is the rice ready?"

I replied, "The rice has long been ready. It awaits now only the sieve."

The Patriarch rapped the pestle three times with his staff and left. I knew his intention, and at midnight went to the Patriarch's room.

The Patriarch covered the text with his sash explained The Diamond Sutra for me down to the line, "One should produce a thought that is nowhere supported." The moment I heard that, I had a sudden enlightenment and knew that all entire law was nothing but our self-nature. I said to the Patriarch:

How strange! The self-nature is originally pure in itself.

How strange! The self-nature neither comes nor goes.

How strange! The self-nature is originally complete in itself.

How strange! The self-nature is originally without movement.

How strange! The self-nature can generate the myriad dharmas.

The Fifth Patriarch knew I was enlightened about my original nature and said to me, "Studying Dharma without knowing your original mind is useless. If you recognize your original mind and see your nature, then we call you a great hero, a teacher of gods and humans, a Buddha."

I received the Dharma at midnight but no one knew about it. The Fifth Patriarch also transmitted the Sudden enlightenment doctrine with the robe and bowl saying, "Your are the Sixth Patriarch."

. . . .

After Hui Neng took leave of the Patriarch, he set out on foot for the South. In two months he reach the Ta Yu Mountains.

The historian's story treats the Platform Sutra as an important piece of fiction. Its publication crystallizes a split in the Chan school between Northern (Gradual enlightenment) and Southern (Sudden enlightenment) trends. The key issue dividing them was whether there was a path to enlightenment so we could be understood as getting closer or was enlightenment something that happened totally or not at all. The Southern school represented the view that enlightenment did not require study. Notice Hui Neng was illiterate and did nothing in the temple but carry wood pound rice. The villian, by contrast, was a learned Northerner. Hui Neng's enlightenment came all at once in a flash of insight.

Buddhism had spread in China during the period of cultural disunity following the decline of the Han. During the long periods of disunity following the Han Dynasty, the North had often been ruled by "barbarian" dynasties and the south had become the refuge of China's intellectual culture. The more structured and disciplined Northern schools stressed gradual enlightenment requiring continual supervision and guidance (more like Japanese Zen). So Buddhism was more "orthodox" and authoritarian in the North, while in the South it was almost entirely spread by popular conversion rather than official patronage. Naturally, Southern Chan had a much more egalitarian outlook.

Now, with the ascendancy of the powerful T'ang dynasty, cultural self-confidence was returning. Buddhism, with its fondness for accumulating distinctions, endless lists, rules, and other tedious intellectualizing was beginning to tire intellectuals. The rituals, thousands of sutras, levels of truth, categories, lists, distinction etc. went on ad nauseam. The antipathy to this theoretical overkill explains the rise Sudden Enlightenment Chan--the Chinese revenge on Buddhism.

Historians argue that the story of Hui Neng was actually written by a Daoist poet, who was inspired by the fabulous story-telling of his close friend, a popular Southern monk named Shen Hui. Shen Hui had traveled North to the domain of the powerful and famous monk, Shen Xiu, the villain of the Platform Sutra story. At the time, the Tang officially recognized Shen Xiu as the 6th Chan Patriarch. Shen Hui was an extremely popular public speaker. He weaved spellbinding tales and avoided tedious theorizing. He had a large popular following but was in official trouble because of his attacks on Shen Xiu. Unsuccessful in his attempts to have Hui Neng recognized as the true successor, he was banished briefly to the hinterlandin Jiangxi province and subsequently kept on the move so he could not attract a large following.

Over the years, fortunate political events intervened. The Tang government had a serious budget deficit because of heavy defense expenditures following a six-year war putting down a military rebellion. One of the ways the Tang had of raising money was to require all those becoming Buddhist priests or nuns to buy a licenseon the theory they were removing themselves from productive life (since they lived on donations and by begging). They decided they needed a "license salesman" and someone remembered that Shen Hui was the best one around, so they sent for him. He was, of course, successful, and bailed out the treasury and in gratitude the Tang officially declared him the 7th Patriarchwhich by implication made Hui Neng the 6th as the Platform Sutra claimed.

The other thing that was important about Shen Hui's story was that in it, Hui Neng simply disappeared into the Southern mountains. That made it tempting and easy for other Southern monks to claim that they had encountered Hui Neng or his equally reclusive disciples as they wandered in the mountains and received the instantaneous transmission of the Dharma of Sudden enlightement. So the school's influence spread quickly throughout China and it became the dominant school during most of the long Tang dynastythe Southern dynasty. (Cantonese speakers still refer to themselves "People of Tang" where Mandarin speakers call themselves "People of Han.")

