Sunday, September 22, 2013

No-Bodhi-Knows 2.0

I seem to have inadvertantly dleted the original post, so here it is again...
I may as well start with a bit of an introduction:
I'm studying to be a Zen priest in the Five Mountain Zen order. I'd taken 16 Precepts (or 10, depending on who's counting), originally at the San Francisco Zen Center with Dairyu Michael Wenger. I sat with a Soto group that was affiliated with SFZC originally called Elberon Zen Circle, which changed to Monmouth Zen Circle/Compassion Ocean Sangha. That would be Monmouth County, NJ, USA.

I moved to bucolic Mercer County, also in NJ, and although Trenton is in Mercer County, where I am really is bucolic. There were wild turkeys in the yard a coupe days ago. There are deer around constantly. I'm amazed. There are also turkey buzzards, which are honestly ugly as hell (not to pick and choose on an appearance level, but YEESH), and their presence indicates that some poor woodland creature has gone on to prove its impermanence. I continued to travel half-way across the Garden State (tomatoes mostly, it would seem) to MZC every week. I was Ino & Doan. (Ino was once described to me as the "Liturgical Bouncer" and the Doan, at least in my case, prepped the altar, rang the bells and so on during zazen and services). Kotatsu John Bailes travels down from Massachusetts once a month to conduct a one-day sesshin with them, and he's a fine teacher. He's the one that told me to read Red Pine's Heart Sutra & Diamond Sutra translation/commentaries, and once I had done so, I asked him some questions. I'm OK with paradox; I quite enjoy it in fact. But...
(If you've never read either of these prime Mahayana Sutras, please do so if you're inclined toward the Zen path. If you continue on the path, you probably will at some point, so enter the stream, with or without raft. The raft is only a metaphor, and so is the stream, so drowning is unlikely. Unless you want to talk about metaphorical drowning, in which case, yeah, you probably will. But that's OK).

So, Kotatsu asks me, "What does a Bodhisattva have to stand on?" My original response was, "One side of the river," as in the be the boatman to ferry the sentient beings to the other side, in that great Bodhisattva, "After you," way that Mahayana Buddhism is all about. Nope, not the answer. Eventually, somehow the Buddha came to me: "Nothing." I got the Dharma gold star, at least it felt like it at the time. That simple revelation opened everything wide. "All dharmas are no-dharmas" actually made sense, and not on some intellectual level. It just made sense, like daytime is bright, night-time is dark. Mr. Kotatsu, great teacher. He asked questions, and I had to find the answer. He pointed, and after being initially entranced with the finger, saw the moon. He provided the raft, pushed it away from the shore, and I had to figure out at first whether to paddle, then how to paddle, and then to stop thinking about paddling and GET ON WITH THE PADDLING. Metaphorically, of course.

So here I find myself in Mercer County and Kotatsu only comes down once a month, and driving across the state to sit a couple periods and do a bit of walking meditation wasn't enough at the time. Yes, clinging, craving, desire, dissatisfaction with the present moment, etc., etc. In a word, dukkha. In other words, no surprise. But that dukkha led to my stumbling upon Original Mind Zen Sangha, my current home. I didn't even use a search engine to find it; I was thumbing through a newspaper, and it caught my eye. I've been there in Princeton since Week Two.

But it was weird...they didn't face the wall. They walked counter-clockwise. They didn't do the Dogen-prescribed half-a-foot-length steps while walking. They didn't run back to their seats when walking was done. And they didn't use the Japanese words zafu, zabuton, zazen, kinhin, dokusan, etc. That's because it's not a Japanese-based Zen. In fact to be accurate, it's Seon (Korean Zen), but since this is the US, and everybody has heard of Zen and not Seon, we go with Zen. The Great American teacher is Seung Sahn, who came over from Korea in 1972 to spread the Dharma, and at least initially, to fix washing machines. Mighty weird stuff.

To top it off, OMZS did koans. Or kong-ans. Having been a shikantaza-sitting Soto guy for all those years, what did I know for kong-ans? I looked down on them, thought of them as mental masturbation, not Reality in and of itself. Note my switching between "we" and "they." "They" was then, "we" is now. (Fortunately there's no grammar-check, or it would have just exploded with laughter or pity). For all that I thought I "knew" about the Dharma, including that there is no-Dharma, I found myself in a quandary of dualism. Just sitting good, koans bad. Facing walls good, facing forward bad. Clockwise good, counter-clockwise bad. Well, maybe not bad, just heretical.

So now here I am, studying in an M.Div program at Buddha Dharma University, which the Five Mountain Order runs. I'm working on freaking kong-ans. Due to space reasons, I sit with my back to the wall, facing out. And Andre Doshim Halaw, the priest at OMZS, is naming me Abbot. Go figure. We're adding another night of meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Princeton, in addition to the one we have on Sunday.

Since Zen is all about seeing one's True Nature, tearing away the veils of delusion that prevent us from realizing our own Buddha-Nature, I'll sum this up thus:
Can't wait to see what else I don't know! I think Sung Sahn might approve of that. But WHAT THE HELL DO I KNOW?!?


From the ars technica website by Joe Mullin - Aug 27 2013:
"Yesterday, the ACLU filed a declaration by Princeton Computer Science Prof. Edward Felten to support its quest for a preliminary injunction in that lawsuit. Felten, a former technical director of the Federal Trade Commission, has testified to Congress several times on technology issues, and he explained why "metadata" really is a big deal...Unlike the actual contents of calls and e-mails, the metadata about those calls often can't be hidden. And it can be incredibly revealing—sometimes moreso than the actual content".
Big deal, this NSA data-collection storm. Since it truly is a World-Wide Web, it can be understandable that someone somewhere is potentially looking at your metadata, regardless of where in the world you might be. I don't know about you, but I don't live globally. I know that things I do could have some big-picture impact, but I can't really see it. So I live locally, which can actually include people from Japan and Jersey City, Korea and Kalamazoo, but generally one-to-one; if they're far enough away, probably electronically, and maybe collected by the NSA.

On a personal level, what sort of data collection do we do? We take notes, either based on personal observations or things that we've heard other people say, assuming that it's based on their personal observations. Thereby revealing this data collection as The Great Generalizations, like “All atheists are evil and not only immoral, but a-moral since they have no God.” “Christian fundamentalists are intolerant bigots with a room temperature IQ (which in Celsius is really low).” “Jews are money-hungry.” “Buddhists are wimps.” “Muslims are intolerant and violent.” And many of these data are accepted as fact, since it's “common knowledge", or maybe, "It's in Wikipedia, it must be true.” 

But quite often, there's no real objective evaluation of fact or reality, so the veracity of any of these statements is at best suspect, and very often just plain wrong...unless it agrees with your position.
Taking it down another notch on the personal scale, let's look at what data we collect locally in a third-person way: “That guy, he's just a jerk.” “Man, she's really got it together.” “I'm a mess.” “I'm the best thing since sliced bread.” “Look at the way they do sitting meditation, can't sit still for more than a minute.” “Wow, that Roshi, he's enlightened, I'll never get there.” “I am SO freakin' enlightened.” “Oh, well he's Hinayana, so you know, he's just in it for himself.” “I save all sentient beings on a daily basis.” “Hmmm, Zen...that's nice, but it's not the True Teaching.” “Pure Land...Oh. Are you a fisherman or something?”

There's something even more personal—keeping score of my actions...and yours. The Metta-Data.“I helped an old lady cross the street, I'm so proud of myself.” “She was mean to me, so she'll get it back ten-fold.” “I drive a hybrid, I care so much for the environment.” “Well, he does drive an SUV, so, y'know...” “I take a bike to work!”

All more data collection. All based on there being some sort of real, enduring, self. Separation between you and me, us and them, self and other. And inherently delusional. It's the reality of things that are thought, and delusional nonetheless. Can do things to gain “points” on the karmic scoreboard? If one does something “good,” but the intention is to gain anything, well...not bad, but not necessarily good.

Some Buddhist traditions put forth that one can not only accumulate merit, but that this merit can be transferred to another, such as a loved-one who has died, so that they may enjoy a more favorable rebirth.
The Diamond Sutra speaks of merit: “Subhuti, what do you think? If anyone filled three thousand galaxies of worlds with the seven treasures and gave all away in gifts of alms, would he gain great merit? Subhuti said: Great indeed, World-honored One! Wherefore? Because merit partakes of the character of no-merit, the Tathagata characterized the merit as great...Subhuti, I will declare a truth to you. If a good man or good woman filled three thousand galaxies of worlds with the seven treasures for each sand-grain in all those Ganges rivers, and gave all away in gifts of alms, would he gain great merit? Subhuti answered: Great indeed, World-honored One! Then Buddha declared: Nevertheless, Subhuti, if a good man or good woman studies this Discourse only so far as to receive and retain four lines, and teaches and explains them to others, the consequent merit would be far greater.”

Wait, what? Is it merit or no-merit? Is it something that can be accumulated, stored up, kept? Merit is no-merit, thus it is called merit. This, not-this, and not-not-this. For provisional convenience sake, pointing to the Relative, we call it this.

When Bodhidharma came to China, he was summoned to meet with Emperor, who said to him, "Since I came to the throne, I have built many temples, published numerous scriptures and supported countless monks and nuns. How great is the merit in all these?" Bodhidharma's response, “None whatsoever.”
The emperor asked him what the essence of Buddhism was. Bodhidharma's reply: “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.” The emperor went his way (I like to think with one eyebrow raised and with teeth clenched), Bodhidharma the other. So all the temple building, financial support for the monks, even just not killing them as foreign barbarians, or home-grown heretics...Nothing. Not bad things for an emperor to do (or not do), just not necessarily good. 
Good/bad are still dualistic, and dualistic concepts to boot. Accumulating “good” karma, attaching to “good” karma, revulsion at “bad” karma are elements of dukkha—suffering—just another spoke in the samasaric wheel. Good, not-good, so we call it good.. Bad, not-bad, so we call it bad.
What is Metta? It's a Pali word, usually defined as loving-kindness. Sometimes it's described as compassion, but that somehow falls short. Altruism...that's in there, but not the totality. So far as I'm concerned, metta is just metta. Words, as they often do, don't quite hit the mark in describing the actual mind of metta. It's one of those Absolute things; so far as I can tell, there's no not-metta. Maybe it's not manifested at all times, but it's there, like Buddha-Nature.

Here, from the Pali Canon is the Metta Sutta:

This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
Who seeks the good, and has obtained peace.
Let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere,
Without pride, easily contented, and joyous.
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world.
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches.
Let one's senses be controlled.
Let one be wise but not puffed up and
Let one not desire great possessions even for one's family.
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety,
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
In high or middle or low realms of existence.
Small or great, visible or invisible,
Near or far, born or to be born,
May all beings be happy.
Let no one deceive another nor despise any being in any state.
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things.
Suffusing love over the entire world,
Above, below, and all around, without limit,
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
During all one's waking hours,
Let one practice the way with gratitude.
Not holding to fixed views,
Endowed with insight,
Freed from sense appetites,
One who achieves the way
Will be freed from the duality of birth and death.

If one can perform acts of metta,without the notion that it will have any payoff whatsoever, that is having the mind of metta. If one can realize that there is no merit in having the mind of metta, and have that mind regardless, then one gains great merit. And no-merit. And that's OK. 

But don't keep score, don't puff yourself up for having done something “good,” don't denigrate someone who doesn't live up to your standards. Don't practice spiritual materialism, as Chogyam Trungpa called it, as if there were riches to be accumulated and clung to.

Don't bother collecting the Metta-Data. It's just a creation of thinking (which is no-thinking, therefore we call it thinking).
And may you and all beings be happy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Made by Thinking

