The scholars Melvyn Goldstein and Paljor Tsarong have argued that Buddhism is one of history's most ambitious and radical social and psychological experiments because it attempts to create a society in which ideals of non attachment, non-desire, material renunciation and transcendental wisdom are institutionalised. It tries to socialise recruits into an alternative set of norms for understanding and creating a world in which attachments are considered sources of suffering. But then they ask, "Is this successful?"1

The idea certainly appeals to the West. The spread of Buddhist institutions of many kinds has in the last decade been phenomenal. The number of Zen and Tibetan institutions now numbers over a thousand2 and one may argue that, apart from the venerability of vast old monasteries, Buddhist activity in the West far exceeds that within China and India and, even though understanding may often be poor, has a more creative and exploratory style than in the lands of its tradition and origin. Yet all is not particularly well. In recent years an embarrassing number of cases of sexual and financial corruption, particularly in US centres, has tainted this renaissance and the nature of some new institutions given cause for critical reflection. These have been the focus of several articles and debate in this journal.3 As we ourselves attempt to take a step forward in the creation of a charitable association of fellow practitioners, the move needs to be made with mindful caution.

Study reveals that, taken together with the ethical inadequacies of certain teachers, the main problems in the USA arose from a certain naivet‚ in the followership of both Eastern and newly transmitted Western masters. I have argued that we need not doubt the significance of the original transmission to teach of these men4.The problem has been an exaggerated and uncritical acceptance by their followers that the implication of their "enlightenment" has been that Western teachers would behave in ways that would not merit reproach. Operating outside the traditional supervision and peer control of monastic organisations it seems that basking in the approbation of their followers simply went to these people's head. In the case of Easterners, a failure to understand the contemporary post-modern world of ethical and behavioural relativity appears to have contributed to their seduction by the self-indulgent permissiveness of our time. Spiritual inflation is a parent to corruption.

The answer must clearly lie in creating an appropriately effective institutional organisation with in-built checks and balances which prevent this sort of stupidity from arising. This has been our endeavour in the two assemblies at the Maenllwyd and we have come up with the accompanying constitution for the Western Ch'an Fellowship.

Some may ask why I should have proposed such a move. After all, the retreats at Maenllwyd were running well and, by suggesting these changes, I was giving myself a lot of trouble. It would have been easier to continue in the freestyle manner we had adopted and this could have meant that I could opt out and retire to the mountains (or the beaches) at any time. Maybe time will show that such an arrangement would have been more effective. A Zen teacher operates in many ways: remoteness, hidden practice and difficulty of access could well produce a more effective teaching even if it were limited to the few who took the trouble of tracking him down.5 I must tell you I find this notion attractive and may yet go for it.

At some point, however, I was asked by Master Sheng Yen to lead orthodox Ch'an retreats in the UK. Subsequently, he passed the transmission of the Lin-chi lineage as descended through Master Hsu-yun to me as the second of his Dharma heirs.6 In accepting this truly great honour I was touched by Shi-fu's trust in me and resolved that I had to try and carry out his mandate, transmitting Ch'an down to the generations up coming in Britain. I am the same age as Shi-fu: both of us are in our mid sixties and there is no saying which of us will last the longer. The task is for now and cannot wait. When I asked Shih-fu how to do it, he merely remarked "Since this is your culture and you know it better than I, that is something you will have to find out for yourself!"

At our first assembly7 I suggested an organisation that might be able to balance two essential requirements; the caring preservation of the lineage and the prevention of inappropriate behaviour in any teacher or master appointed by the fellowship. Given that we are a group of lay practitioners and not monastics under strict vows, a form of limited democracy seemed to be the answer. On the one hand the teacher, by virtue of transmission, has something especial to say and holds the traditional authority for saying it and transmitting it. No unqualified person can question the teaching as such, only request its more effective presentation. Scholarship and experience form the style of the one chosen to be a teacher and these cannot be arbitrarily altered if a lineage is to be sustained. Yet a teacher is only a human being and may suffer from defects in character. In past history these would have been balanced against his attainments through teacher and peer supervision. In the modern world, an Executive Committee elected by a lay membership must have some of this function and operate in contact with an advisory body of highly qualified non-members. Both teacher and members then have a court of appeal in the event of criticism or disputation. With such a democratic structure, an organisation of fellow practitioners is protected from the risks of inadequacy in the teacher and from the foolishness of individual fellows. This then is the prime feature of the constitution we have devised and which we put forward in this issue for your comment and criticism.

The Fellowship is open to those who have some attainment in Dharma practice through attending retreats at the Maenllwyd. This ensures that, before joining, some realisation of the value of practice has developed, leading an individual to appreciate the importance of the Refuges, the Three Jewels and the Precepts. Knowing full well that lay persons do not have a taste for restrictions that appear to be imposed by doctrinal commandments, we debated whether these requirements were too strict. Yet to think so would be to misunderstand the nature of preceptual practice. The Precepts are guidelines to help one avoid karmic mistakes that will generate future retribution. They are not rules which it is sinful to break. The difference is psychologically significant and, once understood, the Precepts should not be seen as a barrier. Even so, we appreciate there will be some who, while favouring Buddhistic approaches to life, do not wish to commit themselves. At present we are not considering some category of associate membership. We wish to be a practice organisation. None the less "friends of the Maenllwyd", genuinely hesitant about calling themselves Buddhists, are of course welcome on the retreats we offer.

It is vital to stress that the Fellowship does not exist simply for the benefit of fellows. In no way is the Fellowship a preserve for the exclusive advantage of those who opt to join us. Indeed the function of fellows is to support a programme of Buddhist education open to all. Starting with the Western Zen Retreat, practitioners qualify for more demanding retreats which they might not be able to undertake as beginners. To make the more intensive sitting retreats valuable one has to get used to the sitting posture; to understand the significance of sitting; to have some grasp of the essentials of the View; to have begun examining one's place in the Cosmos. Training is thus necessarily progressive, a beginner cannot start at the end. Literally a charitable organisation, we exist to help suffering humanity. Indeed we might well consider calling ourselves the Western Ch'an Sangha.

One concern that has arisen is that the formation of an institution may be divisive. I cannot say but Krishnamurti's well known argument against institutionalisation is one I take seriously. He felt strongly that to create an institution was to produce an object of attachment about which, furthermore, people's opinions will vary thus creating pros and cons and hence social divisiveness. To Krishnamurti spiritual understanding undercut all that; no institutions; no favoured methods; no dogmas or doctrines to be believed; beware of the known and the conventionally believed, only insight counts. I consider Krishnamurti to have been the greatest Bodhisattva of our time and I am happy in my memories of having met him personally, yet I cannot help noticing that, without his presence, his teachings, stored in video, audio and the written page have lost their immediate urgency now that there is no vehicle to proclaim them.

In Ch'an, the lineage is the vehicle by which insight is passed down through time in the form of a living, vibrant person, full of failings maybe, but one who stands for the View and presents it afresh again and again. We need therefore to face up to the undeniable risk of divisiveness as soon as options are created by the pros ands cons of institutional policy. Can we do this? Do we have the skilful means?

Unfortunately, sectarianism and the formation of cult-like clubs around certain Buddhist charismatics already promote the kind of divisiveness between institutions that Krishnamurti saw so clearly. As Ken Jones has argued in our journal, there is no point in not arguing one's case.8 Buddhism is corruptible and in the post-modern environment of sloppy New-Ageism only too easily so. Everyone nowadays can invent or put together their own blooming religion and fail to notice the self-indulgence that entails. Yet, in such debate, compassion is absolutely essential. Even fools have merit.

Within a carefully crafted institution there remain risks. Yet I have confidence. After several of our retreats we have allowed a more communal and sociable atmosphere to arise- just being together on a walk or mountain pilgrimage for example. I have noted that the genuine tolerance and compassion, even love, that develops on silent retreats and during a WZR can still hold up, in spite of the re-emergence of individual idiosyncrasies, if supported by a programme that sustains a quality of space and silence allowing frequent private renewal. Assemblies geared to silence thus have a chance of developing a sociable mindfulness and community coherence that allows tolerance, understanding and friendship to be maintained and our actions to be guided by kindness and wisdom. The best of monastic models can inform us here. At least, this must be our endeavour.

In the coming months I shall, be considering very carefully the way in which teaching and practice within the fellowship may be presented. We will experiment with differing forms of retreat and meeting while always anchoring our practice on the orthodox Ch'an retreat and the WZR. I realise more and more that all the Mahayana meditation methods spring from a common root. We need to understand this clearly so that nobody supposes themselves to be practising with a superior or inferior method. Once the family relationships between them are understood the whole meditative process can be seen as one historical sequence. Similarly Indo-Tibetan and Sino-Japanese teachings all have their roots in the same Sutras and, in spite of some divergences, again take the form of fruit of the same tree. I will endeavour to teach from this perspective giving a broad understanding of the Mahayana and using a variety of methods to help individuals build their most personally effective way of being.

The history of Ch'an has been markedly eclectic. Syncretism has proven useful and the broad scope of the teachings especially helpful to those in the West who react against narrower sectarian approaches. Now that Ch'an has arrived in Britain we need not feel tightly restricted to particular forms so long as the essential core remains clear and vital. Such an approach will allow us not only to adapt to changing conditions without risk of fossilisation but also to renew again and again the source of inspiration itself. Forms are empty and from our insight into emptiness we create forms. So long as we are clear in our pivotal perspective our institution will thrive.

1       Goldstein,M.C. and P.Tsarong.1985.The Tibetan Journal 10.1.14-31.

2       Rommeleure,E. 1997.Guide du Zen.Les Guides Selene,Paris.See also the advertising columns in Tricycle and Shambala Sun among other publications.

3       New Ch'an Forum 13 and 14. 1996-7.

4       Crook, J.H. Authenticity and the practice of Zen. New Ch'an Forum 13. 1996

5       See the opinions of the yogin Geshe Ngawang Jugne in Crook, J.H. and J.Low.1997 The Yogins of Ladakh. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi p138

6       New Ch'an Forum 9. 1994.

7       New Ch'an Forum.14. p26-29. 1997.

8       Jones,K.New Ch'an Forum 14.p24-25.1997


Marble floors surround the Bo tree,

birds' calls, deep shade and fluttering leaves.

Was I ever anywhere else?

Dusk falling buffaloes, wandered home,

feed from large bowls fronting the houses.

Old ashram doors open over a river of sand.

Smoke stacks hiding brickwork fires belch in the night,

old clay to new homes,

empty time moving.


slowly pacing footfall on marble

soft swish of passing robes around the square

mandala of the lamp-lit temple grounds

one side, citywards, noisy, the other not.

Nirvana and samsara

come up and fade away

as round and round I go.

Deep in the ancient cell below massive stones

candles weave shadows where the still image glows

in the bright silence - no one moves.            



a thousand eyes met mine

sitting in my high bus chariot

viewing this mouldering city

of cheerful faces, Bengali smiles

monsoon washed with brown-eye brilliance

down by the river throwing images of Durga

into the rising tide.

The bats are out in the darkening sky

flamed rose and misted by greying dusts.

Sitting on the swept pavement for their evening meal

this small family feeds from brass bowls

gleaming, our morning's gift.

From our high balcony we saw them

mother washing kids in the light of dawn

folding the canvas awning of their shelter

preparing another street-wise day.

Seeing us far above them, Olympians,

the children waved.

No way could we not respond.

Mother smiled, her pride

a way of life Calcutta time.

PILGRIMAGE TO KAILAS: The Holy Mountain of Western Tibet.

If a mountain trek may be described as an "epic" this surely was it. Almost every anticipated hazard and difficulty was encountered together with several that were unexpected. The plan was to enter Tibet by way of Humla (N.W Nepal) during a window of opportunity between the ending of the monsoon and the onset of the Tibetan winter. In 1997 the winter came early and caught us nicely exposed on the plains around Kailas and Manasarovar. As a consequence of the severe weather with snow around the mountain the yak men declined to take our equipment over the Dolma la since snow on the rough descent on the far side might lead to the yaks breaking legs. This meant we were unable to fulfil our aim of circumambulating the mountain. We did however succeed in placing the ashes of Lord Ennals and the hat of Bryan Beresford at the Dolma rock on the top of the pass. This was a prime function of my personal expedition and of several of the clients.

A break in the weather had suggested a window of opportunity. Several of us walked up to the cairn at Drirapuk where the Sherpas did ser.kyem and others made offerings, mantras etc to the mountain, the remarkable north face of which appeared splendidly before us. This had been a long approach walk and I for one was very tired by the time I reached the cairn. I knew I would not have the strength to go on to the top of the pass that day. As the weather stayed improved I allowed Alec Lawless, our strongest walker who was keen to go, to make an attempt at reaching the Dolma rock on the top of the pass to leave Lord Ennals' ashes and the hat of Brian Beresford there. He set off after emotional hugs from the group. Sangye Sherpa, who had done the route before, accompanied him. I had a worrying four hours until Alec and Sangye arrived back in camp at dusk having completed their mission under very tough conditions, racing back to get in before daylight failed. I had felt like a Commanding Officer who had ordered men into action and didn't know whether they would succeed against the odds. Theirs was a fine effort allowing us to claim one success for the expedition.

On returning we had seen four men descending the track on the far side of the river carrying a kind of stretcher. It looked as if they were bringing a body down. And so it turned out. Two Germans, apparently without a guide, had succumbed to exposure on the Dolma la the night before. Police had visited our camp while we were away checking on us. I was relieved when all of us were in camp again.

The return trek into Nepal over the enormously intimidating Nara Lagna la proved hazardous with snow on the narrow track above steep precipitous slopes. I was extremely concerned lest a single slip or mis-step cause a damaging fall to an inexperienced trekker. I myself had the scariest few hours I can remember for many a year. Fortunately it was a bright day with sunshine. Had there been ice on the track I doubt whether we could have crossed the pass without accident. Even the sherpas remarked that it was dangerous for Western trekkers- especially rather elderly ones however fit.

In spite of being a very heterogeneous party, morale was sustained throughout although some four members were very disappointed at not completing the kora, - even though three of these were not fit enough to attempt it. Most members had read little before coming, had little interest in the cultural aspects of the tour and were somewhat taken aback by the ferocity of the Tibetan climate and the demands of the trek but most greatly enjoyed the walking and responded well to the risks inherent in the adventure.

The scenery was outstanding throughout and some of the walks the most wonderful I have personally experienced and well appreciated by the group. The temples at Tsaparang and Toling were formidably impressive. As trek leader I gave two lectures on history, Buddhist art and thought and a guided tour of the mural paintings at Tsaparang and Toling and could have said more but was somewhat disappointed by the apparent lack of interest in such matters within the party. Even so all members appreciated the magnificent scenery and weathered the alarming, anxiety provoking and sometimes downright scary times well. I was indeed quite impressed by the philosophical attitude to their adventure which became general in the group. This is not to say that there were not times when most of us would have preferred to have been back home in a warm bed!

This was not a demonstrative group of people. Private in their feelings and attitudes I none the less sensed that the experience of hardship on this adventure meant a lot to them and that they were encouraged by their own fortitude and resourcefulness.

On our return trek we stopped for lunch at Yangar Gompa and some of us with two sherpas visited the Rimpoche. He was very sympathetic regarding our trials in Tibet, saddened by the news of the Germans' deaths and impressed by our attempt at the kora and by the fact that we had left memorials on the top of the pass in spite of the conditions. He remarked that many great sages and spiritual persons had come to Kailas throughout history. When there is real spiritual intent there are always difficulties. The purpose of the kora is purification from the past so that one returns "reborn" in life. Often purification is difficult and this is expressed through encountering obstacles, sometimes inner, sometimes outer. What counts is then the way one struggles with obstacles.

The Rimpoche told us that the way we had striven on the mountain more than outweighed our failure in not completing the circuit. Often indeed this struggle completes the purification itself, he said. We should not feel that we had failed but rather nobly succeeded. He was amused at the idea that we had done half a Buddhist kora and half a Bonpo one - thus making a full circuit with two aspects. Even sages with great wisdom never had an easy time on Kailas, he said. Only through such experience did they reach ultimate wisdom. He wished us well.

As for me: I am deeply grateful for the experience of leading a group with whom I had rather little natural empathy but which I came to respect in their individuality and own right. I learnt that leaders cannot choose who they lead and must adapt to whoever they are placed among. My main resolve was to sustain a friendly distance and a tactful response to all and to sustain morale when difficulties appeared. Although often quite anxious about weather conditions and their implications, the vehicle problems and the Nara Lagna pass I kept this from the party and pretended a greater optimism than I sometimes felt. "You came for an adventure and now you have one!" was a useful refrain. This seems to have been effective and appreciated. Client briefings in some detail were held every morning after breakfast at the same time as a sweet distribution. Sometimes the Sirdar was also present. The actual trek in Humla was a demanding and a wonderful experience in country of exceptional grandeur. Tibet showed its fierceside which I knew about but had not experienced so directly. I thank Himalayan Kingdoms for offering me this opportunity. [Mount Kailas, photo by John Crook]


Ch'an Buddhism is undergoing a marked revival in mainland China. Monasteries are renewing their fabric and providing services to the public. Meditation is starting again for young monks in the Ch'an halls. In July 1997, with my old friend Yiu Yan-nang as interpreter, I visited two of the most famous monasteries in southern China and was surprised by what we found. When I entered China from Hong Kong the customs officer barely glanced at the visa in my passport. I had held my breath at the crossing point expecting all manner of difficulties to arise. I began to realise that the new China really is undergoing extraordinary transformations. Fearing police supervision at every stage, thought controls on all we spoke to, and a deep official suspicion of my Western face, I had been unconsciously awaiting the type of experience I had had in Moscow during the Brezhnev era. Instead, I found complete indifference to my presence. Gradually I realised I was free virtually to do whatever I wanted - except perhaps talk politics.

We had arrived at Shenzhen, a brand new electronic city where, less than twenty years ago, only farmhouses had stood. Emerging from the glossy station we overlooked a central square in the centre of which stood a vast television screen showing advertisements and propaganda and blaring forth the loudest of pop music. Hoardings proclaiming "Come to Marlboro county" and "Carlsberg" suggested the spirit now abroad. Around them cruised innumerable taxis implying a lack of public transport but ample funds for car hire. From the square, huge canyons of multi-storey buildings, punctuated by stylish skyscrapers, lined treeless avenues stretching as far as the eye could see. The shops were full to overflowing with every sort of merchandise and thronged by eager shoppers. The waiting room for our train into China was a huge space filled to the brim with seated travellers. No sign of poverty here, everyone wore well-made relaxing, even sportive, clothing with good shoes and carried ample baggage. Children looked fit and jolly. During the whole of our trip we only saw one, equally neatly dressed, beggar and even he was hardly pressing his trade. As the train drew out of the city we saw no slums: endless suburbs of high rise buildings stretched to the horizon draped in a pall of polluted air.

We were travelling soft-seat first-class. The train was not overcrowded although all seats were taken, often by whole families travelling as a group. Comfortable reclining seats lulled us and attendants moved regularly up and down the corridors politely even charmingly offering sweets, drinks and other delights. Air conditioning protected us from the inebriating humid heat of mid-summer. Nobody took any particular notice of us although I was the only Westerner on the train, so far as I could see. I revelled in the absence of attention, the quiet acceptance of myself as just another traveller and the stress-free self-contained attitudes of my travelling companions. Everyone was "minding their own businesses" in a manner quite unexpected to one trained in the ordeals of travel in India. Even in the restaurant car, where my handling of fish-bones with chopsticks left something to be desired, nobody looked my way or made a comment. Yan-nang too enjoyed the train ride saying how much things had changed in Chinain a mere five years. Capitalist competition was promoting good manners from officials and attendants alike and he much appreciated the improvement.

As we crossed the Pearl River delta towards Guangzhou (Canton) we looked out on a strangely patterned landscape in which the suburbs of small towns mixed with paddy fields, lotus pools and duck farms in an almost continuous unstructured urbanisation. There were many factories and, along one stretch of the route, a sequence of huge cement works stretched for miles emitting copious quantities of fine white smoke. A thin smog generated a visible pollution greater than that I have experienced anywhere. Spreading out high over the landscape it combined with other sources of city and traffic emission to hide the blue sky of a naturally misty and humid air, The price of China's economic advance will be deeply costly to the quality of the environment and peoples' health within it. Throughout our trip birdlife was prominent by its almost total absence.

Now and again fast trains roared by smoothly. The train from Beijing drew in while we were at Guangzhou station. The first class sleepers looked very comfortable if not luxurious and all spaces seemed to be taken. Even hard seat accommodation looked bearable to this veteran of Asian travel. Twice an extraordinary express rushed past, a double decker serving the line between Shenzhen and Guangzhou. The service will soon be extended to Hong Kong.

Beyond Guangzhou our line followed the North River, one of three that disgorge to the ocean by way of the delta. Gradually the pollution lessened, the river ran more briskly and cleanly and tall monumental mountains like those on old Chinese scrolls emerged and gathered closely around the speeding train. Lulled by comfort and untroubled by my fellow passengers the trip was truly enjoyable.

After some hours, pollution reappeared as we approached the mining and steel smelting town of Shaokuan. The newly developing city was again spreading far and wide over the surrounding countryside. Vigorously active but charmless streets lined by new multi-storey buildings carried little traffic. The taxi driver was politely intent to secure our services in the following days. He told us competition was intense. We drove out of town into the countryside, paddy fields and traditional village buildings appeared and, after a short time, we suddenly found ourselves confronting an enormous monastic archway, an impressive gated entrance to a compound of ancient tree-shaded buildings. We had reach our goal, Nan Hua Si, the monastery where the famous Master Hui-neng (638-713 AD) had settled to teach.

Nan Hua monastery

The most surprising thing about this marvellous monastery is the fact of its survival. Although the monks suffered grievously and one revered master died, the property itself, although decayed, has remained basically unharmed. Chou-en lai, had ordered its protection from the Red Guards then seemingly intent on destroying the entire heritage of China's extraordinary history. We owe to Chou-en lai the preservation of several remarkable sites within Chinese territory, including indeed the Potala at Lhasa.

Beyond the entrance gate lies a beautiful courtyard surrounded by trees beyond which one can see the sprung roofs of ancient temples. A bridge leads over a pool to a large arch with halls on either side containing protective deities. The figure of Wei-tou stands in the centre of the arch and here devotees make their first offerings of joss sticks. The second court leads to a further archway pavilion. On either side the central entrance the deities of the four seasons, giant figures perhaps twenty feet high, glare down inspecting all those who enter. In the centre of the entrance passage sits the fat smiling Buddha so loved by the Chinese. Again offerings are made and one passes into the main courtyard of the monastery.

The array of antique buildings here is magnificent. Although many people may be passing through the court at any one time, the scene is one of tranquillity and peacefulness. Small trees, potted shrubs and other plants are placed thoughtfully around a bridged central pool in which large goldfish rise from time to time to jump or gulp in air. Among the flowers huge swallow-tailed butterflies of several kinds drift delicately, braving the dangers of webs slung between twigs by spiders quick to respond in the warm air of summer. On either side the court stand two large pavilion towers, the one to the right containing an ancient bell dating from 1167 CE and the one on the left a huge drum, both used to assemble the monks for ceremonies.

The facing temple is the main Buddha Hall of the monastery where major ceremonies take place. The impressive frontage raised along the back of the court extends for eight deep bays between tall columns. Great statues of the Buddha and two attendants, each some 25 feet high, reach to the ceiling behind an ornate altar and gaze down majestically on the officiants beneath. Around the walls, and, again reaching up to the ceiling, is an extraordinary mural decoration. A stucco cliff face filled with grottoes from which peer the figures of hundreds of Buddhist saints, masters and worthies, stands above a wave-rolling sea. The variety and ingenuity of the figures knows no bounds. The entire temple in the Qing dynasty style was reconstructed under the direction of Master Hsu-yun in 1936. The mural decoration enshrines the idea that from the bitter sea of life you can find a hand to help you ashore if only you repent.

Behind the Buddha Hall lies a further courtyard of two levels culminating in a library above a hall of remembrance. Behind that, in a further courtyard, stands a vast pagoda of great beauty dating from the eighth century. It dominates the whole complex providing a focus from whatever viewpoint. Behind this, in a further temple, one finds the embalmed statue of Master Hui-neng.1The whole complex rises from front to rear so that as one ascends there is a feeling of progression in depth. When we explored the woodland at the back of the whole complex we found a stream gushing from a spring and an unfinished temple dedicated to Master Hsu-yun to whom the preservation of the monastery is due.

Our taxi driver took us round the back of the buildings and stopped outside the door of the Guest master's office, a roomy building with statues, heavy Chinese furniture and small buros opening off it. A tiny monk received us. Although we found him off-hand at first, he soon warmed to us, showed us to a large air-conditioned bedroom, gave us various instructions for our stay and finally presented us with several books in Chinese and English all, interestingly, printed in Hong Kong. Later he showed us round the complex and told us much about it.

Although of great antiquity, the monastery has had a chequered history with periods of affluence alternating with times of stagnation and decay. The original foundation by the monk Zhi-yao San-zhang followed his discovery of this beautiful place below the spring of Cao-xi river in 502 CE. When Hui-neng began teaching here after his years in hiding following his secret transmission of the patriarchs robe and bowl, the monastery achieved fame and was reconstructed.2 Later however it again fell on hard times. In 1601 CE Master Han-shan arrived at Nan-hua and found that the nine-hundred year old monastery had been converted into a meat market. "Squealing animals were being slaughtered, dressed and butchered. Stinking piles of worm infected guts filled the stately courtyard"3 The few resident monks did nothing to stop the profanation so Han-shan approached the Viceroy of the province for aid. This was forthcoming and Han-shan went on to do major construction and repair work re-establishing the fame of the monastery. He himself was a remarkable patriarch and his revered statue stands together with others in the monastery. The present reconstruction and preservation of ancient relics is due to Master Hsu-yun who having collected funds repaired the ravages of decay in 1934.

Although it was the prestige of this Master that probably caused Chou-en lai to preserve the buildings, various outrages none the less occurred. In one chapel we found the white marble statue behind glass of the revered Master Wei-yin. A photo beside the statue reveals a face of profound compassion and sweetness. He was beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution. The present abbot, Master Fo-yuan, now in his late eighties, was also severely treated but survived. Hsu-yun himself was beaten and only a miracle seems to have kept him going at a very advanced age (112 years) - eventually dying at 120 years in 19594.

We were surprised by the excellence of our air-conditioned accommodation. A whole flanking wing of the complex comprises second floor dormitories opening off a gallery each containing four large hard beds, rush covered and equipped with soft duvets. We had one of these for our use. Along the gallery and outside the doors of several occupied rooms were stacks of paper money for offerings to Buddhas and local deities. The monastery was visited by many tourists and devotees who stayed overnight in accommodations of varying quality.

Many devotees came to make use of the ceremonial authority of the monks in offering prayers and other services for the dead. Veneration of ancestors remains deeply embedded in Chinese life and benefits for the dead may be secured by burning offerings of paper money and other paper objects ritually in the large incinerators placed around the monastery. We felt that ceremonies of this sort must yield a substantial income for the monastery. Here the great tradition of Buddhism meets the ancient folk religion, itself a mix of Taoist practices, old superstitions and ancestor worship. The offering of these services in the august atmosphere of the monastery was clearly a source of considerable spiritual nourishment for the common people. Who were these? Mostly ladies of a very well-off appearance, business women of undoubted skill, independent minded persons very much the equal of men. This freedom of women must be one of the positive results of the Communist years.

In the guests dining hall these ladies showed a great interest in us. They were extremely friendly, willing to help us in every way and to show us the inner workings of the monastery. They had considerable influence and through their kindness we met several leading monks and were twice driven in the monastery station wagon over to Yun men Si later in our stay. Each devotee has a "shi-fu" or master who is a spiritual advisor and to whom they give financial gifts. It seems these donations are quite unspecified, no fees are asked, rather one gives whatever one feels is appropriate. Judging by the willingness of the "shi-fus" to help the ladies we had little doubts that the formers' income could be quite substantial. There was no doubt about the genuine devotion of these lay believers to the Dharma, the Precepts, to their teachers and to the ceremonial rituals they enthusiastically supported. While we suspected one monk of avaricious motives, others seemed generous and open hearted in this curiously balanced relationship. We had a problem paying our accommodation bill because the same system operated. It was difficult to get an idea of how much we should pay. Nobody would tell us, saying it was up to us. Using several contrasting modes of assessment we hoped the sum we eventually handed over was appropriate. For groups of tourists there is however another system whereby fees and receipts are exchanged.

One of our charming acquaintances offered to introduce us to her "Shi-fu". One evening therefore we met a burly young monk in his room. As the conversation developed and became a little technical, the ladies excused themselves and left us to it. The Venerable Zhen-de Shi began cautiously but soon began to talk freely as he saw the depth of our interest. He felt that the spiritual condition of the monastery remained poor. It was difficult to get good teaching and although materially the monastery was well off he doubted the quality of life led by the monks. Before meditation could become an important part of monastic life again, proper attention had to be paid to the Precepts, to a compassionate and tolerant life style free from petty corruption.

Yes, the Ch'an Hall was used for meditation and there were serious winter retreats. However less than a quarter of the monks actually used the Ch'an Hall. Most were concerned with other tasks around the monastery and the offering of rituals to supporters. In terms of Ch'an these things could not alone promote much in the way of spiritual development.

This was a Dharma-ending age, Zhen-de told us, and the best one could do was to preserve and perhaps develop basic values. He described how a Korean Master had visited the monastery with a large group of disciples. They had met with the monks for retreat. The teacher had suggested they should all solve the koan "What is it?" and to demonstrate he had held up a cup and shouted "EEEK - This is it! What else?" Zhen-de said that everyone had been confused and that, as head monk at the time, he had had to challenge the Korean master. He argued that such teachings were all very well when many monks were close to enlightenment through intense practice and the influence of great teachers but in China today that was nowhere the case. They had to begin with the fundamental teachings on the spiritual life as enshrined in the Four Vows and the Precepts. Zhen-de had himself undertaken a three year solitary retreat and admitted that where a monk devoted himself to such a practice spiritual discoveries could be made which might provoke the appearance of new enlightened teachers. He added however that things were very "difficult" and we took him to mean that opportunities for serious practice and teaching might be restricted.

I was keen to explore his personal practice. He said he repeated the name of Buddha over and over; "Amitabha Amitabha Amitabha" continuously until a shift in awareness overcame him. I was interested to see this mantric Pure Land practice adopted as the activity in retreat of a Ch'an monk. I enquired whether he ever used the koan "Who is repeating Buddha's name?" He did not reply directly to this, remarking only that the sincere meditative repetition of the name did in itself induce clarity and purity. Master Hsu-yun had also considered such practice important. Zhen-de said it was an effective practice when carried out with devotion.

Some older monks however had koans or other methods which they had used earlier in their lives. Everyone could use their preferred method when sitting in the Ch'an Hall, Zhen-de affirmed. He also remarked that simplicity of mind was an asset and that northern and southern monks differed in this respect. Northerners, among whom he counted himself, come from the poverty stricken regions of China, are used to dogged survival, and make good use of simple practices which work. Southerners, in their agriculturally rich homeland, can be devious, looking for short cuts or using complex methods for which there are no teachers available. The result can be a mental muddle.

The Ch'an Hall at Nan-hua Si lies to one side of the main courtyards in a court of its own. The rooms of the monks are nearby. We sat twice in the cool dim atmosphere of this place. I was inspired to sit in so ancient a hall with five or so ancient monks. One old boy spent most of his time on his seat lolling over in slumber but he had been most annoyed, complaining bitterly, when the young disciplinarian had almost closed the door on him at the start of the hour long session.

