Treasure This Gem! Huang-Po's Great Way of Zen

"As evening darkens the mountain
one mistakes a mule for a horse."

I am sometimes asked what I mean by "ancient Zen." Maybe the best way to understand it is to read the remarks attributed to Master Huang-Po, of the T'ang Dynasty days. The following is a brief summary of Huang-Po's teachings, with embedded quotes from Blofeld's monumental translation. May it steer your course in the study and practice of true Zen!

To the extent Huang-Po taught a doctrine, it is identical to Yogacara or Mind-Only Buddhism. Everything is Mind; the whole universe is just a fleeting appearance of Mind itself.

"All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists." 
"But these mountains, these rivers, the whole world itself, together with the sun, moon and stars -- not one of them exists outside your minds! The vast chiliocosm exists only within you, so where else can the various categories of phenomena possibly be found? Outside Mind, there is nothing." 
"The essential Buddha-Substance is a perfect whole, without superfluity or lack. It permeates the six states of existence and yet is everywhere perfectly whole. Thus, every single one of the myriads of phenomena in the universe is the Buddha (Absolute). This substance may be likened to a quantity of quicksilver which, being scattered in all directions, everywhere reforms into perfect wholes. When undispersed, it is of one piece, the one comprising the whole and the whole comprising the one. The various forms and appearances, on the other hand, may be likened to dwellings. Just as one abandons a stable in favor of a house, so one exchanges a physical body for a heavenly body, and so on up to the planes of the Pratyeka-Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. But all alike are things sought by you or abandoned by you; hence the differences between them." 
"The Royal Treasury [of the Buddhas] is the nature of the Void. Though all the vast-world systems of the universe are contained therein, none of them have existence outside your Mind. Another name for it is the Bodhisattva Treasury of the Great Void."

Huang-Po said that this is the Highest Truth taught by the Buddha. It is this Wordless Doctrine that Bodhidharma brought to China. But it is not enough to intellectually accept or believe in this Wordless Doctrine; one must intuitively realize it for oneself.

"From Gautama Buddha down through the whole line of patriarchs to Bodhidharma, none preached aught beside the One Mind, otherwise known as the Sole Vehicle of Liberation . . . Nowhere has this teaching leaves or branches; its one quality is eternal truth. Hence it is a teaching hard to accept. When Bodhidharma came to China and reached the Kingdoms of Liang and Wei, only the Venerable Master Ko gained a silent insight into our own Mind; as soon as it was explained to him, he understood that Mind is the Buddha, and that individual mind and body are nothing. This teaching is called the Great Way." 
"Since the Tathagata entrusted Kasyapa with the Dharma until now, Mind has been transmitted with Mind, and these Minds have been identical." 
"Therefore the Tathagata called Kasyapa to come and sit with him on the Seat of Proclaiming the Law, seperately entrusting to him the Wordless Dharma of the One Mind. This branchless Dharma was to be separately practiced; and those who should be tacitly Enlightened would arrive at the state of Buddhahood."

To the extent Huang-Po taught a practice, it is stopping the arising of thoughts, cessating all mental activity, discarding opinions & ideas. Most people do not have the strength to leap over conceptual thinking all at once, so they should work at it singlemindedly & to the best of their abilities.

"Spend twenty years sweeping the dung out of your mind." 
"The Master said: Only when your minds cease dwelling on anything whatsoever will you come to an understanding of the true Way of Zen. The Way of the Buddhas flourishes in a mind utterly free of conceptual thought processes, which discrimination between this and that gives birth to a legion of demons!"

Huang-Po warned that of the "three or four thousand students of the Ch'an sect" in his time, "only three or four individuals" would ever "attain the goal" (Lin-Chi was one, his enlightenment joyfully recognized by Huang-Po, -- which leaves at the most three more enlightened Ch'an people in Huang-Po's generation). So:

"Strive on! Strive on! You must liberate yourselves! Buddhas cannot do it for you!"

The goal of Ch'an according to Huang-Po is sudden awakening followed by complete liberation and the cessation of rebirth.

"Kasyapa obtained a direct self-realization of original Mind, so he is not one of those with horns. Whosoever obtains this direct realization of the Tathagata Mind, thereby understanding the true identity of the Tathagata and perceiving his real appearance and real form, can speak to others with the authority of the Buddha's true spiritual son." 
"If an ordinary man . . . could only see the five elements of his consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an 'I'; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one – if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. He would be without even the faintest tendency toward rebirth."

According to Huang-Po, Ch'an cannot be learned from books and all discussions, arguments and debates about Ch'an are not only pointless, but harmful.

"As soon as the mouth is opened, evils spring forth. Indeed, there is NEVER any profit in discussion."

When asked what he recommends for Ch'an students, Huang-Po says to spend all your time learning to cut off thinking, so that you can sit rapt in meditation before a wall, like Bodhidharma himself.

"Yes, my advice is to give up all indulgence in conceptual thought and intellectual processes. When such things no longer trouble you, you will unfailingly reach Supreme Enlightenment." 
"When you practice mind-control (zazen or dhyana), sit in the proper position, stay perfectly tranquil, and do not permit the least movement of your minds to disturb you. This alone is what is called liberation." 
"If you would spend all your time – walking, standing, sitting or lying down – learning to halt the concept-forming activities of your own mind, you could be sure of ultimately attaining the goal. Since your strength is insufficient, you might not be able to transcend samsara with a single leap; but, after five or ten years, you would surely have made a good beginning and be able to make further progress spontaneously." 
"From the earliest times the Sages have taught that a minimum of activity is the gateway of their Dharma; so let NO activity be the gateway of my Dharma! Such is the Gateway of the One Mind, but all who reach this gate fear to enter! I do NOT teach a doctrine of extinction! Few understand this, but those who do understand are the only ones to become Buddhas. Treasure this gem!"

The anecdotes about Huang-Po tell us that he was a very tall man with a pearl-shaped protrusion on his forehead that was said to be from his innumerable prostrations to the Buddha. He was already enlightened when he came to study with Pai-chang, who was one of Master Ma-Tzu's disciples. "Majestic and imposing, I've come from the mountains." He experienced his sudden awakening in a dialogue with an old woman who called him a "Greedy monk" when he was begging for rice one day. It seems the feeling of intense shame and bewilderment opened the Gate for him. In his later years he abandoned verbal teaching and would just shout and hit students with his staff.

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