During the 1969 Summer
Study and Meditation Session held at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San
Francisco, Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua delivered a series of lectures on
The Sixth Patriarch's Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra. This series of 42
lectures was tape recorded as have been almost all of nearly 900
lectures he has delivered during the past several years.
The following translation
of sutra and lectured commentary has been prepared by the Sino-American
Buddhist Association Buddhist Text Translation Society. All questions
about the meaning of the Chinese texts as well as the concepts involved
have been referred to the lecturer who has patiently supervised many
hours of translation work and approved the results. Although as much as
possible has been done to rewrite the spoken material into readable
form, traces of the spoken lecture style inevitably remain.
With this issue, VAJRA
BODHI SEA presents the first of this series of lectures, especially
chosen because it treats Buddhism not as an academic antique but as a
living religion, one to be studied and practiced. The Sutra and its
commentary are in the very mainstream of Buddhist tradition, clearly
setting forth the principle and wonderful function of the Supreme
In America, The Sixth Patriarch's Sutra has been lectured before. Because there are many
different ways to speak about a Sutra, I don't know how well it has
been explained. Some people may simply read the text aloud. However,
since each Sutra has its own special explanation, merely reading it
aloud fails to reveal the meaning.
Throughout the time the
Buddhadharma flourished in China, only the Sixth Patriarch, the
illiterate Patriarch, spoke a Sutra. This Sutra was not recorded by the
Great Master himself, but by his disciple, Fa Hai. Although it is not
certain that Fa Hai's transcription mirrors the Sixth Patriarch's exact
words, the meaning is not wrong.
I hope that everyone will
bring forth a true mind to study the Buddadharma, and not persist in
the opinion that it is very easy. The Buddhadharma must be viewed as
extremely important, the most important. With this attitude, you will
be able to receive and understand the principles which I explain.
SIXTH PATRIARCH'S DHARMA JEWEL PLATFORM SUTRA
It wasn't easy being the
Sixth Patriarch. Many people wished to kill him and his disciples as
well. It was for this reason that the Great Master, after he had
attained the Patriarchate went into hiding, dwelling among hunters for
sixteen years. Even after he had securely established his Platform at
Nan Hua Temple, followers of an outside path came to kill the Great
Master, who retreated up the mountainside to a large rock with a
cave-like cleft large enough to shelter one person sitting in
meditation. Although his pursuers set the entire mountain ablaze, the
Patriarch was untouched by the flames. The rock could still be seen
when I was at Nan Hua Temple.
Who wanted to kill him?
In general, it wasn't you and it wasn't me. On the other hand, if you
consider the insane, upside–down things we have done in past
lives, it might well have been you, or it could just as easily have
been me. But in this life it certainly wasn't you or me, so there is no
need to worry about having broken precepts in this case.
The Great Master is
counted as the Sixth Chinese Patriarch from the time of the First
Patriarch, Bodhidharma, who was also the Twenty-eighth Indian
Patriarch. "Bodhi" means enlightenment, and
"Dharm" means law. When Bodhidharma set sail from
India, fulfilling Shakyamuni Buddha's prediction that the Great Vehicle
would be transmitted to China during the time of the
Twenty–eighth Patriarch, the Buddhadharma already existed in
China, yet it was as if it wasn't there at all. Although there were men
who studied, lectured on, and recited sutras, repentance ceremonies
were seldom practiced. Cultivation of the Dharma was only superficial;
scholars explained and argued, but none of them truly understood.
The principles in the
sutras must be cultivated. In China, at that time, the principles were
not cultivated because everyone feared suffering and bitterness. Now in
America it is just the same. When people sit in meditation, as soon as
their legs begin to ache, they wince and fidget. Then they gently set
them free and stretch them out, tottering back and forth, rubbing their
legs. It was this way in China also. People are just people and nobody
likes to have aching legs.
While still in India,
Patriarch Bodhidharma sent two of his disciples, Fo T'o and Yeh She, to
China. Wherever they went, they transmitted the Dharma-Door
of Sudden Enlightenment, but no one, not even Chinese Bhiksus, would
speak to them. When Dharma Masters Fo T'o and Yeh She spoke, no one
would even listen; so they went to Lu Mountain, where they met the
Great Master, Chih Kung, who lectured exclusively on the recollection
of the Buddha.
The Master said to them,
"You two Indian Bhiksus! What Dharma do you transmit which causes these
people to pay you so little respect?"
Since Fo T'o and Yeh She
didn't know much Chinese they used hand language. They raised up their
arms and said, "Watch, this hand makes a fist. Now, the fist makes a
hand. Is this quick or not?"
Master Chih Kung replied,"Very fast."
"Bodhi and affliction," they said, "are just that fast."
At that moment, Dharma
Master Chih Kung opened enlightenment, realizing that originally Bodhi
and affliction are not different. Just Bodhi is affliction and
affliction is just Bodhi. Thus he understood and made offerings to Fo
T'o and Yeh She. Shortly thereafter the two Indian Bhiksus died on the
same day, in the same place. Their graves may still be seen at Lu
Patriarch Bodhidharma saw
that in China, the root. of the Mahayana were ripe. Not fearing the
distance the voyage, nor the hardship of travel, he took the Great
Vehicle Dharma to China. When he arrived, the people called him
"barbarian". He talked in a way that no one
understood. Little children, looking up at the bearded Bodhidharma,
were terrified and ran away. When adults saw the children running, they
feared that this Indian must certainly be a kidnapper and so told their
own children to stay away. Thus, when he traveled in China, neither
adults nor children dared approach him.
went to Nan Ching, where he listened to Dharma Master Shen Kuang
lecture Sutras. When this Dharma Master spoke, the heavens rained
fragrant blossoms, and from the earth rose a golden- petalled lotus for
him to sit upon. However, only those people with good roots, who had
opened the five eyes and the six spiritual penetrations, were able to
see. Now! Isn't this wonderful?
After he had listened to
the Sutra, Bodhidharma inquired, "Dharma Master, just what are you
"Why, I'm explaining Sutras," came Shen Kuang's reply.
"Of what use is your explanation of Sutras?"
"I'm teaching people to end birth and death."
"Oh?" said Bodhidharma,
"So you teach people to end birth and death! Exactly how do you end
birth and death? In this Sutra you explain, the words are black and the
paper is white. What do you use to teach people to end birth and death?"
Upon hearing this, Dharma
Master Shen Kuang had nothing to say. What did he have to teach people
to end birth and death? For a moment, he fumed in silence. Then,
although heavenly maidens had rained down flowers and the earth had
given forth a golden–petalled lotus, Dharma Master Shen
Kuang, nonetheless, got angry. This is what was meant by, "the
Buddhadharma existed in China, but it was as if it wasn't there at all."
Whenever Dharma Master
Shen Kuang became angry, he used his heavy iron beads to level whatever
opposed him. In response to Bodhidharma's question, he flushed with
resentment and raged like a tidal wave smashing a mountain. As he
whipped out his beads he snapped, "You're slandering the Dharma" and
cracked the Patriarch across the mouth, knocking loose two teeth. Bodhidharma neither moved nor spoke. He hadn't expected such
a vicious reply.
There is a legend about
the teeth of holy men. You mustn't ask about the principle, however,
because it's too inconceivable. According to the legend, if a holy
man's teeth fall to the ground, for three years it won't rain. At this
time Patriarch Bodhidharma thought, "Ohh, for three years it will not
rain. People will starve! I've come to save sentient beings not to kill
them!" So Bodhidharma didn't allow his teeth to fall to the ground.
Instead he swallowed them and disappeared down the road. Although he
had been battered and reviled, Bodhidharma couldn't go to the
government and lodge a complaint against Dharma Master Shen Kuang.
Those who have left home must be especially patient; how much more must
a Patriarch forebear.
Walking along Bodhidharma
met a parrot imprisoned in a wicker cage. This bird was much more
intelligent than Dharma Master Shen Kuang; recognizing Bodhidharma as
the Patriarch, he chirped:
"Mind from the West; Mind
from the West;
Please teach me a way to escape from this cage!"
Although Bodhidharma had
no response among people, this parrot recognized him. Hearing the plea
for help, the Patriarch whispered a secret expedient teaching to help
this bird end suffering:
"To escape from the cage;
to escape from the cage;
Jut out both legs, close both the eyes,
this is the way to escape from your cage."
The parrot listened
carefully and said, "Alright! Good! Now, I understand," and stuck out
his legs, closed his eyes, and waited.
Every day, when the owner
returned home, he first chatted and played about with his little bird.
This time, he walked up to the cage and looked in..."Ohh!" He was
shocked. There on the bottom of the cage lay his pet. The owner was on
the verge of tears, and soon became hysterical; he couldn't have been
more upset if his own son had died. He pulled open the cage door and
scooped up the bird, which lay, still and quiet, in his palm... The
body hadn't yet chilled. The owner looked with disbelief at the little
body in his hand. He peeked at it from the left; he peeked at it from
the right. It didn't even quiver. Slowly, he opened his palm... PHLLRTTPHLRTTPHLLRTT!!! The bird broke loose the hand and winged away!
Now, like the parrot, we
are in a cage. How do we escape? You may say, "I'm really free. If I
want to eat, then I eat; if I want to drink, I drink. I don't have to
follow rules. I can do anything. This is real independence."
Don't think you are quite
so clever. This is neither freedom nor independence. It's just
confusion. To be truly independent, you must be free of birth and
death. Then, if you wish to fly into space, you can fly off into space!
If you want to enter the earth, you can just drop into the earth! If
you have that kind of power, you have true independence. Like the parrot,
this is to be free.
As I explain The Sixth Patriarch's Dharma
Jewel Platform Sutra, I do not lecture well. This isn't merely polite talk, it's true. This is because I, like
you, have not yet opened true wisdom. In order to explain well, one must first explain poorly. So although I don't explain well,
nevertheless, I dare explain.
There are those who explain well, yet they don't dare. Just wait; after I have explained
"not well", you of true eloquence may follow. When you have opened your wisdom, then you yourself will understand.