Posted in ch'an, zen

Your Mind is Moving

Huineng came upon two monks who were arguing. They were having a silly argument to try to prove how smart they were. They were watching a flag rippling in the wind.

The first monk said, “The flag is moving.”

The second monk said, “No, the wind is moving.”

Huineng saw them having this ridiculous debate and he said, “It’s your minds that are moving.”

We often don’t see things as clearly as Huineng. We are confused. Our neuroses and our baggage shape the way we perceive the world. We get distracted and have trouble being present in our lives. Because we don’t see things as they are and because we aren’t present in our lives, we suffer. We also suffer because we struggle to accept the realities of impermanence and change. Everything is always changing and there’s nothing to hold onto.

Our goal is to learn how to see, how to really see the world as it really is. Another goal is to learn how to be more real, more genuine and authentic in our lives. We’re trying to put down our delusions. We’re trying to turn our minds so that we can engage the world as our true selves. Our true nature is awakened and good. If we engage the world as our true selves, then we can see things as they really are. That’s when real change happens.

We don’t see reality as it is because we often come from a state of mind that I call I-Me-Mine. This state of mind mis-perceives the world because we don’t recognize that it’s all changing. We address all of this by turning our minds around. The way out is in.

The purpose of this path is to engage the world as our true selves and to see things as they really are.

The Chan Sect was created by two great historical figures; Bodhidharma and Huineng. Their teaching was essentially this: “Rid the mind of egotism! Free it of defiling thoughts!”

The path lies before us. We can awaken to our true selves.

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Posted in ch'an, tattooed buddha

The Teaching of Huineng

(a version of this article originally appeared on The Tattooed Buddha)

Huineng was the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism.

Chan is called the Meditation School. It was created as an effort to focus more on the core teachings of Buddhism: the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness. Chan Buddhism is focused on this life, here and now. Our true nature is something that’s always present and not something we have to wait for. We can all dwell in wakefulness right now, in this life, not in some future one.

Huineng’s importance to the tradition cannot be overstated; all of Chan Buddhism comes from what he taught. His teachings are collected in the Platform Sutra, a sacred text of the Chan School. It’s the only text that is recognized as a Sutra in Mahayana Buddhism that isn’t claimed to be directly from the Buddha.

The Sutra is a collection of Dharma talks by Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. It includes a long series of teachings that present Chan philosophy, and it also includes Huineng’s own life story.

Huineng was a poor person, not someone with any connections or any great learning. And it’s said that he attained enlightenment under the Fifth Patriarch Hongren and quickly became a great master. He came from nothing and inherited leadership of the Chan School. His story really tells us that we can succeed on the path too. If he can, anyone can.

The time of Huineng’s life was said to be the Golden Age of Buddhism in China. It was during this time that the different schools were spreading throughout China and growing at an exponential rate.

Huineng is known for his teachings on “Sudden Enlightenment.” The basic idea is that we can become enlightened in this life. In some schools of Buddhism they emphasize a practice where you are trying to get better and better in each life, so hopefully some day you’ll be reborn in a life where you can attain enlightenment (lots of people don’t believe in rebirth at all these days, me included). Huineng taught that we could attain enlightenment in this life. Later, Buddhists in some other sects would work with the same idea, but it seems to have originate from Huineng.

He’s also known for teaching without relying on a lot of words or writing. He did a lot more showing students how to practice than telling them.

During and after Huineng’s life, many great Chan masters became teachers and the Chan School spread. In this time a lot of other schools of Buddhism were founded, and they lived side by side, without conflict. Some even shared the same temples, so you’d see Chan students meditating right alongside Huayan students and Pure Land students. Rather than fighting, as religious sects might do today, these schools benefited from being around each other. They influenced each other a lot too.

It may have been Huineng’s “Sudden Enlightenment” teaching that drew many Buddhists to his school. It was a new idea at that time, and it really inspired a lot of people.

That’s what I believe in. Enlightenment is right here with us. It’s not some far away goal for us to chase.

