Read an Excerpt
This book is a reading of the classic
by the noted Chinese Buddhist Chih-hsu Ou-i (1599–1655), an outstanding author of the late Ming dynasty whose work influenced the development of modern
Buddhism in China. Ou-i uses the
to elucidate issues in social, psychological, and spiritual development.
is the most ancient Chinese book of wisdom, widely considered a basic guide for conscious living. While it has been extensively expounded by the traditional sociologists and psychologists of the Confucian and Taoist schools, the written records of Chinese Buddhism are nearly silent on the
Of course, several key phrases and signs were adopted into the commentaries of the
Ch'an (Zen), Hua-yen, and other Buddhist schools, but no extensive explanation of the
seems to have been written by a Buddhist until Chih-hsu Ou-i composed the present work in the seventeenth century.
Buddhism came into China, it picked up certain key phrases from the Chinese classics to put forth its message in the local idiom. Among the classics
Buddhists drew from was, naturally, the
Ch'an Buddhists used well-known lines referring to effective adaptation, an axial Buddhist theme. Taoist reading of the
is especially marked in the Ch'an-like
Treatise on the Avatamsaka Sütra
by the lay adept Li T'unghsuan. The celebrated "Five Ranks" device of the ninth-century Ts'ao Tung (Soto) school of Ch'an was in some texts illustrated by trigrams and hexagrams from the
and this association was much elaborated by the Soto Zen monks of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
am not aware, however, of any text, before or since this one by Ou-i, that treats the
in a systematic way from the point of view of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Ch'an masters of the classic era seldom did systematic explanations of any text, but in the postclassical periods of Ch'an in China and other East Asian nations, there were people who combined scholarship with meditation and used their experience to elucidate not only Buddhist texts of all schools, but also classics of Confucianism and Taoism.
This sort of activity always seems to be heightened in pitch during times of degradation in the general tone of the civilization's consciousness, perhaps coinciding with relaxation or with crisis. Generally, the later teachers wrote much more than the earlier teachers. We usually have only hints of the colossal inner and outer learning of the ancients; of the learning of the later teachers, who also had more to study, we have evidence of intellectual efforts that would be staggering by standards common today. In the case of Ou-i, as with other great Buddhists who took up scholarship, this was done as a part of religious practice, linking personal efforts with needs of the contemporary society.
Ming dynasty was one such time of stress in China. The dynasty had started in the fourteenth century as a revolt against the Mongolian Yuan dynasty and ended in total overthrow by the Manchu Ch'ing dynasty in the mid-seventeenth century.
During that time there were many civil wars, including numerous revolts led by
Buddhist societies. There seem to have been very few creative, progressive leaders in the secular world, and intellectual growth was threatened by the imposition of institutionalized orthodoxy.
Though the upstart founder of the Ming dynasty had himself been a Buddhist monk, as he gained support among established sectors of Society, he began to withdraw from his associations with the Buddhist order, particularly the
or charismatic monks, who had considerable influence on a popular level and often brandished revolutionary visions. Attempts to control the clergy, particularly to control contact between the clergy and the populace, played an important role in the development of the forms of institutionalized Buddhism in this transition period between the postclassical and modern eras of Chinese Buddhism.
The face of religion was changing, it seemed, or different phases of religion were becoming visible. The Chinese Buddhists accepted Tibetan tantrism, and the powerful Complete Reality Taoists seemed to take up some of the ancient ways of
Taoist tantrism. When the great T'ang dynasty was flourishing centuries before the Ming, tantric texts giving formulae for killing unjust kings were suppressed or changed, but in the Ming dynasty civilian armies rallied their personal attention and group solidarity around religious ideals, such as the coming of Maitreya, the future Buddha, as they fought to overthrow what they perceived as corrupt and oppressive "government."
similar phenomenon occurred in Japan about this time, with the well-organized
Pure Land and Sun Lotus Buddhist movements in the midst of the Warring States period of medieval Japan assuming both temporal and Spiritual functions. In the
Near East, the military organization known as the Janissaries was established,
it is said, with the blessing of Sufi Hajji Bektash, revered as a saint by both
Christians and Muslims. In Central Asia, the great conqueror Tamerlane, who like the Ming Chinese took up after the Jinggisid Mongols, was at once a relentless warrior and reveler, and a great patron of arts, sciences, and religions. He is said to have known Nasruddin, the Sufi counterpart of Ikkyu,
the medieval Japanese Zen master who had at least three or four careers, and like Nasruddin knew the local conqueror of his time, one of the Ashikaga shoguns.
It would seem that one of the concerns of the time, therefore, was the
"deposit" of knowledge that would allow humankind to survive in the future. Geniuses everywhere from Europe to East Asia seem to have deposited part of that knowledge right in the infrastructures of conflict (such as the martial arts), and then moved to balance this by developing culture to a high pitch. Thus we find great developments in liturgy, music, art, scholarship, and literature, often carried out by the same person or group. This whole process itself illustrates a principle of the
whereby waxing and waning balance each other.
There seems to be a general consensus among Buddhist writers that institutional
Buddhism was in a severe decline in the Ming dynasty. Ou-i himself, commenting on the typical forms of degeneration among the various branches of Buddhist study, cites widespread ignorance, hypocrisy, and empty imitation as characteristic flaws of contemporary Buddhist clergy. This situation naturally created problems for those who sincerely tried to pursue Buddhist studies in a monastic context, but on the other hand it seems to have further stimulated
Buddhist thinkers from a cloistered environment to reach out into secular life,
continuing a trend strongly marked in the earlier Sung and Yuan dynasties.
The story of Qu-i's own life appears to be one of great struggle and effort,
plagued by the difficulties of finding good teachers and companions in the
Buddhist world. He wrote of himself that he did not have a fixed teacher, but had to learn from everyone; eventually he read through the entire Buddhist canon, like others in similar positions, and attempted to extract the essence from all of the Buddhist teachings. Though he had no such institutional affiliation, Ou-i is commonly thought of as an outstanding latter-day exponent of T'ien-t'ai Buddhism, the great syncretic school of Chinese Buddhism combining study and exercise.
Ou-i's early exposure to Buddhism was, of course, through his cultural and family environment. Like most literate Chinese men, however, he devoted his early studies to Confucianism, in preparation for possible advancement through the civil service examination system. At the age of twelve he was already writing anti-Buddhist essays, a Confucian fashion that he seems later to have regretted very deeply.
climax to Ou-i's Confucian studies was reached when he was twenty years old,
while he was writing a commentary on the
Analects of Confucius,
one of the basic classics. According to his own account, he became stuck on the expression "The whole world takes to benevolence" and was unable to think of anything else for three days and nights. Finally he experienced a mental opening and suddenly "understood the psychology of Confucius. At that time, the orthodox school of Confucianism was the Ch'eng-chu school, a relic of the Sung dynasty, and like everyone aiming for a career in civil service through the official examination system, Ou-i began his studies in this school. Eventually, however, he came to prefer the new school of Wang Yang-ming
(1472–1528), whose doctrines and methods were strongly influenced by
Buddhism. After his awakening to the psychology of Confucius and following his interest in Wang Yang-ming's psychological Confucianism, Ou-i now began to practice Ch'an Buddhist meditation.
Ou-i's early attempts at meditation were not fruitful, and he consequently began to think that he would have to become a renunciate in order to succeed in his new spiritual endeavor. He thus became a Buddhist monk in his early twenties and once again set himself to the practice of meditation, using the
as a guide to handling the mental states that may arise during concentrated meditation.
This time Ou-i obtained dramatic results from meditation. In his autobiographical notes he records that he felt that his "body, mind, and world all disappeared." Subsequently, he continues, all the scriptures and
Buddhist teaching stories) became obvious to him. Nevertheless, he says, he did not consider this the "enlightenment of sages," and did not tell anyone about it.
Several years later, at the age of twenty-eight, Ou-i fell seriously ill and in the midst of his life-and-death crisis found that his early realization was of no practical use to him. He then added the Buddha-name recitation practice of the
T'ien-t'ai and Pure Land schools to his Ch'an meditation practice. He had been interested in Buddha-name recitation since his early twenties, and it was also fashionable in his time to combine silent and incantational meditation.
Still later, at the age of thirty-one, Ou-i met the distinguished Ch'an master
Po-shan Yuan-Iai (1575–1630). Yuan-lai explained to him the various characteristics of the progressive deterioration of Ch'an practice in their time, and this prompted Ou-i to give up Ch'an altogether. Now he began to concentrate intensely on Pure Land practice, restoration of the
(monastic orders), and exposition of classic Buddhist scriptures and treatises.
During his thirties, Ou-i took up the practice of
the vehicle of mystic spells. Among the various spells he is known to have recited,
the one to which he devoted the most effort was the spell of Ksitigarbha, the bodhisattva associated with the salvation of those in hell. This spell is particularly focused on absolution, and Ou-i notes that he recited it approximately forty million times over a period of ten years.
It is recorded in Buddhist lore that mantrayanic practice is often associated with the development of extraordinary linguistic and mnemic skills, and it may have been this decade of intense spell concentration that enabled Ou-i to perform the tremendous feats of scholarship that he subsequently accomplished. Be that as it may, when Ou-i subsequently began to study esoteric tantric Buddhism in earnest and learned of the strict requirements of
(to prevent the strengthening of bad qualities as well as good ones), he ceased to practice or encourage incantation, save incantation of the name of the Buddha of Compassion.
Also during his thirties, Ou-i suffered the final failure of his attempt to revive orthodox
practice in China and at length even renounced his ordination, regarding it as technically illegitimate. He turned his attention to the Mahayana
at the age of thirty-nine, while lecturing on this
he experienced another great realization. According to his account, he now saw that all the doctrinal differences among Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism were due to the fact that these teachings were nothing more than temporary means.
at the age of forty-six, under the impact of another serious illness, Ou-i again reevaluated his Buddhist practice and decided to devote himself to Pure
Land Buddhism. An outstanding characteristic of Pure Land Buddhism is that it promises salvation through the simple invocation of a Buddha-name, regardless of other conditions. For Ou-i, intensely aware of both the temporal and the spiritual malaise of his time, personally burdened with a sense of guilt for his early repudiation of Buddhism, chronically unhealthy and often ill, and moreover regretful at having lost opportunities for personal cultivation because of his scholarly activities, to enter into Pure Land devotion would seem to be almost a matter of course. Ten years later he passed away, leaving a rarely matched legacy of Buddhist scholarship.
Considering the fact that Ou-i was in poor health almost all of his life, and was sometimes very ill for extended periods of time, his enormous literary output appears all the more incredible. In his teen years, when he began to write anti-Buddhist essays and Confucian commentaries, he is said to have composed over two thousand tracts, so his literary talents were apparently quite considerable even at this early age. He later burned all of these essays, so we have no idea of the state of mind of the young Ou-i, but his later work clearly demonstrates a formidable knowledge of Confucianism.
Aside from some miscellaneous works—letters, prayers, essays on Ch'an—he did not begin his Buddhist writings in earnest until he was nearly forty years old. By the end of his life—which was short in comparison with many other noted
Buddhist teachers—he had composed over seventy-five works in some two hundred and fifty volumes.
About fifty of these works still exist, including a comprehensive guide to the
Buddhist canon, useful compendia of major Buddhist systems, commentaries on
and interpretations of several native Chinese classics, including this work on the
Buddhism in the Ming dynasty inherited a twofold tradition: There were the
Chinese schools that had arisen between the fourth and eighth centuries, and the Tibetan schools that entered under the Yuan dynasty Mongolian rule during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The old schools of Chinese Buddhism had more or less amalgamated by the Ming dynasty, depending on the type of practitioner—there were
and Yoga specialists, the latter including those reputed to have various kinds of ordinary and occult knowledge, generally working among the people.
The newer Tibetan schools apparently began to influence the Chinese when Tibet and
China were both absorbed into the Mongolian Empire. The Ming dynasty was a native Chinese breakaway from Mongol rule, which maintained its own diplomatic relations with other nations, as many as thirty-three under the famous Yung-lo
Emperor Ch'eng-tsu (r. 1403–1424), who was in contact with the Karmapa, a high incarnate lama of Tibet.
Under the native Chinese Ming dynasty, therefore, the connection between Tibetan and
Chinese schools of Buddhism continued, marked by an increasing emphasis on ritual, prostration, and incantation practices. While the general form of
Chinese Buddhist practice showed Tibetan influence, however, the contents of its rituals were taken not from the Indian esoteric tradition through the
Tibetan or even the Chinese esoteric canon, but mainly from the liturgy of the
T'ien-t'ai school, which had been formulated for the Chinese from Buddhist scriptures centuries before, in the Sui, T'ang, and Sung dynasties, from the late sixth to early eleventh century.
Ou-i was therefore very unusual among native Chinese Buddhists in having actually read the esoteric canon existing in the Chinese language. Nevertheless, he finally concluded that the living tradition of Tantra was no longer available in China (travel was difficult and limited in Ou-i's time, due to civil and international unrest in many areas) and this led to his decision to abandon
Mantrayana, except for the name of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite
Light, the embodiment of compassion. The practice of reciting this name had been openly offered in
since time immemorial, and because it was associated with pure compassion, it could be considered the least dangerous of all
This was the
in fact, of the first native Chinese school, the Pure Land school founded by the great scholar and visionary Hui-yuan (334–416), originator of the first
On-i found an esoteric plane in the work of the great Sung dynasty T'ian-t'ai writer Ssu-ming (960–1028), who revived the school eight generations after the last great master, Chan-jan (711–782). Ou-i made Ssu-ming's work one of his main sources on liturgy and ritual, and he also commonly used T'ien-t'ai terminology in dealing with other forms of meditation and other Buddhist practices as well.
This is certainly true of his commentary on the
translated in the present volume, and it is therefore useful to note certain recurring key terms. A general outline can first be glimpsed in Ou-i's own explanation of the overall structure of the
The upper course of the
starts with The
Creative and The Receptive, and ends with Water (Multiple Danger) and Fire. These are symbols of heaven, earth, sun, and moon. They also represent the qualities of calm and awareness, concentration and insight. This course deals with the beginning and end of inherent qualities. The lower course starts with Sensing and Constancy, and ends with Settled and Unsettled. These are symbols of sensing and response, getting through impasses. They are also symbols of potential and teaching calling on one another, benefiting people in all times.
This deals with the beginning and end of cultivated qualities. Also, the upper course begins with the inherent qualities of Creativity and Receptivity, and ends with the cultivated qualities of Water and Fire. This is the fulfillment of cause and result of one's own practice.
lower course begins with the potential and teaching of Sensing and Constancy, and ends with the endlessness of being Settled and Unsettled. This is the fulfillment of the subject and object involved in education and enlightenment of others. This is the general point of the two parts of the
The inherent qualities Ou-i speaks of are the natural qualities of buddha-nature,
the complete potential of awareness; cultivated qualities are developments of the various facets of inherent qualities, bringing them to full maturity and putting them to appropriate use. Thus inherent qualities and cultivated qualities are the same in essence but distinct in practice.
T'ien-t'ai Buddhist terms, this is the unity and distinction of fundamental enlightenment and initial enlightenment. This is the teaching that all beings have the buddha-nature, or potential for awakening to reality, but it usually cannot be fully expressed or used without deliberate cultivation.
refinement of this idea is the doctrine of successive stages coexisting with an underlying unity or continuity. Using the T'ien-t'ai model, Ou-i provisionally distinguishes six stages of initial enlightenment into fundamental enlightenment.
The first stage might be termed ideal enlightenment, where
means something that is so in principle or in ultimate truth, but not yet in manifest fact.
The second stage might be called intellectual enlightenment. This is the stage of intellectual awareness of this ideal or ultimate potential of buddhahood. At this stage the intellectual awareness comes through concepts, through reading,
hearing, and thinking.
The third stage is that of contemplative practice, an intensification and purification of the thinking process, also including transcendence of thought itself. As is well known, there are countless methods of contemplative practice in Buddhism, and according to Buddhist teaching principles there is a great deal of individual difference in what methods are effective when and for whom.
