Hui-neng: On teaching the Dharma

This is a sermon that instructs future masters in the art of teaching the Dharma. Hui-neng taught that one should not criticize the practices or doctrines of others, but listen to them in silence and practice according to one’s own beliefs.


The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript with Translation, Introduction and Notes by Philip B. Yampolsky (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1967)

45. The Master then called his disciples Fa-hai, Chih-ch’eng, Fa-ta, Chih-ch’ang, Chih-t’ung, Chih-ch’e, Chih-tao, Fa-chen, Fa-ju, and Shen-hui, and said: “You ten disciples, come close. You stand out from the others; after I die each of you will become a teacher somewhere. I am explaining the Dharma to you so that the basic teaching will not become lost.

“I shall give you the teaching of the three categories and the thirty-six opposing ideas. As things rise and sink, you must separate from dualism. When you explain all things, do not stand apart from nature and form. Should someone ask you about the Dharma, what you say should be symmetrical and you must draw parallels for everything. Since they originate each from the other, if in the end dualisms are all completely cast aside, there will be no place for them to exist.

The teaching of the three categories is that of the aggregates (skandha), the realms of sense-perception (dhatu), and the sense-gates (ayatana). There are five aggregates, eighteen realms of sense-perception, and twelve sense-gates. What are the five aggregates? They are form (rupa), feeling or sensation (vedana), knowledge of good and bad sensations, thought-formations (samskara), and consciousness (vijnana). What are the eighteen realms of sense? They are the six dusts (sense-phenomena), the six gates, and the six consciousnesses (vijnana). What are the twelve sense-gates? Externally they are the six dusts; internally they are the six gates. What are the six dusts? They are sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. What are the six gates? They are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Dharma-nature gives rise to the six consciousnesses—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking—as well as the six gates and the six dusts. The myriad things are all within your very nature: this is known as the Alayavijnana (storehouse or matrix of consciousness). Thinking, the Alaya is stirred, the six consciousnesses are produced, and the six dusts are seen passing through the six gates. The three sixes make eighteen. From the errors of your self-nature the eighteen errors arise. If your self-nature is true, then the eighteen correct things arise. If it contains wrong activities, then you are a sentient being; if it contains right activities, then you are a Buddha. From what do activities stem? They stem from the opposites with which your own nature has contact.

46. “The opposites of the natural phenomena of the external environment are five: Heaven and Earth, the sun and the moon, darkness and light, Yin and Yang, and water and fire. There are twelve opposites in language and the characteristics of things: active-material and inactive-immaterial, with characteristics and without characteristics, within the flow of birth and death and without that flow, matter and emptiness, motion and stillness, purity and uncleanliness, profane and sacred, monk and layman, old and young, large and small, long and short, and high and low. In the activities to which your self-nature gives rise there are nineteen opposites: the incorrect and the correct, ignorance and wisdom, stupidity and knowledge, confusion and samadhi, following the precepts and not following them, straight and crooked, real and unreal, difficult and easy, passions and enlightenment, compassion and doing harm, joy and anger, giving and begrudging, progressing and retrogressing, birth and destruction, permanence and impermanence, the Dharmakaya and the physical body, the  nirmanakaya and the sambhogakaya, substance and function, nature and characteristics, and sentience and insentience. In language and the characteristics of things there are twelve opposites, in the external environment there are five opposites of natural phenomena, and in the functions to which your self-nature gives rise there are nineteen opposites, making altogether thirty-six opposites. If you can employ the teaching of the thirty-six opposites, it will apply to all the sutras, and, coming and going, you will stand apart from dualism.

[Koshoji, pp. 61-62, renders the following section in much greater detail than the Tun-huang version]

“The Master continued: ‘Once you say, “do not set up words,” the very words “do not set up” are themselves words. Hearing them [the sutras] recited by man, you say that words slander: this [criticism of reciting the sutras] is clinging to words. It is bad enough to be deluded oneself, let alone to slander the sutras [by criticizing recitation]. Do not blaspheme against the sutras, or else you will commit numberless crimes and create obstructions. Those who on the outside cling to form and seek the truth by creating dharmas, or build large places for practice, and speak of the presence or absence of errors, will for numberless kalpas be unable to see into their own natures. Rather than encouraging [others to] practice according to the Dharma, merely listen to it [their sermons] and practice [the correct way] yourself. Do not think of the hundred things and impede the nature of the Way. If you hear [the Dharma] and do not practice, you will do harm to others and cause erroneous thoughts to be born. Simply practicing according to the Dharma is the almsgiving of the Dharma of the form of non-abiding. If you awaken, preach by this, base your activities upon this, practice with this, work according to this, and then the essentials of the teachings will not be lost. Should someone ask you its meaning, if they ask of existence, answer with non-existence; if someone asks of non-existence, answer with existence. If someone asks you of the profane, answer with the sacred; if someone asks you of the sacred, answer with the profane. From the correlation of the opposites produce the true essential. To one question give one answer; as for other questions, treat them in the same way, and you will not lose the principle. If someone should ask you “What is darkness?” say in answer: “Light is a primary cause; darkness a secondary cause. When light disappears we have darkness, darkness is manifested by light, and with darkness light appears. They originate each from the other.” Produce the essential meaning! Other questions are all like this!’ “

47. The Master said: “You ten disciples, when later you transmit the Dharma, hand down the teaching of the one roll of the Platform Sutra; then you will not lose the basic teaching. Those who do not receive the Platform Sutra do not have the essentials of my teaching. As of now you have received them; hand them down and spread them among
later generations. If others are able to encounter the Platform Sutra, it will be as if they received the teaching personally from me.”

48. The Master passed away on the third day of the eighth month of the second year of Hsien-t’ien (August 28, 713). On the eighth day of the seventh month he called his disciples together and bade them farewell. In the first year of Hsien-t’ien the Master had constructed a pagoda at the Kuo-en Temple in Hsin-chou, and now in the seventh month of the second year of Hsien-t’ien he was taking his leave.

The Master said: “Come close. In the eighth month I intend to leave this world. If any of you have doubts, ask about them quickly, and I shall resolve them for you. I must bring your delusions to an end and make it possible for you to gain peace. After I have gone there will be no one to teach you.”

Fa-hai and the other monks heard him to the end and wept tears of sorrow. Only Shen-hui was not moved, nor did he weep. The Sixth Patriarch said: “Shen-hui, you are a young monk, yet you have attained the [state] in which good and not good are identical, and you are not moved by judgments of praise and blame. You others have not yet understood: what have you been practicing at this temple these many years? You’re crying now, but who is there who’s really worried that I don’t know the place to which I’m going?261  If I didn’t know where I was going then I wouldn’t be leaving you. You’re crying because you don’t know where I’m going. If you knew where I was going you wouldn’t be crying. The self-nature is without birth and without destruction, without going and without coming. All of you sit down. I shall give you a verse, the verse of the true-false moving-quiet. All of you recite it, and if you understand its meaning, you will be the same as I. If you practice with it, you will not lose the essence of the teaching.”

261 Koshoji, p. 63, reads: "Whom are you worrying about? If you're worrying
 about my not knowing the place to which I'm going, [then let me tell you]
 that I do know the place."

175 The Platform Sutra

The assembly of monks bowed down and begged: “Master, leave us your verse; we shall receive and retain it with reverent hearts.” The verse said:

Nowhere is there anything true;
Don’t try to see the true in any way.
If you try to see the true,
Your seeing will be in no way true.
If you yourself would  gain the true,
Separate from the false; there the mind is true.
If the mind itself does not separate from the false,
There is no true. What place is there for it to be?
Sentient beings can move,
Non-sentient things are without motion;
If you undertake the practices of non-motion [quietude],
You will be identical to the non-motion of the non-sentient.
If the true non-motion is observed,
It is non-motion postulated on motion.
Non-motion [quietude] is no more than the absence of motion;
Non-sentient beings contain no Buddha seed.
Distinguishing well the forms [of the various dharmas],
Remain firm within the First Principle.262
If you awaken and come to this view,
This then is the operation of True Reality.
Let me tell all you students of the Way
That you must exert your utmost efforts.
Do not, in the teaching of the Mahayana,
Cling to the knowledge of birth and death.
When in the future you encounter one you are destined to meet 263
Then discuss together the words of the Buddha.
If he is really not such a person,
Then, with palms joined, have him strive for the good.
From the outset this teaching has never engaged in disputes;
Disputations will betray the intention of the Way.
If you cling to delusions and argue about the teaching,
Your own natures will enter into the cycle of birth and death.

262 A paraphrase of the passage from the Vimalakirti Sutra.
263 Hsiang-ying. A technical term, indicating a predestined encounter with
 someone who is fully responsive to the teaching.


176 The Platform Sutra

49. Once the assembled monks heard this verse they understood the Master’s meaning. They did not dare to argue and they knew that they must practice according to the Dharma. In unison they all bowed deeply, knowing that the Master would not stay in the world forever.

The head monk Fa-hai came forward and said: “Master, after you leave, who will inherit your robe and Dharma?”

The Master said: “The Dharma has already been entrusted; that you may not ask. Some twenty years 265 after I have died evil teachings will run rampant and becloud the essentials of my teaching. Then someone will come forward and, at the risk of his life, fix the correct and false in Buddhism 266 and raise up the essentials of the teaching. This will be my true Dharma. The robe may not be handed down.

265 This prediction refers to Shen-hui's attack on the Northern School of
 Ch'an in 732 at Hua-t'ai in Honan. The Shen-hui yu-lu (Suzuki text, p. 62),
 in the biography of Hui-neng, sets the prediction at forty years. It is found
 as twenty in the Koshoji edition, p. 65, but later editions of the Platform
 Sutra have dropped the prediction altogether.
266 The wording of this passage brings to mind the work of Shen-hui. Together
 with the prediction above, it forms strong evidence to support Hu Shih's
 contention that the Platform Sutra was written by a disciple or a later
 member of Shen-hui's school.

179 The The Platform Sutra

51. And now on the third day of the eighth month, after eating, the Master said: “All of you take your positions and be seated. I am going to leave you now.”

Fa-hai asked: “From the very beginning up to now, how many generations have there been in the transmission of the doctrine of the Sudden Enlightenment teaching?”

The Master said: “The first transmission was from the Seven Buddhas [of the past], and Sakyamuni was the seventh. Eighth was Kasyapa, ninth Ananda, tenth Madhyantika, eleventh Sanavasa, twelfth Upagupta, thirteenth Dhrtaka, fourteenth Buddhanandi, fifteenth Buddhamitra, sixteenth Parsva, seventeenth Punyayasas, eighteenth Asvaghosa, nineteenth Kapimala, twentieth Nagarjuna, twenty-first Kanadeva, twenty-second Rahulata, twenty-third Sanghanandi, twenty-fourth Gayasata, twenty-fifth Kumarata, twenty-sixth Jayata, twenty-seventh Vasubandhu, twenty-eighth Manorhita, twenty-ninth Haklenayasas, thirtieth Simha bhiksu, thirty-first Sanavasa, thirty-second Upagupta, thirty-third Sangharaksa,277 thirty-fourth Subhamitra, thirty-fifth Bodhidharma, prince from southern India, thirty-sixth, the Chinese priest Hui-k’o, thirty-seventh Seng-ts’an, thirty-eighth Tao-hsin, thirty-ninth Hung-jen, and as of now I am the fortieth to have received the Law.”

The Master said: “From today on transmit the teaching among yourselves, but be sure that you have the sanction, and do not let the essentials of the teaching become lost.”

52. Fa-hai spoke again, asking: “Master, you are going now. What Dharma are you leaving behind, and how will you make it possible for those who come later to see the Buddha?”

The Sixth Patriarch replied: “Listen! If only they know sentient beings, deluded people of later generations will be able to see the Buddha. If they do not know sentient beings, even though they seek the Buddha, they will not be able to see him in ten thousand kalpas. I shall now let you see the sentient being in your own mind and let you


180 The Platform Sutra

see the Buddha nature in your own mind.279 Also I shall leave you a verse on ‘Seeing the true Buddha and gaining emancipation.’ If you are deluded you will not see the Buddha; if you are awakened you will see him. Fa-hai, please listen. Hand the teaching down to successive generations, and do not allow it to be cut off.”

The Sixth Patriarch said: “Hear me as I explain to you. If men in later generations wish to seek the Buddha, they have only to know that the Buddha mind is within sentient beings; then they will be able to know the Buddha. Because the Buddha mind is possessed by sentient beings, apart from sentient beings there is no Buddha mind.

