On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

Nov 22 1999

On the Transmission of Mind

 Huang-po (d.850)

Regarding this Zen Doctrine of ours, since it was first transmitted, it has never taught that people should seek for learning or form concepts. "Studying the Way" is just a figure of speech. It is a method for arousing people's interest in the early stages of their development. In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied. Study leads to the retention of concepts and so the Way is entirely misunderstood. Moreover, the Way is not something specially existing; it is called the Mahayana Mind - Mind which is not to be found inside, outside or in the middle. Truly it is not located anywhere.

The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts. This implies that if you were to follow the empirical method to the utmost limit, on reaching that limit you would still be unable to locate Mind. The Way is spiritual Truth and was originally without name or title. It was only because people ignorantly sought for it empirically that the Buddhas appeared and taught them to eradicate this method of approach. Fearing that nobody would understand, they selected the name "Way."

You must not allow this name to lead you into forming a mental concept of a road. So it is said "When the fish is caught we pay no more attention to the trap." When body and mind achieve spontaneity, the Way is reached and Mind is understood. A sramana is so called because he has penetrated to the original source of all things. The fruit of attaining the sramana stage is gained by putting an end to all anxiety; it does not come from book-learning.

If you now set about using your minds to seek Mind, listening to the teaching of others, and hoping to reach the goal through mere learning, when will you ever succeed? Some of the ancients had sharp minds; they no sooner heard the Doctrine proclaimed than they hastened to discard all learning. So they were called, "Sages who, abandoning learning, have come to rest in spontaneity."

In these days people only seek to stuff themselves with knowledge and deductions, seeking everywhere for book-knowledge and calling this "Dharma-practice." They do not know that so much knowledge and deduction have just the contrary effect of piling up obstacles. Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.

Those who study the Way according to the Three Vehicles are all like this. All you can call them is people who suffer from indigestion. When so-called knowledge and deductions are not digested, they become poisons, for they belong only to the plane of samsara. In the Absolute, there is nothing at all of this kind.

So it is said: "In the armory of my sovereign, there is no Sword of Thusness." All the concepts you have formed in the past must be discarded and replaced by void. The canonical teachings of the Three Vehicles are just remedies for temporary needs. They were taught to meet such needs and so are of temporary value and differ one from another. If only this could be understood, there would be no more doubts about it.

Above all it is essential not to select some particular teaching suited to a certain occasion, and, being impressed by its forming part of the written canon, regard it as an immutable concept. Why so? Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma which the Tathagata could have preached. People of our sect would never argue that there could be such a thing. We just know how to put all mental activity to rest and thus achieve tranquility. We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity. 

Question: From all you have just said, Mind is the Buddha; but it is not clear as to what sort of mind is meant by this "Mind which is the Buddha." Is the Buddha the ordinary mind or the Enlightened mind?

Answer: In the teaching of the Three Vehicles it is clearly explained that the ordinary and Enlightened minds are illusions. You don't understand. All this clinging to the idea of things existing is to mistake clarity for the truth. How can such conceptions not be illusory? Being illusory, they hide Mind from you. If you would only rid yourselves of the concepts of ordinary and Enlightened, you would find that there is no other Buddha than the Buddha in your own Mind.

When Bodhidharma came from the West, he just pointed out that the substance of which all people are composed is the Buddha. You people go on misunderstanding; you hold to concepts such as "ordinary" and "Enlightened," directing your thoughts outwards where they gallop about like horses! All this amounts to beclouding your own minds! So I tell you Mind is the Buddha. As soon as thought or sensation arises, you fall into dualism.

Beginningless time and the present moment are the same. There is no this and no that. To understand this truth is called complete and unexcelled Enlightenment.

Huang po (d 850)

excerpted from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind John Blofeld 1958


When I first started practice my teacher had me stop reading books on Buddhism. While it does serve to arouse the interest, if we’re not careful, we get caught by the concepts and distracted by a kind of head knowledge which is never satisfactory in the deepest sense. We easily confuse understanding the words and ideas with true understanding, and we never go far enough in our own questioning. More importantly we wind up collecting understandings without any practical experience of the teaching which leads to a superficial kind of practice.

So, how do we "understand" and then "practice" what Huang Po is telling us in the above? Here's a passage that might shed some light...

Buddhist trainees should first determine whether or not their practice is headed toward the Way. Shakyamuni, who was able to harmonize and control his body, speech, and mind, sat beneath a bo tree doing zazen. To be headed toward the Way is to know its appearance and how far it extends. The Way lies under the foot of every person. When you become one with the Way you find that it is right where you are, thus realizing perfect enlightenment. If, however, you take pride in your enlightenment, even though it be very deep, it will be no more than partial enlightenment.

To study the Way is to try to become one with it - to forget even a trace of enlightenment. Those who would practice the Way should first of all believe in it. Those who believe in the Way should believe that they have been in the Way from the very beginning, subject to neither delusion, illusive thoughts, and confused ideas nor increase, decrease, and mistaken understanding. Engendering belief like this, clarify the Way and practice it accordingly - this is the essence of studying the Way.

The second method of Buddhist training is to cut off the function of discriminating consciousness and turn away from the road of intellectual understanding. This is the manner in which novices should be guided. Thereafter they will be able to let body and mind fall away, freeing themselves from the dualistic ideas of delusion and enlightenment.

If only you believe that you are truly in the Way, you will naturally be able to understand how it functions, as well as the true meaning of delusion and enlightenment.

- Taken from Zen Master Dogen; An Introduction with Selected Writings
by Yuho Yokoi (1976)

On the Way,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen