Autobiography: Conclusion (Part 1)


“At midnight the Fifth Patriarch called me into the hall and expounded the Diamond Sutra to me. Hearing it but once, I was immediately awakened, and that night I received the Dharma. None of the others knew anything about it. Then he transmitted to me the Dharma of Sudden Enlightenment and the robe, saying: ‘I make you the Sixth Patriarch. The robe is the proof and is to be handed down from generation to generation. My Dharma must be transmitted from mind to mind. You must make people awaken to themselves.’ “The Fifth Patriarch told me: ‘From ancient times the transmission of the Dharma has been as tenuous as a dangling thread. If you stay here there are people who will harm you. You must leave at once.’”

This segment is a good representation of the bare-bones, skeletal-like frame that constitutes the Dunhuang-text of the Platform Sutra. This lays the foundation of what transpired between Hung-jen and Hui-neng that led to the passing succession of the Patriarchy. Yet, somehow one wants more on the plate of what led-up to this succession; as the ol’ commercial used to say, “Where’s the Beef???” Consecutive generations of scribes within bona fide Ch’an circles collaborated to add some drama, some added spice, the stuff that Academy-Award movies are made of; in that sense, Wong Mou-Lam’s translation does not disappoint. Instead of merely being asked to meet Hung-jen in the hall of the monastery—indeed, not a prudent step given the political climate at the time—Hung-jen goes and secretly reaches out to Hui-neng where he was working pounding-away at the rice. This was a dangerous move for both of them. Hung-jen was putting his own Patriarchy at risk. One must keep in mind that these early Ch’an struggles occurred at a time of considerable political intrigue; as was recounted in the introductory blog of this series, Hung-jen’s Patriarchy reflected the Status-Quo at the time, something that was quite at odds with Shen-hui’s “southern-school’s” flair for the wordless Buddhadharma. If someone deeply entrenched in that Status-Quo mindset, like an overly-ambitious and conspiring monk ever caught wind of this meeting, Hung-jen just might find some poison in his morning gruel. So, by way of example—coming directly to Hui-neng as he’s pounding-away at the rice, right in the precarious climate of his own monastery—he begs the same willingness on Hui-neng’s part:

“A seeker of the Path risks his life for the Dharma. Should he not do so?”

One can sense the long, pregnant pause after this exchange. Most likely Hui-neng was about to express his willingness when he’s asked:

“Is the rice ready?” “Long ago”, directly responds Hui-neng.”

What a wonderfully delicious Dharma-moment! Without a moment’s hesitation, Hui-neng spontaneously erupts with a confident—“ Yes”!”—I’m willing to put my own life on the line for the Greater-Good of the Buddhadharma.  Indeed, he’s expressing from his very depths, “My Dharma-skill was perfected long ago….it’s only been waiting for that proper moment ‘of the sieve’”—meaning, my own life is ready to pour out like a libation. Hung-jen then knocks three times on the pestle (rice-grinder) with his staff and leaves for his monk’s cell. Hui-neng instinctively knew the meaning of this “wordless” gesture:

(Wong Mou-Lam)

“Knowing what his message meant, in the third watch of the night I went to his room. Using the robe as a screen so that none could see us, he expounded the Diamond Sutra to me. When he came to the sentence, “One should use one’s mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment,” I at once became thoroughly enlightened, and realized that all things in the universe are the Essence of Mind itself.”

Those three-knocks of the Patriarch’s staff meant to come and meet with him during the third-watch of the night. Oftentimes within Ch’an Literature, we find “wordless-communication” going on; whether it be with a staff, or a sudden shove or slap, or a muffled grunt—indeed whatever its form, it’s meant to convey some deeply recognizable realization within the mind of the receiver. Hung-jen used his staff in that situation so that neither of them would get their asses kicked from some hidden assailant; whereas in other instances the steady-beat of that staff meant, “Better get ready, cuz the Master’s gonna kick your butt!” Upon hearing that Noble-verse from the Diamond Sutra, in like-fashion Hui-neng’s own mind suddenly awakens to “Resting on no-thing whatsoever.” All is sufficient within the Unborn Mind Itself.

“Who would have thought,” I said to the Patriarch, “that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure! Who would have thought that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically free from becoming or annihilation! Who would have thought that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically self-sufficient! Who would have thought that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically free from change! Who would have thought that all things are the manifestation of the Essence of Mind!”

Instead of just nonchalantly awakening to Mind-only as portrayed in the Dunhuang text—here we find Hui-neng singing Its praises!  He’s literally glorifying in that Divine At-one-ment of Fully-Realizing Pure Mind, completely Void of any nominally-conceived attribute. Complete in Itself, yet still resplendent in IT’s ability to Manifest the Glory of that Self-Same Essence in myriad manifestations.

Knowing that I had realized the Essence of Mind, the Patriarch said, “For him who does not know his own mind there is no use learning Buddhism. On the other hand, if he knows his own mind and sees intuitively his own nature, he is a Hero, a ‘Teacher of gods and men’, ‘Buddha’.”

Thus, to the knowledge of no one, the Dharma was transmitted to me at midnight, and consequently I became the inheritor of the teaching of the ‘Sudden’ School as well as of the robe and the begging bowl. “You are now the Sixth Patriarch,” said he. “Take good care of yourself, and deliver as many sentient beings as possible. Spread and preserve the teaching, and don’t let it come to an end. Take note of my stanza: Sentient beings who sow the seeds of enlightenment In the field of causation will reap the fruit of Buddhahood. Inanimate objects void of Buddha-nature Sow not and reap not. He further said, “When the Patriarch Bodhidharma first came to China, most Chinese had no confidence in him, and so this robe was handed down as a testimony from one Patriarch to another. As to the Dharma, this is transmitted from heart to heart, and the recipient must realize it by his own efforts. From time immemorial it has been the practice for one Buddha to pass to his successor the quintessence of the Dharma, and for one Patriarch to transmit to another the esoteric teaching from heart to heart. As the robe may give cause for dispute, you are the last one to inherit it. Should you hand it down to your successor, your life would be in imminent danger. Now leave this place as quickly as you can, lest someone should do you harm.” 

Hung-jen is overjoyed as well. Hui-neng has passed through the gateless gate. His own “Mindment” is at One with the Tathagatas. Yea, one who Undividedly Awakens to the One Unborn Buddha Mind and thus One’s Own Buddha-nature has overcome Mara and all his dark samsaric dominion. He is a conquering “Hero” in the Best Sense of the word—for there is no greater hero other than one who has conquered his own dark-side. This moment is reminiscent of the scene with Yoda and young Luke Skywalker when the apprentice has at last prevailed over his own dark-seed, Yea, the defiled seedbed of the Alaya-vijñana; the Amala-vijnana is won! There is no more fear of death as all fear has been consumed in the Supreme Gnosis of one’s own Best-Self—Deathless Light Itself, as Master Yoda Anoints him as a True Warrior of Light. Yes, Hui-neng has Risen to True Bodhisattvahood, and the torch of the True Buddhadharma is then passed on to him in the semblance of Bodhidharma’s own Robe and Bowl. Hui-neng is hence proclaimed as the Six Patriarch. Yet, there is still danger afoot as many in Shen-hsiu’s camp will surely dispute this claim. So, like ol’ Luke Skywalker, our Dharma-champion will need to go into seclusion for a time.

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