Simple, powerful and straight to the point!
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.’
Let us compare some Zen teachings with that of Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Hui Hai was one of the great Ch’an (Zen) masters from the 8th Century CE. This excerpt is taken from Hui Hai’s Text on the Importance of Sudden Enlightenment, Dialogue 2.
I have interspersed quotes from Ramana Maharshi and Shankara in red type to compare and contrast the teachings:
Question: what method must we practice in order to attain liberation?
Answer: It can be attained only through the gate of sudden illumination (or sudden enlightenment).
Q: What is a sudden illumination?
A: ‘Sudden’ means instantaneously ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts’. ‘Illumination’ or ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation that illumination is not something to be attained.
[Tom – This can also be translated as ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation there is no ‘Enlightenment’ to attain, there is nothing to attain’. Compare this with : ‘The benefit of this Light of Supreme Truth is the understanding that there is not the least thing such as ‘attainment’, since the Supreme Self is the Ever-Attained One Whole.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 8]
Q: From where do we start this practice?
A: You must start from the the beginning, the fundamental root.
Q: And what is that?
A: Mind is the fundamental root.
Q: How can this be known?
A: The Lankavatara Sutra says:
‘When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all phenomena (dharmas) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.’
[Tom – compare: ‘If the ego rises, all else will also rise; if it subsides all else will also subside.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?]
The Vimalakirti Sutra says:
‘Those desiring to attain the Pure Land’ must first purify their own minds, for the purification of mind is the purity of the Buddha Land.’
The Sutra of the Doctrine Bequeathed by the Buddha says:
‘Just by mind control, all things become possible.’
[Tom – compare: ‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?‘]
In another sutra it says:
‘Sages seek from [their own] mind, not from the Buddhas; fools seek from the Buddhas instead of seeking from [their own] mind.’
‘The Wise regulate their minds rather than their body; fools regulate their body rather than their minds.’
The Sutra of the Names of the Buddha states:
‘Evil/sin springs forth from the mind, and by the mind is evil/sin overcome.’
[Tom – compare ‘…man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 172]
Thus, we may know that all good and evil proceed from our minds and that mind is therefore the fundamental root. If you desire liberation, you must first know all about the root, mind. Unless you can penetrate to this truth, all your efforts will be vain; for, while you are still seeking something from forms external to yourselves, you will never attain.
The Dhyana Paramita Sutra says:
‘For as long as you direct your search to the forms around you, you will not attain your goal even after aeon upon aeon; whereas, by contemplating your inner awareness, you can achieve Buddhahood in a single flash of thought.’
[Tom – compare: ‘Let people quote the Scriptures and sacrifice to the gods, let them perform rituals and worship the deities, but there is no Liberation without the realisation of one’s identity with the Atman, no, not even in the lifetime of a hundred Brahmas put together.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 6]
Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed?
A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by Dhyana (Ch’an) and Samadhi (Ting). The Dhyana-Paramita Sutra says:
‘Dhyana and Samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the deluded thoughts remain in confusion and tumult, and the roots of goodness suffer damage.’
Q: Please describe Dhyana and Samadhi.
A: When wrong thinking does not arise, that is Dhyana.
When you sit and see your original nature, that is Samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal unborn mind. In Samadhi, there is the natural situational response of no-mind, and the ‘eight winds’ do not function.
The ‘eight winds’ are gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By practising in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the Bodhisattva-Precepts says:
‘All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.’
There are those who in this way have crossed over to the other shore and attained liberation, transcending the six rafts (the six Paramitas), and freeing themselves from the three worlds (greed, anger and delusion). The great power of the ‘Enlightened Ones’ is the infinite power of the Honoured, the Courageous, the ‘Conqueror’!
Question: How is it possible to develop the Supreme-Enlightenment Mind?
Huang Po: Bodhi [enlightenment or enlightened mind]* means nothing to attain. Even now, just as you allow thought to arise, you get nothing. Thus, realising that there is absolutely nothing to attain is the Bodhi Mind.
