Q: What method must we practice in order to attain deliverance?
A: It can be attained only through a sudden illumination.
Q: What is a sudden illumination?
A: ‘Sudden’ means ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts instantaneously. ‘Illumination’ means the realization that illumination is not something to be attained.
Q: From where do we start this practice?
A: You must start from the very root.
Q: And what is that?
A: Mind is the root.
Q: How can this be known?
A: The Lankavatara Sutra says: “When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all dharmas (phenomena) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.”
Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed?
A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by dhyana (ch’an) and samadhi (ting). The Dhyana-paramita Sutra says: “Dhyana and samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the thoughts remain in tumult and the roots of goodness suffer damage.”
Q: Please describe dhyana and samadhi.
A: When wrong thinking ceases, that is dhyana; when you sit contemplating your original nature, that is samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal mind. By samadhi, you withdraw your minds from their surroundings, thereby making them impervious to the eight winds, that is to say, impervious to gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By concentrating in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the Bodhisattva-Precepts says: “All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.” Other names for this are ‘deliverance’, ‘gaining the further shore’, ‘transcending the six states of mortal being ‘o’erleaping the three worlds’ or ‘becoming a mighty Bodhisattva, an omnipotent sage, a conqueror’!
Q: Whereon should the mind settle and dwell?
A: It should settle upon nondwelling and there dwell.
Q: What is this nondwelling?
A: It means not allowing the mind to dwell upon anything whatsoever.
Q: And what is the meaning of that?
A: Dwelling upon nothing means that the mind is not fixed upon good or evil, being or nonbeing, inside or outside, or somewhere between the two, void or nonvoid, concentration or distraction. This dwelling upon nothing is the state in which it should dwell; those who attain to it are said to have nondwelling minds – in other words, they have Buddha-minds!
Q: What are the ‘three methods of training (to be performed) at the same level’ and what is meant by performing them on the same level?
A: They are discipline (vinaya), concentration (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna).
Q: Please explain them one by one.
A: Discipline involves stainless purity. Concentration involves the stilling of your minds so that you remain wholly unmoved by surrounding phenomena. Wisdom means that your stillness of mind is not disturbed by your giving any thought to that stillness, that your purity is unmarred by your entertaining any thought of purity and that, in the midst of all such pairs of opposites as good and evil, you are able to distinguish between them without being stained by them and, in this way, to reach the state of being perfectly at ease and free of all dependence. Furthermore, if you realize that discipline, concentration and wisdom are all alike in that their substance is intangible and that, hence, they are undivided and therefore one – that is what is meant by three methods of training performed at the same level.
Q: When the mind rests in a state of purity, will that not give rise to some attachment to purity?
A: If, on reaching the state of purity, you refrain from thinking; “Now my mind is resting in purity”, there will be no such attachment.
Q: When the mind rests in a state of void, will that not entail some attachment to void? A: If you think of your mind as resting in a state of void, then there will be such an attachment.
Q: When the mind reaches this state of not dwelling upon anything, and continues in that state, will there not be some attachment to its not dwelling upon anything?
A: So long as your mind is fixed solely on void, there is nothing to which you can attach yourself. If you want to understand the nondwelling mind very clearly, while you are actually sitting in meditation, you must be cognizant only of the mind and not permit yourself to make judgments – that is, you must avoid evaluations in terms of good, evil, or anything else. Whatever is past is past, so do not sit in judgment upon it; for, when minding about the past ceases of itself, it can be said that there is no longer any past. Whatever is in the future is not here yet, so do not direct your hopes and longings towards it; for, when minding about the future ceases of itself, it can be said that there is no future. Whatever is present is now at hand; just be conscious of your nonattachment to everything – nonattachment in the sense of not allowing any love or aversion for anything to enter your mind; for, when minding the present ceases of itself, we may say that there is no present. When there is no clinging to any of those three periods, they may be said not to exist. Should your mind wander away, do not follow it, whereupon your wandering mind will stop wandering of its own accord. Should your mind desire to linger somewhere, do not follow it and do not dwell there, whereupon your mind’s questing for a dwelling place will cease of its own accord. Thereby, you will come to possess a nondwelling mind – a mind which remains in the state of nondwelling. If you are fully aware in yourself of a nondwelling mind, you will discover that there is just the fact of dwelling, with nothing to dwell upon or not to dwell upon. This full awareness in yourself of a mind dwelling upon nothing is known as having a clear perception of your own mind, or, in other words, as having a clear perception of your own nature. A mind which dwells upon nothing is the Buddha-mind, the mind of one already delivered, bodhi-mind, uncreate mind; it is also called ‘realization that the nature of all appearances is unreal’. It is this which the sutras call ‘patient realization of the uncreate’. If you have not realized it yet, you must strive and strive, you must increase your exertions. Then, when your efforts are crowned with success, you will have attained to understanding from within yourself – an understanding stemming from a mind that abides nowhere, by which we mean a mind free from delusion and reality alike. A mind disturbed by love and aversion is deluded; a mind free from both of them is real; and a mind thus freed reaches the state in which opposites are seen as void, whereby freedom and deliverance are obtained.
Q: Are we to make this effort only when we are sitting in meditation, or also when we are walking about?
A: When I spoke just now of making an effort, I did not mean only when you are sitting in meditation; for, whether you are walking, standing, sitting, lying, or whatever you are doing, you must uninterruptedly exert yourselves all the time. This is what we call ‘constantly abiding’ (in that state).
Q: The sutras speak not only of samyak-sambodhi (full enlightenment), but also of a marvellous enlightenment lying even beyond that. Please explain these terms.
A: Samyak-sambodhi is the realization of the identity of form and voidness. Marvellous enlightenment is the realization of the absence of opposites, or we can say that it means the state of neither enlightenment nor nonenlightenment.
Q: Do these two sorts of enlightenment really differ or not?
A: Their names are expediently used for the sake of temporary convenience, but in substance they are one, being neither dual nor different. This oneness and sameness characterize all phenomena of whatever kind.
This eighth-century classic is a complete translation of the teachings of Ch’an Master Hui Hai (大珠慧海). Hui Hai was one of the early masters, along with Ma Tsu and Huang Po, who followed on from Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch.