THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

 

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Bhikshu Chih T’ung

Sutra:

Bhikshu Chih T’ung, a native of An Feng in Shao Chou, had read the Lankavatara Sutra over a thousand times but still did not understand the three bodies and the four wisdoms. He made obeisance to the Master, seeking an explanation of the meaning. The Master said, “The three bodies are: the clear, pure Dharma-body, which is your nature; the perfect, full Reward-body, which is your wisdom; and the hundred thousand myriad Transformation bodies, which are your conduct. To speak of the three bodies as separate from your original nature is to have the bodies but not the wisdoms. To remember that the three bodies have no self-nature is to understand the four wisdoms of Bodhi. Listen to my verse:

Three bodies complete in your own self-nature
When understood become four wisdoms.
While not apart from seeing and hearing
Transcend them and ascend to the Buddha realm.

I will now explain it for you.
If you are attentive and faithful, you will never be deluded.
Don’t run outside in search of them,
By saying ‘Bodhi’ to the end of your days.

Chih T’ung asked further, “May I hear about the meaning of the four wisdoms?”

The Master said, “Since you understand the three bodies, you should also understand the four wisdoms. Why do you ask again? To speak of the four wisdoms as separate from the three bodies is to have the wisdoms but not the bodies, in which case the wisdoms become non-wisdoms.” He then spoke this verse:

The wisdom of the great, perfect mirror
Is your clear, pure nature.
The wisdom of equal nature
Is the mind without disease.
Wonderfully observing wisdom
Is seeing without effort.
Perfecting wisdom is
The same as the perfect mirror.

Five, eight, six, seven–
Effect and cause both turn;
Merely useful names:
They are without real nature.
If, in the place of turning,
Emotion is not kept,
You always and forever dwell
In Naga concentration.

Commentary:

Bhikshu Chih T’ung studied the Lankavatara Sutra because Bodhidharma recommended it above all other texts for the Ch’an School. Although he had read it over a thousand times, he still had to ask the Master about the three bodies and the four wisdoms. The Master always teaches Dharma of and from self-nature. “The clear, pure Dharma-body is your own original nature,” he said, “and the Reward-body is your wisdom. The transformation-bodies are your conduct, because you are what you do; you are transformed according to what you practice. If you try to explain the three bodies as something apart from your self-nature, you have the bodies, but not the wisdoms. But when you understand that the three bodies are devoid of self-nature, you possess the four wisdoms of Bodhi.

“When you understand that the three bodies are immanent in the self-nature, you realize the four wisdoms. Without being separated from the conditions of sight and hearing, you ascend directly to the Buddha-realm. Now, I have spoken this verse,” the Sixth Patriarch said, “and you must truly believe it. Then you will never again be confused like those people who go around saying ‘Bodhi, Bodhi, Bodhi’ all day long, but who never practice or understand Bodhi. Don’t chatter ‘head-mouth’ zen! You must truly understand the three bodies for it to count.

The Master continued, “Since you understand the three bodies, you should understand the four wisdoms as well. If you try to explain the four wisdoms as something apart from the three bodies, then although you know the name ‘four wisdoms’ you do not possess their actual substance or know their function. Your wisdoms are non-wisdoms.”

The Buddha has four wisdoms. The wisdom of the great, perfect mirror is the eighth consciousness (alayavijnana) when it has been transformed from consciousness into wisdom. The eighth consciousness is also called the “store” consciousness, because it stores up all the good and bad seeds you have planted in the past, all the good and bad things you have done in this and past lives. If you have planted good causes, you reap good effects; if you have planted bad causes, you reap bad effects. As the potential of all good and bad karma is stored in the eighth consciousness, it also comes to be called the “field of the eighth-consciousness,” because whatever you plant in it eventually sprouts.

When you are unable to use it, it is merely consciousness, but when you return to the root and go back to the source, the eighth consciousness is transmuted into the great perfect mirror wisdom, which in its essence is pure and undefiled.

The wisdom of equal nature is the seventh consciousness when it has been transformed from consciousness into wisdom. Before you understand, it is the seventh consciousness, but once you are enlightened, it is the wisdom of equal nature. The seventh consciousness is also called the “transmitting consciousness” because it acts as a transmitter between the sixth and eighth consciousness. It is called “the wisdom of equal nature” because the minds of all Buddhas and living beings are equal when the latter’s consciousness have been transformed into wisdom. “The mind without disease” means that there is no obstruction, no jealousy, no greed, hate, or stupidity. Without these defilements the seventh consciousness is transmuted into the wisdom of equal nature.

