Prajna Paramita Thought

and Chinese Ch’an

From issue, #114

By Bhikshuni Shih Hui Wen

As early as the Eastern Han dynasty, texts on meditation had been translated into Chinese, notably by Dharma Master An Shih-kao.

The practices described therein in series of fixed numbers, like the thirty seven factors of enlightenment, the twelve types of ch'an, etc. belong to Theravada Ch'an. "The History of the Indian and the Chinese Ch'an School" distinguishes between the following stages of development:

1) Lesser vehicle like breathing mindfulness in the wake of An Shih-kao's translation work;

2) ch'an of visualization and mindfulness of the Buddha as described in the Pratyutpannabuddhasammukhavasthitasamadhi Sutra()   translated by Lokaksema  

in the end of the second century;

3) a mixture of Theravada and Mahayana teachings which was presented in several texts Kumarajiva translated;

4) the Theravada cultivation system of Dharmatrata's Yoqacarabhumi Sutra.

 Translated by Buddhabhadra in 410, which contains also a few Mahayana contemplation methods;

5) the style of ch'an particular to China which developed from the rejection of all Theravada teachings and the synthesis of Prajna paramita, Madhyamika, philosophical Taoism, and so called ch’ing-t'an .5

Texts which pro vide a fusion of prajnaparamita thought and tantric teachings had been translated during the T'ang (,618-907) and, for the roost part, the early Northern Sung dynasty ( 960,1127). However, the Esoteric School flourished only for a very short period in China and because of several factors like the persecution of 845, the only school to substantially survive as such was the Ch'an School. Those translations therefore had not the slightest impact on Chinese Buddhist thought.

Two of the later Ch'an masters deserve special mention. One is Master Huai-hai(  720-814) whose "Pure Rules Composed by Pai-chang" and the spirit of "One day without work is one day without food" became the general basis of Chinese monasticism. The other Master is Yen-shou ( 904,975) who vigorously promoted the simultaneous practice: of cultivation methods of both the Pure Land and the Ch'an School.


-by Dharma Master Heng K'ung

      Removing the doer from a fast for those of us still within the sway of desire can only be done when we center our interest in other work rather than the fast itself. Because the demon of appetite is so powerful, to dwelt in a mind devoid of the concept of fasting is most difficult. An interest must be developed in one's work or devotional activity such as meditation or sutra study that smothers out the concept of fasting. No thoughts of the fast itself can be entertained. If this is not done, we wi11 defeat our main purpose which is spiritual development and wi11 only receive the benefits of physical purification. Since physical health is not necessary for the boon of enlightenment to be one, and it is not uncommon in fact for a monk to become enlightened in the midst of a serious illness, or for an ascetic to win the fruit after many years of extreme bodily deprivation, let those of us who are cultivating the Path not dwell in the attitude that is usually dwelled in by fasters bent on health nor observe the same rules by which they conduct their activities white fasting. Rather, let us apply the additional effort that is necessary for the loosening of the mental barriers that are obstructing our self-realization. 

      The rules by which a health enthusiast
goes to protect his physical well-being can be disregarded by a sincere cultivator. The word sincere is underlined,/for without pushing one's self to the extreme, these rules are a necessity for protecting one's body. But with a sustained application of effort, proper thought alone is enough to guard the body against unprofitable deterioration. Also the recitation of mantras, especially Om Mani Padma Hum, will keep one from dying.

      Aside from the negative aspect of preventing undesirable ill to fall one's way, the positive aspect of effortlessness, which results if the above method is properly employed, should be mentioned. A point should be reached when a conscious effort need not be applied. The mind when peaked to its extreme limit should absorb body and world into itself with an uncanny feeling of lack of separation. When the interest that one CREATED to avoid fatting Into the dark realms that fasters frequently fall into becomes real, all bodily movements and acts of mind will be natural, effortless, and without calculation.

      The sacrifice and discipline of fasting is applicable to cultivation only when done as a devotional exercise as described above. The notion of body as self is a false view and cultivators should not in conducting their fasts do so in the same manner as those who regard body as self.