On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

December 18, 2014

Records of the Source Mirror

Yongming Yanshou (904-976)

Zongjing Lu – Fascicle I

In this Record, I inquire exhaustively into the meaning of mind and investigate the explanations for consciousness. Generally speaking, there are an abundance of interpretations revealing a depth of style, substance, and reasoning. These interpretations lift away the barrier of uncertainty to the door of correct wisdom and chop off the weeds of falsehood in the field of true enlightenment.

To initiate a cure for a chronic disease of the marrow, eliminate the delight taken in clinging to the organs of sense. Then external objects, and the “self” will meet the flames of wisdom-fire, and will be fused together in the cauldron of mind-only. The objectified realm of name and form will face the rays of the wisdom-sun, and will be released into the sea of universal truth.

Since this is, in point of fact, a teaching for inner realization, how can it be explained through textual explanations? The knowledge it unleashes has no limit. What we see and hear through the senses does not reach it.

Now, for the sake of those who have not yet seen this, I explain the “wondrous seeing of no-seeing;” for those who do not yet know it, I talk about the “true knowing of non-knowing;” for those who are not yet liberated, I confirm the “great liberation of non-liberation.”

What I hope is that through the finger you will see the moon, after catching the hare you will forget the snare, embrace the universal and unite with the implicit truth (zong), discard the explanations and seek the principle inherent in them, understand that the myriad things depend on the “self” for their existence, and realize that wondrous enlightenment exists in one’s physical body.

It can be described as searching out the deep root of one’s existence, as excavating the cave of principle, as “picking out the marrow from the bones” in the Chan lineage, and as revealing the regulations and guidelines in the network of doctrinal teachings.

To eliminate confusion and erase the stains of one’s karma, perfect purity is ready at hand. The wondrous doctrines of the profound implicit truth advance the notion of the “seeing of no-seeing;” “knowing of non-knowing;” and make them perfectly clear.

With them you can wear down the mountain built by the seven kinds of arrogance, and bury forever the path built on the six kinds of weaknesses.

* * *

The eyes are the mirror of the mind. When the mind-mirror reveals universal truth, all things will appear in it as pristine and void of self-nature. It avoids all kinds of perversities without excluding even the slightest of things.

In their wondrous essence phenomena are devoid of self-nature, and the light of perfection is not alien to them. In the expanse of the infinite, everything reverts to the status of a fleeting appearance.

The appearances adopted by the myriad objects all enter the state of luminosity itself. This is none other than the doctrine of “a single flavor” taught by the sixth patriarch at Caoqi that the various patriarchs have all transmitted. It is the implicit truth of non-duality taught by Shakyamuni at the Crane’s Grove that various scriptures all explain.

The mind-mirror can be referred to as the deep abode of myriad good deeds, the profound origin of all wisdom, the precious ruler of all existence, or the primordial ancestor of the multitude of spiritual beings.

In time, people conceive of a realm of objects separate from the mind. Literary compositions and rational principles are both void; they are illusory objects created by consciousness. The volumes of explanations are proof of this.

The vast sea of all encompassing existence that universal mind manifests is correctly accounted for in the Perfect Teaching. Throughout the eight consciousnesses, the light of wisdom lights up darkness to reveal incorrect views.

The mind-mirror in fact refers to the spiritual abode of living beings and the implicit truth of the myriad dharmas. It is constantly changing in unpredictable ways, expanding and contracting with unimpeded spontaneity. It manifests traces as conditions warrant; names are formed according to the things manifested.

When Buddhas realize the mind-essence it is called complete enlightenment. When bodhisattvas cultivate it, it is known as the practice of the six perfections. Transformed by “ocean wisdom” it becomes water. Sought after by good friends, it becomes a treasure that is granted as one pleases. Attained by sravaka Buddhas it becomes the four noble truths and the emptiness of self-nature.

Grasped by common people, it becomes the sea of birth and death. Discussed in terms of its essence, it is in subtle harmony with principle. Considered in terms of phenomena, it is in tacit agreement with the conditioned nature of existence as properly understood according to Buddhist teaching.

Thus, even though I have revealed the main entrances to the dharma-realm, I must explain all the various meanings of nature and appearance contained in the special teaching of the one-vehicle. With the perfect understanding inherent in great awakening, everything is interconnected and is a gateway for entering the dharma-realm.

Only with the full wisdom of a Buddha does one miraculously penetrate the meaning of this special teaching. It is simply that those with weak capacities do not reflect on it; with lack of study they have difficulty understanding it thoroughly.

They do not realize the two gates of nature and appearance are the essence and function of their own minds. If they utilize the mind’s functioning ability but ignore its ever-present essence, it is like a wave without water.

If they realize mind-essence while denying it as the gateway of miraculous functioning, it is like water without waves. There is never water without waves, nor waves without water.

As waves originate entirely from water and water crests entirely as waves, so does nature reveal itself entirely in appearances and appearances originate entirely in nature. They must realize that essence and appearances reveal each other

I will now clarify in detail the general and distinctive characteristics of essence and function, and discuss at length the differences and similarities between them. By studying the root-origin of each dharma and investigating the roots and branches of conditioned phenomena, one can explain the source-mirror (zongjing) through the minute subtleties revealed in it.

