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Dear Dharma Friends,

The topic we are going to discuss today is "A Glimpse of Ch'an through The Sixth Patriarch's Platform Sutra." With the blessings of the Buddha and the culmination of the right causes and conditions, I am very honored to be here today to discuss the Dharma with you. I am touched that each one of you took time from your busy schedule to attend the Dharma talk. I want to thank you and pray that you will be blessed in wisdom and prosperity.


I. The Sixth Patriarch and The Sixth Patriarch's Platform Sutra

A. The Person: The Sixth Patriarch was not an illiterate


Most of us Buddhists have heard of The Sixth Patriarch's Platform Sutra. We also know that The Sixth Patriarch's Platform Sutra (abbreviated as Platform Sutra hereafter) is not only an important sutra of the Ch'an school, but also for other Buddhist sects as well. Its influence goes beyond Buddhism and is regarded as a very fine piece of work in Chinese literature.

The Platform Sutra is a collection of Dharma talks given by the Sixth Patriarch of the Ch'an school of Buddhism. The Sixth Patriarch was the Venerable Hui-neng, whose life story is both fascinating and legendary. A lot of you may have read that the Sixth Patriarch was a woodcutter and an illiterate. Because of his store of merits from his previous lives and his quick grasp of the Dharma, he realized enlightenment under the guidance of the Fifth Patriarch and became a great teacher whose influence can still be felt to this day. I would, however, like to take this opportunity here to dispel the notion that the Sixth Patriarch was an illiterate. On the contrary, he was a very well read man and had profound insights into many Buddhist sutras. He was very knowledgeable of various sutras, such as the Diamond Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra, the Saddharmapundarika Sutra, and the Amitabha Sutra.

The Platform Sutra tells us quite a bit about the life of the Sixth Patriarch. According to the Platform Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch became enlightened when he heard someone recite the Diamond Sutra while he was selling firewood. From the sutra, we also know that the Sixth Patriarch had a sworn brother called Liu Chih-lueh. Liu was a Buddhist and had an aunt, a bhiksuni with the Dharma name of Wuchin-tsang. She often recited the Nirvana Sutra. One day, she asked the Sixth Patriarch to explain to her the meaning of the sutra, and it was, indeed, the supposedly illiterate Sixth Patriarch who interpreted the sutra for her. From the Platform Sutra, we know that the Sixth Patriarch was a learned man. He once traveled to the Hsi-shan Cave of the Le-chang District to study with the Ch'an master Chih-yuan. He also stayed with the Ch'an master Hui-chi and listened to his Dharma talks on the Tou-t'o Sutra.

It is true that in the Platform Sutra, Hui-neng called himself an illiterate. This was just a figure of speech and reflected how humble a person Hui-neng was. Even nowadays, we may hear someone say this of himself or herself, "I am not that good in this or that area." This shows that the person is a humble person and does not mean that the person is truly ignorant. If we look at the breadth of the Sixth Patriarch's knowledge and the skillful means he used to expound the Dharma, it is clear that he was not an illiterate. Therefore, we can say with certainty that the Sixth Patriarch was not an illiterate.


B. The Time: The Sixth Patriarch lived during a prosperous period of Chinese Buddhism

Hui-neng was born during a flourishing time of Chinese Buddhism. It was during this time that the Venerable Hsuan-tsang had just returned from India. He settled in the capital city of Chang-an, where he translated the sutras he had brought back from India and established the Dharmalaksana school. Concurrently, the Vinaya master Tao-hsuan, founder of the Vinaya school, was at Chung-nan Shan teaching the Four Sections of Vinaya. Also in Chang-an was the Venerable Shan-tao (also called the Monk of Brightness). There, he spread the Dharma of the Pure Land school and taught the Dharma method of being mindful of Amitabha Buddha. It was also during this time that the imperial teacher, Fa-tsang Hsien-shou, wrote his book, A Discourse on the Avatamsaka Sutra, and spread its teachings. This was a time when many great masters lived and various schools were founded. This was, indeed, the golden age of Chinese Buddhism.

