Hui-Neng’s Autobiography

His Eminence further said: “When Patriarch Bodhidharma first came to China, few Chinese had confidence in him and so this robe has been handed down as a testimony from one Patriarch to another. As to the Dharma, as a rule it is transmitted from heart to heart and the recipient is expected to understand it and to realise it by his own efforts. From time immemorial, it has been the practice for one Buddha to pass on to his successor the quintessence of the Dharma, and for one Patriarch to transmit to another, from mind to mind, the esoteric teaching. As the robe may give cause for dispute, you will be the last one to inherit it. If you should again hand it down to a successor, your life would be in imminent danger. You must now leave this place as quickly as you can, lest some one should harm you.”

I asked him, “Where shall I go?” and he replied, “Stop at Wei and seclude yourself at Wui.”

As it was the middle of the night when I thus received the begging-bowl and the robe, I told the Patriarch that as I was a Southerner I did not know the mountain trails and it would be impossible for me to get down to the river. “You need not worry,” he replied, “I will go with you.” He then accompanied me to the Kiu-kiang landing where we got a boat. As he started to do the rowing himself, I asked him to be seated and let me handle the oar. He replied, “It is only right for me to get you across.” (literally and figuratively, from this shore to that shore.) To this I replied, “(So long as I was) under illusion, I was dependent on you to get me across, but now it is different. It was my fortune to be born on the frontier and my education is very deficient, but I have had the honor to inherit the Dharma from you; since I am now enlightened, it is only right for me to cross the sea of birth and death by my own effort to realise my own Essence of Mind.”

“Quite so, quite so,” he agreed. “Beginning with you (Ch’an) Buddhism will become very widespread. Three years from your leaving me I shall pass from this world. You may start on your journey now; go as fast as you can toward the South. Do not begin preaching too soon; (Ch’an) Buddhism is not to be easily spread.”

After saying good-bye, I left him and walked toward the South. In about two months I reached the Tai-yu Mountain where I noticed several hundred men were in pursuit of me with the intention of recovering the robe and begging-bowl. Among them, the most vigilant was a monk of the name of Wei-ming whose surname was Chen. In lay-life he had been a general of the fourth rank. His manner was rough and his temper hot. When he overtook me, I threw the robe and the begging-bowl on a rock, saying, “This robe is nothing but a testimonial; what is the use of taking it away by force?” When he reached the rock, he tried to pick them up but could not. Then in astonishment he shouted, “Lay Brother, Lay Brother, (Hui-neng, although appointed the Sixth Patriarch, had not yet formally been admitted to the Order), I have come for the Dharma; I do not care for the robe.” Whereupon I came from my hiding place and took the position on the rock of a Patriarch. He made obeisance and said, “Lay Brother, I beg you to teach me.”

“Since the object of your coming is for the Dharma,” said I, “please refrain from thinking about anything and try to keep your mind perfectly empty and receptive. I will then teach you.” When he had done this for a considerable time, I said, “Venerable Sir, at the particular moment when you are thinking of neither good nor evil, what is your real self-nature (the word is, physiognomy)?”

As soon as he heard this he at once become enlightened, but he asked, “Apart from these sayings and ideas handed down by the Patriarchs from generation to generation, are there still any esoteric teachings?”

“What I can tell you is not esoteric,” I replied, “If you turn your light inward, you will find what is esoteric within your own mind.”