Transmission of the Lamp 祖師傳燈

Hui Neng (慧能 Enō)

One night, whilst Enō was hard at work in the rice shed at Ōbai, Daiman Kōnin entered and asked, “Is the rice indeed white?” Enō replied, “It is white but it has not yet been winnowed.” Damian struck Enō’s rice-pounding mortar thrice with his staff; Enō shook the rice in the winnowing fan three times then followed Daiman to his quarters.

Enō was of the Ro (C. Lu) clan and originally came from Han’yō (C. Fan-yang). His father, whose name was Gyōtō (C. Hsing-tao, ‘Wielder of the Jewel-studded Sword’), had served during the Budoku (C. Wu-te) era, 618–627 C.E., as an official for the provincial district of Jinshū (C. Hsin-chou) in the city of Nankai (C. Nan-hai) where he remained after he lost his government position. Following his father’s death, Enō, mindful of his obligations, took care of, and supported, his mother. For a long time the family was painfully destitute with Enō earning a pittance as a wood gatherer. One day, whilst carrying a bundle of kindling into the market-place, he heard a stranger chanting the Diamond Scripture. At the point where it says, ‘Enkindle that attitude of mind which does not dwell anywhere in particular’, he experienced an awakening to his TRUE SELF. Having heard this, Enō asked the stranger what the Scripture was and from whom he had received it. The man answered, “It is called the Diamond Scripture and I received it from the acknowledged great teacher Daiman of Ōbai.” Enō hastened home to tell his mother of his intention to seek out a teacher for the sake of the Dharma.

Immediately upon his arrival in Shōshū (C. Shao-chou) he met the eminent scholar Ryō Shiryaku (C. Liu Chih-lueh) who befriended him. Shiryaku’s mother-in-law was none other than the female monk Mujinzō (C. Wu-chin-tsang, ‘The Inexhaustible Treasure House’). Her custom was to recite the Nirvana Scripture and, after Enō had listened to her for a while, he began to comment to her on its meaning whereupon she held out the scroll and asked about a particular word. Enō said to her, “As I do not know how to read characters, please just ask me about the meaning.” Mujinzō said, “If you do not know how to read characters, how can you understand the meaning?” Enō replied, “The wondrous PRINCIPLE OF THE BUDDHAS does not depend on written characters.” Mujinzō, startled by this reply, told the village elders that Enō was a man who was practising the Way and therefore should be given provisions. After this, the residents vied to come and pay their respects to him. There was, in the vicinity, the ancient site of the former Hōrin-ji (C. Pao-lin-ssu, ‘The Precious Grove Monastery’) near Canton, and the people agreed to rebuild it so that Enō could live there. Monks and laity, male and female, gathered like thick banks of fog and, in less than no time, transformed it into a monk’s Treasured Residence.

One day Enō suddenly said to himself, “I am seeking the Great Teaching so how can I possibly stop half-way there?” The next day he left for the hermit retreats in the western caves of Shōraku County (C. Ch’ang-lo) in Szuchuan Province where he met Meditation Master Chien (C. Chih-yuan, ‘He Whose Wisdom Is Far-reaching’) and asked for his assistance in realizing the Way. Chien replied, “I can see from the look of you that your spiritual resources are clearly outstanding and that you are really an extraordinary person. I have heard that Bodaidaruma of the Western Regions has Transmitted the SEAL to Daiman on Ōbai Mountain. You should journey there to investigate how you can resolve the matter of realizing enlightenment.” Enō took his leave and went straightway to Ōbai where he sought an audience with Daiman Kōnin who asked him, “Where do you come from?” Enō answered, “From south of the Southern Pass.” Daiman asked, “What do you want above all else?” Enō replied, “I seek only to become a Buddha.” Daiman then said, “Southerners do not have the BUDDHA NATURE, so how can you realize Buddhahood?” Enō answered, “Amongst people there are Southerners and there are Northerners; what has the BUDDHA NATURE to do with that?” Daiman recognised that here indeed was no ordinary person but, chiding, told him to go to the rice-pounding shed. Enō bowed low and left for the shed where, for eight months, he laboured hard pounding rice day and night without ceasing.

