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Story of The Fifth Patriarch Hongren

Story of The Fifth Patriarch Hongren




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The Fifth Patriarch Hongren, realizing he was coming to the end of his years, instructed his monks to compose a "mind-verse" which would confirm their level of attainment. The winner of the contest would be named Sixth Patriarch and receive the robe of Bodhidharma. None of the monks dared to write anything, deferring to Shenxiu who they believed would be the next Dharma heir. Shenxiu, full of doubts about his own abilities and with the weight of expectation upon him, finally wrote a verse. Uncertain about his worth as a patriarch, he wrote his verse anonymously on a wall in a corridor of the monastery. Shenxiu's verse read:

The body is the bodhi tree
The mind is like a bright mirror's stand.
At all times we must strive to polish it
and must not let dust collect.

Publicly, Hongren praised this verse and instructed all his monks to recite it. Privately, Hongren asked Shenxiu to compose another verse as Hongren believed that Shenxiu's verse did not display true understanding of the Dharma. Shenxiu was unable to compose another verse. Meanwhile, the illiterate Huineng heard the monks chanting this verse and asked about it. When told the story of Hongren's contest, Huineng asked a monk to take him to the wall where Shenxiu's verse was written. There he asked someone to write his own verse. Huineng's verse read

Bodhi originally has no tree.
The bright mirror also has no stand.
Fundamentally there is not a single thing.
Where could dust arise?

The account says that publicly Hongren denigrated this verse but later, in private, he taught Huineng the true meaning of the Diamond Sutra, thereby awakening Huineng to the sutra's profound teaching. Hongren gave Huineng the robe of transmission and told him to flee the monastery in secret at night. Huineng thereby became the Sixth and last Patriarch of Chan.



Recommended Reading for Older Children:

'Master of Zen: Extraordinary Teachings from Hui Neng's Altar Sutra'
By Tze-si Huang (Adapter, Translator), Demi (Illustrator)

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From instant enlightenment to conscious departure, the Sixth (and last) Patriarch of Ch an (Zen) Buddhism, Hui Neng, is the subject of Master of Zen. From the seventh Century AD, these stories, illuminating the Buddhist middle way, come to life with fresh translations by Tze-si Huang, a native of China and long-time Buddhist; black-and-white line drawings accompany the text on facing pages, illustrated by Huang s wife, noted children s book illustrator, Demi.The deceptively simple, though not necessarily easy, text and drawings trace the wisdom journey of Hui Neng in the Altar Sutra. Although poor and untutored, Hui Neng came into enlightenment in a marketplace when he overheard a monk chanting the Diamond Sutra. It s an inviting introduction for all spiritual seekers to drop deeply into the lessons of an enlightened master, considered the father of Zen.
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