The Platform Sutra of Huineng

Condensed Version



Chapter 1, Autobiography

     I was selling firewood in the market one day, when I heard a man reciting a sutra. I at once had an awakening. I asked him what he was reciting and he said, "The Diamond Sutra" of Buddha as taught at the Ch'an Monastery at Huang Mei. I resolved to go there, a long journey from southern to northern China. [In some versions the wandering young Huineng stays with a Buddhist "nun" who reads sutras to him. She is impressed by his insightful intellegence and urges him to become a monk. He refuses and spends three years meditating alone, wandering in the forests.] On arrival I was asked where I came from and what I expected to get. I replied, "I am a commoner from Hsin Chou, I have traveled far and ask for nothing but Buddhahood." The master said, "You, from the south, a barbarian?" I said, "Although there are northern and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian like me is different from you physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature."

     "This barbarian is too bright," he remarked. "Go to the stable and speak no more." I split wood and pounded rice for over eight months, then the Patriarch saw me and said, "I know your knowledge of Buddhism is sound, but I have to refrain from speaking to you lest evil doers should do you harm [being jealous]. Do you understand?" "Yes, Sir, I do," I replied.

     The Patriarch one day assembled all his disciples and said to them, "The question of life and death is momentous; seek for Prajna [insight] now, then write me a stanza about it. Who understands what the Essence of Mind is will become the Sixth Patriarch. Delay not as deliberation is quite unnecessary." All the disciples thought it no use as surely their teacher, head monk Shen Hsiu, would be chosen to be the Sixth Patriarch. Shen Hsiu wrote:

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

     Two days later a boy passed by the room where I was pounding rice while loudly reciting the stanza. I knew at once that the composer of it had not yet realized the Essence of Mind. Although I had not yet been formally taught about it, I already had a general sense of the teachings.

     "What stanza is this?" I asked, as this was the first I had heard of it. "You barbarian," the boy replied, "don't you know about it?" I went to see the stanza as written on the wall. As I am illiterate, I asked a petty officer who was also there to read it to me. I then asked him to write one for me. He was amazed that a barbarian could compose a stanza, but wrote:

     There is no Bodhi-tree,
     Nor stand of a mirror bright.
     Since from the beginning not a thing is,
     Where can the dust alight?

     On reading this, the Patriarch rubbed it off with his shoe, lest zealous ones do me injury. He asked me to come and see him late in the night where upon he expounded the Diamond Sutra to me. When he came to the sentence, "One should use one's mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment," I at once became enlightened, and realized that all things in the universe are the 'Essence of Mind' itself.

     Knowing that I had realized the Essence of Mind, the Patriarch said, "For him who does not know his own mind there is no use learning Buddhism. On the other hand, if he knows his own mind and sees intuitively his own nature, he is a Buddha. You may have my robe and bowl, but leave now lest some one do you harm."

     After saying good-bye, I left and walked towards the South. After about two months' time, a monk, a former general in lay life, found me with the intent of taking the robe and bowl back. But on seeing me he had a change of heart and said he came for the Dharma (teaching), not for the robe. I said, "keep your mind empty and tell me, without thinking good or bad, what was the appearance of your face before your ancestors were born?" As soon as he heard this he became enlightened.

     I wandered in the forests, with only hunters for company, for fifteen years, then felt the time had come to leave my secluded life. Accordingly I left and happened by a temple in Canton where two monks were watching a flag and arguing over whether it was the wind or the flag that flapped. They asked me, and I said, "neither, it is your minds that flap." The master overheard and asked to speak with me. He came to wonder if I might be the Sixth Patriarch he had heard about. To this I politely assented.

Chapter 2, On Prajna [Wisdom]

     The potential for Enlightenment is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves. You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between the enlightened and the ignorant. What makes the difference is that one realizes it, while the other is ignorant of it.

     Those who talk about 'Prajna' all day long do not seem to know that Prajna is inherent in their own nature. Mere talking about food will not appease hunger, and this is exactly the case with these people. We might talk endlessly about concepts, but it serves no purpose in the end.

     What we have to do is to put wisdom into practice with our mind; as apart from mind there is no Buddha—Mind is Buddha. What the ignorant merely talk about wise men put into actual practice with their mind. There is also a class of foolish people who sit quietly and try to keep their mind blank. They refrain from thinking of anything and call themselves 'great.' Know that Mind alone is great, and when it is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go,' then it is in a state of 'Prajna.'

     All Prajna comes from the 'Essence of Mind' and not from an exterior source. Have no mistaken notion about that. Once Suchness, the Essence of Mind, is known, one will be free from delusion. The scope of the mind is for great objects, so we should not practise trivial acts. Do not talk abut the 'Void' all day without practising it in the mind. One who does this is a pretender.

     If at all times we steadily keep our mind free of foolish desire and act wisely on all occasions, we are practising Prajna. One foolish notion is enough to shut off Prajna, while one wise thought will bring it forth again. People in ignorance or under delusion do not see it; they talk about it with their tongues, but in their mind they remain ignorant. They are always saying that they practise Prajna, and they talk incessantly on 'Voidness'; but they do not know the 'Absolute Void,' which has neither form nor characteristic.

     The mind should be framed in such a way that it will be independent of external or internal objects, at liberty to come or go, free from attachment. Since all Dharmas are immanent in our mind there is no reason why we should not realize intuitively the real nature of Suchness. It is wrong to insist upon the idea that without the advice of the pious and learned we cannot obtain liberation. Why? Because it is by our innate wisdom that we are enlightened, and even the extraneous help and instructions of a pious and learned friend would be of no use if we were deluded by false doctrines and erroneous beliefs.

     When we use Prajna for introspection we are illuminated within and without, and in a position to know our own mind. To know our mind is to obtain liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain 'thoughtlessness.' 'Thoughtlessness' is to see and to know all things with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere. Such a state is called the function of 'thoughtlessness.' But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.

Chapter 3, Questions and Answers

     Q: I was told that at Bodhidharma's first interview with the Emperor he asked what merits he would get for building temples and supporting monks. Bodhidharma said, "No merits." I cannot understand why.

     A: When our mental activity works without any impediment, so that we are in a position to know constantly the true state and the mysterious functioning of our own mind, we are said to have acquired merit. He who works for merits does not slight others; and on all occasions he treats everybody with respect. He who is in the habit of looking down upon others [such as the Emperor] has not got rid of the erroneous idea of a self, which indicates his lack of merit. Because of his egotism and his habitual contempt for all others, he knows not the real Essence of Mind, and this shows a lack of character.

Chapter 4, Samadhi and Prajna

     Are Samadhi and Prajna analogous? They are analogous to a lamp and its light. With the lamp, there is light, and light is the expression of the lamp. We should practise straightforwardness and should not attach ourselves to anything. People under delusion are obstinate in their beliefs. Should we free our mind from attachment to all 'things,' the Path becomes clear; otherwise, we put ourselves under restraint. If we allow our thoughts (past, present, and future) to link up in a series, we put ourselves under restraint. On the other hand, if we never let our mind attach to anything, we shall free ourselves from absorption in external objects and gain emancipation.

     It is a great mistake to suppress our mind from all thinking; but what should we get rid of and what should we fix our mind on? We should get rid of the 'pairs of opposites' and all defiling conceptions. We should fix our mind on the true nature of Suchness that is our true nature (our Essence of Mind).

Chapter 5, Dhyana (Meditation)

     In our system of meditation, we neither dwell upon the mind, nor upon purity, nor do we approve of non-activity. To meditate means to realize inwardly the imperturbability of the Essence of Mind.

     What is sitting for meditation? In our School, to sit means to gain absolute freedom and to be mentally unperturbed in all outward circumstances, be they good or otherwise. To meditate means to realize inwardly the imperturbability of the Essence of Mind.

     To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Shamadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi. Let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practise it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort.

Chapter 6, On Repentance

     In Buddhism, we should start from our Essence of Mind. At all times let us purify our own mind from thought-moment to thought-moment to realize the Buddha in our own mind, and deliver ourselves from bondage, misdeeds, evil, jealousy, avarice, anger, spoliation, and hatred.

     When our mind clings to neither good nor evil we should take care not to let it dwell upon vacuity, or remain in a state of inertia. Rather should we enlarge our study and broaden our knowledge, so that we can know our own mind, understand thoroughly the principles of Buddhism, be congenial to others in our dealings with them, get rid of the idea of 'self' and that of 'being,' and realize that up to the time when we attain Bodhi the 'true nature' (or Essence of Mind) is always immutable.

     May we be always free from the taints of ignorance and delusion, arrogance and dishonesty, of envy and jealousy. We repent of all our arrogant behavior and dishonest dealings. May they be expiated at once and may they never arise again. On account of ignorance and delusion, common people do not realize that in repentance they have not only to feel sorry, but also to refrain from future misdeeds. Each has to deliver himself by means of his own Essence of Mind. Then the deliverance is genuine.

     Now, what does it mean to deliver oneself by one's own Essence of Mind? It means the deliverance of the ignorant, delusive, and vexatious 'beings' within our own mind by means of Right Views. With the aid of Right Views and Prajna-Wisdom the barriers raised by these ignorant and delusive 'beings' may be broken down. Let the fallacious be delivered by rightness; the deluded by enlightenment; the ignorant by wisdom; and the malevolent by benevolence. Such is genuine deliverance.

     When Prajna always rises in our mind, so that we can hold aloof from 'enlightenment' as well as from 'ignorance,' and do away with 'truth' as well as 'falsehood,' then we may consider ourselves as having realized the Buddha-nature, as having attained Buddhahood. Each of you should consider and examine this point for yourself, and let not your energy be misapplied.

     To take refuge in a true Buddha is to take refuge in our own Essence of Mind. He who does so should remove his evil mind, jealous mind, the flattering and crooked mind, egotism, deceit and falsehood, contemptuousness, snobbishness, fallacious beliefs, arrogance, and all other evils that may arise at any time. To take refuge in ourself is to be constantly on the alert for our own mistakes, and to refrain from putting down others. He who is humble and meek on all occasions and is polite to everybody has realized his Essence of Mind (true nature). This is the way to take refuge in ourself.

     Even as the light of a lamp can break up darkness that has been there a thousand years, so a spark of Wisdom can do away with ignorance which has lasted for ages. We need not bother about the past, for the past is gone. What demands our attention is the now; so let our minds from moment to moment be clear, and let us see face to face our Essence of Mind and attain 'Supreme Enlightenment.'

Final Offering

     A treader of the Path should do away with all conceptual thoughts, good as well as evil ones. It is merely as an expedient that the 'Essence of Mind' is so called; it cannot really be named by any name. This 'non-dual nature' is called the 'true nature,' upon which all Dharma systems of teaching are based. One should realize 'Essence of Mind' as soon as one hears of it.




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