Hui-neng: The Mahaprajnaparamita (24-33)

24. Now that all of you have yourselves devoutly taken refuge in the three treasures, I shall expound to you on the doctrine of the Mahaprajnaparamita. Good friends, although you recite it, you do not understand its meaning, so I shall explain. Listen every one of you!

Mahaprajnaparamita is an Indian Sanskrit term; in Chinese it means the Great Perfection of Wisdom, reaching the other shore. This Dharma must be practiced; it has nothing to do with recitations. If you recite it and do not practice it, it will be like an illusion or a phantom. The dharma-body (dharmakaya) of the practitioner is the same as that of the Buddha.

What is Maha? Maha is great. The capacity of the mind is broad and enormous, like the vast sky. Do not sit with a mind fixed on emptiness: if you do you will fall into a vacant kind of emptiness. Emptiness includes the sun, moon, stars, and planets, the great earth, mountains and rivers, all trees and grasses, bad men and good men, bad things and good things, heaven and hell—they are all within emptiness. The emptiness of one’s self-nature is also like this.

I have said before that God’s lordship does not consist merely in His being lord of all creatures, but His lordship consists in this, that He could create a thousand worlds and transcend them all in His pure essence: therein lies His lordship. – Meister Eckhart, Sermon Twenty Seven

25. One’s self-nature contains the ten thousand things—this is great. The ten thousand things are all in one’s self-nature. Although you see all men and non-men, evil and good, evil things and good things, you must not push them away, nor must you cling to them, nor must you be stained by them, but you must regard them as being just like the empty sky. This is what is meant by great; this is the practice of maha. The deluded person merely recites; the wise man practices with his mind. There are deluded people who make their minds empty and do not think, and they call this practice great. This, too, is wrong. The capacity of the mind is vast and wide, but when there is no practice it is small. Do not merely speak of emptiness with the mouth and fail to practice it. Such a person is not a disciple of mine.

26. What is prajna? Prajna is wisdom (chih-hui). When at all times successive thoughts are free of delusion and one always practices wisdom, this is known as the practice of prajna. If one instant of thought contains delusion, then prajna is cut off; but if one instant of thought contains wisdom, prajna returns. Within the mind there is always delusion. [People] tell themselves: ‘I practice prajna,’ but prajna has neither shape nor form: it is the nature of wisdom.

What is paramita? This is the Indian Sanskrit word and it means “other shore reached.” When its meaning is understood you are apart from birth and destruction. When you are attached to the world, birth and death arise. Take waves rising on the water—they are something that occurs on this shore. Being apart from the world and putting an end to birth and death is like going along with the flow of the water. Thus it is called reaching the other shore, hence, paramita. The deluded person recites it; the wise one practices with the mind. If you have delusion when you recite it, the very existence of this delusion is not true being. If in successive thoughts you practice it, this is called true being. Those who awaken to this Dharma have awakened to the Dharma of prajna and are practicing the prajna practice. If you do not practice it you are an ordinary person; if you practice for one instant of thought, you will have the dharma-body, the same as the Buddha. Good friends, even the passions (klesa) are themselves enlightenment (bodhi). When past thoughts are deluded, this is the ordinary person; when future thoughts are enlightened, this is the Buddha

Good friends, the Mahaprajnaparamita is the most honored, the supreme, the foremost. It does not remain, it does not depart, nor does it come, and all of the Buddhas of the three worlds come forth from it.1 With great wisdom it leads us to the other shore and destroys the passions (klesa) and the hindrances of the five skandhas. Since it is the most honored, the supreme, the foremost, if you praise the supreme Dharma (doctrine) and practice according to it, you will certainly become Buddha. Not departing, not remaining, not going or coming, with singleness of wisdom and meditation (prajna samadhi), and unsullied while in the midst of all things, the various Buddhas of the three worlds come forth from it and transform the three poisonous roots into conduct, meditation, and wisdom.2

27. Good friends, this teaching of mine is born of eighty-four thousand wisdoms. Why is this so? Because there are eighty-four thousand defilements (samskara) in this world. If the defilements are done away with, prajna is always present; it is not separate from your own nature. If you awaken to this Dharma you will have no thoughts, no memories, no attachments. Do not run away from illusions and faults,3 for they themselves are the Dharma. When all things are illuminated by wisdom and there is neither grasping nor rejecting, then you can see into your own nature and gain the Buddha Way.

