Bodhidharma sat in zazen facing the
wall. The Second Patriarch, who had been standing in the snow,
cut off his arm and said, “Your disciple’s
mind is not yet at peace. I beg you, my teacher, please give it
Bodhidharma said, “Bring the mind to me, and I will set it at
rest.” The Second Patriarch said, “I have searched for the mind, and it is
unattainable.” Bodhidharma said, “I have thoroughly set it at
for you.” (Zen Buddhism: A History, 92)
- What does this story tell us about the “Quest for Sudden Enlightenment”? What does “Sudden Enlightenment” mean — and how is it attained?
does this approach differ from those of previous forms of Buddhism,
from Indian Theravada and Mahayana to Chinese Tiantai and Huayan? How
is it distinctively Chinese?
The Platform Sutra
The Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng (638-713)
Unexpectedly one day the Fifth Patriarch called his disciples to come, and when they had assembled, he said, ‘Let
me preach to you. For people in this world birth and death are vital
matters. You disciples make offerings all day long and seek only the
field of blessings, but you do not seek to escape from the bitter sea
of birth and death [i.e. samsara].
Your own self nature obscures the gateway to blessings; how can you be
saved? All of you return to your rooms and look into your selves. Men
of wisdom will of themselves grasp the original nature of their prajna intuition.
Each of you write a verse and bring it to me. I will read your verses,
and if there is one who is awakened to the cardinal meaning, I will
give him the robe and the Dharma and make him the Sixth Patriarch. Hurry, hurry!’ (Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 157)
Our body is the bodhi tree,
Our mind a mirror bright.
Always strive to polish it,
And let no dust alight.
Hui Neng’s Poem
no bodhi tree,
of a mirror bright.
neither of these things exist,
the dust alight.
(translated by Brian Hoffert; cf. Chinese Religion..., 158-9)
At midnight the Fifth Patriarch called me into the hall and expounded the Diamond Sutra
to me. Hearing it but once, I was immediately awakened, and that night
I received the Dharma. None of the others knew anything about it. Then
he transmitted to me the Dharma of Sudden Enlightenment
and the robe, saying: ‘I make you the Sixth Patriarch. The robe is the
proof and is to be handed down from generation to generation. My Dharma
must be transmitted from mind to mind. You must make people awaken to
themselves.’ (Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 159)
be something that circulates freely;
why should [the deluded person] impede it? If the mind does
not abide in things, the Dao circulates freely; if the mind abides in
things, it becomes entangled. (Sources of Chinese Tradition, 500)
the Buddha, advises Ch’an master I-hsuan [Yixuan] (died 867), known
also as Lin-chi [Linji]. I-hsuan was revered as the founding figure of
the Lin-chi tradition of Buddhism, a tradition that took its name from
Lin-chi Monastery, his residence. ... His admonition to kill the Buddha,
kill one’s parents, and kill the patriarchs is obviously not meant to
be taken literally; it is a figurative attack on spiritual and
intellectual parasitism. I-hsuan has no use for bodhisattvas or
“arhats,” those “worthy ones” of history who attained enlightenment. To
undermine formalism, he shouts and beats his disciples into awareness
and into a self-reliance autonomous of even heaven and earth
itself. ... I-hsuan’s hallmark is his unconventional teaching technique;
he is well known for his kung-ans, literally “public cases,” an expression better known in English as koan,
the Japanese pronunciation of that term. Kung-ans are paradoxical
stories or sayings, language games intended to unsettle the listener’s
preconceptions. One of the most famous of all is I-hsuan’s
dried-excrement stick kung-an, which is a commentary on the
universality of the Buddha nature, which is in even the most common
things. (Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 161)
Selections from the Recorded SayingsQuestion: “Master,
whose tune are you singing? Whose tradition are you perpetuating?” The
Master said, “When I was a disciple of Huang-po, I asked him [about the
basic idea of the Law (Dharma)] three times and I was beaten three
times.” As the monk hesitated about what to say, the Master shouted at
him and then beat him, saying, “Don’t nail a stick into empty space.” (Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 162)
Master ascended the hall and said, “Over a lump of reddish flesh there
sits a pure man, who transcends and is no longer attached to any class
of Buddhas or sentient beings. He comes in and out of your sense organs
all the time. If you are not yet clear about it, look, look!” At that
point a monk came forward and asked, “What is a pure man who does not
belong to any class of Buddhas or sentient beings?” The Master came
right down from his chair and, taking hold of the monk, exclaimed,
“Speak! Speak!” As the monk deliberated what to say, the Master let him
go saying, “What dried [shit]-stick is the pure man who does not belong
to any class of Buddhas or sentient beings!” Thereupon he returned to
his room. (Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 162)
Contemporary Chan Practice
Chan Master Sheng-yen’s Faith in Mind
in the late forties, official proscriptions against so-called feudal
superstitions suspended religious activity on the mainland for several
decades. On the island of Taiwan, however, where the rival Nationalist
party relocated after 1949 and established a separate political
sovereignty, traditional folkways and spiritual disciplines continued
relatively undisturbed. One of the many religious practitioners who
moved to the island is the Ch’an Buddhist teacher Master Sheng-yen
(born 1931). ... Much Western literature on Chinese Ch’an and Japanese
Zen has emphasized the spiritual goals of “sudden enlightenment” and
“nirvana” while glossing over the tedious hours of sitting meditation
that, as Master Sheng-yen states, should be performed without
attempting to attain any goals or enlightenment experience. There is no
calculated “result” that can be obtained; to set up a goal and to
distinguish between ignorance and enlightenment is to create artificial
separations and barriers within the totality that is awakened
Buddhahood. Master Sheng-yen sees the practice of Ch’an as a
progression of the mind from scattered mind to one mind to no mind. The
scattered mind can be calmed with sitting meditation that focuses on an
awareness of one’s own breathing; with greater practice, the mind can
be united in the experience of samadhi, a Sanskrit term that refers to an absorptive trancelike experience. With the help of paradoxical hua-t’ou or kung-an
questions, however, one drops off ordinary thought and crosses the
nonbarrier back to one’s own original nature, to an experience that is
neither scattered mind nor one mind but is something else again. That
“something else again,” which is knowable by experience but can only be
suggested using ordinary speech, is indicated by the nonword “no-mind.” (Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 331-2)
sole purpose of a Ch’an retreat is to practice. You should keep your
attention entirely on practice, without trying to attain any results.
Since many of you have traveled far, or have worked hard to set aside
the time, you have a great deal invested in this retreat. It is natural
that you want to gain something. But once you enter the retreat, you
must put aside any specific hopes.
The Supreme Way is not difficult.
If only you do not pick and choose.
Neither love nor hate,
And you will clearly understand.
Be off by a hair,
And you are as far apart as heaven from earth.
Practicing with a goal in mind is like trying to catch a feather
with a fan. The more you go after it, the more it eludes you. But if
you sneak up on it slowly, you can grab it. The aim of practice is to
train your patience and forbearance, to train your mind to become calm
and stable. Any attachment or seeking will prevent your mind from
settling down. ...
Holding on to various
likes and dislikes keeps you apart from the Way. Discarding them will
bring you in accord with the Way. But if there is the slightest
misconception about this, the distance between you and the Way will be
as great as that between heaven and earth. Don’t misinterpret this and
think that since you are not supposed to attach to likes and dislikes,
you should therefore not cultivate the Way. With this attitude it is
useless to come to a Ch’an retreat.
you first set out to practice you will definitely have a goal in mind.
You may be frustrated with your present condition and aim either to
change yourself or to improve your circumstances. Certainly there is
something you hope to achieve by practicing. You cannot just practice
aimlessly. So practice itself implies some intention or desire. To
fulfill your original intentions, you must constantly keep your mind on
the method of practice. But as soon as you focus on the method you
should not be thinking of what you want to accomplish, what level you
want to reach, or what problems you want to get rid of. Instead, your
mind should be exclusively applied to the method itself, free from all
motives. (Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 334-5)
Essential Chan Buddhism
Chan Master Guo Jun
breath is always there. It never leaves us. We abandon our breath, run
away from our breath, ignore the breath. The breath is always there,
waiting for us. The breath is always there, precisely as the present
moment is always here. ... It is not easy to always come back to the
breath, to come back to the present moment. Still, in reality, it is
quite simple. We are born with the breath; we are born with Buddha
nature. At the end of the day, it is our choice. We all have a choice
to follow the path back to the breath and the present moment. It is a
matter of whether we want to do it or not. (Essential Chan Buddhism, 10-11)
Chan, wisdom is coming back to the present moment. It is in the present
moment that we see, smell, taste, feel, and think clearly. Our sense
faculties open up and clarify. We see beyond the surface, beyond the
superficial. We see birth, old age, sickness, and death as illusionary.
We see nothing has a solid nature. We peel the onion, layer by layer.
Everything is temporary. What is real? When you’re in a good mood,
everything is so pleasant. You delight in the songs of birds, the
laughter of children. When you’re in a bad mood, these same delightful
sounds grate on your nerves. Which of these responses is real? Both
are, of course. And both are not! Heaven and hell are states of mind.
They have no intrinsic reality. Everything is relative. If we really
apprehend this, we are on our way to wisdom.
A Chan disciple went to his teacher and watned to attain purity
of mind. The teacher asked him, “Who contaminated your mind and made it
impure?” He heard his teacher’s words and became enlightened.
On another occasion, a disciple went to the teacher and asked, “How do we attain freedom?”
“Who bound you up?” the master asked. (Essential Chan Buddhism, 30)
first did prostrations in my teenage years and started regular
prostration practice when I was sixteen or seventeen. Prostrations have
been an essential part of my practice ever since.
There are benefits of prostrations that have
nothing to do with a working out of karma or tapping into the
beneficence of a supernatural power. Prostrations help our circulation.
When you prostrate, blood flows to the head. After prostrations, your
thinking sharpens. Going down to the floor stretches your spine, and
the flow of chi improves. The slow movements of prostrations are mindful, and so you relax and your mind clears up.
Westerners are suspicious of prostrations, which
smacks to them of idol worship, which is distasteful at best. After
all, you are bowing down before a statue. Not only bowing, but actually
supplicating yourself fully on the floor. There’s a groveling Oriental
obeisance to the posture that offends the egalitarian and
individualistic Western sensibility.
from the Chan perspective, prostration is an art, a highly developed
spiritual technology that is beautiful and profound. ...
In our prostrations, by purifying our mind, we purify the world. We
build the Pure Land. We touch the sick, the suffering, those who are
lost in grief, frustration, and despair. We touh the dying. We touch
everyone with wisdom and compassion. We connect all the life with
humility, generosity, and respect. We touch the great earth. (Essential Chan Buddhism, 106-110)