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Posts Tagged ‘Huineng’

And thus, we move forward with this great teaching from Yuanwu!  He says, “Among the enlightened adepts, being able to speak the truth has nothing to do with the tongue, and being able to talk about the Dharma is not a matter of words (page 62).[1]

I spent the Sunday afternoon at my prison ministry where 14 men sitting “behind the fence” studied and sat and did kinhin for over three hours.  Their sitting was done wherever they could do it—on the floor with a small yoga mat beneath them, in a wheelchair to which they were confined, or in a chair attached to a desk like you used to use in high school.  But sit they did!

They were not in a beautiful zendo in a forest or in a church where I sit with the Southern Palm Zen Group, or a person’s home filled with love, patience, and compassion—yet their dedication to the principles and practices of Zen were deep and knowing and learning and forgetting.  As Yuanwu said “not a matter of words.”

Yuanwu goes on to write:

Anything the ancients said was intended only so that people would directly experience the fundamental reality.  Thus, the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing to the moon, and the sayings of the Zen masters are like a piece of tile used to knock on a door (page 62).

We were studying the story of Huineng and his opportunity to receive dharma Huineng drawing cutting bambootransmission in secret from the fifth ancestor Yuquan Shenxiu. As the story is told the fifth ancestor was getting old and looking for a successor and so a challenge was given to all the students to write a poem to show their understanding of the dharma.  One student wrote a poem which indicated that in order to reach enlightenment or awakening we had to continuously be polishing the mirror because it was always collecting dust.

Huineng on the other hand could neither read nor write so he had a fellow monk help him out and when he heard this idea he said, “. . .that is not deep enough.”  He asked his friend to write his version which ended in “Fundamentally there is not a single thing. Where could dust arise?” In Buddhism we believe that everything is completely empty thus there is no place for the “dust” to be. Shohaku Okumura says, “there is nothing to have to polish and nothing we have to eliminate. That was Huineng’s understanding (page 211).”[2]

Quantum physics agrees with this ancient teaching: “nothing really exists without the apparatus defining it.”[3] Although there is nothing to define (no dust to wipe away) our human curiosity and questioning moves us to do it anyway.  It moves us to find the answers, to investigate, to study, to learn, and to finally practice what we have learned and bring those ideas and principals into our lives. We do this by simply sitting, clearing our minds of all thoughts of “things,” and discovering that secret sacred place within us devoid of words. Truth is simply conveyed through our actions toward others and self. What “no words” have you spoken today?! What “no actions” have you taken?

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts Wisdom Publications: Boston

[3] http://www.neurohackers.com/index.php/fr/menu-top-neurotheque/68-cat-nh-spirituality/95-emptiness-relativity-a-quantum-physics-dalai-lama

[4] Picture Hui-neng Cutting Bamboo, by Liang K’ai

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As I study the great Zen patriarchs and I come to Huineng I am reminded on this National day of Remembrance another great man who not only said but lived this question: Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Dr. King experienced discrimination in this life he set out to do the things he could do to eliminate it—not just in his life but in the lives of all Americans.  And then there was the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, who was poor and illiterate and one day as he was delivering wood to a home he heard the words of the “Diamond Sutra” and it is said, “his mind cleared and he understood.”  That led him to seek a teacher.

Janet Jiryu Abels in her book Making Zen your Own (2012) writes this about Huineng’s journey to find his teacher.

“So it was that after what must have been an arduous journey, this poor, insignificant, illiterate, twenty-four-year-old man of lowly birth found himself before Master Hongren himself.  Here is their exchange in an abridged version:

‘Where are you from?  What are you looking for?’

‘I come from the south.   I wish to be a Buddha.’

‘If you come from the south, you must be a barbarian.  How can you be a Buddha?’

‘People may be southerners or northerners, but in Buddha nature there can be no south or north.  I may be a barbarian but what difference is there in our Buddha nature?’

Indeed, what difference?  It is a question to ask ourselves of all whom we meet.  What difference is there in our common essentialness (page 23-24)?”

This is the ancient question that Dr. King grappled with each and every day.  Although he was born into a family of educated parents and was taught to read by his mother, who was a teacher, before he entered school, he too wanted to know why things were not open to him and others of color like him.  He wanted everyone to know that there was “no difference” in their “common essentialness” so much so that he was willing to give up his life for his mission.

I am sure that he, like Huineng, had been called a “barbarian” and worse in his life time, but it did not stop either of them from seeing the truth about themselves and all others.  All men and women are created equal and deserve such equal treatment in the law and everywhere.

Jiryu writes, “Let us leave the sixth patriarch as he gives his last talk before his death:  . . . ‘This is the great way.  After I die, just go on practicing as before, as though I were still here.  If you go against this teaching it is as though my life here as abbot were meaningless.  And so Huineng died.’  The year was 713.  He was seventy-five years old. Today, because of him we can each say to ourselves: ‘I seek the great teaching.  Why should I stop halfway (page 32-33)?’

Dr. King did not stop half way either he gave his life for freedom and justice for all people regardless of their birth, low or high, literate or illiterate, rich or poor, black or white.  He once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”[1]  Today we follow in his footsteps as we continue to work for freedom and justice for all, and as we follow in the footsteps of Huineng and live a life where there is “no difference” in our “common essentialness.”

We too can make a difference in the world in which we live. Today is a very special day to continue on our current path or begin anew.  Not only is it the day we celebrate the life of Dr. King it is the second inauguration day for the first black president ever elected in the United States of America—a feat that could not have been won without the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Through the example of these great men’s teachings and lives we too can help transform the world around us.  So why should we stop halfway—Huineng, Dr. King, and President Obama did not and neither should we.

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