Enlightenment – Chapter 56: The Practice of No Thought

Buddhist theories of enlightenment might be seen as falling into two categories: a purification model and a recognition model. In the first, the path is seen as a process of removing defilements from the mind in order to arrive at the purity of enlightenment. In the second, enlightenment is a natural and inherent quality of the mind, the path is the actualization of this enlightenment through the simple recognition of this natural purity. These two models are not necessarily antithetical, and numerous variations and combinations of the two may be found among the Buddhist traditions. The most famous articulation of the models (see Chapter 39 and 41) have been in terms of gradual enlightenment (which would typically follow the purification model) and sudden enlightenment (which would typically follow the recognition model).

The tradition most closely associated with the doctrine of sudden enlightenment and the recognition model is the Chan school of China (which became the Zen school in Japan), and one of the most famous advocates of sudden enlightenment was the monk Shenhui (684-758). Shenhui was probably a disciple of the great master Shenhui (606?- 758), but came to denounce him, referring to him and his followers as the *Northern School’, and to his teaching as one of gradual enlightenment. Against this, Shenhui praised the teachings of Huineng (638-713), whom he proclaimed as the true sixth patriarch of the Chan school. Shenxiu was a favourite of Empress Wu, and Shenhui’s denunciations may have been the reason that he was banished. But he was recalled to the capital a few years later, employed by the government to recruit men to the sangha by selling ordination certificates, thereby filling imperial coffers depleted by the need to suppress a rebellion.

Shenhui was a famous orator, and the selection below is regarded as the record of one of his sermons. His purpose is to have his audience create bodhicitta, a term that literally means *mind of enlightenment’ and is classically understood to be the aspiration to achieve buddhahood for the sake of others that marks the beginning of the bodhisattva’s path. He begins by telling his audience that they are going to hear something they have never heard before. After leading a prayer to the buddhas and a confession of sins, he turns to the three trainings (called the three learnings below) of morality, concentration and wisdom, defining each in negative terms, *The non-activation of the false mind is morality; the absence of the false mind is concentration; and the knowledge of the mind’s absence of falsity is wisdom.’ Such restraint should be extended even to the traditional goals of practice: one should not be attached to enlightenment, to nirvana, to emptiness. He next criticizes traditional meditation practice in which the mind is made to abide on an object. In fact, the mind does not abide anywhere, and this absence of abiding is true concentration. To understand that the mind does not abide anywhere is true wisdom. Concentration and wisdom are thus in fact the same. If this concentration and wisdom are naturally present in the mind,, then not to activate that mind is to be enlightened, *For a sentient being to contemplate non-thought is the wisdom of a buddha.’ In this sense bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, traditionally said to mark the beginning of the path to buddhahood, is identical with bodhi, the end of the path. This is the special teaching that Shenhui wishes to impart, but not without closing with some disparaging statements about other teachers of Chan; his condemnation of *expedient means’ is a reference to the Northern School.

A Platform Sermon by [Shenhui,] the Reverend of Nan-yang, on Directly Comprehending the [Buddha]-Nature According to the Chan Doctrine of Sudden Teaching and Emancipation.

The unsurpassable dharma of enlightenment, the buddhas have profoundly lamented, is inconceivable.

Friends, you have all been able to come here so that you can all generate the unsurpassable bodhicitta. It is extremely difficult to encounter the buddhas, bodhisattvas and true spiritual compatriots. Today you are going to hear something you’ve never heard before. In the past you never encountered it, but today you have.

Friends, in the mouths of ordinary persons there are immeasurable bad words, and in their minds there are immeasurable bad thoughts, so that they are for ever lost in samsara and do not achieve emancipation. You must each and every one of you generate bodhicitta! Let us all reverence the buddhas so as to repent your [past transgressions]:

We reverence all the buddhas of the entire past.

We reverence all the buddhas of the entire future.

We reverence all the buddhas of the entire present.

We reverence the treasury of sutras of the honoured dharma of the perfection of wisdom.

We reverence the great bodhisattvas and all the sagely monks.

You should each repent in full sincerity, so as to purify your three types of action:

In complete sincerity, we now repent any of the four major transgressions

committed with body, speech, or mind during past, present, or future,

and wish that such transgressions be eliminated, never to arise again.

In complete sincerity, we now repent any of the five contrary transgressions…

In complete sincerity, we now repent any of the seven contrary transgressions.

In complete sincerity, we now repent any of the ten wrong transgressions.

