On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

July 09, 2008


Ma-tsu (709-788)

The Patriarch said to the assembly, “All of you should believe that your mind is Buddha, that this mind is identical with Buddha. The great master Bodhidharma came from India to China, and transmitted the One Mind teaching of Mahayana so that it can lead you all to awakening.  Fearing that you will be too confused and will not believe that this One Mind is inherent in all of you, he used the Lankavatara Sutra to seal the sentient beings’ mind-ground.  Therefore, in the Lankavatara Sutra, mind is the essence of all the Buddha’s teachings, no gate is the Dharma-gate.

“Those who seek the Dharma should not seek for anything.  Outside of mind there is no other Buddha, outside of Buddha there is no other mind.  Not attaching to good and not rejecting evil without reliance on either purity or defilement, one realizes that the nature of offence is empty: it cannot be found in each thought because it is without self-nature.  Therefore, the three realms are mind-only and ‘all phenomena in the universe are marked by a single Dharma.’  Whenever we see form, it is just seeing the mind. The mind does not exist by itself; its existence is due to form. 

“Whatever you are saying, it is just a phenomenon which is identical with the principle.  They are all without obstruction and the fruit of the way to ‘bodhi’ is also like that.  Whatever arises in the mind is called form; when one knows all forms to be empty, then birth is identical with no-birth.  If one realizes this mind, then one can always wear one’s robes and eat one’s food.  Nourishing the womb of sagehood, one spontaneously passes one’s times: what else is there to do?  Having received my teaching, listen to my verse:

          The mind-ground is always spoken of,

                   Bodhi is also just peace.

              When phenonoma and the principle

                 Are all without obstruction,

              The very birth is identical with no birth.

A monk asked, “What is the cultivation of the Way?”

The Patriarch replied, “The Way does not belong to cultivation.  If one speaks of any attainment through cultivation, whatever is accomplished in that way is still subject to regress.”

The monk also asked, “What kind of understanding should one have in order to comprehend the Way?”

The Patriarch replied, “The self-nature is originally complete.  If one only does not get hindered by either good or evil things, then that is a person who cultivates the Way.  Grasping good and rejecting evil, contemplatingsunyata and entering Samadhi-all of these belong to activity. If one seeks outside, one goes away from it.  Just put an end to all mental conceptions in the three realms.  If there is not a single thought, then one eliminates the root of birth and death and obtains the unexcelled treasury of the Dharma king.

“Since limitless kalpas, all worldly false thinking, such as flattery, dishonesty, self-esteem, and arrogance have formed one body.  That is why the sutra says, ‘It is only through the grouping of many dharmas that this body is formed.  When it arises, it is only dharmas arising; when it ceases, it is only dharmas ceasing.  When the dharmas arise, they do not say I arise; when they cease, they do not say, I cease.’

“The previous thought, the following thought, and the present thought, each thought does not wait for the others; each thought is calm and extinct.  This is called Ocean Seal Samadhi.  It contains all dharmas.  Like hundreds and thousands of different streams-when they return to the great ocean, they are all called water of the ocean.  The water of the ocean has one taste which contains all tastes.  In the great ocean all streams are mixed together; when one bathes in the ocean, he uses all waters.

“Some are awakened, and yet still ignorant; the ordinary people are ignorant about awakening.  Many do not know that originally the Holy Mind is without any position, without cause and effect, without stages, mental conceptions, and false thought.  By cultivating causes they attain the fruits and dwell in the Samadhi of emptiness from twenty to eighty thousand kalpas.  Though already awakened, their awakening is the same as ignorance.  All Bodhisattvas view this as suffering of the hells: falling into emptiness, abiding in extinction, unable to see the Buddha-nature.

“There might be someone of superior capacity who meets a virtuous friend and receives instructions from him.  If upon hearing the words he gains understanding, then without passing through the stages, suddenly he is awakened to the original nature. 

 “It is in contrast to ignorance that one speaks of awakening.  Since originally there is no ignorance, awakening also need not be established.  All living beings have since limitless kalpas ago been abiding in the Samadhi of the Dharma-nature.  While in theSamadhi of  the Dharma-nature, they wear their clothes, eat their food, talk and respond to things.  Making use of the six senses, all activity is the Dharma-nature.  It is because of not knowing how to return to the source, that they follow names and seek forms, from which confusing emotions and falsehood arise, thereby creating various kinds of karma. When within a single thought one reflects and illuminates within, then everything is the Holy Mind.

“All of you should penetrate your own minds; do not record my words.  Even if principles as numerous as the sands of the Ganges are spoken of, the mind does not increase.  And if nothing is said, the mind does not decrease.  When there is speech, it is just your own mind.  Even if one could produce various transformation bodies, emit rays of light and manifest the eighteen transmutations, that is still not like becoming like dead ashes.


“If one is to speak about all expedient teachings of the tripitaka that the Tathagata has expounded, even after innumerable kalpas one still will not be able to finish them all.  It is like an endless chain.  But if one can awaken to the Holy Mind, then there is nothing else to do.  You have been standing long enough.  Take care!”

Ma-tsu (709-788)

Excerpted from Sun-Face Buddha: The Teachings of Ma-Tsu and the Hung-Chou School of Ch'an- translated by Cheng Chien Bhikshu

Some pieces are overwhelming as we try to absorb the depth communicated.  Ma-tsu is delivering a sermon to monks who, just like us, have been practicing for various numbers of years.  Some are beginners; others have been meditating for years, but all are deeply impressed in the presence of such a master.

One key to hearing any teaching is to suspend that part of us that tries so hard to understand.  Just trust that you are receiving many levels of this message at once.  The implications of these ideas are far-reaching.  The discipline in any practice involves not only the commitment to meditation or physical prostrations involved in some practices, but also taking the teaching and staying with it long enough to allow it time to penetrate. 

We so quickly feel we know what something means.  It is humbling to realize how superficial our understanding actually is.  This one sentence:

Whenever we see form, it is just seeing the mind. The mind does not exist by itself; its existence is due to form. 

One could spend years with this as if it was a koan, which for some people, it truly can be.  Ma-tsu turns our light right back around in saying:

All of you should penetrate your own minds; do not record my words.

In any instant we can open; the key here is to stay awake for this journey.

With Enthusiasm,


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