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石頭希遷 Shitou Xiqian (700–790)

參同契 Cantongqi
(Rōmaji:) Sekitō Kisen: Sandōkai
(English:) Harmony of Difference and Equality / Identity of Relative and Absolute /
Inquiry into Matching Halves
(Magyar:) Si-tou Hszi-csien: Can-tung-csi / A különbözőség és az azonosság egybeesése

艸庵歌 Caoan ge
(Rōmaji:) Sekitō Kisen: Sōan ka
(English:) Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage
/ Song of the Grass Shack
(Magyar:) Si-tou Hszi-csien: Cao-an ko / A szalmafedelű kunyhó éneke* / Zsúpfedeles dal**

*©Király Attila **©Terebess Gábor



Különbség és azonosság
Fordította: Komár Lajos

Különbözőség és azonosság keveredése
Fordította: Hadházi Zsolt (2005)

Különbözőség és azonosság együttműködése
Fordította: Máthé Veronika és Hadházi Zsolt (2009)

Si-tou összegyűjtött mondásaiból
Fordította: Terebess Gábor

A különbözőség és az azonosság harmóniája
Fordította: Fábián Gábor

A szalmafedelű kunyhó éneke
Zeisler István francia verzióját fordította: Király Attila

A Kunyhó Éneke
Daniel Leighton
angol verzióját fordította: Komár Lajos

Encounter Dialogues of Shitou Xiqian
compiled by Satyavayu of Touching Earth Sangha

The Record of Shitou Xiqian
Translated by by James Mitchell & Yulie Lou

Song of the Grass Shack
Translated by by James Mitchell & Yulie Lou

Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage
Translated by Daniel Leighton

Song of the Straw Thatched Hut
Translated by Gregory Wonderwheel

Caoan-ko, Soanka: A Song About My Grass-Thatch Hut
Translated by Yasuda Joshu and Anzan Hoshin

The Agreement of Difference and Unity
Translated by by James Mitchell & Yulie Lou

Harmony of Difference and Equality
by Sotoshu Shumucho

Translated by 増永霊鳳 Masunaga Reihō

Sandokai – or the Unity of One and Many
Translated by Hakuun Barnhard

Merging of Difference and Unity
Translated by Thomas Cleary

Harmony of Difference and Equality
Translated by San Francisco Zen Center

Agreement of Meeting Together
Translated by Gregory Wonderwheel

Inquiry into Matching Halves
Commented on by Chan Master Sheng Yen
Translated by Ming Yee Wang and Pei-gwang Dowiat


Encounter Dialogues of Shitou Xiqian
compiled by Satyavayu of Touching Earth Sangha
DOC: Treasury of the Forest of Ancestors

Great Master Shitou Xiqian grew up near Guangzhou in the far south. As a small child he visited a Buddhist temple with his mother, who brought him in front of the Buddha image, told him to bow down, and said, “This is Buddha.” After he bowed, the child looked at the image for awhile and then said, “This is only a human being, If he is called a Buddha, then I want to be one too.”
In his village there were animal sacrifices performed to appease demons, and as a boy the master would go into the woods, destroy the ceremonial altars, free the animals,and drive them away. This went on for several years and the village elders were never able to stop him.
At only thirteen years old Xiqian traveled to Caoxi and became a novice under Master Huineng. Soon after the master passed away. Most likely Xiqian then stayed in the area, and was eventually ordained at the relatively late age of 28 at the famous Luofu Mountain in Guangzhou. He then traveled north to study with Master Qingyuan Xingsi, the disciple of Huineng, in central Jiangxi..

One version of his first meeting with Master Qingyuan goes like this:
The master asked, “Where have you come from?”
Xiqian said, “From Caoxi.”
The master asked, “What did you bring with you?”
Xiqian said, “That which had never been lost even before I went to Caoxi.”
The master said, “Then why did you go there at all?”
Xiqian said, “If I hadn't gone there, how could I have realized that it had never been lost?”
The master approved.
Then Xiqian asked him, “Did you know the master of Caoxi?”
The master said, “Do you know me now or not?”
Xiqian said, “Though I might know you, how can I fully realize it?”
The master then welcomed Xiqian into the community.
Xiqian had a profound awakening on reading a passage from the commentaries of Seng Zhao (374?-414), a disciple of the Indian translator Kumarajiva. The passage read: “The ultimate self is empty and void. Though it lacks form, the myriad things are all of its making. One who realizes that the myriad things are one's own self is no different from the sages.”

One day Master Qingyuan said to Xiqian, “Everyone's saying that something's going on in Lingnan.” (the “southern mountains”, where the Zen movement was growing).
Xiqian replied, “There is someone who doesn't say that something's going on in Lingnan.”
The master said, “If so, then where do you say all the teachings come from?”
Xiqian said, “They all come from this right here, and nothing is lacking.”
The master approved.

After Master Qingyuan”s passing, Xiqian traveled to the Southern Peak (Nanyue) in the Heng Mountain region of Hunan, and built a grass-thatched hut for himself on a stone ledge that was exposed on the side of a hill. Because of his hermitage on the rock, Xiqian soon became known as Shitou Heshang (Monk “Rocky-Top”).
Having settled close to his spiritual uncle, Nanyue Huairang, the two were almost certain to have been in contact. One account (in the Ancestor's Hall Collection) records a conversation between Xiqian and Master Nanyue:
Xiqian asked, “What do we do when teachers are no longer needed, but one's understanding hasn't been recognized?”
Nanyue said, “That's a bit arrogant. How about asking something more humble?”
Xiqian said, “Even being reborn endlessly, we can't reach liberation by following others.”
Master Nanyue was silent. Xiqian departed.
Later an attendant monk came and reported to Master Nanyue, “The monk who came to ask you questions recently - the one who was quite disrespectful - he's now practicing on a rock ledge to the east of here.”
The master told the attendant, “Go over and tell him that a person of such strong intention would be welcome to practice here in our temple.”
The attendant delivered the message, but Xiqian declined the offer.
Nanyue said, “Nobody will ever get the better of this man.”
Master Nanyue later helped to arrange the building of a small temple for Xiqian near the site of his hut. Xiqian soon began to attract students, and , known as Master Shitou, eventually became one of the most influential teachers in the Zen tradition.

Once a monk asked Master Shitou, “What's the significance of Bodhidharma's coming from India?”
The master said, “Ask the post over there.”
The monk said, “I don't understand.”
The master said, “I don't understand either.”

Once a monk named Shili asked, “What are monks supposed to do?”
Master Shitou said, “What are you asking me for?”
Shili said, “If I don't ask you, how can I find the truth?”
Shitou said, “Are you sure you've lost it?”

The monk Daowu once asked, “Who has attained the essential principle of the teacher of Caoxi?”
Master Shitou said, “The one who understands the teachings of Buddhism.”
Daowu asked, “Then have you attained it?”
The master said, “I haven't attained it.”
Daowu asked, “Why not?”
The master said, “Because I don't understand Buddhism.”

Another time Daowu asked, “What is the fundamental teaching of the Buddha Way?”
Master Shitou said, “Not attaining, not knowing – you already have it.”
Daowu asked, “Is there anything beyond this?”
The master said, “White clouds pass freely through the vast sky.”

When the monk Baotong first came to study with Master Shitou, the master asked him, “Can you show me your mind?”
Baotong replied, “That which distinguishes your words is my mind.”
The master shouted and drove him away.
Later Baotong again approached the master and said, “If what I said last time isn't my mind, then what is?”
The master said, “Without raising your eyebrows or blinking your eyes, show me your mind.”
Baotong said, “I don't have any particular mind to show you.”
The master said, “Originally you do have a mind, so why say you don't? If you deny it, it's just lying.”
At this Baotong had a realization.

Another time Baotong asked Master Shitou, “An ancient said that it's mistaken to believe in the Way, and also mistaken to believe that there isn't a Way. I ask the master to please explain.”
Master Shitou said, “There's not a thing here; what do you want me to explain?”
Baotong was silent. Then the master said, “Throw away your throat, mouth, and lips and let's see what you can say.”
Baotong said, “There's nothing left.”
The master said, “If that's really so, then you've entered the gate.”

A monk named Huilang once asked Master Shitou, “What is the awakened one?”
The master said, “You don't have awakened mind.”
Huilang, dejected, said, “I'm just human. I know I run around and have all kinds of ideas.”
The master said, “Active people with ideas still have awakened mind.”
Huilang asked, “Then why don't I ?”
The master said, “Because you're not satisfied to be just human.”
Huilang had a deep realization.

The monk Changzi Kuang once returned from a pilgrimage to continue his study with Master Shitou. The master asked him, “Where have you been?”
Kuang said, “To Master Huineng's memorial shrine at Caoxi.”
The master asked, “Did visiting there bring you any merit?”
Kuang said, “I've had some insight, but I haven't been able to 'open the eyes' of the awakened one.”
The master said, “Do you want to 'open the eyes'?”
Kuang said, “Please, master, help me do so.”
The master suddenly kicked out his leg right at the monk.
Kuang had a deep realization, and made a prostration.
The master asked, “Why do you bow?”
Kuang said, “It's like a flake of snow landing on a red-hot furnace.”

The monk Lingmo once came to study with Master Shitou and said, “If you can give me one phrase of awakening I will stay; if not, I will leave.”
The master ignored him.
Lingmo shook out the sleeves of his robe, and walked away. When he got to the temple gate, the master called out, “Venerable!”
Lingmo turned his head.
The master said, “From birth till death, just this! Why are you still searching?”
Lingmo had a deep awakening.

Our wisdom-gate has been handed down from the ancient awakened ones. Without discussing levels of mystical absorption or effort at spiritual progress, we simply actualize the direct insight that awake mind itself is the truth.
Buddha and common people, awakening and delusion, are just different names for the same one body of experience. You should each recognize that your own mind's aware essence is completely apart from ideas of finite or eternal. Your nature is altogether beyond “pure” or “defiled;” it is perfectly clear and totally complete, and exactly the same in sages and in ordinary people. It functions beyond the limits of any fixed patterns, reaches everywhere, an is not contained by the labels “mind,” “consciousness” or “thought.” The three realms of desire, form, and formlessness; and the six states of living beings, are all images coming from your own mind. They are like the moon reflected on water – how can there be any birth or death? If you realize this, you have all you need.

Based on translations by Andy Ferguson, Thomas Cleary, and James Mitchell & Yulie Lou, of Shitou's records in the Ancestral Hall Collection (Zu Tang Ji, 952) and the Jingde Era Transmission of the Lamp (Jingde Chuan Deng Lu, 1004)

Song of the Grass-Roofed Hermitage

I've built a grass-roofed hut where there's nothing of value.
After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was first built, already weeds began to sprout.
Now that it's been lived in, it's covered in weeds.
The person in the hut is always home,
but you won't find him inside or outside.
Places worldly people stay, he doesn't stay.
Realms worldly people crave, he doesn't crave.
Though the hut is small, it includes the whole universe.
In ten square feet, this old man illuminates the forms of nature.
A bodhisattva of the all-inclusive path is free of doubt,
but ordinary folk can't help wondering:
won't this shabby hut just fall apart?
Falling apart or not, the original master is present.
Not bound by south or north, east or west.
A solid foundation can't be disturbed.

A bright window beneath the green pines -
jade palaces and vermilion towers can't compare.
Just sitting, covered in a robe and hood,
all things are at rest.
This mountain monk doesn't understand at all
and no longer works to get free.

No need to proudly advertise living here,
arranging seats to attract guests.
Only turn the light to shine back home -
the boundless source can't be grasped or turned away from.

Meet the ancestral teachers, listen to their teaching,
then gather some grass, build a hut, and live there without distraction.
Let go of hundreds of years and completely relax.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, innumerable explanations
are only to free you from obstructing ideas.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut,
don't separate from this fragile body here and now.

Based on a translation by Taigen Dan Leighton & Yi Wu, (with reference to James Mitchell's translation) of the Cao An Ge recorded in the Jingde Era Transmission of the Lamp (Jingde Chuan Deng Lu, compiled in 1004).



The Record of Shitou Xiqian
The translations into English were made by James Mitchell and Prof. Yulie Lou, Chair of the
Philosophy Department at Beijing University, after careful comparison of the Sung-period
chan histories.
James Mitchell. Soto Zen Ancestors in China: The Recorded Teachings of Shitou
Xiqian, Yaoshan Weiyan And Yunyan Tansheng.
San Francisco: Ithuriel's Spear, 2005.
PDF > Excerpts in PDF-OCR

Master Shitou Xiqian of South Mountain was born in Duan Zhou, Gao Yao County [in
modern Guangdong Province]. His family name was Chen. His mother became a vegetarian
before he was born. When Shitou was just a small child, he showed such self-restraint that
he never caused any trouble to his nurses. At 20, people regarded him as reliable, since he
always kept his promises. The local people of his home country were afraid of ghosts and
often held sacrifices to appease the spirits. It became a custom in the area to sacrifice cows
during the rituals. Shitou would go and upset their rituals and take the cows away. He ran
off with several dozen each year. Even the elders of the village could not deter him from
these cattle thefts. Later, Shitou went directly to Caoxi [Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch] and
became an informal student. After Huineng's death and following his wishes, Shitou went
to see Qingyuan and became his student.
One day, Qingyuan said to Shitou, "Some people say there is news from Lingnan." Shitou
responded, "Some people say there is no news from Lingnan." Qingyuan asked, "If that's so,
where do the Da zang and Xiao zang scriptures come from? " Shitou answered, "They are all
present right here and now." Qingyuan agreed.
Lingnan is a historical name for the area south of Hunan Province, which today is included
in Guangdong Province. Da zang and Xiao zang are the larger and smaller collections of
Buddhist scriptures. The Chinese Canon, first edited in 515 CE under Emperor Xiao Yan of the
Liang Dynasty, is called Da zang jing in Chinese. The sense of the story is this: Shitou has
been studying in the South, in Lingnan. Qingyuan asks what kind of scriptural knowledge
he acquired there. Shitou says none at all: ultimate truth is found only in the present
Shitou moved to South Peak Temple on South Mountain in the early Tian Bao years of the
Tang Dynasty. He built a hut to the east of the temple on a big stone which looked like a
platform. Thereafter he called himself Shitou Heshang, which means "Stone Monk."
South Mountain, or Hengshan in Chinese, is the name given to several forested hills and
valleys west of Nanyue township in the south of Hunan Province. The area has always been
famous for its Taoist and Buddhist temples, and solitary hermits living on the sides of the
mountains. South Mountain was also the location of a Confucianist academy or university,
one of the few such institutions in China. Shitou came here probably sometime after 720 CE,
built himself a meditation hut on a flat rock next to Nan tai si, South Peak Temple. The
temple still exists today, as does the rock where Shitou meditated and after which he
named himself – you can see them in the photo section of this site.
He set out to teach his students. "The key point of my teaching comes from Buddha. We
concentrate on actualizing Buddha's insight, not on making progress in meditation. The
mind is the Buddha. Buddha and common people, enlightenment and delusion have
different names, but they have the same origin. You've got to study your minds first! Human
nature in itself is neither good nor bad. Sages and common people have the same complete
nature. There isn't some special way to apply this theory to reality. Your own mind reflects
the entire world. Flowing water doesn't have some beginning or ending, nor the changing
moon, nor the moon's reflection on the water. If you understand this, you have all that is
"The mind is Buddha" is a central teaching in early chan, ascribed in more than one source
to Daoxin, the Fourth Patriarch. It does not mean that the human mind and the mind of
Buddha are identical, or that Buddha-nature (Buddha-mind) is locatable inside the human
mind, but rather that the human mind in its original and essential state is itself Buddhanature.
This teaching was strongly identified with Mazu, Shitou's great contemporary, and
is therefore mentioned several times in The Record of Mazu. For example, a chan master
approaches Mazu and says, "I've heard a lot about the chan teaching, 'the mind is the
Buddha,' but I don't get it." Mazu replied, "Exactly the mind that doesn't understand – that's
it! There isn't anything else." In the biography of the Sixth Patriarch in Jingde chuan deng lu,
Huineng says: "Your own mind is the Buddha. Don't be suspicious like a fox. Nothing can be
established outside your mind. You are the original mind which produces everything."
At that time, his student Daowu asked, "Who understands the teachings of Caoxi?" Shitou
answered, "He who understands the teachings of Buddha." Daowu asked, "Have you got it?"
Shitou said no. "Why not?" Shitou: "Because I don't understand Buddhist teachings." Daowu:
"How then can I be free?" Shitou: "Who's holding you captive?" Daowu: How can I get to the
Pure Land?" Shitou: "Who's making you impure?" Daowu: "What is Nirvana?" Shitou: "Who
puts you in birth-and-death?"
"Liberation can be found where there is bondage, but where there is ultimately no bondage,
where is there need for liberation?" – The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti," transl. Robert A.F.
Thurman, p. 76. The foregoing dialogue appears frequently in the Sung-period chan histories,
repeated in similar terms by different masters. It expresses the idea of original
enlightenment, since only the conventional or relative mind sees enlightenment as
something opposed or exterior to itself.
A student asked, 'What is the meaning of the coming from the west?" Shitou answered, "Go
and ask a stone pillar." The student said, "I'm only a student, I don't understand." Shitou said,
"I don't either."
Dadian said, "People in ancient times said that it is wrong to believe in the Path and wrong
not to believe in the Path. Would you explain this to me?" Shitou said, "There is nothing
right or wrong, so what is there to explain?" Then Shitou asked, "Can you talk about the
future without using your throat and lips?" Dadian said no. Shitou said, "In that case you
can be my student."
Daowu asked, "What is the basic principle of Buddhism?" Shitou said, "You already have it."
Daowu asked, "Is there a turning point upward?" [Is there a way to understand this further?]
Shitou replied, "White clouds pass freely through the sky." [Against a blue sky of emptiness,
phenomena pass without obstruction.] Daowu asked, "What is chan?" Shitou said, "This
rock." "What is the Path?" "That piece of wood."
One day Shitou was reading a book called Zhao Lun, which states that only a sage can
incorporate the world into himself. Shitou was sitting at his desk and said, "The sages
never think about themselves, and yet they contain everything inside them. Buddha can't
be seen, but who says he has to come from somewhere? If you have the mind of
enlightenment, the whole world reveals itself inside you. People's perception varies, so
some will say 'come' while others say 'go'"
Zhao Lun is a book of philosophical treatises, much influenced by Madhyamika dialectics,
written by Senzgzhao (384-414 CE), a disciple of Kumarajiva. It was an enormously popular
and influential work in the early period of chan.
Then he put the book aside and fell asleep. He dreamed that he was travelling across deep
water, riding on the back of a tortoise with the Sixth Patriarch. When Shitou woke up, he
interpreted the dream this way: "The tortoise represents wisdom. The deep water is the sea
of the nature of all that lives. So by means of wisdom I travelled with the Sixth Patriarch
across this sea." Then he wrote a poem called:

The Agreement of Difference and Unity
Translated by by James Mitchell & Yulie Lou

The mind of India's great sage
Was quietly confided from west to east.
People's abilities may be dull or sharp,
But in the Path, there are no
Southern or northern ancestors.
The spiritual source is bright and pure.
It flows and branches out imperceptibly.
To grasp at things is basically false,
But to concentrate only on principle
Isn't enlightening either.
The senses and sense-objects in all their aspects
May interact or not.
If so, they affect each other mutually;
If not, they just remain separate.
Colors differ naturally in quality and appearance;
Sounds can be pleasant or sad.
In the darkness, you can't tell up from down,
But in brightness, you can distinguish
Between pure and defiled.
The four elements follow their own nature
As a child follows its mother: fire heats, wind shakes,
Water moistens, and the earth remains firm.
There are colors for the eyes and sound for the ear,
Fragrances for the nose, salt and vinegar for the tongue.
But according to the true law,
As leaves spread outward away from the trunk.
Whatever spreads out must come back to the source.
Thus "honorable" and "low-born" are nothing more than words.

In light there is darkness,
but don't meet it as darkness.
In darkness there is light,
but don't see it as light.
Light and darkness are opposites,
Like forward and backward steps.
Each thing has its own function:
It's a question of how it is used.

Phenomena fit together like box and cover,
While principle impacts like an arrow
Meeting its target.
Hearing these words, you should understand
Their source – don't make up your own rules!
If you can't see the path in front of you,
How will you follow the Way?
Progress isn't measured by near or far,
But if you get lost,
Mountains and rivers will separate you.
I humbly say to students of this profound teaching:
Don't waste time!

Many gods and spirits on South Mountain emerged to listen to Shitou's teachings. In the
second year of Guang De, he was invited to teach at Liang Duan by his students, so that
more people could have a chance to hear his Dharma teachings. He died in the sixth year of
Zhen Yuan. A memorial tower was built for him at East Peak. It was named Jian Xiang
pagoda – "Seeing the basic principle."

The Jian Xiang pagoda, erected as a memorial tower after Shitou's death in 790, is today a
pile of rubble, overgrown by bushes and thorns. It lies about half a kilometer down the side
of the mountain from South Peak Temple, just inside a Chinese military reservation, which
was used in recent decades as a missile base. Shitou's body was mummified in black lacquer
and placed in a burial urn inside the pagoda. Damaged by fire, it was brought to Japan
during the time of the Chinese Revolution (1911), and it may be viewed today at the Soto zen
temple Soji-ji in Yokohama.


When Shitou was born, the room was filled with a strange light. His parents were surprised
and consulted a witch for an explanation. The witch said it was a good sign. Shitou was
gentle and handsome-looking, but with a square face and big ears, thereby distinguishing
himself from ordinary children. When he had grown older, he was taken to a temple to see
an image of Buddha. His mother told him to bow down and said, "This is Buddha." After
bowing down before the figure, Shitou looked at it for some time and said, "This is only a
human being. If he is called a Buddha, then I want to be one too." People standing around
were surprised at such talk.

When Shitou had arrived at Nantai Temple, a monk saw him and went to tell Monk Rang.
"The young man who came to ask you some questions recently and who was very impolite
is now sitting and meditating on a rock over to the east of here." "Really?" "Yes, indeed."
Then Rang told his attendant, "Go over to the east side of the mountain and tell him that a
person of such firm intention would also be welcome over on this side." The attendant
delivered the message. Shitou answered, "I don't care how often you ask me, I am not
coming over to your side of the mountain!" The attendant returned with the answer. Rang
said, "Nobody will ever get the better of this man."

Huai Rang was a student of Huineng and is called the "Seventh Patriarch" in some lineages.
It is recorded that he was a teacher and abbot of a temple about a half-mile away from
Shitou's temple, at the time Shitou arrived on South Mountain.

Shitou was digging weeds in the garden with Deng Yinfeng when suddenly they saw a
snake. Shitou handed Deng the spade and told him to kill the snake. Deng took the spade,
but then hesitated. Shitou took back the spade and chopped the snake in half. He said to
Deng, "If you don't understand birth-and-death, how can you understand buddhism?" Then
Shitou started weeding again. Deng asked, "You can pull up these weeds, but can you
uproot [can you understand fully] birth-and-death?" The master handed the spade to Deng,
who pointed it at Shitou and made a threatening gesture. Shitou said, "You pull up roots
only one way [you understand only one half of birth-and-death]."."

Shitou Xiqian and Qingyuan Qingsi

Huineng died at Caoxi in 713, leaving behind more than forty Dharma successors. Many of
them seem to have withdrawn into the mountains, forsaking life and teaching careers in
the established chan monasteries, which would not have been numerous in those early
times. But two of Huineng's disciples handed down mind-to-mind Dharma transmission
from the Sixth Patriarch to the two leading ancestors of all the surviving chan schools in
China: the first, Nanyue Huaizhang (677-744) became the teacher of Mazu, while Qingyuan
Qingsi (660-740), who taught at Qingyuan Mountain (monastery) in Jiangxi, appointed
Shitou Xiqian his Dharma successor in 740.
Not much is written about Qingsi in the Sung-period chan histories, although Jingde chuan
deng lu does state specifically that he was the foremost student of Huineng. This has led
some historians to speculate that Qingsi was invented by the Sung historians to document
an authentic lineage between Shitou's successors and Huineng. But it could be equally true
that simply not much was known of him. In any event, the biography and record of Qingsi
present some important information about Shitou Xiqian. Especially interesting is the
circumstance that Shitou, who would have left Huineng as a boy at the age of 13, is shown
in this text to be already clearly awakened, so that Qingyuan's purpose is just to test his
understanding and to give him Dharma succession.

As the Sixth Patriarch lay dying, a young monk named Xiqian asked, "Who will I go to after
you die?" The Sixth Patriarch said, "You'll have to answer that question by yourself."

After his death, Shitou sat quietly in meditation, as if it were he who had died. The head
monk said to him, "The Master's gone, why keep sitting?" Shitou said, "It's what he told me
to do." The head monk said, "Your teacher is now Qiungsi, who lives at Qingyuan. He'll
instruct you from now on – you'll only get confused if you stay by yourself." Shitou accepted
the advice, bowed to the remains of the Sixth Patriarch, and left for Qingyuan Monastery.

Qingsi asked Shitou where he had come from. Shitou said from Caoxi. Qingsi asked, "What
have you brought with you?" Shitou replied, "I had everything I needed before I went to
Caoxi." Qingsi said, "If that's so, why did you go there?" Shitou answered, "If I hadn't gone
there, how would I have known it?"

Shitou asked Qingsi, "Did you know the master of Caoxi?" Qingsi said, "Do you know me?"
Shitou said, "If I knew you, would I understand you?" Qingsi said, "I have many cows with
horns, but just one unicorn." [Qingsi says that he has many students, but Shitou is unique
among them.]

Then Shitou asked, "When did you get here after leaving Caoxi?" Qingsi said, "I don't
remember leaving Caoxi." Shitou said, "I didn't obey the master of Caoxi by coming here."
Qingsi said, "I know very well where you came from [i.e., from emptiness]." Shitou said, "It's
fortunate for me that you have this understanding."

Later, Qingsi again asked Shitou replied, "From Caoxi." Qingsi held up his whisk and asked,
"Does something like this exist also in Caoxi?" Shitou said, "Nothing like this exists in all of
India, let alone in Caoxi." "You haven't been to India, so how would you know?" "If I had been
to India, then it would exist," Shitou retorted. Qingsi said, "Something like this never
existed to begin with. Explain it to me further." Shitou said, "You should explain some of it
yourself and not rely totally on me." Qingsi said, "It's not that I won't speak for you – it's just
that nobody would understand what I'm talking about."

Qingsi holds up a ceremonial whisk, usually made of white horsehair attached to a wooden
handle, carried by a temple abbot. This dialogue is commented upon extensively by the
Japanese Soto masyter Keizan (1268-1325) in Dentoroku (Transmission of Light). The sense of
the story is this: Qingsi tries to trap Shitou into forgetting the true nature of phenomena. In
Caoxi as in India, nothing exists essentially except emptiness. But Shitou won't be tricked
into making a dualistic statement about emptiness, which of course isn't possible to begin
with – unless Qingsi goes first!

Qingsi asked Shitou to take a letter to Huaizhang at Nanyue. "You must return quickly after
you deliver the letter. I have an axe to give you when you lead your own temple. " Shitou
went to present Qingsi's letter to Huaizhang, but first he asked him, "What is it like when
teachers are no longer needed, but one's own understanding hasn't been recognized?"
Master Huaizhang said, "That's really a difficult question, can't you ask something simpler?"
Shitou said, "Even if I were re-born endlessly, I couldn't reach liberation by following
teachers." Huaizhang was silent and Shitou returned to Qingsi.

Qingsi said, "You weren't gone very long. Did you deliver my message?" Shitou said, "No
message was delivered and no news was communicated." Qingsi said, "What do you mean?"
Shitou reported what he had done and then told Qingsi, "You said you would give me an axe
when I leave here: go get it for me now." Qingsi got up from his seat. Shitou Xiqian bowed
down and left at once for South Mountain.

An axe is a symbol of authority in China. Possibly a ceremonial axe of some sort is meant.
The "teachers" mentioned here are more like spiritual authorities or experts – the Chinese
word is sometimes translated as "sages" in English, or even "saints."

Shitou Xiqian and his Disciples

Changzi Kuang

Changzi returned to Shitou after paying a formal visit to the Sixth Patriarch's memorial
pagoda at Caoxi. Shitou asked, "Where are you coming from?" Changzi said, "From Lingnan."
"Did you do everything you were supposed to in Lingnan?" "I did everything I was supposed
to do, but I could use some further understanding." Shitou, "Would you like some now?"
"Please." Shitou kicked him. Changzi bowed down before him. Shitou said, "What did you
see just now that made you bow down in front of me?" Changzi said, "From my position,
your action affected me like snow upon a red hot stove."
Shitou asks Changzi if he has performed all the steps necessary for a formal pilgrimage to
Caoxi, Huneng's temple in Lingnan, the area south of Hunan Province. When Shitou kicks
him – the Chinese says literally "sticks out his foot," so this might mean only that he was
sitting cross-legged and moved one foot outwards, or something similar – Changzi says his
action was like snow hitting a hot stove. This might mean that he suddenly a gained a clear
understanding, or that Shitou's action melted his ignorance. The Chinese saying, "Snow
melts, ice thaws," means that someone understands something.

Jingzhao Shili

Jingzhao Shili asked Shitou, "What are Buddhist monks supposed to do?" Shitou said, "What
are you asking me for?" Jingzhao said, "If I don't ask you, where can I find what I'm looking
for?" Shitou, "Are you sure you really lost it?" Jingzhao understood.

Zhaoti Huilang

Zhaoti Huilang asked Shitou, "What is the Buddha?" Shitou said, "You don't have Buddha's
mind." Zhaoti said, "I'm a human being, I run around and have ideas." Shitou said, "People
who are active and have ideas also have Buddha's mind." Zhaoti said, "Then why don't I have
Buddha's mind?" "Because you're not willing to remain a human being." Zhaoti awakened.
Just by asking a question about Buddha, Zhaoti had already separated himself from
Buddha's mind. When Shitou says that Zhaoti doesn't have the mind of Buddha, Zhaoti
protests that he necessarily has it, since all persons have the mind of Buddha, and he is a
person too. But if Zhaoti really understood that the ordinary mind is Buddha's mind, he
wouldn't have needed to ask what Buddha is, as if it were something apart from
himself. He should have been to content to remain a human being instead of trying to be
like Buddha.

Danxia Tianrang

Danxia Tianrang approached Shitou with his hand raised to his hat [indicating he had a
question]. Shitou said, "Go the stables" [and do some work before I answer you]. Danxia
bowed and went to the hall for untonsured monks. There he worked as a cook for three
years. One day Shitou said to all the monks, "Tomorrow we'll pull up some weeds in front of
the Buddha Hall." The next day, the monks were digging up weeds with their spades. But
Danxia Tianran filled a basin with water, wet his hair and knelt down before Shitou. Shitou
laughed and shaved off his hair, and then he instructed him in the monastic discipline.
[Danxia understood removing weeds to mean shaving his beard, thereby becoming a
monk. Perhaps Shitou was also testing to see who might become a disciple.]

Dadian Baotong

When Dadian Baotong first met Shitou, Shitou asked him, "Can you show me your mind?"
Dadian said, "That which distinguishes your words is my mind." Shitou started shouting at
him and drove him away. Ten days later, Dadian approached Shitou said, "If what I said last
time wasn't my mind, then what is it?" Shitou said, "Without raising your eyebrows or
blinking your eyelids, show me your mind." Dadian said, "I don't have any other mind to
show you." Shitou, 'Originally you do have a mind, so why say you don't? If you deny it, it's
the same as lying." Dadian understood.
Sometime later when Dadian Baotong was standing nearby, Shitou asked,"Are you the kind
of monk who is serious about Buddhism, or are you the kind of monk who hangs out all
day?" Dadian said, "I'm the first kind." Shitou said, "What is chan?" Dadian said, "Raising
your eyebrows or blinking your eyelids." Shitou said, "Show me your original face without
raising your eyebrows or blinking your eyelids." Dadian said, "You show me." Shitou: "I just
did." Dadian said: "I did it too." Shitou said, "You just said you showed me your mind. Tell
me what this mind of yours is like." Dadian said. "My mind is just like your mind." Shitou
said, "My mind has nothing whatsoever to do with your mind." Dadian said, "Originally
nothing exists." Shitou: "In that case, you don't have an original face." Dadian said,
"Emptiness is the real state of things." Shitou: "In that case, phenomena can't be grasped.
This is the correct understanding, and you should try to remember that." Later, Dadian
Baotong had his own monastery, and students came from all directions to study with him.

Tianhuang Daowu

Tianhuang Daowu asked Shitou, "Besides concentrating upon the mind (ding) and upon
wisdom (hui), what else do you have to teach us?" Shitou said, "I don't limit you to mind and
wisdom," [so that you'll be able to reach some additional understanding on your own].
Tianhuang said, "Then how can I understand it?" Shitou said, "Can you grasp emptiness?"
Tianhuang said, "If you're going to talk like this, I won't discuss it with you today. I'm
leaving." Shitou said, "At first I didn't think you were coming from there [meaning from a
state of emptiness], but now I know it." Tianhuang said, "I didn't come from there." Shitou
said, "I knew that before you got here." Tianhuang said, "Why are you insulting me?" Shitou
said, "Actually you did come here from there." Tianhuang said, "How can we teach others
after us?" Shitou said, "Who do you suppose is going to come after us?" Tianhuang
Huineng was famous for his teaching of ding and hui. In the Platform Sutra, Huineng says:
"Good friends, my teaching of the Dharma takes meditation and prajna as its basis." The
point that Shitou is making is that Tianhuang shouldn't insist on some traditional
philosophical teaching, but should realize emptiness in daily living.

The following incident occurred. When Wu Xie was with Shitou, he said, "If you can say
something useful, I'll stay. If not, I'm leaving." Shitou started to sit down, and Wu Xie started
to leave. Shitou called out to him. Wu Xie turned around. Shitou said, "From birth to death,
nothing else exists. Why do you keep searching?" Wu Xie awakened and broke his walking

In addition to The Agreement of Difference and Unity, another famous poem entitled Song of the
Grass Shack is attributed to Shitou Xiqian in Jingde Chuan Deng Lu. The poem describes the
meditation hut which Shitou built for himself on a large rock next to South Peak Temple.

Translated by by James Mitchell & Yulie Lou

I've built a grass shack with nothing of value inside.
After a good meal, I like to take a nice nap.
The grass thatching still looks new;
When it wears out, I'll add fresh thatch to the roof.
The person inside the shack is always present,
But you won't find him inside or out.
He doesn't hang out with worldly people,
And he doesn't like the things they like.
This little shack contains the entire universe,
And my physical body is integrated with it.
Great Bodhisattvas don't doubt my ideas,
Although humans may think them strange.
If you say that my hut looks shabby, I'll answer
That the One Mind abides right where it is.
East or west, north or south,
A solid foundation is what counts.
With green pines hanging over the roof
And bright windows in the walls, not even
a royal palace can compare with my shack.
With a monk's robe over my shoulders
And a hood over my head, I've got no worries at all.
It's not that I praise myself for living here,
Like some merchant pushing his product.
It's just that when the twilight comes,
My mind is limitless from front to back.
When I met my teacher and heard his words,
I decided to build myself a hut and live in it.
Disregarding social constraints,
I'll do just as I please.
Still, whatever people will tell you,
My real goal is to wake folks up.
If you want to meet the "person" in the shack,
You've got to look after the physical side first.

The symbolic quality of the poem is really remarkable. Shitou says that his grass shack
contains the entire universe, and he identifies it with his own body. If you want to "wake
up," if you want to discover the "person" (Buddha-mind) in the material universe, you must
first attend to the body or physical self; i.e., study the true nature of phenomena


Shitou Xiqian
Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage

Shitou Xiqian (700-790) was an early Chinese Zen master. He was called one of Zen's two 'great jewels' (the other was Mazu Daoyi). For some years, he meditated continually in a hut built on a rock at Nan Monastery, and was thus called Shitou ("Priest Rock Head"). Taken from Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi by Daniel Leighton 1991

I've built a grass hut where there's nothing of value.
After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.
Now it's been lived in - covered by weeds.

The person in the hut lives here calmly,
Not stuck to inside, outside, or in between.
Places worldly people live, he doesn't live.
Realms worldly people love, he doesn't love.

Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature.
A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can't help wondering;
Will this hut perish or not?

Perishable or not, the original master is present,
not dwelling south or north, east or west.
Firmly based on steadiness, it can't be surpassed.
A shining window below the green pines --
Jade palaces or vermilion towers can't compare with it.

Just sitting with head covered, all things are at rest.
Thus, this mountain monk doesn't understand at all.
Living here he no longer works to get free.
Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?

Turn around the light to shine within, then just return.
The vast inconceivable source can't be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
Bind grasses to build a hut, and don't give up.

Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
Are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut,
Don't separate from this skin bag here and now.



Shitou Xiqian (Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien)

艸庵歌 Cao-an ge (Sō-an ka)
Translated by Gregory Wonderwheel

I tied up the straw thatched hut without precious objects.
With the cooked rice finished, I followed the aim of appearances and soon slept.
As the first season was accomplished, I saw the thatch was new.
Later when it is worn out, I will repay my debt and reconstruct the thatch.

The resident hermit -- subdues permanent residency,
And does not categorize the middle space with inside or outside.
A worldly person resides in a place; I do not reside.
A worldly person has affection for a place; I do not have affection.

Although the thatched hut is small -- it contains the Dharma-realm (Dharmadhatu).
In a square ten feet, an old man studies liberation of the essential body.
A bodhisattva of the Supreme Vehicle trusts without doubt.
The middle and inferior hear it and surely give rise to (a sense of) strangeness.

Asking about this thatched hut -- poor or not poor?
Poor and not poor: the original master is present.
Not dwelling south or north and east or west
A foundation on top of "the firm and stable" therefore becomes superlative.

Green pines below -- light inside of the window.
The Jade Palace (of Heaven) and the Vermilion Tower (of Hell) do not compare.
With a patched cape covering the head, the 10,000 affairs come to rest.
Here and now, this mountain monk already does not meet (anyone).

Residing in this thatched hut -- ceasing to work on liberation.
Who boastfully spreads out a mat aiming for customers?
Revolve the light and turn back your illumination, then you come back to the origin point,
Breaking through to the boundless root of the spirit, you do not face backwards.

Meet the ancestral masters -- be intimate with the teachings.
Tie straw for a thatched hut; do not create backsliding.
Abandon your 100 years (of lifespan), yet be alive vertically and sideways.
Wave a hand, then do, just without doing wrong.

One thousand kinds of words -- ten thousand categories of liberation,
Are only necessary not to obscure the teaching for long.
If you desire to know the undying person inside the thatched hut,
How is it free from and yet right now covered by the skin bag?




Shitou Xiqien (700-790)
Caoan-ko, Soanka:
A Song About My Grass-Thatch Hut
Translated by Yasuda Joshu and Anzan Hoshin

Here, where nothing is worth anything,
I've set up a grass-thatched hut.

After eating,
I just stretch out for a nap.

As soon as it was built,
weeds were already growing back.

Now I've been here awhile
its covered in vines.

So the one in this hut just lives on,
not inside, out, in between.

The places where usual folk live,
I don't.
What they want,
I don't.

This tiny hut holds the total world,
an old man and
the radiance of forms and their nature,
all in ten feet square.

Bodhisattvas of the Vast Path
know about this but
the mediocre and marginal wonder,
"Isn't such a place too fragile to live in?"

Fragile or not,
the true master dwells here
where there is no
south or north, east or west.

Just sitting here,
it can't be surpassed:

below the green pines
a lit window.

Palaces and towers
of jade and vermillion
can't compare.

Just sitting,
my head covered,
all things rest.

So this mountain monk
has no understanding at all,
just lives on
without struggling to get loose.

Not going to
set out seats
and wait for guests.

Turning the light
to shine within,
turn it around again.

you can't face it
or turn away from it.

The root of it.

Meet the Awakened Ancestors,
become intimate with the teachings,
lash grass into thatch for a hut
and don't tire so easily.

Let it go,
and your life of a hundred years

Open your hands.

Walk around.


The swarm of words,
and little stories
are just to loosen you
from where you are stuck.

If you want to know
the one in the hermitage
who never dies,

you can't avoid this skin-bag
right here.




Si-tou Hszi-csien
A szalmafedelű kunyhó éneke

In: Zeisler István [Mokushó Szenkú, 1946-1990]: A zen átadása Buddhától Buddháig,
Fordította: Király Attila, Farkas Lőrinc Imre kiadó, 1996, 56-57. oldal
[A fordítások az AZI lapjában a La Revue Zenben 1986-1989 között megjelent cikkek alapján készültek.]

Építettem szalmából egy remetelakot, melyben nincs semmi érték.
Evés után lepihentem és szunyókáltam egy kicsit.
Mikor a kunyhó kész lett, megtelepedett benne a gaz,
És mostanra már mindent elborít.

A remetelak embere csendesen éldegél,
Külső, belső és köztes béklyók nélkül.
Ott, ahol a hétköznapi emberek élnek, ő nem akar élni,
Azt, amit a hétköznapi emberek szeretnek, ő nem szereti.

Noha a kunyhó kicsiny, magába foglalja az egész világot.
Tíz lépésnyi helyen egy öregember fényt derít a formákra és lényegükre.
A mahájána bódhiszattvájának hite kétségek nélkül áll.
A közönséges emberek nem tudják megállni, hogy ne kételkedjenek:

Vajon összedől-é ez a kunyhó?
Összedől-é vagy sem, az igazi mester jelen van.
Nem északon és nem délen, nem keleten és nem nyugaton lakozik.
A kitartásban gyökeredzik, és így felülmúlhatatlan.

A jádepaloták, vagy az aranyozott tornyok nem hasonlíthatók
Egy fénylő ablakhoz a zöld fenyők alatt.
Fedéllel a feje felett ül ott -, minden dolog elnyugszik.
Így ez a hegyi szerzetes többé már nem ért semmit,

Ott él, ahol él, és már nem tesz több erőfeszítést arra, hogy megszabadítsa önmagát.
Ki helyezne ki gőgösen ülőpárnákat, hogy tanítványokat csalogasson maga köré?
Vezessétek vissza a fényt önmagatokba és forduljatok meg!
A hatalmas, felfoghatatlan forrással nem fordulhattok szembe és nem is téríthetitek el.

Találkozzatok öreg mesterekkel, és valósítsátok meg önmagatokban tanításaikat!
Csomózzatok össze füvet, építsetek belőle kunyhót és ne hagyjátok el azt sose!
Hagyjátok telni a századokat és engedjétek el magatokat teljesen!
Nyissátok ki a kezetek, és járjatok ártatlanul!

A szavak ezrei és az értelmezések miriádjai
Csak azért léteznek, hogy ti megszabadulhassatok a béklyóitoktól.
Ha meg akarjátok ismerni a halhatatlan embert e kunyhóban
Itt és most, ne váljatok meg e bőrzsáktól!



Si-tou Hszi-csien
A Kunyhó Éneke

Song of The Grass-Hut Hermitage by Shih-t’ou (700–790)
translated into English by Daniel Leighton, fordította Komár Lajos

Építettem egy kunyhót valami értéktelen területen.
Miután ettem, jöhet a pihenés és szunyókálás.
Mire végeztem, felvetett a gaz.
Bennlakásos élet a gaz között.
Életem zavartalanul folyik errefelé,
nem szorulok be, nem rekedek ki, de a kettő közé sem.
Ahol világi élet zajlik, oda nem megyek;
mit azok szeretnek, azt nem kívánom.
Icipici kunyhó, az egész világ benne van.
Itt, öregesen, vizsgálom a dolgokat
és azok természetét.
A nagy Jármű tökélyharcosát
kétségek nem gyötrik, hite ép.
Az átlagos vagy csekély képességűek élete csupa aggódás:
vajon összedől a kunyhó, vagy megmarad?
Törékeny vagy sem, az építőmester jelen van,
nem költözik sehova innen.
A szilárd, biztos alap felülmúlhatatlan.
Egy ragyogó ablak a zöld fenyves mélyén,
sem türkiz paloták, sem cinóber tornyok
nem foghatók hozzá.
A cikázó gondolatok elnyugodnak ülés közben,
ennélfogva ez az erdei remete nem tud semmit.
Így élek, már nem célom a megszabadulás.
Ugyan, mivel csalogassam be, és hova ültessem a vándort?
Belül gyújts világot, majd térj vissza a lámpással.
A hatalmas fényforrás mindent bevilágít.
Légy együtt az ősökkel, hallgasd meg, mit tanácsolnak,
építs egy kunyhót, és légy kitartó.
Nemzedékek jönnek-mennek; légy nyugodt, csak figyeld.
Sétálj üres kézzel, hisz ártatlan vagy.
Sűrű, ágas-bogas vélemények,
kizárólag az akadályoktól szabadítanak meg.
Ha tudni szeretnéd, ki ez a halhatatlan a kunyhóban,
ne vesd meg e szarzsákot, itt és most.




Harmony of Difference and Equality
(Sandōkai 参同契)
by Sotoshu Shumucho
The Administrative Headquarters of Soto Zen Buddhism, Tokyo

The mind of the great sage of India
is intimately transmitted from west to east.
While human faculties are sharp or dull,
the way has no northern or southern ancestors.
The spiritual source shines clear in the light;
the branching streams flow on in the dark.
Grasping at things is surely delusion;
according with sameness is still not enlightenment.
All the objects of the senses
transpose and do not transpose.
Transposing, they are linked together;
not transposing, each keeps its place.
Sights vary in quality and form;
sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.
Darkness merges refined and common words;
brightness distinguishes clear and murky phrases.
The four elements return to their natures,
just as a child turns to its mother.
Fire heats, wind moves,
water wets, earth is solid.

Eye and sights, ear and sounds,
nose and smells, tongue and tastes;
thus for each and every thing,
according to the roots, the leaves spread forth.
Trunk and branches share the essence;
revered and common, each has its speech.
In the light there is darkness,
but don't take it as darkness.
In the dark there is light,
but don't see it as light.
Light and dark oppose one another
like the front and back foot in walking.
Each of the myriad things has its merit,
expressed according to function and place.
Existing phenomenally like box and cover joining;
according with principle like arrow points meeting.
Hearing the words, understand the meaning;
don't establish standards of your own.
Not understanding the way before your eyes,
how do you know the path you walk?
Walking forward is not a matter of far or near,
but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.

I respectfully urge you who study the mystery,
don't pass your days and nights in vain.



Translated by 増永霊鳳 Masunaga Reihō (1902-1981)
In: The Sōtō Approach to Zen, Layman Buddhist Society Press (Zaike bukkyo kyokai), Tokyo, 1958, pp. 183-187.

The Sandōkai (Ch. Ts'an-t'ung-ch'i) was written
by Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (700-790). Built
up of five-character lines in the classical style, this
work has a total of 44 lines and 220 characters.
Its format -- quite prevalent in the Tang and Sung
dynasties -- was especially suited for Zen expression.
The verse form also facilitated reciting and
memorizing. With these advantages the Sandōkai
became an important vehicle for expressing
the flavor of Sōtō Zen.
Opinions differ on how Shih-t'ou derived his
title. Some say he borrowed it from a book of
the same name by Pe-yang of Wei; others, that
it carne to him in the excitement of reading the
Chao-lun by Seng-chao (384-414). A third
school holds that the title represents an effort
by Shih-t'ou to save Zen from the evils of a sectarian
dispute over the relative merits of the
abrupt and gradual approaches to enlightenment,
At any rate, Shih-t'ou, with great literary skill,
used this form and title to convey his deep understanding
of Buddhism and the spirit of its true
"San refers to the multitude of appearances;
"dō" to the unity of not-twoness; "kai" to their
synthesis in practice. This points to one of the
main themes of the work -- the practical application
of the self-identity of heaven and earth. The
Sandōkai underscores the interpenetrating unity
of such relative concepts as light and darkness,
the ideal and the actual, and the spiritual root
and its branches. It makes a special effort to
clarify the relation between the unity phase of
relativities and their individualistic phase. It
tells us that since all things in the cosmos are
essentially one while functioning individually, we
fulfill our lives by upholding equality in personal
relations while expressing our individuality.
This comes close to describing the Sōtō view of
the world and of life. The Sandōkai, therefore,
has a special place in the Sōtō sect. At Sōtō temples
it is often paired with the Hōkyōzammai in
the morning and evening chants.

Text (Sandōkai)

The Mind of the Great Sage of India
Flowed unseen from west to east.
And kept true to the source -- a clear stream unsullied.
By variables of wit and dullness:
The true way has no patriarch of south or north.
Born, we clutch at things
And later compound our delusion by following ideals.
Each sense gate and its object:
Dependence and nondependence --
Entering together into mutual relations
And yet standing apart in their own uniqueness.
Component things differing deeply in form and feel,
The voices -- soft and harsh in inherent isolation.
High and middle are words matching the darkness,
And light separates the murky phrase from the pure.
The characteristics of the four elements draw together
Like a child returning to its mother.
The heat of fire, the moving wind,
The water, wet, and the solid earth;
Eyes to see, sounds to hear, and smells --
The sour and salty taste on the tongue.
But in each related thing,
As leaves grow from roots,
End and beginning return to the source.
"High" and "low" are used respectively:
Within light there is darkness,
But you cannot explain it by one-sided darkness alone;
Within darkness there is light,
But you cannot understand it only by one-sided light.
Light and darkness go with each other
Like the sequence of steps in walking.
All things have inherent potentiality:
Both function and rest reside within.
With the actual comes the ideal
Like a box and its lid;
With the ideal comes the actual
Like two arrows meeting in mid-air.
Understand the basic truth from these words
And do not set up your own standards.
In sense experience, if you do not know the basic truth,
How can you find the right path no matter how much you walk?
As you walk further the distinction between near and far disappears,
And if you become lost, obstructing mountains and rivers arise.
This I offer to the seekers of truth: Waste no time.



Sandokai – or the Unity of One and Many
Translated by Hakuun Barnhard

The fundamental being of the great Sage of India
Flowed, heart to mind, West and East.
For people sharp and slow minds may exist,
In the Way there are no Southern or Northern ancestors.
The spiritual source shines clearly in the light;
Unseen the branching streams flow out through darkness.
It is confusion to grasp after the different phenomena,
But merging with oneness is not yet enlightenment.

Every sense gate and all we perceive depends upon each other
And is independent and unique;
In mutual relation they affect each other further,
Otherwise, they remain as they are.
Once there is form, it varies in substance and shape;
Once there is sound, it differs as pleasant or harsh.
‘Darkness’ is a word used when ‘good’ and ‘mediocre’ are indistinguishable united,
‘Brightness’ is an expression for when ‘lucid’ and ‘murky’ are clearly apparent.

The four elements time and again, resume their nature,
Just as a child always turns back to its mother.
Fire heats, wind blows, water moistens, earth solidifies;
For eyes there are forms, for ears sounds,
For the nose there are smells, and for the tongue sour or salty tastes.
Thus, for each and every appearance,
The leaf spreads depending on its root.
Cause and effect necessarily return to the source;
A person’s speech reveals their origin.

Right within light there is darkness,
But do not look at it as just darkness.
In darkness there is light,
But do not consider it only light.
Light and darkness work together as a pair,
Just as the front- and back-foot in walking.

All things have their unique value
Expressed by their function and position.
Everyday phenomena come together with the universal
As a box and its lid;
The universal sustains the appearance of phenomena
As arrow-points meeting in mid-air.

Hearing words of teaching, listen to their source
And don’t use them to set up your own standards.
If you do not understand the way right in front of you,
How can you know where the path goes?
When you practice the Way, there is neither near nor far,
Led astray, high mountains and deep rivers obstruct your path.

Respected seekers of Truth,
Do not spend your time, light or dark, in vain!



Merging of Difference and Unity

Composed by Shitou Xiqian
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Timeless Spring : A Soto Zen anthology. Weatherhill, Tokyo-New York, 1980, pp. 36-39.

The mind of the great sage of India
Is intimately communicated between east and west.[1]
People's faculties may be keen or dull,
But in the path there are no 'southern' or 'northern' patriarchs.[2]
The spiritual source shines clearly in the light;
The branching streams flow in the darkness.[3]
Grasping things is basically delusion;
Merging with principle is still not enlightenment.
Each sense and every field
Interact and do not interact;
When interacting, they also merge -
Otherwise, they remain in their own states.
Forms are basically different in material and appearance,
Sounds are fundamentally different in pleasant or harsh quality.
'Darkness' is a word for merging upper and lower;
'Light' is an expression for distinguishing pure and' defiled.
The four gross elements return to their own natures
Like a baby taking to its mother;
Fire heats, wind moves,
Water wets, earth is solid.
Eye and form, ear and sound;
Nose and smell, tongue and taste -
Thus in all things
The leaves spread from the root;
The whole process must return to the source;
Right in light there is darkness, but don't confront it as darkness;
Right in darkness there is light, but don't see it as light.[4]
Light and dark are relative to one another
Like forward and backward steps.
All things have their function -
It is a matter of use in the appropriate situation.
Phenomena exist like box and cover joining;
Principle accords like arrow points meeting.[5]

Hearing the words, you should understand the source;
Don't make up standards on your own.
If you don't understand the path as it meets your eyes,
How can you know the way as you walk?
Progress is not a matter of far or near,
But if you are confused, mountains and rivers block the way.
I humbly say to those who study the mystery,
Don't waste time.

1. Commentators say that 'intimate' here does not mean secret,
but that there is nothing hidden - this communication takes
place everywhere, in everything.

2. The cliché about sudden chan of the south and gradual chan
of the north in ancient China is probably well-known to students
of zen.

3. Light and dark are both 'turning words' used in both ways.
Light can represent distinction, discriminating knowledge, life,
etc.; then darkness represents merging, nondiscrimination, nirvana,
etc. (there is more than one word in Chinese used to represent
merging that is also semantically associated with darkness).
In this respect Shitou is saying that the spiritual source, which is
said to be like a quiet effulgence, is clear even in the midst of all
sorts of distinctions and differences; these are all temporary,
existing relative to one another, ultimately equal in that what begins
ends and the whole is going nowhere. Hence the 'branching
streams' - the world of differentiation flows on in ultimate
equanimity. One famous zen master explains that the spiritual
source is mind, light is enlightenment, the branching streams are
discriminating consciousnesses, and darkness is illusion; 'clearly
seeing the purity of the mind, then knowledge suddenly appears,
and in darkness becomes flowing consciousness, and passions
arise.' (Sandokai dokko, Tenkei rojin hoon shu 1) These two interpretations
say the same thing; unless the spiritual source and
the branching streams fuse, one's supposed enlightenment is in
fact partial; the heart of nirvana and the knowledge of differentiation
are both essential to mastery of zen. If one clings to a
state or quality of mind as a desired object and cannot function
efficiently outside the conditions necessary to that state, a higher
level of integration between the calm of nirvana and the experience
and knowledge of the everyday world must be achieved.
The primary motive force in this integration seems to be compassion.

4. We have discussed how merging, nondiscrimination, is a
relative enlightenment; so this 'darkness' of unity should not be
taken as darkness of insensibility; the emptiness in form is in the
form itself, not an existing gap where no form exists. Hakuin said
that the light of the mirror consciousness, the transformed
storehouse consciousness, is 'pitch black' - if one abides by this
as correct, he will be one sided and biased in his views. The
knowledge of the objective world, though it cannot reasonably be
overlooked, can never 'capture' anything outside the range of a
limited receiving faculty and therefore could never be 'total' even
before any abstract concerns arise. The terms 'sobriety' and
'intoxication' used by Sufi teachers are analogous to the zen
terms light and darkness and are used as well on different levels,
even plain meditation states.

5. Phenomena exist relative to one another, completing one
another in terms seen as function, time, space, etc. This relativity
is the principle itself; emptiness is figuratively described as the
spaceless space which is the meeting point of two arrowheads.
Two arrowheads meeting also connotes equivalence, equality;
this sameness of reality is inherent in relative phenomena them-
selves - the principle cannot exist without the phenomena, even
be it the phenomenon of the meditative state in which all sensation
and perception disappear, symbolized by dying and seeing
the way.

The commentaries consulted for this translation were Shigetsu's
Sandokai funogo
, Tenkei's Sandokai dokko, and Sandokai katto shu
by Kishizawa Ian.



Harmony of Difference and Equality
(Merging of Difference and Unity)
Cantongqi by Shitou Xiqian (Ch.), Sand
ōkai by Sekitō Kisen (Jap.)
Translated by San Francisco Zen Center, based on translation by Thomas Cleary

(see commentary in Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness by Shunryu Suzuki*)

Sunrjú Szuzuki: Tisztán ragyogó forrás
Zen tanítások a Szandókairól, Filosz, 2010, 186 oldal

竺土大仙心 The mind of the great sage of India
東西密相付 is intimately transmitted from west to east.
人根有利鈍 While human faculties are sharp or dull,
道無南北祖 the Way has no northern or southern ancestors.
靈源明皎潔 The spiritual source shines clear in the light;
枝派暗流注 the branching streams flow on in the dark.
執事元是迷 Grasping at things is surely delusion;
契理亦非悟 according with sameness is still not enlightenment.
門門一切境 All the objects of the senses
迴互不迴互 interact and yet do not.
迴而更相涉 Interacting brings involvement.
不爾依位住 Otherwise, each keeps its place. (Not interacting, each keeps...)
色本殊質像 Sights vary in quality and form,
聲元異樂苦 sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.
暗合上中言 Refined and common speech come together in the dark,
明明清濁句 clear and murky phrases are distinguished in the light.
四大性自復 The four elements return to their natures
如子得其母 just as a child turns to its mother;
火熱風動搖 Fire heats, wind moves,
水濕地堅固 water wets, earth is solid.
眼色耳音聲 Eye and sights, ear and sounds,
鼻香舌鹹醋 nose and smells, tongue and tastes;
然依一一法 Thus with each and every thing,
依根葉分布 depending on these roots, the leaves spread forth.
本未須歸宗 Trunk and branches share the essence;
尊卑用其語 revered and common, each has its speech.
當明中有暗 In the light there is darkness,
勿以暗相遇 but don't take it as darkness;
當暗中有明 In the dark there is light,
勿以明相覩 but don't see it as light.
明暗各相對 Light and dark oppose one another
比如前後歩 like the front and back foot in walking.
萬物自有功 Each of the myriad things has its merit,
當言用及處 expressed according to function and place.
事存函蓋合 Phenomena exist; box and lid fit;
理應箭鋒拄 principle responds; arrow points meet.
承言須會宗 Hearing the words, understand the meaning;
勿自立規矩 don't set up standards of your own.
觸目不會道 If you don't understand the Way right before you,
運足焉知路 how will you know the path as you walk?
進歩非近遠 Progress is not a matter of far or near,
迷隔山河固 but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.
謹白參玄人 I respectfully urge you who study the mystery,
光陰莫虚度 do not pass your days and nights in vain.




Shitou Xiqian (Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien)

Translated by Gregory Wonderwheel

The mind of the great sage of the land of India
has been intimately and mutually handed down from west to east.
A person's roots are sharp or dull;
the Way has no Northern or Southern ancestors.
The mysterious source is shining and clean in the light;
the branching streams are flowing and pouring in the dark.
Grasping at primary phenomena is bewilderment;
agreeing with Principle is still not enlightenment.
Each and every gate corresponds to circumstances,
revolving with each other and not revolving with each other.
Revolving and alternating are mutually entangled,
they do not rely on remaining in place.
The root of form is distinguished by substance and appearance;
the primal sound is differentiated as joyful or painful.
High and middle words unite in the dark,
clean and dirty sentences, in the brightness.
The four great elements return to their natures
like a child to its mother.
The heat of the fire; the waving of the wind;
the wet of the water; the solidity of the earth.
The colors of the eye; the sounds of the ear;
the fragrances of the nose; the salt and sour of the tongue.
This is the way with each and every thing;
according to the roots the leaves separate and spread out.
Roots and branches necessarily return to the ancestral origin;
venerated and vulgar, these are used in speech.
Right in the middle of the light there is dark;
don’t use the mutuality of darkness to meet it.
Right in the middle of the dark there is light;
don’t use the mutuality of the light to see it.
Light and dark are mutual polarities,
for example, like front and back steps.
The ten thousand things naturally have their function,
and are regarded in the use and placement of words.
Phenomena exist like the joining of a box and lid.
Principle responds like the support of the sharp point of an arrow.
In receiving words you should meet the ancestors,
and not establish rules by yourself.
If your contacting eye does not meet the Way,
how do you know the path by using your feet?
Progress is not near or far;
bewilderment causes the distance from mountains and rivers.
Sincerely, I say to people who meet the profound depths,
from brightness and shadow, there are none crossed over in vain.



Translated by by James Mitchell & Yulie Lou

Can tong qi, the Chinese title of Shitou's poem, is also the title of a well-known Han-period
treatise by the Taoist philosopher, Wei Bo Yang. According to Ci Hai (Sea of Words), a kind of
Chinese encyclopedic dictionary published 1948 in Shanghai, Can tong qi in Wei Bo Yang's
title means "Three (Things) Combined Agree(s) with [the Great Tao]." The Three Things
indicated are the I Jing (Book of Changes); Taoism (the philosophical teachings of Laozi and
Chuangzi); and Taoist alchemy. Shitou Xiqian would likely have been familiar with this
celebrated classical work by Wei Bo Yang, but because there is no triadic conceptual
structure articulated in Shitou's poem, the title must have meant something different for
him, which we can now only infer from the text. For example, one traditional (but highly
inferential) interpretation is "The Different [Schools, or Teachings of Buddhism] Combined
into One." This takes Shitou's statement that in the Buddhist path, there are no Southern or
Northern ancestors – in other words, the Southern and Northern chan schools derive from
the same source – as the central idea of the whole poem.
Another possibility is to read the Chinese characters as follows: "The Different Things (Can)
are Combined with (qi) Unity (tong)." This does not mean that many different things unite
to form one thing, but rather that different things are identical with unity itself: the one
and the many are the same. Thus Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, in his unpublished Sandokai
lectures, translates Can tong qi as: "The Oneness of One and Many."
We might also read "different things" and "unity" as the relative and absolute, or, in the
context of Huayan mysticism, as phenomena and principle, li and shi, clearly a major theme
of the poem. From this point of view, one might translate Can tong qi as "The Identity of
Principle and Phenomena."
Since the references in Shitou's poem to Huineng's Platform Sutra are very numerous, we will
list them here verse by verse, with some other notes:

The mind of India's great sage
Was quietly confided from west to east.

In Yampolsky, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, p. 153: "But from the past,
the Dharma has been handed down in silence." The biography of Huineng in
Jingde chuan deng lu also says: "The mysterious principle of all the Buddhas has
nothing to do with words," (op cit., p. 79).

People's abilities may be dull or sharp,
But in the path, there are no southern
Or northern ancestors.

Platform Sutra, p. 137: Good friends, in the Dharma, there is no sudden and
gradual, but among people some are keen and others are dull." Also p.
127: "Although people from the south and people from the north differ, there
is no north and south in Buddha-nature."

To grasp at things is basically false,
But to concentrate only on principle
Isn't enlightenment either.

Platform Sutra, p. 172: "If you cling to emptiness then you will only be increasing your
ignorance." See also p. 146: "Do not sit with a mind fixed on emptiness. If you do, you will
fall into a neutral kind of emptiness. Emptiness includes the sun, moon, stars, and planets,
the great earth, mountains and rivers, all trees and grasses, bad men and good men, heaven
and hell; they are all in the midst of emptiness."

The senses and sense-objects in all their aspects
May respond to each other or not.
If so, they affect each other mutually;
If not, they just remain separate.

The Chinese characters in the second line are hui hu bu hui hu. "Can tong qi...
was clearly built upon the I Ching and made explicit use of the hui-hu
paradigms." Whalen W. Lai, in his essay "Sinitic mandalas: The Wu-wei-t'u of
Ts'ao-shan," in Lancaster and Lai: Early Ch'an in China and Tibet, p. 230.

But according to the true law,
As leaves spread outwards away from the trunk,
Whatever spreads out must come to the source.

Platform Sutra, p. 85: "When leaves fall they return to the root." Cf. also,
appearing in the Dunhuang manuscripts, Bodhidharma's Treatise on
Contemplating Mind: "Mind is the root of the myriad phenomena. All
phenomena are born from mind. It is like a great tree: all the branches and
flowers and fruits grow based on the root." Transl. J.C. Cleary, Zen Dawn, p. 81.

Thus "honorable" and "lowborn" are nothing more
Than words.

Cf. Dongshan Liangjie's "Gatha of the Essentials," translated by W.F. Powell in
The Record of T'ung-shan, p. 66:


Principle and phenomena have no relation to each other;
reflected light cuts through dark mystery.
Ignoring the wind, with neither skill nor incompetence,
The lightning bolt is impossible to escape.

In light there is darkness,
But don't meet it as darkness.
In darkness there is light,
But don't see it as light.

But in Zu tang ji: "In the midst of darkness there is light, but don't see it as

Light and dark are opposites,
Like forward and backward steps.

Platform Sutra, p.82: "The nature of light and darkness is not two. The non-dual
nature is thus the real nature." Cf. further p. 173: "Darkness is not darkness
by itself; because there is light there is darkness. That darkness is not
darkness by itself is because light changes, becoming darkness, and with
darkness light is revealed. They originate from each other."

Phenomena fit together like box and cover,
While principle impacts like an arrow meetings its target.

Principle (emptiness) merges so perfectly with phenomena that you can't really separate
them, just as there is no distance left between a target and the arrow which struck it.




by Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (700-790)
Commented on by Chan Master Sheng Yen (1930–2009)
Translated by Ming Yee Wang and Pei-gwang Dowiat

The mind of the great Indian immortal
Was esoterically transmitted from West to East.
The capacity of people may be dull or sharp,
But there are no Northern and Southern Patriarchs in the Tao.
The spiritual source is bright and pure,
Branching out and secretly flowing forth.
Attachment to phenomenon has always been confusion,
Yet union with principle is not enlightenment.
Every (Dharma) door includes all realms,
Some mutually interact, others do not.
Reaction increases mutual involvement;
There should be no reliance on abiding in one place.
From original form comes shapes and images;
From primal sound comes pleasures and pains.
In obscurity, words of the high and middle (paths) are in accord;
In lucidity, expressions of purity and muddiness are apparent.
The four great elements return to their own nature
As a child finds its mother.
Fire burns, wind moves and shakes,
Water moistens, earth solidifies.
Eyes ─ forms, ears ─ sounds,
Nose ─ odors, tongue ─ salt and sour.
In accordance with each dharma,
The root gives rise to separate leaves.
Roots and branches must return to basic principle;
"Honorable" and "lowly" are merely words.
In the midst of brightness there is darkness;
Do not take darkness as darkness.
In the midst of darkness there is brightness;
Do not take brightness as brightness.
Brightness and darkness correspond,
Like one step following another.
All things have their own function
Depending on their use and location.
Phenomena stores, seals, covers, combines.
Principle yields to the arrow, the sword's edge, the stick.
Received teachings must be reconciled with basic principle;
Do not establish your own rules.
Using your eyes, the path is lost.
Using your feet, how can you know the road?
Moving forward there is no near or far;
Confusion creates mountains and rivers of obstructions.
I implore those who investigate the mysterious:
Do not waste your time!


Before I begin my commentary on Inquiry Into Matching Halves, I would like to speak briefly on the life and accomplishments of its author, Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (700-790). who lived during the Tang dynasty (618-907). He became a monk at the age of thirteen, and began practicing with the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng (638-713). However, Hui-neng died soon after, and Shih-t'ou was directed to study with an important disciple of the Sixth Patriarch Ch'ing-yuan Hsing-ssu (660-740).

The Ts'ao-tung sect, which places great importance on Inquiry Into Matching Halves, traces its origins to Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien. However, it is not Shih-tou, but rather two of his Dharma descendants, who are credited with creating the Ts'ao-tung sect.

Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien's Dharma lineage proceeds as follows: Yao-shan Wei-yen (745-828), Yun-yen T'an-sheng (780-841), Tung-shan Liang-chieh (807-869), Ts'ao-shan Pen-chi (840-901). Tung-shan Liang-chieh and Ts'ao-shan Pen-chi are the recognized founders of the Ts'ao-tung sect, and in fact, the Ts'ao-tung sect derives its name from the surnames of these two patriarchs.

The Chinese rendering of Shih-t'ou's poem title is Ts'an T'ung Ch'i. The title's origins date back to the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220), long before Shih-tou's lifetime. Ts'an T'ung Ch'i is the title of another book, written by a Taoist named Wei Po Yang. The Taoist work delineated esoteric practices that could help one to gain immortality or transform oneself into a deity. But why would Shih-t'ou adopt the title of a Taoist work for his poem? When Buddhism migrated to China, Sakyamuni Buddha was given a Taoist appellatlon ─ The Perfectly Enlightened Highest Deity ─ in order to form a connection between Buddhist teaching and the Taoist tradition. By adopting the Taoist title, Shih-t'ou made a metaphorical connection between becoming a deity and becoming a Buddha. Practice, Shih-t'ou advises, will lead to Buddhahood or the state of a "Perfectly Enlightened Deities." Furthermore, there is also an allusion within the title to the achievement of Buddhahood through the practice of dhyana, which is similar to some Taoist practices.

The title consists of three characters. Ch'i means contract. When two people come to an agreement in order to achieve a goal, this contract is called ch'i. People who marry in court must affirm their agreement; the affirmation is called ch'i.

T'ung means common. In this poem's title, "common" refers to all the Buddhas throughout space and time. The phrase t'ung chi implies that this affirmation is not merely an agreement between two people. Rather, all the Buddhas affirm that, in order to reach Buddhahood, one must follow the path described by the teachings of this poem.

Ts'an can either be translated as "work" or as "investigation." One must make an effort to investigate the meaning of things. The poem's title refers to one investigating the meaning of t'ung ch'i, or that which is affirmed by the Buddhas. It is the same kind of questioning one encounters in kung-an and hua-t'ou practice. In fact, many kung-ans are derived from the teachings of Ts'an T'ung Ch'i and the Ts'ao-tung sect. For example, one famous kung-an asks: What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West? Of course, you cannot answer that he left India to bring the Dharma to China, because that answer would be based on intellectual reasoning. Underlying the question is something that cannot be explained in words or language. When a person investigates this particular kung-an, he is, in fact, trying to reveal that which is affirmed by all Buddhas. It is an instance of Ts'an T'ung Ch'i.

Two terms in this verse ─ ming and an ─ are of great importance. Literally, they mean "brightness" and "darkness." In later writings of the Ts'ao-tung sect, authors often referred to paired concepts such as "center and off-center, " or "king and subordinate." One of the paired terms ─ brightness, center, or king ─ represents something that is primary; and the other term ─ darkness, off-center, or subordinate ─ represents something that is auxiliary. These paired opposites were used by Ts'ao-tung masters to help explain the experience of practice. For expedience, Ts'ao-tung masters divided the experience of enlightenment into five progressive levels. Using paired opposites to help explain the five levels of the Ts'ao-tung sect originated with Shih-tou's terms, ming and an.

Shih-t'ou Hsi-Ch'ien had tremendous impact on the Ch'an sect, especially the Ts'ao-tung sect. Since Ts'an T'ung Ch'i contains his fundamental ideas, it is worthwhile to discuss the meaning of his poem. On the other hand, the concepts in Ts'an T'ung Ch'i are difficult to understand, and at this time there are no English commentaries on Shih-tou's poem. I hope that more and better commentaries on Inquiry Into Matching Halves will follow. For now this commentary may be helpful to the reader.

Inquiry Into Matching Halves

The mind of the great Indian immortal
Was esoterically transmitted from West to East.

The great Indian immortal refers to Sakyamuni Buddha. Sakyamuni did not bring Buddhism from the West to the East. Historically, Bodhidharma is credited with introducing Buddhism to China, but these two lines of verse are not referring to Bodhidharma either. The poem speaks of the mind of the Buddha, not the Buddha himself. The mind that was esoterically transmitted from West to East refers to the wisdom of a perfectly enlightened being. In technical terms, it is called the "Dharma door of the mind-ground."

Sakyamuni Buddha made a vow to sit under the Bodhi tree until he reached ultimate enlightenment. It is said that his mind brightened when he revealed his true nature. The mind brightens when all vexations are terminated. If a practitioner accomplishes this, he will see the true nature of all dharmas. This true nature goes by many names: it is sometimes called Dharma nature; before one is enlightened, it is also called Buddha-nature, and after one is enlightened, it is called Buddha's wisdom.

Before sentient beings become enlightened, they do not know what the mind of Buddha is like or where it is. Only those who penetrate their true nature will be aware of the true mind. For this reason, it is said that the mind, or wisdom, of the Buddha is transmitted secretly, esoterically.

Those who are not enlightened cannot see this mind, and Buddha cannot show it to them. A practitioner must come to his own understanding. Buddha can only offer Dharma; he cannot transform anyone into a Buddha. If Buddha himself cannot reveal this mind to us, then how can the patriarchs after Buddha do so? Enlightenment must be attained by the practitioner.

However, although it seems contradictory, those who are enlightened understand that Buddha has clearly and completely transmitted his wisdom to them. In other words, one can say that Buddha reveals his mind to those who attain thorough enlightenment. Completely enlightened people also clearly perceive that this mind has been transmitted from the West (India) to the East by generations of patriarchs. Shih-t'ou uses the term "patriarch" to describe completely enlightened people, who see clearly what the mind is.

Another name for this true mind is the Right Dharma Eye Storehouse. Every dharma comes from this storehouse, but only those who are enlightened ─ those who have opened their eyes ─ can see the Dharma Storehouse. When the mind is transmitted from patriarch to patriarch, it is sometimes called the "Transmission of the Dharma, " or "Giving of the Dharma, " but it is formally called the "Giving of the Dharma Storehouse." Likewise, the record of the genealogy of patriarchs has a special name. Translated from Chinese, it is called the "Record of Causes and Conditions for the Giving of the Dharma Storehouse."

Of course, transmission of the Dharma Storehouse from patriarch to patriarch ─ from master to disciple ─ is no secret. To the donor and recipient, the transmission of the Dharma Storehouse is clear and obvious. However, sentient beings who are not enlightened have no idea what is transpiring. For the unenlightened, the transmission of the Dharma Storehouse is a secret, and until they are enlightened, it will remain a mystery.
The capacity of people may be dull or
But there are no Northern and Southern
Patriarchs in the Tao.

Even though the karmic roots, or karmic capacities, of unenlightened sentient beings vary, there is no distinction among patriarchs from the South, East. North, or West.

It is true that people have different karmic roots. If you practice or study Buddhadharma ─ even if you think you practice poorly ─ you should be happy. It is rare that one encounters, accepts and practices Buddhadharma; it means that you have a deep karmic connection with the Dharma. However, having a deep karmic connection with the Dharma is not the same as having dull or sharp karmic roots. People who encounter the Dharma may have equivalent karmic affinity with the Dharma, but some may have sharp roots and others, dull roots. Those with sharp roots can cut through vexations quicker than those with dull roots.

Consider a ball made of iron. Although it may be heavy, it may also be too dull to rip through a paper bag. Therefore, the ball can remain hidden. The practice of a person with deep, but dull, karmic roots can be likened to an iron ball in a bag. Though the practitioner's connection with the Dharma is deep, his capacity for practice is dull, and he may not be able to quickly cut through his vexations. However, a person with sharp karmic roots is equivalent to an iron sword. With the slightest pressure, the sword can cut through the bag.

People who practice a long time, yet are unable to reveal their true nature, must recognize and admit to themselves that they have dull karmic roots. However, they should not despair. Yes, their karmic roots may be dull, but their karmic connection with the Dharma is deep. People like this must persist in their practice, continuously polishing and hammering their iron ball, until they fashion a sharp edge that can puncture the walls of their karmic obstructions. Only then will the sword become visible.

Legend has it that Sakyamuni Buddha's son, Rahula, remained in the womb of Yasutara ─ Sakyamuni's wife ─ for six years. Yasutara became pregnant while Sakyamuni still lived in his father's palace, but she did not give birth to Rahula until Sakyamuni attained complete enlightenment. People in the palace accused Yasutara of committing adultery, and they condemned her to death. She said, "I know I am innocent. To prove it to you, I will undergo a test. Place a stone in the water, and I will stand with my child on the stone. If we sink, it means I'm guilty, and it's appropriate that we drown. If we float, it means I'm innocent." Of course, mother, child, and stone did not sink, and she was vindicated.

Sakyamuni Buddha explained why Rahula stayed in the mother's womb for so long. Lifetimes before, Rahula saw a snake slither into a hole. He blocked the hole and trap the snake. After six days, Rahula removed the stone and let the snake go free. As a consequence of that action, Rahula remained in his mother's womb for six years.

In this story, Buddha recounted only one of Rahula's past actions. It would be impossible to keep track of all the bad karma we have accumulated over countless lifetimes from evil actions directed toward other sentient beings. Our bad karma creates obstacles on the path of practice in this lifetime. Just as Rahula could not leave his mother's womb, our wisdom cannot break through our karmic obstructions. As long as we are obstructed by our previous actions, our karmic roots will remain dull, regardless of how deep our karmic affinity with the Dharma may be.

In order to make progress, people must openly face their karmic obstructions and accept the consequences of previous actions. They must be persistent and determined in their practice, in this lifetime and in lifetimes to come.

People who feel they have dull karmic roots need not feel helpless. Likewise, they have no reason to envy people with sharp karmic roots. There are individuals who simultaneously have a deep karmic affinity with the Dharma and sharp karmic roots. They make quick progress in a short time and do not regress on the path of practice. These people have deep enlightenment experiences; that is, with one experience they eradicate all vexations and become thoroughly enlightened. Such people are extremely rare. More often, people who make quick progress in their practice (because they do not have many karmic obstructions) do not have deep karmic affinity with the Dharma. Their karmic roots are sharp ─ they see their self-nature after practicing for a short time ─ but, because they do not have a deep connection with the Dharma, the benefits derived from the enlightenment are weak and short-lived. They are not capable of generating enduring power from their experience, and because they do not continue to practice diligently afterwards, whatever benefit they get quickly disappears.

Ch'an masters say that before one is enlightened, one must practice diligently and gravely as if one's parents had just died. However, after one is enlightened, one has to practice doubly hard, with an even graver mentality, as if one's parents had died twice. Why is this? Before you are enlightened, you are in a pitiable condition. You do not know where you come from; you do not know where you are going; you do not know who you are. There is no other choice but to practice hard and earnestly to discover the answers to these questions. People who are enlightened know where they come from and where they are going. However, a person without deep karmic affinity with the Dharma who sees his self-nature must be careful, because he can easily regress or digress from the correct practice. It is as if he were walking on a narrow, treacherous path. If he is careless, he can lose his way and find himself in a strange place again. After an enlightenment experience, it is necessary to keep practicing diligently, until one reaches a wide, safe path.

The Tao that Shih-t'ou refers to in the couplet refers to the Buddha mind as well as to the path that leads to the Buddha mind. Practitioners who are not yet enlightened do not know where they are or where they are going. For such people, the Tao refers to the path that leads to Buddhahood. After seeing their self-nature, practitioners know where they are and where they are going. However, they must still traverse the path of practice, so it is necessary to continue speaking of the Tao. When a sentient being reaches Buddhahood, it is no longer necessary to speak of the Tao. We sometimes refer to the Tao as the Buddha path, but it is only for the benefit of sentient beings who have not reached Buddhahood that we need such a term. For Buddhas, there is no Buddha path.

We must understand that seeing into one's nature, or experiencing enlightenment, does not necessarily mean one is permanently enlightened. Enlightenment is a momentary flash when a person sees his true nature ─ the nature of no self. According to the Ch'an historical record, there have been a few monks who, in one enlightenment experience, became thoroughly enlightened; Masters Yang-shan (807-883) and Wei-shan (771-853) of the Tang dynasty are two such individuals. They are Ch'an masters of the highest order. There have not been many such instances. More often, one enlightenment is not enough. A practitioner needs to experience many enlightenments; some will be shallow, some deep. One Sung dynasty master said he had more than thirty deep enlightenments and uncountable shallow enlightenments in his lifetime. A wise master will rarely allow students to teach after an initial enlightenment experience. They still need to practice diligently.

The Ts'ao-tung sect speaks of five levels of progress along the Buddha path. Later, masters of the Ming dynasty spoke of three barriers to practice. Passing through the first barrier is equivalent to having an initial enlightenment experience. It is like passing over a threshold. A master may affirm your experience, but it is doubtful he will allow you to teach others. There is still much work to be done.

The next level is called the "multiple barrier." During this stage, a practitioner will have several enlightenments. Usually, experiences will be progressively stronger, and the power derived from the experience will last longer.

When I speak of power and benefits, I refer to the amount and number of vexations that disappear. An enlightenment experience may only last an instant. In that instant a practitioner will understand the illusory nature of his vexations, and for a while his attachments and vexations, which stem from greed, hatred, ignorance, doubt and arrogance, will disappear. Depending on the depth and strength of his enlightenment experience, his vexations may return right away, or they may not return for a longer period of time. With thorough enlightenment, vexations never return.

The third level is called the "prison barrier." A practitioner who breaks through the third barrier breaks through the bonds of Samsara. Such a person has attained liberation ─ thorough enlightenment ─ and vexations will not return. It still does not mean that practice is over. A liberated practitioner can teach others, but he can practice as well, in order to accumulate more wisdom and merit. This level is equivalent to the tenth picture of the Ten Ox Herding Pictures.

It is possible for a person to break through the prison barrier with his first enlightenment experience, but more often a person must pass through the multiple barrier stage. Practitioners who pass through all three barriers in one enlightenment have deep and sharp karmic roots. They possess a sharp, iron sword. In the early days of Ch'an, monks and nuns would not get permission to teach until they had passed through the prison barrier, but things are different today. Some practitioners may be given permission to teach while they are still on the second, or even the first, level.

People who have had an initial enlightenment experience should realize that they have not reached ultimate enlightenment. They should seek the guidance of a master, or study the sutras. If no masters are available, then it is permissible for them to teach, but they must be cautious. They must understand that there are still problems to work out. Their experience is shallow, so they must be careful not to mislead their followers. They should let their students know that they are not deeply enlightened. If followers mistake their teachers for thoroughly enlightened beings, they may later be let down by the teachers' words or actions. That would not be fair to the followers, and it would be an injustice to the Dharma. Teachers who have had only an initial enlightenment must be humble. Most of all, they must continue to practice.

One can liken such a teacher to a coach. A coach may not be an outstanding athlete, but he may have the ability to guide others to become outstanding athletes. I often say that I am like a one-legged man surrounded by no-legged students. I cannot move quickly, but at least I can get around. I know having one leg is not good enough, that it is possible to have two legs. With such knowledge, I can teach no-legged students to grow both legs.

I am often asked if it is possible for an initial enlightenment to fade such that a practitioner forgets his experience and stops practicing. It is not the flash of experience that fades, but the power derived from that experience which fades. If the enlightenment is genuine, then a person will clearly see what his true nature is, and he will work doubly hard in his practice, because his faith and power of practice will have increased. If a person claims to have been enlightened, then be on your guard. If he does not practice and acts in immoral ways, then more than likely he did not have a genuine experience. Of course, it is possible that certain karmic conditions will prevent a practitioner from practicing after an initial enlightenment, but this is the exception to the rule. Furthermore, the power derived from practice is not magical; it is not an entity or force that pushes one along in one's practice. Power is the absence of greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt. When power fades, these vexations return. That should be enough impetus for a person to continue to practice. Once one has experienced life without these vexations, even if only for a moment, one should have the faith and determination to practice until vexations eventually lessen and disappear forever.
The spiritual source is bright and pure,
Branching out and secretly flowing forth.

The spiritual source refers to the potential for Buddhahood, or the seed of Buddhahood, that is within all of us. It is called Buddha-nature. The spiritual source can also be described as the undefiled master that is within each of us.

The Chinese character which is translated as "spiritual source" has other connotations. It alludes to something that is free, yet soft, like a gentle, unobstructed light that has the power of illumination. The same Chinese characters are sometimes used to describe moonlight; moonlight is considered gentle and undefiled. Hence, the spiritual source is completely unobstructed, bright, pure and clear.

From an enlightened person's point of view, the spiritual source is pure and unmoving. It has no power because no power is needed; there is only Suchness. For ordinary sentient beings, however, the spiritual source has the power of illumination, because they are in the darkness of ignorance and they need the power of illumination to escape that darkness. When the spiritual source displays this power of illumination, it is called wisdom.

The spiritual source is within each sentient being and common to all sentient beings. Before enlightenment, however, sentient beings are obstructed by their ignorance, and their spiritual source is covered by vexation. Each sentient being is unique. One can say that each sentient being is a different branch of the flowing spiritual source that is common to all.

From Buddha's point of view, the spiritual source is common to everyone. In other words, the pure, undefiled light of Buddha-nature is everywhere equal. But sentient beings are not enlightened, and they see themselves immersed in darkness, apart from the spiritual source. They see the light of the spiritual source as wisdom, and the darkness around them as vexation. Each person is unique in that he has his own vexations. Sentient beings perceive different levels of darkness depending on how deeply they are immersed in vexation. To Buddha, there is really no difference between wisdom and vexation. However, Buddha responds instantly and unconditionally to the needs of sentient beings.

Sentient beings, as they branch from this common spiritual source, meander in innumerable directions. Depending on their vexations and karma, sentient beings flow to and from different points along different paths, filling the six realms in the endless cycle of Samsara.

The first line of this couplet refers to light, or brightness. The second line refers to darkness. Lightness represents enlightenment, and darkness represents vexation, or the condition of sentient beings before enlightenment. In this couplet, brightness and darkness are described as being separate and distinct. Brightness is brightness. Darkness is darkness. The distinction is quite clear. However, the distinction between brightness and darkness is an expedient teaching of Buddhadharma, taught for the benefit of ordinary sentient beings.
Attachment to phenomenon has always
been confusion,
Yet union with principle is not enlightenment.

This couplet reflects back to the previous two lines. I said that brightness and darkness are separate and distinct. That, however, stems from teachings of certain doctrinal schools of Buddhism. It is not the highest Dharma. This couplet reminds us that viewing brightness and darkness as distinct entities is not ultimate Buddhadharma.

If one distinguishes between brightness and darkness, vexation and wisdom, or Samsara and Nirvana, that is discrimination. Discrimination stems from ignorance. If you discriminate ─ that is, if you cling to differences among phenomena and make distinctions based on attachment ─ then you are not enlightened. You are still deluded and cling to a point of view. These are characteristics of ordinary sentient beings, not enlightened beings.

The first line of the couplet explains that you are still confused or deluded if you attach to the phenomena that emanate from brightness and darkness.

The second line of the couplet warns that being in union with the principle is not enlightenment either. Here, "principle" refers to perceiving brightness and darkness as being one and the same. If a person does not make distinctions between brightness and darkness, then he is in accordance with, or in union with, the principle. But this is not enlightenment.

Why is being in accordance with the principle not enlightenment? Accordance with the principle can be considered worldly enlightenment. It refers to a one-mind state. Although it is a powerful and worthwhile experience, it is not enlightenment in the Buddhist sense, because there is still a self involved. We can call it "Great Self, " or atman ─ Shih-t'ou refers to it as the "principle" ─ but it is not enlightenment. It does not liberate one from Samsara.

People who hold onto the principle as the ultimate truth will likely believe in a fundamental nature that is real, unchanging and eternal. A basic tenet of Buddhism states, however, that there is no unchanging, eternal nature. Emptiness underlies existence. Clinging to an eternal, universal, unchanging principle is, in fact, holding onto a Great self.
Every (Dharma) door includes all realms,
Some mutually interact, others do not.

We are all familiar with the T'ai-chi symbol of yin and yang ─ a circle that is half white and half black. On the one hand, yin and yang are separate and distinct. On the other hand, yin and yang are part of the same circle. Although Shih-t'ou does not speak of the T'ai-chi symbol, he does use the symbols of brightness and darkness in a similar manner. Yin and yang and brightness and darkness are polarities or opposite elements which mutually interact.

Before I continue with an explanation of this verse, I wish to explain two Buddhist terms, namely nature and dharma, because it will help to make clear much of what I will discuss from this point onward. In Buddhism, the word "nature" has several meanings. Sometimes we take nature as the essential way things are, as in self-nature. Although we say that we seek our self-nature, there really is no such thing. Self-nature is at bottom nothing but a dharma. Dharmas, whether they are physical or mental, do not have a permanent, unchanging existence. Therefore, there is no self-nature. On the other hand, when dharmas arise from causes and conditions, they do have their own particular "natures." Here, nature refers to characteristics. A dharma, whether it is physical or mental, has defining qualities, a position, and also a path on which it travels (arises and perishes). Each dharma abides in its own realm. The interaction of dharmas, with their unique characteristics, paths and realms, are what constitute the universe (dharmadhatu). Furthermore, we should make a distinction between Dharma and dharma. Dharma with an upper case "D" refers to the body of teachings, methods and principles of Buddhism. Dharma with a lower case "d" refers to any and all phenomena. It should be pointed out that the Dharma is, in fact, a collection of dharmas.

If you look at the English translation of the first line of this couplet, you will notice that "door" is emphasized while "dharma" is enclosed in parentheses. Actually, "dharma" should be emphasized. "Door" need not be mentioned. Every dharma includes all realms. In essence, every dharma is part of and connected to every other dharma. What does this mean?

The Ts'ao-tung sect often borrows terminology and symbols from the I Ching. In the I Ching, yin, or darkness, is represented by a broken line, and yang, or brightness, is represented by an unbroken line. These lines are combined in sets of six called hexagrams. According to the I Ching, the sixty-four possible hexagrams represent, and can be used to interpret, all phenomena. We are discussing Buddhism, not Taoism or the I Ching, but one point is common to all three beliefs. Each phenomenon, or dharma, no matter how large or small, is connected to and part of all other phenomena.

I said that all dharmas, or phenomena, are connected to and part of everything that emanates from the interaction of opposite elements symbolized by yin and yang. All dharmas arise from causes and conditions, which are ever-changing and mutually interdependent. In fact, without causes and conditions, and without the interaction of yin and yang, dharmas cannot arise. For something to exist, it must be compared to something that does not exist. Existence can be recognized only in contrast to non-existence. Furthermore, the comparison of existence and non-existence is, itself, an interaction of yin and yang.

When opposite elements come together, it does not mean that they will stay together. The yin-yang circle gives the impression of fluidity, of an ever-changing nature. Phenomena arise, change, and disappear with the incessant flux of causes and conditions. Phenomena will continuously arise and come into contact with other phenomena. Still, no matter how much interplay or change occurs, all phenomena are part of the totality represented by yin and yang, or existence and non-existence. In essence, all things change, but on a larger scale, nothing moves. Yin and yang are still part of the same circle. Every dharma interacts with every other dharma. Each individual dharma encompasses every other dharma. Each dharma encompasses the totality represented by yin and yang, and at the same time, each dharma emanates from the interaction of yin and yang.

We cannot view each dharma as an isolated event, an isolated interaction of opposite elements. The I Ching emphasizes that yin and yang evolve into innumerable phenomena. Each dharma, which arises from the interaction of yin and yang, constantly interacts with other dharmas, which are also products of yin and yang. Additionally, the interaction between each dharma is also a product of yin and yang. Each dharma is not only connected to every other dharma, it also includes all dharmas, all realms, all of totality. The Avatamsaka Sutra says that a single grain of sand contains innumerable sutras. One grain of sand contains all Buddhadharma.

Buddhism says that dharmas arise from causes and conditions. Since dharmas arise from causes and conditions, they do not have unchanging natures. Therefore, they are empty. It is precisely because dharmas arise from causes and conditions that we can recognize their empty nature. Conversely, it is because of emptiness that dharmas can arise from causes and conditions. If dharmas were not fundamentally empty, then they would be solid, enduring, unchanging, and they would not arise and perish as a result of the coming together of causes and conditions. In effect, dharmas (which arise from causes and conditions) and emptiness are mutually interdependent. They are cause and consequence for one another.

Emptiness is represented by brightness. It is the spiritual source. The dharmas arising from causes and conditions are represented by darkness ─ darkness because dharmas have obstructions. Dharmas are in the realm of existence, and obstruction and attachment are part of existence. Emptiness is bright because no attachment or obstructions exist. Emptiness is also called the principle, and the dharmas arising from causes and conditions are called phenomena.

I said that every dharma contains yin and yang. Using Shih-t'ou's terminology, every dharma contains both brightness and darkness, or emptiness and non-emptiness. Ordinary sentient beings are attached to and only see the non-empty aspect of dharmas. We see only the dharmas, only the phenomena, not the underlying causes and conditions. Enlightened ones, however, sees both the dharmas and the fundamental emptiness from which they arise. Therefore, they do not become attached to phenomena.

Ordinary sentient beings are unable to recognize that every dharma includes all realms. Enlightened sentient beings perceive dharmas arising from causes and conditions. They see that dharmas arise from emptiness. Therefore, they recognize that each dharma includes all other dharmas, and in turn, each dharma is encompassed by all other dharmas.

The second line of the couplet says that dharmas interact, yet they do not interact. Interaction means that phenomena are related. For instance, people in the same room breathe each other's air. They are related. It does not mean that each of us breathes all the air, but over an extended period of time, that may happen. Extending the analogy, one can say that each person is related to all of dharmadhatu ─ the entire universe. It may be difficult for you to understand or accept this. All dharmas are related and interact. However, the manifestation or effect of that relationship may not become evident for aeons. You and I are talking right now. The effect of our interaction seems to be immediate. At the same time, you are also interacting with dharma on the other side of the universe, but it may not become apparent for a long time to come, or it may never become apparent. This is what the line, "some dharmas interact" means.

What does it mean when the stanza says, "others [dharmas] do not [interact]"? This can be understood on two levels. One level refers to the person who has reached the "one-mind" state. To him, there is no interaction ─ 7 there is no coming in or going out, there is no shifting. All is contained within the "one." Since all is contained in the "one, " nothing really happens.

The second level refers to a person who has attained the state of "no-self." An enlightened being is aware of all changes, relationships and interactions, but since he has no self, he attaches to none of it and is moved by none of it.
Reaction increases mutual involvement;
There should be no reliance on abiding in
one place.

Not only do phenomena mutually interact in the present moment, the process continues successively and uninterruptedly, interaction after interaction, developing and expanding without limit. One dharma interacts with innumerable other dharmas, and those dharmas, in turn, interact with the "original" dharma. Therefore, it is said that one dharma leads to, or gives rise to, all dharmas. To put it another way, one dharma contains all dharmas. It does not mean that there is an original dharma from which all other dharmas spring. Although one dharma contains all other dharmas, you cannot hold onto that one dharma and forget the rest.

The term "mutually interacting" refers to all dharmas. One dharma leads to other dharmas, but at the same time, each of the other dharmas leads back to the first dharma. There is no first or special dharma. Every dharma contains all dharmas and leads to all dharmas. If this were not true, then we could not speak of unlimited dharmas arising from a single dharma.

If, in your practice, you enter enlightenment through one method ─ one Dharma door ─ in fact, you enter all Dharma doors. However, you cannot say that only one Dharma door is necessary and ignore the other Dharma doors. For example, there are four doors that open into the Ch'an hall. No matter which door I choose, it will lead into this hall, but it does not mean that only one door is necessary. Each door is an access to another part of the building. All four doors are necessary, and lead in different directions, yet they are all related.

Although one dharma incorporates in its essence all other dharmas, each of the other dharmas has its own position. It is not as if every dharma is in the same space and time as the arbitrary dharma that I choose to say contains all dharmas. Each dharma has its own position, its own point of view, its own perspective. Unity, then, does not mean that there are no differences between dharmas, or phenomena, but rather, that all differences are incorporated, or contained, within each dharma. Only an enlightened person truly understands these ideas. An enlightened person sees every dharma as it is, without discrimination and attachment. One dharma is not different from any other dharma. In seeing one dharma, an enlightened person sees all dharmas. But he also sees that each dharma has its own position.

Once, master Yang-shan asked his master, Wei-shan, "If millions of myriads of phenomena were to arise simultaneously, what would you do?" His master replied, "Green is not yellow, long is not short. Each dharma abides in its own position. It has nothing to do with me." Innumerable dharmas exist, each with its unique position and characteristics, but they have no influence or effect on an enlightened person. In other words, an enlightened person interacts spontaneously with phenomena, yet he is not attached to dharma. He is subject to sickness and death, but he is not attached to the suffering of sickness and death. In this way, he moves freely through the world, interacting with sentient beings and the environment, yet he clings to nothing.

Unenlightened people can only vaguely understand the true meaning of the phrase, "the mutual interaction of dharmas, " because they use their intellect, and therefore, they misinterpret the essence of Buddhist principles. For instance, I have said that one dharma contains all dharmas. However, if, with your reasoning power, you think that within each dharma is the potential for every other dharma to arise, then you have misunderstood the teaching. In fact, one dharma already contains all dharmas, in this and every moment. The Ch'an sect has a saying: "A single thought contains the Ten Dharma Realms." If you read this line and think, "Because I think of this, therefore I can think of that, and then that, and so on, until, potentially, I will understand the Ten Dharma Realms, " then you have misunderstood the phrase. Actually, your single thought, right now, contains all Ten Dharma Realms. A single thought contains you, your self-nature, everyone in this room, everyone you know, all your dreams and memories, the environment, the universe.

When I say one dharma contains all dharmas, you may think I use the word "contain" in a metaphorical sense.Actually, I use the word literally. One thought, no matter how small it may seem, spatially and temporally contains the Ten Dharma Realms. This is so because true nature, or Buddha-nature, is the same for all sentient beings, all worlds, all heavens, all hells, all Buddhas.

Therefore, one dharma, whether it is a mental dharma (consciousness) or a physical dharma (form), includes all dharmas.

The Avatamsaka Sutra says that all Buddhas in the three times and ten directions turn the Great Dharma Wheel on the tip of a fine strand of hair. It is not symbolic language. It is the literal truth. If I hold onto one thread of my robe, in fact I hold the entire robe. Likewise, since all dharmas have the same fundamental nature, in holding one I hold them all. It does not mean that I can get to all other dharmas, one by one, by holding onto the original dharma. It is not like a snowball rolling down a hill, amassing more snow as it descends. I do not amass dharmas by holding onto one dharma. Rather, in holding this dharma, I instantaneously hold all dharmas.

Dharmas arise from causes and conditions. One dharma is connected, through causes and conditions, to all other dharmas. Therefore, if you hold one dharma, you are in direct contact with all other dharmas.
From original form comes shapes and
From primal sound comes pleasures and

Previously, I said that the phenomena of the world can be traced to the mutual interaction of yin and yang, or brightness and darkness. All phenomena are part of, and not separate from, form. Form refers to all material dharmas. Each form has a particular shape and image. Each form has unique characteristics. The first line of this couplet alludes to an ancient philosophical school (Kapila School) in India, which claims that all phenomena derive from the interaction and combination of numbers. Numbers, the school maintains, are the fundamental basis of form and phenomena in the universe.

The second line of the couplet refers to another Indian philosophical school (Vyakarana School), which maintains that the universe is based on sound ─ the universe originally comes from sound and will eventually return to sound. Because people are different, they hear different sounds, which in turn triggers feelings of pleasure and pain. Furthermore, sound develops into language, and from language comes more complex feelings and perceptions ─ pleasure derived from flattery and compliments; pain derived from criticism and condemnation.

Originally there is unity, but from unity arises differentiation. The first line refers to differentiation in terms of form and shape. The second line refers to differentiation in terms of sound.

Shih-t'ou does not speak of fundamental form and sound strictly from a theoretical standpoint. He speaks from direct, spiritual experience. Superficially speaking, one can say that, because sentient beings are unique, people hear different sounds, and these sounds in turn lead to sensations of pain and pleasure. All of these ideas are true. However, there is a deeper, more direct experience, which corresponds to the experience of samadhi.

The Ch'an school sometimes speaks of four stages of enlightenment. The first stage is called the "infinite realm of light and sound." "Light" refers to "form." The infinite light of the first stage of enlightenment is not light that ordinary people see. It is the light that exists before the beginning of the universe, before differentiation. It has no obstructions. In contrast, the light we see is the light of differentiated phenomena, and is quite limited in its scope. The infinite sound that one hears in samadhi is not the sound ordinary people hear. The sounds we think we hear are only illusions. They are quite different from the infinite sound that exists before differentiation.

From the original, unchanging, united light and sound come all the differentiated phenomena of form, shape and sound. However, to understand this, one must be at the first stage of enlightenment. In writing this couplet, Shih-t'ou has grouped together all the philosophical and spiritual schools which speak of reality and phenomena in terms of form and sound ─ not only the two Indian philosophical schools, but all practices which rely on mantras, names, or numbers. Shih-t'ou does not condemn the teachings of these traditions. He recognizes the benefits of such practice. He does not disclaim that differentiation comes from and returns to unity. The experience of Ch'an, however, is beyond the level attainable through these techniques.

If you abide in the realm of infinite light and form, then you still have attachments, and you still reside in the realm of form. Even the formless realms are not Ch'an. Residing in the formless realms of deep samadhi, one still clings, however subtly, to the idea of abiding in emptiness. A sense of self still exists. The emptiness of the formless realms of samadhi is different from Ch'an emptiness.
In obscurity, words of the high and middle
(path) are in accord;
In lucidity, expressions of purity or
muddiness are apparent.

The word "obscurity, " sometimes translated as "hiddenness, "refers to wisdom that is covered up. The word "lucidity, " sometimes translated as "clarity, " refers to wisdom manifest. For ordinary sentient beings, wisdom is hidden, or obscured, by vexation. Although it is hidden, wisdom is never separate from the "high (superior) and middling words." The high and middling words are the teachings of the Mahayana vehicle (Bodhisattva path) and the Hinayana vehicle (Liberation path). The lower path, which is not mentioned, encompasses the human and heavenly realms. In other words, even though wisdom is obscured when one is unenlightened, it is never separate from the enlightened states of the Mahayana and Hinayana paths.

The second line of the couplet explains that wisdom manifests in order to distinguish without attachment between that which is pure and that which is impure. Obscurity and lucidity, hiddenness and clarity, phenomena and principle, yin and yang, darkness and brightness, existence and emptiness ─ these are paired opposites that are commonly used by masters of the Ts'ao-tung sect in order to distinguish between the enlightened and unenlightened states. In this couplet, obscurity refers to existence, and lucidity to emptiness. But, as I have explained earlier, existence and emptiness are not separate and apart from one another.

Wisdom is obscured because ordinary sentient beings are moved by or attracted to phenomena ─ the environment. These phenomena do not move. The mind moves, and thereby, the environment moves. When the mind is in motion, wisdom is obscured. If the mind does not move, then phenomena are still. There is a famous story in the Platform Sutra which perfectly illustrates this concept. The Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng, approached two monks who disagreed about a flag waving in the wind. One said the flag moved, and the other said it was the wind that moved. Hui-neng told them that it was their minds that were moving. The environment moves because our minds move.

The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment expounds on the same concept, but at a shallower level; one that is more easily understood by the intellect. The sutra says that when the clouds move in the night sky, it is as if the clouds are still and the moon is moving; likewise, when we sit in a boat floating downstream, it feels as if the riverbank is moving, not the boat. These analogies describe an already moving mind that is confused even further by illusory phenomena. On a deeper level, the mind of vexation creates new karma, which in turn leads to the movement of phenomena. Every phenomenon is a construct of the movement of our minds. Therefore, phenomena exist only because of the action of our minds. Understand that there is an objective existence. The chair I sit on does not appear out of thin air because my mind moves. But it is my moving mind that sees this physical mass and adds mental constructions ─ views it, perceives it, interprets it, gives meaning to it.

"Obscurity" refers to vexation, to sentient beings who are not enlightened, whether they practice or do not practice. This condition of obscurity is called Tathagatagarbha, or the storehouse of Tathagata. Tathagata means "Suchness." Although sentient beings are immersed in vexation, the Tathagata is stored within them. For this reason, all sentient beings have the potential to become arhats, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.

We are in a "hidden" condition because we are sentient beings. We are Tathagatagarbha ─ Buddha-nature. It does not mean that we are Buddhas right now, or that we have ever been Buddhas. Rather, we have the potential to reveal our Buddha-nature. When we are in the realm of Samsara, we speak of Tathagatagarbha, because it has not yet been uncovered. After enlightenment, and once outside of Samsara, we speak of True Suchness. Because all sentient beings have Tathagatagarbha, they are not separate from the enlightened beings of the Mahayana and Hinayana paths.

What are the differences between the lower path, the middle path (Hinayana or liberation path), and the higher path (Mahayana or Bodhisattva path)? When people practice, they may vow to follow the Bodhisattva path, but they may end up treading the Liberation path, or even the inferior paths of the human and heavenly realms. In the lower paths, a sense of self still exists. It does not matter whether one cultivates precepts, samadhi, or wisdom; as long as a self is involved, one will remain on the lower paths. If one practices to become a Buddha, a Bodhisattva, a patriarch, or to become enlightened, then one still clings to a sense of self. These are deluded conceptions of ordinary sentient beings on the lower paths.

The lower path is not bad. It encompasses every level where a sense of self still exists. It can range from the hellish realms to the heavenly realms, from murderers to saints, from people who have never heard the Dharma to people who have achieved a one-mind state. In all cases, there is a self, so it is merely a different level of obscurity. However, although the lower paths are covered by vexation, they are not separate from the lucid, or clear states of the middle and higher paths.

What is the difference between the Bodhisattva path and Liberation path? Some people think that Nirvana begins when one reaches Buddhahood, and then never ends. They also believe that Samsara has existed since beginningless time, but that it ends when one attains Buddhahood. In other words, Samsara has an end, but no beginning, whereas Nirvana has a beginning but no end. These are beliefs of the Liberation, or Hinayana, path.

Such misconceptions are understandable, because Buddhist teachings often describe the path of practice in this manner: one leaves Samsara and enters Nirvana. It seems like Samsara and Nirvana are two separate and distinct places, or conditions. The Bodhisattva, or Mahayana path, teaches that both Samsara and Nirvana are without beginning and end. Samsara and Nirvana are exactly the same thing. "Leaving Samsara and entering Nirvana" is an expedient teaching. Actually, Samsara is Nirvana, wisdom is vexation. In fact, there is no such thing as Nirvana and Samsara, nor wisdom and vexation.

Lucidity, or clarity, refers to complete stillness and complete illumination. In this context, quiescence means Nirvana. It is a condition where one is not moved by anything. It is complete stillness, utter emptiness. It is the stage described by the empty circle of the Ten Ox Herding Pictures. Illumination means wisdom. Only when one's mind is quiescent can wisdom arise. Wisdom manifests as a response to sentient beings. Wisdom has the power to distinguish between vexation and that which is free from vexation. However, it does not manifest for the sake of the enlightened person. It manifests naturally and spontaneously as a response to the needs of the unenlightened. The state of lucidity without wisdom is utter emptiness. If one is completely still without the aspect of wisdom, then that person cannot function in the world. Such a person has entered Nirvana and is like the great Hinayana arhats.

There paths manifest different levels of clarity, or wisdom. Intellect and logical analysis, however, are not true wisdom. Likewise, any experience or understanding on the lower paths is not true wisdom. People who still travel the lower paths may cultivate supernormal powers, but they are not products of wisdom. If, on the other hand, people on the higher or middle paths achieve supernormal powers, then they are functions of wisdom. In fact, these powers are translated literally from Chinese as "clarities." The sutras speak of three such clarities. The first is called "heavenly eyes, " and it refers to the power to see infinitely into the future. The second allows the enlightened person to see infinite past lives. The third is the power of having no more "outflows, " or vexations. Only Buddhas have these three clarities.

The wisdom derived from Hinayana practice is a minor clarity. It is not the great wisdom of Mahayana enlightenment. Enlightened practitioners of the Hinayana path clearly perceive a difference between purity and impurity. They distinguish between Samsara and Nirvana. They still make distinctions, even though they are free from greed, hatred and ignorance.

Mahayana practitioners are different. Although the wisdom cultivated from their practice distinguishes between that which is pure and that which is impure, enlightened Mahayana practitioners do not make distinctions for their own sake. They make distinctions in order to help guide ordinary sentient beings on the path to great enlightenment.
The four great elements return to their own
As a child finds its mother.

We know that the four elements are earth, water, fire and wind, but what is meant by nature? Nature here can be understood in two senses. From a philosophical point of view, we can say that every wordly dharma has its own nature, or its own characteristics. For example, water has the characteristic of wetness, fire has the characteristic of warmth, wind has the characteristic of movement, and earth has the characteristic of solidity. From the point of view of Buddhadharma, nature refers to the self-nature, or original nature, of dharmas. The self-nature of dharmas is empty. In other words, according to Buddhadharma, there is no true self-nature.

From the Madhyamika school of Buddhism comes the following verse: "Because things arise from causes and conditions, it cannot be said that they have genuine existence. Because things arise from causes and conditions, it cannot be said that they have no existence."

From the perspective of ordinary sentient beings, phenomena exist and have their own nature. Buddhadharma says that phenomena (dharmas) have no permanence and arise from causes and conditions. Therefore, they do not have genuine existence. Conventional wisdom says that the four elements exist and are the fundamental basis for all phenomena. Buddhadharma says that even the four elements arise from causes and conditions, and as such, they and the phenomena that arise from them are empty.

The relationship between the four elements and self-nature is as intimate as the relationship between children and their mother. We cannot look at the four elements without regarding their self-nature. Likewise, we cannot look at self-nature without regarding the four elements. A mother is not a mother without children, and children would not exist without a mother.

People without any spiritual or philosophical training only see the superficial manifestations of the interacting four elements. Hence, the minds of ordinary, non-practitioners are constantly disturbed by phenomena.

People who practice samadhi, or who have training in other spiritual or philosophical disciplines, sometimes perceive the world in a more profound way. They clearly see the four elements underlying all phenomena. They can experience a one-mind state ─ an unmoving mind. People with such awareness will feel that they and all of existence are one. The illusory barrier or discrimination that separates perceiver from perceived is lessened or eliminated altogether. A Confucian saying aptly describes a person with such perception: "If someone suffers, I feel as if I have caused them suffering." This attitude is evident in Christianity. Although it is not Ch'an, it is still a profound and worthwhile experience.

A famous monk named Seng-chao (374-414) wrote a sastra on the Vimilakirti Sutra. In his sastras he quoted the sutra as follows: "I see that the Tathagata has no beginning and no end. The six entries have been left behind, the three realms have been transcended." This verse describes the Ch'an experience. An enlightened being clearly perceives the four elements, yet he realizes that the four elements do not have genuine existence.

The six entries refer to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mental consciousness, and the three realms are the same as the five skandhas. To transcend the six entries and three realms means that one does not perceive the six senses or the five skandhas as having true existence. Realizing that they are empty, however, does not mean that one ignores them or abandons them. Genuinely enlightened beings do not leave Samsara. They remain in the world and help sentient beings. However, they do not have the idea that there are sentient beings to be saved. This is the highest Dharma. It differs from other traditions because enlightened followers of the highest Dharma realize the underlying emptiness of phenomena and the four elements. They see that emptiness, and the phenomena which arise from emptiness, are not separate or different. The Heart Sutra says: "Form is not other than emptiness, and emptiness not other than form. Form is precisely emptiness, and emptiness, precisely form."

Enlightened beings see both the existence and non-existence of phenomena. They see that all phenomena are forever in motion, and at the same time, they see that they are unmoving. Seng-chao wrote the following lines:
Great winds are strong enough to tip over
tall mountains,
But, in fact, nothing changes, nothing
All rivers forever run toward the ocean,
Yet, they do not move;
Wild horses run fast, as if they are
storming the enemy in battle,
But they are not moving;
Sun and moon revolve around the earth,
But actually they never move.

The motion described in these lines comes from the four elements. Enlightened Ch'an practitioners do not deny the movement of the four elements, but in motion they see non-motion ─ the unmoving state.

A Ch'an saying states, "It is raining on the eastern mountain, yet the western mountain gets wet." This can be understood from two perspectives: the one-mind state and the no-mind state. There is no discrimination in the one-mind state. One sees that the eastern mountain is the same as the western mountain. Therefore, when one mountain is rained upon, the other gets wet. In the no-mind state, or the Ch'an state, the western and eastern mountains have no self-nature. There is no such thing as the western mountain, the eastern mountain, or rain. It makes no difference what is rained upon and what gets wet. On one level, you can say "this is this" and "that is that" ─ phenomena and the four elements do exist. Essentially, however, they have no genuine existence.

There are three levels of viewing phenomena. The first level includes ordinary sentient beings, who are deluded by phenomena. They do not know and cannot control themselves. They are slaves to the movement of dharmas. The second level includes practitioners who have a better grasp of phenomena. They and phenomena have become one. They make no distinction between subject and object. The third level includes enlightened beings. They have freed themselves from phenomena, yet they do not deny the existence of phenomena.

Actually, there is another level. Hinayana arhats are free from phenomena, but they do not remain in the world. Instead, they enter great emptiness ─ Nirvana. The Hinayana level is different from the Mahayana experience and Ch'an experience. Thoroughly enlightened people remain in the realm of phenomena, yet they are untouched by phenomena.

Once again, words from Seng-chao to illustrate the ideas of Ch'an: "Although things move (change), they are stationary (unchanging). Although things are stationary, they still move." In other words, although phenomena move and interact, they are fundamentally empty, and unmoving. The second line says that nothing is permanent and enduring. All phenomena incessantly arise and perish.

There is a meditation method called "silent illumination, " (silent illumination is not shikantaza, the Japanese method of "just sitting.") which is attributed to Hung-chih Cheng-chueh (1091-1157). Silent illumination incorporates both movement and non-movement. Illumination is a process of contemplation, therefore it is moving. Likewise, the object of contemplation is also moving. "Silent" is a quiescent, unmoving state. Only when people are "silent, " or unmoving, can they genuinely observe the true nature of the movement of phenomena. Seng-chao made practical the ideas of movement and stillness by incorporating them into a method. The next lines of the poem are straightforward:
Fire burns, wind moves and shakes,
Water moistens, earth solidifies.
Eyes ─ forms, ears ─ sounds,
Nose ─ odors, tongue ─ salt and sour.

The first couplet refers to the four elements, and the second couplet refers to the six sense organs and their six sense objects. Taken together, Shih-t'ou is referring to all phenomena: the four elements, the five skandhas, and the eighteen realms (the six sense organs, the six sense objects, and the six sense consciousnesses).

The two couplets talk about self-nature in the worldly sense, describing characteristics of the four elements and the sense organs. These are all worldly characteristics or functions of dharmas. But, from the Ch'an perspective, all of these things are illusory and transitory, because they arise from causes and conditions. They have no genuine self-nature. They have no genuine existence.
In accordance with each dharma,
The root gives rise to separate leaves.
Roots and branches must return to basic
"Honorable" and "lowly" are merely words.

Each of the four elements, six senses and six sense objects has its unique functions and characteristics. These are represented by the leaves in the verses above. What are the roots? As I said earlier, there are two kinds of nature. First is the unique nature of all dharmas. This nature is temporary and changes with causes and conditions. Second is the self-nature, or foundation, of all dharmas. It is unmoving. Every dharma arises and perishes according to its causes and conditions, but like a tree, the many leaves come from the same root. The root is the foundation of all dharmas. The root is unmoving.

The first couplet says that out of emptiness comes existence. The leaves are the dharmas that are influenced by causes and conditions. The roots are emptiness, from which dharmas arise. Existence comes out of emptiness. Through existence we can perceive emptiness.

The next line reverses the direction of the first idea. It says from emptiness we can perceive the changing dharmas that arise from causes and conditions. Which realization occurs during meditation? Does one see emptiness in existence? Or does one see existence rising from emptiness? Does one first realize emptiness, and then look out and perceive phenomena? Or, in looking at phenomena, does one perceive emptiness. Emphasizing only the second way, that of existence rising from emptiness, is the view of Hinayana pratekyabuddhas, who permanently enter Nirvana because they perceive all phenomena as being unreal.

Actually, root and leaves are one. In order to talk about them we use these terms: ultimate truth and worldly truth ─ or, in the case of this translation, honorable and lowly. These two terms are one and the same. They are merely words used to help explain concepts. This is the actual meaning of the line, "Roots and branches must return to the basic principle."

The ultimate truth and worldly truth are one, yet they mutually interact. It is the same with brightness and darkness. One cannot exist without the other. Without brightness, there is no such thing as darkness. There can be two, but never one. It is the same with the analogy of leaves and roots. The highest Buddhadharma transcends all discriminations.

Mahayana looks at Hinayana and considers it inferior, but Ch'an looks at Mahayana and Hinayana as the same. The leaves are not separate from root and root is not separate from leaves.

In another analogy, wife and husband cannot exist without the other. They establish one another. There can be no wife without a husband and no husband without a wife. It is the same with existence and emptiness. Existence can be established only in relation to emptiness. Emptiness can be established only because of existence. Emptiness belongs to existence. Existence belongs to emptiness. They form a mutually interacting duality.

Do you see existence and then see emptiness? Or do you see emptiness and then existence? There is a difference. When you are practicing, there is something you must experience first. When you experience enlightenment, which nature do you see into?

Ordinarily, when people initially experience enlightenment, the first thing they see into is emptiness. This is not ultimate enlightenment, but it is a beginning. In Theravadan Buddhism, you realize emptiness by analyzing phenomena. This kind of emptiness is called analytical emptiness, but it is not the experience of Ch'an.

In Ch'an enlightenment, you realize that existence is not different from emptiness. Simultaneously, there is neither emptiness nor existence. If you only see emptiness, then this is an "outer path" experience. In a Ch'an experience, phenomena are still there. You see and interact with phenomena, but in your mind they are empty. They are empty, yet they are right there at that moment.

The concepts above are part of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism. Madhyamika is considered the highest philosophical teaching ─ but it is mainly contemplation. Madhyamika reasons, Ch'an experiences. Madhyamika provides direct contemplation for those whose views are beset with obstacles. A practitioner of the Madhyamika school, through reasoning, can directly experience wisdom, but the level of experience is not as deep as that which can be experienced through Ch'an methods. Ch'an does away with contemplation and directly practices and experiences. However, Madhyamika methods can also bring liberation. In fact, only those who have had deep enlightenments experiences can clearly understand and speak Madhyamika philosophy.
In the midst of brightness there is
Do not take darkness as darkness.
In the midst of darkness there is
Do not take brightness as brightness.

These couplets are straightforward. In darkness there is brightness, and in brightness there is darkness. They exist in one another. It is easy to understand, but in our actual experiences there is no such thing. If you extinguish all lights in a room, there is only darkness. If you turn on the lights, there is only brightness.

Answer this: Before you were born did you have the same body? Every second you are changing. You are not the same as you were even a minute ago. Obviously your body was different before you were born. Taken to its logical conclusion, you would probably admit that there is no such thing as "your" body. You will discover the same is true for your mind. Therefore, there is no such thing as "you." But if you accept and cling to this concept alone, it is an "outer path" understanding. It is a harsh misconception not to acknowledge the self, to see only emptiness.

If brightness were separate from darkness, when I turn on the lights, darkness would vanish. There would be no such thing as darkness anymore. It would always be bright. In darkness there is brightness. When I turn on the light, darkness is still there. In essence, brightness and darkness are one and the same. They cannot be separated. If I tell someone to leave the room, it does not mean that person does not exist anymore.

Things exist in contrast to other things. Things exist because we discriminate. People separate vexation from wisdom. They try to avoid vexation and attain wisdom. In fact, vexation and wisdom exist only in our minds because we contrast them. One exists because of the other. Ultimately, they are one and the same thing. A passage in the Platform Sutra says: "Life and death are themselves Nirvana. Vexation is itself wisdom." These are Mahayana concepts. These words are not Ch'an Dharma, because they still make distinctions. The ultimate truth is that there is no life, death, or Nirvana. Nirvana and Samsara, vexation and wisdom, are all one. In truth, there is nothing to talk about.
Brightnessand darkness correspond,
Like one step following another.

Brightness and darkness correspond to one another, but it does not mean that they are in fixed contrast to one another. Rather, they mutually interact. When we walk, our legs must work together. One leg has to follow the other. When one is forward, the other must be behind, and to walk, both legs must keep moving back and forth. They cannot be fixed in one position. You cannot separate Nirvana from Samsara and wisdom from vexation. Ch'an is in the world and also apart from the world. It is apart from the world, but not away from it.

I am using worldly examples to explain ultimate truth. Ultimately, nothing I say can express the real meaning. You cannot compare worldly Dharma with Ch'an Dharma. You cannot explain ultimate principles. You must experience them.

Hinayana practitioners strive to leave Samsara and enter Nirvana. Enlightened Mahayana practitioners, though they have realized Nirvana, still abide in Samsara to help others. They do not abandon Samsara. The highest teaching is different. It says that birth and death are one. There is no such thing as separating birth and death from Nirvana, or vexation from wisdom.

If vexation and wisdom are one, does it mean we do not have to practice? Listening to words and pondering concepts are not true experiences. To truly know that vexation and wisdom are one, you must practice. You must experience it directly.
All things have their own function
Depending on their use and location.

This couplet speaks of phenomena from the viewpoint of differentiation. There are two kinds of differentiation. First is differentiation with attachment. It is illusory differentiation ─ a vexation. Second is differentiation that manifests from wisdom. Differentiation that arises from wisdom is used to help sentient beings. Buddhism sometimes speaks of the great functions of the three kinds of karma ─ that of body, speech and mind. An enlightened person uses the faculties of body, speech and mind to deliver sentient beings.

Fully enlightened beings do not discriminate as do ordinary sentient beings. They do not make distinctions with minds of attachment, and they do not view the world dualistically. Ordinary sentient beings think that liberated beings act and discriminate like normal people. In fact, the interaction of enlightened beings and unenlightened beings is itself differentiation. However, completely enlightened beings do not attach to phenomena. They respond to phenomena, but not with a mind of attachment. Such people look normal to us. They eat, sleep, walk, talk, work and laugh, yet the source of their actions, thoughts and words are wisdom, not attachment. They react to phenomena spontaneously, immediately, and without intellectual discrimination. Their actions stem from an immediate intuition whose source is wisdom, and they respond to the needs of sentient beings as a result of their vows. Thoroughly enlightened beings are not blocks of wood or zombies. They are fully aware and fully functioning.

As I said earlier, each dharma has two self-natures. One is self-nature that is common to all things. It is emptiness. The other is the specific characteristic of each individual dharma. It is illusory self-nature. Enlightened people see emptiness. They perceive that every dharma is the same and that there are no distinctions. Enlightened beings are also aware of specific dharmas, or illusory dharmas. They recognize that each dharma has its characteristics. They are not idiots. They know the difference between fire and water; but, illusory dharmas do not interfere or move enlightened beings. Enlightened beings are not phased by phenomena, yet they interact with phenomena. If you ask an enlightened master his name, he will answer you. In that sense, he is no different from you. Fire will burn his body, but it has nothing to do with his true nature.
Phenomena stores, seals, covers, combines.
Principle yields to the arrow, the sword's
edge, the stick.

Phenomena are not separate from principle, and principle is not separate from phenomena. Phenomena contains the principle. Principle is never separate from phenomena. The first line says that within phenomena exists that which is sealed, covered, and combined, all of which refer to principle. The sword, stick, and arrow of the second line refer to phenomena ─ that which is on the surface, that which arises from emptiness.

Phenomena contains within it the principle. Within sentient beings, the principle is sometimes called Tathagatagarbha. All worldy dharmas contain within them the self-nature of emptiness.

Unenlightened people are not aware of the principle. After an initial enlightenment, practitioners usually perceive that the principle, or emptiness, is separate from phenomena. They view emptiness as an entity in itself. This is erroneous.

If it were the case that principle and phenomena were separate, then sentient beings would eternally remain sentient beings. They would never attain Buddhahood. Buddhahood would be unreachable.

Some schools of Buddhism believe that there are sentient beings who will never reach Buddhahood. Mahayana Buddhism disagrees. All sentient beings are potential Buddhas. Everything contains Buddha-nature. If rocks and clouds have Buddha-nature, then all sentient beings must have Buddha-nature as well.

If someone does not believe in Buddha, does it mean that that person does not have Buddha-nature? No. Not only do all sentient beings have Buddha-nature, all people are Bodhisattvas. This is so because a person's position, attitude, actions and beliefs are temporary. In this lifetime he may not follow Buddhadharma, but he still has the potential to attain Buddhahood. Eventually he will follow the Bodhisattva path. Therefore, all people are Bodhisattvas.

Many believe that there are good people and bad people, but eventually all people will return to their true nature. Similarly, phenomena are never apart from emptiness, no matter how illusory they are. Without phenomena, emptiness cannot exist. Emptiness can only be seen within phenomena. Apart from phenomena, there is no way one could recognize emptiness.
Received teachings must be reconciled with
basic principle;
Do not establish your own rules.

No matter what you read, what you learn, no matter how Buddhadharma is explained, all of it is expedient teaching. I might speak of enlightenment and practice, but it is separate from the fundamental principle. As long as we speak and use our minds, we must remain aware that we are discriminating. The fundamental principle is non-differentiation. Whatever can be described is only an expedient teaching.

Buddhadharma exists for those who are unenlightened. The Tao exists for people who are still walking the Buddha path. Those who are fully enlightened understand that the Tao is not the true path. It is a convenient teaching for those who need to be taught.

When a bird flies across the sky, it doesn't leave a trace. There was no trace before the bird arrived, and there will be no trace after the bird departs. Still, we speak of the bird's path. The Dharma spoken by Buddha and the path transmitted by the Patriarchs are like traces left behind by birds. If you say there is such a thing as the Buddha path, that would be incorrect. However, if you say there is no such thing as the Buddha path, that would also be incorrect.

We should not be attached to the words of the Buddha. Buddha never said that he had spoken the ultimate truth. In fact, he said he spoke not a word in his forty-nine years of teaching. His teachings were only expedient methods. He also said that his words were medicine for a given sickness at a given time.
Using your eyes, the path is lost.
Using your feet, how can you know the road?

The principle and phenomena are not polar opposites. They mutually interact. If you rely on your eyes, then you do not understand the principle that is behind phenomena. If you rely on your senses and differentiating mind, then you will never see the underlying emptiness of all dharmas.

If you rely only on your feet, you will not know where you are going. In other words, if you practice without a proper understanding of Buddhadharma, then you will get lost on the outer paths. Many people practice in order to attain goals. I always tell practitioners that the goal of practice is practice. There is no other goal. Practice itself is the path. If, in your practice, you have no goals, no expectations, no attachments, then principle and phenomena are in accordance with one another.
Moving forward there is no near or far;
Confusion creates mountains and rivers of

Usually, when people first begin to practice, they ask me how long it will take to attain enlightenment or derive benefit from their efforts. They think that attending retreats and sitting in groups will shorten their journey. It is not true.

The beginning is the end. If you are confused, then you are at the beginning. If you experience enlightenment, then you are instantly at the end. When vexations return, you are at the beginning again. For example, Hui-neng was enlightened before he ever met the Fifth Patriarch. He was at the end before he ever started formal practice.

After Hui-neng received the robe and bowl and became the Sixth Patriarch, he had to escape from jealous rivals. One monk, Hui-ming, caught up with him and asked for his teaching. At that moment the monk had a discriminating mind. He was a beginner. Hui-neng asked him, "Thinking neither of good nor evil, what is your original nature?" Upon hearing his words, Hui-ming immediately got enlightened. At that moment, he was at the end.

If you "understand" right in this moment, then you are already at the end. Practitioners should not be disappointed or anxious. Such thoughts and feelings create obstructions the size of great mountains and wide rivers. If, however, you seek nothing, and you possess neither love nor hate, then you will be enlightened instantly.

Those who practice Ch'an in the correct manner do so for the sake of practice. People ask me, "If practice is its own goal, what do you do after you finish practicing?" There is no end to practice. Buddha, who had infinite wisdom and merit, taught sentient beings. That was his practice.

There should be no goals in your practice. You should not think, "I want to get enlightened. After that, I'll be satisfied." If you think such thoughts, you are far from the path and enlightenment. Thinking in such manner creates insurmountable mountains and uncrossable rivers on the path. If you have no goals, and just practice, that moment is liberation.

There is a saying, "If for a single thought you are in accordance with the Dharma, then for that moment you are like the Buddha. If you remain in accordance thought after thought, then you remain the same as the Buddha. If, in a single thought, attachment arises, then you are away from Buddha."

The last couplet reads:
I implore those who investigate the
Do not waste your time!

Shih-t'ou sincerely implores practitioners not to waste time. When you have attachments or have a mind of gain and loss, then you cannot understand that wisdom and vexation are the same. Life is short, and Buddhadharma precious, so practice hard. Use every waking moment, whether it is spent in meditation or in daily activities, to practice. Turn your everyday life into practice. Anything else is a waste of time.