The wonderful observing wisdom is the sixth consciousness when it has been transformed into wisdom. It is the wisdom of subtle observation. The sixth consciousness, what we think of as the ordinary mind, is the consciousness of discrimination; it discriminates good and evil, right and wrong, male and female. Such discrimination is not actually the work of intelligence, as it seems to be, but is merely a kind of consciousness. When you turn it into wisdom, it becomes wonderfully observing wisdom, which sees all realms without having to go through the process of discrimination. This wonderful observation is quite different from mere discriminative thoughts.

When certified Arhats wish to use the wonderful observing wisdom to know something, they must first sit quietly in meditation and intentionally observe, for unless they intentionally observe, their minds are no different from those of ordinary people. By intentionally observing, they can know the events of the past eighty thousand eons.

Perfecting wisdom comes from the transformation of the first five consciousnesses–eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body–into wisdom.

“Five, eight, six, seven–effect and cause both turn.” The five consciousnesses and the eighth consciousness are transformed in the period of reaping effects and the sixth and seventh are transformed in the period of planting causes. In transforming the consciousnesses into the four wisdoms, first turn the sixth and seventh in the period of planting causes, and next the eighth and five in the period of reaping effects.

“Merely useful names: they are without real nature.” Although they are said to be changed in the realms of causes and effects, there is nothing in reality which corresponds to them; they are merely names and nothing more.

“If, in the place of ‘turning,’ emotion isn’t kept;” if, in the place where your emotional feelings are being ‘turned’ you do not use your common mind and become caught up in the ‘turning...’

“You always and forever dwell in Naga concentration.” At all times you are in Naga samadhi. Naga means “dragon.” Dragons can magically appear in big or small bodies because they have a great deal of concentration. As Fa Hai tells us in his introduction to the Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch defeated a dragon by saying, “If you are really a magic dragon, you should be able to appear in a small body as well as a large one.” Then, when the dragon turned up in a small body the Master dared him to climb into his bowl. As the little dragon had a big temper and much ignorance, he jumped at the dare; but when he tried to jump out again, he couldn’t do it. The Master explained the Dharma to the dragon and the dragon then went to rebirth.

The dragon may have been constantly in samadhi, but he had not destroyed his ignorance and therefore lost his temper. “I’ll show you!” he said, “I’ll change my body into a little one right now!” If he had really been in samadhi he would have said, “You say I can’t appear in a small body? O.K. So what? I’ll just appear in this large one.” But he lost his concentration and was ‘turned,’ caught, and defeated by the Great Master.

Still, Naga samadhi is an inconceivable state. How do dragons get to be dragons? They study the Buddhadharma with mighty effort, morning to night, but they do not keep the precepts. “Precepts are for common people,” they say. “I’m extraordinary. I’m not in the same category as they are, and I do not have to keep precepts!” That’s how they turn into dragons.

Sutra:

Note: The transformation of consciousness into wisdom has been described. The teaching says, “The first five consciousnesses turned become the perfecting wisdom; the sixth consciousness turned becomes the wonderfully observing wisdom; the seventh consciousness turned becomes the wisdom of equal nature, the eighth consciousness turned becomes the wisdom of the great perfect mirror.”

Although the sixth and seventh are turned in the cause and the first five and the eighth in the effect, it is merely the names which turn. Their substance does not turn.

Commentary:

The above passage was not part of the original text, but was added later.

Sutra:

Instantly enlightened to the nature of wisdom, Chih T’ung submitted the following verse:

Three bodies are my basic substance,
Four wisdoms my original bright mind.
Body and wisdom in unobstructed fusion:
In response to beings I accordingly take form.
Arising to cultivate them is false movement.
Holding to or pondering over them a waste of effort.
Through the Master I know the wonderful principle,
And in the end I lose the stain of names.

Commentary:

Chih T’ung understood the function of the three bodies and the four wisdoms. “The three bodies are not to be found outside of my own body,” he said, “and the four wisdoms, too, are produced from my own bright, understanding mind. When the bodies and wisdoms interpenetrate, then I may dispense the Dharma in accord with the needs of living beings–in accord with external conditions and yet not changing; unchanging, and yet in accord with conditions. If you wonder, “How can I cultivate the three bodies and four wisdoms?” that is nothing but false thinking, false movement. The same is true of holding to them and being attached to them.

From beginning to end there is no stain of names. What is unstained by names is the original self-nature, which is untouched by worldly emotion. Unless you have no defilement, you cannot return to the root and go back to the source, which is undefiled.

Bhikshu Chih Ch’ang

Sutra:

Bhikshu Chih Ch’ang, a native of Kuei Hsi in Hsin Chou, left home when he was a child and resolutely sought to see his own nature. One day he called on the Master, who asked him, “Where are you from and what do you want?”

