At one time the Great Master arrived at Pao Lin. Magistrate Wei Ch'u of Shao Chou and other local officials climbed the mountain and invited the Master to come into the city to the lecture hall of the Ta Fan Temple to speak the Dharma to the assembly.
When the Master had taken his seat, the Magistrate and over thirty other officials, more than thirty Confucian scholars, and more than one thousand Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Taoists, and laypeople, all made obeisance at the same time, wishing to hear the essentials of Dharma.
The Great Master said to the assembly, "Good Knowing Advisors, the self-nature of Bodhi is originally clear and pure. Simply use that mind, and you will straightaway accomplish Buddhahood. Good Knowing Advisors, listen while I tell you about the actions and intentions by which Hui Neng obtained the Dharma."
"Hui Neng's stern father was originally from Fan Yang. He was banished to Hsin Chou in Ling Nan, where he became a commoner. Unfortunately, his father soon died, and his aging mother was left alone. They moved to Nan Hai and, poor and in bitter straits, Hui Neng sold wood in the market place."
Once a customer bought firewood and ordered it delivered to his shop. When the delivery had been made, and Hui Neng had received the money, he went outside the gate, where he noticed a customer reciting a Sutra. Upon once hearing the words of this Sutra: "One should produce that thought which is nowhere supported." Hui Neng's mind immediately opened to enlightenment.
Thereupon he asked the customer what Sutra he was reciting. The customer replied, "The Diamond Sutra."
Then again he asked, "Where do you come from, and why do you recite this Sutra?"
The customer said, "I come from Tung Ch'an Monastery in Ch'i Chou, Huang Mei Province. There the Fifth Patriarch, the Great Master Hung Jen dwells, teaching over one thousand disciples. I went there to make obeisance and heard and received this Sutra."
"The Great Master constantly exhorts the Sangha and laity only to uphold The Diamond Sutra. Then, they may see their own nature and straightaway achieve Buddhahood."
Hui Neng heard this and desired to go and seek the Dharma, but he recalled that his mother had no support.
From past lives there were karmic conditions which led another man to give Hui Neng a pound of silver, so that he could provide clothing and food for his aging mother. The man instructed him further to go to Huang Mei to call upon and bow to the Fifth Patriarch.
After Hui Neng had made arrangements for his mother's welfare, he took his leave. In less than thirty days he arrived at Huang Mei and made obeisance to the Fifth Patriarch, who asked him, "Where are you from and what do you seek?"
Hui Neng replied, "Your disciple is a commoner from Hsin Chou in Ling Nan and comes from afar to bow to the Master, seeking only to be a Buddha, and nothing else."
The Patriarch said, "You are from Ling Nan and are therefore a barbarian, so how can you become a Buddha?"
Hui Neng said, "Although there are people from the north and people from the south, there is ultimately no north or south in the Buddha nature. The body of the barbarian and that of the High Master are not the same, but what distinction is there in the Buddha nature?"
The Fifth Patriarch wished to continue the conversation, but seeing his disciples gathering on all sides, he ordered his visitor to follow the group off to work. Hui Neng said, "Hui Neng informs the High Master that this disciple's mind constantly produces wisdom and is not separate from the self nature. That, itself, is the field of blessing. It has not yet been decided what work the High Master will instruct me to do."
The Fifth Patriarch said, "Barbarian, your faculties are too sharp. Do not speak further, but go to the back courtyard." Hui Neng withdrew to the back courtyard where a cultivator ordered him to split firewood and thresh rice.
More than eight months had passed when the Patriarch one day suddenly saw Hui Neng and said, "I think these views of yours can be of use but fear that evil people may harm you. For that reason I have not spoken with you. Did you understand the situation?"
Hui Neng replied, "Your disciple knew the Master's intention and has stayed out of the front hall, so that others might not notice him."
One day the Patriarch summoned his disciples together and said, "I have something to say to you: for people in the world, the matter of birth and death is a great one.
"All day long you seek fields of blessings only; you do not try to get out of the bitter sea of birth and death. If you are confused about your self-nature, how can blessings save you?"
