(Blogger’s note: Please see “Blogger’s note” on my post Chapter III of Platform Sutra: Questions and Answers.)

Chapter VI:  On Repentance and Remorse

(Translated from Chinese original of 六祖壇經 by Justin Lam)

Once the Master saw that many gentry scholars and commoners from the Guangzhou and Shaozhou areas had gathered at the monastery to hear the Dharma, so he ascended the pulpit and said to the crowd, “Come, Learned Audience.  It all begins with our self-nature.  It won’t be a waste for you to come here, if at all times and at every moment of thought you purify your mind, cultivate and practice for yourselves,  see your own dharmakāya, see the buddha within your mind, attain your own salvation and take your own precepts by ourselves.  That we’re all interconnected can be seen from the fact that we all gather here from afar.  Now everyone may sit in the Indian fashion (Translator’s note: right knee on the ground, left knee up), and I’ll transmit to you first the Five Dharmakāya Incenses of the self-nature, and then the Formless Repentance and Remorse.”

The crowd all sat down.

The master said, “First is the Precepts Incense.  It means having no wrongdoing, no evil, no jealousy, no greed, no anger and no harm within our own mind.  This is called the Precepts Incense.

“Second is the Meditation Incense.  It means keeping our mind unperturbed upon seeing the realms and characteristics of the various good and evil.  This is called the Meditation Incense.

“Third is the Wisdom Incense.  It refers to one’s mind being without hindrance and constantly contemplating on one’s self nature with wisdom, without committing various evils.  Although one cultivates the various good deeds, one’s mind does not become attached.  One respects one’s superiors and be considerate to our inferiors, sympathetic for the destitute and the poor.  This is called Wisdom Incense.

“Fourth is the Liberation Incense.  It means that our mind clings to nothing and makes no judgment on good and evil and thus is in a free state without hindrance.  This is called the Liberation Incense.

“Fifth is the Liberated-understanding Incense.  Now that our mind doesn’t cling to good or evil, we should avoid becoming immersed in emptiness and attached to tranquility.  Rather, we should become knowledgeable by studying extensively, so that we recognize our own mind and understand various Buddhist doctrines.  We would then become congenial to others when dealing with them, unaware of the distinction between self and other, thus proceeding to bodhi and to our unchanging true nature.  This is called the Liberated-understanding Incense.

“Learned Audience, these incenses fumigates each of us from within, so let’s not seek them from without.  Now I’ll transmit to you the Formless Repentance and Remorse for eradicating transgressions in the time of past, current and future lives and for purifying karmas of deeds, speech and thoughts.  Learned Audience, please say after me the following together:

“‘May we the disciples not be tainted by foolishness and delusion in all our past, current and future thoughts.  We repent of sins of all past bad karma due to foolishness and delusion.  May all such sins be eradicated at once and never arise again.

“‘May we the disciples not be tainted by arrogance and dishonesty in all our past, current and future thoughts.  We repent of sins of all past bad karma due to arrogance and dishonesty.  May all such sins be eradicated at once and never arise again.

“‘May we the disciples not be tainted by grudge and jealousy in all our past, current and future thoughts.  We repent of sins of all past bad karma due to grudge and jealousy.  May all such sins be eradicated at once and never arise again.’

“Learned Audience, such are the Formless Repentance and Remorse.  So what does it mean by ‘to repent’ (chan) and ‘to have remorse’ (hui)?  To repent is to repent of one’s past faults, i.e. to repent of all bad karma, namely, all sins of foolishness, delusion, arrogance, dishonesty, grudge and jealousy, so that they will never arise again.  That’s what ‘to repent’ means.  To have remorse is to have remorse for future misdeeds, willing that from now on one has become enlightened to the extent of not committing any bad karma, namely, all sins of foolishness, delusion, arrogance, dishonesty, grudge and jealousy.  That’s what is ‘to have remorse’ means.  Therefore, together they are called ‘repentance and remorse (chanhui).  Ordinary people, out of foolishness and delusion, only repent of their past faults but fail to have remorse for their future misdeeds.  Because they have no such remorse, they commit future misdeeds while their past faults are yet to eradicate.  So how can one call it repentance and remorse if future misdeeds arise at the time when past faults are yet to be eradicated?

“Learned Audience, now that we have done the repentance and remorse, let’s take the Four Grand Vows.  Listen carefully: I vow to ferry the innumerable number of sentient beings of my mind to enlightenment; I vow to eradicate the limitless defilements in my mind; I vow to learn the inexhaustible teaching of my self-nature; I vow to attain the supreme buddhahood of my self-nature.

“Learned Audience, didn’t you all say that you vow to ferry the innumerable number of sentient beings to enlightenment?  But how?  Well, I’m not the one to do the ferrying.  Learned Audience, the sentient beings of our mind refer to our deluded mind, our arrogant mind, our unkind mind, our jealous mind, our wicked mind, and the like.  Each of them needs to undergo the self-ferrying of its self-nature.  This is called genuine ferrying.  What does it mean by “undergoing the self-ferrying of its self-nature”?  It is to ferry the sentient beings of wrong views, defilements and delusions in our mind with the right views.  Equipped with the right views, the sentient beings of foolishness and delusion will each ferry on its own by destroying itself with prajna wisdom.  So by ferrying wrong with right, delusion with enlightenment, foolishness with wisdom, evil with good, it is then genuine ferrying.

“And, by vowing to eradicate the limitless defilements, it means removing our illusive and unreliable thoughts with the prajna wisdom of our self-nature.

“And, by vowing to learn the inexhaustible teaching, it means the need of seeing the nature on our own and constantly practicing the authentic Dharma.  We can call that “true learning”.

“And, by vowing to attain the supreme buddhahood, it means constantly practicing the true and correct with a humble mind, transcending delusion and enlightenment, constantly arousing prajna, and eradicating the true and the false.  By doing so, one sees the buddha-nature immediately.  In other words, one attains buddhahood.  The important way to achieve this vow is to be constantly mindful of cultivation and practicing.

“Learned Audience, now that we have taken the Four Grand Vows, I’ll transmit the Formless Precept of Triple Refuge.  Take refuge in enlightenment, which is the most-honored among men and devas (Translator’s note: literally: two-foot-most honored, which means a buddha in human form.  Here it is translated into “the most-honored among men and devas” because men and devas are two-footed).  Take refuge in orthodoxy, which is most useful in getting rid of desire.  Take refuge in purity, which is the noblest quality among mankind.  From now on, be a disciple of enlightenment, and don’t take refuge in the heretical paths any more.  Instead, constantly ascertain yourselves with the three gems of self-nature.  I exhort you, Learned Audience, to take refuge in the three gems of self-nature: the Buddha, which stands for enlightenment, the Dharma, which stands for orthodoxy, and the Sangha, which stands for purity.

“With our own mind taking refuge in enlightenment, it won’t generate wickedness and delusion.  We’ll be content, and have little desire, and so can stay away from wealth and lust.  This is called the most-honored among men and devas.

“With our own mind taking refuge in orthodoxy, it won’t have any wrong views in all its thoughts.  Without wrong views, there will be no egotism, arrogance, greed or attachment.  This is called the most useful in getting rid of desire.

“With our own mind taking refuge in purity, it will naturally be immune from all wearisome sense-objects, craving and desire.  This is called the noblest quality among mankind.

“Only by cultivating this practice is one taking refuge on one’s own.  Ordinary people take the Precept of Triple Refuge from morning to night without understanding this.  When they say ‘take refuge in the Buddha’, do they know where the Buddha is?  If they don’t see the Buddha, how can they take refuge in him?  In that case what they say would become false words.

Learned Audience, let’s each examine this for ourselves and not make it wrong.  The sutras clearly say that one should take refuge in the Buddha within oneself.  They do not say take refuge in some other buddha.  There’s nowhere to rely on if one doesn’t take refuge in the Buddha within oneself.  Now that you’re self-enlightened, each of you should take refuge in the three gems within your own mind, which means regulating your mind and nature from within, and respecting others from without.

“Learned Audience, now that we have taken refuge in the three gems within us, let each of us focus our mind, and I’ll explain to you what is meant by the “Three-kaya body of the Buddha of self-nature”, so as to enable you to see the three bodies of the Buddha and understand what self-enlightenment and self-nature are.  Now everyone please say after me, ‘With my physical body, I take refuge in the clear and pure dharmakāya Buddha; with my physical body, I take refuge in the perfect and complete sambhogakāya Buddha; with my physical body, I take refuge in the billions of nirmānakāya buddhas.’

“Learned Audience, our physical body is just a house for abode, and there is no way that we can take refuge in it.  Universal to everyone in the world, the trikaya buddhas have always been within our self-nature.  It is only because when our mind becomes deluded we do not see our inner nature, and we seek the trikaya Tathāgata from without instead of seeing it from within.  Please listen to what I’ll be saying, which will enable you to see that within your self-nature there are the trikaya buddhas.  These trikaya buddhas are generated from self-nature, not attained from the external.

