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Hui Neng

(Also known as the 6th Patriarch of Ch'an Buddhism, 638 - 713AD)

 

Autobiography

Now let me tell you something about my own life and how I came into possession of the esoteric teaching of the Dhyana School.

My father, a native of Fan Yang, was dismissed from his official post and banished to be a commoner in Hsin Chou in Kwangtung. I was unlucky in that my father died when I was very young, leaving my mother poor and miserable. We moved to Canton and were then in very bad circumstances.

I was selling firewood in the market one day, when one of my customers ordered some to be brought to his shop. Upon delivery being made and payment received, I left the shop, outside of which I found a man reciting a sutra. As soon as I heard the text of this sutra my mind at once became enlightened.

Thereupon I asked the man the name of the book he was reciting and was told that it was the Diamond Sutra. I further enquired whence he came and why he recited this particular sutra. He replied that he came from Tung Ch'an Monastery in the Huang Mei District of Ch'i Chou; that the Abbot in charge of this temple was Hung Yen, the Fifth Patriarch; that there were about one thousand disciples under him; and that when he went there to pay homage to the Patriarch, he attended lectures on this sutra.

He further told me that His Holiness used to encourage the laity as well as the monks to recite this scripture, as by doing so they might realize their own Essence of Mind, and thereby reach Buddhahood directly.

It must be due to my good karma in past lives that I heard about this, and that I was given ten taels for the maintenance of my mother by a man who advised me to go to Huang Mei to interview the Fifth Patriarch. After arrangements had been made for her, I left for Huang Mei, which took me less than thirty days to reach.

I then went to pay homage to the Patriarch, and was asked where I came from and what I expected to get from him.

I replied, "I am a commoner from Hsin Chou of Kwangtung. I have travelled far to pay you respect and I ask for nothing but Buddhahood."

"You are a native of Kwangtung, a barbarian? How can you expect to be a Buddha?" asked the Patriarch.

I replied, "Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature."

He was going to speak further to me, but the presence of other disciples made him stop short. He then ordered me to join the crowd to work.

"May I tell Your Holiness," said I, "that Prajna (transcendental Wisdom) often rises in my mind. When one does not go astray from one's own Essence of Mind, one may be called the 'field of merits'. I do not know what work Your Holiness would ask me to do."

"This barbarian is too bright," he remarked. "Go to the stable and speak no more." I then withdrew myself to the back yard and was told by a lay brother to split firewood and to pound rice.

More than eight months after, the Patriarch saw me one day and said, "I know your knowledge of Buddhism is very sound, but I have to refrain from speaking to you lest evil doers should do you harm. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir, I do," I replied. "To avoid people taking notice of me, I dare not go near your hall."

The Patriarch one day assembled all his disciples and said to them, "The question of incessant rebirth is a momentous one. Day after day, instead of trying to free yourselves from this bitter sea of life and death, you seem to go after tainted merits only (i.e. merits which will cause rebirth). Yet merits will be of no help if your Essence of Mind is obscured. Go and seek for Prajna in your own mind and then write me a stanza about it. He who understands what the Essence of Mind is will be given the robe (the insignia of the Patriarchate) and the Dharma (the esoteric teaching of the Zen school), and I shall make him the Sixth Patriarch. Go away quickly.  Delay not in writing the stanza, as deliberation is quite unnecessary and of no use. The man who has realized the Essence of Mind can speak of it at once, as soon as he is spoken to about it; and he cannot lose sight of it, even when engaged in battle."

Having received this instruction, the disciples withdrew and said to one another, "It is of no use for us to concentrate our mind to write the stanza and submit it to His Holiness, since the Patriarchate is bound to be won by Shen Hsiu, our instructor. And if we write perfunctorily, it will only be a waste of energy."

Upon hearing this all of them made up their minds not to write and said, "Why should we take the trouble? Hereafter, we will simply follow our instructor, Shen Hsiu, wherever he goes, and look to him for guidance."

Meanwhile, Shen Hsiu reasoned thus with himself. "Considering that I am their teacher, none of them will take part in the competition.  I wonder whether I should write a stanza and submit it to His Holiness. If I do not, how can the Patriarch know how deep or superficial my knowledge is? If my object is to get the Dharma, my motive is a pure one. If I were after the Patriarchate, then it would be bad. In that case, my mind would be that of a worldling and my action would amount to robbing the Patriarch's holy seat. But if I do not submit the stanza, I shall never have a chance of getting the Dharma. A very difficult point to decide, indeed!"

In front of the Patriarch's hall there were three corridors, the walls of which were to be painted by a court artist, named Lu Chen, with pictures from the Lankavatara Sutra depicting the transfiguration of the assembly, and with scenes showing the genealogy of the five Patriarchs for the information and veneration of the public.

When Shen Hsiu had composed his stanza he made several attempts to submit it to the Patriarch, but as soon as he went near the hall his mind was so perturbed that he sweated all over. He could not screw up courage to submit it, although in the course of four days he made altogether thirteen attempts to do so.

Then he suggested to himself, "It would be better for me to write it on the wall of the corridor and let the Patriarch see it for himself. If he approves it, I shall come out to pay homage, and tell him that it is done by me; but if he disapproves it, then I shall have wasted several years in this mountain in receiving homage from others which I by no means deserve! In that case, what progress have I made in learning Buddhism?" At 12 o'clock that night he went secretly with a lamp to write the stanza on the wall of the south corridor, so that the Patriarch might know what spiritual insight he had attained.

The stanza read:

Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
And our mind a mirror bright.
Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.

As soon as he had written it he left at once for his room; so nobody knew what he had done. In his room he again pondered: "When the Patriarch sees my stanza tomorrow and is pleased with it, I shall be ready for the Dharma; but if he says that it is badly done, it will mean that I am unfit for the Dharma, owing to the misdeeds in previous lives which thickly becloud my mind. It is difficult to know what the Patriarch will say about it!" In this vein he kept on thinking until dawn, as he could neither sleep nor sit at ease.

But the Patriarch knew already that Shen Hsiu had not entered the door of enlightenment, and that he had not known the Essence of Mind.

In the morning, he sent for Mr. Lu, the court artist, and went with him to the south corridor to have the walls there painted with pictures. By chance, he saw the stanza. "I am sorry to have troubled you to come so far," he said to the artist. "The walls need not be painted now, as the Sutra says, 'All forms or phenomena are transient and illusive.' It will be better to leave the stanza here, so that people may study it and recite it. If they put its teaching into actual practice, they will be saved from the misery of being born in these evil realms of existence. The merit gained by one who practices it will be great indeed!"

He then ordered incense to be burnt, and all his disciples to pay homage to it and to recite it, so that they might realize the Essence of Mind. After they had recited it, all of them exclaimed, "Well done!" At midnight, the Patriarch sent for Shen Hsiu to come to the hall, and asked him whether the stanza was written by him or not.

"It was, Sir," replied Shen Hsiu. "I dare not be so vain as to expect to get the Patriarchate, but I wish Your Holiness would kindly tell me whether my stanza shows the least grain of wisdom."