Soon after Hui-neng realized enlightenment, the Fifth Patriarch passed the lineage to Hui-neng. As the Sixth Patriarch of the Ch'an school, Hui-neng was known for the method of instantaneous realization (versus gradual realization); a method that would not rely on any spoken or written language. During this time, many prominent Ch'an masters were produced and the Ch'an school prospered. In the rich and accepting atmosphere of that time, many other schools of Buddhism were also founded. These different schools existed side by side, each of them lending an impetus to the others, thus stimulating discussions and drawing people to the religion. When Hui-neng founded the method of instantaneous realization, he attracted many learned Buddhists to come and study with him. During his tutelage and with the cross influence of other schools, the Ch'an school of Buddhism flourished and stood out above the rest, leaving an indelible mark in the history of Chinese Buddhism.


C. A Key Revelation: Contemplation is not just about sitting meditation

When we talk about Ch'an, most people automatically think of sitting meditation. Most people think that if we are to contemplate the truth, we have to do sitting meditation, just like an old monk in dhyana (deep meditative concentration). But when we take a look at the Sixth Patriarch's teachings, we will see that this is not the case at all.

Once, a government minister by the name of Hsueh-chien came to the Sixth Patriarch and asked, "In the capital city, there is a lot of people practicing contemplation. They told us that for us to contemplate and realize the truth, we have to sit and meditate. What is your opinion on this matter?"

The Sixth Patriarch replied, "The truth can only be realized in our mind. What does it have to do with sitting?" This is a very important revelation. We should know that Ch'an is not something that can be realized by one's external posture of sitting or lying down. How do you realize Ch'an? We can realize Ch'an in our daily activities such as walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. Even the gesturing of our hands, the moving of our eyebrows, or the blinking of our eyes can help us realize instantaneous enlightenment and see our own nature.

Grinding a piece of brick will not make a mirror; sitting in meditation will not make a person a Buddha. The important thing about contemplation is to see our true nature. If we can comprehend this point, we can experience the world of Ch'an.


II. An Introduction To Ch'an

A. Ch'an and our daily life

After the brief introduction of the Sixth Patriarch, I'd like to turn our discussion to Ch'an. What, then, is Ch'an?

The teachings of the Ch'an school of Buddhism do not rely on language and words. Words cannot describe Ch'an. In the past, if anyone recited the name of the Buddha in a meditation hall, he or she would be asked to rinse the mouth out for three days. If anyone spoke, with or without a reason, he or she would be given thirty strokes. This may sound very unreasonable, but if we understand the approach of Ch'an, we would think otherwise. Ch'an points directly to the mind. When we understand the mind, we will see our buddha nature and thus become enlightened. The teachings of Ch'an are passed from mind to mind, for Ch'an is beyond words. If we try to explain Ch'an, we may, at best, give a semblance of Ch'an.

Ch'an is something that cannot be spoken, yet it is something that cannot be left unspoken. Thus, the Ch'an school emphasizes the importance of passing on the light of truth from a teacher to a student. Like the passing of a baton in a relay race, the Ch'an teacher may actually give the student who has understood the true meaning of Ch'an a certain object to symbolize that the light of truth is now passed to the next generation. In other occasions, words are used to denote the passing of the light of truth.

While analysis and examination are critical skills in acquiring worldly knowledge, a few words are all that a Ch'an master needs to reveal the puzzles of the universe. Through the practice of non-discrimination, Ch'an helps us realize transcendence. Anyone who is interested in studying Ch'an not only has to be clever and bright, but more importantly, has to have a sense of humor. In the Ch'an annals, we can read about conversations and exchanges between Ch'an masters and see for ourselves the humor and subtleties of Ch'an teachings.

