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Chapter 8: Silent Illumination
By Hung Chih Cheng Chueh (1091–1157)
The major methods of Ch'an, which have survived to the present day, are the Kung-an method, associated with the Lin Chi (Jap: Rinzai) sect, and Silent Illumination, associated with the Ts'ao Tung (Jap: Soto) sect. Hung Chih Cheng Chueh, the greatest advocate of Silent Illumination, is often contrasted with his contemporary, Ta Hui Tsung Kao, the greatest advocate of the use of kung-ans.
Hung Chih, a native of Shansi, became a monk at the age of eleven. During a pilgrimage in Honan, when he was eighteen, he met K'u Mu Fa Ch'eng, a Ts'ao Tung master. He attained some realization under K'u Mu but was only thoroughly enlightened at twenty-three under K'u Mu's Dharma brother, Master Tan Hsia Tzu Ch'un. Hung Chi considered the ideas of Shih T'ou and Tung Sahn, such as mutual interaction, equanimity, and the non-duality of phenomena and principle, as the ultimate teachings of Mahayana. But his style of practice was most influenced by his teacher K'u Mu (dry wood), so-named because when he sat, his stillness made his body resemble a block of dry wood. Hung Chih, calling his method "Silent Illumination," describes it as follows: "Your body sits silently; your mind, quiescent, unmoving. Your mouth is so still that moss grows around it. Grass sprouts from your tongue. Do this without cease, cleansing the mind until it gains the clarity of an autumn pool, bright as the moon illuminating the evening sky."
Hung Chih also said, "In this silent sitting, whatever realms may appear, the mind is very clear as to all the details, yet everything is where it originally is, in its own place. The mind stays on one thought for ten thousand years, yet does not dwell on any forms, inside or outside." This teaching of Hung Chih reveals the aim of Silent Illumination: a mind unburdened with thoughts yet profoundly aware of its own state. Both silence and illumination must be present. Later, after returning from study with Ch'an masters in China, Master Dogen (1200–1253) introduced a similar teaching to Japan, called Shikantaza.
Silently and serenly, one forgets all words,
Clearly and vividly, it appears before you.
When one realizes it, time has no limits.
When experienced, your surroundings come to life.
Singularly illuminating is this bright awareness,
Full of wonder is the pure illumination.
The moon's appearance, a river of stars,
Snow-clad pines, clouds hovering on mountain peaks.
In darkness, they glow with brightness.
In shadows, they shine with a splendid light.
Like the dreaming of a crane flying in empty space,
Like the clear, still water of an autumn pool,
Endless eons dissolve into nothingness,
Each indistinguishable from the other.
In this illumination all striving is forgotten.
Where does this wonder exist?
Brightness and clarity dispel confusion
On the path of Silent Illumination,
The origin of the infinitesimal.
To penetrate the extremely small,
There is the gold shuttle on a loom of jade.
Subject and object influence each other.
Light and darkness are mutually dependent.
There is neither mind nor world to rely on,
Yet do the two interact, mutually.
Drink the medicine of correct views.
Beat the poison-smeared drum.
When silence and illumination are complete
Killing and bringing to life are choices I make.
At last, through the door, one emerges.
The fruit has ripened on the branch.
Only this Silence is the ultimate teaching.
Only this Illumination, the universal response.
The response is without effort.
The teaching, not heard with the ears.
Throughout the universe, all things
Emit light and speak the Dharma.
They testify to each other,
Answering each other's questions.
Mutually answering and testifying,
Responding in perfect harmony.
When illumination is without serenity,
Then will distinctions be seen.
Mutually testifying and answering,
Giving rise to disharmony.
If within serentiy illumination is lost,
All will become wasteful and secondary.
When Silent Illumination is complete,
The lotus will blossom, the dreamer will awaken.
The hundred rivers will flow to the ocean,
The thousand mountains face the loftiest peak.
Like the goose preferring milk to water,
Like a busy bee gathering pollen,
When Silent Illumination reaches the ultimate,
I carry on the original tradition of my sect.
This practice is called Silent Illumination.
It penetrates from the deepest to the highest.