(Blogger’s note: Among Buddhist scriptures originally written in the Chinese language, the Platform Sutra no doubt enjoys especially high regard among the Chinese for various reasons.  The blogger likes reading it for its succinctness in expounding some of the very profound Buddhist concepts, and for its practicality for laymen as well as members of the Buddhist sangha with respect to putting such concepts into practice.  Nowadays, readers of its Chinese original have easy access to quite a number of versions of it in form of either hard copies or texts on the Internet.  There are also a few versions of its English translations, but they do not appear to be really good translations both languagewise and contentwise speaking.  Therefore, the blogger has chosen to translate into English a few chapters that he particularly enjoys reading based on his understanding of the Chinese original, so that those who are interested in knowing what the Platform Sutra is about yet cannot read Chinese and who happen to be visitors of this blog find one more channel to encounter the thoughts of Hui Neng via reading the blogger’s translation of the Platform Sutra.  This and probably the next few posts will be the English translation of selected chapters of the Platform Sutra.  This post does not pretend to be a commentary on the chapter being translated.  Readers are welcome to interpret what Hui Neng said on the basis of their own understanding of the text they are going to read.  For Chinese readers’ reference, the Chinese original based on which the translation was done is provided at the end of the English translation.  The punctuation marks in the Chinese text are provided by the blogger, based on his understanding of the text, which, taken from an Internet site, was originally punctuated with only full-stops at phrase boundaries as understood by the provider of the text, whose identity the blogger has had no time to find out.)

Chapter III.  Questions and Answers (Translated from Chinese original of 六祖壇經 by Justin Lam)

One day, Prefect Wei (Translator’s note: “Wei” is a Chinese surname.  “Prefect” is the title of a local official.) organised a vegetarian meal gathering for the Master.  When the meal was over, Prefect Wei requested the Master to mount the pulpit, and he, together with the officials, scholars, and commoners, bowed reverently to the Master again.

“I have heard the profound Dharma preaching of your Holiness.  Now there are a few doubts in me that I hope your Holiness would exercise your great compassion to clear them up for me.”  Prefect Wei asked the Master.

“Feel free to voice any doubts.  I’ll explain them to you,” the Master said.

“Isn’t what your Holiness preached also principles taught by Master Bodhidharma?”  Mr Wei said.

“Yes,” replied the Master.

“I’ve heard that when Bodhidharma first met the Wu Emperor of Liang, the Emperor asked him, ‘For all my life I’ve built temples, allowed new monks to be ordained, given alms, and organized meals for monks.  So what merits and virtues have I accumulated?’ and Bodhidharma replied, ‘No merit or virtue at all.’ I cannot understand the reason behind such an answer.  Hope that your Holiness could explain it for me.” said Prefect Wei.

“Indeed there was no merit or virtue,” replied the Master. “Don’t doubt the words of our late sage.  The Wu Emperor did not have a right mind, and did not understand the true Dharma.  Building temples, allowing new monks to be ordained, giving alms and organizing meals for monks should be seen as seeking good fortune, which cannot be taken for merits and virtues.  Merits and virtues are within the Dharmakaya and not in practicing for attaining good fortune.

“Realizing our true nature is gong (merit), and equality is de (virtue),” the Master continued.  “Merits and virtues are acquired when we constantly see our true nature with no impediment of thoughts and when our mind is in the true state that functions in a sublime manner.  It’s gong when we maintain a modest mind; it’s de when we behave in accordance with propriety.  It’s gong when our self-nature manifests all phenomena, and it’s de when the mind is free from idle thoughts.  It’s gong when one does not go astray from one’s true nature, and it’s de when the mind is not polluted when being used.  In seeking the Dharmakaya of merits and virtues, one will achieve genuine merits and virtues if one seeks it this way.  A person who practices to accumulate merits and virtues has a modest mind and treats others with respect on all occasions.  It’s no gong when one has the habit of looking down upon others and constantly adheres to the notion of self.  It’s no de when one’s true nature is false and illusory.  Learned audience!  It’s gong when our mental activity works without interruption, and it’s de when our mind functions in a straightforward manner.  It’s gong when we do our own practice with our true nature, and it’s de when we do our own practice with our body.  Learned Audience, merits and virtues are to be sought within our true nature, and not something to be sought from giving or almsgiving.  These are the differences between felicities and merits and virtues.  It’s the Wu Emperor who didn’t know the truth, not that our Patriarch was wrong.”