In this reading of the
Ou-i is concerned not so much with specific techniques as with their generic types and their place in the overall pattern of the practitioner's life.
The fourth stage can be called the stage of conformity or resemblance and represents a development of contemplative practices to a point where they become, as it were, second nature. It is traditionally defined as the stage where the six senses are purified. This stage might be called the clearing of the channels for the next stages.
The fifth stage is that of partial realization, when the purification of the senses accomplished in the preceding stage allows the buddha-nature, the enlightenment potential, to begin penetrating the veil of illusion and reveal new perspectives and possibilities.
The sixth stage is that of ultimate realization, representing the full expression of the inherent essence of conscious being, with all of its faculties being continually developed and tuned to an infinite and ever expanding reality.
Two of the most important terms Ou-i uses in the context of Buddhist interpretation are
As practices, these properly belong to the third of the sixth stages mentioned above, but according to T'ien-t'ai theory, they are also natural qualities of consciousness that can be restored and maintained by cultivation. Furthermore,
a proper understanding of concentration and insight is also considered important, to assist in the all-important balancing of these two fundamental aspects of Buddhist use of mind.
Concentration and insight may be thought of in association with calmness and contemplation.
The concentration and calmness empower the contemplation and insight, while the contemplation and insight make the concentration and calmness meaningful. Thus it is said that both concentration and insight may be right, wrong, or unstable; and a critical element in that question is measure and proportion.
This seems to be the primary function of the
as presented by Ou-i for evaluating Buddhist practice.
Concentration and insight are not, of course, simply items of "Buddhist practice."
Whatever people may do, the degree and quality of concentration and insight they bring to bear in their thoughts and acts directly affect the results. Put simply, concentration without insight leads to persistent blundering, while insight without concentration leads to lack of will. And when insight is partial or biased, and concentration shades off into obsession and fanaticism,
the results are correspondingly distorted. So it seems only natural that Ou-i would find the basic
desirables of centeredness, balance, and correctness to be in perfect accord with the
Middle Way teaching of T'ien-t'ai Buddhism.
in speaking of realms of experience from a T'ien-t'ai Buddhist point of view,
Ou-i uses the concept of four lands. These four lands always interpenetrate one another in some way, but they are not necessarily visible or accessible to one another at all times.
The first, "lowest" land is that land of common presence, the world of ordinary experience, where both the enlightened and the unenlightened live together. Next is the land of expedient liberation, the realm of release from worldly cares. Though taken by some as a life-long refuge, it is more widely visited as an expedient curative, to enable people to work more efficiently in the world of common presence.
The land of expedient liberation is only hearsay for most in the land of common presence, but elements from the land of common presence are also present to greater and lesser degrees in the land of expedient liberation.
Beyond the land of expedient release is the land of true reward, the purified vision and knowledge of the enlightened in any world. In Buddhist terms, this is the revelation of the matrix, or mine, of awareness of being as is.
According to one way of looking at Buddhism, the land of expedient liberation is the ultimate goal of the so-called Hinayana, or Small Vehicle practice, while the land of true reward is the proximate goal of the so-called Mahayana, or Great
Scripture suggests that those in the land of expedient release may or may not hear of the land of true reward, and if they hear of it, they may or may not believe in it or seek it. On the other hand, the land of expedient release is seen as a sort of border territory by those in the land of true reward, a purifying but beguiling region inwardly passed through on the way to the so-called land of treasure, the realm of full awareness.
originally and always, there is said to be a land of eternal silent light,
perhaps the essence of consciousness itself, always peaceful, always aware,
forever quietly penetrating all the worlds in the other three lands. Glimpses of this are said to appear in all realms, and while beings are thought to enter into it completely only after death, it is paradoxically by cultivating contact with this subtle plane that, it is believed, beings can transcend death in some way.
The theme of progress through stages of enlightenment and realms of experience to final reemergence with eternal silent light may be taken to represent a kind of life cycle from a certain point of view. Again using the concepts of inherent and cultivated qualities, this cycle begins and ends in inherent qualities,
through the medium of cultivated qualities. In the first half of Ou-i's commentary on the
he gives sociopolitical, Buddhist, and meditational readings, according to the situation; in the second half, dealing with themes of cultivated qualities and public education, he generally uses structural concepts of native
tradition to explain human development through interaction.
