Chan Cultivation


Dr. James C. M. Yu Kuo K'ung (Dharma name) Associate Professor

Department of Mechanical Engineering Auburn University


      This book is not philosophical though philosophy is not excluded. It is the record of my own struggle and meditation upon the real meaning of life. This book is not theoretical through theory is not excluded. It is the record of my own feelings and experimental results of life.

I started to write the book in 1975. During the three-year period that ensued, I have modified and transformed, and so has the book. Furthermore, my attitude towards the book has shifted several times. At the beginning, I felt that I knew the principles of Ch'an and wanted to write a book to show how much I knew. Later, I felt that I really did not know them very well and wanted to clear up my own confused mind. Therefore, I continued writing the book. At last, I found there was no Ch'an principle I knew; hence, I stopped writing. But my Father-Teacher spoke to me one day, "Though you do not want to write the book, still finish it." He either wanted to teach me a lesson or saw through his wisdom-eye that there were many people who had encountered the same problem as I had, who might become acquainted with the Triple Jewel (one's self-nature, wisdom, and conduct) through this book. If this book can help one person in this world to be enlightened, I will write one such book in each life.

Due to my transformation during this period, there may be thoughts and views in the beginning chapters, which contradict those in the last chapters of the book. You, the reader, need not worry too much about those contradictions as long as you yourself are not contradictory in your own mind. A Ch'an cultivator cultivates the mind, his own mind and not others'. If his mind is pure and clear, how can his thoughts be confused or his conduct be evil?

This book is my confession and search for the ultimate truth of life. It's not intended for instructing others. However, that does not imply that you cannot learn something from it. You can learn a lot even from a piece of rock and a gentle breeze brushing over your face; how much more may it be true from a book, if you want to learn. Thus, if you learn anything from this book, it is completely your own credit and merit. The writer of this book has nothing to do with it whatsoever. This is not to teach you to be arrogant. How can one deliberately be arrogant before one's teacher? This is just to remind you that your mind, not your physical body, is the master, which has been ignored for scores of years.

To publish a book always requires many people's efforts, and the proper causes and conditions. Without the wisdom and compassion revealed by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, this book could not have been written. Without the search for independence and freedom for human beings, this book need not have been written. Without the encouragement and inspiration of the members of the Sino-American Buddhist Association, this book could not have been put into print. Particularly, several members of the Association have helped me make this book more readable; I owe them a debt of deep gratitude. However, I will not list their names as is usually done, because they are not ordinary people. They are Ch'an cultivators who search for the truth and seek no gratitude from the people of this illusory world. Furthermore, I have a principle:  "If merit is repaid in this world, it will not be repaid anymore. If merit is not repaid in this world, it becomes a healthy seed. Later it will blossom and bear fruit when conditions are right in another world or in another life."

I now present this book to all who have affinities with the Triple Jewel. It is just a book, neither good nor bad; yet you can make it good or bad, a jewel or dirt, in your own mind. The master is you yourself, not the writer of this book or anyone else.

-Triple Jewel Bodhisattva Precepts Disciple: Kuo K'ung.


1) Autobiography

I was born a Farmer's only son in a small village in Ryu-Chaw, Shan Deng, China. I have never been told by my parents that there was any wonderful light, any miraculous event, or any visit by sages at my birth. In that aspect, I was born an ordinary person like many others. When I was a young boy, I left my family and subsequently was pushed around by the wars from the North at Tzing Tao to the South at Kuang Chou. During that long journey, I walked step by step from Shong Tziung Palace to Gan Chou in Jien Hsi under varying weather conditions without a normal and continuous food supply. The journey was a little hard for a boy, but not impossible.

In 1949, I was forced to be a soldier for about two years. After that, I passed through many different jobs, labors of various kinds: street vendor, newspaper delivery man and policeman. Between the time I left my family and up to 1955, misfortune and sufferings were like my shadow, never far from me.  I wrote a two-line verse-which summarized the situation quite accurately:

Walking fast, I caught suffering,

Walking slowly, sufferings caught me.

Besides the normal work for making a living, I studied on my own all the high school lessons to prepare myself for college. In 1954, I passed the entrance examination and was admitted into the Department of Civil Engineering of Taiwan University. It is not far from the truth to say that college was the beginning of my formal education.

I came to the United States in 1961 and obtained the Master's Degree of Science in the Department of Engineering Mechanics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. After working one year as a designer of EBASCO in New York, I was admitted to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Auburn University. I obtained my Ph.D. in 1967 and have continued working in the same Department up to the present time.

In 1975, it was about time for me to prepare the road for my promotion from associate to full professor. I had the potential and I knew the road.  But the question found its way into my mind: "What was I looking for?" In my life, wealth and power were the two things with which I was very disgusted, but now what was I trying to seek? Was there really anything I wanted under the name of a full professorship? I searched very hard and found the answer was "absolutely not." Hence, I lost myself in a certain sense. At that time, the more fundamental question, which had been rooted in my mind for a very long time suddenly, came back: "Who am I?"

At the same time I got lost. I was not only well prepared in the manipulations of my own field of Mechanics, but also quite mature in the understanding of the basic principles and the fundamental spirit of science. With reason, the universe can be divided into two main parts: the sentient world of human beings and the insentient world of materials. Out of curiosity and for protection, science was formed and developed by all people through history. As far as the knowledge of science is concerned, science is objective. One may even ask the question, "Is science really formed and developed by human beings?" At any rate, most people, if not all, would agree that physical science is an expression of the true nature of the material world, or at least we wish it to be that. Even materials have natures, but what is the nature of human beings? Particularly, what is my own nature? That question marked a turning point in my life. I started to search for myself--the intrinsic self-nature.

I cannot recall that I have done anything good throughout my entire life, even though I have always tried to do my best. On the other hand, I always feel that what I have done could and should have been done in a better way. In my past, I committed all kinds of faults and transgressions, errors and mistakes, through conceit and arrogance, envy and jealousy. Any unwholesome deed one can find in any other person, I have committed. This sounds like self-negation and pessimism, but actually that is not the case. Why? What happened in my past is just like a dream. It came to my mind at some time, but I never became attached to it. However, the shadow of the question "Who am I?" has been always in my mind. And over time this shadow of doubt has grown and now seems to be reaching its peak. I have determined to find a definite and sound answer to this question and I hope that my result may help others resolve the same question in their minds.

2} Primitive Answer

When I recall my long hard journey from Shong Tziung Palace to Gan Chou, I can vividly see a boy, tired and covered with soiled clothes, walking on the road with an empty stomach. Many times, I wondered in my mind, "Who is that boy?" The answer: "It is I." The answer used to be loud and clear, but it has been diminishing with time. When I was happy and high, the answer was covered with joy. But when I was sad or low, the answer always reflected the injustice of and a slight grudge against society. The former expressed the strong feeling of the existence of my self, while the latter expressed the faults of others. This view enclosed me within a sturdy envelope separating the world into two parts. The notion of me-and-mine was deeply rooted in my mind. That envelope separating me and others is called an ego-body.

At first, I thought that the ego-body was my own invention; but through long observation and experience in society, I have found that the concept of an ego-body is not unique to me at all. Almost everyone has some kind of ego-body. It is universal and without discriminations of sex, race, nationality, or age. From this I concluded that the ego-body is the product of the human nature. I settled on that conclusion for a long time but I was not comfortable and completely satisfied with it.

3. The Law of Affinity of Ego-bodies

      Ego-bodies are found to interact according to the law of affinity, just as the law of gravitation governs the motions of the celestial bodies. Between any two ego-bodies there exists a force of affinity. If the force of affinity is positive, we say that they attract. If it is negative, we say that they repel. If the forces of affinity among N ego-bodies are all positive, the N ego-bodies form a system, which is called an ego-family.

Let F(E1 E2) be the affinity force of any ego-body E1 for another ego-body E2. That is, E2, attracts E1. Some characteristics of the affinity force are found are found as follows:

A) The affinity force is a function of time.

B) F(E1 E2) = F(E2 E10. That is: the affinity fojce is not symmetric.

C) F(E0 Ej) = (F(E0 Ek), for j = k. That is: the affinity force is not homogeneous.

D) If F(Ej E0) F(E0 Ej) for j = 1,2,..., (N-l), then the N ego-bodies form an ego-family with E0 as the center.

E) An ego family is stable if there exists one center; it is unstable if there exists more than one center.

The ego-family appears under many different names such as "my family," "my club," "my church," "my race," et cetera, et cetera. It must be happy. The part is happy if and only if the whole is happy; otherwise, it is not a part of the whole. That is: happiness (similarly for peace, tranquility, and so forth) is additive. The additivity is not a strange notion but a very important and familiar property of many quantities like the kinetic energy, momentum, moment of momentum, potential energy, and strain energy of a body. In saying that kinetic energy is additive, we mean that the kinetic energy of a body is the sum of the kinetic energy of all its parts. The effect of the additive property can be easily understood and dramatized if one chooses the whole as one's own body. If someone is unhappy because he has a small tumor on a small part of his stomach, he is totally unhappy.

The ego-family is formed with ego-bodies as its foundation and source. If the ego-body is not completely smashed, the ego-family always exists. As a consequence, world peace is impossible and beyond the reach of imagination. Therefore, the way to obtain perfect happiness oneself, along with world peace, is to smash the ego-bodies without any residue.

      I have thought of preaching to the world, saying, "Dear Fellows, please smash completely your ego-bodies because this is the only way to solve our troubles, to obtain world peace, and to live in harmony." After the speech, I think, "People, either stupid or ignorant, just cannot see the solution, the only solution." Is this the way to crush and demolish/he ego-body? It is certainly not. The only result of such an approach is to further strengthen the shell of one's own ego-body.

I have reached a state of conflict. On one hand, I accept the ego-body as a human nature, which makes the happiness of the whole impossible, and on the other, I recognize that the individual's happiness is unattainable without the happiness of the whole.

To be continued.