The enlightenment of Gaofeng Yung

I have created a separate post for this enlightenment story, translated by Jeffrey Broughton in his Ch’an Whip Anthology, because my first post, Enlightenment experiences of Zen masters, was already too long, and because this one includes the taking of vows and successful koan practice.

Gaofeng arrived at his monastery resolved in his mind to die within three years. Making a vow to awaken withing a specific period of time is very effective, and in fact he had his awakening at the end of the three years. He then made a new vow to throw away any ambitions he might have had for his life, even if it meant becoming a ‘stupid Han’, in order to pursue the one great matter to ultimate clarity.

After his awakening, Gaofeng’s master gave him a different kind of case to work on, one suited to his higher state of consciousness.

On the translation: Anyone who has checked my posts against the translations they are taken from knows that I make a lot of changes. I do this with a clear conscience, however, because anyone who doesn’t care for my editing can purchase the book and in this way benefit the author.

Broughton uses the expression ‘the man in charge’ to translate a metaphysical concept of the self that Lin-chi (Gaofeng was of his lineage) called the ‘true man of no rank’ and Meister Eckhart called the ‘personal being’. Elsewhere in this blog I changed Broughton’s ‘man in charge’ to ‘superior man’ or ‘higher self’; but in essence it is the self that you really are. And what is that? As Edward Conze (1975, p. 3) explains, in the Godhead there is no distinction between multiplicity and simplicity, and the question of whether your true self is all that there is, or whether it is the you that travels from life to life, has no meaning. The Buddha would have answered: “neither one, nor the other, nor both, nor neither.”

Chan Master Gaofeng Yuan of Mount Tianmu (1238-1295)

I left home at fifteen, and at twenty changed to Ch’an robes, entering Jingci Monastery (in Hangzhou). Vowing to die within three years, I trained in Chan. At first I investigated with Preceptor Duanqiao, who made me investigate the cue: “At birth where do you come from and at death where do you go?” I made an effort but my thought was divided into two paths, and my mind did not home in on oneness. Later I met Preceptor Xueyan, who taught me to keep my eye on (Chao-chou’s) Wu. Also, he ordered me to walk one time around the embankment (of willow trees) every day. He said, “It should be like a person on the road — every day he must see to the schedule of tasks.” I saw that there was a clue in what he had to say. Later he would not ask me about the investigation I was doing. One time when I entered his door, he immediately asked, “Who comes hauling this corpse of yours? Before his voice had even died down, he gave me a whack. After this I returned to the Hall of Jingshan. In a dream suddenly I remembered Duanqiao’s “The ten-thousand dharmas return to the One; to what does this One return?” After this the sensation of indecision and apprehension suddenly arose, and I could not distinguish east from west or south from north. On the sixth day I was in the hall chanting sutras with the sangha, and raising my head I suddenly caught sight of the inscription on a portrait of Wuzu Fayan. The last two lines read, “A hundred years — thirty-six thousand days — pass over; always this Han (Chinese man).” Suddenly I smashed the cue I had heard from Xueyan of hauling this corpse around. The culmination was that I was frightened out of my senses, but after the cutting off (of my senses) I was restored to life. It went beyond laying down a pole with a 120-pound load. At this time I was just twenty-four; my vow of three-years had been fulfilled.

After that I was asked, “Every day in your numerous activities are you able to maintain the superior man?” I answered, “I am able to do so.” He also asked, “While asleep and dreaming are you able to maintain the superior man? I answered, “I am able to do so.” He also asked, “At the point of dreamless sleep, where is the superior man?” At that point I had no words by which to answer, no logic that I could express. Preceptor Xueyan enjoined me, “From now on it is not necessary for you to study the buddhadharma and to investigate to the limit the ancient and modern cases. It’s just a matter of eating when hungry and sleeping when tired. The moment you’ve awakened from sleep, rouse your energies, then keep your eye on, “While I am asleep, in the end just what place is it that my superior man attains ease and becomes still?”

I made a new vow: “I will cast my life away and become a stupid Han; I will make sure to see this one great matter through to clarity.” Five years passed, and one day as I awoke from sleep I was right in the midst of a great ball of doubt about this matter. A fellow monk pushed a wooden head-rest off the platform, and it made a noise as it hit the floor. Suddenly I smashed the ball of doubt — it was just like leaping out of a net. All of the intricate and confusing cases of the buddhas and patriarchs and all of the stories of ancient times and the present — every one of them was crystal-clear. From then on, “the province was pacified and the country stabilized, and there was a great peace throughout the realm.” In a single instant of no-thought, everything in the ten directions was severed.

 

Broughton, Jeffrey L. The Chan Whip Anthology. New York, Oxford University Press, 2015 (pp. 93-96)

Conze, Edward. The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. University of California Press, 1975.

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