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Huang Po

(Chinese Zen Master, believed to have died around 850A.D.)

 

Huang Po has long been one of my favourite Buddhist sages.   I love the way he expresses his wisdom in very simple prose, without any unnecessary encumbrances.    He goes straight to the heart of existence with the minimum of fuss and never deviates from the core task of stimulating people into enlightenment.    He also keeps his discourse largely free of Buddhist terminology, which is another sign of his mastery.   A class act from beginning to end.

 

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The Zen Teachings of Huang Po

All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists.   This Mind, which is without beginning is unborn and indestructible.   It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance.  It does not belong in the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old.  It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons.  It is that which you see before you - begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error.    It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured.

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If you are not absolutely convinced that the Mind is the Buddha, and if you are attached to forms, practices and meritorious performances, your way of thinking is false and quite incompatible with the Way.   The Mind is the Buddha, nor are there any other Buddhas or any other mind.  It is bright and spotless as the void, having nor form or appearance whatsoever.  To make use of your minds to think conceptually is to leave the substance and attach yourselves to form. Awake only to the One Mind, and there is nothing whatsoever to be attained.   

If you students of the Way do not awaken to this Mind substance, you will overlay Mind with conceptual thought, you will seek the Buddha outside of yourselves, and you will remain attached to forms, pious practices and so on, all of which are harmful and not at all the way to supreme knowledge.

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The substance of the Absolute is inwardly like wood or stone, in that it is motionless, and outwardly like the void, in that it is without bounds or obstructions.  It is neither subjective nor objective, has no specific location, is formless, and cannot vanish.   Those who hasten towards it dare not enter, fearing to hurtle down through the void with nothing to cling to or stay their fall.    So they look to the brink and retreat.  

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All the qualities typified by the great Bodhisattvas are inherent in men and cannot be separated from the One Mind.  Awake to it, and it is there.  You students of the Way who do not awake to this in your own minds, and who are attached to appearances or who seek for something objective outside of your minds, have all turned your backs on the Way.   

This Dharma is Mind, beyond which there is no Dharma.  And this Mind is the Dharma, beyond which there is no mind.  Mind in itself is no mind, yet neither is it no-mind.  To say that Mind is no-mind implies something existent.  Let there be a silent understanding and no more. Away with all thinking and explaining! Then we may say that the Way of Words has been cut off and movements of the mind eliminated.  

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Our original Buddha-Nature is, in highest truth, devoid of any atom of objectivity.  It is void, omnipresent, silent, pure; it is glorious and mysterious peaceful joy - and that is all.  Enter deeply into it by awakening to it yourself.   That which is before you is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete.  There is naught beside.  Even if you go through all the stages of a Bodhisattva's progress towards Buddhahood, one by one; when at last, in a single flash, you attain to full realization, you will only be realizing the Buddha-Nature which has been with you all the time; and by the foregoing stages you will have added nothing to it at all.    You will come to look upon those aeons of work and achievement as no better than unreal actions performed in a dream.

This is why the Tathagata said, "I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled enlightenment."  He also said: "This Dharma is absolutely without distinctions, neither high nor low, and its name is Bodhi."  It is pure Mind, which is the source of everything and which, whether appearing as sentient beings or Buddhas, or as the rivers and mountains of the world which has form, or as that which is formless, or penetrating the whole universe, is absolutely without distinctions, there being no such entities as selfness and otherness. 

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This pure Mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection.  But the people of this world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears feels and knows as mind.  Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source-substance.   If they would only eliminate all conceptual thought in a flash, that source-substance would manifest itself like the sun ascending through the void and illuminating the whole universe without hindrance or bounds.

Therefore, if you students of the way seek to progress through seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing, when you are deprived of your perceptions your way to Mind will be cut off and you will find nowhere to enter.  Only realize that, though real Mind is expressed in these perceptions, it neither forms part of them, nor is separate from them.   You should not start reasoning from these perceptions, nor allow them to give rise to conceptual thought; yet nor should you seek the One Mind apart from them or abandon them in your pursuit of the Dharma.  Do not keep them, nor abandon them, nor dwell in them, nor cleave to them. Above, below and around you, all is spontaneously existing, for there is nowhere which is outside the Buddha-Mind.    

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Suppose a warrior, forgetting he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, were to seek for it elsewhere, he could travel the whole world without finding it.  But if someone who knew what was wrong were to point it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time.

So, if you students of the Way are mistaken about your own real Mind, not recognizing that it is the Buddha, you will consequently look for him elsewhere, indulging in various achievements and practices and expecting to attain realization through such graduated practices.   But even after aeons of diligent searching, you will not be able to attain the Way. These methods cannot be compared to the sudden elimination of conceptual thought, in the certain knowledge that there is nothing at all which has absolute existence, nothing on which to lay hold, nothing on which to rely, nothing in which to abide, nothing subjective or objective.    

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To awaken suddenly to the fact that your own Mind is the Buddha, that there is nothing to be attained or a single action to be performed - this is the Supreme Way; this really is to be a Buddha.  It is only to be feared that you students of the Way, by the coming into existence of a single thought, may raise a barrier between yourselves and the Way.   From thought-instant to thought-instant, no form; from thought-instant to thought-instant, no activity - that is to be a Buddha!    If you students of the Way wish to become Buddhas, you need study no doctrines whatever, but learn only how to avoid seeking for and attaching yourselves to anything.    Where nothing is sought, this implies Mind unborn; where no attachment exists, this implies Mind not destroyed; and that which is neither born nor destroyed is the Buddha.

The eighty-four thousand methods for countering the eighty-four thousand forms of delusion are merely figures of speech for drawing people towards the Gate.  In fact, none of them have real existence.  Relinquishment of everything is the Dharma, and he who understands this is a Buddha, but the relinquishment of ALL delusions leaves no Dharma in which to lay hold.

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Understand the one point, and a thousand others will accordingly grow clear; misunderstand that one and ten thousand delusions will encompass you. He who holds to that one has no more problems to solve.

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Ordinary people look to their surroundings, while follower of the Way look to Mind, but the true Dharma is to forget them both.  The former is easy enough, the latter very difficult.  Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall.  They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma.    This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning, as ancient as the Void, subject to neither birth nor destruction, neither existing nor not existing; neither pure nor impure, neither clamorous nor silent, neither old nor young, occupying no space, having neither inside nor outside, size nor form, colour nor sound.   It cannot be looked for or sought, comprehended by wisdom nor knowledge, explained in words, contacted materially or reached by meritorious achievement.  All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, together with all wriggling things possessed of life, share in this great Nirvanic nature. 

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"Studying the Way" is a figure of speech. It is a method of arousing peoples interest is the early stages of their development. In fact, the Way is not something that can be studied. Study leads to the retention of concepts and so the Way is entirely misunderstood. The fruit of Truth is gained by putting an end to all anxiety; it does not come from book-learning.

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All great men have abandoned learning and have come to rest in spontaneity. They do not think and end in perplexity as do worldly men.

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If the meaning is not brilliantly clear to you, hasten to ask your questions. Do not allow hours to pass you in vain. If you people put your trust in this teaching and act accordingly, without being delivered, I shall gladly take your places in hell for the whole of my existence. If I have deceived you, may I be reborn in a place where lions, tigers and wolves will devour my flesh! But, if you do not put faith in this teaching, and do not practice it diligently, that will be because you do not understand it. Once you have lost a human body, you will not obtain another for millions of aeons. Strive on! Strive on! It is absolutely vital that you come to understand.

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Zen Masters grasp at essentials and gain a direct understanding of the Mind Source. Their methods consist of revealing and hiding, of exposing and covering reality in a criss-cross manner which responds adequately to all the different grades of potentiality for enlightenment. They excel in harmonizing facts with the underlying principle, so that people may suddenly perceive the Tathagata; and by pulling up their deep samsaric roots, they cause their pupils to experience samadhi on the spot.

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That which is called the City of Illusions contains the Two Vehicles, the Ten Stages of a Bodhisattva's Progress, and two forms of Full Enlightenment.  All of them are powerful teachings for arousing people's interest, but they still belong to the City of Illusions.  That which is called the Place of Precious Things is the real Mind, the original Buddha-essence, the treasure of our own real Nature.  These jewels cannot be measured or accumulated.  Yet since there are neither Buddha nor sentient beings, neither subject nor object, where can there be a Place of Precious Things?   If you ask, "Well, so much for the City of Illusions, but where is the Place of Precious Things?", it is a place to which no directions can be given.   For if it could be pointed out, it would be a place existing in space; hence, it would not be the real Place of Precious Things.  All we can say is that it is close by.  It cannot be exactly described, but when you have a tacit understanding of it, it is there. 

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People are often hindered by environmental phenomena from perceiving Mind, and by individual events from perceiving underlying principles; so they often try to escape from environmental phenomena in order to still their minds, or obscure events in order to retain their grasp of principles.  They do not realize that this is merely to obscure phenomena with Mind, events with principles.  Just let your minds become void and environmental phenomena will void themselves; let principles cease to stir and events will cease stirring of themselves.  

Many people are afraid to empty their minds lest they plunge into the Void. They do not know that their own Mind is the void. The ignorant eschew phenomena but not thought; the wise eschew thought but not phenomena. When everything inside and outside, bodily and mental, has been relinquished; when, as in the Void, no attachments are left; when all action is dictated purely by place and circumstance; when subjectivity and objectivity are forgotten - that is the highest form of relinquishment. 

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The way is spiritual Truth and was originally without name or title.   It was only because people ignorantly sought for it empirically that the Buddhas appeared and taught them to eradicate this method of approach.   Fearing that nobody would understand, they selected the name "Way".  You must not allow this name to lead you into forming a mental concept of a road.  So it is said, "When the fish is caught we pay no more attention to the trap".  When body and mind achieve spontaneity, the Way is reached and Mind is understood. 

 If you would spend all your time - walking, standing, sitting or lying down - learning to halt the concept-forming activities of your own mind, you could be sure of ultimately attaining your goal. Since your strength is insufficient, you might not be able to transcend samsara in a single leap; but after five or ten years, you would surely have made a good beginning and be able to make further progress spontaneously. It is because you are not that sort of man that you feel obliged to employ your mind studying the Way". What has all that got to do with Buddhism?

So, just discard all you have acquired as being no better than a bedspread for you when you were sick. Only when you have abandoned all perceptions, there being nothing objective to perceive; only when phenomena obstruct you no longer; only when you have rid yourself of the whole gamut of dualistic concepts of the" ignorant" and" Enlightened" category, will you at last earn the title of Transcendental Buddha.

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These excerpts taken from "The Zen Teachings of Huang Po", translated by John Blofeld.     The book is highly recommended, if you can find it.

 

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