Archive for the ‘The Hermitage’ Category

Wang Hui - Peach-Blossom-Fishing-Boat-1

Peach Blossom Springs

In the Taiyuan period of the Jin Dynasty (AD 376-396), there was a man from Wuling, who was a fisherman by trade.

One day, he was fishing his way up a stream in his small wooden boat. Heedless of how far he’d gone, he suddenly came upon a wood of peach trees that he had neither seen, nor heard of before. On both banks for several hundred yards there were no other kinds of trees either, the fragrant grasses beneath their boughs, patterned with their fallen blossom only. Surprised yet filled with curiosity, the fisherman went on further, determined to find out more about this wood.

He found that the end of the wood and the source of the stream both came together at the foot of a cliff, and in this cliff there was a small cave, in which there seemed to be a faint light. Leaving his boat, the fisherman went in through the mouth of the cave. At first, it was very narrow, only just wide enough for a man, but after forty or fifty yards, it widened, and he suddenly found himself out in the open.

The place he had come to was level and spacious. There were houses and cottages arranged in a planned order; there were fine fields and beautiful pools; there were mulberry trees, bamboo groves, and many other kinds of trees as well; there were raised pathways round the fields; and he could hear the sound of chickens and of dogs. Going to and fro in all of this, were people, both men and women, busy working and planting. Their dress was not unlike that of the people outside, but all of them, whether old people with white hair of children with their hair tied in a knot, wore smiles that spoke of their contentment with both their surroundings and themselves.

When they saw the fisherman, they were amazed and asked him where he had come from. He answered all their questions, and then they asked him back to their homes, where they put jugs of wine before him, killed chickens and prepared food in his honour. When the other people in the village heard about the visitor, they too came to ask the fisherman questions.

They told him that their ancestors had escaped from the wars and confusion in the time of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). Bringing their wives and children, all the people of their district had reached this inaccessible place, and had never once left it. Thus they had lost all contact with the world outside. They asked what dynasty it was now. They had never even heard of the Han, let alone the Wei and the Jin. So, the fisherman explained to them everything he could of the world he knew, and they all sighed in deep sorrow.

Afterwards, they invited him to visit their homes as well. Accepting their offers gladly, the fisherman stayed on there for several days, feasting on freshly prepared food and home-made wine, until, finally, it was time to return home. The villagers telling him, before he departed,  “Please, never speak to anyone outside about this!”

Nodding, the fisherman bade them all farewell, then went out, found his boat and set off for home, following the same route as he had taken there. However, all along the way, he left marks, and when he got back to the provincial town he called on the prefect and told him all about his experience.

More than intrigued, the prefect at once sent for men to accompany him on his own journey there. Yet, even though the fisherman was with the prefect and his men, they could not follow the marks he had left, and completely confused, were unable to find the way.

Upon hearing of this matter, Liu Ziji, a highly reputed scholar from Nanyang, quickly offered, with great enthusiasm, to go out with the fisherman and try again. But this, too, came to nothing, for he fell ill and died.

After that, no one went to look for the stream anymore.

Tao Yuanming [陶淵明]

Translation: Gladys Yang


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John Blofeld on the Chan School and the Heart Sutra

Excerpts from The Jewel in the Lotus: An Outline of Present Day Buddhism in China, published by Sidgwick & Jackson for The Buddhist Society, 1948, and Gateway to Wisdom, published by Allen & Unwin, 1980, by John Blofeld.

Chan Calligraphy

Chapter X: The Meditation Sect

This sect, more generally known in Europe by its Japanese name of Zen, is called Ch’an Tsung in Chinese, Ch’an being the equivalent of the Sanskrit word dhyana (meditation) and tsung meaning a sect. It has for over a thousand years been one of the most influential sects in the country and has played a great part in the development of Chinese philosophy and art, as well as making a peculiar impression of the psychology of the Chinese people. The interest which its doctrines have aroused in certain circles in the West is partly due to the labours of Dr. D. T. Suzuki, but mainly to the extreme freshness of its doctrines and the attitude to life of its adherents, which is in such sharp contrast to that of other religious groups.

The principle doctrine of the sect is that Nirvana can be attained in this life as the result of an experience known as sudden Enlightenment, which connotes sudden apprehension of our real nature and of the fact that this nature is identical with that of the ultimate reality underlying the appearances of all phenomena. […]

The word ch’an (dhyana) can be rendered into English as “meditation” or “pure thought”. Adherents of the Meditation Sect emphasise the importance of attaining Enlightenment through carefully directed concentration of mind and certain mental exercises, holding that the study of the scriptures is a much more uncertain road to that goal. Having little belief in the efficacy of words and acquired knowledge, they call their doctrine “a teaching beyond teaching”. Their method is to practise the eradication of wayward thoughts by concentration and to open their minds to that intuitive knowledge, which, they believe, will come to them as the result of prolonged mental efforts to obtain it. They hope to be able to recognise and understand the “intrinsically pure essence of mind” which is the common possession of all, though few are aware of it. This “essence of mind” is said to be our Buddha-nature, our true nature, obscured by the darkness of desire, aversion and ignorance, but of unchanging and unchangeable purity in itself. By intuitive wisdom, the fruit of rightly performed meditation, we can grasp this nature and realise that the individual is in reality a Buddha, or looked at from a wider point of view, “one with Buddha” and, indeed, the whole Universe. This method is still practised today by millions of people throughout the Far East, but often accompanied by the methods for obtaining Enlightenment advocated by other Buddhist sects.

Moreover, though Ch’an is called a wordless teaching, several books are now popular with the adherents of the Meditation Sect, especially the Diamond Sutra (Vajrachedikka Sutra), the Heart Sutra (Smaller Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra), and the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, the Exalted Teacher and Treasure of the Law. […]

The Heart Sutra contains the essence of the teachings of the Meditation Sect in a very few words, and is given here in full as an example of Ch’an philosophy. It runs as follows:

* * *

When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was practising the profound Prajnaparamita (1), he perceived that the five congregates (2) were all void; and by so perceiving liberated himself from all sorrows. (3)

Sariputra (he said), matter differs not from void, nor void from matter. Indeed, matter is void and void is matter. And such also is the case with sensation, perception, discrimination and consciousness. (4)

Sariputra, all of these are of the nature of void. They are neither existing nor non-existing; not impure nor pure; neither growing nor decaying. Therefore in the void there is no matter, neither is there sensation or perception, discrimination or consciousness. And in it there are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind. There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch and no knowledge. There is no that which is seen by the eye, heard by the ear, etc. up to no that which is conceived by the mind; no ignorance nor ignorance exterminated; no decay and no death, nor are they extirpated; no sorrow nor cause of sorrow, nor extinction of sorrow nor way to its extinction. There is no wisdom, nor anything to be gained by it. Because nothing is gained, so one is a Bodhisattva. Because of the Prajnaparamita, the mind is liberated. Because the mind is liberated, so one is free from worry and ignorant thoughts and can attain to the supreme Nirvana. (5)

All the Buddhas of the three periods attained supreme Buddhahood by way of Prajnaparamita. Therefore it is known that Prajnaparamita is the most divine mantra, the unsurpassed mantra, the peerless mantra. It can assuage all sufferings and is the Truth. Therefore I teach you the mantra of the Prajnaparamita, thus:

“Gati gati paragati parasamgati bodhi svaha.”

* * *

Heart Sutra 陳沛然

The Heart Sutra. Calligraphy by 陳沛然.

This translation is based on one made by the Teacher of the Dharma, Wei Huan (惟幻法師), a disciple of the Venerable T’ai Hsü (太虛法師). The meaning of the Sanskrit words of the mantra at the end is: “O wisdom, gone, gone to the other shore, arrived at the other shore, svaha,” but mantras are not supposed to be thought of in relation to the exact meaning of the words of which they are composed, some of them having no apparent meaning at all; they are valued and used for the sake of their esoteric meaning and particular sound, which, it is said, help to establish contact between human beings and the spiritual being to which the mantra employed is specially appropriate.

The Heart Sutra carries to extreme length the doctrine that not only form but the Dharma itself is void. Even the Four Noble Truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the existence of a way to end suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path, which are often considered the keystones of Buddhism, are denied, though they are, of course, considered to hold true in the relative sense that anything exists at all. Thus it will be seen how the Meditation Sect emphasises the fundamental voidness of everything, including the Buddhist teaching itself, and even postulates that the consciousness of the thinker himself is void. The Buddha is represented in this sutra as having pondered over the existence of sorrow, sickness, decay and death, prescribed as an antidote in the Four Noble Truths and then, speaking as from a higher plane, to have stated emphatically that sorrow, death and the Four Noble Truths do not exist, in order to emphasise that absolutely nothing exists except in a relative sense.

Notes: For the sake of clarity, John Blofeld’s notes on the Heart Sutra, originally inserted directly into the text, have been relegated to the end of this post and are as follows.

  1. Arriving at the further shore by means of wisdom.
  2. Skandha.
  3. The five congregates are matter, sensation or the effect of on the senses of matter and or phenomena, perception or the mental awareness of having received these impressions, discrimination or the mental acts of liking or disliking the objects of these impressions, and consciousness.
  4. Sariputra was the disciple to whom Gautama Buddha is said to have delivered this lecture.
  5. “That which is seen by the eye” means that which results from the contact of the eye and the object which it perceives. So, also with the other sense organs and the objects which they apprehend.

* * *

In a later work, ‘Gateway to Wisdom’ (1980), John Blofeld returned to the Heart Sutra and its teaching:


All the ordinary teachings of the Buddha are here transcended in the light of intuition of the void nature of existence. The five skandhas or components of an individual’s seeming personality are proclaimed to be void, as are the six sense organs (including mind), the six forms of sense perception, and the six types of consciousness to which they give rise. Even such fundamental teachings are negated as the twelvefold chain of causation leading from primordial ignorance, through becoming, etc., to decay, death and rebirth; the Four Noble Truths (that existence is inseparable from suffering/frustration; that the cause of suffering is inordinate desire; that the remedy is cessation of inordinate desire/aversion; and that this results from treading the Noble Eightfold Path requiring right attitudes and conduct of both body and mind); and the attainment of Nirvana through the exercise of wisdom. All these teachings, though absolutely valid at the level of relative truth apparent to us all, are found to have no pertinence once the void nature of reality has been fully realised and conceptualisation transcended. The reference at the end of the sutra to uttering the mantra of Highest Wisdom means not that the one just utters it, but that he lives the mantra by perceiving the voidness of all concepts, entities and beings without exception. The exoteric teachings of the Buddha must most certainly not be abandoned until the intuitive experience of voidness leads to brilliant, unwavering perception of the pure, boundless, shining void. The words to be recited are as follows:


Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, while engaged in deep practice of the highest wisdom, perceived that all the five aggregates are void, and thereby passed beyond all forms of suffering.

O Sariputra, form differs not from void, nor void from form. Form IS void; void IS form. With feelings, perceptions, conditionings and consciousness it is the same. Sariputra, all these are marked by emptiness, neither coming into being nor ceasing to be, neither foul nor pure, neither increasing nor diminishing.

Therefore within the void there is no form, no sensation, perception, discrimination or consciousness; no eyes, no ears, nose, tongue, body or mind; nor form, sound, smell, taste, touch or thought; nor any of the others from eye-consciousness to mind-consciousness.

There is neither ignorance, nor extinction of ignorance, nor any of the others [twelve links of causation] down to decay and death. There is no suffering, no cause, no remedy, no path [thereto]. There is no wisdom, no attainment. Because there is nothing to be attained, Bodhisattvas, relying on this highest wisdom, are free from hindrances of mind. Being rid of these hindrances, they have no fear, are free from all upsets and delusions, and in the end attain Nirvana. It is by relying on this highest wisdom that all Buddhas of the past, the present and the future achieve Supreme Enlightenment.

Therefore do we know that the highest wisdom is a great and sacred mantra, a great mantra of knowledge, a mantra unsurpassed, unequalled. It can terminate all suffering truly and unfailingly. Therefore utter this mantra of Highest Wisdom thus – Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, bodhi svāhā. [gone, gone, gone beyond, wholly gone beyond! Enlightenment! Svāhā!]

* * *

Read another translation of the Heart Sutra by Red Pine (Bill Porter):

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The Song of Experiencing the Tao


Yung-ch’ia Hsuan-chueh

[Yòngjiā Xuānjué]





“There exists … a curious collection of songs composed by the southern school of the Ch’an Buddhists known as the School of Shen-hui. According to tradition, the songs were composed by a monk from Yung-chia in Chekiang called Hsuan-chueh, who was known to be alive in the year 713. But whether he was the real author of the forty-six Buddhist songs attributed to him is still uncertain.”




The roar of the lion is the fearless man speaking:

When the beasts hear it, their skulls crack open.

Hearing it, stampeding elephants lose their majestic powers.

Only the gods and dragons rejoice when it is heard in meditation.




He meditates when walking and when sitting.

Silent, speaking, moving, resting, his body is at peace.

In the face of pointed swords he remains eternally calm.

Many Kalpas ago our Master met Dipamkara, (1)

But already he was the “patient sufferer.” (2)




Purify the five eyes, possess the five powers.

If once you have known truth, you know the unknown.

In a mirror the body’s shape is easily discerned,

But in vain can you grasp the moon on the water.




They walk alone, and they are together –

Along the road to Nirvana, the Perfect Ones

With antique minds, pure-hearted, high-spirited,

With sunken cheekbones, despised by the common people.




Wander the streams and oceans, cross mountains and rivers,

Search for the Way, call upon masters, desire to enter the Tao.

No sooner have you come to Ts’ao-hsi, (3)

You will know that neither birth nor death has any meaning.




The moon shines on the river, pines sigh in the wind.

What happens in the quietness of eternal night?

My heart is confirmed in its pure Buddhahood.

My body is clothed in dust, dew, clouds and sunset.




An alms bowl subdues a dragon, a stick defeats tigers.

The two sets of gold rings sound ling-ling.

The priest does not carry his stick to no purpose.

It is the stick of the Tathagata, (4) a holy relic.




In the forest of sandalwood, only the trees grow.

The lion runs wild in these thickets.

In the silence of the forests none dares oppose him.

The birds fly away, the animals run from him.




The baby lion was ahead of the common herd.

When three years old, he roared tremendously.

Though the jackals compete with the King of the Law (5)

And shout for a hundred years, they exist to no purpose.




Let them slander me: I remain unmoved.

Who tries to burn the sky only wearies himself.

I drink the words of the slanderer as though they were dew.

They purge me; suddenly I enter the Ineffable.


If you find any virtue in evil words,
Then the slanderer becomes your spiritual guide.

Let neither offense nor slander provoke hatred in you.

How otherwise can the power of divine endurance be beheld?



  1. One of the Buddhas of the Past.
  2. The story of the “patient sufferer” is told in the Diamond Sutra.
  3. 漕溪, Caoxi. The town where the temple of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng, was located.
  4. I.e. the Buddha.
  5. 法王, King of the Law, or Dharma.



Stele at the Six Banyan Trees Temple, Guangzhou.





The foregoing text, the Zhengdao Ge, was excerpted from the work “The White Pony: An Anthology of Chinese Poetry” edited by Robert Payne. It is also called “The Song of Enlightenment” and is well known by its Japanese name, the Shōdōka. Its author, Chan Master Yongjia, was a disciple of the Sixth Patriarch of the Chan School, Huineng, and this poem occupies an important place in the literature of Zen.


