The Honorable Sixth Patriarch,
Venerable Master Hui Neng

By Venerable Guren Martin

Once there lived in India a beautiful person named Ennya Datta. Every day Ennya Datta would look into the mirror and was pleased by the beautiful appearance. One day while doing this, the person found to have lost their head. This was a great surprise, and so Ennya Datta looked everywhere, and asked where it might be found, but to no success. Finally, Ennya Datta went to the Buddha and asked him concerning the matter of the missing head. Hearing this question the Buddha touched the head of Ennya Datta. And Ennya Datta once again felt the head and realized that it had always been there. Ennya Datta should have realized this because without a head it would not have been possible to go around seeking for it.

This story serves to indicate that although people are complete as-they-are, people often come to feel that something is lacking. Like Ennya Datta who possibly looked into the wrong side of the mirror, people come to feel that something is missing. However there is the teaching, "Nothing lacking, nothing in excess."

Rightly, Ennya Datta who became confused, turned to the Buddha for help and guidance. Concerning the word "Buddha", the root or etymology, "Budh" means to know, enlightened. That is, to know one's self. It is the functioning of the senses, the six senses. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and thinking. Through practice, and the Buddha's teaching, it is possible to know one's self. In Buddhism it is said, "Give up the seeking mind." Sincerely practising, and knowing one's self, it is possible to be free from this feeling or notion that we are lacking, and to know contentment.

In relation to this, there is a well-known koan of the Honorable Sixth Patriarch. Venerable Master Hui Neng. A koan is a story or a dialogue that was originally studied by people practising the Buddhist Way. And the koans are all about us. About each and every one of us, and about our life.

This particular koan concerning the Sixth Patriarch is called "Think Neither Good Nor Evil". Venerable Master Hui Neng received the Dharma transmission at the monastery of the Venerable Fifth Patriarch, Master Hung Yen. One day while Hui Neng was working as a layman pounding rice in the monastery, he was called to the room of the Abbot, Master Hung Yen. There the Fifth Patriarch expounded the Diamond Sutra to Hui Neng. When he came to the passage, "One should use your mind in such as way that it will be free from attachment," Hui Neng was greatly enlightened. Seeing into his nature and realizing his essence of mind.

The Fifth Patriarch then told Hui Neng, "You are now the Sixth Patriarch, please help as many sentient beings as possible. Spread and preserve the teachings, and do not let them come to an end."

Hui Neng then left the monastery in the middle of the night. And he was followed by a group of monks from the monastery including a monk named Myo.

The Sixth Patriarch was pursued by the monk named Myo until Mount Taiyu. And seeing Myo coming, the Sixth Patriarch placed both the robe and the bowl on a rock and said, "This is the robe representing the faith; one should not fight over it. If you want to take it, take it away now." The monk went and tried to take it, however, it was as heavy as a mountain and could not be moved. Trembling and faltering, Myo said, "I did not come for the robe, I came for the Dharma. Please give me your instruction."

The Patriarch replied, "Do not think good nor evil. At this moment, what is the original self of the monk Myo?" Hearing these words Myo was enlightened; his whole body was covered in sweat. He cried and bowed saying, "Other than the secret words and secret meaning you have just revealed to me, is there anything else, that is deeper still?"

The Sixth Patriarch said, "What I have just spoken to you is no secret at all. When you look into your own true self, whatever is deeper is found right there." Myo said, "I was with the monks under the Fifth Patriarch for many years however I could not realize my true self. Now, receiving your teaching, I know it is like a person drinking water and knowing by oneself whether the water is cold or hot. My lay brother you are now my teacher."

The Sixth Patriarch replied, "If you say so, however, let us both call the Fifth Patriarch our Master. Please be careful to treasure and hold fast to what you have attained."

This is the well-known koan "Think neither good nor evil." The main points to which I would like to draw your attention in this koan are the words, "When you look into your own true self whatever is deeper is found right there."

From these words we can see that the Sixth Patriarch is not pointing to something far away, or something elsewhere. "Whatever is deeper is found right there." Can we assent to this or not? Sincerely practising the Way it is possible to assent to this. Furthermore, there are the words, "It is like a person drinking water and knowing whether the water is cold or hot."

Sincerely practising the Buddhist Way, we surely can know this for ourselves. Not just a matter of hearing the words of somebody else, but like the monk Myo, to truly know it for oneself.



Two Zen Classics - Mumonkan and Hekiganroku
   Translated by Katsuki Sekida
   Published by John Weatherhill Inc. of New York and Tokyo
   First Edition 1977.

Zen and Zen Classics Mumonkan
   By R.H. Blyth
   Published by The Hokuseido Press - Tokyo
   First Printing 1966.