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17 million words and counting!
Suriyavamsa, Glasgow, UK
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Coleen, FBA Team
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Sanghajivini, Newcastle, UK
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Vidyamala, Manchester, UK
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=OM704
Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2004
01 Mind and the Alaya; Chao Chu; 'Lip Cha'an'; Does a dog have Buddha Nature?
So, yesterday I spoke a lot about mind and about consciousness. I spoke about the
system of consciousness as depicted in the Lankavatara Sutra and the Yogachara
tradition. I hope that from that very brief and rather simplistic look at that material that
one thing became clear – and that is just how important and how central mind is. That
it’s mind that needs attention, mind that needs looking into. And in the end it’s about
waking up to the truth that there is only mind. A radiant, non-dual awareness in which
there are no distinctions at all between self and other, self and things, between Buddhas
and beings. And I spoke as well about Dogen’s brilliant insight into this as an intimacy.
Of course, this is only manner of speaking, this sort of language. It can be misunderstood
when you talk about mind. If you looked into it, you’d never find this mind. It’s empty,
pure, still, unfathomably deep, a mystery. We also saw that to reach this state - to wake
up to this - that it’s not just about going around with some intellectual idea of non-
duality. To reach this you need deep and continuous practice. You need to be dropping
into the river, the ocean, of the store-consciousness, into the alaya, the seeds of skilful
creative energies. These skilful and creative energies need to perfume the alaya with the
sweet scents of spiritual practice. This is what spiritual life is about - day-to-day,
moment-by-moment practice, whether on or off the cushion, maintaining skilful states.
It’s the only way. It’s the only way to be, it’s the only way to practice. It’s the only way
to reach what’s called “the revolution in the basis.” The utter turning around of
consciousness, when all the impure seeds are utterly purified there’s that realization of
So keep that in mind, as the sort of backdrop, as I tell you a very famous story from the
Zen tradition. And the story goes back to sometime in the ninth century and centers
around the great Ch’an master Chao Chu - Joshu in Japanese. And Chao Chu’s own life
was one of almost constant travel. He visited over eighty of the great disciples of the
great master Ma-tsu. Chao Chu being Nan-chuan. You probably remember the story of
Nan-chuan and the cat, when some monks were all fighting over a cat and Nan-chuan
turned up and cut the cat in half, which is another one of those koans. Was he being
unskilful? Don’t need to get bogged down in that. Anyway. Even after Chao Chu’s
awakening he kept travelling, studying, and practicing. And moving about. He was a
real foot-travelling patch-robe monk, as they call it, a real Ch’an traveller.
And he finally settled down if you can call it that, at the age of eighty in the Kwan-Yin
temple of Chao Chu. Hence his name, Chao Chu. Very often these masters take their
name from the place in which they’re associated. So he settled down in Chao Chu in
northern China. And it’s said that he taught for another forty years, only passing away at
the age of 120. And he was famous for his asceticism. He really though austerity was
the way. He wanted to emulate the ancient Buddhist monks in his monastery. There was
no personal storage space. I know sometimes people, when they come to Padmaloka,
think, “Hmm, not much storage place to put my stuff.” Well, in this place there was no
storage space at all. You just had your robes and you had your basic possessions. The
food was strictly vegetarian.
One day Master Chao Chu’s chair broke – the rope chair that he’d used for many many
years, it was very very old – and he just found a bit of firewood and just lashed a bit of
firewood to the broken stump. So he just sat on this rickety old chair when people would
come to see him. And of course his disciples wanted to make him a nice new one and he
said, “No. This is fine. This is my chair.”
And everybody worked each day in Chao Chu’s monastery in the fields or doing some
construction, or cleaning, cooking, that kind of thing. This is the old Ch’an tradition.
The Ch’an monasteries were independent. That’s one of the reasons why they avoided
the various persecutions that went through the Chinese history of Buddhism. The Ch’an
monasteries tended to avoid that because they were isolated and because they were self-
supporting, which I think is a real message. So, they did intensive practice and work –
work as practice.
Anyway, one day old Chou Chu found a monk sort of skiving off, he found him round
the back of the shrine hall. And Chou Chu asked him – you can imagine the response of
the monk seeing the old boy coming round – “where have all the virtuous ones gone?”
Meaning the other monks in the community. And the monk said, “They’re working in
the fields.” Chou Chu took his knife, which he used for work, from his sleeve and he
gave it to the monk and said, “My tasks as abbot are many. I ask you to cut off my head.
I’m weary.” And the monk ran off, terrified.
He was a great teacher, apparently, and he had many disciples. And his manner of
teaching is described as “lip Ch’an.” Not Mouth Ch’an, not just talking about it, but it
was lip Ch’an because a light issued from his lips. His words would just light you up.
And the texts say that he didn’t hit and beat like some masters, thankfully. He would
only just use a few words to bring people to awakening. It’s said, in fact – this is a lovely
expression – he used flavourless words. Plain. Words that you can’t get a hold or a
handle on. And the great Yuan Wu says of Chou Chu, “A very capable teacher of our
clan. He does not discuss the obstruse or mysterious. He always deals with people in
terms of the fundamental matter.”
One day a monk came to him and there was something on this monk’s mind. This monk
had been seriously practicing for a long time. He was practicing the Precepts, he’d been
meditating for a long time, studied the scriptures – the Diamond Sutra, the Lankavatara
Sutra, the Sutra of Hui Neng, the Avatamsaka Sutra. He was thoroughly imbued with the
Dharma, with notions like the mutual interpenetration of all phenomena, like emptiness,
like the Buddha-nature in all things and all beings. Very important. He had great faith in
that, great faith in himself, great faith that there was this Buddha-nature and that you
could awaken to that nature.
Anyway, one day he was looking at the dogs that would hang around the monastery, the
strays that would scavenge around. And they weren’t pretty, of course. Flea-ridden,
diseased-looking creatures, scratching around, always hungry, always fighting, some of
them cowering and pathetic. You see if you go to India, to our retreat centres, there’s
always a pack of dogs around the retreat centre wanting scraps and they really are sorry-
looking creatures, some of them. And the monk began to wonder, looking at these
creatures fighting and mating and cowering, “Do they have Buddha-nature? Does that
dog have Buddha-nature?” He was told everything does, but how could they? So there’s
a kind of doubt.
So he went to Chou Chu, went to his abbot, went to his teacher, and thought, “He’ll
surely resolve this doubt, he’ll sort it out for me.” Because he had great faith in Chou
Chu. Enormous faith, if not more faith in Chou Chu than all the scriptures and all that. It
was his teacher. So, he went to see the old man, this plain and simple old man with his
lined face and his simple robe sitting on his rickety chair, sitting with so much dignity.
And the monk felt, of course, great reverence and awe in relation to Chou Chu, so he
asked, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?”
And Chou Chu just said, “No.” Just like that. Flavourless word - a flat, plain, flavourless
“no.” The monk was totally shocked. “No? Just that?” And looking at Chou Chu he
knew that the interview was over. Finished. Ended. He’d shut up shop. Flavourless. It
ended with no. “Wu” in Chinese. “Mu” in Japanese. “No.”
02 The Great Doubt; mundane doubt and confusion; growing up and building
Now it must have really thrown that monk into utter confusion. He now had a big, a
massive, problem. The teachings said everything has Buddha-nature. He had great faith
in that. He lived to bring that forth. And now his teacher who he had great faith in, Chou
Chu, has said plainly that a dog did not have Buddha-nature.
So, he must have been thrown into a great abyss, a great doubt – the Great Doubt. Living
now with this contradiction. The scriptures say everything has Buddha-nature. Chao
Chu says a dog does not have Buddha-nature. If a dog doesn’t have Buddha-nature, what
else doesn’t have Buddha-nature? ...