"Your stanza," replied the Patriarch, "shows that you have not yet realized the Essence of Mind. So far you have reached the 'door of enlightenment', but you have not yet entered it. To seek for supreme enlightenment with such an understanding as yours can hardly be successful.

"To attain supreme enlightenment, one must be able to know spontaneously one's own nature or Essence of Mind, which is neither created nor can it be annihilated. From ksana to ksana (thought-moment to thought-moment), one should be able to realize the Essence of Mind all the time. All things will then be free from restraint (i.e., emancipated). Once the Tathata (Suchness, another name for the Essence of Mind) is known, one will be free from delusion forever; and in all circumstances one's mind will be in a state of 'Thusness'. Such a state of mind is absolute Truth. If you can see things in such a frame of mind you will have known the Essence of Mind, which is supreme enlightenment.

"You had better go back to think it over again for couple of days, and then submit me another stanza. If your stanza shows that you have entered the 'door of enlightenment', I will transmit you the robe and the Dharma."

Shen Hsiu made obeisance to the Patriarch and left. For several days, he tried in vain to write another stanza. This upset his mind so much that he was as ill at ease as if he were in a nightmare, and he could find comfort neither in sitting nor in walking.

Two days after, it happened that a young boy who was passing by the room where I was pounding rice recited loudly the stanza written by Shen Hsiu.   As soon as I heard it, I knew at once that the composer of it has not yet realized the Essence of Mind. For although I had not been taught about it at that time, I already had a general idea of it.

"What stanza is this?" I asked the boy.

"You barbarian," he replied, "don't you know about it? The Patriarch told his disciples that the question of incessant rebirth was a momentous one, that those who wished to inherit his robe and Dharma should write him a stanza, and that the one who had an understanding of the Essence of Mind would get them and be made the sixth Patriarch. Elder Shen Hsiu wrote this 'Formless' Stanza on the wall of the south corridor and the Patriarch told us to recite it. He also said that those who put its teaching into actual practice would attain great merit, and be saved from the misery of being born in the evil realms of existence."

I told the boy that I wished to recite the stanza too, so that I might have an affinity with its teaching in future life. I also told him that although I had been pounding rice there for eight months I had never been to the hall, and that he would have to show me where the stanza was to enable me to make obeisance to it.

The boy took me there and I asked him to read it to me, as I am illiterate. A petty officer of the Chiang Chou District named Chang Tih-Yung, who happened to be there, read it out to me. When he had finished reading I told him that I also had composed a stanza and asked him to write it for me.

"Extraordinary indeed," he exclaimed, "that you also can compose a stanza!"

"Don't despise a beginner," said I, "if you are a seeker of supreme enlightenment. You should know that the lowest class may have the sharpest wit, while the highest may be in want of intelligence. If you slight others, you commit a very great sin."

"Dictate your stanza," said he. "I will take it down for you. But do not forget to deliver me, should you succeed in getting the Dharma!"

My stanza read:

There is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is Empty,
Where can the dust alight?

When he had written this, all disciples and others who were present were greatly surprised. Filled with admiration, they said to one another, "How wonderful! No doubt we should not judge people by appearance. How can it be that for so long we have made a Bodhisattva incarnate work for us?" Seeing that the crowd was overwhelmed with amazement, the Patriarch rubbed off the stanza with his shoe, lest jealous ones should do me injury.

He expressed the opinion, which they took for granted, that the author of this stanza had also not yet realized the Essence of Mind.

Next day the Patriarch came secretly to the room where the rice was pounded. Seeing that I was working there with a stone pestle, he said to me, "A seeker of the Path risks his life for the Dharma. Should he not do so?"  Then he asked, "Is the rice ready?"

"Ready long ago," I replied, "only waiting for the sieve." He knocked the mortar thrice with his stick and left.

Knowing what his message meant, in the third watch of the night I went to his room. Using the robe as a screen so that none could see us, he expounded the Diamond Sutra to me. When he came to the sentence, "One should give rise to the mind that dwells nowhere," I at once became thoroughly enlightened, and realized that all things in the universe are the Essence of Mind itself.

"Who would have thought," I said to the Patriarch, "that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure! Who would have thought that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically free from becoming or annihilation! Who would have thought that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically self-sufficient! Who would have thought that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically free from change! Who would have thought that all things are the manifestation of the Essence of Mind!"

Knowing that I had realized the Essence of Mind, the Patriarch said, "For him who does not know his own mind there is no use learning Buddhism.  On the other hand, if he knows his own mind and sees intuitively his own nature, he is a Hero, a 'Teacher of gods and men', 'Buddha'."

Thus, to the knowledge of no one, the Dharma was transmitted to me at midnight, and consequently I became the inheritor of the teaching of the 'Sudden' School as well as of the robe and the begging bowl.

"You are now the Sixth Patriarch," said he. "Take good care of yourself, and deliver as many sentient beings as possible. Spread and preserve the teaching, and don't let it come to an end. Take note of my stanza:

Sentient beings who sow the seeds of enlightenment
In the field of causation will reap the fruit of Buddhahood.
Inanimate objects empty of Buddha-nature
Sow not and reap not.

He further said, "When the Patriarch Bodhidharma first came to China, most Chinese had no confidence in him, and so this robe was handed down as a testimony from one Patriarch to another. As to the Dharma, this is transmitted from heart to heart, and the recipient must realize it by his own efforts. From time immemorial it has been the practice for one Buddha to pass to his successor the quintessence of the Dharma, and for one Patriarch to transmit to another the esoteric teaching from heart to heart. As the robe may give cause for dispute, you are the last one to inherit it. Should you hand it down to your successor, your life would be in imminent danger. Now leave this place as quickly as you can, lest someone should do you harm."

"Whither should I go?" I asked.

"At Huai you stop and at Hui you seclude yourself," he replied.

Upon receiving the robe and the begging bowl in the middle of the night, I told the Patriarch that, being a Southerner, I did not know the mountain tracks, and that it was impossible for me to get to the mouth of the river (to catch a boat). "You need not worry," said he. "I will go with you." He then accompanied me to Kiukiang, and there ordered me into a boat. As he did the rowing himself, I asked him to sit down and let me handle the oar.

"It is only right for me to carry you across," he said (an allusion to the sea of birth and death which one has to go across before the shore of Nirvana can be reached).

To this I replied, "While I am under illusion, it is for you to get me across; but after enlightenment, I should cross it by myself.   As I happen to be born on the frontier, even my speaking is incorrect in pronunciation, (but in spite of this) I have had the honour to inherit the Dharma from you. Since I am now enlightened, it is only right for me to cross the sea of birth and death myself by realizing my own Essence of Mind."

"Quite so, quite so," he agreed. "Beginning from you the Dhyana School will become very popular. Three years after your departure from me I shall leave this world. You may start on your journey now. Go as fast as you can towards the South. Do not preach too soon, as Buddhism is not so easily spread."

After saying good-bye, I left him and walked towards the South. In about two months' time, I reached the Ta Yu Mountain. There I noticed that several hundred men were in pursuit of me with the intention of robbing me of my robe and begging bowl.