Chih Ch’ang replied, “Your student has recently been to Pai
Feng Mountain in Hung Chou to call on the High Master Ta T’ung and receive his instruction on the principle of seeing one’s nature and realizing Buddhahood. As I have not yet resolved my doubts, I have come from a great distance to bow reverently and request the Master’s compassionate instruction.”

The Master said, “What instruction did he give you? Try to repeat it to me.”

Chih Ch’ang said, “After arriving there, three months passed and still I had received no instruction. Being eager for the Dharma, one evening I went alone into the Abbot’s room and asked him, ‘What is my original mind and original substance?’”

“Ta T’ung then said to me, ‘Do you see empty space?’

“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I see it.’

“Ta T’ung said, ‘Do you know what appearance it has?’

“I replied, ‘Empty space has no form. How could it have an appearance?’

“Ta T’ung said, ‘Your original mind is just like empty space. To understand that nothing can be seen is called right seeing; to know that nothing can be known is called true knowing. There is nothing blue or yellow, long or short. Simply seeing the clear, pure original source, the perfect, bright enlightened substance, this is what is called ‘seeing one’s nature and realizing Buddhahood.’ It is also called ‘the knowledge and vision of the Tathagata.’

“Although I heard his instruction, I still do not understand and beg you, O Master to instruct me.”

The Master said, “Your former master’s explanation still retains the concepts of knowing and seeing; and that is why you have not understood. Now, I will teach you with a verse:

Not to see a single dharma still retains no-seeing,
Greatly resembling floating clouds covering the sun.
Not to know a single dharma holds to empty knowing,
Even as a lightning flash comes out of empty space.
This knowing and seeing arise in an instant.
When seen wrongly, can expedients be understood?
If, in the space of a thought, you can know your own error,
Your own spiritual light will always be manifest.

Commentary:

Bhikshu Chih Ch’ang left home at the early age of seven or eight. When he called on the Sixth Patriarch, the Master remembered his first meeting with the Fifth Patriarch, who had asked him, “Where are you from and what do you seek?”

“I’m from Hsin Chou,” the Master had said, “and I seek nothing but Buddhahood.”

“Hsin Chou people are barbarians,” the Fifth Patriarch had said. “How can you become a Buddha?”

“The Barbarian’s body and the High Master’s body are not the same,” countered the Sixth Patriarch, “but in the Buddha nature where is the distinction?”

Remembering this, the Sixth Patriarch asked Chih Ch’ang, “Where are you from? Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Chih Ch’ang had received instruction on seeing the nature and realizing Buddhahood, but he still had doubts. The Chinese word for doubts is literally “fox doubt” because foxes are wary of everything. When a fox walks across the ice, he takes a step, cocks his head, and listens: if the ice crackles he runs back to shore; if it does not, he keeps on walking and listening, walking and listening. Although foxes are extremely intelligent, they are full of doubts.

In his verse the Sixth Patriarch explains, “If you do not see a single dharma and the ten thousand dharmas all are empty, you still have the view of not seeing any dharmas; you still hold that view. This is just like floating clouds covering the sun, because if you truly do not see anything, you are free of the idea of not seeing.

“In the same way, if you don’t establish a single dharma and don’t know a single dharma, but still have the knowledge that you neither establish nor know dharmas, you still hold on to an empty, false kind of knowing. Your principles seem coherent, but knowing and seeing still remain. This is like the great void: originally there is nothing there, but suddenly there is a flash of lightning. Now, do you see, or not?

“This ‘knowing and seeing’ arise in an instant.” Your seeing nothing and your empty knowing, your view of not seeing and your knowledge of knowing nothing, are there before your eyes.

You should understand right this instant that you are wrong in holding to the idea of seeing nothing and knowing emptiness. Then your original wisdom, your original intelligence, your inherent Buddha nature which is the Tathagata’s Treasury will always be manifest.

Sutra:

Hearing the verse, Chih Ch’ang understood it with his heart and mind, and he composed this verse:

Without beginning, knowing and seeing arise.
When one is attached to marks bodhi is sought out.
Clinging to a thought of enlightenment,
Do I rise above my former confusion?
The inherently enlightened substance of my nature
Illuminates the turning twisting flow.
But had I not entered the Patriarch’s room,

I’d still be running, lost between the two extremes.

Commentary:

When Chih Ch’ang heard this verse, he put it all down. Having put it all down he didn’t say, “I put it all down!” If you put it down, put it down; don’t keep saying, “I put it down!” If you keep on saying that you’ve put it down, you haven’t really done it. If you truly have no knowledge or view and have returned to the root and gone back to the source, why do you keep a ‘knowing’ and a ‘viewing’?

