Written by Dahui Zonggao and translated by Thomas Cleary (1949-2021), one of the most prolific translators of Buddhist works and Asian classics in recent history (including the enormous undertaking of the Avatamsaka Sutra ( Flower Ornament Writing) totaling more than 1 pages), The Treasure of the Eye of True Meaning: Classic Stories, Speeches, and Poems from the Chan Tradition is also a "massive compilation". In this case, a collection of Chan works used by the master teacher Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163). More than 650 installments. Really massive In fact.
Dahui himself rekindled enthusiasm for Chan practice during China's Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), and he was known for teaching the ineffable outside of conventional mental constructs. As explored in the pages of this compendium, how can the ineffable be explained in words? And so many words! Try to explain, and we fail. What we can do, however, is challenge the rational brain to let it ruminate until the knowing mind unlocks the rigid locks of fixed egoic thought and opens the doors of luminous awareness. And that's what the commentaries of the Chan tradition—these verses—aim to do. These many words stimulate and push our so intelligent brain until intuition finally blooms.
A thousand monks, a thousand religions, as they say.
At some point while reading, I asked myself: what am I reviewing? Thomas Cleary's translation? The way it was compiled? The wisdom of Dahui himself? The myriad masters of antiquity cited in Dahui's lessons? The root texts of the Chan Buddhist koan collection, the blue cliff Save, compiled by Dahui Master Yuanwu Keqin? Who am I to judge? So I offer you my thoughts as they emerged as I delved into deep story wisdom, which couldn't be more relevant today.
It seems like the lessons don't change because the human condition doesn't seem to have changed much either. And yet, modern science only quantifies what was known so long ago; that this is all an illusion. For modern people like us, unlike the polite conversation we may be accustomed to hearing from contemporary teachers of wisdom, these stories of patriarchs use brutal, if not crude, lexicon to beat us with sticks of verbal bamboo. It's not violence for violence's sake – although the number of real blows apparently delivered and suggested by the masters seem quite brutal – the speeches were designed to dispel us from the illusion. But just as we think we finally have ilmaster Chan will bamboozle us again. Especially if religious ego piety enters the fray.
There is a scene in the 2004 film Ocean's Twelve, which some of you may be familiar with. A neophyte of the group wants more responsibility and to be taken more seriously. He feels ready. Thus, the group of "elders" allows him to join a meeting, where he is thrown into the deep end, completely lost and confused as the two elders converse in a language even more confusing and absurd than "yodish". let him join in, he fumbles in his brain for something to say, and the best he can find is the lyrics to a well-known song. He was then unceremoniously removed from the meeting. Sure, he was tricked: the pseudo-speech was absolute gibberish, but it was a lesson. It was a brutal, humiliating lesson meant to knock the boy off his overzealous, self-glorifying pedestal.
And the Chan speeches remind me of that, or should I say that scene reminds me of Chan teachers and neophytes. In Chan, "yodish" may seem absurd to the unenlightened mind, but it is far from gibberish. But many might respond by quoting the equivalent of a well-known song. And how many self-proclaimed “gurus” woo the naive with the same awesome-sounding “lyrics”? Their prey today, the seekers of enlightenment, putting on their bagsmemorizing mantras and racing east.
As Dahui said all those years ago: “Students these days take a little diligence, bow to the Buddha, recite and discipline conduct, speech and thought as fodder to seek realization. . What connection is there? They are kind of like ignoramuses who bury their heads running west to get something in the east. The more they run, the further they go; the more they are in a hurry, the more they are late. It is a great teaching without artifice, without affectation and without effort; if you arouse the slightest thought of obtaining realization, you run away from it. How can you hope to seek it out by a little artificial practice? »
Thus, we are prodded with a bamboo stick by the masters until we enlighten our minds with conscious intelligence rather than fumbling intelligence. And here, as a side note, I note the curious thing that these teachings all come from those who are called the patriarchs, rather than from the women of the time. After all, women are, generally speaking, more intrinsically attuned to the teachings of Chan than most men. And maybe that's the point? (However, in the coming months I will be reviewing Yin Mountain: the immortal poetry of three Taoist women, which can provide us with interesting information). The male brain (this is different, but typical, of the male gender) wants to organize, rationalize, strive and achieve, conquer and dominate. These can be good things in the right context and often quite necessary in life, but not so much in Chan:
When you understand the meaning and forget the words, the Way is easy to approach.
Ultimately, the essence of Chan – like Zen, Taoism, Sufism, Gnosticism, Sikhism and Hinduism – urges us to abandon intelligence, impressive words, attachment, masks, competition, striving, selfish desires, pursuit, self-delusion, ascension as something to aspire to. . . instead of just being: being in the awareness of being alive in this moment; no desire to acquire, to conquer, to manipulate. Relax in the present.
The teachers remind us that we all have to breathe, eat, defecate and sleep. We take care of the business of being in this temporary meat sack, but we must not lose sight of the fundamental reality: that none of this is real and you are not real because none of this exists in itself.
Each of the 668 “verses” in this book takes time to digest. But once we shift our mental state from rational processing (male brain) to lateral thinking (female brain), to poetic or even pictorial intuition, then we are more able to infer what is actually imbued in the words.
" Where do you come from? seems to have been a common exploration as it appears in many verses, but I began to wonder if this question was really geographical. The rational brain responds with the name of a place. Was it actually closer to the question "where are you from and where are you going?" It's not at all a question of location. Where are I where do they come from and where are I go with these lessons? What do you hope to achieve?
Historically, without a doubt, this book is a treasure trove of dedication by all involved, spanning millennia. It is a treasure box of wisdom; a piece of history worthy of reference for safeguarding, but I do not believe that being a student of Chan is a prerequisite for possessing and drawing wisdom from its pages.
Is it a coffee table read or a book from beginning to end? Sitting down and reading one speech after another can feel like an incessant hammering to the intellect. And for some, that can be a helpful way to go. But for most of us, it's a wonderful resource that, like many koans, can also act almost like an oracle. Flip through the pages and arbitrarily let your eyes rest on one and linger on its wisdom. A thousand monks, a thousand religions. In this case it is one reader, 668 verses. At least one of them will be the appropriate hammer that breaks through your personal intellectual wall and allows the experience of the "eureka moment".
It is to his credit that the translator, Thomas Cleary, perfected his craft as well as he did. This classic collection, fundamental to Chan Buddhism, reads beautifully, with complex texts and deeply subtle meaning. Cleary makes sure the reader is aware of any puns, which have been used so often, with footnotes, narrations from translators and of course Dahui's own commentary, which is evident among the playful speeches. .
What more can be said? For all of us is silently held a flower.**
It is the living door; only when the action of the sights die down can you enter.
* Chan masters, like Japanese Zen masters, were arguably the forerunners of "yodish," a neologism for the Star Wars character Yoda's language model.
** To those who had gathered to hear the Buddha speak, he held up a flower and said nothing until his disciple Kasyapa the Elder smiled. Then he spoke: “I have the treasure of the eye of the true teaching, the ineffable spirit of nirvana, the subtlest of the teachings on the formlessness of the form of reality. It is not defined in words, but is especially transmitted outside of the doctrine.