Monday, September 1, 2008

Venerable Yin Shun's Lam Rim text

After being ignorant for a long time, my karma has ripened now and now have met with Ven. Yin Shun’s version of Je Tsongkhapa’s Lam Rim or Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation. I did not know that in the Sutrayana or Paramitayana tradition of Mahayana (or more commonly referred to as Eastern Mahayana), they also have their own Lam Rim. And it is fantastic to know that Ven. Yin Shun had studied many Tibetan texts including Nagarjuna’s and Chandrakirti’s Madhayama texts and Je Tsongkhapa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo. In fact this book – The Way to Buddhahood – was based on Ven. Taixu’s commentaries as well as the Lam Rim Chen Mo. That is why the contents of the book is remarkably similar to the Lam Rim Chen Mo. Ven. Yin Shun even arranged it according to the lower scope, middle scope and higher scope of the Great Vehicle but he expanded the three scopes in a modern context. I did not read all of the book but realized that Ven. Yin Shun’s commentary showed his deep insight towards the various schools of Buddhism and I felt that he particularly understood the “One Buddha Vehicle” concept. In his own words, he tried to “…interconnect all the Buddhist teachings and return them to the One Vehicle”. Some Buddhists only know how to talk about it but he understood it precisely. I find his scholastic ability exceptional and I feel this book is indispensable, especially those in the Chinese Mahayana tradition who wishes to adopt a proper study of the Buddhist path.

However, I take exception to Ven. Yin Shun’s commentary in the Preface, “… Thus in the Dharma common to the lower people, (Tsongkhapa) held that “mindfulness of death” was an important entrance to the Way. Actually, without being mindful of death, one can still practice the good deeds, … Thus, the method for beginners emphasizes both practicing the ten good deeds, (without abandoning the affairs of daily life) and following the right deeds of the Human vehicle to enter the Buddha vehicle, instead of emphasizing practices of renunciation such as mindfulness of death.”

Actually when Tsongkhapa and other Tibetan Masters talked about “renunciation”, they are not referring only to physical renunciation, i.e. “abandoning the affairs of daily life” as Ven. Yin Shun puts it. Tsongkhapa clearly saw the necessity to develop a true understanding of emptiness at least intellectually before embarking on tantric practice. And before one could develop that understanding, Bodhicitta is a necessary ingredient. But before Bodhicitta could develop, developing a mind of renunciation is a pre-requisite. But developing renunciation, is not only becoming monks and nuns or going to the deep jungle or mountains. More importantly, Tsongkhapa was referring to the renunciation of the mind. Only when we have a true appreciation of renunciation, can we truly embark on the ten good deeds and abandoning the ten non-virtuous deeds.

But as a modern Buddhist scholar, I feel Ven. Yin Shun’s emphasis on not abandoning the affairs of daily life is important. In these modern times, it is not uncommon for Buddhists to become disheartened about modern life and think that it is better to just leave the worldly affairs and becoming a monk/nun. Different Buddhist masters have different roles to play at different times. Tsongkhapa’s world was different from Ven. Yin Shun’s. Overall, I think Ven. Yin Shun’s Way to Buddhahood (WTB) is an indispensable guide I would like to have in addition to Lam Rim Chen Mo (LRCM). Some things that are not explained in LRCM are explained in WTB; not because Tsongkhapa donot know about these, but rather Ven. Yin Shun was explaining it from our current contemporary way of practices and modern contexts. Such a Buddhist master like him are a rare gem. I do not know why it took me so long to establish karma with him!?

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