The Sixth Patriarch’s Altar Sutra


The full name of “The Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch” is “The Most Supreme Mahayana Prajnaparamita Sutra of Nan Zong Dun Sect”. “Sutra” and “Tan Sutra” are the contents of the teachings of Huineng, the sixth ancestor of Zen Buddhism, at Dafan Temple in Shaozhou, Guangdong. There are many versions. Among them, the version compiled by Fahai, a disciple of Huineng, and Zongbao, a monk from the Yuan Dynasty, is known as Zongbao in history. There are 10 editions in total, with about 24,000 words. Due to the beautiful writing and clear realm of the Zongbao edition, it has almost become the only popular version of the Tan Sutra.

“The Sixth Patriarch’s Altar Sutra” is one of the most important classics of Zen Buddhism, and it is also the only work written by an ancestor in Chinese Buddhism who is honored as a “Sutra”.

According to Buddhist tradition, only classics that record the teachings of the Buddha can be called “Sutras”. The reason why the “Sixth Patriarch’s Altar Sutra” is called a “Sutra” is that the Sixth Patriarch Huineng’s words of understanding the mind and nature are equivalent to The Buddha said it, so it is called “Sutra”.

In the “Tan Sutra”, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng established his theory based on “the inherent purity of one’s own nature”, preached “clear mind to see one’s nature”, advocated “sudden enlightenment and becoming a Buddha”, and established “external teachings, without any words, directly pointing to the human heart. The banner of “Seeing One’s Nature and Becoming a Buddha” greatly promoted the spread of Buddhism and promoted Zen Buddhism, one of the eight major sects of Chinese Buddhism, to flourish for a while and is still passed down to this day.

Master Taixu once said: The characteristic of Chinese Buddhism lies in Zen. The outstanding contemporary Buddhist scholar Jia Titao also pointed out that Zen is a special topic of Chinese culture. It can be seen that Zen has a special status in Chinese Buddhism and even Chinese culture.

Buddhist culture, Confucian culture and Taoist culture, after more than two thousand years of repeated competition in China, no one can exclude the other, and finally merge with each other to form the core of Chinese national culture. Among them, the representative of Buddhist culture is Zen.

We know that the development of Buddhism in China can be roughly divided into two stages: the first is the absorption stage, which lasted about seven or eight hundred years from the Eastern Han Dynasty to the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, to the Sui and Tang Dynasties. During this period, China basically absorbed the Buddhist culture from India, and most of the Buddhist classics were translated during this period; the second stage was the sinicization of Buddhism. Since the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the formation and development of Tiantai, Huayan, and especially Zen Buddhism have shown that Buddhism has its own characteristics in China, gradually embarked on the path of independent development, and has become an important part of the Chinese national culture.

The Sui and Tang Dynasties were the turning point between these two stages. This period was marked by the return of Master Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty from studying in India, indicating that the long historical process of China learning Buddhist culture from India had come to an end. At that time, the level of Chinese Buddhism had surpassed that of the master, Indian Buddhism, and two small sects and eight major sects were formed during the Sui and Tang dynasties. Pai has its own unique culture. The two small sects are the Chengshi sect and the Kushe sect, which belong to Theravada. These two small sects are actually affiliated with the Mahayana sect in China. The eight major sects of the Mahayana are Tiantai sect, Sanlun sect, Shishi sect, Huayan sect, Zen sect, and Vinaya sect. , Pure Land Buddhism and Tantra.

Zen Buddhism began in the Qi and Liang Dynasties. Bodhidharma, the 28th generation founder of India, introduced Sakyamuni’s “Nianhua Zongzong” to China. However, the real founder was the Sixth Patriarch Huineng, and the representative classic is the “Sixth Patriarch’s Tantra Sutra”. Zen Buddhism stood out from the competition of hundreds of schools of thought to analyze names and forms and refute doctrines. It established its own banner of “doing no writing and teaching outsiders”, advocated “single transmission and direct teaching”, and brought all the “four outs and four ins” of Buddhism into the heart. , get rid of all the trappings of dogma, become one with life, and experience the true meaning of body, mind, life, and the universe from life.

The founders of Zen Buddhism, represented by the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng, combined the essence of Indian Buddhist thought that fully realized the “inanimate Dharma Endurance” with the lively daily life of Confucianism and Taoism, making Zen Buddhism more like a religion than a religion, and more like a philosophy than a religion. Philosophy, like art but not art, has created a special system of thought that is unique in history. This is the bright and bright flower that bloomed after the Chinese nation digested and absorbed Indian culture.

It can be said that if you do not understand Zen Buddhism, then you will not be able to understand Chinese culture from the Sui and Tang Dynasties to the Song and Yuan Dynasties. Zen is a special topic in the history of Chinese culture. If you don’t understand Zen, you are not qualified to say you understand Chinese culture.

An in-depth study of the history of Chinese Buddhism also shows that Chinese people like simplicity and are not interested in complicated scholasticism. It is precisely because Zen Buddhism combines the reality of Chinese culture that it can survive the impact of Tang Wuzong’s extermination of Buddhism and mushroom like mushrooms after a rain. It developed rapidly and spread throughout the country in the decades after the Buddhist Extermination Movement, achieving the dominant position of Chinese Buddhism and continuing to this day.

So, what exactly does the “Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra” say that gives Zen Buddhism such lasting vitality?

The second chapter of “Prajna Sutra” of the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra, “Prajna Chapter” answers this question: “Buddhism is in the world, and it is not separated from the worldly enlightenment. Leaving the world to seek Bodhi is just like seeking a rabbit’s horn.”

This means that Buddhism is in real life, and Buddhism should be integrated into life, guide life, and improve life. This is the essence of Buddhism and the biggest highlight of Zen represented by the “Sixth Patriarch Altar Sutra”: Zen is humanistic Buddhism , concise and clear, the most down-to-earth.

The essence of the “Sixth Patriarch’s Altar Sutra” is distributed in ten chapters. The gist of each chapter is briefly stated below:

The first “Xing You Pin” is the Sixth Patriarch’s autobiography of his life experience, as well as the various processes of seeking, obtaining, and even spreading the Dharma. It is also the preface to this sutra.

A woodcutter from a poor family became a master respected by all generations; a servant who chopped wood and pounded rice became the successor to the fifth ancestor, Master Hongren; an illiterate man spoke out a wisdom book “The Sixth Patriarch”. “Altar Sutra”; a layman who had just left the hunting team was so admired by the great master Yin Zong that he willingly worshiped a hunter who had not yet become a monk as his teacher; a farmer who did not receive a good education, but said “Tao” The ancient saying “Enlightenment comes from the heart”. “Xing You Pin” tells the legendary life of the Sixth Patriarch Huineng.

The second “Prajna Paramita” records that the Sixth Patriarch responded to the request of Governor Wei and recited the meaning of Mahaprajnaparamita for the public, saying that “if one realizes the prajna of one’s own nature, he will become a Buddha after seeing one’s nature.” This is the most important chapter of the “Sixth Patriarch’s Altar Sutra”. This chapter fully demonstrates the value and significance of Zen.

Master Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, told people that the way to enlightenment is to realize emptiness. Through the tool of prajna emptiness, people can see through and let go. Based on the Diamond Sutra, he guides people to have no worries and no worries. Spotless, this is exactly the height we want to achieve in the meditation hall by “reciting who the Buddha is”.

The third “Judgment Article” records the Sixth Patriarch’s explanation to Governor Wei about why Patriarch Bodhidharma said that Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty built temples to save monks, offered alms and fasts, and had no merit in chanting Buddha’s name and was reborn in the West. It was also revealed in “Ode to Wuxiang” that the family Practice method.

This article answers the most popular questions at the time, such as Emperor Wu of Liang’s question about merit and merit. In this article, Pure Land Sect is discussed, which shows the deep relationship between Zen and Pure Land Sect. Zen Buddhism particularly emphasizes “great doubt and great enlightenment, small doubt and small enlightenment, no doubt but no enlightenment”.

The fourth “Ding Hui Pin” collects the Sixth Patriarch’s teachings to the public on the indistinguishable meaning of “concentration” and “wisdom”. That is to say, Ming Caoxi’s practice method is based on concentration and wisdom, and concentration and wisdom are integrated, concentration is the body of wisdom, and wisdom is the use of concentration. When there is wisdom, concentration is in wisdom; when there is concentration, wisdom is in concentration. He also said that this practice method is based on non-thought as its sect, non-appearance as its body, and non-dwelling as its foundation.

If you want to learn Buddhism, it pays attention to the order. Among them, precepts, concentration, and wisdom are common to all sects. This point explains the relationship between Buddhist concentration and wisdom, and proposes that concentration and wisdom are one, not two.

The fifth “Zazen Meditation” records that the Sixth Patriarch taught the public who listened to the Dharma that practicing meditation is not about practicing meditation, focusing on tranquility and immobility. The meaning of sitting meditation is: externally not thinking about all good and evil realms is called sitting; internally seeing one’s own nature without moving is called Zen. Zen concentration is: external separation is Zen, and internal non-chaos is concentration. Therefore, in my thoughts, I see that my nature is pure, cultivate myself, and become a Buddha.

