THE SIXTH PATRIARCH’S DHARMA JEWEL PLATFORM SUTRA
A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
ACTION AND INTENTION
In this first chapter of the Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch gives his disciples a biographical sketch of himself. “Action” refers to the Sixth Patriarch’s activities and “intention” is that upon which he based his cultivation. “Action and Intention” refers to the source–where it all began.
At one time the Great Master arrived at Pao Lin. Magistrate Wei Ch’ü of Shao Chou and other local officials climbed the mountain and invited the Master to come into the city to the lecture hall of the Ta Fan Temple to speak the Dharma to the assembly.
When the Master had taken his seat, the Magistrate and over thirty other officials, more than thirty Confucian scholars, and more than one thousand Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Taoists, and laypeople, all made obeisance at the same time, wishing to hear the essentials of Dharma.
For every Sutra, six requirements must be met. Commonly explained in the opening sentences, they are: faith, hearing, time, host, place, and assembly. Only when these six are fulfilled is the orthodox Dharma being spoken.
To conduct a Sutra session, there must be an assembly; Magistrate Wei Ch’ü and the gathering of disciples and followers fulfills this requirement.
Then there must be a place to speak the Dharma; Pao Lin Mountain fulfills this requirement. A Dharma Master who thoroughly understands the Dharma must be present as host; here it is the Great Master the Sixth Patriarch. “At one time” suffices for the time requirement, and that “all made obeisance at the same time” fulfills the faith requirement. They came “wishing to hear the essentials of Dharma,” and that fulfills the requirements of hearing.
Wei Ch’ü and the officials climbed Pao Lin Mountain which is about ten miles from Shao Chou where Ta Fan Temple, now called Ta Chien Temple, is located. I lived there for a while. This is where the Sixth Patriarch spoke The Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra.
The Great Master said to the assembly, “Good Knowing Advisors, the self-nature of Bodhi is originally clear and pure. Simply use that mind, and you will straightaway accomplish Buddhahood. Good Knowing Advisors, listen while I tell you about the actions and intentions by which Hui Neng obtained the Dharma.”
The Great Master spoke to the assembly; “You are people with good roots and much wisdom. The self-nature of Bodhi is one’s own originally enlightened clear and pure nature. It cannot be produced or destroyed, defiled or purified, increased or decreased. Use this mind. Don’t use your false-thinking mind.”
Using his own name, in the formal style, the Sixth Patriarch calls himself “Hui Neng,” saying, “Now I will tell you how Hui Neng obtained the Dharma. Listen!”
“Hui Neng’s stern father was originally from Fan Yang. He was banished to Hsin Chou in Ling Nan, where he became a commoner. Unfortunately, his father soon died, and his aging mother was left alone. They moved to Nan Hai and, poor and in bitter straits, Hui Neng sold wood in the market place.”
From his native district of Fan Yang, Hui Neng’s father was sent to Ling Nan. Because the father is more apt to discipline the children, he is respectfully called “stern.” The mother ordinarily offers loving kindness to her children, and so she is spoken of as “compassionate.”
Hui, “kind,” means that he was kind and compassionate, bestowing Dharma upon living beings. Neng, “able,” means that he was able to do the Buddha’s work. The Sixth Patriarch’s family name was Lu.
Hui Neng’s father was banished to Ling Nan, a frontier region during the T’ang Dynasty inhabited by government exiles. The Sixth Patriarch’s father, an official, may have been convicted of an offense and thus banished to Ling Nan.
Hui Neng had an unfortunate and unlucky life. His father died when the Master was between the ages of three and five years, leaving him alone with his widowed mother. He and his mother moved to Nan Hai where they endured the hardships of poverty. How did they survive? Master Hui Neng hiked into the mountains and chopped wood, returned and sold it in the market place, using the money to buy rice for his mother and himself.
Once a customer bought firewood and ordered it delivered to his shop. When the delivery had been made, and Hui Neng had received the money, he went outside the gate, where he noticed a customer reciting a Sutra. Upon once hearing the words of this Sutra: “One should produce that thought which is nowhere supported.” Hui Neng’s mind immediately opened to enlightenment.
Because the Sixth Patriarch’s family was poor, he received little formal schooling and could not read. At that time in China one needed money to go to school. But in spite of his illiteracy, the Sixth Patriarch’s disposition was extremely sharp; and as soon as he heard the line of the Sutra which says that one should have a true mind which is nowhere attached, he immediately became enlightened. He understood what he had never understood before.
Many will hear the sentence; “One should produce that thought which is nowhere supported.” Are there any who will open to enlightenment?
Someone exclaims, “Why, I have!”
I ask you, what is the enlightenment you have opened? What is the enlightenment unopened? Ask yourself.
Thereupon he asked the customer what Sutra he was reciting. The customer replied, “The Diamond Sutra.”
Then again he asked, “Where do you come from, and why do you recite this Sutra?”
The customer said, “I come from Tung Ch’an Monastery in Ch’i Chou, HuangMei Province. There the Fifth Patriarch, the Great Master Hung Jen dwells, teaching over one thousand disciples. I went there to make obeisance and heard and received this Sutra.”
The Great Master the Fifth Patriarch lived in Tung Ch’an Monastery with more than a thousand disciples whom he taught and transformed. At that time in China the study of the Dharma was so fervently pursued that it was not unusual to have a thousand people on one mountain studying the Buddhadharma together.
Where in America are there a thousand Buddhist disciples studying the Dharma together? Such a large country yet there is no such place. It is possible, however, that later there will be more than ten thousand people studying the Buddhadharma, but this is not assured. We will have to watch my disciples and see how hard they work.
Most Americans are intelligent, but there are some whose intelligence surpasses itself. Everyday from morning to night they are caught up in taking confusing drugs. By taking these drugs they may attain small and different states of consciousness which they cannot obtain without drugs. These people try drugs again and again until one day they see that it is useless. They think, “I’ve been taking drugs for such a long time now and I still have not become enlightened.” When they realize this, they may turn toward the truth.
I teach you the Buddhadharma so in the future you can speak the Dharma to teach and transform living beings. Do not be careless, but work well and without confusion and then many will come to study.
You who are now studying this Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra must know the origin of your learning. When people ask, “Where did you study the Buddhadharma?” you can reply, “We studied at the Buddhist Lecture Hall of the Sino-American Buddhist Association.” This is just what is meant by this passage of text.
“The Great Master constantly exhorts the Sangha and laity only to uphold The Diamond Sutra. Then, they may see their own nature and straightaway achieve Buddhahood.”
Hui Neng heard this and desired to go and seek the Dharma, but he recalled that his mother had no support.
From past lives there were karmic conditions which led another man to give Hui Neng a pound of silver, so that he could provide clothing and food for his aging mother. The man instructed him further to go to Huang Mei to call upon and bow to the Fifth Patriarch.
You should be clear that the “Great Master” referred to here is the Fifth Patriarch not the Sixth Patriarch.
When Hui Neng heard that there was a place where over one thousand people were studying the Buddhadharma together, he became very excited. “What am I to do? I really want to study there!” he exclaimed to the customer. “I heard you recite The Diamond Sutra and I understood the principles. I want to go seek the Buddhadharma, but I have an aging mother who has no one to care for her. What can I do?”
Since Bodhisattvas do not seek fame, the Sixth Patriarch did not say which great Bodhisattva helped him at this time. The Sutra simply says that, because of former karmic conditions, a customer gave Hui Neng a pound of silver. This was certainly a valuable offering. The yield of a day’s work chopping firewood was worth only a few copper pennies in the market place so even if Hui Neng had sold all the wood gathered in a thousand days, its value would not have equaled the gift of silver.
The silver provided for his mother’s food and lodging. Maybe the man said, “You are poor and yet you want to study the Buddhadharma. Here, I will help you a bit,” and gave him an offering that he might go and seek Dharma. The merit and virtue of this offering was great, and in the future this man will certainly be a flesh body Bodhisattva. Now, perhaps one of us is doing this kind of work; think to yourself, “Have I done this kind of meritorious deed?” You don’t remember? It doesn’t matter, there’s no need to have false thinking about it.
The man urged him on, saying, “You have such great faith that as soon as you heard this Sutra you opened to enlightenment and understood the principle. Hurry! Go right away to see the Great Master at Huang Mei! It will surely be worth your while. Do not delay, go at once!”
After Hui Neng had made arrangements for his mother’s welfare, he took his leave. In less than thirty days he arrived at Huang Mei and made obeisance to the Fifth Patriarch, who asked him, “Where are you from and what do you seek?”
Hui Neng replied, “Your disciple is a commoner from Hsin Chou in Ling Nan and comes from afar to bow to the Master, seeking only to be a Buddha, and nothing else.”
The Patriarch said, “You are from Ling Nan and are therefore a barbarian, so how can you become a Buddha?”
Hui Neng said, “Although there are people from the north and people from the south, there is ultimately no north or south in the Buddha nature. The body of the barbarian and that of the High Master are not the same, but what distinction is there in the Buddha nature?”
The Fifth Patriarch wished to continue the conversation, but seeing his disciples gathering on all sides, he ordered his visitor to follow the group off to work. Hui Neng said, “Hui Neng informs the High Master that this disciple’s mind constantly produces wisdom and is not separate from the self nature. That, itself, is the field of blessing. It has not yet been decided what work the High Master will instruct me to do.”
The Fifth Patriarch said, “Barbarian, your faculties are too sharp. Do not speak further, but go to the back courtyard.” Hui Neng withdrew to the back courtyard where a cultivator ordered him to split firewood and thresh rice.
More than eight months had passed when the Patriarch one day suddenly saw Hui Neng and said, “I think these views of yours can be of use but fear that evil people may harm you. For that reason I have not spoken with you. Did you understand the situation?”
Hui Neng replied, “Your disciple knew the Master’s intention and has stayed out of the front hall, so that others might not notice him.”
As soon as the Sixth Patriarch made arrangements for his mother’s welfare, he left. Some thirty days later he arrived at the east side of Shuang Feng mountain, at Tung Ch’an Monastery. During his journey he had had no false thoughts and so he was unaware of how much time had passed before he arrived at Huang Mei. The Master was twenty-two years old at the time.
When the Great Master asked from where he had come, Hui Neng told him that he was from the south, from Hsin Chou. “I don’t want anything at all!” he said, “I only want to be a Buddha. All the rest is irrelevant.”
The Fifth Patriarch said, “You are a southerner, and southerners are all barbarians.” The word “barbarian” is, in Chinese, “ke liao.” “Ke” is dog-like animal with an extremely short snout. “Liao” refers to the coarse people of the borderlands. Basically, this means that those who cannot understand the principles of being human belong to the category of animals. “And how can you become a Buddha?” asked the Fifth Patriarch.
The Sixth Patriarch answered him promptly: “Although people are from the north and from the south,” he said, “the Buddha nature is one and is everywhere the same.”
The Fifth Patriarch’s disciples were gathered all around, so he said no more. He simply told the Sixth Patriarch, “Good, you have come. Now, go to work with the others. Hurry off!”
Hui Neng said his own mind always produced wisdom. This wisdom is produced from one’s own self-nature, and the fields of blessings are not separate from it. “I do not yet know what the Master wants me to do,” he said.
The Patriarch heard Hui Neng talking this way and said, “This barbarian has sharp roots!” He cautioned Hui Neng to be more discreet and not talk so much. “Speak no more!” he said. “Go to the back courtyard!” In the back courtyard a cultivator told Hui Neng what to do. When people first come to a place, they are always bullied. This disciple, who had not yet left home said to Hui Neng, “You! Every day you must cut wood, build the fire and cook the food. Here’s an axe, and be sure to cut kindling too! Besides that, every day you must thresh the rice.” Over eight months later, the Patriarch saw Hui Neng working on the threshing ground and said to him, “I think that your wisdom and opinions can be used, but fearing jealous people might harm you, I have not spoken with you too much. Did you know that?” Hui Neng said, “I understand. I have not dared go into the front Dharma hall to speak with the Master lest others notice my actions or the Master’s compassion toward me.”
One day the Patriarch summoned his disciples together and said, “I have something to say to you: for people in the world, the matter of birth and death is a great one.
“All day long you seek fields of blessings only; you do not try to get out of the bitter sea of birth and death. If you are confused about your self-nature, how can blessings save you?”
The Fifth Patriarch said, “Regardless of whether you are extremely rich or bitterly poor, you cannot avoid birth and death. Consequently, you should know how you were born. If this question of birth and death is not resolved, life is dim and confused, and you are confused with coming and going.
“You do nothing but seek merit among the gods and among humans; you do not know how to seek wisdom. Thus, you swirl and drift in the suffering sea of birth and death.”
It is said that one who cultivates wisdom and does not cultivate merit is like an Arhat with an empty begging-bowl; he is very wise, but no one makes offerings to him. But if one cultivates merit and neglects wisdom, he is just like a big elephant wearing a pearl necklace; beneath the adornments of blessing, he is stupid and will never solve the problem of birth and death.
“Each of you go back and look into your own wisdom and use the Prajna-nature of your own original mind to compose a verse. Submit it to me so that I may look at it.
“If you understand the great meaning, the robe and Dharma will be passed on to you and you will become the sixth patriarch. Hurry off! Do not delay! Thinking and considering is of no use in this matter. When seeing your own nature it is necessary to see it at the very moment of speaking. One who does that perceives as does one who wields a sword in the height of battle.”
“Verse” here is the Sanskrit word “gatha.” A gatha is composed of lines of uniform length, though the length may vary from gatha to gatha.
“Go quickly!” said the Fifth Patriarch. “Go as if a fire were about to overtake you. Do not dawdle and procrastinate saying, ‘Oh, I cannot do it today. I will do it tomorrow instead,’ and then the next day saying, ‘Not today either, perhaps tomorrow…’ Do not keep putting it off and do not try to think about it. It is useless to use your discriminating mind. If you have deep prajna wisdom, you understand the moment you hear the words spoken. Just as one grabs a weapon and confronts the oncoming enemy, so do you perceive. You can see your nature in the same immediate way.
The assembly received this order and withdrew, saying to one another, “We of the assembly do not need to clear our minds and use our intellect to compose a verse to submit to the High Master. What use would there be in this?”
“Shen Hsiu is our senior instructor and teaching transmitter. Certainly he should be the one to obtain it. It would be not only improper for us to compose a verse, but a waste of effort as well.”
Hearing this, everyone put his mind to rest, and said, “Henceforth, we will rely on Master Shen Hsiu. Why vex ourselves writing verses?”
They went away to other courts, other gardens, and other buildings, saying to themselves, “Why worry about writing this verse? We do not need to waste the effort.”
I believe the people who spoke this way were of Shen Hsiu’s party. Why did they not write verses? Because Shen Hsiu’s followers were trying to make him the patriarch; all his followers, disciples, Dharma brothers, friends, and relatives contrived to set up the position for Shen Hsiu. They convinced everyone else not to write verses, because if anyone else wrote verses, then perhaps Shen Hsiu might not get to be the next patriarch.
They secretly passed it around and whispered behind the scenes, like friends of a candidate for President who say, “Hey! Vote for this one! He can be President!” They spread it about and stuffed the ballot box.
Convinced that they had no learning, the assembly decided it was useless to write verses. Swayed by the rumors, they said, “The Senior-Seated Shen Hsiu is second to the Abbot. His literary skill is good, his virtue is high, he lectures on the Sutras and speaks Dharma for us. Certainly he should become the sixth patriarch.”
When the assembly heard Shen Hsiu’s followers saying things like, “If we write verses, they will be very unpolished and certainly not good enough to submit,” they all decided not to write verses themselves. They didn’t want to compete with Shen Hsiu, their superior.
Shen Hsiu then thought, “The others are not submitting verses because I am their teaching transmitter. I must compose a verse and submit it to the High Master.
“If I do not submit a verse, how will the High Master know whether the views and understanding in my mind are deep or shallow?
“If my intention in submitting the verse is to seek the Dharma, that is good. But if it is to grasp the patriarchate, that is bad, for how would that be different from the mind of a common person coveting the holy position? But, if I do not submit a verse, in the end I will not obtain the Dharma. This is a terrible difficulty!”
The Fifth Patriarch had announced that in order to obtain the Dharma, one must compose a verse. Shen Hsiu knew that if he did not submit one, the Fifth Patriarch would not know whether Shen Hsiu had wisdom and he could not transmit the Dharma to him. Shen Hsiu fretted and worried, “What shall I do? This is very hard; it is just too difficult!”
In front of the Fifth Patriarch’s hall were three corridors. Their walls were to be frescoed by Court Artist Lu Chen with stories from the Lankavatara Sutra and with pictures portraying in detail the lives of the five patriarchs, so that the patriarchs might be venerated by future generations.
A court artist is one appointed as an official to the Imperial Court because of his talent.
The title of The Lankavatara Sutra has two meanings: “city” and “cannot be gone to.” This city, located behind Malaya Mountain, is inaccessible to those without spiritual powers. Shakyamuni Buddha used his spiritual powers to go there and speak The Lankavatara Sutra for the benefit of those who had spiritual powers. The court artist was to depict the miraculous, inconceivable, wonderful transformations which took place in the assembly on Lanka Mountain.
The court artist was also to paint pictures illustrating the flow of the Dharma from Great Master Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch, to the Great Master Hui K’o, the Second Patriarch, and onward from generation to generation, to the Fifth Patriarch, Great Master Hung Jen. The paintings would remain in the world so that future generations might receive benefit from respecting and making offerings to them.
After composing his verse, Shen Hsiu made several attempts to submit it. But whenever he reached the front hall, his mind became agitated and distraught, and his entire body became covered with perspiration. He did not dare submit it, although in the course of four days he made thirteen attempts.
Shen Hsiu’s students were not greedy to become patriarch, but Shen Hsiu had a great desire for the position.
Whenever he tried to submit his verse, he went a little crazy. “What am I going to do? Is this verse right or not? Can I submit it?” He did not know if it was right or wrong. “Ah, maybe…is it this way or is it that way? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is…more or less.” Endless questions flooded his mind, making him extremely nervous. Every time he tried to hand it in, he broke out in a heavy sweat. Why? It was a huge gamble; if he failed, he would not be a patriarch, but if he passed, he would. Fear of failure caused his extreme agitation.
It was really suffering, really hard work! It is not easy to be a patriarch. Look at how much effort he expended. For four entire days and nights he never shut his eyes. He just kept trying to submit his verse. At night he would go as far as the Fifth Patriarch’s hall, peer around, break out in a sweat, and flee back to his room. During the day he tried again. In the periods in between, he could not sit, lie down, or sleep, and when he tried to eat, he couldn’t swallow.
He went before the Patriarch’s hall thirteen times and still did not submit the verse. Now, when I give you a quiz, you write the answers very promptly and hand them in. Suppose I were to give you a patriarch test! I think your hands would tremble so that you could not write out the answers. Finally, after so many attempts, when Shen Hsiu had almost worried himself to death, he thought, “Hey! Get hold of yourself. Calm down and think this thing over. Meditate and enter samadhi!”
Then he thought, “This is not as good as writing it on the wall so that the High Master might see it suddenly. If he says it is good, I will come forward, bow, and say, ‘Hsiu did it.’ If it does not pass, then I have spent my years on this mountain in vain, receiving veneration from others. And as to further cultivation–what can I say?”
That night, in the third watch, holding a candle he secretly wrote the verse on the wall of the South corridor, to show what his mind had seen.
“That’s it!” he said with relief. “I will write it on the wall and when he sees it he will say, ‘This is truly a fine verse, truly wonderful!’ and I will admit that I wrote it. But if he says, ‘This is too confused. It is nothing but useless trash!’ then I will know that I have wasted my time here on the mountain.”
He crept stealthily, like a thief in the night He carried just a little candle, for if the light were too bright, someone might have seen him.
The body is a Bodhi tree,
The mind like a bright mirror stand.
Time and again brush it clean,
And let no dust alight.
After writing this verse, Shen Hsiu returned to his room, and the others did not know what he had done.
Then he thought, “If the Fifth Patriarch sees the verse tomorrow and is pleased, it will mean that I have an affinity with the Dharma. If he says that it does not pass, it will mean that I am confused by heavy karmic obstacles from past lives, and that I am not fit to obtain the Dharma. It is difficult to fathom the sage’s intentions.”
In his room he thought it over and could not sit or sleep peacefully right through to the fifth watch.
He bounded back to his room two steps at a time, as if he were being chased, but quietly, taking great, silent leaps like an expert military spy. He was afraid that if anyone saw him, they would know he wrote the verse. But no one saw him, no one knew–not even the ghosts and spirits. “If he likes this verse,” thought Shen Hsiu, “then I must have conditions with the wonderful mind-to-mind seal of the Buddhas, and it is my destiny to be patriarch. But if it does not pass, my confusion from the karma created in past lives must be a heavy obstruction. It is hard to figure out what he will say. There is just no way to know.”
Actually, his verse was not bad, but he had not fully understood. So after he returned to his room, he was still uneasy.
The Patriarch already knew that Shen Hsiu had not yet entered the gate and seen his own nature. At daybreak, the Patriarch called Court Artist Lu Chen to fresco the wall of the south corridor. Suddenly he saw the verse and said to the court artist, “There is no need to paint. I am sorry that you have been wearied by coming so far, but The Diamond Sutra says, ‘Whatever has marks is empty and false.’ Instead leave this verse for people to recite and uphold. Those who cultivate in accordance with this verse will not fall into the evil destinies and will attain great merit.”
He then ordered the disciples to light incense and bow before it, and to recite it, thus enabling them to see their own nature. The disciples all recited it and exclaimed, “Excellent!”
“If you cultivate according to the principles contained in this verse,” said the Fifth Patriarch, “you will not fall into rebirth in the three evil paths of the hells, animals, or hungry ghosts, and you will receive many benefits.”
At the third watch, the Patriarch called Shen Hsiu into the hall and asked him, “Did you write this verse?”
Shen Hsiu said, “Yes, in fact, Hsiu did it. He does not dare lay claim to the position of Patriarch, but hopes the High Master will be compassionate and see whether or not this disciple has a little bit of wisdom.”
The Patriarch said, “The verse which you wrote shows that you have not yet seen your original nature but are still outside the gate. With such views and understanding you may seek supreme Bodhi, but in the end will not obtain it. Supreme Bodhi must be obtained at the very moment of speaking. In recognizing the original mind, at all times, in every thought, you yourself will see that the ten thousand Dharmas are unblocked; in one truth is all truth and the ten thousand states are of themselves ‘thus,’ as they are. The ‘thusness’ of the mind, just that is true reality. If seen in this way, it is indeed the self nature of supreme Bodhi.”
The Patriarch chose the same hour at which Shen Hsiu had written the verse on the wall the night before. He secretly called him in and said, “Psst! Was it you who wrote that verse?”
“Yes, yes,” Shen Hsiu whispered back, “yes, in fact, I, Hsiu, wrote it. I do not dare seek the status of the patriarch, but…”
“Your verse shows that you are still an outsider,” said the Fifth Patriarch. “You have not yet seen your nature. As soon as you speak the words, know your original nature!”
When you understand the mind and see your own nature, you know that the nature is not produced and not destroyed; for at all times, all dharmas are perfectly fused, without the slightest bit of obstruction. There is no place where all dharmas are not identical.
When you understand one truth, all truth is understood. The ten thousand externals are all produced from the state which is “thus, unmoving,” and within the mind which is “thus, thus, unmoving,” true reality is to be found. Seen in this way, this state is the original nature exactly; it is the highest enlightenment. And so, in response to Shen Hsiu, I wrote a verse myself:
Because of the Way, ten thousand things are born.
One who obtains it penetrates the mystery oneself;
Awakened, the basic substance is fathomed:
Bodhi does not decrease or increase.
“Go and think it over for a day or two. Compose another verse and bring it to me to see. If you have been able to enter the gate, I will transmit the robe and Dharma to you.”
Shen Hsiu made obeisance and left. Several days passed, but he was unable to compose a verse. His mind was agitated and confused and his thoughts and mood were uneasy. He was as if in a dream; whether walking or sitting down, he could not be happy.
After the Great Master had explained that the Bodhi self-nature cannot be sought with the mind that wants to take advantage of things, he told Shen Hsiu, “If you obtain the original substance, become enlightened and understand the mind and see your self-nature, entering the gate of the Buddhadharma so that you are no longer on the outside, I will transmit the Dharma to you.” “Enter the gate” means “understand the mind and see your own nature.”
As the days passed, Shen Hsiu gradually went insane. Neither his mood nor his thoughts would calm down. Although he was unable to fall asleep he was as if in a dream. He didn’t know what he was doing because his desire to become patriarch was so great. I believe that, after he failed the initial test and then was unable to compose another verse, he even considered suicide.
Two days later, a young boy chanting that verse passed by the threshing room. Hearing it for the first time, Hui Neng knew that the writer had not yet seen his original nature. Although he had not yet received a transmission of the teaching, he already understood its profound meaning. He asked the boy, “What verse are you reciting?”
“Barbarian, you know nothing,” replied the boy. “The Great Master has said that birth and death are a profound concern for people in the world. Desiring to transmit the robe and Dharma, he ordered his disciples to compose verses and bring them to him to see. The person who has awakened to the profound meaning will inherit the robe and Dharma and become the Sixth Patriarch. Our senior, Shen Hsiu, wrote this ‘verse without marks’ on the wall of the south corridor. The Great Master ordered everyone to recite it, for to cultivate in accord with this verse is to avoid falling into the evil destinies and is of great merit.”
A young lad ventured close to the threshing floor where the Sixth Patriarch was working, singing as he walked,
The body is a Bodhi tree.
The mind like a bright mirror-stand.
Time and again, brush it clean;
Let no dust alight.
The youth was chanting Shen Hsiu’s verse because he wished to obtain great benefit, avoid the three evil destinies of rebirth, and see his nature.
When the Sixth Patriarch asked the boy what he was reciting, the boy replied, “You barbarian! Don’t you know that the Fifth Patriarch said that of all the problems people face, the problem of birth and death is the most grave?”
A “verse without marks” is one which reveals that its author is not attached to marks.
“You really have no good roots!” the boy said to the Sixth Patriarch. “After so many days, you still don’t know? You are useless, capable only of toiling at bitter work; all you can do is pound rice. You shouldn’t let such a fine opportunity slip by. Listen closely, and I will tell you what has happened and teach you this verse so that you too can become enlightened and see your nature. Pay attention and rely on this verse as you cultivate so that in your next life you won’t have to endure such suffering as you endure now. You won’t have to be a horse or a cow or fall among the other animals or into the hells. At the very least you’ll be a wealthy and respected person of good fortune.”
The youth’s heart wasn’t bad at all.
Hui Neng said, “I, too, would like to recite it to create an affinity. Superior One, I have been pounding rice here for over eight months and have not yet been to the front hall. I hope that the Superior One will lead me before the verse to pay homage.” The boy then led him to the verse to bow.
Hui Neng said, “Hui Neng cannot read. Please, Superior One, read it to me.” Then an official from Chiang Chou, named Chang Jih Yung, read it loudly. After hearing it, Hui Neng said, “I, too, have a verse. Will the official please write it for me?”
The official replied, “You, too, can write a verse? That is strange!”
The boy said, “Listen to me and I will teach you: ‘The body is a Bodhi tree.’ Can you remember that? ‘The mind is like a bright mirror-stand.’ You should remember that! Don’t forget! ‘Time and again brush it clean; let no dust alight.’ If you remember that verse clearly and study as you chant, you’ll certainly receive an efficacious response.”
Because the lad had been so considerate, the Sixth Patriarch referred to him as “Superior One,” a title which is ordinarily reserved for one’s master. People who have left home often call their teachers, “Superior One,” acknowledging their high achievement.
Then the Sixth Patriarch said, “The layman Hui Neng is truly useless, for he can’t read a single word. Superior One, would you please recite it for me? Having heard the verse, he said, “Well, I have a verse, too, but I’m unable to write it. What can I do? Please, good official, Layman Chang, will you write it out for me?”
The official was wide-eyed with surprise. He looked scornfully at the barbarian and said, “Ha! You can write a verse? This is very strange. In my whole life I have never heard of an illiterate who can write verses!”
Hui Neng said to the official, “If you wish to study the supreme Bodhi, do not slight the beginner. The lowest people may have the highest wisdom; the highest people may have the least wisdom. If you slight others, you create limitless, unbounded offenses.”
The official said, “Recite your verse and I will write it out for you. If you obtain the Dharma you must take me across first. Do not forget these words.”
Hui Neng’s verse reads:
Originally Bodhi has no tree,
The bright mirror has no stand.
Originally there is not a single thing:
Where can dust alight?
When this verse had been written, the followers all were startled and without exception cried out to one another, “Strange indeed! One cannot judge a person by his appearance. How can it be that, after so little time, he has become a Bodhisattva in the flesh?”
Originally, Layman Lu had not planned to say a thing, but if he had remained silent, no one would have helped him write a verse. So in reply to the mocking of Layman Chang, the Master said, “If you wish to study the highest Bodhi, do not ridicule those who are studying the Buddhadharma for the first time.”
