The Fifth Patriarch Master Hong-Ren’s “Ultimate Highest Vehicle Discourse”

November 30, 2022

When approaching the Saint’s Way and trying to realize the true principle of Chan, the most essential teaching of the cultivation of the Mind, if one doesn’t protect the pureness (of the mind), no practice can lead to attainment of realization. May all virtuous and wise practitioners who write about this be attentive and mindful not to make mistakes that will mislead future practitioners.

The essence of practicing the Way is based on the recognition that the Mind is pure from the beginning. It is neither created nor destroyed, free of discrimination because the Self-Nature is perfect and whole. This Pure Mind is the fundamental teacher more superior than the recollection of the Buddhas of all ten directions.

Ask: How do we know the Mind is pure originally?

Answer: The Dasabhumika Sutra (The Ten Levels of Practice of Bodhisattva) stated: “There resides inside all sentient beings a diamond-like indestructible Buddha nature, like the sun that is bright and perfect, all pervasive and boundless, except being covered by the dark cloud of the Five Skandhas, just as the light inside of a bottle can’t project its brightness.” For example, when cloud and fog have arisen from all eight directions, the whole world becomes dark but that is not because the sun was destroyed. Why is there no light? The source of light is never destroyed, it is only blocked by the cloud and fog. This is the same for the pure mind of all sentient beings, it is covered by the black cloud of wandering thoughts that grasp conditioned phenomena and the vexations arising from false views. If one can calm and guard the mind from generating wandering thoughts, the nirvana principle will appear naturally. Thus, we know the Mind’s original nature is pure.

Ask: How do we know the pure mind is originally neither created nor destroyed?

Answer: Vimalakirti Sutra stated: Suchness is not of creation; suchness is not of extinction. Suchness means the true Buddha nature. The self-nature is pure. The pureness is the original characteristics of the mind. True suchness exists primordially, not arising through conditions. It also stated: All sentient beings are of this suchness and so are all sages. All sentient beings are as we are. All the sages are the Buddhas. Although differing in name and form, the “true suchness”, dharma nature, within one’s body are neither arising nor ceasing. That’s why it’s said that all is as such. Through this, one knows one’s own Mind is primordially neither created nor destroyed.

Ask: Why is the mind called the fundamental teacher?

Answer: This true mind exists in-itself, not originated externally, and is not cultivated. All through the past, the present, and the future, there is nothing more intimate than abiding in the mind. If one knows the mind, he will reach the other shore if he abides in it. Those who are deluded in mind will abandon it and fall into the Three Woeful Realms. Therefore, it is known that the Buddhas of the Three Times (tryadhvabuddha) regard their own minds as their fundamental teachers. Therefore, in the discourses it was stated: knowing the mind and abiding in it, wandering thoughts will not arise, this is Non-Arising. Therefore, one should know that the mind is the fundamental teacher.

Ask: Why it is said [guarding] one’s own mind is superior than recollecting other Buddha?

Answer: Frequently recollecting the other Buddha will not put an end to birth and death. Guarding one’s own mind, on the other hand, will surely lead one to the Farther Shore. The Diamond Sutra states: If one attempts to meet [Buddha] through form, and seeks me [Buddha] through sound, such person is walking the deviant path and cannot perceive the Tathagata. For this reason, it is stated that guarding the primordial, true mind is superior than recollecting or recite other Buddhas’ names. It was also said: calling it superior is a means of encouragement for the practitioners, in fact, the ultimate essence of all manifestations is the same and non-dual.

Ask: Since all beings and the Buddha are the same in the true essence, why do all the Buddhas suffer neither birth and death, enjoy unlimited happiness, and are free and unobstructed. However, for us beings, why do we dwell amid life and death and suffer all kinds of suffering?