(The Nam Hua Monastery, China)

Daiman, realizing that the time for Transmission had arrived, told his assembly of monks, “The True Teaching is hard to explain; it is not enough to vainly memorize what I say and proclaim it as your own. Let each of you compose a poem according to your own understanding. The one whose phrases tally most profoundly with the intent of the Teaching will receive both the Kesa and the Teaching.” At that time Jinshū (C. Shen-hsiu, ‘He of Spiritual Excellence’), a senior monk in charge of ceremonial training for the more than seven hundred junior members of the Sangha, was well versed in the inner and outer meaning of doctrines so the assembly looked up to him. They all excused themselves from writing a poem, pleading that if it were not the worthy Jinshū, who could possibly be more suited to this task. Jinshū, hearing of the community’s adulation, composed a poem without giving it a second thought. When it was completed he wished to present it to the master and tried to do so several times, but each time that he arrived outside the master’s room his mind became confused and his body broke out in a sweat. Although he was determined to present his verse, he was unable to bring himself to do so. Over the next four days he tried thirteen times to present it but could not. Jinshū then thought, “Why not write it on the corridor wall where the master will see it when passing? If the master should chance to say that it is satisfactory, I can come forth, bow and say that I had composed it; if the master should say that it is inadequate, I can bow to that, then go into the mountains and pass my years there; after all, having received such reverence and respect from others, what better way to train?” That night, at midnight, without informing anyone, he wrote his verse by lantern light on the wall of the south corridor, presenting what his mind had perceived. His poem read,

Our mind is a bodhi tree,
Our mind like a dressing-stand with its clear mirror;
Time upon time let us strive to wipe it clean
And let not dust or dirt abide thereon.

Daiman suddenly spotted this poem whilst passing through the corridor and, upon reading it, knew that it was the work of Jinshū. He praised it, saying, “If succeeding generations put the Teaching of this poem into practice, they too will find the surpassing fruits of Buddhahood,” and had everyone recite it aloud from memory. In the rice shed, Enō overheard the recitation of the poem and asked a fellow lay trainee what the verse was. The trainee replied, “Do you not know that Reverend Master is seeking his Dharma heir and has therefore asked everyone to compose a poem that expresses what is in their heart, and that this is the one that Jinshō has composed? Reverend Master has praised it deeply; he will undoubtedly Transmit the Kesa and the Teaching to him.” Enō asked how the poem went and the trainee recited it. After a long silence, Enō remarked, “It is indeed beautiful but it is not quite complete.” The trainee ridiculed Enō saying, “What does a Southerner know? Do not spout such nonsense!” Enō replied, “You do not doubt what I say, do you? Pray, show your understanding with a poem.” The trainee did not reply; they just looked at each other and smiled. That night Enō asked a boy attendant in the temple to lead him to the selfsame corridor. Then, whilst he himself held a candle, he had the boy write down the following poem next to Jinshū’s:

BODHI is truly not a tree
Nor is the CLEAR MIRROR a mirrored dressing-stand;
From the first not a single thing exists
So from where is dust or dirt to arise?

After seeing this poem, everyone in the monastery, high and low, was saying, “This is truly a poem by a flesh-and-blood Bodhisattva!” boisterously praising it up and down. Daiman, knowing full well that it was a poem by Enō, made a point of saying, “Who wrote this? To be sure, someone who has not yet seen his TRUE NATURE!” and erased it. As a result everyone in the assembly paid no more heed to it.

When night fell, Daiman entered the rice shed in secret and asked Enō, “Is the rice indeed white?” to which Enō replied, “It is indeed white but it has not yet been winnowed,” whereupon Daiman struck the rice-pounding mortar thrice with his staff and Enō shook the rice in the winnowing fan thrice then followed Daiman to his quarters. Daiman remarked, “All the Buddhas have renounced the world for one great reason; to lead and guide others to the Other Shore in accordance with their natural abilities, great or small. Over time instructions have arisen on the Ten Stages of a Bodhisattva’s development, the Three Vehicles, the sudden and the gradual approaches and so forth as gateways for teaching. Furthermore, the unsurpassed, subtle and profound, perfectly clear, genuine and true EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW was imparted to the Buddha’s senior disciple, the Venerable Makakashō. In turn, IT was Transmitted down through twenty-eight generations of Indian Ancestors to Bodaidaruma. After he arrived in this land he found Great Teacher Eka who, having received IT, passed IT on until IT reached me. Now, by means of the Dharma Treasure and the Transmission Kesa, I hand IT on to you. Guard well, do not let the line become extinct.” Enō, kneeling to receive the Kesa and the Teaching, spoke, “The Teaching I have already received; on whom shall I bestow the Kesa?” Daiman replied, “Long ago, when Bodaidaruma first arrived, there was none who yet had the faith so he passed on the Kesa to make clear that the recipient had realized the Teaching. Nowadays faithful hearts are already ripe and the Kesa may prove a pretext for squabbling and strife. Let it stay with you and do not pass it on further. Moreover, you should seclude yourself in some far distant place and bide your time until you begin to teach and convert others; the life of him who receives the Kesa hangs as if by a single thread.” When Enō asked where he should hide, Daiman replied, “Wherever it suits you. When coming in contact with others, you would do well to conceal It.[Editor note: in the original Chinese of the Platform Sutra, the text says “Stop at Huai Ji County, (Guangxi province); stay in seclusion at Si Hui” (Guang Dong province)] Enō bowed low and, having already offered up the Kesa, took his leave.

There was a river crossing at the foot of Ōbai Mountain; Daiman personally came down to see Enō off. Bowing, Enō said, “Reverend Master, you should return quickly. Having already found the Way, I should ferry myself across.” Daiman replied, “Although you have already found the Way, I should still be the one who ferries you across.” So, taking the pole, Daiman crossed to the far shore with Enō and then returned alone to the monastery. None of the assembly knew of these events.

After this, Daiman no longer gave lectures. Whenever people came to him with their questions, he would reply, “My Way is gone.” When someone asked who was to receive the Master’s Kesa and Teaching, Daiman replied, “The able one has obtained them.” Based on this people speculated on the fact that Layman Ro’s name was Enō (which means ‘The Able One’), but when they went looking for him he had already vanished. Connecting this with the preceding, they guessed that he had obtained the Kesa so they all went hunting for him.

At the time there was a former general of the fourth rank who had awakened to the mind of enlightenment [Editor note: in the original Chinese of the Platform Sutra, the text says, who has rough temperament], Emyō (C. Hui-ming, ‘Bright Compassion’) by name. He proceeded to Great Granary Peak (J. Daiyuhō; C. Ta-yu-feng) ahead of the others where he was about to overtake Enō who said to himself, “Since this Kesa symbolizes faith, how can It possibly be taken by force?” Placing the Kesa and his bowl on top of a boulder, he hid himself in the deep grass. When Emyō arrived and tried to remove the Objects he could not lift them, try as he might. Trembling all over, he said, “I have come for the sake of the Teaching, not for the sake of a robe.” Enō then emerged and sat on a huge rock. Making an obeisance, Emyō said, “I hope the layman will point out the essentials of the Teaching for me.” Enō said, “At the very moment when you are not thinking of either good or evil, what, Senior Monk Emyō, is your ORIGINAL FACE?” Hearing these lucid words, Emyō had a great awakening. He then asked, “Apart from these profound words and their profound meaning, is there anything more of even deeper import?” Enō replied, “What I have spoken for your sake is by no means profound. If you look within, you will find that the PROFOUND lies within you.” Emyō said, “Although I was at Ōbai with Daiman, I had not yet truly taken notice of my own FACE; now that I have received your instructions, it is like drinking water and knowing for oneself whether it is hot or cold. Now, layman, it is you who are Emyō’s master.” Enō replied, “If this is the case, then you and I are fellow disciples of Daiman of Ōbai.” Emyō bowed deeply and returned to Ōbai. Later, after he had been promoted to abbot of the temple, Emyō was to change his name to Dōmyō (C. Tao-ming, ‘He Whose Path is Bright and Unclouded’) in order to avoid the use of the same first syllable as in Enō’s name. When anyone came to train under him personally, he would send them to train under Enō.

