Birth and Death, by Shen Hui

Saidai-ji's (西大寺) green KannonMaster 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

Categories: Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen, Foundations, Mahayana

Tags: , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. “The gateless gate” I love that. Thankyou for this insighful post.

  2. Neither neither nor both, Nagarjuna might have preferred to say.

  3. according to the Hindu view the answer to what is my true nature – is understanding that YOU are unborn and shall never die, eternal, because your essence is but a spark of the eternal, though as a material being your ego is born and dies again and again.

    • Thanks Indrajit,

      The Buddha explained it a little differently. Neither eternal nor stopping.


    • When mind is in it’s nature pure state, then there is no any birth, as there is no any birth, there will not be any death. Birth and death is happening at very small fraction of time, it is known as change or Dukhkha or suffering. If one removes impurities from own mind one by one constantly, then when there is no any single impurity remains, person is out of the Bhavchakra – Birth and Death.

  4. Brilliant! One feels one has got it it. But one has not, of course, for then one wouldn’t be sitting here typing comments.


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