One day, Magistrate Wei arranged a great vegetarian feast on behalf of the Master.
After the meal, the Magistrate asked the Master to take his seat. Together with officials, scholars, and the assembly, he bowed reverently and asked, "Your disciple has heard the High Master explain the Dharma. It is truly inconceivable. I now have a few doubts and hope you will be compassionate and resolve them for me."
The Master said, "If you have any doubts, please ask me and I will explain."
The Honorable Wei said, "Is not what the Master speaks the same as the doctrine of Bodhidharma?"
The Master replied, "It is."
The Magistrate asked, "Your disciple has heard that when Bodhidharma first instructed the Emperor Wu of Liang, the Emperor asked him, 'All my life I have built temples, given sanction to the Sangha, practiced giving, and arranged vegetarian feasts. What merit and virtue have I gained?'
"Bodhidharma said, 'There was actually no merit and Virtue.'
"I, your disciple, have not yet understood this principle and hope that the High Master will explain it."
The Master said, "There actually was no merit and virtue. Do not doubt the words of a sage. Emperor Wu of Liang's mind was wrong; he did not know the right Dharma. Building temples and giving sanction to the Sangha, practicing giving and arranging vegetarian feasts is called 'seeking blessings'. Do not mistake blessings for merit and virtue. Merit and virtue are in the Dharma body, not in the cultivation of blessings."
The Master said further, "Seeing your own nature is merit, and equanimity is virtue. To be unobstructed in every thought, constantly seeing the true, real, wonderful function of your original nature is called merit and virtue."
"Inner humility is merit and the outer practice of reverence is virtue. Your self-nature establishing the ten thousand dharmas is merit and the mind-substance separate from thought is virtue. Not being separate from the self-nature is merit, and the correct use of the undefiled (self-nature) is virtue. If you seek the merit and virtue of the Dharma body, simply act according to these principles, for this is true merit and virtue."
"Those who cultivate merit and virtue in their thoughts do not slight others, but always respect them. Those who slight others and do not cut off the 'me and mine' are without merit. The vain and unreal self-nature is without virtue, because of the 'me and mine,' because of the greatness of the 'self,' and because of the constant slighting of others."
"Good Knowing Advisors, continuity of thought is merit, and the mind practicing equality and directness is virtue. Self-cultivation of one's nature is merit, and self-cultivation of the body is virtue."
"Good Knowing Advisors, merit and virtue should be seen within one's own nature, not sought through giving and making offerings. That is the difference between blessings and merit and virtue. Emperor Wu did not know the true principle. Our Patriarch was not in error."
The Magistrate asked further, "Your disciple has often seen the Sangha and laity reciting 'Amitabha Buddha,' vowing to be reborn in the West. Will the High Master please tell me if they will obtain rebirth there, and so dispel my doubts?"
The Master said, "Magistrate, listen well. Hui Neng will explain it for you. When the World Honored One was in Shravasti City, he spoke of being led to rebirth in the West. The Sutra text clearly states, 'It is not far from here.' If we discuss its appearance, it is 108,000 miles away, but in immediate terms, it is just beyond the ten evils and the eight deviations within us. It is explained as far distant for those of inferior roots and as nearby for those of superior wisdom."
"There are two kinds of people, not two kinds of Dharma. Enlightenment and confusion differ, and seeing can be quick or slow. The deluded person recites the Buddha's name, seeking rebirth there, while the enlightened person purifies his own mind. Therefore the Buddha said, 'As the mind is purified, the Buddhaland is purified.'"
"Magistrate, if the person of the East merely purifies his mind, he is without offense. Even though one may be of the West, if his mind is impure he is at fault. The person of the East commits offenses and recites the Buddha's name, seeking rebirth in the West. When the person of the West commits offenses and recites the Buddha's name, in what country does he seek rebirth?"
"Common, deluded people do not understand their self-nature and do not know that the Pure Land is within themselves. Therefore they make vows for the East and vows for the West. To enlightened people, all places are the same. As the Buddha said, 'In whatever place one dwells, there is constant peace and happiness.'
"Magistrate, if the mind-ground is only without unwholesomeness, the West is not far from here. If one harbors unwholesome thoughts, one may recite the Buddha's name, but it will be difficult to attain that rebirth.
"Good Knowing Advisors, I now exhort you all to get rid of the ten evils first and you will have walked one hundred thousand miles. Next get rid of the eight deviations and you will have gone eight thousand miles. If in every thought you see your own nature and always practice impartiality and straightforwardness, you will arrive in a finger-snap and see Amitabha.
"Magistrate, merely practice the ten wholesome acts; then what need will there be for you to vow to be reborn there? But if you do not rid the mind of the ten evils, what Buddha will come to welcome you?"
"If you become enlightened to the sudden dharma of the unproduced, you will see the West in an instant. Unenlightened, you may recite the Buddha's name seeking rebirth, but since the road is so long, how can you traverse it?
"Hui Neng will move the West here in the space of an instant so that you may see it right before your eyes. Do you wish to see it?"
The entire assembly bowed and said, "If we could see it here, what need would there be to vow to be reborn there? Please, High Master, be compassionate and make the West appear so that we might see it."
The Master said: "Great assembly, the worldly person's own physical body is the city, and the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body are the gates. Outside there are five gates and inside there is the gate of the mind. The mind is the 'ground' and one's nature is the 'king'. The 'king' dwells on the mind 'ground.' When the nature is present, the king is present, but when the nature is absent, there is no king. When the nature is present, the body and mind remain, but when the nature is absent, the body and mind are destroyed. The Buddha is made within the self-nature. Do not seek outside the body. Confused, the self-nature is a living being: enlightened, it is a Buddha."
"'Kindness and compassion' are Avalokiteshvara and 'sympathetic joy and giving' are Mahasthamaprapta. 'Purification' is Shakyamuni, and 'equanimity and directness' are Amitabha. 'Others and self' are Mount Sumeru and 'deviant thoughts' are ocean water. 'Afflictions' are the waves. 'Cruelty' is an evil dragon. 'Empty falseness' is ghosts and spirits. 'Defilement' is fish and turtles, 'greed and hatred' are hell, and 'delusion' is animals.
"Good Knowing Advisors, always practice the ten good practices and the heavens can easily be reached. Get rid of others and self, and Mount Sumeru topples. Do away with deviant thought, and the ocean waters dry up. Without defilements, the waves cease. End cruelty, and there are no fish or dragons. The Tathagata of the enlightened nature is on your own mind-ground, emitting a great bright light which outwardly illuminates and purifies the six gates and breaks through the six desire-heavens. Inwardly, it illuminates the self-nature and casts out the three poisons. The hells and all such offenses are destroyed at once. Inwardly and outwardly there is bright penetration. This is no different from the West. But if you do not cultivate, how can you go there?"
On hearing this speech, the members of the great assembly clearly saw their own natures. They bowed together and exclaimed, "This is indeed good! May all living beings of the Dharma Realm who have heard this awaken at once and understand!"
The Master said, "Good Knowing Advisors, if you wish to cultivate, you may do so at home. You need not be in a monastery. If you live at home and practice, you are like the person of the East whose mind is good. If you dwell in a monastery but do not cultivate, you are like the person of the West whose mind is evil. Merely purify your mind; that is the 'West' of your self-nature."
The Honorable Wei asked further: "How should those at home cultivate? Please instruct us."
The Master said, "I have composed a markless verse for the great assembly. Merely rely on it to cultivate and you will be as if always by my side. If you cut your hair and leave home, but do not cultivate, it will be of no benefit in pursuing the Way. The verse runs:
The Master continued, "Good Knowing Advisors, you in this assembly should cultivate according to this verse to see and make contact with your self-nature and to realize the Buddha Way directly. The Dharma does not wait. The assembly may now disperse. I shall now return to Ts'ao Hsi. If you have questions come quickly and ask."
At that time, Magistrate Wei, the officials, and the good men and faithful
women of the assembly all attained understanding, faithfully accepted,
honored the teaching and practiced it.