On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

October 09, 2010

The Essential Gateway to Truth by Means of Instantaneous Awakening

Hui Hai (720-814)

Humbly I prostrate myself before the Buddhas of the ten quarters and the excellent company of Bodhisattvas.  In setting forth this treatise, I am apprehensive that I may fail correctly to interpret the sacred mind.  If so, may I be given a chance for repentance and reform. However, if I do succeed in imparting the sacred truth, I dedicate the resultant merit to all living beings in the hope that each of them will attain Buddhahood in their next life.

Q:  What method must we practice in order to attain deliverance?

A:  It can be attained only through a sudden illumination.

Q:  What is sudden illumination?

A:  ‘Sudden’ means ridding yourself of deluded thoughts instantaneously.  ‘Illumination’ means the realization that illumination is not something to be attained. 

Q:  From where do we start this practice?

A:  You must start from the very root.

Q:  And what is that?

A:  Mind is the root.

Q:  How can this be known?

A:  The Lankavatara Sutra says:  ‘When mental processes arise, then do all dharmas (phenomena) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.’ The Vimalakirti Sutra says: ‘Those desiring to attain the Pure Land must first purify their own minds, for the purification of mind is the purity of the Buddha Land.’  The Sutra of the doctrine Bequeathed by the Buddha says: ‘Just by mind control, all things become possible to us.’  In another sutra it says: ‘Sages seek from mind, not from Buddha; fools seek from the Buddha instead of seeking from mind.  Wise ones regulate their minds, rather than their persons; fools regulate their persons rather than their minds.’

The Sutra of the names of the Buddha states: ‘Evil springs forth from the mind, and by the mind is evil overcome.’  Thus, we may know that all good and evil proceed from our minds, and that mind is therefore the root.  If you desire deliverance, you must first know all about the root.  Unless you can penetrate to this truth, all your efforts will be vain; for, while you are still seeking something from forms external to yourselves, you will never attain.  The Dhyanaparamita Sutra says: ‘For as long as you direct your search to the forms around you, you will not attain your goal even after eon upon eon; whereas, by contemplating your inner awareness, you can achieve Buddhahood in a single flash of thought.’

Q:  By what means is the root practice to be performed?

A:  Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by dhyana and samadhi.  The Dhyanaparamita Sutra says: ‘Dhyana and samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the thoughts remain in tumult and the roots of goodness suffer damage.’

Q:  Please describe dhyana and samadhi.

A:  When wrong thinking ceases, that is dhyana; when you sit contemplating your original nature, that is samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal mind.  By samadhi, you withdraw your minds from their surroundings, thereby making them impervious to the eight winds, that is to say, impervious to gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy.  By concentrating in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood.  How can that be so?  The Sutra of Bodhisattva Precepts says: ‘All beings who observe the Buddha precepts thereby enter Buddhahood.’ Other names for this are ‘deliverance,’ ‘gaining the further shore,’ ‘transcending the six states of mortal being,’ ‘overlapping the three worlds,’ or ‘becoming a mighty Bodhisattva, an omnipotent sage, a conqueror.’!

Q:  Whereon should the mind settle and dwell?

A:  It should settle upon nondwelling and there dwell.

Q:  What is this nondwelling?

A:  It means not allowing the mind to dwell upon anything whatsoever.

Q:  And what is the meaning of that?

A:  Dwelling upon nothing means that the mind is not fixed upon good or evil, being or nonbeing, inside or outside, or somewhere in between the two, void or nonvoid, concentration or distraction. This dwelling upon nothing is the state in which it should dwell; those who attain to it are said to have nondwelling minds—in other words, they have Buddha-minds!

Q: What does mind resemble?

A:  Mind has no color, such as green or yellow, red or white; it is not long or short; it does not vanish or appear; it is free from purity and impurity alike; and its duration is eternal. It is utter stillness. Such, then is the form and shape of our original mind, which is also our original body—the Buddhakaya!

Q:  By what means does this body or mind perceive?  Can they perceive with the eyes, ears, nose, sense of touch and consciousness?

A:  No, there are not several means of perception like that.

Q:  Then, what sort of perception is involved, since it is unlike any of those already mentioned?

A:  It is perception by means of your own nature. How so? Because your own nature being essentially pure and utterly still, its immaterial and motionless ‘substance’ is capable of this perception.

Q:  Yet, since that pure ‘substance’ cannot be found, where does such perception come from?

A:  We may liken it to a bright mirror which, though it contains no forms, can nevertheless ‘perceive’ all forms. Why?  Just because it is free from mental activity. If you students of the Way had minds unstained, they would not give rise to falsehood and their attachment to the subjective ego and to objective externals would vanish; then purity would arise of itself, and you would thereby be capable of such perception.  The Dharmapada Sutra says: ‘To establish ourselves amid perfect voidness in a single flash is excellent wisdom indeed’

Hui Hai (720-814)

Excerpted from Ch’an Master Hui Hai – Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening -Translated by John Blofeld  1962

If the questions seem to flow too precisely and neatly along, it is because this is a format Hui Hai used to communicate these principles. At the time he composed this he had no students.  Many of these questions can be felt to have the depth of koans which  reverberate in one’s being to become reflections of one’s own questions.  Students everywhere have very similar questions after all.  And when we think we’ve solved these deep questions, they still have beauty and reveal new depths with further exploration.

The ability to stay with any question or direction is becoming more rare in our contemporary culture.  Practice now takes more commitment than ever when quick answers and quicker solutions are sought by most everyone. 

Meditation is the true unplugging and disengaging that returns us to our ground of being. 

May your Way be clear,


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