The Gatha

Gatha 12 - 14

Commented by Master Yung Hsi, translated by Dr Chou Hsiang-Kuang

(Original) Se Lai Tzu Yu Tao, Ko Pu Hsiang Fong Nao | Lee Tao Pieh Mi Tao, Chung Hsin Pu Chien Tao

(English version) Since every species of life has its own way of salvation, They will not interfere with, or be antagonistic towards one another | But if we leave our own path and try to seek some other way of salvation, we shall not find it.

The words se lai mean outward appearance, all kind of beings, such as the four forms of birth(1), [i.e.] the beings in the realm of desire, of form, and of formlessness(2).
The words tzu yu tou say that every being has [both] own nature, and has [at the same time fundamental] sameness.(3) This is the meaning of, 'Since every species of life has its own way of salvation'. 'Way of salvation' carries the [implicit] equality [sameness] of things.
Chuang Tze [or Zhuangzi - seemed of the same opinion and] said: 'Therefore, a beam and a pillar are identical; so are ugliness, beauty, greatness, wickedness, perverseness and strangeness.'
This judgement is aquired through reasoning, [and] we [too] will observe that all things [phenomena] and opinions are based on equality. That is why we can play with the birds of the oceans, and make friends with the deer.(4)
Lao Tze [or Laozi] said, 'If a man knows how to protect his life well, he will not run away when he sees a tiger in the road.'(5)
[This is] because all phenomena have the same nature of 'good' and 'constant' ['life' in the terminology of the Taodejing].

If we not for a moment attempt to discriminate between phenomena, and realize the way of salvation, we certainly can lead others on the path of enlightenment.

Once upon a time there was a Dhyana teacher by name of Tan Tsang. He lived in the Western Garden Temple of Nan Yao. One day there was a big serpent, a few yards long, lying in the eastern kitchen. The serpent opened his mouth in order to spread his venom. The temple-attendants asked Dhyana teacher Tan Tsang to quickly leave. Tan Tsang said to them:
'If the serpent gives me venom, I shall give compassion in return. The poison has no self-nature; it will only become deadly when there is malevolence. If compassion has conviction it [the serpent] will recognize the sameness of both friend and enemy.' After Tan Tsang had spoken the serpent left.
Dhyana master Shan Chiao of Hwa Lin Monastery in Tan Chow, whose conduct as a result of [cultivating] Buddha-truth [Buddha-Dharma] was very high, and whose reputation was great, received one day the visit of the Commissioner Pai Hsiu who asked, 'Do you have any attendants?
— 'I have two, but they don't like to meet the guests.'
— 'Where are they?'

Shan Chiao called out: 'Ta Khon, Shao Khon!' [khon or khun meaning 'friend'.]
At that moment two tigers appeared around the corner. Pai Hsiu was frightened, but Shan Chiao spoke to the tigers and said, 'Now, there is a guest; you both should go.'
The tigers gave a grunt an went.

Dhyana teacher Tao Lin saw the thick trees on Ch'ing Wan hills and decided to reside in one of them. By his side the birds built their nests and were very kind to him. Every now and then the abbot Hsu Yun, who used to be abbot of Nanhua Monastery in Canton [visited him]. One day a wolf and a tiger became his [Tao Lin's] disciples, and the spirit of the tree too received his Dharma-instructions. This means that every species of life has its own way of salvation; they will not interfere or antagonize each other.(6)

(1) [See gatha 3.]

(2) [Life spheres that correspond to, or are obtained through the 4 Dhyana (jhana) as described in the early scriptures.]

(3) [Sameness, Skr. samatá. See and click on 'Huayen'.]

(4) [This well known saying may have its foundation in a Tai-ji technique that was devised during the Qin Dynasty as "five sets of Dao-Yin exercises based on human body structure and its bio-functions ... the "Five Animal Frolics" that include "Tiger Play", "Deer Play", "Bear Play", "Monkey Play", and "Bird Play"."]

(5) [The full text of the Taodejing, chapter 50, runs: "those who are filled with life | need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds, | nor wear armour and shields in battle; | the rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn, | the tiger no place for its claw, | the soldier no place for a weapon, | for death finds no place in them.'
The venerable not even slightly diverts from the meaning of these verses to use them as 'defendant's witnesses'.]

(6) [The Huayen teaching says: 'The realm in which all phenomena exist in perfect harmony: This is the teaching of totality. Based on the theory, the Round teaching is able to resolve the different viewpoints from results of different phenomenal experiences.' It further explains this thought in five ways of which the fifth is: 'Decomposition: Every part takes its own particular place and the object can be completed only if each part shows the nature of their differentiation.' gives another story: 'A member of the Han Lin academy and a man of considerable scholarly accomplishments, Pai Chu Yi served in numerous official posts during the course of his lifetime, including several periods spent as district governor in various parts of China. This gave Pai ample opportunity to visit Buddhist monasteries and fraternize with the sangha, enjoying the pure atmosphere and tranquillity of the great mountain temples. Thus in the course of his career, Pai befriended several Buddhist monks — sometimes under humorous circumstances — such as his encounter with Tao Lin (Niao K'e 740-824), nick-named the 'bird nest monk' because of his habit of living in the clustered branches of a pine tree on the slopes of Mount Chin Wang. At the time of their meeting, Niao K'e ribbed Pai for his attachment to the ties of officialdom and rank.
When Pai noticed K'e's unusual haunt, the following dialogue took place:
Pai: "Isn't your dwelling rather dangerous, up in that tree?"
Niao K'e: "On the contrary, O Governor, your position is far more insecure!"
Pai: "How's that? I am the district governor, which gives me jurisdiction over the whole area."
Niao K'e: "Well, while your mind chases after things with the ferocity of fire consuming fuel, how could that be anything but dangerous?"]

What is meant by if we leave our own path and try to seek some other way of salvation, we shall not find it? It has been certified that all beings have the same way of salvation [open to them]. This 'way of salvation' has accompanied the beings from the very beginning. The humans are but one kind among the species. Dhyana teacher Huang Po [Huangbo](1) said:
'The nature of all Buddhas was perfect [from the beginning]
It neither decreases nor increases.
When it enters the six ways of sentient existence
it is perfect everywhere [everywhere is perfection].
Among the 10.000 kinds of sentients
Everyone is Buddha.
It is like quicksilver on a pellet
Spreading everywhere separately;
Every drop of it is round and perfect.
Before the division it is undivided;
This means 'one is all
And all is one'.(2)
It is like the dwellingplaces(3); they have different feature and shape;
One may have left the dwellingplace of an animal
To enter a house,
Or one gives up the human form
for a divine one,
Or one enters the Srāvaka-, the Pratyekabuddha-, or the Bodhisattva's dwellingplace —
All those dwellingplaces you left, or in which you resided —
These dwellingplaces and houses are different
But our original essence of mind is the same —
Where wil you find difference?'

This leads us to the conclusion that all sentients, [when] away from awakening and in the sphere [or grip] of the guna, are united with ignorance, and [hence] take the shadow for the real. Away from the path of enlightenment, the essence of mind; seeking it outside — no use! You would be like the poor son from the Saddharma Pundarīka Sūtra [the Lotus Sūtra] who was unable to inherit his father's properties and ran away. Therefore the Sixth Patriarch said, But if we leave our own path and try to seek some other way of salvation, we shall not find it. This is the Buddha's Teaching.

(1) [The monk Hsi Yün (d.850) is beter known as Huang Po [or Huangbo]. The Name Huang Po is taken after the hills where Hsi Yün (Huangbo), the third or fourth in line to propagate Huineng's Tung Shan tradition, resided.]