The Southern school's position represented an indigenous Chinese cultural rebellion against the intellectualized, elitist and esoteric elements of this foreign religion. Traces of this Chinese egalitarianism and naturalism had been evident even during the first transmission of Buddhism to China. Chinese translators frequently argued that everyone was capable of enlightement and preferred Buddhist scriptures that endorsed that view. Other popular schools (Tiantai and Huayan) drew the positive conclusion from the Madyamika paradoxeverything must already be Buddha. However, as we noted, Chan masters never said this too plainly and mainly stressed practice. Hence, the popular slogan has it "Tiantai and Huayan for theory and Chan for practice."

As the Chan attitude spread, it became a cultural movement against the hierarchy of Buddhism. Schools sprang up all over China. There was little "top-down" organization but a fairly consistent set of shared attitudes toward Buddhist theory.

Chan Doctrine of No-Doctrine

The Southern school implicitly carried the paradoxes in Buddhism to their logical conclusion. We looked earlier at how Buddhism's paradox of desire entialed the Boddhisattva ideal. The Boddhisattva is one who at the last moment gives up the desire for Nirvana that has motivated all the earlier stepsgiving up the desire for sex, money, prestige, food, etc. The Chan twist is this. Why make the desire for Nirvana the last desire you give up? Why not make it the first and avoid the search at the outset?

Then with classic Daoist logic, they note that to give up the desire for Nirvana is to give up the distinction between Nirvana and Samsara. To give up that distinction is to accept that we are already in Nirvana. There is nothing to realize except that we are already enlightened. Nirvana/samsara is Buddhism's counterpart of Nietzsche's real-world/apparent-world distinction. When we give it up, we just turn our minds to practical everyday things and to our natural or ordinary activities.

The logic leading to Chan is implicit in other aspects of Buddhist doctrine, too. Consider another feature of the goal of Nirvana. If it consists in the realization that in fact the ego or soul is an illusion and there is no continuing self, then the Boddhisattva ideal is necessary. Since there is no individual, there is no individual salvation. Salvation must be total--all consciousness must be obliterated at once or none is. The individual consciousness in an illusion so its obliteration is not an accomplishment.

However when we focus on "all" consciousness we talk about all there is. All there is, is Buddha-nature. Once we are aware that the sum of illusions is Buddha-nature, we see that there is nothing to change. We have an awareness that is synonymous with enlightenment. We no longer see illusions; we see only the Buddha naturewhich is identical with our self-nature. This leaves us in ordinary activity, which we do with the fulfilling and tranquil attitude that Zhuangzi's Butcher Ding exemplifieda total absorption in our "art" where the distinction between ego and activity disappears.

The meditation school had always conceived of enlightenment as a kind of emptiness in which all learning and concepts were set aside. This ideal was close to that of Laozi who taught that in pursuit of Dao one "subtracts" every day. In principle, enlightenment relied on no scriptural learning. Even the gradual enlightenment school saw the attainment of prajna-wisdom as an uncommunicable insight--but saw it as requiring long preparation via sitting in silent meditation. The Sudden Enlightenment school, in Daoist fashion, expressed its doctrine by also denying the distinction between praja-wisdom (or satori, enlightenment, or any other term for the goal of meditation) and ordinary consciousness. Since there was nothing to achieve, meditation could not be a means to it. Thus they reinterpreted meditation to be the practical attitudes one takes when one has abandoned the distinction. Meditation became the ongoing awareness that one is already Buddha, not as a step toward getting there. Where Mahayana had first made us imagine that our neighbor might be Buddha, Chan teaches that we ourselves are.

Hu Shi cites an ancient summary of Chan doctrines which includes all the following sayings:

There is neither Truth [Dharma] to bind us, nor Buddhahood to attain.

Even if there be a life better than Nirvana, I say that that too is as unreal as a dream.

There is neither cultivation, nor nocultivation; there is neither Buddha, nor noBuddha.

The Tao is everywhere and in everything. Every idea, every movement of the body‑‑a cough, a sigh, a snapping of the fingers, or raising of the eyebrows is the functioning of the Buddhanature in man. Even love, anger, covetousness and hate are all functionings of the Buddhanature.

Let the mind be free. Never seek to do good, nor seek to do evil, nor seek to cultivate the Tao. Follow the course of Nature, and move freely. Forbid nothing, and do nothing. That is the way of the 'free man,' who is also called the 'superman.'

Hu Shi: "Chan Buddhism in China: Its History and Method."

If all true existence is Buddha nature, then everything truly already is Buddha nature. Hence there is nothing to change, nothing to achieve, nothing to do. Chan is the antithesis of Buddhism set right within the religion itself. One familiar feature of Buddhism is its opposition to eating meat and its consequent classification of butchers as the lowest profession. Chinese Chan is replete with stories of the enlightenment of Butchers (no doubt reflecting the popularity of Zhuangzi's story of Cook Ting). A proverb has it "He puts down his butcher's cleaver and he is Buddha."

It may seem puzzling that Chan, which we think of as a model of Chinese Buddhist doctrine would be anti-Buddhist, but let us look at the description given by a contemporary opponent of the Chan movement in China.

Nowadays, few men have the true faith. Those who travel the path of Ch'an go so far as to teach the people that there is neither Buddha, nor Law (dharma) and that neither sin nor goodness has any significance. When they preach these doctrines to the average men or men below the average, they are believed by all those who live their lives of worldly desires. Such ideas are accepted as great truths which sound so pleasing to the ear. And the people are attracted by them just as the moths in the night are drawn to their burning death by the candle light. . . Such doctrines are as injurious and dangerous as the devil (Mara) and the ancient heretics.

Liang Su (753-793) quoted by Hu Shi: "Chan Buddhism in China: Its History and Method."

Of course, the paradoxical location of Chan within Buddhism is sound. Its fueled its rejection of Buddhist orthodoxy by its internal contradictions and paradoxes. They are indeed following Buddhist doctrine in abandoning it.

Feng Yu-lan, a modern historian of Chinese philosophy, agrees that Chan is not a single school but a widespread social phenomenon with common "popular" traits. He lists five views shared by nearly all the various original Chan schools in Tang China:

  1. The Highest Truth is inexpressible.
  2. Spiritual cultivation cannot be cultivated.
  3. In the last resort, nothing is gained.
  4. There is nothing much in Buddhist teaching.
  5. In carrying water and chopping wood, therein lies the wonderful Dao.

These "doctrines" however, are expressed in the numerous stories that circulated as Chan worked its Daoist revolution on orthodox Buddhism. Let us look at some:

22. Happy Chinaman

Hotei, the laughing Buddha, is usually portrayed as a fat fellow carrying a linen sack.

This Hotei lived in the Tang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: "Give me one penny." And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: "Give me one penny."

Once as he was about his playwork another Zen master happened along and inquired: "What is the significance of Zen?"

Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.

"Then," asked the other, "what is the actualization of Zen?"

At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.

3. Gutei's Finger

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. "I attained my fingerZen" he said, "from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it"' Then he passed away.

8. Tozan'sThree Pound.

A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: "What is Buddha?"

Tozan said: "This flax weighs three pounds."

22. Kashapa's Preaching Sign

Ananda asked Kashapa: "Buddha gave you the goldenwoven robe of successorship. What else did he give you?"

Kashapa said:"Ananda."

Arlanda answered: "Yes, brother."

Said Kashapa: "Now you can take down my preaching sign and put up your own."

24. Without Words, Without Silence

A monk asked Fuketsu: "Without speaking without silence, how can you express the truth?"

Fuketsu observed: "I always remember springtime in southern China. The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers."

Selected from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps.

Here in my place, I have not a single truth to give you. My work is only to free men from their bondage, to heal their illness, and to beat the ghosts out of them.

Inwardly and outwardly, do try to kill everything that comes in your way. If the Buddha be in your way, kill the Buddha. If the Patriarchs be in your way, kill the Patriarchs. If the Arahats be in your way, kill them. If your father and mother be in your way, kill them too.... That is the only path to your liberation, your freedom.

"Be independent, and cling to nothing.... Even though Heaven and Earth are turned upside down, I doubt not. Even though all the Buddhas appear before my eyes, I have not the slightest gladness at heart. Even though the hellfire of all the three underworlds burst open before me, I have not the slightest fear."

"Recognize yourself! Wherefore do you seek here and seek there for your Buddhas and your Bodhisattvas? Wherefore do you seek to get out of the three worlds? O ye fools, where do you want to go?"

Hu Shi: "Chan Buddhism in China: Its History and Method." Attributed to Yixuan (died 866).

These stories illustrate the first maxim. When asked for some content of Chan teaching or the point of Chan, the master instead gives some perfectly mundane ordinary truthor says nothing at all.

The following illustrate the second maxim: Spiritual cultivation cannot be cultivated.

34. Learning Is Not the Path

Nansen said: "Mind is not Buddha. Learning is not the path."

41. Bodhidharma Pacifies the Mind

Bodhidharma sits facing the wall. His future successor stands in the snow and presents his severed arm to Bodhidharma. He cries: "My mind is not pacified. Master, pacify my mind."

Bodhidharma says: "If you bring me that mind, I will pacify it for you."

The successor says: "When I search my mind I cannot hold it."

Bodhidharma says: "Then your mind is pacified already."

Mumon's comment: That brokentoothed old Hindu, Bodhidharma, came thousands of miles over the sea from India to China as if he had something wonderful. He is like raising waves without wind. After he remained years in China he had only one disciple and that one lost his arrn and was deformed. Alas, ever since he has had brainless disciples.

Selected from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.

The key to this second maxim already lay in Hui Neng's poem expressing his understandingthere cannot be any dust (illusions) to be wiped away. The mind is already clean and pure. Beyond accepting our self-nature, there is nothing to do. Of course, accepting our self nature means doing all kinds of ordinary things. We do them with focused concentration and calmness we saw illustrated in the Zhuangzi. In Japan, Zen became integral to a wide range of cultivated arts, most famously the martial arts, flower arranging and tea-making. However, any action can be a theatre for the expression of Chan/Zen meditation.

19. "Now, this being the case, in this method,what is meant by sitting in meditation? In this method, to sit means to be free from all obstacles, and externally not to allow thought to rise from the mind over any sphere of objects. To meditate means to realize the imperturbability of one's original nature. What is meant by meditation and calmness? Meditation means to be free from all characters externally, calmness means to be unpeturbed internally. If there are characters outside and the inner mind is not disturbed, one's original nature is naturally pure and calm. It is only because of the spheres of objects that there is contact, and contact leads to perturbation. There is calmness when one is free from characters and is not perturbed. There is meditation when one is externally free from characters, and there is calmness when one is internally undisturbed. Meditation and calmness mean that external meditation is attained and internal calmness is achieved. The Wei-mo-chieh [so-shuo] ching says, 'Immediately we become completely clear and recover our original mind.' The P'u-sa chieh ching (Scripture of Disciplines for Bodhisattvahood) says, 'We are originally pure in our self-nature.' Good and learned friends, realize that your self nature is naturally pure. cultivate and achieve for yourselves the Law-body of your self-nature. Follow the way of the Buddha yourselves. Act and achieve Buddhahood for yourselves."

Chan, Sourcebook p. 436

"What is meant by the Pure [Law] of the Buddha? Good and learned friends, our nature is originally pure. All dharmas lie in this self-nature. If we think of all kinds of evil deeds, we will practice evil. If we think of all kinds of good deeds, we will do good. Thus we know that all dharmas lie in one's self-nature. Self-nature is always pure, just as the sun and moon are always shining. It is only when they are obscured by clouds that there is brightness above but darkness below and the sun, the moon, and the stars cannot be seen. But when suddenly a gentle wind blows and scatters all clouds and fog, all phenomena are abundantly spread out before us, all appearing together.

Chan, Sourcebook p. 437

17. Stingy in Teaching

A young physician in Tokyo named Kusuda me a college friend who had been studying Zen. The young doctor asked him what Zen was.

"I cannot tell you what it is," the friend replied, abut one thing is certain. If you understand Zen, you will not be afraid to die."

That's fine," said Kusuda. "I will try it. Where can I find a teacher?"

"Go to the master Nanin," the friend told him.

So Kusuda went to call on Nanin. He carried a dagger nine and a half inches long to determine whether or not the teacher himself was afraid to die.

When Nanin saw Kusuda he exclaimed: "Hello friend. How are you? We haven't seen each other for a long time!"

This perplexed Kusuda, who replied: 'We have never met before."

"That's right," answered Nanin. "I mistook you for another physician who is receiving instruction here."

With such a beginning, Kusuda lost his chance to test the master, so reluctantly he asked if he might receive Zen instruction.

Nanin said: "Zen is not a difficult task. If you are a physician, treat your patients with kindness. That is Zen."

Kusuda visited Nanin three times. Each time Nanin told him the same thing. "A physician should not waste time around here. Go home and take care of your patients."

It was not yet clear to Kusuda how such teaching could remove the fear of death. So on his fourth visit he complained: "My friend told me that when one learns Zen one loses his fear of death. Each time I come here all you tell me is to take care of my patients. I know that much. If that is your socalled Zen, I am not going to visit you any more."

Nanin smiled and patted the doctor. 'I have been too strict with you. Let me give you a koan." He presented Kusuda with Joshu's Mu to work over, which is the first mindenlightening problem in the book called The Gateless Gate.

Kusuda pondered this problem of Mu (NoThing) for two years. At length he thought he had reached certainty of mind. But his teacher commented: "You are not in yet."

Kusuda continued in concentration for another year and a half. His mind became placid. Problems dissolved. NoThing became the truth. He served his patients well and, without even knowing it, he was free from concern over life and death.

Then when he visited Nanin, his old teacher just smiled.

35. EveryMinute Zen

Zen students are with their masters at least ten years before they presume to teach others. Nanin was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him Nanin remarked: "'I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs."

