Q. I want to see if I comprehend properly, between the terms self-effort and self-inquiry, because what comes into my mind is letting go, which seems to be somehow in contradiction to the term 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 are then absolutely pure.
Right views are called ‘transcendental’;
Erroneous views are called ‘worldly’.
When all views, right or erroneous, are discarded
Then the essence of Bodhi appears.
This stanza is for the ‘Sudden’ School.
Yesterday, two pandits came from Kumbakonam. This morning at 9 o’clock, they approached Bhagavan and said, “Swami, we take leave of you. We pray that you may be pleased to bless us that our mind may merge or dissolve itself in shanti [peace]”
Bhagavan nodded his head as usual. After they had left, he said, looking at Ramachandra Iyer,
“Shanti is the original state. If what comes from outside is rejected what remains is peace. What then is there to dissolve or merge? Only that which comes from outside has to be thrown out.
“If people whose minds are mature are simply told that the swarupa itself is shanti, they get jnana. It is only for immature minds that sravana (listening to the teachings) and manana (reflecting upon the teachings) are prescribed, but for mature minds there is no need of them. If people at a distance enquire how to go to Ramana Maharshi, we have to tell them to get into such and such a train or take such and such a path, but if they come to Tiruvannamalai, reach Ramanasramam and step into the hall, it is enough if only they are told, here is that person. There is no need for them to move any farther.”
“Sravana and manana mean only those described in Vedanta, don’t they?” asked some one. “Yes,” Bhagavan replied, “but one thing, not only are there outward sravana and manana but there are also inward sravana [listening] and manana [thinking]. They must occur to a person as a result of the maturity of his mind. Those that are able to do that antara sravana (hearing inwardly) do not have any doubts.”
Whenever any one asked what those antara sravanas are, he used to say, “Antara sravana means the knowledge of that Atma which is in the cave of the heart always illuminated with the feeling ‘aham, aham’ (‘I, I’), and to get that feeling to be in one’s heart is manana, and to remain in one’s self is nididhyasa [meditation].”
In this connection, it is worth while remembering the sloka [verse] written by Bhagavan bearing on this subject. In that sloka mention is made not only to Atma sphurana [the vibration of the Self] but also how to secure it. Securing means only remaining in one’s own self:
Brahman is glowing lustrously in the middle of the cave of the Heart in the shape of the Self, always proclaiming ‘I am, I am’. Become an Atmanishta, a Self-realised person, either by making the mind absorbed in the search of the Self or by making the mind drown itself through control of the breath.
19th July 1947, Letters from Sri Ramanasramam
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.
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