Bhikshu Chih Ch’e
Bhikshu Chih Ch’e, a native of Chiang Hsi, had the family name Chang and the personal name Hsing Ch’ang. As a youth he was an itinerant warrior. When the schools split into the Northern and Southern, although the two leaders had lost the notion of self and other, the disciples stirred up love and hate.
The disciples of the Northern School secretly set up Shen Hsiu as the Sixth Patriarch. Fearing that the country would hear of the transmission of the robe, they hired Hsing Ch’ang to assassinate the Master. But the Master had the power of knowing the thoughts of others. He knew of this matter in advance and set ten ounces of gold on his chair. That night Hsing Ch’ang entered his room intending to kill him. The Master just stretched out his neck. Hsing Ch’ang swung the blade three times but could not harm him.
Neither Shen Hsiu nor the Sixth Patriarch had thoughts of “self” or “others.” But their disciples agitated, stirring up thoughts of love and hate in people. More specifically, Shen Hsiu’s disciples did the agitating, denouncing the Southern Patriarch as illiterate and incompetent.
The Sixth Patriarch’s disciples really believed in him. “You can’t talk that way about our teacher!” they said. “He has obtained wisdom without the aid of a master.”
It never occurred to the Sixth Patriarch’s disciples that they should kill Shen Hsiu, but Shen Hsiu’s disciples were jealous and wanted to kill the Sixth Patriarch. They knew that the robe and bowl were in the South. The rumors flew. “That Hui Neng would do anything: homicide, manslaughter. Why, in the old days he was a confidence man and now he’s pretending to be a Patriarch. How absurd.”
Others said, “He used to be a poor firewood gatherer in the mountains. What talent could he have? The people in the south have made him their leader, but it’s only talk.” They did everything they could to ruin him. “At Huang Mei everyone knew that he was a barbarian. He doesn’t know anything at all.” Shen Hsiu had several thousand men behind him, even though he did not have the robe and bowl. They each wanted to be the Seventh Patriarch, and without a father how can there be a son? With Shen Hsiu as the Sixth Patriarch, the Seventh Patriarch would surely be one of them. But they didn’t dare make the news public because it was all too obvious that the position rightly belonged to Hui Neng.
T’ang dynasty Buddhism was extremely complex.
Hsing Ch’ang’s family name had been Chang, but after he left home the Master named him Chih Ch’e. As a boy, he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, always fighting for the underdog. His martial skills were outstanding. Light and limber, he could leap twenty feet in the air in a single bound. They called him “Flying Cat” Chang because he ran so fast and with such agility that he could break into your house without a sound, just like a cat. Not only could this cat walk silently, he could fly. But you won’t find this nickname in any of the history books; you would have to have been there.
Having unsuccessfully tried to capture the Master by burning off the mountain behind Nan Hua Temple, Shen Hsiu’s men decided to hire an assassin to kill the master and steal the robe and bowl.
The Sixth Patriarch could read minds, and so he was expecting his visitor. He put some gold on his chair and waited until midnight, when the sky was black and Hsing Ch’ang came creeping up the stairs, down the hall, and into his room.
Was this a tense situation or not? What do you think the Master did? He just stretched out his neck, and although he didn’t say anything, he thought, “Go ahead and swing your sword. Come on, kill me!” This is called “sticking your neck out.”
Hsing Ch’ang was oblivious to the Master. He was determined to carry out orders and had nothing on his mind but murder. “I don’t care if you’re a Bhikshu, an Arhat, or even a Patriarch, I’m going to kill you!” he said, swinging at the Master’s neck. He swung three times and nothing happened. Now, just what do you think this means?
The Master said,
A straight sword is not bent.
A bent sword is not straight.
I merely owe you gold.
I do not owe you life.
Hsing Ch’ang fell to the ground in fright. After a while he came to and begged for mercy, repenting of his error and vowing to leave home. The Master gave him the gold and said, “Go! I fear that my followers will come to take revenge. Change your appearance and return another day and I will accept you.”
The Master said, “A straight sword is not bent,” that is, the straight sword of the proper Dharma cannot be harmed by deviant dharma. “The deviant cannot defeat the right; the right always overcomes the deviant. You may have a sword, but you can’t harm me with it. I merely owe you the gold which I borrowed in a past life,” the Master said, “I don’t owe you my life because I never killed you.”
It was all too much for Hsing Ch’ang, and he fainted. When he came to, the Master talked with him for a long time, “Why did you want to kill me?” he asked.
“It wasn’t my idea,” said Hsing Ch’ang. “They told me that you were a scoundrel, a thief, and a hunter. They said that you were nothing but a firewood gatherer who was pretending to be a Patriarch. Hearing this, I felt it was my duty to kill you, but now I know that I was wrong. Why? If you had no virtue, my sharp sword would have sliced your head right off. Having met you, I realized that the affairs of the world are of no great interest. Please let me leave home and bow to you as my teacher.”