The White Pony” was published in 1947 and subsequently reprinted on numerous occasions. It remains an excellent anthology. Payne compared his rendering with a prior translation by Walther Liebenthal, published in Monumenta Serica, VI, 1941. The footnotes have been slightly modified.



‘The White Pony’ paperback edition.



The second illustration is of a stele engraved with this poem in the Six Banyan Trees Temple in Guangzhou, China.


Interested readers will fruitfully consult this page, which contains various different translations of the same collection of poems in its entirety, by translators such as D.T. Suzuki, and Charles Luk, among others.

永嘉玄覺 Yongjia Xuanjue (665–713) 證道歌 Zhengdao ge


The Chinese text may be read in beautiful calligraphy here:



Read more about Robert Payne in China here:

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A Lesson by Nan Huai-Chin

A Lesson by Nan Huai-Chin

[Nán Huáijǐn, 南怀瑾, 南懷瑾]



* * *


In the modern world, thanks to Western culture, which favours the promotion of material progress, we can easily travel around the world, we have splendid houses, and we lead our lives with all modern comforts. At first sight, it would seem that we live in an era of happiness; and yet we struggle to make our way in a competitive society, we are in fear of murderous wars, and we are drowning in a sea of unquenchable desires. Thus we live in an era of great suffering unprecedented in human history. Humanity is now facing an existential crisis that springs from the contrast between material abundance and spiritual poverty.


Sometimes we may be disappointed, but let us not despair, for we have the responsibility and the opportunity to perpetuate the ancient wisdom that will enable the new generations to flourish. In order to bear on our shoulders this pillar which will carry the bridge between past and future, we must renew the ancient spirituality of the West and of the East. We must select those facets that will bring us spiritual nourishment and help us to enrich and fulfil ourselves and one another. We must promote an exchange between the two cultures so that together we can deal with this great crisis now confronting humanity.


In an attempt to solve the current problems of the world – the environment, the diminution of natural resources, world peace – as an old man of ninety who has seen much of life, I would like to propose something that seems to me universal. Let us consider a fundamental, cosmic law: that of change, of mutation.


We must acknowledge that the law of Nature, the Dharma of the cosmos, the routine of all life, is subject to this rule of mutation. In both the material and the spiritual world, there is nothing that does not change. We must seize on this principle of change and follow its course. Not only must we follow it, but we must also have the wisdom to foresee it, prepare for it, and anticipate its consequences. Taoist wisdom tells us that in the stream of life we need only go with the natural flow. If you wish to stop that flow and utilize its strength, you will lose your energy. If you try to go against the flow, you will be drowned. Taoists also tell us: “Follow the course of life, channel the current, and you will be carried in the right direction, you will profit from things without difficulty.” To those who wish to dedicate their lives to preserving Nature and improving the future of humankind, I invite you to embrace the principle of change and work out a course of action…


Lao-tzu said: “Having reached the extremity of the void, firmly anchored in quiet while ten thousand beings burst forth as one, I myself contemplate the return. People prosper at every opportunity, but they always return to their roots. To return to one’s roots is quiet.” In the change and movement of things there is quiet… It is easy to lose oneself in the change and to forget the quiet. We exhaust ourselves through pointless movements, and we use up all our natural resources, wasting our energies on all kinds of excesses, of luxuries. In order to maintain the health of body and mind, it is essential that everyone should cultivate the art of resting in quietness.

Lao-tzu said: “Have you succeeded in harmonizing your body and soul so that they move in unison and do not drift apart? Have you succeeded in breathing as deeply as possible, as flexibly as possible like a newborn babe?


Let us calm our agitation, let us find our peace again, as relaxed as a newborn babe. I suggest you try two simple methods:


• The postures of meditation can be varied in ninety different ways. What is important is not the posture but the way you look into yourself, like a mirror of what is happening in your mind. Meditation allows you to find quiet.


• The song of the mantra will also help you to connect with yourself in inner peace. Once you hear the song, you will return quite naturally to a state of calm. Whether you are high in the mountains or down in the desert, if you chant a mantra, you will acquire a serenity that will move you to tears. They will not be tears of sorrow but of blessing and of gratitude. Your whole body will open up like a flower, and your cares will disappear completely. This joy of being in solitude, in quietude, can never be bought with money.


In China, the words that signify ‘life’ are ‘sheng’ and ‘ming’. ‘Sheng’ means everything that contains life, ‘Ming’ means everything that has a soul. It is that of which the Buddha speaks: body and soul are united, are One. To what does this ‘life’ lead us? What are these values? In China there is an old saying: “Life is lighter than a feather, death is heavier than a mountain.” It is this ancient tradition that influences the countries of Asia. Asian culture puts emphasis on kingship, filial devotion, fidelity, justice, morality. We respect those who devote their lives to a good cause for humanity, to the rule of justice and peace. Life and death are thus transcended.


And yet today this fine old code is gradually disappearing in the face of modernism. Current education places emphasis on the truth of knowledge, of pragmatism, and it is dissipating traditional culture… as a result, everyone follows the daily grind of life, but forgets to really live. Most people live without living – they no longer have roots or culture. They forget the meaning of their lives, the value of their lives.


Currently, the cultures of East and West have thus been disrupted; we are fighting for survival, and we forget to actually live. It is the duty of intellectuals to save the situation. We are preoccupied with earning more and more money – that is the aim of our career. In the I Ching, the word ‘career’ means busying oneself in the service of the people, for the wellbeing of others. If everything we do is for ourselves, that is just a job. Let us never forget the true meaning of life.


Twenty years ago, when I wanted to invest in the railways of my native region of Wenzhou, I proposed four conditions to the Chinese government: “Let us retain Communism as a Utopia, let us realize Socialism through social aid, let us improve management by emulating the efficiency of Capitalism, and let us disseminate traditional Chinese culture.” I wanted to give all the profits to the villagers who lived along the railway line.


But the Chinese government did not accept these conditions. I gave them the money with the sole intention of doing something for the people, and I did not gain a penny.


Once we truly realize that the world belongs to everyone, without egotism, we shall be invincible.


Mo-tzu insisted on the development of technology. He himself was a pioneer in science and in Chinese architecture. He was a world citizen. Whenever there was a war somewhere, he would go there to protest and to try to stop it… All his life he pleaded against war and advocated love. In promoting the rule of harmony on Earth, he was a fine example for the world of today.


By relying uniquely on the development of technology, we are plunging into the abyss of misery. It is time for us to bring together the sciences, the arts, and qualities of the spirit. Our wellbeing derives from the unity of these three things, and hope springs from this unity…


– A lesson given by Nan Huai-Chin in October 2006

at the Taihu Great Learning Centre in the province of Jiangsu. 


* * *

 Read a biographical article and bibliography of Master Nan here:

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[Nán Huáijǐn, 南怀瑾, 南懷瑾]

March 18, 1918 – September 29, 2012


Master Nan Huai-chin



Master Nan Huai-Chin, who passed away on this day two years ago according to the western calendar, was one of the most renowned and revered lay Buddhist masters in Asia. A great teacher in all three traditions of spiritual cultivation in China, namely the Confucian tradition, the Buddhist tradition and the Taoist tradition, he wrote over 40 books on these subjects. While Nan is regarded by many in China as one of the most influential Chán Buddhist teachers, he is little known outside the Chinese cultural sphere. Nan died at the age of 95 on Sept. 29th, 2012 in Suzhou, China.


For a glimpse of his experience, we note that he studied the ancient Chinese martial arts in his youth and mastered the works of Confucian and Taoist sages at the age of seventeen. Nan studied social welfare at Jinling University and later went on to teach at the Central Military Academy in Nanjing. In the late 1930s at the age of 21 years, Nan became a military commander at the border regions of Sichuan, Xikang, and Yunnan during the Second Sino-Japanese War. There, he led a local group of 30,000 men against the Japanese invasion.


