Transmission of the Lamp 祖師傳燈

Hung-ren (弘忍 Kánin)

When Kánin encountered Dáshin on the road to Übai, Dáshin asked him, “What is your clan name?” Kánin said, “I have a NATURE but I do not have a conventional clan name.” Dáshin asked, “And what is IT?” Kánin replied, “It is the BUDDHA NATURE.” Dáshin queried, “So you have no clan name?” Kánin answered, “Because ORIGINAL NATURE is empty, I do not.” Dáshin fell silent realizing that Kánin was a vessel for the Teaching and that it was to him that he would Transmit the Teaching and the Kesa. 

(The Fifth Patriarch of Chinese Chan)

Kánin (C. Hung-ren, ‘He of Magnificent Endurance’) was a man from Übai in the provincial district of Kishâ (C. Ch’i- chou); in a former life he had been an itinerant forester who planted pine trees on Split Head Mountain. During that time he had once asked Dáshin to explain to him how he could realize enlightenment in accord with the Teaching. Dáshin had answered, “You are already quite old; even were you to hear it, how could you propagate it in order to convert others? However, were you to return in another lifetime, I would still be waiting for you.” The forester departed. As he came to the edge of a river he saw a lone young woman washing clothes and, greeting her, he asked if he could lodge with her for the night. The woman replied that she had a father and an elder brother whom she could ask. He replied that, if it was all right with her, he would venture to go with her. The young woman agreed and, afterwards, returned to her task. 

The young woman was the very plum of her entire clan so, when she suddenly discovered upon her return home that she was pregnant, her parents, in rancour, drove her out of the house. Since the woman had no home to return to, she hired herself out as a spinner in the village during the day and spent her nights inside the public tavern. Ultimately she gave birth to a son but, because having him seemed misfortunate to her, she cast him into a muddy stream. He was not carried away by the current but stayed afloat whilst his body remained dry. For seven days divine beings protected him from harm; in the day these divine beings were two birds whose wings stretched out to cover the child, at night they were two dogs who crouched down beside him as guardians. When his mother saw that his vitality and body were luminous and his six faculties had remained completely undimmed, she thought how wondrous this was so she picked him up and nurtured him. 

When he grew large enough, he took to begging along with his mother. People called him the lad with no clan name, but one astute person remarked facetiously, “Since this child lacks seven of the most fortunate marks, he does not quite match a Tathagata who has all thirty-two.” 

Later on the boy and his mother encountered Dáshin travelling on the road to Übai Mountain. Seeing that the child’s features were strikingly handsome and not like those of conventional children, Dáshin asked him what his name was and the dialogue given above ensued to the point where Dáshin remained silent, realizing Kánin’s capacity for training. As a result, he asked the mother’s permission for Kánin to leave home and serve as his jisha. At that time Kánin was in his seventh year. 

From the time that he crossed to the Other Shore so that he might receive the Kesa, and left home to become a monk so that the Dharma could be Transmitted to him, there was not a single day or night when he lay down, even for an hour or so, during the whole twenty-four hours. He was wont to sit in this manner although never putting a limit on his other duties. Finally, in the year 675 C.E., he remarked to his disciples, “My work has come to an end, therefore I must take my leave.” So saying, he passed away whilst sitting. 

There is a name that is not received from one’s father or from the Ancestors, one not passed on from the Buddha or from the Ancestors; we call it the BUDDHA NATURE . The purpose of training in meditation and practising the Way is basically to realize THIS; it is for the sake of making your ORIGINAL NATURE still and bright. If you have not found the SOURCE, you will live in vain and die in vain, bewildered by yourself, bewildered by others. 

As to what is called ORIGINAL NATURE , each and every one of us is born and dies over and over again yet, even though face and form may differ, never at any moment do any of us not possess this clear and distinct wisdom. The truth of this can be realized from what happened in the present story. Long ago a forester sought the Dharma Path but, up to the point where, as a child of seven, the Kesa and the Teaching were Transmitted, understanding, of necessity, had not changed because of rebirth; your TRUE NATURE never changes just because your form does! 

Meditation Master Wanshi (C. Hung-chih) wrote in an inscription on a portrait of Great Master Kánin, “Before and after, two bodies; past and present, one NATURE.” Even though two bodies have been supplied, you must understand that the past and the present do not have different natures. It has been this way for immeasurable kalpas so, if you would find the BODYof this ORIGINAL NATURE, from the outset do not try to categorize that NATURE to accord with social distinctions. Because the four social classes are of the same NATURE and your ORIGINAL NATURE is like this, when those of any of the four classes leave home and become monks they are referred to alike as belonging to the Shakya clan in order to make them aware of this absence of disparateness. I am truly not a separate being, nor are you; we merely take on the faces of self and other, just as do past and present bodies. If you cannot discern things in this manner and clarify your understanding, you will, in your confusion, pretend that what is before your very eyes exists and make a distinction between your own body and those of others. As a result you will have emotional attachments to all sorts of things and be infatuated with, or confused by, the times in which you live but, once you can realize this state, even though you were to change your form and alter yourself, how could that possibly disturb the TRUE SELF or alter IT?

You can realize this through the account of the forester and the boy. Since the latter was born without having a legal father, you must understand that people do not necessarily receive the name of both their parents when they are born so, even though you have emotional attachments to what you see as a physical body, hair and flesh received from your parents, still you should understand that the BODY of which I speak is not the five skandhas. When you have understood that this BODY is like this, then there will be nothing at all that accompanies an ‘I’, nor has there been anything different from yourself even for an instant. This is why someone of old said, “No sentient being, from kalpas immeasurable, has ever emerged from meditation on the DHARMA-NATURE.” When you obtain a physical body and practise in this way, you will quickly succeed in coming face to face with Daiman Kánin; there will be no distinction between people of different nationalities or differences between past and present times. 

Now, how can I make a vital comment that will correspond to this principle? 

The moon is so resplendent, the water so pure, the autumn sky so clear; 

How could there be even a whisper of cloud to bespeak the GREAT IMMACULACY ? 

(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.)