The school was not without its critics, notably Zongmi, who was both a Ch'an practitioner and a major figure in the Huayen school. His critiques cenetered on the Hongzhou school's teaching on Buddha-nature, which Zongmi didn't take issue with in principle, but in the Hongzhou all-inclusiveness of all dharmas being buddhadharmas, i.e., even the most delusional thoughts and behaviors are as much buddhadharma as the most “enlightened.” This is borne out in some of the teachings attributed to Huangbo and published as “The Zen Teaching of Huang Po—On the Transmission of Mind,” rendered into English by John Blofeld (1958 Grove Press).
Where Mazu started with “Mind is Buddha,” Huangbo taught “One Mind,” that there is only One Mind. This is not altogether at odds with Huayen, which although not using the phrase “One Mind,” easily could have, in its teaching of the interconnectedness of all dharmas, all dharmas sharing identity, etc. Perhaps Zongmi's critiques had more than just doctrine or teaching at their root, involving more than just buddhadharma and how it was manifested, but that on a practical level that the Hongchou school ignored cultivation after enlightenment, Of course, the Huangchou's would note that this dualism would also be a buddhadharma.
Like many of the Ch'an Masters, Huangbo eschewed everything except beholding one's True Nature/Original Mind/Ordinary Mind/One Mind as unnecessary in regard to one realizing awakening on a personal level. Also like many others, he regarded chanting the names of Buddhas, the practice of attaining merit, meditation, Sutra study, and other standard “Buddhist” practices, as potentially detrimental to one's awakening. The irony here is that as with the others, it isn't as if he hadn't studied Sutras, didn't meditate, didn't lead a moral life, etc., but his realization was that these things were not a means to, not an aid in, the “attainment” of Awakening.
Attachment to any of these practices was just another attachment, and no different from any other attachment that prevented this awakening to One Mind. This didn't prevent Huangbo from referring to Sutras either directly or indirectly in his talks and dialogs. Many of the “paradoxical” statements he made can be found in essence in the Diamond Sutra, other references to Mahakasyapa, the Ten Stages of the Boddhisatva Path, karma, the Six Perfections, and indeed to the Buddha himself point to Huangbo's deep roots in Buddhism. He was teaching a Buddhist audience, both lay and ordained. They were on a base-line level already practicing all these “buddhist” forms; they were all followers of the Buddha. So, Huangbo's insistence on the irrelevance of the practice of these forms was not to say that he didn't think they should be performed. I'm making an assumption here, but I'd have to think that if one of the monks committed murder, Huangbo would not have condoned it, would probably have pointed out the karmic fruit that the act would bear, and no doubt would have expelled the murderer and possibly more.
Going back to Huineng, even the practice of meditation was said not to be a means of one attaining Buddhahood, and yet in the hundreds of years that followed him, Ch'an practitioners still sat. And while they sat, they were admonished, as was Mazu, that one does not “sit to become a Buddha.” Hongren, the Fifth Patriarch of Ch'an and Huineng's teacher had the monks at his temple chant the Diamond Sutra so that they might realize their True Nature. There's no harm in doing so, the harm comes when one has expectations of it so far as the practice doing any good.
So, what exactly is this “One Mind” that Huangbo was so intent on transmitting to his students? Was it any different from Mazu's “Mind is Buddha,” or Bodhidharma 's references to True Nature? All the same. All the Absolute. All the Dharma. There are any number of words used to convey the message, or to point to IT, for which no word or words really does any justice. As the title of the book suggests, Huangbo dealt with the Transmission of Mind, which is variously referred to as Mind-to-Mind transmission, the wordless doctrine, but in reality there is no-Mind, and nothing to be transmitted. He was as limited as every other teacher going back to the Buddha himself, being stuck with language as the most effective way to convey his message (shouts, slaps, and liberal application of the “Zen stick” notwithstanding, of course. These were not Huangbo's preferred methods, so far as the Blofeld book is concerned.).One thing that should be pointed out is the nature of translation, and the inability of spoken 9th Century Chinese that was then written down after the fact, passed down for a millenium and change, then eventually translated into English (in the 1950's), is that the specifics of how the message was originally conveyed in language may have been lost to some extent over the passage of time. This is especially true when one takes the original Chinese, and its differing structure from English into account. One thing I've tried to be mindful of when reading any of the accounts of Ch'an Masters is whether even the word “the” is actually in the original, whether it is necessarily an accurate way to convey the meaning of what was said, or merely an imposition of English syntax as a means to make something look like it “makes sense.”
