On the High Seat of "The Treasure of the Law"
The Sutra of the 6 th Patriarch, Hui Neng
(Translated by A.F.Price and Wong Mou-Lam)
Chapter II. On Prajna
Next day Prefect Wei asked the Patriarch to give another
Thereupon, having taken his seat and asked the assembly to purify their mind collectively, and to recite the Maha Prajnaparamita Sutra, he gave the following address:
Learned Audience, the Wisdom of Enlightenment (Bodhiprajna) is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and the guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our own Essence of Mind. You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between an enlightened man and an ignorant one. What makes the difference is that one realizes it, while the other is ignorant of it. Now, let me talk to you about Maha Prajnaparamita, so that each of you can attain wisdom.
Learned Audience, those who recite the word 'Prajna' the whole day long do not seem to know that Prajna is inherent in their own nature. But mere talking on food will not appease hunger, and this is exactly the case with these people. We might talk on Sunyata (the Void, Emptiness) for myriads of kalpas, but talking alone will not enable us to realize the Essence of Mind, and it serves no purpose in the end.
The word 'Mahaprajnaparamita' is Sanskrit, and means 'great wisdom to reach the opposite shore' (of the sea of existence). What we have to do is to put it into practice with our mind; whether we recite it or not does not matter. Mere reciting it without mental practice may be likened to a phantasm, a magical delusion, a flash of lightning or a dewdrop. On the other hand, if we do both, then our mind will be in accord with what we repeat orally.
Our very nature is Buddha, and apart from this nature there is no other Buddha.
What is Maha? It means 'great'. The capacity of the mind is as great as that of space. It is infinite, neither round nor square, neither great nor small, neither green nor yellow, neither red nor white, neither above nor below, neither long nor short, neither angry nor happy, neither right nor wrong, neither good nor evil, neither first nor last. All Buddha ksetras (lands) are as void as space. Intrinsically our transcendental nature is void and not a single dharma (thing) can be attained. It is the same with the Essence of Mind, which is a state of 'Absolute Void' (i.e., the voidness of non-void).
Learned Audience, when you hear me talk about the Void, do not at once fall into the idea of vacuity, (because this involves the heresy of the doctrine of annihilation). It is of the utmost importance that we should not fall into this idea, because when a man sits quietly and keeps his mind blank he will abide in a state of 'Voidness of Indifference'.
Learned Audience, the illimitable Void of the universe is capable of holding myriads of things of various shape and form, such as the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, rivers, men, dharmas pertaining to goodness or badness, deva planes, hells, great oceans, and all the mountains of the Mahameru.
Space takes in all of these, and so does the voidness of our nature. We say that the Essence of Mind is great because it embraces all things, since all things are within our nature. When we see the goodness or the badness of other people we are not attracted by it, nor repelled by it, nor attached to it; so that our attitude of mind is as void as space. In this way, we say our mind is great. Therefore we call it 'Maha'.
Learned Audience, what the ignorant merely talk about, wise men put into actual practice with their mind. There is also a class of foolish people who sit quietly and try to keep their mind blank.
They refrain from thinking of anything and call themselves 'great'.
On account of their heretical view we can hardly talk to them.
Learned Audience, you should know that the mind is very great in capacity, since it pervades the whole Dharmadhatu (the sphere of the Law, i.e., the Universe). When we use it, we can know something of everything, and when we use it to its full capacity we shall know all. All in one and one in all.
When our mind works without hindrance, and is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go', then it is in a state of 'Prajna'.
Learned Audience, all Prajna comes from the Essence of Mind and not from an exterior source. Have no mistaken notion about that. This is called 'Self use of the True Nature'. Once the Tathata (Suchness, the Essence of Mind) is known, one will be free from delusion forever.
Since the scope of the mind is for great objects, we should not practice such trivial acts (as sitting quietly with a blank mind).
Do not talk about the 'Void' all day without practicing it in the mind. One who does this may be likened to a self-styled king who is really a commoner.
Prajna can never be attained in this way, and those who behave like this are not my disciples.
Learned Audience, what is Prajna? It means 'Wisdom'. If at all times and at all places we steadily keep our thought free from foolish desire, and act wisely on all occasions, then we are practicing Prajna. One foolish notion is enough to shut off Prajna, while one wise thought will bring it forth again.
People in ignorance or under delusion do not see it; they talk about it with their tongues, but in their mind they remain ignorant. They are always saying that they practice Prajna, and they talk incessantly on 'Voidness'; but they do not know the 'Absolute Void'. 'The Heart of Wisdom' is Prajna, which has neither form nor characteristic. If we interpret it in this way, then indeed it is the wisdom of Prajna.
What is Paramita? It is a Sanskrit word, meaning 'to the opposite shore'.
Figuratively, it means 'above existence and non-existence'. By clinging to sense objects, existence or non-existence arises like the up and down of the billowy sea, and such a state is called metaphorically 'this shore'; while by non-attachment a state above existence and non-existence, like smoothly running water is attained, and this is called 'the opposite shore'. This is why it is called 'Paramita'.
Learned Audience, people under illusion recite the 'Mahaprajnaparamita' with their tongues, and while they are reciting it, erroneous and evil thoughts arise. But if they put it into practice unremittingly, they realize its 'true nature'. To know this Dharma is to know the Dharma of Prajna, and to practice this is to practice Prajna. He who does not practice it is an ordinary man. He who directs his mind to practice it even for one moment is the equal of Buddha.
For ordinary man is Buddha, and klesa (defilement) is Bodhi (enlightenment). A foolish passing thought makes one an ordinary man, while an enlightened second thought makes one a Buddha. A passing thought that clings to sense-objects is klesa, while a second thought that frees one from attachment is Bodhi.
Learned Audience, the Mahaprajnaparamita is the most exalted, the supreme, and the foremost. It neither stays, nor goes, nor comes.
By means of it Buddhas of the present, the past, and the future generations attain Buddhahood. We should use this great wisdom to break up the five skandhas [material qualities - matter, sensation, perception, dispositions or tendencies, and consciousness], for to follow such practice ensures the attainment of Buddhahood. The three poisonous elements (greed, hatred and illusion) will then be turned into Sila (good conduct), Samadhi and Prajna.
Learned Audience, in this system of mine one Prajna produces eight-four thousand ways of wisdom, since there are that number of 'defilements' for us to cope with; but when one is free from defilements, wisdom reveals itself, and will not be separated from the Essence of Mind. Those who understand this Dharma will be free from idle thoughts. To be free from being infatuated by one particular thought, from clinging to desire, and from falsehood; to put one's own essence of Tathata into operation; to use Prajna for contemplation, and to take an attitude of neither indifference nor attachment towards all things - this is what is meant by realizing one's own Essence of Mind for the attainment of Buddhahood.
Learned Audience, if you wish to penetrate the deepest mystery of the Dharmadhatu and the Samadhi of Prajna, you should practice Prajna by reciting and studying the Vajracchedika (Diamond) Sutra, which will enable you to realize the Essence of Mind. You should know that the merit for studying this Sutra, as distinctly set forth in the text, is immeasurable and illimitable, and cannot be enumerated in details. This Sutra belongs to the highest School of Buddhism, and the Lord Buddha delivered it specially for the very wise and quick-witted. If the less wise and the slow-witted should hear about it they would doubt its credibility. Why? For example, if it rained in Jambudvipa (the Southern Continent), through the miracle of the celestial Naga, cities, towns, and villages would drift about in the flood as if they were only leaves of the date tree. But should it rain in the great ocean the level of the sea as a whole would not be affected by it. When Mahayanists hear about the Diamond Sutra their minds become enlightened; they know that Prajna is immanent in their Essence of Mind and that they need not rely on scriptural authority, since they can make use of their own wisdom by constant practice of contemplation.
The Prajna immanent in the Essence of Mind of every one may be likened to the rain, the moisture of which refreshes every living thing, trees and plants as well as sentient beings. When rivers and streams reach the sea, the water carried by them merges into one body; this is another analogy.
Learned Audience, when rain comes in a deluge, plants which are not deep rooted are washed away, and eventually they succumb. This is the case with the slow-witted, when they hear about the teaching of the 'Sudden' School.
The Prajna immanent in them is exactly the same as that in the very wise man, but they fail to enlighten themselves when the Dharma is made known to them. Why? Because they are thickly veiled by erroneous views and deep rooted defilements, in the same way as the sun may be thickly veiled by a cloud and unable to show his light until the wind blows the cloud away.
Prajna does not vary with different persons; what makes the difference is whether one's mind is enlightened or deluded. He who does not know his own Essence of Mind, and is under the delusion that Buddhahood can be attained by outward religious rites is called the slow-witted. He who knows the teaching of the 'Sudden' School and attaches no importance to rituals, and whose mind functions always under right views, so that he is absolutely free from defilements or contaminations, is said to have known his Essence of Mind.
Learned Audience, the mind should be framed in such a way that it will be independent of external or internal objects, at liberty to come or go, free from attachment and thoroughly enlightened without the least beclouding.
He who is able to do this is of the same standard required by the Sutras of the Prajna School.
Learned Audience, all Sutras and scriptures of the Mahayana and Hinayana Schools, as well as the twelve sections of the canonical writings, were provided to suit the different needs and temperaments of various people. It is upon the principle that Prajna is latent in every man that the doctrines expounded in these books are established. If there were no human beings, there would be no Dharmas; hence we know that all Dharmas are made for men, and that all Sutras owe their existence to the preachers. Since some men are wise, the so-called superior men, and some are ignorant, the so called inferior men, the wise preach to the ignorant when the latter ask them to do so. Through this the ignorant may attain sudden enlightenment, and their mind thereby becomes illuminated.
Then they are no longer different from the wise men.
Learned Audience, without enlightenment there would be no difference between a Buddha and other living beings; while a gleam of enlightenment is enough to make any living being the equal of a Buddha. Since all Dharmas are immanent in our mind there is no reason why we should not realize intuitively the real nature of Tathata (Suchness).
The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, "Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and if we knew our mind and realized what our nature is, all of us would attain Buddhahood." As the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra says, "At once they become enlightened and regain their own mind." Learned Audience, when the Fifth Patriarch preached to me I became enlightened immediately after he had spoken, and spontaneously realized the real nature of Tathata. For this reason it is my particular object to propagate the teaching of this 'Sudden' School, so that learners may find Bodhi at once and realize their true nature by introspection of mind.
Should they fail to enlighten themselves, they should ask the pious and learned Buddhists who understand the teaching of the Highest School to show them the right way. It is an exalted position, the office of a pious and learned Buddhist who guides others to realize the Essence of Mind. Through his assistance one may be initiated into all meritorious Dharmas. The wisdom of the past, the present and the future Buddhas as well as the teachings of the twelve sections of the Canon are immanent in our mind; but in case we fail to enlighten ourselves, we have to seek the guidance of the pious and learned ones. On the other hand, those who enlighten themselves need no extraneous help. It is wrong to insist upon the idea that without the advice of the pious and learned we cannot obtain liberation.
Why? Because it is by our innate wisdom that we enlighten ourselves, and even the extraneous help and instructions of a pious and learned friend would be of no use if we were deluded by false doctrines and erroneous views. Should we introspect our mind with real Prajna, all erroneous views would be vanquished in a moment, and as soon as we know the Essence of Mind we arrive immediately at the Buddha stage.
Learned Audience, when we use Prajna for introspection we are illumined within and without, and in a position to know our own mind. To know our mind is to obtain liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain Samadhi of Prajna, which is 'thoughtlessness'. What is 'thoughtlessness'? 'Thoughtlessness' is to see and to know all Dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere. What we have to do is to purify our mind so that the six vijnanas (aspects of consciousness), in passing through the six gates (sense organs) will neither be defiled by nor attached to the six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance, and is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go', we attain Samadhi of Prajna, or liberation. Such a state is called the function of 'thoughtlessness'. But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.
Learned Audience, those who understand the way of 'thoughtlessness' will know everything, will have the experience all Buddhas have had, and attain Buddhahood. In the future, if an initiate of my School should make a vow in company with his fellow-disciples to devote his whole life without retrogression to the practice of the teachings of this 'Sudden' School, in the same spirit as that for serving Buddha, he would reach without failure the Path of Holiness. (To the right men) he should transmit from heart to heart the instructions handed down from one Patriarch to another; and no attempt should be made to conceal the orthodox teaching. To those who belong to other schools, and whose views and objects are different from ours, the Dharma should not be transmitted, since it will be anything but good for them. This step is taken lest ignorant persons who cannot understand our system should make slanderous remarks about it and thereby annihilate their seed of Buddha-nature for hundreds of kalpas and thousands of incarnations.
Learned Audience, I have a 'formless' stanza for you all to recite. Both laity and monks should put its teaching into practice, without which it would be useless to remember my words alone. Listen to this stanza:
A master of the Buddhist Canon as well as of the teaching of the Dhyana School May be likened unto the blazing sun sitting high in his meridian tower.
Such a man would teach nothing but the Dharma for realizing the Essence of Mind, And his object in coming to this world would be to vanquish the heretical sects.
We can hardly classify the Dharmas into 'Sudden' and 'Gradual', But some men will attain enlightenment much quicker than others.
For example, this system for realizing the Essence of Mind Is above the comprehension of the ignorant.
We may explain it in ten thousand ways, But all those explanations may be traced back to one principle.
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.
Bodhi is immanent in our Essence of Mind, An attempt to look for it elsewhere is erroneous.
Within our impure mind the pure one is to be found,
And once our mind is set right, we are free from the three kinds of beclouding (hatred, lust and illusion).
If we are treading the Path of Enlightenment We need not be worried by stumbling-blocks.
Provided we keep a constant eye on our own faults We cannot go astray from the right path.
Since every species of life has its own way of salvation They will not interfere with or be antagonistic to one another.
But if we leave our own path and seek some other way of salvation We shall not find it, And though we plod on till death overtakes us We shall find only penitence in the end.
If you wish to find the true way Right action will lead you to it directly; But if you do not strive for Buddhahood You will grope in the dark and never find it.
He who treads the Path in earnest Sees not the mistakes of the world; If we find fault with others We ourselves are also in the wrong.
When other people are in the wrong, we should ignore it, For it is wrong for us to find fault.
By getting rid of the habit of fault-finding We cut off a source of defilement.
When neither hatred nor love disturb our mind Serenely we sleep.
Those who intend to be the teachers of others Should themselves be skilled in the various expedients which lead others to enlightenment.
When the disciple is free from all doubts It indicates that his Essence of Mind has been found.
The Kingdom of Buddha is in this world, Within which enlightenment is to be sought.
To seek enlightenment by separating from this world Is as absurd as to search for a rabbit's horn.
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.
It is also called the 'Great Ship of Dharma' (for sailing across the ocean of existence).
Kalpa after kalpa a man may be under delusion, But once enlightened it takes him only a moment to attain Buddhahood.
Before conclusion, the Patriarch added, "Now, in this Ta Fan Temple, I have addressed you on the teaching of the 'Sudden' School. May all sentient beings of the Dharmadhatu instantly understand the Law and attain Buddhahood." After hearing what the Patriarch said, the Prefect Wei, government officials, Taoists and laymen were all enlightened. They made obeisance in a body and exclaimed unanimously, "Well done! Well done! Who would have expected that a Buddha was born in Kwangtung?"