Upon receiving the robe and the begging bowl in the middle of the night, I told the Patriarch that, being a Southerner, I did not know the mountain tracks, and that it was impossible for me to get to the mouth of the river (to catch a boat). “You need not worry,” said he. “I will go with you.” He then accompanied me to Kiukiang, and there ordered me into a boat. As he did the rowing himself, I asked him to sit down and let me handle the oar. “It is only right for me to carry you across,” he said (an allusion to the sea of birth and death which one has to go across before the shore of Nirvana can be reached). To this I replied, “While I am under illusion, it is for you to get me across; but after enlightenment, I should cross it by myself. (Although the term ‘to go across’ is the same, it is used differently in each case). As I happen to be born on the frontier, even my speaking is incorrect in pronunciation, (but in spite of this) I have had the honor to inherit the Dharma from you. Since I am now enlightened, it is only right for me to cross the sea of birth and death myself by realizing my own Essence of Mind.” “Quite so, quite so,” he agreed. “Beginning from you the Dhyana School will become very popular. Three years after your departure from me I shall leave this world. You may start on your journey now. Go as fast as you can towards the South. Do not preach too soon, as Buddhism is not so easily spread.” After saying good-bye, I left him and walked towards the South.
This account is a pure allegory concerning crossing from the turbulent shore and sea of Samsara to the Quiescent Other Shore of Nirvanic Suchness. Before awakening to the Dharmatic Light, Hui-neng was dependent upon Hung-jen to point the Way towards the Other Shore; after the Nirvanic Awakening, Hui-neng had crossed the turbulent Samsaric waters and was now resplendent with Eternal Vidyaa as he joined the Noble Shining One’s in the Pure Mind Realm of the Dharmakaya. Thus he was no longer in need of Hung-jen carrying him any further, since he had “crossed-over” to the Buddhaic-Realm of Infinite Light on his own accord. Hung-jen predicts that Hui-neng’s “Dhyana School” will become very popular; indeed, such was the case as the Southern-Mind School of Sudden Awakening took precedence after the last dying embers of the Northern School were extinguished.
In about two months’ time, I reached the Ta Yu Mountain. There I noticed that several hundred men were in pursuit of me with the intention of robbing me of my robe and begging bowl. Among them there was a monk named Hui Ming, whose lay surname was Ch’en. He was a general of the fourth rank in lay life. His manner was rough and his temper hot. Of all the pursuers, he was the most vigilant in search of me. When he was about to overtake me, I threw the robe and begging bowl on a rock, saying, “This robe is nothing but a symbol. What is the use of taking it away by force?” (I then hid myself). When he got to the rock, he tried to pick them up, but found he could not. Then he shouted out, “Lay Brother, Lay Brother, (for the Patriarch had not yet formally joined the Order) I come for the Dharma, not for the robe.” Whereupon I came out from my hiding place and squatted on the rock. He made obeisance and said, “Lay Brother, preach to me, please.” “Since the object of your coming is the Dharma,” said I, “refrain from thinking of anything and keep your mind blank. I will then teach you.” When he had done this for a considerable time, I said, “When you are thinking of neither good nor evil, what is at that particular moment, Venerable Sir, your real nature (literally, original face)?”
As soon as he heard this he at once became enlightened. But he further asked, “Apart from those esoteric sayings and esoteric ideas handed down by the Patriarch from generation to generation, are there any other esoteric teachings?” “What I can tell you is not esoteric,” I replied. “If you turn your light inwardly, you will find what is esoteric within you.” “In spite of my staying in Huang Mei,” said he, “I did not realize my self nature. Now thanks to your guidance, I know it as a water-drinker knows how hot or how cold the water is. Lay Brother, you are now my teacher.” I replied, “If that is so, then you and I are fellow disciples of the Fifth Patriarch. Take good care of yourself.” In answering his question whither he should go thereafter, I told him to stop at Yuan and to take up his abode in Meng. He paid homage and departed.
Some of those robbers who were in fast pursuit of Hui-neng were clearly cognizant of the value behind Bodhidharma’s Robe and Bowl; if one were to obtain those reverenced articles of old they would be assured a hefty price-tag on the black market. Although, one member of that nefarious band happened to be a monk named Hui Ming; he was a bounty-hunter of sorts in quest of the mysterious Hui-neng, and of course, the Robe and Bowl as well; yet, when he catches-up with him, he receives far more than he bargained for. Something marvelous happens for Hui-neng as well, for he has a sudden epiphany that these mere dharma-trinkets are not truly indicative of the Pure Buddhadharma, being no more than just symbols reflecting a far Greater Reality. He just drops them and says, “Go-ahead and take them—they’re really worth nothing more than dirt as compared to the real Dharma-Treasure!” His words have a stunning effect on the monk, because when he bends down to pick up those resplendent articles, he finds himself frozen and unable to do so. Indeed, the monk has a Sudden Mind-Realization and cries out, “My brother, I’ve really come for the True Buddhadharma—please bestow it upon me!” Hui-neng acquiesces to his request and actually utters those famous words that are oftentimes used in countless dharma-circles, “Not thinking of good, not thinking of evil, just at this moment, what is your original face before your mother and father were born?” This mystical-exchange between Hui-neng and the monk turns out to be mutually beneficial; the monk is now blessed with the Enlightened Bodhi-Seed within his own spirit, and the word will now spread quickly in other influential circles that Hui-neng has indeed inherited the Patriarchy.
The remainder of the autobiographical account has Hui-neng remaining in seclusion for fifteen years before emerging to teach the Buddhadharma; he ends up at the Fa Hsin Temple in Canton. While there certain revelations transpire that assures the Head Dharma Master, Bhikkhu Yin Tsung, that he is without question the heralded Sixth Patriarch. Among these occurrences is the classic anecdote of resolving the dispute between the two monks and the flag blown about in the wind; Hui-neng assures them that it is neither the wind nor the flag, but one’s mind that is moving. With other such auspicious signs thus revealed, the Dharma Master shaves Hui-neng’s head as he is now officially recognized as the new Patriarch of the Buddhadharma and Ch’an legacy.