Chih Ch’ang understood and spoke a wonderful verse: “Without beginning, knowing and seeing arise.” Without a head, without a tail, the idea of seeing nothing and the knowledge of emptiness arise from no beginning, without a causal basis or foundation. Though one is attached to marks, Bodhi is sought out. You should not be attached to marks, but now you have become attached to seeing nothing and knowing emptiness. Previously, when I explained “no-thought,” I said that if you think, “I have no thought,” just that is a thought. Isn’t it?

If you really are without thought, you are also without no-thought. The concept of no-thought is just another thought.

In Ch’an (Dhyana) meditation, when we reflect on the question, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” we search for the “who” but don’t find it, because basically there is no “who.” But people can’t understand, and keep looking for a “self,” saying “Who?” In your search, do not be attached to marks; do not be attached to the mark of self when you seek Bodhi.

When you think, “I’m seeing emptiness and there is nothing at all!” you still have the thought of knowing; you still have the thought of seeing, and you don’t overcome your confusion. This is certainly not enlightenment.

“The inherently enlightened substance of my nature illuminates the turning, twisting flow.” The basic substance of the self-nature, which is enlightened from the beginning, is in accord with the shift and flow of external conditions, and yet it does not change. Understanding this, Chih Ch’ang finds the middle way between the “two extremes” of ‘seeing’ nothing and ‘knowing’ emptiness.

Sutra:

One day Chih Ch’ang asked the Master, “The Buddha taught the dharma of the three vehicles and also the Supreme Vehicle. Your disciple has not yet understood that and would like to be instructed.”

The Master said, “Contemplate only your own original mind and do not be attached to the marks of external dharmas. The Dharma doesn’t have four vehicles; it is people’s minds that differ. Seeing, hearing, and reciting is the small vehicle. Awakening to the Dharma and understanding the meaning is the middle vehicle. Cultivating in accord with Dharma is the great vehicle. To penetrate the ten thousand dharmas entirely and completely while remaining without defilement, and to sever attachment to the marks of all the dharmas with nothing whatsoever gained in return: that is the Supreme Vehicle. Vehicles are methods of practice, not subjects for debate. Cultivate on your own and do not ask me, for at all times your own self-nature is itself ‘thus.’”

Chih Ch’ang bowed and thanked the Master and served him to the end of the Master’s life.

Commentary:

The Master said, “Chih Ch’ang, the Dharma doesn’t even have one vehicle, much less four! People’s minds are what differ. If you see, hear, and recite, you belong to the small vehicle; if you understand and awaken, you belong to the middle vehicle; if you practice in accord with the Dharma, you belong to the great vehicle. When you understand all dharmas, when they are perfected in your own mind without any obstruction, and when you know that the ten thousand dharmas are the mind and the mind is the ten thousand dharmas, and further when you are not defiled by any state, then you belong to the Supreme Vehicle. But you must cultivate on your own; I can’t do it for you.

Eat your own food and fill yourself;
End your own birth and death.

From that time on, Chih Ch’ang served the Master. When he wanted a cup of tea, Chih Ch’ang brought it for him; when he was hungry, Chih Ch’ang brought him food. He served the Master right up until the Master’s death, at which time he left Nan Hua Temple.

Bhikshu Chih Tao

Sutra:

Bhikshu Chih Tao, a native of Nan Hai in Kuang Chou, asked a favor: “Since leaving home, your student has studied the Nirvana Sutra for over ten years and has still not understood its great purport. I hope that the High Master will bestow his instruction.”

The Master said, “What point haven’t you understood?”

Chih Tao replied,

All activities are impermanent,
Characterized by production and extinction;
When production and extinction are extinguished,
That still extinction is bliss.

My doubts are with respect to this passage.”

Commentary:

Once in the past, during the period when Shakyamuni Buddha was cultivating to plant causes for the attainment of Buddhahood, he was a Brahman. Deep in the mountains he cultivated many Dharma doors so heroically that the god Shakra was moved and said, “He works so hard! I wonder if I can break him?” and he transformed himself into a rakshasa ghost to test the Brahman. He told him, “The Buddha known as ‘Free from Fear’ said, ‘All activities are impermanent, characterized by production and extinction.’”

“Who said that?” said the Brahman.

The rakshasa ghost, who was hideously ugly, appeared and said, “I was just quoting a verse spoken by the Buddha who is free from fear.”

“But you didn’t recite the entire verse, only the first half. Please complete it,” said the Brahman.

“I don’t have the energy because I haven’t eaten for several days. Find me something to eat and I will speak it for you,” the ghost said.

“What would you like?” asked the Brahman.

