Yoshizen's Blog

Poetry Contest (2)

Not necessary having a thought, I suddenly realized that the story of the Poetry Contest of Huineng and Shenxui was not right.    Its contest was the 5th patriarch, Hongren try to find who should succeed him and become 6th patriarch of the Zen.   Unlike the other sect of Buddhism, Zen does their learning without rely on the words. = the action in the practice or a thing or phenomenon trigger the understanding.

So, the founder of Rinzai Zen, Rinzai said to have uttered that, “On the way, (may mean Pathway) when you saw the scriptures, through them away.  When you saw the monks kill them or met Lord Buddha, kill him too.” —– (this advice was meant be getting rid of any notion, and empty the mind.) 

[]On the said Poetry Contest, for the answer to the Hongren’s request to show the Zen mind, well-learned top-rank monk, Shenxui wrote “Mind is like a mirror, I polish the mirror diligently for no dust to settle on it” —– opposing to this, one low rank monk, Huineng wrote “Since Mirror is not exists in the first place, where could dust settle

—– Hongren found that Huineng has much deeper understanding in Zen, he chose Huineng to be his successor.

[]Zen teaching was started by Bodhidharma on 5th century.   Though, as a matter of fact, there were numerous legend and myth about Bodhidharma but little historical facts were known, therefore any story has to be treated with a pinch of salt.

—–When Bodhidharma wanted to choose his successor, there was a similar story.   He asked his disciples  “Can each of you say something to demonstrate your understanding ?”

Dao Fu stepped forward and said, “It is not bound by words and phrases, nor is it separate from words and phrases. This is the function of the Tao.”

Bodhidharma: “You have attained my skin.” 

The nun Zong Chi stepped up and said, “It is like a glorious glimpse of the realm  of Akshobhya Buddha. Seen once, it need not be seen again.”

Bodhidharma; “You have attained my flesh.” 

Dao Yu said, “The four elements are all empty. The five skandhas are without actual existence. Not a single dharma can be grasped.”

Bodhidharma: “You have attained my bones.” 

Finally, Huike came forth, bowed deeply in silence and stood up straight. 

Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my marrow.”

Bodhidharma passed on the symbolic robe and bowl of dharma succession to  Huike and, some texts claim, a copy of the Lankavatara Sutra

Bodhidharma then either returned to India or died. (This story from Wikipedia)

(There was the conflicting stories, —– He might returned to Persia.  Or even killed in the mass execution at Heyin in 528.) []

My doubt was that why Shenxui, studying under Hongren did have such poor understanding ?  (While Huineng who was working in the kitchen could still pick up the Zen understanding from overheard conversation of other monks.)   

And the same question goes to the colleagues of Huike too. = they were no ordinary monks, THE direct disciples of  Bodhidarma.   As they lives together, they must have  lots of discussion even arguments. —– still keep maintaining such variety of idea = quite logical and full of blah blah, but where the “Teachings of the Master” which was supposedly on the principle of Void and abhorrence to the words, has gone ?

 And, what was the 5th Patriarch, Hongren’s understanding and the teachings of “mind” ? —– (Was he thinking, “There is Zen Mind” ? )  

— Who recorded those stories ?  — Was that came from the diary of Hongren ?  — weren’t those stories made-up to glorify each Huineng and Huike ? ? ?

While making others looks fool = makes stories interesting.  And this kind of practice was behind of all those compilation of “Sutra” or scriptures.  It’s mean, we need very critical sharp eyes to distinguish what was the true teachings.    🙂



Huineng vs Shenxui — Poetry Contest

Provably the most well known Zen story was a contest to became

6th Patriarch of the Zen.

For the contest, the most respected top monk in the monastery,

Shenxui wrote a poem as the answer to the 5th Patriarch, Hongren

who request to show the Zen mind,

Mind is like a mirror, I polish the mirror diligently for

no dust to settle on it”

When an illiterate low-rank monk Huineng who has been working

in the kitchen of the temple heard this, he asked friend monk to

write his poem contesting Shenxui’s,

Since Mirror is not exists in the first place,

where dust could settle”

Hongren saw Huineng has much deeper understanding of Zen,

he chose Huineng for his successor.


This story showed what all about the Zen and its pathway

in amazing clarity.

Shenxui was a well educated, well learned monk, hence he must

have read hundreds of scriptures and understood the attitude to be

a good Buddhist. (in this extent, his answer / poem was quite

appropriate and correct though, it was more like a posture of

Theravada monk, still on the way to the enlightenment, in other

words, he hadn’t broken the barrier, or gone to the other side yet. )

In contrast, Huineng had showed exactly what the notion

of Void in Zen Buddhism.

— How Huineng could get this, while working in the kitchen.


As a son of peasant, Huineng had no education and illiterate hence,

he had no chance to read and study Buddhism other than just pick

up the words, what other monks were talking about.

Anyway, he had to work every day as a casual labourer in the temple,

still, those every day’s continuous repeating work gave him to gain

the essential mind-set to be a Zen Buddhist = Unconditionally

accepting (humble) to be a lowest working monk, hence there

couldn’t be any possibility left to have desire or even an Ego.

And as day by day, the same work continues, the mind

became empty = just the hand repeating the work.

Yet still, by keeping eyes clear, he could see the crux of human

existence = how the Life exists = what the World and the Dharma is.

And he was able to make the straight connection of his state of mind

and the observation, to each notion.   In effect, he had mastered the

Zen in DIY.   Zen doesn’t need to be literate but to have clear eyes to

see inside and outside, with the direction of few key-word.

(This straight connection is behind of

“Sudden Enlightenment” and the “Direct Transmission” )


And this observation lead me to see an amazing parallel in

the history of Buddhism.

Founder of Zen, Master Bodhi Dharma had to establish the way

of Zen in DIY, as there was no text book exist then, even worse in

foreign country. And the situation was more or less the same, when

Lord Buddha started his own teachings = NO Buddhism

textbook at all, of cause, let alone whether even Vada was

available to the public in written form. 😀


But this is what the Buddhism is.

Since, it is the matter of one’s mind-set and the programming of

one’s subconscious = the one has to do it by oneself.

It is literally Do It Yourself / DIY = A book might give a hint, still

the one has to DO the work (practice with good insight) =

Book wouldn’t do the work on behalf. 😀

(Put Buddhist book in a memory of “Automatic Voice Generator”

and make voice out-put of script, wouldn’t make

the Machine enlightened — very fancy though. 😀 )


—– Whether the stories (given in the Platform Sutra) has true

historical fact or not, to make the story in this way itself, was the

reflection of their understanding then = and expressing

supremacy over other sect of “Just reading scripture and sitting”

Illiterate Huineng was THE very typical sample in Zen.



PS :   Still, there are many questions left.   Zen understanding could

be gained without words, since it is not knowledge based intellectual

understanding but to customising the perception and behavioural

pattern in the subconscious level though, whether to compose

a stanza without having enough knowledge of lexical pattern is

possible or not ?   And the script telling the story, “Platform Sutra”

was written long after with a lots of diviating history.

—– Yet the fact is, the mummified body of Huineng has been kept

in the monastery till today and still sitting there !

(you can see the photo by Googling it) —– If he was not such a

great Master in real life, no such things could ever have happened.


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