Several Important Issues Regarding Ch’an Teachings
(A speech delivered on Sep.25, 2001 in the Second International Academic Conference on the Teachings of the Sixth Patriarch Master Hui Neng held in Macau )
by Maha Acarya Yang Fo Xing
I. The Sixth Patriarch’s Ch’an Teachings Have Made Great Contribution to the World
The Sixth Patriarch, Master Hui Neng, was a reincarnate Bodhisattva born and brought up in China. His body that has not decomposed for over 1200 years, the things that he left behind to this world and the historical sites where he once stayed, are still in existence today, regarded highly as the National Treasures. The Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra is significant in meaning. The teachings are orthodox, penetrating and touching, exerting far and extensive influence.
The Ch’an School originated in India. When the Dharma lineage was transmitted to the 28th Patriarch Master Bodhidharma, who, knowing his strong affinity with the East Land (China), came to spread Buddhism and thus became the First Patriarch of the Ch’an School in China. Seeing that most Chinese relied heavily on scriptural study and tried to understand the profound meanings of Buddhist sutras through studying the literal meanings of the words, which not only made it difficult for them to penetrate the wonderful purport of Buddha nature but also became the barrier to the realization of Buddha nature, he preached the teaching “Non-dependence on words, directly pointing to the heart, realizing the nature to reach Buddhahood”.
When the Dharma lineage was passed down to the Sixth Patriarch Master Hui Neng, the time was opportune, and conditions were ripe to spread the Ch’an teachings. Therefore, he spread the doctrines of the One Vehicle Sudden Teaching in Lingnan (Guangdong Province) for 37 years, taught, and transformed countless sentient beings. His Dharma heirs numbered 43, and those who were enlightened were incalculable. The Dharma lineage was later divided into five branches. Master Bodhidharma’ prediction long time ago was proven true. His prophecy quotes as follows:
“My intention of coming to the East Land (China)
Is to deliver sentient beings under delusion.
When the flower has five petals,
The fruits will come naturally.”
In the Introduction to the Buddhism Monthly The Comprehensive Voice, Maha Acarya Feng Da An wrote: “Guangdong province is famous in the world for spreading the Oneyana teachings. People, Buddhist practitioners or not, the monks or the laity, as long as they can penetrate the Wonderful Purport and merge it with their true nature and body in Oneness, they can handle all the mundane affairs flexibly and with perfection. They can even use it to benefit sentient beings. As for Buddhist practitioners who have attained the Wonderful Purport, Vinaya practitioners will naturally penetrate the essence of precepts, and whatever they do will conform to Pratimoksa; Pure Land practitioners will definitely be reborn in the Buddha’s Pure Land; the Sunya School practitioners will correspond to the True Reality; Dharmalaksana practitioners will attain to the highest stage of practice with perfection; Dharmata practitioners will penetrate the origin of Dharma; esoteric practitioners will soon achieve Siddhi; even the Four Fruitions of Triyana teachings can quickly and completely abandon their Hinayana views and bring forth the heart of enlightenment (Bodhicitta). As for non-Buddhist practitioners who have penetrated the Wonderful Purport of Oneyana, the Confucians will become sages; the Taoists will reach a state higher than that of Gods and Celestials; emperors and kings will become so benevolent that the whole country will benefit; scholars will become the most intelligent people: generals will devote their lives to protecting the country and its people; officials will truly love the people and vow not to take bribes; even the ordinary people can be more and more loyal, filial, upright, righteous and honest. When one is virtuous, it can make him benevolent. If one’s heart is defiled, it can purify the polluted heart. Blessed is the Miraculous Usage of the supreme Buddhist Dharma!”
The great contribution and influence of Ch’an teachings given by the Sixth Patriarch Master Hui Neng to the world can be proved by this passage.
II. The Esoteric Meaning of the Sixth Patriarch’s Teaching
“With Realization of the self-nature One Penetrates the Truth”
The doctrines of the Ch’an School are extensive, profound, and abstruse. However, Master Hui Neng could penetrate the essence, and thus became the Sixth Patriarch after practicing Ch’an with the Fifth Patriarch Master Hong Ren for only eight months. Despite his illiteracy, he could explain Buddhist sutras, giving appropriate replies to people wherever and whenever conditions arose. His responses to their questions were quick and befitted their understanding. His teachings were not only suitable to the people but also in accordance with Buddhist doctrines. He said, “The profundity of Buddhist teachings has nothing to do with written words. With realization of the true nature, one can penetrate the truth.” I believe that the Sixth Patriarch was a Bodhisattva reincarnated in this world with the intention of delivering living beings. He manifested himself in response to people’s spiritual capacity, just like the 32 manifestations of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva.
The Sixth Patriarch’s teaching that one can penetrate the truth when he realizes the self-nature corresponds to the esoteric meaning of the famous stanza from the Song of Enlightenment written by one of his Dharma heirs Master Yong Jia. The gatha quotes “Once get the root, have no concern for the branch tips. Like a precious moon inside the space filled with infinite crystal lights. If one can possess this wish-granting pearl, both he and others will benefit inexhaustibly.” The so-called precious moon refers to the process of manifestation of Bodhicitta, including the All Seed Nature, which contains both the Seed Nature of the Tathagata and the Seed Nature of living beings. It is in complete tranquility and geniality, merged into Oneness with the Dharmadhatu with boundless illumination. Each Seed Nature can interact with each other and penetrate into each other. Each Seed Nature can let out and absorb the illumination of each other. Each Seed Nature has its own enlightenment and can awaken another. Modern Internet can somewhat be an analogy. The Song of Enlightenment also quotes “One nature includes all nature and one Dharma contains all Dharmas. One moon is reflected in all water, and all the moons in the water are the reflection of one moon. The Dharmakaya of various Buddhas pervade into my nature, and my nature is thus merged with the nature of the Tathagata.” For example, with the All-discerning Wisdom, Guan Yin Bodhisattva can understand all Dharmas. Even though the Sixth Patriarch was illiterate, as long as he could correspond to this special feature of Guan Yin Bodhisattva in Samadhi, he could penetrate everything, and thus give the most appropriate Dharma teachings to people.
III. The Ch’an Teachings Given by the Sixth Patriarch Did Not Result From Mundane People’s Speculation
The Sixth Patriarch said: “The reason why Sravakas, Pratyeka Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cannot comprehend the Buddha Wisdom is because they speculate on it. They may combine their efforts to speculate. But the more they speculate, the farther they are from the truth.” It can be concluded from the passage that the Sixth Patriarch’s teachings were not the result of speculation. If Buddhist practitioners try to understand Buddhist doctrines through studying the literal meaning of Buddhist texts, they can hardly penetrate the truth of Buddhism. Therefore, they must tread the right path when studying or practicing Ch’an as taught by the Sixth Patriarch. As science attaches importance to experiments while Buddhism requires actual practice, practitioners should focus their spiritual cultivation on actual practice with their comprehension of Buddhist doctrines complementing the hard practice. With progress in actual practice, their comprehension of the teachings will deepen accordingly. The higher stage they attain in actual cultivation, the better their comprehension will be. They can penetrate the wonderful purport of the Sixth Patriarch’s Ch’an teachings only after they have undergone the following four stages in practice, (1) cutting off mundane thinking and exerting the heart, (2) retracing from the defilements and attaining Gen Shen, (3) subduing consciousness so that wisdom emerges, (4) and realizing the Dharma nature and its function.
Maha Acarya Feng Da An once gave the following instruction, which quotes: “Ordinary sentient beings only have the External Six Sense Organs. What they can see is Chen Shen (lit. Dust Body) or the Physical Body, so the world they perceive is nothing but an illusion comprised by the Six Defilements. When devoted practitioners subdue their consciousness, they can attain the two kinds of Internal Pure Consciousness and experience Gen Shen (lit. Root Body or Original Body). Thus, when they are in the state of this internal realization of Alaya Form, sentient beings perceived by them is different from what people see with the flesh eyes. Practitioners with high natural capacity to practice Oneyana can realize their self-nature quickly. At this stage, in Samadhi they feel that both the physical body and Gen Shen no longer exist, the physical body is the Dharmakaya and the filthy land is no different from pure land. In order to understand the three kinds of bodies mentioned above, practitioners can use the first six senses to see the physical body (Chen Shen). For Gen Shen (Root Body), they should subdue the first six senses and the physical body to rely on the two kinds of pure internal consciousness --- the seventh and eighth consciousness. For Dharmakaya, they must eradicate both the first six senses together with the two kinds of pure internal consciousness (at this stage, in Samadhi they feel that both Chen Shen and Gen Shen vanish) and penetrate the Dharmakaya with Great Awakening.”
In practice, one has to experience three kinds of bodies before he attains Buddhahood.
1. Chen Shen. It is our physical body composed by Alaya Vijnana and the four great elements. The four great elements are earth, water, fire, and wind. Earth refers to our flesh and bones. Water refers to the blood. Fire refers to our body temperature that should be maintained at about 370 C. Wind refers to the breath. The physical body is illusive, perishable, and easily defiled by ignorance or the environment. One Chinese proverb can well prove this truth “One blends with the color of his company”. On the other hand, our ignorance also permeates into other people’s bodies. So, this physical body is compared to Chen Shen (Dust Body). Dust refers to defilements.
