The Gatha

Gatha 9 - 11

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

(Original) Bo Dhi Pen Tze Hsin | Chi Hsin Chi Shih Wan

(English version) Bodhi is immanent in our essence of mind | Any attempt to look for it elsewhere is erroneous.

The word bodhi in the old translation of the Chinese Buddhist canon is called tao. Tao means 'universal way'. In the new translations it is called chiao, which means enlightenment.

What is the realm of enlightenment and understanding that contains the two dharma of li and shih, 'principle' and 'things'?(1) Li indicates the true principle of nirvana that has neither birth nor death due to end[ing](2) and [due] to obtained Buddha-Wisdom. It has been communicated to the Three Vehicles of Srávaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva.

Shih indicates all active things that have form. It cuts off the barrier of intellection, and obtained the wisdom of all wisdoms. It is called Buddha's Bodhi. The Buddha's Bodhi embraces the dharmas of li and shih; therefore it is called 'Mahā Bodhi' [Great Bodhi].
The essence of mind is the 'storehouse consciousness.'(3)
The Sixth Patriarch Huineng said: 'The essence of mind can contain the ten thousand dharmas, it is called the storehouse consciousness.' With these words he clearly stated that the essence of mind is the eighth consciousness. When the Sixth Patriarch Huineng went into the Fifth Patriarch's room [i.e. Hung Jen] in the third watch of the night (at midnight), he listened to an exposition on the Vajra-chchédika Sūtra, the Diamond Sūtra. When the Fifth Patriarch came to the sentence, 'One should use one's mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment,'(4) at once Huineng became thoroughly enlightened and realised that all things in the universe are essence of mind itself. He therefore composed a gatha to express his idea about the essence of mind:

'Who would have thought that the essence of mind is intrinsically pure;
who would have thought that the essence of mind is intrinsically free from becoming or annihilation;
who would have thought that the essence of mind is intrinsically self-sufficient;
who would have thought that the essence of mind is intrinsically free from change;
who would have thought that all things are the manifestation of the essence of mind.
If we know the essence of mind, we will realise that there is no difference between Buddha and sentients. Ignorance means sentients, and enlightenment is Buddha.'

Wise men who realised thoroughly the essence of mind know that they are of the same nature. This same nature does not decrease in ordinary men, nor does it increase in the enlightened sage. The great enlightened Tao is within us and does not come from outside. Therefore the gatha says: 'Bodhi is immanent in our essence of mind.'

The word hsin does not indicate the physical heart. According to the Lankāvatāra Sūtra it is divided into the discriminating mind and the pure mind. Here the word hsin means the discriminating mind. According to the Sraddhotpāda Shastra(6) 'mind' has two aspects, one is the eternal transcendent mind, and the other is the temporary immanent mind.(7) The eternal transcendent mind is pure and calm, and the discriminating mind falls into the wheel of birth and annihilation [death]. Whether you attempt [to use the] mind [as a tool to search for] good or evil things, these are all false thoughts. Therefore the Patriarch said:

'If anyone attempts to realize the well-doing mind
it is the false, and not the well-doing one;
If one can put one's mind right
the well-doing mind continues without any hindrance.'

The Sixth Patriarch said this because he wanted the people to understand that Bodhi is immanent in one's essence of mind. Once the violent mind is done with, Bodhi is revealed. If we search Bodhi outside [our mind], we will fall into the false way.

The Song of the Way of (mystic) Experience, written by Yung Chia says, 'When you search to know the person, the person disappears.'
He again said: 'By releasing the four elements(8) and refraining from catching [up] with them, you will have a silent realisation of your essence of mind.'

Dhyana teacher Nan Chuan said: 'Truth is suchness. There was no thought in it. If there is thought in it, it is [immediately] covered up by the unreality of the five skandhas(9); [at that instant] the names 'sentients' and 'Buddha' are created.'

Dhyana teacher Fa Chun also said: 'If one tries to enrich one's merit by [heaping up] merit, it will soon turn into ignorance. If you want to take it, you will fail to obtain it.'

These [Dhyana teachers] very well realized the Patriarch's meaning in his gatha Bodhi is immanent in our essence of mind | Any attempt to look for it elsewhere is erroneous.

(1) [This part of the exegesis stems from the Huayen School, that bases itself on the Avatámsaka Sūtra. The teaching of li and shih, principle and phenomena is most important in this line of thought. See and click 'Huayen'.]

(2) The barrier of defilements.

(3) [See gatha 2 in page 2.]

(4) [Non-attachment means not abiding in form, sound, delusion, enlightenment, the quintessence, and the attribute, according to Wong Mou-Lam.]

(5) [We do not find the last sentence in Wong Mou-Lam's edition.]

(6) [The text has Sūtra. Sraddhotpāda means Awakening of Faith.]

(7) [Right at the beginning of the SS the text says, 'The principle (See footnote 1) is The mind of the sentient being. ... the absolute aspect of this Mind represents the essence (svabhāva) of Mahāyāna; and the phenomenal aspect of this Mind indicates the essence, attributes (lákshana), and influence (kriyā) of Mahāyāna itself.' (tr. Y.S. Hakeda)]

(9) [Four elements: earth, water, wind and fire, the 4 components of materiality. The emphasis here is not on cutting off life, but on not longingly clinging.

The five skandhas are the five life composing elements - matter plus mentality - that are clung to.]

(Original) Ching Hsin Tsai Wan Chung | Tan Chen Wu Shan Chang

(English version) Within our impure mind, the pure one is to be found | And once our mind is set right, we are free from three kinds of beclouding.

The words ching hsin mean the eternal transcendent mind. The word wan means the infected mind, or the temporary immanent mind. The true mind and the infected mind are of one substance, but have two aspects of utility. Away from the truth there is no false, and away from the false there is no truth. All truth is false, and all false is truth. The truth may be illustrated als water, and the false as ice. Althought there is difference between water and ice, their substance is not two. The truth relates to the false as does the phenomenal form does to emptiness. The Prajña-paramitā Hrdaya Sūtra says:

'This phenomenal world of form is emptiness
And emptiness is truly the phenomenal world.
Emptiness is not different from the phenomenal world;
The phenomenal world is not different from emptiness.
What is phenomenal world that is emptiness,
What is emptiness that is the phenomenal world.'

According to this idea, the truth is the false, and the false is the truth. The truth is not different from the false, and the false is not different from the truth. Therefore the Sixth Patriarch said: Within our impure mind, the pure one is to be found.

Now we understand that the pure mind is within our impure mind, and the truth and the false are identical; there is no need to cut off the false to realise the truth. The Song of the Way of (mystic) Experience (see gatha 9) says: 'Don't seek the truth, don't cease the false; know the form of unreality of the two tenets with regard to phenomena, and know the absolute truth as having no differentiated ideas. Everything exists and everything is empty. This is the true form of Tathāgata.'

The Sixth Patriarch wished the people to avoid the idea that there are two minds, one pure, one false. So he immediately said: And once our mind is set right, we are free from three kinds of beclouding.

The word cheng means thoughtlessness; it does not fall into the two extremes. It is called cheng or right. This word right differs from from the right in the previous sentence where it said: [gatha 7] While right views remove us from it. This last 'right' is related to the word 'erroneous'. It indicates the work to be done for the attainment of enlightenment after the mental activity is born. In And once our mind is set right the emphasis is on the mental activity before it is born.

The Doctrine of the Mean(1) says: When there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, or joy, the mind may be said to be in the state of equilibrium.' If a man is under the influence of passion, his conduct will be incorrect. The same goes for terror, fond regard, and sorrow and distress. This [saying] too can be regarded as an explanation of the word right.

The three barriers [, see above,] are divided into three groups, a/ the passions of desire, hatred and stupidity, b/ the deeds done, and c/ the retributions. If our mind is set right the three barriers will disappear.

The holy sang(2) Pao Chih said: Passions evolve from the mind, [but] there is no mind, [then] where can the passions be?
He again said, To annihilate evil karma in a ksana [thought-moment] ... Surely, in our dream the six guna(3) are there; after awakening there is only void and no Buddha-world.'
Does this hit the mark or not?

(1) [See Gatha 5.]

(2) [See , footnote (6) to gatha 1. It might be that the venerable used the word kuo-shih which means first among the sanghin, i.e. head of the community.]

(3) [See , gatha 3.]

(Original) Shih Jen Jo Hsiu Tao; Ye Chi Chen Pu Fong | Chang Chien Tze Chi Ko Yu Tao Chi Hsiang Tang

(English version) If we are treading the Path of Enlightenment, We need not be worried by stumbling blocks. | Provided we keep a constant eye on our own faults, We cannot go astray from the right path.

The words shih jen stand for the men and women of this world. The word tao stands for the path of enlightenment of the Sudden School of Chan Buddhism. The words yi chi mean time and space. The word fong indicates the stumbling blocks.

The Sixth Patriarch's idea about this gatha was that all people who want to cultivate the way of religion should know that it is not attained by cultivating spirituality, because 'cultivate' and 'not cultivate' are words indicative of two extremes. Therefore the holy Pao Chih said, 'The Great Tao cannot be attained by activities.(1) Only before laymen do we speak [in terms] of activities. Once we realised the Dharma and then turn round to look back at the 'activities', we [instantly] know that we have wasted our time.'

We should at every instance, either in walking, or in standing, or in sitting, or in lying down, under any and every condition, [whether] in poverty, prosperity, distress, or happiness, be without worry and [not] think of the things [in terms of] good or evil. When the time comes we shall find out what our original nature is.

The Song of the Way of (mystic) Experience says:
'Walking is Dhyana.
Sitting also is Dhyana.
We keep quiet and motionless.
Even if we face the sharp blade of a knife, the mind is at peace.
Even if we meet the poisoned medicine, the mind is still at peace.'

Such is the idea, but the beginners are unable to comprehend it, and will easily go the impudent way. It could also be classified as the third of the Four Ailments: laissez-faire, mentioned in the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment.(3)
Therefore the Sixth Patriarch continued by saying, Provided we keep a constant eye on our own faults, We cannot go astray from the right path.

The word chang means [constancy or] constantly doing. The word ko means faults such as desire, hatred, ignorance, killing, stealing, adultery etc. The words hsiang tang mean the one agreeing with the other. This means that the spiritual cultivators should always look back at themselves and examine their mistakes and errors, and make every thought pure and clean.(4) The followers of the School of Confucianism also paid attention to this. The Great Learning states:
'What is meant by 'making the thought sincere', is not allowing self-deception, [it is] as when we hate a bad smell, or as when we love what is beautiful. This is called self-enjoying. Therefore, the gentleman must watch over himself when he is alone'.'

The Doctrine of the Mean also says, 'The gentleman does not wait being cautious till he sees things, nor till he hears things to be on alert.'(5) Tsang Tze daily examined himself on three points. Yen Hui never committed a mistake twice, and Tze Lu enjoyed it when he was confronted with his faults. Confucius worried when he was unable to change things that were crooked. He said, 'If some years were added to my life, I would give fifty to the study of the Book of Change, and then I might be one without faults.' Again he said, 'I have not seen [a single] one who would perceive his faults and inwardly accuse himself.'
This shows us that the School of Confucianism very much stresses the point of 'knowing one's faults.' Because the common people are unable to see their own faults, therefore the principle(6) is covered by desire and cannot attain the saintly field.(7)

The Doctrine of the Mean says: 'Only by perfect virtue can the perfect path, in all its courses, be made a fact.'

Reviewing the above paragraphs we come to know that the School of Confucianism wanted the people to be the [perfect being, the] gentleman; they paid great attention to the observance of the moral laws. The Chan School wishes the living beings to be enlightened, even above buddha and patriarch. They therefore pay more attention on one's self-control and right conduct.
But the common people(8) are unable to instantly comprehend this Path of Enlightenment. So they resort to meditation and cultivating Tao [the Way]. Therefore, they should first come to see where their errors lie; that is in accordance with the Tao.

(1) ['Activities' as in the Taoist wu-wei, nonaction. There is however, a Buddhist concept of wu-wei, and according to this concept the characters stand for 'that which is not found in the material world'. So the translation of wei depends on the context.]

(2) [Of the Highest Being as conceived by Taoism is said that, 'Decapitation and burning would do him no damage. Magical means such as the golden pill and the jewel ichor applied to achieve longevity are out of place. For, true life does not die, true death does not bring about new life i.e. reincarnation. We might say: he always dies and always lives.'(Pao-tsang lun, Hsä 25a 15. Found in Chao Lun, tr. W. Liebenthal, Hong Kong 1968.
The following 'impudent way' could refer to taking the longevity potions as described above, although impudent generally refers to taking one's life.]

(3) [Translated and annotated by Chan Master Sheng Yen and Ven Guo-gu, New York 1997.]

(4) Tsang Tze was one of the principle disciples of Confucius. He daily examined himself on three points: - whether, in transacting business for others he may have not been faithful; - whether in intercourse with friends he may have not been sincere; - whether he may not have mastered and practiced the instructions of his teacher. (See the Confucian Analects)

(5) [The path may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path. On this account, the superior man does not wait till he sees things, to be cautious, nor till he hears things, to be apprehensive.]

(6) [Principle - li - See gatha 9.]

(7) [We find here a remnant of the icchántika-teaching, the teaching that says that there are ignorant who will never realise Bodhi. The theory has been left behind, but is still provisionally used as a stick to prod the lazy oxen.]

(8) [The Sanskrit word is prthag--jana which means the individual who did not yet set foot on the first stage of Stream Enterer.]

