Sunday, June 27, 2010

How Ho-shan Mahayana lost?

Recently I have had a chance to read an extract from a memo to the king (written from the view of Ho-shan Mahayana) about the encounter between the Tibetan Buddhists and the Zen Buddhists around 700-800 AD. They met in Lhasa for a debate and the Tibetan Buddhists were represented by Kamalashila and the Zen team leader was not named but it should be one of the Zen patriarch at that time. According to the book, each side regard the other side as heretical. But I am puzzled, why the book said it was the Southern School of Zen that represented Ho-Shan Mahayana, and not the Northern school as I have read elsewhere.

Anyway, according to the extract, it was the leader of Ho-shan Mahayana who invited the Tibetan Buddhists to a debate and he suggested that the Tibetans write their questions and the objections and he will answer them all. In my humble opinion, this was a mistake on the part of Ho-shan Mahayana. By letting the Tibetan masters do the questioning, you have to be as well-read as them to be able to survive their debating and philosophical skills. Unfortunately, in Zen Buddhism, the study of Buddhist texts and ability to debate and knowledge in higher philosophy of Buddhism is not known to be the emphasis of that tradition. Ho-shan was also not very knowledgeable of the Tibetan methods and practices to be able to use that knowledge to make them understand the "sudden" method and techniques. The core of the debate was that the "sudden" method was not a true way as the Tibetans argue that the true path is the gradual path. Ho-shan Mahayana was not able to reconcile the approaches between the sudden and gradual path convincingly.

Anyway, having read his answers to the Tibetan questions, now I know why Ho-shan Mahayana lost in the debate. Even though the "sudden" school lost, there teachings found its way into many Tibetan adherents and acording to the book, some killed themselves after the lost. I have read in the exchange between HH the Dalai Lama and the late Ven. Master Sheng Yen, His Holiness explained that the sudden method is actually a compression of several of the graduated steps. It means several or all the steps happen in quick succession one after another in a very very short period of time (possibly micro thought seconds). No matter how short the period of time these steps took, each and every step were still be traversed by the practitioner and none will be skipped or side-stepped in the path of sudden enlightenment. If that was how Ho-shan Mahayana explained it, he would have won the debate. Unfortunately he didnot, and that was why he lost and the Zen tradition never really took root in Tibet, except for its remnants in the form of tibetan buddhist practice, where it concerns practicing merely no thoughts. If you are interested to read about it, I think the title of the book is "Buddhist scriptures" if I am not mistaken. But I forgot to note who the author/editor/compiler was.

With due respect to Ven. Master Sheng Yen, I think even in that exchange with His Holiness, I donot think he explained it as succinctly as His Holiness who is much more skillful in dharma philosophy and debate. Nevertheless, both sudden and gradual path is not for the practitioner to choose. It not like if you want a sudden enlightenment, you can get it as a matter of pesonal choice alone. It depends on other factors. And it is also not carved in stone that Zen path is definitely a sudden enlightenment path for every of their practitioner and the Tibetan Buddhist definitely a gradualist. No path is for sure.

Looking back, it is because of lack of understanding between both sides that resulted in the debate. Now in the modern era, where travel is easier and books and internet are easily available, we can all learn and appreciate and reconcile each other's path. Most importantly, we can learn from that debate and live in harmony by accepting the path chosen by each other, whether we think it's the right path or the wrong path.

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