12. The Verification of Citta (i): Consummate Self-Nature

The verifications of Such is the Way of Dharma start with the verifying parinispanna, the consummate or perfected self-nature of Citta, the Ultimate Reality, through the enlightenment experience of the Six Patriarch of Chan Buddha, Dharma Master Hui-Neng. 

Parinispanna (Chinese=圓成實性), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is  “perfected” or “consummate, the third of the three natures.” “Parinispanna is the emptiness or lack of an imaginary external world (bahyartha) materially different from the consciousness that perceives it.” “The consummate nature is the highest reality, according to Yogacara.“ 

Master Dajian Hui-Neng (Chinese=大鑒惠能), or simple Master Hui-Neng, is best known as the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism and a “central figure in the early history of Chinese Chan Buddhism.” 

Chan Buddhism “from Sanskrit dhyāna (meaning “meditation” or “meditative state”), is a Chinese school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It developed in China from the 6th century CE onwards, becoming especially popular during the Tang and Song dynasties.

Chan is the originating tradition of Zen Buddhism (the Japanese pronunciation of the same character, which is the most commonly used English name for the school). Chan Buddhism spread from China south to Vietnam as Thiền and north to Korea as Seon, and, in the 13th century, east to Japan as Japanese Zen.”

The lineage of Chan Buddhism began with Buddha’s enlightened disciple, Mahakasyapa (Chinese=摩訶迦葉,) also known as the “father of the sangha.” Indian monk Master Bodhidharma (Chinese=菩提達摩) inherited Mahakasyapa’s lineage and brought it from India to China. Bodhidharma’s transmission of Buddhism started many Buddhist schools in China, including the Chan lineage. Therefore, Master Bodhidharma would eventually be known as the First Patriarch of Chinese Chan Buddhism. Master Hui-Neng then inherited his heritage as the Sixth Patriarch. 

Master Hui-Neng is best known for the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (Chinese=六祖壇經;) or simply the Platform Sutra, the “key themes” of which “are the direct perception of one’s true nature.” The Platform Sutra recorded his early stories and experiences during and after enlightenment.

Born around 638 CE, Master Hui Neng was a lowly, illiterate woodchopper making his living cutting firewood in the nearby hills and bringing it for sale in town. His first encounter with Buddhism was serendipitous. One day, he passed someone reciting the Diamond Sutra on his way back from delivering wood to a client. Upon hearing the phrase, “from without abiding, let Citta rise (Chinese=應無所住,而生其心),” he became, in his own words from the Platform Sutra, “enlightened.” He then asked the person reciting the sutra about the name and source of the Sutra and was told that it was the Diamond Sutra and that it came from the Fifth Patriarch, Dharma Master Hong Ren.” His desire to learn Buddhism was so overwhelming that he paid someone to care for his aging mother before setting out to seek instructions from Master Hong Ren. 

Upon meeting his future successor, the Fifth Patriarch immediately asked Hui Neng what he came to seek. The future Sixth Patriarch answered that he came “solely to seek Buddhahood, nothing else (Chinese=惟求作佛,不求餘物).” Nevertheless, the Fifth Patriarch sent Hui Neng off to work in the kitchen, where he labored for more than eight months, never given a chance to attend Dharma talks or meditate with the others. 

One day, the Fifth Patriarch summoned Hui Neng to visit him in the abbot’s room in the middle of the night. There, the Fifth Patriarch expounded the Diamon Sutra to him. When it came to the same place in the Sutra, “from without abiding, let Citta rise,” Master Hui Neng became, in his words from the Platform Sutra, “greatly enlightened (Chinese=大悟),” realizing immediately that “all the ten thousand dharmas are inseparable from the self-nature (Chine一切萬法, 不離自性),” meaning the self-nature of the Ultimate Reality. “Ten thousand dharmas” refers to the myriad phenomena in the universe. 

Hui-Neng then reported to the Fifth Patriarch the five attributes of the consummate self-nature of the Ultimate Reality that he realized. Each attribute is preceded by “how could one have expected,” indicating his surprise at what he just realized:

i) How could one have expected that the Self-Nature is essentially pure; (Chinese=何期自性,本自清淨)?

ii) How could one have expected that the Self-Nature is essentially without birth or death (Chinese=何期自性,本不生滅)?

iii) How could one have expected that the Self-Nature is essentially self-sufficient (Chinese=何期自性,本自具足);

iv) How could one have expected that the Self-Nature is essentially without vacillation (何期自性,本無動搖);

v) How could one have expected that the Self-Nature can produce ten thousand dharmas (何期自性,能生萬法)?

Upon hearing Hui Neng’s revelations, the Fifth Patriarch immediately understood the level of his enlightenment, designated him as having achieved Buddhahood, and appointed him his successor. In this way, the still illiterate and never-allowed-to-meditate woodchopper would eventually become the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism! 

However, instead of asking Hui Neng to stay at the monastery, the Fifth Patriarch demanded that he leave immediately, fearing that some monks from the monastery may want to harm him. Consequently, Hui Neng hid among hunting groups as their cook for fifteen years before being rediscovered as the missing Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. 

So, let’s discuss the five attributes one by one.

1) Essentially Pure: 

“Essentially Pure,” meaning purity without turbidity, speaks to the “thing-in-itself” nature of the Ultimate Reality.  

2) Essentially without birth or death: 

“Essentially without birth or extinction” refers to the non-dual nature of the Ultimate Reality, without birth or death, coming or going, self and others, etc.

Nonduality is known in Sanskrit as advaya.

Advaya (Chinese=不二), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “nonduality,” one of the common synonyms for the highest teachings of Buddhism. “Nonduality refers to the definitive awareness achieved through enlightenment, which transcends all of the conventional dichotomies into which compounded existences are divided (right and wrong, good and evil, etc.).”

3) Essentially self-sufficient: 

The Ultimate Reality is self-sufficient because it is at the top of everything. It is “not causal,” existing unconditionally, naturally, eternally, unchangingly without depending on others. Possessing omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotency, the Ultimate Reality is as self-sufficient as any religious deity but directly perceivable. 

The Ultimate Reality, as the Ultimate and the First Principle of Truth, is the “highest-object truth because it is the object of wisdom (prajna), the highest form of consciousness.” 

As the First Principle of Truth, the Ultimate Reality is the fundamental ground truth from which all Buddha’s teachings sprout. Since Buddhism is Buddha’s teaching of nature, the phenomena in nature can be grouped into whether mentality fluctuates or not. 

4) Essentially without vacillation:

“Essentially without vacillation,” quite obviously, refers to Citta’s non-fluctuating, quiescent nature. 

5) Can produce ten thousand dharmas (能生萬法):

The description, ten thousand dharmas, is a metaphor for the innumerable universal phenomena.

The Ultimate Reality is capable of originating ten thousand dharmas because rupa, the “body, form, and materiality” of the phenomenal world, arose from Citta, as Buddha teaches in Mohe Zhiguan.

In these few lines, therefore, Dharma Master Hui Neng, an illiterate woodchopper with little exposure to the teachings of Buddha except for listening to a few lines of the Diamond Sutra, showed that he reached an enlightenment level similar to our historical Buddha, proofing that the Fifth Patriarch was right to appoint him his successor and justifying why Chan Buddhism emphasizes “direct insight into the nature of reality.”