There was a monk who meditated every day in the library containing the sutras. However, he had never read any of the sutras there. One day, the librarian asked him, "I noticed that you meditate here everyday. Why don't you read the sutras?"

The monk replied frankly, "Because I'm illiterate."

"Why don't you ask someone for help?" urged the librarian.

"But whom can I ask?" he inquired.

"You can ask me!" answered the librarian bluntly.

Upon hearing this, the monk stood up and prostrated. Then, with his hands held together and fingers interlaced, he asked, "What is this, if I may ask?"

The librarian had nothing to say in reply. "This" referred to our true nature. How could the librarian use words to express it precisely?


The Ch'an School does not rely on any scriptures as its basis of teaching, because our limited language cannot describe the utimate character of the Buddha-nature. The Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng, had understood the sutras and explained their essence even before he went to study at Huang-mei, although he had not yet attained realization then. Later, when he met the Fifth Patriarch, he was assigned to work in the mill every day. Eventually, he became enlightened without studying any scriptures. Therefore, realization is not attained merely through the studying of scriptures.

The illiterate monk could not read the sutras. Nonetheless, he sat in meditation in the library every day and practiced diligently. The librarian kindly urged him to overcome his illiteracy, but the monk responded by referring to the realm of realization. Ch'an is not confined to any scriptures. If one meditates diligently, one can also behold one's own Buddha-nature.


(Source: Hsing Yun's Ch'an Talk, Book 3)