“What is clear and pure dharmakāya buddha?  Originally, people’s nature is clear and pure, and the myriad of dharmas are generated from the self-nature.  Evil deeds are generated when one thinks of all the evil things, and good deeds are generated when one thinks of all the good things.  In this sense, in self-nature, the myriad of dharmas are constantly as clear and pure as the sky, and as bright as the Sun and the Moon, only that they are covered by floating clouds, thus resulting in a situation in which the sky is bright on its upper part and dark on its lower part.  When suddenly there is wind and the clouds get blown away, then both the lower and the upper parts of the sky become bright, and everything manifests itself.  People’s nature floats and wanders constantly, like clouds in the sky.  Learned Audience, understanding is like the Sun, and wisdom is like the Moon.  Understanding and wisdom are always bright, but they lose their brightness when we become attached externally to sensory realms, and our self nature becomes covered by the floating clouds of wrong thoughts.  When we see a spiritual master and hear the true Dharma from him, and subsequently eradicate our delusion and falsity within ourselves and become clear both within and without, then the myriad dharmas within our self-nature will manifest.  The same occurs to those who see the nature.  This is called the clear and pure dharmakāya buddha.

“Learned Audience, taking refuge in the true buddha occurs when we take refuge in our self-nature from within.  Taking refuge from within means eradicating states of mind such as wickedness, jealousy, flattering, selfishness, deceit, falsehood, snobbishness, arrogance, pride and all unwholesome deeds that exist in our self-nature.  Taking refuge means to be constantly aware of our faults, and never speak of other people’s good or bad points.  We should be constantly humble and respectful to everyone, in which case we will see the nature penetratingly without any hindrance.

“What is perfect and complete sambhogakāya?  While a single lamp can end darkness that has been there for a long, long time, a moment of wisdom can eliminate foolishness that has existed for even a longer time.  Let’s not think back, as all that has happened cannot be reverted.  By constantly thinking ahead and maintaining all our thoughts perfect and clear, we’ll naturally see our self-nature.  While good and evil are different, there is no duality in our root nature.  Non-dualistic nature is called solid nature, which, unstained with good or evil, is the perfect and complete sambhogakāya.  When a single thought of evil arises in our self-nature, numerous kalpas of good causes get eradicated.  When a single thought of goodness arises in our self-nature, sins as plenty as sands of the Ganges River get eliminated and supreme bodhi is attained.  Sambhogakāya is when we see our self without losing the fundamental thought.

“What are the billions of nirmānakāya?  Our nature remains void as long as we dwell no thought on the dharmas.  Once we do so, transformation takes place. When we dwell our mind on evil things, hell arises.  When we dwell our mind on good things, heaven arises.  Dragons and snakes are transformation of venomous hatred, and bodhisattvas are personifications of compassion.  Wisdom crystallizes into the upper realms, and foolishness brings about the lower realms.  Self-nature can have numerous transformations, and yet the deluded fail to realize this.  Their thoughts keep activating wickedness and they acts keep doing evil.  Despite so, as soon as a thought of goodness arises in them, wisdom is generated.  This is called the nirmānakāya buddha of the self-nature.

“Learned Audience, the dharmakāya is intrinsically within us.  We are the sambhogakāya buddha if we see our own self-nature in every moment of thought.  And by dwelling our mind on the sambhogakāya, the nirmānakāya Buddha arises.  Genuine refuge-taking occurs when we attain enlightenment on our own and practice the merits of self-nature.  Our skin and flesh constitute the physical body, which is merely a house for abode, and there is no way that we can take refuge in it.  But we get to know the Buddha of self-nature as soon as we understand the three bodies of the self-nature.  Here I have a formless verse.  If you can recite and practice it, the delusions and sins that you have accumulated over millions of kalpas will be eradicated at once.  The verse goes:

“‘Deluded people accumulate merits but do not practice the Path, Saying that merit-accumulating is the Path; While alms giving and offering bring about infinite merits, the ultimate source of sins is the three poisons within our mind.

‘They want to eradicate their sins through accumulating merits, Yet the sins will still be there in future lives despite obtaining merits; Why not eradicate the cause of sins within the mind, by really repenting and having remorse within the self-nature?

‘He who suddenly realizes the Mahayana teaching and truly repents, Become sinless immediately when removing wickedness and doing the right things; He who studies the Path constantly contemplates on his self-nature, Will immediately be in the same group as various buddhas.

‘Our patriarchs have transmitted only this sudden teaching, May all of you see the one-ness of the nature; If you came to seek the dharmakāya, Transcend and wash away the characteristics of the dharmas within your mind.

‘Work hard to see the nature yourselves and relax not, And bear in mind that death may come to put an abrupt end to life; He who desires to understand the Mahayana teaching and to see the nature, Should reverently hold his palms together and earnestly seek so.’”

The master then concluded, “Learned Audience, take this verse away, recite it and practice in accordance with it.  If you see the nature through hearing these words, then it’ll be like you’re beside me all the time even though you are far away from me.  If you do not become enlightened through these words, then it’ll be like we’re miles apart even if we are physically face to face, and in that case, why bother to come from afar?  Now take care, and goodbye.”

After hearing the teaching, everyone became enlightened and joyfully undertook the practice.

Chinese original of this Chapter: