Book Excerpts, Chinese Texts

Those Who Seek the Way Must Enter it With the Suddenness of a Knife-Thrust

“If you would only rid yourselves of the concepts of ordinary and Enlightened, you would find that there is no other Buddha than the Buddha in your own Mind,” wrote master Huang Po in 9th century China. As the master of Linji Yixuan, founder of the Rinzai school, Huang Po is in many ways considered to be Rinzai’s spiritual ancestor. Teaching two generations after Huineng, Huang Po pointed his students towards their original minds, revealing to them that their minds could not be studied by their minds, and that their minds were in fact Buddha or Buddha nature itself. In this passage from John Bloefeld’s translation of his text On the Transmission of Mind, Huang Po encourages his students not to cling to their intellectual ideas on the matter, but instead to look to the ‘knife-thrust’ of intuition. 

When a sudden flash of thought occurs in your mind and you recognize it for a dream or an illusion, then you can enter into the state reached by the Buddhas of the past—not that the Buddhas of the past really exist, or that the Buddhas of the future have not yet come into existence. Above all, have no longing to become a future Buddha; your sole concern should be, as thought succeeds thought, to avoid clinging to any of them.

If a Buddha arises, do not think of him as “enlightened” or “deluded,” “good” or “evil.” Hasten to rid yourself of any desire to cling to him. Cut him off in the twinkling of an eye! On no account seek to hold him fast, for a thousand locks could not stay him, nor a hundred thousand feet of rope bind him. This being so, valiantly strive to banish and annihilate him.

I will now make luminously clear how to set about being rid of that Buddha. Consider the sunlight. You may say it is near, yet if you follow it from world to world you will never catch it in your hands. Then you may describe it as far away and, 10, you will see it just before your eyes. Follow it and, behold, it escapes you; run from it and it follows you close. You can neither possess it nor have done with it. From this example you can understand how it is with the true Nature of all things and, henceforth, there will be no need to grieve or to worry about such things.

Thus all the visible universe is the Buddha; so are all sounds; hold fast to one principle and all the others are identical. On seeing one thing, you see all. On perceiving any individual’s mind, you are perceiving all Mind. Obtain a glimpse of one way and all ways are embraced in your vision, for there is nowhere at all which is devoid of the Way. When your glance falls upon a grain of dust, what you see is identical with all the vast world-systems with their great rivers and mighty hills. To gaze upon a drop of water is to behold the nature of all the waters of the universe. Moreover, in thus contemplating the totality of phenomena, you are contemplating the totality of Mind. All these phenomena are intrinsically void and yet this Mind with which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvelous for us to comprehend. It is an existence which is no existence, a non-existence which is nevertheless existence.

The phenomenal universe and Nirvana, activity and motionless placidity —all are of one substance. By saying that they are all of one substance, we mean that their names and forms, their existence and non-existence, are void. The great world-systems, uncountable as Ganga’s sands, are in truth comprised in the one boundless void. Then where can there be Buddhas who deliver or sentient beings to be delivered? When the true nature of all things that “exist” is an identical Thusness, how can such distinctions have any reality? To use the symbol of the closed fist: when it is opened, all beings— both gods and men—will perceive there is not a single thing inside. Therefore is it written, “There’s never been a single thing; then where’s the defiling dust to cling?” If “there’s never been a single thing,” past, present and future are meaningless. So those who seek the Way must enter it with the suddenness of a knife-thrust. Full understanding of this must come before they can enter.

Whatever Mind is, so also are phenomena——both are equally real and partake equally of the Dharma-Nature, which hangs in the void. He who receives an intuition of this truth has become a Buddha and attained to the Dharma. No listening, no knowing, no sound, no track, no trace—make yourselves thus and you will be scarcely less than neighbors of Bodhidharma!

Huang Po (died 850)
From – The Zen Teachings of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind

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