“I don’t eat anything but fresh, warm, human meat,” said the ghost.

“In that case,” replied the Brahman, “you may speak the verse and then I will give you my own body to eat.”

The ghost stared at him. “Can you really do such an awesome deed? Can you really give up your body for half a verse?”

“I speak the truth; I do not lie,” said the Brahman, “and if you don’t believe me I can ask the Buddhas of the ten directions to bear testimony to the fact. Now, recite the verse and then I will feed you.”

The ghost quickly recited, “‘All activities are impermanent, characterized by production and extinction; When production and extinction are extinguished, that still extinction is bliss.’ Now give me your body!”

“Wait a minute,” said the Brahman. “Once you have eaten me there will be nothing left of the verse unless I write it down. Let me carve it on this tree so that future generations may cultivate according to it.” Then he stripped the bark from a tree and carved the verse on its trunk.

The ghost said, “Can I eat you now?”

“Just a minute...” said the Brahman.

“So you’re backing out, are you?” the ghost said.

“No, I’m not,” said the Brahman, “but what I have written on the tree will eventually be worn away by the wind and rain. I want to carve the verse in stone so that it will last forever. I’ll gladly give you my body, but I must also leave the Buddhadharma for those of the future.”

“Not a bad idea,” said the ghost.

The Brahman carved the words in stone and said, “All right, I’ve done what I had to do. I give my body to you as an offering. You may eat me now,” and he shut his eyes and waited for the ghost to devour him. But just then the ghost flew up into empty space, transformed himself back into Shakra and said, “Very good! Very good! You are a true cultivator, one who gives up his own body for the sake of the Buddha Way. In the future you are sure to become a Buddha!”

This is an event in a former life of Shakyamuni Buddha, when, as a Brahman, he offered his life for half a verse.

Sutra:

The Master said, “What are your doubts?”

“All living beings have two bodies,” Chih Tao replied, “the physical body and the Dharma-body. The physical body is impermanent and is produced and destroyed. The Dharma-body is permanent and is without knowing or awareness. The Sutra says that the extinction of production and extinction is bliss, but I do not know which body is in tranquil extinction and which receives the bliss.

“How could it be the physical body which receives the bliss? When this physical body is extinguished, the four elements scatter. That is total suffering and suffering cannot be called bliss. If the Dharma-body were extinguished it would become like grass, trees, tiles, or stones; then what would receive the bliss?

“Moreover, the Dharma-nature is the substance of production and extinction and the five heaps are the function of production and extinction. With one body having five functions, production and extinction are permanent; at the time of production, the functions arise from the substance, and at the time of extinction, the functions return to the substance. If there were rebirth then sentient beings would not cease to exist or be extinguished. If there were not rebirth, they would return to tranquil extinction and be just like insentient objects. Thus all dharmas would be suppressed by Nirvana and there would not even be production. How could there be bliss?”

The Master said, “You are a son of Shakya! How can you hold the deviant views of annihilationism and permanence which belongs to other religions and criticise the Supreme Vehicle Dharma! According to what you say, there is a Dharma-body that exists apart from physical form and a tranquil extinction to be sought apart from production and extinction. Moreover you propose that there is a body which enjoys the permanence and bliss of Nirvana. But that is to grasp tightly onto birth and death and indulge in worldly bliss.”

Commentary:

“Is it the physical body which is extinct and the Dharma body which receives the bliss?” Chih Tao wanted to know, “or is it the Dharma body which is extinct and the physical body which receives the bliss?

“How could it be the physical body which receives the bliss? The body is composed of the elements earth, air, fire, and water. At death, the elements scatter and that is a state of unspeakable suffering. You can’t call suffering happiness.”

“Hey!” said the Great Master, “you are a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha. You have left home and are a member of the Sangha. How can you harbor the deviant views and deviant knowledge of non-Buddhist religions? You say that there is a Dharma-body apart from the physical body and its extinction and that there is a tranquil extinction apart from the process of production and extinction. Isn’t this what you’re saying? You also say that there is a body which enjoys the four virtues of Nirvana: permanence, bliss, true self, and purity. In fact, your theories are nothing but niggardly attachment to birth and death and worldly pleasure. Stuck in the mundane world, you cannot possibly know transcendental bliss.”

Sutra:

“You should now know that deluded people mistook the union of five heaps for their own bodies and discriminated dharmas as external to themselves. They loved life, dreaded death, and drifted from thought to thought, not knowing that this illusory dream is empty and false. They turned vainly around on the wheel of birth and death and mistook the permanence and bliss of Nirvana for a form of suffering. All day long they sought after something else. Taking pity on them, the Buddha made manifest in the space of an instant the true bliss of Nirvana, which has no mark of production or extinction; it has no production or extinction to be extinguished. That, then, is the manifestation of tranquil extinction. Its manifestation cannot be reckoned; it is permanent and blissful. The bliss has neither an enjoyer nor a non-enjoyer. How can you call it ‘one substance with five functions?’ Worse, how can you say that Nirvana suppresses all dharmas, causing them to be forever unproduced? That is to slander the Buddha and defame the Dharma.”

Commentary:

The Buddha spoke for those who thought that their bodies were actually made up of a union of the five heaps, and who thought dharmas were something external to themselves. They were attached to life and death because they didn’t know that everything is like a dream, a bubble, a lightning flash, or a dew drop–illusory. They underwent birth and death over and over again, uselessly and pitifully spinning on the wheel of the six paths of rebirth.

Some people thought that the wonderful virtues of Nirvana were a kind of suffering, but the Buddha mercifully revealed to them the true happiness of Nirvana, where there is no mark of production and no mark of extinction. Further, there is absolutely no extinction of production and extinction, because right within production and extinction there appears the state of non-production and non-extinction. That is the manifestation of tranquil extinction.

You can’t say that the manifestation of tranquil extinction is so long or so short, so high or so wide. It’s a kind of permanent happiness which is without an enjoyer or a non-enjoyer. If you would like to have this kind of happiness, you should know that there is no one who enjoys it or does not enjoy it. Why? It is the manifestation of the original self-nature.

Sutra:

“Listen to my verse:

Supreme, great Nirvana is bright
Perfect, permanent, still and shining.
Deluded common people call it death,
Other teachings hold it to be annihilation.
All those who seek two vehicles
Regard it as non-action.
Ultimately these notions arise from feeling,
And form the basis for sixty-two views,
Wrongly establishing unreal names.
What is the true, real principle?
Only one who has gone beyond measuring
Penetrates without grasping or rejecting,
And knows that the dharma of the five heaps
And the self within the heaps,
The outward appearances–a mass of images–
The mark of every sound,
Are equally like the illusion of dreams,
For him, views of common and holy do not arise
Nor are explanations of Nirvana made.
The two boundaries, the three limits are cut off.
All organs have their function,
But there never arises the thought of the function.
All dharmas are discriminated
Without a thought of discrimination arising.
When the fire at the eon’s end
burns the bottom of the sea
And the winds blow the mountains
against each other,
The true, permanent, still extinct bliss,
The mark of Nirvana is ‘thus.’
I have struggled to explain it,
To cause you to reject your false views.
Don’t understand it by words alone
And maybe you’ll understand a bit of this.”

After hearing this verse, Chih Tao was greatly enlightened. Overwhelmed with joy, he made obeisance and withdrew.

Commentary:

The Sixth Patriarch said, “Listen. Great Nirvana is full, complete and bright. It’s permanent, unchanging, and constantly illuminating. Ordinary people say that it is death, and those of non-Buddhist religions say that it is annihilation. The two vehicles of the Shravakas and Pratyeka Buddhas think that it is non-action; that it is uncreated and arises spontaneously. But these are all discriminations which arise from emotion, and they form the basis of sixty-two wrong views. What are the sixty-two wrong views?

  1. The heap (skandha) is big and I am contained in the heap.
  2. I am big and the heap is contained in me.
  3. The heap itself is me.
  4. I am separate from the heap.

When each of the four above are applied to the five heaps– form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness–they make twenty. The twenty multiplied by the three periods of time–past, present, and future–make sixty. Adding the two extremes of permanence and annihilation makes sixty-two. None of them are real; they are all empty and false.”

Then “what is the true real principle?” Only one who has gone beyond measuring penetrates without grasping at or rejecting them. Therefore he truly understands that the dharma of the five heaps and the self within those heaps, the marks of form and sound, are all like dreams, illusions, bubbles and shadows.

“For him, views of common and holy do not arise.” He doesn’t have the views of a common person, he doesn’t have the understanding of the sage, and he doesn’t try to explain the bliss of Nirvana. “The two boundaries, the three limits are cut off.” He is attached neither to the boundary of emptiness, nor to the boundary of existence. Therefore the three limits of the past, present, and future are cut off and he is not attached to them.

“All organs have their function, but there never arises the thought of the function.” The true suchness self-nature has the ability to function in accord with external conditions and yet not change. It’s responsiveness is inexhaustible and yet there is no thought of “Ah! I am functioning!” All “Dharmas are discriminated without a thought of discrimination arising.” You don’t think, “I am not making discriminations.” If you do think that, you have the mark of discrimination. To be truly without discrimination is to be without the mark of non-discrimination as well.

“When the fire at the end of the eon burns the bottom of the sea and the wind blows the mountains against each other:” At the end of an eon, there are three disasters: flood, fire, and wind. “The true permanent, still, extinct bliss, the mark of Nirvana is ‘thus.’” If you have attained true permanence and the bliss of tranquil extinction, then the mark of Nirvana is just as it was explained above, and the three disasters cannot affect you.

The Great Master concludes by saying that he has spoken the verse to encourage his listeners to cast aside their present knowledge and views. “When you no longer rely on the text in order to explain the Sutras,” he said, “I will grant that you understand just a little bit of what I’ve said.”

Bhikshu Hsing Szu


Sutra:

Dhyana Master Hsing Szu was born into the Liu family, which lived in An Ch’eng district in Chi Chou. Hearing of the flourishing influence of the Ts’ao Hsi Dharma Assembly, Hsing Szu went directly there to pay homage and asked, “What is required to avoid falling into successive stages?”

The Master said, “What did you do before coming here?”

He replied, “I did not even practice the Holy Truths.”

The Master said, “Then into what successive states could you fall?”

He replied, “If one isn’t practicing the Four Holy Truths, what successive stages are there?”

The Master greatly admired his capacity and made him the leader of the assembly.

One day the Master said, “You should go elsewhere to teach. Do not allow the teaching to be cut off.”

Having obtained the Dharma, Hsing Szu returned to Ch’ing Yüan
Mountain in Chi Chou, to propagate the Dharma and transform living beings. After his death he was given the posthumous title “Dhyana Master Hung Chi.”

Commentary:

Dhyana Master Hsing Szu walked and thought about things at the same time. What did he think about? Do you know? I know. He walked and thought, “Who is mindful of the Buddha? Who is mindful of the Buddha?” and so he was called Hsing Szu, “walking thinker.”

At that time the reputation of the Dharma Assembly at Ts’ao Hsi had spread all over China. Everyone knew that the person to whom the Fifth Patriarch had transmitted the robe and bowl was spreading the Dharma there. People “drift away from the empty and gather with the flourishing.” If there are only a few people in your place, it will soon be empty. For instance, here there are thirty people, but if there were only three or four people, soon they would all run away. The more people there are, the more will come from the outside. “There are a lot of people at the Buddhist Lecture Hall!” “Hippies who go there cut their hair and shave their beards. It’s inconceivable. There must be something happening there. Let’s go and see!”

The Dharma Assembly at Ts’ao Hsi flourished. “Gather with the flourishing” can also be explained as “gather with the sages,” because in Chinese the words “flourishing” and “sage” sound the same. Many sages and common people came to support the Patriarch.

Hsing Szu asked the Patriarch which Dharma door he should cultivate in order to avoid the successive stages of the gradual teaching. The sudden teaching does not have successive stages. Therefore, what he actually asked was, “How do I cultivate the sudden dharma?” He must have heard someone say, “The Sixth Patriarch is truly inconceivable. He has the five eyes and the six spiritual penetrations. I went there and didn’t say a thing and he knew what I was thinking and asked me about, it!”

The Master regarded Hsing Szu highly. “What this man says makes sense,” he thought. “He surely must have good roots.” He appointed Hsing Szu head of the assembly and thereafter Hsing Szu always walked in front, leading the others during the ceremonies.

The Sixth Patriarch saw Hsing Szu as a vessel of the Dharma, a Dharma-door “elephant and dragon.” This means that he had the capability of a patriarch, not a self-made patriarch, but one who had received the Sixth Patriarch’s certification and permission to teach. “Go and teach elsewhere,” said the Master. “You should not stay here with me but should go in such and such a direction to be a teaching master. Do not let the Dharma become extinct!”

Hsing Szu received the robe and bowl and carried the transmission of the lamp of the wonderful Dharma.

The posthumous title was conferred by the Emperor. Hsing Szu was given the name Hung Chi, “extensive crossing,” just as the Sixth Patriarch received the name Ta Chien, “great mirror.”

Dhyana Master Huai Jang

Sutra:

Dhyana Master Huai Jang was the son of the Tu family in Chin Chou. He first visited National Master An of Sung
Mountain, who told him to go to Ts’ao Hsi to pay homage. When he arrived, he bowed, and the Master asked him, “What has come?”

He replied, “Sung Shan.”

The Master said, “What thing is it and how does it come?”

He replied, “To say that it is like a thing is to miss the point.”

The Master said, “Then can there still be that which is cultivated and certified?”

He replied, “Cultivation and certification are not absent, but there can be no defilement.”

The Master said, “It is just the lack of defilement of which all Buddhas are mindful and protective. You are like that, and I am like that, too. In the West, Prajnatara predicted that a colt would run from under your feet, trampling and killing people under heaven. You should keep that in mind, but do not speak of it too soon.”

Huai Jang suddenly understood. Accordingly he waited upon the Master for fifteen years, daily penetrating more deeply into the profound and mysterious. He later went to Nan
Yao where he spread the Dhyana School. The title “Dhyana Master Ta Hui” was bestowed upon him posthumously.

Commentary:

Huai Jang received the Dharma-transmission from the Great Master and became the Seventh Patriarch. Huai means “to cherish.” What did he cherish? Jang, which means “to yield.” He was never arrogant toward anyone, but kept his mind humble and modest, respecting everyone above and below him. In his mind he always cherished politeness. What this Dhyana Master had, he appeared to be without; what was real appeared false. Although he had the Way, it seemed as though he didn’t. He was actually highly educated, but if anyone brought it up, he politely insisted that he was really just a beginner.

He first went to study the Buddhadharma with National Master An. National Master An sent him to study at Ts’ao Hsi, because at that time everyone knew that Ts’ao Hsi was the place of the true orthodox Buddhadharma. If you really wanted to study and cultivate faith in the Buddhadharma you went to Ts’ao Hsi. Now, in America, if you really want to study the Buddhadharma, you should come and study the Sutras here. Don’t fear difficulty! Don’t fear suffering! Don’t be lazy! Study the Buddhadharma.

At that time at Nan Hua Temple, the site of the platform of the Sixth Patriarch, there was Dhyana meditation and work on the mountain slopes every day. Everyone got up at three-thirty in the morning. At four o’clock they went to morning recitation, which was very vigorous and lasted until five-thirty. Then they sat in meditation until sunrise. After they had eaten some rice gruel, there was another hour of meditation. At eight o’clock they went out on the mountain slopes for two hours until ten o’clock. Because there were about two thousand people, in two hours they were able to do a lot of work. It was not like one or two people doing the work and not being able to finish it.

At ten they returned from the slopes and rested until eleven, at which time they ate. From twelve to two they sat in meditation, and at two o’clock they went back out on the mountain slopes to work for two more hours. Then they returned and sat in meditation for six hours until ten o’clock. Afterwards, some did their own work, bowing in homage to the Sutras, or performing repentance ceremonies, until midnight. Every day it was this way.

The “wind of the Way” blew severely at Nan Hua Temple. Everyone had to follow the rules. There were several thousand people and you never heard a person speak. No one spoke because they feared that they might strike up false thinking and then their work would not succeed. If you single-mindedly apply effort, you never pursue any train of random thought whatsoever. The Sixth Patriarch therefore established work in common which was very rigorous.

When Dhyana Master Huai Jang arrived at Nan Hua Temple he bowed, and the Master said, “What has come?” This is Ch’an. In the Ch’an School, one never speaks of the principle outright. He merely said, “What has come?” Ostensibly it was a Bhikshu, but he said, “What comes?” At least he didn’t ask if it was a ghost.

Huai Jang replied, “Sung Shan.” He meant, “I am from Sung Mountain.”

The two were using the language of the Ch’an School– repartee.

“Cultivation and certification are not absent, but there can be no defilement.” Cultivation has that which is cultivated and certification has that which is certified. Therefore cultivation and certification are not non-existent. So cultivation and certification can exist, but defilement cannot; that is, you cannot be stained. The self-nature must be bright and light.

When Huai Jang said this, the Master replied that there was no defilement, no filth in the self-nature. The defilements are self-seeking, jealousy, greed, hate, and delusion. “Without these defilements,” he said, “you are ‘thus’, just as I am. We two are the same–equal.”

The Twenty-seventh Indian Patriarch, Prajnatara, the predecessor of Bodhidharma, had said that a colt would run from under Huai Jang’s feet. Who was the colt? He was Huai Jang’s Dharma successor, Great Master Ma Tsu “horse patriarch” Tao I.

“Under your feet” means that the colt would be Huai Jang’s disciple, because a disciple behaves as if he were under his teacher’s foot. “In the future,” Prajnatara had said, “a colt will run out of your gate, trampling people all over the world. No other Dharma Master will match his superb eloquence and vast wisdom. None will defeat him. Under heaven, he will be supreme.”

Master Huai Jang became the Sixth Patriarch’s personal attendant. Later he went to Heng Mountain in Nan Yao, which is in Hu Nan Province in south-central China, to propagate the Dhyana School. After Huai Jang died, the Emperor gave him the title “Great Master Ta Hui,” “Great Wisdom.”

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