Answer: All the Buddhas in the Ten Directions have enlightened and thoroughly realize the true nature of phenomena is naturally illuminated from the source of the mind. Therefore, delusions do not arise, right mindfulness is never lost, and the subjective and objective minds of duality are destroyed. Thus, the Buddhas are no longer subjected to cyclic birth and death. Being free of birth and death, they reached the state of ultimate Nirvana. Therefore, innumerable kinds of bliss are restored by itself. While all ordinary sentient beings who are ignorant of their true nature cannot recognize the primordial mind; they are entangled in all kinds of delusional conditions and fail to cultivate right mindfulness. Hatred and craving are generated. And because of that hatred and craving, the functioning of the mind is leaking and broken, and one is mired in birth and death. When there is birth and death, all sorts of suffering will manifest by themselves. The Mind King Sutra says: If one’s true suchness, Buddha-nature, is buried in knowledge and opinions, in the sea of the six senses, one will sink in birth and death, unable to obtain freedom. One should make efforts guided by this understanding, abiding in one’s original true Mind, and do not generate illusory thoughts. Once the mind of ego and attachment is destroyed, one is naturally equal to the Buddha.

Ask: True suchness nature (of the Buddhas and Sentient beings) are inseparably one and the same. If one is confused, then all should be confused; if one is enlightened, then all should be enlightened. Why are the Buddhas enlightened yet sentient beings lost and confused? What is the cause of this?

Answer: Above here, one enters the realm beyond thinking, unreachable to the ordinary beings. Ones who recognize the Mind are enlightened; those who lose sight of the Nature are confused. The serendipity occurs when conditions ripen to reveal that which is indescribable by words and speech. Just place your faith in the Truth and guard the original mind. Therefore, the Vimalakirti Sutra says: There is no self-nature, no others’ nature. Fundamentally phenomenon was never born, therefore never extinguished. Enlightenment leaves the two sides and enters the non-discriminating wisdom. If you understand this meaning, just practice in accordance to the essential dharma, guard the mind as the priority. “Guard the mind” is the foundation of Nirvana, the critical gate to the Way. This is the main concept of the Twelve Divisions of the Sutras, and the ancestor of the Buddhas of the Three Generations (tryadhva-buddha).

Ask: How do you know that guarding the original true mind is the root of Nirvana?

Answer: Nirvana means the essence is in a state of stillness and cessation, and peaceful bliss of non-action. If one abides in the true Mind, delusion shall be broken; with delusion broken, there is right mindfulness. Right mindfulness, the wisdom of tranquil illumination arises, exhaustively penetrating the profound nature of phenomena. Having reach the complete penetration into the profound nature of phenomena, Nirvana is attained. Therefore, one should know that guarding the original true mind is the foundation of Nirvana.

Ask: How do you know that guarding the original true mind is the key to entering the Way?

Answer: Even raising a hand or claw, painting the image of Buddha, or making merits as countless as the sands of the Ganges River are only taught by Buddha to the unwise sentient beings as a means to generate superior karma and planting the seeds for encountering the Buddha in the future. If one is willing to become a Buddha early, one should guard the original true mind. The Buddhas of the Three Generations – past, present, and future – are countless and boundless; not even one of them becomes Buddha without guarding the original true mind. Therefore, the scripture says: abide the mind in one place, and there is nothing one can’t conquer. Therefore, one should know that guarding the original true mind is the key to entering the Way.

Ask: How do you know that guarding the original true mind is the essence of the Twelve Divisions of Sutras?

Answer: Tathagata, in all sutras, explained regarding all sins and merits, all karma of causality and retribution, and how all that led to the manifestation of all things, such as mountains, rivers, earth, vegetation, etc. In the sutras, the Tathagata made use of countless metaphors, display of infinite variety of magical powers and transformations are nothing but skillful ways by which the Buddha taught non-wise sentient beings who, due to greed, function with the mind in countless different deviant manners. Therefore, the Tathagata introduces various methods that resonates with a sentient being’s minds and guides them into the One Vehicle. Since I know that the Buddhanature of all living beings is originally pure; like the sun behind the cloud, by simply guarding the original true mind, the cloud of delusion shall vanish, and the sun of wisdom shall appear. Why do you need to learn more conceptual knowledge such as life and death’s suffering, the principles of all mundane things of the past, the present, and the future? Like polishing a mirror, once the dust is completely removed from it, its brightness will shine naturally. Those who acquire knowledge with an ignorant mind are ultimately in vain. Only if one can abide in clear, right mindfulness, and realize wisdom through the mind of non-doing, that is true learning. Although it is called true learning, there is ultimately nothing to learn. Why? “I” and Nirvana are both empty; they are neither two nor one. Therefore, there is nothing to learn. Although the nature of reality is emptiness, it is necessary to guard the original true mind. If delusion does not arise, ego and its attachment mind will be destroyed. Therefore, the Nirvana Sutra says: Those who know that the Buddha does not speak the Dharma are called the most learned. Therefore, one should know that guarding the original true mind is the essence of the Twelve Divisions of Sutras.