The realisation that there is nowhere to abide and nothing to attain is the Bodhi.
Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha [the original Buddha, also known as Gautama Buddha] said ‘…there was really no Dharma [teaching or method] by means of which the Tathagata [the Buddha] attained Supreme Enlightenment…’
*[Tom – square bracket comments added by me]
The following is a letter written by the Chinese Master Yuanwu (1063-1135), It can be found in the excellent collection ‘Zen Letters’ translated by Thomas Cleary where it is entitled ‘Bringing Out the Family Treasure’.
I hope you don’t mind that I have interspersed my comments in red italics:
If you want to attain Intimacy, the first thing is, don’t seek it. If you attain through seeking, you have already fallen into interpretive understanding.
Yuanwu gets straight into it here, directly pointing out that the desire for Intimacy, or Enlightenment, itself is a barrier to it. Seeking will only yield a conceptual understanding. It is implied here that conceptual understanding is clearly not what is being aimed at.
This is especially true because this great treasury extends through all times, clearly evident, empty and bright. Since time without beginning it has been your own basic root: you depend on its power entirely in all your actions.
What you are looking for has always been here (‘extends through all times’), is already shining (‘bright’), and is of no enduring substance (’empty’). It is the essence of you and is the power that manifests both you and your life.
You will only pass through to freedom when you cease and desist to the point that not even a single thought is born. Then you penetrate through without falling into sense and matter and without dwelling in conceptualizations and mental images.
Yuanwu is stating we should be still. Not as something to do, but as something to stop doing (‘cease and desist’) until thoughts no longer occur. Using this method we do not fall into the traps of attachment to form, belief and dogma. What will this method eventually yield? Let us find out:
When you absolutely transcend these, then the whole world does not hide it. Everywhere everything becomes its Great Function, and every single thing flows forth from your own breast. The ancients called this bringing out the family treasure. Once this is attained, it is attained forever. How could it ever be used up?
Here the fundamental insight has been recognised. Through being still, the bottom of the bucket has fallen out, and the Fundamental Essence has been recognised as being one with everything everywhere, and non-different to yourself.
Just be wary that your investigation does not rest on a firm footing, and that you will not be able to penetrate through to realization. You must bravely cut off all entanglements, so there is not the slightest dependence or reliance. Relinquish your body and give up your life and directly accept the suchness that faces you; there is no other.
This is a warning to ensure that there is not the slightest trace of dogma, belief or attachment to conceptual views. Even after the fundamental insight has been attained, all entanglements or addictive desires are to be relinquished. We are to surrender totally, giving up our life’s dreams and ego-based desires in the process.
Then even if a thousand sages came forth it wouldn’t change you at all. Leaving it to the flow at all times, eating food and wearing clothes, you nurture the embryo of sagehood to maturity, not keeping to intellectual understanding.
Let go, let things be, let things come as they come, let things go as they go. Importantly Yuanwu hints that with the fundamental realisation already attained, it is merely the ’embryo’ of wisdom that has been obtained. It then takes time for this realisation to ripen to ‘maturity’, as the habitual tendencies to identify with the body and thoughts are gradually uprooted. This is explained in further detail in Yuanwu’s other letters, see here for example.
Isn’t this an especially excellent teaching and a most essential shortcut?
Isn’t it just!
It’s all too common for seekers of enlightenment to fall into conceptual traps. Rather than using beliefs to free themselves from beliefs all together, the verbal teachings are instead often clung to, like a drowning man clutching at a straw.
One concept that can be useful along the way is that of the Absolute, but like all concepts it is also a potential trap, in that we can fall into believing in the Absolute without any real experience, or worse, only a partial experience that gives us the false impression we actually know something when we in fact do not.
In this following passage we see Ch’an Master Hui Hai in dialogue with a Tripitaka master, (The Tripitaka are the traditional written scriptures of Buddhism, so this Tripitaka master is a scholar of the written Buddhist scriptures). Deliberately Hui Hai gives the ‘wrong’ non-traditional answer initially in order to free the questioner from fixed views and show that the Teaching (Dharma) can be expressed in a myriad of ways.
