Chapter III. Questions and Answers
One day Prefect Wei entertained the Patriarch and asked him to
preach to a big gathering. At the end of the feast, Prefect Wei
asked him to mount the pulpit (to which the Patriarch consented). After bowing twice reverently, in company with other officials, scholars, and
commoners, Prefect Wei said, "I have heard what Your Holiness preached. It is really so deep that it is beyond our mind and speech, and I have
certain doubts which I hope you will clear up for me." "If you have any doubts," replied the Patriarch, "please ask, and I will explain."
"What you preach are the fundamental principles taught by Bodhidharma, are they not?" "Yes," replied the Patriarch. "I was told," said Prefect
Wei, "that at Bodhidharma's first interview with Emperor Wu of Liang he was asked what merits the Emperor would get
for the work of his life in building temples, allowing new monks to
be ordained (royal consent was necessary at that time), giving alms and entertaining the Order; and his reply was that these would bring no
merits ar all. Now, I cannot understand why he gave such an answer. Will you please explain."
"These would bring no merits," replied the Patriarch. "Don't doubt the words of the Sage. Emperor Wu's mind was under an erroneous
impression, and he did not know the orthodox teaching. Such deeds as building temples, allowing new monks to be orda ined, giving alms and
entertaining the Order will bring you only felicities, which should not be taken for merits. Merits are to be found within the Dharmakaya, and
they have nothing to do with practices for attaining felicities."
The Patriarch went on, "Realization of the Essence of Mind is Kung (good deserts), and equality is Teh (good quality). When our mental activity
works without any impediment, so that we are in a position
to know constantly the true state and the mysterious functioning of our own mind, we are said to have acquired Kung Teh (merits).
Within, to keep the mind in a humble mood is Kung; and without, to behave oneself according to propriety is Teh. That all things are
the manifestation of the Essence of Mind is Kung, and that the quintessence of mind is free from idle thoughts is Teh. Not to go astray from the
Essence of Mind is Kung, and not to pollute the mind in using it is Teh. If you seek for merits within the D harmakaya,
and do what I have just said, what you acquire will be real merits.
He who works for merits does not slight others; and on all occasions he treats everybody with respect. He who is in the habit of looking down
upon others has not got rid of the erroneous idea of a self, which indicates his lack of Kung. Because of his e gotism and his habitual contempt
for all others, he knows not the real Essence of Mind; and this shows his lack of Teh. Learned Audience, when our mental activity works without
interruption, then it is Kung; and when our mind functions in a straightforwa rd manner, then it is Teh. To train our own mind is Kung, and to train
our own body is Teh.
Learned Audience, merits should be sought within the Essence of Mind and they cannot be acquired by almsgiving, entertaining the monks, etc.
We should therefore distinguish between felicities and merits. There is nothing wrong in what our Patriarch said. It is Emperor Wu himself who
did not know the true way."
Prefect Wei then asked the next question. "I notice that it is a common practice for monks and laymen to recite the name of Amitabha with the
hope of being born in the Pure Land of the West. To clear
up my doubts, will you please tell me whether it is possible for them to be born there or not."
"Listen to me carefully, Sir," replied the Patriarch, "and I will explain. According to the Sutra spoken by the Bhagavat in Shravasti City for
leading people to the Pure Land of the West, it is quite clear that the Pure Land is not far from here, fo r the distance in mileage is 108,000,
which really represents the 'ten evils' and
'eight errors' within us. To those of inferior mentality certainly
it is far away, but to superior men we may say that it is quite
near. Although the Dharma is uniform, men vary in their mentality. Because they differ from one another in their degree of enlightenment or
ignorance, therefore some understand the Law quicker than others. While ignorant men recite the name of Amitabha a nd pray to be born in the
Pure Land, the enlightened purify their mind, for, as the Buddha said, 'When the mind is pure, the Buddha Land is simultaneously
"Although you are a native of the East, if your mind is pure you are sinless. One the other hand, even if you were a native of the West
an impure mind could not free you from sin, When the people of the East commit a sin, they recite the name of Amitabha and pray to be born in
the West; but in the case of sinners who are natives of the West, where should they pray to be born? Ordinary m en and ignorant people
understand neither the Essence of Mind nor the Pure Land
within themselves, so they wish to be born in the East or the West. But to the enlightened everywhere is the same. As the Buddha said, 'No matter
where they happen to be, they are always happy and comfortable.'
"Sir, if your mind is free from evil the West is not far from here; but difficult indeed it would be for one whose heart is impure to be born there
by invoking Amitabha!
"Now, I advise you, Learned Audience, first to do away with the 'ten evils'; then we shall have travelled one hundred thousand miles. For the
next step, do away with the 'eight errors', and this will mean another eight thousand miles traversed. If we can realize the
Essence of Mind at all times and behave in a straightforward manner
on all occasions, in the twinkling of an eye we may reach the Pure Land and there see Amitabha.
"If you only put into practice the ten good deeds, there would be no necessity for you to be born there. On the other hand, if you do not do away
with the 'ten evils' in your mind, which Buddha will take you there? If you understand the Birthless D octrine (which puts an end
to the cycle of birth and death) of the 'Sudden' School, it takes you only a moment to see the West. If you do not understand, how can you reach
there by reciting the name of Amitabha, as the distance is so far?
"Now, how would you like it if I were to shift the Pure Land to your presence this very moment, so that all of you might see it?" The congregation
made obeisance and replied, "If we might see the Pure Land here there would be no necessity for us to desire to be born there. Will Your
Holiness kindly let us see it by having it removed here."
The Patriarch said, "Sirs, this physical body of ours is a city.
Our eyes, ears, nose and tongue are the gates. There are five external gates, while the internal one is ideation. The mind is the ground. The
Essence of Mind is the King who lives in the domain of the mind. While the Essence of Mind is in, the King is in, and our body and mind exist.
When the Essence of Mind is out, there is no King and our body and mind decay. We should work for Buddhahood within the Essence of Mind,
and we should not look for it apart from ourselves. He who is kept in ignorance o f his Essence of Mind is an ordinary being. He who is
enlightened in his Essence of Mind is a Buddha. To be merciful is Avalokitesvara (one of the two principal Bodhisattvas of the Pure Land). To
take pleasure in almsgiving is Mahasthama (the other Bod hisattva). Competence for a pure life is Sakyamuni (one of the titles of Gautama
Buddha). Equality and straightforwardness is Amitabha. The idea of a self or that of a being is Mount Meru. A depraved mind is the ocean. Klesa
(defilement) is the billo w. Wickedness is the evil dragon.
Falsehood is the devil. The wearisome sense objects are the aquatic animals. Greed and hatred are the hells. Ignorance and infatuation are the
"Learned Audience, if you constantly perform the ten good deeds, paradise will appear to you at once. When you get rid of the idea of a self and
that of a being, Mount Meru will topple. When the mind is no longer depraved, the ocean (of existence) will be dried up. When you are free from
klesa, billows and waves (of the ocean of
existence) will calm down. When wickedness is alien to you, fish
and evil dragons will die out.
"Within the domain of our mind, there is a Tathagata of
Enlightenment who sends forth a powerful light which illumines externally the six gates (of sensation) and purifies them. This
light is strong enough to pierce through the six Kama Heavens
(heavens of desire); and when it is turned inwardly it eliminates at once the three poisonous elements, purges away our sins which might lead us
to the hells or other evil realms, and enlightens us thoroughly within and without, so that we are no differen t from those born in the Pure Land of
the West. Now, if we do not train ourselves up to this standard, how can we reach the Pure Land?"
Having heard what the Patriarch said, the congregation knew their Essence of Mind very clearly. They made obeisance and exclaimed in one
voice, "Well done!" They also chanted, "May all the sentient beings of this Universe who have heard this sermon at once understand it intuitively."
The Patriarch added, "Learned Audience, those who wish to train themselves (spiritually) may do so at home. It is quite unnecessary for them to
stay in monasteries. Those who train themselves at home may be likened unto a native of the East who is kind-hearted, while those who stay in
monasteries but neglect their work differ not from
a native of the West who is evil in heart. So far as the mind is pure, it is the 'Western Pure Land of one's own Essence of Mind'."
Prefect Wei asked, "How should we train ourselves at home? Will you please teach us."
The Patriarch replied, "I will give you a 'formless' stanza. If you put its teaching into practice you will be in the same position as those who live
with me permanently. On the other hand, if you do not practice it, what progress can you make in t he spiritual path, even though you cut your hair
and leave home for good (i.e., join the Order)? The stanza reads:
For a fair mind, observation of precepts (Sila) is unnecessary.
For straightforward behavior, practice in Dhyana (contemplation) may
be dispensed with.
On the principle of righteousness, the superior and the inferior
stand for each other (in time of need).
On the principle of mutual desire to please, the senior and junior
are on affectionate terms.
On the principle of forbearance, we do not quarrel even in the midst
of a hostile crowd.
If we can persevere till fire can be obtained through rubbing a piece
Then the red lotus (the Buddha-nature) will shoot out from the black
mire (the unenlightened state).
That which is of bitter taste is bound to be good medicine.
That which sounds unpleasant to the ear is certainly frank advice.
By amending our mistakes, we get wisdom.
By defending our faults, we betray an unsound mind.
In our daily life we should always practice altruism,
But Buddhahood is not to be attained by giving away money as charity. Bodhi is to be found within our own mind,
And there is no necessity to look for mysticism from without.
Hearers of this stanza who put its teaching into actual practice
Will find paradise in their very presence.
The Patriarch added, "Learned Audience, all of you should put into practice what is taught in this stanza, so that you can realize the Essence of
Mind and attain Buddhahood directly. The Dharma waits for no one. I am going back to Ts'ao Ch'i, so th e assembly may now break up. If you
have any questions, you may come there to put them."
At this juncture Prefect Wei, the government officials, pious men, and devout ladies who were present were all enlightened. Faithfully they
accepted the teaching and put it into practice.
Questions and Answers
- Written by: Fa Hui