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Huineng History

Huineng (638-713) is the founder of what became the dominant Zen School of China. He was born in the southwest Kwangtung Province of China, and died in Kwangtung too at the age of 76. The Platform Sutra is a record of his his career and sermons (See Yampolsky 1967, 125n).

Most modern scholars doubt the historical authenticity of biographies and works about Huineng. Anyway, the Platform Sutra is attributed to Huineng. It was constructed over a longer period of time, during the 8th to 13th century, and contains different layers of writing. Philip Yampolsky informs that the Platform Sutra was subjected to some editing, revision and emendations in the course of time (1967, 94,132). The end result that has come down to us is a good mixture of early Chan (Zen) teachings of an entire tradition up to the second half of the eighth century. (Wikipedia, "Hui-neng;" "Platform Sutra").

Through ten chapters, the Platform Sutra cites and explains a wide range of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures. They include the Diamond Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra, Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Vimalakirti Sutra, Lutus Sutra and many more.


Salient Points from All the Chapters

Chapter 1

Self-nature is pure.

Who sees intuitively his own nature, is a Buddha.

Take good care of yourself.

A fit interpretation of the Sutra is as valuable as genuine gold. (Mod)

Chapter 2

One realises it, while another is ignorant of it.

Talk alone will not enable us to realise the essence of mind.

Good friends, we say our mind is great.

The mind pervades the whole universe.

If at all times and at all places we steadily keep our thought free from foolish desire, then we are practicing wisdom.

You should practice wisdom and realise the essence of mind.

When rain comes in a deluge, plants which are not deep rooted are washed away.

No attempt should be made to hide the orthodox teaching.

Erroneous views keep us in defilement.

Right views are called 'transcendental' and are discarded when the essence of bodhi appears. (Mod)

Chapter 3

At Bodhidharma's first interview with emperor Wu of Liang he was asked what merits the emperor would get for the work of his life in building temples, allowing new monks to be ordained (royal consent was necessary at that time), giving alms and entertaining the order; and his reply was that these would bring no merits - only felicities, which should not be taken for merits. -- We should distinguish between felicities and merits.

Keep the mind in a humble mood and behave according to propriety and not to go astray from the essence of mind and not to pollute the mind in using it, and you acquire real merits.

He who works for merits does not slight others.

Let mental activity work unhindered, and the mind functions straightforwardly.

Real and deep merits should be sought within the essence of mind.

The Pure Land is not far from here, for the distance represents the 'ten evils' and 'eight errors' within us.

Men vary in their mentality.

If we realise the essence of mind we may reach the Pure Land and there see Amitabha.

This physical body of ours is [like] a city. Our eyes, ears, nose and tongue are [like] the gates. There are five external gates, while the internal one is ideation. The mind is the ground. The essence of mind is the king who lives in the domain of the mind. [Keep the king intact and thus avoid much mind decay.] Falsehood is the devil. Greed and hatred are hells.

When wickedness is alien to you, evil dragons will die out.

Perform the ten good deeds.

Who wish to train themselves (spiritually) may do so at home.

So far as the mind is pure, it is the 'Western Pure Land of one's own mindís essence'."

By defending our faults, we betray an unsound mind.

Practice altruism, but buddhahood is not to be attained by giving away money as charity.

Bodhi is to be found within our own mind, and there is no necessity to look for mysticism from without.

It is essential to put into practice the best of what Buddhism teaches - to realise the essence of mind and attain buddhahood directly.

Chapter 4

Dhyana and wisdom are fundamental.

Those who are enlightened realise the truth in a sudden, while those who are under delusion have to train themselves gradually.

To free ourselves from absorption in external objects is called 'Non-objectness'.

Tathata (Suchness) is the quintessence of idea, and idea is the result of the activity of Tathata.

It is the positive essence of Tathata - not the sense organs - that gives rise to 'idea'.

Chapter 5

There is no need to dwell on one's mind.

So far as we get rid of all delusive 'idea' there will be nothing but purity in our nature, and nothing that obscures Tathata (Suchness).

Delusion has no abiding place, and it is delusive to dwell on it.

An unenlightened man may be unperturbed physically and talk about the merits or demerits of others, their abilities or weaknessess, good or evil. Thus he deviates from the right course.

Chapter 6

We should start from our mind's essence.

Let us sit down in the Indian fashion.

We should take care not to dwell on vacuity.

Be congenial to others in the dealings with them.

Some people do not realise that in repentance they have not only to feel sorry for their past sins but also to refrain from sinning in the future.

What does it mean to deliver oneself by one's own mind's essence? It means the deliverance of the ignorant, the delusive, and the vexatious beings within our own mind by means of Right Views.

A mass of merits may give Enlightenment.

To support the Enlightened teacher and your mind's essence, support and strengthen your mind's essence.

Those who can't see Buddha, how can they take refuge in him? Examine this point, so as to realise the essence of mind.

Our physical body may be likened to an inn (i.e., a temporary abode), so we can't take refuge there.

An ordinary person does not know his own inner nature; and therefore ignores the Trikaya within himself.

Our mind's essence is intrinsically pure.

Sagacity and wisdom, are the sun and moon, and wanton thoughts hinder our Sagacity and Wisdom from sending forth their light.

To take refuge in ourself is to be constantly on the alert.

The future demands our attention - and our mind's essence.*

People under delusion accumulate tainted merits but do not tread the path.

People under delusion expect to expiate their sins by accumulating merit.

May all followers see face to face their mind's essence and be at one with the Buddhas.

All would do well to recite beneficial stanzas and put them into practice as fits. (Mod)

Chapter 7

The profundity of the teachings of the various Buddhas has nothing to do with the written language.

Common people who fall into the wrong idea of 'vacuity', may be able to free themselves from the fallacious view of annihilation on the doctrine of 'Void'.

Be firmly established in the Enlightenment-knowledge, that is our true nature, and manifest itself.

Buddha-knowledge is the Buddha-knowledge of your own mind.

Sound wisdom arises perpetually in the rectified hearts.

Within the burning house itself (mundane existence) the King of Dharma is to be found!

The Three Bodies are inherent in our mind's essence, by development of which the four Prajnas [Wisdom forms] are manifested. -- When our mind is enlightened the four Prajnas will appear therein.

The All Performing Wisdom has the same characteristics as the Mirror-like Wisdom.

'Nirvana is everlasting joy.'

Victims of ignorance commit themselves to unnecessary suffering by mistaking the state of everlasting joy of Nirvana for suffering.

The Supreme Maha Parinirvana is illuminating.

Those of super-eminent mind can understand thoroughly what Nirvana is, and use their sense organs when occasion requires.

"I am trying to describe to you something which is ineffable, so that you may get rid of your fallacious views."

Dhyana Master Hsuan Chiao of Yung Chia realised intuitively the mystery of his own mind through reading the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra.

"Without a notion, who can particularise?" asked the patriarch.

Chapter 8

The true teaching of Sila, dhyana and wisdom should be based on the principle that the function of all things derives from the essence of mind.

Those who have realised the essence of mind take appropriate actions as circumstances require.

A straight sword is not crooked.

"When I say 'not-eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant for 'eternal'. And when I say 'eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant by 'not-eternal'."

"I have an article which has no head, no name nor appellation, no front and no back. Do any of you know it?"

Shen Hui replied, "It is the source of all Buddhas, and the Buddha-nature of Shen Hui."

"I have told you already that it is without name and appellation, and yet you call it 'Source of Buddhas' and 'Buddha-nature'," reproved the patriarch. "Even if you confine yourself in a mat shed for further study, you will be a dhyana scholar of secondhand knowledge only (i.e., knowledge from books and verbal authority instead of Knowledge obtained intuitively)."

Chapter 9

The Norm (Tao) is to be realised by the mind and does not depend on the sitting position.

The flame of one lamp may kindle hundreds or thousands of others.

The Norm (Tao) has no comparison, since it is not a relative term.

Chapter 10

The five Skandhas (aggregates) are: rupa (matter), vedana (sensation), samjna (perception), samskara (tendencies of mind), and vijnana (consciousness).

As soon as the process of thinking or reasoning is started, the essence of mind is transmuted into (various) vijnanas [ways of minding]. When the six recipient vijnanas come into being, they perceive the six sense objects through the six 'doors' (of sense). Thus, the functioning of the eighteen dhatus [factors of consciousness] derive their impetus from the essence of mind.

You men should know that it is a serious offence to speak ill of the Sutras.

Exert yourself [well] and take heed.

"In five petals the flowers will be complete. Thereafter, the fruit will come to bearing naturally." (Bodhidharma, quoted)

Covered up in the mud, the seeds receive nourishment there from and grow until the fruit comes into bearing.

"Fallen leaves go back to where the root is."

"The Buddhas who have appeared in this world are too many to be counted," said the patriarch . . . "From the Buddha Sakyamuni, the Law was transmitted to [27 Indian patriarchs precede]:

  • First patriarch in China, Bodhidharma (470 - 543)
  • Second patriarch, Hui Ko (487 - 593)
  • Third patriarch, Seng Tsan (? - 606)
  • Fourth patriarch, Tao Hsin (580 - 651)
  • Fifth patriarch, Hung Jen (601 - 674)
  • Sixth patriarch, Huineng (638 - 713), the 33rd Patriarch

Knowing Buddha means knowing sentient beings.

The essence of mind or Tathata (Suchness) is the real Buddha.

Guided by Pure Nature, the Nirmanakaya treads the Right Path. -- 'Pure Nature' is an outgrowth of our sensual instincts.

He who is able to realise the Truth within his own mind has sown the seed of buddhahood.

He who has not realised the essence of mind and seeks the Buddha from without is a fool motivated by wrong desires.

Take good care of yourselves. After my passing away, . . . what you should do is to know your own mind and realise your own Buddha-nature.


Zen Huineng quotes, Huineng quotations, Hui Neng Platform sutra sayings by chapters, Chan, Chinese Zen, Mahayana Buddhism, Literature  

Chang, Garma C. C. The Practice of Zen. New York: Harper, 1970.

Huineng. The Sixth Patriarch's Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra: With the Commentary of Tripitaka Master Hua. 3rd ed. Burlingame, CA: Buddhist Text Translation Society, 2001.

McRae, John R. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2000.

Price, A. F. and Wong Mou-lam, trs. The Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui Neng. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2012.

Yampolsky, Philip, tr. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript. New York: Columbia University, 1967.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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