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Four 12th-Century Zen Letters

 

 

 

Four 12th-Century Zen Letters

 

 

I

 

A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao (大慧宗杲, 1089-1163) to Li Xianchen (李獻臣):

 

佛言。若有欲知佛境界。

Buddha said, if you want to know the realm of buddhahood,

當淨其意如虛空。

you must make your mind as clear as empty space

遠離妄想及諸取。

and leave false thinking and all grasping far behind,

令心所向皆無礙。

causing your mind to be unobstructed wherever it may turn.

 

佛境界非是外境界有相。

The realm of buddhahood is not some external world where there is a formal “Buddha”—

佛乃自覺聖智之境界也。

it’s the realm of the wisdom of a self-awakened sage.

 

決欲知此境界。

Once you are determined that you want to know this realm,

不假莊嚴修證而得。

you do not need adornment, cultivation, or realization to attain it.

 

當淨意根下無始時來客塵煩惱之染。

You must clear away the stains of afflictions from alien sensations that have been on your mind since beginningless time,

如虛空之寬曠。

(so that your mind) is as broad and open as empty space,

遠離意識中諸取。

detached from all the clinging of the discriminating intellect,

虛偽不實妄想亦如虛空。

and your false, unreal, vain thoughts too are like empty space.

 

則此無功用妙心。所向自然無滯礙矣

Then this wondrous effortless mind will be unimpeded wherever it goes.

 

 

The Chinese text is from the Chinese Buddhist Canon, the Dazangjing (大藏經), Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 890a5-11.

 

1998A is the Record of Chan Master Dahui (大慧禪師語錄).

 

 

II

 

A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao to Huang Bocheng (黃伯成):

 

學道人。日用空境易而空心難。

In the daily activities of a student of the Path, to empty objects is easy, but to empty mind is hard.

 

境空而心不空。心為境所勝。

If objects are empty but mind is not empty, mind will be overcome by objects.

 

但空心而境自空矣。

Just empty the mind, and objects will be empty of themselves.

 

若心已空。而更起第二念。欲空其境。則是此心未得空。復為境所奪。

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.

 

此病不除。生死無由出離。不見龐公呈馬祖偈云。

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?

 

 十方同聚會。

 In the ten directions, the same congregation:

 箇箇學無為。

 Each and every one studies non-doing.

 此是選佛場。

 This is the place where Buddhas are chosen:

 心空及第歸。

 Minds empty, they return successful.

 

此心既空矣。心外復有何物而可空耶。思之。

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 (大藏經), Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 893a24-b1.

 

 

III

 

A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao to Xie Jiyi (謝機宜):

 

梁武帝問達磨。朕造寺度僧。不可勝數。有何功德。

Emperor Wu of Liang asked Bodhidharma, “I have built temples and had monks ordained without number: what merit is there in this?”

 

達磨曰。無功德。

Bodhidharma said, “There is no merit.”

 

帝曰。云何無功德。

The Emperor said, “Why no merit?”

 

達磨曰。此但人天小果有漏之因。如影之隨形。雖有而非實。

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.”

 

曰如何是真功德。

The Emperor said, “What is true merit?”

 

答曰。淨智妙圓。體自空寂。如是功德。不以世求。

Bodhidharma answered, “The subtle perfection of pure wisdom, its essence naturally empty and still. Such merit is not to be sought with worldly means.”

 

帝始問。如何是聖諦第一義。

Only then did the Emperor ask, “What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?”

 

答曰。廓然無聖。

Bodhidharma answered, “Empty, without holiness.”

 

曰對朕者誰。

The Emperor said, “Who is facing me?”

 

答曰。不識。

Bodhidharma replied, “I don’t know.”

 

帝不契。達磨遂渡江之魏。

The Emperor did not understand, so Bodhidharma crossed the river into Wei.

 

如今要見真功德。不用別求。只向不識處薦取。

If you want to see real merit right now, don’t look for it anywhere else, just comprehend it in “I don’t know.”

 

若透得此二字。一生參學事畢

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 (大藏經), Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 896b19-27.

 

 

IV

 

A letter from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao to the Zen man Zhiyi (智疑禪人).

 

昔靈雲和尚因見桃花。忽然悟道。

In the old days Master Ling Yun suddenly awakened to the Path on seeing peach blossoms.

 

有偈曰。

He had a verse which said,

 

 三十年來尋劍客。

 For thirty years I sought a master swordsman.

 幾回落葉又抽枝。

 How many times the leaves fell and shoots sprouted!

 自從一見桃花後。

 Ever since I once saw peach blossoms,

 直至如今更不疑。

 Up to right now, no more doubts.

 

溈山和尚詰其所悟。與之符契。

The Master Kuei Shan investigated his enlightenment and gave him his seal.

 

乃印可曰。從緣悟道。永無退失。

As he was approving him he said, “When you awaken to the Path from causal circumstances, there’s never any retrogression.”

 

又雪峰和尚自作壽塔銘序曰。

Then again, when the Master Hsueh Feng wrote his own epitaph he said:

 

 夫從緣有者。

 If you attain from causal circumstances,

 始終而成壞。

 It begins and ends, forms and disintegrates.

 非從緣得者。

 If it’s not from causal circumstances that you attain,

 歷劫而常堅。

 It endures through the ages, everlasting and solid.

 

此二尊宿所見。且道是一般是兩般。

Tell me, are the viewpoints of these two venerable adepts the same or different?

 

若道是一般。一人以從緣而得為是。一人以從緣而得為非。

If you say they’re the same, one man considers attainment from causal conditions right and one man considers it wrong.

 

若道兩般。不可二大老各立門戶疑惑後人。() 鵝王擇乳素非鴨類。知立禪人還知二大老落處麼。

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.

 

若不知。雲門直為說破。

If you don’t understand, I’ll explain it for you directly:

 

 二由一有

 Two exist because of one—

 一亦莫守。

 Don’t even keep the one!

 一心不生

 When the one mind isn’t born

 萬法無咎。

 The myriad phenomena are without fault.

 

已上兩段不同。收歸上科 ()

The difference between the two previous verse passages is resolved in the above verse. Bah!

 

 

The Chinese text is from the Dazangjing (大藏經), Vol. 47, No. 1998A, page 915a10-22.

 

Note: I have followed the Christopher Cleary translation, in Swampland Flowers, in these four letters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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