The Sixth Patriarch's Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra

Chapter 1





Hui Neng said, “I, too, would like to recite it to create an affinity. Superior One, I have been pounding rice here for over eight months and have not yet been to the front hall. I hope that the Superior One will lead me before the verse to pay homage.” The boy then led him to the verse to bow.

Hui Neng said, “Hui Neng cannot read. Please, Superior One, read it to me.” Then an official from Chiang Chou, named Chang Jih Yung, read it loudly. After hearing it, Hui Neng said, “I, too, have a verse. Will the official please write it for me?”

The official replied, “You, too, can write a verse? That is strange!”


The boy said, “Listen to me and I will teach you: ‘The body is a Bodhi tree.’ Can you remember that? ‘The mind is like a bright mirror-stand.’ You should remember that! Don’t forget! ‘Time and again brush it clean; let no dust alight.’ If you remember that verse clearly and study as you chant, you’ll certainly receive an efficacious response.”

Because the lad had been so considerate, the Sixth Patriarch referred to him as “Superior One,” a title which is ordinarily reserved for one’s master. People who have left home often call their teachers, “Superior One,” acknowledging their high achievement.

Then the Sixth Patriarch said, “The layman Hui Neng is truly useless, for he can’t read a single word. Superior One, would you please recite it for me? Having heard the verse, he said, “Well, I have a verse, too, but I’m unable to write it. What can I do? Please, good official, Layman Chang, will you write it out for me?”

The official was wide-eyed with surprise. He looked scornfully at the barbarian and said, “Ha! You can write a verse? This is very strange. In my whole life I have never heard of an illiterate who can write verses!”


Hui Neng said to the official, “If you wish to study the supreme Bodhi, do not slight the beginner. The lowest people may have the highest wisdom; the highest people may have the least wisdom. If you slight others, you create limitless, unbounded offenses.”

The official said, “Recite your verse and I will write it out for you. If you obtain the Dharma you must take me across first. Do not forget these words.”

Hui Neng’s verse reads:

Originally Bodhi has no tree,
The bright mirror has no stand.
Originally there is not a single thing:
Where can dust alight?

When this verse had been written, the followers all were startled and without exception cried out to one another, “Strange indeed! One cannot judge a person by his appearance. How can it be that, after so little time, he has become a Bodhisattva in the flesh?”


Originally, Layman Lu had not planned to say a thing, but if he had remained silent, no one would have helped him write a verse. So in reply to the mocking of Layman Chang, the Master said, “If you wish to study the highest Bodhi, do not ridicule those who are studying the Buddhadharma for the first time.”

It may well be that those who appear to be the lowest and stupidest have the highest wisdom, for those who have truly great wisdom may act as if they have no wisdom at all. No matter what they are asked, they reply, “I don’t know,” This is an example of the great wisdom which is like stupidity. For instance, when I ask a question of my disciples they often say, “I don’t know.” When they first came to study, they said, “I know everything!”

Once I met a person who said he knew everything. I asked, “How can you know everything? If you know all there is to know, I’ll ask you a question.”

He said, “What is your question?”

I replied, “Do you know how many grains of rice you swallowed at lunch today?”

“No, I didn’t count them,” he admitted.

“Your ‘not counting’ is just ‘not knowing,’” I said.

Those who do the most menial work often have wisdom excelling that of people in high positions. Then again, those who ordinarily have great wisdom may have times when their wisdom is suffocated by thoughts of desire.

“O.K., O.K.,” said the official, “that’s right. You certainly speak with principle. Now, what is your verse? Recite it and I will write it out. You don’t have to say another word. But you must remember to take me across first because if I don’t write your verse no one will know of it.”

Originally Bodhi has no tree. Bodhi is just the Way of enlightenment, and that’s all there is to it; how can there be a tree? If there is a tree, Bodhi becomes a mere thing, a place of attachment. Originally Bodhi doesn’t have anything. If you say you are enlightened, what is enlightenment like? Is it green or yellow? Is it red or white? Can you speak of the appearance of Bodhi when it has no appearance?

The bright mirror has no stand. You may say the mind is like a bright mirror stand, but there is actually no stand at all. If you have a stand, you have a place where you can dwell. But you should “produce a thought which is nowhere supported;” how can you have a stand? If you have a stand, then you have a dwelling place, a place where you are attached; therefore, the bright mirror has no stand. What is the appearance? No appearance.

Originally there is not a single thing. Basically there is nothing at all: no style; no picture; no shape or mark. Originally there is nothing at all.

Where can dust alight? Since there isn’t anything, where does the dust come from? Basically you have no dwelling place. The essential meaning of the verse is this: You should “produce a thought which is nowhere supported.” There should be no attachment at all. This was precisely the Buddha’s meaning when, upon becoming enlightened, he said, “All living beings have the wisdom and virtuous characteristics of the Thus Come One. It is merely because of false thinking and attachment that they are unable to certify to the attainment of them.” This was spoken specifically to instruct people to put aside attachment, to produce an unsupported thought.

If you are attached, what are you up to? Huh? Now you are attached, but in the future will you die, or not? What will you be attached to when you die?

All the Bhikshus, laymen, and assembled disciples stood in astonishment and whispered among themselves, “Hey! Hey! Does he have a verse, too? Oh! It’s really true, you can’t judge people by appearances. This rice-thresher, Layman Lu, can compose verses. We can no longer slander him and call him a barbarian.”

“Why he hasn’t been here very long,” they continued, “but how can you deny that he’s a flesh body Bodhisattva?” Actually, some were mocking the Sixth Patriarch, babbling, “Don’t look down on him. He’s a flesh body Bodhisattva.” Perhaps there were Arhats in the assembly who intentionally made such comments so that people would look closely and clearly recognize that he actually was a flesh body Bodhisattva. Again there were those who said, “This is truly a flesh body Bodhisattva,” but meant it only as sarcasm and light-hearted ridicule, for they still didn’t know if the verse was correct.

Everyone was chattering, exchanging comments, making such a racket that the Fifth Patriarch came to the hall and demanded, “What are you doing? What are you up to?”

“This rice-thresher, this barbarian, can write verses!” they stammered.


The Fifth Patriarch saw the astonished assembly and feared that they might become dangerous. Accordingly, he erased the verse with his shoe saying, “This one, too, has not yet seen his nature.”

The assembly agreed.


The gathering was so excited the Fifth Patriarch feared that someone might even try to assassinate Layman Lu. This sentence of text proves that people with twisted hearts, followers of Shen Hsiu, were already locked in a fierce battle for positions of power. If the Dharma and the Patriarchate were transmitted publicly to anyone other than Shen Hsiu, that person would have been murdered on the spot. But they didn’t know that the Fifth Patriarch was a bright-eyed one who read their scheming minds. So to protect the Sixth Patriarch he erased the verse and said, “This man’s verse is also incorrect.”

Perhaps some of you are thinking, “The Fifth Patriarch lied! First he said that if one cultivated in accord with Shen Hsiu’s verse, he would not be subject to the three evil destinies, but would gain great benefit and see his own nature. Then the Fifth Patriarch told everyone that Layman Lu had not really seen his nature when, in truth, he had. Isn’t that false speech?

No. This is a provisional teaching, not false speech. The Fifth Patriarch spoke to protect the new patriarch; he would not allow the others to harm him. In this way, the Buddhadharma could remain long in this world and be transmitted far and wide.

“Yes,” said the followers, “he has not seen his nature.” Although they agreed, no one knew whether the verse was right or not. The first verse said, “Bodhi is a tree;” the second said, “Bodhi has no tree.” The first verse said, “The bright mirror has a stand,” and the second said, “There is no mirror stand.” Which was right? Which was wrong? No one understood. None of them had become enlightened, so they couldn’t recognize an enlightened verse. It is like the judging of a doctoral dissertation: if you only have a Master’s Degree, you cannot judge a doctoral dissertation. It is the same with the enlightened and the unenlightened: since they were not enlightened themselves, the followers did not understand, and so they simply agreed with the Master and said, “No, this one has not yet seen his nature.”


The next day the Patriarch secretly came to the threshing floor where he saw Hui Neng pounding rice with a stone tied around his waist, and he said, “A seeker of the Way would forget his very life for the Dharma. Is this not the case?”


