Transmission of the Lamp 祖師傳燈

Tao-hsin (道信 Dáshin)

Bowing before Great Master Kanchi, Dáshin said, “Please, Reverend Monk, I beg you, from your compassion, to impart to me the Dharma Gate of liberation.” Kanchi said, “Who is preventing you from entering?” Dáshin answered, “No one is preventing me.” Kanchi said, “Then why do you seek liberation from me?” At these words Dáshin experienced a great awakening to his TRUE SELF.

(The Fourth Patriarch of Chinese Chan)

Dáshin (C. Tao-hsin, ‘He Who Trusts in the Way’) was his personal name; his family name was Shima (C. Ssu-ma). He lived first in Kanai (C. Ho-nei) but later moved to Kásai (C. Kuang-chi) in the provincial district of Kishâ (C. Ch’i- chou). From his very birth he far excelled others; in his boyhood he practised various teachings on liberation taught by the schools that taught about shunyata as if this were some habit inherited from a previous life. When he had just entered his fourteenth year, he met Great Master Kanchi and made his plea for the priest’s compassion until he had a great awakening upon hearing Kanchi’s reply. Dáshin worked hard serving Kanchi for nine years and, after receiving the Precepts in Kishâ, he respectfully held to them with marked conscientiousness. With the utmost subtlety, Kanchi would often test him. When he recognised that Dáshin’s condition was ripe, he passed on the Kesa and the Teaching. Dáshin pursued Kanchi’s approach to training with full concentration and without sleeping; for almost sixty years he never even lay down.

In 617 C.E., during the Sui Dynasty, Dáshin, together with his followers, arrived at Kichishâ (C. Chi-chou) where a gang of bandits had been holding the city in its grip for seventy days. The whole populace was terrified so Dáshin took pity on them and taught them how to recite The Scripture of Great Wisdom. Some time later the robber band, whilst peering through the openings in the parapet wall, saw what looked like phantom soldiers inside and said amongst themselves, “There must be some extraordinary person within the city; we ought not to attack.” As a consequence they gradually withdrew.

In 624 C.E. Dáshin returned to Kishâ. During the spring, when he was living on Split Head Mountain (J. Hatázan; C. P’o- t’ou-shan), a company of monks gathered about him like clouds. One day, whilst on the road to Übai Mountain, (C. Huang-mei, ‘Yellow Plum Tree’), he met Kánin and, from the east side of Ox Head Summit (J. Gozu; C. Niu-t’ou), on Split Head Mountain, produced a branch of his line.

In 627 C.E. Emperor T’ai-tsung (J. Daishâ) of the T’ang Dynasty, drawn toward Dáshin’s practical approach to the Teaching, desired to pay his respects to Dáshin in person so he had him summoned to the capital. Dáshin humbly declined the emperor’s invitation. This summons was sent three times with Dáshin finally pleading illness. With the fourth summons the emperor commanded his emissary to bring back Dáshin’s head if the monk really would not come. When the emissary reached the mountain and made known the emperor’s instructions, Dáshin, with great dignity, stretched out his neck to receive the blade. Finding this behaviour extraordinary, the emissary returned to report what had happened. The emperor’s admiration for Dáshin only increased. He sent the monk a gift of rare silks and left him to his own resolves.

In 651 C.E., on the fourth day of the ninth lunar month, Dáshin suddenly gave the following admonition to his disciples, “Each and every single, solitary thing, without exception, is liberated; every one of you must keep this in mind, then let IT flow out and transform others in the future,” whereupon he stopped speaking and, sitting tranquilly, passed away in his seventy-second year. His body was placed in a stupa on the mountain where he had lived. The next year, on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, the door to the stupa opened by itself from no apparent cause. Dáshin looked just as he had when alive and, after this, his disciples did not dare to close the door again. Later Dáshin was given the title of Meditation Master Great Physician (J. Daii Zenji; C. Ta-i Ch’an-shih).

To be sure there is no superiority or inferiority in the behaviour of any master; Dáshin had followed the teaching on shunyata from boyhood just as though he had done so in a previous life. Throughout his life he avoided rulers and their ministers. Once having discovered the Way, he trained resolutely without ever turning back. From the very first he proclaimed the Dharma Gate to Liberation and, at the time of his death, he opened the Dharma Gate to Liberation to let it be known that, ultimately, no one is ever bound by birth and death. He was truly an extraordinary person, one met with only in a thousand years. The practice of the teaching on shunyata has, from the first, been called the Dharma Gate to Liberation. Why is this? Neither being alive, nor being a Buddha, ever fetters you.

Furthermore, what birth or death is there in which you can participate? Since this is so, this is something that cannot be analyzed or measured in terms of body or mind, or something that can be differentiated in terms of delusion and enlightenment. Even if you talk about mind and external objects or defiling passions and perfect enlightenment, all are but different names for the self. This is why mountains and rivers have no disparity. The karmic effects from the past that manifest as one’s environment and as one’s body and mind have no differences. Accordingly, O Acharyas, when it is cold, it is cold enough to kill you; when it is hot, it is hot enough to slay you. When you have crossed through the barrier gate, this principle will not apply. In other words, there is neither bondage nor liberation, neither this nor that; things do not set up their names; objects do not discriminate between their forms. You find fully the effects of your training so how can you possibly be concerned with what is ‘phenomenal’ or ‘noumenal’? Ultimately there is no distinction between ‘sitting upright in the meditation hall’ and just living. Do not abide in time, space and dualistic views. When you can see things in this way, you no longer need to use the word ‘liberation’. How can you despise anything as ‘fettering you’?

Furthermore, you truly have a radiance; we call this ‘that which sees the three worlds’. Your tongue has a sense of taste; this is named ‘that which harmonizes with the six flavours’. You emit light everywhere and prepare a feast at all times. As you come to taste IT, there is a deeply rich flavour in THAT which has no flavour. As you come to see IT, or go to see IT, there is a true form in THAT which has no characteristic of form. Thus there is no need to associate with rulers or ministers of state, no obligation for body or mind to sit or lie down. If you can reach this stage, Great Master Dáshin will be none other than each and every one of you and you will all be Great Master Dáshin. Is this not what is meant by ‘all things, without exception, being gates to liberation’? Is this not what is meant by ‘letting the TRUTH flow out and transform others in the future’? The door and windows of the Seamless Stupa suddenly fly open and ONE with the features of an ordinary being emerges genially.

Now here again are my humble words. Do you all wish to hear them?

ITS unsullied wisdom holds no thought of right or wrong;
Within ITSELF, IT recognises nothing as being fettered or free;
Even though we may distinguish five skandhas and four elements,
Sight and hearing, sound and form
are ultimately nothing other than IT.

(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.)