Good friends, in the Dharma there is no sudden or gradual, but among people some are keen and others dull. The deluded recommend the gradual method, the enlightened practice the sudden teaching. To understand the original mind of yourself is to see into your own original nature. Once enlightened, there is from the outset no distinction between these two methods; those who are not enlightened will for long kalpas be caught in the cycle of transmigration.
This is a good passage that delineates the distinction behind “sudden” and “gradual” as seen through the lens of Shen-hui’s Dharma-school. Those who, through a series of stages, practice a method of abstracting from Mind every-thing that It isn’t, are classified as those holding the flag of the gradual-method of final awakening. (Northern School) Those of the sudden-method are graced from the outset with keen capacities as such that they are meritoriously drawn to and encounter a true Dharma-sage whose penetrating insights into the Buddhadharma are so profound, that intrinsic-enlightenment into the true nature of mind occurs in spontaneous fashion. It also needs to be pointed out, though, as Tsung-mi has noted, “that this is only possible because such persons have already engaged in a long process of spiritual cultivation in past lives—hence there is a gradual component in this position as well.” (Sudden and Gradual Enlightenment, Gregory, pg.283) This passage ends on a note speculating that those who do not strive after final awakening in the Dharma-field of Noble Self-realization, will continue to be stuck in endless cycles of transmigration.
“Good friends, in this teaching of mine, from ancient times up to the present, all have set up no-thought as the main doctrine, non-form as the substance, and non-abiding as the basis. Non-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No-thought is not to think even when involved in thought. Non-abiding is the original nature of man. “Successive thoughts do not stop; prior thoughts, present thoughts, and future thoughts follow one after the other without cessation. If one instant of thought is cut off, the Dharma body separates from the physical body, and in the midst of successive thoughts there will be no place for attachment to anything. If one instant of thought clings, then successive thoughts cling; this is known as being fettered. If in all things successive thoughts do not cling, then you are unfettered. Therefore, non-abiding is made the basis.
“Good friends, being outwardly separated from all forms, this is non-form. When you are separated from form, the substance of your nature is pure. Therefore, non-form is made the substance. “To be unstained in all environments is called no-thought. If on the basis of your own thoughts you separate from environment, then, in regard to things, thoughts are not produced. If you stop thinking of the myriad things, and cast aside all thoughts, as soon as one instant of thought is cut off, you will be reborn in another realm. Students, take care! Don’t rest in objective things and the subjective mind. [If you do so] it will be bad enough that you yourself are in error, yet how much worse that you encourage others in their mistakes. The deluded man, however, does not himself see and slanders the teachings of the sutras.
Therefore, no-thought is established as a doctrine. Because man in his delusion has thoughts in relation to his environment, heterodox ideas stemming from these thoughts arise, and passions and false views are produced from them. Therefore this teaching has established no-thought as a doctrine. “Men of the world, separate yourselves from views; do not activate thoughts. If there were no thinking, then no-thought would have no place to exist. ‘No’ is the ‘no’ of what? ‘Thought’ means ‘thinking’ of what? ‘No’ is the separation from the dualism that produces the passions.
‘Thought’ means thinking of the original nature of True Reality. True Reality is the substance of thoughts; thoughts are the function of True Reality. If you give rise to thoughts from your self-nature, then, although you see, hear, perceive, and know, you are not stained by the manifold environments, and are always free. The Vimalakirti Sutra says: ‘Externally, while distinguishing well all the forms of the various dharmas, internally he stands firm within the First Principle.’
“No-thought” in these passages is also rendered as “no-mind”, or Wu-hsin. This Principle is widely used by Hui-neng and essentially breaks-down as nothing calculated, but simply allowing Mind Itself to spontaneously meet, in non-formal fashion, what is required in a given moment. Hui-neng also includes, Non-form/ formlessness=Mind’s Essential Substance; It abides in no-thing as Its basis. Hui-neng drives home here the point that abiding in Mind-Only bests abiding in no-thing (sensate phenomena, including all thought-formulations) Hence, being un-fettered means to break the successive patterns of thought-obstructions by remaining “prior-to” them through spontaneous non-abiding via the principle of Wu-hsin that nullifies all impermanent phenomena through the exchange of the permanent Nirvanic-Element of Truth That is always ready to respond in appropriate and vivifying ways. Another way of looking at this is that one no longer has any relationship with the external, forever changing, environment; rather, one faithfully and spontaneously abides in the Nature of True Reality (Dharmadhatu), always prior-to and in union with the Pure Mind of Unborn Permanence. In Recollecting this Principle, says Hui-neng, whatever thought vexations appear will make no difference as you no longer abide in them (no-thing), but rather apperceive them through the Unifying-lens of the Nirvanic Mind. Another interesting and usefully applicable anecdote to all this can be found in the newly published, “The Ceasing of Notions” (please see recent blog concerning this magnificent Dunhuang discovery):
“Emmon: “What should one do then?”
Nyuri: “Not doing anything—that’s it!”
Not-doing does not mean doing nothing but rather means doing without the dualistic split into subject and object—that is, without a self that does the doing. This is then intentionless doing that naturally and of itself responds (accurately and fittingly) to the situation. ” (The Ceasing of Notions: An early Zen Text from the Dunhuang Caves with Selected Comments; Soko Morinaga, pg.24. Wisdom Publications, 2012)