Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Master Huineng on Meditation & Wisdom

The mummy of all Buddhas
(Master Huineng, actually)

“Meditation and wisdom are of one essence, not different. Meditation is the essence of wisdom, and wisdom is the function of meditation. At times of wisdom, meditation exists in that wisdom; at times of meditation, wisdom exists in that meditation. If you understand this doctrine, this is the equivalent study of meditation and wisdom. All you who study the Way, do not say that they are different, with meditation prior to and generating wisdom or with wisdom prior to and generating meditation. If your view of them is like this, then the Dharma would have two characteristics. This would be to say something is good with your mouth but to have that which is not good in your minds. “

(Master Huineng in The Platform Sutra*)

The key to this extract from the Platform Sutra is the word ‘understand’, for no ordinary understanding is meant by it. If we intellectually grasp the meaning of Master Huineng’s words, we have yet to penetrate to the heart of what he is saying. Indeed, from the conventional understanding of meditation, wisdom, and the relationship between them, to state that they are one and the same is unorthodox, and somewhat nonsensical. The Chinese Zen Master is referring to another kind of understanding, or a direct apperception of experience that precedes intellection.

When we see beyond these personalities that we apparently are, we tune in to something that transcends the differences between activities, opening up to the underlying unity of phenomena. As Master Huineng goes on to say in the sermon quoted above, if we gain this ‘understanding’, everything we do becomes a meditation, and wisdom accompanies each action. So, what exactly is this wondrous understanding? Well, no one can reveal it to another, only hint at it, hopefully sowing a seed that will later sprout into the flower of wisdom.

Hinting at that which lies beyond the reach of words involves much spontaneous invention, and what works for one may well not work for another. But, if the Platform Sutra is not to be a kind of fossilized scripture, we need to become this understanding that it makes reference to. One way to reach this understanding is to look for the face we had before our parents were born (an image that Master Huineng invokes in the Sutra). Enough words already, I hear him shouting. So, without intellectualizing, point at your ‘face’ right now, dear reader – what do you see?

*Published by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai as ‘The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch’, & translated by John R. McRae. Available from the following link: Numata Center Digital Downloads


Travis.T said...

I'm having problem with meditation. Should I think nothing at all? Should I be mindful of my breaths? Should I imagine a point?

I know one of the Huineng quote:


I dare not translate the sentence but I'm sure you have come across.

G said...

"There is no Bodhi tree,
mirror nor stand;
originally there is no one,
so where can dust alight?"

If you have problems with meditation, Travis, a good place to start is with counting the breaths. Count each pair of in/out-breaths up to ten, then start again. If the mind is wandering (very active & distracted) and you often lose count before reaching ten, that's a sure sign that basic concentration levels need focusing on. Being mindful of breathing is a fine way to begin the process of quieting the mind & developing awareness of the nature of the conditioned mind.

Discovering the unconditioned 'mind' (as pointed at by Master Huineng in the verse roughly translated above) is another matter altogether, and is independent of anything we do. 'It' can be seen in an instant, and lost just as easily! Because of its steady (if initially boring nature), mindfulness of breathing is a good place to begin this journey home, Travis. Keep in touch.

Travis.T said...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

The potential problem with devices is that these techniques can and do generate blissful states of mind. All types of visions and experiences often occur to those using breath, mantra and visualization. It takes a strong and awakened Teacher to guide the student past these crutches.
Awakening is not more connected to techniques than is the finger pointing to the moon. There is the finger and there is the moon. Don't mistake the utility of pointing with that with is pointed out. In fact, pointing and non pointing is beside the point. Whatever that is...

G said...

Yes, the finger is potentially both a problem & a solution, depending on how we respond to what it is pointing at, as well as those blissful states of mind etc. Beyond such emotional responses however, what do you see when you point at where others see your face?

Alex Peterson said...

I saw a webinar on research done by the leading academic research group on PNSE (enlightenment, nonduality, etc.). I've heard they have circulated an unpublished book manuscript that expands on the research summary they have posted at Does anyone have it to send to me? Thanks!