Zen Master Seung Sahn constantly tried to get his students to "wake up," that is to say, to realize their True Nature which exists before thought. He returned to "What is this? Don't know," in order for the student to see that thinking creates all dualities, that dualities lead to suffering, and that the "Don't Know" state was in and of itself enlightenment...but enlightenment that doesn't "know" it is enlightenment.
Huineng said, "You should not think of good and of bad; cut all thinking and all speech. Right now, what is your Master?'' Sin Hae bowed, saying, "I don't know.'' The Patriarch said, "Keep this 'don't know' mind at all times, and you will understand your Master.''
After the passing of a few years, Sin Hae said, "The 'don't know' mind is origin of Buddha and of my Buddha-Nature." Huineng said, "The 'don't know' mind is no name and no form. Why do you say 'the origin of Buddha and of my Buddha-Nature'?" Sin Hae just then understood, stood up, and bowed three full bows. He went to the South, and became a great Zen Master.
Hui Neng also described the state of no-thinking as being as dead as a rock. But as with the Buddha and Hui Neng, Seung Sahn would often use emptiness to counter a student's attachment to form, or use form to counter one attached to emptiness. Form and emptiness in and of themselves weren't necessarily the problem, it was the attachment to both or either that presented the hindrance, and that attachment was the end product of thinking.
"The mind is that which knows the object! The object is that, which is known!
These two processes always arise and cease together simultaneously...
Neither inside, within, nor apart from, outside these two is any observer agent,
person, I, Me, or other assumed entity as a hidden variable, ever involved!
The mind is immaterial, formless and invisible. The object may be designated
or named 'material', 'physical', 'formed' and even 'visible' only and exactly
to the extent and in so far as it is experiencable by the mind!"
~The Buddha

The Buddha himself taught that attachment to nama rupa i.e. "name & form" was a hindrance that would prevent one from attaining enlightenment. Name and form are merely constructs of thinking, and have nothing to do with that which is being named or identified. They are the essence of duality.
Nagarjuna states, "O Realizer of the Transitory World. Don’t have as objects of your mind.
The eight transitory things of the world:
Namely, material gain and no gain, happiness and unhappiness,
Things nice to hear and not nice to hear, or praise and scorn.
Be indifferent (toward them)."

All these things that Nagarjuna refers to are products of thinking, creations of the discriminatory mind. Seung Sahn might say along these same lines that gain and no-gain, etc. are made by thinking, are a separation between the one experiencing something, and making a value judgment of it. A person might think, "Gain is better than loss, so I'll strive for gain, and then once I've gained, I'll cling to that which I've gained, because that will result in my happiness, and it will last forever, and I will be eternally happy." This would be wrong on so many counts--better than, desire, clinging, not recognizing impermanence, and the "I." And all these are created by thinking, and all are impermanent and delusion.
Hua-yen Buddhism from China developed into Korean Hwa-om, and probably the major teaching of that school was the identity of all dharmas, i.e. that all dharmas are identical (not “identity” in terms of name and/or form). Fazang had his teaching to the empress using the metaphor of the golden lion statue not being separate from its golden nature, nor its nature as a lion statue. Seung Sahn used the cookie-dough teaching, that regardless of the different shapes forms may take, or the different names we might give them, when it is all distilled to its most basic original nature, it's all the same, it's all "Don't Know."