It may well be that those who appear to be the lowest and stupidest have the highest wisdom, for those who have truly great wisdom may act as if they have no wisdom at all. No matter what they are asked, they reply, “I don’t know,” This is an example of the great wisdom which is like stupidity. For instance, when I ask a question of my disciples they often say, “I don’t know.” When they first came to study, they said, “I know everything!”
Once I met a person who said he knew everything. I asked, “How can you know everything? If you know all there is to know, I’ll ask you a question.”
He said, “What is your question?”
I replied, “Do you know how many grains of rice you swallowed at lunch today?”
“No, I didn’t count them,” he admitted.
“Your ‘not counting’ is just ‘not knowing,’” I said.
Those who do the most menial work often have wisdom excelling that of people in high positions. Then again, those who ordinarily have great wisdom may have times when their wisdom is suffocated by thoughts of desire.
“O.K., O.K.,” said the official, “that’s right. You certainly speak with principle. Now, what is your verse? Recite it and I will write it out. You don’t have to say another word. But you must remember to take me across first because if I don’t write your verse no one will know of it.”
Originally Bodhi has no tree. Bodhi is just the Way of enlightenment, and that’s all there is to it; how can there be a tree? If there is a tree, Bodhi becomes a mere thing, a place of attachment. Originally Bodhi doesn’t have anything. If you say you are enlightened, what is enlightenment like? Is it green or yellow? Is it red or white? Can you speak of the appearance of Bodhi when it has no appearance?
The bright mirror has no stand. You may say the mind is like a bright mirror stand, but there is actually no stand at all. If you have a stand, you have a place where you can dwell. But you should “produce a thought which is nowhere supported;” how can you have a stand? If you have a stand, then you have a dwelling place, a place where you are attached; therefore, the bright mirror has no stand. What is the appearance? No appearance.
Originally there is not a single thing. Basically there is nothing at all: no style; no picture; no shape or mark. Originally there is nothing at all.
Where can dust alight? Since there isn’t anything, where does the dust come from? Basically you have no dwelling place. The essential meaning of the verse is this: You should “produce a thought which is nowhere supported.” There should be no attachment at all. This was precisely the Buddha’s meaning when, upon becoming enlightened, he said, “All living beings have the wisdom and virtuous characteristics of the Thus Come One. It is merely because of false thinking and attachment that they are unable to certify to the attainment of them.” This was spoken specifically to instruct people to put aside attachment, to produce an unsupported thought.
If you are attached, what are you up to? Huh? Now you are attached, but in the future will you die, or not? What will you be attached to when you die?
All the Bhikshus, laymen, and assembled disciples stood in astonishment and whispered among themselves, “Hey! Hey! Does he have a verse, too? Oh! It’s really true, you can’t judge people by appearances. This rice-thresher, Layman Lu, can compose verses. We can no longer slander him and call him a barbarian.”
“Why he hasn’t been here very long,” they continued, “but how can you deny that he’s a flesh body Bodhisattva?” Actually, some were mocking the Sixth Patriarch, babbling, “Don’t look down on him. He’s a flesh body Bodhisattva.” Perhaps there were Arhats in the assembly who intentionally made such comments so that people would look closely and clearly recognize that he actually was a flesh body Bodhisattva. Again there were those who said, “This is truly a flesh body Bodhisattva,” but meant it only as sarcasm and light-hearted ridicule, for they still didn’t know if the verse was correct.
Everyone was chattering, exchanging comments, making such a racket that the Fifth Patriarch came to the hall and demanded, “What are you doing? What are you up to?”
“This rice-thresher, this barbarian, can write verses!” they stammered.
The Fifth Patriarch saw the astonished assembly and feared that they might become dangerous. Accordingly, he erased the verse with his shoe saying, “This one, too, has not yet seen his nature.”
The assembly agreed.
The gathering was so excited the Fifth Patriarch feared that someone might even try to assassinate Layman Lu. This sentence of text proves that people with twisted hearts, followers of Shen Hsiu, were already locked in a fierce battle for positions of power. If the Dharma and the Patriarchate were transmitted publicly to anyone other than Shen Hsiu, that person would have been murdered on the spot. But they didn’t know that the Fifth Patriarch was a bright-eyed one who read their scheming minds. So to protect the Sixth Patriarch he erased the verse and said, “This man’s verse is also incorrect.”
Perhaps some of you are thinking, “The Fifth Patriarch lied! First he said that if one cultivated in accord with Shen Hsiu’s verse, he would not be subject to the three evil destinies, but would gain great benefit and see his own nature. Then the Fifth Patriarch told everyone that Layman Lu had not really seen his nature when, in truth, he had. Isn’t that false speech?
No. This is a provisional teaching, not false speech. The Fifth Patriarch spoke to protect the new patriarch; he would not allow the others to harm him. In this way, the Buddhadharma could remain long in this world and be transmitted far and wide.
“Yes,” said the followers, “he has not seen his nature.” Although they agreed, no one knew whether the verse was right or not. The first verse said, “Bodhi is a tree;” the second said, “Bodhi has no tree.” The first verse said, “The bright mirror has a stand,” and the second said, “There is no mirror stand.” Which was right? Which was wrong? No one understood. None of them had become enlightened, so they couldn’t recognize an enlightened verse. It is like the judging of a doctoral dissertation: if you only have a Master’s Degree, you cannot judge a doctoral dissertation. It is the same with the enlightened and the unenlightened: since they were not enlightened themselves, the followers did not understand, and so they simply agreed with the Master and said, “No, this one has not yet seen his nature.”
The next day the Patriarch secretly came to the threshing floor where he saw Hui Neng pounding rice with a stone tied around his waist, and he said, “A seeker of the Way would forget his very life for the Dharma. Is this not the case?”
The next day everyone was quiet and no longer worrying about who was enlightened and who was not. The Fifth Patriarch secretly left his room and went quickly to the threshing floor to see the Great Master Hui Neng. As he went he peered about to see if anyone was looking; just like Shen Hsiu when he had finished writing the verse, he ran silently, darting glances over his shoulder to make sure no one saw him.
When the Fifth Patriarch got to the threshing floor, he saw Hui Neng pounding rice. He had tied a stone around his waist and pounded rice so that others could eat. What was he doing? He was practicing the Bodhisattva Way, forgetting others and having no notion of self. He did not think, “Why should I pound rice for you to eat? You don’t work. You don’t do anything at all! I pound rice all day and it is very difficult!” He did not think that way. Instead, he thought, “You do not work? Fine, I will do it myself,” just like one of my disciples who is so busy that when he is called to lunch he says, “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” I really like that kind of disciple, but not everyone can be that way.
“Isn’t that so?” the Fifth Patriarch said. Remember this. It ought, it must be this way! You must give up being afraid of difficulty to the point of forgetting to eat. No one knows how many days the Sixth Patriarch went without eating. No one called him to eat, and he himself forgot about it until he had no strength. He tied a heavy rock around his waist to add weight to his body so that he could pound the rice. I think he used the stone to add to his weight because he had not eaten for some time; however, you should not get attached and think, “It was definitely like that.” On the other hand, do not think, “It definitely wasn’t like that.” The profound insight comes from precisely that kind of non-attachment.
Then the Fifth Patriarch asked, “Is the rice ready?”
Hui Neng replied, “The rice has long been ready. It is now waiting only for the sieve.”
This passage in The Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra is extremely important. The Fifth Patriarch found the Great Master Hui Neng toiling on the threshing floor and asked him, “Is the rice ready?” On one level the question means, “Have you finished threshing the rice?” On another level, the meaning is: “Have your efforts been successful? Has your work taken you up the road?”
Why does the Sutra say, “rice”? Because rice is made up of many grains, perfectly shaped, so symbolizing the precious mani jewel of the self nature. “Is the mani jewel of your nature ready? Is the light of your mind full? Is the light of your nature full? Is the light of your body full?”
When the raw grain is boiled in water it becomes edible. The Patriarch’s question means, “How is your cultivation of the Way? You have been pounding rice and cultivating Dhyana meditation. How is your skill?” There are many levels of meaning here. The Sixth Patriarch, of course, understood the Fifth Patriarch’s question, for it is said,
One who has gone through,
knows one who has gone through;
Those who do,
know those who do.
“The rice has long been ready. My skill was perfected long ago,” the Sixth Patriarch answered. “It is now waiting only for the sieve.” In threshing rice, a sieve is used to sift out the husks. Here, the sieve represents getting rid of the filth. The fourth chapter of The Lotus Sutra tells of the poor son who spent twenty years getting rid of the filth of the delusions of views and delusions of thoughts.
Although the Sixth Patriarch’s spiritual skill was perfected, it still waited for the sieve; he still had to sweep out the filth of the delusions of views and thought. Do you understand now why Sutras must be explained? If they were not explained, you would not even know enough to sweep away the filth, and you would be utterly useless.
The Patriarch rapped the pestle three times with his staff and left. Hui Neng then knew the Patriarch’s intention, and at the third watch he went into the Patriarch’s room.
The Fifth Patriarch rapped the pestle three times with his staff and left. Old monks who have left the home life to become Bhikshus often carry a walking stick. Sometimes these staffs are made of twisted vines. The Great Master Hsü Yün said:
We go to pick the ivy,
Lively like a dragon,
Beating wind and rain,
Beating empty space.
The ivy vine curves and twists like a dragon who by attacking the wind and rain attacks empty space. That is certainly a case of going out to look for trouble. If that vine were as busy as my disciples it would have no time to beat space and wind.
“Knock, knock, knock,” went the Fifth Patriarch’s staff, and how do you think he left? If you know, then you know. If you don’t know, then you must wait until I tell you. He went out with his two hands behind his back, holding his crooked staff.
Why did the Patriarch rap three times? Do you understand the meaning of that? The Sixth Patriarch understood right away. The rapping meant, “Come to my room at the third watch, at midnight.” This is called “speaking the Dharma without words.” Here in the meditation hall, for example, when the wooden fish is hit twice, it means “Walk;” hit once, it means “Stop and sit down;” hit three times, it means, “Meditate! Work hard!” All that is “speaking the Dharma without words.”
Why did the Fifth Patriarch carry his staff behind his back? Now you are going to ask me, “How do you know he carried it behind his back since it doesn’t say so in the Sutra?” Well, how do you not know? I know that you don’t know. He carried it behind his back to indicate that the Sixth Patriarch should come in by the back door. “Do not let the others see you come in!”
If the Fifth Patriarch had said openly, “Come to my room at the third watch and we’ll have a little talk,” I am sure that the word would have spread like fire to Shen Hsiu’s ears and Shen Hsiu and his disciples would not have been very kind to the Sixth Patriarch. The Fifth Patriarch tested the Sixth Patriarch’s wisdom by rapping his staff three times and putting it behind his back.
The Sixth Patriarch understood but no one else did. They were all as if deaf and dumb, without any idea as to what had transpired in this wordless exchange of Dharma.
At midnight, as soon as the Sixth Patriarch entered the room, there was a quick exchange. “What are you doing here?” demanded the Fifth Patriarch.
“But the Patriarch told me to come at the third watch!” came the reply.
“Really? Did I tell you that? How could I have forgotten? What do you think you are doing? Why did you come in the back door instead of the front door?”
“Did the Master not tell me to use the back entrance?”
The Fifth Patriarch laughed and said, “You are not bad, really not bad. You are all right!”
You, ask how I know that? I ask, “How do you not know it?”
The Patriarch covered them with his precept sash so they could not be seen, and he explained The Diamond Sutra for him down to the line, “One should produce a thought that is nowhere supported.”
The Fifth Patriarch was afraid that someone might have seen the Great Master Hui Neng enter his room and might be outside the window eavesdropping. At that time the windows were made of paper; so, to insure privacy, the Fifth Patriarch pulled his robe over both their heads.
The Fifth Patriarch’s explanation of The Diamond Sutra was not a public one, such as I have given you. His was a secret and very difficult explanation, telling the Sixth Patriarch how to forge an indestructible vajra body. When he heard the words, “One should produce a thought which is nowhere supported,” Hui Neng achieved the great enlightenment and knew that all the ten thousand dharmas are not separate from the self-nature. He suddenly experienced that even greater enlightenment
Although the Sixth Patriarch knew the method, his afflictions of views and thought had not yet been completely eliminated. That he was waiting for the sieve can mean, also, that no one had certified him. Even though, in his intense vigor, he had reached a high peak, and the fire in the censer was pure green, he had not yet been certified by a good knowing advisor. So when the Fifth Patriarch heard him say that the rice was ready and merely waiting for the sieve, he prepared to certify the Sixth Patriarch.
Because I have a kind of radar, I was able to record their conversation and I shall now replay it for you. Keep in mind that this is a T’ang Dynasty recording, not a present-day one:
“Do you want to reach Buddhahood?” asked the Fifth Patriarch.
“Yes,” said the Sixth Patriarch, “I just want to become a Buddha. I do not seek anything else. I only want to attain Buddhahood.”
“Your resolution is extremely firm,” replied the Fifth Patriarch, “but if you want to realize Buddhahood you must first cut off ignorance, for it is ignorance which produces the afflictions of delusion, brought on by false views and false thought. If you want to cut off these afflictions, you must first cut off ignorance.
“For example, the cycle of birth and death is based on the state of emotional love. When you break through ignorance, then the delusions of false views and false thoughts which are tied to birth and death cease to exist, for ignorance is the root of birth and death. If you want to cut off ignorance and thereby put an end to birth and death, then, as The Diamond Sutra says, “produce a thought which is nowhere supported.” That means do not dwell in emotional love, get rid of desire, and cast out craving. Then you can bring an end to birth and death.
The Sixth Patriarch heard this and suddenly became enlightened. He saw through to his original face and said, “Ah! It is basically just like this! It is not difficult at all! In fact, it’s very easy!” Thus he became enlightened.
This has been a T’ang Dynasty recording which has just been played for you to hear.
In cultivating and studying the Buddhadharma, you should produce an unsupported thought. That means to dwell neither in emotion nor love. If you dwell in emotion and love, you dwell in ignorance, and thus in birth and death. If you do not dwell in emotion or in love, if you do not dwell in existence or nonexistence, you know the Middle Way. The Middle Way is not separate from existence and is not separate from emptiness, nor does it exist elsewhere. T
he ability to transform emotion and love into genuine Prajna wisdom is enlightenment. Not changing them is confusion. It is said, “Although the sea of suffering is inexhaustible, a turn of the head is the other shore.” The difference between confusion and enlightenment is just in knowing how to turn. If you accept emotion and love and run after desire, then the more you run, the more confused you become. If you can turn your head, you arrive at Nirvana, the other shore. If you do not turn your head, you become more and more confused. The more confused, the farther away you are and the deeper you sink into confusion. But although you are extremely far off, one turn can be sudden enlightenment. Sudden enlightenment is awakening. Awakening is the Buddha.
You may be thinking, “If I become a Buddha, there won’t be any work for me to do. Wouldn’t I just sit in a lotus flower all day and wait for people to come and light incense and bow before me? Frankly, I don’t think that sounds the least bit interesting!” If that is what you think, you can go on being a living being, but you can be a living being who is a friend to others, taking them across to Buddhahood.
You need not worry about Buddhahood being uninteresting. Yesterday I talked about the ghost who had no trouble and as a consequence did not want to become a person:
I’ve been a ghost for three thousand years,
Without happiness, without fears.
Shen Kung tells me to go be a man,
But I really just don’t think I can!
The ghosts have no fears, but they only come out at night, because they belong to the yin, the darkness principle. The Buddha is totally yang, like the light of the sun. So, you decide. Do you want to be a ghost or a Buddha? If you want to be a ghost, then it is all right to have emotion and love. But if you want to be a Buddha, you must “produce a thought which is nowhere supported.”
At the moment he heard those words, Hui Neng experienced the great enlightenment and he knew that all the ten thousand dharmas are not separate from the self-nature. He said to the Patriarch:
How unexpected! The self-nature is originally pure in itself.
How unexpected! The self-nature is originally neither produced nor destroyed.
How unexpected! The self-nature is originally complete in itself.
How unexpected! The self-nature is originally without movement.
How unexpected! The self-nature can produce the ten thousand dharmas.
Great enlightenment penetrates to the beginning and to the end: it is a complete understanding of the deep Prajna wisdom. Because the Sixth Patriarch understood Prajna wisdom he said, “The ten thousand dharmas are not separate from the self-nature, for the mind produces the ten thousand dharmas.”
The Sixth Patriarch exclaimed that the self-nature is pure. Why, then, does the Sutra say earlier that the self-nature is neither defiled nor pure?
The term “pure” represents the appearance of the original substance, because the concept cannot be represented any other way. Here, “pure” means “originally pure” and does not refer to the purity which is the opposite of defilement.
Production and destruction, birth and death, occur because living beings become attached. Without attachments, where would birth and death come from? Where would they go? There is no such thing as birth and death!
The Sixth Patriarch realized that the self-nature is originally complete in itself, with nothing lacking and nothing in excess. It cannot be added to or depleted. In the final analysis the Buddha is not greater than ordinary living beings. Why do living beings fail to understand that? Because they turn their backs on enlightenment and unite themselves with the “dust” of external objects. With their backs turned, they cannot recognize the precious things that are originally theirs. They cast the root aside and grasp at the branches seeking pleasurable sensations which are false. They grasp at fame and profit, stupidly.
Living beings are upside-down; they have no concentration power. But, nevertheless, their self-nature is without movement. Not only is that true of the Sixth Patriarch’s self-nature, but the self-nature of all living beings is unmoving, too. All are equal.
The ten thousand dharmas are produced from the self-nature, and the self-nature includes all of existence. The Master hadn’t comprehended that before, but now at last he understood the wonderful principles.
The Fifth Patriarch knew of Hui Neng’s enlightenment to his original nature and said to him, “Studying the Dharma without recognizing the original mind is of no benefit. If one recognizes one’s own original mind and sees one’s original nature, then one is called a great hero, a teacher of gods and humans, a Buddha.”
The Fifth Patriarch knew that the Sixth Patriarch had become enlightened, and that he recognized his original face and knew whether his nostrils faced up or down. When he held his hand over his head, the Sixth Patriarch knew whether it was upsidedown or right-side up.
Recently, I asked you all, “When your hand hangs at your side, is it upside-down and when you raise it up over your head, is it right-side up? Or is it that when it hangs at your side it is right-side up and when you raise it over your head it is upside-down?” None of you understood this principle. Why? Because there is basically no such thing as upside-down or right-side-up! The Sixth Patriarch was especially clear about such questions. The Fifth Patriarch knew that he understood and so he covered them both with his robe and said, “Unless you recognize your original mind, it is useless to study the Dharma.”
It is said, “If one recognizes one’s own mind, the great earth doesn’t have an inch of dirt.” It changes into yellow gold, adorned with the seven precious things–gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian.
You say, “It doesn’t look like that to me.” Of course it doesn’t. You haven’t recognized your original mind. When you recognize it, you will see things differently. It’s like wearing tinted glasses. If you wear red glasses, people look red, and if you wear green glasses, they look green. If your glasses are yellow, then everyone looks yellow. Because you haven’t recognized your original mind, the great earth appears to be covered with dirt. This is because the dirt within you is so great. What is the dirt? It is simply your scattered thoughts, for without them, the great earth doesn’t have an inch of dirt.
Studying the Buddhadharma is of no benefit unless you recognize your original mind. Look at it! What color is it? Is it green, yellow, red, white, or black? Is it long or short, square or round? What does it look like? What is its appearance? To say it has an appearance is an analogy, because fundamentally it has no appearance. When you recognize this “no appearance” you will understand. But before you have recognized it, do not speak about it in a confused way.
