(Blogger’s note: Please see “Blogger’s note” on my post dated 4 January.)

Chapter II.  On Prajna

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

On the next day, Prefect Wei requested the Master to give a Dharma lecture so as to benefit the crowd.  In response, the Master mounted the pulpit and told crowd, “Let’s all purify our minds and concentrate on mahāprajnāpāramitā (the Great Perfection of Wisdom).

Then the Master said again, “Learned Audience, everyone in the world already has this wisdom of bodhi prajnā.  It is just because their minds are deluded that they cannot attain enlightenment on their own, and have to rely on great spiritual teachers to show and guide them in order to see the nature.  You should know that the Buddha nature of the foolish and that of the wise are originally of no difference.  It’s just that people’s extent of being deluded varies, and so some become foolish and some become wise.  “Now I’ll explain to you the teaching of mahāprajnāpāramitā, so that you will all attain wisdom.  Listen well to what I’ll be saying to you.

“Learned Audience, people of this world keep reciting prajnā, and yet they don’t understand the prajnā of self-nature.  This is like talking about eating without satisfying hunger.  Ultimately there won’t be any benefit if one merely talks about emptiness and yet never manages to see the nature.

“Learned Audience, ‘mahāprajnāpāramitā’ is a Sanskrit word, which means ‘the great wisdom that ferries to the other shore.’  This requires to be done mentally, not by reciting it orally.  It would be as illusive as dew or lightning if one merely recites it orally without practicing it in the mind.  The mind and the mouth will correspond when one practices it mentally as well as reciting it orally.  The root nature is buddha.  There is no other buddha apart from this nature.

“What is ‘mahā’?  Mahā means ‘great.’  Our mind’s scope of activities is as vast as the boundless space, to which concepts such as shapes, sizes, colours, directions, lengths, emotions, moral judgements, values and forms are all irrelevant.  And all the buddhalands are identical to space.  People’s wondrous nature is originally empty, unattainable by any dharma.  So is emptiness of the self-nature.

“Learned Audience, don’t get attached to emptiness as soon as hearing me talk about emptiness.  It’s most important not to become attached to emptiness.  If you empty your mind and sit in quietude, you’ll become attached to neutral emptiness.

“Learned Audience, space can embrace within itself the forms and images of all things.  Celestial bodies, forms of landscape, springs and streams, vegetations and forests, bad people and good people, bad dharmas and good dharmas, heavens, hells, oceans, mountains: all of these are in space.  So is the emptiness of the nature of all people.

“Learned Audience, as self-nature can embody all dharmas, it is big.  And all dharmas are embodied in all people’s nature.  It’s like the mind, when seeing all people’s “goodness and badness”, remains like space, without grasping and rejecting, nor becoming tainted or attached”: this is called ‘big’, and is, therefore, called ‘mahā.’

“Learned Audience, a deluded person only talks, but a person with wisdom practices with his mind.  Some deluded persons may claim themselves to be big by emptying their mind, sitting in quietude, and not thinking of anything.  Given such false understanding, there is no point in talking to such kind of people.

“Learned Audience, our mind’s scope of activities is as vast as permeating all dharmadhātus, functioning to make clear distinctions and understanding of all things.  It is prajna when the mind sees all as one and one as all, and can operate freely without obstruction.

“Learned Audience, don’t make it wrong: all prajnā wisdom comes from our self-nature, not from anywhere external.  This is called ‘self-functioning of the true nature’.  When one is true, all are true.  Our minds work on big things, not in a trivial manner.  Don’t just talk about emptiness all day and yet never practice it in your minds.  This would be like an ordinary person who claims to be king.  That’s never going to happen, and such a person can’t be a disciple of mine.

“Learned Audience, what is prajnā?  Prajnā in Chinese is ‘zhihui‘ (智慧: wisdom).  By prajna practice, it means keep practicing wisdom in all places, at all times, and in all moments of thought, without being foolishA moment of foolishness means the cessation of prajnā, and a moment of wisdom means the generation of prajnā.  Due to their foolishness and delusion, people do not see prajnā.  Their mouths keep speaking of prajnā, but their minds are always foolish.  They keep saying that they cultivate prajnā, and while they speak of emptiness every moment, they do not know what is true emptiness.  Prajnā is without shape or characteristics.  It is the mind of wisdom.  With such an understanding is with the wisdom of prajnā.

“What is ‘pāramitā’?  It is a foreign word.  In Chinese, it is ‘dao bi an‘ (到彼岸: arriving at the other shore), meaning transcending samsara.  Samara arises as a result of attachment to one’s sensory realms, like waves arising from water, and it is called ‘this shore’.  Samsara won’t work if the water keeps running, and it be called the ‘other shore’.  Therefore, it is said to be ‘pāramitā.’

“Learned Audience, when the deluded recite prajnā with their mouth, they do so with falsity and error.  True nature is practicing prajnā in every moment of thought.  Being enlightened to this Dharma constitutes the Dharma of prajnā, and cultivating this practice constitutes the practice of prajnā.  If you don’t cultivate this, you are an ordinary person.  At any moment when you cultivate this, you are equivalent to the Buddha at that moment.

“Learned Audience, ordinary people can be buddhas, and defilements can be bodhi. At a preceding moment, you are an ordinary person if your thoughts are deluded; at a later moment, you are a buddha if your thoughts are enlightened.  At a preceding moment, you experience defilements if you are attached to your sensory realms; at a later moment, you experience bodhi if you transcend your sensory realms.

“Learned Audience, ‘mahāprajnāpāramitā’ is the most honored, the supreme, and the primary.  It is non-abiding, non-going, and non-coming, from which all buddhas of the three periods of time emerge.  One should use great wisdom to destroy the defilements and afflictions of the five skandhas.  Those who cultivate in this way will definitely attain buddhahood and transform the three poisons into morality, meditation, and wisdom.

“Learned Audience, in this teaching of mine, one prajnā gives rise to eighty-four thousand wisdomsWhy so?  Because we have eighty-four thousand afflictions.  Once our afflictions are removed, our wisdom, without departing from our self-nature, would constantly manifest itself.  Being enlightened to this Dharma means being without thought, without recollection, without attachment, not activating the false and deceptive, contemplating all dharmas with wisdom and self-suchness nature and at the same time without grasping or rejecting.  This is seeing the nature and attaining buddhahood.

“Learned Audience, if we wish to enter into the profound dharmadhātu and the samādhi of prajnā, we must cultivate the practice of prajnā.  If we recite the Diamond Sutra, we will see our nature.  We should know that the merits of this sutra are immeasurable and unlimited.  I can’t explain that fully here, but they are clearly praised in the sutra.  This teaching is the Supreme Vehicle, which is preached to those with great wisdom and superior mental faculties.  Doubts will generate within those with inferior mental faculties and small wisdom when they hear it.  Why?  Because it is like rain generated by the sky dragon pouring down onto Jambudvīpa, where all the cities, towns, and villages are washed away like floating leaves.  But if the rain falls on the ocean, the ocean would neither increase nor decrease.  Similarly, people of the Mahayana and Supreme Vehicles will have their mind open, enlightened, and doubts-removed upon hearing the Diamond Sutra.  That’s because there is the wisdom of prajnā in our root nature itself, and such people constantly contemplate with wisdom, without relying on the written word.  It’s like rainwater, which does not derive from heaven but instead is engendered by the dragon, and it enriches all living sentient beings and plants, i.e. all those with or without sentience.  It’s also like hundreds of streams flowing into the ocean and becoming one.  The wisdom of prajnā, which is the root nature of sentient beings, is also like this.

