One who comprehends the mind that is the source of all dharmas understands everything. If you can stop generating false thoughts and the illusions of personal possession and completely discard your preoccupation with the body, then you will certainly achieve birthlessness. How inconceivably wonderful!
Make effort! And do not be pretentious! It is difficult to get a chance to hear this essential teaching. Of those who have heard it, not more than one person in a number as great as the sands of the River Ganges is able to practice it. It would be rare for even one person in a million billion eons to practice it to perfection. Calm yourself with care, moderate any sensory activity, and attentively view the mind that is the source of all dharmas. Make it shine distinctly and purely all the time, without ever becoming blank.
Question: What is blankness of mind?
Answer: People who practice mental concentration may inhibit the True Mind within themselves by being dependent on sensory perceptions, coarse states of mind, and restricted breathing. Before achieving mental purity such people may undertake the constant practices of concentrating the mind and viewing the mind. Although they do so during all their activities, they cannot achieve mental clarity and purity, nor illumine that mind which is the source of all dharmas. This is called blankness of mind.
Make effort! The sutra says:
“If sentient beings are not completely sincere about seeking enlightenment, then not even all the Buddhas of the three periods of time will be able to do anything for them, even if those Buddhas are as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges. Sentient beings discern the mind and cross over to the other shore of enlightenment by themselves. The Buddhas cannot make sentient beings cross over to the other shore.”
We are drowning in the seas of suffering simply because we are not completely sincere about seeking enlightenment.
Make effort! One cannot know the transgressions of one’s past, and repenting now is of no avail. Now, in this very lifetime, you have had an opportunity to hear this teaching. I have related it clearly; it would be well for you to understand what I say. Understand clearly that maintaining awareness of the mind is the highest way.
You may be insincere about seeking the achievement of buddhahood and become receptive to the immearsurable pleasures and benefits that accrue from religious training. You may go so far as to ostentatiously follow worldly customs and crave personal fame and gain.
One can have success with minimal exertion by merely donning tattered robes, eating coarse food, and clearly maintaining awareness of the mind. The unenlightened people of this world do not understand this truth and undergo great anguish in their ignorance. Hoping to achieve emancipation, they cultivate a broad range of superficial types of goodness—only to fall subject to the suffering concomitant with samsara.
One who, in mental clarity, never ceases correct mindfulness while helping sentient beings cross over to the other shore of nirvana is a bodhisattva of great power. I tell you this explicitly: Maintaining awareness of the mind is the ultimate.
To remain unmoved by the blowing of the eight winds of good and ill fortune is to have a truly special mountain of treasure. If you want to realize the fruit of nirvana, then just respond to all the myriad different realms of your conciousness by activating transformations as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges.
One’s discrimination of each instant is so skillful it seems to flow. Applying medicine to fit the disease, one is able to stop generating false thoughts and the illusion of personal possession. One who can do this has transcended the world and is truly a person of great stature. Ah, the unrestricted freedom of the Tathagata—how could it ever be exhausted!
Having explained these things, I urge you to complete sincerity: Stop generating false thoughts and the illusion of personal possession!
Question: What do you mean by the “illusion of personal possession?”
Answer: When only slightly superior to someone else in some way, one may think that this superiority is due to one’s own achievement. To feel this way is to be sick even while in nirvana. The Nirvana Sutra says: “This is likened to the realm of space, which contains myriad things. Space does not think to itself, “I am doing this.” This is a metaphor for the two teachings of eradicating the illness and practicing the concept of extinguishing the illusion of personal possession and the “adamantine samadhi.”
Question: Even sincere practitioners who seek a perfect and permanent nirvana may only seek the crude and impermanent standards of goodness and fail to take pleasure in the Ultimate Truth. Such people may try to have their minds operate according to Buddhist doctrines before they have manifested that which is true, permanent, wondrous and good. This leads to the activation of discriminative thinking, which constitutes a defiled state of mind. They may try to fix the mind in the locus of non-being. To do so is to be lodged in the darkness of ignorance and is not in accord with the True Principle.
They may grasp nonsubstantiality in an improper way, without trying to fix the mind on a single object of contemplation according to Buddhist doctrines. They lack the expedient means of meditation and wisdom and cannot clearly and brightly see the Buddha Nature. This is the predicament of religious practitioners such as ourselves. We beseech you to tell us the true teaching by which we can progress toward remainderless nivana!
Answer: When you are completely in possession of the True Mind, the achievement of your ultimate wish is assured.
Gently quiet your mind. I will teach you how to do this once again: Make your body and mind pure and peaceful, without any discriminative thinking at all. Sit properly with the body erect. Regulate the breath and concentrate the mind so it is not within you, not outside of you, and not in any intermediate location. Do this carefully and naturally.
View your own consciousness tranquilly and attentively, so that you can see how it is always moving, like flowing water or a glittering mirage. After you have perceived this consciousness, simply continue to view it gently and naturally, without assuming any fixed position inside or outside of yourself. Do this tranquilly and attentively, until its fluctuations dissolve into peaceful stability. This flowing consciousness will disappear like a gust of wind.
When this flowing consciousness disappears, all one’s illusions will disappear along with it, even the extremely subtle illusions of bodhisattvas of the tenth stage. When this consciousness and false cognition of the body have disappeared, one’s mind becomes peacefully stable, simple, and pure. I cannot describe it any further. If you want to know more about it, then follow the “Chapter on the Adamantine Body” of the Nirvana Sutra. Think about this carefully, for this is the truth.
Any person who can avoid losing sight of this mind during all his actions and in the face of the five desires and the eight winds of good and ill fortune has established his pure practice, done that which must be done, and will never again be born into the realm of birth and death. The five desires are form, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The eight winds are success and failure; defamation and praise; honor and abuse; and suffering and pleasure.
You will achieve success in the cultivation of the path when our practice of correct mindfulness is complete. To never fail in correct mindfulness—even when one’s body is being torn apart or at the time of death—is to be a buddha.
My disciples have compiled this treatise from my oral teachings so that the reader may just use his True Mind to grasp the meaning of its words. It is impossible to exhaustively substantiate every detail of teaching such as this. I want everyone to discern their fundamental minds and achieve buddhahood at once. Those who are listening now should make effort, so that you can achieve buddhahood in the future. I now vow to help my followers to cross over to the other shore of nirvana.
Excerpted from The Northern School and the Formation of Early Ch’an Buddhism by John R. McRae 1986
As seemingly difficult as some passages above are to comprehend, the method elucidated is clear and the “goal” of training set forth at the very beginning. Hung-jen was the fifth patriarch of Zen and the teacher Hui-neng studied with.
We are so fortunate to have these teachers throughout centuries to help translate the method and goal of training. Hung-jen mentions the Nirvana sutra's “Chapter on the Adamantine Body.” Just to be thorough, and to see if there was anything we could glean from that, I attempted to read that chapter.
And in truth, I couldn't read it through. Whether it's a combination of the cultural times, the audience being spoken to, or the fact that many sutras were passed on at first through the oral tradition and certainly embellished, it is real work to get to the heart of their message.
View your own consciousness tranquilly and attentively, so that you can see how it is always moving, like flowing water or a glittering mirage.
OK, that sounds like familiar ground we can all relate to…something we can get our practice minds attuned to.
If you can stop generating false thoughts and the illusions of personal possession and completely discard your preoccupation with the body, then you will certainly achieve birthlessness.
And then there's the really challenging parts….the most compelling illusion being a sense of self.
I want everyone to discern their fundamental minds and achieve buddhahood at once.