A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua


Chapter 6



Seeing the scholars and common people of Kuang Chou and Shao Kuan and the four directions assembled on the mountain to hear the Dharma, the Great Master took his seat and spoke to the assembly, saying:

“Come, each of you Good Knowing Advisors! This work must begin within your self-nature. At all times, in every thought, purify your own mind, cultivate your own conduct, see your own Dharma-body and the Buddha of your own mind. Take yourself across; discipline yourself. Only then will your coming here have not been in vain. You have come from afar to attend this gathering because we have karmic affinities in common. Now all of you kneel and I will first transmit to you the five-fold Dharma-body refuge of the self-nature, and then the markless repentance and reform.”


Shao Kuan is the present day Ch’ü Chiang. Students and common people from north, east, south, and west went to Nan Hua Temple on Pao Lin Mountain to hear the Great Master explain the Dharma.

The Master said, “The work of sitting in Ch’an meditation, the mind-ground Dharma-door, must arise from within your selfnature. Every thought must be correct, not deviant. Proper thoughts purify the mind; improper thoughts defile it. You personally must cultivate this dharma-door; no one else can do it for you. Your own Dharma body is simply your self-nature, and the Buddha is within your own mind. If you take yourself across by receiving and keeping moral precepts, you will not have wasted your life. We meet here because conditions from former lives have ripened. Now, put your right knee on the ground and I will transmit to you the five-fold Dharma-body refuge and the markless repentance and reform.”


The assembly knelt and the Master said, “The first is the morality-refuge, which is simply your own mind when free from error, evil, jealousy, greed, hatred and hostility.

“The second is the concentration-refuge, which is just your own mind which does not become confused when seeing the marks of all good and evil conditions.

“The third is the wisdom-refuge, which is simply your own mind when it is unobstructed and when it constantly uses wisdom to contemplate and illuminate the self-nature, when it does no evil, does good without becoming attached, and is respectful of superiors, considerate of inferiors, and sympathetic towards orphans and widows.”


Pay attention! The morality-refuge is simply to have no thoughts of right and wrong, good and evil. In order to keep the precepts you absolutely must not be jealous: neither should you be aggressive, like a bandit.

If the mind remains unperturbed in all states, good and bad, that is the concentration-refuge.

Do not obstruct yourself with feelings of inferiority, but use wisdom to destroy ignorance so that you may view the selfnature. Refrain from evil and practice good, but do not become attached to the idea of merit as the Emperor Wu of Liang did.

If you do good, forget about it. Don’t run up to the Heaven of the Thirty-Three and shout, “I gave $500.00! I gave $1,000.00! My merit is higher than the heavens!” This is to be stupid like Emperor Wu; it is not wisdom.

Respect your father, mother, teacher, and elders and never speak of their faults. Do not be like the boy who testified against his own father. The police asked the father if he had stolen a sheep:

“No,” said the father.

“What do you mean ‘no?’” cried his son. “I saw you kill the sheep, eat it, and sell its wool. How can you deny that you stole it?”

This is wrong. If you know that your father is guilty, when the police come you should run. Refuse to testify! This is called “respecting your superiors.”

Be considerate to those beneath you. Don’t be mean to little children and unsympathetic to widows. Mencius said, “A child without a father is an orphan and an old woman without a husband is a widow.” Orphans and widows deserve pity and support.


“The fourth is the liberation-refuge, which is simply your own mind independent of conditions, not thinking of good or evil, and free and unobstructed.

“The fifth is the refuge of knowledge and views, which is simply your own mind when it is independent of good and evil conditions and when it does not dwell in emptiness or cling to stillness. You should then study this in detail, listen a great deal, recognize your original mind, and penetrate the true principle of all the Buddhas. You should welcome and be in harmony with living creatures; and, without the idea of self or other, arrive directly at Bodhi, the unchanging true nature.”


Is this clear? The absence of self-seeking is liberation. If you are self-seeking, you can’t put everything down and so continually scheme and plot. To be liberated, do not grasp at good or evil.

If you say, “I will sit here and not study anything. I am empty!” your state is useless like the emptiness inside a rubber ball. It is not the emptiness of the void. These people sit all day thinking of nothing and doing nothing. At mealtime they eat, and at bedtime they sleep and do not even dream. This is a pitiful waste of time.

What should you do then?

You should study the Sutras in detail and listen to Sutra lectures. Those who dwell in emptiness and cling to stillness claim to study Buddhism. They do not listen to lectures or study the Dharma, but if you ask them about it, they say they know it all.

You should welcome living creatures and be in harmony with them. In the Chinese “to be in harmony with” is expressed by the phrase “to unite the light.” What does that mean? All lamps give off light, but have you ever known lamplight to fight with lamplight? Has a lamplight ever said, “You are brighter than I am! That is no good. I am going to put out your light!”, upon which it hits the other lamplight? Or the other lamp says, “Your light is too small. Either make it bigger or move out!” None of that goes on between lights. Do you understand? It applies to everyone in the world. You practice your way and I will practice mine, “without hindering one another.” You cannot decide that someone’s reputation is too dazzling and try to ruin him so that your own name will shine.

It is permissible for others to be jealous of me, but I am not jealous of anyone. The better you are, the better I like it. The more success you have, the happier I am. Not to be jealous is to unite the light.

You might say, “I am uniting the light with him, but he is not uniting the light with me.” If you were truly uniting the light with him, you wouldn’t know that he wasn’t uniting the light with you. Do you understand? If you unite the light with him, how can you know that he is not uniting the light with you? He won’t unite the light? That’s no problem. Just continue to unite the light with him.

Welcome living creatures. If you like Great Vehicle Buddhism, I will explain the Great Vehicle. If you like the Small Vehicle, I will explain the Four Noble Truths of suffering, origination, stopping, and the Way. If you like the Bodhisattva Way, I will explain the Six Paramitas: giving, morality, patience, vigor, concentration, and wisdom, and the Ten Thousand Conducts which lead to realization of the Bodhisattva Way.