The monastic day begins at around five with knocking on a wooden board. This develops gradually until after some forty minutes the great bell begins sounding followed by the drum. Bell and Drum tower thunder forth their messages with increasing sound and speed as the monks and lay practitioners assemble in the Buddha Hall and stand in their respective ranks. In front of the altar a space is left for the leader of the ceremony. On either side of this there are rows of wooden boxes with an inclined top well padded for kneeling. Each person stands behind one. The chanting starts with the monks facing each other across the space. At times they turn towards the altar and bow or kneel on their padded boxes. The monks stand nearest to the Buddhas beaming down mindfully from above: lay practitioners wearing robes are placed at the end of the last row of monks and I was ushered to join them: after that come the laity without robes.

The services early in the morning were deeply impressive. Some old monks had amazing faces like those on ancient Chinese scrolls. I was moved to think of the privations they must have faced during the years of oppression. Young monks behaved with lively discipline not without tricks and teasing as mistakes were made in the conduct of liturgy. On one morning an extraordinary offertory was in progress instead of the normal morning service. A temporary altar covered in gifts of fruit and flowers stood outside the door of the Buddha hall and all the monks and laity faced it. The chanting was rich and finely done, rhythmically accompanied by wooden fish and bells. The donors were led repeatedly around the grand exhibition of their donations. The offering was to the "Heaven of all the Buddhas". I reflected on how strange it was that after years of Communist indoctrination this magnificent ancient ceremony full of religious superstition, the "opium of the people", should be treasured so deeply and offered with such devotion and expense.

Yun-men Monastery

Due to the kindness of our ladies and the willingness of the Guest master to please them, we drove over to Yun-men Si in the new monastery Toyota Landcruiser and, finding the place delectable, decided to return for a stay of several days.

We drove over in the company of a senior Taiwanese monk very neatly dressed in elegant robes. He had a kindly professorial air well used to the deference of his juniors. He was visiting the area to see work being done on monastic buildings being partially financed from Taiwan.

Yun-men Si is laid out in a pattern of courtyards and temples similar to that of Nan-hua Si. As with Nan-hua Si the monastery had been restored from decay through the activity of Master Hsu-yun in the 1930s. He was evidently fond of the place and one of his poems, the characters of which were translated for me by Yan-nang, reads:

Yun-men monastery heaves into viewdeep Buddha's throne in a high mountain. Green fields spread widely, the pine forest glows dark green, deep copper-verdant bowl and red wooden fish are calling, the flying waterfall pushes upwaves singing.Lovely fairyland!Come here to attain the Ch'an mind.      

The monastery was largely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and we were amazed by the scale and the success of the recent reconstruction, a truly vast undertaking. The buildings, in modern materials, lacked the atmosphere of antiquity prevailing at Nan-hua Si but the welcome given us by the Guestmaster and the disciplined seriousness of the monks was very encouraging and we rapidly came to revere the place. We were given a small room with poorly functioning washing facilities. The hot humid air was cooled by a ferocious fan and we missed the quiet air-conditioning of Nan-hua Si. How quickly one becomes spoiled by such luxuries - none of which I had expected when we planned this trip.

The Guestmaster was a young man of charm and energy who, to my surprise, had also undergone training in Tibet for two years. We were able to exchange a few words in Tibetan but our pronunciation differed so greatly and my vocabulary was so small that in no way could be talk directly together. Yan-nang too found his dialect of Mandarin difficult and they took to writing down characters from time to time to make things clear. Ming Shu Shi was a source of joy for with him we were able to talk seriously about meditation training in contemporary China.

The Yun-men school of Ch'an has always been exceptionally disciplined and strict. Master Yun-men was one of the greats among Chinese masters and his inspired teaching, his rough edged methods of investigation and confrontational style still seem to keep the Yun-men monks on their toes. We found that not only was there a scholarly school of Dharma teaching in the monastery but that the Ch'an hall was the active centre for a group of young monks undergoing intensive retreats in winter and, at this season, carrying out regular daily sitting.

There were three sorts of monks at Yun-men Si, the Sutra students in the Dharma school focusing mainly on scholarship, the precept monks who were practitioners of a pure life and sustained the administration and the Ch'an practitioners, specialists in meditation in their search for enlightenment. About a quarter of the monks belonged to this last category but unlike Nan-hua Si they were mostly new recruits and as keen as mustard, well led by men only a few years older than themselves. There were also some remarkable older residents who had survived the cultural revolution. These grand old men often led the ceremonies and their faces, again like those of the ancients depicted on scrolls, carried signs of extreme psychological endurance, courage and a zany kind of wisdom. These elders seemed to do their own practice apart. I spotted one alone in the woods behind the monastery standing by a pool reading a scripture with rapt attention.

I arose early in the mornings and, wearing my robes, attended the morning liturgy. The chanting was more disciplined that at Nan-hua Si and the monks behaved with great decorum. With no comment I was simply placed appropriately in the ceremonial hall in accordance with the robes I wore. No discussion or especial notice was taken of me and again I found this to be a freedom from attention I greatly appreciated. There seemed to be a kind of unspoken respect for everyone's individuality that took the form of simply letting persons be.

Yan-nang and I attended the Ch'an hall regularly. We must admit that this was partly because, due to its air conditioning, the hall was the most pleasant place to be in the hot humid heat of the sticky summer season. As at Nan-hua Si the large hall was square. A long bench extended around its wall and here the monks took their places for meditation. Behind the bench on two sides of the room were raised sleeping platforms for use during intensive retreat. To the right of the entrance was the place for the disciplinarian with bells and clappers for signals set close by. In the centre of the room a statue of the Buddha sat in a glass case and to him one bowed on entry. Behind the Buddha, non-residents, both monks and laity, could find places to sit on either side of a sort of booth for the abbot should he wish to attend. Morning, afternoon and evening sits were being held. As the clappers sounded monks hurried to the hall for fast walking round and round the Buddha. After some twenty minutes, when all the monks were present, clappers sounded and we all halted, going directly to a chosen place. This sorted out who was going to sit where; for there was no other ordering of places. One simply picked a vacant one and collected blankets to act as a cushion and another to cover one's knees. After a pause, sitting in our places with our feet to the ground, there was another ten minutes of walking until the clappers cracked again. This time one carefully arranged ones shoes below the bench and sat facing towards the room with legs crossed in the correct style. Another signal started the session which was to last one hour. The door was shut and bolted with an intimidating crash.

During sitting, a disciplinarian slowly, silently and gracefully circled the room along a marked track about three feet in front of the sitters holding an "incense stick", that is the baton for striking shoulders, high in the air, one end pointing at his ear. Occasionally an individual was struck, seemingly on account of somnolence, but there was no requesting its use on a regular basis. One lad got a fit of giggling and, as he would not shut up, the disciplinarian approached his place, struck the stick on the floor before him three times and the lad had to descend and kneel before the Buddha for about twenty minutes before he was allowed to return thus chastened to his place.