Among them there was a monk named Hui Ming, whose lay surname was Ch'en. He was a general of the fourth rank in lay life. His manner was rough and his temper hot. Of all the pursuers, he was the most vigilant in search of me. When he was about to overtake me, I threw the robe and begging bowl on a rock, saying, "This robe is nothing but a symbol. What is the use of taking it away by force?"  I then hid myself.

When he got to the rock, he tried to pick them up, but found he could not. Then he shouted out, "Lay Brother, Lay Brother, (for the Patriarch had not yet formally joined the Sangha) I come for the Dharma, not for the robe." Whereupon I came out from my hiding place and squatted on the rock.

He made obeisance and said, "Lay Brother, preach to me, please."

"Since the object of your coming is the Dharma," said I, "refrain from thinking of anything and keep your mind blank. I will then teach you." When he had done this for a considerable time, I said, "When you are thinking of neither good nor evil, what is at that particular moment, Venerable Sir, your real nature (literally, original face)?"

As soon as he heard this he at once became enlightened. But he further asked, "Apart from those esoteric sayings and esoteric ideas handed down by the Patriarch from generation to generation, are there any other esoteric teachings?"

"What I can tell you is not esoteric," I replied. "If you turn your light inwardly, you will find what is esoteric within you."

"In spite of my staying in Huang Mei," said he, "I did not realize my self-nature. Now thanks to your guidance, I know it as a water-drinker knows how hot or how cold the water is. Lay Brother, you are now my teacher."

I replied, "If that is so, then you and I are fellow disciples of the Fifth Patriarch. Take good care of yourself." In answering his question whither he should go thereafter, I told him to stop at Yuan and to take up his abode in Meng. He paid homage and departed.

Sometime after I reached Ts'ao Ch'i. There the evildoers again persecuted me and I had to take refuge in Szu Hui, where I stayed with a party of hunters for a period as long as fifteen years.

Occasionally I preached to them in a way that befitted their understanding.

They used to put me to watch their nets, but whenever I found living creatures therein I set them free. At meal times I put vegetables in the pan in which they cooked their meat. Some of them questioned me, and I explained to them that I would eat the vegetables only, after they had been cooked with the meat.

One day I thought to myself that I ought not to pass a secluded life all the time, and that it was high time for me to propagate the Dharma. Accordingly I left there and went to the Fa Hsin Temple in Canton.

At that time Bhikkhu Yin Tsung, Master of the Dharma, was lecturing on the Maha Parinirvana Sutra in the Temple. It happened that one day, when a pennant was blown about by the wind, two Bhikkhus entered into a dispute as to what it was that was in motion, the wind or the pennant. As they could not settle their difference I submitted to them that it was neither, and that what actually moved was their own mind. The whole assembly was startled by what I said, and Bhikkhu Yin Tsang invited me to take a seat of honor and questioned me about various knotty points in the Sutras.

Seeing that my answers were precise and accurate, and that they showed something more than book-knowledge, he said to me, "Lay Brother, you must be an extraordinary man, I was told long ago that the inheritor of the Fifth Patriarch's robe and Dharma had come to the South. Very likely you are the man."

To this I politely assented. He immediately made obeisance and asked me to show the assembly the robe and the begging bowl which I had inherited.

He further asked what instructions I had when the Fifth Patriarch transmitted me the Dharma.

"Apart from a discussion on the realization of the Essence of Mind," I replied, "he gave me no other instruction, nor did he refer to Dhyana and Emancipation."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because that would mean two ways," I replied. "And there cannot be two ways in Buddhism. There is one way only."

He asked what was the only way. I replied, "The Maha Parinirvana Sutra which you expound explains that Buddha-nature is the only way. For example, in that Sutra King Kao Kuei-Teh, a Bodhisattva, asked Buddha whether or not those who commit the four acts of gross misconduct [killing, stealing, carnality and lying] or the five deadly sins [patricide, matricide, setting the Buddhist Sangha in discord, killing an Arhat, and causing blood to flow from the body of a Buddha], and those who are icchantika (heretics) etc., would eradicate their 'element of goodness' and their Buddha-nature.

Buddha replied, 'There are two kinds of 'element of goodness', the eternal and the non-eternal. Since Buddha-nature is neither eternal nor non-eternal, therefore their 'element of goodness' is not eradicated. Now Buddhism is known as having no two ways. There are good ways and evil ways, but since Buddha-nature is neither, therefore Buddhism is known as having no two ways. From the point of view of ordinary folks, the component parts of a personality (skandhas) and factors of consciousness (dhatus) are two separate things: but enlightened men understand that they are not dual in nature. Buddha-nature is non-duality."

Bhikkhu Yin Tsung was highly pleased with my answer. Putting his two palms together as a sign of respect, he said, "My interpretation of the Sutra is as worthless as a heap of debris, while your discourse is as valuable as genuine gold." Subsequently he conducted the ceremony of hair-cutting for me (i.e., the ceremony of Initiation into the Sangha) and asked me to accept him as my pupil.

Thenceforth, under the Bodhi-tree I preached the teaching of the Tung Shan School (the School of the Fourth and the Fifth Patriarchs, who lived in Tung Shan).

Since the time when the Dharma was transmitted to me in Tung Shan, I have gone through many hardships and my life often seemed to be hanging by a thread.  Today, I have had the honor of meeting you in this assembly, and I must ascribe this to our good connection in previous kalpas (cyclic periods), as well as to our common accumulated merits in making offerings to various Buddhas in our past reincarnations; otherwise, we should have had no chance of hearing the above teaching of the 'Sudden' School, and thereby laying the foundation of our future success in understanding the Dharma.

This teaching was handed down from the past Patriarchs, and it is not a system of my own invention. Those who wish to hear the teaching should first purify their own mind, and after hearing it they should each clear up their own doubts in the same way as the Sages did in the past."

At the end of the address, the assembly felt rejoiced, made obeisance and departed.

 

Some Teachings of Hui Neng:

The wisdom of enlightenment is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and the guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our own Essence of Mind. You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between an enlightened man and an ignorant one. What makes the difference is that one realizes it, while the other is ignorant of it.

Those who recite the word 'Prajna' the whole day long do not seem to know that Prajna is inherent in their own nature. But mere talking on food will not appease hunger, and this is exactly the case with these people. We might talk on Emptiness for myriads of kalpas, but talking alone will not enable us to realize the Essence of Mind, and it serves no purpose in the end.

The word 'Mahaprajnaparamita' is Sanskrit, and means 'great wisdom to reach the opposite shore' (of the sea of existence). What we have to do is to put it into practice with our mind; whether we recite it or not does not matter. Mere reciting it without mental practice may be likened to a phantasm, a magical delusion, a flash of lightning or a dewdrop. On the other hand, if we do both, then our mind will be in accord with what we repeat orally.

Our very nature is Buddha, and apart from this nature there is no other Buddha.

