Posted in ch'an, tattooed buddha

The Teaching of Huineng

(a version of this article originally appeared on The Tattooed Buddha)

Huineng was the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism.

Chan is called the Meditation School. It was created as an effort to focus more on the core teachings of Buddhism: the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness. Chan Buddhism is focused on this life, here and now. Our true nature is something that’s always present and not something we have to wait for. We can all dwell in wakefulness right now, in this life, not in some future one.

Huineng’s importance to the tradition cannot be overstated; all of Chan Buddhism comes from what he taught. His teachings are collected in the Platform Sutra, a sacred text of the Chan School. It’s the only text that is recognized as a Sutra in Mahayana Buddhism that isn’t claimed to be directly from the Buddha.

The Sutra is a collection of Dharma talks by Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. It includes a long series of teachings that present Chan philosophy, and it also includes Huineng’s own life story.

Huineng was a poor person, not someone with any connections or any great learning. And it’s said that he attained enlightenment under the Fifth Patriarch Hongren and quickly became a great master. He came from nothing and inherited leadership of the Chan School. His story really tells us that we can succeed on the path too. If he can, anyone can.

The time of Huineng’s life was said to be the Golden Age of Buddhism in China. It was during this time that the different schools were spreading throughout China and growing at an exponential rate.

Huineng is known for his teachings on “Sudden Enlightenment.” The basic idea is that we can become enlightened in this life. In some schools of Buddhism they emphasize a practice where you are trying to get better and better in each life, so hopefully some day you’ll be reborn in a life where you can attain enlightenment (lots of people don’t believe in rebirth at all these days, me included). Huineng taught that we could attain enlightenment in this life. Later, Buddhists in some other sects would work with the same idea, but it seems to have originate from Huineng.

He’s also known for teaching without relying on a lot of words or writing. He did a lot more showing students how to practice than telling them.

During and after Huineng’s life, many great Chan masters became teachers and the Chan School spread. In this time a lot of other schools of Buddhism were founded, and they lived side by side, without conflict. Some even shared the same temples, so you’d see Chan students meditating right alongside Huayan students and Pure Land students. Rather than fighting, as religious sects might do today, these schools benefited from being around each other. They influenced each other a lot too.

It may have been Huineng’s “Sudden Enlightenment” teaching that drew many Buddhists to his school. It was a new idea at that time, and it really inspired a lot of people.

That’s what I believe in. Enlightenment is right here with us. It’s not some far away goal for us to chase.

It’s right here. We just have to turn our minds away from delusion and toward wakefulness. Easier said than done, of course. But the message of Huineng is that we can do it. All of us can.

 


 

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Posted in diamond sutra

Diamond Sutra: chapter 6

Subhuti asked the Buddha, “In the future, if a person hears this teaching, even if it is a only a phrase or sentence, is it possible for that person to have Enlightenment awaken in their mind?”
“Without a doubt, Subhuti. Even 500 years after the Enlightenment of this Buddha there will be some who are virtuous and wise, and while practicing kindness and generosity, will believe in the words of this Sutra and will awaken their minds. After they come to hear these teachings, they will be inspired. This is because when some people hear these words, they will have understood intuitively that these words are the truth.”
“But you must also remember, Subhuti, that such persons have long ago planted the seeds of Awakening that lead to this realization. They have planted the seeds of virtue and generosity. So when a person who hears the words of this Sutra is ready for it to happen, clarity can awaken within their minds.”
“Subhuti, any person who awakens upon hearing the words or phrases of this Sutra will accumulate a lot of merit.”
“How do I know this? Because this person must have discarded all dualistic illusions of a personal self or of a universal self. Otherwise their minds would still grasp after such things. Furthermore, these people must have already discarded all dualistic illusions of a personal self or a universal self. Otherwise, their minds would still be grasping at such notions. Therefore anyone who seeks total Enlightenment should discard not only all conceptions of their own selfhood or of a universal self, but they should also discard all notions of the non-existence of such concepts.”
“When the Buddha explains these things using such concepts and ideas, people should remember the unreality of all such concepts and ideas. They should recall that in teaching spiritual truths the Buddha always uses these concepts and ideas in the way that a raft is used to cross a river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded. These arbitrary concepts and ideas about spiritual things need to be explained to us as we seek to attain Enlightenment. However, ultimately these arbitrary conceptions can be discarded. Think Subhuti, isn’t it even more obvious that we should also give up our conceptions?”

There is a deep meaning to this section. The Buddha starts by telling Subhuti that this teaching he is giving is so great that just hearing it can bring us to Enlightenment. This was a favorite Sutra of the 6th Ch’an Patriarch, Huineng. According to his autobiography that is exactly what awakened the seed of Enlightenment within him. So, it’s right there in the Sutra, telling us to pay close attention to it and study it closely.
And the Buddha tells us again to lay down our dualistic thinking. The concepts and ideas that we cling to, the labels that we put on reality, are the things that are keeping us from Realization.
He goes on to tell us that even the spiritual journey can become an attachment. Remember that the Dharma is just a tool we are using to come to Awakening. It is not an end in itself.

Posted in non-dualism

Form and Void

Form, the first aggregate, is something we grasp at that doesn’t have real inherent existence. We tend to have the deluded view the permanent, but nothing has a permanent nature. Everything is empty if we think in terms of how everything is made up of things and has no inherent nature. Our deluded minds may think that our bodies are permanent, but the truth is that we are all subject to birth, old age, sickness, and death. So, that is why we say there is no difference between form and void.