Because Zen enlightenment is achieved through sitting meditation, once you have mastered this method, if you really want to practice it, where will you start? How to practice meditation, and what problems may arise during meditation? There is a detailed explanation in this article.

The sixth “Confessions” contains the Sixth Patriarch’s teaching of the “Five-Five Dharmakaya Fragrances of Self-nature” (the fragrance of precepts, concentration, wisdom, liberation, and liberation) to Guangshao and the scholars from all directions who came to the mountain to listen to the Dharma. And “Repent without form”, which explains the meaning of repentance, the four great aspirations, and the three refuges without form.

“Confessions” tells us how to practice. Why should we practice? Because we are imperfect, imperfect, and flawed. Cultivation is about correcting one’s own shortcomings, so where does practice start? Start by recognizing your own shortcomings. People who truly practice must first reflect, then understand their own shortcomings, and constantly improve themselves through practice, and this must start with inner repentance. Cultivation is not about cultivating appearance. Cultivation is a method to resolve our troubles.

The seventh “Chance and Chance Product” records the works of the Sixth Patriarch after he obtained the Dharma and when it was propagated in Caoxi, together with Wuwu Zang, Fahai, Fada, Zhitong, Zhitong, Zhidao, Xingsi, Huairang, Xuanjue, Zhihuang, etc. This is an opportunity for scholars and teachers to invest in each other.

“Chance Chapter” is very important. It is the longest chapter in the “Sixth Patriarch Altar Sutra”, with at least 6,000 words. It describes in detail how Master Huineng trained his students and disciples according to various opportunities, and their stories It is very wonderful and contains the supreme wisdom of Zen Buddhism.

The eighth “Dunjianpin” is the Sixth Patriarch’s teaching to Zen Master Zhicheng, a disciple of Shenxiu, about the differences in precepts, concentration, and wisdom taught by “Neng Neng and Beixiu”. Because it aims to say that “the law cannot be sudden and gradual, and people are blunt”, so it is named sudden and gradual.

At that time, there were two ways of practice in Zen Buddhism: Nandun and Beijian. In the south is Master Huineng, who advocates the method of sudden enlightenment. In the north is Master Shenxiu, who advocates the method of gradual enlightenment. What is the relationship between sudden and gradual enlightenment? It is discussed in detail in this article.

The ninth “Dharma Protector” records the process of the Empress Dowager Zetian and Zhongzong issuing an edict to welcome the Sixth Patriarch in the first year of Shenlong (705 AD), which means that the court at that time respected the Sixth Patriarch and supported Buddhism.

This article tells the story of Tang Gaozong’s empress Wu Zetian and Zhongzong. They came to seek advice from Master Huineng. The master’s teachings were highly praised by the emperors of the three dynasties. It implies a layer of meaning: the royal family and the country are the greatest protectors.

The tenth “Exhortations” states that when the Sixth Patriarch was approaching Nirvana, he taught his disciples how to use the three subjects and thirty-six pairs to teach the Dharma so as not to lose the purpose of the Dunmen Zen Sect. It also records the circumstances before and after the Sixth Patriarch’s migration. .

The Sixth Patriarch predicted that his death would come, and he gave instructions to his disciples on how to teach. The essence of this teaching is to express the concept of “the Tao is realized by the heart”, rather than the appearance of sitting in meditation. When we practice Hua Tou Zen, we mainly work in the heart, and it is really a work of the heart. Therefore, “the Tao is realized by the heart” has become an eternal saying that has been passed down to future generations.

All in all, Zen Buddhism attaches great importance to daily practice. Zen practice is not about meditating all day long, but integrating practice into every move in life. For example, the opening chapter of the “Diamond Sutra” shows the ordinary life of the Buddha wearing clothes, holding an alms bowl, begging for food and washing dishes. , and there is real practice in this ordinary.

In the sense of practice, the method taught in the Tan Sutra can enable us to open our inner wisdom as quickly as possible and see our true colors. In other words, this is a shortcut to practice, so it is called the Dunjiao. It is a method that “directly points to the human heart and becomes a Buddha by seeing one’s nature.”

The focus of Buddhist practice is not elsewhere, but in our own hearts. This is the principle of “the Tao is understood by the heart”.

Of course, enlightenment is inseparable from one’s own mind, and becoming a Buddha also depends on the realization of one’s mind. Because becoming a Buddha is not about achieving something external, but the ultimate understanding of the reality of all dharmas.

This is the way of practicing Buddhism in the human world that the Sixth Patriarch’s Altar Sutra tells us.


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