Friday, November 1, 2013

Concerning the Treatise on the Transcendence of Cognition or the Ceasing of Notions [Jueguan lun]

"Buddhist scholar, John McRae, attributes this text to the Ox-head School of early Chan. McRae explains that research of the Ox-head School (named after the mountain Mount Niu-t'ou, Ox-head Mountain), has, until recently, been almost entirely devoted to the study of this text, the Chüeh-kuan lun (Jue-guan lun) which was rediscovered through the publication in 1935 of D. T. Suzuki's Shōshitsu issho (Lost Works from Bodhidharma's Cave). In all, there are six extant Dunhuang manuscripts of this text, all of which were published by Suzuki in 1945 and then by the eminent Japanese scholar Yanagida Seizan in 1970. The authorship of the text is in dispute.  McRae notes that the text, which he dates as sometime after 750, has been variously attributed to Shen-hi, Bodhidharma, Niu-t'ou Fa-jung, the legendary figurehead of the Ox-head School or perhaps by someone else later in the Bodhidharma tradition…

The text is an early example of the creativity of early Chan writing. It is structured as a dialogue between master and pupil but is obviously a fictional encounter. Highly structured as it is, it may be, as McRae notes in his essay, The Antecedents of Encounter Dialogue in Chinese Ch'an Buddhism , “intended to model ideal teacher/student interactions and may in fact have resembled to some degree actual exchanges that took place between living meditation masters and practitioners.”  McRae translates the title as Treatise on the Transcendence of Cognition and the two ‘Professor Enlightenment' and ‘Conditionality'…The Ceasing of Notions…is [the title] translated by Venerable Myokyo-ni (Irmgard Schloegl, 1921–2007) and Michelle Bromley from earlier versions in German, English and Japanese (but notably, not Chinese).

The master in the text tries to lead the student from his notions of delusions and clinging, seeing everything in a dual way, to a true understanding of Chan. Master Nyuri constantly points to the student's errors in seeing things as a duality and not recognizing the emptiness in all things, including his questions. Throughout the dialogue, the student fails to understand the master's teaching until the very end when he becomes ‘enlightened', “finally breaking through to the pure, non-discriminating illumination of śūnyatā”."


Professor Enlightenment was silent and said nothing. Conditionality then arose suddenly and asked Professor Enlightenment: "What is the mind? What is it to pacify the mind (anxin)?"

[The master] answered: "You should not posit a mind, nor should you attempt to pacify it-this is called 'pacified.'"

Question: "If there is no mind, how can one cultivate enlightenment (tao)?"

Answer: "Enlightenment is not a thought of the mind, so how could it occur in the mind?"

Question: "If it is not thought of by the mind, how should it be thought of?"

Answer: "If there are thoughts then there is mind, and for there to be mind is contrary to enlightenment. If there is no thought (wunian) then there is no mind(wuxin), and for there to be no mind is true enlightenment." ...

Question: "What 'things' are there in no-mind?"

Answer: "No-mind is without 'things.' The absence of things is the Naturally True. The Naturally True is the Great Enlightenment (ta-tao)."...

Question: "What should I do?"

Answer: "You should do nothing."

Question: "I understand this teaching now even less than before."

Answer: "There truly is no understanding of the Dharma. Do not seek to understand it." ...

Question: "Who teaches these words?"

Answer: "It is as I have been asked."

Question: "What does it mean to say that it is as you have been asked?"

Answer: "If you contemplate [your own] questions, the answers will be understood [thereby] as well."

At this Conditionality was silent and he thought everything through once again.

Professor Enlightenment asked: "Why do you not say anything?"

Conditionality answered: "I do not perceive even the most minute bit of anything that can be explained."

At this point Professor Enlightenment said to Conditionality: "You would appear to have now perceived the True Principle."

Conditionality asked: "Why [do you say] 'would appear to have perceived' and not that I 'correctly perceived' [the True Principle]?"

Enlightenment answered: "What you have now perceived is the nonexistence of all dharmas. This is like the non-Buddhists who study how to make themselves invisible, but cannot destroy their shadow and footprints."

Conditionality asked: "How can one destroy both form and shadow?"

Enlightenment answered: "Being fundamentally without mind and its sensory realms, you must not willfully generate the ascriptive view (or, "perception") of impermanence."

[The following is from the end of the text.]

Question: "If one becomes [a Tathaagata] without transformation and in one's own body, how could it be called difficult?"

Answer: Willfully activating (ch'i ÑÃ) the mind is easy; extinguishing the mind is difficult. It is easy to affirm the body, but difficult to negate it. It is easy to act, but difficult to be without action. Therefore, understand that the mysterious achievement is difficult to attain, it is difficult to gain union with the Wondrous Principle. Motionless is the True, which the three [lesser vehicles] only rarely attain."

At this Conditionality gave a long sigh, his voice filling the ten directions. Suddenly, soundlessly, he experienced a great expansive enlightenment. The mysterious brilliance of his pure wisdom [revealed] no doubt in its counter illumination. For the first time he realized the extreme difficulty of spiritual training and that he had been uselessly beset with illusory worries.

He then sighed aloud: "Excellent! Just as you have taught without teaching, so have I heard without hearing...


"Here there is a threefold pattern of beginning questions, intermediate hesitation, and final achievement…which resembles Zhiyi's scheme of the three truths of absolute, relative, and middle. It is also structurally similar to Hegel's thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern, but in this case the second element achieves its impact by the application of the fundamental Mahāyāna concept of Sūnyatā, or emptiness. Indeed, the same tripartite structure is apparent in the thought of at least one important Indian Mādhyamika philosopher. That is, an expression of Buddhism is made in the first element, the terms of this expression are erased in the second element, and the understanding of Buddhism is thereby elevated to a new level of profundity in the third element."



[1] Jue guan lun [Zen Irodalom Zen Literature]

[2] The Antecedents of Encounter Dialogue in Chinese Ch'an Buddhism by John R. McRae

[3] Seeing through Zen Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism by John R. McRae [University of California Press]

No comments:

Post a Comment