Trusting In Mind

Third Patriarch of Zen, Seng T'san

A New Translation of the Hsin-hsin Ming,
by Zen Master Hae Kwang (Stan Lombardo)

Seng T'san was the third Chinese patriarch of Zen, having received transmission from Bodhidharma's successor, Hui-k'ê. The poem attributed to him, the "Hsin-hsin Ming" (lit. "Trust Mind Inscription"), is one of the earliest and most influential Zen writings, blending together Buddhist and Taoist teachings.

Seng-ts'an succeeded Hui-k'ê as the third patriarch. The interview between master and disciple took place in this manner: A layman of forty troubled with fêng-yang 1 according to the Records 3, came to Hui-k'ê and asked:

'I am suffering from fêng-yang; pray cleanse me of my sins.'
'Bring your sins here,' said Hui-k'ê, 'and I will cleanse you of    them.'

The lay-disciple was silent for a while but finally said,

'As I seek my sins, I find them unattainable.'
'I have then finished cleansing you altogether. You should    thenceforth take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and    Samgha (Brotherhood), and abide therein.'
'As I stand before you, O master,' asked Sêng-ts'an, 'I know    that you belong to the Brotherhood, but pray tell me what are the Buddha and the Dharma?'

Replied the master:

'Mind is the Buddha, Mind is the Dharma; and the Buddha and the Dharma are not two. The same    is to be said of the Brotherhood (samgha).'

This satisfied the disciple, who now said, 'Today for the first time I realize that sins are neither within nor without nor in the middle; just as Mind is, so is the Buddha, so is the Dharma; they are not two.' 2

He was then ordained by Hui-k'ê as a Buddhist monk, and after this he fled from the world altogether, and nothing much of his life is known. This was partly due to the persecution of Buddhism carried on by the Emperor of the Chou dynasty. It was in the twelfth year of K'ai-huan of the Sui dynasty (a.d. 592), that he found a disciple worthy to be his sucessor. His name was Tao-hsin. He asked the master:

'Pray show me the way to deliverance.'
'Who has ever put you in bondage?'
'If so, why should you ask for deliverance?'

This put the young novice on the way to final enlightenment, which he attained after many years' study under the master. When Sêng-ts'an thought that the time was ripe to consecrate him as his successor in the faith, he handed him, as the token of the rightful transmission of the Law, the robe which had come down from Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen in China. He died in a.d. 606. While much of his life is obscure, his thought is gleaned from a metrical composition known as Hsin-hsin Ming (or 'Inscribed on the Believing Mind'), which is one of the most valuable contributions by the masters to the interpretation of Zen teaching.

The Great Way is not difficult,
Just don't pick and choose.
If you cut off all likes or dislikes
Everything is clear like space.

Make the slightest distinction
And heaven and earth are set apart.
If you wish to see the truth,
Don't think for or against.

Likes and dislikes
Are the mind's disease.
Without understanding the deep meaning
You cannot still your thoughts.

It is clear like space,
Nothing missing, nothing extra.
If you want something
You cannot see things as they are.

Outside, don't get tangled in things.
Inside, don't get lost in emptiness.
Be still and become One
And all opposites disappear.

If you stop moving to become still,
This stillness always moves.
If you hold on to opposites,
How can you know One?

If you don't understand One,
This and that cannot function.
Denied, the world asserts itself.
Pursued, emptiness is lost.

The more you think and talk,
The more you lose the Way.
Cut off all thinking
And pass freely anywhere.

Return to the root and understand.
Chase appearances and lose the source.
One moment of enlightenment
Illuminates the emptiness before you.

Emptiness changing into things
Is only our deluded view.
Do not seek the truth.
Only put down your opinions.

Do not live in the world of opposites.
Be careful! Never go that way.
If you make right and wrong,
Your mind is lost in confusion.

Two comes from One,
But do not cling even to this One.
When your mind is undisturbed
The ten thousand things are without fault.

No fault, no ten thousand things,
No disturbance, no mind.
No world, no one to see it.
No one to see it, no world.

This becomes this because of that.
That becomes that because of this.
If you wish to understand both,
See them as originally one emptiness.

In emptiness the two are the same,
And each holds the ten thousand things.
If you no longer see them as different,
How can you prefer one to another?

The Way is calm and wide,
Not easy, not difficult.
But small minds get lost.
Hurrying, they fall behind.

Clinging, they go too far,
Sure to take a wrong turn,
Just let it be! In the end,
Nothing goes, nothing stays.

Follow nature and become one with the Way,
Free and easy and undisturbed.
Tied by your thoughts, you lose the truth,
Become heavy, dull, and unwell.

Not well, the mind is troubled.
Then why hold or reject anything?
If you want to get the One Vehicle
Do not despise the world of the senses.

When you do not despise the six senses,
That is already enlightenment.
The wise do not act.
The ignorant bind themselves.

In true Dharma there is no this or that,
So why blindly chase your desires?
Using mind to stir up the mind
Is the original mistake.

Peaceful and troubled are only thinking.
Enlightenment has no likes or dislikes.
All opposites arise
From faulty views.

Illusions, flowers in the air
Why try to grasp them?
Win, lose, right, wrong
Put it all down!

If the eye never sleeps,
Dreams disappear by themselves.
If the mind makes no distinctions,
The ten thousand things are one essence.

Understand this dark essence
And be free from entanglements.
See the ten thousand things as equal
And you return to your original nature

Enlightened beings everywhere
All enter this source.
This source is beyond time and space.
One moment is ten thousand years.

Even if you cannot see it,
The whole universe is before your eyes.

Infinitely small is infinitely large:
No boundaries, no differences.
Infinitely large is infinitely small:
Measurements do not matter here.

What is is the same as what is not.
What is not is the same as what is.
Where it is not like this,
Don't bother staying.

One is all,
All is one.
When you see things like this,
You do not worry about being incomplete.

Trust and Mind are not two.
Not-two is trusting the Mind.

Words and speech don't cut it,
Can't now, never could, won't ever.


1 Understood by some to be leprosy. (Essays in Zen Buddhism – First Series 195 n.1)
2 In the Vimalakîrti, chapter iii, 'The Disciples', we have the following: 'Do not worry about the sins you have committed, O monks,' said Vimalakîrti. 'Why?' Because sins are in their essence neither within nor without nor in the middle. As the Buddha taught us, all things are defiled when Mind is defiled; all things are pure when Mind is pure; and Mind is neither within nor without nor in the middle. As is Mind, so are sins and defilements, so are all things – they never transcend the suchness of truth.' (Essays in Zen Buddhism – First Series 195 n.2)
3 Blue Cliff Record

Source: IMG: Larry Landolfi. AWIP:


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