Before There Was Stress Reduction, There Was No-Thought
By Wendi L. Adamek-Author, "The Teachings of
Master Wuzhu: Zen and Religion of No-Religion"
Master Wuzhu is your typical Zen Master:
he reads minds, hides himself away in
inaccessible mountains and tells earthy
stories. Most importantly, he jettisons
all conventional religious practices, and
he did this about twelve hundred years
before Alan Watts, Esalen or MBSR. What
makes him unique in the annals of Chan/Zen
is that his followers compiled a book about
his antecedents, anecdotes and aphorisms
at a time (roughly 780 C.E.) when Zen was
not yet a powerful religious network
evolving its way into the heart of the
cultures of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
Captured in an earnest and quirky manner
in the Lidai fabao ji (Record of the
Dharma-Jewel Through the Ages), Master
Wuzhu's teachings were not part of a
known "brand." Some of the features of
the Lidai fabao ji would show up in later,
mainstream works, but it was literally
lost in the sands of time, walled up in
a cave-temple in an oasis town in the Gobi
desert, waiting to be fortuitously
rediscovered in 1900.
Chan/Zen formed itself around a contentious
issue: how do you teach Buddhist practice
if you reject all forms of practice as misleading?
Forms of practice are misleading because they
make something concrete out of something that
is not even abstract. As Master Wuzhu puts it:
"When there is true no-thought, no-thought
itself is not." This "formless practice"
immediately makes the everyday challenge of
making distinctions and choices even more
challenging. Or does it?
If non-dual enlightenment is neither good nor
evil, is this a dangerous thing to teach? How
do you encourage people to get a move on in
their practice while telling them there's
nowhere to go? Should you be paid for doing
this? Did Wuzhu's female disciple Liaojianxing
compile the Lidai fabao ji? And, finally, what
kind of sound does a paddy-crab make?
In the Lidai fabao ji these issues -- antinomianism,
formless practice, support of monastics, the role
of women and out-of-the-box teaching -- are
presented through accessible dialogues and stories.
Yet they have roots in complex Buddhist philosophical
scriptures and treatises. Many of Wuzhu's teachings
echo a style used in the Prajñāpāramita (Perfection
of Wisdom) literature, which often links antithetical
characteristics to express what is meant by
"emptiness." Thus, one line of the Heart Sūtra
reads: "no old age and death, and also no extinction
of them." This in turn generated the Mādhaymaka
(Middle Way) contemplative analysis of the codependent
arising of phenomena. Through use of a neither/nor,
both/and dialectic, the Mādhaymaka practitioner
becomes accustomed to seeing that things neither
exist nor not-exist, both exist and not-exist.
So, when I find myself wondering whether it would
have mattered to Wuzhu that we are still interested
in reading about him, I suspect he would have
not-cared -- and he would have cared, very much.
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