Four 12th-Century Zen Letters
A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao (大慧宗杲, 1089-1163) to Li Xianchen (李獻臣):
Buddha said, if you want to know the realm of buddhahood,
you must make your mind as clear as empty space
and leave false thinking and all grasping far behind,
causing your mind to be unobstructed wherever it may turn.
The realm of buddhahood is not some external world where there is a formal “Buddha”—
it’s the realm of the wisdom of a self-awakened sage.
Once you are determined that you want to know this realm,
you do not need adornment, cultivation, or realization to attain it.
You must clear away the stains of afflictions from alien sensations that have been on your mind since beginningless time,
(so that your mind) is as broad and open as empty space,
detached from all the clinging of the discriminating intellect,
and your false, unreal, vain thoughts too are like empty space.
Then this wondrous effortless mind will be unimpeded wherever it goes.
The Chinese text is from the Chinese Buddhist Canon, the Dazangjing Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 890a5-11.
1998A is the Record of Chan Master Dahui (大慧禪師語錄).
A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao to Huang Bocheng (黃伯成):
In the daily activities of a student of the Path, to empty objects is easy, but to empty mind is hard.
If objects are empty but mind is not empty, mind will be overcome by objects.
Just empty the mind, and objects will be empty of themselves.
If the mind is already emptied, but then you arouse a second thought, wishing to empty its objects, this means that this mind is not yet empty, and is again carried away by objects.
If this sickness is not done away with, there is no way to get out of birth and death. Haven’t you seen the verse which Layman Pang presented to Ma Tsu?
In the ten directions, the same congregation:
Each and every one studies non-doing.
This is the place where Buddhas are chosen:
Minds empty, they return successful.
Once this mind is empty, then what is there outside of mind that can be emptied? Think it over.
The Chinese text is from the Xuzangjing (續藏經) Volume 83, No. 1578, Records of Pointing at the Moon (指月錄), page 737c16-22.
The text can also be found in the Dazangjing Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 893a24-b1.
A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao to Xie Jiyi (謝機宜):
Emperor Wu of Liang asked Bodhidharma, “I have built temples and had monks ordained without number: what merit is there in this?”
Bodhidharma said, “There is no merit.”
The Emperor said, “Why no merit?”
Bodhidharma said, “These are just the lesser fruits of gods and men, causes of defilement; like shadows following shapes, though they’re there, they’re not real.”
The Emperor said, “What is true merit?”
Bodhidharma answered, “The subtle perfection of pure wisdom, its essence naturally empty and still. Such merit is not to be sought with worldly means.”
Only then did the Emperor ask, “What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?”
Bodhidharma answered, “Empty, without holiness.”
The Emperor said, “Who is facing me?”
Bodhidharma replied, “I don’t know.”
The Emperor did not understand, so Bodhidharma crossed the river into Wei.
If you want to see real merit right now, don’t look for it anywhere else, just comprehend it in “I don’t know.”
If you can penetrate these three words, the task of your whole life’s study will be completed.
The Chinese text is from the Dazangjing Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 896b19-27.
A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao to the Zen man Zhiyi (智疑禪人).
In the old days Master Ling Yun suddenly awakened to the Path on seeing peach blossoms.
He had a verse which said,
For thirty years I sought a master swordsman.
How many times the leaves fell and shoots sprouted!
Ever since I once saw peach blossoms,
Up to right now, no more doubts.
The Master Kuei Shan investigated his enlightenment and gave him his seal.
As he was approving him he said, “When you awaken to the Path from causal circumstances, there’s never any retrogression.”
Then again, when the Master Hsueh Feng wrote his own epitaph he said:
If you attain from causal circumstances,
It begins and ends, forms and disintegrates.
If it’s not from causal circumstances that you attain,
It endures through the ages, everlasting and solid.
Tell me, are the viewpoints of these two venerable adepts the same or different?
If you say they’re the same, one man considers attainment from causal conditions right and one man considers it wrong.
If you say they’re different, it’s impossible that the two great elders were setting up divergent sects to confuse later people with doubts.
If you don’t understand, I’ll explain it for you directly:
Two exist because of one—
Don’t even keep the one!
When the one mind isn’t born
The myriad phenomena are without fault.
已上兩段不同。收歸上科 ○ (咄)
The difference between the two previous verse passages is resolved in the above verse. Bah!
The Chinese text is from the Dazangjing Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 915a10-22.
Note: I have followed the Christopher Cleary translation, in Swampland Flowers, in these four letters.