Dajian Huineng – The Sixth Ancestor of Zen

Huineng lived between the mid-seventh century and early eighth century CE. He is the author of the Platform Sutra and is the principle proponent of the doctrine of sudden enlightenment.

 

He was a Chinese Buddhist of the Southern Chan school, which became known as Zen Buddhism when it moved across the waters to Japan.

 

Huineng was a lay person, according to the legends which pertain to him, upon reading the Diamond Sutra he attained a state of perfect enlightenment and was able to expostulate his understanding of the teachings of the Buddha to Hongren, the Fifth Ancestor of Zen. Even though Huineng was considered to be an uneducated barbarian Hongren chose him as his successor over the monk who had been groomed to fulfil that role.

 

Huineng’s Platform Sutra recapitulates all the major teachings of Chan Buddhism including the Diamond Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana.

 

Huineng taught “no-thought” and the purity of the “unattached mind” which comes and goes freely, functioning fluently without any hindrance.

 

Be mindful!

 

The principle of “no-thought” does not mean that a person is not thinking, but that in the state of “no-though” the mind is a highly attentive to its immediate experience, unentangled by the exigencies of the past or the expectations of the future.

 

The state of ‘no-thought” is understood as a way of being, wherein the mind is open, non-conceptual, allowing the individual to experience reality directly, as it truly is.

 

Huineng criticized the formal understanding of Buddhism which suggests that the individual must devote themselves to a life of quiet contemplation, likening it to the same trap that the Gautama Siddhartha the Buddha sought to free people from when he taught them that they did not have to endure innumerable lifetimes and countless rebirths before they can be free from the wheel of life.

 

Huineng’s teaching on sudden enlightenment is a doctrine of liberation such as that taught by the Buddha when he instructed the people that they could experience immediate release by following the five-fold path.

 

The Buddha was a liberator and Huineng cast himself in the same mode.

Huineng taught this: When alive one keeps sitting without lying down. When dead, one lies without sitting up.

 

Observing that: In both cases, one is a set of stinking bones!

 

Asking the most important question: What has any of it to do with the great lesson of life?

 

When I was given my first Koan to meditate on, my teacher offered me the old cliché:

 

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

 

In the spirit of Huineng I understood the Koan to be meaningless and I replied: There is no sound.

 

He insisted that I answered to quickly, suggesting that I must meditate on the Koan further, which was unnecessary because in speaking from the immediacy of our experience we are able to understand that one hand does not clap.

 

HuiNeng 

 

Given First – 2020.08.28

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