Chapter 8
Sudden and Gradual

While the Patriarch was staying at Pao Lin Temple in Ts'ao Hsi, the Great Master Shen Hsiu was at Yu Ch'uan Temple in Ching Nan. At that time the two schools nourished and everyone called them, "Southern Neng and Northern Hsiu." So it was that the two schools, northern and southern, were divided into "sudden" and "gradual." As the students did not understand the doctrine, the Master said to them, "The Dharma is originally of one school. It is people who think of North and South. The Dharma is of one kind, but people understand it slowly or quickly. Dharma is not sudden or gradual. Rather it is people who are sharp or dull. Hence the terms sudden and gradual."

Nonetheless, Shen Hsiu's followers continually ridiculed the southern Patriarch, saying that he couldn't read a single word and had nothing in his favor. But Shen Hsiu said, "He has obtained wisdom without the aid of a teacher and understands the Supreme Vehicle deeply. I am inferior to him. Furthermore, my Master, the Fifth Patriarch, personally transmitted the robe and Dharma to him, and not without good reason. I regret that I am unable to make the long journey to visit him, as I unworthily receive state patronage here. But do not let me stop you. Go to Ts'ao Hsi and call on him."

One day Shen Hsiu told his disciple Chih Ch'eng, "You are intelligent and very wise. You may go to Ts'ao Hsi on my behalf and listen to the Dharma. Remember it all and take careful notes to read to me when you return."

As ordered, Chih Ch'eng proceeded to Ts'ao Hsi and joined the assembly without saying where he had come from. The Patriarch told the assembly, "Today there is a Dharma thief hidden in this assembly!"

Chih Ch'eng immediately stepped forward, bowed, and explained his mission. The Master said, "You are from Yu Ch'uan; you must be a spy."

"No," he replied, "I am not."

The Master said, "What do you mean?"

He replied, "Before I confessed, I was; but now that I have confessed, I am not."

The Master said, "How does your Master instruct his followers?"

Chih Ch'eng replied, "He always instructs us to dwell with the mind contemplating stillness and to sit up all the time without lying down."

The Master said, "To dwell with the mind contemplating stillness is sickness, not Dhyana. Constant sitting restrains the body. How can it be beneficial? Listen to my verse:

When living, sit, don't lie.
When dead, lie down, don't sit.
How can a set of stinking bones
Be used for training?

Chih Ch'eng bowed again and said, "Your disciple studied the Way for nine years at the place of Great Master Hsiu but obtained no enlightenment. Now, hearing one speech from the High Master, I am united with my original mind. Your disciple's birth and death is a serious matter. Will the High Master be compassionate enough to instruct me further?"

The Master said, "I have heard that your Master instructs his students in the dharmas of morality, concentration, and wisdom. Please tell me how he defines the terms."

Chih Ch'eng said, "Great Master Shen Hsiu says that morality is abstaining from doing evil, wisdom is offering up all good conduct, and concentration is purifying one's own mind. This is how he explains them, but I do not know, High Master, what dharma of instruction you use."

The Master said, "If I said that I had a dharma to give to others, I would be lying to you. I merely use expedients to unite bonds and falsely call that samadhi. Your master's explanation of morality, concentration, and wisdom is truly inconceivably good but my conception of morality, concentration and wisdom is different from his."

Chih Ch'eng said, "There can only be one kind of morality, concentration, and wisdom. How can there be a difference?"

The Master said, "Your master's morality, concentration, and wisdom guide those of the Great Vehicle, whereas my morality, concentration, and wisdom guide those of the Supreme Vehicle. Enlightenment is not the same as understanding; seeing may take place slowly or quickly.

"Listen to my explanation. Is it the same as Shen Hsiu's? The Dharma which I speak does not depart from the self-nature, for to depart from the self-nature in explaining the Dharma is to speak of marks and continually confuse the self-nature. You should know that the functions of the ten thousand dharmas all arise from the self-nature and that this is the true morality, concentration, and wisdom. Listen to my verse:

Mind-ground without wrong:
     Self-nature morality.
Mind-ground without delusion:
     Self-nature wisdom.
Mind-ground without confusion:
     Self-nature concentration.
Neither increasing nor decreasing:
     You are vajra.
Body comes, body goes:
     The original samadhi.

Hearing this verse, Chih Ch'eng regretted his former mistakes, and he expressed his gratitude by saying this verse:

These five heaps are
A body of illusion.
And what is illusion,
If you tend toward
True suchess
The Dharma is
Not yet pure.

The Master approved, and he said further to Chih Ch'eng, "Your Master's morality, concentration, and wisdom exhort those of lesser faculties and lesser wisdom, while my morality, concentration, and wisdom exhort those of great faculties and great wisdom. If you are enlightened to your self-nature, you do not set up in your mind the notion of Bodhi or of Nirvana or of the liberation of knowledge and vision. When not a single dharma is established in the mind, then the ten thousand dharmas can be established there. To understand this principle is to achieve the Buddha's body which is also called Bodhi, Nirvana, and the liberation of knowledge and vision as well. Those who see their own nature can establish dharmas in their minds or not establish them as they choose. They come and go freely, without impediments or obstacles. They function correctly and speak appropriately, seeing all transformation bodies as integral with the self-nature. That is precisely the way they obtain independence, spiritual powers, and the samadhi of playfulness. This is what is called seeing the nature."

Chih Ch'eng asked the Master further, "What is meant by 'not establishing?'"

The Master replied, "When your self-nature is free from error, obstruction, and confusion, when Prajna is present in every thought, contemplating and shedding illumination, and when you are constantly apart from the dharma marks and are free and independent, both horizontally and vertically, then what is there to be established?

"In the self-nature, in self-enlightenment, in sudden enlightenment, and in sudden cultivation there are no degrees. Therefore, not a single dharma is established. All dharmas are still and extinct. How can there be stages?"

Chih Ch'eng made obeisance and attended on the Master day and night without laziness. He was a native of T'ai Ho in Chi Chou.

Bhikshu Chih Ch'e

Bhikshu Chih Ch'e, a native of Chiang Hsi, had the family name Chang and the personal name Hsing Ch'ang. As a youth he was an itinerant warrior. When the schools split into the Northern and Southern, although the two leaders had lost the notion of self and other, the disciples stirred up love and hate. The disciples of the Northern School secretly set up Shen Hsiu as the Sixth Patriarch. Fearing that the country would hear of the transmission of the robe, they hired Hsing Ch'ang to assassinate the Master. But the Master had the power of knowing the thoughts of others. He knew of this matter in advance and set ten ounces of gold on his chair. That night Hsing Ch'ang entered his room intending to kill him. The Master just stretched out his neck. Hsing Ch'ang swung the blade three times but could not harm him.

The Master said,

A straight sword is not bent.
A bent sword is not straight.
I merely owe you gold.
I do not owe you life.

Hsing Ch'ang fell to the ground in fright. After a while he came to and begged for mercy, repenting of his error and vowing to leave home. The Master gave him the gold and said, "Go! I fear that my followers will come to take revenge. Change your appearance and return another day and I will accept you."

Hsing Ch'ang received his orders and disappeared into the night. Later he left home under another Bhikshu, received the complete precepts and was vigorous in practice. One day, remembering the Master's words, he made the long journey to have an audience. The Master said, "I have thought of you for a long time. What took you so long?"

He replied, "The High Master once favored me by pardoning my crime. Although I have left home and although I practice austerities, I shall never be able to repay his kindness. May I try to repay you by transmitting the Dharma and taking living beings across?

"Your disciple often studies the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, but he has not yet understood the principles of permanence and impermanence. I beg the High Master to be compassionate and explain them for me."

The Master said, "Impermanence is just the Buddha nature and permanence is just the mind discriminating good and evil dharmas."

"High Master, your explanation contradicts the Sutra text!" Hsing Ch'ang replied.

The Master said, "I transmit the Buddha's mind-seal. How could I dare to contradict the Buddhas' Sutras?"

Hsing Ch'ang replied, "The Sutra says that the Buddha nature is permanent and the High Master has just said that it is impermanent; it says that good and evil dharmas, reaching even to the Bodhi Mind, are impermanent and the High Master has just said that they are permanent. This contradiction has merely intensified your student's doubt and delusion."

The Master said, "Formerly, I heard Bhikshuni Wu Chin Tsang recite the Nirvana Sutra. When I commented on it, there was not one word or principle which did not accord with the Sutra text. My explanation to you now is not different."

Hsing Ch'ang replied, "Your student's capacity for understanding is superficial. Will the High Master please explain further?"

The Master said, "Don't you understand? If the Buddha nature were permanent, what use would there be in speaking of good and evil dharmas? To the end of an eon not one person would produce the Bodhi Mind. Therefore I explain it as impermanent. That is exactly what the Buddha explained as the meaning of true permanence."

"Furthermore, if all dharmas were impermanent, all things would have a self-nature subject to birth and death, and the true permanent nature would not pervade all places. Therefore, I explain it as permanent. That is exactly what the Buddha explained as the meaning of true impermanence."

"It was for the sake of common people and those who belong to other religions who cling to deviant views of permanence, and for all those who follow the two-vehicle way, mistaking permanence for impermanence formulating the eight perverted views, that the Buddha in the ultimate Nirvana teaching destroyed their prejudiced views. He explained true permanence, true bliss, true selfhood, and true purity."

"You now contradict this meaning by relying on the words, taking annihilation to be impermanence and fixing on a lifeless permanence. In this way you misinterpret the last, subtle, complete and wonderful words of the Buddha. Even if you read it a thousand times, what benefit could you derive from it?"

Hsing Ch'ang suddenly achieved the great enlightenment and spoke this verse:

To those who hold impermanence in mind,
The Buddha speaks of the permanent nature;
Not knowing expedients is like
Picking up pebbles from a spring pond.

But now without an effort
The Buddha nature manifests;
The Master did not transmit it,
And I did not obtain a thing.

The Master said, "Now you understand! You should be called 'Chih Ch'e' (breadth of understanding)."

Chih Ch'e thanked the Master, bowed, and withdrew.

Bhikshu Shen Hui

A young boy thirteen years old named Shen Hui, who was from a Kao family in Hsiang Yang, came from Yu Ch'uan to pay homage. The Master said, "The Knowing One's journey must have been difficult. Did you bring the original with you? If you have the original, you should know the owner. Try to explain it to me."

Shen Hui said, "I take non-dwelling as the original and seeing as the owner."

The Master said, "This Shramanera imitates the talk of others."

Shen Hui then asked, "When you sit in Ch'an, High Master, do you see or not?"

The Master hit him three times with his staff and said, "When I hit you, does it hurt or not?"

He replied, "It both hurts and does not hurt."

The Master said, "I both see and do not see."

Shen Hui asked, "How can you both see and not see?" The Master said, "What I see is the transgression and error of my own mind. I do not see the right, wrong, good, or bad of other people. This is my seeing and not seeing. How can you say it both hurts and does not hurt? If it does not hurt you are like a piece of wood or a stone, but if it does hurt you are just like a common person and will give rise to hatred. Your 'seeing and not seeing' are two extremes and your 'hurting and not hurting' are production and extinction. You have not even seen your own nature and yet you dare to ridicule others."

Shen Hui bowed, apologized, and thanked the Master. The Master continued, "If your mind is confused and you do not see, then ask a Good Knowing Advisor to help you find the Way. If your mind is enlightened, then see your own nature and cultivate according to the Dharma. You yourself are confused and do not see your own mind, and yet you come to ask me whether or not I see. If I see, I know it for myself, but is that of any help to you in your confusion? In the same way your seeing is of no use to me. Why don't you know and see it for yourself, instead of asking me whether or not I see?"

Shen Hui bowed again over one hundred times, seeking forgiveness for his error. He served the Master with diligence, never leaving his side.

One day the Master addressed the assembly as follows: "I have a thing. It has no head or tail, no name or label, no back or front. Do you all know what it is?"

Shen Hui stepped forward and said, "It is the root source of all Buddhas, Shen Hui's Buddha nature!"

The Master said, "I just told you that it had no name or label, and you immediately call it the root-source of all Buddhas. Go and build a thatched hut over your head! You're nothing but a follower who pursues knowledge and interpretation."

After the Master's extinction, Shen Hui went to Ching Lo where he propagated the Ts'ao Hsi Sudden Teaching. He wrote the Hsien Tsung Chi which circulated widely throughout the land. He is known as Dhyana Master Ho Che.

Difficult Questions

The Master saw many disciples of other schools, all with evil intentions, gathered beneath his seat to ask him difficult questions. Pitying them, he said, "Students of the Way, all thoughts of good or evil should be completely cast away. What cannot be named by any name is called the self-nature. This non-dual nature is the real nature, and it is within the real nature that all teaching doors are established. At these words you should see it for yourselves."

Hearing this, they all made obeisance and asked him to be their master.


Chapter 7


Chapter 9