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John Blofeld on the Chan School and the Heart Sutra

Excerpts from The Jewel in the Lotus: An Outline of Present Day Buddhism in China, published by Sidgwick & Jackson for The Buddhist Society, 1948, and Gateway to Wisdom, published by Allen & Unwin, 1980, by John Blofeld.

Chan Calligraphy

Chapter X: The Meditation Sect

This sect, more generally known in Europe by its Japanese name of Zen, is called Ch’an Tsung in Chinese, Ch’an being the equivalent of the Sanskrit word dhyana (meditation) and tsung meaning a sect. It has for over a thousand years been one of the most influential sects in the country and has played a great part in the development of Chinese philosophy and art, as well as making a peculiar impression of the psychology of the Chinese people. The interest which its doctrines have aroused in certain circles in the West is partly due to the labours of Dr. D. T. Suzuki, but mainly to the extreme freshness of its doctrines and the attitude to life of its adherents, which is in such sharp contrast to that of other religious groups.

The principle doctrine of the sect is that Nirvana can be attained in this life as the result of an experience known as sudden Enlightenment, which connotes sudden apprehension of our real nature and of the fact that this nature is identical with that of the ultimate reality underlying the appearances of all phenomena. […]

The word ch’an (dhyana) can be rendered into English as “meditation” or “pure thought”. Adherents of the Meditation Sect emphasise the importance of attaining Enlightenment through carefully directed concentration of mind and certain mental exercises, holding that the study of the scriptures is a much more uncertain road to that goal. Having little belief in the efficacy of words and acquired knowledge, they call their doctrine “a teaching beyond teaching”. Their method is to practise the eradication of wayward thoughts by concentration and to open their minds to that intuitive knowledge, which, they believe, will come to them as the result of prolonged mental efforts to obtain it. They hope to be able to recognise and understand the “intrinsically pure essence of mind” which is the common possession of all, though few are aware of it. This “essence of mind” is said to be our Buddha-nature, our true nature, obscured by the darkness of desire, aversion and ignorance, but of unchanging and unchangeable purity in itself. By intuitive wisdom, the fruit of rightly performed meditation, we can grasp this nature and realise that the individual is in reality a Buddha, or looked at from a wider point of view, “one with Buddha” and, indeed, the whole Universe. This method is still practised today by millions of people throughout the Far East, but often accompanied by the methods for obtaining Enlightenment advocated by other Buddhist sects.

Moreover, though Ch’an is called a wordless teaching, several books are now popular with the adherents of the Meditation Sect, especially the Diamond Sutra (Vajrachedikka Sutra), the Heart Sutra (Smaller Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra), and the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, the Exalted Teacher and Treasure of the Law. […]

The Heart Sutra contains the essence of the teachings of the Meditation Sect in a very few words, and is given here in full as an example of Ch’an philosophy. It runs as follows:

* * *

When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was practising the profound Prajnaparamita (1), he perceived that the five congregates (2) were all void; and by so perceiving liberated himself from all sorrows. (3)

Sariputra (he said), matter differs not from void, nor void from matter. Indeed, matter is void and void is matter. And such also is the case with sensation, perception, discrimination and consciousness. (4)

Sariputra, all of these are of the nature of void. They are neither existing nor non-existing; not impure nor pure; neither growing nor decaying. Therefore in the void there is no matter, neither is there sensation or perception, discrimination or consciousness. And in it there are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind. There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch and no knowledge. There is no that which is seen by the eye, heard by the ear, etc. up to no that which is conceived by the mind; no ignorance nor ignorance exterminated; no decay and no death, nor are they extirpated; no sorrow nor cause of sorrow, nor extinction of sorrow nor way to its extinction. There is no wisdom, nor anything to be gained by it. Because nothing is gained, so one is a Bodhisattva. Because of the Prajnaparamita, the mind is liberated. Because the mind is liberated, so one is free from worry and ignorant thoughts and can attain to the supreme Nirvana. (5)

All the Buddhas of the three periods attained supreme Buddhahood by way of Prajnaparamita. Therefore it is known that Prajnaparamita is the most divine mantra, the unsurpassed mantra, the peerless mantra. It can assuage all sufferings and is the Truth. Therefore I teach you the mantra of the Prajnaparamita, thus:

“Gati gati paragati parasamgati bodhi svaha.”

* * *

Heart Sutra 陳沛然

The Heart Sutra. Calligraphy by 陳沛然.

This translation is based on one made by the Teacher of the Dharma, Wei Huan (惟幻法師), a disciple of the Venerable T’ai Hsü (太虛法師). The meaning of the Sanskrit words of the mantra at the end is: “O wisdom, gone, gone to the other shore, arrived at the other shore, svaha,” but mantras are not supposed to be thought of in relation to the exact meaning of the words of which they are composed, some of them having no apparent meaning at all; they are valued and used for the sake of their esoteric meaning and particular sound, which, it is said, help to establish contact between human beings and the spiritual being to which the mantra employed is specially appropriate.

The Heart Sutra carries to extreme length the doctrine that not only form but the Dharma itself is void. Even the Four Noble Truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the existence of a way to end suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path, which are often considered the keystones of Buddhism, are denied, though they are, of course, considered to hold true in the relative sense that anything exists at all. Thus it will be seen how the Meditation Sect emphasises the fundamental voidness of everything, including the Buddhist teaching itself, and even postulates that the consciousness of the thinker himself is void. The Buddha is represented in this sutra as having pondered over the existence of sorrow, sickness, decay and death, prescribed as an antidote in the Four Noble Truths and then, speaking as from a higher plane, to have stated emphatically that sorrow, death and the Four Noble Truths do not exist, in order to emphasise that absolutely nothing exists except in a relative sense.

Notes: For the sake of clarity, John Blofeld’s notes on the Heart Sutra, originally inserted directly into the text, have been relegated to the end of this post and are as follows.

  1. Arriving at the further shore by means of wisdom.
  2. Skandha.
  3. The five congregates are matter, sensation or the effect of on the senses of matter and or phenomena, perception or the mental awareness of having received these impressions, discrimination or the mental acts of liking or disliking the objects of these impressions, and consciousness.
  4. Sariputra was the disciple to whom Gautama Buddha is said to have delivered this lecture.
  5. “That which is seen by the eye” means that which results from the contact of the eye and the object which it perceives. So, also with the other sense organs and the objects which they apprehend.

* * *

In a later work, ‘Gateway to Wisdom’ (1980), John Blofeld returned to the Heart Sutra and its teaching:

 

All the ordinary teachings of the Buddha are here transcended in the light of intuition of the void nature of existence. The five skandhas or components of an individual’s seeming personality are proclaimed to be void, as are the six sense organs (including mind), the six forms of sense perception, and the six types of consciousness to which they give rise. Even such fundamental teachings are negated as the twelvefold chain of causation leading from primordial ignorance, through becoming, etc., to decay, death and rebirth; the Four Noble Truths (that existence is inseparable from suffering/frustration; that the cause of suffering is inordinate desire; that the remedy is cessation of inordinate desire/aversion; and that this results from treading the Noble Eightfold Path requiring right attitudes and conduct of both body and mind); and the attainment of Nirvana through the exercise of wisdom. All these teachings, though absolutely valid at the level of relative truth apparent to us all, are found to have no pertinence once the void nature of reality has been fully realised and conceptualisation transcended. The reference at the end of the sutra to uttering the mantra of Highest Wisdom means not that the one just utters it, but that he lives the mantra by perceiving the voidness of all concepts, entities and beings without exception. The exoteric teachings of the Buddha must most certainly not be abandoned until the intuitive experience of voidness leads to brilliant, unwavering perception of the pure, boundless, shining void. The words to be recited are as follows:

 

Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, while engaged in deep practice of the highest wisdom, perceived that all the five aggregates are void, and thereby passed beyond all forms of suffering.

O Sariputra, form differs not from void, nor void from form. Form IS void; void IS form. With feelings, perceptions, conditionings and consciousness it is the same. Sariputra, all these are marked by emptiness, neither coming into being nor ceasing to be, neither foul nor pure, neither increasing nor diminishing.

Therefore within the void there is no form, no sensation, perception, discrimination or consciousness; no eyes, no ears, nose, tongue, body or mind; nor form, sound, smell, taste, touch or thought; nor any of the others from eye-consciousness to mind-consciousness.

There is neither ignorance, nor extinction of ignorance, nor any of the others [twelve links of causation] down to decay and death. There is no suffering, no cause, no remedy, no path [thereto]. There is no wisdom, no attainment. Because there is nothing to be attained, Bodhisattvas, relying on this highest wisdom, are free from hindrances of mind. Being rid of these hindrances, they have no fear, are free from all upsets and delusions, and in the end attain Nirvana. It is by relying on this highest wisdom that all Buddhas of the past, the present and the future achieve Supreme Enlightenment.

Therefore do we know that the highest wisdom is a great and sacred mantra, a great mantra of knowledge, a mantra unsurpassed, unequalled. It can terminate all suffering truly and unfailingly. Therefore utter this mantra of Highest Wisdom thus – Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, bodhi svāhā. [gone, gone, gone beyond, wholly gone beyond! Enlightenment! Svāhā!]

* * *

Read another translation of the Heart Sutra by Red Pine (Bill Porter):

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After living with Uncle for a few months and continuing my lessons to private students, I felt a great urge to travel again, if only for a few days. I had just been reading the Sutra of Hui Nêng (Wei Lang) which relates how a reputedly illiterate man became Sixth Patriarch of the Zen Sect well over a thousand years ago. Another monk had composed a poem comparing an enlightened mind to a bright mirror on which no dust (illusion) can collect. On having this read to him, Hui Nêng replied with another poem in which he declared that the ‘mirror’ has no existence and asked whereon such dust can collect. In this way he expressed his intuitive understanding of the voidness of all phenomena, including both illusions and the separate minds of individuals. This expression of enlightened understanding of Zen’s deepest truth won for him the Fifth Patriarch’s symbolical robe and bowl. After his death all those centuries ago, his body had miraculously resisted decay and, according to widespread belief, was still to be seen at the Nan Hua Monastery in North Kwangtung…

The present Abbot was no other than the Venerable Hsü Yün (虚云 / Xū Yún), who was believed to be well over a hundred years old, though still able to walk as much as thirty miles a day. He was renowned all over China as the greatest living Master of Zen; so I was delighted to hear the unexpected news that he had just returned after an absence of several months spent in a distant province. Not long after my arrival, I excitedly followed the Reverend Receiver of Guests to pay my respects to this almost mythical personage. I beheld a middle-sized man with a short, wispy beard and remarkable penetrating eyes. He was not precisely youthful-looking as I had been led to expect, but had one of those ageless faces not uncommon in China. Nobody could have guessed that he was already a centenarian. Finding myself in his presence, I became virtually tongue-tied and had to rack my brains for something to say, although there was so much I could profitably have asked him. At last, I managed to ask:

Is this famous monastery purely Zen, Your Reverence?”

Oh yes,” he answered in a surprisingly vigorous voice. “It is a great centre of Zen.”

So you do not worship Amida Buddha or keep his statue here?”

The question seemed to puzzle him, for he took some time to reply.

But certainly we keep his statue here. Every morning and evening we perform rites before it and repeat the sacred name while circumambulating the altar.”

Then the monastery is not purely Zen,” I persisted, puzzled in my turn.

Why not? It is like every other Zen monastery in China. Why should it be different? Hundreds of years ago there were many sects, but the teachings have long been synthesized – which is as it should be. If by Zen, you mean the practice of Zen meditation, why, that is the very essence of Buddhism. It leads to a direct perception of Reality in this life, enabling us to transcend duality and go straight to the One Mind. This One Mind, otherwise known as our Original Nature, belongs to everybody and everything. But the method is very hard – hard even for those who practise it night and day for years on end. How many people are prepared or even able to do that? The monastery also has to serve the needs of simple, illiterate people. How many of them would understand if we taught only the highest method? I speak of the farmers on our own land here and of the simple pilgrims who come for the great annual festivals. To them we offer that other way – repetition of the sacred name – which is yet the same way adapted for simple minds. They believe that by such repetition they will gain the Western Paradise and there receive divine teaching from Amida Buddha himself – teaching which will lead them directly to Nirvana.”

At once reluctantly and somewhat daringly I answered: “I see. But isn’t that a kind of – well, a sort of – of – er – deception? Good, no doubt, but…”

I broke off, not so much in confusion as because the Venerable Hsü Yün was roaring with laughter.

Deception? Deception? Ha, ha, ha, ha-ha! Not at all. Not a bit. No, of course not.”

Then Your Reverence, if you too believe in the Western Heaven and so on, why do you trouble to teach the much harder road to Zen?”

I do not understand the distinction you are making. They are identical.”

But…”

Listen, Mr P’u. Zen manifests self-strength; Amidism manifests other-strength. You rely on your own efforts, or you rely on the saving power of Amida. Is that right?”

Yes. But they are – I mean, they seem – entirely different from each other.”

I became aware that some of the other monks were beginning to look at me coldly, as though I were showing unpardonable rudeness in pertinaciously arguing with this renowned scholar and saint; but the Master, who was quite unperturbed, seemed to be enjoying himself.

Why insist so much on this difference?” he asked. “You know that in reality there is nought but the One Mind. You may choose to regard it as in you or out of you, but “in” and “out” have no ultimate significance whatever – just as you, Mr P’u, and I and Amida Buddha have no real separateness. In ordinary life, self is self and other is other; in reality they are the same. Take Bodhidharma who sat for nine years in front of a blank wall. What did he contemplate? What did he see? Nothing but his Original Self, the true Self beyond duality. Thus he saw Reality face to face. He was thereby freed from the Wheel and entered Nirvana, never to be reborn – unless voluntarily as a Bodhisattva.”

Yet, Reverence, I do not think that Bodhidharma spoke of Amida. Or am I wrong?”

True, true. He did not. But when Farmer Wang comes to me for teaching, am I to speak to him of his Original Self or of Reality and so on? What do such terms mean to him? Morning and evening, he repeats the sacred name, concentrating on it until he grows oblivious of all else. In time, after a month, a year, a decade, a lifetime or several lifetimes, he achieves such a state of perfect concentration that duality is transcended and he, too, comes face to face with Reality. He calls the power by which he hopes to achieve this Amida; you call it Zen; I may call it Original Mind. What is the difference? The power he thought was outside himself was inside all the time.”

Deeply struck by this argument and anxious, perhaps, to display my acquaintance with the Zen way of putting things, I exclaimed:

I see, I see. Bodhidharma entered the shrine-room from the sitting-room. Farmer Wang entered it through the kitchen, but they both arrived at the same place. I see.”

No,” answered the Zen Master, “you do not see. They didn’t arrive at any place. They just discovered that there is no place for them to reach.”

An Extract from The Wheel of Life by John Blofeld, Rider and Company, 1959

The Wheel of Life

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Excerpts from the Zen teaching of Instantaneous Awakening,

by Ch’an Master Hui Hai, translation by John Blofeld.

Q: What method must we practice in order to attain deliverance?

A: It can be attained only through a sudden illumination.

Q: What is a sudden illumination?

A: ‘Sudden’ means ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts instantaneously. ‘Illumination’ means the realization that illumination is not something to be attained.

Q: From where do we start this practice?

A: You must start from the very root.

Q: And what is that?

A: Mind is the root.

Q: How can this be known?

A: The Lankavatara Sutra says: “When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all dharmas (phenomena) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.”

Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed?

A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by dhyana (ch’an) and samadhi (ting). The Dhyana-paramita Sutra says: “Dhyana and samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the thoughts remain in tumult and the roots of goodness suffer damage.”

Q: Please describe dhyana and samadhi.

A: When wrong thinking ceases, that is dhyana; when 
you sit contemplating your original nature, that is samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal mind. By 
 samadhi, you withdraw your minds from their surroundings, thereby making them impervious to the eight winds, that is to say, impervious to gain and loss, calumny and 
 eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By concentrating 
 in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the Bodhisattva-Precepts says: “All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.” Other names for this 
are ‘deliverance’, ‘gaining the further shore’, ‘transcending the six states of mortal being ‘o’erleaping the three 
worlds’ or ‘becoming a mighty Bodhisattva, an omnipotent sage, a conqueror’!

Q: Whereon should the mind settle and dwell?

A: It should settle upon nondwelling and there dwell.

Q: What is this nondwelling?

A: It means not allowing the mind to dwell upon anything whatsoever.

Q: And what is the meaning of that?

A: Dwelling upon nothing means that the mind is not fixed upon good or evil, being or nonbeing, inside or outside, or somewhere between the two, void or nonvoid, 
 concentration or distraction. This dwelling upon nothing is the state in which it should dwell; those who attain to it 
are said to have nondwelling minds – in other words, they have Buddha-minds!

Q: What are the ‘three methods of training (to be performed) at the same level’ and what is meant by performing them on the same level?

A: They are discipline (vinaya), concentration (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna).

Q: Please explain them one by one.

A: Discipline involves stainless purity. Concentration involves the stilling of your minds so that you remain 
wholly unmoved by surrounding phenomena. Wisdom 
means that your stillness of mind is not disturbed by your giving any thought to that stillness, that your purity is unmarred by your entertaining any thought of purity and that, in the midst of all such pairs of opposites as good and evil, you are able to distinguish between them without being stained by them and, in this way, to reach the state of being perfectly at ease and free of all dependence. Furthermore, if you realize that discipline, concentration and wisdom are all alike in that their substance is intangible and that, hence, they are undivided and therefore one – that is what is meant by three methods of training 
 performed at the same level.

Q: When the mind rests in a state of purity, will that not give rise to some attachment to purity?

A: If, on reaching the state of purity, you refrain from thinking; “Now my mind is resting in purity”, there will be no such attachment.

Q: When the mind rests in a state of void, will that not entail some attachment to void? 
 A: If you think of your mind as resting in a state of void, then there will be such an attachment.

Q: When the mind reaches this state of not dwelling upon anything, and continues in that state, will there not be some attachment to its not dwelling upon anything?

A: So long as your mind is fixed solely on void, there
is nothing to which you can attach yourself. If you want to understand the nondwelling mind very clearly, while you are actually sitting in meditation, you must be cognizant only of the mind and not permit yourself to make judgments – that is, you must avoid evaluations in terms of good, evil, or anything else. Whatever is past is past, so do not sit in judgment upon it; for, when minding about the past ceases of itself, it can be said that there is no longer any past. Whatever is in the future is not here yet, so do not direct your hopes and longings towards it; for, when minding about the future ceases of itself, it can be said that there is no future. Whatever is present is now at hand; just be conscious of your nonattachment to everything – nonattachment in the sense of not allowing any love or aversion for anything to enter your mind; for, when minding the present ceases of itself, we may say that there 
 is no present. When there is no clinging to any of those three periods, they may be said not to exist. Should your mind wander away, do not follow it, whereupon your wandering mind will stop wandering of its own accord. Should your mind desire to linger somewhere, do not follow it and do not dwell there, whereupon your mind’s questing for a dwelling place will cease of its own accord. Thereby, you will come to possess a nondwelling mind – a mind which remains in the state of nondwelling. If you are fully aware in yourself of a
nondwelling mind, you will discover that there is just the fact of dwelling, with nothing to dwell upon or not to dwell upon. This full awareness in yourself of a mind 
 dwelling upon nothing is known as having a clear perception of your own mind, or, in other words, as having a clear perception of your own nature. A mind which dwells upon nothing is the Buddha-mind, the mind of one already delivered, bodhi-mind, uncreate mind; it is also called ‘realization that the nature of all appearances is unreal’. It is this which the sutras call ‘patient realization of the uncreate’. If you have not realized it yet, you must
strive and strive, you must increase your exertions. Then, 
 when your efforts are crowned with success, you will have attained to understanding from within yourself – an understanding stemming from a mind that abides nowhere, by which we mean a mind free from delusion and reality alike. A mind disturbed by love and aversion is deluded; a mind free from both of them is real; and a mind thus 
freed reaches the state in which opposites are seen as void, whereby freedom and deliverance are obtained.

