The Third Patriarch,
Great Master Seng Ts’an
The Second Patriarch, Hui K'o of the Northern
Ch'i period, was formerly named Shen Kuang. When he was born, his
parents saw Wei T'ou Bodhisattva who appeared as a spirit emitting
golden light to offer protection. Thereupon they named their son
Shen Kuang which means "Spiritual Light". Not only was the Patriarch
intelligent, he also had an excellent memory. His skill and powers
of discrimination were so remarkable that he could read ten lines in
the time it took an ordinary person to read one. In a gathering of
one hundred people, all talking simultaneously, he was able to
clearly distinguish each conversation.
The Great Master, however, had great anger; he
disagreed with everyone and always wanted to hit people, When he
explained Sutras and spoke Dharma, he used his iron beads to resolve
controversy and level opposition, and had ended his discussion with Bodhidharma by cracking him across the mouth. But later he knelt for
nine years before the First Patriarch, and finally sliced off his
arm seeking the Dharma. It was Shen
Kuang's great anger, which enabled him to cut off his own arm and
feel no pain. It was also because of his anger that his shoulder
hurt. Had he been without the affliction of anger, he would not have
felt pain. Pain is just affliction, and affliction is the cause of pain.
The Second Patriarch was forty years old when
he left Bodhidharma. Having obtained the Dharma, he went into hiding
because P'u T'i Liu Chih and Vinaya Master Kuang T'ung who had made
six attempts to kill Bodhidharma, also wished to kill his disciples.
Although Hui K'o had great anger, nevertheless, he listened to his
teacher and went into hiding for forty years. When he was eighty he
began to propagate the Buddhadharma, teaching and transforming
Later, P'u T'i Liu Chih, Vinaya Master Kuang
T'ung, and their disciples and followers tried to kill Master Hui
K'o who feigned insanity to lessen the jealousy of his rivals.
Nevertheless, he continued to cross over living beings who were
ready to receive his teaching. Because so many people continued to
trust the Second Patriarch, P'u T'i Liu Chih's disciples and
followers were still jealous, and reported Hui K'o to the
government, accusing him of being a weird inhuman creature. "He
confuses those people who follow him," they charged, "he is not a
person at all." The government informed the Emperor, who sent down
an edict ordering the district magistrate to seize the strange
creature. He was locked up and questioned:
"Are you human or are you a freak?" asked the magistrate.
"I'm a freak," replied Master Hui K'o.
The magistrate knew that the Patriarch spoke to
avoid causing jealousy, so he ordered him to tell the truth. "Speak
clearly," he demanded, "What are you?"
The Great Master replied, "I'm still a freak."
Since governments can't allow strange freaks on
the earth, a decree was issued ordering his execution. Now, isn't
this a worldly principle?
The Patriarch said to his disciples, "I must
undergo this retribution," and then he wept. The Great Master was a
fiercely courageous Patriarch, endowed with great spleen and
certainly not one to cry out of a fear of death. "The Buddhadharma
will not flourish until the time of the Fourth Patriarch," Hui K'o
said, sad that during his lifetime the Dharma had not become widely
known and understood in China.
He said to the executioner, "Come. Kill me!"
The executioner raised his axe and wheeled it swiftly toward the
Master's neck. What happened?
At this point you are probably thinking, "He
was a patriarch with great spiritual power. Certainly the blade
shattered and his head wasn't even scratched." NO! The axe lopped
off his head, and it didn't grow back. However, no blood spurted
forth. Instead, a white milky liquid flowed from the Master's neck
onto the chopping block.
You think, "Now really, this is just too far
out." If you believe it, that's fine. If you don't believe it,
that's fine too. Just forget it. However, I will give you a simple
principle to explain why blood didn't pour from the Patriarch's
body. When a sage enters the "White Yang Realm", his blood becomes
white because his substance has completely transformed to yang,
leaving no traces of yin. "I don't believe it," you think Of course
you don't believe it. If you really believed, you would be just like
the Second Patriarch.
The executioner saw that the Master did not
bleed and exclaimed, "Wow, he really is a freak! I chopped off his
head and no blood came out! There's just this milky stuff, and his
face looks exactly the same as when he was alive!" The magistrate
quickly informed the Emperor, who knew immediately that they had
executed a holy man. He remembered that the Twenty-Fourth Indian
Patriarch, Aryasimha, had also been beheaded and had not bled
either. This Patriarch, too, had been without outflows. To be
without outflows is to have no ignorance. Because he was without
ignorance, he attained the "White Yang Realm".
Now you are going to think, "But you just said
that Patriarch Hui K'o had extremely great anger. How could he have
had no ignorance?" You are certainly more clever than I. I didn't
think of this question, but now that you've thought of it, I will
answer it. His was not this petty anger of ours which explodes like
firecrackers, "Pop! Pop! Pop!" His anger was wisdom and because he
was wise, his substance completely changed to yang.
Because the Emperor realized that Hui K'o was a
flesh-body Bodhisattva, he was deeply repentant. "A true Bodhisattva
came to our country," he lamented, "and instead of offering
protection, we killed him." Then, the Emperor had all the great
officials take refuge with this strange Bhiksu.
So, although the Second Patriarch, Master Hui K'o, had already been
executed, nevertheless he accepted disciples.
The Third Patriarch was Dharma Master Seng
Ts'an, of the Sui Dynasty, whose family name and origin are unknown.
When he first came to visit the Second Patriarch, his body was
covered with repulsive sores like those of a leper.
"Where are you from?" asked the Second
Patriarch, "What are you doing here?"
"I have come to take refuge with the High
Master, and to study and cultivate the Buddhadharma," answered Seng Ts'an.
"You have a loathsome disease and your body is
filthy. How can you study the Buddhadharma?" Master Hui K'o was
clever, but Dhyana Master Seng Ts'an was even more clever. "I am a
sick man and you are a high master," he said, "but in true mind
where is the distinction?"
"Don't say any more," said the Second
Patriarch. Thereupon he transmitted the Dharma to him, saying, "This
robe and bowl, which I hand on to you, have been passed on from
Bodhidharma. They certify that you have received the Dharma Seal. In
order to protect it you must go into hiding, because the Indian
Bhiksu P'u T'I Liu Chih and his followers will try to harm you. Be
very careful and let no one know."
At this time the Third Patriarch Seng Ts'an,
using his teacher's method, also feigned insanity while he went
everywhere teaching and transforming living beings. During the
persecution of Buddhism by the Emperor Wu of the Later Chou Dynasty,
he fled into the mountains. Although he dwelt in places ordinarily
inhabited by tigers, wolves, and leopards, during the ten years when
he hid, all those fierce animals disappeared.
After he had transmitted the Dharma to the
Fourth Patriarch, Tao Hsin, Master Seng Ts'an invited a thousand
Bhiksus to a great vegetarian feast. After
they had eaten, he said, "You think that to sit in full lotus is the
finest way to go. Just watch! I'll show you a special style to
demonstrate independence over birth and death!" Thereupon the Master
strode out of the dining hall followed by the thousand
Bhiksus and halted by the trunk of a great
tree. After pausing for a moment, he leapt up and grabbed a big
branch. Then, while still swinging from the tree by one hand, he
entered Nirvana. In the end no one knew his name, how old he was, or
from where he had come. This was the Third Patriarch, Master Seng Ts'an.
Someone is afraid and is thinking, "The First
Patriarch was poisoned, the Second Patriarch had his head chopped
off, and the Third Patriarch died hanging from a tree. No matter
what happens, I don't want to be a patriarch. It's much too
dangerous." With this attitude, even if you wanted to be a patriarch
you couldn't. As long as you fear your own death, as long as you
fear anything at all, you can't even become a patriarch's disciple.
Patriarchs are not afraid of suffering or difficulty, of life or of
death. Making no distinction between birth and death, they play
about among people, teaching and transforming living beings. Like
F'o T'o and Yeh Shih, the two disciples of Bodhidharma, they realize
that affliction is just Bodhi, that birth and death is just Nirvana.
So, tell me now, who is not afraid of death? If there is such a one,
I'll make him a Patriarch.
The Fourth Patriarch's name was Tao Hsin. In
the seventeenth year of Chen Kuan, of the T'ang Dynasty, while still
very young, Dharma Master Tao Hsin left home to follow Master Seng
Ts'an. For sixty years he sat in Dhyana concentration, without lying
down or stretching out to rest. Although he seldom opened his eyes,
he wasn't asleep. Instead, he applied effort in cultivation. When he
did open his eyes, everyone was too terrified to even look at him.
Because of his awesome virtue and powerful appearance, they stood
trembling and shaking as if in the midst of an earthquake.
The Emperor heard of the great virtue of the
Fourth Patriarch and sent a messenger to invite him to come to the
imperial palace to accept the Emperor as a disciple and receive
offerings. The Patriarch declined the invitation. Unlike we common
people, who would attempt to wedge ourselves into the imperial court
without being asked, the Fourth Patriarch refused a personal
invitation saying, "Ah, I'm too old and ill to travel. The journey
would be tiring and eating on the road would be difficult. I can't
undergo such hardship."
The messenger returned to the court to deliver
the Master's reply. The Emperor commanded, "Go back and get him. He
must come. Tell him the Emperor says that no matter how old he is
and no matter how difficult the journey, the Emperor still orders
him to please come to the palace."
The messenger returned to the Patriarch and
said, "Master, regardless of your health, you must come to the court
of the Emperor. If it's necessary, we'll carry you back." At that
time, since there were no airplanes or cars and travel was
difficult, he offered to carry the Fourth Patriarch.
"No, I can't go," replied the Master. "I am too
old and ill. It's impossible. However, if you insist, you may take
my head, but my heart won't follow."
The messenger heard this and thought, "There is
nothing to do but go back without him. I can't just take his head
and give it to the Emperor. This Bhiksu is
very strange; he's hardly human." He hurried back to inform the
Emperor, "Your Excellency, you may have the Master's head, but his
heart won't move."
"Very well, go get his head," demanded the
Emperor. He took a box, placed a knife in it, and handed it to the
messenger, saying, "Take this knife and slice off his head!" "And
furthermore," the Emperor added, "Under no circumstances should you
harm that Bhiksu."
The messenger understood what was to be done
and returned again to see the Fourth Patriarch. He said, "Venerable
Master, if you again refuse to come, the Emperor has ordered me to
use this knife to remove your head."
The Patriarch Tao Hsin replied, "That's fine.
Good indeed. If in this very life my head gets to see the Emperor,
what a great glory that will be! You may remove my head now." The
messenger took the knife and prepared to cut off the head. The Great
Master closed his eyes and waited calmly. The messenger however,
placed the knife back in the box. For perhaps ten minutes the
Patriarch sat and waited with his eyes closed. Maybe it was ten
minutes, or perhaps it was eleven or nine. Don't get attached,
because it's certainly not fixed how long he waited. But nothing
happened, and finally Master Tao Hsin got angry, just like the
Second Patriarch, and shouted, "Hey!!! Why don't you slice it off?"
"The Emperor certainly had no intention of
harming you. Master," the messenger quickly replied, "He was just talking."
The Patriarch heard this and laughed aloud.
Then he said to the Emperor's messenger, "Now you know that there is
still a man in the world who does not fear death."