The Fourth Patriarch: “The Abandoning of the Body”

From Masters and Disciples of the Lanka (a Tun-huang MS); translated by D. T. Suzuki

Tao-hsin: I ask for the Master’s compassion. Please instruct me on how to achieve liberation.
Third Patriarch Seng-ts’an: Is there someone who fetters you?
Tao-hsin: There is no such person.
Seng-ts’an: If no one fetters you, why do you seek liberation?

Tao-hsin (580- 651):

The method of abandoning the body consists first in meditating on Emptiness, whereby the mind is emptied. Let the mind together with its world be quietened down to a perfect state of tranquillity; let thought be cast into the mystery of quietude, so that the mind is kept from wandering from one thing to another. When the mind is tranquillized in its deepest abode, its bonds are cut asunder. How unfathomable! How abysmal! The mind in its absolute purity is the Void itself. How almost unconcerned it appears! Like death there is no breathing. It abides in the utmost purity of the Dharmakaya, and is no longer subject to a future becoming.

When a mind is stirred and ignorance is born in it, one cannot escape suffering another form-existence. Therefore, let a man discipline himself first of all in the realization of a perfect state of quietude in his mind and in its world also. This is the way the discipline ought to be carried out.

But in this discipline there is really nothing to take hold of as a definite achievement, and this non-achievement is what is achieved by the discipline, for the Dharma is grasped by non-striving, and non-striving is Truth itself. Therefore, we read in the sutra, “Emptiness, non-striving, desirelessness, formlessness—this is true emancipation!” For this reason the Dharma is non-striving.

The way to abandon the body is to have a deep realization of its provisional nature, when the mind, together with its world, becomes transparent and its operations are illuminated.

Further, according to Chuang-tzu, “Heaven and Earth are one finger, and the ten thousand things are one horse.” But this is not right. The Dharmapada says: “The One is not to be thought of as one. In order to destroy the idea of multiplicity, the One is said to be one, but this is meant for the shallow-minded.” Thus, we can state that Chuang-tzu fails to go beyond oneness.

According to Lao-tzu: “How unfathomable! How abysmal! Within there is essence!”  With Lao-tzu, an outside form is gotten rid of, but he still holds on to a mind within.1 The Avatamsaka states: “Do not cling to dualism, because there is neither one nor two!” The Vimalakirti states: “Mind is neither within nor without nor in-between—this is realization.” For this reason, we know that Lao-tzu still stands on the idea of a mind-essence.

Reflect on your own body and see what it is—empty and devoid of self-nature like a shadow. It is perceived, but there is nothing there to take hold of. Prajna rises in the midst of these shadowy things, unchanging, dwelling nowhere. “Remaining immovable, they enter into contact with the myriad things.”2

Out of the midst of Emptiness there rise the six senses, and the six senses too are of Emptiness, while the six sense-objects are perceived as like a dream or a vision. It is like the eye perceiving its objects—they are not located in the eyes. It is like the mirror on which your features are reflected; they are perfectly perceived in all clarity. That which is reflected is all in space; the mirror itself does not retain a single object that is reflected in it. The human face does not enter the body of the mirror, nor does the mirror enter the human face. When one realizes how the mirror and the face stand with respect to one other, and that from the beginning there is no entering, no leaving, no going, no coming, one comprehends the meaning of Suchness and Emptiness.

* * *

1. Verse 21. I suspect that someone may have used hsin (心), mind, instead of the correct term, ching (清), pure and clear, translated below as ‘essence’ and as ‘spirit’. The words don’t sound alike. (Jonathan Star, 2001, p. 140)

So unclear, so indistinct
Within it there is image
So indistinct, so unclear
Within it there is substance
So deep, so profound
Within it there is essence  (Derek Lin)

*Unfathomable and obscure, indeed,
but at its heart is all spirit,
and spirit is Reality.  (Dwight Goddard)

2. Expert in comprehending the characteristics of phenomena (dharmalaksana), able to understand the capacities of living beings, they towered over the others of the great assembly and had learned to fear nothing. . . . In fame and renown they soared higher than Mount Sumeru; their profound faith was diamond-like in its firmness. (Vimalakirti Sutra)

D. T. Suzuki (1971). Essays in Zen Buddhism: (Third Series). Samuel Weiser, Inc. (p. 28).

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