On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

Dec 22 2000

The Chun Chou Record

Huang po (d. 850)

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 of sentient beings.

If you look upon the Buddha as presenting a pure, bright or Enlightened appearance, or upon sentient beings as presenting a foul, dark, or mortal-seeming 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 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 awake 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.

Making offerings to all the Buddhas of the universe is not equal to making offerings to one follower of the Way who has eliminated conceptual thought. Why? Because such a one forms no concepts whatsoever. The substance of the Absolute is inwardly like wood or stone, in that it is motionless, and outwardly like the void, in that it is without bounds or obstructions. It is neither subjective nor objective, has no specific location, is formless, and cannot vanish.

Those who hasten towards it dare not enter, fearing to hurtle down through the void with nothing to cling to or stay their fall. So they look to the brink and retreat. This refers to all those who seek such a goal through cognition. Thus, those who seek the goal through cognition are like the fur (many), while those who obtain intuitive knowledge of the Way are like the horns (few).

Question: Illusion can hide from us our own mind, but up to now you have not taught us how to get rid of illusion.

Answer: The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking. If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as "ordinary" and "Enlightened," illusion will cease of itself. And then if you still want to destroy wherever it may be, you will find that there is not a hairsbreadth left of anything on which to lay hold. This is the meaning of : "I will let go with both hands, for then I shall certainly discover the Buddha in my Mind."

Question: If there is nothing on which to lay hold, how is the Dharma to be transmitted?

Answer: It is a transmission of Mind with Mind. You hear people speak of Mind transmission and then you talk of something to be received. So Bodhidharma said:

The nature of Mind when understood, no human speech can compass or disclose. Enlightenment is nothing to be attained, and one that gains it does not say he knows.

If I were to make this clear to you, I doubt if you could stand up to it.

Question: But how can we prevent ourselves from falling into the error of making distinctions between this and that?

Answer: By realizing that, though 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 notions 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."

Never allow yourselves to mistake outward appearance for Reality.

Huang po (d. 850)

excerpted from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind - translated by John Blofeld 1958

This record of Huang Po was recorded by P'ei Hsiu, a scholar-official who stayed with Huang Po in a monastery and questioned him day and night about the Way. We have P'ei Hsiu to thank for recording these dialogues so they would not be lost to posterity. From the preface he describes Huang Po in the following:

Holding in esteem only the intuitive method of the Highest Vehicle, which cannot be communicated in words, he taught nothing but the doctrine of One Mind; holding that there is nothing else to teach…To those who have realized the nature of Reality, there is nothing old or new, and conceptions of shallowness and depth are meaningless. Those who speak of it do not attempt to explain it, establish no sects, and open no doors or windows. That which is before you is it. Begin to reason about it and you will at once fall into error. Only when you have understood this will you perceive your oneness with the original Buddha-nature. Therefore his words were simple, his reasoning direct…

When we read these dialogues they have the most meaning if we can enter into the present moment of the exchange, even though the conversation took place many hundreds of years ago, in this case, the year 858. Some are easier to enter into depending on your particular ear for learning. Each of us will find our way "in" through unique pathways.


At this time of year with the burgeoning energy of Spring beckoning, the poetry of Zen speaks directly and to some of us is an easier pathway in. So to balance the directness of Huang Po we turn to the directness of Ryokan:

With no-mind, blossoms invite the butterfly; with no-mind, the butterfly visits the blossoms. When the flower blooms, the butterfly comes; when the butterfly comes, the flower blooms. I do not "know" others, others do not "know" me. Not-knowing each other we naturally follow the Way.

They say spring has come

And the sky is filled with mist,

Yet on the mountains, no flowers, only snow.

- Ryokan (1758-1831)

Gazing out one misty spring afternoon,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen