The Platform Sutra of The Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng

On the following day, upon Governor Wei’s request, the Master took his seat and addressed the assembly, “Let us purify our thoughts and mindfully recite Maha-prajna-paramita.” Then he said: Noble friends, prajna, the wisdom of enlightenment, is inherent in all people of the world. Only because their minds are deluded, they fail to realize it themselves. Therefore, they need the guidance of great masters to see their true nature.  Know that Buddha nature is no different in the wise and in the ignorant. What separates them is whether one is enlightened or deluded. I will now teach the maha-prajna-paramita so that each of you may attain wisdom. Listen attentively!  I will explain it to you.

Noble friends, people speak of prajna all day, yet they do not recognize the prajna inherent in their nature.  Just as talking about food cannot appease your hunger, talking about emptiness for countless kalpas will not reveal your true nature; ultimately it is of no benefit. Noble friends, maha-prajna-paramita is a Sanskrit term meaning “the great wisdom leading to the other shore.”  It must be practiced from the mind and not merely spoken of. Prajna, only spoken of but not practiced, is like an illusion, a mirage, a dewdrop, or lightning.  By doing both, our speech and mind are in mutual accord. Our original nature is Buddha, apart from this nature there is no other Buddha. (1-1)

What is “maha”? Maha means great. The mind is like the great empty space of the universe; it has no boundaries.  It is neither square nor round, neither great nor small, neither blue yellow, red, nor white, neither above nor below, neither long nor short, neither angry nor happy, neither right nor wrong, neither good nor evil, has neither beginning nor end.

All Buddha Lands are like empty space. Our inconceivable nature is originally empty; not a single dharma is tangible. Such is the true emptiness of our inherent nature.

Noble friends, when you hear me speak of emptiness, do not cling to it.  First and foremost, you must not cling to the concept of emptiness. If you sit in meditation with a mind devoid of awareness; that is called clinging to idle emptiness.

Noble friends, the universe is empty therefore it can contain things of every color and form—the sun, moon, and stars; rivers, hills, and the plains; springs, streams, grasses, and forests; virtuous and evil people, good deeds and bad deeds, heaven and hell, all the oceans, mountain ranges, and Mount Sumeru. All these are possible because of emptiness.  In the same way, our true nature is empty.

Noble friends, our inherent nature can contain myriads of things, that is ‘greatness’. All things are within this nature. If we see evil or virtue in people without any grasping or rejection, without being defiled by any attachment, the mind will be like empty space. In this way, our mind is great and is therefore called ‘maha’.  (1-2)Noble friends, the wise cultivate the mind while the deluded merely talk about it. Then there are some who sit in meditation devoid of awareness, believing that to not think of anything is great.  Because of their erroneous views, it is futile to discuss prajna with them.

Noble friends, the mind has great capacity, pervading the dharma realm; clear and perceiving all, it can understand anything wherever applied.  Everything is one and one is everything.   Coming and going freely, the mind is unobstructed.  This is the state of prajna.

Noble friends, do not let your mind be misled!  Prajna wisdom arises from our inherent nature and is not acquired externally. Prajna is the function of our true nature. When you understand this one truth, you can understand all truths. The mind is of great capacity; it does not take a narrow path.  Do not just speak of emptiness all day while the mind fails to cultivate prajna. This is like an ordinary person who proclaims himself a king but can never be one. Such people are not my disciples.

Noble friends, what is “prajna”? It means wisdom. If at all times and in all places, we cultivate wisdom and every thought is free from ignorance, this is the practice of prajna. With one ignorant thought, prajna ceases; with one wise thought, prajna arises. Ordinary people are deluded and do not understand prajna. They speak of prajna but their minds remain ignorant. They always talk about emptiness and say that they practice prajna, but they do not understand the meaning of true emptiness. Prajna has neither shape nor form; it is the mind of wisdom. To have such understanding is prajna wisdom. (1-3)

What is “paramita”? It is a Sanskrit word for “reaching the other shore” which in Buddhism means to be free from birth and death.  When we cling, birth and death result, like water that breaks into waves—this is called “this shore.” When we are detached, birth and death cease, like water that flows freely and smoothly—this is paramita, “the other shore.”  Noble friends, the deluded merely recite prajna, while erroneous and deceptive [thoughts] continue to arise.  When every thought is in accordance with prajna, that is our true nature.  To understand this teaching is to understand prajna, to cultivate it is to apply prajna.  If you do not apply it you are an ordinary person, but the moment you put prajna into practice you are equal to the buddhas.

Noble friends, the ordinary person is Buddha. Affliction is enlightenment.  A deluded thought makes you an ordinary person, an enlightened thought makes you a buddha.  To have a clinging thought one moment is affliction, to be free from attachment the next is enlightenment.

Noble friends, the Maha-prajna-paramita is the most noble, most exalted, and foremost. It neither stays nor comes nor goes. Buddhas of the past, present, and future all emerge from it. We should use this great wisdom to break through the burdensome afflictions of the five skandhas. Practicing this way, one will certainly attain Buddhahood, transforming the three poisons into sila (precepts), samadhi, and prajna.

Noble friends, in my teaching, this prajna gives rise to 84,000 kinds of wisdom. Why? It is because people of the world have 84,000 defilements. If you are free from defilements, wisdom constantly manifests and you will not deviate from your inherent nature. (1-4)

When you are awakened to this teaching, there is  “no thought”— you are free from recollection and attachments, and do not give rise to delusions.  From your own true suchness, illuminate and observe with wisdom, neither grasp nor reject anything—this is to see your true nature and attain Buddhahood.
Noble friends, if you wish to enter the most profound realm of reality (Dharma realm) and the samadhi of prajna, you must cultivate prajna paramita, uphold and recite the Diamond Sutra, then you will realize your true nature. You should know that the benefits of this sutra as clearly extolled in the text itself are boundless and immeasurable and cannot be fully conveyed in words.  This is a teaching of the Supreme Vehicle and is spoken for the benefit of the very wise and those with superior faculties. When those with lesser faculties and little wisdom hear it, their minds give rise to doubts.  Why?Just as when the celestial dragon sends rain to Jambudvipa, the cities and villages will be flooded and drift about like leaves and twigs. But should it rain on the great ocean, the ocean water will neither increase nor decrease. When practitioners of the Great Vehicle or Supreme Vehicle hear the Diamond Sutra, their minds awaken and are open to true understanding. We therefore know that the wisdom of prajna is inherent in our nature.  By always using this inherent wisdom to illuminate and observe clearly, we need not rely on words. Similarly, the rains do not originate from the sky but are brought forth from the ocean by the celestial dragon, to nourish all animates and inanimates, sentient beings, trees, and grasses. Hundreds of streams flow into the ocean and merge into one body. Such is the prajna wisdom of our intrinsic nature. (1-5)

Noble friends, people of lesser faculties who hear this teaching of Sudden Enlightenment are like plants with shallow roots; overwhelmed by heavy rains, their growth is stunted.  The fundamental prajna wisdom in people of lesser faculties is no different from those who have great wisdom. Why are they not awakened when they hear the Dharma? It is because their mistaken views are hardened and their afflictions are deeply rooted.  It is like dense clouds that obscure the sun; without winds to clear them away, the sunlight cannot shine through.

Likewise, prajna wisdom is neither great nor small. What makes the difference is whether one’s mind is deluded or enlightened. Those with deluded views seeking Buddhahood outside of their minds do not realize their inherent nature; these are people of lesser faculties. Those who realize this teaching of Sudden Enlightenment do not cling to external practices. When the right view arises in their minds at all times, defilements and afflictions can never contaminate them. This is to see one’s true nature.

Noble friends, abiding neither within nor without, coming and going freely, clearing the mind of attachments with thorough and unimpeded comprehension – being able to cultivate this way, one is in complete accord with the Prajna Sutra.

Noble friends, all the sutras and writings of the Greater and Lesser Vehicles, the twelve divisions of the Buddhist Canon, were established for the people.  These teachings were possible because of the nature of people’s wisdom.  If it weren’t for the people in the world, no dharma would exist. Therefore, we know that all dharmas originate from human beings and all sutras were spoken because of people’s needs.  (1-6)

Yet, some people are wise and some are ignorant. The ignorant are considered inferior and the wise superior. When the ignorant question the wise, the wise teach them the Dharma.  When the ignorant suddenly awaken and are open to true understanding, they will be no different than the wise.

Noble friends, without enlightenment, buddhas are just sentient beings; the moment the mind is enlightened, sentient beings are buddhas. Therefore you should know that all dharmas are intrinsic to the mind. Why not immediately realize in your own mind the intrinsic nature of suchness? The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our inherent nature is originally pure. If you realize your mind and see its true nature, you will attain Buddhahood.” The Vimalakirti Sutra says, “Suddenly, seeing everything clearly, you return to your original mind.”

Noble friends, when the Fifth Patriarch spoke to me in his quarters, I immediately attained enlightenment, realizing the true nature of suchness. Therefore, I pass down this teaching so that cultivators can attain sudden enlightenment. By contemplating their own mind, everyone can realize their intrinsic nature.

Should you fail to enlighten yourself, you must seek out great masters who understand this supreme doctrine; they can directly show you the right path. These masters are here for a great cause, that is, they will guide you toward the realization of your true nature; all wholesome dharmas arise because of them. (1-7)

Buddhas of the past, present, and future and the twelve divisions of the Canon are fully present in our nature. If you cannot enlighten yourselves, you should seek out masters for guidance; if you can, you do not need to seek externally. Moreover, it is wrong to rely solely on a master for liberation. Why? Because the mind has a master within, it can enlighten itself.  If you give in to erroneous, deluded, and distorted thoughts, even a great master’s teaching would be futile.  If you give rise to genuine prajna contemplation, in an instant all deluded thoughts will cease; if you realize your inherent nature, you awaken and you arrive at the stage of a buddha.

Noble friends, by observing and contemplating with wisdom, which illuminates within and without, we realize our original mind.  Realization of the original mind is true liberation.  To attain liberation is to attain prajna samadhi.  Prajna samadhi is “no thought.”  What is “no thought”?  To understand and perceive all dharmas, with a mind free from attachment and defilement, that is “no thought.”  When in use, this mind pervades everywhere, yet it does not cling to anything.  We only have to purify our mind so that the six consciousnesses exit the six gates (senses) without being contaminated or defiled by the six dusts (sense objects).  Coming and going freely, the mind functions without hindrances, that is prajna samadhi; that is to be free and liberated.  That is the practice of “no thought.”  But if we suppress all thoughts and do not think of anything, that is Dharma bondage and is an extreme view. (1-8)

Noble friends, those who realize the doctrine of “no thought” thoroughly understand all dharmas; those who realize the doctrine of “no thought” perceive the realm of the buddhas; those who realize the doctrine of “no thought” attain Buddhahood.
Noble friends, future generations who grasp my doctrine, vow to uphold this teaching of the Sudden Enlightenment with others of the same view, cultivate together as if they were serving the Buddha, never regress, will surely attain the state of the saints. Without obscuring its true meaning, you should transmit this teaching which was passed down by the patriarchs independent of words and speech.  To those who do not share the same view or practice, or hold other beliefs, the Dharma should not be taught, as this will bring no benefit and may even bring harm. This is because the ignorant may misunderstand this doctrine and slander it, which will hinder the seed of their Buddha nature for a thousand lifetimes or many kalpas. (1-9)

Noble friends, I have a Verse of the Formless which all of you, layperson or monastic, should recite and practice accordingly.  Merely memorizing my words without putting them into practice will be of no benefit. Now listen to my verse:

One who has mastery of the mind
And mastery in teaching the Dharma
Is like the sun shining in the sky;
Through teaching how to see one’s nature
Such one emerges to abolish all false  doctrines.2-1
The Dharma is not inherently sudden or gradual;
Yet according to each person’s delusion,
Enlightenment may come swiftly or slowly.

This way of seeing into one’s nature
Is beyond the comprehension of the ignorant.2-2
Though it may be explained in ten thousand ways,
All return to one principle.
In the dark abode of afflictions,
Always bring forth the sun of wisdom.2-3
False views give rise to afflictions,
Right views eliminate them.
When we discard both views,
Purity is absolute. 2-4
Bodhi is our inherent nature;
Giving rise to any thought is delusion.
The pure mind resides within delusion;
With right views, the three obstructions do not exist.2-5
Nothing can hinder
Those who truly cultivate the Way.
Always reflect on your own faults
To be in accord with the Way. 2-6
All things in nature possess the Way;
They do not impede each other.
If you part from the Way and seek it elsewhere,
You will never find it. 2-7
Striving futilely all your life,
There is only remorse at the end.
To see the true Way,
Engage in the right practice. 2-8
Without the bodhi mind,
Walking in darkness, you are blind to the Way.
True cultivators of the Way
Seek not the faults of others. 2-9
If we find faults in others,
We ourselves are at fault.

Do not condemn others for their faults,
Focus instead on your own wrongs. 3-1
Eliminate the fault-seeking mind
To shatter all afflictions.
Unconcerned with love and hate,
We sleep at ease with legs stretched out. 3-2
Employ expedient means
If you want to liberate beings.
Free others from their doubts,
And their inherent nature will manifest. 3-3
The Buddha Dharma exists for the world,
Apart from this world, there is no enlightenment.
To seek bodhi elsewhere,
Is as futile as looking for horns on a rabbit. 3-4
To have right views is to transcend the mundane world,
To have false views is to be in the mundane world.
Relinquish all right and false views,
Bodhi nature will manifest itself. 3-5
This verse is the teaching of Sudden Enlightenment,
Also called the great Dharma Ship.
Delusion lasts countless kalpas,
Enlightenment takes but an instant. 3-6
The Patriarch then said: “Now in this Da Fan Temple, I have delivered the teaching of Sudden Enlightenment.   I hope that all sentient beings in the dharma realm who hear this will instantly see their true nature and attain Buddhahood. ” At that time, after listening to the Patriarch’s words, Governor Wei, officials and their subordinates, cultivators of the Way, and laypersons all attained some realization. They made obeisance and acclaimed: “This is wonderful! Who would have expected that a buddha would appear in Lingnan (South of the Five Ridges)?”  (3-7)