Dharma Drum Lineage

Inheriting the Past and Inspiring the Future

◎ Master Sheng Yen

Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) is an inheritor of the past and an inspiration for the future. People today have a strong sense of self; they have an overwhelming tendency to develop their talents in pursuit of their own ambitions. Of course, this kind of behavior will help ensure the continuity of society. But if such efforts totally break with the past, then they should not be encouraged.

In the sciences, innovation is usually achieved only at the expense of received traditions and perspectives. However, human history and culture are continuously built on the values of the past. It is a process of inheriting the past and inspiring the future. New paths are realized from the wisdom of our predecessors. This is especially true for Buddhists. If we were to disregard the wisdom of the Buddha and lineage masters to create a new form of Buddhism, then what we created would essentially not be Buddhism at all, but a new religion.

In September 2004, I delivered four lectures to all DDM monastics on the following topics: (1) Buddhism, (2) Evolving forms of Buddhism, (3) Chinese Buddhism, which is also referred to as the “Buddhism of the Han people,” and (4) the Chan tradition within Chinese Buddhism. Moreover, I also spoke on the convergence of DDM Chan Buddhism with the modern world, making DDM Chan Buddhism a mainstay in mainstream global Buddhism.

After Śākyamuni Buddha’s nirvā a, his teachings continued to evolve in India into the various schools of Hīnayāna Buddhism(*1) and Mahāyāna schools of Madhyamaka, Yogācāra, and Tathāgatagarbha. “School” as used in this booklet does not mean distinct institutional establishment, but tradition of thought. From India, Buddhism spread and evolved into Southern Buddhism (i.e., present day Theravāda) in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar, and Northern Buddhism in East Asia and Tibet. Over the course of its development in China, Chinese Buddhism further evolved into eight or ten schools, including Chan.(*2) Chan Buddhism continued to evolve as well, but never strayed from the principles in the teachings of Śākyamuni. These principles can be found in such scriptures as theSutra of Dependent Origination (Pratītya-samutpāda (Pratītya-samutpāda divibhanga-nirdeśa sūtra) and the Rice Stalk Sutra (Śālistamba-sūtra). In these texts, there are important proof texts that define the essential message of Śākyamuni, one of which is: “To see dependent origination is to see the Dharma; to realize the Dharma is to see the Buddha.” All the schools and traditions of Buddhism are contingent on the teaching of dependent origination. Perceiving the nature of dependent origination is to awaken to the path, and awakening to the path is to see the Buddha.

How did early Buddhist schools come to be? The original teachings adapted to a variety of local cultures and societies across Asia, each with its own needs, languages, and values. At first, there was nothing that was called either Hīnayāna or Mahāyāna. But the teachings evolved and became more distinct, and a variety of regional schools came to be known as “Early Buddhism.”(*3) Mahāyāna is said to have evolved out of one such school.(*4)

Has Chinese Buddhism strayed from Indian Buddhism? No. It evolved naturally from both Indian Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna traditions. However, Chinese Buddhism—and the tendency of modern Buddhist traditions—gravitated toward the Tathāgatagarbha school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Because the other Indian Mahāyāna traditions of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra were intellectually and dialectically oriented, they could not have been established as popular and practical forms of Buddhism. These schools of Indian Buddhism will be discussed below.

How did Tathāgatagarbha teachings come about? In the Lankāvatāra-sutra, Bodhisattva Mahāmati asked the Buddha, “Why does the World Honored One, just like the nonbuddhists, claim that ‘there is the existence of the Tathāgatagarbha?’’… The Buddha replied, Mahāmati, bodhisattvamahasattvas of the present and the future should not construct notions of a self… this doctrine of Tathāgatagarbha is disclosed for the benefit of non-buddhists so those who grasp onto the unreality of the view of self can enter into the realm of the three gates of liberation.”(*5) This passage clearly states that the doctrine of Tathāgatagarbha is a skillful device to guide non-Buddhist practitioners. In creating something close to the notion of an atman (soul), the Buddha could then gradually guide them to realize the Tathāgatagarbha teaching of no-self or emptiness.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when Chinese Buddhism flourished among the learned elite, there is no evidence of the conflation of Tathāgatagarbha with notions of a permanent self or Supreme Being. Perhaps practitioners then had a correct understanding and confidence in the Dharma. However, after the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and beginning in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Buddhism began to weaken as a result of persistent challenges from and appropriations by Neo-Confucian scholars. The interactions of Buddhism and other traditions on many levels of doctrine, social relations, and practices caused enormous difficulties for its survival as a distinct religion. Fewer people studied Buddhism and fewer still had any real attainment. Hence, monastic communities and institutions became empty shells, and Buddhism secularized into superstitious folk beliefs. Until recent times, this was the state of affairs for Chinese Buddhism. Reacting to this, the influential scholar-monk Master Yinshun (1905-2005) wrote a critique of Chinese Buddhism. I, too, have lamented that, “the Dharma is so wonderful, yet few people know about it and many misunderstand it.” People criticize the state of affairs in Chinese Buddhism; people misunderstand the wisdom of Chinese Buddhism. All of these stem from the lack of familiarity with and a deep misunderstanding of Chinese Buddhism. Hence, many found it difficult to develop faith or confidence in the teachings and practices of Chinese Buddhism.

When Buddhism spread from India to China, the new teaching first had to be understood in the context of the indigenous Chinese teachings of Daoism and Confucianism. Buddhism initiated a cultural exchange that profoundly influenced the birth of the Neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming dynasties. Chinese Buddhism gave rise to many traditions centered upon Tathāgatagarbha teachings. Chan Buddhism is the crystallization and condensation of the best of all the Chinese Buddhist schools, and it offers us an engaged Buddhism that is extremely relevant to contemporary life. The lineage masters of Chinese Buddhism skillfully drew upon Confucianism and Daoism to adapt Indian Buddhism to Chinese culture and society.

DDM takes Chinese Buddhism as its core and operates under the principle of “inheriting the past and inspiring the future.” We have inherited the Chan tradition from Mainland China, but we are not bound by the remote “mountain and forest” cloisters of the Chan Buddhism of previous centuries. That strain of Buddhism was not exposed to Theravāda and Tibetan traditions, and so could not have absorbed their strengths. However, I have personally studied these traditions, and also learned from other schools of Chan Buddhism in Korea, Japan and Vietnam. I have incorporated what I have learned into my own Chan teachings. Here are some examples of this.

When a Chan practitioner cannot derive power from the huatou method—meditation on a critical phrase(*6)—I teach methods such as meditation on the breath, prostrations, walking meditation, or reciting the Buddha’s name as auxiliary aids to their practice. When I was in Japan practicing in a Japanese Sōtō monastery, I used their method of shikantaza or “just-sitting,” which in fact is an alternative name for mozhao, or silent illumination, of the Chan school. This was very similar to the method that I used during my six-year solitary retreat, a method that had disappeared 800 years before in China. Moreover, when I arrived in the United States, I encountered the gradual vipaśyanā (Pāli: vipassana) methods of the Theravāda tradition. I appropriated and modified these methods for use in the Chinese Chan practice in our DDM tradition.

Systematizing both Chan practices of huatou (“critical phrase”) and mozhao (“silent illumination”), I devised a “gradual” approach within the “sudden” path of Chan practice. They are now effective and practical methods for practitioners of different spiritual capacities. I mapped out four general stages in Chan practice, from scattered mind, to concentrated mind, to unified mind, to no-mind or enlightenment. I also devised auxiliary methods that are useful at every stage of this path. These are the results of my many years of study, organization, and practice—all in the pursuit of the revitalization of the Chan tradition of Chinese Buddhism.

Some people believe that Chan rejects Pure Land practice. This is not the case with DDM. We incorporate much of Pure Land practice, especially the recitation of Buddha’s name. I often encourage people in this practice, and have published a number of books on it. We at DDM not only hold seven-day Chan retreats, but also seven-day Buddha’s name recitation retreats. Chan practitioners don’t necessarily recite the Buddha’s name, but at DDM we define four understandings of Pure Land practices: the present Pure Land of this world, the Pure Land of the heavenly realm, the Pure Land of the buddhas, and the Pure Land within our own mind or self-nature. Thus the idea that we reject Pure Land practice is baseless.

The reason we now have a mountain site called “Dharma Drum Mountain” (DDM) is primarily because of my teacher, the late Master Dong Chu (1908-1977). In his will, he wanted me to establish an educational institute for Buddhist studies on a mountain site. The details of this can be found in my Chinese article “Shi’en nanbao” (The Difficulty in Repaying One’s Gratitude to the Master).(*7) Over the years, I have held fast to the principle of not mobilizing any human or monetary resources left by him. At the same time, I have tried to protect the properties he entrusted to me. Most of all, I did my very best to fulfill his wish to promote Buddhist education by establishing the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies in Taiwan. All of these posed great challenges for me.

I share Master Dong Chu’s vision that “Buddhism has no future without Buddhist education.” In the process of actualizing this vision, I insisted that all students and faculty members from the Institute would only need to concentrate on their research and would not have to mingle with lay supporters for fund-raising purposes or assist in any ritual obligations. They also would not trouble themselves with any administrative work. I would take up this burden of raising funds from our lay followers to support the research work of our faculty and students.

This decision to free the faculty and students from these obligations might have seemed the correct thing to do at the time, but in hindsight it may also be interpreted as a mistake. For example, over the years this arrangement has created a gulf between members of the Institute and the monastic Sangha. Such a rift has led to many other related problems. I have to thank every monastic and lay disciple who has assisted and supported me in operating the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies for the past 20 years. My monastic disciples have been serving the needs of our lay supporters and have taken up various responsibilities in the development of DDM. I am indebted to all of them for the success of the Institute, which paved the way for the creation of the DDM World Center for Buddhist Education.

Still, while everything at DDM appears now to be well and in place, we should recognize that the path here was not without much difficulty. For the past seventeen years, I have felt as if I were sitting on top of a blazing caldron. There were constant challenges that needed to be overcome and potential problems that needed to be preempted. In all this, my aim was to design new creative Buddhist programs that would keep up with the mainstream culture and that would better serve the needs of our society. If these needs were not filled and new programs not created, the prospect of DDM’s future—and indeed that of Chinese Buddhism as a whole— would be bleak.

It seems that the infrastructures and buildings at DDM are quite impressive—they are simple yet refined, and blend naturally with the surrounding environment. Yet behind these simple buildings are years of overcoming difficulties in every aspect of the developmental phase, from planning, to designing, to material selection, to building the foundations, and to the different phases of the final construction of the buildings. Because we insisted on being environmentally friendly and adhered strictly to the “original face” of the natural environment, we consulted many professionals and visited many countries to learn about different architectural designs of premodern and modern buildings and temples. We could not have built the DDM campus without the help of numerous experts. This is particularly true for some of the main buildings on the campus, such as the Main Auditorium, the Chan Hall, and the International Conference Hall. These buildings are the work of many architects and interior designers, who tried to accommodate my visions and principles for DDM.

I also had to work closely with members of the DDM construction project team on all issues relating to land clearing, foundation construction, and building completion over the past 16 years. We now have a built-up area of 25,000 "pings" (around 80,000 square meters). This includes the Education and Administration Building, Library and Information Center, International Conference Hall, dormitories for both male and female practitioners, dormitories for lecturers and VIPs, and even two units of underground water storage tanks. In addition to those buildings, the number of common infrastructures and facilities that are completed (some are still underway) include the main roads into DDM from the local town, all the roads on campus, nine parks and gardens, seven trails, three connecting corridors between buildings, and three streams. Beyond the existing Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies on our campus, we also plan to build the Dharma Drum Buddhist College, the Dharma Drum College of Humanities and Social Science, and the Dharma Drum Sangha University in the future. Ultimately, these will be consolidated into the Dharma Drum University.

In establishing these entities for Buddhist education, we must remember where we come from and where we should go. The Dharma Drum Sangha University, for example, includes students focusing on three different Buddhist traditions— Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan. The daily lives of these students, however, will be managed in accordance with the Chinese Buddhist tradition at DDM. It would be too complicated if we were to apply different rules and regulations for monastic students focusing on different lineages. The preparation of food alone, for example, would cause too many problems if we had to build different kitchens—one for vegetarian diet and one for non-vegetarian diet—to facilitate different monastic traditions (the Theravadins and Tibetans are not vegetarians). Such arrangements would simply confuse many DDM lay supporters. We could receive students from the Theravāda and Tibetan traditions, but because DDM is operated by the Chinese Buddhists, and most of its supporters are Chinese, it is important that we manage and operate DDM in line with Chinese Buddhism. I hope this principle is something we will always safeguard and adhere to strictly.

I also wish to reiterate this point: in the spirit of “inheriting the past and inspiring the future,” Dharma Drum members in the future should not remove or destroy any of the existing structures or modify them according to personal ideas or whims. All the buildings, space utilization, roads and landscapes were painstakingly designed and funded by all the generous supporters and me. These different aspects of DDM should be preserved, refined, and perfected for practical use. If this is not observed, we would not be “inheriting our past and inspiring the future.” Instead, we would simply be denying our past and our lineage.

(Talk given on February 21, 2006 for monastic sangha members at DDM)

(*1) - There are supposedly eighteen schools of early Buddhism, from the time around 100 years after the passing of Śākyamuni, to the reign of King Aśoka in the 3rd century BCE. The first major division was between the conservative Sthaviravādins, which later developed into the Theravādins, and the progressive Mahāsāṅghikas—the progenitors of the later Mahāyāna Buddhism. These two main groups further split into smaller schools of thought, distinguished from each other mainly by their variant interpretations of the Buddhist doctrine and the rules of discipline, vinaya. Accounts of the nature of this schismatic process, and the exact names and number of schools vary according to the source. According to the account of some Northern Buddhism the two main divisions branched into twenty sub-sects, while texts from Southern Buddhism tend to claim they developed into eighteen sub-sects. Chinese Buddhism tends to follow the latter. For purposes of this booklet, the period of division of Buddhism into 18-20 schools will be referred to as “Early Buddhism.” I use the word Hīnayāna as a generic term referring to a type of understanding of Buddhism.

(*2) - See, for example, Akira Hirakawa, Hasshū kōyō 《八宗綱要》. Tōkyō: Ōkura Shuppan, 1980-1981. An English translation of this work is available: Leo M. Pruden, trans. The Essentials of the Eight Traditions. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1994. This division was already active at least as early as the twelve-century China. See Shengyan, Yindu fojiao shi 《印度佛教史》(A History of Indian Buddhism) (Taipei: Fagu wenhua shiye gufen youxian gongsi, 1997).

(*3) - See footnote 2 above and section 2.3 for more detail. The eighteen schools falls under two general rubrics: First, the Mahāsāṅghikā 大眾部 is divided into eight schools: 1) Ekavyavahārikā 一說部; 2) Lokottaravādina 說出世部; 3) Kaukkuṭikā (Gokulikā) 雞胤部; 4) Bahuśrutīyā 多聞部; 5) Prajñāptivadina 說假部; 6) Jetavaniyā, or Caityaśailā 制多山部; 7) Aparaśailā 西山住部; 8) Uttaraśailā 北山 住部. Second, the Āryasthavirā or Sthāviravāda 上座部, which is divided into eight schools: 1) Haimavatā 雪山部, and this school gave rise to 2) Vātsīputrīyā 犢子部, which gave rise to 3) Dharmottarīyā 法上部; 4) Bhadrayānīyā 賢冑部; (5) Saṃmatīyā 正量部; and (6) Saṇṇagarikā 密林山; (7) Mahīśāsakāḥ 化地部, which produced 8) Dharmaguptā 法藏部. From the Sarvāstivāda 說一切有部 arose 9) Kāśyaḥpīyā 飲光部 and 10) Sautrāntikāḥ 經量部.

(*4) - The Mahāyāna is said to have stemmed from the Mahāsāṅghikāḥ School because its teachings already foreshadowed many tenets of the later developed Mahāyāna. In general the rise of Mahāyāna was not a movement at all. Mahāyāna inclined Buddhist monastics lived side-by-side with so-called Hīnayāna monastics. For more information, see Paul Harrison, Searching for the Origins of the Mahāyāna, Eastern Buddhist 28 (1995): 48-69.

(*5) - An alternative translation can be found in Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, The Laṅkāvatāra Sutra: A Mahayana Text (Colorado, Prajana Press, 1978), 69.

(*6) - For further information on this method, see my Hoofprint of the Ox: Principles of the Chan Buddhist Path as Taught by a Modern Chinese Master (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 118-138.

(*7) - “Shi’en nanbao 師恩難報” was originally published as an article in Zhongguo fojiao shi 《中國佛教史》; it is now included in the anthology entitled, Daonian, youhua 《悼念.遊化》(Eulogies and Travel Logs), in Fagu quanji 《法鼓全集》 (The Complete Works of Master Sheng Yen) (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp., 2007), 9-36.