Chapter VII. Temperament and Circumstances
(Instructions given according to the disciples' temperament
and to the circumstances of the case)
Upon the Patriarch's return to the village of Ts'ao Hou in Shao Chou from Huang Mei, where the Dharma had been transmitted to him, he was still
an unknown figure, and it was a Confucian scholar named Liu Chih-Lueh who gave him a warm welcome. Chih-L ueh happened to have an aunt
named Wu Chin-Tsang who was a bhikkhuni (a female member of the Order), and used to recite the Maha Parinirvana Sutra. After hearing the
recitation for only a short while the Patriarch grasped its profound meaning and began t o explain it to her. Whereupon, she picked up the book
and asked him the meaning of certain words.
"I am illiterate," he replied, "but if you wish to know the purport of this work, please ask." "How can you grasp the meaning of the text," she
rejoined, "when you do not even know the words?" To this he replied, "The profundity of the teachings of the various Buddhas has nothing to do
with the written language."
This answer surprised her very much, and realizing that he was no ordinary bhikkhu, she made it widely known to the pious elders of the village.
"This is a holy man," she said, "we should ask him to stay, and get his permission to supply him food an d lodging."
Whereupon, a descendant of Marquis Wu of the Wei Dynasty, named
Ts'ao Shu-Liang, came one afternoon with other villagers to tender homage to the Patriarch. The historical Pao Lin monastery,
devastated by war at the end of the Sui Dynasty, was then reduced to
a heap of ruins, but on the old site they rebuilt it and asked the Patriarch to stay there. Before long, it became a very famous monastery.
After being there for nine months his wicked enemies traced him and persecuted him again. Thereupon he took refuge in a nearby hill.
The villains then set fire to the wood (where he was hiding), but he escaped by making his way to a rock. This rock, which has since been known
as the 'Rock of Refuge', has thereon the knee-prints of the Patriarch and also the impressions of the texture of his gown.
Recollecting the instruction of his master, the Fifth Patriarch,
that he should stop at Huai and seclude himself at Hui, he made these two districts his places of retreat.
Bhikkhu Fa Hai, a native of Chu Kiang of Shao Chow, in his first interview with the Patriarch asked the meaning of the well-known saying, 'What
mind is, Buddha is.' The Patriarch replied, "To let
not a passing thought rise up is 'mind'. To let not the coming thought be annihilated is Buddha. To manifest all kinds of phenomena is 'mind'. To be
free from all forms (i.e., to realize the unreality of phenomena) is Buddha. If I were to give you a f ull explanation, the topic could not be
exhausted even if I took up the whole of one kalpa. So listen to my stanza:
Prajna is 'What mind is',
Samadhi is 'What Buddha is'.
In practicing Prajna and Samadhi, let each keep pace with the other; Then our thoughts will be pure.
This teaching can be understood
Only through the habit of practice.
Samadhi functions, but inherently it does not become.
The orthodox teaching is to practice Prajna as well as Samadhi.
After hearing what the Patriarch had said, Fa Hai was at once enlightened. He praised the Patriarch with the following stanza:
'What mind is, Buddha is' is true indeed!
But I humiliate myself by not understanding it.
Now I know the principal cause of Prajna and Samadhi,
Both of which I shall practice to set me free from all forms.
Bhikkhu Fa Ta, a native of Hung Chou, who joined the Order at the early age of seven, used to recite the Saddharma Pundarika (Lotus of the
Good Law) Sutra. When he came to pay homage to the Patriarch, he failed to lower his head to the ground. For his abbreviated courtesy the
Patriarch reproved him, saying, "If you object to lower your head to the ground, would it not be better do away with salutation entirely? There
must be something in your mind that makes you so puffed up. Tell me what you do in your daily exercise."
"Recite the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra," replied Fa Ta. "I have read the whole text three thousand times."
"Had you grasped the meaning of the Sutra," remarked the Patriarch, "you would not have assumed such a lofty bearing, even if you had
read it ten thousand times. Had you grasped it, you would be
treading the same Path as mine. What you have accomplished has already made you conceited, and moreover, you do not seem to realize that this
is wrong. Listen to my stanza:
Since the object of ceremony is to curb arrogance
Why did you fail to lower your head to the ground?
'To believe in a self' is the source of sin,
But 'to treat all attainment as void' attains merit incomparable!
The Patriarch then asked for his name, and upon being told that his name was Fa Ta (meaning Understanding the Law), he remarked, "Your name
is Fa Ta, but you have not yet understood the Law." He
concluded by uttering another stanza:
Your name is Fa Ta.
Diligently and steadily you recite the Sutra.
Lip-repetition of the text goes by the pronunciation only,
But he whose mind is enlightened by grasping the meaning is a
On account of conditions which may be traced to our past lives
I will explain this to you.
