My father, a native of Fan Yang, was dismissed from his official post and banished to be a commoner in Hsin Chou in Kwangtung. I was unlucky in that my father died when I was very young, leaving my mother poor and miserable. We moved to Kwang Chou (Canton) and were then in very bad circumstances.
I was selling firewood in the market one day, when one of my customers ordered some to be brought to his shop. Upon delivery being made and payment received, I left the shop, outside of which I found a man reciting a sutra. As soon as I heard the text of this sutra my mind at once became enlightened.
Thereupon I asked the man the name of the book he was reciting and was told that it was the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedika or Diamond Cutter).
The young Hui-neng then went to study with the Patriarch but had to spend most of his time chopping wood and pounding rice till he was able to counter the head monk’s quatrain,
Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
And our mind a mirror bright.
Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.
with his own quatrain:
There is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is void,
Where can the dust alight?
. . .
Next day the patriarch came secretly to the room where the rice was pounded. Seeing that I was working with a stone pestle, he said to me, “A seeker risks his life for the dharma. Should he not do so?” Then he asked, “Is the rice ready?” “Ready long ago,” I replied, “only waiting for the sieve.” He knocked the mortar thrice with his stick and left. Knowing what his message meant, in the third watch of the night I went to his room. Using the robe as a screen so that none could see us, he expounded the Diamond Sutra to me. When he came to the sentence, “One should use one’s mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment, ” I at once became thoroughly enlightened, and realized that all things in the universe are the essence of mind itself. “Who would have thought,” I said to the patriarch, “that the essence of mind is intrinsically pure! Who would have thought that the essence of mind is intrinsically free from becoming or annihilation! Who would have thought that the essence of mind is intrinsically self-sufficient! Who would have thought that the essence of mind is intrinsically free from change! Who would have thought that all things are the manifestation of the essence of mind!”
. . .
Learned Audience, the wisdom of enlightenment (bodhi-prajna) is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and the guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our own essence of mind. You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between an enlightened man and an ignorant one. What makes the difference is that one realizes it, while the other is ignorant of it. Now, let me tell you about Maha Pragjnaparamita so that each of you can attain wisdom.
. . .
Learned Audience, you should know that the mind is very great in capacity, since it pervades the whole Dharmadatu (the sphere of the Law, i.e., the Universe). When we use it, we can know something of everything, and when we use it to its full capacity we should know all. all in one and one in all. When our mind works without hindrance, and is at liberty to ‘come’ or ‘go,’ then it is in a state of ‘Prajna.’
Learned Audience, all prajna comes from the essence mind and not from an exterior source. Have no mistaken notion about that. This is called ‘Self-use of the true nature.’
. . .
It is wrong to insist upon the idea that without the advice of the pious and learned we cannot obtain liberation. Why? Because it is by our innate wisdom that we enlighten ourselves, and even the extraneous help and instruction of a pious and learned friend would be of no use if we were deluded by false doctrines and erroneous views. Should we introspect our mind with real prajna, all erroneous views would be vanquished in a moment, and as soon as we know the essence of mind we arrive immediately at the buddha stage.
. . .
In the exercise of our thinking faculty, let the past be dead. If we allow our thoughts, past, present, and future, to link up in a series, we put ourselves under restraint. On the other hand, if we never let our mind attach to anything, we shall gain emancipation. For this reason, we take non-attachment as our fundamental principle.
. . .
Learned Audience, what are dhyana and samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed. When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace. Our essence of mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in. He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained samadhi.
. . .
Now what is dharmakaya? Our essence of mind is intrinsically pure; all things are only its manifestations, and good deeds and evil deeds are only the results of good thoughts and evil thoughts respectively. Thus, within the essence of mind all things [are intrinsically pure], like the azure of the sky and the radiance of the sun and the moon which, when obscured by passing clouds, may appear as if their brightness had been dimmed; but as soon as the clouds are blown away, brightness reappears and all objects are fully illuminated. Learned audience our evil habits may be liked unto the clouds, while sagacity and wisdom [prajna] are the sun and moon respectively. When we attach ourselves to outer objects, our essence of mind is clouded by wanton though5ts, which prevent our sagacity and wisdom from sending forth light.