Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Sherlock » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:07 am

Despite being of Chinese ancestry, I have to admit that one reason I was drawn to Vajrayana instead of East Asian Buddhism was the stories of siddhis and the siddhas with those powers. Siddhis are not the main goal of realization of course but I think for me, as well as for many other people, they might serve as motivators. On the flip side, they can serve to turn many people away as well, either because of scepticism or fears of "black magic"; I for one was rather perturbed by some of the amulet practices in Thailand.

Honestly speaking I haven't read much Buddhist literature in Chinese or from a Chinese background, from what little I've seen though, it seems like beyond talking about the innumerable benefits of reciting some dharanis, there is not much in Chinese Buddhism that compares to the siddhis of Vajrayana or the abhijnas of the canon. Are the Chinese more secretive about this?
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:19 am

Japanese Buddhism comes from China.
In Japan there were monks retained for their ability to have a beneficial effect on weather.

In general though, Buddhists are discouraged from bragging about their attainments.
I wouldn't begin to assume that Chinese Buddhists would have any lesser attainments than those of the Tibetan laity.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Sherlock » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:51 am

Laypeople and monastics practicing in Vajrayana don't usually brag about their attainments either. However, there is a long tradition of manifestation of siddhis both in tantric practice manuals as well as in histories (including recent personal accounts). AFAIK, and I am admittedly not that well informed, there doesn't seem to be the same in Chinese Buddhism.

Here and there, I do hear stories about certain monks apparently advising the government about fengshui or disturbances to spirits caused by construction, monks being able to see spirits etc, but I'd like to know more about any available literature on the topic, and whether East Asian Buddhism ever systematized it to the same degree it was in Indo-Tibetan Vajrayana.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby jmlee369 » Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:38 am

One of the widely celebrated (yet controversial) Seon masters of recent Korean history, Kyeong Heo has an interesting tale regarding this. It so happened that his own discple had attained greater siddhis that himself, and so his disciple Man Gong attracted a constant stream of visitors, asking about such things as missing livestock and the like. One day, a novice at the temple went missing, and Kyeong Heo desperately searched for him. Failing to find him, he resorted to asking Man Gong who used his siddhis to find the novice. However, there came a point where Man Gong's constant display of siddhis raised potential problems, so Kyeong Heo asked Man Gong to never do so again, advice which Man Gong followed even at the expense of his own comfort.

More recently, the great grandmother of the great modern Korean master Il Ta displayed such miracles that the entire family of 41 people ordained. The great grandmother in her old age took up the advice of a passing monk to practice the recitation of the Buddha's name single mindedly. This she did, and after several years she attained siddhis as a laywoman. She predicted all kinds of events and prevented several calamities, such as a fire right next to the cotton processing plant of her sons. Eventually, the family became concerned with her displays and requested another master to advise on the situation, after which she no longer showed her siddhis. Upon her passing, her body emitted such powerful light for several days that the townspeople thought a fire was burning down the house. Having witnessed such a miracle, the 41 family members and several slaves ordained among whom Master Il Ta became the most accomplished and renowned.

Furtherback in Korean history, the master Jin Mook was renowned for performing all kinds of miracles. He is said to have come across fishers by a riverbed, and failing to convince them of cause and effect through words, he asked to have some of their fish soup. Having had the soup, he promptly defecated living fish into the river, thereby converting the fishermen.

Also, some interesting relics of a Chinese master: http://slz.goodweb.cn/monk_22.asp
That website features the relics of many, many Chinese practitioners, both lay and ordained.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby icylake » Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:26 am

i've heard, in the seon practice, quite many monks attained that kind of ability, especially, mumungwan(無門關/閉關, isolated/closed retreat)practitioners, in Korean monarstery, if you reached a certain degree, you can enter Mumungwan, an isolated hermitage with tiny room, with the door locked and sealed up to 6years(because Buddha practiced by himself for 6years, and now over 100 monks/nuns are in the mumungwan)

but Korean zen tradition call that kind of abililty gyunggye(境界:boundary of conciousness), that means , has nothing to do with true enlightment, just a kind of Kundalini syndrome, and can display how human ego(kharma)strong is. you can get it through with Hwadu practition, but you can demolish it with Hwadu too. and we can see all of mysterious phnomena many religions tradition boast of, is merely a function of mind, but it's mala. great obstacles for enlightment, so Seong cheol sunim said, most of seon practitioners who came to him to ask Inka and dharma trasmission were trapped in gyunggye, then mistook it for realization, so Kong an interview is very important, Kong an can break down those distorted ego and illusion, and because their ability was attained by means of the function of mind, if they could accept that's not enlightment, that ability will disappear too.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby lobster » Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:14 am