 

***

What is Maha? It means 'great'. The capacity of the mind is as great as that of space. It is infinite, neither round nor square, neither great nor small, neither green nor yellow, neither red nor white, neither above nor below, neither long nor short, neither angry nor happy, neither right nor wrong, neither good nor evil, neither first nor last. All Buddha-Lands are as empty as space. Intrinsically our transcendental nature is empty and not a single dharma (thing, phenomena) can be attained. It is the same with the Essence of Mind, which is a state of "Absolute Emptiness" - that is, emptiness of form.

When you hear me talk about Emptiness, do not at once fall into the idea of vacuity as this would involve the heresy of the doctrine of annihilation. It is of the utmost importance that we should not fall into this idea, because when a man sits quietly and keeps his mind blank he will only be abiding in a state of indifference.

The illimitable Emptiness of the universe is capable of holding myriads of things of various shape and form, such as the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, rivers, men, dharmas pertaining to goodness or badness, deva planes, hells, great oceans, and all the mountains of the Mahameru.

Space takes in all of these, and so does the emptiness of our nature. We say that the Essence of Mind is great because it embraces all things, since all things are within our nature. When we see the goodness or the badness of other people we are not attracted by it, nor repelled by it, nor attached to it; so that our attitude of mind is as empty as space. In this way, we say our mind is great. Therefore we call it 'Maha'.

What the ignorant merely talk about, wise men put into actual practice with their mind. There is also a class of foolish people who sit quietly and try to keep their mind blank. They refrain from thinking of anything and call themselves 'great'. On account of their heretical view we can hardly talk to them.

You should know that the mind is very great in capacity, since it pervades the whole Universe. When we use it, we can know something of everything, and when we use it to its full capacity we shall know all. All in one and one in all.

When our mind works without hindrance, and is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go', then it is in a state of 'Prajna'.    All Prajna comes from the Essence of Mind and not from an exterior source. Have no mistaken notion about that. This is called 'Self-use of the True Nature'. Once the the Essence of Mind is known, one will be free from delusion forever.

What is Prajna? It means 'Wisdom'. If at all times and at all places we steadily keep our thought free from foolish desire, and act wisely on all occasions, then we are practicing Prajna. One foolish notion is enough to shut off Prajna, while one wise thought will bring it forth again.

People in ignorance or under delusion do not see it; they talk about it with their tongues, but in their minds they remain ignorant. They are always saying that they practice Prajna, and they talk incessantly on 'Emptiness'; but they do not know the "Absolute Emptiness".   The heart of wisdom is Prajna, which has neither form nor characteristic. If we interpret it in this way, then indeed it is the wisdom of Prajna.

What is Paramita? It is a Sanskrit word, meaning 'to the opposite shore'. 

Figuratively, it means 'above existence and non-existence'. By clinging to sense objects, existence or non-existence arises like the up and down of the billowy sea.  Such a state is called metaphorically 'this shore'; while by non-attachment a state above existence and non-existence, like smoothly running water is attained, and this is called 'the opposite shore'. This is why it is called 'Paramita'.

People under illusion recite the 'Mahaprajnaparamita' with their tongues, and while they are reciting it, erroneous and evil thoughts arise. But if they put it into practice unremittingly, they realize its 'true nature'. To know this Dharma is to know the Dharma of Prajna, and to practice this is to practice Prajna. He who does not practice it is an ordinary man.

A foolish passing thought makes one an ordinary man, while an enlightened second thought makes one a Buddha. A passing thought that clings to sense-objects is klesa, while a second thought that frees one from attachment is Bodhi.

The Mahaprajnaparamita is the most exalted, the supreme, and the foremost. It neither stays, nor goes, nor comes.    By means of it Buddhas of the present, the past, and the future generations attain Buddhahood. We should use this great wisdom to break up the five skandhas [material qualities - matter, sensation, perception, dispositions or tendencies, and consciousness] and ensure the attainment of Buddhahood.

Those who understand this Dharma will be free from idle thoughts. To be free from being infatuated by one particular thought, from clinging to desire, and from falsehood; to put one's own essence of Suchness into operation; to use Prajna for contemplation, and to take an attitude of neither indifference nor attachment towards all things - this is what is meant by realizing one's own Essence of Mind for the attainment of Buddhahood.

***

The Prajna immanent in the Essence of Mind of everyone may be likened to the rain, the moisture of which refreshes every living thing, trees and plants as well as sentient beings. When rivers and streams reach the sea, the water carried by them merges into one body; this is another analogy.

When rain comes in a deluge, plants which are not deep-rooted are washed away, and eventually they succumb. This is the case with the slow-witted, when they hear about the teaching of the 'Sudden' School.

The Prajna immanent in them is exactly the same as that in the very wise man, but they fail to enlighten themselves when the Dharma is made known to them. Why? Because they are thickly veiled by erroneous views and deep-rooted defilements, in the same way as the sun may be thickly veiled by a cloud and unable to show his light until the wind blows the cloud away.

Prajna does not vary with different persons; what makes the difference is whether one's mind is enlightened or deluded. He who does not know his own Essence of Mind, and is under the delusion that Buddhahood can be attained by outward religious rites is called the slow-witted. He who knows the teaching of the 'Sudden' School and attaches no importance to rituals, and whose mind functions always under right views, so that he is absolutely free from defilements or contaminations, is said to have known his Essence of Mind.

The mind should be framed in such a way that it will be independent of external or internal objects, at liberty to come or go, free from attachment and thoroughly enlightened without the least beclouding. He who is able to do this is of the same standard required by the Sutras of the Prajna School.

Without enlightenment there would be no difference between a Buddha and other living beings; while a gleam of enlightenment is enough to make any living being the equal of a Buddha. Since all Dharmas are immanent in our mind there is no reason why we should not realize intuitively the real nature of Suchness.

When we use Prajna for introspection we are illumined within and without, and in a position to know our own mind. To know our mind is to obtain liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain Samadhi of Prajna, which is 'thoughtlessness'. What is 'thoughtlessness'? 'Thoughtlessness' is to see and to know all Dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere.  When our mind works freely without any hindrance, and is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go', we attain Samadhi of Prajna, or liberation. Such a state is called the function of 'thoughtlessness'. But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.

Those who understand the way of 'thoughtlessness' will know everything, will have the experience all Buddhas have had, and attain Buddhahood.   Listen to this stanza:

A master of the Buddhist Canon as well as of the teaching of the Dhyana School
May be likened unto the blazing sun sitting high in his meridian tower.
Such a man would teach nothing but the Dharma for realizing the Essence of Mind,
And his object in coming to this world would be to vanquish the heretical sects.

We can hardly classify the Dharmas into 'Sudden' and 'Gradual',
But some men will attain enlightenment much quicker than others.
For example, this system for realizing the Essence of Mind
Is above the comprehension of the ignorant.
We may explain it in ten thousand ways,
But all those explanations may be traced back to one principle.

To illumine our gloomy tabernacle, which is stained by defilement,
We should constantly set up the Light of Wisdom.
Erroneous views keep us in defilement
While right views remove us from it,
But when we are in a position to discard both of them
We are then absolutely pure.

Bodhi is immanent in our Essence of Mind,
Any attempt to look for it elsewhere is erroneous.
Within our impure mind the pure one is to be found,
And once our mind is set right,
We are free from the three kinds of beclouding (hatred, lust and illusion).

If we are treading the Path of Enlightenment
We need not be worried by stumbling-blocks.
Provided we keep a constant eye on our own faults
We cannot go astray from the right path.
Since every species of life has its own way of salvation
They will not interfere with or be antagonistic to one another.
But if we leave our own path and seek some other way of salvation
We shall not find it,
And though we plod on till death overtakes us
We shall find only penitence in the end.

If you wish to find the true way
Right action will lead you to it directly;
But if you do not strive for Buddhahood
You will grope in the dark and never find it.

When neither hatred nor love disturb our mind
Serenely we sleep.
Those who intend to be the teachers of others
Should themselves be skilled in the various expedients which lead others to enlightenment.
When the disciple is free from all doubts
It indicates that his Essence of Mind has been found.

The Kingdom of Buddha is in this world,
Within which enlightenment is to be sought.
To seek enlightenment by separating from this world
Is as absurd as to search for a rabbit's horn.
Right views are called 'transcendental';
Erroneous views are called 'worldly'.
When all views, right or erroneous, are discarded
Then the essence of Bodhi appears.

 

***

In my system (Dhyana), Samadhi and Prajna are fundamental. But do not be under the wrong impression that these two are independent of each other, for they are inseparably united and are not two entities.

Samadhi is the quintessence of Prajna, while Prajna is the activity of Samadhi. At the very moment that we attain Prajna, Samadhi is therewith; and vice versa. If you understand this principle, you understand the equilibrium of Samadhi and Prajna. A disciple should not think that there is a distinction between 'Samadhi begets Prajna' and 'Prajna begets Samadhi'.

To hold such an opinion would imply that there are two characteristics in the Dharma.

To what are Samadhi and Prajna analogous? They are analogous to a lamp and its light. With the lamp, there is light. Without it, it would be darkness. The lamp is the quintessence of the light and the light is the expression of the lamp. In name they are two things, but in substance they are one and the same. It is the same case with Samadhi and Prajna.

To practice the 'Samadhi of Specific Mode' is to make it a rule to be straightforward on all occasions - no matter whether we are walking, standing, sitting or reclining. The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra says, "Straightforwardness is the holy place, the Pure Land." Don't let your mind be crooked and practice straightforwardness with your lips only. We should practice straightforwardness and should not attach ourselves to anything.

People under delusion believe obstinately in Dharmalaksana (things and form) and so they are stubborn in having their own way of interpreting the 'Samadhi of Specific Mode', which they define as 'sitting quietly and continuously without letting any idea arise in the mind'. Such an interpretation would rank us with inanimate objects, and is a stumbling block to the right Path which must be kept open.

Should we free our mind from attachment to all 'things', the Path becomes clear; otherwise, we put ourselves under restraint.    Some teachers of meditation instruct their disciples to keep a watch on their mind for tranquility, so that it will cease from activity.  Henceforth the disciples give up all exertion of mind.  Ignorant persons become insane from having too much confidence in such instruction. Such cases are not rare, and it is a great mistake to teach others to do this.

In orthodox Buddhism the distinction between the 'Sudden' School and the 'Gradual' School does not really exist; the only difference is that by nature some men are quick-witted, while others are dull in understanding. Those who are enlightened realize the truth in a sudden, while those who are under delusion have to train themselves gradually. But such a difference will disappear when we know our own mind and realize our own nature.

Therefore these terms, gradual and sudden, are more apparent than real.

All things - good or bad, beautiful or ugly - should be treated as empty. Even in time of disputes and quarrels we should treat our intimates and our enemies alike and never think of retaliation. In the exercise of our thinking faculty, let the past be dead. If we allow our thoughts, past, present, and future, to link up in a series, we put ourselves under restraint. On the other hand, if we never let our mind attach to anything, we shall gain emancipation.

For this reason, we take 'Non-attachment' as our fundamental principle.

Our mind should stand aloof from circumstances, and on no account should we allow them to influence the function of our mind. But it is a great mistake to suppress our mind from all thinking; for even if we succeed in getting rid of all thoughts, and die immediately thereafter, still we shall be reincarnated elsewhere. Mark this, treaders of the Path. It is bad enough for a man to commit blunders from not knowing the meaning of the Dharma, but how much worse would it be to encourage others to follow suit? Being deluded, he sees not and in addition he blasphemes the Buddhist Canon.

Therefore we take 'Idea-lessness' as our object.

Let me explain more fully why we take 'Idea-lessness' as our object. It is because there is a type of man under delusion who boasts of the realization of the Essence of Mind; but being carried away by circumstances, ideas rise in his mind, followed by erroneous views which are the source of all sorts of false notions and defilements. In the Essence of Mind (which is the embodiment of emptiness), there is intrinsically nothing to be attained.

To say that there is attainment, and to talk thoughtlessly on merits or demerits are erroneous views and defilements. For this reason we take 'Idealessness' as the object of our School.

When we speak of 'Idea-lessness', what should we get rid of and what should we fix our mind on? We should get rid of the 'pairs of opposites' and all defiling conceptions. We should fix our mind on the true nature of Tathata (Suchness), for Tathata is the quintessence of idea, and idea is the result of the activity of Tathata.

 

***

In our system of meditation, we neither dwell upon the mind (in contradistinction to the Essence of Mind) nor upon purity. Nor do we approve of non-activity. As to dwelling upon the mind, the mind is primarily delusive; and when we realize that it is only a phantasm there is no need to dwell on it. As to dwelling upon purity, our nature is intrinsically pure; and so far as we get rid of all delusive 'idea' there will be nothing but purity in our nature, for it is the delusive idea that obscures Tathata (Suchness). If we direct our mind to dwell upon purity we are only creating another delusion, the delusion of purity. Since delusion has no abiding place, it is delusive to dwell upon it. Purity has neither shape nor form; but some people go so far as to invent the 'Form of Purity',and treat it as a problem for solution. Holding such an opinion, these people are purity-ridden, and their Essence of Mind is thereby obscured.

What is sitting for meditation? In our School, to sit means to gain absolute freedom and to be mentally unperturbed in all outward circumstances, be they good or otherwise. To meditate means to realize inwardly the imperturbability of the Essence of Mind. 

What are Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and Samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed.

When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace. Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in.

He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi.

To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi. The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, "Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure."   Let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practice it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort. 

***

We vow to deliver an infinite number of sentient beings of our mind. We vow to get rid of the innumerable defilements in our own mind. We vow to learn the countless systems in Dharma of our Essence of Mind. We vow to attain the Supreme Buddhahood of our Essence of Mind.

