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Essays & Articles
the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi,
translated by Taigen Dan Leighton with Yi Wu, Edited with Introduction
by Taigen Dan Leighton, Revised Expanded Edition, Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
[Note: The following Excerpts do not include the endnotes in the book.]
Excerpts from Practice Instructions: Dharma Words of Monk Hongzhi
of Mount Tiantong in Ming Province,
Compiled with a Preface by
the compiler of Hongzhi's teachings:]
Hongzhi made vast and empty the bright
mirror and saw through it and reflected without neglect. He manifested the mysterious
pivot of subtle change, then trusted his fortune and certainly found the core.
Only one who had the true eye and deep flowing eloquence could have mastered this!
My teacher lived below Taipai Peak. Dragons and elephants tromped around. The
hammer and chisel [of the teaching] chipped away. The meaning of his words spread
widely but still conveyed the essence. Sometimes scholars and laypeople who trusted
the Way asked for his directions; sometimes mendicant monks requested his instructions.
They spread out paper and wrote down his responses. He spoke up and answered their
questions, producing appropriate dharma talks. I have selected a few of these
and arranged them in order. Ah, the emptiness of the great blue sky, the flowing
of the vast ocean. I have not yet attained these utmost depths, so please excuse
my attempt to record his talks. I must await the ones who mysteriously accord
with spiritual awakening to pound out the rhythm of his words and appreciate their
The Bright, Boundless Field
The field of boundless emptiness is
what exists from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush
away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can
reside in the clear circle of brightness. Utter emptiness has no image, upright
independence does not rely on anything. Just expand and illuminate the original
truth unconcerned by external conditions. Accordingly we are told to realize that
not a single thing exists. In this field birth and death do not appear. The deep
source, transparent down to the bottom, can radiantly shine and can respond unencumbered
to each speck of dust without becoming its partner. The subtlety of seeing and
hearing transcends mere colors and sounds. The whole affair functions without
leaving traces, and mirrors without obscurations. Very naturally mind and dharmas
emerge and harmonize. An Ancient said that non-mind embodies and fulfills the
way of non-mind. Embodying and fulfilling the way of non-mind, finally you can
rest. Proceeding you are able to guide the assembly. With thoughts clear, sitting
silently, wander into the center of the circle of wonder. This is how you must
penetrate and study.
the Ten Thousand Years
Patch-robed monks make their thinking dry
and cool and rest from the remnants of conditioning. Persistently brush up and
sharpen this bit of the field. Directly cut through all the overgrown grass. Reach
the limit in all directions without defiling even one atom. Spiritual and bright,
vast and lustrous, illuminating fully what is before you, directly attain the
shining light and clarity that cannot attach to a single defilement. Immediately
tug and pull back the ox's nose. Of course his horns are imposing and he stomps
around like a beast, yet he never damages people's sprouts or grain. Wandering
around, accept how it goes. Accepting how it goes, wander around. Do not be bounded
by or settle into any place. Then the plough will break open the ground in the
field of the empty kalpa. Proceeding in this manner, each event will be unobscured,
each realm will appear complete. One contemplation of the ten thousand years is
beginning not to dwell in appearances. Thus it is said that the mind-ground contains
every seed and the universal rain makes them all sprout. When awakening blossoms,
desires fade, and Bodhi's fruit is perfected self.
Ancient Ferryboat in Bright Moonlight
A patch-robed monk's authentic
task is to practice the essence, in each minute event carefully discerning the
shining source, radiant without discrimination, one color unstained. You must
keep turning inwards, then [the source] is apprehended. This is called being able
to continue the family business. Do not wear the changing fashions, transcend
the duality of light and shadow. Accordingly the ancestors' single trail is marvelously
embodied. The residual debris of the world departs, its influence ended. This
worldly knowledge does not compare to returning to the primary and obtaining confirmation.
Observing beyond your skull, the core finally can be fulfilled and you can emerge
from the transitory. The reeds blossom under the bright moon; the ancient ferryboat
begins its passage; the jade thread fits into the golden needle. Then the opportunity
arises to turn around, enter the world, and respond to conditions. All the dusts
are entirely yours; all the dharmas are not someone else's. Follow the current
and paddle along, naturally unobstructed!
to Contemplate Buddha
your own authentic form is how to contemplate Buddha. If you can experience yourself
without distractions, simply surpass partiality and go beyond conceptualizing.
All buddhas and all minds reach the essential without duality. Patch-robed monks
silently wander and tranquilly dwell in the empty spirit, wondrously penetrating,
just as the supreme emptiness permeates this dusty kalpa. Dignified without relying
on others and radiant beyond doubt, maintaining this as primary, the energy turns
around and transforms all estrangement. Passing through the world responding to
situations, illumination is without striving and functions without leaving traces.
From the beginning the clouds leisurely release their rain, drifting past obstacles.
The direct teaching is very pure and steady. Nothing can budge it. Immediately,
without allowing past conditions to turn you, genuinely embody it.
Clouds' Fascination and the Moon's Cherishing
person of the Way fundamentally does not dwell anywhere. The white clouds are
fascinated with the green mountain's foundation. The bright moon cherishes being
carried along with the flowing water. The clouds part and the mountain appears.
The moon sets and the water is cool. Each bit of autumn contains vast interpenetration
without bounds. Every dust is whole without reaching me; the ten thousand changes
are stilled without shaking me. If you can sit here with stability, then you can
freely step across and engage the world with energy. There is an excellent saying
that the six sense doors are not veiled, the highways in all directions have no
footprints. Always arriving everywhere without being confused, gentle without
hesitation, the perfected person knows where to go.
in the Matter of Oneness
matter of oneness cannot be learned at all. The essence is to empty and open out
body and mind, as expansive as the great emptiness of space. Naturally in the
entire territory all is satisfied. This strong spirit cannot be deterred; in event
after event it cannot be confused. The moon accompanies the flowing water, the
rain pursues the drifting clouds. Settled, without a [grasping] mind, such intensity
may be accomplished. Only do not let yourself interfere with things, and certainly
nothing will interfere with you. Body and mind are one suchness; outside this
body there is nothing else. The same substance and the same function, one nature
and one form, all faculties and all object-dusts are instantly transcendent. So
it is said, the sage is without self and yet nothing is not himself. Whatever
appears is instantly understood, and you know how to gather it up or how to let
it go. Be a white ox in the open field. Whatever happens, nothing can drive him
Resting of the Streams and Tides
resting is like the great ocean accepting hundreds of streams, all absorbed into
one flavor. Freely going ahead is like the great surging tides riding on the wind,
all coming onto this shore together. How could they not reach into the genuine
source? How could they not realize the great function that appears before us?
A patch-robed monk follows movement and responds to changes in total harmony.
Moreover, havent you yourself established the mind that thinks up all the
illusory conditions? This insight must be perfectly incorporated.
the great rest and great halting the lips become moldy and mountains of grass
grow on your tongue. Moving straight ahead [beyond this state], totally let go,
washed clean and ground to a fine polish. Respond with brilliant light to such
unfathomable depths as the waters of autumn or the moon stamped in the sky. Then
you must know there is a path on which to turn yourself around. When you do turn
yourself around you have no different face that can be recognized. Even if you
do not recognize [your face] still nothing can hide it. This is penetrating from
the topmost all the way down to the bottom. When you have thoroughly investigated
your roots back to their ultimate source, a thousand or ten thousand sages are
no more than footprints on the trail. In wonder return to the journey, avail yourself
of the path and walk ahead. In light there is darkness; where it operates no traces
remain. With the hundred grass tips in the busy marketplace graciously share yourself.
Wide open and accessible, walking along, casually mount the sounds and straddle
the colors while you transcend listening and surpass watching. Perfectly unifying
in this manner is simply a patch-robed monk's appropriate activity.
Excerpts from Religious Verses:
Guidepost of Silent Illumination
and serene, forgetting words, bright clarity appears before you.
reflect it you become vast, where you embody it you are spiritually uplifted.
Spiritually solitary and shining, inner illumination restores wonder,
in the moonlight, a river of stars, snow-covered pines, clouds enveloping
In darkness it is most bright, while hidden all the more manifest.
The crane dreams in the wintery mists. The autumn waters flow far in the distance.
Endless kalpas are totally empty, all things completely the same.
exists in serenity, all achievement is forgotten in illumination.
is this wonder? Alertly seeing through confusion
Is the way of silent illumination
and the origin of subtle radiance.
Vision penetrating into subtle radiance
is weaving gold on a jade loom.
Upright and inclined yield to each other;
light and dark are interdependent.
Not depending on sense faculty and object,
at the right time they interact.
Drink the medicine of good views. Beat the
When they interact, killing and giving life are up to
Through the gate the self emerges and the branches bear fruit.
silence is the supreme speech, only illumination the universal response.
Responding without falling into achievement, speaking without involving listeners,
The ten thousand forms majestically glisten and expound the dharma.
certify it, every one in dialogue.
Dialoguing and certifying, they respond
appropriately to each other;
But if illumination neglects serenity then aggressiveness
Certifying and dialoguing, they respond to each other appropriately;
But if serenity neglects illumination, murkiness leads to wasted dharma.
When silent illumination is fulfilled, the lotus blossoms, the dreamer awakens,
A hundred streams flow into the ocean, a thousand ranges face the highest
Like geese preferring milk, like bees gathering nectar,
illumination reaches the ultimate, I offer my teaching.
The teaching of silent
illumination penetrates from the highest down to the foundation.
being shunyata, the arms in mudra;
From beginning to end the
changing appearances and ten thousand differences share one pattern.
Mr. Ho offered jade [to the Emperor; Minister] Xiangru pointed to its flaws.
Facing changes has its principles, the great function is without striving.
The ruler stays in the kingdom, the general goes beyond the frontiers.
school's affair hits the mark straight and true.
Transmit it to all directions
without desiring to gain credit.