At the end of the dialogue the Tripitaka master expresses his respect and amazement at how the Southern school – the ‘Zen’ school of sudden enlightenment of which Hui Hai is part – is truly unfathomable:
Once a Tripitaka Master asked: “Does the Bhutatathata (Absolute Reality) ever change?”
The Master [Hui Hai] replied: “Yes, it does change.”
The Tripitaka Master retorted: “You, Venerable Ch’an Master, are wrong!”
The Master then asked the Tripitaka Master: “Does the Bhutatathata exist or not?”
The Tripitaka Master answered: “Yes, the Bhutatathata does exist.”
The Master replied: “So if you say it does not change, then you are just an ordinary, worldly monk. Doubtlessly, by now you must have heard that the lowest vices can be changed into the highest virtues, the three poisons into the three cumulative disciplines, the six consciousnesses into the six supernatural powers, all the defilements into Bodhi, and the most abysmal ignorance into the highest wisdom. Thus, if you say that the Bhutatathata does not change, then you, a Tripitaka Master, are really a heterodox-sect follower. [ie. a heretic]”
The Tripitaka Master responded: “If you put it that way, then I have to admit that the Bhutatathata does change.”
The Master retorted: “But if you, indeed, hold that the Bhutatathata does change, that is also a heterodox view.”
The Tripitaka Master asked: “Ch’an Master, you just said that the Bhutatathata does change, but now you say it does not change. How can that be?”
The Master responded: “If one sees his own nature clearly – which, like Mani-Jewels, can manifest itself in different colors – then he is correct in saying that the Bhutatathata both changes and does not change. In contrast, however, if one has not seen his own nature, he will, on hearing that the Bhutatathata changes, grasp at the idea of mutability. Also, oppositely, he will, on hearing that the Bhutatathata does not change, grasp at the idea of immutability.”
The Tripitaka Master concluded: “Now I really understand what is meant when it is said that the Southern Ch’an Sect is truly unfathomable!”
This last answer of Hui Hai is particularly instructive – he essentially states that the Truth expresses itself in different ways, just like jewels can be of various colours. If one has intuitively seen this Truth, then one can correctly express this truth, even with seemingly opposed verbal statements, as these statements are coming from a ‘place of Truth’. However, for one who has not seen, the verbal statements are always incorrect, even when they are ‘officially correct’, as the essential insight is not present, and the statements are not expressions of Truth but expressions of the ignorant ego-mind.
These ego/ignorance-ridden statements are not liberating – they are simply a clinging to an empty doctrine. These insight-less statements merely give strength to the false-ego that thinks it knows something, strengthening and perpetuating the ego/sense of separation of both the one speaking and anyone listening.
(Note that I use the word ego here as a synonym for ignorance, the false belief in separation or the false belief in a separate entity that authors thoughts and actions)
The Diamond Sutra is considered to be one of the most important and venerated of Buddhist scriptures. The text itself says that it can be considered to be the ‘diamond that cuts through illusion’ and that understanding it will lead to ‘the Highest Perfect Wisdom’.
In this post I have grouped excerpts from the Diamond Sutra into themes and so hopefully the essence of the teachings are readily conveyed. Please note that The Diamond Sutra itself is not actually very long, so if you are interested, I would readily encourage you to read the original in full.
It was composed perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE in Sanskrit, and forms part of the Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom) sutras in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It is also given particular importance in various Zen/Ch’an schools, which are often themselves considered to be part of the Mahayana tradition.
Interestingly, a Chinese version of the scripture is one of the oldest examples of a printed book, dated from 11th May 868, about 500 years before the Gutenburg. The original can be currently seen in the British Museum and is officially ‘the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book’.
This sutra takes the form of a conversation between Buddha and one of his disciples, Subhuti. I have used the translation from Alex Johnson, primarily because it is easy to read and is without technical terms.
This teaching leads to the ‘highest perfect wisdom’
The Buddha then replied:
“…If sons and daughters of good families want to develop the highest, most fulfilled and awakened mind, if they wish to attain the Highest Perfect Wisdom and quiet their drifting minds while subduing their craving thoughts, then they should follow what I am about to say to you. Those who follow what I am about to say here will be able to subdue their discriminative thoughts and craving desires. It is possible to attain perfect tranquillity and clarity of mind by absorbing and dwelling on the teachings I am about to give.” Then the Buddha addressed the assembly.
(from Chapter 2)
The basic teaching
“…all living beings will eventually be led by me to the final Nirvana, the final ending of the cycle of birth and death. And when this unfathomable, infinite number of living beings have all been liberated, in truth not even a single being has actually been liberated.
“Why Subhuti? Because if a disciple still clings to the arbitrary illusions of form or phenomena such as an ego, a personality, a self, a separate person, or a universal self existing eternally, then that person is not an authentic disciple.”
(from Chapter 3)
Is the Buddha his body?
“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be recognized by means of his bodily form?”
“No, Most Honored One, the Buddha cannot be recognized by means of his bodily form. Why? Because when the Buddha speaks of bodily form, it is not a real form, but only an illusion.”
(from Chapter 5)
Illusion and reality
The Buddha then spoke to Subhuti: “All that has a form is illusive and unreal. When you see that all forms are illusive and unreal, then you will begin to perceive your true Buddha nature.”
(from Chapter 5)
Will people benefit from reading or hearing this sutra?
“Without a doubt, Subhuti. Even 500 years after the Enlightenment of this Buddha there will be some who are virtuous and wise; and while practicing compassion and charity, they will believe in the words and phrases of this Sutra and will awaken their minds purely. After they come to hear these teachings, they will be inspired with belief. This is because, when some people hear these words, they will have understood intuitively that these words are the truth.
(from Chapter 6)
Who will benefit from hearing this message?
“But you must also remember, Subhuti, that such persons have long ago planted the seeds of goodness and merit that lead to this realization. They have planted the seeds of good deeds and charity not simply before one Buddhist temple, or two temples, or five, but before hundreds of thousands of Buddhas and temples. So when a person who hears the words and phrases of this Sutra is ready for it to happen, a pure faith and clarity can awaken within their minds.”
“…this person must have discarded all arbitrary notions of the existence of a personal self, of other people, or of a universal self. Otherwise their minds would still grasp after such relative conceptions. Furthermore, these people must have already discarded all arbitrary notions of the non-existence of a personal self, other people, or a universal self. Otherwise, their minds would still be grasping at such notions.”
(from Chapter 6)
If I am seeking enlightenment, what view should I take of the teaching?
“Therefore anyone who seeks total Enlightenment should discard not only all conceptions of their own selfhood, of other selves, or of a universal self, but they should also discard all notions of the non-existence of such concepts.”
(from Chapter 6)
Are these teachings true?
“When the Buddha explains these things using such concepts and ideas, people should remember the unreality of all such concepts and ideas. They should recall that in teaching spiritual truths the Buddha always uses these concepts and ideas in the way that a raft is used to cross a river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded. These arbitrary concepts and ideas about spiritual things need to be explained to us as we seek to attain Enlightenment. However, ultimately these arbitrary conceptions can be discarded.
(from Chapter 6)
The highest, most fulfilled, most awakened and enlightened mind
Then Buddha asked Subhuti, “What do you think, Subhuti, has the Buddha arrived at the highest, most fulfilled, most awakened and enlightened mind? Does the Buddha teach any teaching?”
Subhuti replied, “As far as I have understood the Buddha’s teachings, there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, awakened or enlightened mind.
Nor is there any independently existing teaching that the Buddha teaches.
Why? Because the teachings that the Buddha has realized and spoken of cannot be conceived of as separate, independent things and therefore cannot be described. The truth in them is uncontainable and inexpressible.
(from Chapter 7)
“…And yet, even as I speak, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no Buddhas and there are no teachings.”
(from Chapter 8)
“No, Most Honored One. According to what I understand from the teachings of the Buddha, there is no attaining of anything called the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind.”
The Buddha said: “You are correct, Subhuti. In fact, there does not exist any so-called highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind that the Buddha attains…Someone would be mistaken to say that the Buddha has attained the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind because there is no such thing as a highest, most fulfilled, or awakened mind to be attained.”
(from Chapter 17)
Does a Buddha consider themselves to be enlightened?
“Tell me, Subhuti. Does a Buddha say to himself, ‘I have obtained Perfect Enlightenment.’?”
“No, Blessed One. There is no such thing as Perfect Enlightenment to obtain. If a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha were to say to himself, ‘I am enlightened’ he would be admitting there is an individual person, a separate self and personality, and would therefore not be a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha.”
(from Chapter 9)
How to practice
“A disciple should develop a mind which is in no way dependent upon sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensory sensations or any mental conceptions. A disciple should develop a mind which does not rely on anything. Therefore, Subhuti, the minds of all disciples should be purified of all thoughts that relate to seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and discriminating. They should use their minds spontaneously and naturally, without being constrained by preconceived notions arising from the senses.”
(from Chapter 10)
“Therefore, Subhuti, disciples should leave behind all distinctions of phenomena and awaken the thought of the attainment of Supreme Enlightenment. A disciple should do this by not allowing their mind to depend upon ideas evoked by the world of the senses – by not allowing their mind to depend upon ideas stirred by sounds, odours, flavors, sensory touch, or any other qualities. The disciple’s mind should be kept independent of any thoughts that might arise within it. If the disciple’s mind depends upon anything in the sensory realm it will have no solid foundation in any reality.”
(from Chapter 14)
Is there a clear teaching to be taught?
“What do you think, Subhuti? Has the Buddha taught any definite teaching in this Sutra?” “No, the Buddha has not taught any definite teaching in this Sutra.”
(from Chapter 13)
Does a Buddha have characteristics?
“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be perceived by means of his thirty-two physical characteristics?”
“No, Most Honored One. The Buddha cannot be perceived by his thirty-two physical characteristics. Why? Because the Buddha teaches that they are not real but are merely called the thirty-two physical characteristics.”
Subhuti’s response to the teachings
At that time, after listening to this Sutra, Subhuti had understood its profound meaning and was moved to tears.
He said, “What a rare and precious thing it is that you should deliver such a deeply profound teaching.”
(from Chapter 14)
The benefits of understanding this teaching
If there is a person who hears this Sutra, who receives and retains it with faith and understanding, then that person will be a rare one, a person of most remarkable achievement. Such a person will be able to awaken pure faith because they have ceased to cherish any arbitrary notions of their own selfhood, other selves, living beings, or a universal self.
Why? Because if they continue to hold onto arbitrary conceptions as to their own selfhood, they will be holding onto something that is non-existent. It is the same with all arbitrary conceptions of other selves, living beings, or a universal self. These are all expressions of non-existent things.
(from Chapter 14)
What is a Buddha?
“Buddhas are Buddhas because they have been able to discard all arbitrary conceptions of form and phenomena, they have transcended all perceptions, and have penetrated the illusion of all forms.”
(from Chapter 14)
Persons and form
“…Just as the Buddha declares that form is not form, so he also declares that all living beings are, in fact, not living beings.”
(from Chapter 14)
Understanding the teachings
“Subhuti, if a person is satisfied with lesser teachings than those I present here, if he or she is still caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self, then that person would not be able to listen to, receive, recite, or explain this Sutra to others.”
(from Chapter 15)
“Subhuti, you should know that the meaning of this Sutra is beyond conception and discussion. Likewise, the fruit resulting from receiving and practicing this Sutra is beyond conception and discussion.”
(from Chapter 16)
Helping others attain enlightenment
“Subhuti, a good son or daughter who wants to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind must create this resolved attitude of mind: ‘I must help to lead all beings to the shore of awakening, but, after these beings have become liberated, in truth I know that not even a single being has been liberated.’ Why is this so? If a disciple cherishes the idea of a self, a person, a living being or a universal self, then that person is not an authentic disciple. Why? Because in fact there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind.”
(from Chapter 17)
“Subhuti, do not say that the Buddha has the idea, ‘I will lead all sentient beings to Nirvana.’ Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is not one single being for the Buddha to lead to Enlightenment. If the Buddha were to think there was, he would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. Subhuti, what the Buddha calls a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary persons think there is a self. Subhuti, the Buddha does not regard anyone as an ordinary person. That is why he can speak of them as ordinary persons.”
(from Chapter 25)
Who becomes enlightened?
“Subhuti, my teachings reveal that even such a thing as is called a ‘disciple’ is non-existent. Furthermore, there is really nothing for a disciple to liberate.”
(from Chapter 17)
Who is a true disciple?
“A true disciple knows that there is no such thing as a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. A true disciple knows that all things are devoid of selfhood, devoid of any separate individuality.”
(from Chapter 17)
What does it feel like to be enlightened?
Subhuti again asked, “Blessed One, when you attained complete Enlightenment, did you feel in your mind that nothing had been acquired?”
The Buddha replied: “That is it exactly, Subhuti. When I attained total Enlightenment, I did not feel, as the mind feels, any arbitrary conception of spiritual truth, not even the slightest. Even the words ‘total Enlightenment’ are merely words, they are used merely as a figure of speech.”
(from Chapter 22)
“Furthermore Subhuti, what I have attained in total Enlightenment is the same as what all others have attained. It is undifferentiated, regarded neither as a high state, nor a low state. It is wholly independent of any definite or arbitrary conceptions of an individual self, other selves, living beings, or a universal self.”
(from Chapter 22)
The importance of ethical behaviour
“Subhuti, when someone is selflessly charitable, they should also practice being ethical by remembering that there is no distinction between one’s self and the selfhood of others. Thus one practices charity by giving not only gifts, but through kindness and sympathy. Practice kindness and charity without attachment and you can become fully enlightened.”
“Subhuti, what I just said about kindness does not mean that when someone is being charitable they should hold onto arbitrary conceptions about kindness, for kindness is, after all, only a word and charity needs to be spontaneous and selfless, done without regard for appearances.”
(from Chapter 22)
Knowing and worshipping the Buddha
“Should anyone, looking at an image or likeness of the Buddha, claim to know the Buddha and worship him, that person would be mistaken, not knowing the true Buddha.”
(from Chapter 26)
Is everything illusory and unreal?
“Do not think that when one gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind, one needs to see all objects of mind as nonexistent, cut off from life. Please do not think in that way. One who gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind does not contend that all objects of mind are nonexistent and cut off from life. That is not what I say.”
(from Chapter 27)
The verbal teachings
“If any person were to say that the Buddha, in his teachings, has constantly referred to himself, to other selves, to living beings, or to a universal self, what do you think, would that person have understood my meaning?”
Subhuti replied, “No, blessed One. That person would not have understood the meaning of your teachings. For when you refer to those things, you are not referring to their actual existence; you only use the words as figures of speech, as symbols. Only in that sense can words be used, for (1) conceptions, (2) ideas, (3) limited truths, and (4) spiritual truths have no more reality than have matter or phenomena.”
Then the Buddha made his meaning even more emphatic by saying:
“Subhuti, when people begin their practice of seeking to attaining total Enlightenment, they ought to see, to perceive, to know, to understand, and to realize that all things and all spiritual truths are no-things; and, therefore, they ought not to conceive within their minds any arbitrary conceptions whatsoever.”
(from Chapter 31)
How to understand these teachings and explain them to others
“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquillity and free from any attachment to appearances.”