Tenno, confused, had no instant answer. He realized that he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nanin's pupil, and he studied six more years to accomplish his everyminute Zen.

80. The Real Miracle

When Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest, who believed in salvation through the repetition of the name of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and wanted to debate with him.

Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared, but the fellow made such a disturbance that Bankei stopped his discourse and asked about the noise.

"The founder of our sect," boasted the priest, "had such miraculous powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river, his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such a wonderful thing?"

Bankei replied lightly: "Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink."

Selected from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.

Fung's third precept is most famously expressed by the quasi-paradoxical Buddhist saying about the transformation of mountains during enlightenment. Before one hears about Buddhism, the mountains appear as mountains. When one begins to study Buddhism (especially the doctrine of illusion) the Mountains seem to disappear. After enlightenment, the mountains again appear as mountains. In the last resort, nothing is gained.

"The Teacher said 'formerly . . . there was a certain disciple who stayed at the Square Pool Chan Monastery at Shi-fang in Han-zhou There he made a poem which he displayed widely and which read: "In the square pool there is a turtle-nosed serpent. Ridiculous indeed when you come to think of it! Who pulled out the serpent's head?"' . . . . "The Emperor said: 'Another line is needed.' 'It was only made with three lines,' replied the Teacher. 'Why only three lines?' asked the Emperor. The Teacher replied: 'His idea was to wait (for someone else to finish the poem). For two hundred years no one was able to add anything, but later an old monk of the Ta Sui (Monastery), named Yuan-qing after reading over the first three lines, made a statement of his own which said: "In the square pool there is a turtle-nosed serpent" ' " (28.663).

Fung p. 401

18. A Parable

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

34. A Smile in His Lifetime

Mokugen was never known to smile until his last day on earth. When his time came to pass away he said to his faithful ones: "You have studied under me for more than ten years. Show me your real interpretation of Zen. whoever expresses this most clearly shall be my successor and receive my robe and bowl."

Everyone watched Mokugen's severe face, but no one answered.

Encho, a disciple who had been with his teacher for a long time, moved near the bedside. He pushed forward the. medicine cup a few inches. This was his answer to the command.

The teacher's face became even more severe. "Is that all you understand?" he asked.

Encho reached out and moved the cup back again.

A beautiful smile broke over the features of Mokugen. "You rascal," he told Encho. "You worked with me ten years and have not yet seen my whole body. Take the robe and bowl. They belong to you."

70. The Most Valuable Thing in the World

Sozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student: "What is the most valuable thing in the world?"

The master replied: "The head of a dead cat."

"Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?" inquired the student.

Sozan replied: "Because no one can name its price.

1. Joshu's Dog

A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: "Has a dog Buddhanature or not?"

Joshu answered: " wulack."

Selections from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.

As we saw, the Chan "theory" mainly takes Buddhist paradoxes to their logical conclusionthus becoming Buddhism's own antithesis. The effect of eliminating the distinction between Nirvana and Samsara, between meditation and ordinary consciousness, is to abandon both the traditional Buddhist goal and the means to that goal, is that one rejects Buddhism. There is nothing much in Buddhist teaching. The best place to be is not to take it up at all! The next best is, having heard it, to ignore it. Chan affirmed ordinary consciousness in action. This rejection in China included rejecting a lot of Buddhist morality and deliberately flouting precepts in ways that would shock pious Buddhists.

The following are from "Recorded conversations of I-Hsüan"

9. When the Master was among Huangpo's congregation, his conduct was very pure. The senior monk said with a sigh, Although he is young, he is different from the rest!" He then asked, "Sir, how long have you been here?"

The Master said, "Three years."

The senior monk said, "Have you ever gone to the head monk (Huangpo) and asked him questions?"

The Master said, "I have not. I wouldn't know what to ask."

The senior monk said, "Why don't you go and ask the head monk what the basic idea of the Law preached by the Buddha clearly is?"

The Master went and asked the question. But before he finished, Huangpo beat him. When he came back, the senior monk asked him how the conversation went. The Master said, "Before I finished my question, he already had beaten me. I don't understand The senior monk told him to go and ask again.

The Master did and Huangpo beat him again. In this way he asked three times and got beaten three times.... Huangpo said, "If you go to Tayu's place, he will tell you why."

The Master went to Tayu, who asked him, "Where have you come from?"

The Master said, "I am from Huangpo's place."

Tayu said, "What did Huangpo have to say?"

The Master said, "I asked three times about the basic idea of the Law preached by the Buddha and I was beaten three times. I don't know if I was mistaken."

Tayu said, "Old kindly Huangpo has been so earnest with you and you still came here to ask if you were mistaken!"

As soon as the Master heard this, he understood and said, "After all, there is not much in Huangpo's Buddhism." (TSD, 47:504)

6. Question: "What is meant by the mind's not being different at different times?"

The Master answered, "As you deliberated to ask the question, your mind has already become different. Therefore the nature and character of dharmas have become differentiated. Seekers of the Way, do not make any mistake. All mundane and supramundane dharmas have no nature of their own. Nor have they the nature to be produced [by causes]. They have only the name Emptiness, but even the name is empty. Why do you take this useless name as real? You are greatly mistaken! . . . If you seek after the Buddha, you will be taken over by the devil of the Buddha, and if you seek after the patriarch, you will be taken over by the devil of the patriarch. If you seek after anything, you will always suffer. It is better not to do anything. Some unworthy priests tell their disciples that the Buddha is the ultimate, and that he went through three infinitely long periods, fulfilled his practice, and then achieved Buddhahood. Seekers of the Way, if you say that the Buddha is the ultimate, why did he die lying down sidewise in the forest in Kusinagara after having lived for eighty years? Where is he now?. . . Those who truly seek after the Law will have no use for the Buddha. They will have no use for the bodhisattvas or arhats. And they will have no use for any excellence in the Three Worlds (of desires, matter, and pure spirit). They will be distinctly free and not bound by material things. Heaven and earth may turn upside down but I shall have no more uncertainty. The Buddhas of the ten cardinal directions may appear before me and I shall not feel happy for a single moment. The three paths (of fire, blood, and swords) to hell may suddenly appear, but I shall not be afraid for a single moment. Why? Because I know that all dharmas are devoid of characters. They exist when there is transformation [in the mind] and cease to exist when there is no transformation. The Three Worlds are but the mind, and all dharmas are consciousness only. Therefore [they are all] dreams, illusions, and flowers in the air. What is the use of grasping and seizing them?. . .

"I have no trick to give people. I merely cure disease and set people free.... My views are few. I merely put on clothing and eat meals as usual, and pass my time without doing anything. You people coming from the various directions have all made up your minds to seek the Buddha, seek the Law, seek emancipation, and seek to leave the Three Worlds. Crazy people! If you want to leave the Three Worlds, where can you go? 'Buddha' and 'patriarchs' are terms of praise and also bondage. Do you want to know where the Three Worlds are? They are right in your mind which is now listening to the Law." (TSD, 47:499500)

5. The Master told the congregation: "Seekers of the Way. In Buddhism no effort is necessary. All one has to do is to do nothing, except to move his bowels, urinate, put on his clothing, eat his meals, and lie down if he is tired. The stupid will laugh at him, but the wise one will understand. An ancient person said, 'One who makes effort externally is surely a fool.'" (TSD, 47:498)

2. The Master ascended the hall and said, "Over a lump of reddish flesh there sits a pure man who transcends and is no longer attached to any class of Buddhas or sentient beings. He comes in and out of your sense organs all the time. If you are not yet clear about it, look, look!"

At that point a monk came forward and asked, "What is a pure man who does not belong to any class of Buddhas or sentient beings?" The Master came right down from his chair and, taking hold of the monk, exclaimed, "Speak! Speak!" As the monk deliberated what to say, the Master let him go, saying, "What dried human excrementremoving stick is the pure man who does not belong to any class of Buddhas or sentient beings!" Thereupon he returned to his room. (TSD, 47:496)

Chan Sourcebook

My advice to you is take a rest and have nothing to do. Even if that little blueeyed barbarian, Bodhidharma, should come back here and now, he could only teach you to do nothing. Put on your clothes, eat your food, and move your bowels. That's all. No lifeanddeath [cycle] to fear. No transmigration to dread. No nirvana to achieve, and no bodhi to acquire. Just try to be an ordinary human being, having nothing to do.

Here, there is neither Buddha, nor Patriarchs.... The bodhisattvas are only dungheap coolies. Nirvana and bodhi are dead stumps to tie your donkeys to. The twelve divisions of the Sacred Teaching are only lists of ghosts, sheets of paper fit only for wiping the pus from your boils. And all the 'four fruitions' and 'ten stages' are mere ghosts lingering in their decayed graves. Have these anything to do faith your salvation?"

The wise seek not the Buddha. The Buddha is the great murderer who has seduced so many people into the pitfalls of the prostituting Devil." "That old barbarian rascal {Buddha] claimed that he had survived the destruction of three worlds. Where is he now? Did he not die after eighty years of life? Was he in any way different from you?" "O ye wise men, disengage your bodies and your minds! Free yourselves from all bondages.

Hu Shi: "Chan Buddhism in China: Its History and Method." (attributed to Xuanqien d. 865)

14. Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a sink kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?'

76. The Stone Mind

Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: "There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?"

One of the monks replied: "From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind."

"Your head must feel very heavy," observed Hogen, "if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind."

4. A Beardless Foreigner

Wakuan complained when he saw a picture of bearded Bodhidharma: "Why hasn't that fellow a beard?'

14. Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two

Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: "If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat."

No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.

That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.

Nansen said: "If you had been there, you could have saved the cat."

Selections from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

One of Matsu's famous disciples, T'ienjan (died 824) of Tanhsia (Tanka in Japanese), was spending a night at a ruined temple with a few traveling companions. The night was bitterly cold and there was no firewood. He went to the Hall of Worship, took down the wooden image of the Buddha, and made a comfortable fire. When he was reproached by his comrades for this act of sacrilege, he said: "I was only looking for the sarira (sacred relic) of the Buddha." "How can you expect to find sarira in a piece of wood?" said his fellow travelers. "Well," said T'ienjan, "then, I am only burning a piece of wood after all."

Hu Shi: "Chan Buddhism in China: Its History and Method."

The final common precept we have seen scattered through all the stories. It alludes to Hui Neng's profession and is expressed in Daoist rather than Buddhist terms. Chan can be be practiced in any activity. Hui Neng reached his enlightenment chopping and carrying wood and pounding rice. As we noted above, the Chan meditative state is a state that accompanies any purposive activity when we are totally engaged in it for its own sake, and not seeking some metaphysical goal. In that kind of calm absorption in what we are doing, even the ego dissolves so that we are, as it were, one with the activity. While the most famous examples of such action tend to be artsmartial arts to painting and flower arranging, ritual acts are natural expressions (as in the Japanese Tea Ceremony or Confucian rituals). Confucianism frowned on buying and selling, money handling etc. as occupations so the Chan school supplied the mercantile class in China.

Another occupation a person may have is "Buddhist master." And Chan masters had no more reason to abandon doing that than Zhuangzi had to abandon language. People still came to them having heard about Buddhism and trying to achieve something and the master still has to find a way to heal their afflictiontheir desire to achieve some Buddhist goal. In doing this, they found the best thing was to force the student to think things through the self-healing conclusion on their own.

The iconoclastic stories and sayings they used to stimulate the student's own reflection have become strongly associated with Chan/Zen. The most famous is the activity of meditating on a Koan (a riddle with no solution). The point of the iconoclasm and the koan is to force the student to abandon the attempt to get "ultimate" answers and get on with life. A Zen "meditation" session invariably includes a "walking Zen" component. A master would often "teach" a disciple by throwing him out of the temple and sending him to walk about in the world. There, in a chance meeting with a small child by a well who gives him a gift or a farmer behind his ox, he may get the point that he would never see while in the Temple.

Chan Buddhism thus developed a characteristic pedagogy (teaching style). It included, besides shocking statements and Koans, shouting, spitting, and beating the student when they asked too persistently for answers to metaphysical of Buddhist questions.

The following are from "Recorded conversations of I-Hsüan"

A monk asked, "What is the basic idea of the Law preached by the Buddha?" Thereupon the Master shouted at him. The monk paid reverence.

The Master said, "The Master and the monk can argue all right."

Question: "Master, whose tune are you singing? Whose tradition are you perpetuating?"

The Master said, "When I was a disciple of Huangpo, I asked him three times and I was beaten three times."

As the monk hesitated about what to say, the Master shouted at him and then beat him, saying, "Don't nail a stick into empty space.''

3. The Master ascended the hall. A monk asked, "What is the basic idea of the Law preached by the Buddha?" The Master lifted up his swatter. The monk shouted, and the Master beat him.

[The monk asked again], "What is the basic idea of the Law preached by the Buddha?" The Master again lifted up his swatter. The monk shouted, and the Master shouted also. As the monk hesitated about what to say, the Master beat him.

Thereupon the Master said, "Listen, men. Those who pursue after the Law will not escape from death. I was in my late Master Huangpo's place for twenty years. Three times I asked him about the basic idea of the Law preached by the Buddha and three times he bestowed upon me the staff. I felt I was struck only by a dried stalk. Now I wish to have a real beating. Who can do it to me?"

One monk came out of the group and said, "I can do it."

The Master picked up the staff to give him. As he was about to take it over, the Master beat him. (TSD, 47:496497)

7. Maku came to participate in a session. As he arranged his seating cushion, he asked, "Which face of the twelveface Kuanyin faces the proper direction?"

The Master got down from the rope chair. With one hand he took away Maku's cushion and with the other he held Maku, saying, Which direction does the twelveface Kuanyin face?"

Maku turned around and was about to sit in the rope chair. The Master picked up the staff and beat him. Maku having grasped the staff, the two dragged each other into the room.

8. The Master asked a monk: "Sometimes a shout is like the sacred sword of the Diamond King. Sometimes a shout is like a goldenhaired lion squatting on the ground. Sometimes a shout is like a rod or a piece of grass [used to attract fish]. And sometimes a shout is like one which does not function as a shout at all. How do you know which one to use?"

As the monk was deliberating what to say, the Master shouted. (TSD, 47:504)

Chan Sourcebook

Pious Japanese Zen popularizes, especially those who make their living writing pretentious books about Zen's irrationalism, treat all these perfectly clear statements of Buddhist atheism as evidence of its elevated and incomprehensible character. Here is Hu Shi's description of the choice facing an adherent of Buddhism.

Thus, when the master Wenyen (died 949), founder of the Yunmen School, was asked "What is the Buddha like?" he answered: "A dried stick of dung." (This is so profanely iconoclastic that Suzuki probably deliberately mistranslates it as "A driedup dirtcleaner," which, of course, is incorrect and meaningless.) Such an answer is not nonsensical at all; it harks back to the iconoclastic teachings of his spiritual grandfather, Hsuanchien, who had actually said: "The Buddha is a dried piece of dung of the barbarians, and sainthood is only an empty name."

Hu Shi: "Chan Buddhism in China: Its History and Method."

The actions and statements are only incomprehensible mysteries if you cling religiously to Buddhism. If you believed in God and someone you accepted as his spokesman, as a religious leader said "God is a pile of Dung," you would either have to: cease to regard him as a spokesman, cease to believe in God, or treat his statement as having some profoundly mysterious meaning.

The final pedagogical technique is the one where the master kicks the disciple out of the temple. Sends him out into the world to xing-jiaolearn from walking around. It fits in with the fifth precept of ChanDao can be found in any activity. Here is Hu Shi's description:

But the novice in all probability would not understand. So, he retires to the kitchen and washes the dishes. He is puzzled and feels ashamed of his failure to understand. After some time, he is told to leave the place and try his luck elsewhere. Here he begins the third stage of his education the third and most important phase of the pedagogical method, which was called hsingchiao "traveling on foot."

Those critics who call the Ch'an method irrational and mystical and, therefore, "absolutely beyond the ken of human understanding," are men who fail to appreciate the great educational value of this third phase, which consists of sending the learner traveling from one hill to another, from one school to another, studying under one master and then another. Many of the famous Ch'an masters spent fifteen or twenty or thirty years in traveling and studying under many wellknown masters.

Let me cite what Chu Hsi said in deep appreciation of the value of "traveling on foot" in the Ch'an schools. The great leader of the NeoConfucianist movement was sick in bed and was approaching his death, which came only a few months later. One of his favorite mature disciples, Ch'en Ch'un had come to visit him and spend a few days at his school. One evening, Chu Hsi in his sickbed said to the visitor: "Now you must emulate the monk's method of hsingchiao (traveling on foot). That will enable you to meet the best minds of the empire, to observe the affairs and conditions of the country, to see the scenery and topography of the mountains and rivers, and to study the historical traces of the rise and fall, peace and war, right and wrong, of the past and present governments. Only in that way may you see the truth in all its varied respects.... There was never a sage who knew nothing of the affairs of the world. There was never a sage who could not deal with novel and changing situations. There was never a sage who sat alone in meditation behind closed doors...."

Let us return to our traveling novice, who, as a monk, travels always on foot, carrying only a stick, a bowl, and a pair of straw sandals. He begs all the way for his food and lodging, often having to seek shelter in ruined temples, caves, or deserted houses by the roadside. He suffers the severities of nature and sometimes has to bear the unkindness of man.

He sees the world and meets all kinds of people. He studies under the great minds of the age and learns to ask better questions and have real doubts of his own. He befriends kindred souls with whom he discusses problems and exchanges views. In this way, his experience is widened and deepened, and his understanding grows. Then, one day, he hears a chance remark of a charwoman, or a frivolous song of a dancing girl, or smells the quiet fragrance of a nameless flowerand he suddenly understands! How true, "the Buddha was like a piece of dung"! And how true, "he is also like three pounds of hemp"! All is so evident now. "The bottom has dropped out of the bucket": the miracle has happened.

And he travels long distances back to his old master, and, with tears and with gladness at heart, he gives thanks and worships at the feet of his good ; teacher, who never made things easy for him.

Hu Shi: "Chan Buddhism in China: Its History and Method."

[1] Teaching that reality is phenomena, i.e., ideas or mental realities.

Philosophy of Religion


{Basic Buddhist Doctrine

History of Buddhism in Asia

Development of Chan in China

Zen Doctrine of No Doctrine

Five Common Attitudes and Illustrative Zen Stories