Recognize your original mind and see your nature. At that point you are a Buddha, because in the final analysis living beings are the Buddha and the Buddha is a living being. We now have the opportunity to realize Buddhahood. Not recognizing, not seeing, however, you still must study the Buddhadharma.
He received the Dharma in the third watch and no one knew about it. The Fifth Patriarch also transmitted the Sudden Teaching and the robe and bowl saying, “You are the Sixth Patriarch. Protect yourself carefully. Take living beings across by every method and spread the teaching for the sake of those who will live in the future. Do not let it be cut off.”
At midnight, the Fifth Patriarch transmitted the wonderful Dharma to the Sixth Patriarch, using the mind to seal the mind, and no one at all knew about it. The insiders didn’t know, the outsiders didn’t know, not even the ghosts and spirits knew.
The Fifth Patriarch transmitted the Teaching of Sudden Enlightenment which points directly to the mind to see the nature and realize Buddhahood. “Think this over,” he said. “You are the Sixth Patriarch. As you cultivate the Buddhadharma, you must walk the true path. Do not simply talk about enlightenment. Do not use ‘head-mouth zen’ and say ‘I have studied the Dharma to the point that when there is no principle, I can make one up. I can prove that there is no truth or falsehood, and that to understand that by itself is to understand the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way.’ Don’t talk that way. It is just head-mouth zen because it comes not from real cultivation but from jealousy and obstructions and an obsession to be number one. If you are like that, you certainly can’t be a Patriarch.
The Fifth Patriarch gave the Dharma to Hui Neng because Hui Neng always practiced the Bodhisattva Way. He pounded rice for everyone to eat and so helped them in their cultivation. That same Bodhisattva conduct is practiced here in the kitchen of this temple by the cooks. They make extremely fine food! However, when I eat I don’t notice whether it is good or not because I don’t have time to investigate eating-dharmas. Today, at lunch, didn’t I say that one who tastes his food and thinks it’s good or bad has no spiritual skill?
Bodhisattvas help others at every level, not obstructing them, but, like the superior man, mentioning their good points instead. For instance, when I announced that several people were going to leave home and asked if anyone objected, no one did. You said, “I commend those who want to leave home.” Your not objecting is practicing the Bodhisattva Way.
Late at night, the Sixth Patriarch easily obtained the Patriarchate. The Fifth Patriarch approved, but he didn’t consult anyone because he knew they would have protested.
“Go out into the world,” said the Fifth Patriarch. “Protect the robe and bowl, for they have been handed down from Shakyamuni Buddha from generation to generation. Take everyone across and spread the Dharma into the future. Do not let it be cut off!”
The Fifth Patriarch, sad and worried, was on the verge of tears. How do I know he wanted to cry? The Second Patriarch, at his execution, had wept as he said, “During the time of the Fourth Patriarch, The Lankavatara Sutra will become a mere name and appearance. No one will understand it.” Now, in the same way, the Fifth Patriarch’s heart welled up within him as he said, “Don’t allow the Dharma to be cut off. Be careful. Pay attention, Don’t be muddled or take your job lightly. It is extremely important that the Dharma not be cut off.”
Listen to my verse:
With feeling comes the planting of the seed.
Because of the ground, the fruit is born again.
Without feeling there is no seed at all.
Without that nature there is no birth either.
“With feeling comes the planting of the seed.” I have a feeling of loving kindness and so I have come to plant a seed. “Feeling” can mean compassion. I have a compassionate feeling and so I have come to plant the seed, to transmit the Buddhadharma to you.
“Because of the ground, the fruit is born again.” This transmission is like putting a seed into the ground so that the plant can grow and bear fruit.
“Without feeling there is no seed at all.” Without feeling, no seed is planted. If no one transmits the Buddhadharma to you, then there is no Bodhi-seed.
“Without the nature there is no birth either.” Where there is no nature, there is no birth. That is one way to explain this verse. There is another way:
“With feeling comes the planting of the seed.” The feeling is an emotional feeling of love. The seed is planted because of this feeling of love and people study the Dharma because of it. If they are not relatives, they are friends. Relatives have relative’s emotional feelings and friends have friend’s emotional feelings. Because you have these emotional feelings you come to study the Dharma; you come to plant the seed.
“Because of the ground the fruit is born again.” Emotional feeling plants the seed of Bodhi because of the ground which is the place where one can reap the fruit. On this piece of ground, you can grow the Bodhi-fruit.
“Without feeling there is no seed at all.” If there is no feeling or emotion, there is no seed. That is, if no one came to this Bodhimanda to study the Dharma, there would be no feeling and no seed planted.
“Without that nature, there is no birth either.” You cannot realize Buddhahood without the Buddha nature. Now, the Buddha nature is here and you should realize Buddhahood.
The verse may be explained in many ways, so long as the explanation is in accord with principle.
The Patriarch further said, “In the past, when the First Patriarch Great Master Bodhidharma first came to this land and people did not believe in him yet, he transmitted this robe as a symbol of faith to be handed down from generation to generation. The Dharma is transmitted from mind to mind, leading everyone to self-awakening and self-enlightenment.
“From ancient times, Buddha only transmits the original substance to Buddha; master secretly transmits the original mind to master. Since the robe is a source of contention, it should stop with you. Do not transmit it, for if you do, your life will hang by a thread.”
Didn’t I say before that Chinese people have no respect for Indian people? When Bodhidharma arrived in China everyone said, “He’s a hick.” No one knew who he was. Even after five years in China, he was not recognized as the Patriarch.
True patriarchs accept the robe and bowl as certification of their rightly inherited position, while impostors may try to steal the robe and take the Dharma by force. Shen Hsiu thought a forced inheritance would be real; but it could only be false.
During the time of the Fourth Patriarch, three attempts were made to steal the robe and bowl, and another three attempts were made during the time of the Fifth Patriarch. But the thieves always failed because the Bodhisattvas came to the Patriarchs’ aid.
When the Sixth Patriarch was guarding the robe, six attempts were made. Later the robe and bowl were taken by Empress Wu Tse T’ien. It is not certain who it was entrusted to afterward.
The Fifth Patriarch cautioned Hui Neng: “If you suspend a hundred-pound rock from a thread, it is certain to snap; so with your life if you continue to transmit the robe.”
“You must go quickly for I fear that people might harm you.”
Hui Neng asked, “Where shall I go?”
The Patriarch replied, “Stop at Huai and hide at Hui.”
Hui Neng received the robe and bowl in the third watch. He said, “Hui Neng is a Southerner and does not know these mountain roads. How does one reach the mouth of the river?”
The Fifth Patriarch said, “You need not worry. I will accompany you.”
The Fifth Patriarch escorted him to the Chiu Chiang courier station and ordered him to board a boat. The Fifth Patriarch took up the oars and rowed. Hui Neng said, “Please, High Master, sit down. It is fitting that your disciple take the oars.”
The Patriarch replied, “It is fitting that I take you across.”
Hui Neng said, “When someone is deluded, his master takes him across, but when he is enlightened, he takes himself across. Although the term ‘taking across’ is the same in each case, the function is not the same.”
The Fifth Patriarch instructed the Sixth Patriarch to leave quickly, for he knew that Shen Hsiu’s followers would certainly want to kill him when they realized he had inherited the patriarchate. “Do not stay here,” the Fifth Patriarch said. “Stop at Huai and hide at Hui.” Huai is a district in Kuang Hsi, Wu Chou, and Hui is Szu Hui, now called Hsin Hui.
High Master is a respectful form of address used for a teacher or an Abbot, so the Sixth Patriarch used it to address the Fifth Patriarch “High Master, it is only proper that your disciple take the oars.”
“Hey!” said the Fifth Patriarch, “Let me take you across the river.” The Master and disciple exchanged courtesies, but although they each used the same term “taking across,” it meant something different in each case. For the teacher to take the disciple across is not the same thing as for the disciple to take the teacher across. Hui Neng understood. “When the student is confused,” he said, “the teacher must save him. But when the student becomes enlightened, he must save himself.”
Before becoming enlightened and obtaining the original substance of the self-nature, the disciple is confused and lost. His teacher advises him to work hard: “Do not be afraid of the pain in your legs when you sit in meditation. If you are afraid of suffering you cannot become enlightened.” The Sixth Patriarch, when he hung a stone around his waist so he could pound the rice harder, was not afraid of suffering. The rock which the Layman Lu, the Sixth Patriarch, used to tie around his waist when he pounded rice is still on P’ing Mao Mountain at Tung Shan Ch’an Monastery and carved on the rock is the inscription: “The rock Hui Neng, the former Layman Lu, tied around his waist.”
“Hui Neng was born in the frontier regions and his pronunciation is incorrect, yet he has received the Dharma transmission from the Master. Now that enlightenment has been attained, it is only fitting that he take his own nature across.”
The Patriarch replied, “So it is, so it is. Hereafter because of you, the Buddhadharma will be widely practiced. Three years after your departure I will leave this world. Start on your journey now and go south as fast as possible. Do not speak too soon, for the Buddhadharma arises from difficulty.”
Because he was from the south, the Sixth Patriarch spoke Cantonese rather than Mandarin, so few people understood him. Nevertheless, he inherited the mind seal of the wonderful Dharma.
Master Hui Neng was truly enlightened, unlike some people who are not enlightened but cheat and say that they are, who have not testified to the fruit of enlightenment but lie and say that they have.
The Fifth Patriarch thought, “This disciple knows my heart.” He said to Hui Neng, “Yes, it is just that way.”
One should take one’s own nature across. Remember that. For example, someone must teach you to recite the Shurangama Mantra, but once you know how, you must recite it on your own. People should not have to say, “It is time for you to recite the Shurangama Mantra.” Again, someone must teach you to recite Sutras, but then you must do it yourself. That is what is meant by “taking one’s own nature across.”
A teacher shows you how to remove afflictions. He says that anger is harmful, and that one should transform one’s nasty temper into Bodhi. Once taught, the nature cannot be taken across unless the method is applied. The Master says, “Don’t get upset. When faced with a crisis, proceed as if nothing has happened. All things are like flowers in the sky or the moon’s reflection in water–unreal, illusory, like a dream or a dewdrop. Remember that and there will be no affliction.” If, when faced with a situation, or a state of mind, you see through it and put it down, you have taken your nature across.
Smoking can be a problem. The teacher says, “Stop smoking! Smoking hinders cultivation.” When I said that to one disciple he said, “Stop smoking? I’ll give it a try,” and he stopped. He took his nature across.
Another disciple is fond of drinking. Having studied the Buddhadharma, he ought to have quit drinking, but he says, “I’m confused. I’m not enlightened.” If you stop you become enlightened; if you don’t, you sink into confusion. Whether or not you become enlightened is entirely up to you.
Cutting off all unwholesome activities is to become enlightened and to take your nature across. Not understanding, you may think, “The Dharma Master says that drugs are bad, so I’ll take some more. I’ll take a double dose. No, I’ll take five times as much! I’ll keep getting high until I am enlightened.” Continue to take drugs and you will poison yourself and die instead. Confused by drugs, you cannot take your nature across.
Before studying the Buddhadharma, you should not do confused and wicked things. After you have studied the Buddhadharma, the prohibition is even stronger. If you continue to misbehave, you commit the crime of “knowing and intentionally violating the Dharma,” and you are certain to fall into the hells. There is nothing polite about these matters. If you do confused and wicked things, you will fall into the hells. If I do them, I will fall into the hells. If someone else does them, he will fall into the hells. No one can avoid this.
In a hundred thousand ages,
The karma made is not destroyed;
When the causes and conditions rebound,
You undergo the retribution by yourself.
No one can suffer for you in the hells. Karma refers to acts of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and drinking, all of which bear retribution in the future. Your karma does not get lost, and it is you, and you alone, who must suffer the consequences. However,
If you end your confusion
and get rid of the dirt,
You can easily take
your own nature across.
The dirt in your nature is your upside-down actions, your false thinking, your ignorance, your outflows, and your bad habits. Eliminate these and you have taken your nature across.
When I lectured this Sutra in another place, I said, “If you create offense-karma, you will go to the hells; if someone else creates offense-karma, he will go to the hells, if I create offense karma, I will go to the hells.” One person who was there objected:
“Dharma Master,” he said “I have never seen these hells. Where are they? I would like to take a look at them because I simply don’t believe they exist.”
I said, “It is easy enough to fall into the hells, and if you try to fall into them you will fall even more quickly and not escape for a very long time.” I hope that those who wish to try out the hells will reconsider.
What kind of person can take his own nature across? A person with wisdom. Deluded people, on the other hand, cannot take their nature across, and what is more, even if a teacher tries to help them, they refuse to listen. It is like trying to teach a dog. You say, “Don’t bite people,” and, the first chance it gets, the dog bites someone. So you hit it and it still bites people. Why? Because it has a stupid nature. Cats are just the same. You can tell a cat, “Do not kill mice, do not take life, but nevertheless the cat kills the first mouse it sees. You may try to teach a mouse not to steal, but still it sneaks off and steals.
Smoking and drinking are done by those who do not know any better. People with true and proper understanding do not do mixed-up things. People with mixed up understanding do not do true and proper things. You must correct your own faults. Your teacher shouldn’t have to watch your every move and follow you around to make sure that you behave. You must take your own nature across.
This is a general explanation, for if I were to speak in detail, I would not finish until the exhaustion of the boundaries of the future.
“I have transmitted my Dharma, and in three years I will complete the stillness and go to Nirvana,” said the Fifth Patriarch. “Go well, and whatever you do, don’t be lazy. Go well, don’t go bad. Don’t go the wrong way. Don’t take drugs and ruin your body, for your body is your means of cultivation. If you ruin your body, how will you be able to cultivate? Go well, go well, do your best. Quickly head south.” That is certainly the kind of advice the Fifth Patriarch gave.
“But don’t speak of the Dharma too soon. Hide your light and store up your potential, as troops are fed well so that they may conquer every enemy and capture every city. The Buddhadharma is hard to bring forth. It arises from difficulty.”
After Hui Neng took leave of the Patriarch, he set out on foot for the South. In two months he reached the Ta Yü Mountains.
The Fifth Patriarch returned to the monastery but for several days he did not enter the hall. The assembly was concerned and went to ask: “Has the Master some slight illness or problem?”
“There is no illness,” came the reply, “but the robe and Dharma have already gone south.”
“Who received the transmission?” they asked.
“The Able One obtained it,” said the Patriarch.
The assembly then understood, and soon several hundred people took up pursuit, all hoping to steal the robe and bowl.
The Sixth Patriarch left the Fifth Patriarch, no longer attending upon the High Master or making offerings to him. He walked south from P’ing Mao Mountain and in a little over two months, he finally reached the Ta Yü mountain range which forms the border between Nan Hsiung and Kuang Tung.
The Fifth Patriarch returned to his room. For many days he did not go into the hall to speak Dharma or take his meals. The assembly was curious. “High Master,” they said, “you’re not ill, are you?”
“You may all disperse,” said the Fifth Patriarch, “because I no longer have the Buddhadharma. The robe and Dharma have gone south. I intend to rest now, I am going to retire.”
“Who received the transmission?” they asked.
“The Able One,” said the Patriarch. “He who was able obtained it. Whoever the able one is, he got it.”
When this announcement was made there were those in the assembly who had keen intelligence, one of them being Dharma Master Fa Ju. He was one of the ten people to whom the Fifth Patriarch gave instructions before he entered Nirvana, telling them, “Each of you go to a different direction and be a Dharma Host.” But now, when Fa Ju heard the Fifth Patriarch say that the Able One had obtained the transmission, he cried out, “No! That must mean the southern barbarian has got the Dharma! How strange.” The “Able One” refers to Hui Neng: “Able” (neng) was his name.
Word spread, and soon everyone knew. They all objected violently. “No! No!” they shouted, “How can it be? Let’s go take it from him right now.” Several hundred powerful people ran after Hui Neng. Consider the situation: the Fifth Patriarch had transmitted the Dharma to a barbarian, and the entire assembly was resentful. “How could you give it to him?” they said. “We have been following you for so many years. Why didn’t you give it to us?” They thought to themselves, “The Patriarch’s brain must be addled. How else could he give the Dharma to such a hick? How can he become the Sixth Patriarch? We should get back the robe and bowl–by force!”
One Bhikshu, Hui Ming, a coarse-natured man whose lay name had been Ch’en, had formerly been a fourth class military official. He was intent in his search and ahead of the others. When he had almost caught up with Hui Neng the latter tossed the robe and bowl onto a rock, saying, “This robe and bowl are tokens of faith. How can they be taken by force?” Hui Neng then hid in a thicket.
When Hui Ming arrived, he tried to pick them up, but found he could not move them. He cried out, “Cultivator, Cultivator, I have come for the Dharma, not for the robe!”
Hui Neng then came out and sat cross-legged on a rock. Hui Ming made obeisance and said, “I hope that the Cultivator will teach the Dharma for my sake.”
Hui Neng said, “Since you have come for the Dharma, you may put aside all conditions. Do not give rise to a single thought and I will teach it to you clearly.” After a time, Hui Neng said, “With no thoughts of good and with no thoughts of evil, at just this moment, what is Superior One Hui Ming’s original face?” At these words, Hui Ming was greatly enlightened.
Bhikshu Hui Ming was coarse and uneducated. He never opened his mouth unless it was to scold someone, and if they refused to listen, he beat them. He could smash a rock of several hundred pounds with one blow. With this extraordinary strength he became a fourth class army officer.
Hui Ming had one peculiar trait. His feet were covered with feathers which enabled him to run fast. He could travel sixty miles a day, compared to the ordinary man’s thirty. His feathered feet and great strength carried him far ahead of the others. As he flew along, his mind raced, “I’ll get the robe and bowl and then it will be mine! It belongs to the strongest man.”
When Hui Neng saw this big crude feather-footed pursuer, he was a bit frightened. Although he had obtained the Dharma, he had just begun to cultivate and did not yet have great spiritual power. He shouted into empty space: “This robe and bowl are symbols of the faith. How can you take them by force? How can there be any dispute?”
What do you think?
Hui Ming had actually intended to grab the robe and bowl and run. But he could not move them. Why do you suppose he couldn’t move them? After all he was so strong he could have smashed the bowl to smithereens with a single blow and have ripped the robe to shreds. Yet for all his strength and as light as the robe was, he couldn’t budge it.
This indicates that there were Dharma protectors–gods, dragons, and others of the eight divisions present guarding the robe and bowl. Since he couldn’t grab them, he thought, “That’s strange. I can’t use force here. Ah! I’ll ask for the Dharma instead.” Had he truly been seeking the Way he wouldn’t have first tried to grab the robe and bowl but would immediately have said, “Cultivator, Cultivator, I come for the Dharma, not for the robe and bowl.” Don’t you think my opinion about this is logically sound?
Hui Neng emerged and sat in lotus position on a rock. Hui Ming bowed to the Sixth Patriarch. He understood now that the Dharma of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cannot be taken by force. “You say you’ve come for the Dharma.” said Hui Neng. “Really? Did you really come for the Dharma and not to steal the robe and bowl? Fine. Put aside all conditions. Put your mind to rest. Stop grasping at conditions and then I will explain the Dharma clearly for you.”
For seven or eight minutes the Great Master sat waiting. Neither he nor Hui Ming gave rise to a single thought. Everything stopped. Not even the ghosts and spirits knew what was happening. Everything was empty.
