Master Kien asked Master Shen Hui: ‘However hard I practise seeing my true nature, I am always brought back into birth and death. What method must be practised in order to obtain the birthless and the deathless?’
Shen Hui replied: ‘”Seeing” — that means the absence of birth and death. “Birth and death” — that means seeing people subject to birth and death. If there is absence of all birth and death as well as absence of birthlessness and deathlessness, then that is obtaining the birthless and the deathless.’
But for Shen-Hui Zen, as we know it today, would probably be quite different. He was one of the main students of the famous sixth patriarch Hui-neng. However, what is not very well known is that after Hui-neng’s death, the Zen patriarchship first pasted to the leader of the ‘gradual’ school of Zen Shen-hsiu. Shen-Hui went to the Chinese court and made the case for Hui-neng and the teaching of sudden awakening, and after many years had Hui-neng recognised as the sixth patriarch.
First published in the April 1989 Buddhism Now