Transmission of the Lamp

27. Hannyatara

One day Funyomitta asked Hannyatara, “Do you recall any events from your past lives?” whereupon Hannyatara answered, “I remember living in the same place as you during a distant aeon; you were expounding on The Scripture of Great Wisdom as I was reciting from that most profound of Scriptures. Today’s events undoubtedly tally with that ancient karmic cause.”


Hannyatara was a man from Eastern India. At the time that Funyomitta came to Eastern India its king was called ‘The Steadfast One’; he followed non-Buddhist ways, having taken as his teacher a young, long-nailed Brahman ascetic. Just before Funyomitta’s arrival, both the king and the ascetic saw a white vapour pierce the sky from top to bottom. The king asked the portent of this. The ascetic already knew that Funyomitta had entered the region and, fearing the king would shift his favours, replied, “This is surely an omen that a demon is coming; it bodes no good.” Later on, the ascetic gathered together his followers and told them, “Funyomitta is about to enter the capital. Who is capable of crushing him?” One of his disciples said, “Every one of us is skilled in sorcery by which means we can shake the heavens and the earth as well as pass through fire and water unharmed. What have we to fear?” When Funyomitta reached the capital he immediately saw an aura of blackness encircling the palace walls and said, “Just a minor problem!” and then went straight to where the king was. When the king asked him why he had come, Funyomitta replied, “To ferry all sentient beings across to the Other Shore.” The king then asked, “By what Teaching will you accomplish this?” Funyomitta answered, “I shall ferry each across according to his kind.” When the ascetic heard these words he could not control his anger and used conjury to make a giant mountain appear on top of Funyomitta’s head. Funyomitta pointed at it and, in a twink, it was atop the heads of the ascetic’s followers. The ascetic and his retinue were all frightened and committed themselves to Funyomitta who, out of compassion for their foolish delusions, again pointed at the mountain and it vanished. He then expounded the essentials of the Teaching for the king’s benefit, enabling him to advance quickly to the True Vehicle. Funyomitta also told the king, “In this country there is a holy one who will succeed me.”

At the time there was a certain young Brahman of about twenty who had lost his parents in infancy and did not even know his surname so he had given himself the name of Yáraku (S. Keyâra, ‘Necklace’); as a result of this, people called him the Necklace Child. He used to wander the countryside, spending the day begging alms like a sort of Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta. When people asked him why he was in such a hurry, he would reply, “Why are you going so slowly?” or, if they asked him his name, he would answer, “The same as yours.” People did not know why he said these things.

One day, whilst the king and Funyomitta were riding together in a carriage, they saw the Necklace Child who prostrated himself before them. Funyomitta asked him, “Do you recall any events from your past lives?” and, as the above account describes, their meeting tallied with an ancient karmic cause. Funyomitta then told the king, “This youth is none other than the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta; this holy one will be followed by two disciples; one will convert Southern India, the other will have karmic ties to China. After four or five years the latter will want to return here.” He then gave the youth the name of Hannyatara (S. Prajñatara, ‘The Pearl of Wisdom’) because of their ancient karmic ties.

The Ancestors and Masters who have Transmitted the SEAL OF THE BUDDHA, those holy ones—some of whom were arhants and others Bodhisattvas—with minds open and bright, are of the inviolate, uncaused WAY; they are the eternally enlightened Tathagata. Even though you may seem to be a beginner or an experienced practitioner, the instant you turn your natural inclinations around, they will reveal their inherent merits; without anything, not even a single hair, being left in the dark, you will be the same as the Tathagata and in harmony with the Ancestors.

It is not a matter of one person emerging as another disappears or of both together reaching forth with a single hand; there is not a multiplicity of types nor are there separate branches, therefore to see today is to see the long past; to look back upon the long past is to contemplate today. IT is born together with you and dwells together with me; not even the tiniest bit separates us from IT, never for a moment does IT not accompany us.

When you succeed in arriving at this state, there is not a thing that is past, present or future; there is nothing that pertains to sense organs, their objects or the consciousness thereof. This is why it is said that the inheritance of the Teaching transcends all three periods of time and the mutual realization between master and disciple has continued unbroken from the past to the present; because this is so, the golden needle and the jade thread run through all, unseen. When you look carefully, what is of the present, what is of the past? Which is other, which is self? No loom is to be found nor does the thrust of the shuttle ever show. At this point there is sitting room for everyone and, in addition, it is always shared. This is why Funyomitta said in the preceding account, “You were expounding The Scripture of Great Wisdom as I was reciting from that most profound of Scriptures.”

When form is immaculate, the omniscient BUDDHA-WISDOM is immaculate; there are no differences, no distinctions. Sentient beings are the BUDDHA NATURE; the BUDDHA NATURE is sentient beings. Nothing is put in from outside, nothing is brought out from within. Even though the two are distinguished from each other in this way, ultimately there is no difference in number; this is why he was called Hannyatara, ‘The Pearl of Wisdom’, just as Bashashita had earlier obtained his name in accordance with a past karmic cause. Past and present cannot be separated. How can SHUNYATA and existence be different? This is why someone of old said, “If you understand the middle way between these two, you will be quite tranquil; it does not matter whether you distinguish between ULTIMATE REALITY and ITS functioning or not.”

When we consider SHUNYATA to refer to the ULTIMATE REALITY of the myriad forms that comprise the universe, then there is not even the tiniest bit of anything that lies before us; when we consider that the myriad forms that comprise the universe refer to the functioning of SHUNYATA, then there is not even the slightest difference in the ways to enlightenment. It is at this juncture that the Way of master and disciple is Transmitted. To comprehend that even the Seal of approval of the Buddhas and Ancestors is of many kinds is like saying that it has subdivisions; even if you understand that there is no duality, this is still a one-sided view. When you examine these matters closely and weigh them carefully, the heron and the snow in which it stands are not the same colour; the bright moonlight and the white reed flower do not resemble each other. Treading the path in this way, you carry with you your piling up of snow on the silver plate, your hiding of the heron in the bright moonlight.

I have some humble words which try to discern what is happening in the foregoing account. Do you all wish to hear them?

The light of the moon, reflected in the depths of the pool,
is bright in the sky;
The appearance of the water, as it flows toward the horizon,
is thoroughly clear and pure;
Even though you trawl through IT again and again,
knowing full well that IT does exist,
IT is so spacious and empty, yet discoverable everywhere,
that any attempt to grasp IT is completely futile.

(from The DENKOROKU: The Record of the Transmission of the Light by Zen Master Keizan Jokin. Translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey Press, 2001.)