Hsin Hsin Ming Part 3

Part One, Part Two

You need not seek the truth,
Just stop chasing appearances
Without dwelling in divided appearances,
Take care to not seek.

In one moment of right and wrong,
The upright mind is lost in confusion
Two follows from the existence of one,
But don’t guard even the one

In the One Mind there is no arising
The 10,000 things are faultless
No faults, no things
No birth, no mind

Action complies when the actor disappears
The actor disappears when action is poured out
The actor depends on action,
Actions depend on the actor

If you want to understand these two pieces
Their nature is one emptiness
In one emptiness, both are alike
Even containing everything in universe

Commentary

You need not seek the truth,
Just stop chasing fictions.
Without dwelling in divided fictions,
Take care to not seek.

We only chase fictions. Whenever we chase after something—whether it’s a thought, feeling, status, or person—we’ve made it into something fictional. If it wasn’t fictional, we wouldn’t be able to seek it or chase it.

Mental processes take one divide it into two, then they take two and divide into 10,000. This makes it easier to run after and catch things. It’s easier for us to kill a rabbit or defend our territory if we consider other beings separate from us.

A lot Buddhists say that these fictions are caused by ignorance, but I just think they’re part of evolution. If our species all acted like monks from the get-go, none of us would be here right now. That’s also one of the reasons why Zennists don’t proselytize. We just do what comes naturally and if someone asks for help then we do what we can.

First, mental processes divide the body-mind from the surroundings, then they divide each thing in the surroundings from everything else. They even divide the body and mind. Hell, they divide themselves.

The Hsin Hsin Ming says that this division is an illusion, because really everything’s empty—meaning not isolated or continuous. All things are momentary reflections of interacting causes and conditions.

Emptiness doesn’t recognize borders; cause and effect pass freely through all things like a breeze through wind chines.

In this verse, Sengcan is asking us to taste this reality, and realize that there’s nothing to seek, that seeking is one of the main causes of suffering. So, when we’re meditating, we can concentrate the mind, be mindful of whether we’re pushing or pulling, and then just rest in spaciousness without seeking anything, even enlightenment or joy.

Because even enlightenment is just another fiction, something else we’ve tried to freeze and isolate in emptiness. If you have an awakening and think, “This is it! This is enlightenment!” it isn’t.

In one moment of right and wrong,
The upright mind is lost in confusion
Two follows from the existence of one,
But don’t guard even the one

If we accept the pleasant or reject the unpleasant for even an instant, we’ve just sealed Buddha in an outhouse and pushed him off a cliff. Steady as she goes, me mateys.

If we can refrain from accepting or rejecting anything, then all these illusory divisions will start to (illusorily) disappear until there’s just the impression that all things are one. But, if we have that impression, that means we’re still writing stories, still thinking of that One as something outside of ourselves. Stick with the method, and let that one pass as well.

In the One Mind there is no arising
The 10,000 things are faultless
No faults, no things
No birth, no mind

This is when the text gets tricky, because Sengcan is using Bodhi talk now. When we’ve let Oneness take its own course without seeking it or trying to reel it in, then there’s no perception of division or unity—this is true non-separation, the One Mind—True Emptiness.

And yet, since there’s no perception of division or unity, the 10,000 things (meaning everything) aren’t one or many. They’re just as they are. They’re without faults, neither good nor bad. They’re without themselves. They aren’t created or destroyed. They’re all just this One Mind which, when in the heart of it, we can’t even call a mind.

Action complies when the actor disappears
The actor disappears when action is poured out
The actor depends on action,
Actions depend on the actor

This was a difficult verse to translate, and the Chinese text didn’t conform with the order of the first English translation which is:

“The subject follows when the object ceases,
The object is expelled when the subject sinks
The object is related to the subject,
The subject is related to the object”

All of that makes sense from a Buddhist perspective, I promise. Well, it makes as much sense as it can. The subject is I, the object is everything else. But when I translated it, there was nothing resembling the terms subject and object in the dictionary.

The word translated as object was closer to activity or doing; the word translated as subject was literally border or boundary. Also, the English translation has the two terms reversed. So, yeah, it’s a muddy verse.

The new translation fits better with the Taoist spirit of Chan at the time. One of the main focuses of Taoism is Wu-Wei, action without action. Taoists were less concerned with the division between us and the world around us, and more concerned with the division between us and what we’re doing.

When we sit, stand, speak, walk, eat, etc. without self-interest or self-view present, then the things we think, say, and do are going to be in tune with the way things really are. We exhaust self-view by only focusing on what we’re doing without wandering from it into la-la land or thinking about what we’re trying to gain by doing what we’re doing.

We can also flip those first two lines around into:

The actor complies when action disappears
Action disappears when the actor is poured out

That puts us at odds with the Chinese, but uses the same pattern as the first English translation. In this case, it means that when we stop viewing ourselves a being that can do things, then we start pouring out this self-view. When it’s poured out, there’s no sense of anything happening anywhere. No doing and no doer.

If there’s no actor, then there’s no action and vice versa. The two depend on each other, as do subject and object, one and two. There’s no such thing as a meditator without meditation, and there’s no such thing as meditation without a meditator.

If you want to understand these two pieces
Their nature is one emptiness
In one emptiness, both are alike
Even containing everything in the universe

These two pieces are actor and action, subject and object, love and hate, self and other, existence and non-existence, all polarities. To understand them, we have to realize that their nature is the same; they’re all empty, and this emptiness isn’t of different types.

With a view of True, Universal Emptiness, everything’s equal. And each thing is a reflection of everything else. That’s Wondrous Existence, because at the same time there are no reflections. There is no emptiness and no nature, no two things to be alike or different.

It’s important to not get stuck thinking that emptiness or the One Mind are things; that would defeat the purpose. Sengcan said earlier, “Don’t guard even the one.” That includes emptiness, Mind, and even Buddha-nature.

Sengcan isn’t letting us settle for illusions, not even skillful ones. Not even Zen.

Really, I think the advice, “Just don’t think, ‘This is it!’ or, ‘This isn’t it!'” would do fine. But, this is a poem after all, so it’s gotta have imagery that alludes to something words can’t describe.

<<<Part Four>>>

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