“Learned Audience, what’s it like when those with inferior mental faculties hear this teaching of sudden enlightenment?  Let’s take plants for example.  Those plants that have shallow roots will all collapse and can’t grow when they are beset by heavy rain.  Similarly, people with inferior mental faculties are also like this.  Why don’t they become enlightened upon hearing the Dharma, despite the fact that they originally possess the wisdom of prajnā exactly like those with superior mental faculties?  The reason is that they are so blocked by false views and so affected by defilements that it’s like large clouds blocking the sun, and unless a wind blows them away, there won’t be any sunshine.  Yet the wisdom of prajnā in all sentient beings does not differ in size.  What differs is the extent of delusion and enlightenment in their own minds.  There are people who are unenlightened to their self-nature and who, with a deluded mind, cultivate and seek the buddha from without.  These are those with inferior mental faculties.  If one understands the teaching of sudden enlightenment and doesn’t stick to cultivating from without but instead constantly activates correct views from within one’s own mind so that it’s never stained with defilements and afflictions, then that’s seeing the nature.

 “Learned Audience, our mind should abide neither within nor without and instead be free in its movements without obstructions and rid of attachment.  If we can cultivate this practice, then we are no different from practicing the Prajnā Sutra.

“Learned Audience, all sutras, their words, Mahayana, Hinayana, and the twelve divisions of the canon are there because of people, and they could not have been established if not for the wisdom nature.  Without people of the world, all dharmas would have been nonexistent in the first place.  Therefore, we know that all dharmas originally came about from people.  All sutras and texts exist because they are preached by people.  Among them, there are the foolish ones and the wise ones.  The foolish ones make up the unimportant persons, while the wise ones make up those of importance.  The foolish seek answers from the wise, and the wise preach the Dharma to the foolish.  Once a foolish person suddenly becomes enlightened, he is no different from a wise person.

“Learned Audience, when we are unenlightened, we see all buddhas as sentient beings, and when we are enlightened, even just for a single moment, we see sentient beings as buddhas.  Yet while we know that all dharmas are within our own mind, why can’t we right away see the root nature of suchness from within our own minds?  The Sutra of the Bodhisattva Precepts says, ‘Within the self, its nature is originally clear and pure.  As soon as we can see our nature with our own mind, we will all attain buddhahood’.  And the Vimalakīrti Sutra says, ‘He suddenly attained realization and retrieved his root mind’.

“Learned Audience, when I was at Venerable Hongren’s place, once when I heard him speak I became enlightened and saw the root nature of suchness right away.  Therefore, I’m now disseminating this teaching so that all path-seekers may become suddenly enlightened with bodhi and see their root nature themselves by contemplating their mind.  Anyone who doesn’t become enlightened by himself would then need to seek a great spiritual master who understands the Dharma of the Supreme Vehicle to show him directly the right path, because the guidance, so to speak, of the spiritual master, with all his great background, will enable the unenlightened to see the nature, as all good dharmas get activated by great spiritual masters.  All buddhas of the three periods of time and the twelve divisions of the canon are originally immanent within the nature of people, but if we cannot become enlightened on our own, we must seek help from a spiritual master in order to see it. On the other hand, anyone who can become enlightened on his own would not need any external help, and there won’t be any benefit if he insists on getting help from a spiritual master.  Why so?  Because his mind is capable of attaining enlightenment on its own.  If false and deluded thoughts arise in our mind, then we won’t be saved even if there is guidance from some external spiritual master.  If correct and true contemplation with prajnā arise in our mind, then in a single instant our deluded thoughts will all cease.  If we recognize our self-nature, we will attain buddhahood with a single experience of enlightenment.

“Learned Audience, if we can contemplate with wisdom thoroughly within and without, then our consciousness will originate from our own mind.  If our consciousness can originate from our own mind, then we will attain our own liberation.  If we attain liberation, then that means attaining the samādhi of prajnā, which means ‘no-thought’.  What is ‘no-thought’?  ‘No-thought’ means that the mind doesn’t get stained or attached when seeing all dharmas, regardless of where it applies itself to.  So, the samādhi of prajnā and autonomous liberation, namely, the practice of ‘No-thought’, is simply purifying our own mind to enable our six consciousnesses to emerge from our six sensory gates without staining or complicating the six gunas (translator’s note: qualities produced by the objects and organs of sense) and to arise and cease freely without impediment.  If, for the sake of eradicating any thoughts, we do not think of anything, we fall into an extreme view, and this is bondage within the Dharma.  Learned Audience, those who are enlightened to the teaching of no-thought understand all teachings; those who are enlightened to the teaching of no-thought see the realms of all buddhas; and those who are enlightened to the teaching of no-thought attains the stage of buddhahood.

“Learned Audience, anyone in our future generations who attains this teaching of mine will become a sage without regressing if he introduces this teaching of sudden enlightenment to those sharing with him the same views and same practice, and if he vows to uphold this teaching and to serve the Buddha as always.  But such a person must transmit what has been silently transmitted to him from his master, and must not obscure the true Dharma.  He must not transmit the teaching to those who do not share with him the same views and the same practice, so as not to do disservice to his predecessors, as this would be ultimately of no benefit to everyone.  I said so out of the fear that foolish people may, out of misunderstanding, revile this teaching and thus severe their own seeds of buddhahood for as long as a hundred kalpas and a thousand lives.

“Learned Audience, I have here a formless verse for you.  Each of you, whether you’re a laity or a monk, should listen carefully and practice in accordance with it.  You won’t benefit from my words if you merely remember them and yet don’t practice them on your own.  Now listen to my verse:

Penetrating expositions and intuitive knowledge of the minds
Are like the sun located in space.
I transmit only the nature-seeing Dharma,
which emerges in the world to destroy false teachings.

The Dharma is not divided into sudden or gradual,
But people are divided into those who are quick or slow in attaining enlightenment or remaining deluded;
It is only this nature-seeing teaching
That foolish people cannot comprehend.

Although there are myriads of teachings,
Eventually the reasonable one all revert to one;
Within the dark house of defilements,
The sun of wisdom is constantly needed.

While false views bring about defilements,
Right views eliminate them;
With neither false nor right views in operation,
The mind attains purity and eventually nirvana.

Bodhi is what originally our self-nature is,
Which becomes deluded when the mind is aroused;
Even though it may be amongst delusion, a pure mind
Would be just right and free from the three hindrances.

If people of this world cultivate the Way,
Nothing will hinder their practice;
Constantly seeing one’s own faults,
Corresponds well to the Way.

Forms of various categories have their own ways,
Which do not hinder or afflict each other;
If one deviates from the Way when seeking the Way,
One will never see the Way.

If one passes one’s life running hither and thither,
In the end one will be annoyed with oneself;
People desire to see the true Way,
Yet acting correct is the Way.

A person without aspiration for the Way,
Will practice in the dark and never see the Way;
If one is a to be a true cultivator of the Way,
One will not see the transgressions of the world.

In seeing other people’s faults,
We ourselves then commit a fault;
In considering others but not ourselves in fault,
Ourselves are automatically in fault.

As long as we eliminate any inclination to see faults,
Defilements will then be smashed, removed and destroyed;
With neither hatred nor graving bothering our mind,
We can rest in peace with both legs stretch out.

If we intend to convert others,
We need to have our expedient means;
By not arousing doubts in them,
Self-nature will then manifest.

The Dharma is in this world,
Thus enlightenment cannot be attained away from the world;
To seek bodhi elsewhere away from the world,
Is like searching for the horn of a rabbit.

The so-called “correct view” calls for withdrawal from the world,
Seeing those choosing to remain in the world false views;
Only when both false and “correct” views are completely destroyed,
The nature will be like bodhi.

Sudden teaching this verse is,
So it is called the great Dharma ferry;
In delusion, one listens to the sutras for kalpas,
To attain enlightenment it takes merely an instant.’”

The Master also said, “Now at this Dafan Monastery I have spoken on this teaching of sudden enlightenmet.  I hope that all sentient beings throughout the dharmadhātu will, upon hearing my words, see the nature and attain buddhahood.”

Upon hearing what the Master said, Prefect Wei and everyone else all experienced enlightenment.  Together they bowed and praised, “How wonderful!  None would have anticipated that a buddha would appear in the southern part of China!”

Chinese original of this Chapter:







「善知識!世界虛空,能含萬物色像。日月星宿,山河大地,泉源谿澗,草木叢林,惡人善人,惡法善法,天堂 地獄,一切大海,須彌諸山,總在空中。世人性空亦復如是。