Pointing the finger to Zen
Often in Chinese martial arts, we are told the origins of the
arts are also tied to Zen (Chan in Chinese). In my opinion, although Zen stems
from traditional Buddhism, it is a system of liberation from a more religious,
faith driven Buddhism, as might be other forms of Buddhism where chanting, rituals,
mudras, mantras and sutras may seem more important than experiencing enlightenment
for oneself. Zen is a vessel to cross over quickly, and for you to experience
the awakened mind directly, as a result, Zen is more of an approach to realizing
the mind, a philosophy, more than a religion. In many ways, high level mastery
of a martial art is awakening and understanding, much like Zen is to Buddhism.
Often when we study Zen, we are presented with confusing stories, called koans
(kung an in Chinese), and seated meditation. As I feel a student needs a roadmap
to learning, and often finding a learned master is difficult, perhaps my few words
here can be of use.
Although Zen is a teaching that must be realized outside
normal transmission and points directly to the mind, for one to get a real understanding
of Zen, one should at least have some background in three important sutras. The
first of these is the Heart Sutra (Xin Jing in Chinese), also called the Prajna
Paramita Sutra. It is very short, yet very profound. Basically the main point
of this text is to explain the cross over from ignorance to wisdom. As the sutra
says, "Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from
form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. So too are feeling,
cognition, formation, and consciousness." It is a direct pointing of the
mind in an enlightened state. For the advanced martial artist, this profound statement
gives us much to contemplate.
The second Sutra one should study is the Diamond
Sutra (Jin Gang Jing in Chinese), also called the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra.
The basis of the Diamond Sutra is the perception of opposites, seeing yin and
yang and how it changes. It is said that the 6th patriarch inheritor, Hui Neng,
came to enlightenment when he over heard a passage recited from the Diamond Sutra,
" One should practice that thought which is nowhere attached". The sutra
is of medium length and pretty simple to understand. When one perceives Yin and
Yang, and finds oneself are stuck in between them, it is best to step away and
perceive the middle way.
Although Bodhidharma (Ta Mo in Chinese) is considered
the first patriarch and brought Zen to China, his teachings did not flourish until
the time of Hui Neng, the 6th Patriarch. Ta Mo brought the concept to China, but
it flowered and flourished under Hui Neng. The 6th Patriarch Altar Sutra is the
major text of study and his example points the way. Written in plain language,
the story describes Hui Neng, an illiterate woodcutter who inherits the 5th patriarch's
robe and bowl (handed down for 5 generations from Bodhidharma) and his life and
teachings. I had read this work previously under D. T. Suzuki's, "The Zen
Doctrine of No-Mind", but recently reading another version of the book given
to me by my student, Randy Lum, I received more insight to the Zen teachings I
was exposed to in my youth. I highly recommend "The Sixth Patriarch's Sutra"
published by the Buddhist Translation Text Society with commentary by the late
master Hsuan Hua, the 45th Dharma successor. Master Hsuan Hua inherited the mind
seal from Hsu Yun, the 44th Dharma successor, and the subject of three volumes,
"Ch'an and Zen Teachings" written by Charles Luk. All of these works
are available for order online, and some of these sutras are readily downloadable
off of various internet sites.
With these comprehended, a good foundation is
laid. When you have read these deeply and comprehended them, it is best to study
other classics including the Surangama Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, Vimalakirti
Sutra, Song of Enlightenment, Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, and other sutras.
These will clarify the koan study, famous in books like "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones"
by Paul Reps. From here, one can read the writings of the great masters, from
the five schools of Zen that flourished after Hui Neng, Kuei Yang, Lin Chi, Tsao
Tung, Yun Men, and Fa Yen.
I hope my few words can point the way to a deep
study of comprehending Zen and hope it can help improve your martial arts and
life as well.