Hui Ming was not giving rise to thought. He was not thinking north, south, east, or west. So Hui Neng said, “With no thoughts of good and no thoughts of evil, at just that moment, what is Superior Ming’s original face?” Since the Sixth Patriarch was at that time still a layman he respectfully addressed Hui Ming as “Superior One.”
The word “what” means “who”. In the Dhyana School we meditate on the question, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” When Hui Ming heard the word “what” he became enlightened. “Oh!” he said, “originally it’s just this way!”
Hearing these words, have you become enlightened?
Hui Ming asked further, “Apart from the secret speech and secret meanings just spoken, is there yet another secret meaning?”
Hui Neng said, “What has been spoken to you is not secret. If you turn the illumination inward, the secret is with you.”
Hui Ming said, “Although Hui Ming was at Huang Mei he had not yet awakened to his original face. Now that he has been favored with this instruction he is like one who drinks water and knows for himself whether it is cold or warm. The cultivator is now Hui Ming’s master.”
“If you feel that way,” said Hui Neng, “then you and I have the same master, Huang Mei. Protect yourself well.”
Hui Ming asked further, “Where should I go now?”
Hui Neng said, “Stop at Yüan and dwell at Meng.”
All of the Sixth Patriarch’s pursuers were greedy, but Hui Ming was the worst. He had just seen his original face, he had just become enlightened, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know if he had missed anything. “Are there any more secrets?” he asked. “Is there something even more wonderful?”
“What I have said is not the most miraculous and wonderful thing,” said the Sixth Patriarch, “What is most important is that you turn the light back around and illuminate inward so that you may see the wonderful secret which is within you. It is all within you; it is not here with me.”
“Great Master,” said Hui Ming, “I wish to take you as my teacher.”
“If that is how you feel,” said the Sixth Patriarch, “we have the same teacher, Huang Mei. We both have the Fifth Patriarch’s Dharma transmission and are Dharma brothers. That is fine! Now, take good care of the Dharma and don’t allow it to become extinct.”
It was not until three years after this encounter with the Patriarch that Hui Ming went to Meng Mountain in Yüan District. There he met a ghost who, in his last life, had been a top-ranking scholar under the imperial examination system. The ghost composed a poem and sang it to Hui Ming:
Still, still, barren waste–a dream.
Then, now, triumph, loss lazy thought measures.
Wild grass, idle flowers picked, how many?
Bitter rain, sour wind, how many broken hearts?
At night, with firefly light I come and go.
At dawn, the cock crows; I hide away my form.
Regret from the first not tilling the mind ground:
Two streams are caused to fall–green mountain tears.
Seeing the ghost’s plight, Hui Ming explained the Dharma to the ghost and took him across. Ever since then there has been the “ceremony of Meng Mountain” which is performed to take ghosts across and liberate them.
Hui Ming bowed and left. Reaching the foot of the mountain, he said to the pursuers. “Up above there is only a rocky, trackless height. We must find another path.” The pursuers all agreed. Afterwards, Hui Ming changed his name to Tao Ming to avoid using Hui Neng’s first name.
After receiving instruction from the Sixth Patriarch, featherfooted Hui Ming went down the mountain and told the pursuers that he had not seen the Sixth Patriarch.
Hui Ming usually told the truth, and so everyone believed him now, even though he was lying. Actually this was not a lie, but an expedient device used to protect the Sixth Patriarch from those who, unlike Hui Ming, had not received the Dharma and therefore still wished to kill the Sixth Patriarch.
Hui Ming dared not presume to be his Master’s equal. He changed his name from Hui Ming to Tao Ming to avoid using the Patriarch’s first name.
Hui Neng arrived at Ts’ao Hsi where he was again pursued by men with evil intentions. To avoid difficulty, he went to Szu Hui and lived among hunters for fifteen years, at times teaching Dharma to them in an appropriate manner.
The hunters often told him to watch their nets, but whenever he saw beings who were still living he released them. At mealtime he cooked vegetables in the pot alongside the meat. When he was questioned about it, he would answer “I only eat vegetables alongside the meat.”
Shen Hsiu still wanted to kill the Sixth Patriarch and steal the Patriarchate. Hui Neng escaped to Szu Hui, the present Hsin Hui, where he lived with a band of hunters for fifteen years. Who would have suspected that a Buddhist would choose to live with hunters? No one. Shen Hsiu’s party searched far and wide, but they never found him.
Some say the Great Master lived with the hunters for sixteen years, but their calculation includes the time he spent coming and going. He actually lived with them for only fifteen years.
For lunch, the Great Master gathered wild vegetables on the mountain and cooked them in the pot beside the meat. If someone asked him, “Why are you doing that?” he said, “I only eat the vegetables. I don’t eat meat.”
One day Hui Neng thought, “The time has come to spread the Dharma. I cannot stay in hiding forever.” Accordingly, he went to Fa Hsing Monastery in Kuang Chou where Dharma Master Yin Tsung was giving lectures on The Nirvana Sutra.
At that time there were two bhikshus who were discussing the topic of the wind and a flag. One said, “The wind is moving.” The other said, “The flag is moving.” They argued incessantly. Hui Neng stepped forward and said, “The wind is not moving, nor is the flag. Your minds, Kind Sirs, are moving.” Everyone was startled.
Dharma Master Yin Tsung invited him to take a seat of honor and sought to ask him about the hidden meaning. Seeing that Hui Neng’s exposition of the true principles was concise and to the point and not based on written words, Yin Tsung said, “The cultivator is certainly no ordinary man. I heard long ago that Huang Mei’s robe and bowl had come south. Cultivator, is it not you?”
Hui Neng said, “I dare not presume such a thing.”
Yin Tsung then made obeisance and requested that the transmitted robe and bowl be brought forth and shown to the assembly.
The Great Master went to Kuang Chou, to Fa Hsing Monastery, now called Kuang Hsiao Monastery, where Dharma Master Yin Tsung was lecturing on The Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which the Buddha spoke just before entering Nirvana. At the monastery the Master met the two monks arguing over the topic of the wind and a flag. One said the wind moved, the other said the flag moved, and he told them, “You are both wrong. Neither the wind nor the flag is moving. Your minds are moving. If your minds were not moving, then neither the wind nor the flag would move.”
Everyone was astonished to hear this layman speak in such a wonderful and mysterious way. Yin Tsung asked him, “Aren’t you the holder of Huang Mei’s robe and bowl?”
“I am unworthy of such a title,” the Master said modestly.
Yin Tsung knew, however, that the Great Master was only being polite. Yin Tsung recognized Layman Lu as the Sixth Patriarch.
He further asked, “How was Huang Mei’s doctrine transmitted?”
“There was no transmission,” replied Hui Neng. “We merely discussed seeing the nature. There was no discussion of Dhyana samadhi or liberation.”
Yin Tsung asked, “Why was there no discussion of Dhyana samadhi or liberation?”
Hui Neng said, “These are dualistic dharmas. They are not the Buddhadharma. The Buddhadharma is a Dharma of non-dualism.”
Yin Tsung asked further, “What is this Buddhadharma which is the Dharma of non-dualism?”
Hui Neng said, “The Dharma Master has been lecturing The Nirvana Sutra which says that to understand the Buddha-nature is the Buddhadharma which is the Dharma of non-dualism. As Kao Kuei Te Wang Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, ‘Does violating the four serious prohibitions, committing the five rebellious acts, or being an icchantika and the like cut off the good roots and the Buddha-nature?’
“The Buddha replied, ‘There are two kinds of good roots: the first, permanent; the second impermanent. The Buddha-nature is neither permanent nor impermanent. Therefore it is not cut off.’
“That is what is meant by non-dualistic. The first is good and the second is not good. The Buddha-nature is neither good nor bad. That is what is meant by non-dualistic. Common people think of the heaps and realms as dualistic. The wise man comprehends that they are non-dualistic in nature. The non-dualistic nature is the Buddha-nature.”
Hearing this explanation, Yin Tsung was delighted. He joined his palms and said, “My explanation of Sutras is like broken tile, whereas your discussion of the meaning, Kind Sir, is like pure gold.”
He then shaved Hui Neng’s head and asked Hui Neng to be his master. Accordingly, under that Bodhi tree, Hui Neng explained the Tung Shan Dharma-door.
The four serious prohibitions are killing, stealing, lying, and sexual misconduct. The five rebellious acts are matricide, patricide, killing an Arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and breaking up the harmony of the Sangha. What happens to the good roots and the Buddha-nature of one who commits such offenses?
Icchantika is a Sanskrit word which may be explained as meaning “of incomplete faith.” Are the good roots and the Buddha-nature of icchantikas cut off?
Kao Kuei Te Wang Bodhisattva asked the Buddha these questions because he mistook good roots for the Buddha-nature itself. In his answer, the Buddha makes it clear that good roots are not the Buddha-nature.
Because the Great Master obtained the Dharma from the Fifth Patriarch at Tung Shan, “East Mountain,” it is called the Tung Shan Dharma-door.
“Hui Neng obtained the Dharma at Tung Shan and has undergone much suffering, his life hanging as if by a thread.
“Today, in this gathering of the magistrate and officials, of Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Taoists, and laymen, there is not one of you who is not here because of accumulated ages of karmic conditions. Because in past lives you have made offerings to the Buddhas and planted good roots in common, you now have the opportunity to hear the Sudden Teaching, which is a cause of obtaining the Dharma.
“This teaching has been handed down by former sages; it is not Hui Neng’s own wisdom. You who wish to hear the teaching of the former sages should first purify your minds. After hearing it, cast aside your doubts, and that way you will be no different from the sages of the past.”
Thus, the Sixth Patriarch concludes the narrative of his life. We in America who are so fortunate to hear this Sutra explained have also for ages established common karmic conditions by making offerings to the Buddhas.
“The Dharma is transmitted from former sages, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. It is not my own wisdom,” said Hui Neng. “If you listen to me carefully, it will be just as if you were listening to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas speaking.”
Hearing this Dharma, the entire assembly was delighted, made obeisance, and withdrew.