Q: Are we to make this effort only when we are sitting in meditation, or also when we are walking about?

A: When I spoke just now of making an effort, I did not mean only when you are sitting in meditation; for,
whether you are walking, standing, sitting, lying, or whatever you are doing, you must uninterruptedly exert yourselves all the time. This is what we call ‘constantly abiding’ (in that state).

Q: The sutras speak not only of samyak-sambodhi (full enlightenment), but also of a marvellous enlightenment lying even beyond that. Please explain these terms.

A: Samyak-sambodhi is the realization of the identity of form and voidness. Marvellous enlightenment is the 
realization of the absence of opposites, or we can say that it means the state of neither enlightenment nor nonenlightenment.

Q: Do these two sorts of enlightenment really differ or 
not?

A: Their names are expediently used for the sake of temporary convenience, but in substance they are one, being neither dual nor different. This oneness and sameness 
 characterize all phenomena of whatever kind.

This eighth-century classic is a complete translation of the teachings of Ch’an Master Hui Hai (大珠慧海). Hui Hai was one of the early masters, along with Ma Tsu and Huang Po, who followed on from Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch.

Further reading:
• The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma – Outline of Practice
• The Transmission of Mind – Huang Po

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Excerpts from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind

Translated by John Blofeld

All the Buddhas and all sentient Beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. This Mind, which is without beginning, is unborn and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons. It is that which you see before you begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error. It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient things, but that sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it, for that is using the Buddha to seek for the Buddha and using mind to grasp

Mind. Even though they do their utmost for a full aeon, they will not be able to attain to it. They do not know that, if they put a stop to conceptual thought and forget their anxiety, the Buddha will appear before them, for this Mind is the Buddha and the Buddha is all living beings. It is not the less for being manifested in ordinary beings, nor is it greater for being manifested in the Buddhas.

As to performing the six paramitas and vast numbers of similar practices, or gaining merits as countless as the sands of the Ganges, since you are fundamentally complete in every respect, you should not try to supplement that perfection by such meaningless practices. When there is occasion for them, perform them; and, when the occasion is passed, remain quiescent. If you are not absolutely convinced that the Mind is the Buddha, and if you are attached to forms, practices and meritorious performances, your way of thinking is false and quite incompatible with the Way. The Mind is the Buddha, nor are there any other Buddhas or any other mind. It is bright and spotless as the void, having no form or appearance whatever. To make use of your minds to think conceptually is to leave the substance and attach yourselves to form. The Ever-Existent Buddha is not a Buddha of form or attachment. To practise the six paramitas and a myriad similar practices with the intention of becoming a Buddha thereby is to advance by stages, but the Ever-Existent Buddha is not a Buddha of stages. Only awake to the One Mind, and there is nothing whatsoever to be attained. This is the REAL Buddha. The Buddha and all sentient beings are the One Mind and nothing else.

Mind is like the void in which there is no confusion or evil, as when the sun wheels through it shining upon the four corners of the world. For, when the sun rises and illuminates the whole earth, the void gains not in brilliance; and, w hen the sun sets, the void does not darken. The phenomena of light and dark alternate with each other, but the nature of the void remains unchanged. So it is with the Mind of the Buddha and of sentient beings. If you look upon the Buddha as presenting a pure, bright or Enlightened appearance, or upon sentient beings as presenting a foul, dark or mortal-seeming appearance, these conceptions resulting from attachment to form will keep you from supreme knowledge even after the passing of as many aeons as there are sands in the Ganges. There is only the One Mind and not a particle of anything else on which to lay hold, for this Mind is the Buddha. If you students of the Way do not awake to this Mind substance, you will overlay Mind with conceptual thought, you will seek the Buddha outside yourselves, and you will remain attached to forms, pious practices and so on, all of which are harmful and not at all the way to supreme knowledge.

This Mind is no mind of conceptual thought and it is completely detached from

form. So Buddhas and sentient beings do not differ at all. If you can only rid yourselves of conceptual thought, you will have accomplished everything. But if you students of the Way do not rid yourselves of conceptual thought in a flash, even though you strive for aeon after aeon, you will never accomplish it. Enmeshed in the meritorious practices of the Three Vehicles, you will be unable to attain Enlightenment. Nevertheless, the realization of the One Mind may come after a shorter or a longer period. There are those who, upon hearing this teaching, rid themselves of conceptual thought in a flash. There are others who do this after following through the Ten Beliefs, the Ten Stages, the Ten Activities and the Ten Bestowals of Merit. Yet others accomplish it after passing through the Ten Stages of a Bodhisattva’s Progress. But whether they transcend conceptual thought by a longer or a shorter way, the result is a state of BEING: there is no pious practising and no action of realizing. That there is nothing which can be attained is not idle talk; it is the truth. Moreover, whether you accomplish your aim in a single flash of thought or after going through the Ten Stages of a Bodhisattva’s Progress, the achievement will be the same; for this state of being admits of no degrees, so the latter method merely entails aeons of unnecessary suffering and toil.

Our original Buddha-Nature is, in highest truth, devoid of any atom of objectivity. It is void, omnipresent, silent, pure; it is glorious and mysterious peaceful joy and that is all. Enter deeply into it by awaking to it yourself. That which is before you is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete. There is naught beside.

 

I became ill and, receiving permission (from His Britannic Majesty’s Embassy) to rest for a few weeks in the country, I went to stay in an old monastery in the heart of the hills beyond Chungking…

… One day, while I was pottering about the monastery, I fell into conversation with the elderly monk in charge of the block-printing press which had for centuries been reproducing Buddhist works from heavy blocks of wood on each of which the text of a single page was beautifully hand-engraved. Thus a book containing one hundred pages required one hundred separate blocks of wood. The disadvantages of this method of printing are obvious; the advantage is that the lovely engravings are preserved virtually for ever, so that reprints can be made at any time. After showing me the press, my guide took me to the library and offered to lend me some of the volumes produced in that monastery during the last several hundred years. They included a work of one of the early Zen Masters, the Tun Wu Ju Chieh Yao Mên Lun, which title can be roughly translated as ‘The Path to Sudden Attainment’; it was composed by the T’ang scholar Hui Hai.

I carried this volume, excellently printed on soft paper, back to my cell and began to examine it. Presently it occurred to me that, though the content was very deep, the wording was such that a man with some knowledge of Zen would not find it too difficult to translate. It contained some very striking paradoxes, of which one caught my eye as soon as I opened the book for the first time.

A fool seeks for the Buddha, not for Mind.

A sage seeks for Mind, not for the Buddha.

… The more I read, the more I was tempted to essay a translation into English, which I finally produced. I know now that it was not a very good translation and that it contained far too many mistakes. Nevertheless, it did open up a new kind of work for me, culminating (up to now) in my new translation of the Dialogues and Sermons of Huang Po, one of the greatest of the early Zen Masters. It is a work which wonderfully expounds Zen, pointing directly to the way for us to come face to face with Reality! I feel that if I were to die tomorrow, at least my life would have produced one fruit of value to seekers after Truth. This is not a specially profitable thought, but somehow comforting. I often think that, if I had not fallen ill at that time and conceived the idea of translating Hui Hai’s book, I might never have thought of embarking upon this kind of work. That is why I feel sure that my Karma caused me that illness, not in the usual way of a penalty for disobeying some of nature’s spiritual or material laws, but that a great purpose might be fulfilled.

John Blofeld, The Wheel of Life, Rider and Company, 1959

Further reading:
• The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma – Outline of Practice
• Instantaneous Awakening – Ch’an Master Hui Hai

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