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Sayings of Other
Tang Dynasty Ch'an Masters

clouded peaks Directory: Hui-k'o | Hung-jen | Kuei-shan | Lin-chi | Ma-tsu | Nan-yueh Huai-jang | Pai-ch'ang | Tao-hsin | Tung-shan

Nan-yueh Huai-jang (677-744)

There's a great story in Wu's Golden Age of Zen of how Huai-jang, who had been a disciple of Hui-neng, paid a visit to the young Ma-tsu:

"Before he [Ma-tsu] was twenty, he was already a professed monk. After his profession, he went to the Nan-yueh Mountain, where he practiced by himself sitting-in-meditation. At that time Huai-jang was the Abbot of the Prajna Temple on Nan-yueh Mountain. Seeing Ma-tsu, he recognized him by intuition as a vessel of the Dharma. So he visited him in his cell, asking, 'In practicing sitting-in-meditation, what does Your Reverence aspire to attain?' 'To attain Buddhahood!' was the answer. Huai-jang then took up a piece of brick and began to grind it against a rock in front of Ma-tsu's cell. After some moments Ma-tsu became curious and asked, 'What are you grinding it for?' 'I want to grind it into a mirror,' Huai-jang replied. Greatly amused, Ma-tsu said, 'How can you hope to grind a piece of brick into a mirror?' Huai-jang fired back, 'Since a piece of brick cannot be ground into a mirror, how then can you sit yourself into a Buddha?'

"'What must I do then?' Ma-tsu inquired. Huai-jang replied, 'Take the case of an ox-cart. If the cart does not move, do you whip the cart, or do you whip the ox?' Ma-tsu remained silent. 'In learning sitting-in-meditation,' Huai-jang resumed, 'do you aspire to learn the sitting Ch'an or do you aspire to imitate the sitting Buddha? If the former, Ch'an does not consist in sitting or in lying down. If the latter, the Buddha has no fixed postures. The Dharma goes on forever, and never abides in anything. You must not therefore be attached to nor abandon any particular phase of it. To sit yourself into Buddha is to kill the Buddha. To be attached to the sitting posture is to fail to comprehend the essential principle.'

"When Ma-tsu heard these instructions, he felt as though he were drinking the most exquisite nectar. After doing obeisance to the master according to the rites, he further asked, 'How must one apply one's mind to be attuned to the formless Samadhi?' The master said, 'When you cultivate the way of interior wisdom, it is like sowing seed. When I expound to you the essentials of the Dharma, it is like the showers from Heaven. As you are happily conditioned to receive the teaching, you are destined to see the Tao.'

"Ma-tsu again asked, 'Since the Tao is beyond color and form, how can it be seen?' The master said, 'The Dharma-eye of your interior spirit is capable of perceiving the Tao. So it is with the formless Samadhi.' 'Is there still making and unmaking?' Ma-tsu asked. To this the master replied, 'If one sees the Tao from the standpoint of making and unmaking or gathering and scattering, one does not really see the Tao. Listen to my gatha:

The Ground of the Mind contains many seeds.
Which will all sprout when heavenly showers come.
The flower of Samadhi is beyond color and form:
How can there be any more mutability?

"At this point Ma-tsu was truly enlightened, his mind being transcended from the world of phenomena. He attended upon his master for full ten years. During this period he delved deeper and deeper into the inner treasury of mystical truth. It is said that of six outstanding disciples of Huai-jang, Ma-tsu alone got the mind of the master."

Kuei-shan (771-853)

Kuei-shan and Huang-po were both students of Pai-ch'ang who became outstanding teachers. Stephen Mitchell, in The Gospel According to Jesus, relates how Kuei-shan asked his disciple Yang-shan (who was to become an equally great teacher):

"In the forty volumes of the Nirvana Sutra, how many words come from the Buddha and how many from demons?"

Yang-shan said: "They are all demon words."

Kuei-shan said: "From now on, no one will be able to pull the wool over your eyes."

Tung-shan Liang-chieh (807-869)

Tung-shan was a disciple of Yun-yen, who in turn was a disciple of Yo-shan. Yo-shan was first a disciple of Shih-t'ou and later of Ma-tsu, who were said to "divide the world between them," and who worked in cooperation.

After his profession as a monk in his early twenties, Tung-shan made the traditional round of masters. He first visited Nan-ch'uan, then Kuei-shan. At the latter's recommendation, he went to Yun-yen. John Wu, in The Golden Age of Zen, tells how when Tung-shan was getting ready to journey on, he asked Yun-yen a final question: "After you have completed this life, what shall I say if anyone asks, 'Can you still recall your master's true face?'" Yun-yen remained silent for a long while and then replied, "Just this one is."

While on his journey, Tung-shan continued to muse on the master's words. Then one day as he was crossing a stream he saw his reflection in the water and on the spot was thoroughly awakened to the meaning, which he expressed in this gatha:

Do not seek him anywhere else!
Or he will run away from you!
Now that I go on all alone,
I meet him everywhere.
He is even now what I am.
I am even now not what he is.
Only by understanding this way can there be a true union with the Self-So.

Wu says that the term he translated as Self-So is the Chinese for the Sanskrit Bhutatathata, which corresponds to the Eternal Tao, the Hindu Brahman, and the Old Testament I am That I Am. This is a remarkable distinction, as Wu comments, unlike that of the lesser "unitive" experience of Cosmic Consciousness. While HE is I, I am not HE. God is more myself than myself. This is the distinction between the Atman and the Brahman, between the True Man of Tao and the Eternal Tao.

Lin-chi I-hsuan (d. 867)

Lin-chi Lin-chi was a teacher of great originality who employed a technique of shouting to accomplish what his teacher, Huang-po, had accomplished by blows with his staff. Of course Lin-chi's students tried to copy his methods indiscriminately, as students everywhere are disposed to do – leading to a very noisy ashram. Regardless, Lin-chi made such a profound impact that a school of Zen developed from his teaching and methods, and that school is still active today under the Japanese pronunciation of his name, Rinzai.

John Wu, in The Golden Age of Zen, gives us some of the inspiring words that went along with the shock-tactics. Lin-chi told an assembly, "If you wish to be free and untrammeled in the world of births and deaths... recognize right now the man who is listening to my sermon, who is above shape and form, not rooted or planted in any place, nor abiding in any abode. Yet he is very much alive and alert, responding readily to all situations with his unlimited resourcefulness, performing his function according to the circumstances without being pinned down to any. He eludes your embracing, evades your seeking. Hence he may be called the Great Secret." Lin-chi referred to this mysterious listener as the 'independent man of Tao,' the 'mother of all Buddhas.' "Right now, this man is clearly before our eyes with a brightness uniquely his own...."

Hui-k'o (Second Patriarch)

Hui-K'o John Wu, in The Golden Age of Zen, relays the following dialogue between Bodhidharma and Hui-k'o:

Hui-k'o: My mind has not found peace. I beg you, Master, to pacify it for me.
Bodhidharma: Bring forth your mind to me and I will pacify it for you.
After a long silence, Hui-k'o told his master that he had searched for the mind but could not find it. Thereupon the Master said: Behold, I have already pacified the mind for you!

Keizan (The Transmission of Light) tells us the story of Hui-k'o going to Shaolin monastery where Bodhidharma resided and standing outside in a snowstorm all night because he was refused admission. At dawn Bodhidharma supposedly said to him, "How can you hope for true realization, with little virtue, little wisdom, a shallow heart, and an arrogant mind?" Hui-k'o heard this as a merciful admonition, causing him to weep and building his determination, to demonstrate which he cut off his left arm with a sword.

Hui-k'o was admitted and spent eight years with Bodhidharma. Keizan cites Mystic Devices in the Room, saying that one day Hui-k'o climbed Few Houses Peak with Bodhidharma and during that climb his teacher said something that triggered a realization of his true essence.

When Bodhidharma was near death, Wu tells us, he called his four chief disciples and asked them to state their original insights. After hearing the first speaker, Bodhidharma told him that he was like Bodhidharma's skin; to the second, that she was like his flesh; to the third, that he was like his bone. To Hui K'o, who spoke last, Bodhidharma said that he was like his marrow, thus conferring the Patriarch's robe and bowl upon him.

Wu also describes a conversation between Hui-k'o, after he had succeeded to the Patriarchate, and a layman of over forty years of age who came with an unusual request – begging the master to purify him of his sins. Hui-k'o, in the tradition of Bodhidharma, told him to bring forth his sins that he might expiate them for him. The layman, after a long silence, said: I have searched for the sins, but I have not been able to find them. Thereupon, Hui-k'o said: Behold, I have expiated them for you! The layman became a monk under the name Seng-ts'an, and would become the third Patriarch.

Keizan writes that, after handing over Bodhidharma's robe to Seng-ts'an, Hui-k'o went to the city of Ye and spent the next thirty years living, unrecognized, with the common people. He sometimes spoke on the street and once gave a talk at a monastery gate, drawing a large crowd. A monk who was lecturing at the monastery at the same time was upset about losing attendees. He slandered Hui-k'o to a local official, who was fooled and prosecuted Hui-k'o, who submitted without complaint and was executed in 593.

Thomas Cleary, in his notes section at the back of Instant Zen (teachings of Foyan, 1067 – 1120), says that Hui-k'o was laicized during a persecution of Buddhist orders in northern China. When asked why he continued to work at menial jobs, the Second Patriarch replied: "I am tuning my mind by myself; what business is it of yours?" He gave informal talks outside the gates of large Buddhist monasteries, drawing big crowds and angering the monks. He lived to be more than a hundred years old. The account of his enlightenment in No Barrier chapter 41 lays out a key method of meditation known as "turning the light around and looking back."

Tao-hsin (Fourth Patriarch)

Tao-hsin Seng-ts'an carried on the tradition, according to Wu in The Golden Age of Zen, when a young monk came to him to pay homage, saying: 'I beg you, Master, to show me your compassion and lead me to the Dharma-gate of liberation.'
'Who has bound you?' Seng-ts'an replied.
'Nobody has bound me,' answered the monk.
'That being the case,' said the master, 'why should you continue to seek for liberation?'
This was Tao-hsin, destined to be the fourth Patriarch. (Wu credits Tao-shin as the author of 'On Believing in Mind' in one reference, although he cites lines from the well-known stanzas in another reference and attributes them to Seng-ts'an. See the Seng-ts'an page for these wonderful stanzas.)

There is a reference in John Blofeld's translation of The Zen Teaching of Hui Hai: On Sudden Illumination to the gatha chanted by the eighteenth India Patriarch, Gayasata, when he transmitted the Dharma of Mind to the nineteenth Patriarch, Kumerata:

The self-existing seed in ground of Mind,
According with concurrent cause, sprouts forth,
Concurrent cause and sprout no mutual hindrance raise,
For that which is produced is not producible.

The above gatha is compared with one chanted by Tao-hsin, the fourth Chinese Patriarch, when he transmitted the Dharma of Mind to Hung-jen:

Growth is latent in the seed
Which sprouts when planted in causal ground.
This great cause unites with nature
At the time of growth – yet nothing grows.

My teacher, Richard Rose, said that since the blind man cannot see, the teacher must put himself in the road for the blind man to stumble upon. There is a story in John Wu's Golden Age of Zen of an instance of Tao-hsin's doing this:

"Some time during the reign of Chen-kuan (627-650), Tao-hsin, the fourth Patriarch of the Chinese School of Zen, looking at the Niu-t'ou Mountain from afar, was struck by its ethereal aura, indicating that there must be some extraordinary man living there. So he took it upon himself to come to look for the man. When he arrived at the temple, he asked a monk, 'Is there a man of Tao around here?' The monk replied, 'Who among the home-leavers are not men of Tao?' Tao-hsin said, 'But which of you is the man of Tao, after all?' Another monk said, 'About three miles from here, there is a man who people call the Lazy Yung, because he never stands up when he sees anybody, nor gives any greeting. Can he be the man of Tao you are looking for?'

"Tao-hsin then went deeper into the mountain and found Niu-t'ou sitting quietly and paying no attention to him. Tao-hsin approached him, asking, 'What are you doing here?'
'Contemplating the mind,' said Niu-t'ou.
'But who is contemplating, and what is the mind contemplated?' Tao-hsin asked.
Stunned by the question, Niu-t'ou rose from his seat and greeted him courteously, saying, 'Where does Your Reverence live?'
'My humble self has no definite place to rest in, roving east and west.'
'Do you happen to know the Zen master Tao-hsin?'
'Why do you ask about him?'
'I have looked up to him for long, hoping to pay my homage to him some day.'
'This humble monk is none other than Tao-hsin.'
'What has moved you to condescend to come to this place?'
'For no other purpose than to visit you!'

"[Tao-hsin went on to say:] 'There are hundreds and thousands of dharmas and yogas, but all of them have their home in the heart.... All operations of cause and effect are like dreams and illusion. Actually there are no three realms to escape from. Nor is there any Bodhi or enlightenment to seek after. All beings, human and non-human, belong to one universal, undifferentiated Nature. Great Tao is perfectly empty and free of all barriers; it defies all thought and meditation.... All that you need is to let the mind function and rest in its perfect spontaneity. Do not set it upon contemplation or action, nor try to purify it. Without craving, without anger, without sorrow or care, let the mind move in untrammeled freedom, going where it pleases...."

Keizan, in The Transmission of Light, tells us that after succeeding to the Way, Tao-hsin concentrated his mind without sleeping and never lay down for the remaining 67 years of his life. He also relays an interesting story of how Tao-hsin rescued a city under siege in Qi province in 617.

Tao-hsin returned to Qi province in 624, according to Keizan, where he met his future successor, Hung-jen (as related below). In 651 he suddenly said to his disciples, "All things are liberated. You should keep mindful of this and teach it in the future." He then passed away, sitting peacefully. Keizan pronounced him 'an extraordinary man, the kind met once in a thousand years.'

Hung-jen (Fifth Patriarch)

Hung-jen Keizan (The Transmission of Light) relates the following conversation between Tao-hsin and Hung-jen, when they met on the road to Huangmei:
Tao-hsin: "What is your name?"
Hung-jen: "I have an essence, but it is not a common name"
"What name is it?"
"Is is the essence of Buddhahood"
"Have you no name?"
"None, because essence is empty"

Hung-jen was a boy of seven at the time, out begging with his mother. Tao-hsin recognized his capacity for truth and asked the mother to allow her son to become his disciple.

Hui-neng, in his Platform Sutra, tells of how he came to visit the monastery at Huangmei, where Hung-jen, having succeeded his teacher Tao-hsin, resided with over 700 followers. He described how Hung-jen secretly arranged to meet him one night and how that meeting led to his enlightenment. John Wu, in The Golden Age of Zen, relays the following details of that meeting:

"When the two were face to face in the stillness of the night, the Patriarch expounded the Diamond Sutra to his disciple. When he came to the sentence: 'Keep your mind alive and free without abiding in anything or anywhere,' Hui-neng was suddenly and thoroughly enlightened, realizing that all dharmas are inseparable from self-nature. Ecstatically he said to the Patriarch, 'How could I expect that the self-nature is in and of itself so pure and quiet! How could I expect that the self-nature is in and of itself unborn and undying! How could I expect that the self-nature is in and of itself self-sufficient, with nothing lacking in it! How could I expect that the self-nature is in and of itself immutable and imperturbable! How could I expect that the self-nature is capable of giving birth to all dharmas!'

"Knowing that Hui-neng had truly comprehended the self-nature, the Patriarch commented, 'He who does not know his fundamental mind can derive no benefit from the study of the Dharma. He who knows his fundamental mind and perceives his self-nature is called a man who has realized his Manhood, a teacher of devas and men, a Buddha.' It was in the depth of the night that he transmitted to Hui-neng the robe and the bowl together with the doctrine of instantaneous enlightenment, saying, 'You are now the Sixth Patriarch. Take good care of yourself, liberate as many living beings as possible, and transmit the teaching to the future generations in uninterrupted continuation. Now listen to my gatha:

Sow the seed widely among the sentient beings,
And it will come to fruition on fertile ground.
Without sentience no seed can grow;
Nor can there be life without nature.

Ma-tsu Tao-i (709-788)

Ma-tsu According to John Wu (The Golden Age of Zen), Ma-tsu – "the Patriarch Ma" – was the most important figure in the history of Ch'an after Hui-neng. By then the title of patriarch was one of popular reverence and acclaim, since Hung-jen had told Hui-neng that there would be no more passing on of the Patriarchal Robe brought to China by Bodhidharma. This was also a rare instance of a Buddhist monk's being called by his family name, Ma.

Ma-tsu was a disciple of Nan-yueh Huai-jang. Hui-neng is said to have told Huai-jang that the 27th Indian Patriarch, Prajnatara, had predicted that under your feet will come forth a spirited young horse who will trample the whole world. The Chinese word for horse is ma.

Wu tells us that Ma-tsu had three outstanding disciples who enjoyed a special intimacy with him: Nan-ch'uan Pu-yuan, Hsi-t'ang Chih-ts'ang, and Pai-ch'ang Huai-hai. Although Nan-ch'uan had a special place in the master's heart, "Pai-ch'ang alone transcends the realm of things all by himself" in Ma-tsu's words, and it was Pai-ch'ang who became Ma-tsu's successor. Another outstanding disciple was Ta-chu Hui-hai, whose first interview with Ma-tsu is included in the Hui-hai page.

Pai-ch'ang Huai-hai (720-814)

Pai-ch'ang Pai-ch'ang was a disciple of Ma-tsu, along with Hui-hai, and is considered to be Ma-tsu's dharma-successor. He is the one who instituted the Zen monastic system published five hundred years later in the Chinese Tripitaka, known as "The Holy Rule of Pai-ch'ang." It emphasized moral discipline and regulated the daily lives and responsibilities of monks as well as the duties of the abbot and various functionaries.

This regimentation signifies to me that the golden age of Zen was on its way out by the time of Pai-ch'ang, since Zen is the antithesis of regimentation. As Alfred Pulyan, a twentieth-century American Zen master who worked through the mail wrote in a letter to a student, "Maybe I should say that there is an 'intellectual' sort of 'awakening' which produces a similar understanding & lasts through life [margin note: POSSIBLE EXPLANATION WHY SOME MEN APPEAR SO WISE], which lacks SIMULTANEOUS direct contact and ability to experiment with (!!) the Entity which is the One." This is Zen!

Richard Rose often said that any organization has the seeds of its own destruction. The 'Ashram Code of Agreement' that he laid out for those who chose to spend time on the farm that he set up as an ashram was as follows:

  • That none shall coerce other members mentally or physically.
  • That effort be more spontaneous than obligatory.
  • That the mechanism for economic reciprocity and aid be automatic as far as the group is concerned, and voluntary as for relation one with the other.
  • That none shall be a burden economically to the group or to other individuals.
  • That alcohol shall not be brought into the communal grounds to be used for indulgence.
  • That all members, while on communal grounds, shall abstain from any activity considered illegal – meaning activities that might bring about public condemnation of the group. This is not intended to limit opinion, for any member should say privately or publicly that which he wishes to say, regardless of his personal liability with the outside, and shall be still respected by the group.

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