The Ceasing of Notions An Early Zen Text from the Dunhuang Caves with Selected Comments
By Soko Morinaga
Wisdom Publications Copyright © 2013 Soko Morinaga
All right reserved. ISBN: 9781614290414
*from the forewordThe Ceasing of Notions
is the title given to the translation of the Chinese texts from Dunhuang, which are called the Jue-guan lun
in Chinese and Zekkanron
in Japanese. The vast caves near Dunhuang, an oasis on the ancient Silk Road in the Gansu province of western China, also known as the Mogao Caves and the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, comprised a network of 492 ancient temples. From the fourth until the fourteenth century, Buddhist monks at Dunhuangwho used the remote caves as places for prayer and meditation in their search for enlightenmentcollected scriptures, sacred paintings, and statues from western Asia and Tibet. Pilgrims passing through the area painted murals covering some four hundred and fifty thousand square feet inside the caves. Construction of the Buddhist cave shrines began around 366 CE as places to store scriptures and works of art. The caves thus came to serve as repositories for thousands of sacred texts and contain some of the finest examples of early Buddhist art spanning a period of a thousand years.
Sometime after the eleventh century, some of the caves were walled off and used as storehouses for used and damaged manuscripts and religious objects. They remained virtually unknown until the early twentieth century. Then, in the early 1900s, a Chinese Daoist named Wang Yuanlu, who was acting as the guardian of some of these cave temples, discovered a walled-up area beside a corridor leading to a main cave. Behind the wall was a small cave stuffed with an enormous hoard of manuscripts and paintings on hemp, silk, or paper dating from 406 to 1002 CE. These included ancient Buddhist texts in Chinese and other Asian languages. Among them were several manuscript copies of the text offered here as The Ceasing of Notions
Around 1907, Wang Yuanlu sold many of the ancient scrolls to Western travelers exploring the Silk Road, including Sir Aurel Stein and Paul Pelliot, who eagerly acquired these rare Buddhist texts and carried them back to Europe. The Japanese Buddhist scholars D.T. Suzuki and Kuno Horyu, among others, seem to have rediscovered copies of the text in Pelliot’s collection in the early 1930s.
Discussing, as it does, the path to enlightenment, this text has long had an important place in Chinese and Japanese Zen thought and practice.
Let us now look more closely at the text of, and Morinaga Roshi’s commentary on, The Ceasing of Notions
. Here, using one or two examples, I will try to point out some of the ways in which Morinaga makes this elusive ancient text accessible to readers who, like Emmon, have many questions to ask about their own search for the Way of the Buddha, and their possible attainment of enlightenment.The Ceasing of Notions
is clearly intended as a practical straightforward translation of, and guide to, an early Zen text that crystallizes many of the essentials of Zen thought, and one that is as relevant now as it was in Tang dynasty China. The work itself is in the form of a dialogue or series of questions and answers between two imaginary figures: master Nyuri and his disciple Emmon.
Although the original Chinese text is undivided, the Japanese editors have divided it into fifteen sections. This division is followed in this English translation of The Ceasing of Notions
. Each section clusters questions and answers around a principal topic. Section I, for instance, deals with the central question of finding the Great Way of the Buddha and pacifying the heart (or, as it was translated by McRae, the mindthe Chinese character xin
is the heart, moral nature, the mind, the affections, and the intention, but it is translated here as heart
1a The Great Way is without limit, fathomless and subtle, beyond comprehension, beyond words.
Master Nyuri (whose name means Entrance into the Principle”) and his disciple Emmon (Gate of Affinities”) discuss the truth.
The enlightened Zen master Nyuri is guiding his disciple Emmon in his search for self-understanding. Their conversation opens with Nyuri’s presentation of the Great Way (of the truth of the universe) as without limit, fathomless and subtle, beyond comprehension, beyond words.”
In his comment Roshi discusses fathomless and subtle
by raising the issue of causation in Buddhism, expressed in the Japanese term innen
, which he explains in terms of its two constituent characters: in
, inner cause,” and en
, the factors contributing to that cause. And then, to clarify this rather abstruse distinction, he introduces the analogy of a bell in which the ability to make sound is its in
and the factors contributing to that soundthe clapper, the metal, the size of the bell, etc.are the en
. And when they meet the sound of the bell is manifest.
Just as master Nyuri uses skillful means” to shake Emmon out of his confusion and into self-awakening, so the Roshi too uses skillful means to clarify the text, and its true meaning, for his students and the reader. He uses traditional Japanese analogies like the bell and its ability to make sound, examples from daily life, and natural phenomena; he explains in detail Buddhist terminology and formulae that are only briefly referred to in the text, such as emptiness, thusness, karma, and the four erroneous views of phenomena. In the course of his commentary he makes us familiar with passages and ideas from other sutras and introduces us to many of the sayings and doings of Zen masters over the ages. Roshi’s comments on Master Nyuri’s questions and Emmon’s responses help readers to find their own awakening and true nature in the ceasing of notions. In conclusion Roshi comments:
When even the last traces are gone, that is when all the dirt of delusions has been washed off, together with the soap of the teaching, training, enlightenment, and nothing at all remainsno smell of Zen, no ideology, no philosophy, no Buddhathen the true nature functions freely and without any obstacles. Continues...
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