Shih−t’ou (Sekito)

A little biographical sketch of todays favored Ch’an Master, from Suzuki’s Manual of Zen Buddhism:

Shih−t’ou (Sekito) (700-790) whose family name was Chen came from the district of Tuan−chou. His other name was Hsi−ch’ien. While still young, his religious feeling was strongly stirred against a barbarous custom which was practiced among the Liao race. The custom consisted in sacrificing bulls in order to appease the wrath of the evil spirits which were worshipped by the people. Shih−t’ou destroyed many such shrines dedicated to the spirits and saved the victims. He probably acted quite decisively and convincingly so that even the elders of his village failed to prevent him from so rashly working against popular superstitions. He later embraced Buddhism, becoming a disciple of Hui−neng. The latter however died before this young man had been formally ordained as a Buddhist monk. He then went to Hsing−ssu (−740), of Chi−chou and studied Zen Buddhism. Hsing−ssu like Nan−yueh Huai−jang who was the teacher of Ma−tsu, was also a disciple of Hui−neng.

Once a monk asked: “How does one get emancipated?”

The master said: “Who has ever put you in bondage?”

Wasting no time, Sekito attacks the problem right at its core. Emancipation envisions some (one) desiring to be emancipated from some (other). But from what, or from whom? Mind is forever free from such associations. There can be no bondage in the Unborn since it is ungraspable and beyond such a foolish fabrication of self apparently needing to become free from Itself. So, (who) has put you in bondage? Bondage is a gimmick of the dualistic-mindset. It is a self-obstruction and no more.

Monk: “What is the Pure Land?”

Master: “Who has ever defiled you?”

Indeed, (who) or (what) has made you dirty? What need have you of being purified since in essence you have always been spotless and devoid of any malformation. Mind is simply attempting to pollute Itself.

Monk: “What is Nirvana?”

Master: “Who has ever subjected you to birth−and−death?”

What need Nirvana when samsaric birth-and-death are a figment of the skandhic imagination? Birth and death are fictions of the self-obsessed mind. In truth, you have never been born. So what is the point of one-day dying?  These are concepts that eat-away at your self-realization, wherein the flesh is no-longer your master.

It’s a shame that his after-lineage devolved into Soto Zen. Just absorb here Sekito’s mastery of the Truth in Mind:

“My teaching which has come down from the ancient Buddhas is not dependent on meditation (dhyana) or on diligent application of any kind. When you attain the insight as attained by the Buddha, you realize that Mind is Buddha and Buddha is Mind, that Mind, Buddha, sentient beings, Bodhi (enlightenment), and Klesa (passions) are of one and the same substance while they vary in names. You should know that your own mind−essence is neither subject to annihilation nor eternally subsisting, is neither pure nor defiled, that it remains perfectly undisturbed and self−sufficient and the same with the wise and the ignorant, that it is not limited in its working, and that it is not included in the category of mind (citta), consciousness (manas), or thought (vijnana). The three worlds of desire, form, and no−form, and the six paths of existence are no more than manifestations of your mind itself. They are all like the moon reflected in water or images in the mirror. How can we speak of them as being born or as passing away? When you come to this understanding, you will be furnished with all the things you are in need of.” (Manual of Zen Buddhism)

Like an exorcist from his early formative years of destroying those evil superstitions, he began to exorcise the self-ignorant mind through his wonderful teaching method, he was (in essence) addressing Mind and no-thing else.

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