If you like the dharmas of the Pratyeka Buddhas, I will explain the Twelve Conditioned Causes: ignorance conditions activity; activity conditions consciousness; consciousness conditions name and form; name and form conditions the six senses; the six senses condition contact; contact conditions feeling; feeling conditions love; love conditions grasping; grasping conditions becoming; becoming conditions birth; birth conditions old age and death.

This is called uniting the light and welcoming living creatures, responding to the needs of the individual. One of my disciples looked in the dictionary and found that in Chinese to “welcome living creatures” means to help other people. However, it is not just to help them, it is to induce them to leave suffering and obtain bliss.

“Lacking the idea of self or other, arrive directly at Bodhi, the unchanging true nature.” Having helped one person, you cannot say, “I have taken a bhikshu across! How great is my merit?” If one thinks like that, he hasn’t a dust mote of merit. Once you have done something, it should be forgotten. If you lead people to Buddhahood you should not be attached to the merit gained from it. Therefore the Diamond Sutra says “I must take all beings across to Nirvana…and yet not a single living being has been taken to Nirvana.”

You recite the Diamond Sutra from morning to night, but do not understand its meaning in the least. “Look at ME!” you say. There is still “me,” and “me” comes before everything else. What Diamond Sutra do you recite anyway? The Diamond Sutra speaks of having no mark of self, no mark of people, of others, of living beings or a life, because all dharmas are empty appearances. Is there anything more wonderful? If you truly understand, you arrive directly at Bodhi, the unchanging true nature. This is called the refuge of proper knowledge and views. You have been liberated from knowledge, views, and attachments.

No self, no other–
Contemplate independence,
No emptiness, no form–
View the One Come Thus.

Without the mark of self: just that is the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. If you do not fall either into emptiness or existence, you can see the Buddha.


“Good Knowing Advisors, the incense of these refuges perfumes each of you within. Do not seek outside. I will now transmit to you the markless repentance and reform to destroy the offensive actions done within the three periods of time and to purify the three karmas.”


Repentance is to repent of past misdeeds and reform is to refrain from error in the future. If you receive it with a sincere mind, this repentance and reform can wipe away the offenses of the past and prevent them from being committed in the future. Purify your mind, and the transmission will purify the karma of your body, mouth and mind.


“Good Knowing Advisors, repeat after me: ‘May this disciple be, in past, present, and future thought, in every thought, unstained by stupidity and confusion. May it be wiped away at once and never arise again.’”


Defiled by stupidity, turned by stupidity, you soon become quite stupid. It is most important, in every thought, not to go down the road of stupidity but bring forth wisdom instead.

Bad karma is created out of ignorance. Completely repent and reform of all offenses: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, greed, hatred, stupidity, filthy language, lying, harsh speech, and slander, and in an instant they will be wiped away. Do not commit offenses out of stupidity and confusion.


“‘May this disciple be, in past, present, and future thought, in every thought, unstained by arrogance and deceit. Now I completely repent of and reform all bad actions done in the past out of arrogance and deceit and other such offenses. May their effects be wiped away at once and may they never be perpetrated again!’”



Only knowing there is you;
Unaware that there are others.

Looking down on everything: “In the heavens and below, I alone am honored.” “Deceit” is lying; it is also the self-deceit of thinking that you are indispensable number one in the entire world. “I am the highest. The President, the King, and the Chairman cannot compare with me.” Do not be stained by arrogance or turned by deceit.


“‘May this disciple be in past, present, and future thought, in every thought unstained by jealousy. Now I completely repent of and reform all bad actions done in the past out of jealousy and other such offenses. May they be wiped away at once and never arise again.’”


Jealousy is the very worst thing! Cultivators see someone who is more intelligent than they are and become jealous; they see someone who learns faster and become jealous; they see someone sitting “thus, thus unmoving” and become jealous; they see someone eating more food and become jealous; they see someone sleeping more and become jealous; they see someone drinking more tea and become jealous; even to the point that when someone has been sick for a long time they think, “Why can’t get sick, too?” Do not be defiled or turned by jealousy.


“Good Knowing Advisors, the above has been the markless repentance and reform. What is repentance and what is reform? Repentance is to repent of past errors, to repent so completely of all bad actions done in the past out of stupidity, confusion, arrogance, deceit, jealousy, and other such offenses, that they never arise again. Reform is to refrain from such transgressions in the future. Awakening and cutting off such offenses completely and never committing them again is called repentance and reform.

“Common people, stupid and confused, know only how to repent of former errors and do not know how to reform and refrain from transgressions in the future. Because they do not reform, their former errors are not wiped away, and they will occur in the future. If former errors are not wiped away and transgressions are again committed, how can that be called repentance and reform?

“Good Knowing Advisors, as you have repented and reformed, I will now teach you to make the four all-encompassing vows.

I vow to take across the limitless living beings of my own mind.
I vow to cut off the inexhaustible afflictions of my own mind.
I vow to study the immeasurable Dharma-doors of my own nature.
I vow to realize the supreme Buddha Way of my own nature.

“Good Knowing Advisors, did all of you not just say, ‘I vow to take across the limitless living beings’? What does it mean? You should remember that it is not Hui Neng who takes them across. Good Knowing Advisors, the ‘living beings’ within your mind are deviant and confused thoughts, deceitful and false thoughts, unwholesome thoughts, jealous thoughts, vicious thoughts: all these thoughts are ‘living beings.’ The self-nature of each one of them must take itself across. That is true crossing over.”


You must vow to take across the beings within your own heart, to cut off the afflictions, and to study the Dharma-doors. There is nothing higher than Buddhahood: vow to realize it.

Living beings are incalculably numerous, but you yourself must vow to save them, for it is not the Sixth Patriarch who takes them across. These good and bad living beings exist within your own mind. The good ones seek unsurpassed Bodhi and produce the Bodhi mind, while the bad ones must still be saved. Think it over and ask yourself, “Have I saved the living beings within my own mind? Am I proper in attitude and honorable in conduct or am I jealous, obstructive, and otherwise ignorant?”

The living beings within the mind are limitless, but our first concerns are the deviant and confused living beings, which should be taken across by means of proper wisdom; the deceitful and false living beings, which should be taken across by means of humility, and the unwholesome living beings, which should be taken across by means of goodness. If you find that you have these faults, vow to correct them, for if you do not they will drag you into the inescapable and endless misery of hell.

Respect takes jealous living beings across. Although Bodhiruci was a Dharma Master, he envied other Dharma Masters and viciously tried to poison Bodhidharma. Such thoughts are living beings and you are making a serious mistake if you do not take them across.


“What is meant by ‘the self nature taking itself across’? It is to take across by means of right views the living beings of deviant views, affliction, and delusion within your own mind. Once you have right views, use Prajna Wisdom to destroy the living beings of delusion, confusion, and falsehood. Each one takes itself across. Enlightenment takes confusion across, wisdom takes delusion across, goodness takes evil across. Such crossing over is a true crossing.

“Further, ‘I vow to cut off the inexhaustible afflictions.’ That is to use the Prajna Wisdom of your own self-nature to cast out the vain and false thoughts in your mind.

“Further, ‘I vow to study the immeasurable Dharma-doors.’ You must see your own nature and always practice the right Dharma. That is true study.

“Further, ‘I vow to realize the supreme Buddha way,’ and with humble mind to always practice the true and the proper. Separate yourself from both confusion and enlightenment, and always give rise to Prajna. When you cast out the true and the false, you see your nature and realize the Buddha-way at the very moment it is spoken of. Always be mindful; cultivate the Dharma that possesses the power of this vow.”


Use Prajna wisdom to destroy the living beings of delusion, confusion, and falsehood. Beat them to death! You ask, “But isn’t that a violation of the precept against killing?” Here you may violate the precept, just a bit. You are indeed hard to teach! When you break precepts, you don’t worry about breaking them, but when you do not break precepts you worry about breaking them.

Transform the bad beings within your nature so that the good ones may dwell undisturbed and at peace. You may kill them; you may beat them to death. Such crossing over is true crossing over.

Afflictions never end, but you must cut them off. Actually, “cut off” means “change.” Change your afflictions into Bodhi. Afflictions are actually Bodhi, and if you cut off all afflictions you cut off Bodhi. If you cut off all afflictions you would become a Buddha, and you don’t want to do that just yet, do you? So leave just a hair’s worth of afflictions and transform the rest into Bodhi. Use genuine Prajna wisdom to get rid of affliction and cast out all vain, false, deviant, and ignorant thoughts.

Recognize your mind, see your original nature, and always practice the right Dharma, not the wrong. You may study the Buddhadharma in detail, but if you do not practice it, it is not true study. True Buddhist studies includes both study and practice. For example, people who used to smoke, drink, and take drugs no longer do so once they have studied the Buddhadharma. They do not even eat meat! Those who were lazy and did nothing but sleep from morning to night and from night to morning, now read and translate Sutras, listen to lectures, and meditate vigorously without a thought of sleeping. If this were not true study, why would they choose to work so hard?

All living beings can cross themselves over. No one needs to take them across.

The four vows in the text above are the basic vows which all Bodhisattvas should make.

As to the humble mind, the Earth Store Sutra says,

“The Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, ‘Perhaps there are kings of countries in Jambudvipa, or noblemen, great ministers, great elders, great Kshatriyas, great Brahmans, and the rest who encounter the tired, the poor, and those who arehunchbacked, crippled, dumb, mute, deaf, retarded, eyeless, as well as all others who are handicapped. Perhaps these kings and great men will wish to give and will be able to do so with great compassion, a humble heart, and a smile. Perhaps they will give personally with their own hands or arrange for others to give, speaking gentle and sympathetic words. Such kings and others will obtain blessings comparable to the meritorious virtue they would gain by giving to Buddhas as numerous as the sand-grains in one hundred Ganges Rivers.’”

Vow to realize the unsurpassed path!

A ten-thousand-story building
Is built from the ground up:

Once a person told an illogical tale. “In New York,” he said, “the skyscrapers are not built from the ground up. They are built in empty space. They build the roof first.” Everyone racked their brains and grew very upset, but no one could figure out how a building could be built in empty space. When I was in New York, I saw that the buildings were, in fact, built from the ground up. His story was nothing but a false rumor.

Another person said, “America is indeed beautiful! The American clouds are not like clouds in other countries. They are multicolored and entwined like garlands! The American moon is triangular and the American sun is square!” Do you believe this?

To realize Buddhahood, one must begin from the ground up, with a humble mind. Do not brag, “Look at me!” Practice the true and proper Dharma with a contrite heart and modest manner.

“Separate yourself from confusion and enlightenment.” You say, “Separating oneself from confusion is all right, but how can one possibly separate oneself from enlightenment?” This refers to deviant enlightenment, not right enlightenment. Those with deviant enlightenment are slow to understand the Buddhadharma, but they don’t need to be taught how to gamble or take drugs. They can do that on their own. You should keep away from such evil enlightenment. The text here does not say that you should avoid right enlightenment.

“You always give rise to Prajna.” When you separate from deviant enlightenment, you give rise to wisdom, understanding, and right enlightenment and constantly generate Prajna.

“When you cast out the true and the false, you see the Buddha-nature and realize the Buddha-way at the very moment of speaking of it.” The truth that you cast aside is relative, not actual. Once rid of the true and the false, the original True Suchness-nature is manifest. You cannot say that this nature is either true or false. Truth exists because there is falsehood and falsehood because there is truth. The true nature, however, is neither true nor false. The Shurangama Sutra says,

Falseness itself manifests all truth;
The false and true are both false.

The Great Master Yung Chia in his “Song of Enlightenment,” said:

When truth is not postulated,
falseness is basically empty.
Existence and non-existence both rejected:
what is not empty, make empty.

Real truth has no opposite.

“Always be mindful; cultivate the Dharma that possesses the power of this vow.” Having made these vows, you may practice. Cultivate them in every thought.


“Good Knowing Advisors, now that you have made the four all-encompassing vows, I will transmit the precepts of the triple refuge that has no mark. Good Knowing Advisors, take refuge with the enlightened, the honored, the doubly complete. Take refuge with the right, the honored that is apart from desire. Take refuge with the pure, the honored among the multitudes.”


Take refuge with the Buddha; the Buddha is enlightened. Enlightenment is simply the Buddha. The Buddha is nothing but enlightenment. The Buddha is “doubly complete” because he has perfected both blessings and wisdom.

Take refuge with the Dharma which is “right” and proper. Do not take refuge with deviant teachings, heavenly demons, or heterodox religions. Take refuge with the genuine Buddhadharma which is the “honored that is apart from desire.”

Everyone has sexual desire and it actually kills people. Why don’t we realize Buddhahood? It is because of desire, and the greed, hate, and stupidity which accompany it. We study the Buddhadharma in order to get rid of desire and cut off love. The absence of lust is the honored that is apart from desire.

Take refuge with the Sangha; the Sangha is pure and its members are called “pure fields of merit.” True, genuine cultivators should maintain the precept against handling money. Without money, you are pure; with money you are dirty. Members of the Sangha who truly wish to cultivate should stay away from money.

On the other hand, without money you cannot nourish the Way, you cannot cultivate. Although you need money, you should not be attached to it and depend on its source, thinking all day, “Who has several million in the bank? I’ll go and beg from him. Then I can build a temple or a school or perhaps print an edition of the Tripitaka as a meritorious activity.” That’s just profit seeking.

While in Manchuria there was a short period during which money and I parted company. I never touched money and for a good reason. Living in the temple where I lived when I left home were forty or fifty bhikshus, but sometimes as few as ten. When I first arrived at the temple, the abbot was out begging and none of the bhikshus knew me. “I know the abbot,” I said, and they welcomed me.

After leaving home, I practiced austerities, but not the ones you practice. You type, translate Sutras, and meditate, but in the big rural temple where I lived, there was a lot of outside work to be done. Sweeping the courtyard alone took an hour. My first job was to clean the toilets, which weren’t flush toilets, but pit toilets, and every day the waste had to be removed because the cultivators did not want to smell the odor. They gave this work to me because I had just left home and had not yet cut off my attachment to smells. I did it every day and didn’t mind too much.

I got up at two in the morning to prepare the hall for services. When it snowed I swept the walkways so that they were clear at four when everyone else got up. When the abbot returned and saw me he said, “So you have come!”

“Yes,” I said, “I have.”

After I had formally left home, he called a meeting, wishing to elect me as manager, a position second only to the abbot. When the abbot retires, the manager becomes the new abbot. Everyone objected. “He has just left home,” they said. “How can he possibly be manager!”

“Very well,” said the abbot. “Let’s go before the image of Wei T’ou Bodhisattva and draw names.” Oddly enough, they drew three times and my name came up each time. No one said a word because I had been elected by Wei T’ou Bodhisattva himself. Later, when the abbot wanted to make me an administrator, I said, “All right, but I will not touch money. Other people must handle and count it. That is my condition.”

Unusual things happened while I held this precept. Whenever I went to the train station I would sit and wait for someone who knew me to come and offer to buy me a ticket. If no one came I just waited, but strangely enough whenever I went to the station someone came to buy me a ticket.

If you don’t handle money, you are pure. If you keep even one cent, you are unclean. Take refuge with the Sangha, which occupies the purest, highest, and most venerable position–“the honored among the multitudes.”


“‘From this day forward, we call enlightenment our master and will never again take refuge with deviant demons or outside religions. We constantly enlighten ourselves by means of the Triple Jewel of our own self-nature.’

“Good Knowing Advisors, I exhort you all to take refuge with the Triple Jewel of your own nature: the Buddha, which is enlightenment, the Dharma, which is right, and the Sangha, which is pure.

“When your mind takes refuge with enlightenment, deviant confusion does not arise. Desire decreases, so that you know contentment and are able to keep away from wealth and from the opposite sex. That is called the honored, the doubly complete.

“When your own mind takes refuge with what is right, there are no deviant views in any of your thoughts. Because there are no deviant views, there is no self, other, arrogance, greed, love, or attachment. That is called the honored that is apart from desire.

“When your own mind takes refuge with the pure, your self-nature is not stained by attachment to any state of defilement, desire or love. That is called the honored among the multitudes.”


To lessen desire, it is not enough to be a vegetarian and to read Sutras. You must cut off all sexual desire:

If one does not cast out thoughts of lust,
One never will escape the dust.

Unless you rid yourself of sexual desire you will never get out of the Triple World: the world of desire, the world of form, and the formless world. “Contentment” means not being greedy. Dying of poverty, dying of starvation, no matter what the difficulty, you are never greedy.

“Separate from wealth and beauty.” Do you see how clearly it says that you should not covet wealth, or the opposite sex, or fame? That is to be doubly complete, perfect in blessings and wisdom.

“States of defilement” here refers to all social and political situations. You should not be molded by the society, but rather transform it. Teach living beings; do not be taught by them. Once, when I noticed that one of my students had been talking on the phone for over an hour, I asked her what she was doing. “I’m trying to convert my boyfriend to Buddhism,” she said.

“Really?” I said. “What is he now?”

“He’s a Catholic,” she said.

“Be careful he doesn’t convert you.” I said. “His belief in Catholicism is firm. Take care that he doesn’t take you across!”

Sure enough, not long afterward she ran off. Now what she believes, whether she saved others or was saved by them, is unknown.

The non-defilement of the self-nature is called “the honored among the multitudes.” Living beings are all defiled. If you wish to be an exceptional individual, you must leave desire behind. To separate yourself from desire is to be a great hero and true student of the Buddhadharma. Unless you correct your faults, what little Buddhadharma you do know is useless.


“If you cultivate this practice, you take refuge with yourself.

“Common people do not understand that, and so, from morning to night, they take the triple-refuge precepts. They say they take refuge with the Buddha, but where is the Buddha? If they cannot see the Buddha, how can they return to him? Their talk is absurd.

“Good Knowing Advisors, each of you examine yourselves. Do not make wrong use of the mind. The Avatamsaka Sutra clearly states that you should take refuge with your own Buddha, not with some other Buddha. If you do not take refuge with the Buddha in yourself, there is no one you can rely on.

“Now that you are self-awakened, you should each take refuge with the Triple Jewel of your own mind.

“Within yourself, regulate your mind and nature; outside yourself, respect others. That is to take refuge with yourself.”


Ordinary people do not understand the principle of taking refuge. If you constantly say, “I take refuge with the Buddha,” just where is the Buddha? If you have never seen the Buddha, then how can you take refuge with him? If you say, “I have seen him!” you are lying.

The Sutra tells you to take refuge with your own Buddha, not with some other Buddha. The Buddha of your self-nature is always present, but you didn’t know this because until now you never had the instruction of a Good Knowing Advisor. Now that you have taken refuge, you should be clear about the Buddha of your self-nature.

Take refuge with enlightenment.
Take refuge with what is right.
Take refuge with the pure.
Take refuge with enlightenment
and don’t do stupid things.
Take refuge with what is right
and don’t do what is wrong.
Take refuge with the pure
and don’t do unclean things.
Take refuge with the Triple Jewel
within your own mind.

If you really understand the Buddhadharma, you will respect not just your relatives and friends, but everyone, even people you don’t know. Instead of slapping someone when you see him and then throwing mud in his face, you must be the most respectful toward those who act the worst toward you. This is a fundamental responsibility of students of Buddhism. You say, “You haven’t really been bad to me, so how could I be bad to you?” Isn’t this extraordinary? It’s just to take refuge with the Triple Jewel of your self-nature.


“Good Knowing Advisors, now that you have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel, you should listen carefully while I explain to you the three bodies of a single substance, the self-nature of the Buddha, so that you may see the three bodies and become completely enlightened to your own self-nature.

“Repeat after me,

I take refuge with the clear, pure Dharma-body
of the Buddha within my own body.
I take refuge with the hundred thousand myriad
Transformation-bodies of the Buddha
within my own body.
I take refuge with the complete and full Reward body
of the Buddha within my own body.

“Good Knowing Advisors, the form-body is an inn; it cannot be returned to. The three bodies of the Buddha exist within the self-nature of worldly people, but because they are confused, they do not see the nature within them and so seek the three bodies of the Tathagata outside themselves. They do not see that the three bodies of the Buddha are within their own bodies.

“Listen to what I say, for it can cause you to see the three bodies of your own self-nature within your own body. The three bodies of the Buddha arise from your own self-nature and are not obtained from outside.

“What is the clear, pure Dharma-body Buddha? The worldly person’s nature is basically clear and pure, and the ten thousand dharmas are produced from it. The thought of evil produces evil actions and the thought of good produces good actions. Thus all dharmas exist within the self-nature.

“This is like the sky which is always clear, and the sun and moon which are always bright, so that if they are obscured by floating clouds it is bright above the clouds and dark below them. But if the wind suddenly blows and scatters the clouds, there is brightness above and below, and the myriad forms appear. The worldly person’s nature constantly drifts like those clouds in the sky.

“Good Knowing Advisors, intelligence is like the sun and wisdom is like the moon. Intelligence and wisdom are constantly bright, but if you are attached to external states, the floating clouds of false thought cover the selfnature so that it cannot shine.

“If you meet a Good Knowing Advisor, if you listen to the true and right Dharma and cast out your own confusion and falseness, then inside and out there will be penetrating brightness, and within the self-nature all the ten thousand dharmas will appear. That is how it is with those who see their own nature. It is called the clear, pure Dharma-body of the Buddha.”


Your physical body is like a house. You must not take refuge in it, but rather take refuge with your own self-nature. Everyone has the three Buddha-bodies within themselves, but because of their delusion they don’t know it.

Break through the clouds of illusion! It is just because you have not broken through them that you are deluded and have no wisdom. But if you do away with troubles and ignorance and listen to a Clear-eyed Advisor’s explanation of the orthodox Teaching, your own nature will reflect all the dharmas, like a luminous crystal.

Those who see their nature and know their original mind are like a clear sky:

The heart calm–
All worries go away;
The mind still–
Heaven has no clouds.

When your heart is upset there is chaos, but when your mind is calm and resolved, everything is auspicious.

The pure heart like the moon in water;
The quiet mind like a cloudless sky;
True wealth: the mind stopped, thought cut off;
True field of blessing: all passions put to an end.

You must end your delusion and greed, still the mind and cut off thought. That is true wealth. Truly wealthy people are not greedy. Those who are greedy are thereby poor. They may have a little money, but they are never satisfied.

The passions are just selfish desires and without them you are a true field of merit.


“Good Knowing Advisors, when your own mind takes refuge with your self-nature, it takes refuge with the true Buddha. To take refuge is to rid your self-nature of egotism and unwholesome thoughts as well as of jealousy, obsequiousness, deceitfulness, contempt, pride, conceit, and deviant views, and all other unwholesome tendencies whenever they arise.

“To take refuge is to be always aware of your own transgressions and never to speak of other people’s good or bad traits. Always to be humble and polite is to have penetrated to the self-nature without any obstacle. That is taking refuge.


