12 Jun The Truth of Yourself
(Excerpt from the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, expounded by Master Shen-Long, Chapter 1 Cultivation Cause)
[Sutra text] One day the Fifth Patriarch summoned all of his disciples together and said: “I have something to say to you; life and death is a major event for worldly people. Throughout the day all of you only seek the field of blessedness and do not try to detach from the suffering sea of birth and death. If your self-nature is deluded, how can these blessings save you? Each of you, go back and look into your own wisdom. Take from your own Prajna nature mind to compose a gatha and submit them to me. If one of you has understood the general meaning of enlightenment, the Robe (from the 1st Patriarch- Bodhidharma) and the Dharma (the teaching) will be passed on to you and you will become the Sixth Patriarch. Hurry off! Do not delay! Weighing over and considering in one’s mind is useless, one who has beheld one’s own nature, you will see it when I speak of it; if you are this way, even when facing others wielding a sword at you in the height of battle, you still behold your self-nature.”
The assembly received this order and withdrew, they said to each other: “There is no need for everybody to purify the mind and use our thoughts to compose a gatha to submit to the venerable monk. What use would there be? Shen-Xiu is our senior instructor, certainly he will be the one to obtain it. It would not only be improper for us to compose a gatha, but a waste of effort as well.”
After hearing this, everyone put their mind to rest and they all said: “Henceforth, we will rely on teacher Shen-Xiu in the future. Why vex ourselves to work on the gatha?”
Shen-Xiu began thinking: “The others are not submitting gathas because I am their transmitter of the teachings. I must compose a gatha and submit it to the venerable monk. If I do not submit a gatha, how will the venerable monk know the extent of my views and understanding? If my intention to submit the gatha is to seek the Dharma, that is good; but if it is to seize the patriarch position, then that is bad. This is actually similar to a worldly minded person to forcibly take away this holy seating, what is the difference? But, if I do not submit a gatha, in the end I will not obtain the Dharma. This is terribly difficult!”
After composing his gatha, Shen-Xiu made several attempts to submit it. But whenever he reached the front hall, his mind became agitated and distraught, and his entire body was covered with perspiration. He did not dare to submit it, although over the course of four days he made thirteen attempts. Then he thought: “it would be better to write the gatha on the wall, in this way he obeys the venerable monk who can see it. If he says it is good I will come forward, bow and say Shen-Xiu did it. If he says that it does not pass, then I have practiced in vain for several years in the mountains and received veneration from others, what way should I further practice cultivation to cultivate enlightenment?”
And so at that midnight, Shen-Xiu quietly held an oil lamp in one hand and went to the wall under the southern ambulatory to write down the report of his insight. His gatha:
The body is the Bodhi Tree, The mind is like a clear mirror’s stand;
At all times one must polish it diligently, And must not allow it to attract any dust.
After writing the gatha, Shen-Xiu returned to his room and the others did not know what he had done. Then Shen-Xiu thought: “If the Fifth Patriarch sees the gatha tomorrow and is pleased, it will mean that I have an affinity with the Dharma. If he says that it does not pass, it means that I am deluded by heavy karmic-hindrances from my previous lives, and that I am not qualified to obtain the Dharma.” It was difficult to fathom the mind of the Fifth Patriarch, Shen-Xiu thinks in his room, unable to sit down or sleep at ease up to the fifth watches of the night (before dawn 3:00 – 5:00 am).
The Fifth Patriarch already knew that Shen-Xiu had not yet entered enlightenment and had not beheld his self-nature. At daybreak, the Patriarch called the monk artist Lu-Zhen to fresco the wall of the south corridor. Suddenly he saw the written gatha and said to the monk artist: “There is no need to paint any fresco. I am sorry that you are wearied by coming so far, but the Diamond Sutra says: “Where all the phenomena are illusory existence”. But let us leave this gatha here for others to recite and keep in one’s mind. Whoever practices cultivation according to this gatha will not fall into evil paths. Whoever practices cultivation according to this gatha will have great benefits.” He then ordered the disciples to light incense and bow before it, to recite this gatha to the utmost, one can behold one’s self-nature. The disciples all recited it and exclaimed that it was excellent!
At midnight, the Patriarch summoned Shen-Xiu to the room and asked: “Was this gatha written by you?”
Shen-Xiu said: “Yes, Xiu did it. I do not dare lay claim to the position of Patriarch, but hopes that the venerable monk will be merciful and compassionate to tell whether the disciple has a little bit of wisdom?”
The Patriarch said: “The gatha you wrote shows that you have not yet seen your own nature. You are still outside the door and not in the room yet. With such views and understanding to seek the supreme Bodhi, you completely would not get. The supreme Bodhi must be capable of recognizing the original mind at the very moment of speech, to see one’s own nature is non-birth and non-extinction. At all times, within every thought after thought one sees their self-nature. Without hindrance in the myriad phenomena, one sees the true nature and that all is the true nature. The myriad circumstances are perfect and complete as they are. The “perfect and complete” mind is the absolute fundamental reality. If you have seen this in this way, it is indeed self-nature with the supreme Bodhi. Go and think it over for a day or two. Compose another gatha and bring it to me. If your gatha is able to enter the door of enlightenment, I will hand over to you the robe and Dharma.”
Shen-Xiu paid obeisance and left. Several days passed, but he was unable to compose a gatha. He was absent-minded, his state of mind was restless similar to being in a dream; he was unhappy whether walking or sitting down.
Again after two days, a young boy reciting Shen-Xiu’s gatha passed by the threshing room. Once Hui-Neng heard it, he knew that the writer had not yet beheld one’s own nature. Although Hui-Neng has not received the teaching, he already understood the general meaning of enlightenment.
He asked the boy: “What gatha are you reciting?”
The boy replied: “Barbarian, do you not know the Great Master has said that life and death is a major event for the worldly people, whoever wants to have the robe and Dharma, he has ordered all disciples to compose a gatha for him to review. If one has comprehended the meaning of the enlightenment, he will hand over the robe and Dharma, and one becomes the Sixth Patriarch. Our senior, Shen-Xiu, wrote this “gatha of the absence of perceptual attributes” on the wall of the south corridor. The Great Master ordered everyone to recite it, cultivate according to this gatha is to avoid falling into the evil path and to have great benefit.”
Hui-Neng said: “Superior One (he humbly addresses the young kid), I have been pounding rice here for over eight months and have not yet been to the front hall. I hope that the Superior One will lead me to the gatha and I can pay homage to it.”
The boy then led him to the gatha to bow. Hui-Neng said: “Hui-Neng cannot read. Please, Superior One, read it to me.”
There an official, assistant to the Magistrate from Jiangzhou named Zhang Ri-Yong, happened to be there and read it out loudly. After hearing it, Hui-Neng said: “I, too, have a gatha of my own. Will the official please write it for me?”
The official replied: “You too can write a gatha? This is rare!”
Hui-Neng turned to the official and said: “If you wish to study the supreme Bodhi, do not look down on the beginner. People of the lowest grade of the inferior class may have the highest grade of the superior class’ wisdom; however, people of the highest class of the superior class may have the wisdom of stupidity.”
The official said: “Recite your gatha and I will write it out for you. If you obtain the Dharma you must liberate me first. Do not forget these words.”
Hui-Neng gatha reads:
The Bodhi* originally has no tree, The clear mirror* is also not a stand;
There is not a single thing originally, Where can there be any dust* !
*Bodhi: the enlightened mind. *clear mirror: wisdom. *Dust: afflictions.
菩提本無樹，明鏡亦非台; 本來無一物， 何處惹塵埃!