(from Chapter 32)
“So I say to you—This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
Like a tiny drop of dew,
or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp,
or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”
THUS SPOKE BUDDHA
The following is a translation of a poem attributed to Seng-ts’an, the Third Ch’an (zen) Patriarch. I could write more about it, but all I will say is that it is truly sublime and one of my favourites.
This version of the text has been translated by Richard B. Clarke
Hsin Hsin Ming or Trust in Mind Sutra
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The Way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Be serene in the oneness of things
and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other,
you will never know Oneness.
Those who do not live in the single Way
fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial.
To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality;
to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.
The more you talk and think about it,
the further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.
To return to the root is to find the meaning,
but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
At the moment of inner enlightenment,
there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
The changes that appear to occur in the empty world
we call real only because of our ignorance.
Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not remain in the dualistic state; avoid such pursuits carefully.
If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong,
the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
Although all dualities come from the One,
do not be attached even to this One.
When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,
nothing in the world can offend,
and when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way.
When no discriminating thoughts arise,
the old mind ceases to exist.
When thought objects vanish, the thinking-subject vanishes,
and when the mind vanishes, objects vanish.
Things are objects because there is a subject or mind;
and the mind is a subject because there are objects.
Understand the relativity of these two
and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.
In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
and each contains in itself the whole world.
If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.
To live in the Great Way
is neither easy nor difficult.
But those with limited views
are fearful and irresolute;
the faster they hurry, the slower they go.
Clinging cannot be limited;
even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.
Just let things be in their own way
and there will be neither coming nor going.
Obey the nature of things
and you will walk freely and undisturbed.
When thought is in bondage the truth is hidden,
for everything is murky and unclear.
The burdensome practice of judging
brings annoyance and weariness.
What benefit can be derived
from distinctions and separations?
If you wish to move in the One Way
do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas.
Indeed, to accept them fully
is identical with true Enlightenment.
The wise man strives to no goals
but the foolish man fetters himself.
There is one Dharma, not many;
distinctions arise from the clinging needs of the ignorant.
To seek Mind with discriminating mind
is the greatest of all mistakes.
Rest and unrest derive from illusion;
with enlightenment there is no liking and disliking.
All dualities come from ignorant inference.
They are like dreams of flowers in air: foolish to try to grasp them.
Gain and loss, right and wrong;
such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.
If the eye never sleeps,
all dreams will naturally cease.
If the mind makes no discriminations,
the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.
To understand the mystery of this One-essence
is to be released from all entanglements.
When all things are seen equally
the timeless Self-essence is reached.
No comparisons or analogies are possible
in this causeless, relationless state.
Consider motion in stillness
and stillness in motion;
both movement and stillness disappear.
When such dualities cease to exist
Oneness itself cannot exist.
To this ultimate finality
no law or description applies.
For the unified mind in accord with the Way
all self-centered striving ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish
and life in true faith is possible.
With a single stroke we are freed from bondage;
nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
with no exertion of the mind’s power.
Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value.
In this world of Suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just simply say when doubt arises, “Not two.”
In this “not two” nothing is separate,
nothing is excluded.
No matter when or where,
enlightenment means entering this truth.
And this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space;
in it a single thought is ten thousand years.
Emptiness here, Emptiness there,
but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes.
Infinitely large and infinitely small;
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
So too with Being and non-Being.
Waste no time in doubts and arguments
that have nothing to do with this.
One thing, all things;
move among and intermingle,
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about nonperfection.
To live in this faith is the road to nonduality,
because the nondual is one with the trusting mind.
The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.
All spiritual teachings are for the ego
What you gonna do now
It is originally inherent in
Actually complete in each individual,
What more is there to say?
If you try to figure it out, if you try to look for it, you have already missed it, for you have presupposed incompleteness, you have assumed the presence of lack.
Where is the lack? In what way are you incomplete?
It is the mind that tells you you need something else, the mind that ‘says this is not enough’.
There is no need to believe the mind and the stories (lies) it spews forth: it is already here, ‘LACKING NOTHING AT ALL’, and you are it.