Once a man who practiced Ch'an asked the Master, “It is said that mind is identical with the Buddha, but which of these is really the Buddha?”
A: “What do you suppose is not the Buddha? Point it out to me.”
As there was no answer, the Master added, “If you comprehend the mind, the Buddha is omnipresent to you; but, if you do not awaken to it, you will remain astray and distant from him forever.”
A Master of the Vinaya sect named Fa Ming once remarked, “You Ch'an masters do a lot of tumbling about in the emptiness of the void.”
Hui Hai: “On the contrary, Venerable Sir, it is you who tumble a lot in the emptiness of the void.”
“How can that be?” exclaimed Fa Ming in astonishment.
Hui Hai: “The scriptures are just words—mere ink and paper—and everything of that sort is just an empty device. All those words and phrases are based on something people once heard—they are naught but emptiness. You, Venerable Sir, cling to the mere letter of the doctrine, so of course you tumble about in the void.”
Q: “And do you Ch'an masters not tumble in the void?”
Hui Hai: “We do not.”
A Vinaya Master named Yuan once came and asked, “Do you make efforts in your practice of the Way, Master?”
Hui Hai: “Yes I do.”
Hui Hai: “When hungry, I eat; when tired, I sleep.”
Q: “And does everybody make the same efforts as you do, Master?”
Hui Hai: “Not in the same way.”
Q: “Why not?”
Hui Hai: “When they are eating, they think of a hundred kinds of necessities and when they are going to sleep they ponder over affairs of a thousand different kind. That is how they differ from me.”
The Venerable Yun Kuang once asked, “Master, do you know where you will be reborn?”
Hui Hai: “We have not died yet; so what is the use of discussing our rebirths? That which knows birth is the unborn. We cannot stray from birth to speak of the unborn. The Patriarch once said, 'That which undergoes birth is really unborn.'”
Q: “Does this apply even to those who have yet to perceive their own nature?”
Hui Hai: “Your not having perceived your own nature does not imply that you lack that nature. Why so? Because perception itself is that nature; without it, we should never be able to perceive anything. Consciousness is also that nature, whence it is called 'the nature of consciousness.' Understanding is also that nature, whence it is called, 'the nature of understanding.' That which can produce the myriad phenomena of the universe is called 'the Dharma-nature,' otherwise known as the Dharmakaya.
“The Patriarch Ashvaghosa declared, 'In speaking of phenomena (dharmas), we really refer to the minds of sentient beings; for, when mental processes (literally 'mindings') occur, all sorts of phenomena take birth in accordance with them; and, when mental processes do not occur, phenomena have nothing in which to arise—there are not even names for them.' Deluded people who do not know that the Dharmakaya is immaterial but becomes manifest in response to the needs of people, may say the 'fresh bamboos are the Dharmakaya' and that 'luxuriant clusters of yellow flowers are nothing but prajna!'
“Yet, if flowers are prajna, then prajna must be identical with nonsentient matter; and, if green bamboos are the Dharmakaya, then the Dharmakaya is a vegetable, so that people in dining off bamboo shoots are actually eating the Dharmakaya! Is this sort of talk worth recording? Instead of recognizing the Buddha right in front of you, you spend eon after eon searching for him.
“His whole substance pervades all of phenomena, but you are deluded and look for him elsewhere. Consequently, anyone who understands the Way is never off it, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying. Anyone who awakens to the Dharma is sovereign and at ease in all situations, since none of them are outside Dharma.”
Presently, the Venerable Yun Kuang asked some further questions.
Q: “Can spiritual wisdom spring from the great emptiness?
Is real mind the causal product of good and evil?
Can those indulging their desires be on the Way?
Can those clinging to right and wrong develop unimpeded use of mind?
Can those in whom sense-impressions stir up mental processes achieve one-pointed concentration? Do people who remain constantly in motionless abstraction really possess wisdom?
Do those who treat others with contempt really possess egos?
Are those grasping at 'is' and 'is not' really wise?
Those who seek realization through book knowledge, those who seek the Buddha by means of austerities, those who stray from their minds in quest of Buddahood and those who cling to mind's being Buddha—are all these various people acting in accord with the Way?
I beg you, Master, to reply to these points one by one.
Hui Hai: “The great emptiness does not give birth to spiritual wisdom.
Real mind is not the causal product of good and evil.
Those whose evil desires lie deep have exceedingly shallow potentials.
The minds of those clinging to right and wrong are obstructed.
Those in whom sense-impressions stir up mental processes seldom achieve one-pointed concentration.
In those who remain constantly in a state of motionless abstraction, forgetful of the mysterious source of that stillness, wisdom is at a low ebb.
Self-importance and contempt for others intensify the illusion of an ego.
Those grasping at “is” and “is not” are stupid.
Those who seek realization in book-knowledge pile up more obstrutions for themselves.
Those who seek Buddha by means of austerities are all deluded.
Those who stray from their minds of Buddhahood are heretics.
Those who cling to mind as being the Buddha are devils!”
Q: “If all that is so, ultimately we find there is just nothing at all”
Hui Hai: “We have come to the ultimate extent of yourself, Venerable Sir, but not to the ultimate.”
At this, the venerable monk, who was filled with joy, hastened to prostrate himself in gratitude and departed.
Hui Hai (720-814)
The question and answer format between a teacher and student is a timeless and startling tradition. The role of any true teacher is to help the student break through their illusions and awaken in the present moment to their attachments; their means of achieving this are often misunderstood.
Ultimately the aim is true realization, however, there are countless mini realizations that may preceed the big one. Anytime we are “enlightened” about our limited point of view and move into a more spacious room of existence, this is a true awakening. True, not the really big one we read in the enlightenment stories of the Zen masters. But even small awakenings are part of our own Awakening.
When you are present for questioning periods, people sometimes ask questions that have been on your mind. And as above, sometimes the questions seem very far fetched and overly intellectual, but each person has their own sticking points. Ours is not to judge anyone's questions, but to learn from them.
Too often we tend to brush off the smaller awakenings as not important in our training. Why split hairs? Any time our ego disappears and we can allow things to be just as they are, this is not exactly a second rate experience. Perhaps if we change the lens we use to view our “progress” spiritually, we can appreciate the depth that is always present when we slow down enough to see.
Tumbling about in the void again,