Monday, December 9, 2013

More Dunhuang Yuan, the Lost Chan Master

I have previously offered selections of Yuan from Record II of the Bodhidharma Anthology (a Dunhuang text) there (where I also included extensive quotations from the translator, Jeremy Broughton) and there, but I would like to include three additional dialogues here.

The first dialogue describes seeing transgression and transcending seeing. The second concerns the view of no view. And the third describes the critical failure of all words. All three speak to seeing through all the subtle deceptions of conditionality.

Note the directness of Yuan’s language. In fact, the one Master who sermonizes is not Yuan but Chih. And Yuan blows him off accordingly. When Yuan finally speaks at length in the third dialogue, it is only to thoroughly disavow “terms and written words.” And when questioned again, Yuan simply refuses to respond, a silent ‘keep quiet.’

Dharma Master Chih saw Dharma Master Yuan on the street of butchers and asked: "Do you see the butchers slaughtering the sheep?" Dharma master Yuan said: "My eyes are not blind. How could I not see them?" Dharma Master Chih said: "Master Yuan, you are saying you see it!" Master Yuan said: "You're seeing it on top of seeing it!"

Master Chih again asked: "If you hold a view with characteristics, it is the view of a common man. If you hold a view of voidness of essence, it is the view of the two vehicles. If you hold a view of neither existence nor nonexistence, it is the view of a solitary Buddha. If you hold a view of pity and sympathy, it is the view of compassion with love. If you use mind to view, then it is the view of the followers of the non-Buddhist paths. If you make use of the consciousnesses to view, it is the view of the Heavenly Evil One. If you do not see forms and formlessness, you will no longer have views. How should one view in order to be free of all these errors?" Master Yuan said: "I have nothing whatsoever to do with these sorts of views at all, and that is what is properly called taking a view. Because you create various false thoughts such as these, you are deluding and confusing yourself."

A certain person asked Master Yuan: "Why do you not teach me the Dharma?" Answer: "If I were to set up a Dharma to teach you, it would not be leading you. If I were to set up a Dharma, it would be deceiving you; it would be failing you. If I had a Dharma, how could I explain it to someone else? How could I speak of it to you? It comes down to this: If there are terms and written words, all of it will deceive you. How could I tell you even a mustard seed's worth of the meaning of the great path? If I could speak of it, what purpose would that serve?" When asked again, [Master Yuan] did not reply.


  1. Zen in the West, the eternal search for nihilists to support the deviant behavior they love to engage in. Master Chih is revered as a great master while Master Yuan is, correctly, forgotten. As it says in the Surangama Sutra it is 1000 times worse to cling to emptiness than to cling to existence.

  2. baizhang's 'view' may help clarify the situation for you:

    If you cling to some fundamental purity or liberation…
    the false idea of naturalism.

    If you cling to the idea of self or things existence…
    the false idea of eternalism.

    If you cling to the self or things non-existence…
    the false idea of nihilism.

    If you cling to the twin concepts of existence and non-existence…
    the false idea of partiality.

    If you cling to a concept that things do not exist and also do not not exist…
    the false idea of emptiness.

    One should only practice in the present…
    without views about views, which is called the correct view.