It’s right here. We just have to turn our minds away from delusion and toward wakefulness. Easier said than done, of course. But the message of Huineng is that we can do it. All of us can.

 


 

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Posted in Striding Through the Universe, tattooed buddha

Han Shan and the Zen Hermits

Fenggan (left) Hanshan (center) Shide (right)

Camping makes me think of Zen hermits.

I sometimes go and live in a tent for a while. If people are around, they come talk to me. If no one is around, then I spend time with the trees and the grass.

There’s a tradition, especially in China, of Buddhist teachers disappearing into the wilderness. These figures would disappear from society and go live in a cave or a tent or a hut and that’s where they would stay. They would give teachings to potential students who came to visit them. Or, if no one came to visit they would just give teachings to the trees and grass, to the animals and the moon.

Famously, Bodhidharma went and lived in a cave for nine years.

The Sixth Patriarch Huineng—just after he received Dharma Transmission—went to live alone in the woods for a while before he began teaching too.

This tradition also exists outside of the Zen lineage. There are Theravada teachers in places like Thailand who went to live in the forest instead of staying in Buddhist temples. There was a big tradition in Tibetan monks leaving to become forest and mountain yogis for part of their lives.

I could write about many different Buddhist teachers, but I’m going to center on one. His name was Han Shan, which means ‘Cold Mountain.’ That’s not his birth name. In that period it was normal for some Buddhist monks to take the name of the place where they lived, and he lived on a place called Cold Mountain in China, the 700s. We don’t know much about him, but what we do know is an interesting story.

(Note: There is another monk named Han Shan who lived centuries later. These two figures are both interesting and can sometimes get confused. I may write about the other one at a later time.)

Han Shan was a government bureaucrat during the Tang dynasty in China. In that period being a bureaucrat was considered one of the highest professions that one could aspire to. There was a rebellion and he decided to leave. I wonder if the pressure of his job during a tumultuous time was too much—who knows? He went, taking nothing with him, and traveled to the cold mountains, where he decided to live.

He became a hermit and a poet. He would write poetry on rocks and on cave walls—mainly things about nature, such as:

“The path to Han-shan’s place is laughable,

A path, but no sign of cart or horse.

Converging gorges – hard to trace their twists

Jumbled cliffs – unbelievably rugged.

A thousand grasses bend with dew,

A hill of pines hums in the wind.

And now I’ve lost the shortcut home,

Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?”

And this:

“There is a Precious Mountain
Even the Seven Treasures cannot compare
A cold moon rises through the pines
Layer upon layer of bright clouds
How many towering peaks?
How many wandering miles?
The valley streams run clear
Happiness forever! “

His poetry has been studied in much the same way that Zen Koans are studied. He was considered a crazy person by the locals, a wild eccentric, and sometimes spent times living in huts and caves around the mountain. And sometimes he just slept outside.

He was considered an oddball by most, not someone that anyone could really learn teachings from. Eventually he got a student anyway, a man named Shih-Te who went and lived with him. And they traveled around together, just living in the woods, teaching the Dharma to the sun and the moon.

Not much is known about Han Shan because that is his whole story. Over 100 poems were found in various places around Cold Mountain, written in cave walls, carved into trees and written on rocks. People collected them and copied them and they’ve been studied for many years.

His poetry served as the main inspiration for the American poets Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac.

No one really knows what became of Han Shan and his student Shih-Te, but it’s said that they became mythic figures even during their lives. There were those that said that Han Shan was an incarnation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and his student Shih-Te was an incarnation of Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Practice.

The tradition of Zen hermits is not the same as it once was. People are less inclined to leave the world behind for a while and be alone in the woods or on mountains. But there are still those that do it.

There’s also a tradition of Zen poetry that was probably in no small part inspired by Han Shan. I wish I were a poet, but I’m not. Zen essays have to be enough for me.

I wonder if I could write this on a cave wall.

 

Posted in sutra, tattooed buddha

Why I Love the Diamond Sutra

I’m going to tell you about the Diamond Sutra.

The full title is: Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra

A lot of Sutras are about teaching us a lesson or telling us a story, but the Diamond Sutra is different. It’s the story of the Buddha answering the questions of one of his students. And it is important to look at it that way.

But it functions on another level. This Sutra can be your teacher. If you’re open to it this Sutra will help you penetrate delusions, smash through ignorance and dwell in non-dual awareness.

This Sutra isn’t a text about Buddhism or the Buddha, but about Enlightenment. Enlightenment is the core of the Buddha’s teaching, the way and the goal.

This is not a story about the Buddha and it’s not an explanation of some Buddhist concept, but rather a roadmap to Awakening.

This Sutra is called The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion.

Why a diamond? Because diamonds are strong, hard, rare,and indestructible. If we study this Sutra diligently, it will change our lives.

The first line I heard from the Diamond Sutra was, “Arouse the mind without resting it on anything.”
At the time I had no idea what that meant, but it spoke to me. It seemed like a deep and profound truth. Now, of course, I know what it means. It’s a one sentence meditation instruction.

I’ve taken a lot of meditation classes and I’ve read a lot of books on the subject, but that line has kept me on the cushion more than anything else.

If you read this Sutra, there will probably be parts of it where you’ll think “Why am I reading this? He’s talking about grains of sand or how awesome this Sutra is again.” It’s normal to feel that way. I felt that way. Like many Sutras, some parts of it are really repetitive.

But if you persevere, if you take this journey, you won’t regret it.

Do you want to journey to Enlightenment with me?

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/why-i-love-the-diamond-sutra/

Posted in huineng

Three aspects of Huineng’s path.

There are three aspects of Huineng’s path. They are: thoughtlessness, immateriality and nonabiding.

Thoughtlessness as it’s doctrine, Immateriality as it’s substance, and Nonabiding as it’s fundamental.
Thoughtlessness means not being carried away by any specific thought in the use of our minds.

Immateriality means not being absorbed by attachment to objects while in the midst of objects.

Nonabiding is the fundamental essence of our minds.

Posted in altar sutra

Altar Sutra: The Story of Hui-neng

This story was told by the Patriarch at Pao Lin Monastery and was transcribed by his students.
This teaching was attended by government officials, Confucian scholars, monks and nun, laymen and laywomen, and Taoist Philosophers.

The congregation asked him to give the most complete teaching he could and he told the story of how he came to be the sixth Patriarch.

“Our true nature is the seed of Enlightenment. It is pure and by making use of it we can Awaken.
Let me tell you about my life and how I came to be in possession of the Mystical teachings of the Ch’an School.
My father died when I was very young and my mother was poor.
We lived in Canton in bad circumstances.
I was selling firewood in the market one day when, outside a shop I heard a man reciting a Sutra.

So, Hui-neng’s mother didn’t have anyone to help her raise him after his father died. They were so poor that he had to go sell wood at the market to help support them. This was not an unusual condition for a poor family in this context.

As soon as I heard this text, I had an experience of Awakening. I asked the man what the name of the book was that he was reciting and he told me that it was the Diamond Sutra.

The Diamond Sutra is one of the most revered texts in all of Mahayana Buddhism. It is a classic of the world’s spiritual literature. It is a short text, around 6,000 words, but it has been interpreted in many different ways. The title in Sanskrit is Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra, which translates to ‘the diamond cutting perfection of wisdom Sutra. It’s been said that just hearing one line of the text can bring one to Enlightenment and that is the assertion Hui-neng is claiming.

I asked the man why he was reciting this Sutra and he said that he came from Tung Ch’an Monastery and he was being given lectures on the Sutra by the Abbot of the temple, Hung Yen, the Fifth Patriarch.
He told me that the Patriarch encouraged laity as well as monks to recite this Sutra, as by doing so they might become Enlightened.

