This essay is divided into two parts. The first part is a general discussion. The second part gives particulars. The purpose is to give a concept of the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana (Mahamudra Perfection and Chan) practice of Sunyata, throughout the whole system of Buddhism.
Thus, the reader may see the essence of each, and chart his own course, while avoiding the two extremes of self-pride and self-abasement.
There are two great paths in the whole system of Buddhism; one is the Path of Liberation, the other is the Path of Love. The Path of Liberation emphasizes the philosophy of Right Views.
The Path of Love lays stress on deep breathing.
Our present subject is all five kinds of practice of Sunyata belonging to the Path of Liberation, and their philosophical views.
A. The Hinayana practice of Sunyata is based on the philosophical view of Non-Egoism of Personality.
Here, it is necessary to recognize that there is no self nature in any personality, either man or Buddha.
This practice leads to the four realizations of the Arhat, but gives only a one-sided view of Nirvana.
B. The Mahayana practice of Sunyata is based on the view of Non-Born in the Middle Way school. It is necessary to recognize that all Dharmas, whether persons or things, have no self nature.
Here, one must use all eight meditations and contemplations which are: non-born, non-destruction, non-ceasing, non-permanence, non-coming, non-going, non-similarity, and non-difference.
The Four Noble Truths and Twelve Causations are not taken as Final Truth as in Hinayana, nor is the doctrine of the Idealist School accepted as final truth.
Meditate with determination on tile Non-Born philosophy of every Dharma both within consciousness and in the material world.
The truth of Non-Born should penetrate not only the good but also the evil.
The Hinayanists flee from evil through their Vinaya, but the Mahayanists penetrate it through Sunyata.
C. The Vajrayana practice of Mahamudra is based on the Right View of Spontaneous Wisdom.
This is sometimes called the Dharmakaya view.
Here, one must be able to recognize that every Dharma is the same as the Enlightened Entity of Spontaneous Wisdom; then, hold it, learn to keep it and confirm it and finally learn how to use it. At last, it becomes intrinsic and natural.
No method should be used to transform it, nor should one desire to get anything else.
There is no need for any kind of exoteric contemplation as in the Mahayana teachings.
D. The Vajrayana method called the "Great Perfection" is based on the Right View of Natural Purity.
This is also called the Right View of Great Perfection.
Here, every Dharma is naturally pure.
There is no such defilement in discernment as belief in birth, death, Samsara or Nirvana.
There is no bondage, hence no liberation, no practice and no realization.
It is by itself, appears by itself, performs by itself, and is itself the result.
What Dharma appears, whatever happens, there is the Great Perfection within it.
E. In Vajrayana Chan there is no Right View to keep. The supernatural power of the Chan is within the Truth. There is no instruction, no teachings, no words or speech and no meditation. Communication between students and teacher is intuitively made by the Chan realization. Here there can be no hesitation, nor admission of comprehension.
We have dealt with the five fundamental philosophical views. Now, we will cover their practical applications.
1. Hinayana Non-Egoism of Personality lays most stress on analysis. Practitioners attempt to find the self in organs and every part of the body and mind, until the full recognition that there is no self at all.
2. Mahayana practices Sunyata with the Six Paramitas which require a long time to attain.
The Mahayana yogi desires to save all sentient beings but suffers defilement from the surrounding pollution in the process.
It is said that when you meet a single sinful person and drink with him from the same river, you too will be polluted.
This creates great obstacles. But the Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana school take no account of this for they are willing to sacrifice themselves and thus they spend many lives helping all sentient beings and thereby postponing their own attainment.
Some of the Mahabodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara and Manjusri attained Full Enlightenment but for the sake of all sentient beings they have returned to the position of Bodhisattva.
It is said that Manjusri is the Guru of seven Buddhas.
Despite this, he continues to retain his position of Bodhisattva.
To overcome these obstacles, it is written in the Bodhisattvas Vinaya that every Bodhisattva must meditate in the Sunyata at least three times a day.
That is why the path of Mahayana must last through three great kalpas.
3. To practice Mahamudra one should have the traditional Guru and Initiation from which one obtains the practical starting point of the Enlightened Entity.
Then one is able to progress through four sequences or graduations of practice.
There are four yogas in Mahamudra:
(1) One-pointed yoga
(2) Give-up-play-words yoga
(3) One-taste yoga
(4) Non-practice yoga.
It is said that through Mahamudrae may attain Buddhahood within this lifetime.
4. The Great Perfection does not set up four yogic sequences. It is more immediate than Mahamudra.
It lays stress on the Right View of Natural Purity and thus one attains Buddhahood at every moment.
However, it is difficult to distinguish whether ones Right View of Natural Purity is accurate or not.
5. Chan dispenses with even the view of Natural Purity.
Here, one does not even use the word Buddhahood. It is said a Chanist is walking in the air as a bird; no trace remains in the air.
The second part of this essay is composed of five divisions, progressing from the lower to the higher stages, thus making the necessary discriminations very clear.
Before going into the discriminations, some discussions of two important principles are necessary.
We must know how to use both exoteric and esoteric approaches, and recognize the similarities between Dharma teachings as well as knowing each as a whole.
This is the principle of harmonization.
For example, each of the five Dharmas mentioned in their Doctrines take Sunyata as a main condition.
Hinayana practices Sunyata as does Mahayana and Vajrayana.
The quality of Sunyata is the same in all three yanas. That is why Tsong-Kha-pa has said that the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana is in the merit and not in the Sunyata.
However, he knew only how to recognize the homogeneity, but not the discriminations.
I have given eight sufficient reasons in the argument against Tsong-kha-pas theory which emphasizes that the difference between Mahayana and Hinayana lies only in merit but not in wisdom as he viewed the Sunyata as similar in both.
This was written about in my Chinese essay entitled "A Criticism on Tsong-kha-pas Great Work an Essay on the Stages of the Bodhi Path."
I hope one day it may be translated into Tibetan and into English for readers of those languages.
To be able to make these discriminations, it is first necessary to:
(1) Study them wisely,
(2) Inquire into them searchingly,
(3) Reflect upon them carefully.
Only then can we (4) Discriminate accurately.
This will enable us to know both the differences between Dharma teachings, as well as the essence of each.
Finally, when one has grasped these essential points, it becomes possible to (5) Practice them diligently.
This is the Principle of Discrimination.
By learning the subtle discriminations, we then know what stage we should work on, and thus resolve our self-deceit, self-pride and self-abasement.
The practice of Sunyata in the exoteric schools is according to a general procedure which goes from Vinaya to Dhyana to Prajna, i.e. Commandment, Meditation, and Wisdom.
It is practiced according to the Eight Negatives and Four Phrases of the Mahaparamita Sutra.
This may take a long time and requires much effort.
In the second esoteric schools, Sunyata is practiced after initiation using many techniques and methods in the Position of Consequence.
That is why it is called the Consequence Doctrine.
It is obtained from an accomplished Guru who is in the Position of Consequence and can bestow blessings.
Through the initiation, the Guru gives a short and immediate experience of Sunyata which constitutes realization of the Consequence Position.
This is a very quick method. It enables the disciple to see the Enlightened Entity intuitively.
From this point he starts to practice the Mahamudra.
Hence, such a Sunyata practice is not only theory, but realization.
It may be compared to a rocket.
In the exoteric schools, attempt is made to unite the philosophic practice of Sunyata with the six active paramitas.
Thus philosophy and conduct are united.
This is very difficult to do and often requires many attempts. The Bodhisattva spends many kalpas trying to save others before he himself is released. He can not forget his main purpose.
In the esoteric schools, Sunyata is practiced using many kinds of yantras, mantras, visualizations and other methods based upon the experience of the Buddhas who themselves were in the Consequence Position.
These are not imparted in the exoteric schools, which lack these Tantric teachings.
In this way, the spiritual food and merits are gathered many times faster and easier via these Tantras.
The essentials of the exoteric schools constitute the foundation of the esoteric teachings.
These are practiced by the Tantrist before he practiced the Tantra.
There are people who practice exoteric teachings but not Tantra. However, there is no one who practices Tantra without first practicing the exoteric.
- A. Hinayana practice of Sunyata lays stress on step by step analysis of the personality, while the Mahayana lays most stress on the here and now without analysis.
In the former practice, things are broken down to atomic levels.
The atom is assumed to be incapable of further division.
This is taken as "Haveness" and the present seems to be there, but past and future are void.
But in Mahayana practice, every Dharma of here and now is completely empty, and past, present, and future time periods are not attainable.
They practice Sunyata without analysis.
That is why they say that every Dharma is intrinsically void, every Dharma only a false name, and every Dharma is itself the Truth.
Hinayana practice uses the example of the "broken bottle."
When the analysis reaches the end, the mind which holds this "bottle" form also becomes Sunyata.
Mahayana practice sees the bottle as Sunyata at once.
- B. The student of Hinayana practices the Four Noble Truths with the desire to use the Sunyata idea to escape the pain of haveness. Or, he may practice the Twelve Causations with the aim of achieving cessation of suffering by the reverse order of the Twelve Causations.
Again, this is an attempt to use the Sunyata to stop pain.
This practice is negative. Parables such as those of "the cow," "babies," and "fire" are used with the idea of escape from suffering.
For example, there is the parable of the man who makes the mistake of thinking an officials cow is his own.
He takes it with him, but upon discovering his error he frees the cow and flees his home in fear of punishment by the official.
The meaning of the parable is that every Dharma is originally Sunyata but when we take the Sunyata to be self (ego), we have to fear being seized by others.
This results when one practices Sunyata with the Four Noble Truths out of desire to free oneself from suffering.
The highest level achieved in Hinayana is only the four realizations of Arhatship.
- The Mahayana practice of Sunyata lays stress on the same entity of Sunyata, for all sentient beings.
The Mahayanist practices it with Non-Egoism and altruism, from which develops the Great Compassion of the Same Entity and the Great Compassion of the Non-Condition.
Hence, he practices the six paramitas and unites with the Sunyata of Three Wheels.
In this way, the ego is eventually virtually eliminated.
In these ways Mahayana lays stress on positive values.
- C. The follower of Hinayana practices Sunyata in accordance with the doctrine of Causation of Karma, thus laying most stress on Vinaya.
In Mahayana practice, the Sunyata is practiced in accordance with the Causation of Tathagata.
In this Causation, there are Ten Wonderful Gates of the Conditional Virtues (Hwa Yen School) from which is practiced the Bodhi and thus much spiritual food of merit and wisdom is collected.
In such a fashion, one may reach the Mahayana Nirvana, not just the four stages of Arhatship.
Actually, the Sunyata Condition and the Sunyata Nature are just like two sides of a piece of paper.
No one practices Sunyata Nature only and not Sunyata Condition, or vice versa.
However, it is possible to practice Sunyata Nature with many different methods, just as it is possible to practice Sunyata Condition with many other methods.
The name "the Great Middle Path" was written in a Tibetan book called The Mahamudra of the Dro Pa School.
My guru said the "Great Middle Path is the seed, Mahamudra is the way or path and Great Perfection is the result or consequence."
We use the adjective "great" to modify the Middle Path, because the paramita yana, belonging to exoteric doctrine, is called the Middle Way.
But when we are discussing esoteric doctrines, the word "great" is used.
The discrimination between the two doctrines will be discussed in the following eight paragraphs:
- A. In the Paramita Yana, one practices Sunyata with the eight negations, four phrases, eighteen kinds of Sunyata, eight parables, and certain other methods. Sunyata is investigated by using rational reason, utilizing all phenomena.
The Mahamudra is based upon this exoteric doctrine, but on this foundation it adds certain other methods; in particular, the initiations through which one receives blessings and eventually the insight of the Enlightened Entity.
Only at this point does one actually start to practice Vajrayana Mahamudra.
- B. The practice of Sunyata in the Paramita Yana must be combined with the other five paramitas.
In this way, the student develops the Bodhicitta and the resolve to lead all sentient beings to Buddhahood before himself. The student of Vajrayana Mahamudra must stress complete renunciation.
Through continuous meditation in his hermitage, he develops resolve to shorten the time of attainment and ultimately to save all sentient beings in this lifetime.
To this end, he must now give up such practices as divination, magic, healing and all other Karmas which can give only temporary help to sentient beings.
That was why in the Mahamudra doctrine it is written that "to practice Mahamudrae must keep the nine cessations of body, speech and mind."
- C. The Paramita Yana moves in a gradual sequence from vinaya to dhyana to prajna.
During the practice of dhyana, one first practices samatha, then samapatti, and finally the two together. Vajrayana Mahamudra practice starts at the time one gets the insight of the Enlightened Entity.
At this time, samatha and samapatti become intrinsically unified. Samatha is the "entity" and samapatti is itself the "enlightened."
Thus, there is no duality within the Enlightened Entity.
When one has achieved this unity of samatha and samapatti it becomes possible to practice the first yoga, called "One-Pointed Yoga"
In the book Mahamudra of Dro Pa School One-Pointed Yoga is considered to be just samatha.
The next yoga, called "Give-up-the-Play-Word Yoga" is taken to be samapatti. In my humble opinion, this is a great mistake in the actual meaning of "one-pointed."
While abiding constantly on the Enlightened Entity of Mahamudrae is no samatha of subjectivity, no insight of objectivity, and the Enlightened Entity appears by itself, abides by itself, and continues by itself.
This is the practice of Sunyata in the Consequence Position.
What "Give-up-the-Play-Word Yoga" means is to give up volition in meditation on the Enlightened Entity.
This does not mean giving up the sensations or thoughts of ordinary mental states, as the Great Middle Path suggests.
The reader is advised to refer to my Chinese book entitled The Subtle Discrimination of the Essential Mahamudra Teachings.
- D. The practice of Sunyata of the Great Middle Path progresses in a straight line, step by step through samatha and samapatti, until the two become unified. This progression is arithmetic in quality.
From the starting point of Mahamudra practice with the Enlightened Entity, to its full realization, the quality of progress is no longer in a straight line, but progresses sphere by sphere.
At the starting point of the Enlightened Entity, each yoga is a sphere, perfectly round consisting of the Sunyata and Dharmakaya though yet imperfect.
After each yoga is practiced and realized, the wisdom of enlightenment becomes crystalized and becomes the concrete embodiment of Dharmakaya.
The term "enlightened" in the term of "Enlightened Entity" is the gnostic light of the Sunyata Condition which is the Rupakaya, while "entity" is the Dharmakaya.
The practice of Sunyata of the Great Middle Path gives only a partial realization of this.
That is why the Bodhisattva of the first stage does not know the Sunyata of the second.
He partially cuts off some sorrows and achieves some partial realization of Dharmakaya.
Hence, the Way of the Causal Doctrine can not compare with the doctrine of the Vajrayana Mahamudra.
We can take the example of travelling by train or airplane as an analogy.
In a train we may get out and explore the details of the stations if we wish, but we have a view limited to the immediate vicinity of the tracks. I
n an airplane we have a birds eye view of both sky and earth at every moment.
The latter is the Tantric method of practicing Sunyata, that is, the Mahamudra.
- E. The Tantric doctrine of Mahamudra uses some metaphors and parables which are the same as those usually used in the exoteric schools.
For instance, the Mahamudra Yoga of One-Taste uses the parables of "water and waves," "water and ice" and "sleep and dreams."
These are also mentioned in the Prajna Paramita Sutra. While the subject of the parables is the same in both, their objects are used quite differently.
The books Mahamudra of Dro Pa School and the book called Rest from Maya Method written by the Nyingmapa sage named Undefiled Light, did not point out the difference between the two objects of the parable.
Hence, it has been criticized by the Gelugpa as the same exoteric doctrine.
In my book Subtle Discriminations of the Teachings of Mahamudra I have explained the difference in the two senses very clearly.
The main difference is that the object practiced in the Great Middle Path is only philosophic and theoretical, while the object of the parable as practiced in the Mahamudra is the Enlightened Entity.
This is the "water" or "sleep" of the parables, while its Wonderful Function is the "wave," "dream" or "ice."
This appears in the Yoga of One-Taste. These, I must add, are practical realizations and not just theory.
- F. The term "Non-Practice Yoga" in Mahamudra means there is no defilement in the practice of the Enlightened Entity and its conditional function.
But, the same term in the doctrine of the Great Middle Path means that there is no defilement in the philosophy of Sunyata since they never have the Enlightened Entity for a starting point of practice.
There is a position of non-knowledge in which the exoteric cuts off sorrow and achieves the Buddha.
This realization is approaching Buddhahood.
It is very difficult to attain. In the Mahamudra one has the advantage of the initiations and blessings of a guru who is himself in the position of Dharmakaya.
Thus the approach to the Non-practice Position is comparatively easy and quick.
While the theory of non-practice seems the same in Mahamudra and the Great Middle Path, its quality is very different in the two.
- G. The practitioner of the Great Middle Path purposely aids others and thus prolongs the time taken to realize Sunyata.
He desires that all beings achieve Buddahood before he does.
The student of Vajrayana, on the contrary, forbids himself these practices and adds some methods, such as the fourth Mahamudra initiation, to shorten his path, as I have already explained.
- H. Although the Causation of Tathagata or Bhutatathata in the Great Middle Path is superior to the Causation of Alaya in the Idealism school (which lays much stress on mentality), the latter never takes account of this.
Philosophically, the Theory of Tathagata is not limited by mentality.
In their doctrine "mind" is always used, but actually it does not mean consciousness, which is separate from materiality.
Actually, the Causation of Tathagata includes every Dharma and every phenomena of mentality and materiality, all of which are included in the Tathagatagarbha.
It does not separate matter from mind.
I always say that "among the three realms there are only conditions, and every [[con
dition]] is Sunyata" instead of the Idealist saying that "the three realms are only Mind and all Dharmas are consciousness."
Actually the Mahamudra is practiced only after the second and third initiation.
During the practice of these initiations one is practicing deep breathing.
Here mind actually meets the five elements.
Both Mahamudra and the Great Perfection are esoteric.
The latter belongs to the Nyingmapa School.
Some of these doctrines come from the "Hidden Treasure of Dharma" hidden by Padmasambhava, which the Gelugpa rejects for the reason that they were not imparted from India.
Mahamudra is accepted by every Tibetan school, although the Gelugpa considers it very esoteric, and therefore do not readily talk about it.
In my humble opinion, the Hidden Treasure of Dharma is not completely reliable. Some of the doctrines are not authentic.
But, we can investigate them with reason and philosophy.
What is really the Gem of Dharma is without a doubt excellent.
Unfortunately, the Gelugpa rejects all types of hidden Treasure.
This shows a kind of ignorance of the tradition, and a lack of "Dharma eye" with which these discriminations must be made.
For example, they refuse to accept the Book of the Dead.
This goes against philosophy, logic and reason.
The Buddha must have had compassion for those in the Bardos.
Are the teachings of no help to those in the Bardo states? Is the practice of reading from the book and visualizing the five Buddhas of no value even if the book was not written by Padmasambhava himself?
While it is not the purpose of this essay to discuss at length the value of the Treasury of Dharma, since the Great Perfection belongs to the Nyingmapa Hidden Treasures, I must speak about it a little.
The Gelugpa holds to the imparted tradition from India. But, were all these Dharmas imparted orally, from mouth to ear.
If we dig up the source of the Tantra, then we find that the lower three yogas were discovered by Nagarjuna in the Iron Pagoda in Southern India.
Is this not the real tradition?
It has never been rejected by the Gelugpa, yet it was a hidden treasure.
Of the other Tantras of the Anuttara Yoga, some are said to have descended from Heaven and some were given to the Guru by the wisdom Yidam.
Thus, not all were imparted personally by Gautama Buddha.
That is why it is said that the Tantra is always imparted by the Sambhogakayas.
This is admitted even by the exoteric schools; the reader can have no doubt about this, thus strengthening his faith.
- A. Mahamudra establishes four yogas and practices them one by one, whereas the Great Perfection does not establish these yogas.
The former method is gradual, while the latter is rapid. The Right View of the Mahamudra is called the Dharmakaya View, while the Great Perfection is called the Natural Purity View.
The former requires practice to gain realization, while the latter does not.
Because there is no bondage in the Cause position, there is no need of liberation in the Consequence position.
In terms of time, the present is taken as Sunyata without hesitation or waiting. In terms of space, whatever is before one, is taken without choice or selection.
Where there is the Right View of Natural Purity there is Right Practice, Right Conduct and Right Result without gradation or sequence.
The practitioner must just keep the Right View of Natural Purity without a moments cessation.
That is why the great guru Gampopa said, "You think I practice, but what is it that I practice? If you say I do not practice, then why am I not disturbed?" We should not deceive ourselves, only the great sages can do this.
- In the works of the great Nyingmapa sage named Undefiled Light there are many mistakes that make the Mahamudra so much like the Great Perfection.
I have written an essay entitled "Padmasambhavas Secret Teaching on the Great Perfection" which someday may be translated by some one, and may be used for reference on this subject.
- B. Through the aid of the third initiation, one attains the Rainbow Body in the practice of Mahamudrae in the Great Perfection, one may do without Dakinis.
Here another method called Torga is used, through which the body is transformed into the Rainbow Body.
The former practice is both dangerous and difficult since real Dakinis are hard to meet.
It is also very dangerous to lose the White Bodhi and very difficult to dissolve it into Wisdom light, in the maya body of Buddhahood or Heruka.
In the Great Perfection, there is nothing quite so difficult or dangerous.
In the first state of practice, advantage is taken of external light such as the sun and moon.
By and by, the light is induced within the maya body.
This is easily done in the Great Perfection. Practice is carried out in a totally dark building.
Even if the yogi does not succeed in this, he avoids the traps of lust and suffering which sometimes catch those who have received the third initiation.
There is a special doctrine in the Nyandhi Yoga called "The Highest Method for Getting Enlightenment in One Week" which explains this.
I have given a commentary on this in my Chinese book published in Hong Kong.
- C. The concept of Causation in the Mahamudra is different from that in the Great Perfection.
The practitioner of Mahamudra has already passed through the second and third initiations in which Tumo and deep breathing are practiced, and has sublimated the gross breathing into non-dualism of mind and energy.
On this basis he established the gnostic Sambhogakaya or Dharmakaya.
Now the student should practice the fourth initiation of Mahamudra with this maya body and achieve the non-duality of enlightenment.
In the Great Perfection the concept of causation is also related to the five energies of breathing, the five of wisdom, five lights and five Vajrayana chains (Torga) which form the foundation of non-duality of mind and energy.
In the Great Perfection these elements and five wisdoms are intrinsically harmonized. Thus, the student does not practice them separately.
He knows that mind and energy are naturally pure and perfect.
Therefore it is not necessary to practice first with the mind, and then with deep breathing and finally with the non-duality of the two, since there is no duality between mind and energy in the View of Natural Purity.
In the Five Lights of Torga, one experiences the harmonization of the five energies and five wisdoms.
Here there is no analysis, for there is no need to analyze whether the light belongs to this wisdom or this energy.
- D. Che Cho means View of Natural Purity. It is the foundation of the Great Perfection.
It views everything as the five elements, five energies, five wisdoms and five lights, which are two Parts of the Great Perfection.
All are intrinsically pure and holy.
With this view one is able to practice the Torga through which ones body may be transformed into the Rainbow Body.
Before proceeding with a more detailed discussion of this topic, a short introduction to Chan is necessary.
Two things must be mentioned:
i) In China the Tantra and the Chan have been considered as two separate schools.
But in accordance with my emphasis on all systems of Buddhism being one whole, the Chan actually should be considered as belonging to the highest stage of the Great Perfection in the Vajrayana, which is Tantra.
There are three reasons why they should not be divided:
- a) My root guru, the great Lola Rimpoche, who was highly skilled in the practice of Great Perfection and the first guru to impart it in China, made contact with many Chinese scholars and practitioners of Chan.
As a result he called it the "Great Tantra" which is the highest stage of the Great Perfections.
This will be discussed in more detail later on.
Historically, Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa school is said to have criticized the [[Chinese [Chan]] monk who came to Tibet and induced Tibetan Tantric monks to become his disciples.
Tsongkhapa was born in Chin Hai Province which is close to Tibet and on the periphery of China.
In this province, Tibetan but not Han customs are followed.
He himself never entered Han and hence never learned about Chan.
I have given some criticism of his book, The Great Path of Tantra, on this point in Chinese. It has been published in Hong Kong.
- b) What we have called the Tantra may have secrecy in its content.
But the Chan has not only this secrecy, but secrecy of function in Truth.
This kind of function of Truth has many wonderful methods which are without logic or reason, but give the student instant comprehension of the Truth.
This will be discussed later on.
For this reason Chan is not exoteric as the Chinese scholars classified it.
- c) The first patriarch of the Chinese Chan school was Bodhidharma who had been a famous Tantric guru in Tibet.
In China he was known as a patriarch of Chan alone but in Tibet he imparted the Great Perfection whose foundation was completely the same as that of the Chinese Chan school. So, without question, Chan belongs to the Tantra.
ii) The second part of my introduction to Chan concerns its classifications.
The Venerable teacher Tai Hsu classified Chan schools in terms of their purport and dynasty as follows:
- a) Tathagata Chan which tries to teach how to recognize the mind with doctrines.
- b) Patriarchal Chan which points out the mind intuitively without one word of doctrines and goes beyond the Buddhas.
- c) Chan of the Five Sects which goes beyond Chan of the Patriarchs.
- d) Chan in the Sung, Yuan, Ming and Ching dynasties.
"Dhyana Buddhism in Chinese History and Teachings" written by Doctor Chu Shang Kung used these four classifications, but in my humble opinion I cannot agree with them.
The first three categories are based on the standard of quality, whereas the fourth uses that of dynasties.
One should not use two standards to classify one thing.
In accordance with the prophecies of the ancient Gurus of Chan, I made the following four categories:
- a) Tathagata Chan of Dharmic teachings.
- b) Patriarchal Chan pointing out the Essence.
- c) Offspring Chan using, opportunity and function to impart the Truth.
- d) The Oral Chan spoken by sand-like Buddhists.
The terms "offspring" and "sand-like" were both predicted in the prophecies of Chan history.
The Chinese scholars mistakenly thought the Sand-like Chan would be known by everyone.
Actually, it is said that the common Oral Chan is not Chan at all, just as sand is not gold.
It was a term of ridicule rather than praise.
Using the above system of classification, the comparative study of Chan and the Great Perfection should take account of the following:
First, we should know that Chan is the highest stage of the Great Perfection, and therefore is part of the Tantra.
This contrasts with the view of the Chinese scholars who treat the Tantra as a doctrine of outsiders and considered Chan as an exoteric doctrine.
The second point is that the Chan which can be compared to the Great Perfection is the third type, which I have called Offspring Chan.
This is not so for the other three types of Chan.
Patriarch Chan can only be compared to the Mahamudrad Tathagata Chan only with the Great Middle Path.
The ordinary Oral Chan is not Chan at all and not worth a straw.
Thus, I will use the Offspring Chan in the following comparisons.
A. Great Perfection employs three kinds of imparting methods in initiations.
1.The first is called Denoting Initiation,
second is Oral Initiation and
the third is Mind Initiation.
In the first one, a crystal or round mirror is usually used as a symbol of the initiation.
In all three there are formal rituals which are traditional.
In Chan there are no such rituals, rather, the Great Opportunity and the Great Function of the Truth are used.
The Chan guru must impart it in his own realization and the disciple must also accept it in this newly appeared realization, intuitively.
No established rituals or objects are used as symbols or denotation.
Thus the guru is only able to impart it if he himself has realized it; and the disciple cannot accept it if he does not suddenly make his own realization appear.
In the Great Perfection on the other hand the guru may not have had the realization himself.
But if he has received and studied the tradition, he may give the initiations using the prescribed rituals.
B. In the history of the accomplished gurus of the Great Perfection, there are very few who could use the Great Opportunity and Function with the Truth.
One such was Tilopa who gave Naropa instant comprehension of the Truth when he struck his penis with a rock.
When Bewapa received his initiation of Great Perfection, he began to dance in the Mandala and immediately attained the sixth stage of Bodhisattva.
Every Tibetan knows this story.
However, there are one hundred thousand more examples of this kind in the records of the Chinese Chan.
For example the Chan guru who lived in a birds nest and was therefore called Birds Nest Guru, gave his disciple instant comprehension when he blew on a feather.
Was not the feather a small thing, and blowing on it a small action? Yet, they performed such profound functions of the Truth.
