The Gatha

Gatha 2 - 3

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

(Original) Wei Chuan Chien Hsin Fa | Chu Shih P'o Hsieh Chung

(English version) Such a man would teach nothing but the Dharma for realising the Essence of Mind | And his object in coming to this world would be to vanquish the heretical sects.

The word wei means mere or only. The word chuan means to hand down. The word chien means realisation of correct views. The word hsin means the true nature of all sentient beings, in other words, it is the alaya vijñāna or the eighth consciousness.
The Abhidharma Mahāyāna Sūtra states:
"The region of the beginningless time,
All things that are the product of the mind,
From there come all destinies of sentient beings,
And the attainment of Nirvana."

Therefore, the alaya vijñāna is also called "storehouse consciousness". It is described as the fundamental mind-consciousness of conscious beings that lays hold of all the experiences of the individual life, and that, being a storehouse, holds the germs of good and evil.

The word fa means method. The words chu shih mean 'he who is coming to this world to redeem people from the misery of life by the Dharma of realising the essential mind'.
The word p'o means to refute. Hsieh chung indicates the heretical sects who don't know that the essence of mind is the truth, and who also don't understand that outside Mind there is no Buddha, nor Dharma.

Bodhidharma(1) [when still in India], who received the Dhyana teachings from Prajñapāla, first preached Prajñapāla's doctrine. At that time there were two Buddhist priests. One was called Buddhasena(2), and the other was Buddhasanta. They used to be co-students of Bodhidharma during the days they were studying the Dhyana-contemplation of the Hīnayāna under the instructions of Buddhabhadra. Later Buddhasena met Prajñapāla and consequently went from the Hīnayāna to the Mahāyāna. Together with Bodhidharma he began to preach the Dhyana-doctrine. They were know as the Two Amrta Gates(3).

Buddhasanta divided his disciples into six schools, viz. the School of Form, of Formless, of Meditation and Wisdom, of Commandment and Action, of Non-Obtaining, and of Quietness.(4) Bodhidharma felt grieved, and said that Buddhasanta had fallen into a cow's hoof(5) since now he had divided his disciples into six schools. [He thought to himself:] If I don't refute their views, they will be spellbound by heretical teachings. Bodhidharma went to refute every one of these doctrines, and made those students get the right view. After that he came to China.

Every Buddha of the Chan School is transmitting this universal mind; every teacher of the Chan School is preaching this Dharma of realising the essence of mind. The essence of mind is in other words the universal mind. Therefore, the Dharma of realising the essence of mind is the Buddha's family wealth. Therefore, the refuting by Bodhidharma of the six schools established by Buddhasanta gives us an example of denying the heretical doctrines of [or within] Chan Buddhism.(6)

(1) The first patriarch of Chan Buddhism in China.

(2) [A Buddhist monk, Bodhisena (Buddhasena?), 704-760, travelled to Japan via China. He stayed at the Kofuku-ji in Nara, Japan, and died there. When he died he bequeated his personal belongings to the Kofuku-ji. Although he was much older than Huineng (638-713), they might have been two of the three Dharma-brothers from this story, one ordaining at much younger age than the other. The Kofuku-ji is to this day a zen temple.]

(3) [The 2 Gates to the Deathless.]

(4) [It is highly likely that Buddhasanta construed a number of courses of gradual profundity that were taught the one after the other to a medley of coming and going students - just as we may witness today.]

(5) [A cow's hoof shows two 'toes', it is dual. Twentieth century Dharma-students maintain that this episode is probably legendary.]

(6) [Not too long after Bodhidharma began to instruct, Chan Buddhism in China divided into five slightly different schools, some say even nine.]

(Original) Fa Chi Wu Tun Ch'ien | Me Wu Yu Ch'ih Chi

(English version) We can hardly classify the Dharmas into 'sudden' or 'gradual' | But some men will attain enlightenment much quicker than others.

The word fa means law, truth, religion, anything Buddhist. It is a corruption of the Sanskrit word Dharmawhich is, 'that which is held fast or kept, ordinance, statute, law, usage, practice, right, proper, duty.' It is used in the sense of 'all things', or anything small or great, visible or invisible, real or unreal, affairs, truth, principle, method, concrete things, abstract ideas etc.
Dharma is described as that which has entity and bears its own attributes.
According to the Dharma-làkshana School, the word dharma or fa has two meanings. According to the first meaning it has its own shape, like mountain, water etc. According to the second meaning it has its own name for the purpose of discrimination, so that you cannot describe a mountain as water. Therefore, everything has its own shape and name.
Dharma does not signify only material things, but also immaterial ones, that is, things spring from the mind. According to the Chan School, the ten thousand Dharmas will dissolve into one mind.
When Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, spoke of Dharma, he referred to the method of realizing the essence of mind.

The word tun means immediately, and the word ch'ien means gradual.
When we meditate and cultivate spirituality kalpa(1) in and kalpa out, we are [eventually] free from the wheel of samsara (birth and death), from the transmigration in the six ways.(2) This is called the Gradual School.
When a man attains Buddhahood suddenly, that is called the Sudden School.
The Lankāvatāra sūtra says:
'It is like the amra fruit that attains gradual maturity, in this way the Buddha removes and clears the perpetual outflow of one's mind; it is perceived as something external to oneself. It is like a bright mirror which itself is motionless but reflects everything at once. In this way Buddha removes and clears the perpetual outflow of one's mind and is perceived as something external to oneself.

The word me means ignorance. Because all sentient beings are covered by [or made up of] the five skandha(3) and the six guna(3) and go round and round in the wheel of birth and death.
The word wu means enlightenment. It is within each consecutive thought and sheds its spiritual light everywhere. We thus see that the five skandha are empty, and that the six guna do not exist. In this way we are able to see the essence of mind and our original nature.
The word ch'i means slow. The word chi means quick. This is the Dharma that is transmitted from one patriarch to another. It is like the oil of a butterlamp that has but one taste. There is no distinction between the methods of 'sudden' and 'gradual'. Some sentients can follow and receive it in a short time, while others who cannot follow it wander about. This is in accordance with the intelligence or ignorance of people; therefore, some attain enlightenment much quicker than others. As a matter of fact, Dharma itself has no sudden and gradual.

If we wish to know the voices beyond the string of these two gatha, we should read the chapters of the parable of the Burning House, and Faith-discernment both in the Saddharma-pundarīka sūtra (The Lotus sūtra) The Parable of the Burning House says:
[We chose a complete translation of this chapter by H. Kern]

'Let us suppose the following case, Sāriputra. In a certain village, town, borough, province, kingdom, or capital, there was a certain housekeeper, old, aged, decrepit, very advanced in years, rich, wealthy, opulent; he had a great house, high, spacious, built a long time ago and old, inhabited by some two, three, four, or five hundred living beings. The house had but one door, and a thatch; its terraces were tottering, the bases of its pillars rotten, the coverings and plaster of the walls loose. On a sudden the whole house was from every side put in conflagration by a mass of fire. Let us suppose that the man had many little boys, say five, or ten, or even twenty, and that he himself had come out of the house.

Now, Sāriputra, that man, on seeing the house from every side wrapt in a blaze by a great mass of fire, got afraid, frightened, anxious in his mind, and made the following reflection: I myself am able to come out from the burning house through the door, quickly and safely, without being touched or scorched by that great mass of fire; but my children, those young boys, are staying in the burning house, playing, amusing, and diverting themselves with all sorts of sports. They do not perceive, nor know, nor understand, nor mind that the house is on fire, and do not get afraid. Though scorched by that great mass of fire, and affected with such a mass of pain, they do not mind the pain, nor do they conceive the idea of escaping.

The man, Sāriputra, is strong, has powerful arms, and (so) he makes this reflection: I am strong, and have powerful arms; why, let me gather all my little boys and take them to my breast to effect their escape from the house. A second reflection then presented itself to his mind: This house has but one opening; the door is shut; and those boys, fickle, unsteady, and childlike as they are, will, it is to be feared, run hither and thither, and come to grief and disaster in this mass of fire. Therefore I will warn them. So resolved, he calls to the boys: Come, my children; the house is burning with a mass of fire; come, lest ye be burnt in that mass of fire, and come to grief and disaster. But the ignorant boys do not heed the words of him who is their well-wisher; they are not afraid, not alarmed, and feel no misgiving; they do not care, nor fly, nor even know nor understand the purport of the word 'burning;' on the contrary, they run hither and thither, walk about, and repeatedly look at their father; all, because they are so ignorant.

Then the man is going to reflect thus: The house is burning, is blazing by a mass of fire. It is to be feared that myself as well as my children will come to grief and disaster. Let me therefore by some skilful means get the boys out of the house. The man knows the disposition of the boys, and has a clear perception of their inclinations. Now these boys happen to have many and manifold toys to play with, pretty, nice, pleasant, dear, amusing, and precious. The man, knowing the disposition of the boys, says to them: My children, your toys, which are so pretty, precious, and admirable, which you are so loth to miss, which are so various and multifarious, (such as) bollock-carts, goat-carts, deer-carts, which are so pretty, nice, dear, and precious to you, have all been put by me outside the house-door for you to play with. Come, run out, leave the house; to each of you I shall give what he wants. Come soon; come out for the sake of these toys.
And the boys, on hearing the names mentioned of such playthings as they like and desire, so agreeable to their taste, so pretty, dear, and delightful, quickly rush out from the burning house, with eager effort and great alacrity, one having no time to wait for the other, and pushing each other on with the cry of 'Who shall arrive first, the very first?'

The man, seeing that his children have safely and happily escaped, and knowing that they are free from danger, goes and sits down in the open air on the square of the village, his heart filled with joy and delight, released from trouble and hindrance, quite at ease. The boys go up to the place where their father is sitting, and say: 'Father, give us those toys to play with, those bollock-carts, goat-carts, and deer-carts.' Then, Sāriputra, the man gives to his sons, who run swift as the wind, bollock-carts only, made of seven precious substances, provided with benches, hung with a multitude of small bells, lofty, adorned with rare and wonderful jewels, embellished with jewel wreaths, decorated with garlands of flowers, carpeted with cotton mattresses and woollen coverlets, covered with white cloth and silk, having on both sides rosy cushions, yoked with white, very fair and fleet bollocks, led by a multitude of men. To each of his children he gives several bollockcarts of one appearance and one kind, provided with flags, and swift as the wind. That man does so, Sāriputra, because being rich, wealthy, and in possession of many treasures and granaries, he rightly thinks: Why should I give these boys inferior carts, all these boys being my own children, dear and precious? I have got such great vehicles, and ought to treat all the boys equally and without partiality. ....'

This chapter of the Burning House tells us that the word 'house' illustrates the three realms(4); 'one door' means the one undivided truth; the 'housekeeper'(5) is Buddha; 'boys'(5) stands for all sentients; 'those young boys ... playing, amusing, and diverting themselves with all sorts of sports'(5) illustrate all people sunk in the five desires(6); '(white) bollock carts' stands for the Dharma of Mahānirvana; 'the boys ... rush out from the burning house'(5) indicates the people who have heard the Buddha-Dharma and cross over the [above-mentioned] three realms.

(1) [An indication of eonic length.]

(2) [Six forms of existence, from hellish ones to heavenly abodes.]

(3) Five skandha - material qualities, sensation, perception, dispositions and consciousness. The six gunas - qualities produced by the objects and organs of sense, i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and ideas.

(4) realms of sensuous desire, form, and the formlessness of 'pure spirit'.

(5) ['Elder' and 'children' in the venerable's rendering.]

(6) [The enjoyment of the five senses.]

The chapter of Faith-discernment in the Saddharma Pundarīka sūtra says:

[This passage too is Kern's translation]

'It is a case, O Lord, as if a certain man went away from his father and betook himself to some other place. He lives there in foreign parts for many years, twenty or thirty or forty or fifty. In course of time the one (the father) becomes a great man; the other (the son) is poor; in seeking a livelihood for the sake of food and clothing he roams in all directions and goes to some place, whereas his father removes to another country. The latter has much wealth, gold, corn, treasures, and granaries; possesses much (wrought) gold and silver, many gems, pearls, lapis lazuli, conch shells, and stones(?), corals, gold and silver; many slaves male and female, servants for menial work. and journeymen; is rich in elephants, horses, carriages, cows, and sheep. He keeps a large retinue; has his money invested in great territories, and does great things in business, money-lending, agriculture, and commerce.

In course of time, Lord, that poor man, in quest of food and clothing, roaming through villages, towns, boroughs, provinces, kingdoms, and royal capitals, reaches the place where his father, the owner of much wealth and gold, treasures and granaries, is residing. Now the poor man's father, Lord, the owner of much wealth and gold, treasures and granaries, who was residing in that town, had always and ever been thinking of the son he had lost fifty years ago, but he gave no utterance to his thoughts before others, and was only pining in himself and thinking: I am old, aged, advanced in years, and possess abundance of bollion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries, but have no son. It is to be feared lest death shall overtake me and all this perish unused. Repeatedly he was thinking of that son: O how happy should I be, were my son to enjoy this mass of wealth!

Meanwhile, Lord, the poor man in search of food and clothing was gradually approaching the house of the rich man, the owner of abundant bollion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries. And the father of the poor man happened to sit at the door of his house, surrounded and waited upon by a great crowd of Brāhmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sūdras; he was sitting on a magnificent throne with a footstool decorated with gold and silver, while dealing with hundred thousands of kotis of gold-pieces, and fanned with a chowrie, on a spot under an extended awning inlaid with pearls and flowers and adorned with hanging garlands of jewels; sitting (in short) in great pomp. The poor man, Lord, saw his own father in such pomp sitting at the door of the house, surrounded with a great crowd of people and doing a householder's business. The poor man frightened, terrified, alarmed, seized with a feeling of horripilation all over the body, and agitated in mind, reflects thus: Unexpectedly have I here fallen in with a king or grandee. People like me have nothing to do here; let me go; in the street of the poor I am likely to find food and clothing without much difficulty. Let me no longer tarry at this place, lest I be taken to do forced labour or incur some other injury.

Thereupon, Lord, the poor man quickly departs, runs off, does not tarry from fear of a series of supposed dangers. But the rich man, sitting on the throne at the door of his mansion, has recognised his son at first sight, in consequence whereof he is content, in high spirits, charmed, delighted, filled with joy and cheerfulness. He thinks: Wonderful! he who is to enjoy this plenty of bollion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries, has been found! He of whom I have been thinking again and again, is here now that I am old, aged, advanced in years.

At the same time, moment, and instant, Lord, he despatches couriers, to whom he says: Go, sirs, and quickly fetch me that man. The fellows thereon all run forth in full speed and overtake the poor man, who, frightened, terrified, alarmed, seized with a feeling of horripilation all over his body, agitated in mind, utters a lamentable cry of distress, screams, and exclaims: I have given you no offence. But the fellows drag the poor man, however lamenting, violently with them. He, frightened, terrified, alarmed, seized with a feeling of horripilation all over his body, and agitated in mind, thinks by himself: I fear lest I shall be punished with capital punishment; I am lost. He faints away, and falls on the earth. His father dismayed and near despondency says to those fellows: Do not carry the man in that manner. With these words he sprinkles him with cold water without addressing him any further. For that householder knows the poor man's humble disposition I and his own elevated position; yet he feels that the man is his son.

The householder, Lord, skilfully conceals from every one that it is his son. He calls one of his servants and says to him: Go, sirrah, and tell that poor man: Go, sirrah, whither thou likest; thou art free. The servant obeys, approaches the poor man and tells him: Go, sirrah, whither thou likest; thou art free, The poor man is astonished and amazed at hearing these words; he leaves that spot and wanders to the street of the poor in search of food and clothing. In order to attract him the householder practises an able device. He employs for it two men ill-favoured and of little splendour. Go, says he, go to the man you saw in this place; hire him in your own name for a double daily fee, and order him to do work here in my house. And if he asks: What - work shall I have to do? tell him: Help us in clearing the heap of dirt. The two fellows go and seek the poor man and engage him for such work as mentioned. Thereupon the two fellows conjointly with the poor man clear the heap of dirt in the house for the daily pay they receive from the rich man, while they take up their abode in a hovel of straw in the neighbourhood of the rich man's dwelling. And that rich man beholds through a window his own son clearing the heap of dirt, at which sight he is anew struck with wonder and astonishment.

Then the householder descends from his mansion, lays off his wreath and ornaments, parts with his soft, clean, and gorgeous attire, puts on dirty raiment, takes a basket in his right hand, smears his body with dust, and goes to his son, whom he greets from afar, and thus addresses: Please, take the baskets and without delay remove the dust. By this device he manages to speak to his son, to have a talk with him and say: Do, sirrah, remain here in my service; do not go again to another place; I will give thee extra pay, and whatever thou wantest thou mayst confidently ask me, be it the price of a pot, a smaller pot, a boiler or wood, or be it the price of salt, food, or clothing. I have got an old cloak, man; if thou shouldst want it, ask me for it, I will give it. Any utensil of such sort, when thou wantest to have it, I will give thee. Be at ease, fellow; look upon me as if I were thy father, for I am older and thou art younger, and thou hast rendered me much service by clearing this heap of dirt, and as long as thou hast been in my service thou hast never shown nor art showing wickedness, crookedness, arrogance, or hypocrisy; I have discovered in thee no vice at all of such as are commonly seen in other man-servants. From henceforward thou art to me like my own son.

From that time, Lord, the householder addresses the poor man by the name of son, and the latter feels in presence of the householder as a son to his father. In this manner, Lord, the householder affected with longing for his son employs him for the clearing of the heap of dirt during twenty years, at the end of which the poor man feels quite at ease in the mansion to go in and out, though he continues taking his abode in the hovel of straw.
After a while, Lord, the householder falls sick, and feels that the time of his death is near at hand. He says to the poor man: Come hither, man, I possess abundant bollion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries. I am very sick, and wish to have one upon whom to bestow (my wealth); by whom it is to be received, and with whom it is to be deposited. Accept it. For in the same manner as I am the owner of it, so art thou, but thou shalt not suffer anything of it to be wasted.

And so, Lord, the poor man accepts the abundant bollion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries of the rich man, but for himself he is quite indifferent to it, and requires nothing from it, not even so much as the price of a prastha of flour; he continues living in the same hovel of straw and considers himself as poor as before.
After a while, Lord, the householder perceives that his son is able to save, mature and mentally developed; that in the consciousness of his nobility he feels abashed, ashamed, disousted, when thinking of his former poverty. The time of his death approaching, he sends for the poor man, presents him to a gathering of his relations, and before the king or king's peer and in the presence of citizens and country-people makes the following speech: Hear, gentlemen! this is my own son, by me begotten. It is now fifty years that he disappeared from such and such a town. He is called so and so, and myself am called so and so. In searching after him I have from that town come hither. He is my son, I am his father. To him I leave all my revenues, and all my personal (or private) wealth shall he acknowledge (his own).

The poor man, Lord, hearing this speech was astonished and amazed; he thought by himself: Unexpectedly have I obtained this bollion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries.'

Judging from the above-mentioned chapter of Faith Discernment, we come to the conclusion that the rich father here is Buddha, and the poor son stands for all sentients.
'A certain man went away from his father and betook himself to some other place' ('the son leaves his father and runs away') illustrates how beings depart from their own mind and give up their own wealth;
'the poor man in search of food and clothing' ('the poor son hired for wages here and there') illustrates those people who follow priests who belong to other cults than Buddhism for the sake of liberation;
'he despatches couriers, to whom he says: Go, sirs, and quickly fetch me that man' means that the Sudden School advocates and teaches the idea of identity between mind and Buddha;
'He faints away, and falls on the earth' illustrates those people whose fundamental quality is low, and who are unable to receive the highest doctrine;
from 'faints away' upto 'the householder addresses the poor man by the name of son' is an illustration of the gradual teaching;
'feels quite at ease in the mansion to go in and out, though he continues taking his abode in the hovel of straw' allegorizes that when we have people whose original endowment and nature are still limited, they dare not receive the instructions from the intuitional sect;
'Unexpectedly have I obtained this bollion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries' illustrates the ignorance of people whose fundamental quality is small; although they say they are mindless, they already had mind (important).

You may see that the poor son still thinks of himself as a humble hireling when his father gives him a new name [calls him son], [but, in fact,] is this not his mind that thinks [wrongly] that he's a hireling? If a man's fundamental quality is supreme, he will realize his essence of mind in the very inception, and there will be no need to be employed as a scavenger [clearing the heap of dirt] for twenty years.

If we carefully read these two chapters of the Saddharma-pundarīka sūtra, we come to the conclusion that all sentients are born in the home of Tathāgata (Buddha). Buddhas and sentients can equally enjoy the family wealth. Sakyamuni Buddha is the father of the 'Four Forms of Birth'.(1) He loves all his sons equally and shows them the one and undivided truth. If all his sons can follow it unwaveringly, without having any doubt, they can leave the burning house of defilements of the three realms.

The second chapter shows how Buddha collected all Dharma-wealth through all kalpas [eons], and every moment he thinks of his sons as inheritors of his wealth. Whenever he sees them he will tell them the true facts, but these useless sons run away when they hear it. That's why Buddha had to ask his son to do some menial job to make his mind peaceful. The heart of the father who loves his son is always the same. That's why our patriarch said: There is only one Dharma: No-thingness.(2) Due to ignorance the awakening of the beings are different, and that is why the attainment of enlightenment in one person is slow, while in another person it is quick [or instantaneous]. Hence the provisional names of Sudden and Gradual.

(1) The 4 forms of birth - viviparious, oviparous, moisture or water-born, metamorphic. [Buddha = essence of Mind.]

(2) [The word no-thingness — further on you will find words like emptiness, vacuity and so on — has been, and still is, a hot topic of debate among Chinese Buddhist scholars.]

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