A long commentary like the one in this case was extremely unusual for Yunmen, so obviously he had something to say. I think it’s very relevant to our time and condition, as well as the direction that the dharma is taking in America. He says, “It is well known that silence is a virtue and that clarity is common in these times, and that this generation is living at the end of the imitation period of Buddhism.” The imitation period of Buddhism is one of three periods mentioned in the sutras. The Buddha predicted that the first 500 years of the dharma would be known as the “Age of the True Law.” The next thousand years—which include Yunmen’s lifetime—was called the “Period of Imitation or Counterfeit Law.” During this time, the Buddha said that practitioners would not attend to the dharma seriously, but would simply imitate each other. They would quote the sutras and mouth the teachings, but would not really embody them. The third period, which would last for three thousand years—the period we find ourselves in now—is called the “Decline of the Law” or the “Degenerate period.” According to the traditional definition, this is the period in which people are no longer capable of achieving enlightenment. It is interesting to understand these three periods as a kind of existential commentary within Buddhist philosophy, but we can also see them as a reflection of our inner spiritual condition, which is then reflected in the world by the way we lead our lives. This is another way of saying that religion becomes corrupt because the people within it cease to maintain high spiritual standards. Just look at the state of religion in the world today. War, racism, and sexism are promoted by governments, by institutions, by individuals, as being morally right. Politicians call for peace, equality, and justice, but fail to cultivate the means and methods to achieve it. And so here we are—the degenerate age of Buddhism completely manifest.
Yunmen continues, “So nowadays, when monks go north they call this worshipping Manjushri.” Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, is said to live on Wutai Mountain and during Yunmen’s time, doing a pilgrimage to Wutai was considered a very important and valuable thing to do. “And when they go south they journey to Nanyang.” Nanyang was the place where the National Teacher Nanyang Huizhong came from, and supposedly those who traveled there became enlightened. “People who go on such pilgrimages, though they are called mendicant monks, just squander the alms of the faithful. What a shame! What a shame!” The modern equivalent of these pilgrimages are the twenty-thousand-dollar trips in which a guide—sometimes even a Buddhist teacher—takes a group to Bodhidharma’s cave in China or to visit temples in Japan, India, or Tibet. But what does this mean in terms of the dharma? How does going to Bodhidharma’s cave—if it is indeed his cave—help you to transform the way you live your life and treat other people? How does it empower you?
“When questioned, they turn out to be as ignorant as lacquer is black. They just pass their days following their fancy. Some, who manage to absorb a meager bit of the teachings, then frantically search for someone to approve them.” That’s another practice that is beginning to grow in our country: transmissions between teachers and students who don’t really know each other. It’s like getting a degree from a college you never attended—worse, in fact. “If they manage to get approved as venerable, they immediately see themselves as superior to others, thus creating a karma of separation and misfortune.” Of course, if you haven’t realized yourself, you’re just going to magnify the separation, thinking that somehow you are special, and everybody else is just ordinary.
Don't say, when some day the king of hell, Yama, pins you down, that nobody warned you.” Keep in mind that Yama, the king of hell, is really the karma of our lives, the consequences of our actions.Our actions continually affect our lives. They affect how we see things, how we respond to other people, and they create more karma. Each action becomes a cause which has an effect, and that effect becomes the next cause and that produces an effect and so it goes. “Whether you are an innocent beginner or a seasoned adept, you must show some spirit. Don’t vainly memorize other people’s sayings. A little bit of reality is better than a lot of illusion. Otherwise, you’ll just go on deceiving yourself. What’s the matter with you? Come forward and say a word!” Here Yunmen is challenging us to get real, to practice. Not to talk about it, not to imitate it, not to believe it, not to understand it, but to realize it. Because it is only with realization that transformation occurs.The commentary reads, “Many of the ancient masters maintained a wary and vigilant eye on self-styled and decadent Buddhism.” The teachers in our own lineage were very concerned about what they called buji or self-styled Zen. “Yunmen was teaching during the imitation period of Buddhism. The problem he addresses is even further complicated in this century since we are in the degenerate period of Buddhism. Master Linji warned, “Don’t have your face stamped casually with the seal of sanction and then run around saying ‘I’ve got it.’” Linji is talking about inka, the seal of sanction to teach in the Linji school.