If you turn the light around and reverse the illumination, you take refuge with the true Buddha. Be careful not to envy others. Would you like to know why you are so deluded? It is because in past lives, life after life, you envied others. You envied their intelligence and so now you are stupid; you envied their talent and so now you have none. You were jealous then and now you are inferior.

You should not be devious and indirect. Get rid of egotism: “I, I, me, myself, everything revolves around me!” You should not be deceitful, full of self-importance, and contemptuous of others.

To have deviant views is to misjudge every situation you encounter and then go off in the wrong direction. Deviant views are easy to come by. If you wish to take refuge, see your own faults and quit talking about other people. Criticism is yin and praise is yang. You should find the Middle Way.


“What is the perfect, full Reward-body of the Buddha? Just as one lamp can disperse the darkness of a thousand years, one thought of wisdom can destroy ten thousand years of delusion.

“Do not think of the past; it is gone and can never be recovered. Instead think always of the future and in every thought, perfect and clear, see your own original nature. Although good and evil differ, the original nature is non-dual. That non-dual nature is the real nature. Undefiled by either good or evil, it is the perfect, full Reward-body of the Buddha.

“One evil thought arising from the self-nature destroys ten thousand eons’ worth of good karma. One good thought arising from the self-nature ends evils as numerous as the sand-grains in the Ganges River. To reach the unsurpassed Bodhi directly, see it for yourself in every thought and do not lose the original thought. That is the Reward-body of the Buddha.”


When you bring forth wisdom, not just ten thousand years, but ten thousand eons of delusion are wiped away.

Do not regret the past or be anxious about the future. “What am I going to do next?” you ask. If you plant good causes, you will reap good results; if you plant bad causes, you will reap bad results. So do good things and good things will happen; do bad and bad things will happen. Your thoughts should be proper, perfectly lucid, and full of light, not deviant, selfish, and selfseeking, obstructive or jealous. If you are not afraid that others will be better than you, it may be that you are a little better than they are. But if you fear that they will surpass you, then they are all better than you.

The good and evil natures within the self-nature differ, but the self-nature is not dual. The non-dual suchness self-nature is the real nature. Yung Chia wrote in his “Song of Enlightenment”:

Ignorance and the real nature are just the Buddha nature;
The illusory empty body is just the Dharma body.

In the original, real nature, there is no good or evil. It is entirely perfect and wonderful in itself, far reaching in its penetration, and broad in understanding.

One vicious thought, such as Bodhiruci’s desire to poison Bodhidharma, destroys ten thousand eons of good karma, whereas one good thought melts away evil karma as immense as the number of sandgrains in the Ganges. One good thought can cause the realization of Buddhahood, and one bad thought is cause enough for going to hell. If you would like to know whether you are going to become a Buddha or go to hell, take a look at what kind of thoughts you have.

To arrive at Buddhahood directly, see it for yourself in every thought. Understand your own mind and see your own original nature. Do not lose the original thought, the true thought, the true nature.


“What are the hundred thousand myriad Transformation bodies of the Buddha? If you are free of any thought of the ten thousand dharmas, then your nature is basically like emptiness, but in one thought of calculation, transformation occurs. Evil thoughts are transformed into hell-beings and good thoughts into heavenly beings. Viciousness is transformed into dragons and snakes, and compassion into Bodhisattvas.

“Wisdom is transformed into the upper realms, and delusion into the lower realms. The transformations of the self-nature are extremely many, and yet the confused person, unawakened to that truth, continually gives rise to evil and walks evil paths. Turn a single thought back to goodness, and wisdom is produced. That is the Transformation-body of the Buddha within your self-nature.”


Having discussed the perfect full Reward-body which lacks nothing and has nothing in excess, which obtains nothing and loses nothing and is neither defiled nor immaculate, increasing nor decreasing, male nor female, good nor evil–but which is perfect Bodhi that returns to non-attainment–the Sixth Patriarch asks, “What are the hundred-thousand myriad Transformation bodies?”

“We have one body,” you say. “How can we have a hundred thousand myriad bodies? What do the Buddha’s transformation-bodies have to do with me?”

These transformation-bodies are simply a hundred thousand myriad thoughts and calculations. Shakyamuni Buddha can transform himself to appear in any one of the ten Dharma Realms. That is, he can become a Buddha, a Bodhisattva, a Pratyekabuddha, an Arhat, a god, asura, human, hell-being, hungry ghost, or animal.

You might also say that you and I have a hundred thousand myriad transformation-bodies. I have taken a hundred thousand myriad disciples and all of them imitate their teacher in cultivation. They see their teacher eating only one meal a day, before noon, and say, “I’m going to do that too.” I tell them, “I never stick out my hand and beg. I don’t depend on external situations and neither should you. If no one makes offerings to me and I die, that’s just fine. Those who leave the home life under me must follow my Three Conditions, as I do:

Freezing, I don’t beg,
Starving, I don’t scheme, and
Dying of poverty, I ask for nothing.

The disciples say, “All right! Even if we starve to death, we won’t beg or scheme.”

Because they copy me, they are my transformation bodies. In the future you will have transformation bodies, too. If you have a good way of doing things, you will have a hundred thousand myriad good transformation bodies. If you have an evil, ghostly way, you will have that many ghostly transformation bodies.

“If you are free of any thought of the ten thousand Dharmas, then your nature is basically like emptiness…”

One thought not produced,
The entire substance manifests.

If you do not give rise to a single thought, your original Buddha nature appears. But aren’t you producing a thought? Are you without false thinking? Are you not thinking, “What will I eat tomorrow? What time will I get to bed tonight?” or, “I’m thirsty. I think I’ll have a cup of tea?”

Without false thinking, you are a Buddha. But if you can’t cut off your false thinking, you must not claim to be a Buddha; you must cultivate the Way. If you haven’t cultivated and say, “Hey! I’m a Buddha!” you are just a dog of a Buddha. You can’t simply say that everyone is Buddha, you have to cultivate and realize Buddhahood. Without cultivation, people are people, animals are animals, and dogs are dogs. But do not be offended. Dogs also have the Buddha nature. They have to cultivate, that’s all.

Six roots suddenly move:
A covering of clouds.

When you see something and think it beautiful or hear something and think, “Music!” you are being influenced by externals. Using the six sense organs, the six sense objects and the six consciousnesses in this way, you cover yourself with clouds.

“Evil thoughts are transformed into hell-beings…” Suppose you think, “How can I get famous? How can I succeed? I’ll start a riot, murder people, set fires, and loot the streets.”

“…and good thoughts into heavenly beings.” “Oh,” you say, “I want to help people. You have no money? Here is a million to help you get by.” Or you think, “No one makes offerings to the Americans who have left home. I’ll make an offering.” Don’t wait for America, such an affluent nation, to allow its new Buddhist Sangha to starve to death: transform into the heavens.

“Wisdom is transformed into the upper realms, and delusion into the lower realms.” With intelligence, you go up, but if you are deluded, you fall.

The Superior one mounts on high.
The petty person travels a lower road.

“The transformations of the self-nature are extremely many, and yet the confused person, unawakened to that truth, continually gives rise to evil, and walks evil paths.” The confused person’s every thought is evil: “That person mistreats me! I’m going to ruin him.” The Great Master Shen Hsiu was one who walked evil paths by repeatedly sending hired killers after the Sixth Patriarch.

“Turn a single thought back to goodness, and wisdom is produced. That is the Transformation-body of the Buddha within your self-nature.” Do you understand? If you do, you are a Good Knowing Advisor; if you don’t, you’re an evil knowing advisor. Wouldn’t you rather be a Good Knowing Advisor?


“Good Knowing Advisors, the Dharma body of the Buddha is basically complete. To see your own nature in every thought is the Reward body of the Buddha. When the Reward body thinks and calculates, it is the Transformation body of the Buddha. Awaken and cultivate by your own efforts the merit and virtue of your self-nature. That is truly taking refuge.

“The skin and flesh of the physical body are like an inn to which you cannot return. Simply awaken to the three bodies of your self-nature and you will understand the self-nature Buddha.”


You yourself must wake up and cultivate on your own. Do not babble intellectual zen all day, “Yak, yak, yak!” talking but never practicing. Talking a yard is not as good as practicing an inch. If you do nothing but talk, you are cheating people. So pay no attention to whether my lectures are good or bad. Look instead to see if I have ever cheated you.

The Sixth Patriarch tells you to awaken to the three bodies of your self-nature, so you say, “Then taking refuge with myself is to take refuge with my body.” No. If you take refuge with your body you are just adding a head on top of a head, like Yajnadatta in the Shurangama Sutra who ran everywhere looking for his head. Your physical body is an inn where your self-nature temporarily dwells.

Therefore you cannot say, “My body is me.” Your body is not you. Then is it someone else’s? No your body is yours, it is not mine or his. It is yours, but it is not you. Don’t I always say that if you live in a house, you can say the house is yours but you certainly cannot say the house is you? If you say that it is you, everyone will say, “He doesn’t even know who he is! He thinks his house is him, but it’s just a thing.” Your body is like a house; don’t mistake it for being you. Understand?

Don’t take refuge with the physical body, take refuge with your self-nature. Awaken to the clear, pure Dharma-body Buddha, the perfect, full Reward-body Buddha, and the hundred thousand myriad Transformation-body Buddhas within your own nature. By understanding the Buddha of your self-nature you may perfect the three bodies.


“I have a verse without marks. If you can recite and memorize it, it will wipe away-accumulated eons of confusion and offenses as soon as the words are spoken. The verse runs:

A confused person will foster blessings,
but not cultivate the Way;
And say, “To practice for the blessings
is practice of the Way.”

While giving and making offerings
brings blessings without limit,
It is in the mind that the three evils
have their origin.

By seeking blessings you may wish
to obliterate offenses;
But in the future, though you are blessed,
offenses still remain.

You ought to simply strike the evil
conditions from your mind;
By true repentance and reform
within your own self-nature.

A sudden awakening: the true repentance and
reform of the Great Vehicle;
You must cast out the deviant, and practice
the right, to be without offense.

To study the Way, always look
within your own self-nature;
You are then the same in kind
and lineage as all Buddhas.

Our Patriarch passed along only
this Sudden Teaching;
Wishing that all might see the nature
and be of one substance.

In the future if you wish
to find the Dharma body;
Detach yourself from Dharma marks
and inwardly wash the mind.

Strive to see it for yourself
and do not waste your time,
For when the final thought has stopped
your life comes to an end.

Enlightened to the Great Vehicle
you can see your nature;
So reverently join your palms
and seek it with all your heart.


“Don’t be nervous,” continued the Great Master, “I have some good news! Don’t you know? I have a verse without marks. Do you want to hear it? If you do, I’ll recite; if not, I’ll just put it away.”

“Yes!” everyone exclaimed, “we definitely do want to hear it. Please be compassionate and recite it.”

“If you can learn this verse by heart,” the Master said, “it will cause the confusions and crimes accumulated from beginningless time, passing through limitless ages, life after life, to be eradicated immediately. Where will they go? Do you mean you still want to look for them? What a waste of effort!”

A confused person will foster blessing, but if you tell him to cultivate with vigor, he won’t do it. Although there are not many students here, those present are extremely sincere. They do not fear leg-pain, back-pain, any pain whatever. “I will endure this pain and cultivate the Way, even if it means giving up my life!” they say. Such rare determination makes me happy, but I don’t show my happiness by joking with you all day. It’s not that kind of happiness; it’s true happiness.

Deluded people say, “To practice for the blessings is practice of the Way.” This is like the Emperor Wu of Liang who said, “I have taken Bhikshus across and have built many temples. I have made offerings and practiced charity and arranged vegetarian banquets. What great merit I must have! It’s probably even greater than Shakyamuni Buddha’s!”

