On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

November 09, 2010

Tsung Ching Record of Hui Hai

 Hui Hai ( 8th c)

When the Master first arrived in Kiangsi to pay his respects to Ma Tsu, the latter enquired, “From where have you come?”

“From the Great Cloud Monastery at Yueh Chou,” answered Hui Hai.

Q: “What do you hope to gain by coming here?”

Hui Hai:  “I have come seeking the Buddha-dharma.

To this Ma Tsu replied, “Instead of looking to the treasure house which is your very own, you have left home and gone wandering far away. What for?  I have absolutely nothing here at all.  What is this Buddha-dharma you seek?

Hui Hai prostrated himself and enquired, “Please tell me to what you alluded when you spoke of a treasure house of my very own.

A:  “That which asked the question is your treasure house.  It contains absolutely everything you need and lacks nothing at all.  It is there for you to use freely, so why this vain search for something outside yourself?

No sooner were these words spoken than the Master received a great illumination and recognized his own mind!  Beside himself with joy, he hastened to show his gratitude by prostrating himself again.

The Master spent the next six years in attendance upon Ma Tsu; but, as his first teacher—the one responsible for his admission to the monastic order—was growing old, he had to return to Yueh Chou to look after him.  There he lived a retired life, concealing his abilities and outwardly appearing somewhat mad.  It was at this time that he composed his shastra—A Treatise for Setting Forth the Essential Gateway to Truth by Means of Instantaneous Awakening.

Later this book was taken by Hsuan Yen, a disciple of his brother in the dharma, who brought it from the Yangtse region and showed it to Ma Tsu.  Ma Tsu, after reading it carefully, declared to his disciples, “In Yueh Chou there is now a great pearl; its luster penetrates everywhere freely and without obstruction.

Now it happened that the assembly included a monk who knew that the Master had, in lay life been surnamed Chu (a word identical in sound with the word for pearl).  In great excitement he hastened to communicate this information to some other monks, who went in a group to Yueh Chou to call on the Master and follow him.  Thenceforth, the Master was called ‘the Great Pearl.’

Once the Master began his daily address to his disciples by saying, “I am no Ch’an adept; indeed, I have not a single thing to offer anyone, so I must not keep you standing here longer.  Go and take a rest.

In those days the number of people who came to study with him was gradually increasing.  As day follows night, they came and pressed him for instruction; he was compelled to answer their questions as soon as asked, thus revealing his unimpeded powers of dialectic.  Endless discussions took place with questions and answers following one another.

Once a group of Dharma masters sought an interview and said, “We have some questions to ask. Are you prepared to answer them?

Hui Hai: “Yes. The moon is reflected in that deep pond; catch it if you like.

Q:  “What is the Buddha really like?

Hui Hai:  “If that which is facing the limpid pond is not the Buddha, what is it?

The monks were puzzled by his reply; after a long pause, they enquired again, “Master, what dharma do you expound in order to liberate others?

Hui Hai:  “This poor monk has no dharma by which to liberate others.

“All Ch’an masters are of the same stuff!” they exclaimed, whereat the Master asked them, “What dharmas do you Virtuous Ones expound for liberating others?

A: “Oh, we expound the Diamond Sutra.

Hui Hai: “How many times have you expounded it?

A:  “More than twenty times.

Hui Hai: “By whom was it spoken?

To this the monks answered indignantly, “Master, you must be joking!  Of course you know that it was spoken by the Buddha.”

Hui Hai:  “Well, that sutra states, ‘If someone says the Tathagata expounds the Dharma, he thereby slanders the Buddha! Such a man will never understand what I mean.’

Now, if you say that it was not expounded by the Buddha, you will thereby belittle that sutra.  Will you Virtuous Ones please let me see what you have to say to that?

As they made no reply, the Master paused awhile before asking his next question, which was, “The Diamond Sutra says: ‘He who seeks me through outward appearance, or seeks me in sound, treads the heterodox path and cannot perceive the Tathagata.’  Tell me, Virtuous Ones, who or what isthe Tathagata?

A: “Sir, at this point I find myself utterly deluded.

Hui Hai:  “Having never been illumined, how can you say that you are now deluded?

So then the monk asked: “Will the Venerable Ch’an Master expound the Dharma to us?

Hui Hai:  “Though you have expounded the Diamond Sutra over twenty times, you still do not know the Tathagata!

These words caused the monks to prostrate themselves again and to beg the Master to explain further, so he said, “The Diamond Sutra states: ‘The Tathagata is the Suchness of all dharmas.’  How can you have forgotten that?

A: “Yes, yes—the Suchness of all dharmas.

Hui Hai:  “Virtuous Ones, “yes” is also incorrect.

A:  “On that point the scripture is very clear. How can we be wrong?

Hui Hai:  “Then, Virtuous Ones, are you that Suchness too?

A:  “Yes, we are.

Hui Hai:  “And are plants and rocks the Suchness?

A: “They are.

Hui Hai: “Then is the Suchness of you the same as the Suchness of plants and rocks?

A:  “There is no difference.

Hui Hai:  “Then how do you differ form plants and rocks?

This silenced the monks for some time, until at last one of them exclaimed with a sigh, “It is hard to keep our end in discussions with a man so very much our superior.

After a considerable pause, they enquired, “How can mahaparinirvana be attained?

Hui Hai:  “By avoiding all samsaric deeds—those which keep you in the round of birth and death.

Q:  “What deeds are they?

A:  “Well, seeking nirvana is a samsaric deed. Casting off impurity and clinging to purity is another. Harboring attainments and proofs of attainment is another, and so is failure to discard rules and precepts.

Q: “Please tell us how to achieve deliverance.

A:  “Never having been bound, you have no need to seek deliverance.  Straightforward functioning and straightforward conduct cannot be surpassed.

“Ah, exclaimed the monks, “People like this Ch’an Master are indeed rare!” then they bowed their thanks and left.

 Hui Hai ( 8th c)

Excerpted from Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening translated by John Blofeld 1969

Two very interesting stories illustrating the same principles.   Each one demonstrates the skill of a master who will never tell us too much, but rather points our attention back inside.  The stubborn intellect can be crafty and tends to want “answers” and concepts to hold onto, and naturally, as students, we would appreciate a little help here.  However, our idea of help and a true teacher’s are rarely the same. 

Sometimes stories can be misleading though, particularly the enlightenment ones.  We can wind up forming images of what enlightenment must be all about….images that confuse and distract us and bring up a tendency to compare where we are with where we think we should be, and thus far away from the present moment.  As soon as we even think we know where we are, we are so very far away.

Straightforward functioning…

What could be more clear?


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