If you only believe that Buddha speaks no words,
Then the Lotus will blossom in your mouth.
Having heard this stanza, Fa Ta became remorseful and apologized to the Patriarch. He added, "Hereafter, I will be humble and polite on all
occasions. As I do not quite understand the meaning of the Sutra I recite, I am doubtful as to its proper in terpretation. With your profound
knowledge and high wisdom, will you kindly give me a short explanation?"
The Patriarch replied, "Fa Ta, the Law is quite clear; it is only your mind that is not clear. The Sutra is free from doubtful passages; it is only
your mind that makes them doubtful. In reciting the Sutra, do you know its principal object?"
"How can I know, Sir," replied Fa Ta, "since I am so dull and
stupid? All I know is how to recite it word by word."
The Patriarch then said, "Will you please recite the Sutra, as I cannot read it myself. I will then explain its meaning to you."
Fa Ta recited the Sutra, but when he came to the chapter entitled 'Parables' the Patriarch stopped him, saying, "The key-note of this Sutra is to
set forth the aim and object of a Buddha's incarnation in this world. Though parables and illustrations are numerous in this book, none of them
goes beyond this pivotal point. Now, what is that object? What is that aim? The Sutra says, 'It is for a sole object, a sole aim, verily a lofty
object and a lofty aim that the Buddha appears in this world.' No w that sole object, that sole aim, that lofty object, that lofty aim referred to is
the 'sight' of Buddha-Knowledge.
"Common people attach themselves to objects without; and within,
they fall into the wrong idea of 'vacuity'. When they are able to free themselves from attachment to objects when in contact with objects, and to
free themselves from the fallacious view of annihilation on the doctrine of 'Void' they will be free from de lusions within and from illusions
without. He who understands this and whose mind is thus enlightened in an instant is said to have opened his eyes for the sight of
"The word 'Buddha' is equivalent to 'Enlightenment', which may be dealt with (as in the Sutra) under four heads:
To open the eyes for the sight of Enlightenment-knowledge. To show the sight of Enlightenment-knowledge.
To awake to the sight of Enlightenment-knowledge.
To be firmly established in the Enlightenment-knowledge.
"Should we be able, upon being taught, to grasp and understand thoroughly the teaching of Enlightenment-knowledge, then our inherent quality or
true nature, i.e., the Enlightenment-knowledge, would have an opportunity to manifest itself. You should not misinterpret the text, and come to the
conclusion that Buddha-knowledge is something special to Buddha and not common to us all because you happen to find in the Sutra this passage,
'To open the eyes for the sight of Buddha-knowledge, to show the sigh t of Buddha-knowledge, etc.' Such a misinterpretation would amount to
slandering Buddha and blaspheming the Sutra. Since he is a Buddha, he is already in possession of this Enlightenment-knowledge and there is no
occasion for himself to open his eyes fo r it. You should therefore accept the interpretation that Buddha-knowledge is the Buddha-knowledge of
your own mind and not that of any other Buddha.
"Being infatuated by sense-objects, and thereby shutting themselves from their own light, all sentient beings, tormented by outer circumstances
and inner vexations, act voluntarily as slaves to their own desires. Seeing this, our Lord Buddha had to rise from his Samadhi in order to exhort
them with earnest preaching of various kinds to suppress their desires and to refrain from seeking happiness from without, so that they might
become the equals of Buddha. For this reason the Sutra says, 'To open t he eyes for the sight of Buddha-knowledge, etc.'
"I advise people constantly to open their eyes for the Buddha-knowledge within their mind. But in their perversity they commit sins under delusion
and ignorance; they are kind in words, but wicked in mind; they are greedy, malignant, jealous, crooke d, flattering, egotistic, offensive to men
and destructive to inanimate objects. Thus, they open their eyes for the 'Common-people-knowledge'. Should they rectify their heart, so that
wisdom arises perpetually, the mind would be under introspection, and evil doing replaced by the practice of good; then they would
initiate themselves into the Buddha-knowledge.
"You should therefore from moment to moment open your eyes, not for 'Common-people-knowledge' but for Buddha-knowledge, which is
supramundane, while the former is worldly. On the other hand, if you stick to the concept that mere recitation (of the S utra) as a daily exercise
is good enough, then you are infatuated like the yak by its own tail." (Yaks are known to have a very high opinion of their own tails.)
Fa Ta then said, "If that is so, we have only to know the meaning of the Sutra and there would be no necessity for us to recite it. Is that right,
"There is nothing wrong in the Sutra," replied the Patriarch, "so that you should refrain from reciting it. Whether sutra-reciting will enlighten
you or not, or benefit you or not, all depends on yourself. He who recites the Sutra with the tongue a nd puts its teaching into actual practice
with his mind 'turns round' the Sutra. He who recites it without putting it into practice is 'turned round' by the Sutra. Listen to my stanza:
When our mind is under delusion, the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra 'turns
With an enlightened mind we 'turn round' the Sutra instead.
To recite the Sutra for a considerable time without knowing its
Indicates that you are a stranger to its meaning.
The correct way to recite the Sutra is without holding any arbitrary
Otherwise, it is wrong.
He who is above 'affirmative' and 'negative'
Rides permanently in the White Bullock Cart (the Vehicle of Buddha)."
Having heard this stanza, Fa Ta was enlightened and moved to tears. "It is quite true," he exclaimed, "that heretofore I was unable to 'turn
round' the Sutra. It was rather the Sutra that 'turned' me round."
He then raised another point. "The Sutra says, 'From Sravakas (disciples) up to Bodhisattvas, even if they were to speculate with combined
efforts they would be unable to comprehend the Buddha-knowledge.' But you, Sir, give me to understand that if an ordinary man realizes his own
mind, he is said to have attained the Buddha-knowledge. I am afraid, Sir, that with the exception of those gifted with superior mental
dispositions, others may doubt your remark. Furthermore, three kinds of Carts are me ntioned in the Sutra, namely, Carts yoked with goats (i.e.,
the vehicle of Sravakas), Carts yoked with deers (the vehicle of Pratyeka Buddhas), and Carts yoked with bullocks (the vehicle of Bodhisattvas).
How are these to be distinguished from the White Bullock Carts?"
The Patriarch replied, "The Sutra is quite plain on this point; it is you who misunderstand it. The reason why Sravakas, Pratyeka Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas cannot comprehend the Buddha-knowledge is because they speculate on it. They may combine thei r efforts to speculate, but the
more they speculate, the farther they are from the truth. It was to ordinary men, not to other Buddhas, that Buddha Gautama preached this Sutra.
As for those who cannot accept the doctrine he expounded, he let them leave the assembly. You do not seem to know that since we are already
riding in the White Bullock Cart (the vehicle of Buddhas), there is no necessity for us to go out to look for the other three vehicles. Moreover, the
Sutra tells you plainly that there is o nly the Buddha Vehicle, and that there are no other vehicles, such as the second or the third. It is for the
sake of this sole vehicle that Buddha had to preach to us with innumerable skilful devices, using various reasons and arguments, parables and ill
ustrations, etc. Why can you not understand that the other three vehicles are makeshifts, for the past only; while the sole vehicle, the Buddha
Vehicle, is the ultimate, meant for the present?
"The Sutra teaches you to dispense with the makeshifts and to resort to the ultimate. Having resorted to the ultimate, you will find that even the
name 'ultimate' disappears. You should appreciate that you are the sole owner of these valuables and they are entirely subject to your disposal.
When you are free from the arbitrary conception that they are the father's, or the son's, or that they are at so and
so's disposal, you may be said to have learned the right way to recite the Sutra. In that case from kalpa to kalpa the Sutra will be in
your hand, and from morning to night you will be reciting the Sutra all the time."
Being thus awakened, Fa Ta praised the Patriarch, in a transport of great joy, with the following stanza:
The delusion that I have attained great merits by reciting the Sutra
three thousand times over
Is all dispelled by an utterance of the Master of Ts'ao Ch'i (i.e.,
He who has not understood the object of a Buddha's incarnation in
Is unable to suppress the wild passions accumulated in many lives.
The three vehicles yoked by goat, deer and bullock respectively, are
While the three stages, preliminary, intermediate, and final, in
which the orthodox Dharma is expounded, are well set out, indeed.
How few appreciate that within the burning house itself (i.e.,
The King of Dharma is to be found!
The Patriarch then told him that henceforth he might call himself a 'Sutra-reciting Bhikkhu'. After that interview, Fa Ta was able to grasp the
profound meaning of Buddhism, yet he continued to recite
the Sutra as before.
Bhikkhu Chih Tung, a native of Shao Chou of An Feng had read the Lankavatara Sutra a thousand times, but he could not understand the meaning
of Trikaya and the four Prajnas. Thereupon, he called on the Patriarch for an interpretation.
"As to the Three Bodies," explained the Patriarch, "the pure Dharmakaya is your (essential) nature; the perfect Sambhogakaya is your wisdom;
and myriad Nirmanakayas are your actions. If you deal with these Three Bodies apart from the Essence of Mind , there would
be 'bodies without wisdom'. If you realize that these Three Bodies have no positive essence of their own (because they are only the properties of
the Essence of Mind) you attain the Bodhi of the four Prajnas. Listen to my stanza:
The Three Bodies are inherent in our Essence of Mind,
By development of which the four Prajnas are manifested.
Thus, without shutting your eyes and your ears to keep away from the
You may reach Buddhahood directly.
Now that I have made this plain to you
Believe it firmly, and you will be free from delusions forever.
Follow not those who seek Enlightenment from without;
These people talk about Bodhi all the time (but they never find it).
"May I know something about the four Prajnas?" asked Chih Tung. "If you understand the Three Bodies," replied the Patriarch, "you should
understand the four Prajnas as well; so your question is
unnecessary. If you deal with the four Prajnas apart from the Three Bodies, there will be Prajnas without bodies, in which case they
would not be Prajnas."
The Patriarch then uttered another stanza:
The Mirror-like Wisdom is pure by nature.
The Equality Wisdom frees the mind from all impediments.
The All-discerning Wisdom sees things intuitively without going
through the process of reasoning.
The All-Performing Wisdom has the same characteristics as the
The first five vijnanas (consciousness dependent respectively upon the five sense organs) and the Alayavijnana (Storehouse of Universal
consciousness) are 'transmuted' to Prajna in the Buddha stage; while the klista-mano-vijnana (soiled-mind consciou sness or self-consciousness)
and the mano-vijnana (thinking consciousness),
are transmuted in the Bodhisattva stage.
These so called 'transmutations of vijnana' are only changes of appellations and not a change of substance.
When you are able to free yourself entirely from attachment to sense-objects at the time these so-called 'transmutations' take
place, you will forever abide in the repeatedly-arising Naga (dragon) Samadhi.
(Upon hearing this), Chih Tung realized suddenly the Prajna of his Essence of Mind and submitted the following stanza to the Patriarch:
Intrinsically, the three Bodies are within our Essence of Mind.
When our mind is enlightened the four Prajnas will appear therein. When Bodies and Prajnas absolutely identify with each other
We shall be able to respond (in accordance with their temperaments
and dispositions) to the appeals of all beings, no matter what forms
they may assume.
To start by seeking for Trikaya and the four Prajnas is to take an
entirely wrong course (for being inherent in us they are to be
realized and not to be sought).
To try to 'grasp' or 'confine' them is to go against their intrinsic
Through you, Sir, I am now able to grasp the profundity of their
And henceforth I may discard forever their false and arbitrary names.
(Note: Having grasped the spirit of a doctrine, one may dispense with the names used therein, since all names are makeshifts only).
Bhikkhu Chih Ch'ang, a native of Kuei Ch'i of Hsin Chou, joined the Order in his childhood, and was very zealous in his efforts to
realize the Essence of Mind. One day, he came to pay homage to the Patriarch, and was asked by the latter whence and why he came.
"I have recently been to the White Cliff Mountain in Hung Chou," replied he, "to interview the Master Ta T'ung, who was good enough to teach
me how to realize the Essence of Mind and thereby attain Buddhahood. But as I still have some doubts, I have travelled far to pay you respect.
Will you kindly clear them up for me, Sir."
"What instruction did he give you?" asked the Patriarch.
"After staying there for three months without being given any instruction, and being zealous for the Dharma, I went alone to his chamber one
night and asked him what was my Essence of Mind. 'Do you see the illimitable void?' he asked. 'Yes, I do,' I replied. Then
he asked me whether the void had any particular form, and when I said that the void is formless and therefore cannot have any particular form,
he said, 'Your Essence of Mind is like the void. To realize that nothing can be seen is right seeing. To reali ze that nothing is knowable is true
knowledge. To realize that it is neither green nor yellow, neither long nor short, that it is pure by nature, that its quintessence is perfect and
clear, is to realize the Essence of Mind and thereby attain Buddhahood, which is also called the Buddha-knowledge.' As I do not quite
understand his teaching, will you please enlighten me, Sir."
"His teaching indicates," said the Patriarch, "that he still retains the arbitrary concepts of views and knowledge, and this explains why he fails
to make it clear to you. Listen to my stanza:
To realize that nothing can be seen but to retain the concept of
Is like the surface of the sun obscured by passing clouds.
To realize that nothing is knowable but to retain the concept of
May be likened to a clear sky disfigured by a lightning flash.
To let these arbitrary concepts rise spontaneously in your mind Indicates that you have mis-identified the Essence of Mind, and that
you have not yet found the skilful means to realize it.
If you realize for one moment that these arbitrary concepts are
Your own spiritual light will shine forth permanently.
Having heard this Chih Ch'ang at once felt that his mind was enlightened. Thereupon, he submitted the following stanza to the Patriarch:
To allow the concepts of invisibility and unknowability to rise in
Is to seek Bodhi without freeing oneself from the concepts of
He who is puffed up by the slightest impression, 'I am now
Is no better than he was when under delusion.
Had I not put myself at the feet of the Patriarch
I should have been bewildered without knowing the right way to go.
One day, Chih Ch'ang asked the Patriarch, "Buddha preached the doctrine of 'Three Vehicles' and also that of a 'Supreme Vehicle'.
As I do not understand this, will you please explain?"
The Patriarch replied, "(In trying to understand these), you should introspect your own mind and act independently of things and phenomena. The
distinction of these four vehicles does not exist in the Dharma itself but in the differentiation of peop le's minds. To see, to hear, and to recite
the sutra is the small vehicle. To know the Dharma and to understand its meaning is the middle vehicle. To put the Dharma into actual practice is
the great vehicle. To understand thoroughly all Dharmas, to ha ve absorbed them completely, to be free from all attachments, to be above
phenomena, and to be in possession of nothing, is the Supreme Vehicle.
"Since the word 'yana' (vehicle) implies 'motion' (i.e., putting
into practice), argument on this point is quite unnecessary. All depends on self-practice, so you need not ask me any more. (But I
may remind you that) at all times the Essence of Mind is in a state
Chih Ch'ang made obeisance and thanked the Patriarch. Henceforth,
he acted as his attendant until the death of the Master.
Bhikkhu Chih Tao, a native of Nan Hai of Kwang Tung, came to the Patriarch for instruction, saying, "Since I joined the Order I have read the
Maha Parinirvana Sutra for more than ten years, but I have not yet grasped its main idea. Will you please t each me?"
"Which part of it do you not understand?" asked the Patriarch.
"It is about this part, Sir, that I am doubtful: 'All things are impermanent, and so they belong to the Dharma of becoming and cessation (i.e.,
Samskrita Dharma). When both becoming and cessation cease to operate, the bliss of perfect rest and cessa tion of changes (i.e., Nirvana)
"What makes you doubt?" asked the Patriarch.
"All beings have two bodies - the physical body and the Dharmakaya," replied Chih Tao. "The former is impermanent; it exists and dies.
The latter is permanent; it knows not and feels not. Now the Sutra says, 'When both becoming and cessation cease to operate, the bliss
of perfect rest and cessation of changes arises.' I do not know
which body ceases to exist and which body enjoys the bliss. It
cannot be the physical body that enjoys, because when it dies the
four material elements (i.e., earth, water, fire and air) will disintegrate, and disintegration is pure suffering, the very opposite of bliss. If it is
the Dharmakaya that ceases to exist, it would be in the same state as 'inanimate' objects, such as gra ss, trees,
stones etc.; who will then be the enjoyer?
"Moreover, Dharma-nature is the quintessence of 'becoming and cessation', which manifests as the five skandhas (rupa, vedana, samjna, samskara
and vijnana). That is to say, with one quintessence there are five functions. The process of 'becoming an d cessation' is everlasting. When
function or operation arises from the
quintessence, it becomes; when the operation or function is absorbed back into the quintessence, it ceases to exist. If reincarnation is admitted,
there would be no 'cessation of changes', as in the case of sentient beings. If reincarnation is out of th e question, then
things will remain forever in a state of lifeless quintessence, like inanimate objects. If this is so, then under the limitations and restrictions of
Nirvana even existence will be impossible to all beings; what enjoyment could there be?"
"You are a son of Buddha, (a bhikkhu)," said the Patriarch, "so why do you adopt the fallacious views of Eternalism and Annihilationism held by
the heretics, and criticize the teaching of the Supreme Vehicle?
"Your argument implies that apart from the physical body there is a Law body (Dharmakaya); and that 'perfect rest' and 'cessation of changes'
may be sought apart from 'becoming and cessation'. Further, from the statement, 'Nirvana is everlasting joy ,' you infer that
there must be somebody to play the part of the enjoyer.
"Now it is exactly these fallacious views that make people crave for sensate existence and indulge in worldly pleasure. It is for these people, the
victims of ignorance, who identify the union of five skandhas as the 'self', and regard all other thi ngs as 'not-self' (literally, outer sense
objects); who crave for individual existence and have an aversion to death; who drift about in the whirlpool of life and death without realizing
the hollowness of mundane existence, which is only a dream or an ill usion; who commit themselves to unnecessary suffering by binding
themselves to the wheel of re-birth; who mistake the state of everlasting joy of Nirvana for a mode of suffering, and who are always after
sensual pleasure; it is for these people that the c ompassionate Buddha preached the real bliss of Nirvana.
