Back to the Source
The Venerable Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Conducted by Karl Ray
Master Hsuan Hua (also named An Tz'u and To Lun) was born on the sixteenth day
of the third month, lunar calendar, in 1918. His father, Pai Fu-bai, was a farmer
the Shuang-ch'eng District of northeastern China. The Master was the youngest
of eight children. After the Second World War the Master traveled three thousand
miles to Nan Hua Monastery in Canton Province to pay his respects to the Venerable
Master Hsu Yun, who was then one hundred and nine years old. When he arrived at
Nan Hua, the two masters greeted on another; the Venerable Master Hsu Yun recognized
the Master's attainment, and transmitted the wonderful mind seal to him, making
him the Ninth Patriarch of the Wei Yang lineage, and asked him to serve as the
Director of the Nan Hua Institute for the Study of the Vinaya.
In 1950, he
resigned his post at Nan Hua Monastery and journeyed to Hong Kong where he lived
in a mountainside cave in the New Territories. He personally established two temples
and a lecture hall and helped to bring about the construction of many others.
He dwelt in Hong Kong for twelve years, during which time many people were influenced
by his arduous cultivation and awesome manner to take refuge with the Triple Jewel
and support the propagation of the Buddha dharma.
In 1962, he carried the Buddha's
Dharma banner farther west to the shores of America where he took up residence
in San Francisco and patiently waited for past causes to ripen and bear their
fruit. With tireless vigor the Master has finely planted the roots of Dharma in
Western soil so that it can become self-perpetuating The following interview was
conducted at Gold Mountain Monastery, San Francisco, Ca., which was founded by
Karl Ray: The first question I would like to ask is based on an
article in which you suggest that Buddhists forget sectarian lines. Can you suggest
practical steps that Buddhist organizations can take to bring this about?
Master: Before the Buddha came into the world there was no Buddhism. After the
Buddha appeared, Buddhism came into being, but there was not as yet any division
into sects or schools. Sectarianism is a limited view, a view of small scope,
and cannot represent Buddhism in its entirety. The complete substance of Buddhism,
the totality, admits no such divisions. When you divide the totality of Buddhism
into sects and schools, you merely split it into fragments. In order to understand
Buddhism in its totality, one must eliminate views of sects and schools and return
to original Buddhism. One must
return to the root and go back to the source.
brings me to a question about the different teachings taught here at Gold Mountain.
I understand that you teach five different schools, including the Ch 'an School,
the Teaching School, the Vinaya School, the Secret School, and the Pure Land School.
Can they all be taught like this together? Do they all belong to the original
corpus of Buddhist teachings?
The Five Schools were created by Buddhist disciples
who had nothing to do and wanted to find something with which to occupy their
time. The Five Schools all issued from Buddhism. Since they came forth from Buddhism,
they can return to Buddhism as well. Although the Five Schools serve different
purposes, their ultimate destination is the same. It is said:
There is only
one road back to the source,
But there are many expedient ways to reach it.
there are five different schools, they are still included within one "Buddhism."
If you want to understand the totality of Buddhism, you need not necessarily divide
it up into schools or sects. Originally there were no such divisions. Why make
trouble when there is none? Why be divisive and cause people to have even more
false thoughts than they already have?
People think that the Five Schools are
something really special and wonderful. In fact, they have never departed from
Buddhism itself. It's just like the government of a country. The government is
made up of different departments. There's a Department of Health, a Department
of Economics, a State Department, a Department of the Interior, and so forth.
People may not realize that all these different departments are under a single
government. All they recognize is the department, and they don't recognize the
government as a whole. Their outlook is mistaken. Now, we wish to move from the
branches back to the roots. In the analogy, the roots are the government, and
the branches are the various departments. People should no abandon the roots and
cling to the branches. If you only see the individual departments and fail to
recognize the government, you will never be able to understand the problems faced
by the country as a whole. You'll have no idea what they're all about.
one should feel free to pursue any or all of the teachings?
Of course. Religion
shouldn't be allowed to tie one up.
And if one chooses to follow only one certain
school, can one reach the goal that all of them aim for?
All roads lead to
Rome. All roads come to San Francisco. All roads will take you to New York. You
may ask, "Can I get to New York by this road?" but you would do better
to ask yourself, "Will I walk that road or not?"
You mentioned that
the goal of Buddhism is the same for all schools. What is that goal?
ultimately is to return to a place where there is "nothing to get."
You go to a place where there is no more road, and then you stop going. You go
What are bitter practices?*
[*k'u heng: the twelve beneficial
ascetic practices recommended by the Buddha, e.g., sleeping sitting up, taking
only one meal a day before noon, wearing only three layers of clothing, drinking
only unadulterated water after the noon hour, etc. The more general ones are meditating,
practicing the Vinaya, etc.]
Bitter practices are just what people don't like,
what they don't want to do. That's why you don't come here and practice them,
Because I don't want to?
Because you are afraid!
don't know what they are yet!
Bitter practices, in general, are those which
people are not willing to endure. That's why you don't want to practice them,
Is it not possible that in ordinary life, in life as we are living
it in our everyday world, that there are many things that are bitter practices,
that we choose to do even though we don't want to?
If you are involved in them,
you won't realize it. The bitter practices we are discussing now are ones which
are visible and which everyone can see. No one can see the internal hardships
people face, and although they don't want to undergo them, they are forced to
do so anyway. The external practices that everyone can see and that are suitable
to undertake are those, which most people do not wish to endure. I often say,
endure suffering is to end suffering;
To enjoy blessings is to exhaust one's
I'm not sure I understand the relationship between an individual's
suffering and the suffering of others. Does taking on bitter practices relieve
the suffering of others?
There is such a relationship in that circumstance,
Are these practices for everyone or only for monks?
Everybody can practice
I'd like to ask something about the Pure land because it seems to me
to be one of the most neglected aspects of Buddhism in the West, unlike in the
East. The question is, is the heaven in the Pure land-if I am correct in using
the term-similar to the Christian heaven?
Fundamentally there is no heaven
and there is no Pure Land. People imagine a heaven and a heaven exists. They imagine
the existence of a Pure Land and a Pure Land exists. The Pure Land Dharma door
was spoken by the Buddha in order to teach you to do away with your false thoughts.
It is intended to lead you to a realization of the pure, inherently wonderful
True Suchness nature. At the ultimate point, when you have no false thoughts or
confused ideas, you arrive at the Pure Land. Whoever can do away with their false
thoughts can reach the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Whoever cannot do that is still
in the Evil World of the Five Turbidities. So, heaven is the same. We imagine
how fine and wonderful heaven must be, but only on the basis of what we have heard.
We also imagine the Pure Land to be as the Buddha said it was. We haven't yet
seen it ourselves, except in our imaginations. As I see it, the Pure Land Dharma-door
is taught only for the sake of causing you to purify your mind. That is the Pure
Land. If your mind has no confused ideas, that is heaven. If you look for it elsewhere,
you only show your greed.
That's one of the most beautiful definitions I 've
ever heard of the Pure Land.
But it's the worst explanation ever given!
seems the most sensible.
The really good explanation is impossible to give.
If it were a really good explanation, there'd be no way to convey it to you. Anything
that can be said is not ultimate. If it can be explained, it doesn't "have
it." I've never heard as good a one either. (Laughter)
In other words,
what is eliminated in this definition of the Pure Land is what has so often been
ascribed to it as "otherworldly power. "
(t'a li) just refers to the power of Amitabha Buddha. "Self-power" (tse
li) refers to your own ability to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. Using "vow-power"
you borrow the power of Amitabha Buddha's vows to escort you to the Pure Land
of Ultimate Bliss. This comes from relying on the power of Amitabha Buddha's vows,
but the vow-power of Amitabha Buddha and the vow-power of every individual is
just the same; it is of one kind. If you can purify your mind, then you will become
one with Amitabha Buddha. If you can purify your mind, the Land of Ultimate Bliss
appears right in front of
you. It is especially important that you cut off
all desire. All your desirous thoughts, just cut them off so that you think of
nothing whatsoever. If you can stop all thoughts of sexual desire, have no greedy,
hateful, or ignorant thoughts, then Amitabha's power is your power as well; they
Two and yet not two;
not two and yet two.
Basically, there is no
distinction, but living beings have to find something to do where there is nothing
to be done, that's all.
Does not this explanation of the Pure Land conflict
with the tantric practices of using sexual powers? Are they two different ways
that one must choose between, or can they be practiced simultaneously?
is no contradiction. As for one who practices tantra, if he has no sexual desire,
it is all right. If he has desire, then he is just the same as a common person.
other words, in the tantric practice one must also be detached from sexual desire?
definitely, yes. There must be no thoughts of sexual desire. If you have desire,
you are just the same as a common person, and you will have children just the
same as everyone else. That's for certain!
Can you have children without desire,
You'd have to be a piece of wood! A piece of wood
But a piece of wood doesn't have children, does it?
the tantric practices, one must neither be a piece of wood nor have desire. It
is really not easy. Because it is so difficult, it is extremely dangerous. But
most people like it, and use it to cover up their own "inner conflicts."
brings up the question of the teacher-disciple relationship. Can one practice
Buddhism without a teacher or as the Indians say, a "guru?"
a little longer.
But it's not impossible?
That depends on the root-nature
of the individual.
What do you think of the prospects for Buddhism in America?
is like a seed. In Asia, it no longer exists. The seed has come to the West. Having
come to the West, of course it will take root and grow. After growing large, it
will eventually pass away in the West as well. Then it will go on from there to
yet another world. This is one of the natural tendencies of the Buddha dharma.
It may happen that in five hundred years or perhaps a thousand years--it's not
certain how long it will be--Buddhism may go to the moon.
I was just going
to ask, you said "world " and not "another country." That's
what you meant?
I think I'll let you off now.
me? But I am liberating you! (Laughter)
I thank you. The questions were stupid.
the questions stupid or were the answers stupid?
and wisdom are basically the same. When you reverse stupidity, it becomes wisdom.
It's like the palm and the back of one's hand. Turn it over, and then you've got
it. If you are interested, feel free to make an appointment at any time to come
and discuss things.
Thank you. Maybe you can help me not be afraid of bitter