Bhikshuni Heng Chih:
Later on Patriarch Bodhidharma transmitted the Dharma to the Great Master Huike of the Northern Qi dynasty of China. That marked the beginning of Chinese Buddhism proper. Then there was the Great Master Sengcan in the Sui dynasty, and in the Tang dynasty there was a series of eminent monks, from Great Master Daoxin to Great Master Hongren. Buddhism flourished at its height in the Tang dynasty. Great Master Hongren then passed the Dharma on to Great Master Huineng (the Sixth Patriarch), and this transmission was special in two ways. First, the Sixth Patriarch was unique in that the Dharma he spoke was later compiled into a Sutra. The
Sixth Patriarch Platform Sutra is the only Chinese Sutra; all the other Sutras came from India. The second point was that Dharma Master Hongren transmitted only a robe to Dharma Master Huineng; there were no documents or other external symbols of the transmission. This was a great change, for he was transmitting the Mind Dharma. The Dharma was passed from mind to mind through the generations of Patriarchs. That was a most important period for Buddhism in the Tang dynasty of China.
Next let us discuss how the Dharma spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha became divided into five major schools in China: Chan, Teachings, Secret, Pure Land, and Vinaya. The Chinese reorganized the Buddha's teachings in that way. The Teachings School discussed the teachings. Its two main sects were Xianshou and Tiantai. The Teachings School had a detailed explanation and analysis of every principle. This was one of the contributions the Chinese made to Buddhism. The Chan School was further divided into five sects: Linji, Caodong, Yunmen, Fayan, and Weiyang. Despite these fine divisions, the Chan School as a whole should be transmitted. Likewise, the five schools of traditional Buddhism— Chan, Secret, Pure Land, Vinaya, and Teachings— should also be transmitted as a whole. If one transmits only the Chan School or studies only the Secret School, although these are part of traditional Buddhism, they do not fully represent the Buddhism transmitted from India. Everyone should take note of this. After the Han dynasty, Buddhism gradually penetrated Chinese society and even the emperor became a Buddhist. In terms of education, Confucianism and Buddhism go hand in hand.
Now let us discuss how traditional Chinese Buddhism came to the United States. About a hundred years ago, Buddhism came to the United States by way of Japan. The Pali Vinaya that had been translated into English in England was an initial influence on the United States. Western theological scholars, whether Catholic or Protestant, also exerted a great influence. Chinese Buddhism has come to the United States only in the last forty years with the arrival of Chinese Dharma Masters. In light of how difficult it was for Patriarch Bodhidharma to transmit the Dharma to China, we should know that certain conditions must be met before Chinese Buddhism can be transmitted to the United States. First of all, we must understand Western languages and culture and know how to use clever expedients to capture the hearts and interest of Westerners. We must be very clear on that principle of the separation of church and state in this country. Religious groups do not participate in American government or use political power to their own advantage. This is markedly different from the situation in China, where Chinese emperors would often fervently support Buddhism.
Secondly, one attribute of Chinese Buddhism which should be preserved is the monastic lifestyle, where many monks or nuns live in a large monastic community. Without this, what is transmitted to America could not be considered traditional Buddhism. A third condition is precepts. When the Buddha was about to enter Nirvana, Venerable Ananda asked the Buddha, "After the Buddha enters Nirvana, who shall be our teacher?" The Buddha answered, "The precepts shall be your teacher." The Buddhist precepts are fundamental to both Sangha members and lay disciples. Therefore, we must find a way to transform willful and obstinate Americans into disciplined people who follow the rules. Then traditional Chinese Buddhism will truly have been implanted in America. Furthermore, Chinese Dharma Masters must not come to the United States to engage in commercial enterprises. Clear distinctions should be made between lay people who protect the Dharma, and members of the Sangha (monastic order), so that Americans who know nothing of Buddhism will not gain a mistaken view of Buddhism.
Traditional Chinese Buddhism was subdivided into the five schools of Chan, Secret, Vinaya, Pure Land, and Teachings. One who transmits Buddhism should not transmit only one school, or if he does, he must inform students of Buddhism that Buddhism as a whole encompasses five schools. Students of Buddhism should also gain an understanding of the major Mahayana Buddhist Sutras— the
Shurangama Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, and the
Dharma Flower Sutra. The Dharma should be transmitted to Americans in the same way that Patriarch Bodhidharma transmitted the Dharma to Great Master Huike in China.
To be continued