Transmission of the Lamp 祖師傳燈

Seng-ts’an (僧璨 Sásan)

Upon meeting Eka, Sásan asked him, “My body is riddled with disease; please, Reverend Monk, cleanse me of my defilement.” Eka replied, “Bring me your defilement and I will cleanse you of it.” Sásan thought long and hard about this, then said, “I have searched for my defilement but cannot find it.” Eka replied, “I have cleansed you of your defilement. It is fitting that you dwell in accord with Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.”

(The 3rd Patriarch of Chinese Chan)

Sásan was a man from parts unknown; his first meeting with Eka was as a lay person when he was in his forties. Without giving his name, he had suddenly come forward, bowed and put his request to Eka to cleanse him of his defilement. The above dialogue ensued up to where Eka said, “It is fitting that you dwell in accord with Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,” whereupon Sásan said, “Seeing you, Reverend Monk, I realize that you represent the Sangha, but I have not yet ascertained what are meant by Buddha and Dharma.” Eka replied, “Your ORIGINAL NATURE is BUDDHA, your ORIGINAL NATURE is DHARMA; DHARMA and BUDDHA are inseparable. What I have said is also true for the SANGHA TREASURE.” Sásan said, “Today, for the first time, I realize that the true nature of defilement does not exist within or without or in-between; it is the same as ORIGINAL NATURE; Buddha and Dharma are inseparable.” Eka, seeing how profound Sásan’s capacity for the Teaching was, shaved his head, saying, “You are my treasure; it is fitting for me to give you the name Sásan (C. Seng-ts’an, ‘The Resplendent Jewel of the Sangha’).” On the eighteenth day of the third lunar month of that year Sásan took the Precepts in Káfuku-ji (C. Kuang-fu-ssu). From then on, his disease gradually subsided.

After Sásan had spent two years attending on Eka, the latter said one day, “Great Master Bodaidaruma came from India to this land and gave me both the Kesa and the Teaching; I now give them to you.” He added, “Although you have already obtained the Teaching, for the time being you should go deep into the mountains and not teach or guide others since some political troubles are about to arise.” Sásan said, “Master, since you already know what is going to happen, please deign to give me some instructions.” Eka replied, “This is not something that I personally know about; it is a prediction by Hannyatara which Bodaidaruma passed on to me as, ‘Even though the receipt of the Teaching is auspicious within the heart, outwardly it will bring misfortune.’ These are the troubles that he meant. When I compare this prediction with the number of years that Bodaidaruma spoke of, it applies directly to you. By all means examine what has just been said and do not get caught up in worldly difficulties.”

After this, Sásan sought seclusion on Mount Kanká (C. Huan-kung) where he spent over ten years; this was during the time that Emperor Bu (C. Wu) of the Chou Dynasty out- lawed Buddhism and, in consequence, Sásan took up residence on Mount Shikâ (C. Ssu-k’ung). Whilst staying there he had no fixed abode and his physical appearance underwent a transformation. Whilst acting in this way he came in contact with the novice Dáshin whom he later told, “After my late master Eka Transmitted the Teaching and the Kesa to me, he went to the capital city of Yeh where he lived for thirty years. Now that I have found you, what is to hold me here?” Accordingly he went to Mount Rafu (C. Lo-fou) but later returned to his former dwelling place where both the educated and the common people hastened to prepare charitable offerings for him. For the sake of the monks and laity, male and female, Sásan preached extensively on the essence of mind then, during a Buddhist ceremony, he passed away whilst sitting in gasshá under a large tree. His poems, such as ‘What Is Engraved on the Heart That Trusts to the Eternal’, have been recorded and to this day are still circulated as Teaching. Later he was given the title of Great Master Kanchi (C. Chien-chih, ‘He Whose Wisdom Is a Mirror’).

The disease that plagued Sásan’s body at the time of his first meeting with Eka was leprosy but, after meeting Eka, his karmic disease suddenly disappeared. There is nothing special about what is happening in this story. Having understood that the true nature of defilement is ungraspable, Sásan had awakened to the fact that ORIGINAL NATURE is pure and unstained. This is why, upon hearing that BUDDHA and DHARMA are inseparable, he had said that ORIGINAL NATURE and DHARMA were also inseparable.

When you can truly discern ORIGINAL NATURE, there is no longer any difference between dying in one place and being born in another: how much less is there discrimination between the good and bad roots of defilement. This is why the four elements and the five skandhas ultimately do not exist; from the very beginning we are free of skin, flesh, bones and marrow. The disease that afflicted him therefore disappeared and his ORIGINAL NATURE manifested ITSELF.

Sásan preached widely on the essentials of the Teaching following a set sequence; after talking on the text, ‘The Ultimate Way is not hard; simply reject picking and choosing’, he would expound on ‘The power of words fails to describe IT for IT is not of past, future or present’. Truly, there is no inside or outside and there is no in-between. What is there to choose, what to reject? You cannot grab hold of IT or discard IT. Once you are beyond hatred and desire, IT is crystal clear and unmistakable; nothing is lacking at any time nor is there anything in excess. Nevertheless, look, and probe deeply, into yourself until you find the ungraspable place which is beyond imagining or description. Never deny the law of karma or be a veritable log or stone; strike space hard and make it reverberate, tether the lightning and make it take form, carefully set your eyes on the place that has no traces and never hide yourself there. If you are like this, although we say that IT is not some object which is before your eyes or which the sense organs settle on, you will discern IT without deviating even as much as a dust mote.

So, how am I to discriminate and write some words about what is going on in this story?

The ORIGINAL NATURE of things is void, unstained and pure, without inside or outside,
Hence neither defilements nor virtues leave any traces therein.
ORIGINAL NATURE and BUDDHA are fundamentally the same;
Both DHARMA and SANGHA are, in themselves, clearly wise.

(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.)