Thursday, 15 August 2019

Nanyang Huizhong [W-G: Nan-yang Hui-chung / J: Nan’yo Echu]

Nanyang Huizhong – who became known as the National Teacher – studied with the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng, for many years, after which he retired to a temple on Mount Baiya. Although he did not leave the temple for forty years, his fame extended to the court, and the Emperor invited him to come to the capital.  Huizhong deferred twice before finally assenting to a third invitation.  It is said that the Emperor was so pleased with his acceptance that when the carriage carrying Huizhong approached the palace, the Emperor himself went out to grasp its shaft and help pull it the final distance.

[Nanyang Huizhong – Zen Masters of China: 73-77; The Story of Zen: 142-43]

Friday, 9 August 2019

Dajian Huineng [W-G: Ta-chien Hui-neng / J: Daikan Eno]

         The Sixth Patriarch, Dajian Huineng, once came upon a group of monks observing and discussing a flapping pennant.  The first monk said, “It’s the pennant that moves.”  Another objected, “The pennant is an inanimate object and has no power to move; it is the wind that moves.”  Then a third said, “The flapping of the pennant is due to the combination of flag and wind.”
                The Sixth Patriarch interrupted the discussion, telling the monks, “It’s neither wind nor pennant that moves, rather it’s your own minds that move.”

[Dajian Huineng – Zen Masters of China: 59-67, 72-73, 74, 78, 79, 80, 94; The Story of Zen: 136-42]

Friday, 2 August 2019

Daman Hongren [W-G: Ta-man Hung-jen / J: Daiman Konin]

                Daman Hongren came to visit Daoxin when he was only six years old and asked to be admitted to the sangha.  Daixin asked the boy what his family name [hsing] was, and Hongren replied with a clever pun: “I have a nature [hsing] but it is not an ordinary one.”  Although the characters for “name” and “nature” are different, they are pronounced the same.
                “What is it then?” Daoxin inquired, still asking for the precocious child’s name.
                “It is Buddha-nature [fo-hsing].”
                “So you have no name [hsing]?”
                “No, master,” the boy continued the pun, “because it [referring to his nature] is empty.”
                Daoxin accepted Hongren as a disciple, despite his age, and the boy dedicated himself to the practice with fervor. He would become the Fifth Patriarch of Chinese Zen and the teacher of the equally precocious Huineng.

[Daman Hongren – Zen Masters of China: 55-57, 61-65, 72]

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Dayi Daoxin [W-G: Ta-i Tao-hsin / J: Doshin]

                 As Huike had done, Sengcan retired to the mountains. Dayi Doaxin heard about him and sought him out. Sengcan asked his visitor what he was looking for, and Doaxin replied: “Please show me the way to achieve liberation.”
                “Who is it that holds you in bondage?” Sengcan asked.
                “Well, no one,” Doaxin admitted.
                “Then why are you seeking liberation?”
                These words startled the young man, and he became Sengcan’s disciple and eventually the Fourth Patriarch of Chinese Zen.

[Dayi Daoxin – Zen Masters of China: 53-54; The Story of Zen: 135-36]

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Jianzhi Sengcan [W-G: Chien-chi Seng-ts’an / J: Sosan Kanchi]

                After Bodhidharma’s death, Huike retired the mountains. While there, he was approach by a layman with leprosy.  The layman hoped that Huike could free him of the sins which he believed were the cause of his condition.  Echoing his own teacher, Huike told the man, “Bring your sins here, and I’ll rid you of them.”
                “When I reflect on my sins,” the man admitted, “I’m not sure what they are.”
                “Then you’re cleansed,” Huike told him.  “Now all that remains is for you to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.”
                “What are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha?”
                “Mind is Buddha.  Mind is Dharma.  Dharma and Buddha are not two.  So it is with the Sangha.”
                The leper then made one of those intuitive leaps of understanding only possible when one has been considering a problem, as he had been considering the problem of sin, for a long time: “Now I understand that sins are neither within nor without,” he exclaimed.  “Just as the Mind is, so is Buddha, so is Dharma.  They aren’t two.”
                Huike recognized that here was the man who would be his successor, and the Third Patriarch of Chinese Zen, and he gave him the name Sengcan, which means “jewel monk.”    

[Jianzhi Sengcan – Zen Masters of China:  51-53; The Story of Zen: 134-36]

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Huike [W-G: Hui-k’o / J: Eka]

                The Second Patriarch of Chinese Zen was Huike. He was a Confucian scholar who sought a teacher to help him resolve the concerns about life and death which weighed heavily on his mind. He had visited many teachers, Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist. He studied all three traditions and was well versed not only in the Confucian classics but also in the doctrines of both the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism. Nothing, however, had brought him peace of mind. In desperation he sought out the old barbarian monk, Bodhidharma, who was said to have come from the land of the Buddha.
                When Huike presented himself at Bodhidharma’s cave, the Indian monk suspected his visitor was another who came seeking an intellectual explanation of Buddhist doctrine rather than the experiential insight which comes from the practice of meditation.  So for a long while he ignored Huike. The Confucian, however, remained patiently outside the cave, waiting several days for Bodhidharma to acknowledge him.
                One night, it began to snow. The snow fell so heavily that by morning, it was up to Huike’s knees. Seeing this, Bodhidharma finally spoke to his visitor, asking, “What is it you seek?”
                “Your teaching,” Huike told him.
                “The teaching of the Buddha is subtle and difficult. Understanding can only be acquired through strenuous effort, doing what is hard to do and enduring what is hard to endure, continuing the practice for even countless eons of time. How can a man of scant virtue and great vanity, such as yourself, achieve it? Your puny efforts will only end in failure.”
                Huike drew his sword and cut off his left arm, which he presented to Bodhidharma as evidence of the sincerity of his intention.
                “What you seek,” Bodhidharma told him, “can’t be sought through another.”
                “My mind isn’t at peace,” Huike lamented. “Please, master, pacify it.”
                “Very well.  Bring your mind here, and I’ll pacify it.”
                “I’ve sought it for these many years, even practicing sitting mediation as you do, but still I’m not able to get hold of it.”
                “There! Now it’s pacified!”

[Huike – Zen Masters of China: 48-51; The Story of Zen: 133-35]

Thursday, 4 July 2019


            According to tradition, Zen was brought from India from China by a pilgrim monk named Bodhidharma who came to be recognized as the First Patriarch. When the reigning Emperor, who was a Buddhist, learned that a monk from the land of the Buddha’s birth was in his kingdom, he had Bodhidharma brought to his court. 
            Concerned about the misdeeds of his younger years – which had brought him to the throne – the Emperor and had tried to compensate for them through a variety of devotional acts.  He had sponsored the translation of Buddhist texts, supported large numbers of monks and nuns, and assumed the cost of building temples. Eager to know if his religious activities balanced the crimes of his past, he described all he had done to promote Buddhism in his country then asked Bodhidharma, “What is your opinion?  What merit have I accumulated as a result of these deeds?”          
            Bodhidharma replied bluntly and tactlessly: “No merit whatsoever.” 
            “Why no merit?” the Emperor asked.
            “Motives for such actions are impure,” Bodhidharma told him.  “They are undertaken solely for the purposes of attaining future rebirth.  They are like shadows cast by bodies, following those bodies but having no reality of their own.”
            “Then what is true merit?”
            “It is clear seeing, pure knowing, beyond the discriminating intelligence.  Its essence is emptiness.  Such merit cannot be gained by worldly means.”
            This was unlike any exposition of the Buddhist faith the Emperor had heard before, and he asked, “According to your understanding, then, what is the first principle of Buddhism?”
            “Vast emptiness and not a thing that can be called holy,” Bodhidharma replied at once.
            The Emperor spluttered: “What does that mean?  And who are you who now stands before me?”
            To which Bodhidharma replied: “I don’t know.”  Then he left the court.  

[Bodhidharma - Zen Masters of China: 35-44; The Story of Zen: 132-34]