Ask: How do you know that guarding the original true mind is the teacher of the Buddhas of the Three Generations (tryadhva-buddha)?

Answer: All the Buddhas of the Three Generations are born from the essence of the mind. If you guard the true mind first, you will not generate any delusions. Once ego and attachment mind are destroyed, then you could become a Buddha. Therefore, guarding the original true mind is the teacher of the Buddhas of the Three Generations. From the four questions and answers above, immeasurable broader examples can be given. I now hope you realize that your original Mind is Buddha. Thus, I diligently persuade you that while there are thousands of sutras and teachings, nothing is beyond the important practice of guarding the original true mind. Now I try my best to follow the Lotus Sutra to show you the treasures, pearls, miraculous medicines and other gems of the Great Vehicle. If you don’t grab and take it, you can’t do anything but staying in poverty and suffering. If one doesn’t generate delusional thoughts, so that ego and attachment mind are destroyed, then all merits will be naturally fulfilled, without seeking from the outside, return the suffering of birth and death to its source. Mindfully observe one’s own mind. Don’t crave the present happiness while planting cause for future suffering. Don’t deceive oneself and remain in birth and death. Work hard! Work hard! Although all is impermanent right now, plant the seed for actualizing Buddhahood in the future; don’t let the time pass in vain and waste all your efforts. The scripture says: “Living constantly in hell, like visiting a garden; stay in the woeful realms, as if in one’s own home. I and sentient beings, in our present state, remained unconscious and ignorant. While in fear and killing, we completely lack any intention to free oneself, how strange! Such suffering!” If there is a beginner who practices meditation according to the “Contemplation of Amitayus Buddha Sutra”, who sits upright and mindful, closes his eyes in silence, looks straight in front, places his point of attention either far or near as it naturally occurs, and contemplates a bright disc like the Sun, and guards the true Mind without dwelling on any thoughts. Then one smoothly adjusts the breath so that it does not suddenly switch between being coarse or refined, which can make one sick. When meditating at night, one may see all the realms of good and evil or enter various samādhis like blue, yellow, red and white, or see a bright light illuminated from the body, or see the Tathagata’s body image, or see all kinds of changes. One should restrain the mind so that it does not attach to anything, knowing that everything is emptiness but only seen due to delusion. The sutra stated: all the worlds of the ten directions are like nothingness, and the Three Realms are illusory made by the Mind. For those who did not reach Samadhi, or not seeing any manifestations, there is no need to blame or feel strange. Just practice, in the process of walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, always clearly guard the true Mind so that delusional thoughts are not generated and remove ego and attachment mind. No phenomenon lies beyond the mind. The Buddhas with so many different teachings in literature or examples, do so only because sentient beings are different, which makes the teachings different. In fact, all eighty-four thousand methods, threevehicles and eightfold paths, and seventy-two virtuous disciples and their conducts are nothing beyond the Mind, which is the source. If you know your own mind and practice in every moment without dwelling in thoughts, you will realize the Buddha-nature yourself. This way, in all thoughts, one is always making offerings to the Buddhas as countless of the sands of the Ganges of the ten directions. It is also as if the Twelve Divisions of the Sutras are constantly being recited from moment to moment. If one understands this mind is the source, all mind’s ultimate meanings will reveal by themselves. All wishes will be fulfilled; all activities will be complete in fruition, all goals will be attained, and there is nothing more to come after. Free of any delusional thoughts and having the ego and attachment mind destroyed, once the body is relinquished one will surely attain inconceivable and marvelous state of non-birth. Make diligent effort without pretention! This is a true, non-false teaching that is hard to encounter and be heard. Those who can hear and practice accordingly are among the rarest, not even one can be found in as many sentient beings as the sands of the Ganges. For those who can practice and attain the goal, rarely even one can be found in billions and billions of eons. Take care of yourself and practice calm and stillness, train your faculties well, look within to the source of the mind and illuminate it constantly with the light of pure awareness, don’t fall into the inert, unmanifest (Avyakta) mind state.

Ask: What is so-called inert unmanifest (Avyakrta) mind state?