The room, which had been cooled by four large air conditioners during the rapid walking, fell silent as they were turned off and the hall settled into a profound stillness in which an occasional movement or fidgeting could be clearly heard. The muffled sounds of the monastery came in as if from afar through the walls. I found these hours a wonderful experience. To be sitting with the monks under disciplined training in these traditional halls was inspiring. I sat within a deep inner repose and the still happiness of silent illumination grew within me. The hour passed by as if it were only a few minutes and my body never complained at all. Yan-nang was not so fortunate. Troubled by wandering thoughts he found it difficult but, by persistence, he held out without moving for at least half an hour in each sitting. He stretched his legs out for a few moments and then resumed meditation. The disciplinarian did not object and later Yan-nang said he had never sat better.

Yun-men Si is situated at the base of a tall forested mountain and a rushing torrent originating high in the rocky wilderness cascades down one side of the buildings and provides the water supply for the place. Girded by high cliffs and near vertical slopes covered in dense vegetation, the mountain is accessible only along a built path that, starting from an intimidating flight of steps, twists and curls steeply up to a place where a beautiful waterfall drops down a surface of bare cliff.

Yan-nang and I climbed the path:

Bamboo forest

voices sound

in silence.

Between trees

monastic eaves

ripple in green sunshine.

Looking up the steps of the path

disappear in the mountain.

Somewhere near the sky

a waterfall

begins falling from heaven

the torrent filling

a darkening pool

white water

black rock


Clear laughter

people bathing naked

babies pee.

One afternoon we walked to the base of the steps with Ming Shu talking about meditation and the practice of the monks. Again he affirmed that the main method they used was repeating the Buddha's name. I queried whether it might not be better to ask who was doing this repetition and so gain an insight into one's own nature. Ming Shu said that some people might indeed use such a koan but, by using the method he had described, a diligent meditator would in any case eventually perceive the source of repetition in a great limitless space. In this way one discovers the origin, rigpa as the Tibetan say, he told us. But it needed great persistence and his own practice had not yet "shown him the nature." Ming Shu then said something that was to touch me deeply.

"When you practice you need to have great faith in Kuan-yin5. Kuan-yin is universal compassion. While she is simply a symbol, the meaning is profound. When you see her as the kindness of the Universe offering all life's experiences to you then you find gratitude. You cannot be proud at such a moment. This teaching is profound and needs to be the background against which meditation is practised. Otherwise the practice is in danger of becoming something quite mechanical.

"Our problem today is that we lack enlightened masters to guide us. We have to teach from books and from our reading. None the less we have found this allows some progress so we are persisting in our training. Who knows what may turn up?"

During our first exploratory visit Ming Shu had taken us to meet Master Fo-yuan, the aged Abbot of Nan-hua Si who had rooms at Yun-men Si where he often stayed. Ming led us into a large apartment near the buildings of the Dharma School. An old monk was pottering about tidying things. He looked so ordinary and accepted our arrival with so little ceremony that at first we could not suspect this was the great master and abbot himself. None the less he quickly invited us to drink tea while he plied us with questions. Who was our teacher? What was his lineage? How did we practice? How was the Dharma in foreign parts? His main interest was in Master Sheng-yen and he took care to trace out his precise lineage from Master Hsu-yun. Master Sheng-yen is a third generation descendent of Hsu-yun while, at his advanced age, the late eighties, Fo-yuan was a first generation descendant. We were in the presence of the most senior master of Ch'an still living.

Master Fo-yuan had a rather strange presence. At the same time interested and disinterested in us, he had a matter of fact manner, yet he was none the less pleased to hear of the Dharma going to the West. Lacking entirely social graces and mannerisms he spoke to us with great earnestness and directness. His eyes had an unusual brightness and a querying look that suggested a capacity for demanding presence.

Afterwards I thought much about the times he had come through. He had been selected as abbot by lot in 1952 after Master Hsu-yun, who was retiring, had written from Beijing ordering that each of the seventy or so monks be given a lot. The drawing of lots continued for two days with all the monks standing in the front porch of Nan-hua Si. On the third day one name came out three times in a row. It was Fo-yuan to whom Hsu-yun had transmitted the Dharma the year before and who was by far the ablest of the monks. Whether the falling of the lot three times had really been coincidental seems questionable but the choice was considered by all to have been a sound one - made by Wei-to, the monastic guardian, perhaps!6

During the cultural revolution Fo-yuan, together with other senior monks, had experienced not only the desecration of his monastery and severe maltreatment but had also endured the tragic death of his fellow monk and friend Wei-yin (see above p. 35) at the hands of the Red Guards. Then, in recent years and at an advanced age, he had pushed through the most remarkable programme of restoration at both Nan-hua and Yun-men, and was doubtless responsible for the monastic organisation and especially the excellent training now available for the young monks at Yun-men. Yan-nang and I were fortunate to have met such a towering, almost legendary, figure in the renewal of Ch'an in China today.

Yan-nang translated one of Fo-yuan's short poems in praise of the Buddha in the pavilion of the guardians at Nan-hua: Smiling mouthalways openEveryone calls melaughing Buddha.

Sitting shirtless

fat belly on view

Every thing about me

wishes you an easy way.

We repeatedly came across short poems hanging in strings of characters down columns in the monastery and in the pavilions hidden in the bamboo forest behind it. In the Dharma Cloud Pavilion we found the following. On the right hand pillar -

The body is like a cloud

empty come and empty go.

Where then do you find attachment?

and on the left hand side facing it -

The mind is like flowing water

no front

no back

no stop.      

Ming told us that the winter retreat was very demanding lasting for six weeks of intensive effort. It began at 4.45 in the morning and went on till 11 at night. He wrote down the daily schedule for us. It consists of meditation periods divided by periods for talks, short ceremonies, light meals or tea breaks. Meditation periods are preceded by quite long sessions of fast walking around the Buddha. Most sits last a hour but they become shorter in the evening.

I asked whether visitors could sit with the monks on intensive retreat and Ming told us that was possible. Visitors would not be expected to sustain the whole programme but to do as much as they could. Ming welcomed the idea that I should bring a small party of Western sitters to participate in one week of a winter sesshin. So far only a very occasional Westerner visited the monastery and it would be good to have friendly contact with other organisations that took intensive sitting seriously. Retreats are held in winter when the climate is cold, the temperature going down near freezing sometimes at night. Since the monastery is unheated, rooms are cold and the monks wear padded garments. We would have to be properly equipped.

