The Platform Sutra of the
Six Patriarch of Zen Buddhism
Translation and notes by Philip B. Yampolsky
The 6th Patriarch of Zen, Hui-neng (early 8th c. China) made some very profound comments on the Lotus Sutra in the "Platform Sutra" - the only Chinese-origin sutra in the entire Mahayana canon. The Platform Sutra is a medium length work in 57 Chapters. It is regarded as the principal, and indeed the only, sutra of the Zen path, which path generally eschews any reliance upon the printed or written word. Interestingly, the Platform Sutra is reverential and exegetical regarding the Lotus Sutra, devoting a full chapter (42) to commenting upon and praising the Lotus Sutra in the form of a discourse between a visiting priest (Fa Ta) and the 6th Patriarch himself. It is even more interesting that a Zen master, Hui-neng, is so eloquent on expounding the Lotus Sutra, since the Lotus Sutra (nor any other Buddhist sutra) is not considered a venerated text in most Zen traditions. The following quote is Chapter 42 in the translation of the Platform Sutra prepared by Philip Yampolsky:
[Note: bracketed phrases are as in the Yampolsky text; however, all but one footnote ( ) have been deleted here for brevity's sake:
42. There was nother priest by the name of Fa-ta, who had been reciting the Lotus Sutra continuously for seven years, but his mind was still deluded and he did not know where the true Dharma lay. [Going to Mount Ts'ao-ch'i, he bowed and asked]: "I have doubts about the sutra, and because the Master's wisdom is great, I beg of him to resolve my doubts."
The Master said: "Fa-ta, you are very proficient in the Dharma but your mind is not proficient. You may have no doubts in so far as the sutras are concerned, [but your mind itself doubts]. You are searching for the true Dharma with falsehood in your mind. If your own mind were correct and fixed, you would be a man who has taken the sutra to himself. I have never in my life known written words, but if you bring a copy of the Lotus Sutra and read it to me, upon hearing it, I will understand it at once."
Fa-ta brought the Lotus Sutra and read it through to the Master. Hearing it, the Sixth Patriarch understood the Buddha's meaning, and then discoursed on the Lotus Sutra for the sake of Fa-ta.
The Sixth Patriarch said: "Fa-ta, the Lotus Sutra does not say anything more than is needed. Throughout all its seven chuan it gives parables and tales about causation. The Tathagata's preaching of the Three Vehicles was only because of the dullness of people in the world. The words of the sutra clearly state that there is only one vehicle of Buddhism, and that there is no other vehicle."
The Master said: "Fa-ta, listen to the one Buddha vehicle and do not seek two vehicles, or your nature will be deluded. Where in the sutra do we find this one Buddha vehicle? Let me explain to you. The sutra says: ,The various Buddhas and the World-honored One appeared in this world because of the one great causal event.' (The above sixteen characters are the true Dharma.) How do you come to understand this Dharma? How do you practice this Dharma? Listen, and I shall explain to you.
"The mind has nothing to do with thinking, because its fundamental source is empty. To discard false views, this is the one great causal event. If within and without you are not deluded then you are apart from duality. If on the outside you are deluded you cling to form; if on the inside you are deluded you cling to emptiness. If within form you are apart from form and within emptiness you are separated from emptiness, then within and without you are not deluded. If you awaken to this Dharma, in one instant of thought your mind will open and you will go forth in the world. What is it that the mind opens? It opens Buddha's wisdom and the Buddha means enlightenment. Separately considered there are four gates: the opening of the wisdom of enlightenment, the instruction of the wisdom of enlightenment, the awakening of the wisdom of enlightenment, and the entering into the wisdom of enlightenment. This is called opening, instructing, awakening, and entering. Entering from one place, this is the wisdom of enlightenment, and [with this] you see into your own nature, and succeed in transcending the world."
The Master said: "Fa-ta, it is my constant wish that all the people in the world will always themselves open the wisdom of the Buddha in their own mind-grounds. Do not cultivate the ,wisdom, of sentient beings. The people of the world have errors in their minds, create evil with stupidity and delusion, and thus cultivate the ,wisdom, of sentient beings. If people in the world are correct in their minds, they will give rise to wisdom and illuminate it, and open up for themselves the wisdom of the Buddha. Do not open up the ,wisdom, of sentient beings! Open up the wisdom of the Buddha and then transcend the world."
The Master said: "Fa-ta, this is the one-vehicle Dharma of the Lotus Sutra. Later on in the sutra the Buddha's teaching is divided into three [vehicles] in order to benefit the deluded. Depend only on the one Buddha vehicle."
The Master said: "If you practice with the mind you turn the Lotus; if you do not practice with the mind, you are turned by the Lotus. If your mind is correct you will turn the Lotus; if your mind is incorrect you will be turned by the Lotus. If the wisdom of the Buddha is opened, you will turn the Lotus; if the ,wisdom, of sentient beings is opened, you will be turned by the Lotus."
The Master said: "If you practice the Dharma with great effort, this then is turning the sutra."
Fa-ta, upon hearing this, at once gained great enlightenment and broke into tears. "Master", he said, "indeed up to now I have not turned the Lotus, but for seven years I have been turned by it. From now on I shall turn the Lotus, and in consecutive thoughts practice the practice of the Buddha."
The Master said: "The very practice of Buddha, this is Buddha." Among those in his audience at that time there was none who was not enlightened.
[footnote 224]: In the Lotus Sutra, T9, p. 7a, we find the following passage: "Sariputra, why did the various Buddhas and the World-honored One, just because of the one great causal event, appear in the world? The various Buddhas and the World-honored One appeared in the world because they wanter to OPEN the Buddha's wisdom for sentient beings and enable them to become pure. Because they wanted to INSTRUCT sentient beings in the wisdom of Buddha, they appeared in the world. Because they wanted to bring the AWAKENING of Buddha's wisdom to sentient beings, they appeared in the world. Because they wanted to have sentient beings ENTER into the way of Buddha's wisdom, they appeared in the world." The four stages mentioned here correspond to the four gates described in the Tun-huang text.
Translation and notes by Philip B. Yampolsky in _The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - the text of the TUN-HUANG manuscript_, Columbia University Press, 1967 (paperback).