I have never been able to shit fish (for a Lobster it would be a dream come true). :woohoo:
Sounds like a wonderful piece of conjuring. A bit like Sai Baba regurgitating gold eggs. Luckily not really concerned about siddhis. if I get anything really weird I may yawn. :lol:
However I can tell of certain minor abilities that really are not so surprising and I feel many will have experienced. When I was practicing a lot in very cold conditions, a spontaneous tumo emerged. Yesterday I tried a tumo visualization, no luck. Had to put my hands in my pockets to warm them. So that 'siddhi' is gawn - for now.
Another siddhi is being able to sense auras of spiritual people. That too is gone - no real need for it. Surprisingly very 'pure' people are 'shiny' and the highly developed are 'dark'. however that is an aproximation as it is the sense or prescience of light rather than its obvious visual stimulation. Another common 'siddhi' is the presence of calm. This is the same quality the Buddha used to calm a mad elephant, I have nothing like that. However when doing a lot of practice, I do notice people around me becoming very still, calm, placated, relaxed and often for example on the London Tube falling into a very restful sleep . . . big deal. Natural. :smile:
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:20 pm

Sherlock wrote:Laypeople and monastics practicing in Vajrayana don't usually brag about their attainments either. However, there is a long tradition of manifestation of siddhis both in tantric practice manuals as well as in histories (including recent personal accounts). AFAIK, and I am admittedly not that well informed, there doesn't seem to be the same in Chinese Buddhism.


Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that the Vajrayana laity and monastics did brag; only that it'd be hard to find out from a Chinese monk, because they wouldn't necessarily say.
There are a LOT of stories of strange happenings at the deaths of lay Pure Land practitioners.
http://youtu.be/0wZ9uCGZJJw
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Queequeg » Sat Nov 10, 2012 7:01 pm

Sherlock wrote:Despite being of Chinese ancestry, I have to admit that one reason I was drawn to Vajrayana instead of East Asian Buddhism was the stories of siddhis and the siddhas with those powers. Siddhis are not the main goal of realization of course but I think for me, as well as for many other people, they might serve as motivators. On the flip side, they can serve to turn many people away as well, either because of scepticism or fears of "black magic"; I for one was rather perturbed by some of the amulet practices in Thailand.

Honestly speaking I haven't read much Buddhist literature in Chinese or from a Chinese background, from what little I've seen though, it seems like beyond talking about the innumerable benefits of reciting some dharanis, there is not much in Chinese Buddhism that compares to the siddhis of Vajrayana or the abhijnas of the canon. Are the Chinese more secretive about this?


I think the reason you don't hear much about Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism in general is that the main thrust of transmission was Exoteric in nature. Also, particularly with the prevalence of Confucian norms, there is an emphasis on practicality in Buddhist practice with a focus on here and now. To the extent I am aware of siddhis in East Asia, these tend to be associated with Taoist immortals and alchemy. The impulse to pursue paranormal powers in China may have been directed to Taoist practice and learning rather than Buddhism.

Another factor is that Esoteric Buddhism was introduced to China rather late and soon followed by persecutions so this may have prevented Esoteric Buddhism from taking deep root there. In my impression, the traditions that were able to survive were ones that required relatively less elaborate learning and practice - Pure Land and Chan it seems.

All in all, though, I think the practical orientation of the East Asian Mind (if there could be said to be anything of the sort) weighs against interest and development of this sort of tradition.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Rakshasa » Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:33 pm

The whole Chinese Buddhist (usually Shaolin) style martial arts could be counted as a form of lower level Siddhis....you know, monks and martial artists being able to break boulders and rocks, piercing a needle through glass, displaying extraordinary strength for their size and age etc.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Huifeng » Sun Nov 11, 2012 1:47 am

It's not really something for public discussion in Chinese Buddhism. Apart from basic issues of modesty aside, basic bhiksu/ni precepts include false claims to spiritual insight as among the four heavy precepts (parajika). Any claims may lead to doubts, and then accusations of breaking a parajika. That's very serious stuff. However, among close friends and fellow practitioners, free from gossip and focused on the Dharma, such conversation does occur.

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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby JohnRammy » Sun Nov 11, 2012 7:04 pm

Sherlock wrote:Despite being of Chinese ancestry, I have to admit that one reason I was drawn to Vajrayana instead of East Asian Buddhism was the stories of siddhis and the siddhas with those powers.


Vajrayana was huge in China.

Many Chinese emperors became devoted students of Vajrayana.
Everything lacks the identity (atman) imputed by mere conceptual labels.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Huifeng » Mon Nov 12, 2012 1:58 am

JohnRammy wrote:
Sherlock wrote:Despite being of Chinese ancestry, I have to admit that one reason I was drawn to Vajrayana instead of East Asian Buddhism was the stories of siddhis and the siddhas with those powers.


Vajrayana was huge in China.

Many Chinese emperors became devoted students of Vajrayana.


Well, only really during the periods when the emperors were not Han, but mongol, manchu, etc. ie. the Yuan, Qing, ... Some of those images of the Qian Long emperor, for example, a beautiful blend of Tibetan, Manchurian and Han styles and imagery.

There has been a flipping back and forth for over 1000 or so years, now.

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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Kaji » Mon Nov 12, 2012 3:17 am

And some emperors banned the practice of vajrayana among commoners, fearing their siddhi might become too powerful in revolts and civil unrests.
Namas triya-dhvikānāṃ sarva tathāgatānām!
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Sherlock » Mon Nov 12, 2012 3:21 am

JohnRammy wrote:
Sherlock wrote:Despite being of Chinese ancestry, I have to admit that one reason I was drawn to Vajrayana instead of East Asian Buddhism was the stories of siddhis and the siddhas with those powers.


Vajrayana was huge in China.

Many Chinese emperors became devoted students of Vajrayana.


It was never huge among commoners.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Rakshasa » Tue Nov 20, 2012 7:56 am

Vajrayana Buddhism arrived in China (and Japan and South East Asia) much earlier compared to when it was exported to Tibet from India. I doubt that it completely died out in China because a biography of Yogi Chen describes him taking Tantric empowerment from Chinese masters even during the Cultural Revolution.

Vajrayana was also famous in Sri Lanka (lots of Tantric caves have been found) and Indonesia/Malaysia. The highly shamanistic elements (like the Silat "Gurus" and Tenaga-dalam, and mystical arts) in Indonesia and Malaysia were, I believe, directly influenced from Vajrayana - although they have been given Islamic colour by now, at least in cases where there is some room of mutually conformity.

I would distinguish the highly occult siddhis of Vajrayana Buddhism from the general abilities that can be gained from Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. In the latter, one could probably gain the powers of levitation, very long life, form shariras after death, read other's mind, travel to other realms etc. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the Siddhis are mostly results of summoning the power of the spirits, dakinis etc.


For those interested in martial arts, here is an episode that I came to know from somewhere:

When the Chinese immigrants were first shifting to Indonesia and South East Asia in general, there were various martial artists who also went along either for better employment opportunities or were simply invited by other immigrants to teach them martial arts to protect their society from racial oppression by the natives. Among them was the great Southern Shaolin Martial arts master Ven. Sek Koh Sam (Shi Gao Can, look him up on google) who opened various Buddhist temples in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and acted as the head abbot there for many years. To make the story short, when the Native Silat martial arts masters (remember Silat is a result of Tantra, either Hindu or Buddhist) challenged the Chinese immigrant masters for fights, it was found by the Chinese that, despite their great skills, when they went to face their opponents they immediately lost half of their power while standing in front of their opponents in the beginning of the fights. As a result, they lost many fights to the Silat masters. So they went to consult Ven. Sek Koh Sam regarding this matter, and the Abbot directly adviced them to read the Buddha's first Sermon (Dharmachakkaraparivartana/Dhammacakkapavattana Sutra/Sutta) before setting foot towards the challenge venue or at least an hour before the fight (something like that). This worked miraculously and as a result the tricks of the Silat masters no longer worked on the Chinese masters in the subsequent bouts.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby lobster » Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:46 am

Don't forget the boxer rebellions as evidence of siddhis not working in the martial arts . . .
In Asian culture humility is highly Prized, one of the reasons for genuine martial arts and siddhis to be restrained in outward expression.
in the West these things are not so hidden but are equally rare. The greater ones degree of service, the greater ones attainments. most of us want attainments but do not deserve them . . . :tantrum:
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Sherlock » Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:52 am

Rakshasa wrote:Vajrayana Buddhism arrived in China (and Japan and South East Asia) much earlier compared to when it was exported to Tibet from India. I doubt that it completely died out in China because a biography of Yogi Chen describes him taking Tantric empowerment from Chinese masters even during the Cultural Revolution.


I don't know much about him, but he apparently already went to Tibet before the Cultural Revolution; are you sure he received Vajrayana teachings from a Chinese lineage?

There are many modern Chinese claiming to have some long-lost lineage of Vajrayana, most of whom are frauds.

Rakshasa wrote:Vajrayana was also famous in Sri Lanka (lots of Tantric caves have been found) and Indonesia/Malaysia. The highly shamanistic elements (like the Silat "Gurus" and Tenaga-dalam, and mystical arts) in Indonesia and Malaysia were, I believe, directly influenced from Vajrayana - although they have been given Islamic colour by now, at least in cases where there is some room of mutually conformity.


I heard some Buddhist terminology survived in some of these arts like "dharmakaya".

Rakshasa wrote:I would distinguish the highly occult siddhis of Vajrayana Buddhism from the general abilities that can be gained from Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. In the latter, one could probably gain the powers of levitation, very long life, form shariras after death, read other's mind, travel to other realms etc. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the Siddhis are mostly results of summoning the power of the spirits, dakinis etc.


The last part is not really true. The yidam and the practitioner are ultimately not separate, a practitioner who can realise that experientially will have siddhis.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:48 pm

Rakshasa wrote:Vajrayana Buddhism arrived in China (and Japan and South East Asia) much earlier compared to when it was exported to Tibet from India. I doubt that it completely died out in China because a biography of Yogi Chen describes him taking Tantric empowerment from Chinese masters even during the Cultural Revolution.


After Wuzong's great purge of Buddhism in 845 a lot of the traditions like Huayan and the esoteric practice lineages collapsed, though their practices and studies continued on in a lesser capacity.

Even today in mainstream Chinese Buddhism they do various esoteric rites, in particular those prescribed by Amoghavajra. The texts specifically call for initiations as well. There are also mantras. There is just no formal sect or defined lineage for such practices.

There was no sect of Chinese Zhenyan (Shingon) like it developed in Japan, but sectarian thinking was less of an issue in China. They had a practice lineage which Kukai received under Huiguo in the 9th century, though it wasn't a unique institution.
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby icylake » Thu Nov 22, 2012 8:13 pm

Well, only really during the periods when the emperors were not Han, but mongol, manchu, etc. ie. the Yuan, Qing, ... Some of those images of the Qian Long emperor, for example, a beautiful blend of Tibetan, Manchurian and Han styles and imagery.

Hi. huifeng.

i've heard in fact the emperors of Ming dynasty were devout supporters for tibetan buddhism , even when the capital was nanjing(Ying tian fu)there were many tibetan buddhism temples too. after moveing to Beijing, the former capital of Yuan, the situation was more became serious.. yes, but i think they saw the esoteric buddhism as a kind of Taoism(Siddis, fortune, spell)not as a formal buddhism ^^

:namaste:
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Re: Siddhis in East Asian Buddhism

Postby icylake » Thu Nov 22, 2012 8:23 pm

[There was no sect of Chinese Zhenyan (Shingon) like it developed in Japan, but sectarian thinking was less of an issue in China. They had a practice lineage which Kukai received under Huiguo in the 9th century, though it wasn't a unique institution.[/quote]

really? interesting.. because in Korea there was independent esoteric buddhist sect called jin-on(眞言)or shin-on( 神言)or chong-ji( 總持) up to the 16th century when the confucianist government procecuted buddhism. that sect was unificated into Zen school by state.

:meditate:
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