The Sixth Patriarch's Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra

Chapter 1





In this first chapter of the Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch gives his disciples a biographical sketch of himself. “Action” refers to the Sixth Patriarch’s activities and “intention” is that upon which he based his cultivation. “Action and Intention” refers to the source–where it all began.


At one time the Great Master arrived at Pao Lin. Magistrate Wei Ch’ü of Shao Chou and other local officials climbed the mountain and invited the Master to come into the city to the lecture hall of the Ta Fan Temple to speak the Dharma to the assembly.

When the Master had taken his seat, the Magistrate and over thirty other officials, more than thirty Confucian scholars, and more than one thousand Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Taoists, and laypeople, all made obeisance at the same time, wishing to hear the essentials of Dharma.


For every Sutra, six requirements must be met. Commonly explained in the opening sentences, they are: faith, hearing, time, host, place, and assembly. Only when these six are fulfilled is the orthodox Dharma being spoken.

To conduct a Sutra session, there must be an assembly; Magistrate Wei Ch’ü and the gathering of disciples and followers fulfills this requirement.

Then there must be a place to speak the Dharma; Pao Lin Mountain fulfills this requirement. A Dharma Master who thoroughly understands the Dharma must be present as host; here it is the Great Master the Sixth Patriarch. “At one time” suffices for the time requirement, and that “all made obeisance at the same time” fulfills the faith requirement. They came “wishing to hear the essentials of Dharma,” and that fulfills the requirements of hearing.

Wei Ch’ü and the officials climbed Pao Lin Mountain which is about ten miles from Shao Chou where Ta Fan Temple, now called Ta Chien Temple, is located. I lived there for a while. This is where the Sixth Patriarch spoke The Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra.


The Great Master said to the assembly, “Good Knowing Advisors, the self-nature of Bodhi is originally clear and pure. Simply use that mind, and you will straightaway accomplish Buddhahood. Good Knowing Advisors, listen while I tell you about the actions and intentions by which Hui Neng obtained the Dharma.”


The Great Master spoke to the assembly; “You are people with good roots and much wisdom. The self-nature of Bodhi is one’s own originally enlightened clear and pure nature. It cannot be produced or destroyed, defiled or purified, increased or decreased. Use this mind. Don’t use your false-thinking mind.”

Using his own name, in the formal style, the Sixth Patriarch calls himself “Hui Neng,” saying, “Now I will tell you how Hui Neng obtained the Dharma. Listen!”


“Hui Neng’s stern father was originally from Fan Yang. He was banished to Hsin Chou in Ling Nan, where he became a commoner. Unfortunately, his father soon died, and his aging mother was left alone. They moved to Nan Hai and, poor and in bitter straits, Hui Neng sold wood in the market place.”


From his native district of Fan Yang, Hui Neng’s father was sent to Ling Nan. Because the father is more apt to discipline the children, he is respectfully called “stern.” The mother ordinarily offers loving kindness to her children, and so she is spoken of as “compassionate.”

Hui, “kind,” means that he was kind and compassionate, bestowing Dharma upon living beings. Neng, “able,” means that he was able to do the Buddha’s work. The Sixth Patriarch’s family name was Lu.

Hui Neng’s father was banished to Ling Nan, a frontier region during the T’ang Dynasty inhabited by government exiles. The Sixth Patriarch’s father, an official, may have been convicted of an offense and thus banished to Ling Nan.

Hui Neng had an unfortunate and unlucky life. His father died when the Master was between the ages of three and five years, leaving him alone with his widowed mother. He and his mother moved to Nan Hai where they endured the hardships of poverty. How did they survive? Master Hui Neng hiked into the mountains and chopped wood, returned and sold it in the market place, using the money to buy rice for his mother and himself.


Once a customer bought firewood and ordered it delivered to his shop. When the delivery had been made, and Hui Neng had received the money, he went outside the gate, where he noticed a customer reciting a Sutra. Upon once hearing the words of this Sutra: “One should produce that thought which is nowhere supported.” Hui Neng’s mind immediately opened to enlightenment.


Because the Sixth Patriarch’s family was poor, he received little formal schooling and could not read. At that time in China one needed money to go to school. But in spite of his illiteracy, the Sixth Patriarch’s disposition was extremely sharp; and as soon as he heard the line of the Sutra which says that one should have a true mind which is nowhere attached, he immediately became enlightened. He understood what he had never understood before.

Many will hear the sentence; “One should produce that thought which is nowhere supported.” Are there any who will open to enlightenment?

Someone exclaims, “Why, I have!”

I ask you, what is the enlightenment you have opened? What is the enlightenment unopened? Ask yourself.


Thereupon he asked the customer what Sutra he was reciting. The customer replied, The Diamond Sutra.”

Then again he asked, “Where do you come from, and why do you recite this Sutra?”

The customer said, “I come from Tung Ch’an Monastery in Ch’i Chou, Huang
Mei Province. There the Fifth Patriarch, the Great Master Hung Jen dwells, teaching over one thousand disciples. I went there to make obeisance and heard and received this Sutra.”


The Great Master the Fifth Patriarch lived in Tung Ch’an Monastery with more than a thousand disciples whom he taught and transformed. At that time in China the study of the Dharma was so fervently pursued that it was not unusual to have a thousand people on one mountain studying the Buddhadharma together.

Where in America are there a thousand Buddhist disciples studying the Dharma together? Such a large country yet there is no such place. It is possible, however, that later there will be more than ten thousand people studying the Buddhadharma, but this is not assured. We will have to watch my disciples and see how hard they work.

Most Americans are intelligent, but there are some whose intelligence surpasses itself. Everyday from morning to night they are caught up in taking confusing drugs. By taking these drugs they may attain small and different states of consciousness which they cannot obtain without drugs. These people try drugs again and again until one day they see that it is useless. They think, “I’ve been taking drugs for such a long time now and I still have not become enlightened.” When they realize this, they may turn toward the truth.

I teach you the Buddhadharma so in the future you can speak the Dharma to teach and transform living beings. Do not be careless, but work well and without confusion and then many will come to study.

You who are now studying this Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra must know the origin of your learning. When people ask, “Where did you study the Buddhadharma?” you can reply, “We studied at the Buddhist Lecture Hall of the Sino-American Buddhist Association.” This is just what is meant by this passage of text.


“The Great Master constantly exhorts the Sangha and laity only to uphold The Diamond Sutra. Then, they may see their own nature and straightaway achieve Buddhahood.”

Hui Neng heard this and desired to go and seek the Dharma, but he recalled that his mother had no support.

From past lives there were karmic conditions which led another man to give Hui Neng a pound of silver, so that he could provide clothing and food for his aging mother. The man instructed him further to go to Huang Mei to call upon and bow to the Fifth Patriarch.


You should be clear that the “Great Master” referred to here is the Fifth Patriarch not the Sixth Patriarch.

When Hui Neng heard that there was a place where over one thousand people were studying the Buddhadharma together, he became very excited. “What am I to do? I really want to study there!” he exclaimed to the customer. “I heard you recite The Diamond Sutra and I understood the principles. I want to go seek the Buddhadharma, but I have an aging mother who has no one to care for her. What can I do?”

Since Bodhisattvas do not seek fame, the Sixth Patriarch did not say which great Bodhisattva helped him at this time. The Sutra simply says that, because of former karmic conditions, a customer gave Hui Neng a pound of silver. This was certainly a valuable offering. The yield of a day’s work chopping firewood was worth only a few copper pennies in the market place so even if Hui Neng had sold all the wood gathered in a thousand days, its value would not have equaled the gift of silver.

The silver provided for his mother’s food and lodging. Maybe the man said, “You are poor and yet you want to study the Buddhadharma. Here, I will help you a bit,” and gave him an offering that he might go and seek Dharma. The merit and virtue of this offering was great, and in the future this man will certainly be a flesh body Bodhisattva. Now, perhaps one of us is doing this kind of work; think to yourself, “Have I done this kind of meritorious deed?” You don’t remember? It doesn’t matter, there’s no need to have false thinking about it.

The man urged him on, saying, “You have such great faith that as soon as you heard this Sutra you opened to enlightenment and understood the principle. Hurry! Go right away to see the Great Master at Huang Mei! It will surely be worth your while. Do not delay, go at once!”


After Hui Neng had made arrangements for his mother’s welfare, he took his leave. In less than thirty days he arrived at Huang Mei and made obeisance to the Fifth Patriarch, who asked him, “Where are you from and what do you seek?”

Hui Neng replied, “Your disciple is a commoner from Hsin Chou in Ling Nan and comes from afar to bow to the Master, seeking only to be a Buddha, and nothing else.”

The Patriarch said, “You are from Ling Nan and are therefore a barbarian, so how can you become a Buddha?”

Hui Neng said, “Although there are people from the north and people from the south, there is ultimately no north or south in the Buddha nature. The body of the barbarian and that of the High Master are not the same, but what distinction is there in the Buddha nature?”

The Fifth Patriarch wished to continue the conversation, but seeing his disciples gathering on all sides, he ordered his visitor to follow the group off to work. Hui Neng said, “Hui Neng informs the High Master that this disciple’s mind constantly produces wisdom and is not separate from the self nature. That, itself, is the field of blessing. It has not yet been decided what work the High Master will instruct me to do.”

The Fifth Patriarch said, “Barbarian, your faculties are too sharp. Do not speak further, but go to the back courtyard.” Hui Neng withdrew to the back courtyard where a cultivator ordered him to split firewood and thresh rice.

More than eight months had passed when the Patriarch one day suddenly saw Hui Neng and said, “I think these views of yours can be of use but fear that evil people may harm you. For that reason I have not spoken with you. Did you understand the situation?”

Hui Neng replied, “Your disciple knew the Master’s intention and has stayed out of the front hall, so that others might not notice him.”


As soon as the Sixth Patriarch made arrangements for his mother’s welfare, he left. Some thirty days later he arrived at the east side of Shuang Feng mountain, at Tung Ch’an Monastery. During his journey he had had no false thoughts and so he was unaware of how much time had passed before he arrived at Huang Mei. The Master was twenty-two years old at the time.

When the Great Master asked from where he had come, Hui Neng told him that he was from the south, from Hsin Chou. “I don’t want anything at all!” he said, “I only want to be a Buddha. All the rest is irrelevant.”

The Fifth Patriarch said, “You are a southerner, and southerners are all barbarians.” The word “barbarian” is, in Chinese, “ke liao.” “Ke” is dog-like animal with an extremely short snout. “Liao” refers to the coarse people of the borderlands. Basically, this means that those who cannot understand the principles of being human belong to the category of animals. “And how can you become a Buddha?” asked the Fifth Patriarch.

The Sixth Patriarch answered him promptly: “Although people are from the north and from the south,” he said, “the Buddha nature is one and is everywhere the same.”

The Fifth Patriarch’s disciples were gathered all around, so he said no more. He simply told the Sixth Patriarch, “Good, you have come. Now, go to work with the others. Hurry off!”

Hui Neng said his own mind always produced wisdom. This wisdom is produced from one’s own self-nature, and the fields of blessings are not separate from it. “I do not yet know what the Master wants me to do,” he said.

The Patriarch heard Hui Neng talking this way and said, “This barbarian has sharp roots!” He cautioned Hui Neng to be more discreet and not talk so much. “Speak no more!” he said. “Go to the back courtyard!” In the back courtyard a cultivator told Hui Neng what to do. When people first come to a place, they are always bullied. This disciple, who had not yet left home said to Hui Neng, “You! Every day you must cut wood, build the fire and cook the food. Here’s an axe, and be sure to cut kindling too! Besides that, every day you must thresh the rice.” Over eight months later, the Patriarch saw Hui Neng working on the threshing ground and said to him, “I think that your wisdom and opinions can be used, but fearing jealous people might harm you, I have not spoken with you too much. Did you know that?” Hui Neng said, “I understand. I have not dared go into the front Dharma hall to speak with the Master lest others notice my actions or the Master’s compassion toward me.”


One day the Patriarch summoned his disciples together and said, “I have something to say to you: for people in the world, the matter of birth and death is a great one.

“All day long you seek fields of blessings only; you do not try to get out of the bitter sea of birth and death. If you are confused about your self-nature, how can blessings save you?”


The Fifth Patriarch said, “Regardless of whether you are extremely rich or bitterly poor, you cannot avoid birth and death. Consequently, you should know how you were born. If this question of birth and death is not resolved, life is dim and confused, and you are confused with coming and going.

“You do nothing but seek merit among the gods and among humans; you do not know how to seek wisdom. Thus, you swirl and drift in the suffering sea of birth and death.”

It is said that one who cultivates wisdom and does not cultivate merit is like an Arhat with an empty begging-bowl; he is very wise, but no one makes offerings to him. But if one cultivates merit and neglects wisdom, he is just like a big elephant wearing a pearl necklace; beneath the adornments of blessing, he is stupid and will never solve the problem of birth and death.


“Each of you go back and look into your own wisdom and use the Prajna-nature
of your own original mind to compose a verse. Submit it to me so that I may look at it.

“If you understand the great meaning, the robe and Dharma will be passed on to you and you will become the sixth patriarch. Hurry off! Do not delay! Thinking and considering is of no use in this matter. When seeing your own nature it is necessary to see it at the very moment of speaking. One who does that perceives as does one who wields a sword in the height of battle.”


“Verse” here is the Sanskrit word “gatha.” A gatha is composed of lines of uniform length, though the length may vary from gatha to gatha.

“Go quickly!” said the Fifth Patriarch. “Go as if a fire were about to overtake you. Do not dawdle and procrastinate saying, ‘Oh, I cannot do it today. I will do it tomorrow instead,’ and then the next day saying, ‘Not today either, perhaps tomorrow...’ Do not keep putting it off and do not try to think about it. It is useless to use your discriminating mind. If you have deep prajna wisdom, you understand the moment you hear the words spoken. Just as one grabs a weapon and confronts the oncoming enemy, so do you perceive. You can see your nature in the same immediate way.


The assembly received this order and withdrew, saying to one another, “We of the assembly do not need to clear our minds and use our intellect to compose a verse to submit to the High Master. What use would there be in this?”

“Shen Hsiu is our senior instructor and teaching transmitter. Certainly he should be the one to obtain it. It would be not only improper for us to compose a verse, but a waste of effort as well.”

Hearing this, everyone put his mind to rest, and said, “Henceforth, we will rely on Master Shen Hsiu. Why vex ourselves writing verses?”


They went away to other courts, other gardens, and other buildings, saying to themselves, “Why worry about writing this verse? We do not need to waste the effort.”

I believe the people who spoke this way were of Shen Hsiu’s party. Why did they not write verses? Because Shen Hsiu’s followers were trying to make him the patriarch; all his followers, disciples, Dharma brothers, friends, and relatives contrived to set up the position for Shen Hsiu. They convinced everyone else not to write verses, because if anyone else wrote verses, then perhaps Shen Hsiu might not get to be the next patriarch.

They secretly passed it around and whispered behind the scenes, like friends of a candidate for President who say, “Hey! Vote for this one! He can be President!” They spread it about and stuffed the ballot box.

Convinced that they had no learning, the assembly decided it was useless to write verses. Swayed by the rumors, they said, “The Senior-Seated Shen Hsiu is second to the Abbot. His literary skill is good, his virtue is high, he lectures on the Sutras and speaks Dharma for us. Certainly he should become the sixth patriarch.”