Answer: All practitioners who concentrate on restraining the mind that habitually grasp external phenomena can achieve, for very short moment, a temporary calming of the coarse mind, and they continue to strive to train on the true mind. However, while the mind is not pure, the practitioner who is intentionally watching the mind constantly while walking, sitting, standing and lying down, cannot achieve complete clarity and purity in its perception of the source of mind alone; this is called the inert, unmanifest (Avyakta) mind, also a leaking mind, which is not yet liberated from the inevitable birth, illness and death. For those who never try guarding the true mind, such people will sink in the sea of birth and death with no chance of escape. How pitiful! Work hard! Work hard!

The scripture stated: If sentient beings are not sincere from within, even if they encounter in the past, present and future generation countless Buddhas as many as the sands of Ganges, the Buddhas can’t do anything to help. The scripture stated: All living beings free themselves by recognizing their own mind. The Buddha alone can’t free sentient beings. If a Buddha can free sentient beings, given there had been countless Buddhas as the sands of the Ganges River, why have we not become Buddhas yet? It’s only because that sincerity did not come from within, so we sink into a sea of suffering. Work hard! Be diligent in seeking your original mind, and don’t be lost in delusions. We do not know the past, and whatever mistakes we have made then we can’t do anything about that. But we have this body in the present moment and the fortune to encounter and learn this wondrous Dharma. I want to encourage you to clearly, definitely obtain an understanding of this teaching; knowing that guarding the mind is the most supreme Way. If you refuse to make sincere aspiration to seek Buddhahood and enjoy the boundless freedom and happiness, then you will ostentatiously and greedily chase after mundane fame and fortune, and you will fall into the great hell and suffer all kinds of pain and vexations, and nothing will help at that time. How pitiful! How pitiful! Work hard! Work hard! While donning tattered clothes and eating coarse food, clearly guard the original true mind. Pretending to be dumb and not understanding other people’s conversations will save you the most effort, and you will be able to make progress and become a most diligent practitioner. Mundane people don’t grasp this truth so in their ignorance much hardship had to be endured. Hoping to find freedom they cultivate wholesome acts in form only, not knowing that all of that ultimately belongs to the realm of birth and death. If one can maintain right mindfulness and liberate sentient beings, one is an empowered Bodhisattva. Honestly, I am telling you all, guarding one’s mind is the most important; If you do not guard it diligently, you will be such a fool. If you refuse to endure hardship in this one lifetime, you will face thousands of eons of catastrophes. Listen to that, I don’t know what more to say. Those who cannot be moved by the Eight Winds** are real treasure mountains. If one knows the essence behind phenomena, one can generate countless functions in thousands of situations, cleverly argue and debate like a flowing stream, prescribe proper medicines depending on the illnesses, while at the same time have no wandering thoughts and be free of ego and attachment mind, such one is the Man who has Transcended the World. If the Tathagata is present, the praise will be endless. I say this to sincerely encourage you with my heart, not to have delusional thoughts, destroy the ego and attachment mind, then you will be the Bodhisattva beyond the mundane world.

Eight Winds**: benefit, decline, destruction, reputation, praise, sarcasm, bitterness, happiness

Ask: What does it mean by “ego and attachment mind is destroyed”?

Answer: If there is a slight thought of surpassing others; or thinking that I can do so and so; this is ego and attachment mind which is a problem preventing the attainment of Nirvana. The Nirvana Sutra says: Just like the emptiness can contain all things, this emptiness does not say to itself that it can contain all things. This is a metaphor of the destruction of the ego and attachment mind and it is approaching Diamond Samadhi.

Ask: For those practitioners who seek truth and eternal peace yet only rejoice in the impermanent goodness of the world but not the ultimate first principle of truth and its ultimate goodness, they have not seen the truth. If they approach the truth only through thinking, chasing after thoughts is unattainable. If they only try to destroy the mind, they fall into ignorance and delusion. While unable to see the truth, the mind is neither able to stop nor able to grasp the meaning, so they falsely attach to the idea of emptiness. While possessing a human body, their actions are that of beasts. Without the skillful means of cultivating concentration and wisdom, it is impossible to realize the truth and see the Buddha nature clearly. They have no choice but to march toward deterioration. In order to transcend the world and attain complete nirvana, please reveal to us the true mind.

Answer: With full confidence and aspiration for attainment, one gradually calms the mind, and I emphasize to you that you should properly and wisely tune the body and mind into a restful state of ease, free from any mental grasping, sit properly and mindful, adjust your breath well. Knowing the mind is neither inside, outside, or in between, letting it be as it is, inquire clearly and steadily into the mind. This way, one will recognize the flow of consciousness is like a water stream or a raging flame that never stops. Upon seeing this consciousness is neither external nor internal, slowly and steadily investigate this until you are very familiar with it such that all is dissolved into emptiness and stillness. At this point, the ever-flowing activities of consciousness will cease. Those who extinguish this consciousness have destroyed the ignorance due to obstruction of the Bodhisattvas of the Ten Bhumis (ten stages in the progression of a bodhisattva). Upon the cessation of this consciousness, the mind manifests its emptiness, steady, still, clear and bright nature. It has no form to speak of. If you want to attain this, refer to the third scroll of the Nirvana Sutra, the Vajra Body Chapter, and the third scroll of the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Perceiving Aksobya Buddha Chapter. Ponder upon that deeply and reflect upon it. If one can gain intimate familiarity with the sutra’s teaching, and not lose contact with the mind while walking, standing sitting, lying down and in the midst of the Five Desires and Eight Winds. Such person has indeed established the pure conduct, finished all his business, and is no longer subject to future lives with birth and death of the body. The so-called Five Desires are form, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The Eight Winds are benefit, decline, destruction, reputation, praise, sarcasm, bitterness, happiness. These are the training grounds for the Buddha nature; don’t blame them for your bondage in this life.

The sutra says: In the mundane world the Buddha does not dwell on impermanent phenomena; if the Bodhisattva does not realize the Mind one cannot manifest the pure function in the mundane world. For sentient beings who want to be liberated from the Sambhogakaya (physical body manifest by karma), they may possess either keen or dull roots from the past – not possible to judge for certain. The ones with keen roots can achieve liberation in as short as one thought instance; the ones with inferior roots needs countless eons of cultivation. When the cultivation gains power, one is able to respond to the natural disposition of all beings and give rise to the wholesome roots of a bodhisattva to benefit oneself as well as others to honor and perfect the manifestation of the Buddha’s Pureland. One need to understand the Four Reliances* and based on that thorough understanding of Reality. If one becomes attached to the literal meaning of the words, one will miss the true meaning. Bhikkhus (Ordained disciple)! If you learn from Buddha’s example of taking leave of home life and becoming a monk to practice the Way, this is leaving home, taking ordination**, freeing oneself from the shackle of birth and death; this is the true meaning of ordination. Possessing sufficient right mindfulness, one’s cultivation reaches full accomplishment. Even when the body is being dismembered, at the end of one’s life, if one can stay mindful, one will become a Buddha immediately. For disciples who gathered to propagate this discourse, who through faith directly take the meaning from the text, should say the following: I actually have not understood thoroughly or seen truth. If I have deviated in any way from the transcendental truth, I repent and aspire to eliminate the fault. If what I understand does match with the transcendental truth, I dedicate myself to all beings, may all beings recognize their primordial mind and instantly attain Buddhahood. May all who have heard of this work hard to become a Buddha in the future, and at that time take me (and fellow practitioners) under tutelage.

*Four Reliances (Sanskrit: catvari pratisaranani): 1. Rely on the dharma; not on the person. 2. Rely on the meaning not on the words. 3. Rely on the wisdom mind not the ordinary knowledge. 4. Rely on the ultimate meaning not the provisional meaning.

** Ordination in Chinese means leave home, (Chu-Jia); the word “shackles” in Chinese pronounce as Jia too, same as home (Jia).

Ask: From the beginning to the end of this discourse, it showed that one’s own mind is the Way. Between the two schools of result and action, which one is included?

Answer: This discourse shows its principle is the One Vehicle. However, its ultimate intent is to guide practitioner from confused to enlightened state and to end birth and death in order to save people. Therefore, this discourse is mainly about benefiting oneself, not talking about benefiting others, which is mainly in the school of action. If someone practices by following this discourse, one can become a Buddha right away. If I lie to you, I shall fall into the eighteenth level of the hell, and I swear by the heaven and the earth: if my claim is not worthy of trust, I will be eaten, life after life, by tigers and wolves.