Without the gurus great attainment and the great devotion of his disciple, this result could not have been achieved.
Many, many different instances of this have been recorded. For example, drawing a bow, raising a finger, beating or hitting the ground, killing a snake, a punch in the armpit, raising a fist, breaking a pot, destroying a stove, upturning a bed, blowing out a breath and knocking a bamboo, have all been used by the great Chan gurus for imparting the truth.
At times, crying, shouting and the like have been used. Even seeing a reflection in the water, or taking a cup of tea or a piece of cake have served the purpose.
This all seems very wonderful, but actually is very simple. It seems simple but actually it is very wonderful.
There is nothing in the history of Buddhism in all of India, Tibet, China or Japan that can compare with it.
C. The Doctrine of the Great Perfection has been divided into two parts, Che Cho and Torga, both of which have been used by many Nyingmapa Lamas.
Both are quite different from Chan where one is not allowed to practice meditation before achieving some realization.
There is a proverb which goes, "Without passing the first crisis, one should not be a hermit; without passing the second crisis, one should not abide on a mountain."
That was why the Chan monks usually wandered everywhere, searching for a guru through whom they could get the realization of the truth.
When the student comprehends the truth, it is said that he has passed the first crisis.
From this point on he can practice the Chan which consists of just keeping the realization constantly in mind.
Many wonderful powers and forms of liberation have been recorded in Tang Dynasty, through the practice of Chan.
For example, there was the sage Yin Fung who died standing upside down and the monk Pu Wha who flew away with his body.
Comparing the two schools just in terms of the number of sages in each we see that the Chan had many, many more followers who achieved higher attainments than the Great Perfection.
I will now give a brief but important summary of what I have said.
The discrimination between the exoteric and esoteric schools is a gross one, and they are easily distinguished.
The following essential distinctions between Mahamudra Perfection and Chan must be discerned.
The practitioner of Mahamudra must understand the fourth yoga called "Yoga of Non-Practice" before he can begin to practice the Great Perfection and its view of Natural Purity.
The practitioner of Great Perfection must not only have the view of Natural Purity, but actually some realization of Great Perfection, then he can begin to practice Chan.
The practitioner of Mahamudra must get the insight of the Enlightened Entity before he can actually practice the Mahamudra.
Until he gets this insight, he is still at the stage of paramita meditation even though he has received the impartation and initiation of Mahamudra.
The practitioner of Great Perfection must personally get the realization of Che Cho, of Natural Purity.
Even with initiation and impartation he may only know the theory intellectually, and not have the realization.
Until he has this, he can not practice the Great Perfection.
The practitioner of Chan must have seen the Truth and must understand the special impartation beyond doctrine.
He must know the Preaching of Dharmakaya without words.
He must have personally seen the Natural Face.
Then and only then can he practice the Chan, which is to say, "box without hands" and see that everything is in the Bodhi.
All this must be known intuitively and not just as "words from the mouth."
In conclusion, let me give some simple terms for distinguishing these five kinds of Sunyata.
- 1-2. To practice Sunyata is the Course of the exoteric schools, Hinayana and Mahayana.
- 3. To master the Sunyata is the Course of Mahamudra.
- 4. To naturalize Sunyata is the Course of Great Perfection.
- 5. To realize and function in Sunyata is the Course of Chan.
The student of Mahamudra masters the Sunyata because he has the Enlightened Entity.
This is somewhat quicker than in the exoteric schools, but more gradual than in the Great Perfection since the student must go through the four yogas, i.e.
One-Pointed Yoga, Giving-Up-Play-Word Yoga, One-Taste Yoga, and Non-Practice Yoga.
I wrote a poem symbolizing this:
- Needles head argues with its end
- Passing thread is what they mind.
- Head has hole, end must work on.
- The point has much work to find.
Here, the head is the Great Perfection which has its hole already made.
The point of the needle must work its way through the four yogas.
The Chan of Offspring is very difficult to understand, yet when once you have discovered it, there is no practice so easy, so plain, and so intrinsic.
Among the five kinds of practice of Sunyata, it is the shortest and straightest way, as is said, an attainment without walking.
By Yogi C. M. Chen