In complete sincerity, we now repent any of the serious transgressions.

In complete sincerity, we now repent any of all transgressions.

Now, friends, now that you have been able to come to this place of enlightenment, you can each and every one generate the unsurpassable bodhicitta and seek the unsurpassable dharma of bodhi!

If you are going to seek the unsurpassable bodhi, you must have faith in the words of the Buddha and depend on the Buddha’s
teachings. All the buddhas of the past have preached as follows: To not perform wrong actions is morality, to undertake good actions is wisdom, and to purify one’s intentions is concentration. Friends, only when the [equivalence of the] three learnings are included can it be said to be the teachings of the buddhas. What is the equivalence of the three learnings? These are morality, concentration and wisdom. The non-activation of the false mind is morality; the absence of the false mind is concentration; and the knowledge of the mind’s absence of falsity is wisdom. This is called the equivalence of the three learnings.

You must each maintain [mental and physical] abstinence. If you do not maintain this abstinence, you will ultimately never be able to generate all the good dharmas. If you are going to seek the unsurpassable bodhi you must first maintain this abstinence, only after doing which will you gain entry [into bodhi]. If you do not maintain this abstinence, you won’t even be able to get the body of a mangy fox [in your next life], so how could you possibly acquire the meritorious dharmakaya of a tathagata?

Friends, the dharma that you should become inspired to study today corresponds to the perfection of wisdom. It goes beyond that of the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas and is identical to the prediction conferred by Sakyamuni on Maitreya, without any difference.

Since you have already come to this ordination platform to study the perfection of wisdom, I want each and every one of you to generate the unsurpassable bodhicitta both mentally and orally and become enlightened to the cardinal meaning of the middle way in this very place!

If you seek emancipation, you should transcend body, mind and consciousness; the five dharmas, the three self-natures, the eight consciousnesses and the two selflessnesses; and you should transcend the views of interior and exterior. The six generations of patriarchs have transmitted the mind with the mind because of the transcendence of words. The transmission from before has been like this.

Friends, you should all take care to listen carefully as I explain the pure inherent mind. When you hear an explanation of bodhi, don’t create the intention to grasp bodhi; when you hear an explanation of nirvana, don’t create the intention to grasp nirvana; when you hear an explanation of purity, don’t create the intention to grasp purity; when you hear an explanation of emptiness, don’t create the intention to grasp emptiness; when you hear an explanation of concentration, don’t create the intention to grasp concentration. To have your mind function like this is quietistic nirvana.

You should not freeze your mind and make [the mind] abide. You should also not use the mind to directly observe the mind. You will fall into an abiding of direct observation, which is useless. You should not lower the eyes in front – you will fall into a visual abiding, which is useless. You should not create the intention to concentrate the mind, and you should not look afar and look near.

These are all useless. The sutra says, ‘Non-contemplation is bodhi, since it is without remembering.’ This is the mind that is empty and serene in its self-nature.

[Question]: Are there affirmative and negative in the mind?

Answer: No.

[Question]: Is there abiding in the mind, or coming and going in the mind?

Answer: No.

[Question]: Are there blue, yellow, red and white in the mind?

Answer: No.

[Question]: Does the mind have a place of abiding?

Answer: The mind is without any place of abiding.

His Reverence said: The mind is non-abiding. Do you understand the mind’s non-abiding?

Answer: We understand.

[Question]: Do you understand it or not?

Answer: We understand.

I have now inferred from non-abiding to posit knowing. How is this? Non-abiding is quiescence, and the essence of quiescence is called concentration. The natural wisdom that occurs on the basis of this essence, whereby one can know the inherently quiescent essence, is called sagacity. This is the equivalence of concentration

and wisdom. The sutra says, ‘Activate illumination on the basis of serenity’, and the meaning here is the same. The non-abiding mind does not transcend knowing, and knowing does not transcend non­abiding. If one knows the mind’s non-abiding, there is nothing else to be known. The Lotus Sutra says, ‘Identical to the knowing of the Tathagata, great and profound.’ The mind is without limit and is identical to the Buddha in its greatness.

The Diamond Sutra says, ‘The bodhisattva mahasattva should thus generate a pure mind: Not abiding in forms does he generate the mind; not abiding in sounds, fragrances, tastes, tangibles, or dharmas does he generate the mind. Without any abiding does he generate that mind.’ I now infer that ‘without any abiding’ is your non-abiding minds. ‘Does he generate the mind?’ is to know the mind’s non-abiding.

The original essence is empty and serene. To activate knowing on the basis of this empty and serene essence and to well discriminate the blue, yellow, red and white of this world is wisdom. To not activate [the mind] in consequence of this discrimination is concentration.

Thus if one freezes the mind to enter concentration, one will fall into a blank emptiness. To activate the mind to discriminate all the conditioned [realities of this] world after arising from concentration, and to call this wisdom! In the sutras this is called the false mind! This is to be without concentration during wisdom and to be without wisdom during concentration. If one’s understanding is like this, one will never transcend the afflictions.

To freeze the mind to enter concentration, to fix the mind to view purity, to activate the mind to illuminate the external, and to concentrate the mind to realize the internal – this is not an emancipated mind, but rather a mind that is bound to the dharma. Don’t do this! The Nirvana Sutra says, ‘The Buddha told the bodhisattva Brilliance-of-Lazuli, “Good youth, you should not enter the concentration of profound emptiness. Why? Because it renders the great congregation [of ordinary followers] dull.” ’ This is because, if you enter concentration, you will not know all the perfections of wisdom.

Just know yourself that the inherent essence is quiescent, empty and without attributes. It is without abiding or attachment and equivalent to space, with nowhere it does not pervade: This is the body of suchness of the buddhas. Suchness is the essence of non­thought. Because of this idea, I posit non-thought as my doctrine. If you see non-thought you will be permanently empty and serene even though you are possessed of perceptive functions. This is for the three learnings of morality, concentration and wisdom to be simultaneously equivalent, and to be possessed of all the ten thousand practices. This is to be equivalent to the knowing and seeing of a tathagata, great and profound.

You should all apply yourselves totally to bring yourselves to attain the emancipation of sudden enlightenment. This is the combined cultivation of concentration and wisdom, [the two of] which cannot be separated. Concentration does not differ from wisdom, and wisdom does not differ from concentration, just as a lamp and its light cannot be separated. When we consider the lamp, it is [seen to be] the essence of the light; when we consider the light, it is [seen to be] the function of the lamp. [Thus] when we consider the light, it does not differ from the lamp; when we consider the lamp, it does not differ from the light. Concentration and wisdom are the same. This constitutes the combined cultivation of concentration and wisdom, [the two of] which cannot be separated.

Friends, there is a buddha-nature within your body which you have not been able to see completely. Just to not intentionalize, for the mind to be without activation: This is true non-thought. Ultimately, seeing is not separate from knowing, and knowing is not separate from seeing. Asvaghosa says [in the Awakening of Faith], ‘For a sentient being to contemplate non-thought is the wisdom of a buddha.’ Just point at the buddha-mind; the mind is buddha.

Although bodhicitta and the ultimate [realization] are no different,

Of these two [states of] mind, it is difficult to say which is more important.

With oneself still unsaved, to first save others –

Thus do we reverence the initial [achievement of] bodhicitta.

By this initial bodhicitta one becomes a teacher of humans and gods,

Superior to the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas.

With such a bodhicitta, one transcends the triple realm,

Hence, this is called the most unsurpassable.

When other masters are asked about this teaching, they do not explain it, but keep it secret. I am completely different – whether to many persons or few, I always explain it to everyone. If you receive the teachings of Chan from some teacher, you should [strive to] understand yourselves what you are taught, so that you penetrate its spirit. If you penetrate the spirit of it, then there will be no doctrine in all the sutras and sastras that you do not understand.

Friends, if you wish to study the perfection of wisdom, you should read widely in the Mahayana scriptures. But those who teach Chan without admitting of sudden enlightenment, but who [teach] that enlightenment is only possible through the use of expedient means – this is the [mistaken] view of the very lowest category [of sentient being]. [Just as] a bright mirror can be used to reflect one’s face, the Mahayana sutras can be used to rectify the mind. This sudden teaching depends entirely on the teaching of the Tathagata, and your practice [of it] must not be mistaken. Strive diligently. If there are any with doubts, come and ask me about them. Go well.

Translated by John McRae from Hu Shi, Shenhui heshang yiji – fu Hu xiansheng zuihou de yanjiu. Taipei: Hu Shi jinian guan, 1968, pp. 225-52 and Suzuki Daisetsu, Suzuki Daisetsu zenshu, vols 2-3 and separate vol. 4 (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1968), vol. 3, pp. 290­317.

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.