Huineng Gets Ordained

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on April 24, 2017.)

The grounds of Guangxiao Temple are festooned with flags to memorialize Huineng's famous utterance.

Last time we talked about how Huineng won a poetry contest and became the Sixth Patriarch.

He was secretly given the robe and begging bowl which made him the Sixth--secretly, because the Fifth knew that the other monks would object. Getting wind of what had happened, they indeed came after him, pursuing him for months. Ultimately he went into the mountains of northern Guangdong, where he lived with hunters for fifteen years, setting their animals free as often as he could, and eating only vegetables.

Finally, he went to Guangzhou where, at Faxing Temple (now called Guangxiao Temple) he made one of his most famous statements. Two young monks were arguing about a flag flapping in the breeze: was the flag moving in the wind, they wondered, or was the wind moving the flag?

Huineng, though still an unordained layman, boldly stepped forward and resolved the issue. "Neither," he suggested. "It is your mind that is moving."

At that time, the Abbot had been lecturing to an assembly of monks. When he heard what Huineng had said, he called him into the assembly hall and in front of the convocation questioned him on some fine points of the Buddha's teaching.

Satisfied, the Abbot said, "I was told long ago that the inheritor of the Fifth Patriarch's robe and teaching had come to the South. Very likely you are the man."

When Huineng confirmed this, the Abbot asked him to show his inherited robe and begging bowl to the assembly. When he had done so, the Abbot shaved Huineng's head at once, making him a monk.

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