The Spiritual Attainment Of The Sixth Patriarch

Some time before his death (in 675 A.D.) the Fifth Patriarch

announced to all disciples that the Spirit of Shakya Muni is hard to

realize, that they should express their own views on it, on condition

that anyone who could prove his right realization should be given

with the Kachaya and created the Sixth Patriarch. Then the venerable

Sung Siu, the head of the seven hundred disciples, who was considered

by his brothers
o be the man entitled to the honour, composed the

following verses:

"The body is the Bodhi-tree.

The mind is like a mirror bright on its stand.

Dust it and wipe it from time to time,

Lest it be dimmed by dust and dirt."

The idea expressed by these lines is clear enough. Body is

likened to the Bodhi-tree, under which Shakya Muni attained to his

supreme enlightenment; for it is not in another body in the future

existence, but in this very body that one had to get enlightened.

And mind is pure and bright in its nature like a mirror, but the dirt

and dust of passions and of low desires often pollute and dim it.

Therefore one should dust and wipe it from time to time in order to

keep it bright.

All who read these lines thought that the writer was worthy of the

expected reward, and the Fifth Patriarch also, appreciating the

significance of the verses, said: "If men in the future would

practise Zen according to this view, they would acquire an excellent

result." Hwui Nang, the rice-pounder, hearing of them, however,

secretly remarked that they are beautiful, but hardly expressive of

the Spirit of Shakya Muni, and wrote his own verses, which ran as


"There is no Bodhi-tree,

Nor is there a mirror stand.

Nothing exists from the first

What can be dimmed by dust and dirt?"

These verses have often been misunderstood as expressive of

a nihilistic view, but the real meaning is anything but nihilistic.

Mind is pure and bright in its essence. It is always free from

passions and mean desires, just as the sun is always bright, despite

of cloud and mist that cover its face. Therefore one must get an

insight into this essential nature of Mind, and realize that one has

no mean desires and passions from the first, and also that there is

no tree of Bodhi nor the mirror of Enlightenment without him, but

they are within him.

Perhaps nobody ever dreamed such an insignificant fellow as the

rice-pounder could surpass the venerable scholar in a religious

insight, but the Fifth Patriarch saw at once an Enlightened Soul

expressed in those lines; therefore he made up his mind to give the

Kachaya to the writer, in whom he found a great spiritual leader of

future generations. But he did it secretly at midnight, lest some of

the disciples from envy do violence to Hwui Nang. He was, moreover,

cautious enough to advise his successor to leave the Monastery at

once, and go back to the South, that the latter might conceal his

Enlightenment until a time would come for his missionary activities.