“Deluded, a Buddha is a sentient being;
Awakened, a sentient being is a Buddha.
Ignorant, a Buddha is a sentient being;
With wisdom, a sentient being is a Buddha.
If the mind is warped, a Buddha is a sentient being;
If the mind is impartial, a sentient being is a Buddha.
Once a warped mind is produced,
Buddha is concealed within the sentient being.
If for one instant of thought we become impartial,
Then sentient beings are themselves Buddha.
In our mind itself a Buddha exists,
Our own Buddha is the true Buddha.
If we do not have in ourselves the Buddha mind,
Then where are we to seek Buddha?”

53. The Master said: “My disciples, farewell. I am going to leave you a verse entitled the ‘Self-nature True Buddha Emancipation’ verse. Should deluded men in later generations grasp the purport of this verse, they will see the true Buddha of their own minds and of their own self-natures. With this verse I shall part from you. The verse says:

True reality and a pure nature—this is the true Buddha;
Evil views and the three poisons—this is the true devil.
For the person with evil views, the devil is in his home;
For the person with correct views, the Buddha will enter his home.
If from the evil views within the nature the three poisons are produced,

279 The Tun-huang text reads: "I shall let you know sentient beings and see
 Buddha." The translation has been altered to follow Koshoji, p. 68.


181 The Platform Sutra

This means that a demon king has come to reside in the home.
If correct views of themselves cast aside the mind of the three [poisons]
The devil changes and becomes a Buddha, one that is true, not false.
The Nirmanakaya, the Sambhogakaya, the Dharmakaya,
These three bodies are from the outset one body.
If within your own nature you seek to see for yourself,
This then will lead to you becoming Buddha and gaining enlightenment (bodhi).
Since from the outset the Nirmanakaya produces the pure nature,
This pure nature is always contained within the Nirmanakaya.
If your nature activates the Nirmanakaya to practice the correct way,
In the future perfection is achieved, a perfection true and without limit.
Unwholesome nature [klesha] is itself the cause of purity,
Outside of unwholesomeness [klesha] there is no pure nature.
If within your self-nature you yourself separate from the five desires,
The instant you see into your own nature—this is the True [Buddha].
If in this life you awaken to the teaching of the Sudden Doctrine,
Awakening, you will see the World-honored One before your eyes.
If you wish to practice and say you seek the Buddha,
Who knows where you will find the True [One] ?
If within your own body you yourself have the True,
Where the True is, there is the means of becoming Buddha.
If you do not seek the True yourself and seek the Buddha outside,
All your seeking will be that of a highly ignorant man.
The teaching of the Sudden Doctrine has come from the West.
To save people of the world you must practice it yourself.
Now I say to all Ch’an students in this world,
If you do not rely on this Way you are leading empty lives.”

The Master, having finished his verse, then said to his disciples: “Good-by, all of you. I shall depart from you now. After I am gone, do not weep worldly tears, nor accept condolences, money, and silks from people, nor wear mourning garments. If you did so it would not accord with the sacred Dharma, nor would you be true disciples of mine. Be the same as you would be if I were here, and sit all together in meditation. If you are only peacefully calm and quiet, without motion, without stillness, without birth, without destruction, without coming, without going, without judgments of right and wrong, without staying and without going—this then is the Great Way. After I have gone, just practice according to the Dharma in the same way that you did on the days that I was with you. Even if I remained in this world, if you went against the teachings, there would be no use in my having been here.”


182 The Platform Sutra

After finishing speaking these words, the Master, at midnight, quietly passed away. He was seventy-six years of age.

54. On the day the Master died a strange fragrance, which did not fade for several days, filled the temple, Mountains crumbled, the earth trembled, and the forest trees turned white. The sun and moon ceased to shine and the wind and clouds lost their colors.

He died on the third day of the eighth month, and in the eleventh month his sacred coffin was received and interred on Mount Ts’ao-ch’i. From within his resting place a bright light appeared and rose straight toward the heavens, and two days passed before it finally dispersed.

The prefect of Shao-chou, Wei Ch’u, erected a memorial stone, and to this day offerings have been made before it.

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