Huang Po's Sermon

From "Treatise on the Essentials of the Transmission of Mind" (Denshin-hoyo)

Translated by Daisetz Tairo Suzuki

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Huang Po


D.T. Suzuki, Manual of Zen Buddhism, pp. 112-119. The translation of about one-sixth of text "A".

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The master [1] said to Pai-hsiu:

Buddhas and sentient beings [2] both grow out of One Mind, and there is no other reality than this Mind. It has been in existence since the beginningless past; it knows neither birth nor death; it is neither blue nor yellow; it has neither shape nor form; it is beyond the category of being and non-being; it is not to be measured by age, old or new; it is neither long nor short; it is neither large nor small; for it transcends all limits, words, traces, and opposites. It must be taken just as it is in itself; when an attempt is made on our part to grasp it in our thoughts, it eludes. It is like space whose boundaries are altogether beyond measurement; no concepts are applicable here.

This One Mind only is the Buddha, who is not to be segregated from sentient beings. But because we seek it outwardly in a world of form, the more we seek the further it moves away from us. To make Buddha seek after himself, or to make Mind take hold of itself – this is an impossibility to the end of eternity. We do not realize that as soon as our thoughts cease and all attempts at forming ideas are forgotten the Buddha reveals himself before us.

This Mind is no other than the Buddha, and Buddha is no other than sentient being. When Mind assumes the form of a sentient being, it has suffered no decrease; when it becomes a Buddha, it has not added anything to itself. Even when we speak of the six virtues of perfection (paramitas) and other ten thousand meritorious deeds equal in number to the sands of the Ganges, they are all in the being of Mind itself; they are not something that can be added to it by means of discipline. When conditions [3] are at work, it is set up; when conditions cease to operate, it remains quiet. Those who have no definite faith in this, that Mind is Buddha and attempt an achievement by means of a discipline attached to form, are giving themselves up to wrong imagination; they deviate from the right path.

This Mind is no other than Buddha; there is no Buddha outside Mind, nor is there any Mind outside Buddha. This Mind is pure and like space has no specific forms [whereby it can be distinguished from other objects]. As soon as you raise a thought and begin to form an idea of it, you ruin the reality itself, because you then attach yourself to form. Since the beginningless past, there is no Buddha who has ever had an attachment to form. If you seek Buddhahood by practising the six virtues of perfection and other ten thousand deeds of merit, this is grading [the attainment of Buddhahood]; but since the begnningless past there is no Buddha whose attainment was so graded. When you get an insight into the One Mind you find there that is no particular reality [which you can call Mind]. This unattainability is no other than the true Buddha himself.

D.T. Suzuki

D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)

Buddhas and sentient beings grow out of the One Mind and there are no differences between them. It is like space where there are no complexities, nor is it subject to destruction. It is like the great sun which illumines the four worlds: when it rises, its light pervades all over the world, but space itself gains thereby no illumination. When the sun sets, darkness reigns everywhere, but space itself does not share this darkness. Light and darkness drive each other out and alternately prevail, but space itself is vast emptiness and suffers no vicissitudes.

The same may be said of the Mind that constitutes the essence of Buddha as well as that of sentient being. When you take Buddha for a form of purity, light, and emancipation and sentient beings for a form of defilement, darkness, and transmigration, you will never have the occasion however long [your striving may go on] for attaining enlightenment; for so long as you adhere to this way of understanding, you are attached to form. And in this One Mind there is not a form of particularity to lay your hand on.

That Mind is no other than Buddha is not understood by Buddhists of the present day; and because of their inability of seeing into the Mind as it is, they imagine a mind beside Mind itself and seek Buddha outwardly after a form. This way of disciplining is an error, is not the way of enlightenment.

It is better to make offerings to a spiritual man who is free from mind-attachment than to make offerings to all the Buddhas in the ten quarters. Why? Because to be free from mind-attachment means to be free from all forms of imagination. [4]

Suchness as it expresses itself inwardly may be likened to wood or rock, it remains there unmoved, unshaken; while outwardly it is like space, nothing is obstructed or checked. Suchness, as it is free both from activity and passivity, knows no orientation, it has no form, there is in it neither gain nor loss. Those who are running [wildly] do not dare enter this path, for they are afraid of falling into an emptiness where there is no foothold to keep them supported. They beat a retreat as they face it. They are as a rule seekers of learning and intellectual understanding. Many are indeed such seekers, like hair, while those who see into the truth are as few as horns.

Manjusri corresponds to li (reason or principle) and Samantabhadra to hsing (life or action). Li is the principle of true emptiness and non-obstruction, hsing is a life of detachment from form, and inexhaustible. Avalokitesvara corresponds to perfect love and Sthamaprapta to perfect wisdom. Vimala-kirti means "undefiled name"; undefiled is Essence and name is form. Essence and form are not two different things, hence the name Vimala-kirti ("pure-name"). All that is represented by each one of the great Bodhisattvas is present in each of us, for it is the contents of One Mind. All will be well when we are awakened to the truth.

Buddhists of the present day look outward, instead of inwardly into their own minds. They get themselves attached to forms and to the world – which is the violation of the truth.

To the sands of the Ganges the Buddha refers in this way: these sands are trodden and passed over by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Sakrendra, and other devas, but the sands are not thereby gladdened; they are again trodden by cattle, sheep, insects, and ants, but they are not thereby incensed; they may hide within themselves all kinds of treasures and scented substances, but they are not covetous; they may be soiled with all kinds of filth and ill-smelling material, but they do not loathe them. A mental attitude of this nature is that of one who has realized the state of mushin ("being free from mind-attachment").

When a mind is free from all form, it sees into [the fact] that there is no distinction between Buddhas and sentient beings; when once this state of mushin is attained it completes the Buddhist life. If Buddhists are unable to see into the truth of mushin without anything mediating, all their discipline of aeons would not enable them to attain enlightenment. They would ever be in bondage with the notion of discipline and merit as cherished by followers of the Triple Vehicle, they would never achieve emancipation.

In the attainment of this state of mind (mushin), some are quicker than others. There are some who attain to a state of mushin all at once by just listening to a discourse on the Dharma, while there are others who attain to it only after going through all the grades of Bodhisattvaship such as the ten stages of faith, the ten stages of abiding, the ten stages of discipline, and the ten stages of turning-over. More or less time may be required in the attainment of mushin, but once attained it puts an end to all discipline, to all realization and yet there is really nothing attained. It is truth and not falsehood. Whether this mushin is attained in one thought or attained after going through the ten stages its practical working is the same and there is no question of the one being deeper or shallower than the other. Only the one has passed through long ages of hard discipline.

Committing evils or practising goodness – both are the outcome of attachment to form. When evils are committed on account of attachment to form, one has to suffer transmigration; when goodness is practised on account of attachment to form, one has to go through a life of hardships. It is better therefore to see all at once into the essence of the Dharma as you listen to it discoursed.

By the Dharma is meant Mind, for there is no Dharma apart from Mind. Mind is no other than the Dharma, for there is no Mind apart from the Dharma. This Mind in itself is no-mind (mushin), and there is no no-mind either. When no-mind is sought after by a mind, this is making it a particular object of thought. There is only testimony of silence, it goes beyond thinking. Therefore it is said that [the Dharma] cuts off the passage to words and puts an end to all form of mentation.

This Mind is the Source, the Buddha absolutely pure in its nature, and is present in every one of us. All sentient beings however mean and degraded are not in this particular respect different from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas – they are all of one substance. Only because of their imaginations and false discriminations, sentient beings work out their karma and reap its result, while, in their Buddha-essence itself, there is nothing corresponding to it; the Essence is empty and allows everything to pass through, it is quiet and at rest, it is illuminating, it is peaceful and productive of bliss.

When you have within yourself a deep insight into this you immediately realize that all that you need is there in perfection, and in abundance, and nothing is at all wanting in you. You may have most earnestly and diligently disciplined yourself for the past three asamkhyeya kalpas and passed through all the stages of Bodhisattvahood; but when you come to have a realization in one thought, it is no other than this that you are from the first the Buddha himself and no other. The realization has not added anything to you over this truth. When you look back and survey all the disciplinary measures you have gone through, you only find that they have been no more than so many idle doings in a dream. Therefore, it is told by the Tathagata that he had nothing attained when he had enlightenment, and that if he had really something attained, Buddha Dipankara would never have testified to it.

It is told again by the Tathagata that this Dharma is perfectly even and free from irregularities. By Dharma is meant Bodhi. That is, this pure Mind forming the source of all things is perfectly even in all sentient beings, in all the Buddha-lands, and also in all the other worlds together with mountains, oceans, etc., things with form and things without form. They are all even, and there are no marks of distinction between this object and that. This pure Mind, the Source of all things, is always perfect and illuminating and all-pervading. People are ignorant of this and take what they see or hear or think of or know for Mind itself; and their insight is then veiled and unable to penetrate into the substance itself which is clear and illuminating. When you realize mushin without anything intervening [that is, intuitively], the substance itself is revealed to you. It is like the sun revealing itself in the sky, its illumination penetrates the ten quarters and there is nothing that will interfere with its passage.

For this reason, when followers of Zen fail to go beyond a world of their senses and thoughts, all their doings and movements are of no significance. But when the senses and thoughts are annihilated, all the passages to the Mind are blocked and no entrance then becomes possible. The original Mind is to be recognized along with the working of the senses and thoughts, only it does not belong to them, nor is it independent of them. Do not build up your views on your senses and thoughts, do not carry on your understanding based on the senses and thoughts; but at the same time do not seek the Mind away from your senses and thoughts, do not grasp the Dharma by rejecting your senses and thoughts. When you are neither attached to nor detached from them, when you are neither abiding with nor clinging to them, then you enjoy your perfect unobstructed freedom, then you have your seat of enlightenment.

When people learn that what is transmitted from one Buddha to another is Mind itself, they imagine that there is a particular object known as a mind which they attempt to grasp or to realize; but this is seeking something outside Mind itself, or creating something which does not exist. In reality, Mind alone is. You cannot pursue it by setting up another mind; however long, through hundreds of thousands of kalpas, you are after it, no time will ever come to you when you can say that you have it. Only when you have an immediate awakening to the state of mushin you have your own Mind. It is like the strong man's seeking for his own gem hidden within his forehead: as long as he seeks it outside himself in the ten quarters, he will not come across it; but let the wise once point at it where it lies hidden, and the man instantly perceives his own gem as having been there from the very first.

That followers of Zen fail to recognize the Buddha is due to their not rightly recognizing Where their own Mind is. They seek it outwardly, set up all kinds of exercises which they hope to master by degrees, and themselves work out diligently throughout ages. Yet they fail to reach enlightenment. No works compare with an immediate awakening to a state of mushin itself.

When you come to a most decided understanding to the effect that all things in their nature are without possessions, without attainments, without dependence, without an abiding place, without mutual conditioning, you will become free from cherishing imagination, which is to realize Bodhi. When Bodhi is realized, your own Mind which is Buddha is realized. All the doings of long ages are then found to have been anything but real disciplining. When the strong man recovered his own gem in his own forehead the recovery had nothing to do with all his efforts wasted in his outside research. So says the Buddha, "I have not had anything attained in my attainment of Enlightenment." Being anxious about our not believing this, he refers to the five eyes [5] and the five statements. [6] But it is truth, not falsehood, for it is the first true statement.


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Notes by D.T. Suzuki

[1] Wobaku Ki-un in Japanese, died 850.

[2] One of the first lessons in the understanding of Buddhism is to know what is meant by the Buddha and by sentient beings. This distinction goes on throughout all branches of the Buddhist teaching. The Buddha is an enlightened one who has seen into the reason of existence, while sentient beings are ignorant multitudes confused in mind and full of defilements. The object of Buddhism is to have all sentient beings attain enlightenment like the Buddha. The question is whether they are of the same nature as the latter; for if not they can never be enlightened as he is. The spiritual cleavage between the two being seemingly too wide for passage, it is often doubted whether there is anything in sentient beings that will transform them into Buddhahood. The position of Zen Buddhism is that One Mind pervades all and therefore there is no distinction to be made between the Buddha and sentient beings and that as far as Mind is concerned the two are of one nature. What then is this Mind? Huang-po attempts to solve this question for his disciple Pai-hsiu in these sermons.

[3] [Position of the footnote in the text above is guessed. The footnote number is missing in the PDF.] Yuan in Chinese and pratyaya [auxiliary, indirect cause] in Sanskrit. One of the most significant technical terms in the philosophy of Buddhism.

[4] "To be free from mind-attachment": Wu-hsin, or mu-shin in Japanese. The term literally means "no-mind" or "no-thought". It is very difficult to find an English word corresponding to it. "Unconsciousness" approaches it, but the connotation is too psychological. Mu-shin is decidedly an Oriental idea. "To be free from mind-attachment" is somewhat circumlocutionary, but the idea is briefly to denote that state of consciousness in which there is no hankering – conscious or unconscious – after an ego-substance, or a soul-entity, or a mind as forming the structural unit of our mental life. Buddhism considers this hankering the source of all evils moral and intellectual. It is the disturbing agency not only of an individual life but of social life at large. A special article in one of my Zen Essays will be devoted to the subject.

[5] The five eyes are: (1) the physical eye, (2) the heavenly eye, (3) the eye of wisdom, (4) the eye of the Dharma, and (5) the eye of the Buddha.

[6] In the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedika), the Buddha makes five statements as regards the truth of his teaching.


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