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Kannon (Guan Yin)

China, Cont.

The Confucians also mocked the old gods and ridiculed those who continued to believe in them. They regarded all spirits, except those of their own ancestors, as nothing but troublemakers whose communications were prescriptions for discord; but these other gods were precisely those upon whom the poor depended. Ancestor worship entailed enormous expenditures of time and money. Only the rich could afford, for instance, the enforced idleness of the obligatory three year mourning period for a deceased parent or, during livelier days, could pay for the elaborate costumes and costly feasts of ceremonial occasions. Any fool could see how well a properly appeased ancestor provided for his descendants. Common folks who couldn't improve their lots by such progenitorial bribery resented those who could. They continued to look upon the old gods as the great equalizers who would provision and avenge them.

But as war followed war the old gods could not even save themselves. Only the great gods of the four directions and a few of their ladies remained. For the rest of the pantheon, it was Gotterdammerung.

The Zhou dynasty withered and died beneath an impotent sky and catastrophe awaited as even Heaven, itself, seemed to abdicate in favor of a new and venal creed. Legalism had made its terrible appearance.

The Legalists had an entirely different view of the needs and the nature of man. Since people were by nature vicious, lazy, dirty, deceitful and greedy, to mention but a few of their more genial characteristics, and could be managed only by small rewards and big punishments, harsh and frequent discipline was absolutely essential. Only when a man was afraid to do wrong could he be expected to do right.

Therefore, consistency and severity were Legalist operative words: Never fail to apply strict punishment to anyone who breaks the law and there will soon be harmonious order. According to their guide book, the Han Fei Zi, "The severe household has no rebellious slaves; it is the affectionate mother who has spoiled sons. A ruler... does not devote himself to virtue but to law."

Therefore, the king decides what his law should be, proclaims it to as wide an audience as possible and then uses his power to see that it is universally obeyed. Justice was a concept that did not apply to the quality of the law, but to the non-exceptional enforcement of it.

If a righteous state saw a neighbor behaving in an unseemly manner, living, for example, in the corruption of unbridled and indulgent peace, the righteous state was obliged to conquer and correct. A state at remedial war was a virtuous state.

For so long as the Zhou kings had been committed to the delicate ethics of Confucian family welfare, they could hardly condescend to subscribe to such unrefined sentiments. There was, however, at the Middle Kingdom's barbaric far-western frontier, another kingdom which didn't at all mind stooping to conquer.

The Qin (Ch'in) kings had weighed the differing Confucian and Legalist treatises and found the Legalist argument the most gravely to their liking. And as the other states mortally wounded each other, Qin armies advanced to administer the coup de grace. One by one they picked them off until, in 221 B.C. the Qin controlled all of the Middle Kingdom which was now, for the first time, called China - Land of the Ch'in.

The triumphant Qin monarch surveyed his vast, united domain and declared himself Emperor, the first of a dynasty that he estimated would last ten thousand years. It lasted fourteen. But the Emperor Qin Shihuangdi would make the ten of them that he presided over very, very memorable. His name was not to be one of history's footnotes.

The Emperor immediately discarded the old, fractious nobility and their feudal system. Now, individual peasants could own land. The obverse of this coin was that now individual peasants would pay taxes directly to the Emperor's collectors. The aristocratic middleman had successfully been removed.

He also made it possible for a man to rise socially. Any conscripted farmer who displayed uncommon valor on the battlefield was rewarded when he returned home by the gift of five neighboring families.

He kept the streets clean and commercial transactions equitable by punishing such misdemeanors as littering or giving short measure by an array of importunities which included flogging, facial tattooing, mutilation by branding iron, and chopping-off of fingers, hands, feet, or testicles.

He was tougher on felonies. Death came fast by strangulation or decapitation or slow by a variety of ingenious means.

To inspire a winning spirit in his soldiers and to show how little he cared for losers, he ordered, on one ordinary day, the execution of 400,000 prisoners.

He also instituted the practice of collective responsibility. If a crime was serious (and what crime wasn't?) a man's entire family could be charged and exterminated along with him. If, for example, an individual failed to pay his taxes, his entire village could be held accountable. At the very least, the village head was forced to share the guilt. Thus, mutual civilian responsibility provided for mutual civilian surveillance. And if this wasn't enough, and it certainly should have been, to raise the esprit de corps of his tax collectors beyond all conceivable bounds, cash rewards were paid to informants! Think of it! Citizens who would have been happy to squeal just to remove themselves from punitive consideration were able actually to make a buck. In the ancient, vast, and international brotherhood of Internal Revenue Service agents, none has ever had it better.

Preferring to be absolutely certain of a defendant's guilt before they punished him so lavishly, Qin magistrates made confession a vital part of the testimony. Prongs, pincers and other instruments of torture were displayed upon the judge's bench and when confessions were not voluntarily given, the instruments were used. In keeping with the fairness of public trial, the defendant was tortured in full view of his peers. To be certain that witnesses or even the plaintiffs or victims were telling the truth, they, too, could be subject to such pointed interrogations. (The practice of judicial torture was not outlawed in China until the 20th Century.)(Anno Domini)

There was no arguing with the Emperor Qin Shihuangdi. He tolerated no difference of opinion. All books, except Qin history, divination, agriculture and medicine, were rounded up and burned. Anyone who quoted from a banned book was publicly executed. To show his contempt for the allocutions of Confucian scholars, he rounded up hundreds of them and buried them alive.

