FIRST AXIOM: The first axiom of Zen is to personally accept the completeness of present actuality. There is no other in the whole universe; it is just you. Who else would you have see? Who would you have hear? All of it is the doing of your mind monarch, fulfilling immutable knowledge. All you lack is personal acceptance of the realization. This is called opening the door of expedient methodology, to get you to trust that there is a flow of true eternity that pervades all time. There’s nothing that is not it and nothing that is it.
This axiom only amounts to equanimity. Why? It is just using words to dismiss words, using principle to chase principle, teaching people equilibrium and constancy in essence and in manifestation for their own benefit. In terms of Zen, this is still understanding what comes before but not understanding what comes afterward. This is called uniform ordinariness, the experience of partial realization of the body of reality.
Without expression beyond patterns, you die at the statement and do not yet have any freedom. If you know experience beyond patterns, you will not be compelled by mental demons; they come within your power, and you can transform them effortlessly. Your words communicate the great Way, without falling into the view of even-mindedness. This is called the first axiom of Zen.
SECOND AXIOM: The second axiom is returning to causality and attending to effects, not sticking to the principle of constant oneness. This is expediently called turning from state to potential, enlivening and killing freely, granting and taking away as appropriate, emerging in life and entering in death, bringing benefits to all. Transcendently free of material desires and emotional views, this is expediently called the Buddha nature that goes beyond the whole world all at once. This is called simultaneous understanding of two principles, equal illumination of two truths. Unmoved by dualistic extremism, subtle functions become manifest. This is called the second axiom of Zen.
THIRD AXIOM: The third axiom is to know that there is a root source of the nature and characteristics of great knowledge and to penetrate its infinite vision, understanding both the negative and the positive, comprehending the universe. The enhanced function of the one real essential nature becomes manifest, responding to developments without convention. Functioning completely without any effort, totally alive without any initiative, this is expediently called the method of concentration of compassion. This is the third axiom of Zen.
NOTE: Master Xuansha's first axiom corresponds to the experience of entering stillness, the stilling of thoughts, and realizing "this, everything present now, is all there is, and there will never be anything else." Many people reach this point in formal Zen meditation. It's a kind of satori. Xuansha was once asked by a student, "How do I enter [Zen]?" Xuansha said, "Do you hear the rain dripping from the eaves?" The student said, "Yes." Xuansha said, "Enter there!" The student suddenly "heard" the sound of rain before thinking and was enlightened. It's in the same way that Zen students can be enlightened by hearing a bell or a sharp trill of birdsong while sitting in meditation. But then sometimes they lose it when they get up from sitting meditation.
Master Xuansha's second axiom corresponds to the experience of raising energy out of that stillness & oneness, becoming active in the world so as to enhance and improve it in a spontaneous manner. For example, you rise from deep meditation and notice that the floor is dirty, so you go and get a bucket of water & start washing it. Then you see that maybe your altar is too bare so you go out & pick some radiant wildflowers. Then you find that your bank account is almost empty because you've been sitting around doing "stillness" Zen for too long so you go out and find some paying work. Or, like Xuansha, after your Zen awakening you open a small temple & try to wake up people who come & ask you questions.
Master Xuansha's third axiom corresponds to the dropping away of any kind of feeling of opposition between the first two axioms. Whether you are sitting in stillness or furiously active, it's all just the Great Wisdom-Function of Great Being-Essence. What's the problem? It's all just "thus." Shake the snow out of your hair & we'll build a snow Buddha!
Note that Master Baizhang, Huang-Po's great teacher, anticipated Xuansha's "Three Axioms of Zen" by a few hundred years when he said:
Realizing that the present mirroring awareness is your own Buddha is the elementary good. Not to keep dwelling in the immediate mirroring awareness is the intermediate good. Not to make an understanding of non-dwelling either is the final good.Note also that the Tibetan "zhiné" meditation teaching has three stages: "forceful zhiné," "natural zhiné," and "ultimate zhiné."