At Your Service
About the The Platform Sutra
The T'an Ching, or Platform Sutra, has been a volume of immense popularity among the Ch'an Buddhists of East Asia for many centuries. Purported to be the teaching of the Sixth Patriarch of the Southern School of Ch'an, it has achieved the highest status possible for a Buddhist text by being awarded the title of "ching" (sutra), which places it on equal ground with the words attributed directly to the Buddha. In the latter half of the T'ang dynasty, when the various schools of Chinese Buddhism began to be amalgamated and absorbed into one another, the importance of Ch'an increased; and as it became the dominant school in China, the T'an ching rose to the prominent position it has continued to hold right up to the present day. In the West as well, partly because of the writings of D. T. Suzuki and the international impact of Japanese culture, Ch'an and Zen have become extremely popular; and it is not surprising, therefore, to find the T'an Ching ranking as one of the best known of all Buddhist texts. Because of its significance for Asia as well as for the West, the book has received much attention from both researchers and translators.
Source: Abstract from T'an Ching (Platform Scripture) By Carl Bielefeldt and Lewis Lancaster Philosophy East and West, Vol. 25, no. 2 (1975), P. 197- 212.
Chapter Number Three: Questions
One day Prefect Wei held a large vegetarian feast on behalf of the master. When the feast was over, the prefect invited the master to ascend the dais [to give a sermon]. The government staff, scholars, and commoners respectfully bowed once again and asked, “It was truly inconceivable (i.e., wonderful) for us to hear Your Reverence explain the Dharma, but now we have some slight doubts. We wish that, in your great compassion, you would make a special effort to explain these for us.” The master said, “If you have doubts, then ask, and I will explain them for you.”
Lord Wei asked, “The doctrine Your Reverence has preached—it must be that of Great Master Bodhidharma?” The master said, “So it is.” Wei asked, “I have heard that when Bodhidharma ﬁrst taught Emperor Wu of the Liang, the emperor asked, ‘Throughout my entire life I have constructed monasteries, had monks ordained, and held vegetarian feasts. What merit is there in these?’ Bodhidharma said, ‘In fact, these are without merit.’” [Wei said,] “Your disciple does not understand the principle of this, and I ask you to explain it for me.”
The master said, “‘In fact, these are without merit’—do not doubt the words of the former sage. Emperor Wu was heterodox in mind and did not understand the correct Dharma. To build monasteries, have monks ordained, and hold vegetarian feasts is to seek blessings, but one cannot convert blessings into merit. Merit exists within the dharmakāya, not within the cultivation of blessings.”
The master also said, “Seeing the nature is ‘effort,’ and universal sameness is ‘virtue.’ To be without stagnation in successive moments of thought, to always see the fundamental nature, [to possess] the wondrous functioning of the true and actual—this is called ‘merit.’ To be humble in the mind within is ‘effort’; to practice ritual without is ‘virtue.’ For the self-nature to establish the myriad dharmas is ‘effort’; for the mind-essence to transcend thoughts is ‘virtue.’ To not transcend the self-natures is ‘effort’; for one’s responsive functioning to be undeﬁled is ‘virtue.’ If you would seek merit and the dharmakāya, just rely on this, and [you will create] true merit. Those who cultivate merit must be without disparagement in their minds but always practice respect for all. Those whose minds always disparage others will not eradicate their own [false views of the] self and are themselves without ‘effort.’ [Those who consider the] self-natures to be empty and false are themselves without ‘virtue.’ It is only because they consider themselves to be great that they always disparage everyone else.
“Good friends, to be without any suspension of one’s continuous thoughts [of inner humility, etc.] is ‘effort’; for the mind to practice universal directness is ‘virtue.’ To cultivate the nature oneself is ‘effort’; to cultivate the body oneself is ‘virtue.’
“Good friends, merit must be seen within the self-natures, it cannot be sought in donations and offerings. Therefore, blessings and merit are different. Emperor Wu did not understand the truth of this, it was not that our patriarch [Bodhidharma] was wrong.”
Prefect [Wei] asked further, “Your disciple always sees monks and laypeople [practicing] mindfulness of Buddha Amitābha and wishing for rebirth in the Western [Paradise]. Please explain this, are they reborn there or not? Please eliminate my doubts.”
The master said, “Your Lordship, listen well! I will explain this for you. When the World-honored One was in Śrāvastī, he taught about the Western [Paradise in order to] entice [the sentient beings of Śrāvastī to practice Buddhism]. The text of the scripture is very clear [in saying that the Western Paradise] ‘is not far from here.’ If you wish to discuss it, then the ten ten-thousands and eight thousands of li [from here to the Pure Land] are the ten evils and eight heterodoxies within the body.
“This is the explanation of [the Pure Land] as distant. The explanation of it as distant is done on behalf of those with inferior capacities, while the explanation of it as close is for those of superior capacities. Although there are two types of people, there are not two different Dharmas. Although deluded and enlightened [people] are different, [it is only that] there is slow and fast in seeing. The deluded person recites the Buddha’s [name] and seeks for rebirth in that other [location], while the enlightened person puriﬁes his mind. Therefore the Buddha said, ‘As the mind is puriﬁed, so is the buddha land puriﬁed.’
“Your Lordship, you are a person of the East: if only your mind is pure, you will be without transgression. But persons of the West are impure of mind and are in error. When a person of the East commits a transgression, he may recite the Buddha’s [name] and seek rebirth in the Western [Paradise]. But when a person of the West commits a transgression, in what country should he seek rebirth when reciting the Buddha’s [name]? Stupid ordinary people do not comprehend their self-natures, and they do not recognize that the Pure Land is within their own bodies. Whether you wish for East or West, the enlightened person is the same in either location. Therefore the Buddha said, ‘always in joyful repose wherever one is.’ Your Lordship, just have your mind-ground be without that which is not good, and the Western [Para dise] will not be far off. If you harbor that which is not good in your mind, it will be impossible to attain rebirth [in the Western Paradise] by reciting the Buddha’s [name].
“I exhort you now, good friends, to ﬁrst eliminate the ten evils is to go the ten ten-thousand [li]. To later eliminate the eight heterodoxies is to pass beyond the eight thousand [li]. Seeing the nature in successive moments of thought and always practicing universal directness is to gain a vision of Amitābha in the snap of a ﬁnger. Your Lordship, just practice the ten [types of] good. Why would you want to be reborn [in the Pure Land]? If you do not eradicate the ten [types of ] evil from your minds, what buddha will come to escort you [to the Western Paradise]? If you are enlightened to the sudden Dharma (teaching) of birthlessness, seeing the Western [Paradise is a matter of] a mere instant. If you recite the Buddha’s [name] and seek rebirth [in the Pure Land] without being enlightened, how will you ever be able to travel such a long road?
“I will move the Western [Paradise] for you in an instant, so you will be able to see it right in front of you. Do you all want to see it or not?” Those in the assembly all bowed their heads to the ground and said, “If we could see it here, how could we then want to be reborn there? We ask that in Your Reverence’s compassion you manifest the Western [Paradise] for us all to see!”
The master said, “[All of you in this] great assembly, [understand that] the very form-bodies of people in this world are the city walls [of the Pure Land]. Your eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are the gates [of the Pure Land]. Externally, you have ﬁve gates, and within is the gate of the sensory mind. The mind is the ground, and the nature is the king. The king resides on the mind-ground, and the nature exists just as a king exists. When the nature goes, the king is absent. When the nature is present, the body and mind continue. When the nature departs, the body disintegrates. ‘Buddha’ acts within the nature—don’t look for it outside your bodies! When one is deluded as to the self-nature, one is a sentient being, but when one realizes the self-nature, one is a buddha.
“Compassion is Avalokiteśvara, joy and equanimity are Mahā sthama-prāpta, the ability to purify is Śākyamuni, and universal directness is Amitābha. The self is Sumeru, desire is the ocean’s water, and the afﬂictions are the waves. The poisons are the evil dragons, the falsenesses are the ghosts and spirits, the enervating deﬁlements are the ﬁshes, lust and anger are the hells, and stupidity is the animals.
“Good friends, if you always practice the ten [types of] good, you will go to heaven. By eliminating the [false conception of the] self, Sumeru will fall; by destroying desire, the ocean’s waters will dry up; by eliminating the afﬂictions, the waves will be extinguished; by eradicating the poisons, the ﬁshes will be extirpated.
“The Tathāgata, who has realized the nature in his own mind-ground, releases a great refulgence and illuminates the six gates without; its purity can destroy all the heavens of the six desires. By illuminating the self-nature within, the three poisons are eliminated, and all the transgressions [leading to] the hells are dissolved in an instant. Clearly penetrating within and without, it is no different from the Western [Paradise]. If you do not cultivate in this fashion, how could you ever arrive there?”
When those in the great assembly heard this explanation, they all saw their natures. They all bowed and sighed, “How excellent!” They cried out, “We wish that all the sentient beings throughout the dharmadhātu could all become enlightened instantaneously!”
The master said, “Good friends, if you wish to cultivate this practice, you may do so either as a householder or in a monastery. Householders who are able to practice this are like those persons of the East whose minds [harbor] good. Those in the monastery who do not cultivate it are like those people of the West whose minds [harbor] evil. It is only that the mind should be pure—then it is the Western [Paradise] of the self-nature!”
Lord Wei asked further, “How can householders cultivate this practice? I hope you will teach us this.” The master said, “I will recite a formless verse for this great assembly. Just cultivate according to this, doing exactly as if you were always with me. If you do not cultivate according to this, what beneﬁt would it be to take the tonsure and leave home [to become a monk]?” The verse goes:
With the mind universally [the same], why labor to maintain
With practice direct, what use is it to cultivate dhyāna?
Gratitude is to be ﬁlial in supporting one’s parents
Righteousness is to have sympathy for those above and below.
Self-subordination is to honor the lowly and the familiar.
Forbearance is not to approve of the various evils.
If one is able to rub sticks to create a ﬁre,
The red lotus blossom will certainly grow from the mud.
That which causes the mouth suffering is good medicine.
That which offends the ears is loyal speech.
By reforming transgressions one will necessarily generate wisdom.
To defend shortcomings within one’s mind is not wise.
In one’s daily actions one must always practice the dissemination
of beneﬁt [for others].
Accomplishing enlightenment does not depend on donating money.
Bodhi should only be sought for in the mind.
Why belabor seeking for the mysterious externally?
If you hear this explanation and practice accordingly,
The Western [Paradise] is right in front of you.
The master said further, “Good friends, you should all practice according to this verse. See your own natures and directly accomplish the enlightenment of buddhahood!
“I cannot wait any longer, and you should all disperse [now]. I am returning to Caoqi. If anyone here has doubts, then come and ask me about them.” At that time the prefect and government staff, as well as all the good men and faithful women in the assembly, all attained enlightenment and accepted and respectfully practiced [Huineng’s teaching] with conviction.
An Excerpt from the Chapter Number Four: Meditation and Wisdom
The master addressed the assembly, “Good friends, our teaching takes meditation and wisdom as its fundamental. Everyone, do not say in your delusion that meditation and wisdom are different.
Meditation and wisdom are of one essence, not different. Meditation is the essence of wisdom, and wisdom is the function of meditation. At times of wisdom, meditation exists in that wisdom; at times of meditation, wisdom exists in that meditation. If you understand this doctrine, this is the equivalent study of meditation and wisdom. All you who study the Way, do not say that they are different, with meditation prior to and generating wisdom or with wisdom prior to and generating meditation. If your view of them is like this, then the Dharma would have two characteristics. This would be to say something good with your mouth but to have that which is not good in your minds. It is to make meditation and wisdom falsely existent to consider them as not equivalent.
“If there is good in both mouth and mind and if internal and external are identical, then meditation and wisdom will be equivalent. One should understand oneself that spiritual cultivation does not exist in argumentation. If you argue about which is prior and which secondary, then you are just like [all the other] deluded people. Not to desist from competition is to increase the illusion of selfhood. One will not transcend the four characteristics [this way]!
“Good friends, how is it that meditation and wisdom are equivalent? It is like the light of a lamp. When the lamp exists, there is light; when there is no lamp, there is darkness. The lamp is the essence of the light, and the light is the function of the lamp. Although the names are different, in essence they are fundamentally identical. The Dharma of meditation and wisdom is just like this.”
The master addressed the assembly, “Good friends, the samādhi of the single practice is to always practice the single direct mind in all one’s actions, whether walking, standing still, sitting, or lying down. The Vimalakīrti [Sutra] says, ‘The straightforward mind is the place of enlightenment, the straightforward mind is the Pure Land.’ Don’t allow your mental practices to become twisted while merely speaking of straightforwardness with your mouth! If you speak of the samādhi of the single practice with your mouth, you will not practice the straightforward mind. Just practice the straightforward mind, and be without attachment within all the dharmas.
“The deluded person is attached to the characteristics of dharmas and grasps onto the samādhi of the single practice, merely saying that he always sits without moving and without falsely activating the mind and that this is the samādhi of the single practice. To have an interpretation such as this is to be the same as an insentient object! This is rather to impede the causes and conditions of enlightenment!
“Good friends, one’s enlightenment (one’s Way, dao) must ﬂow freely. How could it be stagnated? When the mind does not reside in the dharmas, one’s enlightenment ﬂows freely. For the mind to reside in the dharmas is called ‘fettering oneself.’ If you say that always sitting without moving is it, then you’re just like Śāriputra meditating in the forest, for which he was scolded by Vimalakīrti!
“Good friends, there are also those who teach meditation [in terms of] viewing the mind, contemplating tranquility, motionlessness, and nonactivation. You are supposed to make an effort on the basis of these. These deluded people do not understand, and in their grasping become mixed up like all of you here. You should understand that such superﬁcial teachings are greatly mistaken!”
Chapter Number Five: Seated Meditation
The master addressed the assembly, “In this teaching of seated meditation, one fundamentally does not concentrate on mind, nor does one concentrate on purity, nor is it motionlessness. If one is to concentrate on the mind, then the mind [involved] is fundamentally false. You should understand that the mind is like a phantasm, so nothing can concentrate on it. If one is to concentrate on purity, then [realize that because] our natures are fundamentally pure, it is through false thoughts that suchness is covered up. Just be without false thoughts and the nature is pure of itself. If you activate your mind to become attached to purity, you will only generate the falseness of purity. The false is without location; it is the concentration that is false. Purity is without shape and characteristics; you only create the characteristics of purity and say this is ‘effort’ [in meditation]. To have such a view is to obscure one’s own fundamental nature, and only to be fettered by purity.
“Good friends, if you cultivate motionlessness, just see all people: when doing so, do not see the right and wrong, the good and bad, the transgressions and disasters of people. This is the motionlessness of the self-nature.
“Good friends, the deluded person may be motionless in body, but he opens his mouth and speaks of the right and wrong, the strength and weakness, the good and bad of others. This is to go against the Way. If you concentrate on the mind or concentrate on purity, this is to impede the Way (i.e., enlightenment).”
The master addressed the assembly, “Good friends, what is seated meditation (zuochan)? In this teaching, there is no impediment and no hindrance. Externally, for the mind to refrain from activating thoughts with regard to all the good and bad realms is called ‘seated’ (zuo). Internally, to see the motionlessness of the self-nature is called ‘meditation’ (chan).
“Good friends, what is it that is called meditative concentration (chanding; samādhi)? Externally, to transcend characteristics is ‘meditation’ (chan). Internally, to be undisturbed is ‘concentration’ (ding). If one concentrates on characteristics externally, internally the mind is disturbed. If one transcends characteristics externally, the mind will not be disturbed. The fundamental nature is naturally pure and naturally concentrated; it is only by seeing the realms and thinking of the realms that one is disturbed. If one can see the various realms without the mind being disturbed, this is true concentration.
“Good friends, to transcend characteristics externally is ‘meditation.’ To be undisturbed internally is ‘concentration.’ Externally ‘meditation’ and internally ‘concentration’ is meditative concentration.
“The Sutra of the Bodhisattva Precepts says, ‘My fundamental self-nature is pure.’ Good friends, within every moment of thought you should see yourself that your fundamental nature is pure. You should cultivate for yourself, practice for yourself, and accomplish for yourself the enlightenment of buddhahood.”
Source: The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, translated by John R. McRae