Shyly, Ming mentioned one difficulty. Women were not allowed in the Ch'an hall. It would be possible, however, for them to sit in another room which would be arranged for them. I mentioned that this would not go down well with feminist Buddhists. Ming remarked that at present they felt the essential thing was to restore authentic celibate life as the core of Ch'an monasticism. Once a healthy practice had been revived questions of gender could be reconsidered. He knew of course that outside the monastery walls there was no discrimination between genders in the new China. There was a difficulty here that has been resolved by Master Sheng-yen in Taiwan where monks and nuns in his monastery live together under discipline and attend all functions equally. No doubt these developments will eventually occur in mainland China also but, for the moment, I respect their discretion.

There is certainly an odd paradox here because women are among the most staunch supporters of the monastery. Admittedly their spiritual practices were focused on devotion rather than on the self-confronting tasks of meditation yet devotion, bhakti as the Indians call it, is a very significant aspect of religious life. Each of the monasteries had a nunnery attached and the relations between monks and nuns would form an interesting study. Traditionally nuns focus on the practice of the vows and precepts and there is no Ch'an hall among the buildings used by them. Yan-nang and I visited the nunnery near Nan-hua Si. The modern buildings in traditional style had a gentle charm basking in the late afternoon sunshine. The nuns smiled at us and let us explore the neatly kept buildings. I had the impression that their peaceful spirituality, even without a Ch'an hall, might be on a level equal at least to that of the monks and keyed to a natural humility and simplicity some of the monks seemed to lack.

On our last day some of the Ch'an hall practitioners sought us out for conversations. They had noted that we sat well and this attracted them to us. One of them remarked on the shameful behaviour of the boy who had giggled in the Ch'an hall. I said that Master Sheng-yen taught that a teacher must be hard on a group but understanding of an individual. The monk contemplated this point but then affirmed that at Yun-men there could be no room for lax behaviour. It was a difficult task trying to re-establish the Dharma and the correct practice. Each and every monk had to be dedicated very seriously if the endeavour was to succeed in such changing times. Discipline should be kindly but firmly administered.

Another young monk had been a sailor and had learnt some English which he wanted to try out. He was keen to know how the Dharma was fairing in the West and held the view that a strong western Dharma would help in the restoration of the practice in China where so much had been lost. I was deeply struck by the realism and seriousness of these young men.

Ch'an in contemporary China

Our visits to these monasteries hardly allow an assessment of the re-emergence of Buddhism in China. Certain things are however becoming evident. In Taiwan, Buddhism has become a very strong ethical force and, in Hong Kong too, there is great support for Buddhism. Compared with the alternatives, Communism, Taoism Confucianism and Christianity, Buddhism is winning hands down. When Master Sheng-yen and other major Taiwanese masters give public talks their audiences may run into thousands. While one may query the quality of much of this Buddhism there is a serious core that cannot be denied.

It seems very likely that the effects of the failure of Communism in China have some resemblance to cultural themes arising from the partial demise of Christianity in Europe. In both cases a powerful view of life with strong ethical injunctions has failed to hold the attention of the people and a spiritual vacuum has been created which only materialism and the quest for wealth has filled. This materialism, focusing on fame and gain, is however the root of much social suffering and the divisions between new rich and new poor. It lacks an ethical and a human dimension and no touch of the spirit enlivens it. It is this that Buddhism can supply. The interest in Buddhism in Europe parallels its re-emergence in the countries of its traditional practice.

The ancient superstitious liturgies and ceremonies for the dead touch a deep root in Chinese nature where the importance of the family and respect for ancestors and ancestral tradition form the roots of an enduring Confucian ethic of mutual respect. The magic and mystery of cult Taoism touches simple minds that cannot easily distinguish mummery from spirituality. The mixing of these old rituals with Buddhism provides some with an inner security that the changing times still demand. Sheltering within these trends are the serious questioners who are looking once again at the fundamental roots of Ch'an where the best of Buddhism and Taoism combine. Because these trends enhance social security the government does well to tolerate religious freedom and the restoration of those towering ancient edifices where the roots of religion lie.

Yet the authorities remain ever watchful. The National Buddhist Association of China is formed from representatives from lay and monastic institutions but there is also a strong governmental presence. At the local level the regional government supervises the activities of monasteries and promotes national tourism generating a renewed pride in Chinese culture. Some of the entry fee goes to the local tourist office. The taking of precepts is recognised by the giving of a certificate by the National Buddhist Association but the number of people who may take precepts in a year has been limited.

At the level of our own visit to southern China we saw no evidence of external control on ordinary folk engaged in everyday affairs. People spoke their minds with us freely but did not discuss politics nor did we trouble them with political questions. The result seems a paradoxical co-existence of freedom within a determinedly one-party state. Probably only the ancient Confucian instincts of the Chinese keep this in place. What the role of Buddhism may be in the times to come remains an open question. For now we may rejoice at the new found voice of the Dharma in China.

Postscript in response to Hsu-yun

Dozing in the summer sun

butterflies sip the temple flowers.

Cloud water from the bamboo hills

ripples through courtyards

filling cool pools with limpid clarity.

Soft gong and sudden clapper

call us to the meditation hall.

In dim light stillness falls

distant cicadas humming in the pines.

December 9th 1997            

1       I understand that the original embalmed body was badly damaged in the Cultural Revolution and that the present effigy contains the rescued skeleton.

2       See Wong Mou-lam 1953.The Sutra of Wei-lang (Hui-neng) The Buddhist Society..London.

3       Cheung, R and C.Y.Shakya1993. The Autobiography and Maxims of Master Han Shan. HK.Book Distributor

4       Luk, C.1988. Empty Cloud. The Autobiography of the Chinese Master Hsu-Yun. ( see pxiv,138-139)

5       Kuan-yin is the Chinese female form of Avalokiteshvara, the Indian Bodhisattva of compassion.

6       See Holmes Welch 1967. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism 1900-1950. Harvard East Asian Studies 26. Harvard University Press.Cambridge, Mass. p 169-170


(for Hughie)

High in the hills of Wales

somewhere above Ceredigion

a fenceless gate swings in the wind.

Bold spirit are you?

A rugged glance, good boots or a 4 time 4

and you're away

among sheep and ravens

cloudwise among crags

bogs and sudden mist

a falling white-out

lost in the desert

chilly too


coming down a valley no-one ever saw before

the dead still sing in the Inn

finding a way home not so easy then

they make you welcome - see beer's good

hard to get away and the company cheerful

nothing to worry about - see the view in the rear mirror

mark me fading,

boyo - just you take care in Wales.

fenceless gates swinging

are saying more in the wind

than you take them for. Having another are you?

January 1998