In 1942, at the age of twenty-four, he went into a three-year cultivation retreat in the E-Mei Mountains, one of the four sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites in China. It was there that he verified his experience against the Chinese Tripitaka and composed gathas for each of the thirty two chapters of the Diamond Sutra. In 1945, he left for Tibet to learn from Tibetan Masters and was conferred the official title of Vajra Master by the Hutuktu Kung Ka, a high ranking tulku of the Kagyu tradition. He was also the most eminent student of the renowned lay Chan Master Yuan Huan-Xian (袁煥仙), making him an adept in both the Chan and the Tantric Buddhist traditions. Master Nan’s Dharma name was Tōngchán (通禅).


Following the revolution in China, Nan moved to Taiwan in 1949 where he became a well-known university professor and author. His first book, “The Sea of Chán” was published in 1956 and was the first in a line of over 40 books and related materials published in his name.


Nan’s books have achieved a great deal of popularity in mainland China and Taiwan. In total, more than 20 million copies of his books have been sold in Chinese-speaking countries. Some of his more popular works have gone to a 20th printing in Taiwan and his works on Confucianism are used as standard university references in the mainland and Taiwan. There is no question that his teaching has transformed many young intellectuals and is one of the main forces of genuine Buddhist resurgence in China. His books are also well respected by the academicians. According to Thomas Cleary, who has translated one of Master Nan’s books:


“There is no question that Master Nan’s work is a cut above anything else available from modern authors, either academic or sectarian, and I would like to see his work gain its rightful place in the English speaking world. … [His] studies contain broad learning in all three main traditions of Chinese thought, Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist. Although this comprehensive purview was common to the greatest minds of China since the T’ang dynasty, it is rare among scholars today.”


The following article provides further biographical and bibliographical details up until the mid-1990s.



Master Nan went to the U.S.A. in 1985, and then lived in Hong Kong in 1988. Later he was invited to act as a bridge for the peace talks between Mainland China and Taiwan by both governments. He was involved in spearheading and promoting a wide array of cultural, educational and philanthropic initiatives, both in China and abroad. In 2006, Nan founded the 200-acre Taihu Great Learning Center (太湖大學堂) on the banks of Lake Taihu near Suzhou. The school curriculum is meant to combine the best approaches of traditional China and the West. It has unique emphases such as meditation, ethics and etiquette, traditional Chinese medical theory, and Chinese and English recitation. The name of the school is in reference to the Great Learning, one of the “Four Books” of Confucianism.



* * *


Books by Master Nan Huai-Chin in European languages:


Master Nan’s Collected Works in Chinese


The vast majority of the books written by Master Nan have not been translated into the English language from the original Chinese. The following is an attempt at a comprehensive bibliography of the works translated into English and into French. The only other foreign language editions we are aware of (with the exception of Korean) are the translations into various European languages of ‘Tao and Longevity’ and ‘Grass Mountain’ from the English editions as indicated below.


* * *


Tao and Longevity - Huai-Chin  Nan - English Editions

Tao & Longevity English Editions



Translated by Wen-Kuan Chu, published by Samuel Weiser Inc., 1984. Republished by Dongfang Publishing [东方出版社] in 2008. Originally published in 1973 by Lao Ku Books [老古出版社].

  • Tao e longevità. La trasformazione di mente e corpo’, Italian translation by Patrizia Nicoli, Astrolabio Ubaldini, 1986
  • Tao y larga vida : transformación de la mente y el cuerpo’, Spanish translation by Rafael Lassaletta, EDAF, 1990, reprinted 2001.
  • Das Tao des langen Lebens’, German translation by Katharine Cofer, verlag Hermann Bauer gmbh, 1991.
  • Tao i długowieczność : transformacja świadomości i ciała’, Polish translation by Marek Wasilewski, Zysk i S-ka Wydawnictwo, 1995.
  • Tao: Transformação da Mente e do Corpo’ Portuguese translation, Pensamento, 1995.


Tao and Longevity - Huai-Chin  Nan - Foreign Editions

Tao & Longevity Foreign Editions


Note: The two appendices, ‘Cultivating Samadhi and Wisdom though Ch’an’ 《修定与参禅法要》 and ‘Ch’an and Pointing at the Moon’ 《参禅指月》, together form the last chapter of the work《禅海蠡测》 ‘Chan hai li ce’ – ‘The Sea of Chan’, as yet untranslated into English. The Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German and Polish editions are based on the English translation by the late Dr. Chu Wen-Kuan [Zhu Wenguang, 朱文光], one of Master Nan’s foremost disciples.


* * *


Grass Mountain English Edition



  • Grass Mountain: A Seven Day Intensive in Chan Training with Master Nan Huai-Chin.’ Translated by Margaret Yuan [Liu Yu-Hung, 刘雨虹] and Janis Walker, published by Samuel Weiser Inc., 1986.
  • Chan : siete días de práctica intensiva’, translation into Spanish from the English edition by Jorge A. Sánchez, Editorial Ibis, 1992.
  • Góra traw: siedem dni intensywnego treningu ch’an z mistrzem Nan Huai-chin’, translation into Polish from the English edition by Maciej Kanert, Dom Wydawniczy Rebis, 1996.


Grass Mountain - Nan Huai Chin -  Spanish and Polish Editions

Grass Mountain Foreign Editions


Note: Consists of the translation of the transcripts of a seven-day Chan session in 1962, forming part of the series called Profiles of Zen Training, regrouping the accounts of a number of such sessions, first published in 1976 by Lao Ku Books. Includes a Chinese-English glossary.


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 Published in English in 2 volumes as follows:


Working Toward Enlightenment & To Realize Enlightenment


Translated by J.C. Cleary, published by Samuel Weiser Inc., 1993.


Translated by J.C. Cleary, published by Samuel Weiser Inc., 1994.


Note: This important work is based on a series of some 28 conferences given in 1978, and published in Chinese in 1989.

Read an excerpt from ‘Working Toward Enlightenment‘:

Read an excerpt from ‘To Realize Enlightenment‘:

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The Story of Chinese Zen English Edition



Translated by Thomas Cleary, published by Charles E. Tuttle (Tuttle Library of Enlightenment), 1995.


Note: Consists of the first part of the dual history of Chinese Zen and Taoism. The appendix on the influence of Zen and the Zen monastic system on Chinese society present in the original Chinese edition was omitted in this translation, but subsequently reproduced in ‘Basic Buddhism’ (see below). Originally published in Chinese in 1968.

Read an excerpt from ‘The Story of Chinese Zen‘:


* * *


Basic Buddhism - Nan  Huai-chin

Translated by J.C. Cleary, published by Samuel Weiser Inc., 1998. Republished by Jaico Publishing in India on a number of occasions, and by Dongfang Publishing [东方出版社] in China in 2008.


Note: Originally published in Chinese in 1987. The later Chinese-published English edition is slightly censored and lacks the chapter dealing with the history of Buddhism in Tibet, among other things (see below).


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Zen & Tao Chinese Edition



Translated by Dr. William Brown, Top Shape Publishing, 2002.


Note: Consists of the second part of the dual history of Chinese Zen and Taoism, published as an e-book.

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Diamond Sutra Explained English Edition


Translated by Pia Giammasi [Hue En, 纪雅云], Primordia, 2004.


Note: Consists of a translation of the Diamond Sutra from the Chinese of Kumarajiva, and Master Nan’s detailed commentary. The translator Pia Giammasi was a student of Master Nan’s. Based on a conference series held in 1988, and published in 1992.


* * *




With William Bodri [包卓立], Top Shape Publishing, 2010.


Note: An expanded version of the original Chinese lecture series delivered in 1996 and published in two volumes in 2003 and 2004. Previously published as an e-book with the different title: ‘The Insider’s Guide to The World’s Best and Worst Spiritual Paths and Practices’.


* * *



Translated by Joshua BenOr, Top Shape Publishing, 2008.


Note: An incomplete translation of this work on recent Chinese history and culture, omitting the final two chapters and the four appendices, essentially dealing with education and literature. Made freely available on William Bodri’s Meditation Expert website. The work was published under three different titles in Chinese, explaining the various renditions in English.

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Translated by Shi Hong, edited by William Bodri, Top Shape Publishing, 2008.


Master Nan & Peter Senge


Note: Translation of a series of lectures given for Peter Senge of MIT between 2003-2005. Consists of the first half of the Chinese edition, which includes the transcripts of further lectures for the ELIAS group, given in 2007. Published as an e-book.

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Other Writings:






  • Dhyana monastic system and Chinese society

Bilingual Chinese-English edition, English translation by Huang Fu 黄復. Published by 兿文印書館, Yi Wen Shu Guan, Taipei, 1964. Republished by Lao Ku Books.

Note: This edition contains both the Chinese text and an English translation in the same volume, according to the bibliographic sources we have been able to consult. However, as we have not been able to see this volume, any further information is welcome. The content would appear to be identical to the chapter ‘The Zen Monastic System and Chinese Society‘ appended to ‘Basic Buddhism‘.




Zhuge Liang’s Letter to my Son


Translated by Steven Clavey, in: The Lantern: Volume VII, Issue 2 – Article #9


Note: Excerpted from the book 《禅与生命的认知初讲》 (Chan yu shengming de renshiUnderstanding Chan and Life) – a transcription of a series of lectures delivered at the Taihu Great Learning Centre in 2006, published by Dongfang Publishing, 2009. Published as an electronic article in the The Lantern, a journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine.


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Note: A partial translation of the first section of Master Nan’s seminal work on the Confucian Analects by Dr. Will Zhang, one of Master Nan’s students. Available to read online here:


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Translation of: ‘Ma-tsu, de gesprekken’ from the Dutch by Julian F. Pas; introduced, translated into Dutch and annotated by Bavo Lievens; with a preface and commentary by Nan Huai-chin. Edwin Mellen Press, 1987. The original Dutch edition was published in 1981 by Wereldvenster.


Note: Prof. Bavo Lievens, who produced the initial Dutch translation of this work, was a student of Master Nan’s, and later wrote the book ‘The Mind Experiment’ partly based on Master Nan’s teachings.


* * *


Cundi Bodhisattva



Note: Illustrated description of the Zhunti (Cundi) Bodhisattva sadhana by Master Nan Huai-chin. Read online here:


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Master Nan penned the Foreword to Awakenings : Asian wisdom for every day, Olivier & Danielle Föllmi, Abrams, 2007. Also published in the UK as: The Wisdom of Asia: 365 days: Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Thames & Hudson, 2007.


* * *


* * *


Heritage of Change


By W.A. Sherrill; East-West Eclectic Society (Lao Ku Books), 1972.


Master Nan – Heritage of Change Frontispiece



Note: Wallace Sherrill was a Rear-Admiral of the US Navy who lived in both mainland China and Taiwan, where he studied with Master Nan. He also co-authored 2 books on the I Ching with Dr. Chu Wen-kuan; ‘An Anthology of I Ching’, and ‘The Astrology of I Ching’. This book, on the influence of the Book of Changes on Chinese culture as well as its practical applications, contains the syllabus of courses offered by Master Nan in Fu-Jen University, and thus gives an idea of the breadth and depth of his learning. A portrait of Master Nan also serves as frontispiece. The book has been digitized and made available here:


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French Translations – Livres de Maître Nan en français:




Translated by Jean-Claude Dubois, Monica Esposito, Gabrièle Goldfuss, Vincent Durand-Dastès, preface by Catherine Despeux, Guy Trédaniel Éditeur, 1994.


Note: Consists of a series of conferences on Taoism, the Book of Changes (I Ching) and Traditional Chinese Medicine entitled 《道家《易经》与中医医理》, included in the volume 《道家、密宗与东方神秘学》 (‘Taoïsme, tantrisme et ésotérisme en Extrême-Orient,’ – ‘Taoism, Esoteric Buddhism and Oriental Mysticism’). The translation team was directed by Dr. Jean-Claude Dubois, who studied with Master Nan. Prof. Catherine Despeux [戴斯博], who wrote the preface, also studied with Master Nan.


* * *



Translated by Sylvie Hureau-Denis, Françoise Toutain-Wang, Catherine Despeux, Shuhua Liang, Gabrièle Goldfuss, Éditions du Seuil, 1998.


Note: Consists of a translation of 10 of the 28 chapters of the original Chinese edition. Contrary to what one Chinese bibliography states, this translation was done from the Chinese, not from the English edition.


* * *


Compiled and translated by Liao Yi Lin, Guy Trédaniel Éditeur, 2010


Note: Consists of a lavishly illustrated anthology of texts and poems by Master Nan, translated and commented by Liao Yi Lin. Ms. Lin studied with Master Nan in later years.


* * *


Maître Nan signa la Preface à Eveils : 365 Pensées de sages d’Asie, Taoïsme, Confucianisme, Bouddhisme, Olivier & Danielle Föllmi, Éditions de La Martinière, 2007.

* * *



Presented and translated by Catherine Despeux, Les Deux Océans, 2015.

Note: Transcript of a teaching on the Heart Sutra delivered during a Chan retreat in Taiwan in 1983.

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Readers of the Chinese editions should be aware of the censorship of the PRC publications: one will note that any unflattering references to the Chinese Communist Party, any references whatsoever to the Kuomintang Nationalist Party, the Chinese Civil War, the Cultural Revolution, or criticisms of modern political ideology, are entirely lacking from the PRC editions. Furthermore, the Chinese-published English editions of ‘Tao & Longevity’ and ‘Basic Buddhism’ (both Dongfang Publishing, 2008) are similarly censored; the latter omitting the sub-chapter dealing with the history of Buddhism in Tibet, and any other reference to Tibet being inevitably preceded by the word ‘China’ in the genitive case, something neither present in the original nor in the original English translation.


Given that most of Master Nan’s books in English are out of print and some command high prices on the second-hand market, we suggest using a service such as Bookfinder in order to compare prices and purchase hard-to-find titles.


Readers who notice any errors or omissions are cordially invited to contact us in order to make this bibliography as complete and as accurate as possible. Thank you. Contact: thebamboosea[@]gmail[.]com

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The Sixth Patriarch of Zen:

Clarifying the Mind, Seeing its Essential Nature


“Outside of Mind, there is no Buddha”. Calligraphy by Master Nan

The Platform Sutra, or Altar Sutra, of the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, is one of the foundational works of the Zen school. As translator Thomas Cleary notes in his preface to his translation of “the Sutra of Hui-neng“: “Hui-neng characterized his teaching as the teaching of immediacy, based on direct insight into the essential nature of awareness. As a testimony of his eminent place in Zen tradition, the record of Hui-neng’s life and lectures is the only such document to be dignified with the title of sutra, or “scripture”, the word traditionally reserved, in Buddhist literature, for the teachings of a buddha.” Master Nan Huai-chin (Nan Huaijin, 南懷瑾), one of the most revered lay Buddhist teachers of recent times, in his “Story of Chinese Zen“, provides a succinct summary on the background of the Platform Sutra before explaining the technical aspect of Zen meditation in plain language.

* * *


Master Nan Huai-chin

* * *

 The Sixth Patriarch of Zen

The stories about Master Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch of Chinese Zen, are favorite topics for discussion among people who lecture on Zen and the history of Chinese philosophical thought. I will present a brief introduction to his tale and then discuss several misunderstood issues therein. Great Master Hui-neng was surnamed Lu in lay life. His ancestors were from Fan-yang (in Hopei, north China), but during the Wu-te era of the reign of Emperor Kao-tsu of the T’ang dynasty (618-626) his father was assigned to a post in Kuang-tung (Canton) province. At the age of three he lost his father, and his mother resolutely took care of him alone until he grew up. Hui-neng’s family was poor and gathered wood for a living. One day as Hui-neng was carrying a load of kindling to market, he happened to hear someone reciting the Diamond Sutra. When the recitation reached the passage that says, ”One should enliven the mind without dwelling on anything,” Hui-neng attained a degree of realization. The man who was reciting the sutra told him that it was a Buddhist scripture that the fifth patriarch of Zen, Hung-jen, who was teaching in Huang-mei (Hupei), always instructed people to read. Hui-neng then contrived a way to go to Huang-mei to seek to learn to practice Zen. (At that time he had not yet left society to become a monk.) When the fifth patriarch, Zen Master Hung-jen, first saw him, he asked, “Where do you come from?” Hui-neng answered, “From Ling-nan.” The fifth patriarch then asked, “What do you want?” “I only seek to become a Buddha.” “People from Ling-nan have no Buddha nature; how can you become a Buddha?” Hui-neng said in reply, “People may be from the south or the north, but how could the Buddha nature have any east or west?” Hearing this, the fifth patriarch told Hui-neng to go to work with the rest of the people there. The future patriarch said, “My own mind always produces wisdom. Not straying from one’s own nature is itself a field of blessings. What would you have me do?” The fifth patriarch saw that his basic nature was extremely sharp, and told him to go pound rice in the mill, so Hui-neng went and labored there for eight months. Then one day the fifth patriarch announced that he was going to hand on his robe and bowl and would choose someone to inherit the rank of patriarch. Therefore, he told everyone to present an expression of their mental attainment. Now at this time there were over seven hundred monks learning Zen from the fifth patriarch. Among them was a chief elder named Shen-hsiu, who had thoroughly studied both Buddhist and non-Buddhist classics and was looked up to by everyone in the community for his learning. He knew everyone was counting on him, so he wrote a verse on the wall of the hallway, saying,

The body is the tree of enlightenment,

The mind is like a clear mirror on a stand.

Diligently wipe it off again and again,

Don’t let it gather dust.

When the fifth patriarch had seen this verse, he said, “If people of later generations cultivate practice in accord with this, they will also attain superior results.” But when Hui-neng heard this verse from the other students, he commented, “That’s fine, all right, but not perfect.” The other students laughed at him saying, “What does an ordinary man like you know? Don’t talk crazy.” Hui-neng replied, “You don’t believe me? I would like to add a verse.” The other students looked at each other and laughed without giving a reply. That night, Hui-neng secretly summoned a servant boy to come with him to the hall, and asked him to write a verse on the wall next to the one written by Shen-hsiu:

Enlightenment basically has no tree,

And the clear mirror has no stand;

Originally there is not a single thing;

Where can dust gather?

When the fifth patriarch saw this verse, he said, “Who composed this? He has not seen the essence either.” Everyone heard what the patriarch said, so they didn’t pay the verse any mind. That night, however, the fifth patriarch surreptitiously went to the mill and asked Hui-neng, “Is the rice whitened yet?” Hui-neng answered, “It is whitened, but has not had a sifting yet.” (The word for “sifting” has the same sound as the word for “teacher.” This dialogue between teacher and student has a double meaning throughout.) The fifth patriarch then knocked the pestle three times with his staff, and so Hui-neng entered his room in the third watch of the night, where he received the mental transmission of the fifth patriarch. At that time the fifth patriarch repeatedly examined Hui-neng’s initial understanding of the meaning of “one should enliven the mind without dwelling on anything,” whereupon he penetrated all the way through to great enlightenment on hearing the patriarch’s words. Then Hui-neng said, “All things are not apart from our intrinsic nature. Who would have expected that our intrinsic nature is inherently pure? Who would have expected that our intrinsic nature is basically unborn and unperishing? Who would have expected that our intrinsic nature is fundamentally complete in itself? Who would have expected that our intrinsic nature is basically immovable? Who would have expected that our intrinsic nature can produce all things?” The fifth patriarch answered, “If you do not know the fundamental mind, study of doctrine is useless. If you do know the fundamental mind and see your own basic nature, then you are called a great man, a teacher of celestials and humans, a Buddha.” Then he handed on the robe and bowl, making Hui-neng the sixth patriarch of the spiritual lineage of Chinese Zen. After the fifth patriarch, Hung-jen, had transmitted the mind seal, that very night he saw the sixth patriarch Hui-neng off on his way across the river to go south. Personally picking up the oar, he said, “I am ferrying you across!” But the sixth patriarch replied, “When deluded, one is ‘ferried across’ by a guide; when enlightened, one ferries oneself across. Although the expression ‘crossing over’ is the same, the usage is different. I have received the teacher’s communication of the Dharma, and have now attained enlightenment; it is only appropriate that I cross over by myself, of my own nature.” Hearing this, the fifth patriarch acceded, “So it is, so it is! Hereafter the Buddha Dharma will flourish through you.” After this, the fifth patriarch stopped giving lectures. The whole community wondered about this, and asked about it, to which the fifth patriarch replied, “My Way has gone! Why inquire after it anymore?” Therefore the students asked, “Who got the robe and the Dharma?” The fifth patriarch replied, “The able one got them.” Now the community got together to discuss this. Since the worker Lu was named (Hui-)neng, which means “able,” they decided that he must have received the Dharma and slipped away in secret. Therefore, they agreed to pursue him. After two months of searching, one of the party in pursuit, a former military leader who had left society to become a monk, a man named Hui-ming, went ahead and caught up with the sixth patriarch just as he reached the Ta-yu Range. The sixth patriarch took the robe and bowl and tossed them onto a rock and said, “This robe just symbolizes evidence of truthfulness, that is all; why fight over it?” Hui-ming then tried to pick up the robe and bowl, but found that he could not even move them. He said, “I came for the Dharma, not for the robe!” The sixth patriarch responded, “Since you came for the Dharma, you should stop all entanglements and not give rise to a single thought; then I will explain it for you.” Hearing this, Hui-ming stood still for a very long time; then the sixth patriarch finally said, “Don’t think of good, don’t think of evil: at this very moment, what is your original face?” Hui-ming attained great enlightenment at these words. He also asked, “Is there any other secret message aside from the esoteric meaning of the esoteric words you have just spoken?” The sixth patriarch said, “What I have told you is not a secret. If you look into yourself, you will find the secret is in you.” Hui-ming then climbed down the mountain and claimed he had found no trace of anyone up on the ridge, and induced the posse to disperse. After this, the sixth patriarch lived in anonymity among a group of hunters in south China. It was not until fifteen years later that he finally emerged from hiding and went to Fa-hsing monastery in Canton province, where the priest Yin-tsung happened to be lecturing on the Nirvana sutra. There he took shelter under the eaves. One evening, as the wind was causing the monastery banner to flap noisily, two monks were debating about it: one said that it was the banner moving, the other said it was the wind moving. They kept on arguing ceaselessly, so the sixth patriarch commented, “It is not the wind moving, and it is not the banner moving either; it is your minds moving.” Because of this he was recognized by the priest Yin-tsung, who announced that he had found the sixth patriarch of Zen. Gathering the whole community, the priest shaved Hui-neng’s head, invested him with the precepts, and ordained him as a monk. Subsequently, he lived at Ts’ao-ch’i and spread the Way of Zen widely. This is a brief history of the enlightenment and teaching of the sixth patriarch of Zen. Based on this story, I will present three issues for study, to enable everyone to avoid further misinterpretations in the understanding of Zen studies and in the investigation of Chinese cultural and philosophical history.


Grand Master Huineng, Sixth Patriarch of Zen

* * *

 The First Issue

The first issue has to do with the sixth patriarch’s enlightenment, clarifying the mind and seeing its essential nature, along with two expressions in Shen-hsiu’s verse. In the Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, which has come down through history in several different versions, as well as in the records of the various texts of the Zen school, there are stories about the sixth patriarch’s first enlightenment that are not very much different from one another. In Chinese Zen, beginning with the fifth patriarch Hung-jen, people were instructed to recite the Diamond Prajnaparamita sutra as a means of entering the Way, thus changing Great Master Bodhidharma’s didactic method of using the Lankavatara sutra to seal the mind. This can only be called a change in the method of instruction; there is no difference at all in the essential message of Zen. The main import of the Diamond sutra is to clarify the mind and see its essential nature. Here and there it explains the truth of essential emptiness as realized by prajna. The method of cultivating practice to seek realization therein emphasizes the three words ”skillfully guarding mindfulness.” It explains the real character of essential emptiness, saying, “the past mind cannot be apprehended, the future mind cannot be apprehended, the present mind cannot be apprehended.” The goal is perfect knowledge of “enlivening the mind without dwelling on anything.” For the sake of obtaining a general understanding of the Zen principle of governing the mind, I will presently use modern concepts to make a comparatively easy and lucid explanation. This can also serve as an instructional basis for cultivating practice, because it is a simple and swift method of cultivating mind and nurturing its essential nature.


Grand Master Huineng, Sixth Patriarch of Zen

Step One

First we have to quietly and calmly observe and examine our own inner consciousness and thoughts, and then make a simple analysis in two parts. The first part consists of the thoughts and ideas produced from sensory feelings like pain, pleasure, fullness and warmth, hunger, cold, and so on. All of these belong to the domain of sensory awareness; from them are derived activities of cognitive awareness, such as association and imagination. The other part consists of consciousness and thought produced by cognitive awareness, such as vague emotions, anxieties, anguish, discriminating thoughts regarding people, oneself, and inner or outer phenomena, and so on. Of course the latter part also includes intellectual and scholastic thinking, as well as the very capacity one has to observe one’s own psychological functions.

Step Two

The next step comes when you have arrived at the point where you are well able to understand the activity of your own psychological functions. Whether they be in the domain of sensory awareness or in the domain of cognitive awareness, they are each referred to generally as a single thought: when you can reach the point where in the interval of each thought you can clearly observe each idea or thought that occurs to your mind, without any further absentmindedness, unawareness, or vagueness, then you can process them into three levels of observation. Generally speaking, the preceding thought (thinking consciousness) that has just passed is called the past mind, or the prior thought; the succeeding thought (thinking consciousness) that has just arrived is called the present mind, or the immediate thought; while that which has yet to come is of course the future mind, or the latter thought. However, since the latter thought has not yet come, you do not concern yourself with it. But you must not forget that when you take note that the latter thought has not yet come, this itself is the present immediate thought; and the moment you realize it is present, it has at once already become the past.

Step Three

Now the next step is when you have practiced this inner observation successfully for a long time. You watch the past mind, present mind, and future mind with lucid clarity and then develop familiarity with the state of mind of the immediate present, when the past mind of the former thought has gone, and the future mind of the latter thought has not yet come. This state of mind in the instant of the immediate present then should subtly and gradually present an open blankness. But this open blankness is not stupor, lightheadedness, or like the state before death. It is an open awareness that is lucid and clear, numinous and luminous. This is what the Zen masters of the Sung and Ming dynasties used to call the time of radiant awareness.   If you can really arrive at this state, you will then feel that your own consciousness and thinking, whether in the domain of sensory awareness or in the domain of cognitive awareness, are all like reflections on flowing water, like geese going through the endless sky, like the breeze coming over the surface of water, like flying swans over the snow: no tracks or traces can be found. Then you will finally realize that everything you think and do in everyday life is all nothing more than floating dust or reflections of light; there is fundamentally no way to grasp it, fundamentally no basis to rely upon. Then you will attain experiential understanding of the psychological state in which “the past mind cannot be apprehended, the future mind cannot be apprehended, the present mind cannot be apprehended.”

Step Four

Next after that, if you really understand the ungraspability of the past, present, and future mind and thought, when you look into yourself it will turn into a laugh. By this means you will recognize that everything and every activity in this mind is all the ordinary person disturbing himself. From here, take another step further to examine and break through the pressure produced by biological sensation and the physical action and movement stimulated by thought, seeing it all as like bubbles, flecks of foam, or flowers in the sky. Even when you are not deliberately practicing self-examination, on the surface it seems like all of this is a linear continuity of activity; in reality what we call our activity is just like an electric current, like a wheel of fire, like flowing water: it only constitutes a single linear continuity by virtue of the connecting of countless successive thoughts. Ultimately there is no real thing at all therein. Therefore you will naturally come to feel that mountains are not mountains, rivers are not rivers, the body is not the body, the mind is not the mind. Every bit of all of this is just a dreamlike floating and sinking in the world, that is all. Thus you will spontaneously understand “enlivening the mind without dwelling on anything.” In reality, this is already the subtle function of “arousing the mind fundamentally having no place of abode.”

Step Five

Next, after you can maintain this state where you have clarified the consciousness and thinking in your mind, you should preserve this radiant, numinous awareness all the time, whether in the midst of stillness or in the midst of activity, maintaining it like a clear sky extending thousands of miles, not keeping any obscuring phenomena in your mind. Then when you have fully experienced this, you will finally be able to understand the truth of human life, and find a state of peace that is a true refuge. But you should not take this condition to be the clarification of mind and perception of essential nature to which Zen refers! And you should not take this to be the enlightenment to which Zen refers! The reason for this is because at this time there exists the function of radiant awareness, and you still don’t know its comings and goings, and where it arises. This time is precisely what Hanshan, the great Ming dynasty master, meant when he said, ”It is easy to set foot in a forest of thorns; it is hard to turn around at the window screen shining in the moonlight.” In all of what I have said here, I have provisionally used a relatively modern method of explaining the conditions of human psychological activities and states. At the same time I have used this to explain what transpired when the sixth patriarch of Zen experienced an awakening on hearing someone recite the line of the Diamond sutra which says, “Enliven the mind without dwelling on anything.” If through this you can understand the process of inner work and mental realization represented by the verse composed by the sixth patriarch’s senior colleague Shen-hsiu, “The body is the tree of enlightenment, the mind is like a bright mirror stand; wipe it off diligently time and again, not letting it gather dust,” then you can thereby know the sixth patriarch’s realm of mental realization as represented by his verse, “Enlightenment basically has no tree, and the bright mirror has no stand; originally there is not a single thing, so where can dust gather?” If you make a comparison between these two, you will naturally be able to understand why the fifth patriarch Hung-jen summoned the sixth patriarch to his room in the third watch of the night and entrusted him with the robe and bowl. However, “Originally there is not a single thing, so where can dust gather,” still represents his attainment before he received the transmission of the robe and bowl. Don’t forget the states mentioned above, because the state of “originally there is not a single thing” is like the realm of apricot blossoms in the snowy moonlight, which although clear and refined, is after all only one side of the matter, the silent cold of empty silence devoid of any living potential. The time the sixth patriarch made a complete breakthrough to great enlightenment was when he went into the fifth patriarch’s room in the third watch of the night, and the fifth patriarch questioned him closely about “enlivening the mind without dwelling on anything,” forcing him to go a step further to understand thoroughly the ultimate basis of the essential nature of mind. That is why he said, “Who would have expected that intrinsic nature is fundamentally pure of itself? Who would have expected that intrinsic nature is fundamentally unborn and unperishing? Who would have expected that intrinsic nature is fundamentally complete in itself? Who would have expected that intrinsic nature is fundamentally immovable? Who would have expected that intrinsic nature can produce myriad phenomena?” This finally represents the realm of immediacy and enlightenment in the “sudden enlightenment at a word” spoken of in Zen. But it will not do to forget how the sixth patriarch lived in hiding among a group of hunters after that, spending fifteen years at sustained cultivation after his enlightenment. By this it can be understood how the Lankavatara sutra brings up both the sudden and the gradual, and Zen includes both the sudden and the gradual. As it is said in the Surangama sutra, “The principle is to be understood all at once; then, using this understanding to clear them up, phenomena are to be worked on gradually, exhausted through a step-by-step process.” This indicates the equal importance of sudden and gradual. Nowadays people who talk about Zen studies cling to this one phrase “originally there is not a single thing,” and are liable to do just about anything; it’s a wonder they don’t fall into the views of crazy Zen! You must know that Zen actually has a rigorous process of practical work, and is not a matter of empty talk or wild self-approval; only then can you approach authentic Zen.


