Chapter VIII – The Sudden School and the Gradual School*

*Note by the late Mr. Dwight Goddard.
When Hui-Neng (Wei Lang) was at the Patriarch’s monastery at Wong-mui, the Master (or Dean as we should call him) was Shin-shau, a notably learned monk of the Dhyana School. After Hui-Neng left Wong-mui he lived in retirement for a number of years, but Shin-shau, in disappointment at not receiving the appointment of Sixth Patriarch, returned to his home in the North and founded his own School which later, under Imperial patronage, came into great prominence. But after the death of Shin-shau the School steadily lost prestige, and later dropped out of importance. But the different principles of the two schools, “Sudden Enlightenment” of the Sixth Patriarch’s Sudden School and “Gradual Attainment” of Shin-shau’s Northern School, have continued to divide Buddhism and do so today. The principle in dispute is whether enlightenment comes as a gradual attainment, through study of the scriptures and the practice of Dhyana or, as the Japanese say, it comes in some sudden and convincing “satori.” It is not a question of quickness or slowness in arriving at it; “gradual attainment” may arrive sooner than “sudden enlightenment.” It is the question whether enlightenment comes as the culmination of a gradual process of mental growth, or whether it is a sudden turning at the seat of consciousness, from a habitual reliance on the thinking faculty (a looking outward) to a new use of a higher intuitive faculty (a looking inward).

While the Patriarch was living in Po Lam Monastery, the Grand Master Shin Shau was preaching in Yuk Chuen Monastery of King Nam. At that time the two Schools, that of Wei Lang of the South and Shin Shau of the North, flourished side by side. As the two Schools were distinguished from each other by the names “Sudden” (the South) and “Gradual” (the North), the question which sect they should follow baffled certain Buddhist scholars (of that time). Continue reading “Chapter VIII – The Sudden School and the Gradual School*

Chapter VII – Temperament and Circumstances

(Instructions are given according to the disciples’ temperament and to the circumstances of the case).

Upon the Patriarch’s return to the village of Tso Hau in Shiu Chow from Wong Mui, where the Dharma had been transmitted to him, he was still an unknown figure, and it was a Confucian scholar named Liu Chi Luk who gave him a warm welcome and entertainment. Chi Luk happened to have an aunt named Wu Chung Chong who was a Bhikkhuni (a female member of the Order), and used to recite the Maha-Parinirvana Sutra. After hearing the recitation for only a short while the Patriarch grasped its profound meaning and began to explain it to her. Whereupon, she picked up the book and asked him the meaning of certain words.

“I am illiterate,” he replied, “but if you wish to know the purport of this work, please ask.” “How can you grasp the meaning of the text,” she rejoined, “when you do not even know the words?” To this, he replied, “The profundity of the teachings of the various Buddhas has nothing to do with the written language.”

This answer surprised her very much, and realizing that he was no ordinary Bhikkhu, she made it widely known to the pious elders of the village. “This is a holy man,” she said, “we should ask him to stay, and get his permission to supply him food and lodging.” Continue reading “Chapter VII – Temperament and Circumstances”

Chapter II – On Prajna

Next day Prefect Wai asked the Patriarch to give another address. Thereupon, having taken his seat and asked the assembly to purify their mind collectively, and to recite the Maha PrajnaparamitaSutra, he gave the following address:-

Learned Audience, the Wisdom of Enlightenment is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realise it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and the guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our own Essence of Mind. You should know that

so far as Buddha-nature is concerned,
there is no difference between an
enlightened man and an ignorant one.

What makes the difference is that
one realises it, while the other
is ignorant of it.

Now, let me talk to you about Maha Prajnaparamita, so that each of you can attain wisdom.

Learned Audience, those who recite the word ‘Prajna‘ the whole day long do not seem to know that Prajna is inherent in their own nature. But mere talking on food will not appease hunger, and this is exactly the case with these people. Continue reading “Chapter II – On Prajna”