(2) [Master Tu Shun, the first patriarch of Huayen Buddhism said, 'First, one in one. | Second, all in one. | Third, one in all. | Fourth, all in all.' He said this in the context of his Fa Chieh Kuan, i.e. his 'On the Meditation of Dharmadhātu.' He said, 'The practice of viewing the great Dharmadhātu (Dharma realm) in the vast Buddha realm contains three branches of meditation: Meditation on the True Voidness; Meditation on the non-obstruction of Li (noumenon or principle) against Shih (phenomenon); Meditation on the All Embracing Totality.
The passage ending with 'all in all' is explained in the section where it discusses the point of The principle that Shih (phenomenon) includes the truth of the (mutual) non-obstruction of Li (noumenon or principle) and Shih (phenomenon).
Tu Shun explains this with, Since Shih Fa (phenomenon and events or dharmas) and Li (principle) are not one, the Shih remains as it is, and yet embraces all. For example, the form of one atom does not expand, and yet it can embrace the infinite universes. This is because all the cosmoses are not separate (or different) from the Dharmadhātu, so they can all appear within one atom. If one atom is so, all the dharmas also should be so, since in their harmonious fusing Shih and Li are neither identical nor different. This truth of the fusing of Li and Shih, , says he, contains the abovementioned four principles.
Source: The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, G.C.C. Chang, Delhi 1971.]

(3) [Either one of the different forms of life.]

(4) [The last sentence refers again to inherent emptiness or sunyatā.]

(Original) Po Po Tu Yi Shen, Tao Tou Hai Tze Hao | Yu Te Chien Ching Tao, Hsin Cheng Chih Thih Tao

(English version) And though we plod on till death overtakes us, we shall find only penitence in the end | If you wish to find the true way, right action will lead you to it directly.

The words po po mean running hither and thither. It's like waves that intermittently push those forward that are in front of them. The word tu means to pass away. The words yi shen stand for the period between birth and death. The words tao tou indicate the day on which we die. The word hao means penitence. The words ching tao mean 'the true way', or in other words, this is the true essence of mind that is neither born nor annihilated. The word cheng means coming to a halt of all convictions; here not a thought is born, your thinking is neither good nor evil, you give up the six guna(1) and the four ejects of the ego(2); even if there is no question of dismissal of form — when the mind is like void, it is called cheng. If you want to realize cheng, it is called hsin cheng: perform the right action.

Common people(3) are possessed by desire, hatred and affection, therefore the false thought[stream] is uninterruptedly present, and this produces ignorance, evil deeds, and feelings of hatred. These three things wil join together like a pack of foxes; this is the iron rule of cause and effect. Common people don't understand this, and therefore waste their precious life; [they're] like waves passing away. On the day their lives end the only thing they carry is their evil deeds; then you will feel annoyance and penitence at the last [living] moment.

I will quote a song from the Dream of the Red Chamber(4), as follows:

'Everybody says that it's better to be immortal,
but they cannot let go of power and fame.
Where are those generals and ministers of old?
They end in a burial-mound in the wild.

'Everybody says that it's better to be immortal,
but they cannot let go of wealth and money.
During their lifetime they regretted not being able to amass more,
Once hoarded up they close their eyes.

'Everybody says that it's better to be immortal,
but they cannot let go of their beautiful wives.
During their lifetime they every day talked of affection and love,
After they die their wives run away in pursuit of another.

'Everybody says that it's better to be immortal,
but they cannot let go of their sons and grandsons.
From ancient times uptil now there are many ignorant parents,
Who received filial affection and saw obedient sons and grandsons?'

This song was written by Tsao Hsueh-ch'ing, the famous novelist of the Ching dynasty who wrote under the nom de plume of 'immortal'. Every of his sentences awakens us and serves as a caution.
I quote this song here as a 'by the way'.
The Sixth Patriarch's true idea was not to speak only to the common people who are greedy after worldly happiness and who waste their precious life time, but he also addressed those people who were devoted to heretical practice. [He refers to these people with,] '..leave our own path and try to seek some other way of salvation,..'[gatha 12].
Because the great Tao is in the essence of mind, in this very place. All sentients possess the Buddha-nature. Bodhisattva Fu(5) said:
'Every night Buddha and I sleep together, in mutual embrace.
Every morning we get up together.
Either in raising or in sitting, we follow each other.
Wherever we go or abide, we are together
Like a shadow following the body,
Never ever parting.
You want to know where the Buddha goes?
Here in this voice.

If you want to see Buddha outside of you, then, even if you wear grass shoes(6) and travel through 100 big and small towns, you will never find him. Therefore the Sixth Patriarch ever so often said: 'If you wish to find the true way, right action will lead you to it directly.'

The Inscription of a Believing Mind by the Third Patriarch(7) said:
'There is no need seeking the Truth.
Just bring erroneous views to a halt; this is imperative.
If you are not attached to the two erroneous views on individuality
There is no need to seek it out and find it.
As [soon as] you have a sense of right and wrong
Your pure mind is gone,'

Those who can understand this teaching and act accordingly have right action . Right is the Way; there is no other way for achieving enlightenment. This is why it said, If you wish to find the true way, right action will lead you to it directly.

(1) [Gatha 3, footnote 3.]

(2) The 4 are: (1) the illusion that in the 5 skandhas there is a real ego; (2) that this ego is a human, and different from beings on other paths; (3) that all beings have an ego made up by the 5 skandhas; (4) that the ego has age, i.e. a determined or fated period of existence.

(3) [See gatha 11, footnote 8.]

(4) [One of the Chinese Classics.]

(5) [The Chinese tradition believes that Maitreya, the next Buddha on earth, manifested a material body on earth three times during our history. Once he was believed to be a monk with the name of Fu Xi, later called Bodhisattva Fu; he once preached to Emperor Wudi of the Liang dynasty.]

(6) [The ancient's long distance footware.]

(7) [See Gatha 8 for the name of the Patriarch.] (8) [Another version runs, 'If you wish to see the truth | then hold no opinions for or against anything. | To set up what you like against what you dislike | is the disease of the mind. | When the deep meaning of things is not understood, | the mindís essential peace is disturbed to no avail.']

(Original) Tze Jo Wu Tao Hsin, An Hsin Pu Chien Tao | Jo Chin Hsiu Tao Jen, Pu Chien Shih Chien Ko

(English version) But if you do not strive for Buddhahood, you will grope in the dark and never find it | He who treads the Path in earnest, sees not the mistakes of the world.

The words tao hsin stand for the mind that is bent on the right way, a mind that seeks enlightenment. In the previous paragraphs I mentioned that if we stop all convictions and do not allow a thought to be born, when we think of neither good nor evil and give up the six guna and the four ejects of the ego, — even when there is no dismissal of form at all, when the mind is like void, it is called the right way. If you go the opposite way, you grope around in the dark. He who treads the right way has a mind without a resting place. If your mind is without a resting place it abides in the Tao. When your mind abides in the Tao, then, whenever and wherever you go, Tao is everywhere. He who gropes around in the dark has a mind that came to a halt before the Dharma, and his eyes are blinded to the Dharma; he performs the work of a spiritual blind and will never find the Tao. As the Vajrachchédika [Diamond] Sūtra says,
'If a Bodhisattva practices charity with a mind attached to formal notions, he is like unto a man groping sightlessly in the gloom; but a Bodhisattva who practices charity with a mind detached from any formal notions, is like unto a man with open eyes in the radiant glory of the morning, [a man] to whom all kind of objects are clearly visible.'(1)

Hence the Sixth Patriarch said, 'But if you do not strive for Buddhahood, you will grope in the dark and never find it.'

There are in this world very few people who possess the mind [prepared] to aim at Buddhahood, hardly one in 10.000. But those people who follow the heretical ways are very many, like rice and seeds. The reason is that people do not like to do selfless charitable acts. They don't realise that this body is [merely] composed of the five skandhas — it is an unreal thing.
Those people who insist on the [above mentioned] ejects of the ego, they're just like the man who recognizes the thief for his son.

