Reciting the four Bodhisattva Vows
“Now that you have already taken refuge in the threefold body of Buddha, I shall expound to you the four great vows. Good friends, recite in unison what I say: ‘I vow to save all sentient beings everywhere. I vow to cut off all the passions everywhere. I vow to study all the Buddhist teachings everywhere. I vow to achieve the unsurpassed Buddha Way.’ (Recite three times.)
“Good friends, when I say ‘I vow to save all sentient beings everywhere,’ it is not that I will save you, but that sentient beings, each with their own natures, must save themelves. What is meant by ‘saving yourselves with your own natures’? Despite heterodox views, passions, ignorance, and delusions, in your own physical bodies you have in yourselves the attributes of inherent enlightenment, so that with correct views you can be saved. If you are awakened to correct views, the wisdom of prajñā will wipe away ignorance and delusion, and you all will save yourselves. If false views come, with correct views you will be saved; if delusion comes, with awakening you will be saved; if ignorance comes, with wisdom you will be saved; if evil comes, with good you will be saved; if the passions come, with bodhi you will be saved. Being saved in this way is known as true salvation.
” ‘I vow to cut off all the passions everywhere’ is, with your own minds to cast aside the unreal and the false. ‘I vow to study all the Buddhist teachings everywhere’ is to study the unsurpassed true Dharma. ‘I vow to achieve the unsurpassed Buddha Way’ is always to act humbly, to practice reverence for all things, to separate oneself from erroneous attachments, and to awaken to the wisdom of prajñā. When delusions are cast aside you are self-enlightened, achieve the Buddha Way, and put into practice the power of the vows.”
This is an outstanding passage and unequivocally defines what it means to “save” sentient beings everywhere. All too often in this angst-ridden saha-realm, one can mistakenly misconstrue that Bodhisattvic vow to denote “saving” exclusively some entity through materialistic, altruistic venues. Ultimately, if one adheres to this mistaken notion, one is incessantly and naively striving for some kind of a “Utopia” here on Earth. Fat chance of that ever occurring; the forces of greed, manipulation and control will prevent that from happening for ever and a day…those forces that Hui-neng refers to as the evil inherent in men. Besides, what needs to be saved are not temporal walking corpses, but rather one’s spirit transcending another transient-spin on the wild wheel of samsara. Jesus the Christ once stated, “What profit does one gain by even inheriting the whole world, if in doing so one forfeits one’s eternal spirit?”
Hui-neng hits the nail on the head: “Good friends, when I say ‘I vow to save all sentient beings everywhere,’ it is not that I will save you, but that sentient beings, each with their own natures, must save themselves.” For Ch’an Buddhists this translates as turning-about (paravritti) from the transient domain of ordinary and circumstantial consciousness, and directly Recollecting the very Salvific Source Itself. The Tathatic-Mind supersedes the rotting Carnal-mind. And so this is not all about just laying back and hoping that some “outside” transcendent being is going to come along and pick you up by the bootstraps, but rather permanently giving the boot to one’s body-consciousness that somehow imagines that it exists and needs to be saved. Hui-neng says to look within at your True Nature; yea, it is self-oriented because it is Recollection of the Self That saves. Awakening (Bodhi) to this Noble self-realization is one’s Ultimate Salvation. Right Recollection is Right View in Light of the Right Reality (Dharmadhātu) of Pure Mind.
Performing the signless repentance
“Now that I have finished speaking of the four vows, I shall give you the formless repentance and destroy the crimes of the three realms.”
The Master said: “Good friends, if in past thoughts, present thoughts, and future thoughts, if in successive thoughts, you are not stained by delusion and you at once cast aside with your own natures previous bad actions, this is seeking forgiveness. If in past thoughts, future thoughts, and present thoughts, if in successive thoughts, you are not stained by ignorance, and cast aside forever your previous arrogant minds, this is called seeking forgiveness with your own natures. If in past thoughts, present thoughts, and future thoughts, if in successive thoughts, you are not stained by jealousy and cast aside with your own natures previous feelings of jealousy, this is seeking forgiveness. (Recite the above three times.)
“Good friends, what is repentance (ch’an-hui) ? ‘Seeking forgiveness’ (ch’an) is to do nothing throughout your life. ‘Repentance’ (hui) is to know the mistakes and evil actions you have perpetrated up to now, and never to let them be apart from the mind. It is useless to make a confession in words before the Buddhas. In my teaching, forever to engage in no action is called repentance.”
This is quite a healthy exposé on the nature of forgiveness and repentance. One needs to be freed from the demon of time. All past, present, and future mind-projections are karmically bound. Being incessantly karmically bound is bending over to all karmic thoughts, misdeeds, and influences of the three times. Through totally adhering to these vows, insists Hui-neng, one will defeat once and for all this evil demon. Hence, one in a very real sense needs to forgive oneself; this cancels-out all past perdition’s. Invoking one’s own Self-Nature cleanses all diseased attributes of the discriminatory mind. In this sense, Hui-neng points out the utter futility of “confessing one’s sins” openly before the Buddhas since there is no-thing that needs to be forgiven in the first place. Once again, Hui-neng’s principle of Wu-hsin comes into play. Re-pentance means that deep turning-about (paravritti) within one’s in-most consciousness which is the consciousness (Amala-vijnaña) of the Tathagatas themselves; in so doing, what needs to be saved anymore and by whom? This really translates into some very healthy and practical perspectives. Stop beating up on yourself because there is really no-thing to get hung-up about; don’t give that ol’ demon another chance to torture you. Stop. Reflect. Turn-About. Recollect. No-thing really binds you, you are a child of the Unborn and the Freedom of the Other Shore is always at hand.