Hsin Hsin Ming Part 5

Parts One, Two, Three, & Four

In desiring and taking hold of the One Vehicle,
Do not loathe or fear the six dusts.
Not loathing or fearing the six dusts,
They return, equal in upright awareness.

The wise do nothing,
The fool binds oneself.

Appearances are just appearances,
Presumption gives rise to self-centeredness.

The mind that seeks is the mind that’s sought
Isn’t this a great mistake?

Confusion gives life to order and disorder,
To be aware, see neither good nor bad.

Carving one into two,
One is filled to the brim with absurdity.
Dreams, illusions, empty flowers—
Why toil to grasp and capture them?

Gain and loss, right and wrong,
Go back at once and set them free.

If the Eye is not sleeping,
All dreams end themselves.

Commentary

In desiring and taking hold of the One Vehicle,
Do not loathe or fear the six dusts.
Not loathing or fearing the six dusts,
They return, equal in upright awareness
.

Zen is sometimes called the One Vehicle. That comes from a parable in the… Lotus Sutra, I think? A prince’s three kids are playing in a burning house, but for some reason they don’t want to leave. So, the prince says that there are three chariots outside the house, one for each kid, and they’re each filled with everything the kids love.

That gets the kids out of the house, but when they get outside, there’s only one chariot there… But it’s more amazing than anything the children could’ve imagined. The three chariots represent the different “attainments” such as Arhat, Pratyekabuddha, and Buddhahood.

Later on, this was used in different ways to describe different teachings like the early teachings, emptiness teachings, and mind-only teachings. Then it represented totally different types of Buddhism, like Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

In this context, everything but the first interpretation is irrelevant because the other definitions weren’t around yet when the Hsin Hsin Ming was written. The One Vehicle represent the Bodhisattva Path that involves picking up and setting down teachings from all the Vehicles and using them as helpful guides, not absolute truths.

The first step on the Bodhisattva Path involves wanting to be free, wanting all beings to be free. It’s a myth that Buddhism is 100% against all desires. There are helpful desires, and unhelpful or harmful ones. Wanting all beings to be Awake is a helpful desire.

Really, this whole verse could’ve been a good beginning for the Hsin Hsin Ming. It isn’t as catchy as the Great Way verse, but really shows us what kind of attitude we need to practice with.

The six dusts are the six sense objects: sights, sounds, smells, flavors, tactile sensations, and mental objects like thoughts, feelings, and impulses. Some students work at totally obliterating the universe. They focus on the breath or just sitting as a way to slip into a sightless, soundless, thoughtless void.

Sengcan is saying that that’s not a helpful method because, if we have that motivation, then that means we’re still stuck on our preferences. We’re chasing formlessness and running from forms, usually with some kinda doctrinal rationalization like, “Forms are empty and impermanent.”

That’s counterproductive. Buddha tried out methods like that in India and said they don’t really free us from suffering. But if we can stop chasing and stop running, then we naturally start to even out. As one old saying goes, “The mud settles, and the water clears.”

The wise do nothing,
The fool binds oneself.

“Doing nothing” is the Taoist practice wuwei. Wuwei means effortless action, or doing things without leaving traces in our minds.

Two monks once met a woman by a raging river. The woman asked the monks if they could help her cross. Without thinking about it, one monk picked her up, struggled through the water, and brought her to the other shore.

The other monk was astonished, since monastics are forbidden from making physical contact with women. And this wasn’t just a touch on the arm, he picked her up like a groom picking up his wife on their honeymoon as they make their way to bed.

Several hours passed, and the monk finally said, “Dude, how could do that?” “Do what?” “You picked up a woman! Your broke a fundamental vow!” “Oh! That!” the monk laughed and said, “Brother, I set her down on the riverbank. Why are you still carrying her?”

Yes, this story doesn’t hold up very well under feminist values, but it still shows non-action in action. The monk who helped that woman let the whole situation go after it was over, and he didn’t have any dogmatic opinions about it while it was happening. He’s the wise person in this verse.

The other monk is the fool who bound himself. He bound himself to rules of conduct that, while maybe helpful for a monk during most occasions, weren’t helpful then. Then he bound himself to the memory and stewed about it for hours. So, by being bound, he not only harmed himself with anxiety, but he was unable to help someone in need.

Wuwei is a, “What’s done is done,” outlook. But a genuine, living version of that outlook. Usually, when people say, “What’s done is done,” they’re still holding onto whatever it is that’s supposedly done. In the river story, the monk was so done with what was done that he didn’t even know what the hell other monk was talking about at first. For him, it was more like, “What’s done never even happened.”

The story doesn’t say what the woman did after that. If she was like most of us, she was probably super grateful. Maybe that gratitude made her day and followed her home where she told the story to her friends and family. “So, I was stuck on one side of the river, and then these two monks walked up…” That’s also not wuwei.

If she met the monk the next day and said, “Thanks again for helping me cross the river,” the monk probably would’ve replied, “If I really helped you, then why are you still standing on the bank?”

Appearances are just appearances,
Presumption gives rise to self-centeredness.

Appearances are just appearances, not essences. To me, that’s the direct gateway to freedom. Pain is an appearance. Unpleasantness is an appearance. Unpleasantness isn’t the essence of pain, because not everyone finds pain unpleasant.

“I want a burrito,” is a thought, that wanting is an urge. They’re both appearances. That thought isn’t the essence of the urge, and that urge isn’t the essence of the thought. Right now I can think, “I want a burrito,” when really I don’t want anything, or maybe I really want some weed instead. Then I might want a burrito.

When we mistake appearances for essences, we start to form presumptions about the world and ourselves. This makes it easier for us to take things personally, which increases suffering.

Suddenly, me wanting a burrito turns into the belief that burritos are good, which can eventually become, “Burritos are the greatest food on earth, and everyone who doesn’t like them is stupid.” All that from mixing up a thought and an impulse.

The mind that seeks is the mind that’s sought
Isn’t this a great mistake?

I took some huge liberties with the first line here. The characters are
將心用心 so feel free to translate it yourself. One version has it as, “To use the mind to hold the mind.” Another says, “To seek Mind with the (discriminating) mind is the greatest of all mistakes.”

I decided to treat it in a more personal way. When we try to find ourselves, to answer the question, “Who am I?” the one we’re looking for is just the one who’s asking the question. It’s like the eye trying to see itself, or the hand trying to wrap around itself.

When we go looking for enlightenment, then we’ve just sold ourselves short. But, at the same time, if we just give up the search when we hear that we already have what we’re searching for, then we might as well just not practice Zen at all.

If Sengcan is saying that we shouldn’t search or strive at all, then I disagree with him. Because sometimes, by seeking, we see that what’s seeking is what’s sought if we approach the search with the proper mindset, meaning without self-centeredness.

It’s impossible to rouse the desire for all beings to be free if we already believe that we’re free. We have to see that that desire for all beings to be free is the expression of our natural freedom since we’re freely desiring freedom.

Confusion gives life to order and disorder,
To be aware, see neither good nor bad.

Order and disorder are both opinions, they’re judgments we make based on preconceived ideas we have about appearances. The Way isn’t about moving from disorder to order, it’s about not being confused anymore. It’s about being aware.

Carving one into two,
One is filled to the brim with absurdity.
Dream, illusions, empty flowers—
Why toil to grasp and capture them?

Carving one into two represents how we use knowledge to divide our experiences. We divide our bodies from the environment, we divide everything around us from everything else, we divide our minds from our bodies, we divide ourselves from our minds, and then we base all of our views, feelings, and impulses on this divided knowledge.

This gradually pushes us toward the absurd, and toward behaving absurdly. Life becomes a crisis, a struggle to squeeze water from a stone. Each step of the way, we try to hold onto and enforce our meanings, all the while bombarded by events that seem to say that everything’s meaningless.

Buddha’s solution was to set aside meaning and meaninglessness, labeling them both as extremes. To do that, he compared everything to an illusion or a dream, like flowers in the sky.

If we’re watching a movie and say, “This movie is meaningful.” No, it isn’t. It’s just a movie. If we say, “This movie is meaningless,” nope, it’s just a movie. Meaning and meaninglessness are both mind-made essences that don’t actually have much to do with the movie at all.

Gain and loss, right and wrong,
Go back at once and set them free.

Go back to where? To here! Ideas like gain and loss, right and wrong aren’t anywhere else but here and now. Right now, where is gain? Where is loss? Nowhere but in our minds, and we can’t even locate our minds.

Right now we can set our views and preferences free from ourselves, from the view that they’re something more than appearances.

If the Eye is not sleeping,
All dreams end themselves.

The Eye here is the Buddha Eye, which is just a fancy term for clarity. If we can just set everything aside and focus on our own natural clarity, then everything works itself out.

<<–Part Six–>>

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