What I am going to discuss today is not so much about the teachings of the Ch'an school or the practice of contemplation and instantaneous realization. I just want to share with you all the joy and freedom that is available to us all if we just integrate a bit of Ch'an outlook in our everyday life.

Ch'ing-yuan Hsing-szu, one of the leading disciples of the Sixth Patriarch, once said, "Before I started the practice of contemplation, I looked at mountain and I saw mountains; I looked at rivers and I saw rivers. When I started the practice of contemplation, I looked at mountains and did not see mountains; I looked at rivers and did not see rivers. After I became enlightened through the practice of contemplation, I look at mountains and I still see mountains; I look at rivers and I still see rivers."

What he means is this: Before he started the practice of contemplation, he looked at the external world, and like each one of us would, saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. After he started the practice of contemplation, he viewed the world with transcendence; he looked at mountains not as mountains and rivers not as rivers. After enlightenment, his internal world was harmonized with the external world, and he looked at the world in both a transcendental and worldly way. In this state of harmony, he looked at mountains still as mountains and rivers still as rivers. Though mountains and rivers were still mountains and rivers to him, he now looked at them with a different state of mind.

I am not asking all of you to meditate like an old monk or to become enlightened like the Sixth Patriarch. It is not important that we do not yet have the opportunity to practice in this manner. But if we can approach our lives with a bit of transcendence and seize every opportune moment to practice Ch'an, then our state of mind will be wonderfully different. This is really not as difficult as it may sound. Take the example of drinking tea. While some of us may find a certain herbal tea pleasant and fragrant, others may find the taste bitter and strong. In the area of food, while some people like hot spicy food, others may find the same food unpalatable. Because of our different preferences, the same food or drink may taste different to different of us. In the same manner, how we handle different situations often depends on our mindset. If we can integrate a bit of the Ch'an teachings into our daily lives, our state of mind will become elevated and we will look at life differently. In the next section, I'd like to share with you the unique teaching method of the Sixth Patriarch. If we can likewise catch a glimpse of what Ch'an is, our lives will be much enriched.


B. Where did you come from?

The Platform Sutra has a very interesting and entertaining description of the first meeting between the Fifth Patriarch and Hui-neng. When the Fifth Patriarch first saw Hui-neng, he asked Hui-neng, "Where did you come from?"

"I came from Ling-nan," answered Hui-neng.

The Fifth Patriarch then commented, "Ling-nan is a place for barbarians and the uncivilized. They do not have the buddha nature."

To which, Hui-neng replied, "People can be classified into northerners and southerners, but there is no such a difference in the buddha nature."

When the Fifth Patriarch heard Hui-neng's reply, he thought highly of the Sixth Patriarch and eventually passed the lineage (symbolized by his robe and bowl) to Hui-neng, who then became the Sixth Patriarch. Later, when the Sixth Patriarch started teaching the Dharma, he also asked the same question of his many disciples. I have chosen four such examples here.

Venerable Shen-hui came to visit with the Sixth Patriarch. The Sixth Patriarch asked him, "Where did you come from?" Shen-hui answered, "I did not come from anywhere." The Sixth Patriarch was very pleased with this answer.

When the Ch'an master Huai-jang of Nan-yueh met with the Sixth Patriarch, the Sixth Patriarch asked him in the same manner, "Where did you come from?" Huai-jang replied, "I came from Venerable An's place." The Sixth Patriarch then asked, "What brought you here?" Huai-jang could not answer this question. He stayed at Ts'ao-hsi for ten years and was not enlightened till he was thirty years old.

When the Ch'an master Hsing-szu of Ch'ing-yuan first came to Ts'ao-hsi, the Sixth Patriarch asked him the following, "What did you do before you came here?" Hsing-szu answered, "I did not even practice the Noble Truths." He meant he was not even attached to becoming a buddha or a patriarch, and the Sixth Patriarch was very impressed with him.

When Hui-tsung of Nan-yang, an imperial teacher of the Tang dynasty, first arrived at the temple of the Sixth Patriarch, he was also asked the same question by the Sixth Patriarch. Hui-tsung replied, "I came from nearby." The Sixth Patriarch was also delighted with his answer.

In Ch'an practice, a questioning attitude is very important, and conversations between Ch'an masters are usually in the form of questions. When the Fifth Patriarch first asked Hui-neng, "Where did you come from?" he opened up the causal conditions for Hui-neng to become his chosen disciple and the Sixth Patriarch. In his later years, the Sixth Patriarch also used the same question, "Where did you come from?" as a lightning rod for his students to see the true nature.


III. Teaching Methods of the Ch'an School

A. The Method of reflection

The Ch'an method of reflection is to answer, or reflect, a question with another question. This method can lead to quick understanding. The best way to understand how this method works is to illustrate the method with examples. Once, a group of people saw a Ch'an master spit on a buddha statue. They were repulsed and reprimanded the Ch'an master, "What is the matter with you? How can you spit on the statue of the Buddha?" The Ch'an master, who was not a bit offended, replied calmly, "Please show me a spot where the Buddha is not present? I need to spit again."

This Ch'an master had already realized the fact that "the Dharma nature permeates all space; the Dharma-body fills the whole universe." Those who reprimanded the Ch'an master thought that they had more respect for the Buddha when in fact their behavior showed that they did not truly understand the Buddha. The Dharma-body (i.e. the body of the Buddha's teachings) is present everywhere, which explains why the Ch'an master asked, "Please show me a spot where the Buddha is not present?" If you are asked this question, can you answer the question? If you cannot answer, it means that you do not yet understand the Dharma. Even to those who understand the Dharma, such a reflection can help their wisdom grow and deepen their understanding of Ch'an.

Ma-tsu Tao-yi was a student of a student of the Sixth Patriarch. Now, Tao-yi had a student named Pai-chang Huai-hai. One day, a monk asked the Ch'an master Pai-chang, "Please, what is a buddha?" Pai-chang turned the question around and asked him, "Hah! Who are you?" The meaning of his reply is this: You are a buddha. Don't you know that? Why do you need to ask someone else? One person asked, "What is a buddha?" The other replied, "Who are you?" It may look very simple, but its subtle meaning is boundless.

The Fourth Patriarch, Tao-hsin, once asked the Third Patriarch, Seng-ts'an, "What is the Dharma method for liberation?"

"Who binds you?" asked Seng-ts'an.

"Nobody binds me," answered Tao-hsin

"If nobody binds you, why do you want to be liberated?"

From this layering of questions, we see that we are not so much bound by external forces as we are bound by ourselves. There is a common Chinese saying which carries a similar meaning; it goes like this: "The world itself does not present any suffering; the ignorant bring suffering upon themselves." If we examine what causes us to ache in our everyday life, we will see that the mind is often the cause of our headaches and problems. Our mind is like a factory. A good factory manufactures quality products, while a substandard factory cranks out defective products. Likewise, healthy minds produce good thoughts, and deluded minds create trouble and affliction.

The usual mode of learning is to study hard and ask plenty of questions. In Ch'an, questions are often answered with more questions. This is the method of reflection. In the case of a person practicing Ch'an, the person may direct the question to himself. The questions asked may be in the form of "Who is reciting the name of the Buddha?" "What is the meaning of the First Patriarch coming west?" "Before I was born, who was I?" If you persist in asking yourself questions like these to the "bitter" end and concentrate your thinking on such questions, you will become enlightened one day.

The practice of contemplation is something that is totally dependent upon ourselves. In the Platform Sutra, there is an exchange between the Fifth Patriarch and the Sixth Patriarch which illustrates the importance of self-reliance. After the Sixth Patriarch was awakened to the truth, the Fifth Patriarch passed the teachings of the Dharma to him and asked him to go south to avoid persecution by those who were jealous of him because he was chosen as the Sixth Patriarch. The Fifth Patriarch said to him, "I will ferry you across the river."

The Sixth Patriarch replied, "That will not be necessary; I can do it myself."

The Fifth Patriarch again offered, "Now that you are leaving, let me send you off. I want to row you across to the other shore."

The Sixth Patriarch turned him down and said, "When I was deluded, I needed a teacher to ferry me. Now that I have realized the truth, I can ferry myself across to the other shore."

From this exchange, we can see that while our teacher is our guide in our practice, only we ourselves can realize the truth for ourselves. When we practice contemplation, we should emulate the spirit of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva and be vigilant of our own minds. This is the essence of Ch'an and the genesis of its profound teachings. Once, a young man was paying respect to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva in a temple. He could not help but notice that in the statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva was holding a string of prayer beads. He asked a monk of the temple, "We use prayer beads to help us recite the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Now, whose name does Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva recite?"

The monk replied, "Also Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva!"

The young man was puzzled and asked, "Why does Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva still need to recite the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva?"

The monk smiled and replied, "It is more reliable to depend on oneself than to depend on others."

Buddhism is a religion that puts a lot of emphasis on personal development, self-realization and self-discovery of our own pure nature. Hence, it is very important that we practice and realize the truth for ourselves. This teaching method of reflection, of answering a question with more questions, can help us open and develop our own thinking. One day, we will be able to, in a flash of insight, see the truth.


B. The method of variation

In the Ch'an school, it is quite common for a Ch'an master to vary the answer to the same question depending on the person asking the question and the person's level of spiritual maturity. A Ch'an master may answer a question by affirmation, while at other times, he or she may answer the same question by negation. Again, the best way to understand how this teaching method works is to go through some examples.

As we said earlier, the Ch'an master Ma-tsu Tao-yi was a student of a student of the Sixth Patriarch. Whenever anyone asked him what is the Dharma, he would inevitably answer, "What the mind is, what the Buddha is." This went on for a while, and finally someone asked him, "Why do you always tell people that What the mind is, what the Buddha is,' whenever you are asked about the Dharma?"

Ma-tsu answered, "Let me tell you, when a child cries, you have to give the child a cookie to quiet the child down."

The person asked further, "What would you do differently if the child is not crying?"

Ma-tsu replied the person, "At that time, I will say, No mind, no buddha.'"

At that time, a young Ch'an master by the name of Tai-mei Fa-ch'ang came to learn the Dharma from Ma-tsu. The young man asked Ma-tsu, "Please tell me what is the Dharma?" Ma-tsu also told the young man, "What the mind is, what the Buddha is." Upon hearing this, Ta-mei immediately became enlightened.

After attaining realization, Ta-mei took leave and traveled to other places to teach Ch'an Buddhism; many people became his students. Word that Ta-mei had become enlightened finally reached Ma-tsu, his teacher. Ma-tsu wondered if Ta-mei had truly understood the Dharma, so he asked one of his students to go and test Ta-mei. When the student met up with Ta-mei, he asked, "Dharma brother, what did you learn from our teacher?"

Ta-mei did not hesitate and answered, "What the mind is, what the Buddha is."

As instructed by Ma-tsu, the student told Ta-mei, "Oh! Do you know that our teacher is no longer teaching What the mind is, what the Buddha is'?"

Ta-mei asked, "What is he teaching now?"

The student said, "Our teacher is now teaching us No mind, no buddha.'"

After hearing this, Ta-mei frowned and told the student, "This old monk likes to give people a hard time. I don't really care if he is teaching No mind, no buddha.' I am still sticking with my teaching, What the mind is, what the Buddha is.'"

The student then went back to Ma-tsu and told him exactly what transpired. After his recount, Ma-tsu was very happy and said, "The plum is truly ripe now." What he meant was that Ta-mei truly understood the Dharma.

Sometimes we need affirmation to strengthen our beliefs and gain confidence. Other times, our beliefs and understanding need to be tested and challenged before we can truly understand. In this example, the Ch'an master Ta-mei was very confident of himself and refused to follow others blindly. Regardless if Ma-tsu was teaching "No mind, no buddha," he was not swayed. This kind of self-confidence, self-determination, and self-respect is very characteristic of a true Ch'an master.

A lay devotee once went to the Ch'an master Chih-tsang and asked, "Ch'an master, please tell me if there are heavens and hells?"


"Does the Triple GemXthe Buddha, the Dharma, and the SanghaXexist?"


"Is it true that there is the Law of Cause and Effect and the six realms of existence?"

"Yes, it's true."

Regardless of what the lay devotee asked of the Ch'an master Chih-tsang, he would answer in the affirmative. The lay devotee grew skeptical and finally said something, "Ch'an master, you are wrong."

The Ch'an master Chih-tsang asked, "How so?"

The lay devotee replied, "When I went to the Ch'an master Ching-shan and asked him the same questions, he always answered, No, it does not exist.' When I asked him if there is such a thing as the Law of Cause and Effect, he said, No.' When I asked him if there are buddhas and bodhisattvas, he said, No.' When I asked him if there are heavens and hells, he also said, No.' Why is it that you tell me Yes' to all my questions?"

The Ch'an master Chih-tsang was not at all surprised. He asked the lay devotee, "Let me ask you, do you have a wife?"

The lay devotee was not sure where he was going with this, but he answered anyway, "Yes."

"Do you have children?"


Chih-tsang continued to ask, "Does the Ch'an master Ching-shan have a wife?"


"Does the Ch'an master Ching-shan have children?"


The Ch'an master Chih-tsang explained, "This is why the Ch'an master Ching-shan told you that the Law of Cause and Effect, heavens and hells, so on and so forth do not exist. I told you that they exist because you have a wife and children."

With the same set of questions, these two Ch'an masters gave the lay devotee very different answers. While the two sets of answers look very different on the surface, they are actually very close in meaning. Although one said that they do exist and the other said that they do not exist, the two Ch'an masters are not contradicting each other. There is only one Dharma, but we may think otherwise because we have different degrees of understanding. The "No" of Ching-shan has a very deep meaning and represents a very high state of mind. The "No" of Ching-shan is emptiness, and without emptiness, there would not be any existence.


C. The method of allusion

How does the method of allusion work? When Ch'an masters converse and discourse, they often do not answer questions directly; instead, they use metaphors or apparently unrelated subjects to make indirect references. This method works because it makes one realizes the truth on his or her own. The following are a few illustrations of how this method works.

The Ch'an master Chao-chou Ts'ung-jen was a very humorous person. He was also called the "Old Buddha of Chao-chou." Even when he was eighty, he kept on traveling and learning. Once in a playful mood, he made a bet with his student, the Ch'an master Wen-yen. He told his student, "Let us bet. We will see which one of us can debase himself the most. Whoever wins can have this biscuit here."

Wen-yen nodded and said, "All right, you can start first."

Chao-chou started off by saying, "I am a donkey."

Wen-yen immediately replied, "I am the rear end of the donkey."

Chao-chou followed up and said, "I am the excrement of the donkey."

Wen-yen was not about to give up; he said, "I am the maggot inside the excrement."

Chao-chou was stumped, so he asked Wen-yen, "What are you doing in the excrement?"

"I am cooling myself off from the summer heat!"

Chao-chou admitted defeat and gladly handed the biscuit over to Wen-yen. What this exchange is telling us is this: Like a phoenix that rises out of ashes, bodhi is realized in the midst of suffering. When our minds are pure, we see everything as pure. Our mindset can change the way we look at things; even a donkey, its buttock, stool, and a maggot can help us see the Dharma. In this example, we see that the conversations between Ch'an masters are full of Ch'an teachings and rich in meaning.