If a student gave “the same” as his/her answer to Seung Sahn's question “are...the same or different?” the answer that they are the same might have worked as incompletely as "different," as the Tao is "Don't Know," the before-thought instant. Again, the name-and-form implies a duality that will lead nowhere, attachment to “same” and “different” implies duality. And depending on where on the Zen Wheel the student was, either could demonstrate insight or delusion. Pencil may be pencil, book may be book, pencil may be book, and pencil may be not-book, to bring Nagarjuna's tetralemma in (partially). The only acceptable answer was however “Don't Know” was demonstrated, be it through “KATZ!,” slapping the floor, or if appropriate to the situation, through words. In the Relative, dharmas are different, in the Absolute, they are one and the same cookie cough.
Possibly the greatest example of "Don't know mind" is in the Vimalakirti-Nirdesa Sutra, where Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, asks Vimalakirti to give his own 'entrance into Non-duality', Vimalakirti's answer being the famous 'thunderous silence'. But is that any more "Don't know" than mosquito lands on arm, hand slaps mosquito?
After having taken this course and others, having heard numerous Dharma talks, and just from my own experience, I have come to certain conclusions. One way I have of looking at the way the mind often works is that there is direct experience, followed by the noticing of the experience, followed by the commentator describing the experience as if it were the sportscaster doing a play-by-play of the experience. This also leads to my observation that “Zen” is reflexively reacting to whatever situation one is in, and being acutely aware of the situation and the reaction, but without the commentary, and with not much more than a noticing that there was a reaction, and then letting go of both the reaction and the noticing. And this is all well and good, but only as an intellectual exercise.
Exercise is a good thing, it keeps one in shape mentally and physically, but it is no substitute for real action. A baseball player can swing in the batting cage or against a batting practice pitcher, but when the game is actually being played, thought has to go out the window and the reflexive response to the pitch has to take over, or all the practice is for naught. (In baseball, one can “fail” seven out of ten times in a real game and be looked upon as successful).
Life and death is not necessarily so forgiving as baseball. It is all about birth-and-death, and the suffering in between. Zen Master Seung Sahn's teachings weren't for the benefit of the individual to become “enlightened” for the sake of their own individual enlightenment. Any number of times he would urge his students to “become enlightened” in order that the enlightened one could save all other sentient beings as a great bodhisattva, to end their own suffering, and in turn the suffering of others. The “Sitting practice” of meditation would be of no more use than “Batting practice” in a baseball game if their practical application was limited only to the batting cage or the Dharma hall. To further grind this metaphor into the ground, one has to “step up to the plate,” and become actively involved in the daily, the mundane, the moment after moment opportunity to save all sentient beings, be it by holding a door open for someone else, feeding the hungry, or spreading the Dharma.
Meditation is most effectively practiced when sitting, standing, walking or reclining away from the cushion, when the distractions, the “noise,” and the obstructions are there to be seen as opportunities rather than impediments. But opportunity/impediment are just more dualities, thinking of how one perceives dharmas rather than the experience of them is placing yet another layer between one and his/her True Nature. When one realizes this True Nature, one is best equipped to help another, seeing that any distinctions between self and other, between good and bad, are artificial impositions that are directly related to "thinking about” reality, not Reality. In the Relative, words are a convenient, if provisional, way to help someone else. In the Absolute, there is no “someone else” and no helping to be done. But, as we live in the Relative, we use the convenient and provisional, the impermanent, the empty, and other expedient means to help others to realize their own True Nature, become enlightened and save all sentient beings. In order to do that, one must return to the “before-thought” state, the “Don't Know” state, where the natural action one takes would be to act with lovingkindness toward all others.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Putting the Platform Sutra on a Pedestal

“Thus have I heard...” starts virtually every Sutra of the Buddhist Canon. By that very introduction alone, it is apparent that in turn, all Sutras are hearsay, that is, not the transcribed words of the speaker as the words were being spoken a la stenography, but a recounting by a witness at some later date. Except that the word witness implies that the re-teller was present when the words were initially spoken, which in the instance of even the Pali Canon, is not the case. So if the Sutras are purported to be a faithful retelling of Shakyamuni Buddha's actual words and teachings, it is virtually impossible for this to be true. Sutras as such were only recorded in written form at a much later date than when the historical Buddha lived, so over the course of many generations of oral history, even the most ardent of Theravadins would most likely allow that there may have been some alteration in the words, although not necessarily in terms of the teachings themselves.
Post-Pali Canon writings/teachings of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism also tended to start with the phrase, “Thus have I heard, when the Bhagavan was at...” regardless of whether anyone had any notion that these Sutras were also the direct teaching of the Buddha. The Diamond Sutra is at times said to have come from Nagarjuna, other times as having been started in the 1st Century CE and compiled/added to/edited over the course of a few hundred years until it was actually set down in the 4th Century CE. The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, for example, is widely acknowledged to be of Chinese origin of approximately the 8th Century CE, despite it beginning with the phrase, “Thus have I heard...” Different versions of the Prajnaparamita Hrdya Sutra (Heart Sutra) start with or without the traditional “Thus have I heard...” are of various lengths and are worded differently.
This brings in another issue with authenticity, that of translation. The Buddha was not a Pali speaker, but the most “authentic” Buddhist texts were initially written in that language, then translated into Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc. until we have the versions in English that we have now. But in many cases especially in the Prajnaparamita writings, there are multiple Chinese versions, written at various times, with different phrasing and vocabulary, which in turn cause various English-speaking translators to base their original translations upon different sources, resulting in different vocabulary choices of their own, and so on to the point where in the case of the Platform Sutra, the Wong Mou-lam version was changed over time to better reflect a more precise Chinese to English translation, at times to use use phraseology more era-appropriate, and so on. In the current editions of the Platform Sutra, the phrase of translator Wong Mou-Lam, “Learned Audience” is used, where Red Pine's version uses “Good Friends.” Not so different, but a change enough that a difference in respect and familiarity levels could be inferred. So this all elicits the questions whether any of these differences matter and whether any of the differences result in either inaccurate renditions of the Buddha's teachings or explicitly changes any of these teachings.
Bringing in my own biases, my contention is that so long as the Three Dharma Seals are maintained and that the end goal of any “Buddhist” writing is to end suffering, then variations on the theme matter very little. The Buddha himself taught the End of Suffering in many ways and with many different means depending on his audience, their questions, their attachments and so on, so a “What the Buddha Said” attachment is hardly something that the teachings support or even point to. Given the Buddha-Nature inherent in all beings, and the fact that Shakyamuni was not a god handing down the “Law From Which No Variance May Be Made,” there is every opportunity for any of us to further expound upon faithfully and potentially add to, the Buddhist Canon.
Such is the case with “The Platform Sutra,” the only text from China to be accorded Sutra status without any implication that the “author” was the Buddha himself. The typical Sutra structure is adhered to in certain ways, recounting who attended the assemblies, under whose auspices, on what occasion, etc., but nowhere is it implied that the words are any other than Huineng's alone. The transcription is attributed to one of his followers, the monk Fa-Hai, and even this attribution is open to some debate. And of course there are the obligatory various versions from across the centuries, all of which were compiled after-the-fact. Still, it is most notable that a text without even any pretensions of beings the Buddha's words would be referred to as a Sutra.
Why would Huineng (638-713CE) and not Nagarjuna or Bodhidharma be accorded authorship of a Sutra? Part of this may be attributed to the somewhat contentious status of Zen Patriarchs among various followers (both disciples and chronological followers) needing to supply a validation to the teacher and teachings to which they adhered. Hongren is acknowledged as the Fifth Patriarch, but his successor as Sixth Patriarch was somewhat controversial, as Huineng's biography in the Platform Sutra bears out. A wood cutter, a rice-pounder, an illiterate are not the typical resume for someone to be held in high regard, yet Huineng is. Hongren awarded Huineng the Patriarchate over Shenxiu, arguably better equipped in terms of formal education than Huineng to assume of role of such importance. But the various elements of Huineng's biography such as his humble status, his having attained initial enlightenment upon only hearing the Diamond Sutra, the understanding of the Dharma as exemplified in his gatha response to that of Shenxiu's, the very fact that he was not a monk until well after enlightenment and Patriarchy establish the Buddha-Nature of all beings. Was some of this the result of some extra politicking on the part of Fa-Hai and Shenhui, trying perhaps a little too hard to establish Huineng's legitimacy and thereby their own legitimate lineage claims? Perhaps. And if the story be believed, perhaps also Huineng's not passing the robe and bowl of Bodhidharma to a Seventh Patriarch was to avoid future sectarian division within the Ch'an school. And perhaps he intuitively knew that attachment to lineage, “legitimacy,” and so on were hindrances, resulting from conceptual thought and the inevitable dualism that it so often brings.
