The Platform Sutra
— Hui-neng (638-713)
"The seven hundred eminent monks understood the Dharma; only Hui-neng didn't. That's why he obtained the Ancestor's robe and bowl"
— Ch'an proverb
If you wish to hear the teachings of the sages of the past, each of you must quiet the mind and hear me to the end. Please cast aside your own delusions; then you will be no different from the sages of the past. What follows below is the Dharma.
The samadhi of oneness is straightforward mind at all times, walking, staying, sitting and lying down. The Ching-ming ching says:
"Straightforward mind is the place of practice; straightforward mind is the Pure Land."
Do not with a dishonest mind speak of the straightforwardness of the Dharma. If while speaking of the samadhi of oneness, you fail to practice straightforward mind, you will not be disciples of Buddha. Only practicing straightforward mind, and in all things having no attachments whatsoever, is called the samadhi of oneness. The deluded person clings to the characteristics of things, adheres to the samadhi of oneness, and thinks that straightforward mind is sitting without moving and casting aside delusions without letting things arise in the mind. This they consider to be the samadhi of oneness.
This kind of practice is the same as being insentient like a rock and is the cause of obstruction to the Tao. Tao must be something that circulates freely; why should we impede it? If the mind does not abide in things, the Tao circulates freely; if the mind abides in things, it becomes entangled.
If sitting in meditation, solely, without moving is good, why did Virmalakirti scold Sariputra for sitting in meditation in the forest? Good Friends, some people teach others to sit viewing the mind and viewing purity, not moving and not activating the mind, and to this they devote their efforts. Deluded people do not realize that this is wrong, cling to this doctrine, and become confused. There are many such people. Those who instruct in this way, from the outset, are greatly mistaken.
Good friends, how then are meditation and wisdom alike? They are like the lamp and the light it gives forth. If there is a lamp there is light; if there is no lamp there is no light. The lamp is the substance of light; the light is the function of the lamp. Thus, although they have two names, in substance they are not two. Meditation and wisdom are also like this.
In the Dharma there is no sudden and gradual, but among people some are keen and others dull. The deluded recommend the gradual method, the enlightened practice the sudden teaching. To understand the Original Mind for yourself is to see into your own original nature. Once enlightened, there is from the outset no distinction between these two methods.
Good friends, in this teaching, from ancient times to the present, all have set up no-thought as the main doctrine, non-form as the substance, and non-abiding as the basis. Non-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No-thought is not to think even when involved in thought. Non-abiding is the original nature of people.
In this teaching from the outset sitting in meditation does not concern the mind nor does it concern purity; we do not talk of steadfastness. If someone asks of "viewing the mind," then I would say that the mind itself is delusion, and as delusions are just like fantasies, there is nothing to be seen. If someone speaks of "viewing purity," then I would say that our nature is of itself pure, but because of false thoughts True Reality is obscured. If you exclude delusions then the original nature reveals its purity. If you activate your mind to view purity without realizing that your own nature is originally pure, delusions of purity will be produced.
Purity has no form, but, nonetheless, some people try to postulate the form of purity and consider this to be Ch'an practice. People who hold this view obstruct their own original natures and end up by being bound by purity.
Now that we know that this is so, what is it in this teaching that we call "sitting meditation"? In this teaching "sitting" means without any obstruction anywhere, outwardly and under all circumstances, not to activate thoughts. "Meditation" is internally to see the original nature and not become confused.
Good friends, see for yourselves the purity of your own natures, practice and accomplish for yourselves. Your own nature is the Dharmakaya and self-practice is the practice of Buddha; by self accomplishment you may achieve the Buddha Way for yourselves.
— from Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch
Translated by Philip Yampolsky (1967)
Not all pieces we read about practice can be as simple as "straightforward mind is the place of practice," yet we find ourselves wondering if the translation fully expresses Hui-neng's intent. We pause not only wanting to feel the depth of Hui-neng who lived so many years ago, but also to realize that understanding is always so much more than the words themselves.
So much of what we read or hear requires engaging ourselves deeper with the material than a cursory reading to understand. Too often we read or hear something profound, nod our heads, and file it away for later. There is an expression "a hundred times make clear the reading." How often do we reread anything stretching to understand? The next stage is finding a way to apply the material so we can feel it in our bodies, not merely in our heads.
The challenge for all of us is to find a way to move the knowledge from head only "understanding" to real life experiential, in our bodies understanding. While there are many paths, the only ones that count are the ones we truly engage ourselves in. Long ago Confucious said,
"Only one who bursts with enthusiasm
Do I instruct;
Only on who bubbles with excitement
Do I enlighten.
If I hold up one corner and you do not
Come back with the other three,
I do not continue the lesson.