Prefect Wei then asked the next question, “I often see monks and laymen recite the name of Amitabha Buddha with the hope of being born in the West. (Translator’s note: The term “the West” in the English translation of Platform Sutra does not mean the Western world including Europe and America as it is used in the English language.  It is a literal translation of the phrase “西方”, which Prefect Wei refers to the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss, a Buddhaland under the governance of the Amitabha Buddha and located somewhere in the western direction.  It is generally taken by Buddhists, especially those of the Pure Land School of Mahayana Buddhism, as a place where one should strive to migrate to after death.  In the forthcoming translation, I will keep the literal translation “the West”.  Similarly, in Hui Neng’s response to this question, when the term “the East” appears, it refers to the secular world of all human beings, rather than the oriental portion of the world as the phrase is normally used in the English language.)  Will your Holiness please tell me whether it’s possible to be born there?  I hope you could clear up my doubts,” Prefect Wei asked again.

“Listen carefully to what I say to you, Sir,” the Master said.  “When the Buddha was in Savatthi, he once talked about how to get to the West.  The sutras state clearly that the West is not far from where we are.  The distance is about a hundred thousand and eighty li’s.  (Translators’ note: “li” is a Chinese unit of distance, equivalent to approximately half a kilometre.)  That’s meant for people who are tainted with the ten evils (Translators’ note: They are: killing, stealing, adultery, lying, double-tongue, coarse language, filthy language, covetousness, anger and perverted views) and the eight improper practices (Translator’s note: as opposed to the proper practices constituting the Noble Eightfold Path).  It’s far for some because they have inferior mental faculties, and near for some because they have superior wisdom.  While the Dharma is unique, there are two kinds of people, who differ in terms of how far they are deluded or enlightened.  The deluded people recite the name of the Buddha for the sake of being reborn in the West, while the enlightened ones works on purifying their own mind.  Hence the Buddha’s remark: When one’s mind is pure, his Buddhaland is pure too.

“Even though you live in the East, you are sinless as long as your mind is pure.  Yet even if you lived in the West, you are sinful if you have an impure mind.  If a person living in the East can, by reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha, still seek to be reborn in the West after committing sins, then where can a person living in the West, by doing so, seek to reborn in after committing sins?  The ordinary and ignorant people, unaware of the true nature nor the Pure Land within themselves, wish to be born in the East or the West, whereas to the enlightened ones, everywhere is the same.  That’s why the Buddha said that one should be constantly content and happy regardless of where one happens to be.  If your mind is free from evil, you’re not far from the West; if your mind is tainted with vice, it will be hard for you to be reborn in the West even if you recite the name of Amitabha Buddha.

“So now I’d like to urge you, my Learned Audience: first, do away with the ten evils, and you would have travelled towards the West for as far as a hundred thousand li’s.  Then, do away with the eight improper practices, and you would have moved another eight thousand miles li’s.  If you see true nature in every of your thoughts and constantly behave in a straightforward manner, you would reach the West and see the Amitabha Buddha in an instant.

“Well, if you do practise the ten good deeds, why would you need to be reborn in another place?  On the other hand, if you do not get rid of the ‘ten evils’ in your mind, which Buddha would come to accept you to the Pure Land?  If you understand the Non-arising Sudden-enlightenment doctrine, it would take you only an instant to see the West.  If you do not understand it and merely recite the name of Amitabha Buddha, it’ll just be too far for you to be there.”

“Now, if I were to move the West to here in an instant, so that you can see it right in front of you, would you be willing to see it?” the Master asked the crowd.

“If we could see the Pure Land here, why would we need to desire to be reborn there any more?  We hope that your Holiness would kindly show the West here so that everyone can see it,” replied the crowd in prostration.

“Everyone,” the Master said, “our physical body is a city.  Our eyes, ears, nose and tongue are the gates.  Externally, there are five gates.  Internally, there is the gate of consciousness.  The mind is the ground, and our true nature is the Lord.  The Lord dwells in the mind ground.  When the true nature is around, the Lord is around.  When the true nature is gone, there will no longer be the Lord.  Our body and our mind will exist as long as the true nature is there, and our body and mind will decay as soon as the true nature is gone.  We seek the attainment of Buddhahood by working within our true nature, not from anywhere external to our body.  A person with deluded true nature is an ordinary being.  A person with enlightened true nature is a buddha.  With loving-kindness and compassion, one becomes Avalokitesvara.  With sympathetic joy and equanimity, one becomes Mahāsthāmaprāpta.  Being pure is Sakyamuni, and being straightforward is Amitabha.  Distinction between others and self is like Mount Sumeru, whereas desires are like the ocean.  Klesas are like waves, and the poisons are like evil dragons.  Falsehood is like ghosts, and wearisome defilements are like creatures in the ocean.  Greed and hatred are like hell, and delusions are like beasts.

“Learned Audience, constantly practice the ten good deeds, and you’ll reach heaven.  Get rid of the distinction between others and self, and Mount Sumeru will collapse.  Discard desires, and the ocean will dry up.  Eliminate klesas, and waves will disappear.  Eradicate poisons, and evil sea creatures will die out.

“If we resort to enlightening our true nature Tatagatha on the mind ground and enable it to shine brightly and illuminate externally the six gates with purity, it can destroy the heavens of the six desires.  When we reflect inwards with our true nature, it eliminates the three poisons immediately.  All sins that would lead us to the hells will be eradicated in an instant, and we’ll be as enlightened within and without as we are in the West.  How would we reach there if we do not practice this way?”

The crowd, after hearing what the Master had said, each saw his true nature clearly.  They all made obeisance to him and expressed their praise by chanting, “May all sentient beings of this phenomena world who have heard this sermon understand it right away.”

“Learned Audience,” the Master said, “those who wish to practice the Dharma may also do so at home.  It isn’t necessary for them to stay in monasteries.  Those who practice at home are like natives of the East with a kind heart, and those who do not practice despite being in monasteries are like native of the West with a wicked mind.  A person with a pure and clean mind means one whose true nature is that of the West”.

Prefect Wei asked again, “How should we practice at home?  Will you please teach us?”

 “I will offer you a ‘formless’ gatha,”  the Master replied.  “If you follow it in your practice, you will always be in the same place as me.  If you do not follow it in your practice, how will it benefit you in your path even if you have left home with your hair cut?  The verse reads:

If one maintains a fair mind, observation of precepts becomes a non-issue; if one behaves in a straightforward manner, there is no need to practice Dhyana.
Feeling grateful, one will serve one’s parents filially; feeling the need to uphold righteousness, the senior and the junior will care about each other.
Willing to yield brings about harmony among the superior and the inferior; willing to tolerate ensures absence of argument in the midst of hostility.
If a flame can be made by persistently drilling a log, then red lotus will come out from sludge.
That which has a bitter taste must be is good medicine; that which sounds unpleasant to hear is definitely loyal advice.
By rectifying mistakes, we will grow wise; by defending faults, we have an unvirtuous mind.
It’s good we practice altruism in daily life, but achieving buddhahood is not by giving away money as charity.
Seek bodhi within our own mind, and why take the trouble of looking for the profundity from without?
Practice according to this after hearing, and the West will be right in front of you.

 “Learned Audience,” the Master added, “to realize our true nature and attain buddhahood directly, we must constantly practice according to this gatha.   Time does not wait for anyone.  Let’s dismiss now, and I’m going back to Cao Xi.  If you have any questions, go there to ask me.”

At that juncture Prefect Wei, the government officials and the followers at the assembly all attained their own enlightenment, with a determination to faithfully accept the teaching and put it into practice.

Chinese original of this Chapter: