- By the Ming Dynasty Dhyana Master Han-shan De-ching
- from The Records of Dream Wanderings
The particular lineage of the dhyana gateway transmits the seal of the
buddha mind. Originally, it was not a subtle matter. Beginning with Bodhidharma's coming
from the west, the idea of exclusive transmittal became established and the four fascicles
of the La'nkaavataara were taken as the [basis for] the seal of the mind. This
being the case, although dhyana constituted a separate transmittal outside of the
teachings, in actuality, it is because the teachings bring forth a corresponding
realization that one then [succeeds in] perceiving the non-dual path of the buddhas and
patriarchs. The very meditative skills which are employed during one's investigations
[into dhyana] come forth from the teachings themselves.
The La'nkaavataara states, "When sitting quietly in the
mountains and forests, at superior, middling and lower levels of cultivation one is able
to perceive the flow of the false thinking in one's own mind." This is in fact the
World Honored One's clear instruction in the formulary method of developing meditative
skill. It also states, "His intellectual mind consciousness is a manifestation of his
own mind. The false marks of the experiential state associated with one's self nature
[manifest as] the sea of existence within the realm of birth and death. [They arise from]
karmic action, desire and ignorance. Such causes as these may all be transcended
thereby." This constitutes the Thus Come One's clear instruction in the marvelous
principle of how to awaken the mind. It also states, "From all of the sages of the
past it has been passed on in turn, being [both] transmitted and received that false
thinking is devoid of an [inherently existent] nature." This is also a clear
instruction in the [basis of] the secret mind seal.
This golden-countenanced elder's(1) instructions to people on the critically essential points of [dhyana]
investigation were [continued on like this] until Bodhidharma instructed the second
patriarch, saying, "You need only release (lit. "exhale") all conditions in
the external sphere. The inner mind will then have nothing to draw in (lit.
"inhale"). The mind will then become like a wall. You will then be able to enter
the Way." This was Bodhidharma's very first essential dharma employed in instructing
people how to carry out meditative investigations.
[The tradition] was transmitted on until the time when Hwang Mei, [the
Fifth Patriarch], sought a Dharma heir. The Sixth Patriarch had just proclaimed his
realization that, "Fundamentally, there is nothing whatsoever" when he then
obtained the robe and bowl. This was a clear indication of the transmittal of the seal of
Next, the Sixth Patriarch returned to the South and instructed Dao Ming,
saying, "Don't think of good. Don't think of bad. Right then, what is the original
countenance of the senior-seated Ming?" This was the Sixth Patriarch's first
instruction to people in the clear formula for [dhyana] investigation.
From these [examples] we know that as it came down to us from the Buddha
and the patriarchs the intent was only to instruct a person in obtaining a complete
awakening to his own mind and in the recognition [of the true nature] of the
"self," that's all. There still had not yet been any discussion of a gung-an
(i.e. "anecdote") or a hwa-tou (lit. "speech-source"). When
it came to Nan Ywe, Ching Ywan and those who came after them, all of the patriarchs
accorded with what was appropriate in providing their instructions. For the most part they
went to the place of doubt and knocked there in order to cause a person to turn his head
around, reverse the direction of his thinking and then put it [all] to rest. But then it
came about that there were those who were unable [to respond to this technique] so that
even though one might bang away with the hammer and tongs, one still had no choice but to
let [one's teaching] adapt to [the student's] appropriate time and conditions.
When it reached Hwang Bwo was when there first occured the instruction
of people in [the practice of] looking into a hwa-tou. [This was the practice]
straight on down to Dhyana Master Da Hwei who then engaged in the extremely strong
promotion of teaching students to investigate into a gung-an (lit.
"anecdote") which was used as an aid. This was referred to as a hwa-tou
(lit. "speech source"). It was required of a person that he very closely engage
in the bringing up and "tearing into" it.
Why was this? It was done on account of the fact that in every thought
the seeds of evil practices from an incalculable number of kalpas permeate internally
within the field of the eighth consciousness. They flow on continuously [with the result
that] false thinking is not cut off and there is nothing which [most people] can do about
it. Hence he would take a phrase of words devoid of any meaning-based flavor and give it
to you for you to bite into it and hold it down.
Formerly one would take all internally and externally related false
thinking in one's mind state and put it all down at once. But because one became unable to
put it down he then taught one to bring up this hwa-tou. Then, just like chopping
off tangled strands of silk, in a single cut they were all cut off evenly such that they
did not continue on any more. One cut off the intellectual mind consciousness so that it
was no longer allowed to be active. This is precisely the same as Bodhidharma's principle
of "You need only release (lit. "exhale") all conditions in the external
sphere. The inner mind will then have nothing to draw in (lit. "inhale"). The
mind will then become like a wall."
If one fails to take on the task in this fashion, one will certainly
fail to perceive one's original countenance. The intention is not to teach you to
deliberate on [the meaning of] the sentence in the gung-an. One should develop a
sentiment of doubt and look to it as a means for seeking a measure of realization. This is
just exactly like [the instruction offered by] Da Hwei who exclusively taught the looking
into the hwa-tou as the invoking of a deadly stratagem whereby he simply wanted
you to engage in an assassin's surprise attack on the mind, that's all. As an example [of
his teaching], he instructed the assembly, saying, "When engaging in dhyana
investigation one must empty out the mind and take the two words 'birth' and 'death' and
stick them up on your forehead. [One should feel] as if he owed ten-thousand strings of
cash. In the three [periods] of the day and the three [periods] of the night, whether
drinking tea or eating meals, when walking and when standing, when sitting and when lying
down, when toasting with friends, at quiet times and at boisterous times, one still keeps
bringing up the hwa-tou: 'Does a dog have the buddha nature, or not?' Jou said,
"One should only be concerned about looking one way and looking
another [so that] when there is no flavor [anymore] then it will be like running right
into a wall. When one gets to the source where things come together, then it is like when
a mouse [runs headlong] into a bull's horn and then finds the route cut off. The intent is
that you succeed in bringing about the single entity of the long-enduring and
distantly-extending body and mind with which one carries on a struggle [with the result
that] suddenly the flower of the mind puts out a brightness which illuminates the k.setras
of the ten directions. With a single awakening one then reaches right down to the very
bottom of things."(2)
The above [teaching] is the set of hammer and tongs routinely employed
by the old eminence Da Hwei. His intent was just that he wanted you to take the hwa-tou
and use it to block up and cut off the false thinking set loose by the intellectual mind
faculty with the result that its flowing on would no longer be active. It is just at that
point where it is not being active that one succeeds in seeing one's original countenance.
It is not the intent to instruct you to carry on deliberative thinking
about [the meaning of] the gung-an. One should employ the sentiment of doubt as a
means for seeking a measure of realization. For example, it was [also] stated, "As
for the flower of the mind putting forth brightness, how could that be something obtained
from someone else?"
Instruction such as that presented above has been set forth by each and
every one of the buddhas and patriarchs with the intention that you investigate into
yourself and refrain from seizing on and peering into someone else's esoteric and
marvelous phrases. As for the people of the present era, in discussing investigations
undertaken in dhyana and the application of meditative skill, everyone speaks of looking
into the hwa-tou and bringing the sentiment of doubt to bear, but they do not
realize that one must go to the very root [of the matter]. And so they are only concerned
with seeking at the level of the hwa-tou.
They seek coming and they seek going and then suddenly visualize a scene
full of light and declare that they have awakened. They then speak forth a verse and
present a piece of poetry making as if they had become especially exotic goods. They then
take it that they have succeeded in gaining complete understanding. They are completely
unaware that they have fallen entirely into the net of knowledge and vision based on false
thinking. When one goes about dhyana investigations in this manner, doesn't this amount to
poking out the eyes of everyone in the entire world of later generations?
The younger generation of today have not even gotten their sitting
cushions warm when they proclaim that they have awakened to the Way. They then rely on
their mouths, start channeling sprites and ghosts, fall into the quick-and-smart verbal
swordplay, and then think up a few sentences of foolish words and scrambled discourse
which are utterly baseless. They proclaim it to be an "Ode to the Ancients."
This is just something which has come forth from your own false thinking. And was it ever
really so that you even saw the ancients here even in a dream?
If it was actually so easy to become awakened to the Way as [claimed by]
people of the present, then considering the integrity of practice of ancients such as
Chang Ching who wore out seven sitting cushions and Chao Jou who for thirty years
permitted no unfocused use of mind, those ancients had to have been of the very dullest of
faculties. They wouldn't even be fit to serve you moderns by holding your straw sandals!
When people of overweening arrogance claim to have realizations when they have not yet
realized them, can one not be appalled by this?
One's investigations into Dhyana wherein one looks into the hwa-tou
and brings the sentiment of doubt to bear absolutely cannot be given short shrift. [This
is a case of] the so-called, "A little doubt,-- a little enlightenment. A big
doubt,-- a big enlightenment. Refraining from doubt,-- one doesn't become
enlightened." It is only essential that one become skillful in the use of the
sentiment of doubt. If one achieves a breakthrough through the sentiment of doubt then in
a single pass one can string together all of the buddhas and bodhisattvas by their noses.
It's only necessary that, for instance when one looks into the
mindfulness-of-the-buddha gung-an, one simply investigates into who it is that is
being mindful of the buddha. It is not the case that one is supposed to entertain doubts
about who the buddha is. If it were a case of doubting who the buddha is, then it would
only be necessary to listen to the lecturer say, "Amitabha is named 'Limitless
Light'." After something like this then one should become enlightened and then make
up a few verses on "Limitless Light." If instances such as this could be
referred to as "awakening to the Way," then those with enlightened minds would
be as numerous as sesame seeds and rice grains. How very sad! How very sad!
The ancients spoke of the hwa-tou as like a tile used to knock
on the door. If one succeeds in opening the door by knocking, then one is supposed to go
see the person in the room. It's not supposed to be the case that one stands outside the
door fooling around.(3) From this one can
see that in relying on the hwa-tou to bring up doubt, the doubt is not directed
towards the hwa-tou. It must be directed at the very root [of the matter].
Just take for instance when Jya Shan went to visit "Boatman"
who inquired of him, saying, "I've hung down the line a thousand feet. The mind
abides in a deep pool, three inches from the hook. Why don't you speak?!"
Shan then started to open his mouth. The Master then knocked him into
the water with an oar. Shan then climbed back into the boat. The Master said again,
"Speak! Speak!" Shan was about to open his mouth again when the Master hit him
again. Shan then experienced a major awakening whereupon he then knodded his head three
The Master then said, "The line from my fishing pole has succeeded
in playing you in. Without having to stir up the purity as waves, your mind is naturally
If this Jya Shan had just fooled around with the hook and line, how
could "Boatman," even at the expense of a life, have been able to succeed in
This demonstrates the keen facility of the ancients in skillfully
pursuing the means of bringing forth personages. In the past when the way of dhyana was
flourishing, there were clear-eyed knowing advisors everywhere and the patch-robed men who
were about in the land pursuing their investigations were many. Wherever they went, it
As a comparative statement, one can say that [nowadays] either there are
no [practitioners of] dhyana or there are no Masters available.(4) The house of Dhyana has been silent and deserted now for a long time.
How fortunate then that all at once there are many who have decided to take up the search.
Although there do exist some knowing advisors, sometimes in taking the measure of the
prospective candidates, those of [only] provisional talents [are allowed to] enter in as
they yield to sentiment in their proffering of the seal of realization. The students,
though of only shallow mind, then have the opinion that they have [actually] gotten some
Moreover, they do not have faith in the Thus Come One's sacred teachings
and do not seek out the origin of the true and correct road. They only care to go on about
their dull-witted doings and so it then just becomes a case of a chop made of wintermelon
being taken as the real formula.(5) Not only
is this a fooling of oneself, but it's also a fooling of others. Can one not be appalled
by this? What's more take for example the layman Dzai Gwan who of old recorded [one of
the] records of the transmitting of the lamp. There were a number of [noteworthy] men in
there, but that's all.
Now, there are those people who are immersed in the weariness of the
sense objects and who don't even cultivate the most obvious precepts. They have such
turbid and tangled false thinking that they lean on their own clever-wittedness, scan a
few cases of the ancient virtuous ones and their prospective [lineage heirs], and then in
every case they presume the airs of those of the most superior faculties. As soon as they
see a member of the Sangha they then harass him with verbal swordplay and then take it
that they themselves have awakened to the Way. I bring this up even though we are in an
age which has become corrupt especially on account of my own disciples. It can become a
case of a single blind man leading on a crowd of blind people, that's all. This old man
now faithfully sets forth the essential points of the true and correct meditative skills
of the buddhas and patriarchs. Everyone can evaluate this. Those lofty and clear eminences
who have well understood these things may themselves have ways in which they might correct
1. This is a reference to Shakyamuni Buddha. See DFB,
2. It is as yet unclear how much of the above
"quote" is paraphrase. [back]
3. This "dzwo hwo-ji" which I have
translated as "to fool around" means "to knit" or "to carry on a
livelihood." It's use seems a little ambiguous here. [back]
4. This sentence is ambiguous in the Chinese and
hence tentative in the English. [back]
5. This is another utterly ambiguous Chinese sentence
resulting in a tentative translation. [back]