Differences Between Tibetan and Chinese Esoteric Schools, Zen Practice, and Knowing Yourself
Dechan Jueren: It is our fortune that we were able to get together and meet each other tonight. I believe most people are aware of the teachings of Buddhism, and in the U.S., many people also learned about Esoteric Buddhist practice. I often say – first of all, I respect every school of teaching, every faith, every religion. Ever since I attained the dharma (woke up), I always believed that every teaching on this earth originated from the same family. No matter which teaching or which religion, they stress compassion, tolerance. Through these qualities, we believe that every different school of teaching sees everyone as equal; everyone is really the same. If all schools of teachings and religions belittle each other, how can we say we are following the teachings of tolerance? Only when we are able to help each other, and help those in need, can we say we have compassion.
I believe most of you know something about Buddhism. Perhaps you have even learned something about the Esoteric Buddhist school. In the past, we learned about Esoteric Buddhism mostly from the Tibetan schools. Tibetan Buddhism came from India. But my lineage is not the Tibetans’. This is the Chinese lineage. In the Chinese lineage and the Tibetan lineage, there are some similarities, and also some differences. The similarities are very simple: the lineage originated from Shakamuni, the teaching of Buddhism. The difference is: we call it Tibetan Buddhism today, because it has incorporated many of the Tibetans’ local faith, and if we call it Chinese Buddhism then it has incorporated many of the Chinese local customs and faith. In the development of these two different region’s lineages, the Tibetans’ has developed into this: you must study the books for about twenty years, learn all the philosophical discourses, before you will be allowed to proceed under Esoteric practices, but the Chinese tradition, you bypass all this philosophical learnings from the books, before you go directly into the Esoteria, or Tantric practice. In Chinese schools, they stress on attainment of Buddha-hood, with this body, within this lifetime.
Of course, I do not know too much about English. So when my disciple and interpreter came into the room, I had him ask him to turn your hands over with the palms face up. Even though I will not be able to communicate with you verbally, you will be able to feel something in your palms. Some of you may begin to feel the sensation that your body is getting hotter. Esoteric dharma has many different methods that you can turn the person’s physical health around, at the same time that you can turn the person’s soul around. In the Esoteric schools, we stress the attainment of Buddhahood with this body. What does that mean? It is a very common teaching in Buddhism, when we say attainment of Buddhahood means you have to wake up, attain enlightenment, in this lifetime. If you want to attain Buddhahood, then first you must understand what Buddha means. In the common Buddhist practice, if you mention about becoming a Buddha, most people – most practitioners – have this kind of fear. Most followers are not practitioners. So to them, if you are to become a Buddha, in their connotation, it means only after you die will you become Buddha, and they fear about that.
In the Esoteric school, we teach the methods to attain Buddhahood or enlightenment with this body in this lifetime, while you are still alive. It does not teach the method for you to become a Buddha after you have passed away! (Laughter) So if you want to wake up and become Buddha, then first you must understand what does Buddha mean. A Buddha is a term. It simply means a person who is awakened. In other words, everyone sitting in this room today already has the innate quality to become a Buddha. Then the question is, how come so many people already have this quality, yet they cannot be considered a Buddha yet? Because they continuously hang on to the ego, and they continuously fantasize about this world. If you think about everyone living in this world, no matter what social status, or what kind of work or career you have, every day you face your own kind of disasters. Why?
To put it in general terms, every one has been limited by him or herself, at the same time as being limited by the conditions of the environment. In addition to this, we do not see that we are being limited in such a way. Under such limitations, we do not believe that we are being limited. So if you were to attain to Buddhahood with this body in this lifetime, what does that feel like after you attain Buddhahood? Of course, to attain Buddhahood means that person is completely awake, and his soul is clear of everything. He has attained to wisdom, and he now truly has wisdom. What does that mean? We can put it in this way: wisdom is not something someone can give to you. Wisdom can only be revealed to you after you have made that effort yourself. And only when you have wisdom revealed, your life experience first is: You no longer suffer from all kinds of illnesses. In other words, the illnesses of this world will no longer affect you.
Secondly, you will no longer have bad luck, because you will now know your past, present, and future. Many things that normal people do not see, you will see them first. Many things that people cannot sense, you can sense before hand. What you are capable of doing, to average people is amazing. Because first if you attain enlightenment or Buddhahood, first you no longer have any fear. Why is it that you no longer fear? Because to be very honest, the unspoken greatest fear of everybody is death. When you realize you can never die, you will never fear. How do you know you never die? Perhaps some may feel my statement is nonsense – how can a person never die? Because to our experience, we observe the phenomena: every day there are bodies being buried or put in crematories. But they do not see the reality. The physical body they possess is simply the set of clothes. If you are truly enlightened, then you know, in this lifetime when you pass away, where are you going to go? What are you going to do? When your practice attains to this level that you know where you’re going to go afterward, then you will no longer fear about death.
So basically this is what the Esoteric Buddha teaching about attainment of buddhahood in this body means. If we were to delve deeper, this is much more profound meaning than just this. Perhaps what you have heard so far, this kind of knowledge I am elaborating for you, may not be all the same as the on you have learned before with the Tibetans. What’s the difference between the Tibetan and the Chinese lineage? In the Tibetan schools, the practitioner attains to Nirvana; they enter Nirvana with remains. What does this mean – to enter Nirvana with remains? In the Tibetan schools, it is common knowledge – the higher the attainment of the practitioner when they enter Nirvana, that means when they pass away, his physical body will shrink. The smaller the size of the physical body shrinks, that means the higher level that he has attained to. The tenth, or the previous Panchan Lama, when he passed away, according to witnesses – of course I was not there myself – according to witnesses, his body – he is about my size, physical size – his body shrank to about one and a half foot.
Last year, November 24th, when a very important living Buddha of the Gelugpa school passed away in China, I was in Hong Kong. When I received the news, I took a flight to Beijing right away. When I arrived at the Yellow Temple, or the Royal Temple, in Beijing, it was about 7:30 in the evening. So I paid my respect to his body, offered my hadas (?) and chant some mantras and prayers. By the time I finished, it was about 9 o’clock. His body was placed on the main hall in the temple, in the main hall of the temple. Many living Buddhas, Rinpoches, and lamas – they all sat around his body. So after I finished around 9 o’clock, every body was still sitting around it. By the time it was about 9:30 in the
evening, his body of course was covered by a yellow fabric. Everybody heard a very loud noise – like a rumbling room sound, and then you could see the yellow fabric moving a little bit. Roughly, on the average, every 30 min the body made that noise. By 3:30 the next morning – about six hours – the body made that rumbling sound twelve times. So the body made about twelve times of this sound, representing the twelve Nidana, or the Linking Causations, meaning this Living Buddha had attained he had practiced very well and attained.
So by about 3:30 in the morning, this was the size of his physical body. (Holds hands approx. body width apart) They measured it with a tape. The physical body now shrank to about 760 millimeters – so it’s pretty small! His physical appearance is still the same as when he had his normal size body, except that now it was kind of miniaturized, smaller. Of course, when they bring out the body, the clothes don’t shrink – only the body! So it’s a complete naked, visible, baby-sized body. So they wrapped his now baby-sized body in yellow fabric. The next day, they delivered the body back to his home temple – Ta Lama (?) Surya Kumbom, the birth place of Tsong Khappa. This is the Tibetan school’s entering Nirvana – Nirvana with remains. With the remains means they will leave behind this physical body, and they will place this highly attained shrunken body of the living Buddha in a stupa, and that stupa will become what is known as a sharira stupa, the stupa with the holy remains of a highly attained practitioner.
In the Tibetan schools, if the practitioner is about 1.8 meters tall, and he is able when he passes away to shrink his body to about 1.5 meters tall, then he already accomplished his practice. The smaller he is able to shrink his body, the higher the attainment. The difference of the Chinese lineage, comparing to the Tibetans, is that in the Chinese lineage is entering Nirvana without remains. What does that mean?
It means, when it is time for him to pass away, he knows his time is up, and he will sit down and chant his mantras. With a very loud sound, his whole body dissolves and disappears. If he is not practicing so diligently, he may leave behind some hair and fingernails. If he is practicing well, then he leaves behind absolutely nothing of his physical body. This is one of the main differences of the Tibetan lineage, compared to the Chinese lineage. So to attain to Buddahood with this body – that means to attain within this lifetime, while you still possess this body. To attain enlightenment is to truly liberate oneself from this world reality or the world of conflict, and let the consciousness enter the world of purity. People of this world do not realize, the moment they were born, they were born into duality. They were born into the world of conflict. All and everything that exists in this world, exists with its opposite. There is always a positive and a negative side to all and everything here.
If there were so many different types of conflicts constantly going on in this world, how come most of us feel that we live a pretty okay life? Why do I say you feel at ease with this world? But then again, if you think about everything – you worry about some things, you have pain unspoken (unclear) I said you live at ease – I refer to that you will become numb. Now you are strong enough to accept all this nonsense in the world. You are able to survive means, now you have to adapt to the world, no matter what, in order to keep on.
Even though I say this is the world of reality, of conflicts, this is a very complicated, very complex world here. But since you were born, you have spent all your lifetime getting used to it. Therefore you are suited in this environment. So you are now suited for this world; how you are not following the conflicts, taking advantage of the conflicts, in order to better yourself, and make yourself be better in
this world. (Unclear) That’s why I say, you feel at ease, because at least you are able to take advantage of the complexity and still able to survive. However, even though you may be at ease in that sense, everyone living in this world, including you, in whatever level of your life or whatever your status in society, you have your own worries, your own suffering. And they continue to bother the harmony in your heart. Therefore, we have now developed a habit that our brains will constantly set off in different directions with all the kind of question marks popping up. We are continuously pondering all different kinds of questions. Before we find the answer to one question, already a different question is coming up. What I mean is we have now adapted to this habit – developed this habit – we never get a rest in our brain. Even if we are not doing much of anything, every day we feel is very stressful and tiresome. Because now we have developed this habit that we let our brains run wild, continuously pondering on all these kinds of questions.
If your brains work in such disarray, then your body will of course naturally expend a lot of energy. If you think about it, your pondering is not only during the daytime – it continues to ponder during the night when you sleep. You ponder about all this kind of stuff during the night, when you sleep. In the serious case, it turns into a nightmare, and you lose sleep and so on. The less restful sleep that you get, then your physical body will have to make up for it. Therefore you begin to develop imbalances in your physical system. It usually begins with hormones. And with hormone imbalances, it will cause your body to be over-extended. After a period of time, then your body to become weaker – meaning all the flowing elements, or agents, will be able to invade your body.
To put it simply, everybody has a good, healthy physical body, but because of our wandering thoughts constantly pondering on too many questions, then it will lead to our body weakening – gradually weakening over time. In the Eastern tradition, we call this a lack of the righteous essence. What that means is, to put it very simply, our body now becomes less able to defend itself, and we get sick easily. Therefore, the weaker we become, then any kind of viruses and diseases is now able to invade this physical body, and cause disease and sickness.
So we should realize this, that if we become sick, we know the reason. If we go to the root source, it’s really because our mind is wandering, and pondering on a lot of nonsense, and we over-extend ourselves. Of course everybody will agree that a good physical body and health is very important to us. No matter how intelligent or smart you are, without a good healthy body, your potential is really be strained – you don’t have that much to show for it.
Therefore, to have good health, to protect this physical body is actually a very important point. Now, even though I spoke and everybody now has some conscious understanding: I need to maintain my health in good shape, and have good health, and begin to look for ways to do that – to the point that you begin to look for all kinds of pills. But if you really think about popping pills, it’s not the ultimate solution to your health. Because that’s not the root cause! By popping a pill, you are trying to treat a phenomena, and the root cause is really your mind – constantly occupied with all these endless questions! Everyone craves to have good health. And therefore, to have good health and to stay in good health becomes a very important subject, and very important goal of most people’s lives.