Since there is not a single dharma that escapes form, the thousand variations forms assume are encountered everywhere. If one pursues them fully, they are interwoven with extensive implications regarding their essence and function, nature and appearance. I have selected and summarized the essential writings on the matter, and set them forth here in one hundred fascicles.

The fascicles consist of content pertaining to universal mind—they are able to make difficult ideas among the vast sea of teachings easy to understand and perfectly clear to one’s passing thoughts; they make the unlimited complexities of the true source of all phenomena readily observable and in tacit harmony with one’s thought processes.

To compare, when the spiritual jewel is in one’s hand, one is forever precluded from rushing around in search of it. Or when the tree of enlightenment provides shade, it completely eliminates shadows and traces.

After one finds the true treasure in the spring pond, picking through pebbles in search of it becomes completely unnecessary. When one finds one’s original face in the ancient mirror, deranged notions suddenly disappear.

One can, on the basis of this, extricate what is deeply embedded, expose and attack it, forever eliminating the roots of uncertainty. Without even the slightest effort, one completely opens the treasure storehouse. Without expending the slightest bit of energy, one suddenly obtains the mystical jewel.

It is referred to as the place of great tranquil extinction, nirvana, in the one-vehicle, and the correct place for cultivation and practice in the true aranya. It is the object realm that the Tathagata himself appears in the dharma-gate where the Buddhas originally reside. Consequently, after exerting oneself everywhere, one is a “worthy.”

One experiences the mystery inherent in every detail, and subsequently gains the wisdom to fathom vast seas of nature. Through study, one penetrates the true origin.

Questions and Answers 

Q: If you teach me to establish the implicit truth (zong) by settling on doctrines, it would be like looking for hair on a tortoise or searching for horns on a hare. A verse in the Lankavatara sutra says:

“All phenomena are unborn; one should not establish this as the implicit truth.” How do you explain your title for this section, “revealing the implicit truth?”

A: Statements like this are for dispelling attachments. It if refers to “the implicit truth which denies implicit truth,” the implicit truth itself and explanations of it both elucidate this principle.

Since the Buddhas of the past all provided expedient means and Chan lineages also revealed a line of access, in essence, one cannot grasp onto expedient means and lose the cardinal message revealed by the patriarchs, nor can one reject expedient means and deny later explanations provided in doctrinal teachings.

Nevertheless, before the capability to respond to spiritual messages, there was no teaching. After the teaching was formulated, nothing it explained was actually real. Even though there is true liberation and true awakening, explanations regarding both are nothing more than objective accounts far removed from the original event; they are categorized as secondary considerations

Therefore the Treatise on Mahaprajnaparamita says: “By observing with the Buddha-eye everything within all the lands of the ten directions, one still does not see that these things do not exist. How can they exist as phenomena when ultimately they are empty phenomena? Being able to destroy and overcome the few of phenomena as existing causes bodhisattvas to become Buddhas. How can common people, to whom this aspect is still unattainable, overcome viewing them as existing phenomena?”

I now rely on what appears among the oral teachings of the patriarchs and Buddhas, summarizing them for contemporary students. By referring to the places that speak of seeing the mind-nature and of developing illumination, I establish mind as the implicit truth.

On account of this, in India Shakyamuni Buddha said:

“The mind the Buddhas spoke of is the source, “gatelessness” is the dharma gate.”

The first patriarch of this country, the great teacher Bodhidharma said:

“On the basis of mind transmit mind: do not rely on words and letters.”

Consequently, the Buddhas handed down their teaching by handing it personally from one to another; the patriarchs transmitted this mind by transmitting it personally from one to another.

To summarize what is stated above, it is the implicit truth and teaching established by the patriarchs and Buddhas, and the implicit truth and essence established by worthies and sages.

Yongming Yanshou (904-976)

excerpted from Conception of Chan in the Zongjing Lu translated by Albert Welter 2011

This excerpt is scratching the surface of a work consisting of 100 fasicles; the above being only part of the first fasicle and the only one in translation at this point. Even in this brief glimpse one can get a sense of the intention behind the work.

Since there are sutras too numerous to count, Yanshou is taking the gems from many of them to help essentialize the heart of Buddhism. Anyone who has attempted to read a sutra in its entirety can feel like the literary style of hundreds of years ago and many cultural iterations away from ours make true understanding very difficult.

One can also appreciate the balance of practice and study; they both go hand in hand. When you appreciate how many years the sutras were memorized and transmitted verbally, it is truly a gift to have a written form of them, and more importantly a master who is intent on keeping them alive for us.

This is a serious study and not always easy to digest, but many readings and pausing can start to soften the message. When we try to meet him more than half way rather than feeling overwhelmed by the expression, there are jewels contained therein.

If you feel right on the verge of understanding, right at the edge of the cliff, hearing the thunder warning of the storm to come, just know we are right where we should be, close to the heart of the matter. Comfortably close…

With Care,


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