Learned Audience, all of us have now declared that we vow to deliver an infinite number of sentient beings; but what does that mean? It does not mean that I, Hui Neng, am going to deliver them. And who are these sentient beings within our mind? They are the delusive mind, the deceitful mind, the evil mind, and such like minds - all these are sentient beings. Each of them has to deliver himself by means of his own Essence of Mind. Then the deliverance is genuine. Now, what does it mean to deliver oneself by one's own Essence of Mind? It means the deliverance of the ignorant, the delusive, and the vexatious beings within our own mind by means of Right Views.

With the aid of Right Views and Prajna-Wisdom the barriers raised by these ignorant and delusive beings may be broken down; so that each of them is in a position to deliver himself by his own efforts. Let the fallacious be delivered by rightness; the deluded by enlightenment; the ignorant by wisdom; and the malevolent by benevolence. Such is genuine deliverance.

As to the vow, 'We vow to get rid of the innumerable evil passions in the mind,' it refers to the substitution of our unreliable and illusive thinking faculty by the Prajna-Wisdom of our Essence of Mind.

As to the vow, 'We vow to learn countless systems of Dharmas,' there will be no true learning until we have seen face to face our Essence of Mind, and until we conform to the orthodox Dharma on all occasions.

As to the vow, 'We vow to attain Supreme Buddhahood,' when we are able to bend our mind to follow the true and orthodox Dharma on all occasions, and when Prajna always rises in our mind, so that we can hold aloof from enlightenment as well as from ignorance, and do away with truth as well as falsehood, then we may consider ourselves as having realized the Buddha-nature, or in other words, as having attained Buddhahood.

***

What is the Perfect Sambhogakaya? Let us take the illustration of a lamp. Even as the light of a lamp can break up darkness which has been there for a thousand years, so a spark of Wisdom can do away with ignorance which has lasted for ages. We need not bother about the past, for the past is gone and irrecoverable. What demands our attention is the future; so let our thoughts from moment to moment be clear and round, and let use see face to face our Essence of Mind.

To realize our own Essence of Mind from moment to moment without intermission until we attain Supreme Enlightenment, so that we are perpetually in a state of Right Mindfulness, is the Sambhogakaya. Now, what is the Myriad Nirmanakaya? When we subject ourselves to the least discrimination of particularization, transformation takes place; otherwise, all things remain as empty as space, as they inherently are. By dwelling our mind on evil things, hell arises. By dwelling our mind on good acts, paradise appears. Dragons and snakes are the transformation of venomous hatred, while Bodhisattvas are mercy personified. The upper regions are Prajna crystallized, while the underworld is only another form assumed by ignorance and infatuation. Numerous indeed are the transformations of the Essence of Mind! People under delusion awake not and understand not; always they bend their minds on evil, and as a rule practice evil. But should they turn their minds from evil to righteousness, even for a moment, Prajna would instantly arise.

***

Upon the Patriarch's return to the village of Ts'ao Hou in Shao Chou from Huang Mei, where the Dharma had been transmitted to him, he was still an unknown figure, and it was a Confucian scholar named Liu Chih-Lueh who gave him a warm welcome. Chih-Lueh happened to have an aunt named Wu Chin-Tsang who was a bhikkhuni (a female member of the Sangha), and used to recite the Maha Parinirvana Sutra. After hearing the recitation for only a short while the Patriarch grasped its profound meaning and began to explain it to her.

Whereupon, she picked up the book and asked him the meaning of certain words. "I am illiterate," he replied, "but if you wish to know the purport of this work, please ask."

"How can you grasp the meaning of the text," she rejoined, "when you do not even know the words?"

To this he replied, "The profundity of the teachings of the various Buddhas has nothing to do with the written language." 

This answer surprised her very much, and realizing that he was no ordinary bhikkhu, she made it widely known to the pious elders of the village.

***

To let not a passing thought rise up is 'mind'. To let not the coming thought be annihilated is Buddha. To manifest all kinds of phenomena is 'mind'. To be free from all forms (i.e., to realize the unreality of phenomena) is Buddha. If I were to give you a full explanation, the topic could not be exhausted even if I took up the whole of one kalpa.

***

Bhikkhu Chih Ch'ang, a native of Kuei Ch'i of Hsin Chou, joined the Sangha in his childhood, and was very zealous in his efforts to realize the Essence of Mind. One day, he came to pay homage to the Patriarch, and was asked by the latter whence and why he came.

"I have recently been to the White Cliff Mountain in Hung Chou," replied he, "to interview the Master Ta T'ung, who was good enough to teach me how to realize the Essence of Mind and thereby attain Buddhahood. But as I still have some doubts, I have travelled far to pay you respect. Will you kindly clear them up for me, Sir."

 "What instruction did he give you?" asked the Patriarch.

"After staying there for three months without being given any instruction, and being zealous for the Dharma, I went alone to his chamber one night and asked him what was my Essence of Mind. 'Do you see the illimitable emptiness?' he asked. 'Yes, I do,' I replied. Then he asked me whether emptiness had any particular form, and when I said that emptiness is formless and therefore cannot have any particular form, he said, 'Your Essence of Mind is like emptiness. To realize that nothing can be seen is right seeing.  To realize that nothing is knowable is true knowledge. To realize that it is neither green nor yellow, neither long nor short, that it is pure by nature, that its quintessence is perfect and clear, is to realize the Essence of Mind and thereby attain Buddhahood, which is also called the Buddha-knowledge.   As I do not quite understand his teaching, will you please enlighten me, Sir."

"His teaching indicates," said the Patriarch, "that he still retains the arbitrary concepts of views and knowledge, and this explains why he fails to make it clear to you. Listen to my stanza:

To realize that nothing can be seen but to retain the concept of 'invisibility'
Is like the surface of the sun obscured by passing clouds.

To realize that nothing is knowable but to retain the concept of 'unknowability'
May be likened to a clear sky disfigured by a lightning flash.

To let these arbitrary concepts rise spontaneously in your mind
Indicates that you have misidentified the Essence of Mind,
and that you have not yet found the skilful means to realize it.

If you realize for one moment that these arbitrary concepts are wrong,
Your own spiritual light will shine forth permanently.

Having heard this Chih Ch'ang at once felt that his mind was enlightened.

 ***

One day, Chih Ch'ang asked the Patriarch, "Buddha preached the doctrine of 'Three Vehicles' and also that of a 'Supreme Vehicle'. As I do not understand this, will you please explain?"

The Patriarch replied, "In trying to understand these, you should introspect your own mind and act independently of things and phenomena. The distinction of these four vehicles does not exist in the Dharma itself but in the differentiation of people's minds. To see, to hear, and to recite the sutra is the small vehicle.

"To know the Dharma and to understand its meaning is the middle vehicle.  To put the Dharma into actual practice is the great vehicle. To understand thoroughly all Dharmas, to have absorbed them completely, to be free from all attachments, to be above phenomena, and to be in possession of nothing, is the Supreme Vehicle.

"Since the word 'yana' (vehicle) implies 'motion' (i.e., putting into practice), argument on this point is quite unnecessary. All depends on self-practice, so you need not ask me any more.  But I may remind you that at all times the Essence of Mind is in a state of Thusness."

Chih Ch'ang made obeisance and thanked the Patriarch.

***

Bhikkhu Chih Tao, a native of Nan Hai of Kwang Tung, came to the Patriarch for instruction, saying, "Since I joined the Sangha I have read the Maha Parinirvana Sutra for more than ten years, but I have not yet grasped its main idea. Will you please teach me?"

"Which part of it do you not understand?" asked the Patriarch.

"It is about this part, Sir, that I am doubtful: 'All things are impermanent, and so they belong to the Dharma of becoming and cessation (i.e., Samskrita Dharma). When both becoming and cessation cease to operate, the bliss of perfect rest and cessation of changes (i.e., Nirvana) arises.'"

"What makes you doubt?" asked the Patriarch.

"All beings have two bodies - the physical body and the Dharmakaya," replied Chih Tao. "The former is impermanent; it exists and dies. The latter is permanent; it knows not and feels not. Now the Sutra says, 'When both becoming and cessation cease to operate, the bliss of perfect rest and cessation of changes arises.' I do not know which body ceases to exist and which body enjoys the bliss. It cannot be the physical body that enjoys, because when it dies the four material elements (i.e., earth, water, fire and air) will disintegrate, and disintegration is pure suffering, the very opposite of bliss. If it is the Dharmakaya that ceases to exist, it would be in the same state as 'inanimate' objects, such as grass, trees, stones etc.; who will then be the enjoyer?

"Moreover, Dharma-nature is the quintessence of 'becoming and cessation', which manifests as the five skandhas. That is to say, with one quintessence there are five functions. The process of 'becoming and cessation' is everlasting. When function or operation arises from the quintessence, it becomes; when the operation or function is absorbed back into the quintessence, it ceases to exist. If reincarnation is admitted, there would be no 'cessation of changes', as in the case of sentient beings. If reincarnation is out of the question, then things will remain forever in a state of lifeless quintessence, like inanimate objects. If this is so, then under the limitations and restrictions of Nirvana even existence will be impossible to all beings; what enjoyment could there be?"

"You are a son of Buddha, (a bhikkhu)," said the Patriarch, "so why do you adopt the fallacious views of Eternalism and Annihilationism held by the heretics, and criticize the teaching of the Supreme Vehicle? "Your argument implies that apart from the physical body there is a Dharma body (Dharmakaya); and that 'perfect rest' and 'cessation of changes' may be sought apart from 'becoming and cessation'.

"Further, from the statement, 'Nirvana is everlasting joy,' you infer that there must be somebody to play the part of the enjoyer. "Now it is exactly these fallacious views that make people crave for sensate existence and indulge in worldly pleasure. It is for these people, the victims of ignorance, who identify the union of five skandhas as the 'self', and regard all other things as 'not-self' (literally, outer sense objects); who crave for individual existence and have an aversion to death; who drift about in the whirlpool of life and death without realizing the hollowness of mundane existence, which is only a dream or an illusion; who commit themselves to unnecessary suffering by binding themselves to the wheel of re-birth; who mistake the state of everlasting joy of Nirvana for a mode of suffering, and who are always after sensual pleasure; it is for these people that the compassionate Buddha preached the real bliss of Nirvana.

"At any one moment, Nirvana has neither the phenomenon of becoming, nor that of cessation, nor even the ceasing of operation of becoming and cessation. It is the manifestation of 'perfect rest and cessation of changes', but at the time of manifestation there is not even a concept of manifestation; so it is called the 'everlasting joy' which has neither enjoyer nor non-enjoyer.

"There is no such thing as 'one quintessence and five functions' (as you allege), and you are slandering Buddha and blaspheming the Dharma when you state that under such limitation and restriction of Nirvana existence is impossible to all beings. Listen to my stanza:

The Supreme Maha Parinirvana
Is perfect, permanent, calm, and illuminating.
Ignorant people miscall it death,
While heretics hold that it is annihilation.
Those who belong to the Sravaka Vehicle
Or the Pratyeka Buddha Vehicle Regard it as 'Non-action'.
All these are mere intellectual speculations,
And form the basis of the sixty-two fallacious views.
Since they are mere fictitious names invented for the occasion
They have nothing to do with the Absolute Truth.

Only those of super-eminent mind
Can understand thoroughly what Nirvana is,
And take up the attitude of neither attachment nor indifference towards it.
They know that five skandhas
And the so-called 'ego' arising from the union of these skandhas,
Together with all external objects and forms
And the various phenomena of sound and voice
Are equally unreal, like a dream or an illusion.

They make no discrimination between a sage and an ordinary man.
Nor do they have any arbitrary concept on Nirvana.
They are above 'affirmation' and 'negation'
And they break the barrier of the past, the present, and the future.
They use their sense organs, when occasion requires,
But the concept of 'using' does not arise.

Even during the cataclysmic fire at the end of a kalpa,
When ocean-beds are burnt dry,
Or during the blowing of the catastrophic wind
When one mountain topples on another,
The real and everlasting bliss of 'perfect rest' and 'cessation of changes'
Of Nirvana remains in the same state and changes not.

Here I am trying to describe to you something which is ineffable
So that you may get rid of your fallacious views.
But if you do not interpret my words literally
You may perhaps learn a wee bit of the meaning of Nirvana!

Having heard this stanza, Chih Tao was highly enlightened. In a rapturous mood, he made obeisance and departed.

***

Let your mind be in a state such as that of the illimitable emptiness, but do not attach it to the idea of 'vacuity'. Let it function freely. Whether you are in activity or at rest, let your mind abide nowhere. Forget the discrimination between a sage and an ordinary man. Ignore the distinction of subject and object. Let the Essence of Mind and all phenomenal objects be in a state of Thusness. Then you will be in samadhi all the time.

***

A bhikkhu quoted the following stanza composed by Dhyana Master Wo Lun:

Wo Lun has ways and means
To insulate the mind from all thoughts
When circumstances do not react on the mind
The Bodhi tree will grow steadily.

Hearing this, the Patriarch said, "This stanza indicates that the composer of it has not yet fully realized the Essence of Mind. To put its teaching into practice (would gain no liberation), but bind oneself more tightly." Thereupon, he showed the Bhikkhu the following stanza of his own:

Hui Neng has no ways and means
To insulate the mind from all thoughts.
Circumstances often react on my mind,
And I wonder how can the Bodhi tree grow?

*** 

Making obeisance a second time, Chi Ch'eng remarked, "Though I have studied Buddhism for nine years under the Grand Master Shen Hsiu, my mind has not yet been awakened for enlightenment. But as soon as you speak to me my mind is enlightened. As the question of incessant rebirths is a momentous one, please take pity on me and give me further instruction."

"I understand," said the Patriarch, "that your teacher gives his disciples instructions on Sila (disciplinary rules), Dhyana (meditation), and Prajna (Wisdom). Please tell me how he defines these terms."

 "According to his teaching," replied Chi Ch'eng, "to refrain from all evil actions is Sila, to practice whatever is good is Prajna, and to purify one's own mind is Dhyana. This is the way he teaches us. May I know your system?"

"If I tell you," said the Patriarch, "that I have a system of Dharma to transmit to others, I am cheating you. What I do to my disciples is to liberate them from their own bondage with such devices as the case may need. To use a name which is nothing but a makeshift, this (state of liberation) may be called Samadhi. 

To free the mind from all impurity is the Sila of the Essence of Mind.
To free the mind from all disturbance is the Dhyana of the Essence of Mind.
That which neither increases nor decreases is the Diamond;
'Coming' and 'going' are different phases of Samadhi."

Having heard this, Chi Ch'eng apologized (for having asked a foolish question) and thanked the Patriarch for his instruction. He then submitted the following stanza:

The 'self' is nothing but a phantasm created by the union of five skandhas,
And a phantasm can have nothing to do with absolute reality.
To hold that there is a Tathata (Suchness) for us to aim at or to return to
Is another example of 'Impure Dharma'.

Approving what he said in his stanza, the Patriarch said to him again, "The teaching of your master on Sila, Dhyana and Prajna applies to wise men of the inferior type, while mine [applies] to those of the superior type. He who realizes the Essence of Mind may dispense with such doctrines as Bodhi, Nirvana, and 'Knowledge of Emancipation'.

"Only those who do not possess a single system of Dharma can formulate all systems of Dharma, and only those who can understand the meaning (of this paradox) may use such terms. It makes no difference to those who have realized the Essence of Mind whether they formulate all systems of Dharma or dispense with all of them. They are at liberty to 'come' or to 'go' .  They are free from obstacles or impediments. They take appropriate actions as circumstances require. They give suitable answers according to the temperament of the enquirer. They see that all Nirmanakayas are one with the Essence of Mind. They attain liberation, psychic powers and Samadhi, which enable them to perform the arduous task of universal salvation as easily as if they were only playing. Such are the men who have realized the Essence of Mind!"

"By what principle are we guided in dispensing with all systems of Dharma?" was Chi Ch'eng's next question.

"When our Essence of Mind is free from impurity, infatuations and disturbances," replied the Patriarch, "when we introspect our mind from moment to moment with Prajna, and when we do not cling to things and phenomenal objects we are free and liberated. Why should we formulate any system of Dharma when our goal can be reached no matter whether we turn to the right or to the left? Since it is with our own efforts that we realize the Essence of Mind, and since the realization and the practice of the Dharma are both done instantaneously, and not gradually or stage by stage, the formulation of any system of Dharma is unnecessary. As all Dharmas are intrinsically Nirvanic, how can there be gradation in them?"

Chi Ch'eng made obeisance and volunteered to be an attendant of the Patriarch. In that capacity, he served both day and night.

***

Chang said, "In studying the Maha Parinirvana Sutra, which I read very often, I cannot understand the meaning of 'eternal' and 'not eternal'. Will you, Sir, kindly give me a short explanation."

"What is not eternal is the Buddha-nature," replied the Patriarch, "and what is eternal is the discriminating mind together with all meritorious and demeritorious Dharmas."

"Your explanation, Sir, contradicts the Sutra," said Chang.

"I dare not, since I inherit the 'Heart-Seal' of Lord Buddha," replied the Patriarch.

"According to the Sutra," said Chang, "the Buddha-nature is eternal, while all meritorious and demeritorious Dharmas, including the Bodhi-citta (the Wisdom-heart) are not eternal. As you hold otherwise, is this not a contradiction? Your explanation has now intensified my doubts and perplexities."

"On one occasion," replied the Patriarch, "I had Bhikkhuni Wu Ching-Ts'ang recite to me the whole book of the Maha Parinirvana Sutra, so that I could explain it to her. Every word and every meaning I explained on that occasion agreed with the text. As to the explanation I give you now, it likewise differs not from the text."

"As my capacity for understanding is a poor one," observed Chang, "will you kindly explain to me more fully and more clearly."

"Don't you understand?" said the Patriarch. "If Buddha-nature is eternal, it would be of no use to talk about meritorious and demeritorious Dharmas; and until the end of a kalpa no one would arouse the Bodhi-citta.  Therefore, when I say 'not-eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant for 'eternal'.

"Again, if all Dharmas are not eternal, then every thing or object would have a nature of its own (i.e., positive essence) to suffer death and birth. In that case, it would mean that the Essence of Mind which is truly eternal does not pervade everywhere. Therefore when I say 'eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant by 'not-eternal'.

"In following slavishly the wording of the Sutra, you have ignored the spirit of the text. In assuming that what perishes is non-eternal and that what is fixed and immutable is eternal, you have misinterpreted Lord Buddha's dying instruction (contained in the Maha Parinirvana Sutra) which is perfect, profound, and complete. You may read the Sutra a thousand times but you will get no benefit out of it."

All of a sudden Chang awoke to full enlightenment, and submitted the following stanza to the Patriarch:

In order to refute the bigoted belief of 'Non-eternity'
Lord Buddha preached the 'Eternal Nature'.
He who does not know that such preaching is only a skilful device
May be likened to the child who picks up pebbles and calls them gems.
Without effort on my part
The Buddha-nature manifests itself.
This is due neither to the instruction of my teacher
Nor to any attainment of my own.

***

"From the point of view of ordinary men, enlightenment and ignorance are two separate things. Wise men who realize thoroughly the Essence of Mind know that they are of the same nature.

"This same nature or non-dual nature is what is called the 'real nature', which neither decreases in the case of ordinary men and ignorant persons, nor increases in the case of the enlightened sage; which is not disturbed in a state of annoyance, nor calm in a state of Samadhi. It is neither eternal nor non-eternal; it neither goes nor comes; it is not to be found in the exterior, nor in the interior, nor in the space between the two. It is above existence and non-existence; its nature and its phenomena are always in a state of 'Thusness'; it is permanent and immutable. Such is the Norm."

Hsueh Chien asked, "You say that it is above existence and non-existence. How then do you differentiate it from the teaching of the heretics who teach the same thing?"

"In the teaching of the heretics," replied the Patriarch, "'non-existence' means the end of 'existence', while 'existence' is used in contrast with 'non-existence'. What they mean by 'non-existence' is not actually annihilation and what they call 'existence' does not really exist. What I mean by 'above existence and non-existence' is this; intrinsically it exists not, and at the present moment it will not be annihilated. Such is the difference between my teaching and that of the heretics.

If you wish to know the essential points of my teaching, you should free yourself from all thoughts, good ones as well as bad; then your mind will be in a state of purity, calm and serene all the time, and its usefulness as manifold as the grains of sand in the Ganges."

The preaching of the Patriarch suddenly awoke Hsueh Chien to full enlightenment.

In all things there is nothing real,
And so we should free ourselves
From the concept of the reality of objects.
He who believes in the reality of objects
Is bound by this very concept, which is entirely illusive.
He who realizes the Essence of Mind within himself
Knows that the 'True Mind' is to be sought apart from phenomena.
If one's mind is bound by illusive phenomena
Where is Reality to be found, when all phenomena are unreal?

 

 ***

All writings on this page taken from The Platform Sutra.

 

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