I think it was because of good karma from past lives that I came upon this man. He gave me money to leave for my mother so I could go to the monastery and meet the Fifth Patriarch myself.
The journey to the Monastery took me thirty days.

I went to meet the Patriarch.

When I met him he asked where I had come from and what I expected to gain.

I replied, “I am a peasant from Kwangtung. I have travelled to pay you respect and I ask for nothing but Awakening.”

“You are a native of Kwangtung? A barbarian? How can you become Awakened?” asked the Patriarch.

I replied, “Although there are northern and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha nature. A barbarian is different from you physically, but there is no difference in Buddha nature.”
I was given a job pounding rice in the monastery.

Eight months later the Patriarch assembled his students.

He said, “Whatever merits you gain in life are of no help if your Buddha nature remains obscured. Go look for Prajna within your own minds and write a gatha about it.”

Gatha is a Sanskrit word that means song. Students often write gathas when they gain Dharma Transmission.

“Whoever composes a gatha that demonstrates an understanding of their Buddha nature will be given Dharma Transmission and will become the Sixth Patriarch. Go.”

Dharma transmission is a custom in which a person is established as a successor in a spiritual bloodline, an unbroken lineage of teachers and students that is theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself. This system may have been created to reflect the importance of family structures in ancient China to form a symbolic ritual for the establishment of the spiritual family. Bodhidharma brought this lineage to China. He passed it on to Huike. Huike passed it on to Sengcan. Sengcan passed it on to Daoxin. Daoxin passed it on to Hung Yen, the Fifth Patriarch in this story.

The students left. They all thought that it would be Shen Hsiu, the Patriarch’s best student that would write the best gatha. They all believed in him. They decided it was not worth their time to even make an effort when they thought they knew what the outcome would be.

Shen Hsiu took notice. He saw that none of the other students were trying to compete. He was actually not as confident in himself as all of the other students were, but he decided to go ahead and compose a gatha.

He was nervous. He did not believe he was worthy of Dharma Transmission. But, at the same time, he couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to try.

In front of the Patriarch’s hall there were pictures from the Lankavatara Sutra as well as pictures of the Five Patriarchs. Across from these there was a blank wall.

The Lankavatara Sutra is another beloved Mahayana text. It takes places in Sri Lanka and involves a deep discussion between the Buddha and a Bodhisattva named Mahamati.

Shen Hsiu couldn’t summon the courage to submit his gatha, so he wrote on the blank wall instead. He thought that if the Patriarch read it and declared it was good, he could reveal that he had written it. And if the Patriarch said it was bad, he did not have to come forward.
At midnight he went with a lamp and wrote his gatha on the wall.
he course of four days he made altogether thirteen attempts to do so. 

The gatha read:
Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
And our mind a mirror bright. 
Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.

The Patriarch saw the gatha and said that it was good. He had all of his students recite it.
Later, he asked Shen Hsiu in private if he had written it.

“I did,” replied Shen Hsiu, “I do not know if I deserve to be the Patriarch. Can you tell me if my gatha shows any sign of wisdom?”

“Your gatha shows that you have not yet unleashed your Buddha nature. So far you have reached the doorway to Enlightenment, but you have not entered.

To become Enlightened, one must know one’s own true nature. Once your true nature is known you will be free from delusion and will dwell in harmony.

Such a state of mind is the Truth. If you see things in such a state of mind, you will be Enlightened.
Go write another gatha and if it shows you have entered the door of Enlightenment, then I will transmit the Dharma to you.”

Shen Hsiu bowed and left.

For a few days he tried to write another gatha, but he could not.

Two days later a boy read the gatha and came to recite it for me.

As soon as I heard it, I knew that he hadn’t realized his true nature.

The boy told me about the Patriarch’s instruction to his students to write a gatha.
I composed a gatha of my own and asked him to write it next to the first one for me.

Hui-neng was raised in poverty. In that era, literacy was not the norm. Because he was raised in poverty he did not know how to read or write. This story gives us the important lesson that anyone can attain Enlightenment, regardless of education or social standing. Because Hui-neng could not read or write, he had to ask for help.

My gatha read:
There is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is Void,
Where can the dust alight?

Shen Hsiu’s gatha was wise, but he was still thinking in duality. Hui-neng’s gatha tears through that duality to try to get to the truth.

Everyone that saw this was surprised. They wondered how such a wise and Enlightened individual was working for the monastery. Seeing that the crowd was overwhelmed, the Patriarch declared that I had not yet Awakened.
The next night the Patriarch summoned me to his room.

In his room, he gave teachings from the Diamond Sutra to me. When it came to the line, “One should use one’s mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment,” I immediately became Enlightened and I realized that the whole universe is one, that when we realize our Buddha nature, we understand that we are one with everything.

“Our true nature is inherently pure. Free from the beginning, perfect. Everything is a manifestation of Buddha nature,” I said.
Knowing that I had Awakened, the Patriarch said, “For one who does not know his own mind, there is no use in learning Buddhism.
One the other hand, if one knows his own mind and intuitively sees their own nature, they are a hero, a teacher, a Buddha.”

So, he transmitted the Dharma to me and I inherited the lineage of the Patriarchs as well as his robe and begging bowl.

“You are now the Sixth Patriarch,” he said, “Take care of yourself and bring as many beings as you can to Enlightenment. Spread and preserve the teaching and don’t let it come to an end. Take note f my gatha:
Those who sow the seeds of Enlightenment will reap the fruit of Buddhahood.
Objects neither sow nor reap.

When the Patriarch Bodhidharma first came to China, most people had no confidence in him and his robe was handed down as testimony from one Patriarch to the next.
The Dharma is transmitted from one mind to another and the recipient must realize it by their own efforts. It has always been the practice for one Awakened being to pass on the teachings and the Dharma to a successor. And for one Patriarch to transmit to another a mystical teaching from one mind to another. This is the teaching of the Ch’an Patriarchs and Masters, which I have transmitted to you.

As there may be dispute among those who are jealous of you, you should leave immediately and preserve and protect this sacred Dharma. Go seclude yourself. You will know when the time is right to give teachings.”
Many jealous students of the Patriarch did pursue me. I went to a remote place to live.
A monk named Hui Ming found me. I thought he was coming to attack, but when he saw me he asked for teachings.
He said, “I haven’t come to take the robe and bowl from you. I have come to receive teachings.”
I replied, “Since you have come here for the Dharma, I will teach you. Clear your mind. When you are thinking of neither good nor evil, in that moment you are dwelling in your true nature, beyond duality.”
As soon as he heard this he became Enlightened. But he asked, “Apart from those mystical teachings and ideas handed down by the Patriarch from generation to generation are the any other secret teachings?”

“What I can tell you is not a secret,” I replied, “If you turn your light inward, you will find the secrets are within you.”
“In all of my time at the monastery I did not Awaken. Now, thanks to your teachings, I have. You are now my teacher.”
As I was not yet ready to teach, I sent him away.

I stayed in hiding for fifteen years, although occasionally I gave teachings to those I found in the wilderness.

One day, I knew it was the right time. I went to the Fa Hsin Temple in Canton.
When I approached two monks were looking at a flag that was blowing in the wind. One said it was the flag that was moving and the other said that it was the wind that was moving.
I declared that they were both wrong and the real motion was in their minds.
They were impressed by this and took me inside to meet Dharma Master Yin Tsung.
He questioned me about the Buddha’s teachings. Seeing that my answers were correct, he said,
“I was told long ago that the successor to the Fifth Patriarch would come here. Is this you?”
I nodded. He immediately bowed and asked me to show the assembled monks my robe and begging bowl.

He further asked what instructions I had when the Fifth Patriarch transmitted the Dharma to me.

“He told me that Buddha nature is all that there is, that duality is an illusion. Buddhism doesn’t really have two ways. From the perspective of the unawakened the component parts of an individual and factors of consciousness are separate, but Enlightened ones understand that they are not really separate. Buddha nature is non-duality.”

Yin Tsung was pleased with my answer.
“Your teachings are more valuable than mine.”

He ordained me as a monk and asked me to accept him as my student.

At this point Hui-neng reminds us that he was not a monk when he received Dharma Transmission. Enlightenment is available to everyone because at our core we all have Buddha nature.

Since then, I gave teachings.
We are fortunate to be here and able to lay the foundation for the successful propagation of the Dharma.
This teaching has been handed down from Patriarchs throughout history and is not my creation. Those who wish to hear it should first purify their minds. After hearing it they should each clear up their doubts in the same way that sages did in the past.”

The assembled students bowed and thanked me for my teaching.

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: Temperament and Circumstances

A monk named Fa Hai in his first interview with the Patriarch asked him to explain the meaning of the proverb: “What mind is, Buddha is’.

The Patriarch replied, “Prajna is mind. Samadhi is Buddha. In practicing Prajna and Samadhi, let them be equal. Then our thoughts will be pure. This can only be understood if we practice.
Samadhi functions, but does not become. The teaching is to practice Prajna as well as Samadhi.”

After hearing this Fa Hai was Enlightened.

He said, “Now I know the causes of Prajna and Samadhi, both of which I wll practice to free myself from attachment.”

One day Chih Ch’ang asked the Patriarch, “The Buddha taught about the ‘Three Vehicles’ and also the ‘Supreme Vehicles’. Can you explain this?”

The Patriarch replied, “Look within yourself. The differences between these four vehicles don’t exist in the Dharma, but only in our minds.”

“To see, hear, and recite the sutra is the small vehicle.”
“To know the Dharma and understand it’s meaning is the middle vehicle.”
“To put the Dharma into practice is the great vehicle. To understand thoroughly all Dharmas, to absorb them completely, to be free of attachments, to be above phenomena is the Supreme Vehicle.”

“All depends on practicing things yourself, so you do not need to ask more. But I will remind you at all time that your true nature is Awakened.”

Chih Ch’ang bowed and thanked the Patriarch. He acted as the Patriarch’s assistant until his death.

Things could get confusing here. Branches of Buddhism are divided into ‘yanas’ or vehicles. In the modern world the most common division is Hinayana, Mahayana (of which Hui-neng is a member), and Vajrayana. But, that’s not the division Hui-neng is talking about. The three yanas he is referring to are these:
Sravakayana: For those who attain Enlightenment by listening to or reading the teachings of the Buddha.
Pratyekabuddhayana: Those who achieve liberation by practicing the Dharma but do not teach others. They are said to remain silent and solitary.
Bodhisattvayana: Those who attain Enlightenment in order to help awaken others and lead as many to Enlightenment as possible.

One day the Patriarch was looking for a place to wash the robe he had inherited. He found a stream to wash it behind the monastery and when he was washing it a monk appeared.

“My name is Fang Pien. When I was in South India I met the Patriarch Bodhidharma and he told me to return to China.”

Bodhidharma is the first Chinese Patriarch, the man who brought Dhyana teachings to China. He is the first in the lineage which claims Hui-neng as the sixth. Because he couldn’t still be alive in Hui-neng’s time, it seems that Fang Pien is telling a story about meeting Bodhidharma’s ghost.

“Bodhidharma told me that the lineage had been transmitted to you, so I came to find you. Can you show me the robe and bowl that you have inherited?” Fang Pien said.

“After a long voyage, I have arrived.  May I see the robe and begging bowl you inherited? ”

The Patriarch showed him the robe and bowl.

Fang Pien showed the Patriarch a life-like sculpture he had made of Bodhidharma.

The Patriarch gave Fang Pien a special blessing.

A monk quoted the following stanzed by Dhyana Master Wo Lun: “There are ways and means to protect the mind from all thoughts. When circumstances do not react on the mind, the Tree of Enlightenment will grow steadily.”

Hearing this the Patriarch said, “The writer of this stanza has not realized Awakening. To put it’s teaching into practice would not Awaken you.”

The Patriarch recited his own stanza:
“Hui-neng has no ways and means to protect the mind from all thoughts. Circumstances often react on the mind. How can the Tree of Enlightenment grow?”

 

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: On Repentance

The Patriarch gave the following teaching:

Let’s purify our minds at all times, walk the path by our diligent effort, Awaken to our true nature, realize Enlightenment in our minds, and deliver ourselves by observing moral teachings.

There are five kinds of incense in the teachings.
The first is Sila Incense, which means that our minds are free from the taints of misdeeds: jealousy, avarice, anger, and hatred.

The second is Samadhi Incense, whiche means our minds aren’t disturbed in circumstances, whether positive or negative.

The third is Prajna Incense, which means our minds are free of impediments, that we look within for our true nature and refrain from doing evil deeds. That we treat others with respect.

The fourth is the Incense of Liberation, which means that our minds are in a free state, that we cling to nothing and don’t concern ourselves with duality.

The fifth is the Incense of Knowledge, which means we have learned about the Attainment of Liberation. When our minds don’t cling to duality then we attain this knowledge.

We should broaden our knowledge so we know our own minds, thoroughly understand the teachings of Buddhism, be kind to others, let go of the idea of ‘self’ and that of ‘being’ and realize that our true nature is oneness.
This fivefold incense burns within us.

Repeat what I say here:

‘May we, students, be always free from ignorance and delusion. We repent for all of our misdeeds committed because of ignorance and delusion. May we never commit such misdeeds again.

May we be free from the taints of arrogance and dishonesty. We repent for all of our arrogant and dishonest behavior.

May we be free from the taints of envy and jealousy. We repent for all jealous and envious behavior.

This is what we call formless repentance.

Having repented of our sins we will take the following four All-embracing Vows:
Living beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.

Confusions are countless, I vow to cut them all.
The Buddha’s teachings are limitless, I vow to penetrate them all.

The Buddha’s way is highest, I vow to achieve it.

These are called the Four Bodhisattva Vows. They are considered the fundamental vows of the Zen Buddhist path, expressing our resolution to attain Enlightenment in order to help all beings. These are chanted daily in Zen temples and are often chanted at the closing of different kinds of ceremonies.

With the aid of Right Views and Prajna the barriers raised by delusion can be broken. Then we can deliver ourselves by our own efforts to Enlightenment.

Now that we have taken these Four All-embracing vows, let me teach you the ‘Formless Threefold Guidance’:
We take Enlightenment as our guide, because it is the culmination of virtue and wisdom. We take the Dharma as our guide because it is the best way to get rid of desire and delusion. We take Purity as our guide because it is the noblest quality of beings.

These represent the Three Jewels.

The Buddha stands for Enlightenment
The Dharma stands for Devotion to the teachings
The Sangha stands for Purity.

Taking refuge in Enlightenment is the culmination of virtue and wisdom.
Taking refuge in Devotion to the teachings helps us become free of wrong views.
Taking refuge in Purity means that in any circumstance we are not contaminated by delusion.
Practicing the Threefold Guidance in this way really leads to taking refuge in our own Buddha nature.

Taking refuge in the Buddha within yourself doesn’t entail taking refuge in something outside ourselves.
Let us each take refuge in the Three Gems within our minds.

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: Dhyana

The Patriarch gave this teaching:

In our system of meditation we don’t dwell on the mind nor do we dwell on purity. Also we are active.
As to dwelling on the mind, the mind often leads us to delusion. When we realize this, there is no need to dwell on it.

As to dwelling on purity, our true nature is pure, so there is no reason to dwell on it. Dwelling on purity is to create a problem where none exists.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

What is sitting in meditation?
In our school, to sit means to gain freedom and to be mentally undisturbed by outward circumstances.
To meditate means to sit, dwelling in our Buddha nature.

What are Dhyana and Samadhi?
Dhyana means to be free from attachment to outer objects and Samadhi means to have inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects then our minds will be disturbed.
When we aren’t attached to outer objects, our minds are in peace. Our true nature is pure and the reason we are disurbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by circumstances and external objects.

One who is able to keep the mind undisturbed regardless of circumstances dwells in Samadhi.

To be free from attachment to outer objects is Dhyana and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to relate to the world in Dhyana and to keep our minds in Samadhi, then we have attained Dhyana and Samadhi.

The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.”

Let us realize this for ourselves and train ourselves to practice it and attain Enlightenment.

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: Samadhi and Prajna

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

In my system Samadhi and Prajna are fundamental.

Samadhi means Concentration or Single-Pointedness of Mind. Prajna means Wisdom, our intuitive understanding of things.

But don’t think that Samadhi and Prajna are two separate things. In my system they are inseparably united. Samadhi is the fundamental essence of Prajna. Prajna is the activity of Samadhi.

When we attain Samadhi, Prajna is there. When we engage Prajna, Samadhi is there. If you understand this, then you dwell in Samadhi and Prajna.

A student should not think there is a difference between Samadhi comes from Prajna or Prajna comes from Samadhi.

To hold an opinion that these are separate is to dwell in duality.

For one who speaks good words but has an impure heart, Samadhi and Prajna don’t help because they don’t balance each other.

But when we are good in mind and good in language, when our outward appearance and inner wisdom are in harmony, then we are dwelling in Samadhi and Prajna.

An Enlightened student doesn’t need to debate the importance of Samadhi and Prajna because argument only strengthens the ego and causes us to remain in duality.

Samadhi and Prajna are like a lamp and its light. With the lamp there is light. Without it there would be darkness. In name there are two things, but in substance they are the same. It is the same with Samadhi and Prajna.

There have been some sects in Buddhist history who suggested only cultivating concentration or only cultivating wisdom. Hui-neng is challenging this philosophy. He is saying that both Samadhi and Prajna are of equal importance and we must cultivate them both.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

To practice Samadhi is to make it a rule to be devoted to mindfulness in all occasions.

The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra say, “Mindfulness is the holy place, the Pure Land.”

Don’t practice mindfulness only in meditation. Practice it in everything that you do.

People are under delusion when they think we only practice on the meditation cushion.
When we free our minds from attachment, the path becomes clear.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

In true Buddhism the distinction between ‘Sudden’ and ‘Gradual’ does not really exist. The only difference is that some have an easy time clearing away their delusion and others have a hard time.
Those who have an easy time, who are very mindful already, realize the truth suddenly. Those who have a difficult time have to train themselves slowly.

But such a difference disappears once we realize our True Nature.
So, these terms, gradual and sudden, aren’t real in any meaningful way. They are just labels.

It has been the tradition of our school to take ‘Idealessness’ as our object, ‘Non-objectivity’ as our basis, and ‘Non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle. ‘Idealessness’ means no to be carried away by any particular idea. ‘Non-objectivity’ means not being absorbed by objects when we come in contact with them. ‘Nonattachment’ is the characteristic of our true nature.

All things, whether good or bad, beautiful or ugly, should be treated as void. Think of friends and enemies as the same because all are one. In thought, let the past be dead. Dwell in the present instead.

Hui-neng is pointing out something that we often do. We put artificial labels on things and then assume those labels are real.

Because of this we take ‘Non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle.
To free ourselves from attachment to external objects is called ‘Non-objectivity’. When we can do this, our true nature is clear.

Keeping our minds free of delusion is called ‘Idea-lessness’.

We should also not let our minds get carried away by circumstances.

We take ‘Idea-lessness’ as our object because there is a ype of individual under delusion who boasts of their great Enlightenment, but is attached to erroneous views.
To say there is attainment and to talk thoughtlessly about it is also a form of duality.

In ‘Idea-lessness’ we should overcome duality.

If we are adept at overcoming duality, then we can be Awakened.