Translated from Mandarin into English by Lu K'uan Yü
And into French by Henri Lalo
Dr Jacques Vigne
Revision of the English Version of this Foreword
Revision of the English Version of this Foreword
by Kate Zeiss, Ph.D, Phil
Ch'an is the form of non-dual teaching which was developed in China from the sixth century onwards. This is from this tradition that Japanese Zen was born. The translator into French of the following texts, Henry Lalo, requested me to write its foreword for the French edition; he had read my book The Inner Marriage, whose leading thread is non-duality, it may be for this that he thought of me for the foreword. After completing it in French, I realised it could be interesting for English-speaking friends, and so, I translated it.
Ch’an teaching is still alive these days; as a proof of it, one will find in the first volume the texts of Hsu Yun, who passed away in 1959, and who was the master of Lu K'uan Yü, the translator from Chinese into English of the series. Of course, the Buddhist teaching suffered from the Communists in mainland China, but it could continue in Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is an honour for me to write a foreword to these three fundamental books.
Ch'an speaks the "language of the uncreated".
I will not repeat the useful explanations which Lu Ku’an Yü gives in its introduction. However, having studied for the past eighteen years in the traditional milieu of India, I think I can contribute to the understanding of these texts by underlining the common basis of Indian Buddhism of that time with Ch'an. Many of these parallels may not immediately be visible to the Western reader.
sudden path of Ch'an is based on an essential paradox, which old generations
used to express in this way: "It is easy for the man of this word to reach
the state of Buddha which is immediately underlying], but it is really
difficult to put an end to erroneous thoughts [which cover on it]."
These paradoxes are embodied in the koans: (Chinese kung an), a
term whose original meaning is "judgement, decree, that which is
authoritative". These are the short phrases of the master in which the
disciple must get absorbed until the complete stoppage of his mind occurs.
Even these interrogations are often paradoxical. For instance, in Ch'an
as well as in Zen, attention to the “here and now” is much emphasised, however,
a hua t’u by master Hui Chueh was : "Don't care!"
In reading all these Ch’an texts, the first teaching which comes out strongly, is a lesson of humility: How many seekers, even masters in training, have gotten strikes of the stick from their own master because they believed themselves to have ‘grasped’, while in reality they had not understood anything! There is a big difference between "realising a few things" and realising "the Thing". Houei Neng, the sixth Patriach of Ch’an, was illiterate. Even when the transmission which he had received from his own master at the age of 23 had been widely recognised, he continued to call his listeners "learned friends", for instance, one day, a boy of 15 had come to ask him a few questions. In another case, a youngster was challenging his realisation in a somewhat provocative way by asking him what he was "seeing" or not, i.e., what he had realised or not. He received this answer: "What I see, are the mistakes of my mind; what I do not see, is what is good or bad, right or wrong with others."
Master Tao Tcheu, when he was already 80, used to go from place to place praying to be instructed; however, it is said that "he had been meditating for the past forty years on the word wu (which means "no" or "nothing") without leading a single thought arise"... Eventually, at a very advanced age, he got enlightened. In him is a great example of the deep humility which arises in higher levels of attainment, when one recognises the ultimate goal still eludes one.
After considering various aspects of non-duality in Ch'an teaching,
including a few common points with the Advaita of India, we will study, as a
second part, the listening to the sound of silence in Ch’an.
the Chandogya Upanishad, there is the praise of Udgîthâ, "the song
from above" which is not different from the sound of silence which is
recited as a continuous thread, as a kind of subtle Om, and spread in the
sky. Tibetans speak of it as the
"recitation without recitation".
In Bible, Eliah has his a central experience of God "in the sound
of a subtle silence" qol, ‘the voice’, demama, ‘of a silence’,
daqqa, ‘subtle’. (I Kings, 19, 12). Sufis speak of "the call of the
inner minaret" and Saint John of the Cross mentions the musica callada,
the "silent music". Sound is
directly related to sudden awakening, this is hinted at in the path of Ch’an
for instance when it is claimed
In the third part, we will establish a parallel between the sudden awakening of consciousness about which the Ch’an speaks and the awakening of energy which may be sudden in Yoga and Tantra. By a phrase, a gesture, even sometimes simply by shouting, the master transmits energy to a given disciple for life. In India, this is called shaktîpat, or directly imparting shakti, energy.
The Ch’an teachers were careful to renew their vocabulary to try to
prevent their disciples from falling asleep in meditation. Te Ch’ien said for
instance: "A ‘good’ phrase is a pole where donkeys may remain tied for a
century..." In order to well understand Ch’an, one should try to internally
re-create the atmosphere of the hermit-poets of that time, like Han Shan to
whom we will return below. Yang Shia for instance, Houei Neng’s direct
disciple, went into retreat for some time just after his enlightenment, it
seems he wanted to "digest" what had happened to him: "After my
great awakening, I dwelled in a quiet retreat under pine-trees located on a
high peak to be far away from the world and meditate in a hut. With a light
heart, I tasted the quietness of this serene life."
Hsing Zen’s story is equally interesting. He had come to see the sixth Patriarch, and when the latter asked him to present his practices, he answered him: "I didn’t care for the sacred Truths [the Four Noble Truths]." He considered that they were at the level of the progressive path, while he was at the level of sudden awakening. The master certified his viewpoint, and had such a high opinion of him that he appointed him chief of the assembly. Indeed, morbid religiosity can plague some Buddhists just as it affects also members of other religions. They may indefinitely go into circles around the Four Noble Truths, especially the two first : "There is suffering", and "there are the causes of suffering..." Hsing Zen freed himself from all that, and his master greatly appreciated it. The latter asserts that the vehicles, yâna, are not an end in themselves, but are simply there to lead to the destination. So, he was distancing himself from the disputes between Hînayâna, Mahâyâna, Vajrayâna, etc...
Here I would like to share a dream that I have while working on this
foreword. Usually, I do not care that
much for dreams, but this one seemed to be significant in the context of this
work: "I was invited to attend a seminar on Buddhism which was expected to
be quite interesting, with many good speakers who were invited.
The sudden non-dual awakening, or "how not to confuse host and guest".
Closer to us, Hsu Yun said during the last century: "As for the methods which are at our disposal to get rid of erroneous thoughts, there are already many words of Buddha Sakyamuni. What is simpler for instance that the term stop in his phrase: "If it stops, that is enlightenment." When the mind becomes as motionless as a stone, one does not have any more anxieties about the changes of the world; Han-shan, again he, tells us this from the depths of his mountain:
Monks were called "mountain-men", interestingly, the
combination of the two characters in Chinese also signifies immortality.
From the point of view of modern neurology, we can mention the work of
d’Aquili and Neuberg which show in a nutshell that in deep meditation
irrespective of tradition, cerebral activity shifts from the centres of the
body representation near the area of Rolando
(and the side of the head) towards the frontal centres responsible for
the consciousness of space. It is interesting to note that this is in the
centre of the brow, the âjńa, which is the focus in Yoga for developing
the sense of the mystical space, of the ocean of light, etc.
Vedanta, Self is spoken of as Sat-chit-anand,
being-consciousness-happiness. As for
Houei Neng, he defined the sambhoga-kâya as "receiving the self,
thoughts after thoughts, without losing sight of the fundamental thought [of
the real nature, of one's true self]".
The fundamental nature which contemplates itself, from moment to moment,
generates a sense of wonder. One should remember that sam-bhoga-kâya
means ‘body’, kâya, of ‘full experience’, or of full enjoyment, sam-bhoga.
The Indian origin of Ch’an may have be idealised, but still it appears in the following statement: "This dharma is the pure milk from the Himalayas which yields a refined butter..."
The ascetics which gave to the baby Houei Neng his name after his birth have explained it to his parents in this way: Houei means "the doctrine", "dharma", and Neng implies "the one who transmits". In addition, neng means also south, and in Ch’an history, the doctrine of the South has been considered as the sudden doctrine, so it is also in this way that the Chinese of that time could understand the name Houei-Neng. It is interesting to note that he receives the transmission of his master by his own song of liberation, gâthâ, where he asserts that there is no need to clean the dust, because there is no mirror on which this dust could accumulate. However, a long time after the Patriarch’s death, the emperor Hsien Tsoung (806-820) granted him the posthumous title of Ta Chien, "great mirror". So, the question is whether this mirror exists or not... It seems that, even after his departure, the master wanted to point us toward what lies beyond of the pairs of opposites, especially the opposites of ‘non-existence’ and ‘existence’.
The basis of the doctrine of sudden awakening is that this awakening may occur in a snap of the fingers, in one instant. One speaks in Sanskrit of kshanam, which means ‘the moment’, often as brief as the blink of an eye. Although technically, the etymology relates this word to the root kri-, "having free time", for a Sanskrit ear, this term is very close to khsaya, ‘destruction’, so kshanam would be associated to the notion of "destroyer". Each moment destroys the preceding moment; in this sense it has a liberating potential. Ma Anandamayi said there were two fundamental instants, one instant is that of birth which conditions the course of our life in the sense that it launches us into a whole series of circumstances and thus determines our history, and the other is the Instant which destroys time, that of Liberation. She liked to meditate on the simile of the seed and the tree, a symbolism which was equally a basis for the songs of liberation, gâthâs, of many Patriarchs, especially in the Ch’an period. Let us see here this passage of Ma for instance, which parallels the idea of the Patriarchs:
If moving means not resting in one place, how is it that movement and rest coincide? This is so! In the same way, every instant of the growth of the tree is a point of rest and of movement...
Patriarchs emphasised that the idea of an all-powerful instant should not lead
to nihilism, Sanskrit uchedana, which is described as an extreme just as
is the opposite belief of an eternal substance. Buddhist Masters were good psychiatrists, because they were quick
to discern a hidden depression or a limitation of complete freedom among those
who were contemplating the void as void, behind their apparently beautiful
speech of complete quietness and of plunging into emptiness, etc.
Certainly, there was an influence of the Middle Path, ¨the madhyamika
marga of Nâgârjuna’s school (3rd century) on Vedanta, which was
codified by Shankarâchârya towards the seventh or eighth century : in it, there
is a central conception of the Self as dvandvâtîta, ‘beyond the pairs of
opposites’, and so as directly, a limited consciousness resulting in the
experience of fulfilment, as a logical result of the Middle Path.
come back to the core of the question, Ch’an teaches us not to be a bat which
flies here and there in the innermost recesses of the cave of the mind, but to
become like the eagle which contemplates the sun directly.
Houei Neng obtained the awakening when he heard his master, the fifth Patriach, reading to him, during the night, the Diamond sutra (vajra-cheddika prâjńâ-paramita sutra) and reaching this sentence: "One should develop a spirit which does not dwell anywhere". In the hermitage under the pine-trees were I live, I read every day a verse from the Bhagavad-Gita. The very day when this mode of awakening of Houei Neng came to my knowledge, the verse of the Gita which I read was this one:
We find the same message after a millennium and at a distance of thousands of kilometres. Ma Anandamayi goes also in this sense when she says :
If those who practise non-duality cannot go beyond bigotry, who will succeed in doing so? Houei Neng seems to have had his experience of the One beyond all. This is apparent in the way he presents the tri-sharanam, the triple refuge of Buddhism:
The Soto Zen school has widely spread in the West during the last several decades. Two masters were at the origin of it, Tsao Shan and Tshong Shan, they were coming respectively from the mountains of Tsao and Tsong, hence the Chinese name of the school, Tsao Tsong which in Japanese became ‘Soto’. During his wandering search at the beginning, the young Tshong Shan reached the hermitage of the old sage Iun Ien. There, he obtained a satori, became his disciple and asked him the following question before leaving: "After your nirvâna, if someone asked me: "Could you still describe the reality of your master?", what should I answer?" Iun- Ien said : “You should answer: ‘only this is.’" Tsong Shan remained silent for a long time, and Iun Ien added: "By pursuing this work [the seeking of one's own nature], the venerable friend should be very vigilant."
At the end of this part on the only one Reality beyond every opposite comes to my mind this poem of conclusion of Han Shan’s book, which he must have cut in the wall of some cave in his solitary mountain:
The Question: "Who Listens? ", A Koan for Sudden Awakening
There is a famous question: "Who recites Buddha’s name?" We saw that this was one of the method by which the Ch’an masters had to lead the practitioners from the devotional path of the Pure Land, for instance, towards the path of knowledge: these devotees, since their very childhood, had recited Budha’s name as often as possible to that extent that it had become as a continuous sound stream in them. Upon this question, they could take advantage of their past training but still come back to themselves and so were able to put into question the firm existence of the subject who was reciting. When they had a tendency to fall asleep due to the monotony of recitation, it was this very question which would wake them up. So, they could directly shift towards the path of knowledge. This is a simple method which was explained to me as well by quite traditional Vedantis in India.
Yun introduced this practise as a synthesis of various schools of his time,
i.e. during the first half of the 20th century in China.
is mentioned in Yoga that ajapa-japa, this state where a mantra is no
more repeated, but where one hears it repeating itself automatically, is not
different from the awakening of kundalini.
In this case, breathing becomes hyper-conscious.
Moreover, the monotony of the inner sound favours pauses at the end of the expiration, in a complete state of receptivity. This experience is indeed related to the three parts of this foreword: first there is a non-dual experience beyond subject and object, because when the subject wonders: "Who am I?", an inescapable answer seems to be: "I am the one who breathes!" However, when this breathing itself stops, the evidence collapses naturally. In this instant of breathing pause, a full absorption in the listening to sound is possible; this is the subject of the second part; besides, there is also an awakening of energy and of consciousness of which we will speak in the third part.
have seen that in mantra repetition, especially when we reach a stage where it
comes on its own, this question "Who is reciting it?"
Let us listen now to what Avalokitshvara says of these methods in the sutra:
K’uan Yű comments in this way: "These methods consist of turning the
hearing inside, towards the real nature to hear it so that the six senses do
not go astray outside to contact the six external objects.
"thus progressing step-by-step, both hearing and its object reach their end.
The hearing power and its object which reach their end evoke the dissolution in the sound of silence. However, that may induce a drowsiness, and we have seen that to wake up, one may pose the question: "Who listens to the sound of silence?" At that time, one really merges into the non-dual consciousness. After reaching this stage, the bodhisattva Avalokitshvara said:
Suddenly, I jumped both beyond the mundane and the supramundane planes and realised an all-including clarity penetrating the ten directions..."
insight into sound is in itself a sudden phenomena : if we are not attentive,
it disappears from our consciousness, if one listens carefully, it suddenly
appears. It may have been to hint at
this fact that Master Hsu Yun, to conclude a week of meditation where he had
taught these methods, started to strike a piece of wood, saying: "The
wooden fish of wood is struck, the bowl jumps up!" In Ch’an monasteries,
the wooden fish is struck to call the community to the dining hall.
master says : "While the bird sings and the flowers blossom, the moon
reaches the current." This can be understood as an allusion
A Ch’an sage said : "There is an echo in every word and a sword [of wisdom] in every aphorism." The perception of echoes which are subtler and subtler leads to the experience of fundamental sound. To perceive it really clearly, a perfect immobility of the body is required, hence those classical similes in Ch’an: in the log of dry wood, the dragon thunders, the wooden horse neighs, the earthen ox fallen in a river starts bellowing, etc This is as if the thought of wisdom strikes a gong within oneself; its vibration corresponds to the spiritual experience and its dissolution in silence, to the intimate link which we can establish between the explicit thought of the beginning and Reality.
have already quoted one Han Shan, the poet and hermit from the second half of
the first millennium, but there was also another Han Shan, who was a 16th
century Ch’an master in China. He reached sudden awakening by meditating on the
sound of silence in the Mountain of the Five Peaks, a famous place of
pilgrimage devoted to the bodhisattva Manjushri. We have seen that he was related to the sound of silence by his
other name Manju-svara. This is symbolic. The five peaks may evoke the sources of the five senses: when one
succeeds in stabilizing the consciousness even more inside these sources, only
then, one’s own nature of bodhisattva may be revealed, which means that one
develops the purity, sattva, of consciousness, bodhi.
monk asked his Master: "With what should the man of Tao to deeply
intimate, in order to obtain the capacity of perpetual hearing, even without
specifically listening to something?" The Master answered: "Both are
under the same blanket." He was
probably indicating that when one has obtained the perpetual hearing of the
sound of silence, subject and object are under the blanket of the same
It is said in the sutras that all the dharmas proclaim the Dharma with a strong voice. There, one can see a hint to the meditation of the silent whispering of nature as a resonance of the Absolute. There is a play on words between dharma which means object, and the Dharma which signifies the Right Law. The common point between the two is that they are indeed the manifestations of the same reality, of what it is. Dhar- means ‘to bear’ (see fere in Latin), so, dharma has a general meaning of what is supported, object or reality.
The fundamental sound is probably one of the possible interpretations of this somehow enigmatic sentence of Master Tsong Chan, the founder of Soto-Zen : "Although the esoteric Dharma is not on the worldly plane, it is not completely new."
the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment which is translated at the end of the third
volume, the triad samathâ, samâpatti and dhyâna is emphasised.
corresponds in Yoga to the perception of the sound in the middle axis, as the
murmur of the continuous jet of a fountain. By passing through an energy
channel, prâna produces a sound, just as water in a pipe.
This comes to the same question "Who listens?" about which we
spoke before. One could also say that
when the wind of detachment (the autumn, this is when dry leaves blow away in
the wind) passes in an impersonal way through the purified body-mind complex
(the jade), the inner sound becomes very distinctly perceived, and it occupies
all space. One wonders if there is still someone to listen to it.
Elsewhere, a Chan master has an interesting paradoxical reflection: "One cannot know the dharma told by inanimate objects except when the voice is heard by the eyes." For those who are acquainted with Indian techniques, this directly suggests the practice of listening to the inner sound in the area of the third eye, area which is called the tenth door which comes in addition to the nine natural orifices. We have mentioned in the introduction that there are about one million Indians these days who practice in this way. In the tradition of the Pure Land, it is said that only in the paradise of the West, inanimate objects are able to proclaim the Dharma. But the Master takes this experience of paradise back within the body, here and now, and what enables this miracle to happen, is the direct and continuous perception of inner sound.
Han Shan has two poems which link ascension by the central axis and inner sound in a picturesque way:
After following the torrent upstream (the classical symbol of the central axis), the meditator reaches the upper area of the third eye where vibrates the sound of silence, where “ the pine-trees buzz, however no wind".
In the second poem, the symbolism is similar, with, in addition, a hint to the fact that the entrance into the central axis makes consciousness jump beyond time:
Without exaggeration, one could say that the one who is able to really remain seated, stock-still during half a day, has already some experience of the consciousness beyond time...
One can find in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment another evocation of
the link between the central axis and the perception of the inner sound:
“Although these advanced practitioners are staying in the phenomenal world,
they are like the sound of a musical instrument reaching far away; [this pair
of opposites which is] mental agitation, klesha, and nirvana cannot
disturb them any more." The pairs
of opposites are embodied in the left and right side of the body, what goes
beyond these is the central axis. It is
usually advised to concentrate on a very subtle sound: this is related to what
we just said, in this way, one gets the impression that it comes from very far
away and so, our sphere of consciousness is broadened.
Ashoka’s pillar in Sarnath, there are four lions, each roaring towards one of
the four quarters of space. This is the
very symbol of Buddha’s teaching, a sound which fills space until its end.
There is no question of disqualifying the practice of generating outer
sound, through the repetition of sutras or mantras for instance.
know more about this listening to silence, especially in Buddhism, I refer the
reader who can read French to my last book La mystique du silence
Master Guixi, a predecessor of Master Dogen, was asked: "What is the door of silence?" He just answered: "Don't make noise".
Buddha beyond the differences of schools, as the teaching of the "unique Voice", or of the "unique Sound"?
Sudden awakening of energy, sudden awakening of consciousness
Ch’an, there is a clear conception of what is in India called shaktîpat,
i.e., literally the "fall of energy", the sudden transmission of
energy from master to disciple. In
Chinese, it is called Ta Yung, “ the Great function", that means the
gesture, the word or even the shouting of transmission.
Men was known for his laconic answers, often of one word.
Masters awaken the inner energy by using formulas like shock-waves. They often call them "creepers"; they are not much in comparison with the tree of the real experience, but they indicate as clearly as possible its location. In Yoga, the tree corresponds to the axis, to the central passage in which ascending energy rushes, and the side channels are circling around it like a spiral, or even like the double spiral. They evoke the secondary channels of energy, prâna, and of mind, manas, which are inevitably attracted by the central axis, like stars by a black hole. Once they are absorbed into it, they induce a jump of consciousness, a "quantum leap" beyond the usual space.
There are three factors which shape the conception of the subtle body that a given culture has, in my opinion:
- The direct and explicit transmission of knowledge, with a corpus of practices, etc, as in Yoga, tantric Buddhism or Taoism.
- The role of archetypes, such as this simile of the creeper which directly evokes the gravitation of the consciousness around the axis of the essential, and from the viewpoint of the subtle body, around the central axis.
- The subtle physiology as such, based on body
physiology. It is obvious, but wise to
mention that pelvis is pelvis and head his head, whatever the culture.
should not be believed that Ch’an or Zen only recommends a descent of energy
into the hara. First, one may
note that, in the modern Chinese school of Lu K’uan Yü for instance, one
recommends the concentration on the point in between the navel and the end of
the sternum. It is said that
concentration on hara has a tendency to bring back thoughts of samsara;
one should not see here an occasion of religious war between schools. One must
understand that these centres of concentration are only springboards, diving
boards enabling us to make a “swan dive” beyond both body and mind: at that
time, consciousness is no more physical but omnipresent in space,
all-pervading. In India, the one who has develops this consciousness is called Parma-hamsa,
"the greats swan". When we
are really absorbed into the point, there is no more point.
Besides, in classical Soto-Zen, it is often said: "Pushing the
asked with the knees, pushing the sky with the head".
Tibetans are experts in making the link between the Buddhist path of
awakening and the Yoga of the subtle body.
During a seminar in Sarnath in the end of 1999 on
Regarding this, one can mention that Nāgārjuna is classified
among the Patriarchs of the Ch’an transmission before the Chinese period, the
fifteenth exactly after the Buddha. His
very name means shining, arjuna cobra, nâga. It would be
difficult to find a name which evokes the awakening of kundalini in a clearer
way, although the master does not seem to speak of it directly in his quite
rigorous metaphysics. In this context, we can mention here yet another Yun
Men’s short answer to a question: "Is there still in someone sin when no
thought arises?" "Mount Sumeru". Mount Sumeru represents the axis mundi, the stability
of the Absolute, and in the body, the
central axis. By the way, in Sanskrit, the spine is called merudand,
Houei Neng speaks of his own path as the Diamond path, we can again feel
that we are not far away from Tibetans with their superior path which they
called Vajrayâna, which translates as the Diamond path as well.
Sanskrit, the term madhya, "middle" is close to medas
which means "the marrow" and medha, signifying
"intelligence" as well as "sacrifice".
process: just as fruit gradually ripens for
months, but finally gets detached in a second, even so an inner experience may
be prepared for years but occurs suddenly.
A nine-month pregnancy leads finally at the time of labour and to an
expulsion of the baby in a few seconds.
For the sudden awakening, the intervention of the master can be a
decisive factor, but it can on also come from an apparently trivial outer
happening, this is what Buddhists call in their technical language
Buddhist tradition distinguishes ten stages, dasabhűmî, before reaching
the level of bodhisattva, and the tenth is Yoga: this proves that the Buddhist
Mahayâna tradition takes this knowledge seriously. In China as well, Taoism had a precise vision of the subtle
physiology which was not fundamentally different from that of Tantrism.
compares the right attitude of the spiritual seeker to that of someone who has
fallen in a deep well and has only one idea, coming out of it.