Minister Wen asked Dhyana teacher Tsung Mi(1): 'If a person who understands the Buddha-Dharma thoroughly can bring a halt to his false thoughts, he surely will not create any further evil karma. Such a person, when he dies, where does his soul go to?'
Tsung Mi answered, '[This is the case with:] sentient beings who are endowed with wisdom and awakening: their nature is empty, calm, mysterious(2) and bright; this nature is not different from Buddha. But from the beginningless time uptill now, sentients have not been awakened and still hold to the self [or ego]. Hence love and hatred and so on are produced. This love and hatred follow one's feelings [emotions] and evil karma is created. As is the evil karma, so will be the reward. Therefore they forever revolve in the wheel of birth, old age, illness and death. But the original awakening mind [in all sentients] does not evolve with birth and death. This can be compared to the saying, 'in our dream we [our body] served as many things, but our physical body remained where it was, and as it was.'

Compare it with water becoming ice. All the while its nature of soaking remained the same. If we can realize this, [our] essence of mind is Dharmakaya(3), and its origin is unborn(4). There is no need for it to depend on anything. It is non-obscure, mysterious and excellent understanding; it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. Due to many false ideas it became the slave of habits; pleasure, anger, sorrow and joy affect it, and although we understand the truth instantly, we cannot remove such emotions. [Therefore] we should always observe ourselves and try to reduce those [i.e., the strenght of those] emotions. It will be like the storm that gradually decreases in force, or like the waves of the ocean that gradually become calm.

Can, in one life of labouring, i.e. cultivating, the same utilities [characteristics] be attained as the Buddhas have? What we can do is observe the void and calmness [stillness] as our real substance, and not see our physical body as being the real substance. We [can] also make the mysterious spirit our original mind, and [we can] cease to recognise the false thought [as the real thing].
Even when false thoughts arise, they will not cling onto us [our innate real substance]. [Then,] at the moment of death, evil karma will not remain with us and we are free to move unhindered through the five skandha(5) that may still be there. [In cultivating in this way] we shall be able to either reside in this world, or in a heavenly place, according to our own wishes.
When our thoughts on affection and hatred have come to a halt, we can in the three realms and the six ways(6) avoid the condition and station resulting from good or evil karma. We then surely can change the short into the long [life], and go from rough to excellent. If all sensations remain calm, extinguished, the great wisdom of perfect enlightenment shines forth, unsupported by anything. It will be like Buddha's metamorphic body that has the power to assume any shape to propagate the truth.(7)
Lead all living beings to enlightenment. That is Buddha.

The following are eight sentencens of a gatha that formed the subject of a Dharma teaching by Dyana teacher Tsungmi. They run as follows:
'If we do things we ought to do
this is an awakening mind.
If we do things that we ought not do,
this is the violent mind.
The violent mind will follow the sensations and go astray.
At the moment of death it [the mind] will be drawn away by evil karma.
The awakened mind will not be guided by sensations.
At the moment of death it will remove the person's evil karma.'

The word ought stands for the things that are in accord with principle. The ancients divided it into three:
1/ The things that will help [us to keep up our] physical body such as clothing, food, medicine and housing.
2/ The things that will benefit the Dharmakaya, such as moral rules and vows, meditation, [developing] wisdom, and [cultivating] the six paramitā in order to obtain rebirth beyond this world.
3/ To preach and spread the right Dharma [Saddharma] among the people and perform what has to do [with paying tribute to] the Triple Gem.

Should our daily life be moulded in a way that accords with these three things, it is called the awakened mind; the contrary is the violent mind.
The first four sentences of the above gatha explain the cause of karma. The last four lines explain the effect of karma. If, at the moment of death, we want to know whether our mind is resistance-free or not, we should review the past and find out whether [at that time] our mind was free or not.
When we consider the meaning of this gatha by Tsungmi, and his answers to Minister Wen, we see that this is just one more explanation of the Formless Gatha of the Sixth Patriarch.

(1) [Kuei-feng Tsung-mi (780—-841) has been traditionally honored as the fifth patriarch in both the Hua-yen scholastic tradition and the Ho-tse line of Southern Ch’an.]

(2) ['Mysterious': at the moment of death 'it cannot be found' by the Judge of Souls, as thought in the pre-Buddhist religious conviction]

(3) [See gatha 1.]

(4) [Unborn. The Avatámsaka Sūtra, and later the Mind Only trend say that the essence [of mind] = emptiness (sunyatā). Emptiness has no existence, whether material or immaterial. Therefore it is not born, it does not evolve, and it does not disappear - and yet it is the only "=" that Mahāyāna Buddhism recognises.]

(5) [See for skandha gatha 3.]

(6) [The six ways are the 6 forms of sentient life.]

(7) [This thought too occurs in the Avatámsaka - as well as in prior and later scriptures. It speaks of the Tri-kaya, the Three Buddha-bodies: the transcendent, the glorified body that appears in deep meditation, and the manifest body that lives the human life. Here the venerable refers to the glorified body.]

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