A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua


The Five Previous Chinese Patriarchs

It wasn’t easy being the Sixth Patriarch. Many people wished to kill him and his disciples as well. For this reason, after the Great Master obtained the Dharma, he went into hiding, dwelling among hunters for sixteen years. Even after establishing his Dharma platform at Nan Hua Temple, followers of other religions tried to kill him, and so the Great Master hid inside a big rock. He sat there in meditation, and although they set the mountain on fire, he was untouched by the flames. The rock could still be seen when I was at Nan Hua Temple.

Who wanted to kill him? In general, it wasn’t you and it wasn’t me. On the other hand, if you consider the insane things we have done in past lives, it might well have been you or it could have been me. But in this life it wasn’t you or me and so there is no need to worry about having broken precepts in this case.

As I told you, the Great Master is counted as the Sixth Patriarch from the First Patriarch, Bodhidharma, who was the Twenty-eighth Indian Patriarch. “Bodhi” means enlightenment and “Dharma” means law. When Bodhidharma set sail from India, fulfilling Shakyamuni Buddha’s prediction that the Mahayana teaching would be transmitted to China during the time of the Twenty-eighth Patriarch, the Buddhadharma already existed in China, yet it was as if it were not there at all.

Although there were men who studied, there were few who lectured or recited the sutras and repentance ceremonies were seldom practiced. Cultivation was superficial. Scholars debated and argued, but none of them truly understood.

The principles in the Sutras must be cultivated, but at that time in China they were not cultivated because everyone feared suffering. Now, in America, it is just the same. People sit in meditation. However, as soon as their legs begin to ache, they wince and fidget and then gently unbend them. People are just people and nobody likes to have aching legs.

While still in India, Patriarch Bodhidharma sent two of his disciples, Fo T’o and Yeh She, to China to transmit the sudden enlightenment Dharma door. But no one, not even Chinese Bhikshus, would speak to them. So they went to Lu Mountain where they met the Great Master Yüan Kung, who lectured on mindfulness of the Buddha.

Master Yüan asked, “What Dharma do you transmit that causes people to pay you so little respect?”

Fo T’o and Yeh She could not speak Chinese, so they used sign language instead. Raising their arms in the air, they said, “Watch! The hand makes a fist and the fist makes a hand. Is this not quick?”

Master Yüan replied, “Quick indeed.”

“Bodhi (enlightenment) and affliction,” they said, “are just that quick.”

At that moment, Dharma Master Yüan became enlightened, realizing that originally Bodhi and affliction are not different, for Bodhi is affliction and affliction is Bodhi. He made offerings to Fo T’o and Yeh She, and shortly thereafter, the two Indian Bhikshus died on the same day, in the same place. Their graves may still be seen at Lu Mountain.

Patriarch Bodhidharma saw that the roots of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma, were ripe in China. Fearing neither the distance nor the hardship of travel, he took the Dharma there. The Chinese called him “barbarian” because he talked in a way that no one understood. When children looked up at the bearded Bodhidharma, they ran away in terror. Adults feared that he was a kidnapper and so told their children to stay away from him.

Patriarch Bodhidharma went to Nan Ching where he listened to Dharma Master Shen Kuang explained the Sutras. When Shen Kuang spoke, the heavens rained fragrant blossoms and a golden-petalled lotus rose from the earth for him to sit upon. However, only those with good roots, who had opened the five eyes and the six spiritual penetrations were able to see that. Now! Isn’t this wonderful?

After listening to the Sutra, Bodhidharma asked, “Dharma Master, what are you doing?”

“I am explaining Sutras,” Shen Kuang replied.

“Why are you explaining Sutras?”

“I am teaching people to end birth and death.”

“Oh?” said Bodhidharma, “exactly how do you do that? In this Sutra which you explain, the words are black and the paper is white. How does this teach people to end birth and death?”