"At any one moment, Nirvana has neither the phenomenon of becoming, nor that of cessation, nor even the ceasing of operation of becoming and
cessation. It is the manifestation of 'perfect rest and
cessation of changes', but at the time of manifestation there is not even a concept of manifestation; so it is called the 'everlasting
joy' which has neither enjoyer nor non-enjoyer.
"There is no such thing as 'one quintessence and five functions' (as you allege), and you are slandering Buddha and blaspheming the Law when
you state that under such limitation and restriction of Nirvana existence is impossible to all beings. Liste n to my stanza:
The Supreme Maha Parinirvana
Is perfect, permanent, calm, and illuminating.
Ignorant people miscall it death,
While heretics hold that it is annihilation.
Those who belong to the Sravaka Vehicle or the Pratyeka Buddha
Regard it as 'Non-action'.
All these are mere intellectual speculations,
And form the basis of the sixty-two fallacious views.
Since they are mere fictitious names invented for the occasion
They have nothing to do with the Absolute Truth.
Only those of super-eminent mind
Can understand thoroughly what Nirvana is, and take up the attitude
of neither attachment nor indifference towards it.
They know that five skandhas
And the so-called 'ego' arising from the union of these skandhas, Together with all external objects and forms
And the various phenomena of sound and voice
Are equally unreal, like a dream or an illusion.
They make no discrimination between a sage and an ordinary man.
Nor do they have any arbitrary concept on Nirvana.
They are above 'affirmation' and 'negation' and they break the
barrier of the past, the present, and the future.
They use their sense organs, when occasion requires,
But the concept of 'using' does not arise.
Even during the cataclysmic fire at the end of a kalpa, when
ocean-beds are burnt dry,
Or during the blowing of the catastrophic wind when one mountain
topples on another,
The real and everlasting bliss of 'perfect rest' and 'cessation of
Of Nirvana remains in the same state and changes not.
Here I am trying to describe to you something which is ineffable
So that you may get rid of your fallacious views.
But if you do not interpret my words literally
You may perhaps learn a wee bit of the meaning of Nirvana!
Having heard this stanza, Chih Tao was highly enlightened. In a rapturous mood, he made obeisance and departed.
Bhikkhu Hsing Ssu, a Dhyana Master, was born at An Cheng of Chi Chou of a Liu family. Upon hearing that the preaching of the Patriarch
had enlightened a great number of people, he at once came to Ts'ao Ch'i to tender him homage, and ask him this question:
"What should a learner direct his mind to, so that his attainment cannot be rated by the (usual) 'stages of progress'?"
"What work have you been doing?" asked the Patriarch.
"Even the Noble Truths taught by various Buddhas I have not anything to do with," replied Hsing Ssu.
"What stage of progress are you in?" asked the Patriarch.
"What stage of progress can there be, when I refuse to have anything to do with even the Noble Truths?" he retorted.
His repartee commanded the great respect of the Patriarch who made him leader of the assembly.
One day the Patriarch told him that he should propagate the Law in his own district, so that the teaching might not come to an end. Thereupon he
returned to Ch'ing Yuan Mountain in his native
district. The Dharma having been transmitted to him, he spread it widely and thus perpetuated the teaching of his Master. Upon his death, the
posthumous title 'Dhyana Master Hung Chi' was conferred on him.
Bhikkhu Huai Jang, a Dhyana Master, was born of a Tu family in Chin Chou. Upon his first visit to 'National Teacher' Hui An of Sung-Shan
Mountain, he was directed by the latter to go to Ts'ao Ch'i to interview the Patriarch.
Upon his arrival, and after the usual salutation, he was asked by
the Patriarch whence he came.
"From Sung Shan," replied he.
"What thing is it (that comes)? How did it come?" asked the Patriarch.
"To say that it is similar to a certain thing is wrong," he
"Is it attainable by training?" asked the Patriarch.
"It is not impossible to attain it by training; but it is quite impossible to pollute it," he replied.
Thereupon, the Patriarch exclaimed, "It is exactly this unpolluted thing that all Buddhas take good care of. It is so for you, and it
is so for me as well. Patriarch Prajnatara of India foretold that under your feet a colt would rush forth and trample on the people of the whole
world. I need not interpret this oracle too soon, as the answer should be found within your mind."
Being thereby enlightened, Huai Jang realized intuitively what the Patriarch had said. Henceforth, he became his attendant for a period of
fifteen years; and day by day his knowledge of Buddhism got deeper and deeper. Afterwards, he made his home i n Nan Yueh where he spread
widely the teaching of the Patriarch. Upon his death, the posthumous title, "Dhyana Master Ta Hui (Great Wisdom) was conferred on him by
Dhyana Master Hsuan Chiao of Yung Chia was born of a Tai family in Wenchow. As a youth, he studied sutras and shastras and was well-versed
in the teaching of samatha (inhibition or quietude) and vipasyana (contemplation or discernment) of the T'ien T'ai School. Through the reading of
the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra he realized intuitively the mystery of his own mind.
A disciple of the Patriarch by the name of Hsuan Ts'e happened to
pay him a visit. During the course of a long discussion, Hsuan Ts'e noticed that the utterance of his friend agreed virtually with the sayings of
the various Patriarchs. Thereupon he asked, "May I know the name of your teacher who transmitted the Dharma to you?"
"I had teachers to instruct me," replied Hsuan Chiao, "when I
studied the sutras and the shastras of the vaipulya section. But afterwards it was through the reading of the Vimalakirti Nirdesa
Sutra that I realized the significance of the Buddhacitta (the Buddha Mind); and I have not yet had any teacher to verify and confirm my
"Before the time of Bhisma Garjitasvara Raja Buddha," Hsuan Ts'e remarked, "it was possible (to dispense with the service of a teacher); but
since that time, he who attains enlightenment without the aid and the confirmation of a teacher is a natural heretic."
"Will you, Sir, kindly act as my testifier," asked Hsuan Chiao.
"My words carry no weight," replied his friend, "but in Ts'ao Ch'i there is the Sixth Patriarch, to whom visitors in great numbers come from all
directions with the common object of having the Dharma transmitted to them. Should you wish to go there, I shall be pleased to accompany you."
In due course they arrived at Ts'ao Ch'i and interviewed the Patriarch. Having circumambulated the Patriarch thrice, Hsuan Chiao stood still (i.e.,
without making obeisance to the Master) with the Buddhist staff in his hand.
The Patriarch remarked: "As a Buddhist monk is the embodiment of three thousand moral precepts and eighty thousand minor disciplinary rules, I
wonder where you come from and what makes you so conceited."
"The question of incessant rebirths is a momentous one," replied he, "and as death may come at any moment (I have no time to waste on
"Why do you not realize the principle of 'birthlessness', and thus solve the problem of transiency in life?" the Patriarch retorted.
Thereupon Hsuan Chiao remarked, "To realize the Essence of Mind is
to be free from rebirths; and once this problem is solved, the question of transiency no longer exists."
"That is so, that is so," the Patriarch agreed.
At this stage, Hsuan Chiao gave in and made obeisance in full ceremony. After a short while he bid the Patriarch adieu.
"You are going away too quickly, aren't you?" asked the Patriarch.
"How can there be 'quickness' when motion intrinsically exists not?" he retorted.
"Who knows that motion exists not?" asked the Patriarch.
"I hope you, Sir, will not particularize," he observed.
The Patriarch commended him for his thorough grasp of the notion of 'birthlessness'; but Hsuan Chiao remarked, "Is there a 'notion' in
"Without a notion, who can particularize?" asked the Patriarch in turn.
"That which particularizes is not a notion," replied Hsuan Chiao.
"Well said!" exclaimed the Patriarch. He then asked Hsuan Chiao to delay his departure and spend a night there. Henceforth Hsuan Chiao was
known to his contemporaries as the 'enlightened one who had spent a night with the Patriarch'.
Afterwards, he wrote the famous work, 'A Song on Spiritual Attainment', which circulates widely. His posthumous title is 'Grand Master Wu
Hsiang' (He who is above form or phenomena), and he was
also called by his contemporaries 'Dhyana Master Chen Chiao' (He who is really enlightened).
Bhikkhu Chih Huang, a follower of the Dhyana School, after his consultation with the Fifth Patriarch (as to the progress of his
work) considered himself as having attained samadhi. For twenty
years he confined himself in a small temple and kept up the position all the time.
Hsuan Ts'e, a disciple of the Sixth Patriarch on a meditation
journey to the northern bank of Huang Ho, heard about him and called at his temple.
"What are you doing here?" asked Hsuan Ts'e.
"I am abiding in samadhi," replied his friend, Chih Huang.
"Abiding in samadhi, did you say?" observed Hsuan Ts'e. "I wish to know whether you are doing it consciously or unconsciously. For if you are
doing it unconsciously, it would mean that it is possible for all inanimate objects such as earthenware, s tones, trees, and weeds, to attain
samadhi. On the other hand, if you are doing it consciously, than all animate objects or sentient beings would be in samadhi also."
"When I am in samadhi," observed Chih Huang, "I know neither consciousness nor unconsciousness."
"If that is the case," said Hsuan Ts'e, "it is perpetual samadhi; in which state there is neither abiding nor leaving. That state which you can abide
in or leave off is not the great Samadhi."
Chih Huang was dumbfounded. After a long while, he asked, "May I know who is your teacher?"
"My teacher is the Sixth Patriarch of Ts'ao Ch'i," replied Hsuan Ts'e.