Even gods were subject to his wrath. Once, while crossing the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River a gale sprang up and defiantly rocked the Emperor's boat. Qin Shihuangdi held the river goddess responsible. Seeing her sacred mountain nearby, he ordered 3,000 prisoners to cut down every tree on the mountain.

Now that he had the attention of his people, the Emperor moved to realize two consuming ambitions: the completion of his tomb and the connection of all the various segments of northern wall into one Great Wall.

Millions of men were dragged from their farms and sent to work either at the northern frontier wall or to his capital city, Xi'an, the location of his tomb.

Multitudes died building the Great Wall. Many men were executed for poor performance. Many were worked into fatal exhaustion. Many were killed in construction accidents. Many succumbed to disease and malnutrition.

At Xi'an, 700,000 men worked on the tomb. They excavated a vast subterranean parade ground and filled it with thousands of full-sized, individually sculpted, clay soldiers and horses that marched eternally to the glory and protection of Qin Shihuangdi. Rivers of mercury flowed through the underground landscape. The gallery's vaulted ceiling was a map of the stars.

The effect of all this conscription was predictable. The number of able-bodied farmers, already critically diminished by years of warfare, was now fur- ther reduced by impressed service at the wall and tomb. With insufficient manpower to operate the farms, the crops failed and in the resultant famine, hundreds of thousands of families starved to death.

Walls do not long impede determined invaders. The Greeks entered Troy. The Germans zipped past the Maginot Line. The Northerners invaded China.

There is a quirk in the human spirit which manifests itself as an inability to see a man's character as being unredeemably corrupt: No man's soul is so inked over by crime but that a white spot remains upon which some exonerating good may be written. It is as if we could balance a tome of iniquity with a phrase of benevolence. Thus, for example, it is said of the leaders of the three axis powers of World War II, Mussolini, Hitler, and Hirohito - three men whose malignant vanity required the torture and murder of millions upon millions of innocent people and the plunder of the accumulated treasuries of whole continents - that they, after all, made the trains run on time, built good roads and inexpensive autos, and wrote excellent haiku poetry.

And so it is said of this beast of ancient China, the Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, this tyrant whose vile ambition brought such unspeakable sorrow to so many millions, that he was, after all, responsible for standardizing the weights and measures of China. Before him, axles were a hodgepodge of differing widths.

We surely should have no difficulty in understanding that while he reigned, life in China was something intelligent men tried to avoid. In fact, for the entire duration of the Warring States period, thoughtful souls of the Middle Kingdom believed that on the whole, they'd rather be elsewhere. Sailing to distant, fabled lands had a definite appeal. So did walking as far as possible. Fortunately, peripatetic members of the intelligentsia did not find themselves without a desirable destination. They turned southward... for down south, in the barbaric lands of the semi-dogs, strange and mysterious things were happening, things that were inviting, intriguing, and wonderfully sanctuarial.

The Dao had found its followers... and northerners went to join the parade.

It is a peculiar fact that whenever anyone speaks of ancient Chinese culture, invariably he speaks of the culture of northern China. It is as if southern lands did not exist until an hour before the northern Chinese discovered them. So easily dismissed is southern culture that even the Dao (Tao), China's greatest gift to religion and to philosophy, is considered an Indian import... a variation of culture expressed originally in the Upanishads. The "Dao" is considered a simple renaming of Brahman's One, Absolute and Ultimate Reality.

But the native populations the Aryans encountered in 1500 B.C. had not confined themselves to the Gangetic plain or delta. They occupied China as well as the Indo-China peninsula. The base upon which 8th Century B.C. India is credited with stamping her metaphysics covered a vast area; and no one can say when or where the doctrines specifically originated or which areas most contributed to their refinement.

We can note the appearance in Daoism's bible, the Dao De Jing (The Way and The Power), of the same union of opposites - the power and the law the power obeys, female and male, earth and sky, dark and light, and so on, which characterized indigenous Indian beliefs at the time of the Aryan invasions. Daoism's Yin and Yang restates this concept.

We can also note that though the 8th Century B.C. Upanishads are regarded as the first formal expression of such "opposed unions", they clearly are not the first written record of them. While the Upanishads continued to be spread only by the vector of memory, the Dao De Jing was being passed in documentary form from hand to hand. The descendants of the Hua knew how to write! If being first to publish counts for anything, the religious copyrights belong to China.

And this was what the Warring Years and Qin Shihuangdi's megalomania accomplished; an exodus of literati! Northern artists of both vision and verse brought their talents and their consummate skills with them and applied these resources to whatever they observed and learned and taught.

Having no need for mnemonic repetitions, they extracted truth's marrow from the bone-dry cadences of scriptural recitations, poetically reconstituted it in brief but haunting lines, and presented it to the public for mass consumption. Daoism's extraordinary accessibility still remains its special genius.

Master calligraphers, with the merest suggestion of line and hint of color, they made profound obeisance to the sheltering landscape's mysteries: mountain, water, tree, tiger and man. And bamboo... always bamboo.

Though no language in the world approaches the philosophical precision of Sanskrit, Indian philosophy, for all this precision, as well as Indian art and poetry, lacks the delicacy and elegant simplicity of expression that is the hallmark of its ancient Chinese counterpart.

The difference in attitude remains striking: where Hinduism beats its breast, Daoism shrugs its shoulders.

As determined by two scholars, one, a legendary 6th Century B.C. spiritual explorer called Lao Zi (Lao Tzu), and the other, a flesh and blood prospector named Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu) (350-275 B.C.), the Dao staked its claim upon the gentle ways of non-attachment, noninterference, of going with the flow, of finding nothing personal in nature's importunities.

Meditation was an essential step in the Dao path. And Dao scripture paid immediate homage to the practice. Meditation, then as now, is a peculiarly ineffable experience. There are no words to describe it simply because meditation is largely a function of the brain's right hemisphere, the hemisphere that does not program words or contain a vocabulary. And so we find in the opening lines of the Dao De Jing, the oldest Dao scripture we have, an acknowledgement of this wordless experience: "The Dao that we can talk about is not the Dao we mean."

The stated object of Dao training remains the creation of an 'Immortal Foetus,' an interior child, called in Western Alchemy 'The Lapis' or 'Child Mercurius'.

The devotee must first attain androgyny, an advanced spiritual state called "the Valley Spirit" or "Mysterious Female" (represented in the Yin/Yang symbol (for men) as the black dot within the white comma and (for women) the white dot within the black.) In western terminology this event is called "Divine Marriage" or "Attaining the Grail" (the search for the blood-filled uterine chalice - hence "Percival" the Questing Knight whose name means "Pierce the Valley"). This quest/event is also illustrated in the famous Oxherding pictures, the Magpie Bridge of Androgyny uniting the Oxherder and the Spinning Maiden, celestially represented as two stars, Al-tair and Vega, within their respective constellations, Aquila and Lyra, which meet on either side of the Milky Way.

The Immortal Foetus or Divine Child is alchemically nourished by the purification of sexual energy. Using techniques similar to those of right-handed sexual yoga, the Dao monk generates heat in his abdomen and groin by using certain breathing exercises, becomes sexually aroused by this heat, gives form to the sexual force by imagining it to be molten ball of metal, restrains his worldly desire to ejaculate his semen by contracting the muscles of the abdomen, buttocks, groin, neck and chin, and mentally directs this 'seminal' fluid ball up the spine and through a bodily orbit where eventually it is distilled in the cauldron (Manipura chakra) and then stored in the brain as a kind of gestating, luminous blue pearl essence. The practice is extremely difficult to master. Needless to say, women have a much easier time in acquiring the necessary control.

During these meditations the monk, in his androgynous "other" identity, enters a visionary world, the sacred but adventurous precincts of the Tushita Heaven.

The gaze of the Daoist is always turned inward to his spiritual life. He is constantly aware of his spiritual relationship to everything in both his waking life and his dream life. Perfection in the techniques of meditation hone his intuitive faculties and give him extraordinary insights. He sees life's essential elements as they exist in pristine form, unsullied by the crimes of ego. Like a child, he has no ego. It has been consumed by the fire.

Southern culture turned out to be one of China's best kept secrets. Owing, perhaps, to the propaganda about the southerners' backward and barbaric natures, nobody in the north seems to have thought that southern lands were worth invading. (No wonder southerners persisted in sacrificing to their canine ancestor. Was it they who planted the story about the king's reward?)

The considerable difference in temperament that existed between northerners and southerners was most likely occasioned by climate. Southerners had not been bred to survive their environment but to accommodate it. They did not live north of Eden's vales: they lived within the sacred precincts. And their gods surely were the effete deities of tropical surplus.

As farmers, they of course studied weather, but their devotion to the Four Directions was far more genteel. Rain was a regular gentleman caller.

Their dispositions, too, had been largely formed by the lay of the land. Over the hard wheatlands of the northern plains, armies could march and horses could gallop. Brutal winters gave men time to suffer and scheme. But in the south where rice was grown in flooded paddy after flooded paddy, armies could not march and horses could not gallop. Water buffalo were prized over horses, and water buffalo were hardly suitable for pulling chariots. In the south, the misty mountains and green valleys were a promulgation of peace.

Why not practice yoga's sublime skills? Why not let the sun and moon cohabit in one's brain and the Milky Way's own semen circulate in one's bloodstream? Why not know ecstasy and bliss and peaceful oneness with the Eternal Dao? Why not, indeed?

And doubtless, that is why, when word of this wonderful religion sizzled like a lit fuse along the Chinese grapevine and many of the Middle Kingdom's thoughtful men and women heard the buzz, they tuned- in, dropped-out, and headed south to the safety and civility of the most beautiful mountains on earth.

The Chinese half of Zen Buddhism was finally in place.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 2: China, Page 3 of 3

Last modified: July 11, 2004
©1996 Ming Zhen Shakya (Chuan Yuan Shakya)