Zen Teachings of Huang Po

                        By: Rev. Dr. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna, OEB 长金

Huang-Po (d 850)

Our original Buddha-Nature is, in highest truth, devoid of any atom of objectivity. It is void, omnipresent, silent, pure; it is glorious and mysterious peaceful joy — and that is all. Enter deeply into it by awakening to it yourself. That which is before you is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete. There is naught beside.

Even if you go through all the stages of a Bodhisattva’s progress toward Buddhahood, one by one; when at last, in a single flash, you attain to full realization, you will only be realizing the Buddha-Nature which has been with you all the time; and by all the foregoing stages you will have added to it nothing at all.

You will come to look upon all those eons of work and achievement as no better than unreal actions performed in a dream. That is why the Tathagata said, “I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled Enlightenment. Had there been anything attained, Dipamkara Buddha would not have made the prophecy concerning me.” He also said, “This Dharma is absolutely without distinctions, neither high nor low, and its name is “Bodhi.”

It is pure Mind, which is the source of everything and which, whether appearing as sentient beings or as Buddhas, as the rivers and mountains of the world which has form, as that which is formless, or as penetrating the whole universe absolutely without distinctions, there being no such entities as selfness and otherness.
This pure Mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection. But the people of the world do not awaken to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source-substance. If they would only eliminate all conceptual thought in a flash, that source-substance would manifest itself like the sun ascending through the void and illuminating the whole universe without hindrance or bounds.

Therefore, if you students of the Way seek to progress through seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing, when you are deprived of your perceptions, your way to Mind will be cut off and you will find nowhere to enter. Only realize that, though real Mind is expressed in these perceptions it neither forms part of them nor is separate from them.

You should not start reasoning from these perceptions, nor allow them to give rise to conceptual thought; yet, nor should you seek the One Mind apart from them or abandon them in your pursuit of the Dharma. Do not keep them nor abandon them nor dwell in them nor cleave to them. Above, below and around you, all is spontaneously existing, for there is nowhere which is outside the Buddha-Mind.

When people of the world hear it said that the Buddhas transmit the Doctrine of the Mind, they suppose that there is something to be attained or realized apart from Mind, and thereupon they use Mind to seek the Dharma, not knowing that Mind and the object of their search are one. Mind cannot be used to seek something apart from Mind; for then, after the passing of millions of eons, the day of success will still not have dawned. Such a method is not to be compared with suddenly eliminating conceptual thought, which is the fundamental Dharma.

Suppose a warrior, forgetting that he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, were to seek for it elsewhere, he could travel the whole world without finding it. But if someone who knew what was wrong were to point it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time. So, if you students of the Way are mistaken about your own real Mind, not recognizing that it is the Buddha, you will consequently look for him everywhere, indulging in various achievements and practices and expecting to attain realization by such graduated practices.

But even after eons of diligent searching, you will not be able to attain to the Way. These methods cannot be compared to the sudden elimination of conceptual thought, in the certain knowledge that there is nothing at all which has absolute existence, nothing on which to lay hold, nothing on which to rely, nothing in which to abide, nothing subjective or objective.

It is by preventing the rise of conceptual thought that you will realize Bodhi; and, when you do, you will just be realizing the Buddha who has always existed in your own Mind! Eons of striving will prove to be so much wasted effort; just as, when the warrior found his pearl, he merely discovered what had been hanging on this forehead all the time; and just as his finding of it had nothing to do with his efforts to discover it elsewhere.

Therefore the Buddha said, “I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled Enlightenment.” It was for fear that people would not believe this that he drew upon what is seen with the five sorts of vision and spoken with the five kinds of speech. So this quotation is by no means empty talk, but expresses the highest truth.

Excerpted from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po On the Transmission of Mind – trans by John Blofeld 1959

It takes a while to begin to feel comfortable with “nothing to hang onto” as some refer to the subtleties of practice. Buddhist practice is full of paradox, all one has to do is read any of the legacy teachers to see that Zen masters seem to have mastered the art of using rhetoric in a manner that often does serve to stop the mind.
Whatever it is that we cling or get attached too, a good Zen teacher is there to pry us loose from ourselves. Growing up and living in NY I have often had the opportunity to visit Times Square. If anyone has ever been there they can attest to the feast for the senses that is all around. Even at night it seems like day time with the thousands of lights and screens. With so much going on it can be confusing on knowing where to look as something always seems to be wanting our focus and attention. Life is just like that, and those flashing lights bleed into our practice. Fortunately for myself I have had a teacher who has always been there to hold up a mirror and drag me back onto the path.

In the Platform Sutta there are two gathas written. One is written by the head monk Shenxiu who assumed he would receive the robe and the bowl of the Fifth patriarch and become the Ssixth patriarch. The other was written by an illiterate laborer named Hui-neng who pedaled a millstone for months. Who in fact actually did become the Sixth and final patriarch.

The body is a bodhi tree
the mind is like a standing mirror
always try to keep it clean
don’t let it gather any dust. — Shenxiu

Bodhi doesn’t have any trees
this mirror doesn’t have a stand
our buddha nature if forever pure
where do you get this dust? — Hui-neng

The mind is the bodhi tree
the body is the mirror’s stand
the mirror itself is so clean
dust has no place to land. — Hui-neng’s second poem

Hui Neng and Shenxiu often represent the twin pillars of instant realization and gradual cultivation, which in modern Zen is seen in the difference between the Rinzai (Linchi) sect and Soto (Caodong) sect. However in true Zen manner these two approaches are often combined, and there is a place for both styles of practice.

The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind. By: John Blofeld 1958
The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng Translation and COmmentery by Red Pine 2008

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One response to “Zen Teachings of Huang Po

  1. Thank you for this wonderful teaching!

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