For part one, head over here.

2

Do not chase fleeting existence,
Do not remain in enduring emptiness

Carry in your heart the one peaceful seed
And certainly perishing will exhaust itself

Halt stirring emotions to return to stillness
And stillness with further fill with stirring emotions

If you rest in either alone,
How will you know the one seed?

Misunderstanding the one seed,
You will lose merit in two ways:

Dispelling existence,  you drown without it
Following emptiness, you turn your back on it

The more words and thoughts you consider,
The more you will circle and turn from the Way

Cut short words, and cut short considering
And nowhere will you be obstructed

Return home and obtain the purpose
Following illumination you miss the reservoir

In a flash, return to illumination
And surpass the retreating emptiness that is before you,

The transformations in this emptiness before you
Are all appearances caused by absurdity

Commentary

Do not chase fleeting existence,
Do not remain in enduring emptiness

Avoiding extremes and returning to the source are the main themes in the Hsin Hsin Ming. A lot of students go from chasing life, people, objects, wealth, status, and pleasures to chasing emptiness, equanimity, and wisdom. Again and again, Sengcan asks us to just stick with the method and neither accept nor reject any insights or experiences that might come from practice.

Carry in your heart the one peaceful seed
And certainly perishing will exhaust itself

The “One peaceful seed” is Buddha-nature, sometimes called Mind or even no-mind. This is the source that we’re asked to turn back to. If everything we experience is like leaves on a tree, then our mental processes are like the branches, and Mind is the roots. Where is a thought before it’s thought? Where are we?

I like starting each meditation by just contemplating this one peaceful seed for a moment, reminding myself that I’m sitting so that it can shine unto itself. And that even as everything is constantly changing, the Heart endures.

When we see through the world and our mental processes, then there’s no perception of impermanence anymore. Whatever comes and goes is an appearance. In practice, we see to what has no appearance, what gives rise to appearances. What doesn’t appear can’t disappear.

Halt stirring emotions to return to stillness
And stillness with further fill with stirring emotions

If you rest in either alone,
How will you know the one seed?

If we try to feel at ease, then that effort is going to prevent us from ever feeling at ease. Funny right? Striving to be at peace is like thinking—while sitting down—“I want to sit down,” and then standing up so that we can sit back down. This doesn’t just happen once; it’s the story of our lives.

“I just want to be happy,” “I wish someone loved me,” “This is isn’t the life I wanted,” and, “I hate myself,” are all synonyms for, “I want to sit down.”

Sengcan isn’t asking us to sit down. He’s saying that we’re already sitting, and he’s asking us to keep sitting by being aware of emotions without judging them. We’re also not concentrating on them; we’re concentrating on whether we’re pushing or pulling at them. This lets the mind flow, but it keeps us at a distance from that current so that we’re not swept off by it.

If our emotions clear, we’re also not resting in that stillness that opens up, we’re not pulling it toward us. If we’re pushing or pulling at that stillness, then it isn’t stillness.

Misunderstanding the one seed,
You will lose merit in two ways:

Dispelling existence,  you drown without it
Following emptiness, you turn your back on it

If we think our True Nature is only our bodies, minds, and identities, or only vast emptiness, then we miss the mark. We’re only Awake when we don’t see the slightest difference between the two. It’s True Emptiness and Wondrous Existence. This emptiness is true because there’s no clinging in it, and existence is wondrous because—even though it’s impossible and absurd—it is.

The more words and thoughts you consider,
The more you will circle and turn from the Way

Cut short words, and cut short considering
And nowhere will you be obstructed

We can’t think our way to enlightenment or rationalize ourselves out of suffering. Not for long, anyway. Thought isn’t an enemy in Zen, it’s discriminating thought that causes problems. Thoughts like, “This is mine,” and, “I am so and so,” or, “They are (insert whatever),” or, “I’m enlightened!”

They’re the beliefs we have about ourselves and the world, and all of the labels we cling to. And in Zen, even doctrine can be a roadblock. Even the Hsin Hsin Ming can be a hindrance if we cling to it or think of it as something more than a pointing finger. This verse is asking us to stop debating and philosophizing and put the teachings into practice.

Return home and obtain the purpose
Following illumination you miss the reservoir

In a flash, return to illumination
And surpass the retreating emptiness that is before you,

The transformations in this emptiness before you
Are all appearances caused by absurdity

The purpose is the Middle Way (the Bodhisattva Vows and the Six Perfections). Cultivating it is helpful when we’re just starting out, but the point is that it’s already there, already present—just not accounted for.

Illumination is enlightenment, our minds free of BS. We can’t uncover this Mind through self-help methods, and we can’t ask a Sutra or teacher to show it to us. By ourselves, we turn around in a moment and it’s there. It could be any moment, even right now.

With that illumination, the once dead void shines alive, like the moon shining straight down to the bottom of a well without distortion. We see that this is the way it’s always been, and that all perceptions of it being otherwise are like yesterday’s dream.

Part Three

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