Eunuch Power and the Two Entrances

Ten Eunuchs

The Sweet-Dew Incident

It may sound hard to hear for modern ears that the great Tsung-mi’s downfall was at the hands of Eunuchs. However, these were no namby-pamby fellows that appear in some Mel Brook’s comedy, but rather fierce-warriors that were actually bred for maintaining power and control over the Emperor’s Court.  The year was 835 and Tsung-mi became implicated in what is known as the Sweet-Dew Incident. This involved a failed coup attempt to oust the Eunuch stronghold over the Emperor Wenzong. The main conspirator,  Li Xun, sought refuge in Tsung-mi’s monastery. Apparently, Tsung-mi favored Li Xun’s politics and after shaving his head to resemble one of the monks, granted him sanctuary.  For his action, Tsung-mi was later arrested and even faced possible execution. But once again Tsung-mi’s own powerful presence and powers of persuasion made an impact and his execution was stayed. Peter N. Gregory writes:

Under interrogation Tsung-mi admitted that he was aware of the plot but went on to defend his actions by claiming that the teachings of the Buddha enjoined him to save all who suffer no matter what the circumstances. He added that he did not care for his own life and would rather die with a clean heart. Tsung-mi’s courage in the face of almost certain execution apparently so impressed the eunuch general that he was pardoned. (Gregory, Pg. 86) 

The Final Years 

Tsung-mi never truly recovered from the incident with the eunuchs and was forced to spend his final years in deep seclusion. He did some writing, like the commentary to Yü-lan-p’en ching, but for the most part spent his remaining time in meditation. He actually died in the crossed-legged meditation-posture on February 1, 841. His final request was to have his corpse laid-outside to be consumed by birds, wild animals, and for his bones to be picked clean by assorted vermin. However, his faithful disciples could not bear for this to happen to their beloved master and instead placed his body on display for a short time; afterwards he was cremated and some relics from his body were collected and placed in a special reliquary called the Stupa of the Blue Lotus. Shortly after his death the poet, Chia Tao (779-843) composed the following lament:

Bird tracks among the snow-clad peaks;
With the master’s passing away, who will body forth Ch’an?
Dust on the table has gathered since he entered nirvana;
The color of the trees is different from the time when he was alive.
The storied pagoda faces the wind blowing through the pines;
Traces of his presence linger by the deserted spring.
I sigh only for the tiger listening for the sūtras,
As time and again it comes by the side of the dilapidated hermitage. (Gregory, pg.90)

The Two Entrances 

The career of Tsung-mi is truly astounding.  It would take numerous lifetimes to be able to cover the vast scope of all his writings and their implications for Ch’an Buddhism. Shortly we will be covering several aspects of his magnificent work,  the Chan Prolegomenon—a systematic journey through the predominant pillars of the Ch’an Enterprise—but first we need to draw our attention to the foundation upon which all these Ch’an principles rest: Bodhidharma’s Two Entrances.

Tsung-mi kicked-off his vast series on Ch’an by opening with a transcript, found at the beginning of the Bodhidharma Anthology, on the Two Entrances and the Four Practices. Jeffrey Broughton’s translation begins as follows:

Now, in entering the path there are many roads. To summarize them, they reduce to two types. The first is entrance by principle and the second entrance by practice. Entering the principle means that one awakens to the thesis by means of the teachings, and one deeply believes that all living beings, common and sagely, are identical to the True Nature; that is merely because of the unreal covering of adventitious dust that the True Nature has not revealed. If one rejects the false and reverts to the real and in a coagulated state abides by wall-examining, the self and other, common man and sage, are identical; firmly abiding without shifting, in no way following after the written teachings—this is mysteriously tallying with principle. It is nondiscriminative, quiescent, and inactive; we call it entrance by principle.

Entering by practice means the four practices, for all other practices are included within these. What are the four? The first is the practice of requiting injury; the second is the practice of following conditions; the third is the practice of having nothing to be sought; and the fourth is the practice according with Dharma. (The Bodhidharma Anthology, Jeffrey Broughton, pg. 9-10)

This reveals that Tsung-mi also turned to the greatest Ch’an Master for reinforcement of what the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment perfected: sudden awakening followed by gradual cultivation. Bodhidharma’s entry through principle means directly seeing through the dark principle Itself, via primordial bodhipower, without having to rely on any form of conceptual thinking. This assures proper awakening through the very life-force of the Tathagatas—bodhicitta—which is the Adamantine-Power of the Awakened Unborn Buddha Mind. In this sense one’s mind is stable and Unmoving—AS a wall perceives. This is crucial, because modern zennists oftentimes confuse this as meaning “sitting-down and staring at a wall”, which is utterly false. Entry through practice means a gradual cultivation and Self-realization of Mind.

Breaking-down the practices, the first refers to a willingness to accept all karmic retributions, whether of a past nature or future actions to come. This entails fostering a responsible and mature mind; it takes great courage to be able to accept one’s actions, whether intentional or not—it’s part and parcel of accepting the very much present human-condition. Karma cannot be transcended; it needs to be lived through and responsibly-owned; karmic-actions are learning-experiences which hopefully empowers-one to not repeat past harmful actions. The second practice refers to adapting to those self-created circumstances; of course, this also entails adapting to other’s karmic actions—family, friends, peers, even enemies. This calls one to become aware of those inextricable karmic conditions—to realize that it’s all part and parcel of Dependent Origination; and particularly in our own age, Co-Dependent Originations, those circumstances that keep us addicted to other’s own karmic patterns in unhealthy ways. The third practice, “No-Seeking”, entails not seeking to employ our “false-self-image” in any way, shape, or fashion; it requires a willingness to totally drop any adverse attachments and associations that keeps one in bondage to samsaric-based “identifiers”—of living up to false expectations that we can place on a skandhic-based identity that doesn’t exist in the first place. Practice number Four, “Union with the Buddhadharma”, entails fostering our True-Self identity—Our Authentic Undivided Self-Spirit that is never concerned with any false phenomenal representations that are self-empty and impermanent. This truly entails conducting oneself accordingly and utilizing that Primordial-Principle of Bodhipower in Light of the Buddhadharma in all ways and at all times. The following little video, Samsara Anonymous, is a good expedient tool that depicts, in practical fashion, the adaptation of these practices:

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