the sixth patriarch's
dharma jewel platform sutra
with the commentary of
tripitaka master hua
the sino-american buddhist association
the buddhist text translation society
translated from chinese by
the buddhist text translation society
primary translation: bhikshuni heng yin
reviewed by: bhikshuni hen ch'ih
edited by: upasaka kuo chuo rounds
certified by: the venerable master hua
copyright ? 1977 by the sino-american buddhist assn., buddhist text translation society
all rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or transmit it in any form or by any means mechanical or electronic, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
printed in the united states of america
first edition (hong kong) 1971
second edition (usa) 1977
for information address:
sino-american buddhist association
gold mountain monastery
1731 15the street
san francisco, california 94103
layout and cover: bhikshuni heng-ch'ih, shramanerika heng-chai.
typing: up. kuo chih.
proofreaders and editorial assistance: bhikshuni heng-hsien, shramanerikas
heng-cheih & heng ming.
masters photo: up. kuo ying brevoort.
index: bhikshuni heng-ch'ih.
the sixth patriarch's dharma jewel platform sutra is the fundamental text of ch'an buddhism. it relates the life and teachings of master hui neng, the great master the sixth patriarch, as set down by one of his disciples. during the seventh and eighth centuries under the t'ang dynasty, master hui neng taught the doctrines of no thought and sudden elightenment, which, as expounded in this text, continue to be the heart of ch'an wherever it is practiced. as such, these are the only teachings of a chines high monk which are regarded by buddhists as a sutra, that is, as a sacred text equal to those compiled by the earlier south asian masters.
interest in buddhism in general and in ch'an particular is now swiftly growing in the west, especially in america. translations and re-translations of many of the central buddhist texts have been appearing in consequence. a good deal of confusion has been an unfortunate by-product. because ch'an is so foreign to traditional western thought, the renderings of ch'an teachings into a western language requires, even in the most literal translation, the virtual invention of a new vocabulary of concepts; and each new translation has tended to present a distinctly different rendition of the central buddhist ideas. to elucidate them, commentaries are often added by the translators.
but all of these translations and commentaries have been written by scholars who are not buddhists. while that kind of non-membership is hardly important to a translator of ordinary philosophical writings, it becomes a severe stumbling-block for the translator of ch'an teachings. for ch'an is not a system of thought at all, but a special kind of moral and psychological work, aimed at a particular personal transformation which the buddhists call enlightenment. only one who through difficult practice has undergone that transformation can hope to teach ch'an authoritatively and translate and comment on the sayings of the other masters without having to resort to guesswork about what the sayings mean.
fortunately for the students of the way, an effort to establish an authoritative buddhist canon in english has been now taken by tripitaka master hsuan hua and his american disciples.
master hua stands in the direct line of orthodox buddhist leadership as it has been handed down from the time of shakyamuni buddha.
the present translation of the sixth patriarch's sutra, here present in its second edition, was the first work of master hua to appear in america ( the first edition appeared in 1971 ). the translation itself was carried out under the master's supervision by the buddhist text translation society, composed of the master's disciples, who scholars both of chinese and buddhism. with his western readers in mind, the master has provided a running commentary to the sutra text. the commentary was first spoken in a series of lectures in 1969. the master's sure and witty manner of making the most difficult concepts plain, already well known to the buddhists on both sides of the pacific, has been rendered in english by his disciples with an eye to retaining the lively spoken style of the original.
in his commentary, master hua's method is to read a few lines from the sutra text and then expound upon their meaning or expand the doctorines in question, often by reference to contemporary american problems. this style of exposition follows the tradition of lecturing sutras that has existed in china for many centuries. until the appearance of this volume in it's first edition, there had been in the west little or no record or even description of the verbal teachings of buddhism. the present volume serves as a rare example of buddhism in action, as it has survived intact through the centuries.
upasaka kuo chou rounds
buddhist text translation society
san francisco, 1977.
biography of the venerable master
discovering and perfecting the method to extricate living beings from the most fundamental problem of human existence--that of birth and death--has been the primary focus of the venerable master hsuan hua's life.
on the sixteenth day of the third lunar month in 1908, his mother saw amitaba buddha emitting a light which illumined the entire world, when she awoke from this dream she gave birth to the venerable master. a rare fragrance lingered in the room following her dream and throughout the birth.
the master's awareness of death came at eleven years old when he saw a lifeless infant. the realization that death and birth followed upon on another without cease and both bring suffering, pain and sorrow, awakened a profound sense of compassion and prompted his immediate resolution to leave home life and learn to bring an end to the cycle of birth and death. he honored his mother's wishes that he remained at home to serve his parents until their deaths, however.
the following year on kuan yin bodhisattva's birthday, he dreamed that an old woman wearing a patchwork robe and a string of beads appeared to guide him through a wilderness in which he was lost. she radiated compassion as she led him over the road which was gutted with deep and dangerous holes. he knew that if he had tried to traverse the road alone it would have been difficult if not impossible to reach safety, but as she guided him, the road became smooth and safe and he could see clearly in all directions. ahead was his home. glancing back on the dangerous road, he saw many people following him--old and young, men and women, sangha and scholars. "who are these people?" he asked, "where did they come from and where are they going?"
"they have affinities with you," she said, "and they also want to go home. you must show them the way so that you may all arrive at nirvana. i have important work to do elsewhere, and so i shall leave you now, but soon we shall meet again."
the master asked her name and where she lived. "you will find out when you arrive home," she said. "there's no need to ask so many questions." suddenly she whirled around and disappeared. the master led the people safely home and woke from his dream feeling extremely happy.
during that same year he began bowing to his parents three times each, in the morning and evening--twelve bows a day. then he thought "the world is bigger than just my father and mother," then he began to bow to the heavens, the earth, to the emperor, and to his teachers as well. he also bowed to his master, even though he had not yet met him. the master new that without the aid of a good knowing advisor, it is impossible to cultivate, and he felt he would meet his master soon. he also bowed to the buddhas, bodhisattvas, pratyeka buddhas, and arhats, and to all the good people in the world to thank them for all the good deed they had done; he bowed on behalf of the people they helped.
"evil people are to be pitied," he thought, and he bowed for them, asking that their karmis offenses might be lessened and that they might learn to repent and reform. when doing this, he thought of himself as the very worst offender. each day he thought of new people to bow for and soon he was bowing 837 times in the morning and 837 times in the evening, which took about three hours a day in all.
the master didn't let others see him bow. he rose at four in the morning, washed his face, went outside, lit a sick of incense, and bowed, regardless of the weather. if there was snow on the ground, he would just bow in the snow. in the evening, long after everyone was asleep, he went outside and bowed again. he practiced this way every day for six years. during these years his filial devotion became known far and wide and he was referred to as "filial son pai." nor did his filial devotion end at the death of his parents. on the day his mother was buried, he remained behind after the ceremonies were completed to begin a three-year vigil beside her grave. shortly after, he left his mother's grave long enough to go to three conditions temple;e at p'ing fang station south of harbin to receive the shramanera precepts from great master ch'an chih. he then returned to his mother's grave and built a five by eight hut out of five inch sorghum stalks which kept out the wind and rain but actually set up a little distinction between inside and outside. he commenced to observe the custom of filial piety for watching over his mother's grave for a period of three years. clothed only in a rag robe, he endured the bitter manchurian snow and blazing summer sun. he only ate one meal a day, when there was food, and he simply did not eat if food was not offered to him. he never lay down to sleep.
at the side of the grave, the master read many sutras. when he first read the lotus sutra, he jumped for joy. he knelt and recited it for seven days and seven nights, forgetting to sleep, forgetting to eat, until eventually blood flowed from his eyes and his vision dimmed. then he read the shurangama sutra, thoroughly investigating the great samadhi and quietly cultivating it: the three stoppings, the three contemplations, neither moving nor still. the master relates of this experience:
"i began to obtain single-minded profound stillness, and penetrate the noumenal state. when i read the avatamsaka, the enlightenment became boundless in its scope, indescribable in its magnificence, unsurpassed in its loftiness, and ineffable in its clarity. national master ch'ing liang said,
opening and disclosing
the mysterious and subtle,
understanding and expanding the mind
and its states,
exhausting the principle
while fathoming its nature,
penetrating the result
which includes the cause,
deep and wide,
vast and great
and totally complete.
"it is certainly so! it is certainly so! at that time i could not put down the text, and bowed to and recited the great sutra as if it were clothing from which one must not part or food which one could not do without for even a day. and i vowed to myself to see to its vast circulation."
when his filial duties were completed, the master went into seclusion in amitaba cave in the mountains east of his home town. there he delved deeply into dhyana meditation practiced rigorous asceticism, eating only pine nut and drinking only spring water. the area abound with wild beasts, but they never disturbed the master. in fact wolves and bears behaved like house pets, tigers stopped to listen to his teachings, and wild birds gathered to hear the wonderful dharma.
after his stay in the mountains, the master returned to three conditions monastery where he helped the venerable master ch'ang-chih and the venerable master ch'ang-jen to greatly expand the monastery, while simultaneously devoting his time to the propagation of the dharma.
for more than three decades in manchuria, the master adhered strictly to ascetic cultivation, diligently practiced dhyana meditation, and worked tirelessly for the expansion and propagation of the dharma. during those years, he visited many of the local monasteries, attended extensive meditation and recitation sessions, and walk ed many miles to listen to lectures on the sutras, in addition to lecturing on the sutras himself. he also visited various non-buddhist establishments and obtained a thorough grounding in the range of their specific beliefs.
in 1946 the master made a major pilgrimage which took him to p'u t'o mountain to receive the complete precepts in 1947. then in 1948, after three thousand miles of travel, the master went to nan-hua monastery and bowed before the venerable master hsu-yun, the 44th patriarch of shakyamuni buddha. at that first meeting the venerable master hsu-yun, who was then 109 years old, recognized the master to be a vessel worthy of the dharma and capable of its propagation. he sealed and certified the master's spiritual skill and transmitted to him the wonderful mind-to-mind seal of all buddhas. thus the master became the 45th generation in a line descending from shakyamuni buddha, the nineteenth generation in china for bodhidharma, and the ninth generation of the wei-yang lineage. of their meeting the master has written:
the noble yun saw me and said, "thus it is."
i saw the noble yun and verified, "thus it is."
the noble yun and i, both thus,
universally vow that all beings will also be thus."
the mind-to-mind transmission is preformed apart from the appearance of the spoken word, apart from the mark of the written word, apart from the characteristic of the conditioned mind--apart from all such differences. only sages who have genuine realization understand it; ordinary people have no idea what is happening. it is a mutual recognition of the embodiment of the principle of true suchness.
nearly eight years later, in may of 1956, the venerable master yun sent to the master a document entitled "the treasury of the orthodox dharma eye: the source of buddhas and patriarchs." the document bears the seals of yun-chu monastery and of the venerable master yun. it serves as tangible and public certification of the transmission of the mind-to-mind seal from the venerable yun to the master, which took place during their initial meeting in 1948.
in 1950 the master resigned his post at nan hua monastery as the director of the nan hua institute for the study of the vinaya, and journeyed to hong kong where he lived in a mountainside cave in the mew territories. he stayed in the cave until a large influx of sangha members fleeing the mainland required his help in establishing new monasteries and temples throughout hong kong. he personally established two temples and a lecture hall and helped to bring about the construction of many others. he dwelt in hong kong for twelve years, during which many people were influenced by his arduous cultivation and awesome manner to take refuge with the triple jewel, cultivating the dharma-door of recitation of the buddha's name, and to support the propagation of the buddhadharma.
in 1962 the master carried the buddha's dharma banner farther west to the shores of america where he took up residence in san francisco, sat in meditation, and waited for past causes to ripen and bear their fruit. in the beginning of the year in 1968 the master declared the flower of buddhism would bloom that year in america with five petals; in the summer of that year the master conducted the shurangama sutra dharma assembly which lasted 96 days--five of the people who attended the session left the home-life and became bhikshus and bhikshunis under the master's guidance. since that time more than twenty people have left the home life under his guidance.
in 1968 the master has delivered complete commentaries on the heart sutra, the diamond sutra, the sixth patriarch's sutra, the amitaba sutra, the sutra of the past vows of earth store bodhisattva, the great compassion heart dharani sutra, the dharma flower sutra, the sutra in forty-two sections, the shramanera vinaya and others. in june of 1971 the master commenced a dharma assembly on the king of sutras, the avatamasaka. with such tireless vigor the master has firmly planted the roots of dharma in western soil so that it can become self perpetuating. he has spent many hours every day explaining the teachings and their applications to cultivation, steeping his disciples in the nectar of dharma that they might carry on the buddha's teachings.
the miraculous events that have taken place in the master's life are far too numerous to relate in this brief sketch. this is but a brief outline of how the master has worked with selfless devotion to lay the foundation of the buddha's teachings on western soil.
tripitaka master hua's introduction
all of the sutras are guides to use in cultivating the way. they may be spoken by the buddhas, the bodhisattvas, the patriarchs, and also by arhats, transformation beings, and gods. although they all serve the same purpose, the doctrines within them differ.
the sutras spoken by the buddha were translated from their indian languages into chinese, and thus worked their way into chinese society. in china, then, all the sutras were translations, with the sole exception of this present work the sixth patriarch's sutra, which was spoken by the great chinese master the sixth patriarch. the great master was originally an illiterate peasant. when he heard the sentence of the vajra (diamond) sutra which said, "one should produce that thought which is nowhere supported, " he experienced an awakening and went to huang mei to draw near to the fifth patriarch, the great master hung jen. the fifth patriarch transmitted to him the wonderful dharma, "using the mind to seal the mind." which has been handed down in unbroken patriarchal succession. the sixth patriarch inherited this mind-seal dharma-door and proceeded to carry out the wisdom-life of the buddha in his speaking of the sixth patriarch's sutra.
now, it has been translated into english and the mind-seal dharma-door of the buddha has there by been transmitted in perpetuity to the west. it is hoped that westerners will now read, recite, and study it, and all become buddhas, bodhisattvas, and/or patriarchs. this the main objective of this translation. may all who see and hear it quickly accomplish the buddha way.
wherever the sutra is transmitted, the orthodox dharma may be found right in that place, causing living beings quickly to accomplish buddhahood; such is the importance of this new translation. the sutra is indeed a treasure trove; it is the true body of the buddha, the compassionate father and mother of all living beings. it can give rise to limitless buddhas, bodhisattvas, and patriarchs! may all in the west who now read this sutra realize bodhi and accomplish the buddha way!
the sutras contain the precious wisdom of the buddha. there are some, let us call them "garbage-eating" scholars who claim that the shurangama sutra was not spoken by the buddha. this is most certainly not the case, and i have made the following vow: if the shurangama sutra is false, i will fall into the uninterrupted hells forever.
ch'ang pai-shan seng
this is the second edition of the first commentary to the sixth's patriarch's dharma jewel platform sutra ever to express the essence of the
sixth patriarch's heart. since the time the great master spoke this sutra, no other commentary has revealed his basic principles, the dharma of his heart. tripitaka master hsuan hua's commentary unfolds the heart dharma, the mind-seal, before the reader.
if you wish to understand the wonderful meaning of this sutra, you should study this commentary, for within it are set forth the limitless, inexhaustible, profound principles of buddhadharma. among western and eastern peoples it is the flower of wisdom, the real fruit of bodhi.
furthermore, this translation has been prepared by the buddhist text translation society of the sino-american buddhist association. each of its members, bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, upasikas, many of whom hold master's and doctor's degrees, have read the manuscript with care over a period of several years to insure its accuracy.
essentially, the mind-seal cannot be spoken or expressed in writing, but in his commentary the master has done just that, using analogies and expedient devices to cause people to understand what they have never understood before.
tripitaka master hua was born in northern china, and after his mother's death he practiced filial piety by sitting beside her grave for a period of three years. he built a small grass hut to keep out the wind and rain, and sat there in meditation. if food was brought to him he ate; if no food was brought, he did not.
the master later travelled south to canton, where he was appointed by venerable master hsu yun to serve as head of the vinaya academy at nan hua monastery, the temple of the sixth patriarch. he later received in transmission the dharma of master hsu yun and became his dharma successor.
since arriving in america, the master has turned the great dharma wheel, lecturing on such sutras as the shurangama sutra, the lotus sutra. the earth store bodhisattva sutra, the vajra sutra, and the heart sutra, and others. he teaches an ever-growing number of american disciples many of whom have left home to become bhikshus and bhikshunis.
in san francisco, the master has founded gold mountain monastery where he is lecturing on the avatamsaka sutra. he also founded the international institute for the translation of buddhist texts. he also made the solemn vow that wherever he goes the orthodox dharma will prevail and the dharma-ending age shall not set in. most recently the master established the city of ten thousand buddhas, near talmage, california. a vast complex of 237 acres and 60 buildings, to serve as the center of world buddhism. the city of ten thousand buddhas now holds dharma realm buddhist university, of which the master is president, and soon to be established are many programs to benefit living beings in many ways.
the master firmly upholds the orthodox dharma, for the dharma he teaches from direct and authoritative transmission, and he works unceasingly for the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. this lively commentary constitutes the first authentic transmission to the west of the mind-seal of all buddhas which has passed in unbroken patriarchal succession from shakyamuni buddha to present day. we present this volume as the foundation for the flourishing of buddhadharma in the west.
bhikshuni heng yin
buddhist text translation society
co-chairperson, primary translation
committee, international institute for
the translation of buddhist texts
when the fifth patriarch transmitted the dharma to the sixth patriarch he said to him, "do not speak too soon, for the buddhadharma arises from difficulty."
centuries later in northern china, tripitaka master hsuan hua, then known as filial son pai, was practicing filial piety. he cultivated and meditated for three years beside his mother's grave. his only protection from the northern winds and rains was a five foot square hut made from the stalks of sorghum bound together in an a-frame which left both ends exposed to the elements.
one time when cultivating there a miracle happened. filial son pai saw the great master the sixth patriarch come to his hut. he entered through one of the openings and talked to the filial son just like an ordinary person. filial son pai thought that he was real, forgetting at that time that the great master had entered nirvana over a thousand years ago. the sixth patriarch said to the filial son:
"in the future you can go to america.
you will meet this person and that person...
five schools will divide into ten,
to teach and transform living beings.
ten will become a hundred,
a hundred will become a thousand,
and so forth to endless, endless numbers,
in abundance, abundance, abundance,
numbers incalculable as grains of sand
in the river ganges. this marks of the true
of the proper dharma in the west."
after they had talked, when the great master moved to leave, the filial son rose to escort him. they walked together a few steps and suddenly the sixth patriarch was gone. it was then that the filial son pai realized, "oh! the sixth patriarch entered nirvana hundreds of years ago, but nonetheless, i met him today!"
several decades after this miracle, following years of difficulty and hard cultivation, in a cold and tiny temple in chinatown, tripitaka master hsuan hua began transmitting the dharma of the mind-seal of all patriarchs. he continues to do so every day. those who recognize him listen to it, consider it, and cultivate it.
in this commentary on the sixth patriarch's sutra the master says, "...you will succeed only if you do not fear suffering. the buddhadharma arises from difficulty, the more difficult, the better. so now you must endure suffering. this is difficult, but you can do it, for it is the opening of your wisdom."
bhikshuni heng ch'ih
buddhist text translation society
primary translation committee
international institute for the
translation of buddhist texts