The Great Buddha Self – the Great Chan and Zen Master Hsu Yun

Master Hsu Yun was one of the greatest Chan/Zen Masters of our recent times.  He was the holder of 5 Chan lineages and was able to revitalize Buddhism in China.  He was also Patriarch, Master Hsuan Hua’s teacher.

People these days think that the Buddha has no self, they say, “You’ve got to attain the state of no self to be enlightened” – but here is one of the most influential teachers of China, Master Hsu Yun – widely regarded to have been enlightened, teaching about the Great Buddha Self:

Dear friends,

Every human being possesses two self-natures:

  1. An apparent one and
  2. A real one.


  • The apparent one is our small self or ego which is everywhere different from all other small selves;
  • The real one is our Great Buddha Self which is everywhere the same.


  • Our small self exists in the apparent world, the world of Samsara.
  • Our Buddha Self exists in the real world, the world of Nirvana.

Both worlds are located in the same place.

In the Heart Sutra we read, “Form is not different from emptiness and emptiness is not different from form.” Everyone wants to know, “How can Samsara and Nirvana be the same? How can illusion be the same as reality? How can I be me and the Buddha, too?”

These are good questions. Every Buddhist needs to know the answer to them.

The answer lies in the way we perceive reality. If we perceive reality directly, we see it in its Nirvanic purity. If we perceive it indirectly – through our ego consciousness – we see it in its Samsaric distortion.

Why is our view of reality flawed?

Samsara is the world our small self thinks it sees and apprehends with its senses.  Sometimes we just make mistakes.

If a man were walking in the woods and came upon a coil of rope on the path and he thought the rope 11 was a snake, he’d quickly run away. To him that rope was a snake and he’d react accordingly. When he returned home he’d likely tell everyone about that dangerous snake that almost bit him in the woods.

  • His fear was genuine.

  • His reason for being afraid was not.


Empty Cloud:  The Teachings of Xu Yun.  A Rememberance of the Great Chinese Zen Master.  As compiled from the notes and recollections of Jy Din Shakya and related to Chuan Yuan Shakya and Upasaka Richard Cheung.  Chapter 1:  Chan Training, p 11


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