The Wan Ling Record of Zen Master Huang Po
Q: What is the Buddha?
A: Mind is the Buddha, while cessation of conceptual thought is the Way. Once you stop arousing concepts and thinking in terms of existence and non-existence, long and short, other and self, active and passive, and suchlike, you will find that your Mind is intrinsically the Buddha, that the Buddha is intrinsically Mind, and that Mind resembles a void. Therefore it is written that "the true Dharmakaya resembles a void." Seek for nothing but this, else your search must end in sorrow.
Though you perform the six paramitas for as many eons as there are grains of sand in the Ganges, adding also all the other sorts of activities for gaining Enlightenment, you will still fall short of the goal. Why? Because these are karma-forming activities and, when the good karma they produce has been exhausted, you will be born again in the ephemeral world.
Therefore is it also written: "The Sambhogakaya is not a real Buddha, nor a real teacher of the Dharma. Only come to know the nature of your own Mind, in which there is no self and no other, and you will in fact be a Buddha!
Q: Allowing that the Enlightenment person who achieves the cessation of conceptual though is Buddha, would not an ignorant person, on ceasing to think conceptually, lose themselves in oblivion?
A: There ARE no Enlightened people or ignorant people, and there is no oblivion. Yet, though basically everything is without objective existence, you must not come to think in terms of anything non-existent; and though things are not non-existent, you must not form a concept of anything existing. For 'existence' and 'non-existence' are both empirical concepts no better than illusions. Therefore it is written:
'Whatever the senses apprehend resembles an illusion, including everything ranging from mental concepts to living beings'
Bodhidharma preached to his disciples nothing but total abstraction leading to elimination of sense-perception. In this total absorption does the Way of the Buddhas flourish; while from discrimination between this and that a host of demons blazes forth!
Q: If Mind and the Buddha are intrinsically one, should we continue to practice the six paramitas and the other orthodox means of gaining Enlightenment?
A: Enlightenment springs from Mind, regardless of your practice of the six paramitas and the rest. All such practices are merely expedients for handling 'concrete' matters when dealing with the problems of daily life. Even Enlightenment, the Absolute, Reality, Sudden Attainment, the Dharmakaya and all the others down to the Ten Stages of Progress, the Four Rewards of virtuous and wise living and the State of Holiness and Wisdom are, every one of them, mere concepts for helping us through samsara; they have nothing to do with the real Buddha-Mind. Since Mind is the Buddha, the ideal way of attainment is to cultivate that Buddha-Mind. Only avoid conceptual thoughts, which lead to becoming and cessation, to the afflictions of the sentient world and all the rest; then you will have no need of methods of Enlightenment and suchlike. Therefore it is written:
All the Buddha's teachings
Just had this single object:
To carry us beyond the
Stage of thought.
Now, if I accomplish cessation
Of my thinking,
What use to me are
The Dharmas Buddha taught?
From Gautama Buddha down through the whole line of patriarchs to Bodhidharma, none preached anything more than the One Mind, otherwise known as the Sole Vehicle of Liberation. Hence, though you search throughout the whole universe, you will never find another vehicle. Nowhere has this teaching leaves or branches; its one quality is eternal truth. Hence it is a teaching hard to accept.
This teaching is called the Great Way. The very nature of the Great Way is voidness of opposition. Bodhidharma firmly believed in being one with the real 'substance' of the universe in this life! Mind and that 'substance' do not differ one jot. That substance is Mind. They cannot be possibly separated. It was for this revelation that he earned the title of Patriarch, and therefore is it written:
The moment of realizing the unity of Mind and the 'substance' which
constitutes reality may truly be said to baffle description.
— Excerpted from "The Zen Teaching of Huang-po - On the Transmission of Mind"
Trans by John Blofeld
There are many great teachers from the past and as many teachings as there are people who practice. The beauty of Buddhism and Zen is the freshness to respond to the situation of the moment. It has often been noted that because Zen is a teaching beyond words and letters, why all the need for all the writing of Zen?
Part of the reason can be seen in the writings of Huang Po; the translation even hundreds of years ago always has required a stretch and letting go that can be challenging for many of us. There is sudden enlightenment that springs from years of preparation and practice. First we learn to quiet our minds; then perhaps the sudden seeing into reality can have room to occur.
So while we get the seed planted of a kind of wordless Wholeness, we also need a path to travel in the here and now. To help us understand the beginning and continuing of practice, we turn to one of the contemporary teachers:
Methods of Practice and Stages of Development
"The training of the mind in Ch'an (Zen) practice can be divided into three levels. First, we move from a scattered state of mind to concentrated mind. Second, we move from concentrated mind to one-mind (samadhi). Finally, we have let go of our self-centeredness and realize wisdom.
A person who has realized wisdom is not driven by desire and aversion. Instead, they respond naturally to whatever happens, in order to help other sentient beings experience wisdom.
Every method of practice can bring you to profound levels of clarity. While you are counting your breath, your concentration can become deeper and deeper until there seems to be no numbers for you to count and no breathing. If this state of mind is clear and sustained, then it is an elementary level of one mind, the stage after scattered mind. You and your method of practice become one. Body and mind are no longer separate but are fused or absorbed into a single stream of concentration."
- "Subtle Wisdom - Understanding Suffering, Cultivating Compassion through Ch'an Buddhism"
Master Sheng-yen is very helpful in his teaching to contemporary Westerners. We will turn to him again in the New Year to help clear the way for beginning and experienced practitioners.
In the meantime, may your days ahead be filled with equanimity and time set aside to reflect as we move into a new cycle of change.
Entering the Present with Care,