As is well known, the
is based on sixty-four hexagrams, or six-line signs, each one representing a specific configuration of relationships. These designs have been used for thousands of years to analyze all sorts of situations and project the results of particular attitudes and behaviors in response to given conditions.
The fundamental terms of relationship in the
yin and yang, are so familiar that they may well be considered naturalized
English words. In my earlier translation,
Taoist I Ching
Shambhala, 1986), I presented a summary of yin and yang associations. There is such a basic kinship between Taoism and Buddhism, plus a close historical relationship over nearly two millennia, that there is considerable confluence even of terminology, much more of meaning underlying terminology.
Buddhist I Ching,
yin and yang commonly stand for concentration and insight, thought-stopping and thought-cultivating exercises, but they can also mean weakness and strength,
ignorance and knowledge, inaction and action, and similar qualities that interact in opposition and complementarily.
The relations among and between the yin and yang elements of a situational process may be perceived variously by readers. They may be indicated by the proximity of one line to another, the position of one line in the whole hexagram, or the correspondence between two lines in the same relative position in their respective trigrams.
Proximity usually means relations with immediate neighbors. Position may be described in reference to the whole hexagram or to the two trigrams that make it up. The first and fourth positions, which correspond to the bottom of the bottom trigram and the bottom of the top trigram, are generally referred to as positions of weakness, lowliness, and beginnings. The third and top lines,
corresponding to the top of the bottom trigram and the top of the top trigram,
are often referred to as positions of strength, excess, and culmination. The second and fifth lines have special significance as positions of balance, being in the center of their trigrams; of these, the fifth, in the upper trigram, has the "position of honor," the leadership.
Correspondence refers to the relation of corresponding lines: the first with the fourth, the second with the fifth, the third with the top. Of special importance is the relation between the second and fifth. With but one exception, it is considered best for correspondents to be complementary opposites.
Correspondence is not, moreover, on an equal basis. Thinking in terms of an organization or a society, the upper and lower trigrams in a hexagram represent the upper and lower echelons. Nevertheless, position is always relative, so the second position can represent the highest administrative rank, subordinate only to the leader in the fifth place.
Different patterns of analysis from among the many available may be invoked by different readers at the same time, or by the same reader at different times; and this is one of the reasons for the richness of the secondary and tertiary literature on the
Such is the importance of the reader in the
and the choice of specific procedures and analytic designs, that this influence carries all the way back to the original text. The core text of the
is so old, the language so archaic, that it admits of often widely divergent readings. At times a character may even be read not merely in multiple meanings, but as one character or another, each with its own meanings. This difference naturally affects any translation, and the present text is no exception. Not only is the text and commentary different from my earlier
but the translation of certain portions of the common text are also necessarily different. Ou-i's text includes the early Confucian commentaries, here labeled
"Overall Judgment" and "Image." The Confucian appendices are also included in Ou-i's text, along with his commentary, but I have omitted them from this already lengthy volume, as they present a separate study.
Since the publication of
Taoist I Ching,
numbers of people have conveyed to me news of the usefulness of that reading. Thanks in that case are due to Liu I-ming, the reader, and his teachers. Here I express the hope that
Buddhist I Ching,
by another extraordinary reader, will also be of use to other readers.
In the future I plan to complete this series with a simplified translation of the reading of Ch'eng I, the eleventh-century Neo-Confucian who helped to revive social studies in his time by incorporating elements of Buddhism and Taoism and using their educational methods in studying history. Put simply, this reading is on the Tao of organization and applies to groups, whether they be companies or countries.
The final volume will be a manual on the diagrammatic explanations of the
which seems to have appeared in public among the Taoists in the Sung dynasty
(960–1276). Said to have been secretly transmitted since the time of the
Magicians of the Han dynasty, in the time of the Roman Caesars, it presents a number of
reading systems that can be used for a number of purposes. It is my hope that these readings and diagrams will enhance the use and enjoyment of all the translations and adaptations of the
available in English today, as all of them bring something more from this inexhaustible classic of ancient China.