The following is excerpted from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 5 entitled ‘On Dhyana’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:
Learned Audience, what are Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and Samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed.
Tom: we can see Hui Neng has succinctly defined both Dhyana and Samadhi. In the next line he is essentially saying that these two are one and the same, in that when there is no attachment (ie. Dhyana), there will also be peace (ie. Samadhi):
When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace.
Tom: See if you can see the parallel with Sri Ramana Maharshi stating in ‘Who Am I?’:
‘Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana (knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same.’
Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in.
He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi.
Tom: Sri Ramana Maharshi states in ‘Who Am I?’:‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’
In the above two lines Hui Neng hints that your True Nature, or what Hui Neng refers to as Essence of Mind, is already ‘unperturbed’, and essentially is always undisturbed and ‘pure’. Realisation of this naturally leads to Freedom:
To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. 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. The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.” Learned Audience, let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practice it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort.
The following is taken from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 2 entitled ‘On Prajna’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:
The wisdom of Buddhas, past, present and future, as well as the teachings of the twelve sections of the canon are immanent in the mind, but in case we fail to enlighten ourselves, we have to seek the guidance of the pious and learned.
Tom: the essential teaching is within ourselves or ‘immanent in the mind’. Only if we do not enlighten ourselves with our own inner wisdom do we need the external teacher (‘the pious and the learned’)
On the other hand those who enlighten themselves need no extraneous help. It is wrong to insist upon the idea that we cannot obtain liberation without the assistance of the pious and learned. It is by our innate wisdom that we enlighten ourselves, and even the extraneous help and instruction of a pious and learned friend would be of no use so long as one is deluded by false doctrines and erroneous views.
Tom: ie. it is possible for illumination to occur without an outer teacher as the true wisdom of enlightenment is our very nature. How can this be done? All we have to do is realise our true nature, what Hui Neng here calls ‘Essence of Mind’, and we will certainly and immediately be Buddhas, let us see:
As we introspect our minds with Prajñā, all erroneous views will disappear of themselves, and just as soon as we realise Essence of Mind we will immediately arrive at the Buddha stage.
Tom: Hui Neng states that if we look within at our true nature or ‘minds’ with Prajna, all erroneous views or ignorance will disappear spontaneously, and this is realisation of Essence of Mind or True Nature, and this is also the same a Buddhahood or enlightenment. So, how ‘introspect with prajna’? Hui Neng will explain. Prajna means wisdom or insight:
When we use Prajñā for introspection we are illuminated within and without and are in position to know our own nature. To realise our own nature is to obtain fundamental liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain the Samadhi of Prajñā, which is ‘thoughtlessness’.
Tom: Hui Neng explains that realising our true nature is liberation. This is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. What is this ‘thoughtlessness’? Let us see:
What is ‘thoughtlessness? ‘Thoughtlessness’ is to see and to realise all dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. In action Prajñā is everywhere present yet it “sticks” nowhere. What we have to do is to so purify the mind that the six vijnanas (aspects of consciousness sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mentation) in passing through their six sense-gates will neither be defiled by nor attached to their six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance and is at liberty “to come” or “to go, “then we have attained the intuitive insight of Prajñā, which is emancipation. To enable one to attain such a mental state of freedom is the function of intuitive insight.
Tom: In summary Hui Neng is stating that when the mind functions free from attachment to both gross and subtle objects, that is liberation. This non-attachment is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. We can see this is in keeping with the Buddha’s more classical teachings which essentially state the same. We can also see this is in keeping with the Vedanta teachings in which lack of identification with and attachment to the body, mind and world is the same as Self-Realisation.
Sri Ramana Maharshi states the following in Maharshi’s Gospel, Chapter 3 entitled ‘Mind Control‘:
Questioner: Does Bhagavan condemn dvaita Philosophy?
Sri Ramana Maharshi :Dvaita can subsist only when you identify the Self with the not-Self. Advaita is non-identification.
Now Hui Neng will tell us what not to do:
To refrain from thinking of anything, in the sense that all mental activity is suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden; this is an extremely erroneous view. (Discriminative thought which leads to desire and attachment, or to aversion and defilement, is to be controlled in the interests of intuitive thought which leads to self-realisation and freedom.)
Those who understand the way of ‘thoughtlessness’ will know everything; they will have the experience that all the Buddhas have had, and they will attain Buddhahood.
Tom: later on in the same chapter Hui Neng quotes a long verse that he composed himself for the benefit of those listening to him – here are a couple of excerpts I have chosen to quote here:
To illumine our gloomy tabernacle, which is stained by defilement,
We should constantly set up the Light of Wisdom.
Erroneous views keep us in defilement
While right views remove us from it,
But when we are in a position to discard both of them
We have been given such a gift to have dreams. In the dream entire reality is created and projected by our minds, by our consciousness, and everything we see in the dream is our mind.
In this video Tom explains how taking on this conceptual view regarding waking life can help you to see your body mind as a projection and not what we truly are. The Guru is a projection, the teaching is a projection, the seeker is a projection – they are all ‘part of the dream’.
Before Zen spread to Japan and was known as Zen, it was in China and known as Chan. Here 8th Century Chan Master Hui Hai gives us a wonderful short-cut to enlightenment or nirvana:
Hui Hai: The Shurangama Sutra says: ‘Perceptions employed as a base for building up positive concepts are the origin of all ignorance (avidya); ‘perception that there is nothing to perceive – that is nirvana, also known as deliverance.’
Questioner: What is the meaning of ‘nothing to perceive’?
Hui Hai: Being able to behold men, women and all the various sorts of appearances while remaining as free from love or aversion as if they were actually not seen at all – that is what is meant by ‘nothing to perceive’.
Questioner: That which occurs when we are confronted by all sorts of shapes and forms is called ‘perception’. Can we speak of perception taking place when nothing confronts us?
Hui Hai: Yes.
Questioner: When something confronts us, it follows that we perceive it, but how can there be perception when we are confronted by nothing at all?
Hui Hai: We are now talking of that perception which is independent of there being an object or not.How can that be? The nature of perception being eternal, we go on perceiving whether objects are present or not. Thereby we come to understand that, whereas objects naturally appear and disappear, the nature of perception does neither of those things; and it is the same with all your other senses.
[Tom: what is being signified here by ‘eternal’ perception that is independent of objects? :-)]
Questioner: When we are looking at something, does the thing looked at exist objectively within the sphere of perception or not?
Hui Hai: No, it does not.
Questioner: When we (look around and) do not see anything, is there an absence of something objective within the sphere of perception?
Hui Hai: No, there is not.
Questioner: When there are sounds, hearing occurs. When there are no sounds, does hearing persist or not?
Hui Hai: It does.
Questioner: When there are sounds it follows that we hear them, but how can hearing take place during the absence of sound?
Hui Hai: We are now talking of that hearing which is independent of there being any sound or not. How can that be? The nature of hearing being eternal, we continue to hear whether sounds are present or not.
Questioner: if that is so, who or what is the hearer?
Hui Hai: It is your own nature, which hears, and it is the inner cogniser who knows.
Before Zen spread to Japan and was called Zen, it was known as Chan in China. In this dialogue the essential gateway to nirvana and enlightenment is revealed together with several other useful chan/zen teachings from the 8th century Chan Master Hui Hai himself. Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis of certain points I felt to be particularly important:
Questioner: Is the nature of the Absolute (Chan-ju) a true void, or not really void? To describe it as not void is to imply that it has form [Tom – and how can the formless absolute have form?]. Yet to describe it as void implies mere nothingness, so what would then be left for sentient beings to rely on in their practice for attaining deliverance?
Hui Hai: The nature of the Absolute is void and yet not void. How so? The marvellous ‘substance’ of the Absolute, having neither form nor shape, is therefore undiscoverable; hence it is void. Nevertheless, that immaterial, formless ‘substance’ contains functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, functions, which respond unfailingly to circumstances, so it is also described, as not void. A sutra says:
‘Understand the one point and a thousand others will accordingly grow clear; misunderstand that one and ten thousand delusions will encompass you. He who holds to that one has no more problems to solve.’
This is the great marvellous awakening to the Way. As one of the sutras says:
‘The myriad forms, dense and close, bear the imprint of a single dharma.’
How then can so many sorts of views arise from the one Dharma? All these karmic forces are rooted in activity. If, instead of pacifying our minds, we rely on scriptures to achieve enlightenment, we are under-taking the impossible. Ourselves deceived, deceiving others our mutual downfall is assured. Strive on! Strive on! Explore this teaching most thoroughly!
[Tom – here in the above paragraph the emphasis is clearly on stilling the mind as opposed to mere book/scripture reading and theory]
Just let things happen without making any response and keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever; for they who can do this thereby enter nirvana. Attained, then, is the condition of no rebirth, otherwise called ‘the gate of non-duality, the end of strife, the samadhi of universality’. Why so? Because it is ultimate purity. As it is free from the duality of selfless and otherness, it no longer gives rise to love and hatred. When all relativities are seen as non-existent, naught remains to be perceived. Thus is the undiscoverable Bhutatathata revealed.
This treatise of mine is not for the skeptic, but for those sharing the same view and following the same line of conduct. You ought first to discover whether people are sincere in their faith and qualified to practice it without backsliding before you expound it to them so that they can be awakened to its meaning. I have written this treatise for the sake of those having a karmic affinity with it.
[Tom – traditionally this teaching is advised only to be taught to those who are genuinely seeking nirvana/enlightenment, who are genuinely open to the teachings and who are potentially able to take the teachings on board and see them through]
I seek neither fame nor wealth. I desire only to emulate the Buddhas who preached their thousands of sutras and countless shastras just for the sake of sentient beings lost in delusion. Since their mental activities vary, appropriate teachings are given to suit individual cases of perverse views; hence the great variety of doctrines.
[Tom – Now Hui Hai will unfold the essential teaching:]
You should know that setting forth the principle of deliverance in its entirety amounts only to this – when things happen, make no response: keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever: keep them forever still as the void and utterly pure (without stain): and thereby spontaneously attain deliverance.
Oh do not seek for empty fame, mouthing forth talk of the Absolute with minds like those of apes! When talk contradicts action that is known as self-deception; it will lead to your falling headlong into evil states of rebirth. Seek not fame and happiness in this lifetime at the cost of un-enlightenment and suffering for long aeons to come. Strive on! Strive on!
[Tom – the key advice here is not to stop early but to continue on your path – ‘Strive on! Strive on!’. Specifically the advice is not to start talking about this and turning this into a talking shop about the Absolute for those with busy minds who have no intention of putting the above teachings into practice. The cost of this is to miss the ‘goal of enlightenment’]
Sentient beings must save themselves; the Buddhas cannot do it for them. If they could, since there have already been Buddhas as numerous as grains of dust, every single being must by now have been saved; then how is it that you and I are still being tossed upon the waves of life and death instead of having become Buddhas? Do please realize that sentient beings have to save themselves and that the Buddhas cannot do it for them. Strive on! Strive on! Do it for yourselves. Place no reliance upon the powers of other Buddhas. As the sutra says:
‘Those who seek the Dharma do not find it merely by clinging to the Buddhas.’
Tom’s concluding comments: ‘Strive on! Strive on!’ and ‘When things happen, make no response: keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever: keep them forever still as the void and utterly pure (without stain): and thereby spontaneously attain deliverance.’