28. Good friends, if you wish to enter the most profound Dharma realm of the prajna samadhi, you must straightforwardly practice the prajnaparamita. With only the one volume of the Diamond Sutra you may see into your own natures and enter into the prajna samadhi. You will surely understand that the merit of such a person is boundless. In the sutras it is clearly praised and there is no need for me to elaborate. It is the Dharma of the Supreme Way that is expounded for men of great wisdom and high capacity. Should a man of small capacity for understanding hear this Dharma, faith would not be produced in his mind. Why is this so? Should a great dragon deluge the earth with a great rain, [then cities, towns, and villages would all be washed away] like floating grass and leaves. But should this great rain fall in the great ocean, its waters would neither increase nor decrease.

Should a person of the Mahayana hear the Diamond Sutra, his mind will open and he will gain awakening. Therefore we can say that the wisdom of prajna exists in one’s original nature, and that by using this wisdom to illuminate your own mind there is no need to depend on written words. It is as though the rain did not come from heaven, but from the beginning the dragon king drew up the water from the rivers and seas and covered all beings, trees and grasses, things sentient and nonsentient, with its moisture. All these waters flow together and enter into the great sea, and the sea gathers them together and combines them into one. So it is with the prajna wisdom of the original nature of sentient beings.

29. When those of shallow capacity hear the Sudden Doctrine being preached they are like nature’s shallow-rooted plants on this earth, which after a deluge of rain are all beaten down and cannot continue their growth. People of shallow capacity are like such plants. Although these people have prajna wisdom and are no different from sages, why is it that even though they hear the Dharma they are not awakened? It is because the obstructions of their heterodox views are heavy and the defilements deep-rooted. It is like when great clouds cover the sun: unless the wind blows the sun will not appear. There is no great and small in prajna wisdom. Because all sentient beings have deluded minds, they seek the Buddha by external practice and are unable to awaken to their own nature. But even these people of shallow capacity, if they hear the Sudden Doctrine, and do not place their trust in external practices but only in their own minds, and always raise correct views in regard to their own original nature; even these sentient beings, filled with passions and troubles, will at once gain awakening. It is like the great sea which gathers all the flowing rivers, and combines rivers both large and small into one. This is seeing into your own nature. [Such a person] does not abide either within or without; he is free to come or go. Readily he casts aside the mind that clings, and there is nothing that limits him. If  this practice is carried out in the mind then it is no different from the Prajnaparamita.

30. All the sutras and written words, Hinayana, Mahayana, the twelve divisions of the canon, all have been expounded by men. Because of man’s inherent wisdom it has been possible, therefore, to expound them. If we lacked this wisdom, all things would, from the outset, have no existence in themselves. Therefore it is clear that it is man, from the beginning, from whom all things arise, and that all of the sutras exist because they are spoken by man.

Among men there are the deluded and the wise. The deluded are small, the sages are great. If deluded ones ask the sages, the sages will expound the Dharma for them to enable them to understand and gain a deep awakening. If the deluded one understands and his mind is awakened, then there is no difference between him and the sage. Therefore we know that, unawakened, a Buddha is a sentient being, and that a sentient being awakened in an instant of thought is a Buddha, and he knows that the ten thousand things are all within his own mind. Why not make your original nature, True Reality (tattva), suddenly appear within yourselves? The Boddhisattva-sila-sutra says: “From the outset our own nature is pure.” If we look into our own mind and see our own nature, we have achieved the Buddha Way. “At once, in an instant, we regain our original mind.” (Vimalakirti Sutra)

31. Good friends, when I was at Priest Jen’s place, upon hearing it (the Diamond Sutra) just once, I immediately gained the great awakening and saw suddenly that the Dharma was my original nature. Therefore, I have taken this teaching and, passing it on to later generations, shall make you students of the Way suddenly awaken to enlightenment, and allow each of you see into your own minds and suddenly awaken to your own original nature. If you cannot gain enlightenment for yourselves, you must seek a great teacher to show you the way to see into your own self-nature. What is a great teacher? He is a man who understands at once that the Dharma of the Supreme Vehicle is indeed the correct path. This is a great teacher. This is the great causal event, the so-called conversion which will enable you to see Buddha. All of the good dharmas [i.e., expedient means] are activated by a great teacher. Therefore, although the Buddhas of the three worlds and all the twelve divisions of the canon are from the beginning within the nature of man, if he cannot gain awakening by his own nature he must obtain a good teacher to show him how to see into his own self-nature.

But if you awaken by yourself, do not rely on outside teachers. If you try to seek an outside teacher and hope [this way] to obtain liberation, you will find it impossible. If you have recognized the good teacher within your own mind you have already obtained liberation. If you are deluded in your own mind and harbor erroneous thoughts and contrary concepts, even though you go to an outside teacher [you will not be able to obtain liberation]. If you are not able to obtain self-awakening, you must give rise to prajna and illuminate with it: instantly false thoughts will be destroyed. Once you have awakened to the fact that you yourself are your own true good teacher, in one awakening you will know the Buddha. If, standing upon your own nature and mind, you illuminate with wisdom and make within and without clear, you will know your own original mind. If you know your original mind, this then is liberation.

Once you have attained liberation this then is the prajna samadhi. If you have awakened to the prajna samadhi, you have no-thought. What is no-thought? The doctrine of no-thought is thus: even though you see all things, you are not attached to them, but, always keeping your own nature pure, you cause the six thieves to go out through the six gates. Even though you are in the midst of the six dusts you do not stand apart from them, yet you are not sullied by them and are free to come and go. This is the prajna samadhi, and freedom and liberation are attained through the practice of no-thought. If you do not think of the manifold things but constantly cut off your thoughts, you will be Dharma-bound. This is known as an erroneous view. Grasping the Sudden-School doctrine of no-thought, you will have a deep insight into all things and you will see the realm of the Buddha. One who grasps the Sudden-School doctrine of no-thought reaches the stage of Buddha.

32. Good friends, those in later generations who obtain my teaching will always see that my Dharma body is not apart from where they are. Good friends, take this Dharma of the Sudden Teaching, look at it and practice it together, fix your resolve on it, and receive and guard it. Because it is tantamount to serving the Buddha, if for all your lives you receive and keep it and do not regress, you will enter into the ranks of the sacred. Now I should like to hand it on. But from the past the Dharma has been handed down in silence; only when a person has great resolve and has not regressed from enlightenment should it be passed on to him. When you meet people whose understanding is not the same as yours and who lack firm resolve, never recklessly demonstrate the teaching to them. If you do so you will do them harm, and in any event it will be of no value whatsoever. If you happen to meet someone who does not understand and he despises this teaching, he may be hindered from attaining buddhahood for many lifetimes.

33. The Master said: Good friends, listen. I will preach to you a free-form verse; it will cause the destruction of your karma. It is called The Verse for Destroying Evil Karma. The verse goes:

The ignorant one practices seeking future happiness and does not practice the Way,
And says that to practice seeking future happiness is the Way.
Though he hopes that almsgiving and offerings will bring boundless happiness,
As before, in his mind the three karmas are produced.
If you wish to destroy your evil karma by practicing seeking future happiness,
Even though you obtain this happiness in a future, the evil karma will remain.
If you can, cast the cause of your karma from your mind, and each of you, within your own nature, will truly be redeemed.
If you awaken to the Mahayana and are truly redeemed,
Evil being removed and good achieved, you will truly attain to perfection.

If a student of the Way observes well his self,
He will be the same as the awakened ones.

I am causing this Sudden Teaching to be transmitted,
And one who aspires to learn it will become one with me.

If in the future you wish to seek your original body,
Rid your mind of the evil of the three poisonous roots.

Work hard to practice the Way; do not be absent-minded.
If you spend your time in vain, your whole life will soon be forfeited.

If you encounter the teaching of the Mahayana Sudden Doctrine,
Press together your palms in devotion and sincerity and earnestly strive to reach it.

When the Master had finished preaching, the Prefect Wei, the government officials and the monks and laymen uttered words of praise: What boundless teaching! This we have never heard before!

* * *

    1. “All of the Buddhas of the three worlds come forth from it”: The Mahaprajnaparamita is the means by which all have attained enlightenment. The three worlds of the unenlightened are the desire realm, the form or astral realm, and the formless or causal realm.
    2. Three poisonous roots: attachment, aversion, ignorance. Conduct, meditation and wisdom are the Tripitaka, the Buddhist cannon, which consists of the rules of monastic life (Vinaya), discourses on the way to liberation (Sutra or Sutta) and the Dharma (Abhidhamma), the wisdom teachings–the Law of Reality.
    3. “Do not push away illusions and faults, for they themselves are the Dharma. When all things are illuminated by wisdom and there is neither grasping nor rejecting, then you can see into your own nature and gain the Buddha Way.” Also, “If a student of the Way observes well his self, he will be the same as the awakened ones.” Compare with Bodhidharma:

“Even though the mind has entered delusion, do not push delusion away. Instead, when a thought arises, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which it arises. If your mind discriminates, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place of the discrimination. Whether greed, anger or ignorance arise, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which they arise. To see that there is no place from which these can arise is to cultivate the Way. ” (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)

Yampolsky, Philip B. (1967). The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. (The text of the Tun-Huang manuscript with translation, introduction and notes by Philip B. Yampolsky.) New York: Columbia University Press. (http://www.fodian.net/world/Platform_Sutra_Yampolsky.pdf)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s