Words are our Best Weapon Against the Lies of History (Truth in the Root of the Word).
Master Hui Neng, known as the Sixth Patriarch was the founder of the School of Sudden Awakening – The enlightenment is what one awakes to, that which cannot be learned in an orthodox way or earned assimilating theory. It is the Way of direct insight and unmistakable experience.
Hui Neng was living in the bad part of Canton when he heard a monk reciting the Diamond Cutting Sutra. On hearing this, he was immediately enlightened. He arranged financial support for his mother, who he was caring for, and left to see the Fifth Patriarch and join his temple as a monk.
The head monk accepted him, but knowing Hui Neng’s humble origins would see him disrespected by unenlightened junior monks, he gave him low level work in the kitchen.
One day the Patriarch announced he would choose the next Patriarch by means of a competition. Monks could write a poem about developing Prajna (wisdom) to show their depth of understanding.
The most senior monk wrote the following poem on the wall.
Our body is the Bodhi-tree, And our mind a mirror bright. Carefully we wipe them hour by hour, And let no dust alight.
The Patriarch told him: “Your stanza, shows that you have not yet realized the Essence of Mind. So far you have reached the ‘door of enlightenment’, but you have not yet entered it. To seek for supreme enlightenment with such an understanding as yours can hardly be successful.
Next Hui Neng got a junior monk to write poetic reply on the wall for him since he was illiterate.
There is no Bodhi-tree, Nor stand of a mirror bright. Since all is Void, Where can the dust alight?
The Patriarch was delighted. He gave Hui Neng some final instruction including this poem:
Sentient beings who sow the seeds of enlightenment In the field of causation will reap the fruit of Buddhahood. Inanimate objects void of Buddha-nature Sow not and reap not.
Hui Neng left immediately spending many years anonymously on the road until one day he visited the Guang Xiao Temple in Canton. Two monks were debating. One said the temple flag was moving; the other said the wind was moving. Hui Neng’s famous comment was that it was actually their minds that were moving.
The Head monk knew from the speed and depth of the visitor’s comment, that this must be the famous Hui Neng. From here on the Master came out of his retreat and greatly empowered Zen through his creation of the Nan Hua Monastery, his lectures, guidance and especially his creation of the Platform Sutra. This is the only Chinese text given Sutra status, meaning it is of equal value with the words of the Buddha.
The Sutra is good reading, but you’ll need a good teacher to explain it. It would be easy to spend an hour explaining a single sentence, such as: “Merits will be of no help if your Essence of Mind is obscured.”
Hui Neng was at the middle of a debate about Sudden and Gradual Enlightenment. He advocated his Sudden Enlightenment path if the students were ready to follow it. Others in the north, thought enlightenment would come gradually through effort and practicing good behaviour. The Northern, Gradual School died out and all modern schools of Zen are from Hui Neng’s Sudden school.