Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The 4 Noble Truths in Zen

Ven Xing Si asked Hui Neng:
"How do I practice, such that I will not fall into stages?"
Neng: "What have you been practicing lately?"
Si: "I don't even think about the Noble Truths!"
Neng: "What stage is that?"
Si: "When you don't even think about the Noble Truths, what stage is there left?"
The 6th Patriach was very pleased with his answer, and asked him to lead the disciples.

Every Buddhist know that the 4 Noble Truths are the core teaching of the Dhamma, for it is the very first sermon that the Buddha gave at the Deer Park in Benares to the 5 ascetics. But what are the Noble Truths according to Zen, which Ven Xingsi, one of the foremost disciples of the 6th Patriach rejected outright?

1. Suffering - what is suffering? The mind of love & hate, suffering & happiness, birth & death, existing & non-existing; such that all dual states of mind are suffering.

2. Cause of Suffering - what causes suffering? Avijja or fundamental ignorance. Being ignorant & blind to the true nature of the mind, grasping to duality as its reality.

3. End of Suffering - what is the end of suffering? Shatter Avijja & one passes beyond all suffering. This is Nibbana, Bodhi, Patience of the Unborn, Dharmakaya.

4. Path leading to the End - what is the path? The path is the 8-fold Path of which the most important is to establish Right View (which I have explained in one of my past articles).

When one developes Right View, one sees that the mind & all its conceptions are fundamentally empty. Duality exists only because of one's deep-seated grasping & discrimination. One chases after illusionary things in the false hope that they will lead to happiness, setting forth the wheel of Samsara. Abandoning all false thoughts, discrimination & grasping in your own mind, & this very mind is the Buddha. There is no other Buddha or Dharma except your own mind. This is the "esoteric teaching" that the Buddha silently imparted to Maha Kassapa, from Bodhidharma to Hui Ke, & from Hui Neng to all his disciples. The heart of Zen has been transmitted for 2549 yrs, but there are no other teachings except for this one. No special meditation instructions, no supernormal powers or any other exciting stuff. Do you believe it?

When one realizes this for oneself, the mind is completely calmed. It remains unmoved amidst all phenomena for the Cause of Suffering has fallen away. When the Cause of Suffering is no more, Suffering is no more. When Suffering does not exist in the first place, what more for the End of Suffering? When one crosses the river, one abandons the raft. The Path that led you here has served its purpose, now it no longer has any use. So why talk about stages? Thus the Heart Sutra says:

"No suffering, no cause, no end & no path."

This is also what Ven Xingsi meant when he said he no longer thought about the Noble Truths.

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