The Platform Sutra


Translation by Wing-Tsit Chan

Sections according to D. T. Suzuki

3. Priest Hung-jen asked me (Hui-neng), “Whence have you come to this mountain to pay reverence to me? What do you wish from me?”

I answered, “Your disciple is a native of Ling-nan, a citizen of Hsin-chou. I have purposely come a great distance to pay you reverence. I seek nothing other than to attain the Buddha-Dharma.”

The Great Master reproved me, saying, “You are from Ling-nan, and, furthermore, you are a barbarian. How can you become a buddha?”

I answered, “Although people are distinguished as northerners and southerners, there is neither north nor south in the Buddha-nature. The physical body of the barbarian and the monk are different, but what difference is there in their Buddha-nature?” The Great Master intended to argue with me further, but seeing people around, said nothing more. He ordered me to attend to duties among the rest. Then a lay attendant ordered me to the rice-pounding area to pound rice. This I did for more than eight months.

4. One day the Fifth Patriarch (Hung-jen) suddenly called all his pupils to come to him. When they had assembled, he said, “Let me say this to you: Life and death are serious matters. You disciples are engaged all day in making offerings, going after fields of blessings only (priesthood), and you make no effort to achieve freedom from the bitter sea of life and death. If you are deluded in your own nature, how can blessings (being a priest) save you? Go to your rooms, all of you, and think for yourselves. Those who possess wisdom (sages) use the wisdom (prajña) inherent in their own nature. Each of you must write a verse and present it to me. After I see the verses, I will give the robe and the Law to the one who understands the fundamental idea and will appoint him to be the Sixth Patriarch. Hurry, hurry!”

6. . . . At midnight Head Monk Shen-hsiu, holding a candle, wrote a verse on the wall of the south corridor without anyone knowing about it, which said:

The body is the tree of perfect wisdom (bodhi)
The mind is the stand of a bright mirror
At all times diligently wipe it
Do not allow it to become dusty

7. . . . The Fifth Patriarch said, “The verse you wrote shows some but not complete understanding. You have arrived at the gate but you have not yet passed through it. Ordinary people who practice in accordance with your verse will not go wrong; but it is futile to seek the supreme perfect wisdom while holding to such a view. One must pass through the gate and see his own nature. Go away and come back after thinking a day or two. Write another verse and present it to me. If then you have passed through the gate and have seen your own nature, I will give you the robe and the Law.” Head Monk Shen-hsiu went away and for several days could not produce another verse.

I also composed a verse. My verse says:

Fundamentally perfect wisdom has no tree
Nor has the bright mirror any stand
Buddha-nature is forever clear and pure
Where is there any dust?

Another verse, which says:

The mind is the tree of perfect wisdom
The body is the stand of a bright mirror
The bright mirror is from the beginning clear and pure
Where has it been defiled by any dust?

Monks in the hall were all surprised at these verses; I, however, went back to the rice-pounding area. The Fifth Patriarch then realized that I alone had the good knowledge and understanding of the fundamental idea, but he was afraid lest the rest learn of it. He therefore told them, “He does not understand perfectly after all.”

9. The Fifth Patriarch waited till midnight, called me to come to the hall, and expounded the Diamond Scripture. As soon as I heard this, I understood. That night the Law was imparted to me without anyone’s knowing it, and thus the method of sudden enlightenment (Dharma) and the robe were passed on to me. “You are now the Sixth Patriarch. This robe is the testimony of transmission from generation to generation. As to the Law, it is to be transmitted from mind to mind. Let people achieve enlightenment through their own effort.”

The Fifth Patriarch said, “Hui-neng, from the very beginning, in the transmission of the Law one’s life is as delicate as if hanging by a thread. If you remain here, someone might harm you. You must leave quickly.”

12. Then I came and stayed in this place (the Canton region) and associated with government officials, disciples who have renounced their families, and lay folk. Clearly this was due to causes operating over many long periods of time. The doctrine has been handed down from past sages; it is not my own wisdom. Those who wish to hear the teachings of past sages must purify their hearts. Having heard them, they must vow to rid themselves of delusions and thereby to become enlightened as the former sages. (This is the method described below.)

Great Master Hui-neng declared, “Good and learned friends, perfect wisdom is inherent in all people. It is only because they are deluded in their minds that they cannot attain enlightenment by themselves. They must seek the help of good and learned friends of high standing to show them the way to see [their own] nature. Good and learned friends, as soon as one is enlightened, he attains wisdom.”

13. “Good and learned friends, inwardness (samadhi) and wisdom (prajña) are the foundations of my method. First of all, do not be deceived into thinking that the two are different. They are one substance and not two. Inwardness is the substance of wisdom and wisdom is the function of inwardness.* Whenever wisdom is at work, inwardness is within it. Whenever inwardness is at work, wisdom is within it. Good and learned friends, the point here is that [inwardness and] wisdom are identified with one another. Seekers of the Way, arouse your minds. Do not say that wisdom follows inwardness or vice versa, or that the two are different. To hold such a view [would imply that] the things possess two different characteristics. In the case of those whose words are good but whose hearts are not good, wisdom and inwardness are not identified with one another. But in the case of those whose hearts and words are both good and in whom the internal and the external are one, inwardness and wisdom are identified with one another. Self-enlightenment and practice do not consist of discussions. If one is concerned about which comes first, he is a [deluded] person. If he is not freed from the idea of winning or losing, he will produce the things as real entities and cannot be free from the Four States.” [coming into existence, remaining in the same state, change, and going out of existence]

*Substance is that from which something is formed; function is ee Adi Shankara: “The substance of everything is the undifferentiated, subtle and unchanging That, just as clay is the substance of the jar, fibers are the substance of cloth, gold is the substance of an earring, water is the substance of waves, wood is the substance of a house, and iron is the substance of a sword. This is the way of that enquiry

6. “Good and learned friends, in method there is no distinction between sudden enlightenment and gradual enlightenment. Among men, however, some are intelligent and others are stupid. Those who are deluded understand gradually, while the enlightened achieve understanding suddenly. But when they know their own minds, then they see their own nature, and there is no difference in their enlightenment. Without enlightenment, they remain forever bound in transmigration.”

7. “Good and learned friends, in this method of mine, from the very beginning, whether in the sudden-enlightenment or gradual-enlightenment tradition, no-thought has been instituted as the main doctrine, no-things (dharmas) as the substance, and non-attachment as the foundation. What is meant by no-things? No-things means to be free from things while in the midst of them. No-thought means not to be carried away by thought in the process of thought. Non-attachment is man’s original nature.

Thought after thought goes on without remaining. Past, present, and future thoughts continue without end. But if we cut off and terminate thought one instant, the Dharma-body (spiritual body) is freed from the physical body. At no time should thought be attached to any thing, even for a single instant. If thought is attached to anything for a single instant, then every thought will be attached. That is bondage. But if in regard to things no thought is attached to anything, that is freedom. [This is] the meaning of having non-attachment as the foundation.

“Good and learned friends, to be free from all things is what is meant by no-things. Only if we can be free from things will the substance of our nature be pure. That is the meaning of taking no-things as the substance.

“No-thought means not to be defiled by external objects. It is to free our thoughts from external objects and not to have thoughts arise over things. But do not stop thinking about everything and eliminate all thought. As soon as thought stops, one dies and is reborn elsewhere. [This is an admonishment against the practice of quietism.] Take heed of this, followers of the Way. If one does not think over the meaning of the Law and himself becomes mistaken, that is excusable. How much worse is it to encourage others to be so! Deluded, he does not realize that he is mistaken, and he even blasphemes the scripture and the Law! That is the reason why no-thought is instituted as the doctrine. Because people who are deluded have thoughts about the realms of things (the sense-realms), perverse views arise in them and all sorts of afflictions resulting from passions and erroneous thoughts are produced.

“However, this school has instituted no-thought as the doctrine. When people of the world are free from erroneous views, no thoughts will arise. If there are no thoughts, there will not even be a no-thought. No means no what? Thought means thought of what? No-thought means freedom from the concept of duality and from all afflictions resulting from passions. Thought means thought of the true nature of True Thusness. True Thusness is the substance of thought and thought is the function of True Thusness. It is self-nature that gives rise to thought. Therefore in spite of the functioning of seeing, hearing, sensing, and knowing, self-nature is not defiled by the many realms of things (sense-realms) and always remains free and at ease. As the Wei-mo-chieh [so-shuo] Ching (Vimalakirti Sutra) says, “Externally he skillfully differentiates the various dharma-characteristics while internally he abides immovably in the First Principle.”

18. “Good and learned friends, according to this method, sitting in meditation is fundamentally neither looking at the mind nor looking at purity. Suppose we say to look at the mind. The mind is fundamentally false. Since being false is the same as being an illusion, there is nothing to look at. Suppose we say to look at purity. Man’s nature is pure from the beginning. It is by false thoughts that True Thusness is obscured. Our original nature is pure as long as it is free from false thoughts. If one does not realize that his own nature is pure from the beginning and decides to look at purity, he is creating a false purity. Such purity has no objective existence. Hence, we know that what he is looking at is false. Purity has neither physical form nor characteristics, but some people set up characteristics of purity and say that this is the object of our task. People who take this view hinder their own original nature and become bound by purity.

“Nor do we say that there should be imperturbability. If those who cultivate imperturbability would ignore people’s mistakes and defects, they would not be perturbed by them. However, some deluded people are not themselves perturbed, but the moment they criticize others they violate the Way. Thus, looking at the mind or at purity causes a hindrance to the Way.”

19. “Now, this being the case, in this method, what is meant by sitting in meditation? In this method, to sit means to be free from all obstacles, and externally not to allow thoughts to rise from the mind regarding any sphere of objects (sense-realms). To meditate means to realize the imperturbability of one’s original nature. What is meant by meditation and inwardness? Meditation means to be free from all characters externally; inwardness means to be unperturbed internally. If there are things without and the inner mind is not disturbed, one’s original nature is naturally pure and calm. It is only because of the spheres of objects that there is contact, and contact leads to perturbation. There is inwardness when one is free from things and is not perturbed. There is meditation when one is externally free from things, and there is inwardness when one is internally undisturbed. Meditation and inwardness mean that external meditation is attained and internal inwardness is achieved. The Wei-mo-chieh [so-shuo] Ching says, ‘Immediately we become completely clear and recover our original mind.’ The P’u-sa chieh Ching (Scripture of Disciplines for Bodhisattvahood) says, ‘We are from the beginning pure in our self-nature.’ Good and learned friends, realize that your self-nature is naturally pure. Cultivate and achieve for yourselves the Dharma-body of your self-nature. Follow the Way of the Buddha yourselves. Act and achieve buddhahood for yourselves.”

20. “Good and learned friends, you must all go through the experience yourselves and receive the discipline that frees you from attachment to differentiated things. Follow me at the same time and repeat my slogans. They will enable you, good and learned friends, to see that the three bodies of the Buddha are within you:

‘We take refuge in the pure Dharma-body of the Buddha with our own physical bodies.
We take refuge in the Myriad Transformation-body with our own physical bodies.
We take refuge in the Perfect Reward-body with our own physical bodies.’
(The above is to be chanted three times.)

The physical body is like an inn and cannot be spoken of as a refuge. It has always been the case that the three bodies lie in one’s own nature. Everyone has them, yet because they are deluded they do not see, and they seek the three [bodies] of the Tathagata (living buddha) externally, without realizing that the three bodies are inherent in one’s own physical body. Good and learned friends, listen to your good friend. If you, good and learned friends, now see in your own physical bodies the self-nature that involves the three bodies of the Buddha, these three bodies will arise from your own nature.

“What is meant by the Pure Dharma-body of the Buddha? Good and learned friends, our nature is pure from the beginning. All dharmas lie within this self-nature. If we think of various kinds of evil deeds, we will practice evil. If we think of various kinds of good deeds, we will do good. Thus we know that all dharmas lie within one’s self-nature. Self-nature is always pure, just as the sun and moon are always shining. It is only when they are obscured by clouds that there is brightness above but darkness below and the sun, the moon, and the stars cannot be seen. But when suddenly a gentle wind blows and scatters all clouds and fog, all phenomena are abundantly spread out before us, all appearing together. The purity of people’s nature is comparable to the clear sky, their wisdom comparable to the sun, and sagacity comparable to the moon. Their sagacity and wisdom are always shining. It is only because externally people are attached to spheres of objects that erroneous thoughts, like floating clouds, cover the self-nature so that it is not clear. Therefore when they meet a good and learned friend who reveals to them the true method and scatters delusions and falsehood, then they are thoroughly illumined both internally and externally, and all dharmas reveal the free and easy character in their own nature. This is called the Pure Dharma-body (dharmakaya). By ‘taking refuge’ is meant to remove evil deeds. This is called taking refuge.

“What is meant by the Myriad Transformation-body (nirmanakaya)? When there is no thought, one’s nature is empty of differentiated characters and is tranquil, but when there is thought, that is self-transformation. When one thinks of evil dharmas, the transformation becomes hell, but when one thinks of good dharmas, the transformation becomes Paradise. What is poisonous and harmful is transformed into beasts. What is compassionate is transformed into bodhisattvas. What is sagacious and wise is transformed into the higher realm. What is ignorant and deluded is transformed into the lower region. The transformations of self-nature are many, but deluded people do not know this. If one has a single good thought, sagacity and wisdom arise.

