The Master was the son of the Li family of Shizhou Prefecture. He was ordained at Jingming (“Pure Brightness”) Monastery. At fourteen he received the Complete Precepts, and at eighteen he set out in search of good teachers. He arrived at Xiangshan (“Fragrant Mountain”) Monastery in Ruzhou, and in his investigation of Chan, he became like a piece of dry wood. With further investigation, he gained a certain insight. Afterwards he went to study with Dhyana Master Dan Xia (“Red Cloud”), who asked him, “What was your self before the cosmos began?” The Master answered, “A frog at the bottom of the well swallows the moon; in the middle of the night there’s no need to borrow a light.”
Master Dan Xia remarked, “You haven’t got it. Try again.” The Master was in the process of figuring out something else to say when Dan Xia hit him with the whisk and cried out, “But you said you didn’t have to borrow anything!” At those words the Master experienced a feeling of great relief. He made obeisance. Dan Xia then said, “Why don’t you try to say something else?”
The Master replied, “Today Hong Zhi missed the opportunity and incurred blame.”
Master Dan Xia said, “I don’t have time to hit you. You can go now.”
Afterwards the Master presided at monasteries such as Changlu, Tiantong, and others. Monastics gathered at his monasteries like clouds.
During the cyclical year ding chou of the Shaoxing reign of the Southern Song Dynasty, on the eighth day of the tenth mouth, the Master sat upright and bid goodbye to the assembly. He wrote a verse and then left. His body was housed in a casket for seven days, and the color of his complexion remained as if he were still alive. His stupa was built in the valley east of Tiantong Monastery.
This Master is the Forty-Seventh Patriarch of the Caodong School. He lived in Tiantong Monastery in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.
The Master was a son of the Li family of Shizhou Prefecture in Shanxi.
He was ordained at Jingming (“Pure Brightness”) Monastery. At fourteen, he received the Complete Precepts, and at eighteen he set out in search of good teachers. He went to the various monasteries to observe their different styles of teaching and cultivation.
Then he arrived at Xiangshan (“Fragrant Mountain”) Monastery in Ruzhou Prefecture, and in his investigation of Chan, he became like a piece of dry wood. His mind reached a state in which he resembled a piece of dry wood.
With further investigation he gained a certain insight. By looking into his meditation topic, he had a bit of an awakening.
Afterwards he went to study with and draw near to
Dhyana Master Dan Xia, who asked him, “What was your self before the cosmos began?” That was the exam topic that Master Dan Xia gave him.
The Master Hong Zhi
answered, “A frog at the bottom of the well swallows the moon.” Is this possible? Can a frog sitting at the bottom of a well swallow the moon? No. Rather, it’s a case of the frog being unable to see the moon as it moves out of his perspective. That’s what is meant by “swallowing the moon.”
In the middle of the night, during the third watch,
there’s no need to borrow a light. What does this phrase mean anyway? It doesn’t carry any great meaning. These words were spoken just so you wouldn’t understand. They are designed to put an end to your discriminating, cognitive process. If I explain incorrectly, all of you—my teachers—may correct me. The basic idea is that your inherent nature is bright in and of itself. There’s no need to borrow from an external source. The light of your own nature shines throughout the day and night and there’s no need to rely on any outer conditions.
After Master Hong Zhi came up with this verse as a reply,
Master Xia remarked, “You haven’t got it. Try again.” Say something else! You haven’t quite got it. Master Hong Zhi thought he could get away with this bit of Chan banter, that he could make it pass, but this time he had run into a real Master who had exacting standards and who demanded something more from him. At that point, Master Hong Zhi felt he was in a pinch—maybe he could not manage without borrowing some external light after all.
The Master was in the process of figuring out something else to say. In his mind he was trying to come up with another reply—he really hadn’t yet reached the mark. Right at that point
Dan Xia hit him with the whisk and cried out, “But you said you didn’t have to borrow anything!” You claimed you didn’t have to borrow any external light. Then what are you thinking about now?
At those words the Master experienced a feeling of great relief. At Dan Xia’s yell, Hong Zhi felt a great relief. His arrogance, his mad mind and wild thoughts, his pretensions to enlightenment—all of these vanished in an instant. His crazed mind came to a stop. Then
he made obeisance to Master Dan Xia.
Dan Xia then said, “Why don’t you try to say something else?”
The Master, Hong Zhi,
replied, “Today Hong Zhi missed his opportunity and incurred blame.” I fell into the secondary, peripheral meaning. I didn’t make it through the gate. I had been working within the area of my discriminating consciousness.”
Master Dan Xia said, “I don’t have time to hit you. You can go now.” This was a form of certification. Master Dan Xia acknowledged that the activities of Master Hong Zhi’s intellect and discriminating consciousness had come to a stop.
Because of the principles involved in the above interchange, Great Master Yong Jia said in his
Song of Enlightenment:
Dharma wealth is lost
And merit and virtue destroyed,
Due to nothing other than the conscious mind.
Through the door of Chan the mind comes to rest,
And one suddenly enters the powerful, unborn knowledge and vision.
It's just the intellect and conscious mind that obstruct people in their cultivation. Therefore, in Chan we seek to put an end to the workings of the intellect and discriminating consciousness so that we can enter the wisdom of the Unborn.
Afterwards the Master presided at monasteries such as Changlu, Tiantong and others. He was abbot at those well-known monasteries in China.
Monastics gathered at his monasteries like clouds. They were as profuse as clouds as they came together to draw near him.
During the cyclical year ding chou (1157 c.e.)
of the Shaoxing reign of the Southern Song Dynasty, on the eighth day of the tenth mouth, the Master sat upright and bid goodbye to the assembly. He said, “Today I’m going to leave. All of you work hard. Don’t let the time pass in vain.”
He wrote a verse and then left. He entered the stillness. If he hadn’t achieved the state of freedom where he could come and go as he wished and have command over birth and death, then how could he have attained such a state?
His body was housed in a casket for seven days, and the color of his complexion remained as if he were still alive. There was no change in his complexion even seven days after his death. He looked just as he did when he was alive.
His stupa was built in the valley east of Tiantong Monastery. His flesh-body was housed in a stupa in the valley east of the monastery.
To be continued