There was a priest named Fa-ta who had been reciting the Lotus Sutra continuously for seven years, but his mind was still deluded, and he did not know where the true Dharma lay. He bowed to Hui-neng and asked, “I have doubts about the sutra, and because your wisdom is great, I beg of you to resolve my doubts.”
The Master said: “Fa-ta, you are very proficient in the Dharma, but your mind is not proficient. You may have no doubts in so far as the sutras are concerned, but your mind itself doubts. You are searching for the true Dharma with falsehood in your mind. If your own mind were correct and fixed, you would be a man who has taken the sutra into himself. I have never in my life known written words, but if you bring a copy of the Lotus Sutra and read it to me, upon hearing it, I will be able to clarify it for you.”
Fa-ta brought the Lotus Sutra and read it through to the Master. Hearing it, the Sixth Patriarch understood the Buddha's meaning and then discoursed on the Lotus Sutra for the sake of Fa-ta.
The Sixth Patriarch said: “Fa-ta, the Lotus Sutra does not say anything more than is needed. Throughout all its pages it gives parables and talks about causation. The Tathata's preaching of the Three Vehicles was only because of the dullness of people in the world. The words of the sutra clearly state that there is only one vehicle of Buddhism.
“Listen to the one Buddha vehicle and do not seek two vehicles, or your nature will be deluded. Where in the sutra do we find this one Buddha vehicle? Let me explain to you. The sutra says: 'The various Buddhas and the World-honored One appeared in this world because of one great causal event.' How do you come to understand this Dharma? How do you practice this Dharma? Listen, and I will explain this.
“The mind has nothing to do with thinking because its fundamental source is empty. To discard false views, this is the one great causal event. If within and without you are not deluded, then you are apart from duality. If on the outside you are deluded, you cling to form; if on the inside you are deluded, you cling to emptiness. If within form you are apart from form and within emptiness you are separated from emptiness, then within and without you are not deluded.
“If you awaken to this Dharma, in one instant of thought your mind will open, and you will go forth in the world. What is it that the mind opens? It opens Buddha's wisdom, and the Buddha means enlightenment. Separately considered there are four gates: the opening of wisdom of enlightenment, the instruction of the wisdom of enlightenment, the awakening of the wisdom of enlightenment, and the entering into the wisdom of enlightenment. This is called opening, instructing, awakening, and entering. Entering from one place, this is the wisdom of enlightenment, and with this, you see into your own nature and succeed in transcending the world.
“Fa-ta, it is my constant wish that all the people in the world will always themselves open the wisdom of the Buddha in their own mind-grounds. Do not cultivate the 'wisdom' of sentient beings. The people of the world have errors in their minds, create evil with stupidity and delusion, and thus cultivate the 'wisdom' of sentient beings!
“Open up the wisdom of the Buddha and then transcend the world. This is the one vehicle Dharma of the Lotus Sutra. Later on in the sutra the Buddha's teaching is divided up into three vehicles in order to benefit the deluded. Depend only on the one Buddha vehicle.
“If you practice with the mind you turn the Lotus; if you do not practice with the mind, you are turned by the Lotus. If your mind is correct you will turn the Lotus; if your mind is incorrect, you will be turned by the Lotus. If the wisdom of the Buddha is opened, you will turn the Lotus; if the 'wisdom' of sentient beings is opened, you will be turned by the Lotus. If you practice the Dharma with great effort, this then is turning the sutra.”
Fa-ta, upon hearing this, at once gained great enlightenment and broke into tears. “Master,” he said, “indeed up to now I have not turned the Lotus, but for seven years I have been turned by it. From now on I shall turn the Lotus, and in consecutive thoughts practice the practice of the Buddha.”
The Master said, “The very practice of Buddha, this is Buddha.”
Excerpted from Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch Translated by Philip Yampolsky (1967)
How often in practice we have longed for something that would insure some kind of final attainment? Here in Hui-neng's response to Fa-ta we see the picture of a practitioner who appeared to be doing the “right thing,” but came to the honest realization of the emptiness of his efforts. There are many practices to follow for the many temperaments we find in people, however at the heart of true practice is a realization not found in the “form” of practice. So much of what we are drawn to dulls the mind and spirit eventually.
How can we maintain Beginner's Mind, that fresh spirit that enlivens life and Practice itself with a vitality that is germane to the Way? How will we stay with our question for years, not needing a particular answer, but continuing to look freshly? These are big questions to those of us who practice. One can find pieces that allude like fingers pointing to the moon, but it is up to us to take the steps to experience first hand the unfolding present that is not dependent on dogma, a particular school, or even a special practice.
“When the brain feels alert and light, vibrant and alive, when there is a feeling of expanding beyond the borders of the skull, thought is not. Or, at the very least, thought cannot then predominate. Conversely, when thought predominates the “aliveness” vanishes, and thought then permeates the whole of what we call the “world.” When the mind is energized, invigorated yet quite independent of its contents, it has moved beyond the narrow realm of the named. The mind is then expansive like the clear blue sky through which clouds form and pass and clear continually.”
To seeing freshly,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen