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Remembering Empty Cloud

Ven. Master Jy Din Shakya
with Rev. Ming Zhen Shakya

by Chan Master Jy Din Shakya

Xu Yun is translated into English as
“Empty Cloud”, a translation
which often confuses people. We
all know what a cloud is, but
what, we wonder, is meant by

In Chan (pronounced Jen) or
Zen literature the term “empty”
appears so often and with so many
variations of definition, that I will
begin by trying to clarify its

To be empty means to be empty of ego, to be without any thought of self, not in the sense
that one functions as a vegetable or a wild animal – living things which merely process water, food and sunlight in order to grow and reproduce – but in the sense that one ceases to gauge the
events, the persons, the places, and the things of one’s environment in terms of “I” or “me” or “mine”. A person who is “empty of self” seldom has occasion even to use these pronouns.

Let me be more specific. We have all heard about a parent, or friend, or
lover who claims to be completely unselfish in his love for another. A husband
will say, “I kept nothing for myself. I gave everything to her, my wife.” This
man is not empty. He has merely projected a part of his identity upon another

A person who is truly empty possesses nothing, not even a consciousness
of self. His interests lie not with his own needs and desires, for indeed, he is
unaware of any such considerations, but only with the welfare of others. He does
not evaluate people as being likable or unlikable, worthy or unworthy, or as
useful or useless. He neither appreciates nor depreciates anyone. He simply
understands that the Great Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and
Goodness, dwells within every human being, and it is in the interest of this
Buddha Self that he invests himself.

Attaining such emptiness is never easy. An old Chan story illustrates this:
A Chan Master once undertook the instruction of a novice who was having
great difficulty in detaching himself from the persons of his former, secular life.
“You cannot serve the Dharma until you sever these bonds,” said the Master.
“You must destroy these possessive relationships! Kill them! Regard them as if
they no longer existed!”

The novice asked, “But my parents? Must I slay them, too?”
And the Master replied, “Who are they to be spared?”
“And you, Master,” said the novice, “must I kill you, too?”
And the Master smiled and said, “Don’t worry. There is not enough of me
left for you to get your hands on.”

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