Giving and making offerings brings limitless blessings, but the origin of the three evils is within the mind. What are the three evils? Greed, hate, and delusion.

Greed: “I think I’ll eat a few more peanuts and then I won’t be hungry today.” Hate: “Hey! Who ate all the peanuts?” Delusion: Hating the one who ate the peanuts which makes you unreasonable and stupid. Cultivating blessings while neglecting wisdom has made you so stupid that you can’t quit over-eating and even have the gall to speak of it as a bitter practice.

You cannot get rid of offenses by cultivating blessings, because although you obtain the blessings, the offenses still remain. What you should do is rid the mind of all evil conditions, i.e. thoughts of greed, hate, delusion, jealousy, obstructiveness, conceit, obsequiousness, viciousness and deceitfulness.

“But they’re my old friends,” you say. “We’ve been together for millions of years. How can I part with them?” Fine. If you can’t part with them, then there’s nothing to do but follow them down to hell.

To practice true repentance and reform is to understand the Great Vehicle and immediately get rid of all evil thoughts. It is very clear; no analogies are needed. You truly repent when you “get rid of the deviant and practice the right,” as the Sixth Patriarch’s verse says. Then you may walk down the straight, great bright road and be without offense.

“To study the Way, always look within the self-nature.” Ask yourself, “What am I doing? Am I acting like a person or a ghost, an animal, a horse or a cow?” You are what you do. If you act like a Buddha, you are a Buddha. The Buddha practices friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and giving. His compassion is genuine, not false and greedy. He never thinks, “If I am a little compassionate to you, you will be greatly compassionate to me.”

There are no ulterior motives in the compassion I have for you. I would not give you a brick and expect a piece of jade in return.

Cultivators, turn the light around, reverse its illumination, and ask yourself, “Am I thinking like a demon or a Buddha? Am I selfish or generous, self-seeking or charitable?” If you are charitable you are the “same in kind as all the Buddhas.” If you act like a Buddha, you are a Buddha, but if you act like a ghost, how can you be a Buddha?

By “our Patriarch” the Sixth Patriarch means Bodhidharma, who transmitted only the Sudden Teaching Dharma-door because he wanted everyone to see the Buddha nature and realize the Buddha Way together.

“If you wish to find the Dharma-body,” then separate yourself from all marks. Do not be attached, jealous, obstructive, ignorant, afflicted, or snobbish. You cannot think, as the Buddha did, “In the heavens and below, I alone am honored.” The Diamond Sutra says, “One who has left all marks is called a Buddha.” Apart from marks and unattached to self and to dharmas, the mind-ground is cleansed.

“Strive to see it for yourself” and go forward with heroic vigor. You’ll never succeed if you’re lazy and waste your time, saying “Wait, I’ll cultivate tomorrow. Wait, I’ll translate tomorrow.” Even at lunchtime you say, “Wait, I’ll eat later.” Wait, wait, until it’s time to die and King Yama won’t listen to you when you say, “Wait! I’ll die later.” If you are truly free, you come and go in birth and death and yet are not subject to birth and death. King Yama has no control over you. This is like the Third Patriarch, Seng Ts’an, who said, “You see others sit in lotus posture to die and think it special. Watch this!” and grabbed a tree branch with one hand and went to Nirvana, just hanging there. Wasn’t he free?

If you wait until your dying breath to cultivate, it will be too late, “for when the final thought has stopped, your life comes to an end. Earlier, in Chapter IV, didn’t the Sutra say that you should not cut off your thought, because when the last thought is cut off you die and then undergo rebirth in some other place? At the time of death there is nothing–no fame, no riches. Both your hands will be empty and you’ll be forced to put down what you can’t put down. No matter how dear your loved ones are, you’ll have to part with them.

Enlightened to the Great Vehicle
you can see the nature;
So reverently join your palms and
seek it with all your heart.

See the nature and humbly seek to follow the unsurpassed Way.


The Master said, “Good Knowing Advisors, all of you should take up this verse and cultivate according to it. If you see your nature at the moment these words are spoken, even if we are a thousand miles apart you will always be by my side. If you do not awaken at the moment of speaking, then, face to face we are a thousand miles apart, so why did you bother to come from so far? Take care of yourselves and go well.”

The united assembly heard this Dharma and there were none who did not awaken. They received it with delight and practiced in accord with it.


I think the Sixth Patriarch liked to talk and so he delivered this Platform Sutra. If he hadn’t liked to speak, he wouldn’t have taught any Sutra at all.

Now I am teaching it to all of you:

“You are quite intelligent,” the Master said, “and you have good roots. We have an affinity which goes back for many lifetimes and many ages, and therefore we have met here today.” Of course, there were no foreigners in the Master’s Dharma-assembly; they were all Chinese. That I have met with so many Americans must be a case of even greater affinity.

“If you understand the verse I have recited,” said the Master, “you will ‘get rid of the deviant, practice the right, and be without offense,’ and although we are a thousand miles apart, you will be right beside me.”

If my disciples understand and remember the Sutras I have explained, they will be right beside me. But if instead they take advantage of external circumstances or get jealous and angry, they will have studied the Way in vain. If they don’t understand this verse, then even if we should stand face to face, we would still be a thousand miles apart.

If they believe in me, although we are a thousand miles apart, we are face to face. “Are you trying to make people believe in you?” you ask. No! Why should I want you to believe in me? You’re better off believing in yourself, because if you cultivate, you do it for yourself. You don’t eat to make me full. All I do is teach you the methods. If you have come all this way just to be a thousand miles from me, why did you bother to come at all?

“Take care of yourselves.” Don’t look down on yourself and say, “I’m not going to cultivate. I’m nothing but a dog anyway.” See yourself as a person, not a dog, and go to a good place, not a bad one.