Huineng obviously has an intuitive understanding of the various Sutras attributed to the Buddha, but he explains them in such a way that the monks and laymen of his day would glean the same understanding of their message. He also speaks in terms that continue, and refine to some extent, Bodhidharma's “transmission outside the texts” teaching that so typifies Zen today. Where Bodhidharma taught that seeing one's True Nature was enlightenment in and of itself without any real reference to a time frame in the instant/sudden or gradual sense, “Sudden Enlightenment” is possibly the most important emphasis of Huineng's teachings.
Huineng himself received his initial enlightenment upon hearing the Diamond Sutra, Hongren taught the students he had to chant that Sutra so that they may gain enlightenment and see their true natures. But in neither case was the chanting/hearing/reading a direct means to enlightenment, it was a tool to aid in that development. Likewise meditation in and of itself was not a means to that end, although in no way did Huineng advocate its abandonment. His audience was often monastic (although not exclusively so), so regular, probably very formal meditation was part of the day-to-day goings-on at the temple. Meditation was a given; the result of it, if any, was where Huineng set himself apart from other Buddhist teachers of the day (as not all teachers were of the Ch'an school), in that one did not practice meditation in order to become a Buddha, one meditated because one already was a buddha. Huineng also taught that the gradual approach that meditation would lead into wisdom was mistaken; Dhyana, Prajna, and Samadhi were all simultaneous manifestations of one's Buddha-Nature, not a linear path to be followed consecutively. These were the actions of an enlightened being, both a means to enlightenment and not-a means to enlightenment. They were enlightenment itself, and not-enlightenment itself. The truest enlightenment was seeing one's True Nature, which depended on nothing, was conditioned by nothing, and ultimately the attainment of nothing that one didn't already have. That the practice and Dharma are non-dualistic, Huineng states:
A disciple should not think that there is a distinction between "Samadhi begets Prajna" and "Prajna begets Samadhi".To hold such an opinion would imply that there are two characteristics in the Dharma.”
The precepts, for example, were a way to cultivate Buddha-Knowledge, but the precepts being followed didn't result in Buddha-Knowledge. Sutra reading and chanting likewise did no harm, unless they were necessarily attached to, or mistakenly believed to ultimately have enlightenment as a result of the chanting or reading. In the chapter on Temperament and Circumstances, Huineng states “The correct way to recite the Sutra is without holding any arbitrary belief; Otherwise it is wrong. He who is above affirmative and negative rides permanently on the [Buddha-Vehicle].” This passage echoes the traditional Buddhist teaching of one turning the wheel of Dharma vs. being turned by the wheel of Dharma. Additionally, in the chapter entitled, “His Final Instructions,” he directly addresses what would become a stereotypical criticism of Zen practice, namely that it is all outside the scriptures, as well as showing the dangers of dualism and attachment to either form or emptiness:
In the functioning of the Essence of Mind and in conversation with others, outwardly we should free ourselves from attachment to objects, and inwardly, we should free ourselves from attachment to the idea of the Void. To believe in the reality of objects or in Nihilism results in fallacious views or intensified ignorance respectively. A bigoted believer in Nihilism blasphemes against the Sutras on the ground that literature (i.e., the Buddhist Scriptures) is unnecessary (for the study of Buddhism). If that were so, then neither would it be right for us to speak, since speech forms the substance of literature. He would also argue that in the direct method (literally, the straight Path) literature is discarded. But does he appreciate that the two words ‘is discarded’ are also literature? Upon hearing others recite the Sutras such a man would criticize the speakers as ‘addicted to scriptural authority’. It is bad enough for him to confine this mistaken notion to himself, but in addition, he blasphemes against the Buddhist scriptures.”
Contrarily, Huineng also promoted the non-traditional. Bhiksu Hsing-ssu (eventually known as Hungchi), purportedly a Dhyana master, came to Huineng because he heard that Huineng had enlightened a great number of people (the fact that Huineng didn't do the enlightening himself was probably lost on Hsing-ssu at the time). Hsing-ssu was such an iconoclast that despite his being a practitioner of the Way, he was unattached even to the Buddha's teachings of the Four Noble Truths. Huineng made him leader of the assembly.
One of Huineng's Dharma heirs is introduced in the “The Sudden School and the Gradual School” chapter, namely the thirteen year-old Shenhui. Shenhui in the case of this translations is called “Sin Hae.” Among his Dharma heirs was Zongmi, of both Ch'an and Huayan schools of Chinese Buddhism. This particular citation is from the website:
and is notable for two reasons: it is yet another translation with different vocabulary and phraseology, and it uses the phrase “Don't know [mind].”