"Each of you go back and look into your own wisdom and use the Prajna-nature of your own original mind to compose a verse. Submit it to me so that I may look at it.
"If you understand the great meaning, the robe and Dharma will be passed on to you and you will become the sixth patriarch. Hurry off! Do not delay! Thinking and considering is of no use in this matter. When seeing your own nature it is necessary to see it at the very moment of speaking. One who does that perceives as does one who wields a sword in the height of battle."
The assembly received this order and withdrew, saying to one another, "We of the assembly do not need to clear our minds and use our intellect to compose a verse to submit to the High Master. What use would there be in this?"
"Shen Hsiu is our senior instructor and teaching transmitter. Certainly he should be the one to obtain it. It would be not only improper for us to compose a verse, but a waste of effort as well."
Hearing this, everyone put his mind to rest, and said, "Henceforth, we will rely on Master Shen Hsiu. Why vex ourselves writing verses?"
Shen Hsiu then thought, "The others are not submitting verses because I am their teaching transmitter. I must compose a verse and submit it to the High Master.
"If I do not submit a verse, how will the High Master know whether the views and understanding in my mind are deep or shallow?
"If my intention in submitting the verse is to seek the Dharma, that is good. But if it is to grasp the patriarchate, that is bad, for how would that be different from the mind of a common person coveting the holy position? But, if I do not submit a verse, in the end I will not obtain the Dharma. This is a terrible difficulty!"
In front of the Fifth Patriarch's hall were three corridors. Their walls were to be frescoed by Court Artist Lu Chen with stories from the Lankavatara Sutra and with pictures portraying in detail the lives of the five patriarchs, so that the patriarchs might be venerated by future generations.
After composing his verse, Shen Hsiu made several attempts to submit it. But whenever he reached the front hall, his mind became agitated and distraught, and his entire body became covered with perspiration. He did not dare submit it, although in the course of four days he made thirteen attempts.
Then he thought, "This is not as good as writing it on the wall so that the High Master might see it suddenly. If he says it is good, I will come forward, bow, and say, 'Hsiu did it.' If it does not pass, then I have spent my years on this mountain in vain, receiving veneration from others. And as to further cultivation -- what can I say?"
That night, in the third watch, holding a candle he secretly wrote the verse on the wall of the South corridor, to show what his mind had seen.
The body is a Bodhi tree,
After writing this verse, Shen Hsiu returned to his room, and the others did not know what he had done.
Then he thought, "If the Fifth Patriarch sees the verse tomorrow and is pleased, it will mean that I have an affinity with the Dharma. If he says that it does not pass, it will mean that I am confused by heavy karmic obstacles from past lives, and that I am not fit to obtain the Dharma. It is difficult to fathom the sage's intentions."
In his room he thought it over and could not sit or sleep peacefully right through to the fifth watch.
The Patriarch already knew that Shen Hsiu had not yet entered the gate and seen his own nature. At daybreak, the Patriarch called Court Artist Lu Chen to fresco the wall of the south corridor. Suddenly he saw the verse and said to the court artist, "There is no need to paint. I am sorry that you have been wearied by coming so far, but The Diamond Sutra says, 'Whatever has marks is empty and false.' Instead leave this verse for people to recite and uphold. Those who cultivate in accordance with this verse will not fall into the evil destinies and will attain great merit."
He then ordered the disciples to light incense and bow before it, and to recite it, thus enabling them to see their own nature. The disciples all recited it and exclaimed, "Excellent!"
At the third watch, the Patriarch called Shen Hsiu into the hall and asked him, "Did you write this verse?"
Shen Hsiu said, "Yes, in fact, Hsiu did it. He does not dare lay claim to the position of Patriarch, but hopes the High Master will be compassionate and see whether or not this disciple has a little bit of wisdom."
The Patriarch said, "The verse which you wrote shows that you have not yet seen your original nature but are still outside the gate. With such views and understanding you may seek supreme Bodhi, but in the end will not obtain it. Supreme Bodhi must be obtained at the very moment of speaking. In recognizing the original mind, at all times, in every thought, you yourself will see that the ten thousand Dharmas are unblocked; in one truth is all truth and the ten thousand states are of themselves 'thus,' as they are. The 'thusness' of the mind, just that is true reality. If seen in this way, it is indeed the self nature of supreme Bodhi."
"Go and think it over for a day or two. Compose another verse and bring it to me to see. If you have been able to enter the gate, I will transmit the robe and Dharma to you."
Shen Hsiu made obeisance and left. Several days passed, but he was unable to compose a verse. His mind was agitated and confused and his thoughts and mood were uneasy. He was as if in a dream; whether walking or sitting down, he could not be happy.
Two days later, a young boy chanting that verse passed by the threshing room. Hearing it for the first time, Hui Neng knew that the writer had not yet seen his original nature. Although he had not yet received a transmission of the teaching, he already understood its profound meaning. He asked the boy, "What verse are you reciting?"
"Barbarian, you know nothing," replied the boy. "The Great Master has said that birth and death are a profound concern for people in the world. Desiring to transmit the robe and Dharma, he ordered his disciples to compose verses and bring them to him to see. The person who has awakened to the profound meaning will inherit the robe and Dharma and become the Sixth Patriarch. Our senior, Shen Hsiu, wrote this 'verse without marks' on the wall of the south corridor. The Great Master ordered everyone to recite it, for to cultivate in accord with this verse is to avoid falling into the evil destinies and is of great merit."
Hui Neng said, "I, too, would like to recite it to create an affinity. Superior One, I have been pounding rice here for over eight months and have not yet been to the front hall. I hope that the Superior One will lead me before the verse to pay homage." The boy then led him to the verse to bow.
Hui Neng said, "Hui Neng cannot read. Please, Superior One, read it to me." Then an official from Chiang Chou, named Chang Jih Yung, read it loudly. After hearing it, Hui Neng said, "I, too, have a verse. Will the official please write it for me?"
The official replied, "You, too, can write a verse? That is strange!"
Hui Neng said to the official, "If you wish to study the supreme Bodhi, do not slight the beginner. The lowest people may have the highest wisdom; the highest people may have the least wisdom. If you slight others, you create limitless, unbounded offenses."
The official said, "Recite your verse and I will write it out for you. If you obtain the Dharma you must take me across first. Do not forget these words."
Hui Neng's verse reads:
Originally Bodhi has no tree,
When this verse had been written, the followers all were startled and without exception cried out to one another, "Strange indeed! One cannot judge a person by his appearance. How can it be that, after so little time, he has become a Bodhisattva in the flesh?"
The Fifth Patriarch saw the astonished assembly and feared that they might become dangerous. Accordingly, he erased the verse with his shoe saying, "This one, too, has not yet seen his nature."
The assembly agreed.
The next day the Patriarch secretly came to the threshing floor where he saw Hui Neng pounding rice with a stone tied around his waist, and he said, "A seeker of the Way would forget his very life for the Dharma. Is this not the case?"
Then the Fifth Patriarch asked, "Is the rice ready?"
Hui Neng replied, "The rice has long been ready. It is now waiting only for the sieve."
The Patriarch rapped the pestle three times with his staff and left. Hui Neng then knew the Patriarch's intention, and at the third watch he went into the Patriarch's room.
The Patriarch covered them with his precept sash so they could not be seen, and he explained The Diamond Sutra for him down to the line, "One should produce a thought that is nowhere supported."
At the moment he heard those words, Hui Neng experienced the great enlightenment and he knew that all the ten thousand dharmas are not separate from the self-nature. He said to the Patriarch:
How unexpected? The self-nature is
The Fifth Patriarch knew of Hui Neng's enlightenment to his original nature and said to him, "Studying the Dharma without recognizing the original mind is of no benefit. If one recognizes one's own original mind and sees one's original nature, then one is called a great hero, a teacher of gods and humans, a Buddha."
He received the Dharma in the third watch and no one knew about it. The Fifth Patriarch also transmitted the Sudden Teaching and the robe and bowl saying, "You are the Sixth Patriarch. Protect yourself carefully. Take living beings across by every method and spread the teaching for the sake of those who will live in the future. Do not let it be cut off."
Listen to my verse:
The Patriarch further said, "In the past, when the First Patriarch Great Master Bodhidharma first came to this land and people did not believe in him yet, he transmitted this robe as a symbol of faith to be handed down from generation to generation. The Dharma is transmitted from mind to mind, leading everyone to self-awakening and self-enlightenment."
"From ancient times, Buddha only transmits the original substance to Buddha; master secretly transmits the original mind to master. Since the robe is a source of contention, it should stop with you. Do not transmit it, for if you do, your life will hang by a thread."
"You must go quickly for I fear that people might harm you."
Hui Neng asked, "Where shall I go?"
The Patriarch replied, "Stop at Huai and hide at Hui."
Hui Neng received the robe and bowl in the third watch. He said, "Hui Neng is a Southerner and does not know these mountain roads. How does one reach the mouth of the river?"
The Fifth Patriarch said, "You need not worry. I will accompany you."
The Fifth Patriarch escorted him to the Chiu Chiang courier station and ordered him to board a boat. The Fifth Patriarch took up the oars and rowed. Hui Neng said, "Please, High Master, sit down. It is fitting that your disciple take the oars."
The Patriarch replied, "It is fitting that I take you across."
Hui Neng said, "When someone is deluded, his master takes him across, but when he is enlightened, he takes himself across. Although the term 'taking across' is the same in each case, the function is not the same."
"Hui Neng was born in the frontier regions and his pronunciation is incorrect, yet he has received the Dharma transmission from the Master. Now that enlightenment has been attained, it is only fitting that he take his own nature across."
The Patriarch replied, "So it is, so it is. Hereafter because of you, the Buddhadharma will be widely practiced. Three years after your departure I will leave this world. Start on your journey now and go south as fast as possible. Do not speak too soon, for the Buddhadharma arises from difficulty."
After Hui Neng took leave of the Patriarch, he set out on foot for the South. In two months he reached the Ta Yu Mountains.
The Fifth Patriarch returned to the monastery but for several days he did not enter the hall. The assembly was concerned and went to ask: "Has the Master some slight illness or problem?"
"There is no illness," came the reply, "but the robe and Dharma have already gone south."
"Who received the transmission?" they asked.
"The Able One obtained it," said the Patriarch.
The assembly then understood, and soon several hundred people took up pursuit, all hoping to steal the robe and bowl.
One Bhikshu, Hui Ming, a coarse-natured man whose lay name had been Ch'en, had formerly been a fourth class military official. He was intent in his search and ahead of the others. When he had almost caught up with Hui Neng the latter tossed the robe and bowl onto a rock, saying, "This robe and bowl are tokens of faith. How can they be taken by force?" Hui Neng then hid in a thicket.
When Hui Ming arrived, he tried to pick them up, but found he could not move them. He cried out, "Cultivator, Cultivator, I have come for the Dharma, not for the robe!"
Hui Neng then came out and sat cross-legged on a rock. Hui Ming made obeisance and said, "I hope that the Cultivator will teach the Dharma for my sake."
Hui Neng said, "Since you have come for the Dharma, you may put aside all conditions. Do not give rise to a single thought and I will teach it to you clearly." After a time, Hui Neng said, "With no thoughts of good and with no thoughts of evil, at just this moment, what is Superior One Hui Ming's original face?" At these words, Hui Ming was greatly enlightened.
Hui Ming asked further, "Apart from the secret speech and secret meanings just spoken, is there yet another secret meaning?"
Hui Neng said, "What has been spoken to you is not secret. If you turn the illumination inward, the secret is with you."
Hui Ming said, "Although Hui Ming was at Huang Mei he had not yet awakened to his original face. Now that he has been favored with this instruction he is like one who drinks water and knows for himself whether it is cold or warm. The cultivator is now Hui Ming's master."
"If you feel that way," said Hui Neng, "then you and I have the same master, Huang Mei. Protect yourself well."
Hui Ming asked further, "Where should I go now?"
Hui Neng said, "Stop at Yuan and dwell at Meng."
Hui Ming bowed and left. Reaching the foot of the mountain, he said to the pursuers. "Up above there is only a rocky, trackless height. We must find another path." The pursuers all agreed. Afterwards, Hui Ming changed his name to Tao Ming to avoid using Hui Neng's first name.
Hui Neng arrived at Ts'ao Hsi where he was again pursued by men with evil intentions. To avoid difficulty, he went to Szu Hui and lived among hunters for fifteen years, at times teaching Dharma to them in an appropriate manner.
The hunters often told him to watch their nets, but whenever he saw beings who were still living he released them. At mealtime he cooked vegetables in the pot alongside the meat. When he was questioned about it, he would answer "I only eat vegetables alongside the meat."
One day Hui Neng thought, "The time has come to spread the Dharma. I cannot stay in hiding forever." Accordingly, he went to Fa Hsing Monastery in Kuang Chou where Dharma Master Yin Tsung was giving lectures on The Nirvana Sutra.
At that time there were two bhikshus who were discussing the topic of the wind and a flag. One said, "The wind is moving." The other said,"The flag is moving." They argued incessantly. Hui Neng stepped forward and said, "The wind is not moving, nor is the flag. Your minds, Kind Sirs, are moving." Everyone was startled.
Dharma Master Yin Tsung invited him to take a seat of honor and sought to ask him about the hidden meaning. Seeing that Hui Neng's exposition of the true principles was concise and to the point and not based on written words, Yin Tsung said, "The cultivator is certainly no ordinary man. I heard long ago that Huang Mei's robe and bowl had come south. Cultivator, is it not you?"
Hui Neng said, "I dare not presume such a thing."
Yin Tsung then made obeisance and requested that the transmitted robe and bowl be brought forth and shown to the assembly.
He further asked, "How was Huang Mei's doctrine transmitted?"
"There was no transmission," replied Hui Neng. "We merely discussed seeing the nature. There was no discussion of Dhyana samadhi or liberation."
Yin Tsung asked, "Why was there no discussion of Dhyana samadhi or liberation?"
Hui Neng said, "These are dualistic dharmas. They are not the Buddhadharma. The Buddhadharma is a Dharma of non-dualism."
Yin Tsung asked further, "What is this Buddhadharma which is the Dharma of non-dualism?"
Hui Neng said, "The Dharma Master has been lecturing The Nirvana Sutra which says that to understand the Buddha-nature is the Buddhadharma which is the Dharma of non-dualism. As Kao Kuei Te Wang Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, 'Does violating the four serious prohibitions, committing the five rebellious acts, or being an icchantika and the like cut off the good roots and the Buddha-nature?'
"The Buddha replied, 'There are two kinds of good roots: the first, permanent; the second impermanent. The Buddha-nature is neither permanent nor impermanent. Therefore it is not cut off.'
"That is what is meant by non-dualistic. The first is good and the second is not good. The Buddha-nature is neither good nor bad. That is what is meant by non-dualistic. Common people think of the heaps and realms as dualistic. The wise man comprehends that they are non-dualistic in nature. The non-dualistic nature is the Buddha-nature."
Hearing this explanation, Yin Tsung was delighted. He joined his palms and said, "My explanation of Sutras is like broken tile, whereas your discussion of the meaning, Kind Sir, is like pure gold."
He then shaved Hui Neng's head and asked Hui Neng to be his master. Accordingly, under that Bodhi tree, Hui Neng explained the Tung Shan Dharma-door.
"Hui Neng obtained the Dharma at Tung Shan and has undergone much suffering, his life hanging as if by a thread.
"Today, in this gathering of the magistrate and officials, of Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Taoists, and laymen, there is not one of you who is not here because of accumulated ages of karmic conditions. Because in past lives you have made offerings to the Buddhas and planted good roots in common, you now have the opportunity to hear the Sudden Teaching, which is a cause of obtaining the Dharma.
"This teaching has been handed down by former sages; it is not Hui Neng's own wisdom. You who wish to hear the teaching of the former sages should first purify your minds. After hearing it, cast aside your doubts, and that way you will be no different from the sages of the past."
Hearing this Dharma, the entire assembly was delighted, made obeisance, and withdrew.