Zen and Science

A Lecture Delivered By Grand Master Shan-Fo

at the National Science Institute, Taiwan, ROC

Since this is the National Science Institute I will emphasize the scientific aspect in my discussion. Cha’n (Zen) is a Dharma gateway that was handed down by Chinese Zen Buddhism. It originated from the teachings given by Buddha Shakyamuni. Cha’n is the Chinese phonetic of the Sanskrit Dhyana. The meaning of Dhyana includes shamatha (calming the mind to get rid off evil), tranquility, and vipashyana (insight, contemplation). The lineage in India was transmitted to the twenty eighth Patriarch Bodhidharma who came to China during the Northern-Southern Period [i.e., 420-588 AD]. Bodhidharma became the first Patriarch of the Zen School in the Chinese tradition.

In general, the Zen school of Buddhism has two Dharma gateways: (1) the Zen of the Patriarch and (2) the Zen of Tathagata. The former is the “Sudden Approach” which has been handed down from generation to generation through heart-to-heart transmission by Patriarchs. The latter is the “Gradual Approach” which provides sentient beings with Buddha’s progressive teachings to allow them to enter into the knowledge and insight of Buddhas and then to regain the true face of the Tathagata, i.e., the attainment of mind-awakening and enlightenment.

For the pious, virtuous practitioners there is the possibility of accomplishing the Sudden realization. For example, Buddha Shakyamuni held a flower in the Vulture Peak Assembly, none among the million attendants understood what Buddha was “saying” except Mahakashyapa who responded with a smile. Buddha said: “I have the pure Dharma-eye treasure, subtle Nirvanic mind teaching, the non-appearances of the true nature of reality, the subtle Dharma gateways. The teaching does not depend on words and writings and is a transmission outside the orthodox teachings. I pass this transmission to Mahakashyapa.” Buddha has the pure Dharma-eye treasure, the subtle mind teaching, that allows sentient beings to actualize Nirvana. It is the true reality of life in the universe. So, there are no appearances that can be seen and there are no words and language that can be used to express it. The teaching passed down to the great disciple Mahakashyapa. This is the beginning of the Zen of the Patriarch [the Sudden Approach]. Bodhidharma came to China and carried on the transmission. There was a similar heart-to-heart transmission when the Chinese Fifth Patriarch Hung-Jen passed down the torch to the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng. Master Hung-Jen expounded the Diamond Sutra to Hui-Neng to the phrase “One should not abide in any attachment and should give rise to such a mind.” Hui-Neng attained sudden realization. That is, he suddenly comprehended the true reality of the universe and realized the true reality of life. He attained the state of mind-awakening and enlightenment. These are many other examples of the Zen of the Patriarch. The Sudden Approach is for those having great wisdom and wholesome root practitioners. The Zen of Tathagata is the Gradual Approach which provides the progressive teachings for practitioners to attain mind-awakening and enlightenment. For example, Mahayana Zengong has Eight Levels of Mind Development and Nine Levels of Physiological Cultivation which give us the systematic, progressive teachings that allow us to regain our inherent face [the Buddha nature].

Today, there are many people practicing various types of Zen, even atheists do so. The purposes for their practices vary and include health, beauty, developing one’s potential, and preventing the stress and associated illnesses of the modern world. That is, the purposes are everything except attaining enlightenment. So, practices for such purposes can very well be classified as Modern Zen.

The advantages of practicing meditation are numerous. For example, through meditation one learns to relieve tension and anxiety so that the whole body becomes relaxed and the mental state becomes peaceful. The illnesses associated with tension and anxiety will automatically be reduced and eventually totally eliminated. In addition, Zen meditation allows one to cultivate and strengthen Chi energy and subsequently transform it to mind energy. As a result, one becomes full of vital, Chi, and spiritual energies. Further, meditation practice permits one to open and clear all Chi channels of the body and also improves one’s metabolism. According to traditional Chinese medicine: “If it [the Chi channels] is clear and open then there will be no pains and aches. If there is pain the Chi channels are not cleared.” This is because if the Chi energy and blood circulation does not flow properly there will be feeling of pain in the beginning. If that gets worse the discomforted area may turn into a tumor and even cancer in the long run. Therefore, those who practice meditation have their Chi energies and metabolism improved. Their health condition improves accordingly. The chances for suffering from any sickness and cancer will obviously be reduced to a minimum. Meditation practice can also develop our wisdom and increase the powers of understanding, creativity, and memory. For these reasons our summer camps for college students and teachers are very popular. Through meditation practice one works to have a calm mind and an even temper. This is one of the reasons that the practice of Zen meditation is a must in the circle of Japanese corporations. It is for the purpose of having a calm, analytical mind so that they can gain an upper hand at the business negotiation table. More business contracts mean more profits.

There are three critical health related issues that face us in the 21st century. Namely, (1) the destruction of ozone layer. This will allow the solar ultraviolet light to reach the surface of earth. There are warnings that after the year 2000, human beings should avoid exposure to the sun for more than two hours a day in order to prevent skin cancer. (2) Aids, the plague of the 21st century, and (3) the detrimental diseases such as cancer, leukemia, ebhola virus and so on. There has yet been no effective medical controls developed to deal with the above diseases so their cure rates are no more than 50% now. All these diseases resulted from the failure of our immune systems. Practicing Zen meditation allows one to strengthen the Chi energy and then one can further open and clear all Chi channels resulting in the improvement of the immune system and resistance to various diseases and virus infections. I believe that meditation will be an integral part of our health care, the cutting edge of health prevention in the 21st century.

In the past thirty years a new field of science called the human life sciences has rapidly developed. There are many such research institutes in the advanced countries such as America, Germany, the former Soviet Union, Japan and China. All institutes have received research funding from their governments. In the 20th century we saw advancement in many areas including the Space sciences and space exploration. But, that has no obvious beneficial effects to the health care of mankind. In the old days, Zen meditation was an auspicious Dharma gateway for practitioners to attain mind awakening and enlightenment, to transcend the three realms and the unending cycles of rebirth, and to regain the true face of the Tathagata (Buddha nature). Nowadays, Zen meditation has been adopted as an alternative means for the improvement of mankind’s well being.

Next, I would like to talk about the relationship between Zen meditation and the philosophy of Buddhism. As mentioned earlier the meaning of Dhyana includes “to get rid off evil”, tranquility, and insight. “To get rid off evil” means to eradicate not only our evil thoughts but also improper thoughts. In other words, keeping away from evil conduct and thought and cherishing good deeds are part of Zen practices. Tranquility and contemplation means quietly, peacefully thinking about and reflecting upon our behavior and conduct. That is, if we have done something improper/wrong we correct it. That is also part of Zen practice. For example, Tsung-Tze, a disciple of Confucius, said: “I reflect upon myself three times a day. Am I doing my best to carry out my duties/promises? Am I faithful to friends? Do I learn what was taught?” Another example, in the book of Great Learning it says: “The Tao (Way) of the great learning is the understanding of the radiant virtue, the caring for people, and the performance of wholesome acts to the fullest. Only knowing quietude can one attain a state of total absorption (one-pointedness). Only knowing absorption can one achieve the state of stillness. Only knowing stillness can one remain in a state of peace. In a state of peace one can contemplate. Through contemplation one can attain results.” Therefore, the practice of quietude, absorption, stillness, peace, and contemplation are also Zen meditation. Meditation on Koans are techniques typically employed in the Zen schools. The three steps in learning, namely, hearing, thinking, and practicing, are also part of the Zen meditation. For example, by hearing explanations of the sutras and then thinking and contemplating their meaning one can fully comprehend the deeper meaning that the physical body is not the true I, the true identity of Self. According to the Buddhist Canon, our Buddha nature is pure and radiant, omnipresent, pervading the Dharmadhatu [universe]. Using the modern scientific terminology, the Buddha nature is in the form of “light,” a form of energy which permeates the whole universe.

How the birth of the physical body and flesh which is composed of six great elements comes into beings? It all started from a thought arisen out of ignorance and eventually we end up trapped in the three realms. So, when Buddha Shakyamuni achieved self realization under the bodhi tree, he proclaimed that “How wonderful! All mountains, rivers, and the great earth possess the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata. It is because of the conceptual thoughts and desirous attachments that they can not attain such a realization. …” What he meant is that everyone and every sentient being including mountains, rivers, and the great earth all have the same characteristic wisdom and virtue as Buddhas. It is because we are deluded that we have strong conceptual thoughts and desirous attachments. Hence we can not realize the fruit of Buddhahood. Therefore, the supreme teachings transmitted by Buddha Shakyamuni are means to eradicate conceptual thoughts and desirous grasping. The Sudden Approach of the Zen school teaches how to eradicate conceptual thinking and desirous clinging in a blink of the eye. That is, a practitioner can attains sudden realization, mind awakening and enlightenment and regain the true face [Buddha nature].

First, we should understand what is our original true face! Then, we should understand how the essence of the universe or the Dharmakaya transforms into the flesh body which consists of the six great elements. Only knowing where we come from could we know how to go back home. For example, it will be a terrible thing if you forget where you home is. So, after the talk where do you go back to? Because of our delusion we do not remember where we come from in the processes of birth. Of course, we do not remember where we “originally” come from. The teachings of mind awakening and enlightenment provided by the Zen school allows us to fully understand the origin of our mind, that is, to understand the fundamental root of mind. Most people have the solid idea of “I” because this is the “I” who knows how to think. Existentialism declares that “I think, so I am.” But, what is the nature of that thing which knows how to think and analyze? Buddha Shakyamuni gave a lengthy discussion about the heart/mind in the Shurangama Sutra. Ananda, the personal attendant of Buddha, had a very difficult time comprehending it. Our heart/mind does not lodge in our physical heart. People survive and their personalities remain intact after heart transplant. Our heart/mind is not located in our brain either. People still retain the ability of thinking and reasoning even after removal of brain tumors and/or a portion of brain tissue. The scientific professions have yet to pin point exactly where the heart/mind is.

The supreme teaching of the Zen school is the “directly pointing to the human mind/heart and seeing the true nature of the mind to become a Buddha.” Buddha Shakyamuni in expounding the Shurangama Sutra stated, “the sentient beings do not attain mind awakening and see their true nature of mind because they do not understand two fundamental roots: first is the fundamental root of primordial Bodhi and second the fundamental root of primordial ignorance. The fundamental root of primordial Bodhi is the Self-nature of Bodhi that is intrinsically possessed by all since the beginningless time. Hui-Neng, the sixth Patriarch of Zen, once said “the Self-nature of Bodhi is intrinsically pure. Just use this [pure] mind and attain the Buddhahood.” In short, everyone of us primordially possesses the Self-nature of Bodhi which is the Buddha’s wisdom and virtue. The fundamental root of primordial ignorance is the minute trace of ignorance that is strongly attached to the idea that the body/flesh is the “I”. Therefore, in our meditation practices, if we can actualize the non-arising and the non-perishing nature of the Bodhi Self-nature (or the Bhutatathata essence), we can then attain realization and regain our true face of the Tathagata at the present moment.

Many Buddhists do not understand these two fundamental roots. So, they dare to make the Bodhichitta vow: to attain the fruit of Buddhahood and to bring sentient beings free from sufferings. In other words, many people also do not understand how the universe was originally formed! Why there exists galaxies, the solar system, the earth, and humans? This is a very difficult problem for Darwinists, anthropologists, biologists and scientists. However, the answer to these questions had been explicitly given in the Buddhist sutras. According to the Bible, for example, there is the Way which co-exists with God before the creation of the universe. God created the universe and everything in seven days. He also used his own image to create humans. The first generation of humans was Adam and Eve. After they ate the forbidden fruit they gave birth to a baby and eventually to the many human races.

Chinese Confucianism and Taoism give a very similar origination, though still a simple one, as how the universe and humans came into being. Contrary to these, Buddhism provides a more detailed, complete picture. According to the different level of teachings the origination of the universe has been expounded as the seven originations: (1) the origination of the Dharmadhatu, (2) the origination of the Bhutatathata, (3) the origination of Alaya-Vijnana, (4) the origination of Manas, (5) the origination of Consciousness, (6) the origination of Karmic Force, and (7) the Origination of Six Great Elements. Brief explanations of each follow.

 

First, the origination of the Dharmadhatu – In the beginning there is the essence of the Universe. It is called the essence of Dharmadhatu. All the galaxies, solar systems, human, and animal kingdoms, i.e., all phenomena and appearances of the Three Realms, are manifested from the essence of the Dharmadhatu.

Second, the origination of the Bhutatathata – As mentioned earlier that everyone of us has the identical Buddha nature, the essence of Bhutatathata, which is inseparable with the Dharmadhatu, the Universe. Therefore, our Bhutatathata is a part of the cosmic Bhutatathata. According to the teachings of Sutrayana, when one attains the fruit of Buddhahood it means that one goes back to the Ocean of Vairochanna’s Bhutatathata. According to the Pureland School it is going back to the Ocean of Amitabha’s Bhutatathata. The Sanskrit meaning of Amitabha is infinite light and limitless life. That is the Universe. The infinite light would span the immense space, and limitless life would be timeless. So, Amitabha is equivalent to the Universe. The dimension and the size of our universe has yet to be determined by the scientific community. In a public address, astronomer Fang Li-Chi was asked two basic questions about our universe. Is it a limited or unlimited universe? Is or is not there a boundary in the universe? Professor Fang answered by saying that our universe is limited yet has no boundary. Through modern observational evidence all astronomic objects are receding and spiralling in astonishing speeds away from the center of the universe. We can not see the edge of the universe even with the largest telescope available today. So, there is no boundary.

Third, the origination of Ignorance – This is also called the origination of Alaya-Vijnana (the king of the eight classes of consciousness). The true nature of our mind is intrinsically pure, clear, and luminous and has pervaded the Dharmadhatu since primordial time. However, due to conceptual ignorance, self-awareness arisen from the mind contains a partial translucent aspect of emptiness which is called the consciousness element. The aspects of brightness and darkness are subsequently formed. That is the eighth consciousness, Alaya-vijnana, which in turn gives rise to all the phenomena and appearances of the Three Realms.