Following his receipt of the Kesa and the Teaching, Enō hid himself among a group of hunters in Shie County (C. Ssu-hui) where he passed ten years. Then, on the eighth day of the first lunar month in 676 C.E., he arrived at the southern coast where he met Dharma Master Inshū (C. Yin-tsung, ‘He Who Is Kindred to the Seal’) who was lecturing on the Nirvana Scripture at Hosshō-ji (C. Fa-hsing-ssu). Enō had taken up lodging on a verandah when a strong wind began to flap the temple banner, whereupon he heard two monks engaging in an argument with each other. One was saying that it was the banner that was moving, the other that it was the wind that was moving. The debate went back and forth without their being able to agree on the principle. Enō said to them, “Might a member of the laity be permitted to call a quick end to this lofty debate? Frankly, it is not the wind or the banner that is moving, kind sirs, it is your minds that are moving and nothing more.” Inshū, unseen, heard these words and was dumbfounded by their extraordinary nature. The next day he invited Enō to come to his quarters and questioned him on the meaning of his remark about the wind and the banner. After Enō had explained the principle in detail, Inshū instinctively rose to his feet and said, “O layman, you are indeed no ordinary person. Who is your teacher?” No longer concealing anything, Enō openly related the circumstances of his receiving the Teaching whereupon Inshū made the obeisance of a disciple and asked to be given the essentials of meditation. He told the monks and laity, male and female, who were his followers, “I am just a completely ordinary fellow but I have now met a flesh-and-blood Bodhisattva,” and, pointing to Layman Ro seated amidst the laity, said, “That is he.” He then asked Enō to bring out the Kesa of Faith which had been passed on to him and had everyone bow in reverence before It.

On the eighth day of the second lunar month Enō took the full Precepts from Vinaya Master Chikō (C. Chih-kuang, ‘The Light of Wisdom’) at Hosshō-ji. The altar used for the Precepts ceremony was the very one placed there during the Sung Dynasty by Gunabhadra, the Doctrine Master and a translator of Scriptures who had written in his record of the event, ‘Later there will be a flesh-and-blood Bodhisattva who will take the Precepts at this altar’. Paramartha, another Doctrine Master and translator of Scriptures at the end of the Liang Dynasty, planted two bodhi trees with his own hands on either side of the altar and told the assembly, “After a hundred and twenty years there will be a great, enlightened man who will expound the Unsurpassed Vehicle under these trees and ferry immeasurable numbers of sentient beings to the Other Shore.” Enō took the Precepts under those trees and subsequently opened a monastery on Tōzan (C. Tung-shan) just as had been previously predicted.

A year later, on the eighth day of the second lunar month, Enō suddenly said to the assembly, “I do not wish to remain here; I would like to return to my old hermitage.” Inshū, along with many thousands of monks, accompanied Enō to Hōrin-ji. Ikyo (C. Wei-chu), the governor of Shōshū Province, asked him to turn the Wheel of the Wondrous Dharma at Daibon-ji (C. Tafan-ssu) as well as to let him take the Precepts without characteristics (i.e., the Three Refuges)[Editor note: the story in Chinese would read as the governor asked Hui Neng to let him take the Three Refuges without taking the Precepts.] Disciples took down a record of his talks and called them The Platform Scripture which they propagated to the world. When this was accomplished he went back to his monastery by the River Sōkei (C. Tsao-chi, ‘Cordial Valley’) and poured down a great rain of Dharma. Those he awakened numbered at least a thousand. During his seventy sixth year, after having bathed and cleansed himself, he sat in meditation and died.

(The Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Chan)

At the time of Daiman’s transferring the WATER OF THE SPIRIT to Enō’s vessel, Daiman had asked, “Is the rice indeed white?” These grains of rice are indeed the spiritual seedlings of the DHARMA LORD, the life roots of both sage and ordinary person. Although in a wild field whose weeds went unclipped, they once grew tall on their own; now stripped clean of their husks and polished white as the dew, they absorb no dirt or stain, yet, even so, they have not yet been winnowed. If you winnow them back and forth, you will thoroughly know what is within and what is without; up they are tossed, down they are shaken. In Daiman’s striking the mortar thrice, the rice grains automatically fell into their proper place and in a twinkling the power of ORIGINAL NATURE was made manifest. In Enō’s winnowing the rice three times, the deportment of the Ancestors was Transmitted. Since then, the night when the mortar was struck has not yet known a dawn, the day when Enō’s hands imparted the Dharma has not yet seen a twilight.

Reflect on this! Great Teacher Enō had indeed been a woodcutter from the South and Layman Ro in the rice shed. He had wandered the mountains plying his hatchet for a living. Then, even though he had had no formal education or studied the classics in order to illumine his mind, nevertheless, upon hearing a single line of Scripture, he brought forth that attitude of mind which does not dwell anywhere. Even though he toiled in the rice-pounding shed, devoted to pestle and mortar, even though he had not sat in formal training or resolved the matter through spiritual dialogues with a master, in a bare eight months he had, by his diligent industry, nevertheless illumined his mind to the point where he knew that ‘the CLEAR MIRROR is not a mirrored dressing-stand’. As a result the imparting of the Teaching was carried out in the middle of the night and the life-line of the Ancestors was continued on. Whilst he did not necessarily require many years of meritorious practice in austerities, clearly it took his concerted and diligent efforts at least for a time. The finding of the Way by the Buddhas has never been something to be measured in terms of long or short periods of time so how could the Way of Transmission for Ancestors and Masters ever be understood in terms of such divisions as past and present?

Over the past ninety days of this summer I have lectured in breadth and depth, given commentaries on things past and present and, employing both rough speech and soft words, called attention to the Buddha and the Ancestors. If you enter into the vague and the picayune or fall into duality or plurality, the customs of our religion will be besmirched and what is unseemly in our monastic family will be elevated. Thus, even though I feel that you have all grasped the principles and gained in strength, in all kindness it would seem that you are still not in perfect accord with the intentions of the Ancestors nor does your deportment entirely resemble that of the ancient sages. Due to great good karma, we have met each other face to face like this. If you are diligently committed to the practice of Buddhism, you will fully realize its fruits but many of you have still not reached the Other Shore, you still have not peeped into the Hall Within. It has been long since the time of the Buddha; your occupation with the Way is not yet finished. Physical life is difficult to sustain; why trust this matter to the last days of your life? Autumn has begun, summer has already ended; the season has come for you to go your ways, be they to east or west, and, as of old, scatter hither and thither. Having memorized the random word or partial phrase, will you now attempt to parrot it as what I have taught of the Dharma? Will you put forward some smattering of knowledge and call it the conveyance to the Gateway of the Great Vehicle? Even if you have fully found the strength to carry such a load, what is unseemly in our monastic family will still be spread abroad; how much the more so if you preach a foolish, incoherent or dubious brand of Buddhism! If you feel that you want to be truly scrupulous in this matter, do not idly fritter away your days and nights or carry random bits of knowledge away with you.

The mortar struck,
its sound piercing high beyond the empty blue;
The clouds are winnowed away,
the bright moon, deep in the night, shines clear.

(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.)