The Bodhi Seal of the Patriarchs

The Sixth Patriarch of
The T’ien T’ai School
The Venerable T’ien Kung Hui Wei
Commentary by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

T'ien T'ai is the name of a mountain and also the name of a school of Buddhist thought. The Sixth Patriarch here is of the T'ien T'ai lineage, not the Sixth Patriarch of Buddhism in China.

The Venerable T'ien Kung Hui Wei's layname was Liu. He was from the province of Mu, the county of Tung Yang. In his early youth, before he was eighteen, and probably when he was about seven or eight, he became disillusioned with the weariness of life. He was thoroughly disgusted with the toils of life, getting up in the morning, retiring at night, eating and drinking day in and day out. The whole process was suffering. Consequently, he "entered the door to emptiness"--which means he left the home life.

Don't wait until you're old to cultivate the Way.

Most of those lonely graves belong to young people.

So he didn't wait until he was old and had already married and had children and his spouse had passed on before he left home. He became a monk when he was a child. He shaved his head and received the complete precepts. When he cut his hair, everyone was delighted and congratulated him. The "complete precepts" means that he took the 10 novice precepts, the 10 major and 48 minor Bodhisattva precepts, and the 250 Bhiksu precepts. He heard about Ch'an Master Fa Hua’s magnificent propagation of the T’ien T’ai teachings, and went to study there. He set his will on the Dharma of Ch’an and was absolutely vigorous day and night. The Three Contemplations are emptiness, falseness, and the Middle Way. Emptiness is the actual truth. Falseness is the common truth. The Middle Way represents the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way, whereby one does not fall into emptiness nor does one fall into existence or falseness. Many people in the T'ien T'ai School became enlightened from cultivating these three contemplations. You regard all dharmas as emptiness; regard alt dharmas as false, and regard all dharmas as the final meaning of the Middle Way. So it just depends on how you look at them. If you understand, then

Coarse words and fine speech 

All return to the primary meaning.

Before you understand, no matter what wonderful Dharma is spoken, you still don't understand.

When people saw that he had thoroughly entered the room of his Master Wei, they called him "Wei the younger." After that he returned to Tung Yang and retired into a valley deep in the mountains.

This reminds me of a story. During the Ch'ing dynasty there was Vinaya Master Hung Yi and also Dharma Master T'an Hsu. Dharma Master T'an Hsu was in constant contact with officials and important people. One of the officials was named Shen Hung Lieh, and his position in government was significant--something like mayor or governor. One day he invited Dharma Master T'an Hsu to a vegetarian meal. Dharma Master T'an Hsu particularly venerated Vinaya Master Hung Yi, whom the official included in the invitation. Dharma Master T'an Hsu related the invitation to Vinaya Master Hung Yi: "Upasaka Shen has invit­ed us to lunch tomorrow, do you want to go? If so, let me know."

The next day Vinaya Master Hung Yi said to Elder Master T'an Hsu,

As to yesterday's invitation to today's occasion 

I sat on the bench in meditation and quietly considered it.

He said, "Yesterday someone invited us to lunch today so I sat in meditation to reflect upon it." He didn't meditate, he struck up false thoughts; "Should I go or not? If we go there to eat, it is for sure the vegetables will be delicious. And there'll be mock chicken, mock duck, mock goose, mock abalone—all pretty tasty stuff. But then again, after I eat it, then what? It's better not to go...I've decided. I'm not going." So his concluding remarks were:

Members of the Sangha should stay in the mountain valleys.

And be careful not to accept invitations from important officials.

So I eat a little less, so what? That's what he told Elder Master T'an Hsu. But when Shen Hung Lieh found out he wasn't coming, that his invitation had been refused, it was embarrassing to him and he was furious. "That monk is totally lacking in social grace. He won't even accept my invitation to eat."

But when another official named Chu Tse Ch'iao heard about the incident, he was delighted. "That's a genuine left home person!" he exclaimed. "That's deportment fitting of a great Vinaya Master, a great cultivator of the Way." So you see, both of them were officials, and were Buddhists, and yet one praised his action and the other flew into a rage. It just proves that there is no way to make all of the people happy all of the time. It's impossible. It is difficult for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to fulfill the wishes of living beings. He rarely got involved with people. It's not that he never did; occasionally something came up, but as a rule, he wasn't hospitable. After Master Fa Hua entered extinction, those who sought the Way, an uncountable number of them, came to him. But the only one who inherited the Dharma Transmission was Master Tso Ch’i. In the T’ang dynasty he was given the name Virtuous Ch’ao San, one of the four Great Masters honored. In the Sung dynasty he was given the posthumous title Venerable Ch’uan Chen.

A Verse Reads:

The room of the Elder Wei

Was expansive and yet esoteric.

Only the Master entered it.

And became a great Dharma boat.

He retired forever to the deep mountains.

And roamed among the deer and boars.

He hid away ‘til the time was right for spreading the word.

Then his teaching pervaded quite naturally.

Another verse says:

      He left the home life to cultivate the Way.

      And end death and birth.

      He sought only for liberation--

      To escape the fiery pit.

      Totally concentrated on the Three Contemplations,

      He suddenly awoke.

      Deeply entering one door,

Eventually you’ll get through.

He retired to the isolated valleys 

And ceased contact with the mundane.

Greatly turning the Dharma Wheel,

He saved a lot of beings.

He joined the Vinaya Master

To teach by compassion.

Of one substance with the myriad things

His lofty conduct is to be admired.