Hui-Neng’s Autobiography

I told the boy that I wished to learn the stanza also, so that I might have the benefit of it in future life. Although I had been hulling rice for eight months, I had never been to the hall, so I asked the boy to show me where the stanza was written, so that I might make obeisance to it. The boy took me there and as I was illiterate, I asked him to read it to me. A petty officer of the Kong-chow District, named Chang Fat-yung, who happened to be there, then read it clearly. When he had finished reading, I told him that I, also, had composed a stanza and asked him to write it for me. “Extraordinary,” he exclaimed, “that you, also, can compose a stanza.”

“If you are a seeker of supreme enlightenment, you will not despise a beginner,” I said.

“Please recite your stanza,” said he, “I will write it down for you, but if you should succeed in getting the Dharma, do not forget to deliver me.”

My stanza read as follows:

Neither is there Bohi-tree,
Nor case of mirror bright.
Since intrinsically all is void
Where can dust collect

Later on seeing that a crowd was collecting, the Patriarch came out and erased the stanza with his shoe lest jealous ones should do me injury. Judging by this, the crowd took it for granted that the author of it had also not yet realised Mind-essence.

Next day the Patriarch came secretly to the room where the rice was being hulled and seeing me at work with the stone pestle, said, “A seeker of the Path risks his life for the Dharma. Should he do so?” Then he asked, “Is the rice ready?” “Ready long ago,” I replied, “only waiting for the sieve.” He knocked the mortar thrice with his stick and went away.

Knowing what his signal meant, in the third watch of the night, I went to his room. Using his robe as a screen so that no one would see us, he expounded the Diamond Sutra to me. When he came to the sentence, “One should use one’s mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment,” I suddenly became thoroughly enlightened and realised that all things in the universe are Mind-essence itself.

1 said to the Patriarch, “Who could have conceived that Mind-essence is intrinsically pure! Who could have conceived that Mind-essence is intrinsically free from becoming and annihilation! That Mind-essence is intrinsically self-sufficient, and free from change! Who could have conceived that all things are manifestations of Mind-essence!”

Thus at midnight, to the knowledge of no one, was the Dharma transmitted to me, and I consequently became the inheritor of the teachings of the “Sudden” School, and the possessor of the robe and the begging-bowl.

“You are now the Sixth Patriarch,” said His Eminence. “Take good care of yourself and deliver as many sentient beings as possible. Spread the teaching; keep the teaching alive; do not let it come to an end. Listen to my stanza:

Sentient beings who sow seed of Enlightenment
In the field of causation, will reap the fruit of Buddhahood.
Inanimate objects which are void of Buddha-nature
Sow not and reap not