The Master said, “Here, take this gold and go quickly. My disciples are fond of me and they would kill you if they found out about this. Go somewhere else and leave home. When you return I will teach and transform you.”
Hsing Ch’ang received his orders and disappeared into the night. Later he left home under another Bhikshu, received the complete precepts and was vigorous in practice. One day, remembering the Master’s words, he made the long journey to have an audience. The Master said, “I have thought of you for a long time. What took you so long?”
He replied, “The High Master once favored me by pardoning my crime. Although I have left home and although I practice austerities, I shall never be able to repay his kindness. May I try to repay you by transmitting the Dharma and taking living beings across?
“Your disciple often studies the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, but he has not yet understood the principles of permanence and impermanence. I beg the High Master to be compassionate and explain them for me.
The Master said, “Impermanence is just the Buddha nature and permanence is just the mind discriminating good and evil dharmas.”
“High Master, your explanation contradicts the Sutra text!” Hsing Ch’ang replied.
The Master said, “I transmit the Buddha’s mind-seal. How could I dare to contradict the Buddhas’ Sutras?”
Hsing Ch’ang replied, “The Sutra says that the Buddha nature is permanent and the High Master has just said that it is impermanent; it says that good and evil dharmas, reaching even to the Bodhi Mind, are impermanent and the High Master has just said that they are permanent. This contradiction has merely intensified your student’s doubt and delusion.”
The Master said, “Formerly, I heard Bhikshuni Wu Chin Tsang recite the Nirvana Sutra. When I commented on it, there was not one word or principle which did not accord with the Sutra text. My explanation to you now is not different.”
Hsing Ch’ang replied, “Your student’s capacity for understanding is superficial. Will the High Master please explain further?”
The Master said, “Don’t you understand? If the Buddha nature were permanent, what use would there be in speaking of good and evil dharmas? To the end of an eon not one person would produce the Bodhi Mind. Therefore I explain it as impermanent. That is exactly what the Buddha explained as the meaning of true permanence.”
The Buddha explained the Buddha nature as permanent to those attached to impermanence, and he explained it as impermanent to those attached to permanence. If you say that the Buddha nature is permanent, what good and evil dharmas remain for discussion? Living beings would have all become Buddhas long ago. Why should one bother to speak the Dharma to them in order to take them across? If the Buddha nature is permanent, everyone would be a Buddha and there would be no need to cultivate. “So,” the Master said, “you see that my explanation of the Buddha nature as impermanent is exactly what the Buddha meant when he spoke of permanence.”
“Furthermore, if all dharmas were impermanent, all things would have a self-nature subject to birth and death, and the true permanent nature would not pervade all places. Therefore, I explain it as permanent. That is exactly what the Buddha explained as the meaning of true impermanence.”
Basically, the Buddha nature is neither permanent nor impermanent. That is the ultimate principle of the middle way. Then why did the Sixth Patriarch say that it was impermanent? Why did he say that the mind which discriminates good and evil was permanent? He did it to cure Hsing Ch’ang of his attachments. Once you are rid of attachment, you do not need the Buddhadharma. The Sixth Patriarch took advantage of an opportunity to heal Hsing Ch’ang, but he wouldn’t necessarily have explained it the same way to every one.
“It was for the sake of common people and those who belong to other religions who cling to deviant views of permanence, and for all those who follow the two-vehicle way, mistaking permanence for impermanence formulating the eight perverted views, that the Buddha in the ultimate Nirvana teaching destroyed their prejudiced views. He explained true permanence, true bliss, true selfhood, and true purity.”
Common people and non-Buddhists cling to false permanence; Shravakas and Pratyeka Buddhas mistake permanence for impermanence. These two groups each have four perverted views, making eight in all.
Common people and non-Buddhists turn the four marks of conditioned existence upside-down and say:
- The suffering of conditioned existence is bliss;
- Its impermanence is permanent;
- Its impurity is pure; and
- Its “no-self” is “self.”
The Shravakas and Pratyeka Buddhas turn the four virtues of Nirvana upside-down and say:
- The bliss of Nirvana is suffering;
- Its permanence is impermanent;
- Its purity is impure; and
- Its “self” is “no-self.”
“You now contradict this meaning by relying on the words, taking annihilation to be impermanence and fixing on a lifeless permanence. In this way you misinterpret the last, subtle, complete and wonderful words of the Buddha. Even if you read it a thousand times, what benefit could you derive from it?”
Hsing Ch’ang suddenly achieved the great enlightenment and spoke this verse:
To those who hold impermanence in mind,
The Buddha speaks of the permanent nature;
Not knowing expedients is like
Picking up pebbles from a spring pond.