It is said in the texts in a rather roundabout way: "The nature of Dharma reveals the middle, which is the reality of the shining spirit
of the wonderful enlightenment of the state of
Buddha". To put it simply, what does the spirit, the shining breath which
reveals the middle, evoke, but the energy of kundalini?
Regarding the central axis, we may risk an interpetation of the story of the sixth Patriarch, Houei Neng, who wanted to wash the robe he had inherited from his master. As he could not find really pure water in the monastery, he went away and after 5 miles, he reached a lush wood and entered it; he raised his stick towards the sky, and planted it in the earth. From there a stream of water came out which finally created a pond in which he was able to soak and wash the robe of his master.
There is already in this story a direct reference to the real life of Houei Neng, who received the transmission of the fifth Patriarch in spite of a strong opposition of the monastery: he had to leave it at night and to take shelter in a forest for sixteen years. The good side of this was that he could integrate the knowledge he got from this transmission far removed from the quarrels of the clans of monks in his community of origin. From the symbolic point of view, going five miles away from the monastery means going beyond the five senses related to the physical body. There, one enters the "lush wood", i.e. the awakened subtle body. By "pushing the sky with the head, and the earth with the knees", one stretches the central axis, this is the meaning of raising the stick towards the sky and planting it in earth. From there comes the inexhaustible energy of the direct experience which allows to soak and wash the robe, which means to purify the mind in the water of the experience.
In Ch’an, one can often find the simile of "making a step from the top of a one-hundred feet high mast to reach the peak": the idea is not to fall asleep in an experience even if it is a rather high one, but to be able to take "the swan dive" towards one’s real nature beyond body and mind. A master expresses this clearly: "One step from the top of the hundred-feet high mast, and your own body manifests throughout the universe". Practically, the hundred-feet high mast may correspond to energy which has already arisen to the level of the third eye, from there, it is easier to swing beyond body, to dive into the Ocean of light, the great emptiness, etc
Let us now consider the awakening of the third eye in Ch’an tradition in a more detailed way: it is said: "The hero uses his sword of wisdom whose ‘point’, prajńâ, (wisdom), emits the light of ‘diamond’, vajra. This world is on the central axis, and its point is the third eye which is in Yoga called âjńâ chakra.
Lin Tsi, -let us recall that this name just signifies "the master"- evokes the awakening of the third eye in a simile which is astonishing in its strength and freshness: "There is a true man in a given position [the fundamental spirit] which enters and comes out through your forehead. I invite those who have not experienced it to try to see it." Simple and direct…
Yoga tradition criticises those who use the kechâri mudra (the tip of
the tongue retroflexed towards the uvula] only to enter in an inert samâdhi,
for instance to be buried alive for several months. As spectacular as it may appear to ordinary people, that has no
effect on spiritual awakening. The same
criticism is found from Ch’an masters regarding monks who felt satisfied enough
to stick their tongue against the palate, and dwell in a superficial state of
well being which they consider wrongly as the Awakening.
awakening of a chakra is classically compared in Yoga to the blossoming of a
lotus. In China, they speak of
"the flower which blossoms on this dry log", the latter suggesting
the body which is completely motionless in deep meditation.
my opinion, one should also understand the phrase " Jump above the Gate of
the dragon" in the same sense. When one feels drowsy in meditation, the
head bends, an energy accumulates in the throat and in the anterior part of the
thorax. Moreover, the body bends to the
side while the mind goes downward as well.
When one corrects oneself by stretching the neck, which means by putting
the chin in and "pushing the sky with the head", energy strongly
comes back towards the third eye, and even jumps beyond into space. It is in
this way that one can understand the phrase "jumping above the Gate of the
dragon". It is said in Tantric
texts that if energy reaches the area below the third eye, there is the
risk that it will be transformed into anger and egoism, while the superior part
of his area corresponds to the Paramâtma, to the Supreme.
is also said in texts: "The myriads of thoughts which arise dwell in nâga-samâdhi".
It is mentioned in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment that the small girl Nâgakanâ got the sudden awakening when she was only eight, just as she heard the teaching of the Bodhisattva Manjushri. There is a clear symbolism behind this: the number eight is half sixteen, the number of fullness. The goddess Kundalini, when she is still coiled in the basin, remains as if in a state of infancy, half-fulfilled. But when she hears the "sweet voice", (Manju-svara, another name of Manjushri as we have already seen), she awakens and goes up to unite with him at the level of the third eye. It is said indeed that one usually meditates on the inner sound in the third eye and that one directs there the energy which comes up from the bottom of the body. In classical Hindi poetry, this ascent is compared to the procession of the young bride which leads her to the house of her spouse, who dwells in the area of the third eye. Thus, the union of the ascending attention and the inner sound becomes the real love story... one can mention this that in Latin writing, the number 8 may be seen as two nâga ofs standing and united.