The next day everyone was quiet and no longer worrying about who was enlightened and who was not. The Fifth Patriarch secretly left his room and went quickly to the threshing floor to see the Great Master Hui Neng. As he went he peered about to see if anyone was looking; just like Shen Hsiu when he had finished writing the verse, he ran silently, darting glances over his shoulder to make sure no one saw him.

When the Fifth Patriarch got to the threshing floor, he saw Hui Neng pounding rice. He had tied a stone around his waist and pounded rice so that others could eat. What was he doing? He was practicing the Bodhisattva Way, forgetting others and having no notion of self. He did not think, “Why should I pound rice for you to eat? You don’t work. You don’t do anything at all! I pound rice all day and it is very difficult!” He did not think that way. Instead, he thought, “You do not work? Fine, I will do it myself,” just like one of my disciples who is so busy that when he is called to lunch he says, “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” I really like that kind of disciple, but not everyone can be that way.

“Isn’t that so?” the Fifth Patriarch said. Remember this. It ought, it must be this way! You must give up being afraid of difficulty to the point of forgetting to eat. No one knows how many days the Sixth Patriarch went without eating. No one called him to eat, and he himself forgot about it until he had no strength. He tied a heavy rock around his waist to add weight to his body so that he could pound the rice. I think he used the stone to add to his weight because he had not eaten for some time; however, you should not get attached and think, “It was definitely like that.” On the other hand, do not think, “It definitely wasn’t like that.” The profound insight comes from precisely that kind of non-attachment.


Then the Fifth Patriarch asked, “Is the rice ready?”

Hui Neng replied, “The rice has long been ready. It is now waiting only for the sieve.”


This passage in The Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra is extremely important. The Fifth Patriarch found the Great Master Hui Neng toiling on the threshing floor and asked him, “Is the rice ready?” On one level the question means, “Have you finished threshing the rice?” On another level, the meaning is: “Have your efforts been successful? Has your work taken you up the road?”

Why does the Sutra say, “rice”? Because rice is made up of many grains, perfectly shaped, so symbolizing the precious mani jewel of the self nature. “Is the mani jewel of your nature ready? Is the light of your mind full? Is the light of your nature full? Is the light of your body full?”

When the raw grain is boiled in water it becomes edible. The Patriarch’s question means, “How is your cultivation of the Way? You have been pounding rice and cultivating Dhyana meditation. How is your skill?” There are many levels of meaning here. The Sixth Patriarch, of course, understood the Fifth Patriarch’s question, for it is said,

One who has gone through,
knows one who has gone through;
Those who do,
know those who do.

“The rice has long been ready. My skill was perfected long ago,” the Sixth Patriarch answered. “It is now waiting only for the sieve.” In threshing rice, a sieve is used to sift out the husks. Here, the sieve represents getting rid of the filth. The fourth chapter of The Lotus Sutra tells of the poor son who spent twenty years getting rid of the filth of the delusions of views and delusions of thoughts.

Although the Sixth Patriarch’s spiritual skill was perfected, it still waited for the sieve; he still had to sweep out the filth of the delusions of views and thought. Do you understand now why Sutras must be explained? If they were not explained, you would not even know enough to sweep away the filth, and you would be utterly useless.


The Patriarch rapped the pestle three times with his staff and left. Hui Neng then knew the Patriarch’s intention, and at the third watch he went into the Patriarch’s room.


The Fifth Patriarch rapped the pestle three times with his staff and left. Old monks who have left the home life to become Bhikshus often carry a walking stick. Sometimes these staffs are made of twisted vines. The Great Master Hsü Yün said:

We go to pick the ivy,
Lively like a dragon,
Beating wind and rain,
Beating empty space.

The ivy vine curves and twists like a dragon who by attacking the wind and rain attacks empty space. That is certainly a case of going out to look for trouble. If that vine were as busy as my disciples it would have no time to beat space and wind.

“Knock, knock, knock,” went the Fifth Patriarch’s staff, and how do you think he left? If you know, then you know. If you don’t know, then you must wait until I tell you. He went out with his two hands behind his back, holding his crooked staff.

Why did the Patriarch rap three times? Do you understand the meaning of that? The Sixth Patriarch understood right away. The rapping meant, “Come to my room at the third watch, at midnight.” This is called “speaking the Dharma without words.” Here in the meditation hall, for example, when the wooden fish is hit twice, it means “Walk;” hit once, it means “Stop and sit down;” hit three times, it means, “Meditate! Work hard!” All that is “speaking the Dharma without words.”

Why did the Fifth Patriarch carry his staff behind his back? Now you are going to ask me, “How do you know he carried it behind his back since it doesn’t say so in the Sutra?” Well, how do you not know? I know that you don’t know. He carried it behind his back to indicate that the Sixth Patriarch should come in by the back door. “Do not let the others see you come in!”

If the Fifth Patriarch had said openly, “Come to my room at the third watch and we’ll have a little talk,” I am sure that the word would have spread like fire to Shen Hsiu’s ears and Shen Hsiu and his disciples would not have been very kind to the Sixth Patriarch. The Fifth Patriarch tested the Sixth Patriarch’s wisdom by rapping his staff three times and putting it behind his back.

The Sixth Patriarch understood but no one else did. They were all as if deaf and dumb, without any idea as to what had transpired in this wordless exchange of Dharma.

At midnight, as soon as the Sixth Patriarch entered the room, there was a quick exchange. “What are you doing here?” demanded the Fifth Patriarch.

“But the Patriarch told me to come at the third watch!” came the reply.

“Really? Did I tell you that? How could I have forgotten? What do you think you are doing? Why did you come in the back door instead of the front door?”

“Did the Master not tell me to use the back entrance?”

The Fifth Patriarch laughed and said, “You are not bad, really not bad. You are all right!”

You, ask how I know that? I ask, “How do you not know it?”


The Patriarch covered them with his precept sash so they could not be seen, and he explained The Diamond Sutra for him down to the line, “One should produce a thought that is nowhere supported.”


The Fifth Patriarch was afraid that someone might have seen the Great Master Hui Neng enter his room and might be outside the window eavesdropping. At that time the windows were made of paper; so, to insure privacy, the Fifth Patriarch pulled his robe over both their heads.

The Fifth Patriarch’s explanation of The Diamond Sutra was not a public one, such as I have given you. His was a secret and very difficult explanation, telling the Sixth Patriarch how to forge an indestructible vajra body. When he heard the words, “One should produce a thought which is nowhere supported,” Hui Neng achieved the great enlightenment and knew that all the ten thousand dharmas are not separate from the self-nature. He suddenly experienced that even greater enlightenment

Although the Sixth Patriarch knew the method, his afflictions of views and thought had not yet been completely eliminated. That he was waiting for the sieve can mean, also, that no one had certified him. Even though, in his intense vigor, he had reached a high peak, and the fire in the censer was pure green, he had not yet been certified by a good knowing advisor. So when the Fifth Patriarch heard him say that the rice was ready and merely waiting for the sieve, he prepared to certify the Sixth Patriarch.

Because I have a kind of radar, I was able to record their conversation and I shall now replay it for you. Keep in mind that this is a T’ang Dynasty recording, not a present-day one:

“Do you want to reach Buddhahood?” asked the Fifth Patriarch.

“Yes,” said the Sixth Patriarch, “I just want to become a Buddha. I do not seek anything else. I only want to attain Buddhahood.”

“Your resolution is extremely firm,” replied the Fifth Patriarch, “but if you want to realize Buddhahood you must first cut off ignorance, for it is ignorance which produces the afflictions of delusion, brought on by false views and false thought. If you want to cut off these afflictions, you must first cut off ignorance.

“For example, the cycle of birth and death is based on the state of emotional love. When you break through ignorance, then the delusions of false views and false thoughts which are tied to birth and death cease to exist, for ignorance is the root of birth and death. If you want to cut off ignorance and thereby put an end to birth and death, then, as The Diamond Sutra says, “produce a thought which is nowhere supported.” That means do not dwell in emotional love, get rid of desire, and cast out craving. Then you can bring an end to birth and death.

The Sixth Patriarch heard this and suddenly became enlightened. He saw through to his original face and said, “Ah! It is basically just like this! It is not difficult at all! In fact, it’s very easy!” Thus he became enlightened.

This has been a T’ang Dynasty recording which has just been played for you to hear.

In cultivating and studying the Buddhadharma, you should produce an unsupported thought. That means to dwell neither in emotion nor love. If you dwell in emotion and love, you dwell in ignorance, and thus in birth and death. If you do not dwell in emotion or in love, if you do not dwell in existence or nonexistence, you know the Middle Way. The Middle Way is not separate from existence and is not separate from emptiness, nor does it exist elsewhere. T

he ability to transform emotion and love into genuine Prajna wisdom is enlightenment. Not changing them is confusion. It is said, “Although the sea of suffering is inexhaustible, a turn of the head is the other shore.” The difference between confusion and enlightenment is just in knowing how to turn. If you accept emotion and love and run after desire, then the more you run, the more confused you become. If you can turn your head, you arrive at Nirvana, the other shore. If you do not turn your head, you become more and more confused. The more confused, the farther away you are and the deeper you sink into confusion. But although you are extremely far off, one turn can be sudden enlightenment. Sudden enlightenment is awakening. Awakening is the Buddha.

You may be thinking, “If I become a Buddha, there won’t be any work for me to do. Wouldn’t I just sit in a lotus flower all day and wait for people to come and light incense and bow before me? Frankly, I don’t think that sounds the least bit interesting!” If that is what you think, you can go on being a living being, but you can be a living being who is a friend to others, taking them across to Buddhahood.

You need not worry about Buddhahood being uninteresting. Yesterday I talked about the ghost who had no trouble and as a consequence did not want to become a person:

I’ve been a ghost for three thousand years,
Without happiness, without fears.
Shen Kung tells me to go be a man,
But I really just don’t think I can!

The ghosts have no fears, but they only come out at night, because they belong to the yin, the darkness principle. The Buddha is totally yang, like the light of the sun. So, you decide. Do you want to be a ghost or a Buddha? If you want to be a ghost, then it is all right to have emotion and love. But if you want to be a Buddha, you must “produce a thought which is nowhere supported.”


At the moment he heard those words, Hui Neng experienced the great enlightenment and he knew that all the ten thousand dharmas are not separate from the self-nature. He said to the Patriarch:

How unexpected! The self-nature is originally pure in itself.
How unexpected! The self-nature is originally neither produced nor destroyed.
How unexpected! The self-nature is originally complete in itself.
How unexpected! The self-nature is originally without movement.
How unexpected! The self-nature can produce the ten thousand dharmas.


Great enlightenment penetrates to the beginning and to the end: it is a complete understanding of the deep Prajna wisdom. Because the Sixth Patriarch understood Prajna wisdom he said, “The ten thousand dharmas are not separate from the self-nature, for the mind produces the ten thousand dharmas.”

The Sixth Patriarch exclaimed that the self-nature is pure. Why, then, does the Sutra say earlier that the self-nature is neither defiled nor pure?

The term “pure” represents the appearance of the original substance, because the concept cannot be represented any other way. Here, “pure” means “originally pure” and does not refer to the purity which is the opposite of defilement.

Production and destruction, birth and death, occur because living beings become attached. Without attachments, where would birth and death come from? Where would they go? There is no such thing as birth and death!

The Sixth Patriarch realized that the self-nature is originally complete in itself, with nothing lacking and nothing in excess. It cannot be added to or depleted. In the final analysis the Buddha is not greater than ordinary living beings. Why do living beings fail to understand that? Because they turn their backs on enlightenment and unite themselves with the “dust” of external objects. With their backs turned, they cannot recognize the precious things that are originally theirs. They cast the root aside and grasp at the branches seeking pleasurable sensations which are false. They grasp at fame and profit, stupidly.

Living beings are upside-down; they have no concentration power. But, nevertheless, their self-nature is without movement. Not only is that true of the Sixth Patriarch’s self-nature, but the self-nature of all living beings is unmoving, too. All are equal.

The ten thousand dharmas are produced from the self-nature, and the self-nature includes all of existence. The Master hadn’t comprehended that before, but now at last he understood the wonderful principles.


The Fifth Patriarch knew of Hui Neng’s enlightenment to his original nature and said to him, “Studying the Dharma without recognizing the original mind is of no benefit. If one recognizes one’s own original mind and sees one’s original nature, then one is called a great hero, a teacher of gods and humans, a Buddha.”


The Fifth Patriarch knew that the Sixth Patriarch had become enlightened, and that he recognized his original face and knew whether his nostrils faced up or down. When he held his hand over his head, the Sixth Patriarch knew whether it was upsidedown or right-side up.

Recently, I asked you all, “When your hand hangs at your side, is it upside-down and when you raise it up over your head, is it right-side up? Or is it that when it hangs at your side it is right-side up and when you raise it over your head it is upside-down?” None of you understood this principle. Why? Because there is basically no such thing as upside-down or right-side-up! The Sixth Patriarch was especially clear about such questions. The Fifth Patriarch knew that he understood and so he covered them both with his robe and said, “Unless you recognize your original mind, it is useless to study the Dharma.”

It is said, “If one recognizes one’s own mind, the great earth doesn’t have an inch of dirt.” It changes into yellow gold, adorned with the seven precious things–gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian.

You say, “It doesn’t look like that to me.” Of course it doesn’t. You haven’t recognized your original mind. When you recognize it, you will see things differently. It’s like wearing tinted glasses. If you wear red glasses, people look red, and if you wear green glasses, they look green. If your glasses are yellow, then everyone looks yellow. Because you haven’t recognized your original mind, the great earth appears to be covered with dirt. This is because the dirt within you is so great. What is the dirt? It is simply your scattered thoughts, for without them, the great earth doesn’t have an inch of dirt.

Studying the Buddhadharma is of no benefit unless you recognize your original mind. Look at it! What color is it? Is it green, yellow, red, white, or black? Is it long or short, square or round? What does it look like? What is its appearance? To say it has an appearance is an analogy, because fundamentally it has no appearance. When you recognize this “no appearance” you will understand. But before you have recognized it, do not speak about it in a confused way.

Recognize your original mind and see your nature. At that point you are a Buddha, because in the final analysis living beings are the Buddha and the Buddha is a living being. We now have the opportunity to realize Buddhahood. Not recognizing, not seeing, however, you still must study the Buddhadharma.


He received the Dharma in the third watch and no one knew about it. The Fifth Patriarch also transmitted the Sudden Teaching and the robe and bowl saying, “You are the Sixth Patriarch. Protect yourself carefully. Take living beings across by every method and spread the teaching for the sake of those who will live in the future. Do not let it be cut off.”


At midnight, the Fifth Patriarch transmitted the wonderful Dharma to the Sixth Patriarch, using the mind to seal the mind, and no one at all knew about it. The insiders didn’t know, the outsiders didn’t know, not even the ghosts and spirits knew.

The Fifth Patriarch transmitted the Teaching of Sudden Enlightenment which points directly to the mind to see the nature and realize Buddhahood. “Think this over,” he said. “You are the Sixth Patriarch. As you cultivate the Buddhadharma, you must walk the true path. Do not simply talk about enlightenment. Do not use ‘head-mouth zen’ and say ‘I have studied the Dharma to the point that when there is no principle, I can make one up. I can prove that there is no truth or falsehood, and that to understand that by itself is to understand the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way.’ Don’t talk that way. It is just head-mouth zen because it comes not from real cultivation but from jealousy and obstructions and an obsession to be number one. If you are like that, you certainly can’t be a Patriarch.

The Fifth Patriarch gave the Dharma to Hui Neng because Hui Neng always practiced the Bodhisattva Way. He pounded rice for everyone to eat and so helped them in their cultivation. That same Bodhisattva conduct is practiced here in the kitchen of this temple by the cooks. They make extremely fine food! However, when I eat I don’t notice whether it is good or not because I don’t have time to investigate eating-dharmas. Today, at lunch, didn’t I say that one who tastes his food and thinks it’s good or bad has no spiritual skill?

Bodhisattvas help others at every level, not obstructing them, but, like the superior man, mentioning their good points instead. For instance, when I announced that several people were going to leave home and asked if anyone objected, no one did. You said, “I commend those who want to leave home.” Your not objecting is practicing the Bodhisattva Way.

Late at night, the Sixth Patriarch easily obtained the Patriarchate. The Fifth Patriarch approved, but he didn’t consult anyone because he knew they would have protested.

“Go out into the world,” said the Fifth Patriarch. “Protect the robe and bowl, for they have been handed down from Shakyamuni Buddha from generation to generation. Take everyone across and spread the Dharma into the future. Do not let it be cut off!”

The Fifth Patriarch, sad and worried, was on the verge of tears. How do I know he wanted to cry? The Second Patriarch, at his execution, had wept as he said, “During the time of the Fourth Patriarch, The Lankavatara Sutra will become a mere name and appearance. No one will understand it.” Now, in the same way, the Fifth Patriarch’s heart welled up within him as he said, “Don’t allow the Dharma to be cut off. Be careful. Pay attention, Don’t be muddled or take your job lightly. It is extremely important that the Dharma not be cut off.”


Listen to my verse:

With feeling comes the planting of the seed.
Because of the ground, the fruit is born again.
Without feeling there is no seed at all.
Without that nature there is no birth either.


“With feeling comes the planting of the seed.” I have a feeling of loving kindness and so I have come to plant a seed. “Feeling” can mean compassion. I have a compassionate feeling and so I have come to plant the seed, to transmit the Buddhadharma to you.

“Because of the ground, the fruit is born again.” This transmission is like putting a seed into the ground so that the plant can grow and bear fruit.

“Without feeling there is no seed at all.” Without feeling, no seed is planted. If no one transmits the Buddhadharma to you, then there is no Bodhi-seed.

“Without the nature there is no birth either.” Where there is no nature, there is no birth. That is one way to explain this verse. There is another way:

“With feeling comes the planting of the seed.” The feeling is an emotional feeling of love. The seed is planted because of this feeling of love and people study the Dharma because of it. If they are not relatives, they are friends. Relatives have relative’s emotional feelings and friends have friend’s emotional feelings. Because you have these emotional feelings you come to study the Dharma; you come to plant the seed.

“Because of the ground the fruit is born again.” Emotional feeling plants the seed of Bodhi because of the ground which is the place where one can reap the fruit. On this piece of ground, you can grow the Bodhi-fruit.

“Without feeling there is no seed at all.” If there is no feeling or emotion, there is no seed. That is, if no one came to this Bodhimanda to study the Dharma, there would be no feeling and no seed planted.

“Without that nature, there is no birth either.” You cannot realize Buddhahood without the Buddha nature. Now, the Buddha nature is here and you should realize Buddhahood.

The verse may be explained in many ways, so long as the explanation is in accord with principle.


The Patriarch further said, “In the past, when the First Patriarch Great Master Bodhidharma first came to this land and people did not believe in him yet, he transmitted this robe as a symbol of faith to be handed down from generation to generation. The Dharma is transmitted from mind to mind, leading everyone to self-awakening and self-enlightenment.

“From ancient times, Buddha only transmits the original substance to Buddha; master secretly transmits the original mind to master. Since the robe is a source of contention, it should stop with you. Do not transmit it, for if you do, your life will hang by a thread.”


Didn’t I say before that Chinese people have no respect for Indian people? When Bodhidharma arrived in China everyone said, “He’s a hick.” No one knew who he was. Even after five years in China, he was not recognized as the Patriarch.

True patriarchs accept the robe and bowl as certification of their rightly inherited position, while impostors may try to steal the robe and take the Dharma by force. Shen Hsiu thought a forced inheritance would be real; but it could only be false.

During the time of the Fourth Patriarch, three attempts were made to steal the robe and bowl, and another three attempts were made during the time of the Fifth Patriarch. But the thieves always failed because the Bodhisattvas came to the Patriarchs’ aid.

When the Sixth Patriarch was guarding the robe, six attempts were made. Later the robe and bowl were taken by Empress Wu Tse T’ien. It is not certain who it was entrusted to afterward.

The Fifth Patriarch cautioned Hui Neng: “If you suspend a hundred-pound rock from a thread, it is certain to snap; so with your life if you continue to transmit the robe.”

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