When a sudden flash of thought occurs in your mind, and you recognize it for a dream or an illusion, then you can enter into the state reached by the Buddhas of the past-not that the Buddhas of the past really exist, or that the Buddhas of the future have not yet come into existence. Above all, have no longing to become a future Buddha; your sole concern should be, as thought succeeds thought, to avoid clinging to any of them.
If a Buddha arises, do not think of him as “enlightened” or “deluded,” “good” or “evil.” Hasten to rid yourself of any desire to cling to him. Cut him off in the twinkling of an eye! On no account seek to hold him fast, for a thousand locks could not stay him, nor a hundred thousand feet of rope bind him. This being so, valiantly strive to banish and annihilate him.
I will now make luminously clear how to set about being rid of that Buddha. Consider the sunlight. You may say it is near, yet if you follow it from world to world you will never catch it in your hands. Then you may describe it as far away, and you will see it just before your eyes. Follow it, and behold, it escapes you; run from it, and it follows you close. You can neither possess it, nor have done with it. From this example you can understand how it is with the true Nature of all things, and henceforth, there will be no need to grieve or to worry about such things.
Thus all the visible universe is the Buddha; so are all sounds; hold fast to one principle, and all the others are identical. On seeing one thing, you see all. On perceiving any individual’s mind, you are perceiving all Mind. Obtain a glimpse of one way, and all ways are embraced in your vision, for there is nowhere at all that is devoid of the Way. When your glance falls upon a grain of dust, what you see is identical with all the vast world-systems with their great rivers and mighty hills. To gaze upon a drop of water is to behold the nature of all the waters of the universe. Moreover, in thus contemplating the totality of phenomena, you are contemplating the totality of Mind. All these phenomena are intrinsically void, and yet this Mind with which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvelous for us to comprehend. It is an existence which is no existence, a non-existence which is nevertheless existence.
The phenomenal universe and Nirvana, activity and motionless placidity-all are of one substance. By saying that they are all of one substance, we mean that their names and forms, their existence and non-existence, are void. The great world systems, uncountable as the Ganges’ sands, are in truth comprised in the one boundless void. Then where can there be Buddhas who deliver or sentient beings to be delivered? When the true nature of all things that “exist” is an identical Thusness, how can such distinctions have any reality? To use the symbol of the closed fist: when it is opened, all beings-both gods and men-will perceive there is not a single thing inside. Therefore it is written, “There’s never been a single thing;” past, present, and future are meaningless. So those who seek the Way must enter it with the suddenness of a sword-thrust. Full understanding of this must come before they can enter.
Whatever Mind is, so also are phenomena-both are equally real and partake equally of the Dharma-Nature, which hangs in the void. He who receives an intuition of this truth has become a Buddha and attained to the Dharma. No listening, no knowing, no sound, no track, no trace-make yourselves thus and you will be scarcely less than neighbors of Bodhidharma.
Question: What is implied by “seeing into the real Nature?”
Answer: That Nature and your perception of it are one. You cannot use it to see something over and above itself. That Nature and your hearing of it are one. You cannot use it to hear something over and above itself. If you form a concept of the true nature of anything as being visible or audible, you allow a dharma of distinction to arise.
You people still conceive of Mind as existing or not existing, as pure or defiled, as something to be studied in the way that one studies a piece of categorical knowledge, or as a concept-any of these definitions is sufficient to throw you back into the endless round of birth and death. The person who perceives things always want to identify them, to get a hold on them. Those who use their minds like eyes in this way are sure to suppose that progress is a matter of stages. If you are that kind of person, you are as far from the truth as earth is far from heaven. Why this talk of “seeing into your own nature?”
If, as thought succeeds thought, you go on seeking for wisdom outside yourselves, then there is a continual process of thoughts arising, dying away and being succeeded by others.
The existence of things as separate entities and not as separate entities are both dualistic concepts. As Bodhidharma said: “There are separate entities and there are not, but at the same time they are neither the one nor the other, for relativity is transient.” A person drinking water knows well enough if it is cold or warm. Whether you be walking or sitting, you must restrain all discriminatory thoughts from one moment to the next. If you do not, you will never escape the chain of rebirth.
Only when your minds cease dwelling upon anything whatsoever will you come to an understanding of the true way of Zen. I may express it thus-the way of the Buddhas flourishes in a mind utterly freed from conceptual thought processes, while discrimination between this and that gives birth to a legion of demons!
Question: But how can we prevent ourselves from falling into the error of making distinctions between this and that?
Answer: By realizing that, although you eat the whole day through, no single grain has passed your lips; and that a day’s journey has not taken you a single step forward-also by uniformly abstaining from such notion as “self” and “other.” 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.”
The Master said to me: All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. This Mind, which is without beginning, is unborn and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measure, names, traces, and comparisons. It is that which you see before you-begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error. It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient things but that sentient beings are attached to forms and to seek externally for Buddhahood.
By their very seeking they lose it, for that is using the Buddha to seek for the Buddha and using mind to grasp Mind. Even though they do their utmost for a full eon, they will not be able to attain to it. They do not know that, if they put a stop to conceptual thought and forget their anxiety, the Buddha will appear before them, for this Mind is the Buddha and the Buddha is all living beings. It is not the less for being manifested in ordinary beings, nor is it greater for being manifested in the Buddhas.
Mind is like the void in which there is no confusion or evil, as when the sun wheels through it shining upon the four corners of the world. For, when the sun rises and illuminates the whole earth, the void gains not in brilliance; and when the sun sets, the void does not darken. The phenomena of light and dark alternate with each other, but the nature of the void remains unchanged. So it is with the Mind of the Buddha and sentient beings. If you look upon the Buddha as representing a pure, bright, or Enlightened appearance, these conceptions resulting from attachment to form will keep you from supreme knowledge, even after the passing of as many eons as there are sands in the Ganges. There is only the One Mind and not a particle of anything else on which to lay hold, for this Mind is the Buddha. If you students of the Way do not awaken to this Mind substance, you will overlay Mind with conceptual thought, you will seek the Buddha outside yourselves, and you will remain attached to forms, pious practices and so on, all of which are harmful and not at all the way to supreme knowledge.
Huang-po (d. 850)
Excerpted from Zen Teaching of Huang Po-Trans John Blofeld 1958
This piece of Huang Po’s touches elements of practice that seem to turn your mind inside out at first. He seems to raise more questions than answers, and thus helps us return to beginner’s mind—that place where we don’t know as much and are ready to learn. We live in a very compelling and seductive world. We need to respond to real events, and at the same time not get lost in these events. We need to communicate and yet, not get lost in the words and concepts which ultimately are divisive at best. We have thoughts and emotions that come up endlessly; how attached we are to these thoughts and feelings is a marker for how enmeshed we are here. And like a true Zen Master we are asked to do things which seem incomprehensible at times and impossible to “master.”
It feels sometimes like having a foot in several worlds. We act according to principle, ideals, and yet can’t get caught up in results. We can almost “grasp” a teaching, and then it eludes us; we feel the breadth of emotions and allow them to flow through us rather than clinging to them.
When a sudden flash of thought occurs in your mind and you recognize it for a dream or an illusion, then you can enter into the state reached by the Buddhas of the past-not that the Buddhas of the past really exist, or that the Buddhas of the future have not yet come into existence.
You could build a life practice around that one paragraph; the challenge is to spend enough time absorbing and enacting any teaching until it becomes one with your being. Until there is no longer the dividing line.