On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 06, 2013

Platform Sutra

Hui-neng (638-713)

All the sutras and texts, all twelve divisions of the Hinayana and Mahayana canons, were arranged by people. And it was because of the nature of wisdom that they could do so. Moreover, if there were no people in the world, none of the ten thousand teachings would have appeared. Hence, the ten thousand teachings have been created because of people, and the sutras all exist because somebody spoke them.

Some people in the world are foolish and some are wise. The foolish are shallow, and the wise are deep. So the foolish ask the wise, and the wise teach the Dharma to the foolish until the foolish understand, and their minds open up. But once foolish people understand, they are no different from the wisest of the wise.

Hence, as long as they don’t understand, buddhas are ordinary beings. But the moment they understand, ordinary beings are buddhas. Hence, the ten thousand teachings are all present within your own mind. So why don’t you use your own mind to see the nature of reality directly?

The Bodhisattva Precept Sutra says, “Our original nature is pure.” When you know your mind and see your nature, you complete the path to buddhahood. And the Vimalakirti Sutra says, “Suddenly all at once you rediscover your own mind.”

Good friends, when I was with Master Hung-jen, as soon as I heard his words, I experienced a great realization, and I saw the original nature of reality directly. Therefore, I am passing on the teaching to later generations so that those who study the Way will realize enlightenment directly, and those who contemplate the mind will realize their original nature directly. If you are unable to realize this by yourselves, you need to find a truly good friend to point out the way to see your nature.

And what do I mean by a “truly good friend?” Someone who understands the teaching of the Supreme Vehicle and who points directly to the true path is a truly good friend, a great intermediary, a guide who helps people see their nature. All good teachings can only come about due to truly great friends.

The buddhas of the Three Periods and the twelve divisions of the Canon are fully present in this nature of yours. If you can’t realize this by yourselves, you need to find a good friend to show you how to see your nature. But if you realize this by yourselves, you don’t need to look for a good friend somewhere else.

And if someone insists that you have to find a good friend somewhere else before you attain liberation, that place doesn’t exist. You will attain liberation when you meet the good friend inside your own mind. As long as your mind is full of confusion, delusion, and mistaken views, even the instruction of an external good friend won’t be able to save you.

If you can realize this by yourself, the moment you give rise to the light of prajna, all your delusions will vanish in a flash. This is your truest friend. With one realization you reach the stage of buddhahood. Use this wisdom to illuminate the land of the mind of your nature.

When inside and outside are perfectly clear, you will know your own mind. Once you know your own mind, you will be free. And once you have gained freedom, this is the samadhi of prajna. The realization of the samadhi of prajna is no-thought.

What do we mean by no-thought? The teaching of no-thought means to see all dharmas without being attached to any dharma, to reach everywhere without being attached to anywhere, to keep your nature pure, so that when the Six Thieves pass through the Six Gates, they neither avoid nor are corrupted by the Six Realms of Sensation but come and go freely.

This is the samadhi of prajna. Freedom and liberation constitute the practice of no-thought. But if you don’t think any thoughts at all, the moment you make your thoughts stop, you’re imprisoned by dharmas. We call this a “one-sided view.” 

Those who understand the teaching of no-thought penetrate the ten thousand teachings. Those who understand the teaching of no-thought see the realm of buddhas. Those who understand the direct teaching of no-thought reach the stage of enlightenment.

“The Liberation of Seeing the True Buddha”

Deluded, a buddha is a being
enlightened, a being is a buddha;
a foolish buddha is a being
a wise being is a buddha;
a biased buddha is a being
an unbiased being is a buddha;
As long as your mind is biased
the buddha dwells in a being;
the moment you wake up unbiased,
a being becomes a buddha
Your mind contains a buddha
your buddha is the real one;
if you didn’t have the buddha-mind
where would you go to find a buddha?

Hui-neng (638-713)

Excerpted from The Platform Sutra – The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng translated by Red Pine

So, good friends, what do you think? Here Hui-neng reminds us,

“…the ten thousand teachings are all present within your own mind. So why don’t you use your own mind to see the nature of reality directly?”

For many of us who have not encountered that wonderful Good Friend who can help us see into our own nature, looks like it is up to us. And there have been many people who have tried to find just that relationship, however, it is rare to find someone who has not become changed by their position of influence over others. And anyway, it all comes down to us doing the work of seeing, being, realizing. No one can do it for us.

And what it the correct attitude or safeguard to keep us from fooling ourselves? To never allow ourselves to dwell anywhere, to never stop at an “understanding” or vision of how things must be. To avoid that self satisfying sensation of “ah, that must be it!”

We have so many clever ways to pat ourselves on the back with superficial understandings. To maintain a spiritual vigilance, keep sitting; keep company with those who can help us, even if they have been gone hundreds of years. The spirit of the teaching is always ever present.

And if the best we can attain now is a spiritual sangha that is invisible, we all know somewhere inside that these divisions are all arbitrary anyway. When we sit there are always others sitting, immersed in the Present Unfolding, sharing this rich path through time together.

Walking together,


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