2. Gen Shen. We seldom hear the term Gen Shen because it is the intermediate stage of practice. I would like to tell you a true story about Ch’an masters. Master Ma Zu had one disciple called Deng Yin Feng. After staying with Ma Zu for some time, he attained certain internal realizations. Therefore, he decided to leave Ma Zu for further instruction from Ch’an Master Shi Tou (These two words literally mean stone in Chinese). Ma Zu advised him: “The Stone is slippery. You cannot seek your instructions there.” Deng Yin Feng replied: “I only join in the fun on occasion. I don’t care if it is slippery or not.” Hearing these words, Ma Zu said: “In this way, go and have a try.” Upon meeting Master Shi Tou, Deng Yin Feng circumambulated him three times, put his staff on the ground and then inquired: “Master, what’s this?” Shi Tou answered: “Heaven! Heaven! Heaven!” Deng Yin Feng was at a loss, so he asked again. However, he was given the same answer. Deng had to travel back to Ma Zu. Master Ma Zu suggested: “Next time when he says heaven, you just need to utter the sounds Chi Chi Chi.” With Ma Zu’s support, Deng Yin Feng journeyed back to Shi Tou. He circumambulated Master Shi Tou three times and put his staff on the ground. Thinking he would be given the same answer, Deng started: “Master, what’s this?” To his surprise, Shi Tou uttered: “Chi! Chi! Chi!” (This shows that Shi Tou was an accomplished Ch’an master. Even at a long distance away, he could know what Ma Zu told Deng Yin Feng to do. As a matter of fact, these two great masters could read each other’s mind and they cooperated to instruct Deng in his Ch’an practice.) With no words to reply, Deng Yin Feng returned to Ma Zu again. Ma Zu said: “I had told you already that the Stone was too slippery to seek instruction from.” At last, Deng Yin Feng got enlightened through contemplating on Shi Tou’s words. He became a remarkable person. Once, two armies were fighting a battle. He flew into the sky and manifested himself as a heavenly soldier to stop the battle. As a result, both troops withdrew and the war ended. When he approached death, he asked his disciples: “Some people passed into Nirvana in sitting posture and some in reclining posture. Was there anyone who died handstand?” His disciples replied: “We have never heard of such things.” At once, he stood upside down and passed away. His body remained handstand for several days until his sister came. She reproached: “Why are you still showing off?” All of a sudden, he fell down on the ground.
My Guru Maha Acarya Feng Da An wrote one stanza after he internally attained to the state of Gen Shen
“Supporting the sky and penetrating the earth extends a hidden dragon
Down to the bottom of the earth and up to the top of heaven
Internally Samadhi achieved and Gen Shen agile
The only reliance to handle worldly affairs flexibly is Prajna”
The esoteric meaning of the poem is: when a Ch’an practitioner gets the blessings of an enlightened master, he can experience bright and clear Energy Current (Li Xian in Chinese) gushing forth from Ming Gen (lit. Source/Root of Life, about 5cm below one’s navel) to the top of the head. The Energy Current turns brighter and brighter and clearer and clearer. This is the state of Gen Shen. In Samadhi, he no longer feels the existence of the physical body. The clear and bright Energy Current extends down to the bottom of the earth and up to the top of heaven. In the story mentioned above, Deng Yin Feng had internally realized the state of Gen Shen. He used the staff as a symbol of Energy Current and intended to get Shi Tou’s instruction. However, the Energy Current he experienced was still inside his physical body. So, Shi Tou said: “Heaven! Heaven! Heaven!” These words actually advised him to develop and extend his Energy Current upward. Heaven refers to the Heavenly Realms above the human world, comprised by Caturmaharajayika, Trayastrimsa, Yama, Tusita, Nirmanarati, Paranirmitavasavartin, the First Dhyana Heaven, the Second Dhyana Heaven, the Third Dhyana Heaven, and the Fourth Dhyana Heaven. When the Energy Current reaches the top of Heaven and the bottom of the earth, its great power will make a practitioner sever the Innate Attachment to Ego so he could attain Suchness as Intrinsic Void. The stanza written by the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng also refers to the state of Suchness as Intrinsic Void. (“Originally Bodhi has no tree. Nor does the bright have a stand. Originally there is not a single thing. Where can dust alight?”) In Buddhism, such a state is called as the Seventh Stage of Bodhisattva Development, i.e., Duramgama (proceeding afar), which actually means that the Energy Current penetrates the top of Heaven and the bottom of the earth. It is so long that people call it the Stage of Proceeding afar. (Yuan Xing Di in Chinese). This is the intermediate stage of Ch’an practice.
3. Dharmakaya. The highest stage of Ch’an practice is the realization of the Dharmakaya. My Guru wrote a stanza after he attained Dharmakaya. It quotes as follows
“From Ju Dian (Ming Gen) bursts forth the great and powerful nature
The physical body is immediately transformed into the Samantabhadra Body
The Fourth Patriarch Nagabodhi had the compassionate wish
To stay in the world for a millennium to benefit the later generations.”
I will explain the stanza here. Ming Gen is the location for human consciousness. Consciousness is Alaya Vijnana. Mankind is insignificant in the universe because of they are limited by the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind, Manas and Alaya Vijnana that plays the major role. Alaya Vijnana is located inside the physical body. Accordingly, the physical body is very small when it is perceived through one’s consciousness. However, when one practices to a stage where he can receive all Buddhas’ Energies, such energies will flow from the top of the head to Ming Gen, thus breaking the confinement of the eight kinds of consciousness. In an instant, in Samadhi, he experiences that both the physical body and Gen Shen vanish. He only feels that he penetrates the ten directions of worlds. This body is called as the Samantabhadra Body. So my Guru wrote, “The physical body is immediately transformed into the Samantabhadra Body”. When one attains this Samantabhadra Body, in Samadhi this Body and his True Nature are in Oneness This Body is the True Nature and the True Nature is the Body. They are in complete unity. The practitioner experiences complete agility, tranquility, brightness and great bliss. After my Guru realized this state in his practice, he changed the name of his residence into Samantabhadra Bodhimandala (Place for Practice). He even wrote one stanza which quotes:
The loving-kindness of this old man
Is great and boundless forever.”
When the physical body is transformed into Dharmakaya, the impermanent becomes permanent, the filthy land is turned into pure land, and illusive happiness becomes true happiness. Up to now, one has reached the state of Dharmakaya. There is nothing that he cannot penetrate into when conditions arise and there is nothing that he does not realize with the shining of his Great Awakening (true and great wisdom). This is called Dharmakaya.
The Sixth Patriarch was trying to warn people not to practice Ch’an by relying on their thinking when he said, “The reason why Sravakas, Pratyeka Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cannot comprehend the Buddha Wisdom is because they speculate on it. They may combine their efforts to speculate. But the more they speculate, the farther they are from the truth”. If they rely on speculation, no matter how hard they practice, they cannot penetrate Buddha wisdom. For example, such people cannot understand the internal realizations of the two states mentioned in the above passages.
IV. Prajna Paramita (Non-discriminative Wisdom)
The Fifth Patriarch Master Hong Ren blessed Hui Neng by expounding to him the Diamond Sutra. When he was explaining the verse “One’s heart should not dwell anywhere”, Hui Neng was enlightened, speaking the five “would have thought”. This is the internal state of Prajna Samadhi. The highest goal for Ch’an practitioners is the realization of Prajna Paramita. When one attains Prajna Paramita, he is qualified to transmit the Mind -seal of Buddha and carry on the Wisdom Life of Buddha. Therefore, the Fifth Patriarch transmitted the Dharma lineage to Hui Neng, making him the Sixth Patriarch.
As regards Prajna Paramita, one must understand the following two problems.
I. What is Prajna Paramita?
Maha Acarya Feng Da An explained the meaning of Prajna Paramita, saying, “Prajna Paramita is Non-discriminative Wisdom. However, non-discriminative as used here does not mean general or ambiguous. It is realized on the basis of subduing consciousness when one’s perception is merged into the true nature and further into the Great Void to realize the true nature. At this stage, one’s heart can function miraculously without losing the clear, illuminating, tranquil state.
(The author’s comment: Many people discriminative Wisdom. For example, the book called The Great Perfection Ritual Practice written by Lu quotes as follows “Smell Initiation is conducted in this way. The Guru has prepared two objects with one emitting exceptional fragrance while the other stinking unbearably. He asks his followers to inhale the two kinds of smell in turn. When a practitioner reaches the stage where he cannot smell either the fragrance or the stench, he has attained the Purity of Nose.”
In addition, one article in a Buddhist magazine mentioned that a practitioner tried to wash the bowls quickly so he could have more time to cultivate the way and recite the Buddha’s name. The author of this article criticized this practitioner as having the mind of discrimination because the practitioner thought that Buddha recitation was more important than washing bowls.
The above-mentioned understandings of Prajna are actually ambiguous and general. They are by no means the essential purport of Prajna. Those people misuse and misunderstood the esoteric meaning of Prajna Paramita.
In fact, one can only have the Non-discriminative Mind through actual practice.
In the practice of Ch’an, only after one breaks off one kind of attachment can he have a higher stage of internal realization. One can only break off the attachment through actual practice to correspond to the Non-discriminative Mind and apply it to handle worldly affairs.
For example, Shen Xiu’s stanza “The body is a Bodhi tree. The mind like a bright mirror stand. Time and again brush it clean. Let no dust alight.” describes the first stage or pass of Ch’an Practice when one severs the Discriminative Attachment to Ego and the Discriminative Attachment to Dharma. As the Innate Attachment to Ego has been eradicated, vexations still arise when the mind interacts with outside conditions, so he must restrain himself and keep the deluded ideas under control when they arise. Therefore, he should regularly clean the mind so that no dust can gather. As Shen Xiu had already broken off the two kinds of Discriminative Attachment, naturally his mind was comparatively pure and calm, beyond the comparison of ordinary people’s mind. When Hui Neng headed the south after he got the Dharma lineage from Master Hong Ren, the disciples in the North crowned Master Shen Xiu as the Sixth Patriarch, so Hui Neng was an eye sore to them. However, Shen Xiu always respected the Sixth Patriarch Master Hui Neng deeply. For example, he sent his disciple Zhi Cheng to pay obeisance to the Sixth Patriarch and recommended to Empress Wu Zetian that Hui Neng was the real Sixth Patriarch who obtained the Dharma and robe from the Fifth Patriarch.
The Sixth Patriarch’s stanza “Originally Bodhi has no tree. Nor does the bright have a stand. Originally there is not a single thing. Where can dust alight?” describes the internal realization when one breaks off the Innate Attachment to Ego and attains the state of Bhutatathata As Intrinsic Void. As the various Dharmas are like illusive mirages in the mirror without any substantial entity, so the last two lines of the stanza say, “Originally there is not a single thing. Where can dust alight?”
After the Sixth Patriarch began to spread the sudden teachings of the One Vehicle Sudden School, Shen Xiu’s disciples in the North feared that all the people would know that Master Hui Neng was the real Dharma successor of the Fifth Patriarch, so they asked a man named Zhang Xingchang to assassinate the Sixth Patriarch. The Sixth Patriarch had attained the supernatural powers. Knowing that Zhang Xingchang would come to kill him, he put ten Liang of silver on the table and waited there serenely. At midnight, Zhang Xingchang stole into the room and waved his sword. The Sixth Patriarch stretched out his neck for the assasin to cut. With the sword in his hand, Zhang Xingchang cut the Sixth Patriarch’s neck for three times. However, he felt as if he were cutting into the air, and the Sixth Patriarch suffered no injury at all. Then the Sixth Patriarch began to speak, saying, “The good sword is not evil, and evil sword cannot be good. I only owe you money, but I don’t owe you my life.” Shocked, the man fainted. The Sixth Patriarch woke him up, telling him to take his leave with the silver. He further instructed Zhang Xingchang, saying, “You must leave quickly because I am afraid my disciples will harm you. You can come some other day in the future in another appearance, and I will teach you.” It can be concluded from this true story that the Sixth Patriarch had already attained Bhutatathata of Absolute Void, therefore nothing can harm him. As he entered the Samadhi of Oneness, he could remain calm when faced with a sharp knife. Because he had severed the Innate Attachment to Ego and Innate Attachment to Dharma, he could treat both friends and foes alike without attaching his heart to anything.
For those who have not severed such kinds of attachment, even if they speak of non-discrimination, they are not free from discrimination. They talk about emptiness, but they cannot realize the internal state of emptiness in which one experiences that his body and mind do not exist. For others who think that one’s life ends upon death, they hold the stupid and heretical view of annihilation.)
In the Commentary on the Verses Delineating Eight Kinds of Consciousness, Maha Acarya Feng Da An commented on the meaning of the line “The transformation of the perceived division in the contemplation of emptiness is merely Later Attained Wisdom”. His explanation quotes: “Wisdom falls into two kinds, the Original Wisdom and the Later-attained Wisdom. The Original Wisdom means the Dharmadhatu-prakrti-jnana (Wisdom of the Embodied Nature of Dharmadhatu) thoroughly penetrates Suchness, in which one experiences complete illumination, awakenedness, and tranquility without the conditioning power in contrast with the conditioned (e.g. the power of seeing and hearing in contrast with that which is seen and heard). When one penetrates this wonderful purport, he has realized the internal state of Prajna Paramita. The Later-attained Wisdom means that one gets experience from the various kinds of consciousness and merges it into the nature of Asraya (that on which anything depends, the basis of the vijnanas) and transforms the Different Forms of Dharma/Phenomena into the Total Form of Suchness (true nature). (The author’s comment: In Samadhi, one experiences complete tranquility, illumination, brightness, awakening, refreshing coolness and complete liberty.) Besides, the Different Forms of Phenomena can also derive from the Total Form of Suchness. (The author’s comment: When in use, the Total Form of Suchness can manifest in different forms for distinction. Take Nagarjuna Bodhisattva for example. He saw people selling medicine that can make a person invisible, he smelled it and immediately knew it contained more than seventy kinds of ingredients. He could even make this kind of medicine. This example illustrates the above-mentioned teaching that Different Forms of Phenomena are manifested from the Total Form of Suchness for distinction and application.)
