The First Patriarch
Great Master Bodhidharma
In the name Bodhidharma, “Bodhi” means enlightened and “Dharma” means the teachings . In the sequence of great masters who enlightened to the Dharma, Patriarch Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth Patriarch in India. And so why didn’t he stay in India and be a Patriarch? Why did he go to China? Well, previously Shakyamuni Buddha made a prediction that from the Twenty-eighth Patriarch on, the Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”) teaching would be transmitted to China.
And so when Bodhidharma sail from India to China, the Buddhadharma already existed in China, yet it was as if it were not there at all. Although there were people who studied, there were few who lectured or recited the Sutras and repentance ceremonies were seldom practiced. Cultivation was superficial. Scholars engaged in debates and discussions, but none of them truly understood.
When Dharma Master Shenguang (the Second Patriarch Huike) explained the Sutras, the responses were tremendous! The heavens rained fragrant blossoms and a golden-petalled lotus rose from the earth for him to sit upon. However, only those with good roots, who had opened the heavenly eye, were able to see that. There are five eyes and six spiritual penetrations. Some had attained the five eyes, but there wasn’t anyone with the six spiritual penetrations. When Great Master Huike began explaining the Sutra, heavenly maidens would scatter flowers and a golden lotus would well up from the earth. Master Shenguang would sit upon that golden lotus to explain the Sutra. Wasn’t that a fine spiritual atmosphere in which to investigate the Sutra?
But, the principles in the Sutras must be cultivated, and yet at that time in China nobody really cultivated. Why not? It was because they were afraid of suffering. No one truly meditated. Well, there was Venerable Patriarch Zhi, who practiced meditation and attained the five eyes. But most people didn’t seriously practice meditation because they feared suffering. Now, in America, it is just the same. People sit in meditation. However, as soon as their legs begin to ache, they wince and fidget and then gently unbend and rub them. People are just people and everyone avoids suffering as much as possible. That’s the way it was then; that’s the way it is now. That’s what I meant when I said, although there was Buddhadharma, it was as if there wasn’t.
Patriarch Bodhidharma saw that the roots of Mahayana, the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma, were ripe in China. Fearing neither the distance nor the hardship of travel, he took the Dharma there. The Chinese, who looked down on foreigners at the time, called him a “barbarian monk” because he talked in a way no one understood. When the children looked up at the bearded Bodhidharma, they ran away in terror. Adults feared that he was a kidnapper and so told their children to stay away from him. So you see, he didn’t even get to teach children, much less the adults, because nobody dared to approach him.
Patriarch Bodhidharma went to Guangzhou, and then to Nanjing, where he listened to Dharma Master Shenguang explain the Sutras. After listening to the Sutra, Patriarch Bodhi-dharma asked, “Dharma Master, what are you doing?”
“I am explaining Sutras,” Shenguang replied.
“Why are you explaining Sutras?”
“I am teaching people to end birth and death.”
“Oh?” said Bodhidharma, “Exactly how do you do that? In this Sutra which you explain, the words are black and the paper is white. How does this teach people to end birth and death?”
Dharma Master Shenguang had nothing to say. How did he teach people to end birth and death? He fumed in silence. Then, even though heavenly maidens rained down flowers and the earth gave forth golden lotuses, Dharma Master Shenguang got angry. That is what I mean when I say that the Buddhadharma
existed in China but it was if it were not there at all!
What happened when he got angry? He grabbed his weapon. What was it? His recitation beads. His beads weren’t lightweight like these “stars and moon Bodhi”beads of mine. His recitation beads were made of iron. He had them made that way intentionally so he could use them as a weapon when the need arose. This time his wrath was extreme. He reddened with anger and raged like a tidal wave smashing a mountain. As he whipped out his beads, he snapped, “You are slandering the Dharma!” and cracked Patriarch Bodhidharma across the mouth.
Although Patriarch Bodhidharma had some skill in the martial arts, he was caught unprepared. He hadn’t expected such a vicious attack—that being unable to reply, the Dharma Master would resort to brute force. As a result, the blow knocked two of Patriarch Bodhidharma’s teeth loose.
Now he was a sage, and there is a legend about the teeth of sages. Don’t ask me whether or not it’s true. I’m just relating the legend. Let’s just get it clear first and not ask why it’s so. If you ask the reason－there’s no reason. It’s just what they say－don’t ask me why! Anyway, it’s said that if a sage gets his teeth knocked loose and he spits them out on the ground, it won’t rain for three years.
Patriarch Bodhidharma thought, “If it doesn’t rain for three years, just image how many people will starve! I have come to China to save living beings, not to kill them!” And so Patriarch Bodhidharma did not let his teeth fall to the ground. Instead, he swallowed them, just like he was eating a pancake; well, pancakes aren’t that hard－it was more like eating a bone! He swallowed them and made his exit. Foreigners are bound to be bullied and after all, he couldn’t go to the government and file suit against Dharma Master Shenguang for knocking his teeth out. Those who have left home have to be patient! How much more must a Patriarch forbear! And so he just left.
On the road, he met a parrot imprisoned in a wicker cage. However, this bird was much more intelligent than the Dharma Master Shenguang. Recognizing that Bodhidharma was a Patriarch, the bird said.
Mind from the West.
Mind from the West.
Teach me a way
To escape from this cage.
Although Patriarch Bodhidharma hadn’t been able to find any people who really understood who he was, this parrot recognized him. Hearing the bird’s plea for help, Bodhidharma was pleased and taught the bird an expedient method－a provisional, not a real, Dharma. He said,
To escape the cage,
To escape the cage,
Put out both legs,
Close both eyes.
This is the way
To escape from the cage!
It was a secret Dharma－sort of like a secret password, and so it’s for sure the Patriarch whispered it. He didn’t say it so loudly as I am speaking now! He certainly must have used a very small voice: “To get out of the cage－this is what you must do to escape!” He spoke softly like that. Why? If he said it out loud so that others heard him, then the method would not work. From this we can see how much trouble the Patriarch took to be kind.
The parrot listened attentively and said, “All right! Now I understand how to get out of the cage!” When the bird saw his owner approaching in the distance, he applied the method－sticking his legs out straight and closing his eyes, he waited for his owner to come close.
Every day when the owner came home, he always played with this bird that he was so fond of. Talking to it would cheer him up. And so, as usual, upon his return, he first went to check on his bird. But this time when he looked in the cage he was shocked. He practically burst into tears. How come? His little bird lay on the floor of the cage unmoving. He couldn’t have been more upset if his son had died. In fact, it’s likely that this bird meant even more to him than his own son! He pulled opened the cage door and gently placed the little bird in his hand. It was still warm. It must have just died, he assumed, that’s why the heat hadn’t yet left its body. The owner peeked at the little thing, turning his hand this way and that. It didn’t even quiver. Slowly he open his hand... PHLLRTTPHLRTTPHLRTT! The bird broke loose from his hand and flew away! It had escaped from the cage!
But we are still in a cage right now! How do we escape? As to human beings－you shouldn’t think you are free. Don’t misinterpret freedom saying, “I am really free. If I want to eat, I eat; if I want to drink, I drink. I can do anything I please. I can ignore the rules if I want to! That’s what I call freedom!” Don’t think you are quite so clever. That’s a misinterpretation of freedom. To be truly free, you must be free of birth and death, and then, if you wish to fly into space you can fly into space, and if you wish to burrow into the earth, you can burrow into the earth. If you can do that, you will gain the kind of freedom that the little bird gained.
As I explain the Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra, I do not lecture well. This is not polite talk; it’s true. Even though I do not speak well, at least I dare to lecture. There are many who could lecture well, but who do not dare to speak. After I, who don’t speak well, have finished lecturing, those who are eloquent can give their explanations. Then, in the future you will have many opportunities to hear the Sixth Patriarch Sutra. However, let’s be clear about one thing: the source of those eloquent explanations will be this simple explanation. I don’t explain well, because I’m just like you in that I haven’t opened my wisdom. And so, in the future when you people open your wisdom, you will be able to speak better than I. But for right now, you can take notes and then when you open your wisdom you will be able to tell if what I am saying now is right or not! I believe that at present you have no way to judge if I am explaining well or not. But once your wisdom opens, then, “Aha! Basically he explained that passage wrong!” Right? You’ll understand then, but that might be twenty years from now!
Dharma Master Shenguang knocked out two of that Indian monk’s teeth, and since the monk didn’t retaliate, the Dharma Master figured he had the advantage—that he’d won the victory. He’d put a barbarian monk in his place. But not long after he struck the barbarian, the Ghost of Impermanence, wearing a high hat, paid a call: “Dharma Master, your life ends today,” said the ghost. “King Yama has sent me to escort you. Today you are supposed to die.”
Master Shenguang was astounded. “What? I still have to die? Why must I die? I speak Sutras so well that flowers rain down from the heavens and golden lotuses well up out of the earth, yet I still have not ended birth and death? Tell me,” he said to the Ghost of Impermanence, “is there a person in this world who has ended birth and death?”
“There is,” came the reply. “There’s someone in this world who has ended birth and death.”
“Who?” asked Dharma Master Shenguang. “Tell me, and I’ll follow him to learn the way to end birth and death.”
“He is the black-faced Bhikshu whose teeth you knocked out. King Yama has no control over him. Not only that, King Yama bows in respect to him everyday!”
“Oh! That monk has ended birth and death! Fine, then, I want to follow him to learn the Dharma-door of ending birth and death. Please, Old Brother Ghost, could you wait a bit to take me away? I am determined to end birth and death! Could you speak to King Yama on my behalf to see if he can’t give me a little more time so I can go learn this Dharma-door?”
“All right,” said the ghost. “Since you are sincere, King Yama will wait.”
Dharma Master Shenguang was delighted. He was so quick to rush after Patriarch Bodhidharma that he forgot to put on his shoes. On he ran, barefoot, until he met the parrot whom Bodhidharma had freed, and suddenly he understood, “Oh! That’s what it’s all about! I have to play dead. I have to be a living dead person!”
Bodhidharma walked on, ignoring the barefoot Dharma Master following behind. Arriving at Bear’s Ear Mountain in Loyang, the Patriarch sat down to meditate facing a wall. Patriarch Bo-dhidharm¬a sat meditating there for nine years, and for nine years Dharma Master Shenguang knelt beside him.
Earlier, when I spoke this public record, an eleven year old child asked me, “During the nine years he knelt, did he eat or not?” I replied, “How could anyone kneel for nine years without eating and still live? When the Patriarch meditated, Shenguang knelt, and when the Patriarch ate, Shenguang ate.” But this is not recorded in the books. One might think that the child was always thinking about eating and so he worried about Dharma Master Shenguang not getting anything to eat. Actually, the child who asked the question was not really attached to eating. He had very good roots, and he began bowing to his parents every day when he was only five. He was eleven when he met me and asked me this question.
One day a great snow fell, and it rose in drifts as high as Dharma Master Shenguang’s waist. Yet he continued to kneel, seeking the Dharma. Finally Patriarch Bodhidharma asked him, “Why are you kneeling here in such deep snow?”
“I want to end birth and death,” replied Shenguang. “When I was lecturing Sutras, I was unable to end birth and death. Please, Patriarch, transmit the Dharma of ending birth and death to me.”
“What do you see falling from the sky?” asked Bodhi-dharma.
“Snow,” said Shenguang.
“What color is it?” asked Bodhidharma.
“It’s white of course.”
Then Patriarch Bodhidharma gave him his test topic: “When red snow falls from the sky,” he said, “I will transmit the Dharma to you. If there’s no red snow, then you’ve no hope of receiving the Dharma. You’re such a wicked monk! You knocked out two of my teeth with one swipe of your recitation beads. The fact that I haven’t taken revenge already counts as being too compassionate! Do you really expect me to give you the Dharma?” That was the test that the Patriarch Bodhidharma gave to Master Shenguang.
How did Dharma Master Shenguang complete this test? Cultivators of the Way carry a knife to protect the substance of their precepts. A true cultivator would rather cut off his head than break a precept.
In reply to the test topic, Dharma Master Shenguang drew his precept knife, and with one slice, cut off his arm. His blood flowed on the new fallen snow. He scooped up a bucket full of crimson snow, set it before Patriarch Bodhidharma, and said, “Patriarch, do you see? The snow is red!”
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, “So it is, so it is.” He had tested Shenguang’s sincerity, and now the Patriarch was extremely happy. “My coming to China has not been in vain. I have met a person who dares to use a true mind to cultivate the Way, even forsaking his arm in search of the Dharma.” The Patriarch then spoke the Dharma door of “Using the mind to seal the mind.” It is the Dharma door that points straight to the mind to see the nature and realize Buddhahood.
While hearing this Dharma, Dharma Master Shenguang didn’t think about the pain in his arm, and before that he had thought only of making the snow turn red. But once Patriarch Bodhidharma finished speaking the Dharma for him, his discursive thought arose: “My arm really hurts!” he said. “My mind is in pain. Please, Patriarch, quiet my mind.”
“Find your mind,” said Patriarch Bodhidharma. “Show it to me and I will quiet it for you. Then you won’t feel any more pain.”
Dharma Master Shenguang searched for his mind. Where was his mind? He looked in the north, east, south, west, in the intermediate points, and up and down. It was simply not to be found anywhere! At last he said to Patriarch Bodhidharma, “I can’t find my mind! It is nowhere to be found.”
“I have already finished quieting your mind!” said the Patriarch. At this place, if I wanted to discuss this Dharma, the meanings would be infinite and boundless. Those few words of Dharma spoken between Patriarch Bodhidharma and Dharma Master Shenguang are ineffably wonderful. And so it’s said, “The myriad dharmas return to the one; the one returns to unity.” Ten thousand dharmas return to one. Where does the one return? The character for “unity” (合) is composed of “person”, “one” and a “mouth.” Shenguang did not understand, and ran after Bodhidharma. He did not understand the meaning of “unity” and so he pursued Patriarch Bodhidharma. Before him at Bear’s Ear Mountain he knelt nine years, seeking a little something to escape King Yama. He didn’t ask for much from Patriarch Bodhidharma; he just wanted to end birth and death so he could avoid Yama, King of the Dead. This is some of what transpired when Patriarch Bodhidharma and Dharma Master Shenguang encountered each other.
While Patriarch Bodhidharma was in China, he was poisoned six times. Dharma Master Bodhiruchi of Northern Wei who was also called Vinaya Master Guangtong was extremely jealous of him. He prepared a vegetarian meal which contained a lethal drug, and offered it to the Patriarch. Well, did the Patriarch Bodhidharma know that it was poisoned? He knew! Although he knew it was poisoned, he ate it anyway. Then he vomited the food on to a tray, and it was transformed into a pile of writhing snakes. That was the first time.
After that unsuccessful attempt, Bodhiruchi tried again, using an even more potent poison. Again, Patriarch Bodhidharma ate the food. Then he sat atop a huge boulder and relieved nature. The boulder crumbled into a heap of dust. That was the second time.
After that there were the third, fourth, fifth and sixth times he was poisoned. One day, Patriarch Bodhidharma said to Dharma Master Shenguang, “I came to China because I saw people with the Great Vehicle disposition. Now I have transmitted the Dharma and I am not going to stay here any longer. I am ready to complete the stillness.”
With the transmission of the Dharma, Dharma Master Shenguang received the name “Huike” which means “Able Wisdom,” evidence that his wisdom was truly up to the task; it was sufficient. Great Master Huike asked Patriarch Bodhi-dharma, “In India, did you transmit the Dharma to your disciples? Did you also give the robe and the bowl as certification?”
“I transmitted the Dharma in India,” replied Bodhidharma, “but I did not use the robe and the bowl as a token of faith. Indian people are straightforward. When they attain the fruition, they know they must be certified. If no one certifies them, they do not say, ‘I have attained the Way! I have certified to the fruition! I have given proof to Arhatship! I am a Bodhisattva!’ They do not speak like that. People there are upright and straight.”
“Chinese people, however, are different. Many Chinese have the Great Vehicle disposition, but there are also many people who lie. Having cultivated without success, such people claim to have the Way. Though they have not certified to the fruition, they claim to be certified sages. Therefore I will transmit the robe and bowl to prove that you have received the transmission. Guard them well and take care.”
Great Master Huike listened to Patriarch Bodhidharma’s instructions and thereupon understood the Dharma transmission he had received.
After his death the Patriarch’s body was placed in a coffin and buried. There was nothing unusual about his funeral. However, right at that time, an official from Northern Wei called Song Yun met Patriarch Bodhidharma on the road to Zhongnan Mountain in the Congling Range. When they met, Patriarch Bodhidharma was carrying one shoe in his hand. He said to Song Yun, “The king of your country died today. Return quickly! There is work to be done.”
The official asked, “Great Master, where are you going?”
“Back to India,” he replied.
“Great Master, to whom did you transmit your Dharma?”
“In China after forty years, there will be someone able (‘Ke’).” “Able” was a reference to Great Master Huike.
Song Yun returned to his country of Northern Wei and reported the incident. “Recently, in Congling, I met the Patriarch Bodhidharma who told me that the king of our country had died and instructed me to return to the capital. When I arrived I found it exactly as he had said. How did he know?”
His countrymen scoffed, “Bodhidharma is already dead. How could you have met him on the road?” People didn’t believe Song Yun. “He’s already dead, how could Song Yun have met him? Let’s open his coffin and take a look!” But when they dug up the grave, they found that the coffin was empty. There was nothing inside but one shoe.
Well, where did Patriarch Bodhidharma go? No one knows. Perhaps he came to America. But no one can recognize him, because he can change and transform according to his convenience. When he came to China he said he was one hundred and fifty years old, and when he left he was still one hundred and fifty years old. No one knows where he went after that. No historical references can be found. This has been a general discussion of Patriarch Bodhidharma’s life in China.
The Second Patriarch Shenguang (Huike) cut off his arm for the sake of the Dharma. We ought to remember this when our legs ache in meditation. We don’t need to cut off our arms now, but at the very least, we should be patient with the pain. We should think, “The Second Patriarch Great Master Huike cut off his arm and we don’t have to do that, so the least we can do is not fear the pain when we are meditating!”
While still in India, Patriarch Bodhidharma sent two of his disciples, Fotuo and Yeshe, to China to transmit the sudden enlightenment Dharma-door－the principles of the Chan School of meditation. Who would have thought that when they got to China they would be totally ostracized and bullied. No matter where they went to speak, everyone snubbed them. No one would talk to them; all the monks kept silent and ignored them. Since no one would listen to them, it was meaningless to remain, so they decided to leave.
On their way out they passed through Lu Mountain where they met the Great Master Zhiyuan (Huiyuan), who promoted the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name. Master Yuan asked, “What Dharma do you two monks from India transmit that causes people to pay you so little respect?”
Fotuo and Yeshe used sign language because they probably knew very little Chinese. Raising their arms in the air, they said, “Watch! The hand makes a fist and the fist makes a hand. Is this not quick?”
Master Yuan replied, “Quick indeed.”
“Bodhi (enlightenment) and affliction,” they said, “are just that quick.”
At that moment, Great Master Yuan became enlightened and said, “Aha! Bodhi and afflictions basically are not different! They are non-dual. Bodhi is affliction and affliction is Bodhi.” Having gained such an understanding, Great Master Yuan made abundant offerings to Fotuo and Yeshe. Shortly thereafter, the two died on the same day, in the same place. Their graves may still be seen at Lu Mountain.
Patriarch Bodhidharma, hearing that his two disciples had been scorned by the Chinese and had both died, decided to go to China take a look himself. While the Patriarch was sitting at Bear’s Ear Mountain, many people came to bow to him and were received as his disciples. Among them were three individuals whom Patriarch Bodhidharma mentioned when he was about to enter Nirvana. He said, “I came to China and transmitted my Dharma to three people. One received my marrow, one received my bones, and one received my flesh.” After the transmission, the Patriarch himself no longer had a body. Great Master Huike received the marrow and Chan Master Daoyu received the bones. And then there was Bhikshuni Zongchi. When I lectured on the Dharma Flower Sutra didn’t I tell you about how a blue lotus flower grew from her mouth after she died? That Bhikshuni received Patriarch Bodhidharma’s flesh. She consumed the Patriarch’s flesh; Dhyana Master Daoyu consumed the Patriarch’s bones, and Patriarch Huike consumed Patriarch Bodhi¬dharma’s marrow. In the end, Patriarch Bodhidharma had no body at all. And so don’t look for him in America; you won’t find him.
The Second Patriarch
Great Master Huike “Able Wisdom”
Now we will discuss the Second Patriarch. Shenguang－Great Master Huike. He was executed by the government, but after his head was chopped off, what flowed from his neck was not blood, but a white milky substance; his blood had turned white. Because of that, many people came to believe in Buddhism, and the emperor also repented, admitting he was wrong, for he realized that the Patriarch was a real Bodhisattva.
Great Master Huike, whose family name was Ji, was born during the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577 A.D.). Patriarch Bodhidharma was in China during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty. By the time of the Second Patriarch, the government had already changed to the Northern Qi. Great Master Huike’s given name was Shenguang
“Spiritual Light” because when he was born, his parents saw a golden-armored spiritual being emitting light. This spiritual being was most likely Weituo Bodhisattva, coming to offer protection to this Patriarch at his birth.
Not only was the Patriarch exceptionally intelligent, but he had an excellent memory as well. He was one who “could read ten lines to others’ one and distinguish a hundred people’s conversations.” To “read ten lines to others’ one” means he was fast－a speed reader! In a gathering of one hundred people, all talking at once, he could be clear about each conversation.
The Great Master, however, had great anger; whenever he disagreed with someone, he was ready to fight. Forty years earlier he even wore iron recitation beads when he lectured Sutras to level the opposition and dispense justice. Remember? He used his iron beads to strike the Patriarch. But later, he knelt for nine years in quest of the Dharma, and it was his great anger which enabled him to cut off his arm and feel no pain. It was also because of this anger that he later felt pain. Unafflicted by anger, he would have felt no pain. Pain is just an affliction and affliction is the cause of pain.
The Second Patriarch was forty years old when he met Bodhidharma. Having obtained the Dharma, he went into hiding for forty years. That was because Bodhiruchi－Vinaya Master Guangtong－and his gang, who had made six attempts on the life of Patriarch Bodhidharma, also wished to kill his disciples. So although Great Master Huike had great anger, he nevertheless obeyed his teacher, Patriarch Bodhidharma, who told him, “You should hide away to avoid these people who want to make things difficult for you.” That’s why he went into hiding for forty years.
I mentioned earlier that when asked to whom he transmitted the Dharma, Patriarch Bodhidharma told Song Yun: “After forty years, there will be someone able (‘Ke’).” When Great Master Huike was eighty, he began to propagate the Buddhadharma, teaching and transforming living beings. He met and transmitted the Dharma to the Third Patriarch Sengcan, saying, “Protect this robe and bowl well, for they certify that you have received the Dharma Seal. You too should go into hiding to avoid danger.” Later, the disciples of Bodhiruchi (Vinaya Master Guangtong) tried to kill Master Huike, who feigned insanity to lessen the jealousy of his rivals. Although he pretended to be insane, he still had tremendous affinities with living beings and so a great many people still believed in and were taken across by him. But Bodhiruchi’s disciples, still jealous and obstructive, wouldn’t leave him alone. They reported Great Master Huike to the government, accusing him of being a weird inhuman creature. “He confuses the people who follow him,” they charged; “He is not even human.” The situation was reported to the emperor, who ordered the district magistrate to arrest him, and Great Master Huike was locked up and questioned:
“Are you human or are you a freak?” asked the Magistrate.
“I’m a freak,” replied Great Master Huike.
The magistrate knew that the Patriarch was saying this to avoid jealousy, so he ordered him to tell the truth. “Speak clearly,” he demanded, “what are you?”
The Great Master replied, “I’m really, truly a freak; absolutely for sure!”
Governments can’t allow strange freaks to roam the earth, and so Great Master Huike was sentenced to a public beheading. Aii ya! This world is totally unreasonable. The Second Buddhist Patriarch gets mistaken for weird creature!
The Patriarch told his disciples, “I must undergo this retribution. I have transmitted the Buddhadharma. But by the time of the Fourth Patriarch, the Dharma will only be a name and an appearance.” When he finished speaking, he wept. He wasn’t crying because he was afraid of dying. It’s not that, having been sentenced to death, he was scared and cried. The Second Patriarch had a big temper; he feared nothing—even death. If he had been afraid to die, he would not have claimed he was a weird creature. The Second Patriarch was a courageous man, and so he looked death square in the eye. When he finished crying he faced the executioner and said: “Come and kill me!”
The executioner raised his ax and swung it towards the master’s neck. What do you suppose happened? You are probably thinking, “He was a Patriarch with great spiritual power. Certainly the blade shattered and his neck was not even scratched.” No. The axe cut off his head, and his head didn’t grow back. However, instead of blood, a milky white fluid flowed onto the chopping block.
Someone says, “Now really, that’s going too far.” Well, if you believe it, that is fine. If you don’t believe it, then just pass it off it as being too unreasonable. However, for those of you who do believe, I can give you a simple explanation of why blood did not flow from the Patriarch’s neck: when a sage enters the white yang realm his blood becomes white because his body has completely transformed into yang, leaving no trace of yin. You say you can’t believe it? Of course you can’t. If you could, you could become a Second Patriarch!
When the executioner saw that the Master did not bleed, he exclaimed, “Hey! He really is a freak! I chopped off his head, but what came out was not blood, it was this milky white fluid. And his face looks exactly as it did when he was alive! That proves he was strange.” But when the emperor was informed, the emperor knew. How did he know? He remembered that the Twenty-fourth Indian Patriarch, Aryasimha, had also been beheaded and had not bled, but a white milky fluid had poured forth. Since the Twenty-fourth Indian Patriarch had been like that, it proved that this person’s body was also entirely yang without any yin. When the yin turns to yang, that’s called the white yang realm.
How does one attain the white yang realm? It’s the result of no outflows. What doesn’t flow out? Well, it means he didn’t have any ignorance. You may object, “But you just said that Great Master Huike had great anger. Since he had a temper, how could he have been devoid of ignorance?” You are certainly more clever than I, for I did not think of this question. But now that you have brought it up, I’ve increased my awareness a bit. You should understand that when I said Great Master Huike had a temper, I meant the temperament that stems from great humaneness, great courage, great knowledge, and great wisdom. I wasn’t talking about petty anger like yours and mine which explodes like firecrackers, “Pop! Pop! Pop.” His anger was wisdom that enabled him to recognize the workings of cause and effect so that he never did anything against principle. Since you asked, I must explain: Great humaneness, great knowledge, great courage, and great wisdom－that’s what his temper was made of!
Realizing that the man he had executed was a Bodhisattva in the flesh, the emperor felt deeply repentant. “A true Bodhisattva came to our country,” he said, “and instead of offering him protection, we kill him.” Then, with utmost shame and remorse, the emperor had all the officials take refuge with this weird creature. Thus, even though the Second Patriarch was already dead, he still accepted this group of disciples. The general biography of the Second Patriarch Shenguang ends here.
The Third Patriarch
Great Master Sengcan “Brilliant Sanghan”
The Third Patriarch, Sengcan of the Sui Dynasty, was of unknown family and origin. When he first came to visit the Second Patriarch, his body was covered with repulsive sores like those of a leper. As a rule, lepers were isolated in those days, for fear of contagion.
But he came in that condition to see the Second Patriarch. “Where are you from?” asked the Second Patriarch. “What are you doing here?”
The leper answered, “I have come here to take refuge with the High Master and to study and cultivate the Buddhadharma.”
“You have a loathsome disease and your body is filthy. How can you study the Buddhadharma?”
The Second Patriarch was clever, but Dhyana Master Sengcan was even more clever. “I am a sick man and you are a high master,” he said, “but in our true minds where is the difference?”
Hearing his reply, the Second Patriarch knew that he was no ordinary person. He quickly answered, “Don’t say any more! Don’t talk! I know!” and immediately transmitted the Dharma to him. After the transmission he said, “You should protect this Dharma well. You also must go into hiding, because Bodhiruchi, who is an Indian monk, is very jealous of Indian monks, and the Dharma that I have received is from Patriarch Bodhidharma. Bodhiruchi’s disciples want to kill Bodhidharma’s disciples. Be very careful and let no one know that you have received this transmission from me. Hide away!” After that, the Third Patriarch used the same technique as his teacher. He feigned insanity and went about quietly teaching and transforming beings.
During the persecution of Buddhism by the Emperor Wu of the Northern Zhou dynasty (reigned from 561-577 A.D.), the Third Patriarch fled into the mountains for more than a decade. While he hid there, the tigers, wolves, leopards, and other fierce animals all left the area.
When he encountered Dharma Master Daoxin, he transmitted the Dharma to him, making him the Fourth Patriarch. After the transmission, Master Sengcan invited a thousand Bhikshus to a great vegetarian feast and a vast number of his disciples also attended the banquet. After they had eaten, what do you suppose he did? He said, “You think that to sit in a full lotus is the best way to die. Watch! I’ll show you something different to demonstrate my independence over birth and death!”
The Master walked to the base of a large tree, leaped up, grabbed a strong branch, and right then and there, in front of the thousand Bhikshus, he entered Nirvana. It’s not that he was hanged, mind you. He passed away peacefully swinging from the tree by one hand! No one knew how old he was. No one knew where he came from. No one knew his name. That’s a general description of the Third Patriarch.
Someone is afraid and thinks, “The First Patriarch was poisoned, the Second Patriarch was beheaded, the Third Patriarch died hanging from a tree. It’s totally meaningless to be a Patriarch. It’s much too dangerous. No matter what, I don’t want to be a Patriarch.” With this attitude, even if you wanted to be a Patriarch you could not. Patriarchs do not fear death. For them, there is no distinction between life and death. “Afflictions are Bodhi; birth and death are Nirvana. They roam in the human realm teaching and transforming living beings.” Someone like that can be a Patriarch. As long as you are a coward, as long as you fear anything, not to mention being a Patriarch, you cannot even be a Patriarch’s disciple.
Patriarchs are not afraid of suffering, not afraid of difficulty, not afraid of death, and not afraid of life. Like Fotuo and Yeshe, those two disciples of Patriarch Bodhidharma, said, “The hand makes a fist; the fist makes a hand. Is that fast or not?” The Venerable Yuan said “Fast!” They said, “Afflictions and Bodhi, birth and death and Nirvana, are just that fast!” And so don’t fear death and then you can be a Patriarch. Right now, if there is anyone who doesn’t fear death, I will make him a Patriarch. Above has been a discussion of the Third Patriarch.
The Fourth Patriarch
Great Master Daoxin “Faith in the Way”
The Fourth Patriarch was also a strange character. While very young, he left home under Master Sengcan and for sixty years he sat in Dhyana concentration, without lying down to rest. Although he seldom opened his eyes, he wasn’t asleep. He was working at cultivation. When he did open his eyes, everyone shook with terror. People would shudder and tremble as if enduring an earthquake when they saw his eyes. Why? No one knew. Such was the magnitude of his awesome virtue.
Hearing of the Master’s great virtue, in the seventeenth year of the Zhenguan Reign of the Tang dynasty (643 A.D.), the emperor sent a messenger to invite him to the palace to receive the offerings of the emperor, who wanted to bow to the Patriarch as his teacher. Think about it, the way things are now, not to speak of being invited by the emperor, people would attempt to wedge themselves into the court unasked! How much the more would they go if invited! But the Great Master, the Fourth Patriarch, refused the invitation saying, “My age is advanced. I don’t walk well, and I have no appetite. I’m old and sick. I cannot travel to the capitol.”
When the messenger delivered the Patriarch’s reply, the emperor said, “Go back and tell him that the emperor says that no matter how old he is or how difficult the journey, I have ordered him to come to the palace.”
The messenger returned to the Patriarch and said, “Master, regardless of your health, you must come to the emperor’s court. We will carry you back in a sedan chair if necessary!” At that time, since there were no airplanes, travel was difficult.
“No, I cannot go,” replied the Patriarch. “I am too old and ill. Take my head if you must, but my heart will not go.”
The messenger thought, “There is nothing to do but to go back without him. I cannot take his head to the emperor.” The messenger then hurried back to the emperor. “Your Excellency, this Bhikshu is very strange; he is hardly human. He said you may have his head, but his heart will not move! He has no intention of coming to see the emperor.”
“Very well, go get his head,” replied the emperor. He put a knife in a box and gave it to the messenger saying, “Slice off his head.”
“Fine.” the messenger replied. Then, when the messenger was about to set out, the emperor told him, “Under no circumstances should you harm this Bhikshu. You must not kill this monk.” Ah, with that, the messenger understood.
He returned to the Fourth Patriarch and said, “Venerable Master, ultimately are you going or not? The emperor has given me this knife with the orders that if you refuse to come, I am to cut off your head and take it back to the emperor.”
Patriarch Daoxin said, “Fine! If my head gets to see the Emperor, then that will be great glory. Good! You may remove my head now.” And he stuck out his head. The messenger had taken out the knife and been sizing up his head. But when he saw the Great Master stick out his head, the messenger quickly put the knife away.
Meanwhile, Patriarch Daoxin closed his eyes and waited calmly for his head to be cut off. He waited for about ten minutes. Maybe it was ten minutes, maybe it was nine or eleven. Don’t become attached. It’s not for sure precisely how long he waited. But nothing happened. Finally Master Daoxin got angry, just like the Second Patriarch, and shouted, “Hey! Why don’t you slice off my head!”
“The emperor had no intention of harming you,” the messenger quickly replied. “He was just bluffing.”
The Patriarch heard this and laughed aloud. Then he said, “Now you know there is still such a person in the world!” meaning, a person who does not fear death.
The family name of the Fourth Patriarch Daoxin was Si-Ma. His personal name was Xin “Faith,” and when he left-home, that name became part of his ordained name “Faith in the Way.” Si-Ma was an honorable ancestral name. Both Emperor Si-Ma of the Jin dynasty and the historian and skilled writer Si-Ma Qian of the Han dynasty had this name. The Fourth Patriarch, who had such famous ancestors, left the home-life to cultivate when he was very young. He lived seventy-two years, sixty of which were spent without lying down even once to sleep. The Fourth Patriarch’s realm of accomplishment was inconceivable.
While Master Daoxin was cultivating in the mountains in Hubei, a nearby city was besieged by bandits for more than a hundred days. Master Daoxin saw that there was no water in the city－the wells were dry and there was no more flow from the source. Water, fire and food and drink are vital to life. Deprived of water, the inhabitants of that city would not be able to go on living. And so, Master Daoxin left his mountain retreat to teach and transform the people. He taught the officials and populace all to recite “Mahaprajna-paramita.” After they recited for a time, the bandits scattered and fled and water reappeared in the wells. That was a response based on the Way which Master Daoxin had.
When the Fourth Patriarch decided to build a temple, he looked with his Buddha eye and saw Broken Head Mountain in Hubei. The name is not a good one, but the area itself was surrounded by a purple cloud of energy. Observing this auspicious sign, the Master went there to dwell, changing its inauspicious name to “Double Peak” Mountain, after its shape.
The Master used expedient dharmas to teach living beings how to discard their bad habits. These stubborn living beings, however, often discarded what was good and continued doing evil, refusing to listen to instructions. But the Master persisted and by using all kinds of skill-in-means caused these stubborn living beings to realize their mistakes and change. He propagated the Dharma for more than forty years, transforming living beings greater in number than seedlings of rice, stalks of hemp, shoots of bamboo, or blades of grass.
One day the Fourth Patriarch said to his disciple, Dharma Master Yuanyi, “You should build me a stupa. I am going to leave.” Later he asked, “Is the stupa ready?” to which Master Yuanyi replied “yes.” In the second year of Yonghui, of the Tang dynasty (651 A.D.), on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth lunar month, Patriarch Daoxin, who had never been ill, sat down and peacefully entered Nirvana. Very few people knew of his passing, since he had not announced it to the assembly. He didn’t say good-bye.
His disciples locked his flesh body securely in the stone stupa. A year later the iron locks fell away and the stupa opened by itself. Looking in, everyone saw the Fourth Patriarch still sitting in full lotus, appearing the same as he had when alive. At that time the Fifth Patriarch Hongren was delighted when he saw his teacher’s appearance. The Master’s body had not decayed, but the flesh had dried out. The Fifth Patriarch wrapped the body with lacquered cloth and gilded it to protect this “true body.” To this day the Fourth Patriarch’s body still exists. He taught and transformed a vast number of disciples; his “room-entering” disciple, that is, the disciple who received the Dharma transmission, was the Fifth Patriarch, Great Master Hongren.
The Fifth Patriarch
Great Master Hongren “Vast Patience”
From West to East, each of the Patriarchs had his own special points, his own secret practices, and his own background. Now, we’ll discuss in general the experiences of the Great Master, the Fifth Patriarch. The Fifth Patriarch lived on Double Peak Mountain in Huangmei County, Hubei Province. His family name was Zhou. His parents, devoted Buddhists who felt that worldly life with its afflictions, fighting, and avarice was meaningless, sent their son to the monastery at the age of seven to leave home with the Fourth Patriarch, Great Master Daoxin.
Dhyana Master Daoxin knew at once that the boy had great potential, so he undertook to train him seriously. Instead of spoiling him with good food, nice clothing, and a fine place to live, he made the boy do chores every day. As a child, Great Master Hongren cleaned the monastery, cooked, heated the water, steeped the tea, and so forth. He did every kind of work there was to do, so he got a taste of each and every task.
During the day he diligently did manual labor, bearing the weariness, bearing grievances. When the other Shramaneras (novices) wanted to fight with him, he would not retaliate. He remained intensely involved in applying real effort to his cultivation. When people criticized him, he accepted it gladly, eagerly changing his faults and renewing himself. Starting from age seven, he cultivated like this day in and day out. During the day he did all kinds of chores to protect the Way-place, and then at night he sat in meditation, investigating Chan. During the night the Master sat there working hard at developing his skill in meditation. It’s not that as soon as evening came he rushed off to rest, and then in the morning couldn’t crawl out of the sack. He wasn’t like that! He practiced at night. He cultivated every kind of practice: reciting Sutras and mantras, bowing to the Buddhas, bowing in repentance, and studying the teachings, never letting a moment go by in vain. He sustained the thought of birth and death as a painful reminder. Although he spoke very little, he worked very diligently and never fought or argued with people. His name, Hongren, means “Vast Patience,” because he was always patient and able to yield.
When he was thirteen, the Fourth Patriarch observed that he was mature enough and allowed him to receive the complete precepts and become a Bhikshu. The Fifth Patriarch was eight feet tall and had an extraordinary appearance. His eyes were full of spirit, and he was extremely circumspect in his speech and manner. It was obvious that he was mindful of his practice in every moment. Seeing that he would become a worthy teacher of people, the Fourth Patriarch transmitted the robe and bowl to Great Master Hongren, making him the Fifth Patriarch in China. That transmission, which came down from Shakyamuni Buddha, generation by generation, is a mind-to-mind transmission of the mind seal passed straight to a person’s mind. It is the Dharma-door of seeing the nature and realizing Buddhahood.
The Fifth Patriarch held the precepts very purely and cultivated with great diligence on East Mountain in Hubei Province. During that time thieves often entered a nearby city to steal gold, silver, and valuables. Once, when he saw a horde of bandits besieging that city in Hubei, he was unable to be patient any longer. And so the Great Master “Vast Patience” went down the mountain toward the city, intending to rescue its inhabitants. When the bandits saw him, they were terrified, dropped their weapons and armor and retreated as fast as they could. Why? It was because although Great Master Hongren had actually come alone down the mountain, or perhaps with just a few others, what the thieves saw accompanying the Patriarch was a retinue of golden-armored heavenly soldiers and generals armed with jeweled weapons, manifesting awesome virtue and brightness. The alarmed thieves ran away and the siege was broken without the use of a single sword, gun, or arrow.
How was the Great Master able to accomplish that? It was very simple! I’ll tell you how. The Fifth Patriarch cultivated and recited the Shurangama Mantra. The Shurangama Sutra says that if you constantly recite the Shurangama Mantra, eighty-four thousand Vajra Store Bodhisattvas will protect you from all danger. On the one hand, the thieves were frightened off by the Vajra Store Bodhisattvas, and on the other, they were subdued by awesome virtue of the Great Master himself.
To be able to intimidate a horde of bandits without using a single weapon, one must have genuine skill in cultivation. Based on many responses of this sort, Bhikshus from all quarters were drawn to the Fifth Patriarch’s place to study the Dharma. Often there were more than a thousand people studying under him.
The Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty had tried without success to invite the Fourth Patriarch to the palace to accept offerings. As it was with the teacher, so it was with the disciple, and so Great Master Hongren also received many invitations from Emperor Taizong. But, like his teacher, he refused them all and did not go to the palace to receive the emperor’s offerings.
Not tempted by wealth and honor,
Unchanging in poor and lowly circumstances,
Not submissive to power and coercion.
That kind of resolute, heroic spirit is beyond the understanding of ordinary people who covet fame and riches and who immerse themselves in wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep, and yet it is just that which makes Buddhism outstanding.
In the fifth year of the Xianxiang reign of the Tang dynasty (674 A.D.), the Fifth Patriarch said to his disciples, “Build me a stupa. I am going to leave.” Later he asked, “Is the stupa ready?” His disciples replied that it was. He then sat upright and passed away without sickness.
But before the Fifth Patriarch entered Nirvana, he made a public announcement: “Ten people have received my Dharma transmission. These ten will become Dharma Hosts in ten different areas where they will establish Bodhimandas to preserve and spread the teaching among living beings.” The Fifth Patriarch had already advised the Sixth Patriarch, Great Master Huineng, “Since the robe is a source of contention, it should stop with you. Do not transmit it.” He said, “Everyone will want to fight over the robe, since it is the token of transmission. And so you should not pass it on. Turmoil and tumultuous times are at hand.”
His ten Dharma heirs were: Dharma Masters Shenxiu, Zhi-xian, Huizang, Xuanyao, Laoan, Faru, Zhide, Yifang , as well as Great Master Huineng and also Recordkeeper Liu. These ten people who received the Fifth Patriarch’s Dharma-pulse were advised to go each to a different place to teach and transform living beings. Shortly after announcing this, the Master entered Nirvana. Above has been a general description of events surrounding the Fifth Patriarch.