For example, in dialog 12 (p. 78), the questioner asks, “What is the Buddha?” The attributed response follows with (the italics are mine), “Your mind is the Buddha. The Buddha is Mind. Mind and Buddha are indivisible...'That which is Mind is the Buddha; if it is other than Mind, it is certainly other than Buddha.” Even in this short section, “the” intrudes into what I believe to be the essence of what was being said, or at least intended. The continuity varies even within one paragraph—I take the phrase “Mind and Buddha are indivisible” to be the more accurate way of understanding Huangbo's message: There is no “the,” which can be construed as a way to separate dharmas into individual elements, thereby setting up a this/that duality which I find contrary to the teaching. There is no “the Buddha,” in Huangbo's context there is only “Buddha.” There is no “the Mind,” there is only “Mind.” Huangbo's use of “One Mind,” wasn't to give it some numerical value, or in contrast to “many minds,” or “this Mind/that Mind,” but rather to show that the One Mind was everything in its entirety, that there is no other than the One Mind. The “the” is superfluous; one doesn't refer to “the” everything. It's just “everything.”
And that is what I believe to be the crux of Huangbo's teaching, that although he can make the statement that the “minds of all of you have been from the very first been identical with the Buddha, and in no way separate from each other.” Later in dialog 13, “You have always been one with the Buddha, so do not pretend you can attain this oneness by various practices.” Given Upaya, Huangbo needed to tailor his message to the audience. They may have been very attached to the notion of the Buddha, as a different entity from themselves.
The students' realization that they were each already Buddha wasn't there yet, so Huangbo needed to nudge them toward that realization. The students speak of “the moment of Enlightenment,” as if it were different from this moment, that it was a different state than that which they were already in. In the Relative, these dharmas may exist, but in the Absolute, there is no moment other than thisone, there is no Enlightenment that one doesn't already have. Buddha-nature doesn't differentiate, students do. They try to follow the Way; there is no path to be followed and no “the” Way to be on. It's all Mind, it's all Buddha, it's all Tao. The eye can't behold the eye, there is no need to try to put a head on a head. There is no Bodhi-Mind, no Bodhi-Mind to be attained, if there is the appearance of there being something to be attained, or a state other than Bodhi-Mind, then there is indeed no attainment, no realization, only more grasping and futile search. One cannot go to where one already is; one step in any direction clearly leads away from where one already is, so what would the point be in trying to take a path to it? As Huangbo puts it, “Seeking outside for a Buddha posessed of form has nothing to do with you.”
Harkening back to his predecessors, Haungbo responds to students' questions with teachings that they may be familiar with, but probably haven't grasped at least entirely. When asked how “...does a man accomplish this comprehension of his own Mind?,” Huangbo uses Mazu--”That which asked the question is your own Mind.” He brings Bodhidharma into the mix with, “Mind, which is our True Nature, is the unbegotten and indestructible Womb (Tathagatgarbha); in response to circumstances, it transforms itself into phenomena. For the sake of convenience (my italics), we speak of Mind as the intelligence; but when it does not respond to circumstances, it cannot be spoken of in such dualistic terms as existence or non-existence. Besides, even when engaged in creating objects in response to causality, it is still imperceptible. If you know this and rest tranquilly in nothingness—then you are indeed following the Way of the Buddhas. Therefore does the Sutra say: 'Develop a mind which rests on no thing whatever.'” This also points to the emptiness of all dharmas, and likewise the emptiness of Dharma, and the simulataneous thusness (if not existence) of each.
Here Huangbo (via Bodhidharma) brings in what on the surface seems to be two opposing ideas—that the Mind does not respond to circumstances (i.e. not subject to causality), and later on says that even when it is subject to causality, it is still imperceptible. So now we have one of the great lessons (and great paradoxes) of Huangbo: the seeming contradiction to what is normally the dividing line between the Absolute and the Relative. Aside from the obvious duality of separating Dharma (to be consistent, without the “the”), Huangbo points out that Absolute and Relative are not just two sides of the same coin, they are more accurately just the coin. Not one, not two, just it. The Absolute doesn't exist in a vacuum; we live in a world of form, as empty as that is, and in that emptiness, it is manifested as form. That is to say the Absolute is the Absolute only because of the Relative, and that the Absolute is manifested in this world of form as the Relative. Huangbo quotes, “ The perception of a phenomenon (dharma) is the perception of Universal Nature (or One Mind), since phenomena and Mind are the same.” To put it another way, the awakening to the Mind may be sudden like when water boils, but whether boiling or not, water is water.
This also returns to 'all dharmas are buddhadharmas.' “Give up those erroneous thoughts leading to false distinctions! There is no 'self' and no 'other.' There is no 'wrong desire,' no 'anger,' no 'hatred,' no 'love,' no 'victory,' no 'failure.'” It isn't so much that these dharmas aren't manifested in what we encounter in our everyday lives, and/or even that they are empty. All these things are Dharma, they are Reality, and they are what we experience. Differentiating them into good and bad is delusion, and having a negative connotation to delusion is delusion. Each dharma is an individual manifestation of Dharma, the Dharma that can't exist as Dharma without the dharmas, which are equally no-dharmas. One can't even say that these emotions, perceptions, forms, or whatever are a part of Dharma, they are Dharma, Dharma is them. Picking and choosing, seeing dharmas as good or bad, exhibiting dualism in its myriad forms, as much as we'd like to think of that as undesirable, as not-the-Buddha, they are indeed Buddha. To make a distinction, they are not necessarily manifestations of awakened behavior, but the realization that non-awakened behavior is as “good” as awakened behavior, is in itself exhibiting, if only momentarily, awakened behavior. To take this a step further, Huangbo would point out that all this conceptual thought involved in noticing these realizations is a step away from the actual realization of One Mind.
Conceiving of, noticing, taking any step away from the experience of Thusness, is not being Thusness, although not-Thusness is also Thusness. “...[W]hen the moment of understanding comes, do not think in terms of understanding, not understanding or not not-understanding, for none of these is something to be grasped (or understood). This Dharma of Thusness when 'grasped' is 'grasped,' but he who 'grasps' is no more conscious of having done so than someone ignorant of it is conscious of his failure.” Huangbo also states, “The Absolute is Thusness—how can it be discussed?” The “grasping” here doesn't refer to “attched/Clinging” grasping, but intuitive understanding, and certainly not “conceptual” understanding.
Huangbo was not interested in practice as a mere conceptual, intellectual exercise, his concern was only that his students realize the One Mind. But of what possible purpose does one realizing the One Mind serve? How does that “stop the children from crying?” How does all this have any connection to anything, to Buddhism, to Buddhist practices, to anything that is of any use for anything other than personal “liberation,” a decidedly non-Ch'an purpose, and one which he has alluded to as an “inferior” path to the Mahayana (which Huangbo has also termed as mistaken at points)? He brings traditional practice back into the fray, stating, “When you practice [meditation], sit in the proper position, stay perfectly tranquil, and do not permit the least movement of your minds disturb you. That alone is what is called liberation.” (Sounds like a later Soto Zen statement, that “our practice is zazen.”) Huangbo also gives some direction in order for his students, and the students of those students: “Do not permit the events of your daily lives to bind you, but never withdraw yourselves from them. Only by acting thus can you earn the title of 'A Liberated One.'” In other words, one muct take one's practice into the marketplace, the tenth of the Ox-herding pictures.
So, to leave us with what on the surface may seem to be another paradoxical statement, Huangbo sums up in one dialog (#55) the way we should follow the Way: not to neglect one's practice of meditation and cultivation, and not to withdraw from the world, neglecting the vow to “save all sentient beings.” One needs to get off the cushion in order to do so, and one needs to spend time on the cushion in order to do so as well. Not to say that there is a “Way” or any following to be done, just to stop the conceptual thinking of such things, and “Destroy All Limitations, ” as his posthumous title would have it. To save all sentient beings is to save all sentient beings, and despite that there are no beings and no saving to be done, we go out into the marketplace and save them, which in light of “One Mind,” is also saving ourselves so that we can save others.