About the verses

(The following is taken from Sacred-texts.com — http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/zen/fm/fm.htm)

Hsin-hsin Ming is one of the earliest and most influential Zen writings. It is usually referred to as the first Zen poem. It consists of 146 unrhymed four-character verses, a total of 584 characters. The Hsin-hsin Ming was composed in shih form. Shih was the principal poetic form in use in the early period: it is first used in the Book of Odes (Shih-ching, Shikyõ). Like the early shih, the Hsin-hsin Ming consists of lines that are four characters in length, but contrary to most shih, no end rhyme is employed . . .

As a characteristic of shih, one line usually constitutes a single syntactical unit. Since one character represents one syllable, and since classical Chinese is basically monosyllabic, this means that there are usually four words to a line. Lines tend to be end-stopped, with few run-on lines, so that the effect is of a series of brief and compact utterances.

This concise form of four characters per line is shorter than the general run of Chinese verse, which usually has five or seven characters per line. Economy, even starkness of expression is a characteristic of the Hsin-hsin Ming. It is more of a verse than poetry and its brevity is one of the peculiar characteristics of this famous work. Its contents are closer to the Buddhist sûtras than poems; in fact, the Hsin-hsin Ming can be regarded as a sûtra. Many verses are like a short Zen saying and therefore can be taken as a single-sentence Zen maxim. The original text was not divided in stanzas. Some translators have divided the poem in different ways, with or without adding numbers to them.

The Hsin-hsin Ming has an important place In Ch’an Buddhist tradition. The poem has been very influential in Zen circles and many important commentaries were written on it. The opening stanza, “The best way is not difficult; it only excludes picking and choosing” is quoted by many Zen masters as well as in the classical Zen works such as the Blue Cliff Records. Along with other influential poems, it is considered to be a poem that reveals the essence of Zen philosophy

Problem of Authorship

Although the the Hsin-hsin Ming has traditionally been attributed to the Third Patriarch Seng-ts’an, contemporary scholarship doubts whether he was in fact the author. [In 592 Seng-ts’an transmitted the Ch’an patriarchate to Tao-hsin (Dõshin). Seng-ts’an died in 606.] There is no record that Second Patriarch Hui-k’o or Third Patriarch Seng-ts’an left any writings.* The expressions and idioms used in the work have caused certain scholars to give the composition a much later date. [*This is not accurate: parts of The Long Scroll are attributed to Hui-k’o. See Broughton, 1999.]

Niu-t’ou Fa-jung (594-657), a disciple of Tao-hsin, composed a poem called “Mind Inscription” (Hsin Ming), and the similarity between the Hsin-hsin Ming and the Hsin Ming has caused some scholars to speculate that Hsin-hsin Ming was actually written after the time of Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng (638-713) as an improved, condensed version of the “Mind Inscription.”

According to Japanese scholars Nishitani Keiji and Yanagida Seizan, the Hsin-hsin Ming was composed in the eighth century, two centuries after Seng-ts’an. Yanagida Seizan and other scholars speculate that the Hsin-hsin Ming is the work of Fourth Patriarch Tao-hsin (580-651).

On Faith in Mind – Translation and Analysis of the Hsin-hsin Ming

By Prof. Dr. Dusan Pajin, Belgrade University, Yugoslavia

Since Leng‑chia Shih‑tzu Chi was discovered, Seng‑ts’an’s authorship of the Hsin‑hsin Ming has been doubted because of the remark that Seng-ts’an did not leave any writings. Ui proposed that Seng-ts’an perhaps only recited the text, and that it was written down by someone else. Nishitani and Yanagida added some further arguments, believing that the text was written in the eighth century, two centuries after Seng‑ts’an. This was accepted as valid by other authors.

Contributions of the Hsin-hsin Ming

Dumoulin was among the first to recognize that in many passages the composition of Hsin‑hsin Ming is akin to the Avatamsaka Sutra, especially the closing stanzas (30‑36).

Actually, there is some resemblance between the concepts of one mind (stanza 123), oneness (stanzas 5, 6, 7) and one vehicle (stanza 19) in Hsin‑hsin Ming, and equivalent concepts developed in Hua‑yen. However, the obviously common subjects of Hsin‑hsin Ming and Hua‑yen are relativity and interpenetration of time and space dimensions (in stanzas 32‑33), equality of things (stanza 33) and the famous “one is all, all is one” principle (stanza 35), which are explained later in detail (in “Analysis of the Text” – related to sections VII and VIII of the Hsin-hsin Ming). On such grounds we can conclude that this text should be at least partly associated with the Hua‑yen tradition (i.e., not exclusively with Ch’an).

We can outline two significant contributions of the Hsin‑hsin ming to the overall tradition of Chinese Buddhism.

  1. The first is “faith in mind”, which could be considered as a “Ch’anist” response to the Buddhism of faith (Pure Land), since the object of faith is not Amitabha, but mind as a means of awakening.
  2. The second contribution is the principle of oneness (i‑chung). It is particularly mentioned in stanzas 5, 6 and 7. Otherwise, it is the running idea of the whole text, continually warning against various dualities: liking‑disliking (stanzas 1, 19, 21), grasping‑rejecting (st. 3), conditions/form‑emptiness (st. 5, 14), motion‑rest (st. 6, 21, 26), truth‑views (st. 10), right‑wrong (st. It, 23), dharmas‑mind (st. 123, subject‑object (st. 133), coarse‑fine (st. 15), strange‑familiar (st. 18), sense objects-awakeness (st. 19), dharmas‑suchness (st. 24), profit-loss (st. 23) other‑self (st. 25, 30), moment‑eon (st. 32), here‑there (st. 32), small‑large (st. 33), one‑all (st. 35). These dualities should be refuted or transcended with the perspective of one mind -– in emptiness and real suchness.

Broadly speaking, Hsin‑hsin Ming is an elegant exposition of Right View and practice [taken from the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist sutras]. With approximation, we can say that sections I, V, and VI mostly deal with Right View (oneness, one mind, emptiness, suchness), sections II, III, and IV mostly deal with practice, while sections VII and VIII describe the enlightenment experience.