Saturday, July 18, 2009

A New Translation of Chapter 5 of the Platform Sutra.

I've recently completed a new translation of Chapter 5 of the Platform Sutra of the Great Master Sixth Ancestor's Dharma Treasure which gives the teaching of Dajian Huineng (638-713) who was known as the Sixth Ancestor because he was the sixth generation Dharma heir of Bodhidharma who is considered the First Ancestor in China and the 28th Ancestor in the Indian generations of Dharma heirs from the Founder Siddhartha Gotama Buddha.

Chapter 5 Sitting Meditation

The master taught the assembly and said, “In this door of sitting meditation (C. zuochan, J. zazen) it is primary to not manifest the heart-mind, primary to not manifest purity, and primary to not be nonmoving. If one says, ‘manifest the heart-mind,’ the heart-mind is primarily a fantasy; be aware the heart-mind is like an illusion because it is without a place to manifest.

“If one says, ‘manifest purity’, the root of a person’s nature is pure and the cause (of talking about purity) is from the fantasy thoughts that cover up True Suchness (Skt. Bhutatathata). However, without fantasy thoughts the nature itself is pristine. To instigate the heart-mind to manifest purity, is still to create a fantasy of purity; a fantasy without a dwelling place; and that which is manifested is a fantasy. Purity is without form and characteristics, but to establish the characteristics of purity by words is labor, and those who see this as what to do obstruct one’s root nature and still are shrouded and purity bound.

“Learned and virtuous ones, if there are those who cultivate nonmoving, yet at the time of seeing every person they do not see the person’s rights and wrongs, virtues and evils, and perfections and troubles, then their own nature is nonmoving. Learned and virtuous ones, even if a deluded person’s body is nonmoving, they open the mouth and then talk about another person’s rights and wrongs, strengths and shortcomings, and goodness and evil, and the Way is opposed and violated. If one manifests the heart-mind and manifests purity, then one obstructs the Way!”

The master taught the assembly and said, “Learned and virtuous ones. What is called sitting meditation? Within this Dharma door, it is being without barriers and without hindrances. Outwardly, when, out of every good or evil state, thoughts do not arise in the mind, this is called doing ‘sitting.’ Inwardly, to see one’s own nature and not be stirred up is called doing ‘meditation.’

"Learned and virtuous ones, what is called the samadhi of meditation? Outwardly, to be free from characteristics is doing meditation. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is doing samadhi. Outwardly, if one attaches to characteristics, inwardly, the heart-mind is immediately perturbed. Outwardly, if one is free from characteristics, the heart-mind is immediately not perturbed. The root nature by itself is pure, by itself is samadhi. Only by seeing conditions and thinking about conditions is one immediately perturbed. If someone sees various conditions and the heart-mind is not perturbed, this is real samadhi. Learned and virtuous ones, outwardly, to be free from characteristics is immediately meditation. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is immediately samadhi. Outwardly, meditation, inwardly, samadhi, this is doing the samadhi of meditation.

“The Bodhisattva Precepts Sutra says, ‘Our original own nature is pristine.’ Learned and virtuous ones, in the midst of thought after thought, by oneself see that the root nature is pristine, cultivate by oneself, practice by oneself, and by oneself accomplish the Buddha Way.”

FYI, the double negative in the first sentence, "to not be nonmoving," is in the original. This shows that even in the time of Huineng there was an ongoing debate about whether sitting meditation was about physically sitting still or something else such as the nonmoving of the dualistic propensities as Huineng points to here.

The idea transmitted here as getting "purity bound" reminds me of the Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby story where every attempt to get the Tar Baby to respond only got Brer Rabbit further bound up in the tar. Huineng is saying that trying to be pure in terms of material forms and characteristics only leads to being more and more tied up is concepts about purity instead of real purity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A thousand thanks for this excellent translation and for your commentary on the unorthodox use of the term "sitting meditation" in this Sutra.