I wish I had the energy and courage of Bill Porter. He just took off to the Chungnan Mountains in China searching for Hermits and found them. Some of the climbs to get to them were excruciating. And he was actually arrested as a spy while taking pictures of a temple.
A few things I want to hold on to:
Difference between Taoism and Buddhism (p. 88):
While Taoists sought to create a deathless body, Buddhists sought liberation from all bodies. Nirvana, it turned out, was not the same as the Taoist goal of immortality. Meditation practices differed too. Taoists reduced their breathing to the barest minimum and concentrated on the circulation and transformation of the body’s inner breath, while Buddhists emphasized regulated breathing and detachment from the workings of the body. Also, Buddhists recognized a commonly held set of rules, or precepts, by which to regulate their conduct, while Taoists, for the most part, pointed themselves in the direction of virtue and otherwise left each other to their own devices.
By the 3rd century, Buddhism was on its own, as Taoists either became converts or rejected what was now branded a foreign faith. Over the following centuries, Buddhism not only flourished but gained new schools of thought and practice which extended it’s appeal to the Chinese. There were 8 major Buddhist schools that flowered in China, 7 of which began in the Chungnan Mountains: Three Treatise, Mind-Only, Precept, Pure Land, Huayen, Tantric and Zen.(The 8th school is Tientai and began on Hengshan and Tientaishan in southern and Eastern China).
The Pureland School was the most important. Instead of teaching that liberation depended solely upon their own effort, the Pure Land doctrine taught faith in the power of Amita Buddha to bring devotees to his paradise, where liberation was more easily attained than in this world of impurity.
Hsu-tung’s (68 year old abbot at Hsiangchi Temple)
Explanation of the Differences between Zen and Pureland (p. 95):
In Zen, we keep asking who’s chanting the name of the buddha. All we think about is where the name of the Buddha is coming from. We keep asking, until we find out who we were before we were born. This is Zen. We sit with one mind. And if the mind runs off somewhere, we follow it wherever it goes, until the mind finally becomes quiet, until there’s no Zen to Zen, no question to question, until we reach the stage where we question without questioning and without questioning we keep questioning. We keep questioning until we finally come to an end, until we can swallow the world, all its rivers and mountains, everything, but the world can’t swallows us, until we can ride the tiger, but the tiger can’t ride us, until we find out who we really are. This is Zen.
In Pure Land practice, we just chant the name of the Buddha, nothing more. We chant with the mind. We chant without making a sound, and yet the sound is perfectly clear. And when we hear the sound, the chant begins again. It goes around and around. The chant doesn’t stop, and the mind doesn’t move. The sound arises, we hear the sound, but our mind doesn’t move. And when our mind doesn’t move, delusions disappear. And once they’re gone, the one mind chants. The result is the same as Zen. Zen means no distinctions. Actually, Pure Land includes Zen, and Zen practice includes Pure Land Practice. If you don’t practice both, you become one-sided.
There is no right or wrong dharma. It’s a matter of aptitude, your connections from past lives. Once people start practicing, they think other kinds of practice are wrong. But all practices are right. It depends on the individual as to which is more appropriate. And all practices are related. They involve each other. They lead us to the same end….
Kumarajiva (p. 98) 344 CE -413 CE wrote translations that sixteen hundred years later remain unsurpassed in both style and phrasing. His Vimilakirti Sutra, Diamond Sutra, and Heart Sutra are the most quoted Buddhist texts in China
Yuan-chao (88 year old nun – hermit by Kunyin Temple)
On Tantric Practice (p. 109) Tantric practice is closer to Zen. It’s the pinnacle of Zen. But it’s not for ordinary people. It’s like flying an airplane. It’s dangerous. Pure Land practice is like driving an ox cart. It’s safe. Anybody can do it. But it takes longer.
When asked to write the essence of Buddhism, Yuan-chao responded: goodwill, compassion, joy, detachment.
Te-ch’eng (69 year old abbot of Chingyeh Temple and Fenge Temple)
On Zen and Pure Land (p. 158): It’s like making a fire. You need more than a spark. You need wood and air too. If one of them is missing, you can’t make fire. It’s the same with enlightenment. It’s a system. All practices are related. You can’t leave one of them out. The mind encompasses everything. You can’t leave anything out. You can’t have anything outside the mind. The mind has to be one. There’s only room for one thought, no delusions, nothing else. In Zen, you have no thought. In Pure Land, you have one thought. They’re both the same. They’re both aimed at showing you who you are.
Ch’en (Taoist abott of Taoist Temple Honoring Lao-mu/Nu-wa) (p. 184): Lao-mu and Nu-wa are just names for the nothingness from which time and space and all creation come. Everything comes from nothing. This is Nu-wa. And everything returns to nothing. This is the Tao. This is my understanding. (Which he claims is different than that of other monks because it doesn’t come from books.)
People lose the Tao when they try to find it. They confuse existence with nonexistence. All we can do is cultivate Te [virtue, spiritual power]. Te includes our spirit, our mind, our thoughts. True Te leads to true Tao. But what most people cultivate isn’t true Te. They cultivate powers and thoughts, and they think they’ve realized the Tao. But they’re wrong. To cultivate true Te is to get rid of all powers and thoughts, to be like a baby, to see without seeing, to hear without hearing, to know without knowing. First you have to cultivate Te. The Tao comes naturally.
Yung (72 year old Taoist monk)
When asked what books on Taoism he liked the most (p. 216): Of course the Taoteching. After Liberation, people criticized the Taoteching a lot. But not now. Now they agree it’s the most profound book in the Taoist canon. Most Taoist books reveal themselves as deep or shallow as soon as you read them. But not the Taoteching. The Taoteching is only for people of deep understanding. It’s not for ordinary people. It was the first Taoist book. After that came Huanti’s Yinfuching, which is even briefer than the Taoteching in explaining the essentials of Taoist philosophy. But the most important, most precious of all Taoist books is the Jade Emperor’s Hsinyiching which is the most essential part of the Huangching.
Chinese saying (p. 220): “The small hermit lives on a mountain. The great hermit lives in a town.”
When Porter was arrested, he said the problem was that the authorities were “somewhat concerned that the purpose of our trip was to talk with people over whom they had no control, no matter that they were harmless hermits.”
The life of the Hermit is fairly amazing. We in the west tend to look down on those who move themselves out of society. But it’s important to know that people can live, and live happily and fully, on almost nothing and with minimal social contact.