Dharma Master Shen Kuang had nothing to say. How did he teach people to end birth and death? He fumed in silence. Then, even though heavenly maidens rained down flowers and the earth gave forth golden lotuses, Dharma Master Shen Kuang got angry. This is what I mean when I say that the Buddhadharma existed in China, but it was as if it were not there at all.

When angry, Dharma Master Shen Kuang used his heavy iron beads to level opposition. In response to Bodhidharma’s question, he reddened with anger and raged like a tidal wave smashing a mountain. As he whipped out his beads, he snapped, “You are slandering the Dharma!” and cracked Bodhidharma across the mouth, knocking loose two teeth. Bodhidharma neither moved nor spoke. He hadn’t expected such a vicious reply.

There is a legend about the teeth of holy men. You must not ask about the principle, however, because it is too inconceivable. The legend says that if a sage’s teeth fall to the ground, it won’t rain for three years. Patriarch Bodhidharma thought, “If it doesn’t rain for three years, people will starve! I have come to China to save living beings, not to kill them!” So Bodhidharma did not let his teeth fall to the ground. Instead, he swallowed them and disappeared down the road. Although he had been beaten and reviled, Bodhidharma could not go to the government and file suit against Dharma Master Shen Kuang. Those who have left home have to be patient. How much more so must a patriarch forbear.

Bodhidharma then met a parrot imprisoned in a wicker cage. This bird was much more intelligent than Dharma Master Shen Kuang. Recognizing Bodhidharma as the First Patriarch, the bird said,

Mind from the West,
Mind from the West,
Teach me a way
To escape from this cage.

Although Bodhidharma had received no response from people, this parrot recognized him. Hearing the bird’s plea for help, Bodhidharma whispered a secret expedient teaching to teach this bird how to end suffering. He said,

To escape from the cage;
To escape from the cage;
Put out both legs,
Close both eyes.
This is the way
To escape from the cage!

The parrot listened attentively and said, “All right! I understand,” and stuck out his legs, closed his eyes, and waited.

When the bird’s owner came home from work, he always played with his parrot. But this time when he looked in the cage he was shocked. The owner was on the verge of tears. He couldn’t have been more upset if his own son had died. He pulled open the cage door and scooped up the bird, which lay still and quiet in his hand. The body had not yet chilled. The owner looked with disbelief at the little body. He peeked at it from the left and right…it didn’t even quiver. Slowly, he opened his hand…PHLLRTTPHLRTTPHLRTT! The bird broke loose from his hand and flew away!

Now, like the parrot, we are in a cage. How do we escape? You may say, “I am really free. If I want to eat, I eat; if I want to drink, I drink. I do not have to follow rules. I can do anything.”

Don’t think you are quite so clever. This is not freedom, it is just confusion. To be free, you must be free of birth and death, and then, if you wish to fly into space you can fly into space, and if you wish to drop into the earth, you can drop into the earth. If you can do this, you are truly independent. Like the parrot, you are free.

As I explain The Sixth Patriarch Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra, I do not lecture well. This is not polite talk; it’s true. Some lecture well, yet do not dare explain. After I have lectured, you of true eloquence may follow. When you have opened your wisdom, you will understand.

In his great anger, Dharma Master Shen Kuang knocked out two of Bodhidharma’s teeth. He thought he had won a great victory because the Barbarian put forth no opposition. But not long after, the Ghost of Impermanence, wearing a high hat, paid a call on Master Shen Kuang:

“Your life ends today,” said the ghost. “King Yama, the King of the Dead, has sent me to escort you.”

Master Shen Kuang said, “What? Must die? When I speak the Dharma, flowers fall from the heavens and the earth bubbles forth golden lotuses, yet I still have not ended birth and death? Tell me, is there a person in this world who has ended birth and death?”

“There is,” came the reply.

“Who?” asked Shen Kuang. “Tell me, and I’ll follow him to study the Way.”

“He’s that black-faced Bhikshu whose teeth you just knocked out. King Yama bows to him every day.”

“Please, Old Ghost, speak to King Yama on my behalf. I want to follow that Bhikshu. I am determined to end birth and death. Can’t you allow me some more time?”

“All right,” said the ghost. “Since you are sincere, King Yama will wait.”

Dharma Master Shen Kuang was delighted. He was so quick to rush after Bodhidharma, that he forgot to thank the Ghost of Impermanence; in fact, he even forgot to put on his shoes. He ran until he met the parrot whom Bodhidharma had freed, and suddenly he understood, “Originally it is just this way! I need only act dead. I need only be a living dead person!”

Bodhidharma walked on, ignoring the barefoot Dharma Master following behind. Arriving at Bear’s Ear Mountain in Loyang, the Patriarch sat down to meditate facing a wall. Dharma Master Shen Kuang knelt close by. For nine years, Patriarch Bodhidharma sat meditating and Dharma Master Shen Kuang knelt beside him, seeking the Dharma.

Earlier, when I spoke this public record, an eleven year old child asked me, “During the nine years he knelt, did he eat or not?” I replied, “How could anyone kneel for nine years without eating and still live? When the Patriarch meditated, Shen Kuang knelt, and when the Patriarch ate, Shen Kuang ate.” But this is not recorded in the books. While the Patriarch was sitting, many people came to bow to him and were received as his disciples.

One day a great snow fell, and it rose in drifts as high as Shen Kuang’s waist, and yet he continued to kneel. Finally, Patriarch Bodhidharma asked him, “Why are you kneeling here in such deep snow?”

“I want to end birth and death,” replied Shen Kuang. “When I was lecturing Sutras I was unsuccessful. Please, Patriarch, transmit this dharma to me.”

“What do you see falling from the sky?” asked Bodhidharma.

“Snow,” said Shen Kuang.

“What color is it?” asked Bodhidharma.

“It’s white, of course.”

“When red snow falls from the sky,” said Bodhidharma, “I will transmit the Dharma to you. You knocked out two of my teeth, and I have been most compassionate in not taking revenge. Do you really expect me to give you the Dharma?” This was the test Patriarch Bodhidharma gave to Master Shen Kuang.

How did Shen Kuang complete the test? Cultivators of the Way carry a knife to protect the substance of their precepts. A true cultivator would rather cut off his head than break a precept.

Shen Kuang drew his precept knife, and with one slice, cut off his arm and thus passed his test. His blood flowed onto the new fallen snow. He scooped up a bucket full of crimson snow, dumped it before Bodhidharma, and said, “Patriarch, do you see? The snow is red!”

Bodhidharma said, “So it is, so it is.” He had tested Shen Kuang’s sincerity, and now the Patriarch was extremely happy. “My coming to China has not been in vain. I have met a person who dares to use a true mind to cultivate the Way, even forsaking his arm in search of the Dharma.”

The Patriarch then spoke the Dharma door of “using the mind to seal the mind.” It points straight to the mind to see the nature and realize Buddhahood.

While hearing this dharma, Shen Kuang didn’t think about the pain in his arm, and before that he had thought only of making the snow turn red. But now, he once again produced discursive thought: “My arm really hurts!” he said. “My mind is in pain. Please, Patriarch, quiet my mind.”

“Find your mind,” said Bodhidharma. “Show it to me and I will quiet it for you.”

Dharma Master Shen Kuang searched for his mind. He looked in the ten directions: north, east, south, west, in the intermediate points, and up and down. He also looked in the same seven places that the Venerable Ananda looked when Shakyamuni Buddha asked him the same question in The Shurangama Sutra. That is,

  1. He looked inside his body;
  2. He looked outside his body;
  3. He looked for it hidden somewhere in his sense organs.
  4. He looked where there was light;
  5. He looked at the place where conditions came together.
  6. He looked in the middle, between the organs and their objects;
  7. And, finally, he looked in the place of non-attachment, which is no-place.

At last Shen Kuang said to Bodhidharma, “I can’t find my mind! Great Master, it is nowhere to be found.”

“This is how well I have quieted your mind,” said the Patriarch. At these words, Shen Kuang understood the meaning of the Dharma transmission, the wonderful, ineffable principle.

Ten thousand dharmas return to one;
Where does the one return?
Shen Kuang did not understand,
And ran after Bodhidharma;
Before him at Bear’s Ear Mountain
Knelt nine years

Seeking Dharma to escape King Yama

With the transmission of the Dharma, Shen Kuang received the name “Hui K’o” which means “Able Wisdom.”

Master Hui K’o asked Bodhidharma, “In India, did you transmit the Dharma to your disciples? Did you also give the robe and bowl as certification?”

“I transmitted the Dharma in India,” replied Bodhidharma, “but I did not use the robe and bowl. Indian people are straightforward. When they attain the fruit, they know they must be certified. If no one certifies them, they do not say, ‘I have attained the way! I have given proof to Arhatship! I am a Bodhisattva!’ They do not speak like this.”

“Chinese people, however, are different. Many Chinese have the Great Vehicle Root Nature, but there are also many people who lie. Having cultivated without success, such people claim to have the Way. Though they have not certified to the fruit, they claim to be certified sages. Therefore I transmit the robe and bowl to prove that you have received the transmission. Guard them well and take care.”

While the Patriarch Bodhidharma was in China, he was poisoned six times. Dharma Master Bodhiruci and Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung were jealous of him. They prepared a vegetarian meal which contained an invariably fatal drug, and offered it to the Patriarch. Although he knew it was poisoned, he ate it. Then he vomited the food on to a tray, and it was transformed into a pile of writhing snakes.

After this unsuccessful attempt, Bodhiruci tried again, using an even more potent poison. Again, Bodhidharma ate the food. Then he sat atop a huge boulder and spat out the poison. The boulder crumbled into a heap of dust. In four more attempts, jealous people tried without success to poison the Patriarch.

One day, the Great Master Bodhidharma said to Hui K’o, “I came to China because I saw people here with the Great Vehicle Root Nature. Now I have transmitted the Dharma and am ready to complete the stillness.” After his death, the Patriarch’s body was buried. There was nothing unusual about his funeral.

In Northern Wei (386-532 A.D.), however, an official called Sung Yün, met Bodhidharma on the road to Chung Nan Mountain in Ts’ung Ling. When they met, Bodhidharma was carrying one shoe in his hand. He said to Sung Yün, “The king of your country died today. Return quickly! There is work to be done.”

The official asked, “Great Master, where are you going?”

“Back to India,” the Great Master replied.

“Venerable One, to whom did you transmit your Dharma?”

“In China, after forty years, it will be ‘K’o.’”

Sung Yün returned to his country and reported the incident. “Recently, in Ts’ung Ling, I met the Patriarch Bodhidharma who told me that the king of our country had died and instructed me to return to the capital. When I arrived I found it exactly as he had said. How did he know?”

His countrymen scoffed, “Bodhidharma is already dead. How could you have met him on the road?” Then they rushed to the Patriarch’s grave and found it empty, with nothing inside but one shoe.

Where did Bodhidharma go? No one knows. Perhaps he came to America. Wherever he wanders, no one can recognize him, because he can change and transform according to his convenience. When he came to China, he said he was one hundred and fifty years old, and when he left, he was still one hundred and fifty years old. No historical references can be found.

When Bodhidharma was about to enter Nirvana he said, “I came to China and transmitted my Dharma to three people. One received my marrow, one my bones, and one my flesh.” After the transmission, the Patriarch himself no longer had a body. Great Master Hui K’o received the marrow and Ch’an Master Tao Yü received the bones.

Bhikshuni Tsung Ch’ih could recite The Lotus Sutra from memory. After she died, a green lotus flower grew from her mouth. She received Bodhidharma’s flesh. In the end, the Patriarch had no body at all. So don’t look for him in America; you won’t find him.

The Second Patriarch, Hui K’o of the Northern Ch’i (550- 577 A.D.) whose family name was Chi, was formerly Shen Kuang. When he was born, his parents saw Wei T’ou Bodhisattva, the golden armored spiritual being, come to offer protection; thereupon they named their son “Shen Kuang” which means “spiritual light.” Not only was the Patriarch intelligent, but he had an excellent memory as well, and his skill and powers of discrimination were so remarkable that he could read ten lines in the time it took an ordinary person to read one. In a gathering of one hundred people, al1 talking at once, he could clearly distinguish each conversation.

The Great Master, however, had great anger; he disagreed with everyone and was always ready to fight. When Shen Kuang explained Sutras, as I have told you, he used his iron beads to win his arguments. Later, after he knelt for nine years in quest of the Dharma, it was his great anger which enabled him to cut off his arm and feel no pain. It was also because of this anger that he later felt pain. Unafflicted by anger, he would have felt no pain. Pain is just an affliction and affliction is the cause of pain.

The Second Patriarch was forty years old when he left Bodhidharma. Having obtained the Dharma, he went into hiding because Bodhiruci and Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung, who had made six attempts on the life of Bodhidharma, also wished to kill his disciples. So although Hui K’o had great anger, he nevertheless obeyed his teacher and went into hiding for forty years. When he was eighty, he began to propagate the Buddhadharma, teaching and transforming living beings.

Later, the disciples of Bodhiruci and Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung tried to kill Master Hui K’o, who feigned insanity to lessen the jealousy of his rivals. But he never ceased to save living beings who were ready to receive his teaching. Because so many people continued to trust the Second Patriarch, Bodhiruci’s disciples were still jealous. They reported Hui K’o to the government, accusing him of being a weird inhuman creature. “He confuses the people who follow him,” they charged; “he is not even human.” The Emperor ordered the district magistrate to arrest him, and Hui K’o was locked up and questioned:

“Are you human or are you a freak?” asked the Magistrate.

“I’m a freak,” replied Master Hui K’o.

The magistrate knew that the Patriarch said this to avoid causing jealousy, so he ordered him to tell the truth. “Speak clearly,” he demanded, “what are you?”

The Great Master replied, “I’m a freak.”

Governments can’t allow strange freaks to roam the earth, and so Hui K’o was sentenced to die. Now, isn’t this the way of the world?

The Patriarch wept when he told his disciples, “I must undergo this retribution.” He was a courageous man, certainly not one to cry out of fear of death. He was sad because the Dharma had not become widely understood during his lifetime.  “The Buddhadharma will not flourish until the time of the Fourth Patriarch,” he announced, and then he faced the executioner.

“Come and kill me!” he said. The executioner raised his axe and swung it towards the Master’s neck. What do you think happened?

You are probably thinking, “He was a Patriarch with great spiritual power. Certainly the blade shattered and his head was not even scratched.” No. The axe cut off his head, and it didn’t grow back. However, instead of blood, a milky white liquid flowed onto the chopping block.

You think, “Now really, this is just too far out.” If you believe it, that is fine. If you do not believe it, that is fine too; just forget it. However, I will give you a simple explanation of why blood did not flow from the Patriarch’s neck: When a sage enters the white yang realm his blood becomes white because his body has transformed completely into yang, leaving no trace of yin. “I don’t believe it,” you say. Of course you don’t. If you did, you would be just like the Second Patriarch.

When the executioner saw that the Master did not bleed, he exclaimed, “Hey! He really is a freak! I chopped off his head, but what came out was not blood, but this milky white fluid. And his face looks exactly as it did when he was alive!” The Emperor knew that he had executed a saint, because he remembered that the Twenty-fourth Indian Patriarch, Aryasimha, had also been beheaded and had not bled, but a white milky liquid had poured forth, because he had been without outflows. When one has no ignorance, one may attain to a state without outflows and enter the white yang realm.

You think, “But you just said that Patriarch Hui K’o had great anger. How could he have been without ignorance?” You are certainly more clever than I am, for I did not think of this question. But now that you have brought it up, I will answer it. His was not petty anger like yours and mine which explodes like firecrackers, “Pop! Pop! Pop.” His anger was wisdom and because of it his body became yang. Great patience, great knowledge, great courage, and great wisdom: that’s what his temper was made of.

Realizing that Hui K’o was a Bodhisattva in the flesh, the Emperor felt great shame. “A Bodhisattva came to our country,” he said, “and instead of offering him protection, we killed him.” Then the Emperor had all the great officials take refuge with this strange Bhikshu. Thus, even though the Second Patriarch had already been executed, he still accepted these disciples.

The Third Patriarch, Seng Ts’an of the Sui Dynasty, was of unknown family name and origin. When he first came to visit the Second Patriarch, his body was covered with repulsive sores like those of a leper.

“Where are you from?” asked the Second Patriarch. “What are you doing here?”

“I have come to take refuge with the High Master, and to study and cultivate the Buddhadharma,” answered Seng Ts’an.

“You have a loathsome disease and your body is filthy. How can you study the Buddhadharma?”

Master Hui K’o was clever, but Dhyana Master Seng Ts’an was even more clever. “I am a sick man and you are a high master,” he said, “but in our true minds where is the difference?”

Thereupon, the Second Patriarch transmitted the Dharma to Seng Ts’an saying, “This robe and bowl have been passed on from Bodhidharma. They certify that you have received the Dharma Seal. In order to protect it you must go into hiding, because Bodhiruci’s followers will try to harm you. Be very careful and let no one know that you have received the transmission.”

The Third Patriarch Seng Ts’an also feigned insanity while he taught living beings. During the persecution of Buddhism by the Emperor Wu of the Northern Chou dynasty (reigned from 561-577 A.D.), the Patriarch fled into the mountains. While he hid there, the tigers, wolves, leopards, and other fierce animals all disappeared.

After transmitting the Dharma to the Fourth Patriarch, Tao Hsin, Master Seng Ts’an invited a thousand Bhikshus to a great vegetarian feast. After they had eaten, he said, “You think that to sit in full lotus is the best way to die. Watch! I’ll demonstrate my independence over birth and death!” The Master left the dining hall, followed by the thousand Bhikshus. He halted by the trunk of a tree, and after pausing for a moment, he leapt up and grabbed a big branch. Then while swinging from the tree by one hand, he entered Nirvana. No one knew his name or his birthplace.

Someone is afraid and thinks, “The First Patriarch was poisoned, the Second Patriarch was beheaded, and the Third Patriarch died hanging from a tree. I certainly do not want to be a patriarch. It’s much too dangerous.” With this attitude, even if you wanted to be a patriarch you could not. As long as you fear death, as long as you fear anything at all, you cannot even be a patriarch’s disciple. Patriarchs are not afraid of suffering. They are not afraid of life and they are not afraid of death. Making no distinctions between life and death, they roam among people, teaching and transforming them. Like Fo T’o and Yeh She, they know that affliction is just Bodhi and that birth and death is Nirvana. So, tell me now, who is not afraid of birth and death? If there is such a one, I will make him a patriarch.

The Fourth Patriarch’s name was Tao Hsin. While very young, Master Tao Hsin left home under Master Seng Ts’an and for sixty years he sat in Dhyana concentration, without lying down to rest. Although he seldom opened his eyes, he wasn’t asleep. He was working at cultivation. When he did open his eyes, everyone shook with terror. Why? No one knew. Such was the magnitude of his awesome virtue.

Hearing of the Master’s great virtue, in the seventeenth year of the Chen Kuan Reign of the T’ang dynasty (643 A.D.), the Emperor sent a messenger to invite him to the palace to receive offerings. Unlike we common people, who would attempt to wedge ourselves into the court without being asked, the Great Master, the Fourth Patriarch, refused the invitation saying, “I am too old and the journey would be tiring. Eating on the road would be too difficult. I cannot undergo such hardship.”

When the messenger delivered the Patriarch’s reply, the Emperor said, “Go back and tell him that the Emperor says that no matter how old he is or how difficult the journey, I have ordered him to come to the palace.”

The messenger returned to the Patriarch and said, “Master, regardless of your health, you must come to the Emperor’s court. We will carry you back, if necessary!” At that time, since there were no airplanes or cars, travel was difficult.

“No, I cannot go,” replied the Patriarch. “I am too old and ill. Take my head if you must, but my heart will not go.”

The messenger thought, “There is nothing to do but to go back without him. I cannot take his head to the Emperor. This Bhikshu is very strange; he is hardly human.”

The messenger then hurried back to the Emperor. “Your Excellency, you may have the Master’s head, but his heart will not move!”

“Very well, go get his head,” replied the Emperor. He put a knife in a box and gave it to the messenger saying, “Slice off his head, but under no circumstances should you harm this Bhikshu.”

The messenger understood. He returned to the Fourth Patriarch. “Venerable Master, if you refuse to come, the Emperor has ordered me to cut off your head,” he said.

Patriarch Tao Hsin said, “If in this life my head gets to see the Emperor, that will be great glory. You may remove my head now.” The messenger took out the knife and prepared to cut off his head. The Great Master closed his eyes and waited calmly for about ten minutes. Maybe it was ten minutes, maybe it was nine or eleven. Don’t become attached. It is certainly not determined exactly how long he waited. But nothing happened, and finally Master Tao Hsin got angry, just like the Second Patriarch, and shouted, “Hey! Why don’t you slice off my head!”

“The Emperor had no intention of harming you,” the messenger quickly replied. “He was just bluffing.”

The Patriarch heard this and laughed aloud. Then he said, “Now you know that there is still a person in the world who does not fear death.”

The family name of the Fourth Patriarch was Ssu Ma and his personal name was Hsin. Ssu Ma was an honorable ancestral name. Both the Emperor Ssu Ma of the Chin dynasty and the historian and skilled writer Ssu Ma Ch’ien of the Han dynasty had this name. When the Fourth Patriarch became a Bhikshu he took the new name Tao Hsin. He lived seventy-two years, sixty of which were spent without lying down even once to sleep. The Fourth Patriarch’s realm of accomplishment was inconceivable.

While Tao Hsin was cultivating, a nearby city was besieged by bandits for more than a hundred days, depriving its inhabitants of water and supplies. Seeing the lives of the people in danger, Master Tao Hsin left his mountain retreat to rescue the city dwellers. He taught them all to recite “Mahaprajnaparamita.” After they had recited for a time, the bandits fled and water reappeared in the wells. This is the response based on the Way which Master Tao Hsin evoked as a result of his superior cultivation.

When the Fourth Patriarch decided to build a temple, he looked with his Buddha eye and saw Broken Head Mountain surrounded by a purple cloud of energy. Observing this auspicious sign, the Master went there to dwell, changing its inauspicious name, “Broken Head,” to “Double Peak” Mountain.

The Master used expedient dharmas to teach living beings how to discard their bad habits. These stubborn living beings, however, often discarded what was good and continued doing evil. But the Master persisted and by using all kinds of skill-inmeans caused these stubborn living beings to realize their mistakes. He propagated the Dharma for more than forty years, transforming living beings greater in number than seedlings of rice, stalks of hemp, shoots of bamboo, or blades of grass.

One day the Fourth Patriarch said to his disciple Dharma Master Yüan I, “You should build me a Stupa. I am going to leave.”

In the second year of Yung Hui, of the T’ang dynasty (651 A.D.), on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth lunar month, Patriarch Tao Hsin, who had never been ill, sat down and entered Nirvana. His disciples locked his flesh body securely in the stone Stupa. A year later the iron locks fell away and the Stupa opened by itself. Looking in, everyone saw the body of the Fourth Patriarch still sitting in full lotus, appearing the same as when he was alive. The Master’s body had not decayed, but the flesh had dried out. The Fifth Patriarch, Hung Jen, wrapped the body with lacquered cloth and gilded it. This “true body” still exists today.

The Fifth Patriarch, Hung Jen, also lived during the T’ang dynasty. His family name was Chou. He lived in Huang Mei County near Double Peak Mountain. When he was seven, he went to the temple on the mountain to attend upon the Fourth Patriarch. The Great Master Hung Jen cleaned the lamps and censer before the Buddha images; he swept the floor, carried water, split firewood, and worked in the kitchen. At age thirteen he took the ten novice precepts and studied under the Fourth Patriarch for over thirty years.

The Fifth Patriarch was eight feet tall and had an extraordinary appearance. When others treated him badly, he remained silent and unmoved. Because he did not give rise to discrimination, he never spoke of “right” or “wrong”, and when fellow Bhikshus bullied him, he never fought back. His calm, quiet manner indicated that he had realized a state of peace.

Even after working hard all day, the Master didn’t rest. Instead of sleeping, he sat in meditation, uniting body and mind in powerful samadhi.

Master Hung Jen lived in the woods of P’ing Mao Mountain slightly east of Double Peak Mountain, so his teaching is called the East Mountain Dharma Door. Once, like his master the Fourth Patriarch, he saw a horde of bandits besieging a nearby city. Their leader, a Mongol named K’e Ta Ha Na Lu, and his followers had so tightly cut off the communications that even the birds couldn’t fly in or out. The Fifth Patriarch went down P’ing Mao Mountain toward the city. When the bandits saw him, they were terrified, for they saw not only the Patriarch, but also a retinue of golden-armored vajra king Bodhisattvas armed with jeweled weapons, manifesting awesome virtue and brightness. The thieves retreated, their siege broken.

How was the Great Master able to command these vajra king Bodhisattvas? The Fifth Patriarch had cultivated and he recited the Shurangama Mantra. The Shurangama Sutra says that if you are constantly mindful of the Shurangama Mantra, eighty-four thousand vajra store Bodhisattvas will protect you from all danger.

In the fifth year of the Hsien Ch’ing reign of the T’ang dynasty (660 A.D.), the Emperor invited Great Master Hung Jen to the palace. The Master declined the invitation. The Emperor sent a second invitation which the Master also declined. Finally, the Emperor sent a variety of gifts, including rare medicinal herbs, as an offering to the Great Master, the Fifth Patriarch.

In the fifth year of the Hsien Hsiang reign of the T’ang dynasty (674 A.D.), the Fifth Patriarch said to his disciple, Master Hsüan Chi, “Build me a Stupa. I am going to leave.” In the second month on the fourteenth day he asked, “Is the Stupa ready?” Master Hsüan Chi replied that it was. The Patriarch said, “For many years I have taught living beings. I have taken across those whom I must take across and have transmitted my Dharma to Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch. Now, in addition, you ten should become Dharma Hosts, and establish Bodhimandas to preserve and spread the teaching among living beings.”

The ten he addressed were: Dharma Masters Shen Hsiu, Chih Hsien, I Fang, Chih Te, Hsüan Chi, Lao An, Fa Ju, Hui Tsang, Hsüan Yao, and also Upasaka Liu Chu Pu, who had dealt with correspondence and accounting. The Fifth Patriarch sent each of these ten people to a different place to teach and transform living beings.

Shortly thereafter, he sat very still and his energy dispersed as he entered Nirvana. During the seventy-four years of his life, the Fifth Patriarch Hung Jen had accepted many disciples, and had transmitted the Dharma to the Great Master Hui Neng.