But now without an effort
The Buddha nature manifests;
The Master did not transmit it,
And I did not obtain a thing.
The Master said, “Now you understand! You should be called ‘Chih Ch’e’ (breadth of understanding).”
Chih Ch’e thanked the Master, bowed, and withdrew.
Unless you understand that the Buddha’s dharmas are expedient devices, you might as well collect rocks from the bottom of a pool: you’re useless.
Hearing the Master’s instruction, Hsing Ch’ang returned to the source and went back home. Suddenly enlightened, he understood his mind and saw his nature. But his enlightenment was not given to him by the Sixth Patriarch, and his attainment was actually no attainment. He simply opened up to his own inherent wisdom.
The Master gave him certification saying, “Now that you are truly enlightened, I’ll give you the name ‘Chih Ch’e.’”
Bhikshu Shen Hui
A young boy thirteen years old named Shen Hui, who was from a Kao family in Hsiang Yang, came from Yü Ch’üan to pay homage. The Master said, “The Knowing One’s journey must have been difficult. Did you bring the original with you? If you have the original, you should know the owner. Try to explain it to me.”
Shen Hui said, “I take non-dwelling as the original and seeing as the owner.”
The Master said, “This Shramanera imitates the talk of others.”
Shen Hui then asked, “When you sit in Ch’an, High Master, do you see or not?”
The Master hit him three times with his staff and said, “When I hit you, does it hurt or not?”
He replied, “It both hurts and does not hurt.”
The Master said, “I both see and do not see.”
Shen Hui asked, “How can you both see and not see?”
The Master said, “What I see is the transgression and error of my own mind. I do not see the right, wrong, good, or bad of other people. This is my seeing and not seeing. How can you say it both hurts and does not hurt? If it does not hurt you are like a piece of wood or a stone, but if it does hurt you are just like a common person and will give rise to hatred. Your ‘seeing and not seeing’ are two extremes and your ‘hurting and not hurting’ are production and extinction. You have not even seen your own nature and yet you dare to ridicule others.”
Shen Hui was an exceptional child. Precocious and brilliant, he forgot his body for the sake of the Dharma. He could tell at a glance that Shen Hsiu didn’t have the genuine Buddhadharma; he set out for the Sixth Patriarch’s place, eighteen hundred miles distant. His shoes fell apart and the rocks and slivers of glass on the road cut into his feet, but he continued to walk, tearing up his robe to bandage his bleeding feet and acting as if there were no pain at all. When the Great Master saw him he knew that he had undergone much suffering.
“Good Knowing Advisor,” he said, “your journey must have been difficult. Did you bring the original with you? Have you attained your original face or not? Do you recognize your original face? If you have the original, you should know the owner. If you have the original, the Buddha-nature, and if you have understood your mind, seen your nature, you should know the owner. The owner is the Buddha-nature. Tell me about it!”
But this unruly child had a mind of his own. “I take ‘not dwelling anywhere’ as my original face,” he said, “and my seeing nature as the host.”
The Sixth Patriarch said, “You’re just imitating the talk of other people. You pretend to know what you do not know, to understand what you do not understand, and to see what you do not see. This is nothing but verbal zen. It is not an expression of the self-nature.
Shen Hui had a lot of gall. “When the High Master sits in meditation,” he asked, “does he see or not?” This child was wild and difficult to teach. The Patriarch, not being an ordinary person, gave no ordinary answer. He hit Shen Hui with his staff and shouted, “Does that hurt?”
It is not known whether the child was afraid, or whether he cried or not.
Shen Hui said, “It both hurts and does not hurt.”
The Master said, “I both see and do not see.”
“How can this be?” said Shen Hui.
“I see my own mistakes,” said the Master. “I keep an eye on my evil false thinking and immediately put a stop to it. I do not see the faults of others: others’ evils, others’ obsessions, others’ conditions, others’ transgressions.” Students of the Buddhadharma should take note of this. See your own errors, not those of other people. Don’t be like a watchdog watching someone else’s door. The dog doesn’t have anything of its own and so it watches over other people’s things. Don’t be critical and don’t gossip: see and do not see.
“I see and do not see,” said the Master, “but how can you both hurt and not hurt? If you don’t hurt, you are just like a rock. If you do hurt, then you’ll catch fire and get angry and afflicted, just like an unenlightened common person. Seeing and not seeing are two extremes and hurting and not hurting are dharmas of production and extinction. You haven’t even seen your own nature and yet you have the nerve to come here and talk down to me?”
