Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hui-neng and Bodhichitta

The body is the tree of enlightenment.
The mind is the stand of a bright mirror.
Wipe it constantly and with ever-watchful diligence,
To keep it uncontaminated by the worldly dust.
……….…………Shen-hsiu - (The Golden Age of Zen 60, 300 n.4)

Enlightenment is no tree,
Nor is the Bright Mirror a stand.
Since it is not a thing at all,
Where could it be contaminated by dust?
……..………….Hui-neng - (The Golden Age of Zen 60, 300 n.5)

This is the famous poetry competition which the fifth patriarch of the Northern School of Buddhism conducted and what was written by the enlightened disciple Shen-hsiu and the response by Hui-neng, an illiterate kitchen hand, which had to be written by someone else as Hui-neng did not know how to write. This earned Hui-neng the recognition by the fifth patriarch and later he became the sixth patriarch of the Northern school in China. What is important is the polar opposite nature of the concept of the mind. This requires a certain understanding as the concepts involved here seemed to be riddled with contradictions.

If we look at the sayings of Hui-neng before he predicted his final departure from this world, then we can understand his philosophy more clearly. In his final instructions to the disciples he says;

“First mention the three categories of Dharmas, and then the thirty-six "pairs of opposites" in the activities of the bodhicitta. Then teach how to avoid the two extremes of "coming in" and "going out." In all preaching, stray not from the bodhicitta. Whenever someone puts a question to you, answer in the antonyms, so that a pair of opposites will be formed, such as coming and going. When the interdependence of the two is entirely done away with there would be, in the absolute sense, neither coming nor going...

Whenever a question is put to you, answer it in the negative if it is an affirmative one; and vice versa. If you are asked about an ordinary man, tell the questioner something about a sage; and vice versa. From the correlation or interdependence of the two opposites the doctrine of the Middle Way may be grasped. If someone asks what is darkness, answer thus: Light is the root condition and darkness is the reciprocal condition. When light disappears, darkness appears. The two are in contrast to each other. From the correlation or interdependence of the two the Middle Way arises.”

As can be seen, the Middle way comprises of the action of the polar opposites in any manifestations presented to the mind. The mind operates in the grasping of the two opposite attributes of existence or manifestations. In the deeper understanding of this concept of duality which arises due to the functioning of the mind, the very mind itself is made redundant when the self resides equally in both attributes. This is the nature of the Cosmic mind where the laws of nature create equal and opposite forces in the operation of the universe. Without the balance between the thermodynamic expansion and the opposing negative gravity of the Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which fills 96% of the universe, we could not be here to write this article or contemplate the philosophy of the Middle Path.

Love to you all


  1. Dear Tibs,
    A beautiful exposition of how the opposing forces in Nature are not antagonistic but complementary to each other, in the maintenance of overall harmony and balance of the universe, the Middle Path, as expounded by the Bodhidharma and taught in Zen philosophies. And this conforms with the laws of Physics.

  2. Thank you Bhaskar for your elucidation on the concept of harmony and balance in both the material world as well as in the deeper consciousness sphere.
    Your comment are very incisive.