“Zen and Taoism”, Chinese edition.

The Second Issue   

The second issue has to do with the expression “don’t think of good, don’t think of evil.” In the story of the sixth patriarch’s enlightenment, I spoke of what transpired when the monk Hui-ming caught up with the sixth patriarch on the Ta-yu Range and declared he had come for the Way rather than to take the robe and bowl. The sixth patriarch therefore first told him, “Don’t think of good, don’t think of evil.” After quite a long while, the sixth patriarch then asked him, “At precisely this moment, what is your original face?” In other words, he was asking, “When you are not thinking of good or evil in your heart, and there is no thinking going on in your mind at all, what is your original face?” Because very few of the later readers of the Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch have done any real Zen work, they overlook the meaning of the expression “quite a long while.” And they also take the interrogative “what” in “what is your original face” and read it as if it were the demonstrative “that.” Thus they suppose that when this mind is “not thinking of good and not thinking of evil,” this itself is the fundamental basis of the essential nature of mind. Hence there has come to be the misunderstanding that recognition of the absence of good and evil is itself the essence of mind. If this be so, can mentally retarded people, mentally ill people who have lost the power of coherent thinking, and brain damaged people all be considered to have attained the realm of Zen? Thus it should be clear to you that when you reach the point at which you are “not thinking of good and not thinking of evil,” only when the open clarity of your mental state produces the realm of all subtle understanding can it be considered the initial enlightenment of Zen. And this can only be said to be initial enlightenment; this is the beginning of what the sixth patriarch referred to as the secret being in you. If people misunderstand this story, they are really in danger of fooling themselves and misleading others; that is why I have made a particular point of presenting this to you for you to reflect upon.

The Third Issue      

The third issue has to do with “it is not the wind moving, nor is it the pennant moving; it is your minds moving.” This is the sixth patriarch’s first exercise of his potential after having just emerged from the mountains, and it is an example of what was called acuity of mind in later Zen. It is a kind of subtle saying characteristic of the situational teaching method; it is not the essential teaching of Zen that points to clarification of mind and perception of its nature. It is equivalent to the saying that “wine does not intoxicate people, people intoxicate themselves; sex does not delude people, people delude themselves,” which are similar witticisms. “When the clouds race by, the moon runs swiftly; when the shoreline shifts, the boat is traveling.” Can you tell who is moving and who is still? If you are asleep, even if “on both banks the cries of the monkeys go on and on; the light boat has already passed the myriad mountains,” nevertheless you do not see or hear; so how could you compose such a marvelous expression? This is what is referred to in the Only Consciousness doctrine of Buddhism as the wind of objects blowing the waves of consciousness, the principle that all feelings and thoughts are dependent on something else, stirred up by the wind of external objects. It is not the essence of mind of Zen Buddhism, the completely real nature of mind that has the same root as the universe and all things. Some people often take up the saying “it is your minds moving,” from the story of the wind and the pennant, and equate it with having attained complete understanding of the mind teaching of Zen. That is really a hundred and eighty thousand miles from Zen. If it were so, would modern psychological analysis not be sufficient to reach the realm of Zen? What further need would there be to talk about Zen? If you look at the great Zen masters of the T’ang and Sung dynasties in terms of this manner of understanding, you would certainly have to scorn Zen as a useless practice. Just like “a row of white herons rising into the blue sky,” the farther the flight, the more remote it becomes!

[The Story of Chinese Zen, by Master Nan Huai-chin, translated by Thomas Cleary, published by Charles E. Tuttle (Tuttle Library of Enlightenment), 1995.


“The Story of Chinese Zen”

* * *

Further Reading:

The Platform Sutra: Translation by the Buddhist Text Translation Society, Commentary by Master Hsuan-hua

The Platform Sutra: Translation by Wong Mou-lam & C. Humphreys

The Platform Sutra: Translation & Commentary by P. Yampolsky

Commentary on the Platform Sutra by Ven. Sheng-Yen

The Platform Sutra: Translation by John McRae

The Platform Sutra – many different texts, translations and articles

The Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, translation by Charles Luk (Lu Kuan-yu): Part 1. Part2.

Textual study of the Platform Sutra  

Excerpts from the Platform Sutra translated by Red Pine (Bill Porter)


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六祖斫竹圖 by Liang Kai

‘Madman Liang’ – Liang Kai (梁楷)

(c. 1140 – c. 1210)

‘Liang Kai treasured his ink as if it were gold,
but when he got drunk, their drops could suddenly turn into a downpour.’

– Chan Monk Beijian, 1246

A master of spontaneous technique, Liang Kai, or ‘Madman Liang’, is often credited with the creation of the Chan or Zen school of painting.

Born in Dongping in China’s Shandong province, Liang Kai was taught to paint by Master Jia Shigu and served as a Painter-in-Attendance at the Imperial Painting Academy in Hangzhou in the Jia Tai era (1202-1204) of Emperor Ingzong of the Southern Song period, where he was greatly influenced by the “Big Four” of the Southern Song – Li Tang (李唐), Liu Songnian (劉松年), Ma Yuan (馬遠) and Xia Gui (夏珪).

Whilst there he was bestowed with the prestigious golden belt – ‘jindai‘ – in recognition of his mastery in painting figures, landscapes and other subjects. For some reason (which some speculate was connected with his great fondness for alcohol), he declined this honor and decided to hang the belt up in his office and leave the court to go and live in the Liutong temple, near Lin’an. A decision which appeared bizarre to his peers and earned him the nickname of ‘Madman Liang’.

Now, no longer bound by the conventions of the Academy and the Court, he went about developing his own style of painting which was very different from the ‘gōng bĭ‘ (工笔), ‘meticulous’ style of the time.

Immortal in Splashed Ink by Liang Kai

The style he developed is often described as ‘jianbi‘ (减笔), meaning ‘abbreviated brush’.

Influenced by his Chan Buddhist practice and studies with Chan Master Wuzhun (1177-1249), Liang Kai strove in his paintings to evoke the subject or atmosphere with the minimum number of brush strokes required.

However, although this style allowed for the beauty of accidental effects, it also required a mastery of painting technique to allow them to occur naturally and without force or effort.

In his ‘abbreviated’ style it is not only the fingers that move when using the brush. Their movements must also be coordinated with the movement of the wrist, elbow and shoulder, so that the brush is used with the wrist suspended. In Liang Kai’s paintings; executed predominantly in monochrome ink, we see then not just the Chan principles of simplicity and spontaneity but also those of concentration and mindfulness.

It is in his later paintings, that this Chan (Zen) style of painting is most evident, along with his total control of  both ink and brush. And it is  these works and those of his Sichuan based contemporary Fa Chang (法常) which were to go on and inspire later painters such as Lin Liang (林良), Xu Wei,(徐渭) and Bada Shanren amongst many others.

六祖破經圖 -1

Unfortunately, because Chan painting (and that of the Southern Song period), has never been popular with Chinese collectors, all of the remaining works by Liang Kai are no longer in China but in Japan, where they have been rightfully prized and have had a huge influence on Japanese painting, especially ‘suibokuga’ (水墨画)  – Japanese monochrome ink painting.

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