Each of the ten who received the Fifth Patriarch’s Dharma-transmission had his own strong points. Some were foremost in wisdom, some foremost in good character, foremost in virtue in the Way, foremost in patience, foremost in joyful giving, or foremost in compassion. Or perhaps they excelled in teaching others or in their cultivation. They were qualified to be good models for people, to be teachers of gods and humans, to be places of reliance for the multitudes, and to be Good and Wise Advisors for living beings.
None of them boasted of his own merit or tried to put on a special style. As Yenyuan said, “I would hope not to boast of my own goodness.” None of them discussed his own special points; no one talked about his qualifications. They never praised themselves saying things like, “When I was young, I was like this and like that; in my prime, my level of scholarship was such-and-such. In my old age, I could do this and do that.” Nor would they brag about how many disciples they had or how many people believed in them. True sages and virtuous ones are not arrogant like that.
They were men of outstanding virtue, who emphasized virtuous conduct and did not desire fame or expend their energy in superficial ways that were only cheating themselves and cheating others. These ten individuals were not arrogant, did not contend, were not greedy, did not seek, did not pursue self-benefit and did not lie. To attempt to describe the behavior and style of each of these ten teaching hosts would take a long time; this has just been a summary.
Now as we study the Patriarchs of the past, we ought to reflect upon ourselves. We should each choose a Patriarch to learn from and to serve as our model in cultivation. If we reflect in this way when we listen to the Sutra lectures, then the lectures will help us to cultivate our bodies and minds and to end birth and death. If we listen to the Sutras, but the Sutras remain Sutras and we remain ourselves, separating ourselves from the Sutras, separating ourselves from the Patriarchs, then we won’t gain any benefit at all.
When we see worthy ones,
we should strive to be like them.
When we see unworthy ones,
we should reflect upon ourselves.
We should strive to be like the Patriarch we most admire. Then we won’t have wasted our time.
For example, we heard earlier that after the Fifth Patriarch left home at age seven, he never argued or fought with the other novice monks. He worked hard every day, putting up with the fatigue and blame. He really understood what leaving home was all about. He knew the way to end birth and death. If you fight, argue, and scold people all day long after you leave home, then basically you’re the same as before you left home. We should all take note of this.
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is under the auspices of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association.
There is nothing which does not flow forth from
the Dharma Realm,
And nothing which does not return to the Dharma Realm.
The people at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are all ordinary, common people. Although the City is a sages’ ground, a place where Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Patriarchs are created, no one is a Buddha, a Bodhisattva, or a Patriarch when he or she first comes here. Nothing is perfect right now. If everything were perfect, then we would have already become Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Patriarchs, and would not be ordinary people.
We are ordinary people who are trying to change our bad habits little by little. Therefore, we will inevitably make mistakes in our work and not do a perfect job. However, we have come here in the hope of improving ourselves through cultivation. This resolve to perfect ourselves and emulate the sages is extremely precious. It’s only to be feared that we have faults but refuse to change them , or that we know what is good but refuse to do it. If we are selfish and only seek to benefit ourselves, then we are finished. If each of us makes the resolve to become a Buddha, to practice the Bodhisattva Path, and to follow Universal Worthy Bodhisattva in making his Ten Great Kings of Vows, then we will certainly reach our goal. Meanwhile, we should be tolerant of each other’s shortcomings. As it’s said,
Patience is a priceless jewel
Which no one knows how to use.
If you could make use of it,
Everything would turn out fine.
As I often say to you, “Everything is a test.” We don’t know what offenses, what causes and effects, what bad things we may have done to others throughout many lives and many eons in the past, which causes us to now encounter a lot of trouble and impediments. So now, when we face these troubles, we must remember: “Everything is a test, to see what I will do.” We should look at ourselves, not look outside to see what someone else will do.
Everything is a test
To see what you will do.
If you don’t recognize what’s before you,
You’ll have to start anew.
Everything is a test
To see what you will do.
If you don’t recognize what’s before you,
You’ll have to start anew.
What will you yourself do in this situation?
Everything is a test
To see what he will do.
If you understand others, then you won’t blame them anymore.
If you don’t recognize what’s before you,
You’ll have to start anew.
These verses tell us to seek within ourselves. Don’t look at you, me, or him. Be like the Bodhisattvas. A Bodhisattva says:
Truly recognize your own faults.
Don’t discuss the faults of others.
Others’ faults are just my own.
To be of the same substance is called great compassion.
Always bring forth great compassion and pity for all living beings. If living beings don’t listen to you when you try to teach them, think: “I must not have enough virtue. If I were adorned with the ten thousand virtues, no one would fail to listen to me.” Contemplating in this way, you won’t seek outside. You will truly reflect upon yourself, seek within yourself when things don’t go your way.
If you care for others,
But they don’t respond to your kindness,
Reflect on your own humaneness.
If you try to correct people,
But they don’t listen,
Reflect on your own wisdom.
If you greet people,
But they ignore you,
Reflect on whether your respect is true.
Whenever you fail in your endeavors,
Seek the cause within yourself.
If we can be like that, then we will soon attain to the position of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, how much the more that of sages and worthies.
If you care for others, but they don’t respond to your kindness, reflect on your own humaneness. If you care for others, but they keep their distance and are afraid to approach you, contemplate to see if you are deficient in kindness.
If you try to correct people, but they don’t listen, reflect on your own wisdom. For example, if my disciples don’t listen to me, I have to reflect on whether I have sufficient virtue to be their teacher. It must be due to my lack of virtue that my disciples are rebellious and disobedient.
If you greet people, but they ignore you, reflect on whether your respect is true. If you greet someone, but he doesn’t even look at you, ask yourself: Did I greet him with genuine respect?
Whenever you fail in your endeavors, seek the cause within yourself. If you do not obtain the result you expect, always seek the reason in yourself. Reflect to see if you did something wrong.
The Fifth Patriarch transmitted the robe and bowl to the Sixth Patriarch in order to perpetuate the Dharma transmitted to him by the Fourth Patriarch. And so, when the Emperor Gaozong of the Tang dynasty invited the Fifth Patriarch to the palace to receive offerings, the Fifth Patriarch, just like his teacher the Fourth Patriarch, declined his invitations many times. As a result of this, the emperor became even more respectful and sent a variety of precious gifts, including rare medicinal herbs, as an offering to the Great Master. These expensive gifts from the emperor did not make the Fifth Patriarch arrogant or attached to his own importance. The Great Master simply distributed them among the assembly and entered Nirvana shortly thereafter.
Starting from Patriarch Mahakashyapa, there were twenty-eight generations of Patriarchs in India, culminating with Bo-dhidharma, who became the First Patriarch in China. Great Master Hongren was the Fifth Patriarch in China.
The Sixth Patriarch
Great Master Huineng
Great Master Huineng, who was the Sixth Patriarch in China, was from Xinzhou in Canton. His ancestors were originally from northern China, but later moved south and settled in Canton. His father, of the Lu family, died when the Master was only three years old. His mother remained a widow and took care of her son. The Master chopped and sold firewood to support them.
Once when he was selling firewood to a shop, he noticed a customer reciting the Vajra (Diamond) Sutra. Upon hearing the words of this Sutra: “One should produce that thought which is nowhere supported,” he became enlightened. As a layperson, he went to the monastery of the Fifth Patriarch Hongren in the Sung Mountain Range. There in the Huang Mei Way-place, he did manual labor, threshing rice for eight months. The Fifth Patriarch, knew that the time had come to transmit the Dharma to him, because the Patriarch was aware that, during those months of bitter toil, the newcomer had not had any false thinking, but had single-mindedly worked at developing his skill. That’s how the Patriarch knew that the time was right, and so he asked those in the Great Assembly to write verses and submit them.
Master Shenxiu [the Fifth Patriarch’s senior disciple] secretly wrote this verse:
The body is a Bodhi tree,
The mind like a mirror stand.
Time and again brush it clean,
And let no dust alight.
When the Sixth Patriarch saw it, he wrote another verse:
Originally Bodhi has no tree,
The bright mirror has no stand.
Originally there is not a single thing:
Where can dust alight?
This verse is a criticism of Shenxiu’s verse. The line “Time and again brush it clean” describes the process of cultivation. The Sixth Patriarch, being one who was already beyond that stage, was someone who has “crossed the river” and no longer “needed the raft.” And so he said, “Bodhi has no tree; the bright mirror has no stand. Originally there is not a single thing.” To begin with, there is nothing at all, “Where can dust alight?” Where could there be any place for the dust? That’s what he meant.
The Fifth Patriarch, Great Master Huangmei, said nothing when he saw the second verse, but he remembered the person who wrote it. At that time people who studied the Buddhadharma were mutually jealous and obstructive. You were afraid I might get the Patriarchate and I was afraid you would get it. So everyone was biding his time, hoping to receive the robe and bowl. And so they were competing with each other, just like the way people cultivate now: you want to get enlightened; he wants to become a Buddha; and she, what does she want? There’s always something obstructing them so their efforts bring no response. Well, the Fifth Patriarch transmitted the robe and bowl to the Sixth Patriarch in the middle of the night. After imparted the essentials of cultivation to him, he told the Great Master to flee in the night. It was that dangerous back then; now it is even worse.
The Fifth Patriarch spoke this verse to Great Master Huineng:
With feeling comes the planting of the seed.
Because of the ground, the fruit is born again.
Without feeling there is no seed at all.
Without that nature there is no birth either.
With feeling comes the planting of the seed. There must be a life force, the ability to generate and transform, before the seed can be planted.
Because of the ground, the fruit is born again. The seed planted into the ground can grow and bear fruit.
Without feeling there is no seed at all. If there is no life force, there is no seed and the ground will be useless.
Without that nature there is no birth either. If there is no nature and life, there is no productive force. In cultivating the Way, don’t be afraid of idle thoughts. If idle thoughts come, simply set them aside, avoid being turned by them, and continue cultivating. Don’t be afraid of thoughts. As long as you don’t let your mind wander off and follow those thoughts, they are not a problem. Gather in your body and mind; don’t pursue your false thoughts. If there is no birth, no productive nature, there is also no life force.
After the Sixth Patriarch received the robe and bowl and the Proper Dharma Eye Treasury, he went to live among hunters. Many years later, seeing that the conditions were ripe, he went to Guangzhou where Dharma Master Yinzong was giving lectures on the Nirvana Sutra. There he met two monks arguing over the topic of a flag in the wind. One said the wind moved; the other said the flag moved. The first one said that the wind is invisibly moving the visible flag. Each expressed his own principle. The Sixth Patriarch told them, “The wind is not moving, nor is the flag. Your minds, Kind Sirs, are moving. If you minds were not moving, then there would be nothing at all.”
Then he showed everyone the robe and bowl, and he left the home-life. Afterwards people invited him to establish a monastery in Caoxi, where in the past (502 A.D.) the Venerable Wisdom Medicine (Jnanabhaishajya) had made a prophecy, saying that after one hundred and seventy years, a Bodhisattva in the flesh would proclaim the Buddhadharma there. It was then exactly one hundred and seventy years after the prophecy, and so the Great Master went to Caoxi and constructed Nanhua Monastery－The Caoxi Way-place. Later on he transmitted the Dharma to over thirty people, of whom Masters Nanyue and Qingyuan were the leaders.
The Great Master completed the stillness in the second year of the Xiantian reign of the Tang dynasty, at the age of seventy-six. Emperor Xianzong conferred upon him the posthumous title of Dhyana Master Dajian (“Great Example”). A stupa was built called the Lingzhao (“Spiritual Illumination”) Stupa. A praise says:
One should be nowhere supported;
Splitting wood, opening like a flower;
Originally, there is nothing at all;
He was like rice waiting for the sieve.
From Huangmei, in the middle of the night,
He unexpectedly obtained the robe.
Circulating the teaching to all under heaven,
One flower blooms with five petals.
The first line refers to the principle of non-attachment spoken of in the Vajra Sutra. Threshing rice and chopping wood, the Sixth Patriarch progressed in his cultivation, like a flower opening up. Originally, there is not a single thing. But he was still not quite ready, just like threshed rice waiting for the sieve. Dhyana Master Huangmei transmitted the Dharma to him in the middle of the night, covering the Sixth Patriarch with his kashaya sash. His teaching, signified by the robe and bowl, circulated throughout the world. The five petals of the flower represent the Yunmen, the Fayan (Dharma Eye), the Linzi, the Caodong, and the Weiyang sects. These five sects have been transmitted down to the present time. And so I said,
Without relying on language, the robe and bowl are transmitted.
Originally there’s not a single thing, so words are done away with.
Awakening to the mind’s origin, one smashes through delusion.
Understanding the nature’s sea, one roams through space.
With a five-petalled flower, the wisdom life continues.
For tens of thousands of years, the Buddhas have been saving
Caoxi’s Dharma water flows to worlds as many as grains of sand,
Washing away living beings’ severe illnesses of defilements.
There was no written document certifying the transmission of robe and bowl from the Fifth Patriarch to the Sixth Patriarch. Not like now when you can get a certificate of graduation. He had nothing at all in the way of proof. And so it’s said that originally, there was nothing at all. Since there isn’t anything, then there is nothing to be said. Smashing through delusion means understanding the source of the true mind. And so he was not confused and not upside-down. People who still have emotion and love are confused and upside-down. They get confused by those things. We need to understand that originally those things do not exist, and so why should we be controlled by them? You should realize that the “sea” of the nature is so great there is nothing outside of it, and yet so small there is nothing within it.
With the Dharma Realm as substance, what could be outside?
With empty space as function, what is not included?
The myriad things are level and equal, apart from discrimination.
With not a single thought arising, words and speech are ended.
If you can be like this, you will understand that the sea of the nature is completely empty. You will roam in the great void, roaming until there isn’t a trace of ignorance to be found in the great sea.
Starting with the Sixth Patriarch, the Yunmen, Fayan, Caodong, Linzi, and Weiyang sects have been passed down to the present－they are five petals of a single blossom, perpetuating the Buddha’s wisdom. For tens of thousands of ages, the Buddhas have been teaching the people of the world. The waters of Cao Creek have circulated throughout space and the Dharma Realm, flowing to worlds in number like the sands of the Ganges, washing away living beings’ severe illnesses of ignorance and affliction.