Fourth, the origination of Manas – The seventh consciousness is called Manas. Its main function is discrimination and differentiation of all things. Because of it we developed dualistic concepts and, hence, behaviors of accepting and rejecting, taking and giving, and so on. As a result, we create karma and suffer the consequences, which in turn give rise to all the phenomena and appearances of the Three Realms.

Fifth, the origination of Consciousness – Our Six Sense Faculties (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and consciousness) constantly interact with the Six Sense Objects (form, sound, smell, taste, feel/touch, and mind) to subsequently connect to the six classes of Consciousness (eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness, and mind consciousness). As a result, all the phenomena and appearances of the Three Realms are being created.

Sixth, the origination of Karmic Force – Throughout the endless lifetimes we have regarded the illusory human body as the True Self. Because of that we generated karma which formed the karmic forces. In turn, the karmic dispositions led us to suffer the consequences which caused us to generate further karmas. Therefore, we have been trapped in the endless cycles of birth and death. As a result, all the phenomena and appearances of the Three Realms are being created.

Finally, the Origination of Six Great Elements – The essence of the Dharmadhatu and the universe are inseparable. Because of the arisen conceptual ignorance the Consciousness element arises. The subsequent translucent aspect of the boundless space and sky leads to the generation of the Space (empty) element which possesses both bright and dark aspects. The imbalance between the bright and dark aspects results in the creation of the Wind element. The whirling of the wind leads to the production of the Earth element. The Earth element has various aspects of dense and porous matter which in turn produce the Fire and Water elements. The material world in the Three Realms is thus formed through the origination of the six elements, that is, earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness.

Buddha Shakyamuni called the initial Earth element, the smallest subtle particles, “atom-of-dust,” or “nearest-to-emptiness-dust.” Before the advent of modern science the smallest particle was called ether. Later, it was found that an atom consists of electron, neutron and proton. The Nobel Laureate, Dr. S. C. C. Ting, calls it the J-particles, discovered by a recent international scientific team. Its mass is smaller than that of a proton. It is not certain that this the smallest particle of matter. The whirling and spiraling of the wind element is the basis for the formation and evolution of the stars and galaxies. Following the periods of stabilization and disintegration, the star, galaxy, even the universe will eventually go back to the state of emptiness, only to be repeated by the unending cycles of formation, stabilization, disintegration, and emptiness.

The modern observational findings made by astronomers appear to be in line with the origination of the universe put forth by Buddha Shakyamuni. Of course, there are good reasons behind it. As mentioned, from the earth element the fire and water elements are produced. The fire element relates to things of high density, for example the center of the Earth where the density is extremely high. The magma is the fire element. The sky and the immense space exhibits low density which belongs to the water element.

In summary, the universe is formed from the earth, water, fire, wind, emptiness, and consciousness elements under proper conditions. The disintegration of the six elements causes the universe to march toward destruction and eventually the universe goes back to the state of emptiness. Therefore, we should fully understand the formation and destruction of the universe, the galaxy, the Sun, and the Earth.

 

Meditation practices can offer many inconceivable results to the human life sciences of the 21st century: (1) the development of human potentials to effectively resist all kinds of diseases, various virus infections, and environmental related sicknesses. (2) The transformation of Chi energy to mind energy and super mind energy. The Chi-Kung that we teach provides ways to strengthen our vital life energy. Through meditation cultivation, we develop the ability to use our mind power to impart the vital energy for healing, for example, emission of light energy for blessing or healing sickness. Furthermore, during a deep state of meditation, the brain waves and the conscious mind are in a state of peace and calmness, we can deliver extremely powerful energy [electromagnetic waves] which result from the emanation of light energy through our mind power. A person becomes sick because his/her energy is weak. If we would direct the light energy to the discomforted area of the sick person to energize their energy level, then the negative Chi energy and/or pains of the patient can be effectively removed. The is called remote healing.

By meditation training, one can project their electromagnetic energy to a distance more than ten thousand kilometers away. This also means that this person can perform remote healing to a patient ten thousand kilometers away. The emitting energy field of a practitioner are very much like television channels. The electromagnetic fields do not interact among each others. The energy of the practitioner’s Dharmakaya is like this analogy. Our practitioners have often carried out remote healing for patients in America, Canada, and Mainland China, with beneficial results. This is the important role of meditation practice that will contribute to the welfare of mankind.

The human life sciences will definitely become the cutting edge of science and technology in the 21st century. It is important to incorporate meditation practices as a necessary part of a complete treatment of patients in the age to come. Meditation practices include actively getting rid of bad conduct and cherishing the good deeds, effectively relaxing the body and mind, releasing tensions and pressures, and strengthening the vital life energy. By doing so and with improved medical treatments we can better deal with our health care issues of today and tomorrow. As a result, we will live longer and definitely have a much better quality of life.