The Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel 
Platform Shtra




     “Go and think it over for a day or two. Compose another gatha 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 more days passed~ but he was unable to compose a g~th&.  In his mind he was agitated and confused, his spirits and thought uneasy. He was as if in a dream whether walking or sitting he was not happy


     After the Great Master had explained that the Bodhi self nature cannot be sought with the mind that wants to take advantage2 he told Shen Hsiu,”If you obtain the original substance, become enlightened and understand the mind and see the (self) nature, and enter the gate of the Buddhadharma so that you no longer dwell outside, I will transmit the Dharma to you.” Enter the gate means “understand the mind and see the nature”.

     As the days passed, Shen Hsiu gradually went in­sane. Neither his spirit nor his thought would settle. Although he was unable to fall asleep, he was as if in in a dream. While sitting, standing, walking, and lying down, he didn’t know what he was doing because his desire to become patriarch was so great. I believe that, after he failed the initial test and then was un­able to compose another gatha, he even considered suicide. During the entire time he was unhappy and distressed.


     Two days later, a young boy chanting a gatha passed by the threshing room. Hearing it for the first time, he knew that {the writer) had not yet seen his original nature. Although he had not yet received a transmission of the teaching, he immediately understood the great meaning and asked the boy, "What gatha are you reciting?"


     A young lad ventured close to the threshing floor where the Sixth Patriarch was working, singing as he walked,

“The body is a Bodhi tree,

The mind like a bright mirror stand.

Time and again, brush it clean;

Let no dust alight.”

     The youth was chanting the gatha because he wished to obtain great benefit, avoid the three evil destinies of rebirth, and see his nature.


     “You, barbarians, know nothing~” replied the boy. “The Great Master has said that for men in the world  the affair of birth and death is great. Desiring to transmit the robe and Dharma, he ordered his disciples to compose gathas and bring them to him to see. The person who understands the Great Meaning will inherit the robe and Dharma and become the Sixth Patriarch. Our senior, Shen Hsiu, wrote this markle ss gatha on the wall of the south corridor. The Great Master ordered to recite it, for to cultivate in accord with is to avoid falling into the evil destinies and is of great advantage.”     


     The lad replied, “You barbarian I Don’t you know that the Fifth Patriarch said that of all the problems men face, the problem of birth and death is the gravest?

The Fifth Patriarch told his disciples to compose gathas and bring them to him for consideration. The person who understood the mind and saw the nature would receive the robe and Dharma and become the next pat­riarch.

     A markless gatha is one which reveals that its author is not attached to marks.

     “You really have no good roots!” the boy said to the Sixth Patriarch. “After so many days, you still don’t know? You are useless, capable only of toiling at bitter work; all you can do is pound rice. You shouldn’t mistake such a fine opportunity and let it slip by. Listen closely and I will tell you what has happened, and teach you this gatha so that you too can become enlightened and see the nature. Pay attention and rely on this gatha as you cultivate so that in your next life you won’t have to endure such suffering. You won’t have to be a horse or a cow, and you won’t have t fall among the animals or into the hells. You won’t stray into the three evil destinies and at the very least, you’ll be a wealthy and respected person of good fortune.”

     The youth’s heart wasn’t bad at all! Seeing the Sixth Patriarch toil at threshing rice, he wished to teach him the gatha, and said, “The Great Master said we should all recite this gatha, so you should recite it too. If you cultivate according to this gatha, you can’t wander into the three evil destinies. Why, after so many days, do you still not know of this gatha’s great advantage?”


     Hui Neng said, “Superior Ones 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 g&th~ to pay homage.” The boy led him to the gatha to bow.


The boy said, “Listen to me and I will teach you:

‘The body is a Bodhi tree.’ Can you remember that? The mind is like a bright mirror stand.’ You should re­member that! Don’t forget! ‘Time and again brush it clean; let no dust alight.’ If you remember this gatha clearly and study as you chant, surely you will receive an efficacious response.”

     Because the lad had been so considerate, the Sixth Patriarch referred to him as “Superior One”, a title which is ordinarily reserved for one’s master. People who have left home often call their teachers, “Superior One”, acknowledging their high achievement. The Sixth Patriarch said, “lye been here pounding rice for over eight months and still have not been to the front hall. Superior One, please lead me to the gatha so that I may bow and pay my respects.”

     The youth thought, “That’s really fine! I should practice the Bodhisattva way and help this poor barbar­ian,” and he guided the Sixth Patriarch to the g~th&. As they arrived he said, “Hurry up and bow! Now that you have come, the sooner you bow the better. Bow down humbly and you will obtain much merit and virtue.” On one hand, the youth thought that this was merely a joke, yet, on the other hand, he didn’t think it a laughing matter at all.


     Hui Neng said~ “Hui Neng does not recognize characters. Please, Superior Ones read it to me.” Then an official from Chiang Chou~ named Chang Jih Yung~ read it loudly. After hearing it~ Hui Neng said~ “Ii too, have a gatha. Will the official please write it for me?” 

     The official replied~ “You, too, can write a gatha? That is rare!”


     The Sixth Patriarch said, “The layman Hui Neng is truly useless, for he can’t read a single word. Super­ior One, would you please recite it for me?” Having heard the gatha, he said, “Well, I have a gatha, too, but I’m unable to write it. What can I do? Please, good official, Layman Chang, will you write it out for me?”

     The official was wide—eyed with surprise and thought to himself, “You can’t even read a single word! How can you compose a gatha?” He looked scornfully at the bar­barian and said, “Ha! You can write a gatha? This is too rare! In my whole life I have never heard of an illiterate who can write gathas!”


     Hui Neng said, “If you wish to study the highest enlightenment~ do not slight the beginner. The lowest man may have the highest wisdom: the highest man may have the least wisdom. If you slight others, you have limitless, unbounded offenses.”


     Originally, Layman Hui Neng had not planned to say a thing, but if he had remained silent, no one would have helped him write a gatha. So in reply to the mocking of Layman Chang, the Master said, “If you wish to study highest Bodhi, do not ridicule those who are studying the Buddhadharma for the first time.”

It may well be that those who appear to be the lo~ est and stupidest have the highest wisdom, for those who have truly great wisdom may act as if they have no wisdom at all. No matter what they are asked, they reply, “I don’t know.” This is an example of the great wisdom which is like stupidity. For instance, when I ask a question of Kuo Ch’ien, Kuo Ning, or Kuo Jung, they often say, “I don’t know.” When they first came to study, they said, “I know everything!”

     Once I met a person who said he knew everything. I asked, “How can you know everything? If you know all there is to know, I’ll ask you a question.”

     He said, “What is your question?”

     I replied, “Do you know how many grains of rice you swallow when you eat?”

     “No, I haven’t counted them,” he admitted.

     “Your ‘not having counted’ is just ‘not knowing’,” I said.

     Those who do the most menial work often have wis­dom excelling that of men in high positions. Then agai those who ordinarily have great wisdom may have times when their wisdom is suffocated by thoughts of desire.


     The official said~ “Recite your gatha and I will write it out for you. If you obtain the Dharma you must take me across first. Do not forget these words.”


     “O.K., O.K.,” said the official. “that’s right. You certainly speak with principle. Now, what is your gatha? If you recite it, I can write it for you; you don’t have to say another word.”

     “But now that I am writing your gatha,” the official  continued, “you must remember to take me across first. You know why, don’t you? Because I am writing this gatha. Had I not written your gatha, no one would know of it. You must not forget these words.”


Hui Neng’s gatha says

Originally Bodhi has no tree,

The bright mirror has no stand.

Q~igina1ythere is not one thing;

Where can dust alight?


     Originally Bodhi has no tree. Bodhi is just the enlightened way and that’s all there is to it! So how can there be a tree? If there is a , Bodhi becomes a mere thing, a place of attachment. Originally Bodhi doesn’t have anything. If you say you are enlightened, what is enlightenment like? Is it green or yellow? Is it red or white? Can you speak of the appearance of Bodhi when it has no appearance?

     The bright mirror has no stand. You may say the mind is like a bright mirror stand, but there is actually no stand at all. If you have a stand, you have a place where you can dwell. You should produce that thought which is nowhere supported”. So how can you have a stand? If you have a stand, then you have a dwelling place, a place where you are attached; therefore, the bright mirror has no stand. What is the appearance? No appearance.

     Originally there is not one thing... Basically there is nothing at all: no style; no picture; no shape or mark, Originally there is nothing at all.

     Where can dust alight? Since there isn’t anything where does the dust come from? Basically you have no dwelling place. The essential meaning of the gatha is this: You should “produce that thought which is nowhere supported”. There should be no attachment at all. This was precisely the Buddha’s meaning when he said, “All living beings have the Thus Come One’s wisdom and vir­tuous characteristics. It is merely because of false thinking and attachment that they are unable to certify to attainment.” This was spoken specifically to in­struct people to put aside attachment, to produce an unsupported thought.

     If you have attachment, what are you up to, huh? Now you are attached. In the future, will you die or not? What will you attach to when you die?


     When this gatha had been written~ the followers all were startled and without exception cried out to one another~ “Strange indeed! One cannot judge a man by his appearance. How can it be that, after so little time he has become a Bodhisattva in the flesh?


     All the bhiksus, laymen, and assembled disciples stood in astonishment and whispered among themselves, “Hey! Hey! Does he have a githa, too? Oh! It’s really true, you can’t judge people by appearances! This rice thresher, Layman Lu, can compose gathas! We can no longer slander him and call him a barbarian!”

     “Why, he hasn’t been here very long,” they con­tinued, “but how can you say he’s not a flesh body Bodhisattva?” Actually, some were mocking the Sixth Patriarch, babbling, “Don’t look down on him. He is a flesh body Bodhisattva!” Perhaps there were Arhats a the assembly who intentionally made such comments so in that people would look closely and clearly recognize that he was a flesh body Bodhisattva. Again, there were those who said, “This is truly a flesh body Bodhi— sattva,” but meant it only as sarcasm and light—hearted ridicule, for they still didn’t know if the gatha was correct.

     Everyone was chattering, exchanging comments, making such a racket that the Fifth Patriarch came to the hall and demanded, “What are you doing here? What are you up to?”

     “This rice thresher, this barbarian, can write gathas, too!” they stammered.


     The Fifth Patriarch saw the astonished assembly and feared that they might become dangerous. Accordingly, he erased the gatha with his shoe saying, This one, too, has not yet seen the nature.”


     The gathering was so excited the Fifth Patriarch feared that someone might even try to assassinate Lay­man Lu. This sentence of text proves that people with twisted hearts, followers of Shen Hsiu, were already locked in a fierce battle for positions of power at the Fifth Patriarch’s place. If this were not the case, why would the Fifth Patriarch have considered the pos­sibility of an attempt to harm the Sixth Patriarch? At that time it was certainly quite clear. As he erased the gatha, the Fifth Patriarch said, “This man’s verse is also incorrect.

     Perhaps some of you are thinking, “The Fifth Patriarch lied! First he said that if one cultivated in accord with Shen Hsiu’s gatha, he would not enter the three evil destinies, but would gain great benefit and see the nature. After he said this, Shen Hsiu came forth to identify his gatha and show that he had seen the nature. Then the Fifth Patriarch told everyone that Layman Lu had not really seen his nature when, in truth, he had. Isn’t this false speech?

     No. This is a provisional dharma, not false speech. The Fifth Patriarch spoke to protect the new patriarch; he would not allow the others to harm him. In this way, the Buddhadharma could dwell long in this world and be transmitted far and wide.

A new translation of the SIXTH PATRIARCH’S SUTRA and -commentary, carefully prepared by the bhiksus, bhiksunis, scholars and laymen of the Buddhist Text Translation Society, is now complete: a manuscript of over 1500 pages.

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