Hui Neng said, "You should not think of good and of bad; cut all thinking and all speech. Right now, what is your Master?''
Sin Hae bowed, saying, "I don't know.''
The Zen Master said, "Keep this 'don't know' mind at all times, and you will understand your Master.''
One day sometime later, Huineng addressed the assembly:
I have an article which has no head, no name nor appellation, no front and no back. Do any of you know it?”
Stepping out from the crowd, Shenhui replied, “It is the source of all Buddhas, and the Buddha–nature of Shenhui.”
I have told you already that it is without name and appellation, and yet you call it ‘Source of Buddhas’ and ‘Buddha–Nature’,” reproved the Patriarch. “Even if you confine yourself in a mat shed for further study, you will be a Dhyana scholar of secondhand knowledge only (i.e., knowledge from books and verbal authority instead of Knowledge obtained intuitively).”
Obviously at this point, Shenhui had yet to realize his True Nature/Essence of Mind in a Sudden of Gradual sense.
What is interesting about the interactions between Huineng and Shenhui is that Shenhui became a major (and combative) proponent of the Sudden School, even to the point of traveling to the capital of Luoyang, where Shenxiu's Northern school enjoyed imperial patronage. Modern critics have stated that the whole notion of lineage and its inherent claims to legitimacy were the result of Shenhui's efforts to promote the Southern “Sudden” School as the true Ch'an, and that the Northern “Gradual” School amounted to nothing more than misguided heresy. Despite the imperial patronage the Northern School enjoyed for a time, eventually the Sudden School proved to be the more resilient and long-lasting. Modern Zen lineages all include not only Bodhidharma but Huineng as well in their lineage charts. This includes modern-day Japanese Soto, which by all accounts would fall into the Gradual approach rather than Sudden.
Shenhui's work at promoting the Sudden School and the Huineng lineage, and indeed the Platform Sutra itself have stood up to the rigors of time where others have faded away. This may in part be due to Shenhui's politicking, but the fact remains that however misguided, dualistic, and even cruel his criticisms of the Gradual School were, the teachings of Huineng as recorded in the Platform Sutra form the basis for much of what modern Zen is today. Shenhui's placing the Platform Sutra on a pedestal has given us a valuable and useful means to practice and spread the Dharma in a practical and down-to-earth way. This practicality may be due in no small part to Huineng's having been a lay practitioner and Master long before he was even ordained as a monk.
One of the major factors of Zen in the West today is that lay practice is not considered inferior to that of monastics. Whereas many Zen clergy in the West take vows as “home-leavers,” the reality of the situation is that many (if not most) of the Western clergy are still actually householders with careers and families, which in the past or in more traditional settings today, would not be the case. For Huineng, the ability to receive and spread the Dharma was not limited to monk or lay practitioner; the Dharma itself would recognize such a dualistic split. Following Bodhidharma's teaching that enlightenment was realizing one's True Nature only (which the translator of the Platform Sutra refers to as the Essence of Mind), and in the Platform Sutra as realizing one's Buddha-Nature, restrictions on who may thus realize enlightenment or upon how this realization must come are non-existent in the Ch'an of Bodhidharma and Huineng, and consequently in the Zen practiced today.
Huineng's Final Instructions set out very clearly and succinctly how his dharma heirs should spread the Dharma, and what the Dharma to be spread actually is:
The Essence of Mind or Tathata (Suchness) is the real Buddha...He who seeks the Buddha (from without) by practicing certain doctrines Knows not where the real Buddha is to be found, he who is able to realize the Truth within his own mind has sown the seed of Buddhahood...I have hereby left to posterity the teaching of the Sudden School for the salvation of all sentient beings who care to practice it. Hear me, ye future disciples! Your time will have been badly wasted if you neglect to put this teaching into practice.”
What is Huineng's legacy? He was in many ways an orthodox Buddhist monk with great respect for the Sutras and the teachings of those who preceded him. He also taught the Middle Path, and that non-attachment and non-dualism also applied to the Sutras and the teachings of those who preceded him. For his teaching to have any value, it had to be put into practice, not just emptily repeated as the words of a Sutra with no understanding. That his followers elevated his teachings to the status of a Sutra, that they indeed “put it on a pedestal” would most likely be met with chagrin by Huineng, based on the words of the Platform Sutra. Huineng preached the Dharma for the benefit of all beings, to relieve them of their suffering, and to give them the opportunity to realize their “Essence of Mind.” Given that, and by virtue of the fact that the teachings have survived for many centuries, I believe he would approve of the result, but most likely castigate his Dharma heirs for their obvious dualism in their method of spreading the Dharma themselves.
A great Bodhisattva need not be elevated, he need only be allowed to do the work of saving all sentient beings. Intuitive understanding of the Dharma is what is important, not whether one can read it, write it, or eloquently preach it; enlightenment's only purpose is to help others reach enlightenment as well. That is Huineng's greatest legacy, and even that is nothing special, and need not be put on a pedestal. The fact that it is nothing special makes it all the more important that it be put into practice and realized.