Take, for example, the Taoist aim for immortality. They have no knowledge of the universal principle that everything that is composed [of the five skandha] is liable to destruction. To give an example, when you shoot an arrow, it will fall down when its force is spent. Therefore Dhyana teacher Hwang Lung(2) told the Taoist Lu Yen, 'Even if you are able to traverse 80.000 kalpas [eons], at the end you too wil fall into the void.'

The Surángama Sūtra gives details about the ten kinds of immortals, and the Vipàshyin Buddha's Gatha(3) says,
'Body [form] is born out of formlessness,
it illusory transformed into many shapes and forms.
[It is] an illusionist who has no essence of mind, and no consciousness.
[Concepts like] guilt and welfare are empty [of own-being], and there is no place to attach to.'

Common people cannot understand this line of reasoning, and hold on to the illusion that within the five skandha there is a real self to be found. When this is your line of thought, you will think that this ego is a human, and different from other species, and as a result of that [you think] that all beings have an inherent self, and that when all beings have an inherent self, they have a fated lifespan. This belongs to the category 'ejects of the ego' [see gatha 13]; you will not discover the true path of enlightenment. [I.e.] Followers of the Buddhist path who possess the [false conception of] the ejects of the ego will never realize the truth.

Buddhists from all ten directions say that they are cultivators of the mind. Everyone knows and talks about the word egolessness. How can we establish that someone is a cultivator of the mind? For this the Sixth Patriarch gave a very simple method for examination. He said, 'He who treads the Path in earnest, sees not the mistakes of the world.'

The fifth chapter of the 'Sūtra Spoken by the Sixth Patriarch, on the High Seat of the Law' [the Platform Sūtra] says,
Those who train themselves in imperturbability should see not, in their contact with all types of men, the faults of others. They should be indifferent [equanimous] to others' merit or demerit, good or evil. To take up such an attitude would be a case of 'Imperturbation' of the essence of mind. An unenlightened man may be unperturbed physically, but as soon as he opens his mouth he criticises others and talks about their merit and demerit, ability or weakness, good or evil; thus he deviates from the right course.'
This is so because the words ego and other are relative terms.
If you can really forget yourself, then, when you have seen all the beings in the world, there is actually sameness, whether you see or not. If [there is sameness of] both the ability to transform and the object transformed, this very position is the Path of Enlightenment. The sagely ancient virtuous said, 'You will not see a single person on the crossroads.'

So when the labour for cultivation of the mind comes to this stage, you will realize that the void, the empty, is broken into pieces, and that the earth has disappeared. When that happens, what will you call world, what others' faults? Confucius said, 'When the mind is not present, we look and do not see, we hear and do not understand.' Lao-Tze said, 'I alone am inert, like a child that has not yet given sign.'(4) These two hit the mark too. Therefore, you will know whether you are a cultivator of the mind in asking yourself whether you have seen others' faults or not. This is why the Sixth Patriarch decisively said, He who treads the Path in earnest, sees not the mistakes of the world.

(1) [Another version, translated on the basis of a Sanskrit manuscript, runs as follows: 'And as a man who has entered the darkness would not see anything, thus a Bodhisattva is to be considered [one] who is immersed in objects, and who being immersed in objects gives a gift. But as a man who has eyes would, when the night becomes light, and the sun has risen, see many things, thus a Bodhisattva is to be considered [one] who is not immersed in objects, and who not being immersed in objects gives a gift.']

(2) [Hwang Lung (Jap.: O ryu) died in 1069. He was the founder of the Hwang Lung School of Chan.]

(3) [Vipàsyin is the name of one of the former Buddhas.]

(4) [Used is a passage from the Daodejing. Ven Yung Hsi has: 'I alone am inert, give no indication (of activity), like a child that has not yet smiled.']

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