Tuesday, July 8, 2008


His Holiness Hui Neng (638-713) , who became the great Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an (Japanese Zen) was a poor illiterate peasant boy from Hsin Chou of Kwangtung. One day, after he had delivered firewood to a shop, he overheard a man reciting the following line from the "Diamond Sutra" - "Depending upon no-thing, you must find your own mind." Instantly, Hui Neng became Enlightened. The full verse said: "All Bodhisattvas (Compassionate Ones) should develop a pure mind which clings to no-thing whatsoever; and so he should establish it."

The man who recited this sutra encouraged Hui Neng to meet the Fifth Zen Patriarch, Hung Jen, at the Tung Chian Monastery in the Huang Mei District of Chi Chou. Hui Neng said to the Fifth Patriarch: "I am a commoner from Hsin Chou Kwangtung (today, near Canton in the south of China). I have traveled far to pay you respect, and I ask for nothing but Buddhahood." "You are a native of Kwangtung, a barbarian? How can you expect to be a Buddha?" asked the Patriarch. "Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha Nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha Nature." Master Hung Jen immediately accepted Hui Neng as his disciple, but he had to hide this fact from the very educated northern monks at the monastery. At the time of the Fifth Patriarch, Ch'an was still influenced by Indian Buddhism, which did not emphasize direct awakening, but the importance of study and metaphysical debates. To protect Hui Neng, the Patriarch sent him to the kitchen to split firewood and pound rice for eight months.

One day the Fifth Patriarch told his monks to express their wisdom in a poem. Whoever had true realization of his original nature (Buddha Nature) would be ordained the Sixth Patriarch. The head monk, Shen Hsiu, was the most learned, and wrote the following:

The body is the wisdom-tree,
The mind is a bright mirror in a stand;
Take care to wipe it all the time,
And allow no dust to cling.

The poem was praised, but The Fifth Patriarch knew that Shen Hsiu had not yet found his original nature, on the other hand, Hui Neng couldn't even write, so someone had to write down his poem, which read:

Fundamentally no wisdom-tree exists,
Nor the stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is empty from the beginning,
Where can the dust alight

The Fifth Patriarch pretended that he wasn't impressed with this poem either, but in the middle of the night he summoned Hui Neng. The Fifth Patriarch gave him the insignia of his office, the Patriarch's robe and bowl (source). Hui Neng was told to leave for the South and to hide his enlightenment and understanding until the proper time arrives for him to propagate the Dharma.

"To meditate means to realize inwardly the imperturbability of the essence of mind.

Those who train themselves for imperturbability should, in their contacts with all types of men, ignore the faults of others.

As to the dharma, [teaching, path] this is transmitted from heart to heart, and the recipient must realize it by his own efforts.

All depends on self-practice.... "

The Sutra Spoken by the Sixth Patriarch on the High Seat of the Treasure of the Law, otherwise known as The Platform Sutra of Hui-neng.

Hui-neng's life-story was fortunately preserved for us in the sutra text, in the record of his first public talk, which he began as follows:

Learned Audience, our essence of mind [literally, self-nature], which is the seed or kernel of enlightenment [bodhi], is pure by nature, and by making use of this mind alone, we can reach buddhahood directly. Now let me tell you something about my own life and how I came into possession of the esoteric teaching of the Dhyana school.

Hui-neng said that when he heard the sentence "One should use one's mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment," he "at once became thoroughly enlightened and realized that all things in the universe are the essence of mind itself."