In the Ching-ch'u Temple of Wen-chou, there was a bhiksuni by the name of Hsuan-chi. She was a well-learned bhiksuni and had once traveled to Ta-jih Shan (which means hills of the great sun) to practice contemplation. Later, she went to visit with the Ch'an master Hsueh-feng (which means snow peaks). Like the Sixth Patriarch, Hsueh-feng also liked to ask his visitors this question: "Where did you come from?"

"I came from Ta-jih Shan," replied Hsuan-chi.

Hsueh-feng then asked her mockingly, "Has the sun risen yet?"

Hsuan-chi was not intimidated and answered, "If the sun had risen, the snow peak (hsueh feng) would have melted." To understand why she answered this way, we have to know the meaning of Hsueh-feng's question. When he asked her if the sun had risen, he was asking her indirectly if she had realized the truth. Hsuan-chi then told him that if she had realized the truth, she would not have traveled all this way to learn from him, Hsueh-feng.

From the way that Hsuan-chi answered his questions, he felt that though she had not realized the truth, she was an earnest student. So, he asked her, "What is your name?"

"My name is Hsuan-chi (which means a wonderful weaving machine)."

Hsueh-feng wanted to find out how much she practiced everyday, so he tested her, "How much do you weave everyday?"

Hsuan-chi replied, "I don't have a thread on me." She implied that she was completely liberated, which of course was stretching the truth a bit.

After they finished talking, Hsuan-chi stood up and took leave. As she was walking to the door, Hsueh-feng called to her from behind her, "Hey, your robe is dragging on the ground!" When Hsuan-chi heard this, she hurriedly turned around and looked. Hsueh-feng broke out in laughter and said, "And you said you don't have a single thread on you." Whether we have realized the truth or not is not something that can be faked. Using this method of allusion, Ch'an masters can assess if one is truly enlightened and liberated.

Once, a monk asked Chao-chou this question: "May I ask what is the right way to contemplate and realize the truth?"

Chao-chou got up from his seat and said, "I have to go to the washroom to relieve myself." He took a few steps, turned back and said to the monk, "You see, even a simple thing like this, I have to do on my own. No one can do it for me." With this, he was indirectly telling the monk that contemplation and realization are very personal matters that we should work out on our own. The method of allusion is indirect, yet crystal clear.

During the Tang dynasty, there was a great scholar by the name of Han Yu. He had a prejudice against Buddhism and tried to dissuade the emperor from giving a grand reception for the Buddha's relic. The emperor was not amused and demoted Han Yu to be the governor of the backwater province of Ch'ao-chou. As this area was far removed from the capital and culturally backward, there were few learned scholars with whom Han Yu could exchange ideas. Among the handful of learned scholars who lived there was the Ch'an master Ta-tien, and Han Yu decided to pay the Ch'an master a visit. It just so happened that each time Han Yu went to call on Ta-tien, the Ch'an master was not in. One day, Han Yu called on the Ch'an master again and was delighted to find the Ch'an master sitting in meditation. He was not about to give up this opportunity, so he decided to wait. After a long time, the master was still in meditation and Han Yu was growing impatient. Seeing that Han Yu did wait for a long time, Ta-tien's attendant tapped a little bell by his master's ear, and he said out loud, "First, influence through meditative concentration, then eradicate [arrogance] with wisdom." What he means is this: Master, your meditative concentration has already moved Han Yu; he is no longer arrogant and condescending. Now, please come out of meditation and teach him with your wisdom.

Han Yu was a very smart fellow and immediately understood the meaning behind the attendant's words. He smiled and said, "The Ch'an master's teaching method is truly superb. Your attendant's words have already led me to the door of Buddhism." Later, Han Yu asked the Ch'an master to be his teacher and took refuge in the Triple Gem.

Sometimes, spoken words may not be the best way to reach others. Like the Ch'an master Ta-tien, he was able to move Han Yu without uttering a single word. Even the attendant hardly said anything, yet they were able to indirectly allude to a very deep and profound teaching. The once arrogant Han Yu was so moved that he changed his ways and took refuge in the Triple Gem.

Ta-tien was a student of the Ch'an master Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien, whose body is still kept at a temple in Japan to this day. The life of Shih-t'ou was very interesting and the way that he became enlightened was another illustrative example of the method of allusion. When Shih-t'ou was twelve, he had a chance meeting with the Sixth Patriarch at the temple of Ts'ao-hsi. The Sixth Patriarch took a liking to him immediately and told him, "I will take you in as my student." Shih-t'ou was very honored and became a student of the Sixth Patriarch at the tender age of twelve.

Unfortunately, the Sixth Patriarch lived only for another three years, and Shih-t'ou was only fifteen. Before the Sixth Patriarch passed away, Shih-t'ou asked the Sixth Patriarch what he should do upon his passing. The Sixth Patriarch told him, "Go to Hsing-szu." In Chinese, the name Hsing-szu is homophonic with the words "hsun szu," which means to contemplate. Thus, it was no surprise that Shih-t'ou misunderstood the dying words of the Sixth Patriarch, and he meditated everyday, Fortunately, an elder monk figured out what was happening, and the monk told Shih-t'ou, "You are mistaken. Your teacher told you to go to your Dharma brother Hsing-szu. He is now teaching the Dharma at the hills of Ching-yuan; you should go there to pay him a visit." Now that Shih-t'ou finally understood what the Sixth Patriarch wanted him to do, he immediately left for Ching-yuan. When he arrived at Ching-yuan, the Ch'an master Hsing-szu asked him, "Where did you come from?"

"I came from Ts'ao-hsi," answered Shih-t'ou, essentially telling Hsing-szu that he came from the Sixth Patriarch.

Hsing-szu asked further, "Did you attain anything there?"

"I was not missing anything even before I got there," replied Shih-t'ou. He meant that as his buddha nature was complete even before he went there, there was nothing to attain.

"If you are not in need of anything, why did you go to Ts'ao-hsi?"

Shih-t'ou went on to explain, "If I had not gone to Ts'ao-hsi, how would I know that I was not in need of anything?" In other words, if he had not gone to Ts'ao-hsi, he would not have realized that he always had the buddha nature.

As we can see from this exchange, Ch'an masters may not point out the meaning directly. This is the method of allusion.


IV. Conclusion

Today, we have touched on a few Ch'an methodsXthe method of reflection, the method of variation, and the method of allusion. There are many other methods, but with the limited time we have, I was not able to introduce them all to you. I'd like to conclude with several poems of the famous Chinese poet Su Tung-p'o. These poems were written at different stages of his life and reflect different levels of Ch'an understanding. The first poem here is about the very picturesque mountain range of Lu-shan and was written before Su Tung-p'o studied Ch'an.

        Viewed across, a range; at an angle, peaks.
        Far and near, high and low, not the same.
        Not able to see real face of Lu-shan;
        Precisely because one is within the hills of Lu-shan.

After Su Tung-p'o began to gain some understanding of Ch'an, he wrote another poem:

        Misty rain of Lu-shan, tide of Che-chiangX
        Not there, many regrets.
        Once there, turns out to be empty of anything.
        Misty rain of Lu-shan, tide of Che-chiang.

When his understanding of Ch'an matured, he wrote yet another poem:

        All sounds of rippling creeks are broad, long tongues.
        Mountains, nothing but pure bodies.
        Night falls, contemplating eighty-four thousand poems.
        Next day, how to explain to anyone?

Now that you have a glimpse into the wondrous teachings of the Ch'an school of Buddhism, the rest is entirely up to you. From the teachings of the Sixth Patriarch and the different Ch'an methods described here, we know that Ch'an is not taught, but is realized through oneself in one's daily life.