At the end of the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, it is said that the nâgas and the devas which had come to listen to the teaching of Buddha finally obtained enlightenment. Nâgas, be they represented as cobras or dragons, go forth crawling and suggest in this way the tortuous and tortured currents of sensations which are at the basis of mind agitation. They are perceived in a state of semi-consciousness; in this sense, there is a mix of light and darkness, but when one has them converge towards the centre of light, they start fully shining and become in themselves as many "shining cobras", "nâg-arjunas".
Fabienne Verdier worked for a long time with Chinese masters of
calligraphy, she speaks about these artists of Chinese tradition
energy of the dragon which comes up from tail to head is also alluded to in the
words hua t’u and hua wei, respectively "head of word"
and "tail of word". When one
speaks automatically, words come out by themselves from the mouth, and one
grasps only the “tail” of them. On the
contrary, deep consciousness reveals to us the "head of words".
When the practitioner gets a realisation on the path, it is said that
"the king-dragons become his servants". Usually, the currents of sensations which form the basis of our
agitated mind governs us as if they were our kings. But when one is successful
in guiding and gathering them towards a centre, they become our servants.
the statues of Buddha himself, as for instance the one which is the object of
the large pilgrimage of Pitsanulok, in the centre of Thailand, there are
currents of flames like dragons coming up from the elbows of the Tathagata on
both sides of the arms and uniting at the top of the head.
A koan on which one meditates in Ch’an is "the dragon which thunders inside the dried log". The dragon evokes the cobra of kundalini and the log the central axis of the body - just as the shivalingam- we are close to the archetypal symbol within Shaiva temples in Hinduism with the cobra coiled around and its head on top. For obvious practical reasons, it is difficult to represent the cobra inside the lingam, but one could also visualise it in this way, because it may be associated either with the trunk of the body or with its central axis.
Now, we know enough about the dragon to be able to better understand a founding story of Ch’an, indeed the only one to be told by Houei Neng at the beginning of the Sutra of the Stage. When the sixth Patriarch settled down in the monastery of Pao Lin (whose name means "precious wood"), there was a dragon in a pond opposite the meditation hall which much disturbed the monks. He mastered him by catching him in his bowl, then he had the pond filled and a stupa erected on that spot.
Symbolically, the pool of water opposite the hall of meditation represents the mirror of the mind agitated by the movements of the vital energy, the dragon. This vital energy must reduce to reasonable size to be made manageable, which is possible by detachment, symbolized by the begging bowl of the monk, one of his only possessions enabling him to collect alms. At that time, consciousness does not waste any more of its energy in the pond of desires, but becomes steady in the central axis; it becomes a monument of praise (it is the original meaning of the word stupa) to the fundamental Nature. Another meaning of stupa is "pyre", and this goes well with the image of the flames of the central axis which consume the remains of the ego which has just died...The dragon is also a symbol of the Chinese people and of their vitality. Houei Neng, through his teaching, could capture this dragon-vitality and direct it towards the absolute according to the Buddhist path. The dragon is also an important parts of the New Year celebrations. It denotes the strength of the time which glides away. By attracting it in his inert bowl, the Patriarch indicates the stillness of nirvana consciousness, as a kind of celestial vault beyond the passing of time.
I am writing this foreword in a hermitage in the middle of the woods; this is somehow my Pao Lin, my "precious wood", because any place where one can make a good practice rightly deserves the name "precious".
The stick of the Master himself is a precious wood, because it enables him to discipline the tigers. It is told that one day, two tigers were fighting to death. The Master came with a stick and succeeded in separating them. Human beings are the object of the conflicts of the pairs of opposites which are sometimes so violent that they can lead to suicide. But if we have the mastery of the stick, i.e., of the central axis which transcends the duality of left and right, and through this all the dualities, the tigers of inner conflicts stop fighting. The stick and the bowl are the symbols of the monk, especially of his detachment, and the inner freedom coming from it allows us to go beyond dualities.
have already alluded several times to the ascent of energy. Now we may mention
a few words of Ch’an masters which evoke it in a more direct way.
In Yoga’s subtle physiology, the top of the head and above correspond to
the realm of the formless Shiva, of the motionless Absolute.
In the context of this quote, the swords which cross evoke the opposition between the appearance and the real, and their parallel position is the union between both, which is sought by the meditator. From the point of view of the subtle body, the metaphor suggests the entrance of the side currents into the central canal (the parallel swords) which induces an ascent and an awakening of the energy in the third eye, hence “the lotus blossoming in fire”. At that juncture, one goes beyond body consciousness, one can "jump through the sky".
One speaks of a "keeper of the Dharma” in the following way:
"The spirit with the head of flames, holder of the vajra, is a
guardian-spirit whose head is surrounded with a bright light. The sutra speaks
of him as having been successful in transcending lust and transforming it into
a fire of wisdom." One can see
there a direct image of the ascending transmutation of the energy. One can find
the same idea with a different simile in the answer to this question:
answered by simply raising his oar. To my eyes,
this may evoke the straightening of the back during meditation.
oneself while at work In that sense, this "erected oar" corresponds to the awakening of the energy of consciousness.
One can discern a similar meaning in the episode of the master who raises his flywhisk, a sign of his authority, to answer to the same kind of questions on the real Nature. The flywhisk, as the body during meditation, remains erect and fixed, but if there is wind, its hair may move. In the same way, when consciousness is absorbed inside, lungs keep on moving with the "wind" of breathing. When the body is completely immobile and breathing totally attentive, consciousness may soar beyond body and mind in the dharmakâya of the unique Space.
famous episode, Master Hsiuh Tcheu was awakened by Tsien Lung when the latter
answered his question on the real nature by simply raising his finger, and he
has also often transmitted the awakening to others in the same way.
In other terms, once receiving this shaktîpat and his energy was awakened by his master, he succeeded in not letting it coming down again and in imparting it. This not the case of all the disciples. It is as if a finger of energy were raising in every vertebra of his spine…
To conclude this part, I must say that these energetic phenomena
concerning the subtle physiology have only a relative importance.
essence, bodhi has no tree", that
is, it is not located in the central
axis, it does not actually dwell anywhere, it is all-pervading; one feels it
within the body only to help and facilitate the practice. One text of classical
Yoga such as the Shiva-Samhitā supports the same idea when it
devotes its first chapter to a full exposition of Vedanta,, i.e., to the Self
which is completely independent from the body.
Yoga is only a series of skilful means to reach this level. Energy and
consciousness are intimately related. As says Houei Hai in his Treatise of
Sudden Awakening : “If you still cannot reach the Truth of the Unborn,
strive and add energy in right earnest. When energy will be sufficient, you
will understand spontaneously
For a conclusion: from interpretations to practice
The understanding of the words of the Elder must avoid the two extremes: it should never be too painstaking, or else too superficial. Some people recite sutras which go around in their mind; they are like poor animals which work indefinitely with a Persian wheel: they could meditate on this piece of advice of Houei Neng who said, as we mentioned before, to a seeker who chanted the Lotus Sutra mechanically:
When mind is in illusion, the Lotus Sutra makes it go around in circle,
but when it is awakened, it makes the Sutra gravitate around him.
Conversely, to be satisfied with superficial interpretations or the ones of others does not help us to progress:
In keeping a with the logic of the following saying, one should not remember these words of Yun Men, but since it has been transmitted in classical writings which have come to us, I allow myself to quote them : " Maintain your spirit high, but do not memorise others’ words. A little truth is better that a mass of lies…"
Should we wish to restate in a formula the paradox of Ch’an, or
even more globally of the non-dual path, it would be: "There is nothing to
do, but there is much to undo."
Fully reading texts such as those which follow is interesting in that
one may find certain words which may correct others: so, paradoxes are
rebalancing each other in this way.
Some thoughts may seem destabilising, but there will not be long
In Sanskrit, shîlam means ‘regular practice’, or ‘good habit’ and
finally ‘morality, discipline’, on the other side the similar word shilâ
means ‘rock, foundation stone’, etc. Relating the two words is already a
teaching in itself. Discipline is the basis of stillness, samâdhi which
leads in turn to wisdom, prajńâ. The practitioner must avoid the
extremes of voluntarism and laxity, both are diseases, the second is probably
more widespread than the first.
Comparative mysticism is interesting, some have the vocation of writing
on the subject, but the main work consists of being involved in a path and of
practising. After a dense dialogue on
the fundamental Nature, Master Tsao Chu advised his visitor: "It is not
useful that the venerable friend creates difficulties for himself.
What constitutes the real difference between the "small" and
"the big" vehicles, Hînayâna and Mahâyâna, is the intensity of
practice and the various levels of understanding. There is
all kinds of original and refreshing metaphors, Ch’an masters send us back to
ourselves, not to our ego, but towards our real nature.
- What is in the intimate path of Yun Men?
What else should I say to the readers who will embark in the study
of the following ancient texts, more than one millennium old?
It may be sufficient to remind them of the poem of the solitary Ch’an master in his mountain, Han Shan:
 Albin Michel/Spiritualités 2001
 Ibid, 2003
 Han-shan, Ce merveilleux chemin de Han –shan, Moundarren, Chemin des bois, 78940 Millemont, France, 1992, p.92
 L'enseignement de Mâ Anandamayî Albin Michel/spiritualités, 1988 p. 121
 Albin Michel/spiritualités 2003, 3e partie, ch.3
 Albin Michel/spiritualités 2001
 Houei-hai L’éveil subit Albin Michel, 1999, p.31