Chapter VI. On Repentance
Once there was a big gathering of scholars and commoners from Kuang Chou, Shao Chou, and other places to wait upon the Patriarch to
preach to them. Seeing this, the Patriarch mounted the pulpit and delivered the following address:
In Buddhism, we should start from our Essence of Mind. At all times let us purify our own mind from one thought-moment to another, tread the
Path by our own efforts, realize our own Dharmakaya, realize the Buddha in our own mind, and deliver ourselv es by a personal
observance of Sila; then your visit will not have been in vain.
Since all of you have come from afar, the fact of our meeting here shows that there is a good affinity between us. Now let us sit down in the
Indian fashion, and I will give you the five kinds of Incense of the Dharmakaya.
When they had sat down, the Patriarch continued: The first is the Sila Incense, which means that our mind is free from taints of misdeeds, evil
jealousy, avarice, anger, spoliation, and hatred. The second is the Samadhi Incense, which means that our mind is unperturbed in all
circumstances, favorable or unfavorable. The
third is the Prajna Incense, which means that our mind is free from all impediments, that we constantly introspect our Essence of Mind with
wisdom, that we refrain from doing all kinds of evil deeds, that although we do all kinds of good acts, yet we do n ot let our mind become
attached to (the fruits) of such actions, and that we are respectful towards our superiors, considerate to our inferiors, and sympathetic to the
destitute and the poor. The fourth is the Incense of Liberation, this means that our m ind is in such an absolutely free state that it clings to
nothing and concerns itself neither with good nor evil. The fifth is the Incense of Knowledge obtained on the Attainment of Liberation. When our
mind clings to neither good nor evil we should tak e care not to let it dwell upon vacuity, or remain in a state of inertia. Rather should we enlarge
our study and
broaden our knowledge, so that we can know our own mind, understand thoroughly the principles of Buddhism, be congenial to others in our
dealings with them, get rid of the idea of 'self' and that of
'being', and realize that up to the time when we attain Bodhi the 'true nature' (or Essence of Mind) is always immutable. Such, then, is the
Incense of Knowledge obtained on the Attainment of
Liberation. This five-fold Incense fumigates us from within, and we should not look for it from without.
Now I will give you the 'formless' Repentance which will expiate our sins committed in our present, past, and future lives, and purify our karmas
of thought, word and deed.
Learned Audience, please follow me and repeat together what I say:
May we, disciples so and so, be always free from the taints of ignorance and delusion. We repent of all our sins and evil deeds committed under
delusion or in ignorance. May they be expiated at once and may they never arise again.
May we be always free from the taints of arrogance and dishonesty (Asatya). We repent of all our arrogant behavior and dishonest dealings in
the past. May they be expiated at once and may they
never arise again.
May we be always free from the taints of envy and jealousy. We repent of all our sins and evil deeds committed in an envious or jealous spirit.
May they be expiated at once and may they never
Learned Audience, this is what we call 'formless Ch'an Hui' (repentance). Now what is the meaning of Ch'an? Ch'an refers to the repentance of
past sins. To repent of all our past sins and evil deeds committed under delusion, ignorance, arrogance, dishonesty, jealousy, or envy, etc. so as to
put an end to all of them is called Ch'an. Hui refers to that part of repentance concerning our future conduct. Having realized the nature of our
transgression (we make a vow) that hereafter we will put an en d to all kinds of evil committed under delusion, ignorance, arrogance, dishonesty,
jealousy, or envy, and that we shall never sin again. This is Hui.
On account of ignorance and delusion, common people do not realize that in repentance they have not only to feel sorry for their past sins but
also to refrain from sinning in the future. Since they take no heed of their future conduct they commit ne w sins before the past are expiated.
How can we call this 'repentance'?
Learned Audience, having repented of our sins we will take the following four All-embracing Vows:
We vow to deliver an infinite number of sentient beings of our mind. We vow to get rid of the innumerable defilements in our own mind.
We vow to learn the countless systems in Dharma of our Essence of
We vow to attain the Supreme Buddhahood of our Essence of Mind.
Learned Audience, all of us have now declared that we vow to deliver an infinite number of sentient beings; but what does that mean? It does not
mean that I, Hui Neng, am going to deliver them. And who
are these sentient beings within our mind? They are the delusive mind, the deceitful mind, the evil mind, and such like minds - all these are
sentient beings. Each of them has to deliver himself by means of his own Essence of Mind. Then the deliverance is genuine.
Now, what does it mean to deliver oneself by one's own Essence of Mind? It means the deliverance of the ignorant, the delusive, and
the vexatious beings within our own mind by means of Right Views.
With the aid of Right Views and Prajna-Wisdom the barriers raised by these ignorant and delusive beings may be broken down; so that each
of them is in a position to deliver himself by his own efforts. Let the fallacious be delivered by rightness; the deluded by enlightenment; the
ignorant by wisdom; and the malevolent by benevolence. Such is genuine deliverance.
As to the vow, 'We vow to get rid of the innumerable evil passions
in the mind,' it refers to the substitution of our unreliable and illusive thinking faculty by the Prajna-Wisdom of our Essence of
As to the vow, 'We vow to learn countless systems of Dharmas,' there will be no true learning until we have seen face to face our Essence of
Mind, and until we conform to the orthodox Dharma on all
As to the vow, 'We vow to attain Supreme Buddhahood,' when we are able to bend our mind to follow the true and orthodox Dharma on all
occasions, and when Prajna always rises in our mind, so that we can hold aloof from enlightenment as well as from ig norance, and do away with
truth as well as falsehood, then we may consider ourselves as having realized the Buddha-nature, or in other words, as having attained
Learned Audience, we should always bear in mind that we are treading the Path, for thereby strength will be added to our vows. Now, since all
of us have taken these four All-embracing Vows, let me teach you the 'Formless Threefold Guidance':
We take 'Enlightenment' as our guide, because it is the culmination
of both Punya (merit) and Prajna (wisdom).
We take 'Orthodoxy' (Dharma) as our guide, because it is the best way
to get rid of desire.
We take 'Purity' as our guide, because it is the noblest quality of
Hereafter, let the Enlightened One be our teacher; on no account should we accept Mara (the personification of evil) or any heretic as our guide.
This we should testify to ourselves by constantly appealing to the 'Three Gems' of our Essence of Mind, in which, Learned Audience, I advise
you to take refuge. They are:
Buddha, which stands for Enlightenment.
Dharma, which stands for Orthodoxy.
Sangha, (the Order) which stands for Purity.
To let our mind take refuge in 'Enlightenment', so that evil and delusive notions do not arise, desire decreases, discontent is unknown, and lust
and greed no longer bind, this is the culmination
of Punya and Prajna.
To let our mind take refuge in 'Orthodoxy' so that we are always
free from wrong views (for without wrong views there would be no egotism, arrogance, or craving), this is the best way to get rid of desire.
To let our mind take refuge in 'Purity' so that no matter in what circumstances it may be it will not be contaminated by wearisome sense-objects,
craving and desire, this is the noblest quality of mankind.
To practice the Threefold Guidance in the way above mentioned means to take refuge in oneself (i.e., in one's own Essence of Mind). Ignorant
persons take the Threefold Guidance day and night but do not understand it. If they say they take refuge in Buddha, do they know where he is?
Yet if they cannot see Buddha, how can they take refuge in him? Does not such an assertion amount to a lie?
Learned Audience, each of you should consider and examine this point for yourself, and let not your energy be misapplied. The Sutra distinctly
says that we should take refuge in the Buddha within ourselves; it does not suggest that we should take re fuge in other Buddhas. (Moreover), if
we do not take refuge in the Buddha within ourselves, there is no other place for us to retreat.
Having cleared up this point, let each of us take refuge in the 'Three Gems' within our mind. Within, we should control our mind; without, we
should be respectful towards others - this is the way to take refuge within ourselves.
Learned Audience, since all of you have taken the 'Threefold Guidance' I am going to speak to you on the Trikaya (three 'bodies') of the Buddha
of our Essence of Mind, so that you can see these three bodies and realize clearly the Essence of Mind. P lease listen carefully and repeat this
With our physical body, we take refuge in the Pure Dharmakaya
(Essence-body) of Buddha.
With our physical body, we take refuge in the Perfect Sambhogakaya
(Manifestation body) of Buddha.
With our physical body, we take refuge in the Myriad Nirmanakaya
(Incarnation-bodies) of Buddha.
Learned Audience, our physical body may be likened unto an inn
(i.e., a temporary abode), so we cannot take refuge there. Within
our Essence of Mind these Trikaya of Buddha are to be found, and they are common to everybody. Because the mind (of an ordinary man)
labors under delusions, he knows not his own inner nature; and the result is that he ignores the Trikaya within himself, (erroneously believing)
that they are to be sought from without. Please listen, and I will show you that within yourself you will fin d the Trikaya which, being the
manifestation of the Essence of Mind, are not to be sought from without.
Now, what is the Pure Dharmakaya? Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure; all things are only its manifestations, and good deeds and evil
deeds are only the result 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 has
been dimmed; but as soon as the clouds are blown way, brightness reappea rs and all objects are fully illuminated. Learned Audience, our evil
habits may be likened 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 thoughts which prevent our Sagacity and Wisdom from sending forth their light. But should
we be fortunate enough to find learned and pious teachers to make known to us the Orthodox Dharma, then we may with our own efforts do away
with ignorance and delusion, so that we are enlightened both within and without, and the (true nature) of all things manifests itself within our
Essence of Mind. This is what happens to those who have seen
face to face the Essence of Mind, and this is what is called the Pure Dharmakaya of Buddha.
Learned Audience, to take refuge in a true Buddha is to take refuge in our own Essence of Mind. He who does so should remove from his Essence
of Mind the evil mind, the jealous mind, the flattering and crooked mind, egotism, deceit and falsehood, co ntemptuousness, snobbishness,
fallacious views, arrogance, and all other evils that may arise at any time. To take refuge in ourself is to be constantly on the alert for our own
mistakes, and to refrain from criticism of others' merits or faults. He who is humble and meek on all occasions and is polite to everybody has
thoroughly realized his Essence of Mind, so thoroughly that his Path is free from further obstacles.
This is the way to take refuge in ourself.
What is the Perfect Sambhogakaya? Let us take the illustration of a lamp. Even as the light of a lamp can break up darkness which has been there
for a thousand years, so a spark of Wisdom can do away
with ignorance which has lasted for ages. We need not bother about the past, for the past is gone and irrecoverable. What demands our attention
is the future; so let our thoughts from moment to moment be clear and round, and let use see face to face our Essence of Mind. Good and evil are
opposite to each other, but their quintessence cannot be dualistic. This non-dualistic nature is called the true nature which can neither be
contaminated by evil nor affected by
good. This is what is called the Sambhogakaya of Buddha.
One single evil thought from our Essence of Mind will spoil the good merits accumulated in aeons of time, while a good thought from that same
source can expiate all our sins, though they are as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges. To realize ou r own Essence of Mind
from moment to moment without intermission until we attain Supreme Enlightenment, so that we are perpetually in a state of Right Mindfulness, is
Now, what is the Myriad Nirmanakaya? When we subject ourselves to the least discrimination of particularization, transformation takes place;
otherwise, all things remain as void as space, as they inherently are. By dwelling our mind on evil things, hell arises.
By dwelling our mind on good acts, paradise appears. Dragons and snakes are the transformation of venomous hatred, while Bodhisattvas are
mercy personified. The upper regions are Prajna crystallized, while the underworld is only another form assumed by ignorance and infatuation.
Numerous indeed are the transformations of the Essence of Mind! People under delusion awake not and understand not; always they bend their
minds on evil, and as a rule practice evil. But should they turn their minds from evil to righteousness, even for a moment, Prajna would instantly
arise. This is what is called the Nirmanakaya of the Buddha of the Essence of Mind.
Learned Audience, the Dharmakaya is intrinsically self-sufficient.
To see face to face from moment to moment our own Essence of Mind is the Sambhogakaya of Buddha. To dwell our mind on the Sambhogakaya
(so that Wisdom or Prajna arises) is the Nirmanakaya. To attain enlightenment by our own efforts and to practice by ourself the goodness
inherent in our Essence of Mind is a genuine case of 'Taking Refuge'. Our physical body, consisting of flesh and ski n, etc., is nothing more than
a tenement, (for temporary use only), so we do not take refuge therein. But let us realize the Trikaya of our Essence
of Mind, and we shall know the Buddha of our Essence of Mind.
I have a 'formless' stanza, the reciting and practicing of which
will at once dispel the delusions and expiate the sins accumulated in numerous kalpas. This is the stanza:
People under delusion accumulate tainted merits but do not tread the
They are under the impression that to accumulate merits and to tread
the Path are one and the same thing.
Though their merits for alms-giving and offerings are infinite
(They do not realize that) the ultimate source of sin lies in the
three poisonous elements (i.e., greed, anger and illusion) within
their own mind.
They expect to expiate their sins by accumulating merit
Without knowing that felicities obtained in future lives have nothing
to do with the expiation of sins.
Why not get rid of the sin within our own mind,
For this is true repentance (within our Essence of Mind)?
(A sinner) who realizes suddenly what constitutes true repentance
according to the Mahayana School,
And who ceases from doing evil and practices righteousness is free
A treader of the Path who keeps a constant watch on his Essence of
May be classified in the same group as the various Buddhas.
Our Patriarchs transmitted no other system of Law but this 'Sudden'
May all followers of it see face to face their Essence of Mind and be
at once with the Buddhas.
If you are going to look for Dharmakaya
See it above Dharmalaksana (phenomena), and then your Mind will be
Exert yourself in order to see face to face the Essence of Mind and
For death may come suddenly and put an abrupt end to your earthly
Those who understand the Mahayana teaching and are thus able to
realize the Essence of Mind
Should reverently put their palms together (as a sign of respect) and
fervently seek for the Dharmakaya.
The Patriarch then added:
Learned Audience, all of you should recite this stanza and put it into practice. Should you realize your Essence of Mind after reciting it, you may
consider yourself to be always in my presence, though actually you are a thousand miles away, but sho uld you be unable to
do so, then, though we are face to face, we are really a thousand miles apart. In that case, what is the use of taking the trouble to come here
from so far away? Take good care of yourselves. Good-bye.
The whole assembly, after hearing what the Patriarch had said,
became enlightened. In a very happy mood, they accepted his teaching and put it into practice.