Shen Hui bowed, apologized, and thanked the Master. The Master continued, “If your mind is confused and you do not see, then ask a Good Knowing Advisor to help you find the Way. If your mind is enlightened, then see your own nature and cultivate according to the Dharma. You yourself are confused and do not see your own mind, and yet you come to ask me whether or not I see. If I see, I know it for myself, but is that of any help to you in your confusion? In the same way your seeing is of no use to me. Why don’t you know and see it for yourself, instead of asking me whether or not I see?”
Shen Hui bowed again over one hundred times, seeking forgiveness for his error. He served the Master with diligence, never leaving his side.
The Master said, “Shen Hui, if your mind is unclear and you cannot see the nature, then ask a Good Knowing Advisor to teach you how to work at cultivation. If your mind is enlightened and you have understood the mind and seen the nature, then you should cultivate according to Dharma. You haven’t even seen your original mind, and yet you come to ask me whether or not I have seen it. If I’ve seen it, that’s my own business, of no use to you in your deluded condition. If you’ve seen the nature and obtained the original face, that’s of no use to me. Why not turn the light around and reverse the illumination to find out whether you’ve seen your own mind or not? Isn’t that better than asking me? What difference does it make whether I’ve seen it or not?”
After that, Shen Hui was really sorry. Why had he been so incorrigible? Did he really have no conscience? His questioning of the Patriarch was like trying to sell dime novels to Confucius or going to the home of Lu Pan, China’s first engineer and foremost carpenter, to do remodeling. He begged for forgiveness, saying, “I’m just a kid. I don’t know how high the heavens are or how deep the earth is. Please don’t hold it against me.” From then on, Shen Hui waited on the Master, following along everywhere the Master went to give lectures on the Sutras and speak about the Dharma.
One day the Master addressed the assembly as follows: “I have a thing. It has no head or tail, no name or label, no back or front. Do you all know what it is?”
Shen Hui stepped forward and said, “It is the root source of all Buddhas, Shen Hui’s Buddha nature!”
The Master said, “I just told you that it had no name or label, and you immediately call it the root-source of all Buddhas. Go and build a thatched hut over your head! You’re nothing but a follower who pursues knowledge and interpretation.”
After the Master’s extinction, Shen Hui went to Ching Lo where he propagated the Ts’ao Hsi Sudden Teaching. He wrote the Hsien Tsung Chi which circulated widely throughout the land. He is known as Dhyana Master Ho Che.
Everyone shut their mouths; no one said a word. Some of them didn’t speak because they knew and some didn’t speak because they did not know. Seeing that no one was going to answer, Shen Hui jumped out from the assembly and said, “I know what it is! It’s the origin of all Buddhas: my Buddha nature!”
“In the ranks of the Ch’an School,” said the Master, “you’re nothing but a scholar. You have no genuine understanding.”
In a way the Master’s scolding was a compliment. It isn’t easy to be a Ch’an scholar of the school of those who know and interpret.
When the Sixth Patriarch died, Shen Hui went to the capital at Loyang to spread the Sudden Teaching of the Ch’an School. He later wrote the Hsien Tsung Chi, a treatise on the Northern and Southern Schools, which exposed Shen Hsiu as a false pretender and proclaimed the Southern Patriarch Hui Neng as the real Sixth Patriarch, the recipient of the Buddha’s mind-seal. Had Shen Hui not written this book, Shen Hsiu would have stolen the title of the Sixth Patriarch. Shen Hui came to be known as Ho Che, which is the name of the place where he went to live.
The Master saw many disciples of other schools, all with evil intentions, gathered beneath his seat to ask him difficult questions. Pitying them, he said, “Students of the Way, all thoughts of good or evil should be completely cast away. What cannot be named by any name is called the self-nature. This non-dual nature is the real nature, and it is within the real nature that all teaching doors are established. At these words you should see it for yourselves.”
Hearing this, they all made obeisance and asked him to be their master.
Not only did Shen Hsiu’s party want to murder the Great Master, but those of other sects, such as the Consciousness Only School, came to ask the Master difficult questions. “Which came first,” they would ask, “the Buddha or the Dharma? Where does the Buddhadharma begin?” They had many questions.
The Sixth Patriarch said, “If you can speak the Dharma, then it’s first the Buddha, then the Dharma. If you can listen to the Dharma, then it’s first the Dharma and then the Buddha. The Buddhadharma comes from the minds of living beings.”
On this occasion he saw that the crowd was full of spies and would-be assassins. “Cultivators should not hold thoughts of good or evil,” he said, “What cannot be named by any name is called the self-nature. The self-nature is non-dual; it is also called the real nature, the real mark. Within it all schools and sects are set up. It’s not enough just to talk about it, however. You must understand and immediately give proof to the state of no-mark.”
Hearing these words, the assembly realized that all their thoughts had been bound up in good and evil and they were greatly ashamed. They bowed down before him and said, “From now on we’ll be different. Please, Great Master, be our teacher.”
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