Chan (Zen) Master Huang Po: How is it possible to develop the Supreme-Enlightenment Mind?

Huang Po Zen Teachings

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]

Zen Master Huang Po: stuffing yourself with knowledge

zen mountains

If you now set about using your minds to seek Mind, listening to the teaching of others, and hoping to reach the goal through mere learning, when will you ever succeed? Some of the ancients had sharp minds; they no sooner heard the Doctrine proclaimed than they hastened to discard all learning. So they were called, ‘Sages who, abandoning learning, have come to rest in spontaneity’.

In these days people only seek to stuff themselves with knowledge and deductions, seeking everywhere for book-knowledge and calling this ‘Dharma-practice’ [true practice of The Way]. They do not know that so much knowledge and deduction have just the contrary effect of piling up obstacles. Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.

Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Those who study the Way according to the Three Vehicles [the 3 main Buddhist schools of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism] are all like this. All you can call them is people who suffer from indigestion. When so-called knowledge and deductions are not digested, they become poisons, for they belong only to the plane of samsara [the plane of suffering, the unenlightened state]. In the Absolute, there is nothing at all of this kind.

So it is said: ‘In the armoury of my sovereign, there is no Sword of Thusness’. All the concepts you have formed in the past must be discarded and replaced by void…The canonical teachings of the Three Vehicles are just remedies for temporary needs. They were taught to meet such needs and so are of temporary value and differ one from another. If only this could be understood, there would be no more doubts about it.

Above all it is essential not to select some particular teaching suited to a certain occasion, and, being impressed by its forming part of the written canon, regard it as an immutable concept. Why so? Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma [Teaching, Teaching method] which the Tathagata [The Buddha; a term the Buddha often referred to himself by] could have preached. People of our sect would never argue that there could be such a thing. We just know how to put all mental activity to rest and thus achieve tranquillity. We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity.

Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma…We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity. 

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 30)

Zen Master Huang Po: Studying the Way

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Regarding this Zen Doctrine of ours, since it was first transmitted, it has never been taught that men should seek for learning or form concepts. ‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech. It is a method of arousing people’s interest in the early stages of their development

In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied. Study leads to the retention of concepts and so the Way is entirely misunderstood. Moreover, the Way is not something specially existing; it is something called Mahayana Mind – Mind which is not to be found inside, outside, or in the middle. Truly it is not located anywhere.

‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech…In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied.

The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts. This implies that if you were to follow the empirical method to the utmost limit, on reaching that limit you would still be unable to locate Mind.

The way is spiritual Truth and was originally without name or title. It was only because people ignorantly sought for it empirically that the Buddhas appeared and taught them to eradicate this method of approach.

The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts.

Fearing that no one would understand, they selected the name ‘Way.’ You must not allow this name to lead you into a mental concept of a road. So it is said, ‘When the fish is caught we pay no more attention to the trap.’

When body and mind achieve spontaneity, the Way is reached and Mind is understood.

A shramana [seeker, monk] is so called because he has penetrated to the original source of all things. The fruit of attaining the shramana stage is gained by putting an end to all anxiety; it does not come from book-learning.

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 29)

Zen Master Huang Po: the true teaching

Huang Po Zen Teachings.jpg

Q: Up to now, you have refuted everything which has been said. You have done nothing to point out the true Dharma [the true teaching, the true way] to us.

Huang Po: In the true Dharma there is no confusion, but you produce confusion by such questions. What sort of ‘true Dharma’ can you go seeking for?

Q: Since the confusion arises from my questions, what – will Your Reverence’s answer be?

Huang Po: Observe things as they are and don’t pay attention to other people. There are some people just like mad dogs barking at everything that moves, even barking when the wind stirs among the grass and leaves.’

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 28)

Tom’s comments:

The questioner appears frustrated at not being able to obtain anything tangible from Huang Po. ‘What is the true teaching? What is The Way?’, he asks.

The master replies: you yourself create the confusion, the questions being evidence of this. Is there even a ‘true Dharma’ to be sought?

The answer? Just be with what is, see things as they are, don’t worry about the words and ideas of others caught up in their own illusions and fears.


The nature of Awareness


This aware principle,
Is already always aware.
Without lifting a finger,
It is effortlessly present.

Within this awareness,
A multitude of phenomena spontaneously arise and fall.
Conceptually we say ‘multitude of phenomena’,
But in reality there is just One Seamless Experience.

Whatever phenomena awareness is aware of,
We can call ‘objects’.
No object is this aware principle,
No object is awareness.

There are no actual separate objects,
Just the appearance of separate objects.
The mind, using concepts like a sword,
Carves up our Seamless Experience into apparent parts.

Let us examine this awareness,
Which is not separate from the objects it observes.
Where does it come from?
What is its nature?

Observe, no particular object of awareness is awareness itself:
An object itself cannot be aware,
The perceived cannot perceive.
Therefore awareness is not an object.

There is no knowledge of awareness:
Awareness cannot be seen, touched, smelt, heard or tasted.
In this sense it cannot be known,
But awareness’s existence is self-evident.

What is this awareness?
– I don’t know!
But I know awareness exists. How?
– Because I am aware!

Observe, there is no awareness of awareness itself,
Only awareness of objects,
(Or in Deep Sleep or Samadhi,
the awareness of the absence of objects),
The existence of awareness,
Is inferred from the presence (or absence) of objects.

So what is awareness but an idea,
Based on the assumption of a subject, a seer?
Awareness is a merely a concept,
Indistinguishable from the objects it is aware of.

Objects are awareness,
Awareness is simply the presence of objects
(or the presence of an absence of objects,
as in Deep Sleep or Samadhi).
‘Objects’ and ‘awareness’ are two names for our One Total Seamless Experience.
See this at once!

All these words,
Simply trying to describe,
What is already our direct experience of life,
Right now.

Words simply point,
To the simplicity of this,
This which is so simple:
It is just our direct experience.

What we conceive to be awareness.
Is nothing other than our everyday experience of objects,

What is conceived to be the Absolute (ie. the Subject)
Is none other than the relative (ie. objects),

In this,
There is no object or subject,
No relative or absolute,
Just this, beyond words, beyond opposites.

There is only this,
Completely obvious,
Self evident,
And elusive of conceptualisation.