Why I Emphasize the Whole System of Buddhist Philosophy
Yogi C. M. Chen
I was asked to talk about the "whole system of Buddhist philosophy" as I usually emphasize in my books and booklets. The reasons for this are five:
The first is because the development of Buddhist philosophy becomes a complete system when viewed from its progression from Hinayana to Mahayana, and then to the very profound, highest stage of Vajrayana; from its place or origin in India to most of the Asian area and finally to the West; from the mature, selected and few individual disciples teaching, to the wider schools of training, up to the whole world-wide propagation of the Dharma; from 500 years of Buddha's personal oral doctrine, to the 1,000 years of scholastic Sastra doctrine of the incarnate Bodhisattvas, to the 100,000 years Sambhogakaya-like Heruka-Yidam Tantric or termination doctrine.
Now we are in the age of the final period of Tantra. Those who learn a little doctrine know only a part of the philosophy and generally they emphasize either the Zen or the Pure Land School. They cannot help Western Buddhists who have a bird's-eye view of many kinds of Buddhism from reading all the Buddhist books in English. Certainly they are not able to systematize the many doctrines. So who can guide Westerners to learn or to practice Buddhism if the teachers do not know the whole system of Buddhist development?
Buddhist philosophy gradually developed into four right views. The first is the Causation of Karma upon which Hinayana is based. Hinayana emphasizes impermanence and renunciation and lays most stress on the law of cause and effect, the non-egoism of personality.
The second right view, found in the Mahayana, is the Causation of Alaya. Mahayana is based not only on the restrictive laws of Vinaya, but also upon doing good Karma for others as emphasized in the Bodhicitta doctrine. In Mahayana we also find the passive Sunyata of personality as well as the positive Sunyata of Dharma. This enables Mahayanists to be bold in making connections with evil beings and saving them from their evil.
The third view is the potentiality of Buddhahood which encourages us to pursue Buddha-enlightenment. This is the Mahayana philosophy of Causation of Tathata in which the nature of Buddha along with his eighteen extra-mundane virtues, thirty-two excellent forms, and eighty kinds of best signs are stored. Their discovery only awaits your practice.
The fourth right view is the Causation of the Seven Elements found in Vajrayana. The five elements belong to the realm of materiality; the ninth consciousness and the right view of this causation belong to the realm of mentality. Based upon their identification, Vajrayana lays most stress upon the Tumo yoga of inner heat and the practice of deep breathing which integrates the final stage of philosophy and practice and develops both to their ultimate meaning. This is a scientific approach agreeing with the powerful, authoritarian theory of Einstein, named the "General Theory of Relativity." In the ultimate stage of Tantra, this theory and the profound philosophy of Buddhism meet. So I emphasize it. If a Buddhist remains only with the right view of Karma, as in Hinayana, how can he propagate the Dharma today in the West?
The second reason for emphasizing the whole system of Buddhist philosophy is because ancient sages have foretold the great events of today. For instance, Padma-sambhava predicted that when the iron birds fly all over the world, that his Tantra would flourish in the West. Also in Sikong, Tibet, there is a Nyingmapa Center named Padma Ko which means "Lotus Mountains." An ancient sage said that when the Lotus Mountains emerge, the Nyingmapa teachings would become established in the West. Now these two predictions are actually coming true.
There are many more examples of Tibetan teachings appearing in the West. Only ten years ago the very important Tibetan Tantra Kalacakra was miraculously discovered in a New York book shop by my friend, Professor Garma C. C. Chang. It was foretold many centuries ago that this Tantra would come to the West and was printed in that very book found by Garma C. C. Chang. He then asked me to write a commentary on the Tantra, explaining the highest anuttara yoga initiations. This was published in Chinese in Hong Kong but presently remains untranslated. The English publisher Rider & Co. sent the well-known translator John Blofeld to me. He began to read over my Chinese work, "An Essay on Tantric Initiation," but when he had read a few lines, I found he was not able to distinguish "shih" from "bow." I said, "You are not able to translate it by yourself and I have no time to translate it with you." So this work also remains untranslated.
Tantra has truly come to the West as the ancient sages foretold. Now that the Hevajra Tantra has been translated, Vajra-love Yoga cannot be kept secret again. Such books as the Hindu Tantra Asana and Tantric Art, containing secret photos and pictures, have been introduced to the West. Who can keep these teachings secret again? To illustrate, if a girl loves a boy, at first they may make love in secret; but when the girl conceives and is with a big belly, everybody sees and knows about it. Could they still keep their secret? Now the exposure of Tantra is like the baby at the girl's breast; there is no reason for keeping it secret any more.
Traditionally the development of Buddhist philosophy as a whole system has had to contend with one main obstacle-most ancient sages kept the teachings of Tantra secret and never tried to connect them with the Mahayana and Hinayana. But now in our age this obstacle can remain no longer. Without wings or legs, translations of Tantra have reached every corner of the world. Through world-wide communication, more or less every Western Buddhist does know about Tantra. But Easterners and Westerners should be aware that a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing; they must learn all the teachings in the Three Yanas for themselves. To say there is no such Tantra, as lama Govinda says in his Foundation of Tibetan Mysticism, is to be like the thief who covers his own ears when stealing a bell in hopes that the owner of the bell will not hear the sound. It is quite a joke.
The third reason for emphasizing the whole system of Buddhist philosophy is because of the necessity of harmonization between the various Buddhist schools. As I have said, the philosophy developed in different times, in different places, for different people or individuals, and consequently different doctrines arose. When the whole system of philosophy is recognized, certainly in our age or generation, it will reach its ultimate development. The West, as a final ledge of space of propagation in this Saha world, is burdened with the heaviest degree of mankind's sorrows and desires, and thus the Buddhist doctrines may be applied in their vast content with success. The West has the fortune to be able to accept the whole system of Buddhist doctrine and philosophy along with which all the techniques and meditative methods are identified.
One has to realize that no more sectarianism should be held, that no prejudice, refutation, and argument should continue. However, as most scholars of each school are not aware of the importance of the whole system of Buddhist philosophy, they keep their old heritage and cling to their own partial doctrine of Buddhism as the whole system. The Southern tradition of Hinayana in Ceylon rebukes the Northern tradition of Mahayana in China. The Eastern Japanese who follow the lower three yogas rebuke the Western Tibetans for practicing the highest Anuttara Tantra. Even Japanese Zen which came from the Chinese is now divided into Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen. Did the Japanese invent any kind of Zen above Chinese Chan? Certainly not. In China, the Pure Land School did not like Tantra and treated it as outside the Buddhist system, and the Chan school disregarded the Pure Land School, while the Hwa-Yen school and T'ien-T'ai school both struggled for recognition as possessors of the highest doctrine. Chan is the Tantra of Great Perfection taught by the Tantric guru Bodhidharma. As he had not imparted yogas other than Chan, he was respected only as a Chan guru in China, but not in Tibet where he was regarded as a Tantric sage, though his Chinese offspring treated the Tantric school followers as outsiders.
If we place emphasis on the whole system of Buddhist development, then harmony between the schools will surely result. When the special practices such as the impermanence and renunciation of Hinayana, the Bodhicitta and the two-fold Sunyata of Mahayana, and the teachings in the Consequence position, the wisdom breathing and Vajra-love methods of Vajrayana, are thoroughly received in theory and made complete by practice in performance, then full enlightenment is surely at hand. That is why I emphasize the whole system of Buddhist philosophy and the total connections of Dharma-succession methods in their complete sequence. Surely a scholar without practice rarely achieves this harmonization.
The fourth reason for emphasizing the whole system of Buddhist philosophy is because the practical methods, or techniques, should be well-connected in order to get full enlightenment in this lifetime. The Hinayana followers know only the Causation of Karma. After they have renounced, they practice meditation of personal non-egoism and keep the Vinaya to purify themselves. They attain only the Arhat position which is a Nirvana of dry wisdom and they should therefore strive to learn Mahayana wisdom, to develop the five kinds of Bodhicitta, and advance to the non-egoism of Dharma, either good or evil. This enables them to save others in the sinful state which was escaped from during the course of Hinayana practice.
When the Bodhicitta and the two-fold Sunyata meditations have been well-realized, they should make progress again and join into the Vajrayana, getting the four initiations and practicing the secret and sacred Tantric Dharma and attain the Full Enlightenment in this lifetime. To know the details, please refer to my work, Buddhist Meditation: Systematic and Practical.
I myself have not only learned the theory but have practiced each method in all Three Yanas for many years and have found no contradiction when the whole system of philosophy is rightly recognized and the whole system of method is accurately practiced-then one's realization is at hand. All my books are records of my practical experiences. They are not like those books written by scholars.
The fifth and last reason for emphasizing the whole system of Buddhist philosophy is because of the tendency toward and the need for an international religion, unified and accepted by the whole world. The tendency toward unification is apparent in the internationalization of our mail, our system of measures and weights, and the use of the decimal system for monetary values. An International language, though not established, has been aimed at again and again, and at last the international phonetic alphabet has been settled by scholars of the world.
At present the teachings of every religion have been translated into the most important languages of the world, especially English. In every country scholars not only study their own religious doctrines, but also study the doctrines of other religions and most of the West, including all the English speakers-so many a multitude-have learned about Eastern religions. Some of them have even left their own Christianity to take refuge in Buddhism or Hinduism. On the other hand, many Easterners have been converted to Christianity through the skillful methods of propagation of the Christian faith which utilizes material allurement in the place of profound spiritual philosophy .
The tendency toward internationalization may eventually result in a public and unified world religion above every other national religion. With true insight into the future trends, Einstein said, "If I'm compelled to select a world religion or an international religion, I would select Buddhism." We must examine the profundity of his statement and work together in harmony, for nowadays even the learned scholars of the East remain unaware of this. That is why I must emphasize the whole system of Buddhist philosophy. Thank you.