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Tathagata Chan

Translated by Andrew Yang What is Chan or meditative concentration? From an ontological point of view, it is not anything, and yet it is everything. If one thinks of Chan as a kind of thinking, it is not what it’s meant to be. The aim of Chan is to free the practitioner from the shackles of thought. Considering this, how is it possible then to set up an ideology system through Chan? We should know that everything that exists, whether material or spiritual, is not the ontological body of Chan itself, and in that sense, Chan is nothing. At the same time, however, it is not accurate either simply to say that Chan is nothing, for although it is not thought per se, Chan has led to an infinite wealth of human thinking. In addition, since beginningless time, it has never departed from the seeing, hearing, knowing and understanding of...

The Five Approaches to Meditation

Translated by Andrew Yang Sentient beings create karma due to illusion, and karma leads to suffering. What then is illusion after all? We worldlings are blinded by innumerous Illusions which can be summed up as greed, anger, delusion, attachment to the self, and a distracted mind, and thus inflict suffering. The five approaches to meditation in Buddhism can remediate these five illusions. The first approach is contemplation of impurity. This approach is used to heal sentient beings with a strong craving. Here, craving means lust or lewdness. Surangama Sutra says, “All sentient beings’ life are caused by lewdness.” Similarly, there is a well-known saying in Chinese, “Of all vices lewdness is the worst.” With contemplation of impurity, the practitioner visualizes the bodies of himself and the subject he violates as extremely impure. One’s physical body being nothing more than a smelly skin bag, the practitioner thinks calmly and intently at...

Zen and Pure Land: A Most Amazing Cultivation Approach

Translated by Andrew Yang For centuries, the mainstream practices of Chinese Buddhism have been meditative Zen and chanting Buddha’s name. There are followers who practise both, and the approach is known as “dual cultivation of Zen and Pure Land”. What do Zen and Pure Land mean? Zen, or Chan, is an abbreviated transliteration of the Sanskrit word Dhyāna, which means training of the mind through meditation, known as samatha and vipassana, i.e., serenity and insight. Commonly referred to simply as medication, it involves the mind concentrating on and contemplating one object through conscious, deliberate suppression of mental defilement to detach and purify the mind’s awareness. Buddhists make use of Zen to nurture serenity and insight for the attainment of Buddhahood upon seeing one’s own innate Buddhahood. On the other hand, the Pure Land approach is through reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name with sincere devotion and piety to eliminate demonic mental contamination...

Eagle Claws in the Snow

Translated by Andrew Yang A few pieces of white clouds linger, Together with a bright moon in flight. The hill is cold, yet the moon and clouds tender. All the tranquility here needs no abiding support. As some affectionate white clouds float by the meditation hut, a nostalgic moon appears in view all of a sudden. While the vast mountains seem quiet and cold, with the accompanying moon and clouds, they merge into one. Right away, an enchanted, serene mind emerges, one that calls for no otherwise careful cultivation. This poem, one of his “Miscellaneous Chants from Living in the Mountains”, was written in the 1970s by Master Yun Wai (1934-1982) of Hong Kong. The master was not only proficient in preaching, but also skilled at poetry and painting. His poems about mountain dwelling are typically simple, serene and full of Zen, enabling the reader to feel spiritually detached and...

The Joy of Mountain Living

Translated by Andrew Yang On Vegetable Roots, a Zen classic containing maxims and aphorisms written by the late Ming philosopher Hong Yingming (1572-1620), has this to say, “A man’s life should not be too idle, lest rambling thoughts crop up. It should not be too busy either, lest there is no room to reveal his true nature. The gentleman, therefore, must not be unconcerned about his body and mind, nor should he be not revelling in the pleasures of nature”. However, how many people who are used to a busy, hasty life are indeed idle enough to have rambling thoughts? On the contrary, most of them are too busy to let their true nature reveal itself. Living in one of these crowded high-rise buildings, where opening the window may not provide a view of the sky, how are they likely to be indulging in the pleasures of nature? Amid busy...

The Joy of Zen

Translated by Andrew Yang Zen, a school of Buddhism variously called Chan, originated in India but became popular in China. In its evolution, it was initially based on Tathagata teachings, and so in the early days it was known as Tathagata Chan, or Chan through teachings for the mind. Later, it spread eastward to China with the advent of Master Bodhidharma (c. 5th century), where it developed into a distinct sect, known as Patriarch Chan. Patriarch Chan, typically not taught or practised following sutra teachings, is thus known for being “not set up through the written word but taught outside the doctrine, and pointing directly to the mind, for the attainment of Buddhahood through insight into the nature of the mind”. That said, how could it have carried on with no textual literature to expound it? To counter that, the founding monks of Chan have left behind numerous quotations, which...

Perseverance and Pliability Work Magic

Translated by Andrew Yang Many people assume monastic Buddhists lead an idle life. “They live in tranquil and solemn temples. They do not go to work but have what they need for food, clothing and shelter. How comfortable! Don’t Zen practitioners often say, ‘Eat if hungry and sleep when tired?’ All one has to do is sitting and walking in meditation, and worshiping or chanting. What an easy life! No wonder many monks are chubby.” This, alas, is a misunderstanding of what happens within the monastic order. In fact, the monastic life not only requires ones diligence but also willpower and perseverance to overcome the many hurdles frequently encountered in his practice. Throughout the Chinese history, we see many venerable monks cultivate their virtuous and compassionate deeds through enduring hardship and misfortune. Take the master Hanshan Deqing (1546-1623) in the Ming dynasty as an example. He suffered devastating events such...

Reincarnation Cases in Modern Times

Translated by Andrew Yang Someone said, “Regarding reincarnation, most of the information available in Buddhist literature concerns events that happened before the birth of the modern Republic of China in 1911, and most of them occurred in China. Are there more contemporary cases that better prove the existence of reincarnation?” Many theosophists and other scholars in the West have studied reincarnation and afterlife, among them Jerome Anderson (1847-1903) and Robert Monroe (1915-1995) of the United Kingdom, Annie Besant (1847-1933), Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) and Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) of the United States, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and Guenther Wachsmuth (1893-1963) of Sweden, and more recently, Brian Weiss (1944-) of the United States. There are about sixty to seventy of them in all, whose writings have documented many individual cases of reincarnation. A few of these cases are summarized below for your reference. An Egyptian reborn as a British girl In 1910, there lived...

Cultivating the Five Virtues

Translated by Andrew Yang The most important thing in Buddhist practice is the accordance of one’s bodhicitta, that is, initiating a tremendous vow to awaken oneself as well as others. Once an individual makes the resolution, it means that he pledges not only to follow the principles of an enlightened bodhisattva and seek what is good for himself, but at the same time, to pursue the best interests of his fellow human beings. In the language of Buddhism, launching the bodhicitta is to seek the way of Buddha and help liberate all sentient beings. In all, a bodhisattva with an arisen bodhicitta should fervently cultivate five virtues: faith, morality, hearkening, charity, and wisdom. What is the virtue of faith? It is belief. Faith is the gateway to Buddhism for every Buddhist, First they need to sincerely believe in the Three Gems; Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Mahayana Sraddhotpada Sastra (The Treatise...
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