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Here, from the very beginning, there is this One Thing. Constantly lucid and mysterious, it has never been born and it has never died. It cannot be named or depicted.
What is this “One Thing?” The ancients said:
“Before the Buddhas of old were born, there was this One Thing, lucid and ethereal. So how could Mahakasyapa have transmitted it?” Even Sakyamuni did not know of it.
Therefore, this “One Thing” has never been born and has never died. It cannot be named or depicted. The Sixth Patriarch9 said to an assembly, “I have One Thing. It has no name and no designation. Do any of you recognize it?” Seon Master Shen-hui10 came forward and said, “It is the source of all Buddhas. It is my Buddha Nature.” This is the reason for Shen-hui not being considered Hui-neng’s legitimate11 disciple. When Master Nan-yueh12 came from Mt. Sung, Patriarch Hui-neng asked him, “What is it which has come here?” Nan-yueh was confused. After eight years, he confidently responded, “To call it ’One Thing1 is not right.” This is how he became a direct Dharma-heir13 of Hui-neng.
The masters of the Three Teachings14
All came forth from this phrase.
He who would try to demonstrate it,
Must be careful
Lest the hair of his eyebrows falls out.15
The appearance of the Buddhas and patriarchs in this world is like waves arising on a windless sea.
“The Buddha and patriarchs” refers to Sakyamuni and Mahakasyapa. “The appearance... in this world” means to consider great compassion as essential and to save living beings. Yet, if we look at it from the stand-point of the One Thing, each person’s Original Face is already perfect and complete. Why do we need to rely on others to “baste it with grease and stick flour on it?”16 For this reason, “appearing in the world” causes waves. Along similar lines, the Hsu-k’ung-tsang Sutra says: “Written words are demon karma. Name and form are demon karma. Even the words of the Buddha are demon karma.”
(The above text states that you should directly pick up what are originally yours; the Buddha and patriarchs cannot help you.)
Heaven and Earth have lost their brilliance.
The sun and the moon do not shine.
Yet, the Dharma contains many layers of meaning, and men are of different capacities. So, one must provide expedient teachings.
“Dharma” refers to the “One Thing.” “Men” means sentient beings. The Dharma has a changeless and a conforming principle. Men have the capacity to suddenly awaken and to gradually cultivate. For this reason, written words and speech are necessary. As the proverb says; “In official policy, even a needle given as a bribe is forbidden. Yet, in actual private dealings, carts and horses carry bribes back and forth.” Even though sentient beings are perfect and complete, they fail to open their Eye of Wisdom, and thus willingly undergo transmigration. Without an outstanding, golden sword, how can you cut through the thick layer of ignorance? Every time someone transcends the sea of suffering and arrives at the joyous other shore, it is due to the Buddha’s great compassion. Even if you had as many lives as there are grains of sand, it would be difficult to repay even a minute fraction of such benevolence.
(The above paragraph is meant to instill in the novice practitioner a thorough-going sense of gratitude for the great kindness of the Buddha and patriarchs.)
The king goes up to the jeweled hall
And a rustic old man sings.
Various names are arbitrarily established, for example, “the mind,” “the Buddha,” and “sentient beings.” Yet, you must not rely on names to develop understanding. The essence is right here before you. As soon as thought is put into motion, there is a distortion.
Within the Doctrinal Approach, three names are artificially established in order to refer to the One Thing. This is inherent in such an approach. According to the Meditation Approach, you must not adhere to names in order to understand. This is inherent in the Meditation Approach. Picking it up then pressing it down, setting it up then destroying it — such is the great freedom commanded by all of the Dharma Kings. In other words, that which is high is tied down; that which is low is brought up. This shows that the skillful means of the Buddha and patriarchs are all different.
After a long drought, the refreshing rains come.
In a distant land, one meets an old friend.
The mind-to-mind transmission which the World Honored One passed on at three different locations is the essential teaching of the Seon School. Everything that the Buddha said during his life is the essential teaching of the Doctrinal School. For this reason it is said that Seon is the Buddha’s mind, Kyo (Doctrine, 敎) is the Buddha’s words.
The “three places” are Pahuputraka (Stupa of Many Sons), where the Lord Buddha sat with Mahakasyapa; Vultures’ Peak, where the Buddha held up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiled; and the Sala Tree Grove at Kusinara, where Mahakasyapa saw the Buddha’s feet.17 These are the places associated with Mahakasyapa’s reception of the unique transmission of the Seon Lamp. "During his life" refers to the forty-nine years during which the Buddha expounded the Five Teachings. These are: the Teachings for Men and Devas (celestial beings), Hinayana, Mahayana, the Sudden Teachings, and the Complete Teachings. Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and attendant for twenty-nine years, made this great sea of teachings flow forth; it was he who remembered all the sutras and passed them on. Therefore, Sakyamuni is the source of both Seon and Kyo (Doctrine). The division between meditation and doctrinal teachings begins with Mahakasyapa and Ananda. Seon uses the wordless to get to the wordless. Kyo uses words to get to the wordless. Mind is the Seon Dharma; speech is the Kyo Dharma. The Dharma has one flavor, but the chasm separating the two types of understanding is as great as the gap between Heaven and Earth. Because of this, the two paths of Seon and Kyo are distinguished.
You must not pass your time leisurely
Or you’ll end up stretched out on the grass.18
So if one gets lost in speech, even “holding up a flower and smiling” is all just the tracks of Kyo. On the other hand, if one realizes it within one’s own mind, then all of the crass words and refined talk of the world become the Seon teaching of “a special transmission outside the scriptures.”
The Dharma has no name, so it cannot be reached with words. The Dharma has no appearance, so it cannot be reached by mind. Those who rely on speech lose track of their Fundamental Mind. If you lose track of your Fundamental Mind, then even the Buddha’s holding up a flower and Mahakasyapa’s smile are ultimately nothing more than dead words. If you obtain the truth within your own mind, then even the gossip in the streets is benevolent speech expressing the essence of the Dharma; even the chirping of a sparrow deeply conveys the true character of reality. For this reason, Master Pao-chi, 19 when he heard someone wailing, attained awakening and danced with joy; and Master Pao-shou, 20 when he saw a fist fight, suddenly awakened to his Original Face. Master Pao-chi and Master Pao-shou obtained the truth within their own mind.
(The above paragraph is meant to clarify the relative depth of the Seon and the Kyo approaches.)
You just play around with the bright pearl in your palm.
I have just one thing to say.21
As I stop thinking and forget all attachments,
And just sit solid as a mountain without doing anything,
Spring comes and the grass grows green by itself.
To stop thinking and forget all attachments is to obtain the truth within your own mind. You are then called “a leisurely Man of the Way.” Oh! Such a man is totally without attachments. He has absolutely nothing more he must do. When he is hungry, he eats; when tired, he sleeps. He wanders as he wishes amongst the verdant streams and Blue Mountains. He is free and easy in the fishing villages and taverns. Although he completely disregards the passing of time, spring comes as it always has and the grass grows by itself.
(The above paragraph stresses reflection upon the mind’s enlightened nature.)22
I was about to say that such a person does not exist,
But luckily, there is such a one, a leisurely Man of the Way.
The Doctrinal Approach only transmits the dharma of the One Mind. The Meditation Approach only transmits the dharma of seeing one’s Own Nature.
The mind is like the mirror itself. Your Own Nature is like the brightness of the mirror. If your Own Nature becomes calm, you can suddenly awaken and thus return to your Original Mind.
(The above text emphasizes the importance of the single thought of awakening.)
Layer upon layer of mountains and streams,
The clear brightness, the old scenery of home.23
The mind has two aspects: the Fundamental Mind and the ignorant mind which clings to appearances. Our True Nature also has two aspects: the fundamental-dharma Nature and the nature in which one’s Self Nature and appearances are opposed to one another. Based on this, adherents of both Seon and Kyo mistakenly adhere to names to elicit understanding, arguing about what is shallow and what is profound. Since this is a great disease infecting both theory and practice, I have commented on it here.
However, all of the sutras expounded by the Buddha initially distinguish between the various dharmas and then later explain that these dharmas are empty. The teachings of the patriarchs cut off the tracks at the ground of thinking so that the noumenon appears at the mind’s source.
The Buddha is a refuge for countless generations. He accurately conveyed the noumenal aspect of reality.24 The patriarchs help others to reach liberation this minute, so their thoughts are always focused on the profound penetration of reality. "Tracks" are the words of the patriarchs. “Thinking” refers to the thinking of the student.
You may twist your body around
But your arms will never bend outward.
The Buddha spoke like a bow. The patriarchs spoke like a string. The Buddha expounded the non-obstructed Dharma that completely returns to the “one taste.” If you wipe away even the traces of this “one taste,” the One Mind of the patriarch’s teachings directly appears. For this reason, it has been said: “The hwadu of the ‘Pine tree in the courtyard’ is nowhere in the entire Dragon Collections.”
“Speaking like a bow” signifies bending. “Speaking like a string” signifies straightness. “The Dragon Collections” refers to the Buddhist Canon which was stored in the Dragon Palace.
A monk once asked Chao-chou, 25 “Why did Bodhidharma26 come from the West?” Chao-chou replied, “The Pine tree in the yard.” This is called “Seon instruction that is outside of any fixed form.”
As the fish swim, the water gets murky.
When birds fly, feathers fall.