2. Why is it called Prajna Paramita?
Maha Acarya Feng Da An said: “Prajna means wisdom. When such wisdom is used in the world, it can discover the various laws of the mundane world, becoming the origin for all cultures.”
(The author’s comment: the following examples can well illustrate this point.
A. Deng Xiaoping, a former leader in China, after making a correct assessment of the situation in China, decided to carry out the reform and open-door policy. As a result, both the material and spiritual civilizations of China have been improved largely; thus, the country became strong and prosperous in a short time.
B. In the process of fighting with diseases, ancient Chinese people kept on studying the causes and therapies for all kinds of diseases, and they compiled the book Huang Di Nei Jing, a textbook that all students have to study in universities of traditional Chinese medicines.
C. In order to resist the aggression and oppression of powerful countries, ancient Chinese people summed up strategies to combat enemies; thus, the book Sun Zi’s Strategies came into being, and it is still a reference book for students in military universities.
D. To further explore the truth of the universe and life, after summing up the shortcomings of Isaac Newton’s classic mechanics, Albert Einstein invented the theory of relativity, making an unprecedented progress in both scientific theory and technology. Besides, he spoke highly of Buddhism. His scientific achievements made great contributions to mankind.)
“However, because they still rely on consciousness, what they discover is only the superficial laws of the Dust World.”
(The author’s comment: Mankind can rely on consciousness to memorize things, think over problems, analyze, and understand things. Therefore, they can keep on studying and working, and even create miracles. However, such invention and creation are still in the state of the Six Defilement. Besides, such inventions bring people not only benefits but also disadvantages. They greatly improve the living standard and spiritual life of mankind, but heavily pollute air and water indispensable to mankind. As a result, more than fifty percent of living things have become extinct, and people’s health has been seriously damaged. Used for good purposes, scientific inventions can benefit mankind a lot; on the contrary, they can destroy the world also.)
“Prajna Paramita means reaching the opposite shore. All things in the defiled world are compared to this shore. Beyond the defiled world exists a wonderful state called the opposite shore. What is the other shore then? It is the true nature of all the things in the defiled world, and it cannot be described in words nor understood by speculation. Those who have realized the true nature only experience great awakening and brightness illuminating the origin of Dharmadhatu, which is totally different from knowing the defiled phenomena in this shore. This is why it is called Prajna Paramita.”
(The author’s comment: The Sixth Patriarch’s verse “The Buddhadharma is here in the world; Enlightenment is not apart from the world; To search for Bodhi apart from the world; Is like looking for a hare with horns” just refers to the esoteric meaning of the above-mentioned state. Otherwise, why did he continue to say another verse “Right views are transcendental; Deviant views are all mundane”? Mundane people in this world can only use the six kinds of consciousness, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and the mind, so what they can perceive is still within the bounds of the Five Kinds of Skhandhas and Six Dusts, and they cannot penetrate the various kinds of Dharma nature of Five Kinds of Skhandhas and Six Dusts. In order to realize the various kinds of Dharma nature, they must practice hard and reach the internal state in which the consciousness is subdued and true wisdom emerges. Only at this stage can they correspond to the non-dual state, in which they perceive the material form of a phenomenon when they apply consciousness and they penetrate its true Dharma nature when they use true wisdom. Therefore, the Sixth Patriarch said: “The common people see Skhandhas and Dhatus as two things, but the wise person comprehends that their nature is non-dual”. As there is no other Dharma nature apart from the various kinds of Dharma nature of the Five Kinds of Skhandhas and Six Dusts, the Sixth Patriarch would say that “The Buddhadharma is here in this world; Enlightenment is not apart from the world (the author’s comment: This line means that it is not apart from the Five Kinds of Skhandhas and Six Dusts as perceived by mundane people); To search for Bodhi apart from the world is like looking for a hare with horns.” Many people quote this famous verse as the basis for their argument, but they always misunderstand and misuse the original meaning of this verse.
V. How Did the Patriarch Transmit the Mind-seal of the Buddha
and Give Buddhist Teachings to Sentient Beings?
Take the Sixth Patriarch teachings given to Chen Huiming for example.
After Hui Neng got the robe and Dharma from the Fifth Patriarch, he headed south for many days. Several hundred men were pursuing him, intending to rob him of the robe and bowl from the Fifth Patriarch. One of the pursuers, whose lay-name was Chen Huiming, was about to overtake Hui Neng. Hui Neng threw the robe and bowl on a rock and said: “This robe is nothing but a symbol of faith. How can they be taken by force?” As Huiming could not pick them up from the rock (The author’s comment: Dharma protectors made it impossible for Hui Ming to do so), he shouted: “Lay brother, I come for the Dharma, not for the robe.” (The author’s comment: Unable to lift the robe and bowl from the rock, Huiming was subjugated and thus began to seek instruction from Hui Neng). Hui Neng said: “Since your object of coming is for the Dharma, refrain from thinking of anything and keep your mind attaching to nothing. I’ll teach you.” (The author’s comment: The Diamond Sutra says: “How well Tathagata blesses Bodhisattvas.” If practitioner has scattered thoughts when Buddhas’ Energy Current is conferred upon him, his self-nature will be veiled. Therefore, Hui Neng reminded him to cut off all mundane cares so as to experience Buddhas’ Energy Current). Huiming had done this for a considerable time (The author’s comment: During this time, Hui Neng was blessing him). Hui Neng said: “When you are thinking of neither good nor evil, what is, at that particular moment, venerable sir, your real nature?” (The author’s comment: The Diamond Sutra says: “How well Tathagata blesses Bodhisattvas.” When Hui Neng saw Huiming had eliminated consciousness and the light of wisdom illuminated, he took that opportunity to instruct him.). As soon as Huiming heard such words, he at once became enlightened. (The author’s comment: Although Huiming felt his heart opened and the internal light illuminated, he did not understand the esoteric meaning of this state. Upon hearing this instruction, he became enlightened.) He further asked: “Apart from those esoteric sayings or ideas handed down by the patriarchs from generation to generation, are there any other esoteric teachings?” Hui Neng replied: “What I can tell you is not esoteric. If you turn your light inwardly, you can find what is esoteric within you.” (The author’s comment: The Message from the West cannot be explained by words nor understood through pondering. Practitioners can gradually discover the truth through relying on wisdom derived from practice. Even though a master’s power of blessings can initiate them to a higher stage, their practice is the essential element for success. This is why there is one saying in the Ch’an School “One still needs to carry on his practice even after he is enlightened.”)
With the powerful blessing of the Hui Neng, Huiming’s heart opened and the light of enlightenment illuminated. This state shows that his Buddha-nature begins to develop. It is also the beginning stage of realizing the self-nature. This internal insight is the pure consciousness independent of discrimination of things. The light of enlightenment is pure form or phenomenon. It is the state a practitioner reaches in the first stage of Ch’an practice. The so-called enlightenment referred in this state is different from the understanding through pondering.
The Origin of Buddhism written by Maha Acarya Feng Da An quotes: “The practice of Buddhism will have true effect when there lives an enlightened Transferer of Buddhas’ Energies who is able to obtain the Buddhas’ Energies of the ten directions and confer them on sentient beings. Otherwise, now matter how hard the practitioners cultivate, the result will be skin-deep, and they have no hope of attaining fruition…” This conclusion is in agreement with the Sixth Patriarch’s words.
Both Hui Neng and Shen Xiu were the Fifth Patriarch’s disciples. Nevertheless, why was the Ch’an practice taught by the Master Hui Neng called the Sudden Teaching while the practice taught by Master Shen Xiu the Gradual Teaching? The reason is that the Sixth Patriarch was a completely enlightened patriarch. His teachings flew from the true nature; he could obtain the Buddhas’ Energies of the ten directions of the worlds, and then confer them upon practitioners. His power of blessing was so great that, practitioners with high spiritual capacity, who once corresponded to this empowerment, could instantaneously sever karmic obstruction and ignorance and realize the self-nature. Therefore, his school was called the Sudden School. On the contrary, Master Shen Xiu had not been enlightened, so he lacked the power to give Dharma teachings in the same way as the Sixth Patriarch did. He gave Dharma talks which depart from the true nature, so followers could hardly achieve Dharma effects rapidly. Thus, his school was called the Gradual School.
After the Sixth Patriarch got the patriarchate from the Fifth Patriarch, he followed his master’s instruction and did not begin to spread Buddhism immediately. Instead, he hid himself among the hunters’ team for over ten years. Later, seeing that the conditions for spread the Buddhist teachings were ripe, he went to the Fa Xing Temple, presently called Guang Xiao Temple. At that time, two monks were arguing whether it was the wind or the banner that was moving. The Sixth Patriarch rose from the assembly and said: “It is neither the wind nor the banner that is moving. It is your mind that is moving.” His remark astounded everyone present in the assembly. From then on, Hui Neng started to give Buddhist teachings to people. The master lived and taught in Bao Lin Temple (presently called as Nan Hua Temple) in Guangdong Province for forty years, spreading Buddhist teachings to countless sentient beings. He preached exhaustively the orthodox and essential teachings of the Ch’an practice. Later, his five disciples formed the five major branches of the Ch’an School. The essence of his teachings can be summed up as Three Nons and Two Kinds of Samadhi. Three Nons refer to the three states internally realized by practitioners, i.e., Non-thought (thoughtless) as the Object, Non-form as the Entity, and Non-attachment as the Basis. The Two Kinds of Samadhi are Samadhi of Oneness and Samadhi of One Form. (The Author’s Note: Interested people can surf the website T’ang Dynasty Esoteric School the perfect voice net for the article entitled “Three Nons and Two Kinds of Samadhi --- the Essence of the Sixth Patriarch’s Teachings” for details. URL: http://www.tangmi.com)
“Ordinary Mind Is the Way” As Understood by Worldly People,
and the Pang Family’s Story
The Samadhi of Oneness is straightforward mind at all times, walking, staying, sitting, and lying, dealing with things in accordance with situations without involving in hard-consideration and bending. When the Sixth Patriarch taught sentient beings, he could answer any question raised by people. His responses were quick, appropriate and befitted their understanding. Examples are cited to illustrate this point.
a. When a monk called Fa Da paid his homage to the Sixth Patriarch, he failed to lower his head down to the ground. The Sixth Patriarch reproved him, saying: “If your head doesn’t touch the ground, isn’t it better not to bow? There must be something on your mind. What do you practice?” Fa Da replied: “I have recited the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Sutra for three thousand times.”
b. One month before entering Nirvana, the Sixth Patriarch told his disciples: “I’m leaving this world in the eighth lunar month. Those who have doubts should ask about them soon.” Fa Hai and other disciples asked the master to resolve their doubts regarding the Dharmas, and they inquired about their future practice. The master answered all their questions in detail. Shi Tou was the youngest disciple. He was the last one to ask the master. He inquired: “What about me, master?” The master cast him a look, and then said: “Xun (lit. look for) Si (lit. thinking, thoughts) Qu (go) Ba” At first, Shi Tou misunderstand the Sixth Patriarch’s meaning, thinking that the master instructed him to focus his practice on contemplation. Later he was told by fellow practitioners to seek instruction from Master Xing Si. He was enlightened under the guidance of Master Xing Si, became his Dharma Successor, and was called Ch’an Master Shi Tou.
c. One day, the Patriarch wished to wash the robe he inherited, but could not find good stream. Therefore, he walked to a place about five miles from the rear of the temple. There he noticed that verdant plants and trees were growing profusely, and the environment was auspicious. He waved his staff and stuck it on the ground. Immediately water spurted out and before long, a pool was formed.
These three examples are facts of Samadhi of Oneness, the essence of which is straightforward mind at all times.
Layman Pang got enlightened under the instructions of Master Shi Tou and Master Ma Zu. Having resigned from the government office and sunk all his properties into the bottom of ocean, he went to the countryside with all his family members to work in the fields, and made a living by making bamboo products. When it was not the busy time for work in the fields, they would discuss Ch’an practice.
Layman uttered: “Difficult! Difficult! Difficult! Trying to grasp so many facts is like trying to spread out sesame seeds on the leaves of a tree!”
His wife said: “Easy! Easy! Easy! You’ve been studying words, but I study the grass and find the Buddha Self reflected in every drop of dew.”
His daughter Lingzhao said happily: “Father and Mother, you two speak such words now.”
Layman Pang asked his daughter, “Lingzhao, what is your method of practice?”
Lingzhao replied: “It’s not difficult, and it’s not easy. When I am hungry, I eat. When I’m tired, I sleep.”
One day, before Layman Pang began his meditation, he told Lingzhao: “Come to tell me when it is noon because I have an important thing to do.” Lingzhao nodded her head yes. When it was noon, she entered the room and told her father: “Father, it should be noon now but there has been an eclipse of the sun. You should come out and see it yourself.” Layman Pang rose from his meditation seat and went outside. To his surprise, there was no eclipse, so he went back into the room. There he found his daughter dead, her body sitting upright on his meditation seat. Therefore, he exclaimed: “My daughter is so smart. She is ahead of me to enter Nirvana.” In fact, Lingzhao already read her father’s mind when he told her to watch for the sun. Knowing that the father wanted to pass into Nirvana, she entered Nirvana when her father went out to see the eclipse.
Lingzhao’s words “eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy” actually meant that, no matter whether she was awake or in sleep and no matter what she was doing, she was in the Samadhi of Oneness. She did everything with the straightforward mind, and she was always in a state of complete tranquility and utter agility. Ordinary people who cannot handle things with the straightforward mind always misunderstand and misuse the wonderful purport of Master Ma Zu’s famous saying “Ordinary mind is the Way”. Such misunderstanding and misuse exert bad influence over Buddhist practitioners.
(The author’s note: Interested people can surf the T’ang Dynasty Esoteric School The Perfect Voice Net for the article “A Commentary on the Article Entitled ‘Ordinary Mind Is the Way’” for details. URL: http://www.tangmi.com)