Saturday, March 05, 2011

Huangbo on the One Vehicle

The text titled A Synopsis of the Dharma of Transmitting Mind of Zen Master Duanji of Huangbo Mountain (黃檗山斷際禪師傳心法要) was written by Pei Xiu (797-870), a government official and member of the Chinese literati, who was also a lay disciple of Huangbo Xiyun (J. Obaku Kiun) (d. c. 850) who is also known here by the name Duanji of Huangbo Mountain. On at least two separate occasions, Pei Xiu invited Huangbo to the City where Pei Xiu lived and they engaged in extensive discussions. After their meetings, Pei Ziu wrote down what he remembered to the best of his ability. After Huangbo died, Pei Ziu gave his manuscript to Huangbo’s disciples Taizhou and Fajian to share with the elder disciples at Huangbo’s temple, to edit and publish if they felt it accurately represented Huangbo’s teaching, which they evidently did, since it has come down to us today.

Huangbo was the main teacher of the famous Linji Yixuan (J. Rinzai Gigen) (d. 867). There are great stories about Huangbo. He was well over six feet tall and very imposing in stature, yet he was known for having a callous on his forehead from his practice of bowing so often. At one point he was the Dharma teacher of an Imperial prince hiding from execution at Huangbo’s monestary before the prince was able later to take the throne back from the usurping cousins.

In this section of A Synopsis of the Dharma of Transmitting Mind, Huangbo refers directly to the One Vehicle and connects is directly to his core teaching of the One Mind and the legend of the origin of the Zen lineage. This is a solid line through the teachings of Bodhidharma, Huineng, Mazu, and Baizhang connecting the Zen lineage with the One Vehicle.

The Tathagata appeared in the world and wanted to explain the True Dharma of the One Vehicle, however the multitude of beings did not believe and raised slanders, sinking in the sea of sufferings. If he did not explain at all, however, he’d fall into stingy greed, and not serve as the subtle Way of universal renunciation for the multitude of beings. He proceeded to establish the expediency of explaining there are three vehicles. For the vehicles there is great and small; for attainment there is shallow and deep. All are not the original Dharma. For this reason it was said, “There is only the Way of the One Vehicle, two or more however, are not true.” So, in the end, because he had not yet displayed the Dharma of the One Mind, he called Kasyapa to share the Dharma seat and separately handed over the One Mind, going away from words to explain the Dharma. The Dharma of this one branch decrees a separate practice. If you are able to agree with those who awaken, then you arrive at the Buddha stage!

Here’s the Chiinese original:
[T48n2012Ap0382b03(05) to T48n2012Ap0382b09(00)]

For those who enjoy conparing translations, here are two other versions of the same section.

Here is John Blofeld’s translation from The Zen Teachings of Huang Po, On the Transmission of Mind (Grove Press, Inc., NY, 1958). Blofeld’s translation is quite nice and reads very easily. However, he has some oddities which I don’t understand how he arrived at them. For example, he translated the phrase 此一枝法 as “This branchless Dharma” misreading the word “one” in “one branch” or “single branch” for a negative “branchless”. Also, he sometimes translates “Dharma” (法) as “the Dharma” but then at other times translates it as “the Law.” In my style of translating I strongly oppose this practice. I try as much as possible to use the same word (or a form of the same word) for the same Chinese character wherever it appears, and a different word for different Chinese characters, so that the English reader will know that the English word is translating the same Chinese word.

When the Tathagata manifested himself in this world, he wished to preach a single Vehicle of Truth. But people would not have believed him and , by scoffing at him, would have become immersed in the sea of sorrow (samsara). On the other hand, if he had said nothing at all, that would have been selfishness, and he would not have been able to diffuse knowledge of the mysterious Way for the benefit of sentient beings. So he adopted the expedient of preaching that there are Three Vehicles. As, however, these Vehicles are relatively greater and lesser, unavoidably there are shallow teachings and profound teachings—none of them being the original Dharma. so it is said that there is only a One-Vehicle Way; if there were more, they could not be real. Besides there is absolutely no way of describing the Dharma of the One Mind. Therefore the Tathagata called Kasyapa to come sit with him on the Seat of Proclaiming the Law, separately entrusting to him the Wordless Dharma of the One Mind. This branchless Dharma was to be separately practised [SIC]; and those who should be tacitly Enlightened would arrive at the state of Buddhahood. (p. 52.)

Here is John R. McRae’s translation from Zen Texts, Text One: “Essentials of the Transmission of Mind”, (Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2005). I think this translation clearly exhibits some of the problems with inserting brackets into the text to assist the reader. Once a translator feels free to adopt this practice I find that they usually over do it McRae does here. In my style of translation, I try as much as possible to avoid inserting explanatory words, with or without brackets, to leave the text as close to the original as can be while still being readable. While there are a few words or phrases here and there that are an improvement over Blofeld’s translation, as a whole I find the problems with McRea’s translation make a worse translation than Blofeld’s. For example, there is no good reason for McRae to translate “the Way” (道) as “Enlgihtenment.” The text was written in Chinese by native Chinese speakers with several hundreds of years acculturation of Buddhism, so there is no rational basis to change the translation of the Way as if it is a translation of the Sanskrit bodhi.

When the Tathagata was in the world he wanted to preach the True Dharma of the One Vehicle. However, sentient beings did not have faith and reviled [the Dharma], thus drowning themselves in the sea of suffering. If [the Buddha] had not preached anything at all he would have fallen into [the transgression of] parsimony and would not have [been able to] dispense entirely his wondrous enlightenment on behalf of sentient beings. Thus he adopted skillful means and preached the existence of three vehicles. These vehicles include [both the] Great [Vehicle] (Mahayana) and Small [Vehicle] (Hinayana) and their attainments are shallow or profound, but they are all other than the fundamental Dharma.
Therefore it is said, “There is only the enlightenment (Way) of the One Vehicle; the other two are not true.” However, [the Buddha] was ultimately unable to manifest the Dharma of the One Mind, so he called Kasyapa to share his Dharma seat and individually conveyed to him the preaching of the Dharma that is of the One Mind and which transcends words. He had this single branch of the Dharma carried out separately [from the rest of Buddhism]. If you are able to achieve conformance with and enlightenment to [the One Mind], then you have attained the stage of Buddhahood. (p. 29)

Cross posted at Zen Forum International