“What is meant by the Perfect Reward-body (sambhogakaya)? One light can illuminate the darkness of a thousand years, and one bit of wisdom can destroy the ignorance of ten thousand years. Never mind looking back to the past; always consider the future, and always make future thoughts good. This is called the Reward-body. The reward of one evil thought will remove the good of a thousand years, and the reward of one good thought will destroy the evil of a thousand years. At all times make the next thought a good one. This is called the Reward-body.

What is the Perfect Sambhogakaya? Let us take the illustration of a lamp. Even as the light of a lamp can dispel darkness which has been there for a thousand years, so a spark of wisdom can do away with ignorance which has lasted for ten thousand years. We need not bother about the past, for the past is gone and irrecoverable. What demands our attention is the future; so let our thoughts from moment to moment be clear and round, and let use see face-to-face our Essence of Mind. (Price and Wong)

Thinking on the basis of the Dharma-body is the same as the Transformation-body, and making every thought good is the same as the Reward-body. Achieving enlightenment and practicing [the Law] is called taking refuge. Skin and flesh constitute the physical body. It is an inn and cannot be spoken of as a refuge. If a person understands the three bodies, he will recognize my basic idea.

“All scriptures and writings, both Mahayana and Hinayana, and the twelve sections of the canon are provided for [men]. It is because man possesses the nature of wisdom that these were instituted. If there were no men in the world, there would naturally not be any teachings. We know, therefore, that teachings exist because of man and that there are all these scriptures because there are people to preach them.

“The reason is that among men some are wise and others are stupid. The stupid are inferior, whereas the wise are superior. The deluded consult the wise and the wise explain the Law to the stupid and enable them to understand and to open up their minds. When deluded people understand and open up their minds, they are no longer different from the superior and the wise. Hence we know that without enlightenment, a buddha is no different from other living beings. With enlightenment, even in a single instant of thought, all living beings become the same as a buddha. Hence we know that all dharmas are immanent in one’s mind and person. Why not seek in one’s own mind the sudden realization ofthe original nature of True Thusness? The P’u-sa chieh Ching says, ‘We are from the beginning pure in our self-nature. If we understand our minds and see our nature, we shall achieve Buddhahood ourselves.’ [And the Wei-mo-chieh (so-shuo) Ching says] ‘Immediately we become completely clear and recover our original mind.'”

31. “Good and learned friends, when I was at Priest Hung-jen’s place, I understood immediately as soon as I heard him, and suddenly realized the original nature of True Thusness. For this reason I propagate this doctrine so that it will prevail among later generations and seekers of the Way will be able to achieve perfect wisdom through sudden enlightenment, each to see his own mind, and to become suddenly enlightened through his own original nature. If they are not able to enlighten themselves, they should seek good and learned friends of high standing to show them the way to see their nature.

“What is meant by a good and learned friend of high standing? A good and learned friend of high standing is one who can explain to people the very best method and can directly show them the correct way. That is a good and learned friend of high standing. That is a great cause. That is to [say], he will teach and direct people so they can see their own nature, for all good dharmas arise because of him. [The wisdom] of the past, present, and future buddhas as well as the twelve sections of the scripture are all immanent in human nature, which possesses them completely from the very beginning. Those who cannot enlighten themselves should have good and learned friends to show them the way to see their nature. Those who can enlighten themselves, however, need not depend on good and learned friends. If they seek outside for good and learned friends and hope for emancipation, they will get nowhere. Understanding coming from the good and learned friend inside a person’s own mind, however, will lead him to emancipation. But if one’s own mind is perverse and deluded, [full of] erroneous thoughts and perversions, even if good and learned friends from the outside offer instructions, no salvation can be attained. If you have not been able to enlighten yourselves, you should arouse your wisdom illuminatingly to examine [facts and principles]. Then in an instant all erroneous thoughts will vanish. This is your true and really good and learned friend, who as soon as he is enlightened immediately realizes buddhahood.”

First translation: Sutra Spoken by the Sixth Patriarch, Wei Lang, on the High Seat of the Gem of Law, translated by Mr. Wong Mou-lam of Shanghai and published by the Yu Ching Press.

Wing-Tsit Chan (1963). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

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