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True Zen Teachings

Appendix to Voice of the Valley

Comments on The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (Treasure of Law Sutra)

by Taisen Deshimaru Roshi

[The following is a mondo/kusen given by the Master at his Dojo in Paris sometime before the Val d'lsere camp. I have included this here in the hope of reaching those misled as to the validity of this celebrated sutra, and thereby as to the importance of the practice of zazen.]

QUESTION: The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, which has greatly influenced the understanding of Zen Buddhism in the West, has been interpreted to mean that the Sixth Patriarch, Eno1, taught that the true Way was to be found through the correct attitude of the mind, and not through the posture of the body - that is, not through the practice of zazen. Would you please comment on this?

[At this point the Master replied that he would give a full comment to this question the following morning, during zazen. Following is his commentary:]

The Dankyo, also known as the Platform Sutra, was not written or spoken by Master Eno. It was written after his death, and, according to history, it was edited by Hokai, one of Eno's disciples. Though Hokai may well have been one of Eno's many disciples (he had over seven hundred disciples), no one had ever heard of him, and even among the disciples themselves he was unknown. His name is not mentioned in the line of Eno's personal disciples, and Masters Seigen and Nangaku (Eno's two great disciples, and the precursors of Soto and Rinzai Zen, respectively) never once make mention of this Platform Sutra - of this sutra supposedly by their own Master, Eno.

The Dankyo2 is composed of invented stories without a grain of truth to them. They were composed in order to facilitate conferences, and to further the study of Zen literature. These stories were composed for the convenience of professors and intellectuals.

Since my arrival in France I have remained patient with certain Buddhist intellectuals, such as the well-known Zen writers L and V and the Professor D. I did not wish to disturb their dreams. But today I must answer this question of my old disciple.

Eno, the Sixth Patriarch (638-718), received the Kesa and the bowls from his Master, Konin. At the time of the Transmission, Eno was not yet a monk. Eventually finding refuge in the Dai Bon Ji Temple in Southern China, Eno received a monastic ordination from the Chief of that Temple. At the Dai Bon Ji Temple, Eno practiced zazen, gave kusens and conferences; his teaching became quickly famous, and he had many disciples and many visitors. Eno practiced nothing but zazen, alone and with his disciples - in particular with Seigen and Nangaku.

Certain scholars, going by the words found in this so-called Platform Sutra, have claimed that Eno did not teach the practice of zazen. However, it is a historic fact that when Yoka Daishi3 arrived for his famous encounter with the Sixth Patriarch, the Patriarch was, at that moment, sitting in zazen - in fact, at that moment he was in a sesshin with all of his disciples. Also, when Eno was on the point of dying, he told his disciple Yakusan4 (later to become a great Master of the Transmission himself) that Yakusan must continue his zazen practice under the guidance of Seigen. It is also a fact that when the Patriarch died on Mount Sokei in 718, his last breath was experienced while in the perfect posture of zazen, his legs crossed in the lotus position.

This Platform Sutra is of very minor importance in the schools of Soto, Rinzai and Obaku. And in Soto Zen it is forbidden reading. For though this work is not entirely erroneous, it misses the essence of true Zen. It is for the intellectuals who prefer to concentrate on the reading and not on the practice. Nonetheless, numerous people have made adjuncts to this sutra, and so now it consists of many volumes. Professor Suzuki translated only the first part, which deals with the doorway to wisdom, and so the Occidentals have access only to this one door. I have read the text in Chinese, and this door to wisdom described therein is not that of Zen. It concentrates itself only on wisdom, and those who do not like the door of zazen tend toward the door of wisdom. Westerners are crazy - especially the intellectuals. They look only at wisdom.

Now I will explain the confusion that has occurred over this text. In the Den-to-Roku 5, it is written that the secretary of the Imperial Mission, Sekkan, came to Eno and said: "All the Zen Masters, from all the different capitals in China, affirm that if you wish to obtain the true Way, you must practice zazen. And that no one until today has realized true Satori without the practice of zazen. However, the Emperor has some doubts as to this. So I have come on the Emperor's behalf to ask you your opinion on this question."

Eno, who understood that the Emperor did not like to do zazen, replied diplomatically: "The Way must be realized by your mind." This means Satori, and Satori signifies being awoken through zazen, not through Kensho. So Eno said: "The Way must be realized by our mind. The Way does not exist only in a sitting posture." By a "sitting posture" Eno does not mean zazen; rather he means comportment, the simple act of sitting. For he goes on to say: "It is possible to realize the Way through our comportment, such as going, coming, staying, lying down. We can obtain the Way through all the acts of our daily life."

The Den-to-Roku explains further what Eno's disciple Echu6 had to say about this Platform Sutra. "While traveling in Southern China, I noticed that many people were using the Dankyo Sutra. A Zen monk, directing a seminary with his disciples, even affirmed that this text represents the authentic Zen teaching of the Southern School. This is a pity. I looked at the text myself, and immediately realized that this Sutra was nothing but a false imitation of the actual Daikan Shingi written by the Sixth Patriarch. Eno's disciples do not know this sutra."

The authentic text by Master Eno, the one which was transmitted to his successor and edited by his disciples, is called the Daikan Shingi. It deals with the rules of zazen and of the Dojo.

In 1228 Master Dogen brought a copy of this Platform Sutra back to Japan with him. (Today the manuscript is in the Daio Zen Ji Temple in Japan.) However, Dogen never mentioned this sutra in his conferences or during his kusens. But he did write about it. In the Shobogenzo (in the chapter entitled Shizenbiku) it is written as follows: "The Dankyo is not the words of Master Eno. It is a complete imitation, and this being so, the true successors to the Transmission from the Buddha must not use this book. This book represents a danger to the understanding of true Zen."

To believe that the Platform Sutra is by the Sixth Patriarch is a great mistake. This sutra is very dangerous, because it is a source of confusion and because it can put into error the future line of the Patriarchs.

The practice of the body has been forgotten. This disequilibrium is the source of decadence existing today in our present civilization. D. T. Suzuki, who was a professor and not a monk, had no great liking for zazen. However, he liked this Platform Sutra-he translated it into English. Certainly Professor Suzuki did good works for Buddhism. He introduced Zen to the West. But the other side of the coin was his translation of the Dankyo. Because of this translation, the task of changing and of correcting the concepts of Buddhist intellectuals in the West has been lost. The intellectuals put faith in this imitation sutra, and so they do not practice zazen.

There are people who practice zazen once or twice, and then they set about writing books on Zen. These books have importance from a social point of view, but as for Zen itself, they are of no value and of no interest.

You, my disciples, it is your zazen which is essential to the transmission of the true essence of Zen.

The secret of Zen cannot be expressed by words. If the rock breaks, the precipice will crumble. Zen has never been influenced by anything. The eight winds blow in all directions; in the sky the moon shines immobile.

1 Eno: Hui-neng in Chinese.
2 Dankyo: Platform Sutra.
3 Yoka Daishi: Author of the Shodoka.
4 Yakusan, 751-834: The word yakusan literally means Medicine Mountain.
5 Den-to-Roku: The Transmission of the Light.
6 Echu, 677-744: He became a great Master on the level of Seigen and Nangaku.

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