"How does he define dhyana and samadhi?" Chih Huang asked.
"According to his teaching," replied Hsuan Ts'e, "the Dharmakaya is perfect and serene; its quintessence and its function are in a state of
Thusness. The five skandhas are intrinsically void and the six sense-objects are non-existent. There is neit her abiding nor leaving in samadhi.
There is neither quietude nor perturbation. The nature of dhyana is non-abiding, so we should get above the state of
'abiding in the calmness of dhyana'. The nature of dhyana is uncreative, so we should get above the notion of 'creating a state of dhyana'. The
state of the mind may be likened unto space, but (it is infinite) and so it is without the limitations of the latter."
Having heard this, Chih Huang went immediately to Ts'ao Ch'i to interview the Patriarch. Upon being asked whence he came, he told
the Patriarch in detail the conversation he had had with Hsuan Ts'e.
"What Hsuan Ts'e said is quite right," said the Patriarch. Let your mind be in a state such as that of the illimitable void, but do not attach it to
the idea of 'vacuity'. Let it function freely. Whether you are in activity or at rest, let your mi nd abide nowhere. Forget the discrimination
between a sage and an ordinary man. Ignore the distinction of subject and object. Let the Essence of Mind and all phenomenal objects be in a
state of Thusness. Then you will be in samadhi all the time."
Chih Huang was thereby fully enlightened. What he had considered
for the past twenty years as an attainment now vanished. On that night inhabitants of Ho Pei (the northern bank of the Yellow River) heard a
voice in the air to the effect that Dhyana Master Chih Huang had on that day gained enlightenment.
Some time after Chih Huang bid the Patriarch adieu and returned to
Ho Pei, where he taught a great number of men and women, monks as
well as the laity.
A Bhikkhu once asked the Patriarch what sort of man could obtain the keynote of the teaching of Huang Mei. "He who understands the Buddha
Dharma can get it," replied the Patriarch. "Have you, Sir, got it then?" asked the Bhikkhu. "I do not unders tand the Buddha Dharma," was his
One day the Patriarch wanted to wash the robe which he had
inherited, but could find no good stream for the purpose. Thereupon he walked to a place about five miles from the rear of the monastery, where
he noticed that plants and trees grew profusely and the environment gave an air of good omen. He shook his st aff (which
makes a tinkling noise, as rings are attached to the top of it) and stuck it in the ground. Immediately water spurted out and before
long a pool was formed.
While he was kneeling down on a rock to wash the robe, a bhikkhu suddenly appeared before him and tendered him homage.
"My name is Fang Pien," said he, "and I am a native of Szechuan.
When I was in South India I met Patriarch Bodhidharma, who instructed me to return to China. 'The Womb of the Orthodox Dharma,' said he,
'together with the robe which I inherited from Mahakasyapa have now been transmitted to the Sixth Patriarch, who is n ow in Ts'ao Ch'i of Shao
Chou. Go there to have a look at them and to pay your respect
to the Patriarch.' After a long voyage, I have arrived. May I see the robe and begging bowl you inherited?"
Having shown him the two relics, the Patriarch asked him what line
of work he was taking up. "I am pretty good at sculptural work," replied he. "Let me see some of your work then," demanded the Patriarch.
Fang Pien was confounded at the time, but after a few days he was able to complete a life-like statue of the Patriarch, about seven inches high, a
masterpiece of sculpture.
(Upon seeing the statue), the Patriarch laughed and said to Fang Pien, "You know something about the nature of sculptural work, but
you do not seem to know the nature of Buddha." He then put his hand on Fang Pien's head (the Buddhist way of blessing) and declared, "You shall
forever be a 'field of merit' for human and celestial beings."
In addition, the Patriarch rewarded his service with a robe, which Fang Pien divided into three parts, one for dressing the statue, one for
himself, and one for burying in the ground after covering it up with palm leaves. (When the burial took place ) he took a vow to the effect that by
the time the robe was exhumed he would be reincarnated as the abbot of the monastery, and also that he would undertake to renovate the shrine
and the building.
A bhikkhu quoted the following stanza composed by Dhyana Master Wo Lun:
Wo Lun has ways and means
To insulate the mind from all thoughts.
When circumstances do not react on the mind
The Bodhi tree will grow steadily.
Hearing this, the Patriarch said, "This stanza indicates that the composer of it has not yet fully realized the Essence of Mind. To
put its teaching into practice (would gain no liberation), but bind oneself more tightly." Thereupon, he showed the Bhikkhu the
following stanza of his own:
Hui Neng has no ways and means
To insulate the mind from all thoughts.
Circumstances often react on my mind,
And I wonder how can the Bodhi tree grow?
- Written by: Fa Hui