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Posts Tagged ‘Platform Sutra the Zen Teaching of Hui-neng’

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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“Whatever a hater may do to a hater, or an enemy to an enemy, a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief (The Dhammapada, page9).”[1]  This is how I see the second precept “to practice good.”  If I set my intention each morning to direct my thinking toward the good it will make it a much easier and more pleasant path to follow that day.  If I make it a point to set a goal to do what is in the best interest of all concerned in each one of my encounters today—undoubtedly—I will have a much more fulfilling and pleasant day.

However, the world does give us many opportunities to test our metal to be able to do good in each and every encounter, with each and every thought, and with each and every action.  Sometimes we may even be confused about what the “good way” would be in a situation.    Rushworth Kidder in his book How Good People Make Tough Choices (1995) talks about situations where we are trying to figure out what to do where we may have two right/good choices.  He calls that “right vs right.” They are much harder to handle than the kind where we are faced with the “right vs wrong” situation, such as when we are given the wrong change at the store. It is easy to know the “right” think to do is to give the extra change back.  This situation easily gives us the opportunity to “practice good.”

But then when we face the “right vs right” challenge it can be much more difficult and frustrating since both ways are really right.  As in the family budget, “It is right to take the family on a much-needed vacation—and right to save that money for your children’s education (page 5).”[2]  Either way helps us to practice the second part of the Three Pure Precepts “to practice good.” So we are in a pickle, as they say!

Kidder goes on to say, “If we can call right-versus-right choices ‘ethical dilemmas’ we can reserve the phrase ‘moral temptations’ for the right-versus-wrong ones (page 5).”  That brings us around to the Dhammapada again where a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief.  In the Platform Sutra the Zen Teaching of Hui-neng (2006) translated by Red Pine it says, “Good friends, as for ‘I vow to save all beings, no matter how numberless,’ it isn’t Hui-neng who does the saving.  Good friends, every being you can think of saves themselves with their own nature in their own bodies. (page 17).”[3]  Wow, that’s a challenge isn’t it!

Red Pine goes on to write,

The wrong views and afflictions, the ignorance and delusions in their own material bodies already possess the nature of original enlightenment.  It is just this nature of original enlightenment that saves them with right views.  Once they realize the prajna wisdom of right view, they dispel their ignorance and delusion, and each being saves themselves.  The false are saved with truth.  The deluded are saved with awareness.  The ignorant are saved with wisdom. The bad are saved with goodness.  And the afflicted are saved with enlightenment.  Those who are saved like this are truly saved (page 17).[4]

This is such a beautiful idea that each of us can work with as we practice precept #2 doing good.  Knowing that we have this innate wisdom within us that truly knows the right way is relieving us of many burdens and fears that we may not make the right choice.  So begin by getting in touch with “your own nature” as Hui-neng says.  And that nature is filled with the prajna wisdom and right views to help you handle any situations that may occur in your life.

Let’s take time each day to sit and while we are sitting or meditating or praying to focus on our true nature that of love, peace, joy and compassion.  Let us bring those emotions out in every situation with everyone we encounter throughout the day regardless of how they have approached us.  Let us see that within them is also the ability to tap into the prajna wisdom of right view and to act for the best interest of all concerned.  The “bad are saved with goodness” even if they do not know it in any moment the light may appear and they will recognize their true self.

If “a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief” imagine what a rightly directed mind can do!

Things to focus on this week:

1.       1.   I will begin each day with the intention of finding good in everyone I meet.

2.      2.   When I feel a negative emotion I will remind myself that innate goodness and my nature of original enlightenment is within me right at this very moment.

3.       3.  Next, I will always look for the answer that is the best for all concerned.

4.      4.   Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.


[1] Babbitt, I., 1936 The Dhammapada, NY:NY A new Directions Paperbook

[2] Kidder, R.M., 1995 How Good People make Tough Choices, Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, NY:NY Harper Collins Publisher

[3] Red Pine, 2006 The Platform Sutra The Zen Teaching of Hui-Neng, Berkeley: CA Counterpoint

[4] Ibid.

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