Getting The Buddha Mind


I was born on a farm in the countryside near Shanghai. At the age of thirteen I left home to become a Buddhist monk. The local monastery I entered, like most others in China, was called a Ch'an temple. But, in fact the theory and practice of Ch'an was almost never discussed there. As young monks, most of us did not have any clear idea of what Ch'an practice really was. Our training simply consisted of the rigorous discipline prescribed for monks ─ everyday activities such as washing clothes, working in the fields, cooking and performing daily services. We also studied major sutras such as the Amitabha, the Lotus, and the Diamond sutras. Daily chores, however were not a problem for me; the worst thing was memorizing sutras. There were so many to master, and I felt very stupid. My master told me, "Your karmic obstructions are very heavy. You should make a strong effort to atone for them. Go prostrate to Kuan Yin Bodhisattva."

There was little time for practice during the day, so I prostrated to Kuan Yin five hundred times at night, and again in the morning before the other monks woke up. After doing this for three months, I was overcome one day with a very refreshing and comfortable feeling. It seemed as if the whole world had changed. My mind became very clear and very bright. Memorization was no longer a problem, and I began to learn very quickly, To this day I believe Kuan Yin gave me assistance. Most important, there arose in me a deep sense of responsibility towards the Dharma.

I was thirteen years old and knew nothing about the history of Buddhism, yet I felt that Buddhism was on the way to extinction. Most Chinese had little understanding of the Dharma. Teachers were very rare, and what I knew came only from memorizing the scriptures. Chinese Buddhism did not provide a systematic education for monks. A monk's training was usually completed gradually and imperceptibly through the experience of everyday life. There simply was no planned education. I felt sympathy for those who had never heard the Dharma, and realized the importance of reviving Buddhism. I vowed to learn more about the Buddha Dharma so that one day I might bring it to others.

Because of Communist opposition in the area, our monks moved to Shanghai. There our livelihood depended solely on donations from performing services for the dead. It was depressing to see monks and nuns performing perfunctory rituals instead of teaching Buddhism. I did this for two years. Through all this, I felt that my karmic obstructions were severe. About this time, however, I learned of a seminary in Shanghai where young monks could acquire a Buddhist education. So I ran away from my monastery to study at this school. When he later arrived in Shanghai, my master approved of my decision.

At the school some people had a noble sense of purpose, but others were simply there to get an education. The seminary was founded by a student of Master T'ai-Hsu, one of the great revivers of modern Chinese Buddhism. T'ai-Hsu, was in turn much influenced by Great Master Ou-l, of the Ming dynasty. Ou-l disapproved of sectarianism and insisted that since Sakyamuni Buddha there had been just one Buddhist tradition. He placed equal emphasis on eight schools: Hua-yen, T'ien-T'ai, Ch'an (Zen), Wei-shih (Consciousness-only), Vinaya, Chung-kuan (Madhyamika), Ching-tu (Pure Land), and Esoteric Buddhism. At the seminary, most of the teachers were students of T'ai-Hsu.

I studied Buddhist history and the teachings of Vinaya, Wei-shih, T'ien-t'ai, and Hua-yen. The seminary also emphasized physical exercise. We learned T'ai Chi Ch'uan and Shao-lin boxing, this later from a teacher from the Shao-lin monastery. In our practice there was particular emphasis on ritual repentance. We meditated, but did not have a very clear idea of the correct method of practice. Thus it was difficult to gain any real strength from it. We supposed that it would take years to achieve benefits. I recalled that even Sakyamuni Buddha practiced for six years. I also recalled that Master Hsu-Yun, who left home at the age of twenty, was still practicing at fifty, though the world had not yet heard of him.

People who had deep meditation experiences, or who had been certified as enlightened, never explained their experience. When they talked among themselves, their language was strange, and its meaning elusive. There were a few older students who had spent several years in meditation halls. When I asked them about practice they would say, "Oh, it's easy. Just sit there. Once your legs stop hurting it's fine." Sometimes a monk would be given a kung-an (koan)on which to meditate, but on the whole, there was no systematic meditation training.

Once at the seminary, I participated in a Ch'an retreat. I would just sit in meditation until I heard the incense board signalling walking meditation. No one told me what to do or gave me any instruction. We had a saying that one had to sit until "the bottom falls out of the barrel of pitch." Only then could he get to see the master.

《Getting The Buddha Mind》p. 0001-0003

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