Seng Ts’an


Perhaps the tale that intrigues me the most about Seng Ts’an was his early encounter with his Lankavatarian teacher, Huike, who exclaimed to him, “You are riddled with leprosy, and yet you come to me?” Seng Ts’an’s classic response was, “Well, maybe my body is sick. But the internal heart-mind of a diseased one is still the same as the internal heart-mind of a whole man; how, then, is my heart different from your heart-mind?” Huike was struck by his insight and took him on as a student. I guess it strikes home for me since I’m riddled with psoriatic-arthritis accompanied with acute eczema; in particular with this intense January cold my body is like a dried-out Lizard lying in a frozen-wasteland in some isolated corner of the planet Pluto. So, in my daily meditations I’m reminded of Seng’Ts’an’s response to Huike, as the inner-Mind takes precedence over all external pain.

In The Records of the Masters of the Lankavatara Sutra it is recorded that Seng Ts’an by and large always remained in a monastic-retreat-form of mind, never really emerging much and writing very little; yet, despite his eremitical lifestyle, perhaps precisely because of it, he was able to produce this one Marvelous Bodhi-Pearl that shines forever as one of the most radiant Ch’an Treasures. Yet, there was one 15 year stretch that, due to ongoing persecutions of Buddhism, he was forced to wander the countryside. Yet, in this, he truly discovered that his True Home in Mind was everywhere, and yet nowhere.

Methexis has provided us with a link that goes into more detail concerning Seng’Ts’an and his work; yet he also extrapolated some key points in precise fashion:

Hsin means “belief” or “faith.” This is not the faith in the ordinary sense, it is a belief that comes from firsthand experience, a faith which arise out of supreme knowledge and wisdom of enlightenment. This “believing” is an affirmation that all existence or reality is essentially the Buddha mind, which is our true nature. Hsin is the conviction that at the bottom of all phenomena lies the One Mind, the Buddha mind, which is one with our real nature, the Buddha-nature.

Hsin literally means “heart.” It means mind, not the deluded mind of the ignorant but the Buddha-mind. Hsin is the mind that merge with the all-encompassing One Mind.

Ming literally means “inscription.” It means written expression or record. Ming also means warnings or admonitions.

(Recently, Shi Da Dao interpreted 信 as “confidence”; so one could also read it as “The Mind of Absolute Confidence” or “Absolute Confidence in Mind” – the structure of old Chinese, as N-Yeti said, allows for many simultaneous readings.)

“Another reading of the text allows that Xinxin could be understood as the Truthful Mind, which is always ready and perfect, implying that there is no need to further “perfect” it. Because in the Chinese language today, Xinxin (信心) usually means “trust”, “confidence”, or “believing mind”, it is often forgotten that Xinxin can also be understood as the truthful mind (信實的心) “

To me, this makes more sense (considering the contents of the text …) 

Various Translations of the Title

Inscription on Trust in the Mind (Burton Watson)

On Believing in Mind (Daisetsu Teitarõ Suzuki)

Words Inscribed on the Believing Mind (Heinrich Dumoulin)

Verses On the Faith Mind (Richard B. Clarke)

On Faith in Mind (Dusan Pajin)

Faith in Mind (Sheng-yen)

Trusting In Mind (Hae Kwang)

Trust in the Heart (Thomas Cleary)

The Mind of Absolute Trust (Stephen Mitchell)

The Mind of Absolute Trust (Robert F. Olson)

(This last one is my personal pick … )

Thank-you, Methexis—wonderful choice on your personal pick! I would like to conclude this brief-bio by stating that my choice of .jpg for this particular-blog (above) truly reflects the life of Seng Ts’an: the figure in the tree is static (singular-solitude), yet the position is one of movement; reminscent of Tozen’s verse at his school over on yahoo groups:

Not standing still, not moving,
solid as a mountain wall,
swift as a lightning flash

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3 Responses to Seng Ts’an

  1. N. Yeti says:

    First I would express my sincere empathy with Vajragoni’s bodily pain. It is not without real friendship that we pursue this path of wisdom together (though of course it is not a path and we are not pursuing anything), and it aggrieves me to learn of your suffering, though I am inspired by your forebearance and perserverence.

    My second observation is that as Gautama’s wonderful teachings reached the percolating culture of China, by the time of the Tang dynasty, Confucionism was widespread, and as the political region extended into what is now Vietnam and Korea, the influence of indigenous spirituality and the Tao was also felt throughout these many Chinas (though they were but one China).

    It was a time of great seeking, and perhaps the very pinnacle of Asian culture through the centuries, at least in regard to the sheer number of innovations and refinements going on at all aspects of society from technology to warfare to economy and culture. Yes, it was a time of movement and standing still.

    And so this rich loam of culture was also vibrant with social consciousness and respect for quiet reflection; Confucionism with its emphasis on conduct and means, was ready, as never before, for an encounter with the fundamentally _hinduistic_ seeking inward of India toward the very heart of consciousness.

    How wonderful then, that such a thing, by reckless chance could occur in a far-flung hurtling world, plagued by many misfortunes and cruelties, that time yielded a new vibrational consciousness on earth: one that found in this sacred heart of devotion, this awe of the one true essence, something that would permeate the human race and give rise to an entirely new meaning to the dharma which could not be codified or scripted, but could be experienced and communicated through the refinement of mind.

    What hope-filled and inspiring moment in history, then, when good Seng Ts’an sat in quietude to compose this great and noble affirmation of spiritual purpose amid the very uncertainties of all existence.

    • Vajragoni says:

      N. Yeti, thank-you for your empathy with my condition; as Tozen has said, some karmic-residues that I have yet to endure. Great Cultural Analysis of Seng Ts’an’s Milieu.

  2. N. Yeti says:

    Though tendons bend
    and sinews strain
    faith does not break.

    (A redux of Patanjali night racing)

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