Huineng and the Poetry Competition

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on April 17, 2017.)

The grand new gateway to the ancient Wuzu Temple, Huangmei, Hubei

Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, was born, taught, and died within a relatively short distance of Guangzhou. In fact, only one major event of his life took place outside of Guangdong Province, and that was in the remote Huangmei Mountains of Hubei.

After the illiterate charcoal-cutter heard a recital of the Diamond Sutra, he set out to find the best teacher possible. This entailed walking to the Fifth Patriarch's Temple, which Huineng later reported took him thirty days.

Even today it is hard to reach. From Jiujiang I took several increasingly-smaller buses, and then hired a private car. Doing this on foot, all the way from Guangdong, took real dedication!

Upon arrival, Huineng--at that time surnamed Lu--was assigned to the kitchen. His ascendance to the patriarchy was based on one interesting incident.

It seems the Fifth Patriarch had decided his students should compete in a poetry contest to see who would be his successor. The leading student, Shenxiu, wrote the following on a wall in the depth of the night:
The body is a Bodhi tree,
The mind a bright mirror on a stand.
At all times polish it diligently,
And let no dust alight.
When this was read to Huineng, he asked a companion to write this next to Shenxiu's entry:
Original mind has no tree;
The bright mirror has no stand.
Original nature is always pure--
Where could any dust alight?
The Fifth Patriarch, recognizing the superior understanding in this verse, discovered the author and secretly made him the Sixth Patriarch. But that is another tale.

No comments:

Post a Comment