Bhikkhu Zhi Chang, a native of Gui Xi of Xin Zhou, joined the Order in his childhood, and was very zealous in his efforts to realize the Essence of Mind. One day, he came to pay homage to the Patriarch, and was asked by the latter whence and why he came.
‘I have recently been to the White Cliff Mountain in Hong Zhou,’ replied he, ‘to interview the Master Da Tong, who was good enough to teach me how to realize the Essence of Mind and thereby attain Buddhahood. But as I still have some doubts, I have travelled far to pay you respect. Will you kindly clear them up for me, Sir.’
‘What instruction did he give you?’ asked the Patriarch.
‘After staying there for three months without being given any instruction, and being zealous for the Dharma, I went alone to his chamber one night and asked him what was my Essence of Mind. “Do you see the illimitable void?”‘ he asked. ‘Yes, I do,’ I replied. Then he asked me whether the void had any particular form, and when I said that the void is formless and therefore cannot have any particular form, he said, “Your Essence of Mind is exactly like the void. To realize that nothing can be seen is “Right View.” To realize that nothing is knowable is “True Knowledge.” To realize that it is neither green nor yellow, neither long nor short, that it is pure by nature, that its quintessence is perfect and clear, is to realize the Essence of Mind and thereby attain Buddhahood, which is also called the Buddha-knowledge.’ As I do not quite understand his teaching, will you please enlighten me, Sir.”
‘His teaching indicates,’ said the Patriarch, ‘that he still retains the arbitrary concepts of “Views’ and ‘Knowledge,” and this explains why he fails to make it clear to you. Listen to my stanza:
To realize that nothing can be seen but to retain the concept of ‘Invisibility’
Is like the surface of the sun obscured by passing clouds.
To realize that nothing is knowable but to retain the concept of ‘Unknowability’
May be likened to a clear sky disfigured by a lightning flash.
To let these arbitrary concepts rise spontaneously in your mind
Indicates that you have misidentified the Essence of Mind,
and that you have not yet found the skilful means to realize it.
If you realize for one moment that these arbitrary concepts are wrong,
Your own spiritual light will shine forth permanently.’
Having heard this Zhi Chang at once felt that his mind was enlightened. Thereupon, he submitted the following stanza to the Patriarch:
To allow the concepts of ‘Invisibility’ and ‘Unknowability’ to rise in the mind
Is to seek Bodhi without freeing oneself from the concepts of phenomena.
He who is puffed up by the slightest impression, ‘I am now enlightened,’
Is no better than he was when under delusion.
Had I not put myself at the feet of the Patriarch I should have been bewildered without knowing the right way to go.
Extract from the The Sutra of Hui-Neng