The Sixth Patriarch's Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra

Chapter 1





“You must go quickly for I fear that people might harm you.”

Hui Neng asked, “Where shall I go?”

The Patriarch replied, “Stop at Huai and hide at Hui.”

Hui Neng received the robe and bowl in the third watch. He said, “Hui Neng is a Southerner and does not know these mountain roads. How does one reach the mouth of the river?”

The Fifth Patriarch said, “You need not worry. I will accompany you.”

The Fifth Patriarch escorted him to the Chiu Chiang courier station and ordered him to board a boat. The Fifth Patriarch took up the oars and rowed. Hui Neng said, “Please, High Master, sit down. It is fitting that your disciple take the oars.”

The Patriarch replied, “It is fitting that I take you across.”

Hui Neng said, “When someone is deluded, his master takes him across, but when he is enlightened, he takes himself across. Although the term ‘taking across’ is the same in each case, the function is not the same.”


The Fifth Patriarch instructed the Sixth Patriarch to leave quickly, for he knew that Shen Hsiu’s followers would certainly want to kill him when they realized he had inherited the patriarchate. “Do not stay here,” the Fifth Patriarch said. “Stop at Huai and hide at Hui.” Huai is a district in Kuang Hsi, Wu Chou, and Hui is Szu Hui, now called Hsin Hui.

High Master is a respectful form of address used for a teacher or an Abbot, so the Sixth Patriarch used it to address the Fifth Patriarch “High Master, it is only proper that your disciple take the oars.”

“Hey!” said the Fifth Patriarch, “Let me take you across the river.” The Master and disciple exchanged courtesies, but although they each used the same term “taking across,” it meant something different in each case. For the teacher to take the disciple across is not the same thing as for the disciple to take the teacher across. Hui Neng understood. “When the student is confused,” he said, “the teacher must save him. But when the student becomes enlightened, he must save himself.”

Before becoming enlightened and obtaining the original substance of the self-nature, the disciple is confused and lost. His teacher advises him to work hard: “Do not be afraid of the pain in your legs when you sit in meditation. If you are afraid of suffering you cannot become enlightened.” The Sixth Patriarch, when he hung a stone around his waist so he could pound the rice harder, was not afraid of suffering. The rock which the Layman Lu, the Sixth Patriarch, used to tie around his waist when he pounded rice is still on P’ing Mao Mountain at Tung Shan Ch’an Monastery and carved on the rock is the inscription: “The rock Hui Neng, the former Layman Lu, tied around his waist.”


“Hui Neng was born in the frontier regions and his pronunciation is incorrect, yet he has received the Dharma transmission from the Master. Now that enlightenment has been attained, it is only fitting that he take his own nature across.”

The Patriarch replied, “So it is, so it is. Hereafter because of you, the Buddhadharma will be widely practiced. Three years after your departure I will leave this world. Start on your journey now and go south as fast as possible. Do not speak too soon, for the Buddhadharma arises from difficulty.”


Because he was from the south, the Sixth Patriarch spoke Cantonese rather than Mandarin, so few people understood him. Nevertheless, he inherited the mind seal of the wonderful Dharma.

Master Hui Neng was truly enlightened, unlike some people who are not enlightened but cheat and say that they are, who have not testified to the fruit of enlightenment but lie and say that they have.

The Fifth Patriarch thought, “This disciple knows my heart.” He said to Hui Neng, “Yes, it is just that way.”

One should take one’s own nature across. Remember that. For example, someone must teach you to recite the Shurangama Mantra, but once you know how, you must recite it on your own. People should not have to say, “It is time for you to recite the Shurangama Mantra.” Again, someone must teach you to recite Sutras, but then you must do it yourself. That is what is meant by “taking one’s own nature across.”

A teacher shows you how to remove afflictions. He says that anger is harmful, and that one should transform one’s nasty temper into Bodhi. Once taught, the nature cannot be taken across unless the method is applied. The Master says, “Don’t get upset. When faced with a crisis, proceed as if nothing has happened. All things are like flowers in the sky or the moon’s reflection in water–unreal, illusory, like a dream or a dewdrop. Remember that and there will be no affliction.” If, when faced with a situation, or a state of mind, you see through it and put it down, you have taken your nature across.

Smoking can be a problem. The teacher says, “Stop smoking! Smoking hinders cultivation.” When I said that to one disciple he said, “Stop smoking? I’ll give it a try,” and he stopped. He took his nature across.

Another disciple is fond of drinking. Having studied the Buddhadharma, he ought to have quit drinking, but he says, “I’m confused. I’m not enlightened.” If you stop you become enlightened; if you don’t, you sink into confusion. Whether or not you become enlightened is entirely up to you.

Cutting off all unwholesome activities is to become enlightened and to take your nature across. Not understanding, you may think, “The Dharma Master says that drugs are bad, so I’ll take some more. I’ll take a double dose. No, I’ll take five times as much! I’ll keep getting high until I am enlightened.” Continue to take drugs and you will poison yourself and die instead. Confused by drugs, you cannot take your nature across.

Before studying the Buddhadharma, you should not do confused and wicked things. After you have studied the Buddhadharma, the prohibition is even stronger. If you continue to misbehave, you commit the crime of “knowing and intentionally violating the Dharma,” and you are certain to fall into the hells. There is nothing polite about these matters. If you do confused and wicked things, you will fall into the hells. If I do them, I will fall into the hells. If someone else does them, he will fall into the hells. No one can avoid this.

In a hundred thousand ages,
The karma made is not destroyed;
When the causes and conditions rebound,
You undergo the retribution by yourself.

No one can suffer for you in the hells. Karma refers to acts of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and drinking, all of which bear retribution in the future. Your karma does not get lost, and it is you, and you alone, who must suffer the consequences. However,

If you end your confusion
and get rid of the dirt,
You can easily take
your own nature across.

The dirt in your nature is your upside-down actions, your false thinking, your ignorance, your outflows, and your bad habits. Eliminate these and you have taken your nature across.

When I lectured this Sutra in another place, I said, “If you create offense-karma, you will go to the hells; if someone else creates offense-karma, he will go to the hells, if I create offense karma, I will go to the hells.” One person who was there objected:

“Dharma Master,” he said “I have never seen these hells. Where are they? I would like to take a look at them because I simply don’t believe they exist.”

I said, “It is easy enough to fall into the hells, and if you try to fall into them you will fall even more quickly and not escape for a very long time.” I hope that those who wish to try out the hells will reconsider.

What kind of person can take his own nature across? A person with wisdom. Deluded people, on the other hand, cannot take their nature across, and what is more, even if a teacher tries to help them, they refuse to listen. It is like trying to teach a dog. You say, “Don’t bite people,” and, the first chance it gets, the dog bites someone. So you hit it and it still bites people. Why? Because it has a stupid nature. Cats are just the same. You can tell a cat, “Do not kill mice, do not take life, but nevertheless the cat kills the first mouse it sees. You may try to teach a mouse not to steal, but still it sneaks off and steals.

Smoking and drinking are done by those who do not know any better. People with true and proper understanding do not do mixed-up things. People with mixed up understanding do not do true and proper things. You must correct your own faults. Your teacher shouldn’t have to watch your every move and follow you around to make sure that you behave. You must take your own nature across.

This is a general explanation, for if I were to speak in detail, I would not finish until the exhaustion of the boundaries of the future.

“I have transmitted my Dharma, and in three years I will complete the stillness and go to Nirvana,” said the Fifth Patriarch. “Go well, and whatever you do, don’t be lazy. Go well, don’t go bad. Don’t go the wrong way. Don’t take drugs and ruin your body, for your body is your means of cultivation. If you ruin your body, how will you be able to cultivate? Go well, go well, do your best. Quickly head south.” That is certainly the kind of advice the Fifth Patriarch gave.

“But don’t speak of the Dharma too soon. Hide your light and store up your potential, as troops are fed well so that they may conquer every enemy and capture every city. The Buddhadharma is hard to bring forth. It arises from difficulty.”


After Hui Neng took leave of the Patriarch, he set out on foot for the South. In two months he reached the Ta Yü Mountains.

The Fifth Patriarch returned to the monastery but for several days he did not enter the hall. The assembly was concerned and went to ask: “Has the Master some slight illness or problem?”

“There is no illness,” came the reply, “but the robe and Dharma have already gone south.”

“Who received the transmission?” they asked.

“The Able One obtained it,” said the Patriarch.

The assembly then understood, and soon several hundred people took up pursuit, all hoping to steal the robe and bowl.


The Sixth Patriarch left the Fifth Patriarch, no longer attending upon the High Master or making offerings to him. He walked south from P’ing Mao Mountain and in a little over two months, he finally reached the Ta Yü mountain range which forms the border between Nan Hsiung and Kuang Tung.

The Fifth Patriarch returned to his room. For many days he did not go into the hall to speak Dharma or take his meals. The assembly was curious. “High Master,” they said, “you’re not ill, are you?”

“You may all disperse,” said the Fifth Patriarch, “because I no longer have the Buddhadharma. The robe and Dharma have gone south. I intend to rest now, I am going to retire.”

“Who received the transmission?” they asked.

“The Able One,” said the Patriarch. “He who was able obtained it. Whoever the able one is, he got it.”

When this announcement was made there were those in the assembly who had keen intelligence, one of them being Dharma Master Fa Ju. He was one of the ten people to whom the Fifth Patriarch gave instructions before he entered Nirvana, telling them, “Each of you go to a different direction and be a Dharma Host.” But now, when Fa Ju heard the Fifth Patriarch say that the Able One had obtained the transmission, he cried out, “No! That must mean the southern barbarian has got the Dharma! How strange.” The “Able One” refers to Hui Neng: “Able” (neng) was his name.

Word spread, and soon everyone knew. They all objected violently. “No! No!” they shouted, “How can it be? Let’s go take it from him right now.” Several hundred powerful people ran after Hui Neng. Consider the situation: the Fifth Patriarch had transmitted the Dharma to a barbarian, and the entire assembly was resentful. “How could you give it to him?” they said. “We have been following you for so many years. Why didn’t you give it to us?” They thought to themselves, “The Patriarch’s brain must be addled. How else could he give the Dharma to such a hick? How can he become the Sixth Patriarch? We should get back the robe and bowl–by force!”


One Bhikshu, Hui Ming, a coarse-natured man whose lay name had been Ch’en, had formerly been a fourth class military official. He was intent in his search and ahead of the others. When he had almost caught up with Hui Neng the latter tossed the robe and bowl onto a rock, saying, “This robe and bowl are tokens of faith. How can they be taken by force?” Hui Neng then hid in a thicket.

When Hui Ming arrived, he tried to pick them up, but found he could not move them. He cried out, “Cultivator, Cultivator, I have come for the Dharma, not for the robe!”

Hui Neng then came out and sat cross-legged on a rock. Hui Ming made obeisance and said, “I hope that the Cultivator will teach the Dharma for my sake.”

Hui Neng said, “Since you have come for the Dharma, you may put aside all conditions. Do not give rise to a single thought and I will teach it to you clearly.” After a time, Hui Neng said, “With no thoughts of good and with no thoughts of evil, at just this moment, what is Superior One Hui Ming’s original face?” At these words, Hui Ming was greatly enlightened.


Bhikshu Hui Ming was coarse and uneducated. He never opened his mouth unless it was to scold someone, and if they refused to listen, he beat them. He could smash a rock of several hundred pounds with one blow. With this extraordinary strength he became a fourth class army officer.

Hui Ming had one peculiar trait. His feet were covered with feathers which enabled him to run fast. He could travel sixty miles a day, compared to the ordinary man’s thirty. His feathered feet and great strength carried him far ahead of the others. As he flew along, his mind raced, “I’ll get the robe and bowl and then it will be mine! It belongs to the strongest man.”

When Hui Neng saw this big crude feather-footed pursuer, he was a bit frightened. Although he had obtained the Dharma, he had just begun to cultivate and did not yet have great spiritual power. He shouted into empty space: “This robe and bowl are symbols of the faith. How can you take them by force? How can there be any dispute?”

What do you think?

Hui Ming had actually intended to grab the robe and bowl and run. But he could not move them. Why do you suppose he couldn’t move them? After all he was so strong he could have smashed the bowl to smithereens with a single blow and have ripped the robe to shreds. Yet for all his strength and as light as the robe was, he couldn’t budge it.

This indicates that there were Dharma protectors–gods, dragons, and others of the eight divisions present guarding the robe and bowl. Since he couldn’t grab them, he thought, “That’s strange. I can’t use force here. Ah! I’ll ask for the Dharma instead.” Had he truly been seeking the Way he wouldn’t have first tried to grab the robe and bowl but would immediately have said, “Cultivator, Cultivator, I come for the Dharma, not for the robe and bowl.” Don’t you think my opinion about this is logically sound?

Hui Neng emerged and sat in lotus position on a rock. Hui Ming bowed to the Sixth Patriarch. He understood now that the Dharma of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cannot be taken by force. “You say you’ve come for the Dharma.” said Hui Neng. “Really? Did you really come for the Dharma and not to steal the robe and bowl? Fine. Put aside all conditions. Put your mind to rest. Stop grasping at conditions and then I will explain the Dharma clearly for you.”

For seven or eight minutes the Great Master sat waiting. Neither he nor Hui Ming gave rise to a single thought. Everything stopped. Not even the ghosts and spirits knew what was happening. Everything was empty.

Hui Ming was not giving rise to thought. He was not thinking north, south, east, or west. So Hui Neng said, “With no thoughts of good and no thoughts of evil, at just that moment, what is Superior Ming’s original face?” Since the Sixth Patriarch was at that time still a layman he respectfully addressed Hui Ming as “Superior One.”

The word “what” means “who”. In the Dhyana School we meditate on the question, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” When Hui Ming heard the word “what” he became enlightened. “Oh!” he said, “originally it’s just this way!”

Hearing these words, have you become enlightened?


Hui Ming asked further, “Apart from the secret speech and secret meanings just spoken, is there yet another secret meaning?”

Hui Neng said, “What has been spoken to you is not secret. If you turn the illumination inward, the secret is with you.”

Hui Ming said, “Although Hui Ming was at Huang Mei he had not yet awakened to his original face. Now that he has been favored with this instruction he is like one who drinks water and knows for himself whether it is cold or warm. The cultivator is now Hui Ming’s master.”

“If you feel that way,” said Hui Neng, “then you and I have the same master, Huang Mei. Protect yourself well.”

Hui Ming asked further, “Where should I go now?”

Hui Neng said, “Stop at Yüan and dwell at Meng.”


All of the Sixth Patriarch’s pursuers were greedy, but Hui Ming was the worst. He had just seen his original face, he had just become enlightened, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know if he had missed anything. “Are there any more secrets?” he asked. “Is there something even more wonderful?”

“What I have said is not the most miraculous and wonderful thing,” said the Sixth Patriarch, “What is most important is that you turn the light back around and illuminate inward so that you may see the wonderful secret which is within you. It is all within you; it is not here with me.”

“Great Master,” said Hui Ming, “I wish to take you as my teacher.”

“If that is how you feel,” said the Sixth Patriarch, “we have the same teacher, Huang Mei. We both have the Fifth Patriarch’s Dharma transmission and are Dharma brothers. That is fine! Now, take good care of the Dharma and don’t allow it to become extinct.”

It was not until three years after this encounter with the Patriarch that Hui Ming went to Meng Mountain in Yüan District. There he met a ghost who, in his last life, had been a top-ranking scholar under the imperial examination system. The ghost composed a poem and sang it to Hui Ming:

Still, still, barren waste–a dream.
Then, now, triumph, loss lazy thought measures.
Wild grass, idle flowers picked, how many?
Bitter rain, sour wind, how many broken hearts?

At night, with firefly light I come and go.
At dawn, the cock crows; I hide away my form.
Regret from the first not tilling the mind ground:
Two streams are caused to fall–green mountain tears.

Seeing the ghost’s plight, Hui Ming explained the Dharma to the ghost and took him across. Ever since then there has been the “ceremony of Meng Mountain” which is performed to take ghosts across and liberate them.


Hui Ming bowed and left. Reaching the foot of the mountain, he said to the pursuers. “Up above there is only a rocky, trackless height. We must find another path.” The pursuers all agreed. Afterwards, Hui Ming changed his name to Tao Ming to avoid using Hui Neng’s first name.


After receiving instruction from the Sixth Patriarch, featherfooted Hui Ming went down the mountain and told the pursuers that he had not seen the Sixth Patriarch.

Hui Ming usually told the truth, and so everyone believed him now, even though he was lying. Actually this was not a lie, but an expedient device used to protect the Sixth Patriarch from those who, unlike Hui Ming, had not received the Dharma and therefore still wished to kill the Sixth Patriarch.

Hui Ming dared not presume to be his Master’s equal. He changed his name from Hui Ming to Tao Ming to avoid using the Patriarch’s first name.


Hui Neng arrived at Ts’ao Hsi where he was again pursued by men with evil intentions. To avoid difficulty, he went to Szu Hui and lived among hunters for fifteen years, at times teaching Dharma to them in an appropriate manner.

The hunters often told him to watch their nets, but whenever he saw beings who were still living he released them. At mealtime he cooked vegetables in the pot alongside the meat. When he was questioned about it, he would answer “I only eat vegetables alongside the meat.”


Shen Hsiu still wanted to kill the Sixth Patriarch and steal the Patriarchate. Hui Neng escaped to Szu Hui, the present Hsin Hui, where he lived with a band of hunters for fifteen years. Who would have suspected that a Buddhist would choose to live with hunters? No one. Shen Hsiu’s party searched far and wide, but they never found him.

Some say the Great Master lived with the hunters for sixteen years, but their calculation includes the time he spent coming and going. He actually lived with them for only fifteen years.

For lunch, the Great Master gathered wild vegetables on the mountain and cooked them in the pot beside the meat. If someone asked him, “Why are you doing that?” he said, “I only eat the vegetables. I don’t eat meat.”


One day Hui Neng thought, “The time has come to spread the Dharma. I cannot stay in hiding forever.” Accordingly, he went to Fa Hsing Monastery in Kuang Chou where Dharma Master Yin Tsung was giving lectures on The Nirvana Sutra.

At that time there were two bhikshus who were discussing the topic of the wind and a flag. One said, “The wind is moving.” The other said, “The flag is moving.” They argued incessantly. Hui Neng stepped forward and said, “The wind is not moving, nor is the flag. Your minds, Kind Sirs, are moving.” Everyone was startled.

Dharma Master Yin Tsung invited him to take a seat of honor and sought to ask him about the hidden meaning. Seeing that Hui Neng’s exposition of the true principles was concise and to the point and not based on written words, Yin Tsung said, “The cultivator is certainly no ordinary man. I heard long ago that Huang Mei’s robe and bowl had come south. Cultivator, is it not you?”

Hui Neng said, “I dare not presume such a thing.”

Yin Tsung then made obeisance and requested that the transmitted robe and bowl be brought forth and shown to the assembly.


The Great Master went to Kuang Chou, to Fa Hsing Monastery, now called Kuang Hsiao Monastery, where Dharma Master Yin Tsung was lecturing on The Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which the Buddha spoke just before entering Nirvana. At the monastery the Master met the two monks arguing over the topic of the wind and a flag. One said the wind moved, the other said the flag moved, and he told them, “You are both wrong. Neither the wind nor the flag is moving. Your minds are moving. If your minds were not moving, then neither the wind nor the flag would move.”

Everyone was astonished to hear this layman speak in such a wonderful and mysterious way. Yin Tsung asked him, “Aren’t you the holder of Huang Mei’s robe and bowl?”

“I am unworthy of such a title,” the Master said modestly.

Yin Tsung knew, however, that the Great Master was only being polite. Yin Tsung recognized Layman Lu as the Sixth Patriarch.


He further asked, “How was Huang Mei’s doctrine transmitted?”

“There was no transmission,” replied Hui Neng. “We merely discussed seeing the nature. There was no discussion of Dhyana samadhi or liberation.”

Yin Tsung asked, “Why was there no discussion of Dhyana samadhi or liberation?”

Hui Neng said, “These are dualistic dharmas. They are not the Buddhadharma. The Buddhadharma is a Dharma of non-dualism.”

Yin Tsung asked further, “What is this Buddhadharma which is the Dharma of non-dualism?”

Hui Neng said, “The Dharma Master has been lecturing The Nirvana Sutra which says that to understand the Buddha-nature is the Buddhadharma which is the Dharma of non-dualism. As Kao Kuei Te Wang Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, ‘Does violating the four serious prohibitions, committing the five rebellious acts, or being an icchantika and the like cut off the good roots and the Buddha-nature?’

“The Buddha replied, ‘There are two kinds of good roots: the first, permanent; the second impermanent. The Buddha-nature is neither permanent nor impermanent. Therefore it is not cut off.’

“That is what is meant by non-dualistic. The first is good and the second is not good. The Buddha-nature is neither good nor bad. That is what is meant by non-dualistic. Common people think of the heaps
and realms as dualistic. The wise man comprehends that they are non-dualistic in nature. The non-dualistic nature is the Buddha-nature.”

Hearing this explanation, Yin Tsung was delighted. He joined his palms and said, “My explanation of Sutras is like broken tile, whereas your discussion of the meaning, Kind Sir, is like pure gold.”

He then shaved Hui Neng’s head
and asked Hui Neng to be his master. Accordingly, under that Bodhi tree, Hui Neng explained the Tung Shan Dharma-door.


The four serious prohibitions are killing, stealing, lying, and sexual misconduct. The five rebellious acts are matricide, patricide, killing an Arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and breaking up the harmony of the Sangha. What happens to the good roots and the Buddha-nature of one who commits such offenses?

Icchantika is a Sanskrit word which may be explained as meaning “of incomplete faith.” Are the good roots and the Buddha-nature of icchantikas cut off?

Kao Kuei Te Wang Bodhisattva asked the Buddha these questions because he mistook good roots for the Buddha-nature itself. In his answer, the Buddha makes it clear that good roots are not the Buddha-nature.

Because the Great Master obtained the Dharma from the Fifth Patriarch at Tung Shan, “East Mountain,” it is called the Tung Shan Dharma-door.


“Hui Neng obtained the Dharma at Tung Shan and has undergone much suffering, his life hanging as if by a thread.

“Today, in this gathering of the magistrate and officials, of Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Taoists, and laymen, there is not one of you who is not here because of accumulated ages of karmic conditions. Because in past lives you have made offerings to the Buddhas and planted good roots in common, you now have the opportunity to hear the Sudden Teaching, which is a cause of obtaining the Dharma.

“This teaching has been handed down by former sages; it is not Hui Neng’s own wisdom. You who wish to hear the teaching of the former sages should first purify your minds. After hearing it, cast aside your doubts, and that way you will be no different from the sages of the past.”


Thus, the Sixth Patriarch concludes the narrative of his life. We in America who are so fortunate to hear this Sutra explained have also for ages established common karmic conditions by making offerings to the Buddhas.

“The Dharma is transmitted from former sages, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. It is not my own wisdom,” said Hui Neng. “If you listen to me carefully, it will be just as if you were listening to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas speaking.”


Hearing this Dharma, the entire assembly was delighted, made obeisance, and withdrew.

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