How can you ever have good health? Perhaps people now begin to realize, my mind is always so stressful because I always have to ponder and worry about too many things – I am thinking too much stuff! Then they begin to want to find the solution to the problem, and they begin to wonder, how can I calm down and stay calm? Some people may ponder on certain questions for a long time, and they may actually tie themselves up. Therefore they may actually have this goal – they want to find a place
of tranquility – a pure state. They find a place of tranquility in order to relieve the stress. Is this a good way to go? Of course it’s a good way. People now realize, if they can have some peace and quiet, they can relieve some of the stress – and therefore the end is now to find some peace and quiet corner somewhere. You have to remember this (unclear) – in this world of conflict, there will be the other side of the people who are realizing, this is the way to make a bar – let’s just create an environment of some peace and quiet, and those people looking for peace and quiet will come to that place, and try to receive some peace and quiet! But if people are looking for peace and quiet, you have to also realize, they are in such a position that they have no choice It’s like the Chinese saying – if you are really hungry, you really don’t care what you have to eat – just get something down your throat. But in the world of conflict, it may happen that these people experience new sufferings.
If you think about it, so many people, because they want to relieve their stress and are looking for peace and quiet, they learn meditation. Some may go on a vacation. Some will go to a very secluded, beautiful, scenic place, and spend some time there. Some may be more sporty, and will go climb a mountain, overstrain strain their physical body in order to divert their attention from the mental side. All the above methods are good methods. But it is only a temporary solution. For example, if you want to relieve your stress by rock climbing, you will overtire your physical body out after you climb the rock and you fall asleep. After you wake up, you feel energized. Because you have so much energy now, you begin again to ponder on the old questions! (Laughter)
If you went on a good vacation and visited some very nice, scenic places, you will be now temporarily distracted by all this nice beautiful scenery – but upon your return home, you realize the vacation is just over, and will feel even more tired because the old questions are just coming back stronger. If you experienced this – that if you were to go to some nice beautiful, secluded, scenic place and spend a couple of days there – the first days you feel wonderful, change of scenes – but by the time the third day, fourth day, a week later, you feel the same old your self again because your old habits are coming back – you are now pondering on the old stuff.
What about yoga and meditation class? Did you not also experience this for yourself – when you attended the meditation class, the first thing you tried to do is meditate, but the first thing that really happens most of the time is you have more time to really focus and ponder on your questions. And some may begin to trick themselves and think that in meditation, if I begin to see all these things, and pondering on all these questions, I am actually experiencing a meditative state – I am getting somewhere with my meditation practice! Some people mistakenly believe that sitting quietly and trying to meditate can be called Zen practice. But let me say something about Zen. If you sit there and meditate quietly, peacefully – that is a man-made effort. If you understood Zen correctly, by now you should have understood – Zen should be a natural state. Therefore with a man-made effort, you cannot experience a natural state. You should also realize, Zen is attainment of Realization. It is not attainment of having your butt placed on the mat!
When I came to the U.S. for the last few years, I personally have heard people say that “I am meditating to experience Zen. I am sitting there to experience Zen.” And I wonder so much, because my Master didn’t tell me that. My Master never said, “Sit and get Zen.” My Master said, “Realize Zen!” If you really pay attention to the history of Zen in China, you will realize all these great Zen masters never really sat there to attain or experience Zen. It was their own realization, their experiences in life that they realized what they did. If you ever read a book telling you the detailed story of the Zen Masters in China, starting with Bodhidharma in China, he passed it on to the 2nd Patriarch, the 3rd Patriarch, and then the 4th Patriarch, the 5thPatriarch, until the last, the number 6 Patriarch, the most famous one – you realize none of these Patriarchs ever really sit there, and sit there to get Zen.
What I am saying – people now realize, I need to have good health, and if there is a way saying I can get good health, I will try it. Whether we know if it will happen or not, there is no way to know. Just give it a try, because our goal is getting health. I think that we do not see a very fundamental problem here.
First I have to say, if you really want to change everything, the first thing you really have to change is really yourself. Only when you are able to change – really change – yourself, will you be able to begin to change the conditions of your environment. On that premise – in other words, if you want to be able to help assist others, then first you have to have that experience and ability to help yourself. Logically, if you cannot even help yourself – you lack that experience of helping yourself – how can you be able to help others? Again, only when you are capable, able to do this for yourself – help yourself – will you have the ability to help others. Why do I continue to say that only those who are able to help themselves have the possibility that they will help others? Because if he has now that ability and experience for himself, how to help himself, whether he wants to help others is his choice. He doesn’t have to. But if he wants to, he has the ability to.
So the aim now should be, what can we do to really learn the ways to help ourselves? This is the first importance – for a person to really be able, or to grasp the methods to help himself first.
We all know in Buddhist teachings, they talk about this term called “moksha,” or liberation. What does liberation mean? True liberation is this person has attained to the state he no longer suffers from all kinds of illnesses, and he is no longer limited by himself, nor limited by the condition of the environment. And he no longer suffers any form of bad luck. Only so can he say he is enjoying his life, and (be) playful in this world.
Now how can you ever get to that level? It’s back to that first step – that you really have to change yourself. If you cannot change yourself, then no matter what else … you do, you will never get there. So if you want to practice Buddhism, the first lesson is Learn how to change yourself. Then in order for you to be able to change yourself, then you have to know yourself well. Because without knowing yourself in the first place, where do you begin to change? Most of us will agree now – the most difficult enemy to overcome is really yourself. Then question should be that if this is so, why is it that I have a hard time overcoming it? And we question ourselves – is it because I lack that kind of courage, or because I simply because I don’t have that kind of ability? I believe the answer should be no. I believe it is because we do not correctly know ourselves. If we are very honest and know ourselves well, then overcoming ourself is not an impossibility.
So in other words, how to know oneself is a very crucial turning point. Even though the word is very simple – know yourself – it is the most difficult subject to understand. I say it is the most difficult subject to understand, but most people will say, “I do know myself! I look at myself in the mirror every morning! (Laughter) Then how can you say I don’t know myself? I know myself very well! For example, every day I go home – and I always end up at the right front door, and not somebody else’s door. And I have lived so many years, I know myself very well, why is it you are saying I don’t know myself?” But remember, what you are knowing is only a phenomena – the physical appearance of you. What is the real you, or who is the real you? When morality virtues are sincere, true in you – that’s the real you. That should be the real you. Can you honestly say that every deed you have done in the past, you see yourself correctly? We do not see what we are doing when we are doing something.
But others may see our deed in a clear light, but they have a hard time, or they cannot find a way to make this clear to us. For example, if we were to make some mistakes, some others may see this – but they may not openly say this to us about our mistake. In our own life, we do not discover and we do not realize we are making mistakes. Because we do not discover it while we are making the mistake, therefore we don’t believe that there is anything wrong with me, that I am really a virtuous and moral person! And most people believe, “I am most right, I am doing the best I can,” and so on. Why is it you feel this way, that you are doing the best things, and so on? The reason that you feel this way is because you do not see yourself 100%. Why not? It’s a very logical thing.
If you just think about it, you live your life behind your two eyeballs. Your senses are directed outward, rather than inward. Your senses, your eyes, are always perceiving the outside. What you see is always others’ problems, others doing this and that. You do not see when you are doing something. When you have some spare time, you know, five minutes here, ten minutes there, then you will also compare your advantages, your strong points, to others’ short-comings. You’re pondering on the issues – in this certain issue, I am better than he is, I did it this way, it’s much more intelligent, much better way than the way he did it, and so on. Most people lack the reflection to see, “Perhaps I am really insufficient in so many ways. Comparing to this other person, he did a much better job. Comparing to that other person, his way is much more efficient, and so on.” In self-reflection, we do not see that we lack so many things. It is only when you can truly see your own lackings that you will begin to change – you know, make up for them.