When the assembly heard Shen Hsiu’s followers saying things like, “If we write verses, they will be very unpolished and certainly not good enough to submit,” they all decided not to write verses themselves. They didn’t want to compete with Shen Hsiu, their superior.


Shen Hsiu then thought, “The others are not submitting verses because I am their teaching transmitter. I must compose a verse and submit it to the High Master.

“If I do not submit a verse, how will the High Master know whether the views and understanding in my mind are deep or shallow?

“If my intention in submitting the verse is to seek the Dharma, that is good. But if it is to grasp the patriarchate, that is bad, for how would that be different from the mind of a common person coveting the holy position? But, if I do not submit a verse, in the end I will not obtain the Dharma. This is a terrible difficulty!”


The Fifth Patriarch had announced that in order to obtain the Dharma, one must compose a verse. Shen Hsiu knew that if he did not submit one, the Fifth Patriarch would not know whether Shen Hsiu had wisdom and he could not transmit the Dharma to him. Shen Hsiu fretted and worried, “What shall I do? This is very hard; it is just too difficult!”


In front of the Fifth Patriarch’s hall were three corridors. Their walls were to be frescoed by Court Artist Lu Chen with stories from the Lankavatara Sutra and with pictures portraying in detail the lives of the five patriarchs, so that the patriarchs might be venerated by future generations.


A court artist is one appointed as an official to the Imperial Court because of his talent.

The title of The Lankavatara Sutra has two meanings: “city” and “cannot be gone to.” This city, located behind Malaya Mountain, is inaccessible to those without spiritual powers. Shakyamuni Buddha used his spiritual powers to go there and speak The Lankavatara Sutra for the benefit of those who had spiritual powers. The court artist was to depict the miraculous, inconceivable, wonderful transformations which took place in the assembly on Lanka Mountain.

The court artist was also to paint pictures illustrating the flow of the Dharma from Great Master Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch, to the Great Master Hui K’o, the Second Patriarch, and onward from generation to generation, to the Fifth Patriarch, Great Master Hung Jen. The paintings would remain in the world so that future generations might receive benefit from respecting and making offerings to them.


After composing his verse, Shen Hsiu made several attempts to submit it. But whenever he reached the front hall, his mind became agitated and distraught, and his entire body became covered with perspiration. He did not dare submit it, although in the course of four days he made thirteen attempts.


Shen Hsiu’s students were not greedy to become patriarch, but Shen Hsiu had a great desire for the position.

Whenever he tried to submit his verse, he went a little crazy. “What am I going to do? Is this verse right or not? Can I submit it?” He did not know if it was right or wrong. “Ah, it this way or is it that way? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is...more or less.” Endless questions flooded his mind, making him extremely nervous. Every time he tried to hand it in, he broke out in a heavy sweat. Why? It was a huge gamble; if he failed, he would not be a patriarch, but if he passed, he would. Fear of failure caused his extreme agitation.

It was really suffering, really hard work! It is not easy to be a patriarch. Look at how much effort he expended. For four entire days and nights he never shut his eyes. He just kept trying to submit his verse. At night he would go as far as the Fifth Patriarch’s hall, peer around, break out in a sweat, and flee back to his room. During the day he tried again. In the periods in between, he could not sit, lie down, or sleep, and when he tried to eat, he couldn’t swallow.

He went before the Patriarch’s hall thirteen times and still did not submit the verse. Now, when I give you a quiz, you write the answers very promptly and hand them in. Suppose I were to give you a patriarch test! I think your hands would tremble so that you could not write out the answers. Finally, after so many attempts, when Shen Hsiu had almost worried himself to death, he thought, “Hey! Get hold of yourself. Calm down and think this thing over. Meditate and enter samadhi!”


Then he thought, “This is not as good as writing it on the wall so that the High Master might see it suddenly. If he says it is good, I will come forward, bow, and say, ‘Hsiu did it.’ If it does not pass, then I have spent my years on this mountain in vain, receiving veneration from others. And as to further cultivation–what can I say?”

That night, in the third watch, holding a candle he secretly wrote the verse on the wall of the South corridor, to show what his mind had seen.


“That’s it!” he said with relief. “I will write it on the wall and when he sees it he will say, ‘This is truly a fine verse, truly wonderful!’ and I will admit that I wrote it. But if he says, ‘This is too confused. It is nothing but useless trash!’ then I will know that I have wasted my time here on the mountain.”

He crept stealthily, like a thief in the night He carried just a little candle, for if the light were too bright, someone might have seen him.



The body is a Bodhi tree,
The mind like a bright mirror stand.
Time and again brush it clean,
And let no dust alight.

After writing this verse, Shen Hsiu returned to his room, and the others did not know what he had done.

Then he thought, “If the Fifth Patriarch sees the verse tomorrow and is pleased, it will mean that I have an affinity with the Dharma. If he says that it does not pass, it will mean that I am confused by heavy karmic obstacles
from past lives, and that I am not fit to obtain the Dharma. It is difficult to fathom the sage’s intentions.”

In his room he thought it over and could not sit or sleep peacefully right through to the fifth watch.


He bounded back to his room two steps at a time, as if he were being chased, but quietly, taking great, silent leaps like an expert military spy. He was afraid that if anyone saw him, they would know he wrote the verse. But no one saw him, no one knew–not even the ghosts and spirits. “If he likes this verse,” thought Shen Hsiu, “then I must have conditions with the wonderful mind-to-mind seal of the Buddhas, and it is my destiny to be patriarch. But if it does not pass, my confusion from the karma created in past lives must be a heavy obstruction. It is hard to figure out what he will say. There is just no way to know.”

Actually, his verse was not bad, but he had not fully understood. So after he returned to his room, he was still uneasy.


The Patriarch already knew that Shen Hsiu had not yet entered the gate and seen his own nature. At daybreak, the Patriarch called Court Artist Lu Chen to fresco the wall of the south corridor. Suddenly he saw the verse and said to the court artist, “There is no need to paint. I am sorry that you have been wearied by coming so far, but The Diamond Sutra says, ‘Whatever has marks is empty and false.’ Instead leave this verse for people to recite and uphold. Those who cultivate in accordance with this verse will not fall into the evil destinies and will attain great merit.”

He then ordered the disciples to light incense and bow before it, and to recite it, thus enabling them to see their own nature. The disciples all recited it and exclaimed, “Excellent!”


“If you cultivate according to the principles contained in this verse,” said the Fifth Patriarch, “you will not fall into rebirth in the three evil paths of the hells, animals, or hungry ghosts, and you will receive many benefits.”


At the third watch, the Patriarch called Shen Hsiu into the hall and asked him, “Did you write this verse?”

Shen Hsiu said, “Yes, in fact, Hsiu did it. He does not dare lay claim to the position of Patriarch, but hopes the High Master will be compassionate and see whether or not this disciple has a little bit of wisdom.”

The Patriarch said, “The verse which you wrote shows that you have not yet seen your original nature but are still outside the gate. With such views and understanding you may seek supreme Bodhi, but in the end will not obtain it. Supreme Bodhi must be obtained at the very moment of speaking. In recognizing the original mind, at all times, in every thought, you yourself will see that the ten thousand Dharmas are unblocked; in one truth is all truth and the ten thousand states are of themselves ‘thus,’ as they are. The ‘thusness’ of the mind, just that is true reality. If seen in this way, it is indeed the self nature of supreme Bodhi.”


The Patriarch chose the same hour at which Shen Hsiu had written the verse on the wall the night before. He secretly called him in and said, “Psst! Was it you who wrote that verse?”

“Yes, yes,” Shen Hsiu whispered back, “yes, in fact, I, Hsiu, wrote it. I do not dare seek the status of the patriarch, but...”

“Your verse shows that you are still an outsider,” said the Fifth Patriarch. “You have not yet seen your nature. As soon as you speak the words, know your original nature!”

When you understand the mind and see your own nature, you know that the nature is not produced and not destroyed; for at all times, all dharmas are perfectly fused, without the slightest bit of obstruction. There is no place where all dharmas are not identical.

When you understand one truth, all truth is understood. The ten thousand externals are all produced from the state which is “thus, unmoving,” and within the mind which is “thus, thus, unmoving,” true reality is to be found. Seen in this way, this state is the original nature exactly; it is the highest enlightenment. And so, in response to Shen Hsiu, I wrote a verse myself:

Because of the Way, ten thousand things are born.
One who obtains it
penetrates the mystery oneself;
Awakened, the basic substance is fathomed:
Bodhi does not decrease or increase.


“Go and think it over for a day or two. Compose another verse and bring it to me to see. If you have been able to enter the gate, I will transmit the robe and Dharma to you.”

Shen Hsiu made obeisance and left. Several days passed, but he was unable to compose a verse. His mind was agitated and confused and his thoughts and mood were uneasy. He was as if in a dream; whether walking or sitting down, he could not be happy.


After the Great Master had explained that the Bodhi self-nature cannot be sought with the mind that wants to take advantage of things, he told Shen Hsiu, “If you obtain the original substance, become enlightened and understand the mind and see your self-nature, entering the gate of the Buddhadharma so that you are no longer on the outside, I will transmit the Dharma to you.” “Enter the gate” means “understand the mind and see your own nature.”

As the days passed, Shen Hsiu gradually went insane. Neither his mood nor his thoughts would calm down. Although he was unable to fall asleep he was as if in a dream. He didn’t know what he was doing because his desire to become patriarch was so great. I believe that, after he failed the initial test and then was unable to compose another verse, he even considered suicide.


Two days later, a young boy chanting that verse passed by the threshing room. Hearing it for the first time, Hui Neng knew that the writer had not yet seen his original nature. Although he had not yet received a transmission of the teaching, he already understood its profound meaning. He asked the boy, “What verse are you reciting?”

“Barbarian, you know nothing,” replied the boy. “The Great Master has said that birth and death are a profound concern for people in the world. Desiring to transmit the robe and Dharma, he ordered his disciples to compose verses and bring them to him to see. The person who has awakened to the profound meaning will inherit the robe and Dharma and become the Sixth Patriarch. Our senior, Shen Hsiu, wrote this ‘verse without marks’ on the wall of the south corridor. The Great Master ordered everyone to recite it, for to cultivate in accord with this verse is to avoid falling into the evil destinies and is of great merit.”


A young lad ventured close to the threshing floor where the Sixth Patriarch was working, singing as he walked,

The body is a Bodhi tree.
The mind like a bright mirror-stand.
Time and again, brush it clean;
Let no dust alight.

The youth was chanting Shen Hsiu’s verse because he wished to obtain great benefit, avoid the three evil destinies of rebirth, and see his nature.

When the Sixth Patriarch asked the boy what he was reciting, the boy replied, “You barbarian! Don’t you know that the Fifth Patriarch said that of all the problems people face, the problem of birth and death is the most grave?”

A “verse without marks” is one which reveals that its author is not attached to marks.

“You really have no good roots!” the boy said to the Sixth Patriarch. “After so many days, you still don’t know? You are useless, capable only of toiling at bitter work; all you can do is pound rice. You shouldn’t let such a fine opportunity slip by. Listen closely, and I will tell you what has happened and teach you this verse so that you too can become enlightened and see your nature. Pay attention and rely on this verse as you cultivate so that in your next life you won’t have to endure such suffering as you endure now. You won’t have to be a horse or a cow or fall among the other animals or into the hells. At the very least you’ll be a wealthy and respected person of good fortune.”

The youth’s heart wasn’t bad at all.

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