In introducing the NEW CH'AN FORUM to its readers, I hope that they will find in its pages the beginning of a distinctive voice that will help spread a wider understanding of the Dharma. There is a need for a contemporary view point which, whilst based in orthodox and traditional practice, also relates to the modern world.
When Master Sheng Yen came to the Maenllwyd retreat centre in mid-Wales last April, and led a retreat there, I acted as Guestmaster. At the end of our retreat, and much to my surprise for I had not requested or expected it, he gave me an authorisation to run Orthodox Ch'an1 retreats in Britain as his representative. He also told me to work hard at clarifying my vexations! After the retreat some of the participants - Paul Cone, Tim Paine, Hilary Richards and Jake Lyne de Ver, all inhabitants of the Bristol area, felt they would like to start a Ch'an Group to follow up the initiative which Shih fu2 had provided. They asked me if I would function as the group's teacher. We now meet regularly and have just held our first full Ch'an retreat.
Our next major initiative is to publish a book based upon Shih fu's teachings given to us in Wales. Michael Mann of Element Press has expressed a positive interest in this3. Already tapes of the twenty discourses Shih fu gave have been transcribed, including a profound series on the ancient text "Calming the Mind" by Wang Ming of the Sixth Century A.D. We publish part of this for the first time in this newsletter.
Another initiative is this journal. Broadly modelled on the journal of the Ch'an Center in Elmhurst, New York, we intend to provide articles from Shih fu's teachings, contributions from members of our group, edited versions of some of my talks to the group, and other contemporary discussions.
Ch'an Buddhism is not well known in this country. Its broad eclectic approach has much to offer Westerners, especially lay practitioners. Master Sheng Yen has passed on to us a view of the Dharma, based on his reception of transmissions in both the Lin Chi (Rinzai) and Ts'ao Tung (Soto) lineages. He is a second generation teacher in the lineage of the Great Master Hsu Yun4 who did so much to restore Ch'an in China in the early years of this century. Master Sheng Yen has also received a doctorate in Buddhist Studies in Japan and is a considerable scholar. He speaks Japanese and has trained within the tradition of the great Harada Roshi, from whom several lineages of American Zen are currently descended. In attempting to transmit the wisdom of the Patriarchs as descended through Master Sheng Yen, we have a vision upon which we can rely.
All of us in the Bristol Ch'an group hope you will enjoy this initial effort. Send us your opinions and advice, and perhaps join us in practice on some future occasion.
John Crook; Kuo Yung
1 Ch'an is a form of Chinese Buddhism. The word 'Ch'an' comes from the Sanskrit 'Dhyana', which in Japanese is Zen
2 Shih fu or 'Roshi'.
3 Subsequently published as Catching a Feather on a Fan by Element Press (1991) ISBN 1-85230-194-5
4 See Empty Cloud: The Autobiography of the Chinese Master, Hsu Yun, edited by Richard Hunn. Published By Element Books (1988)