Discourse on Sudden Enlightenment
By Shen Hui

(sermon of the monk from Nan-yang, in which is taught the Ch'an doctrine of salvation through Sudden Awakening and direct understand of one's own nature)
Dharma is incomparable bodhi - all the Buddhas highly praise its profundity. Friends! Come each of you, open your heart to incomparable bodhi. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who all are good, truly reliable friends, are met with very rarely indeed. What you have never heard before you will hear today; whom you have never met before you will meet today. The Nirvana Sutra says: "The Buddha asked Kasyapa: 'Is it difficult to hit a needle point placed on the earth with a sesame seed thrown out of the highest heaven?' 'It is indeed,' said Kasyapa. 'Yet,' said the Buddha, 'less difficult it is than that a true cause and a true condition together meet'." What is a true cause and a true condition? Friends, that you open your heart to the truth is the true cause; that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, your good, truly reliable friends, arrive at the dharma of incomparable bodhi, so that you may attain final salvation, - that is the true condition; that both together meet is quite wonderful. The mouth of the indifferent is full of wrong speech, their mind full of bad thoughts; long will they revolve in the wheel of life without being liberated. May that each of you open his heart to the truth! I shall lead now your confession. May each of you pay homage to the Buddha! [The assembly joins in.]
We pay homage to all the Buddhas of the past, to all of them.
We pay homage to all the Buddhas of the future, to all of them.
We pay homage to all the Buddhas of the present, to all of them.
We pay homage to the Holy Dharma, the sutra-pitaka of the Prajnaparamitas.
We pay homage to all the great Bodhisattvas and the monks who have attained complete Enlightenment.
[The leader resumes.]
Let us all from the depths of our heart confess! Let the three actions [body, speech, and mind] of my friends be pure.
[The assembly joins in.]
All the past, future, and present actions of my body, my mouth, and my mind, the four unforgiveable sins, I now sincerely confess from the depth of my heart. From these bad deeds may I be delivered. Never shall I commit them again.
[The leader.]
Friends, all who are present, you have this occasion to join our congregation; you may now, each one of you, open your heart to incomparable bodhi, strive for the dharma of incomparable bodhi. If you want to attain this bodhi, you must believe the words of the Buddhas, rely upon the doctrine of the Buddha. What are the words the Buddha said said? The Sutra says:
"All bad things you should not do; all good things you shall obediently do. You shall purify your mind. - That all the Buddhas have taught." - Anguttara Nikaya
That is what all the Buddhas of the past have preached. "All bad things you should not do," defines discipline (sila). "All good things you shall obediently do," defines insight (prajna). "You shall purify your mind" defines meditation (samadhi). Friends, these three points are integral parts of the same doctrine; not until this is understood may one speak of Buddhism. Which are the points that are one? Sila, samadhi, prajna. Not to let illusion rise is sila; to be free of it is samadhi; to know about this is prajna. These are the points that are one.
Everybody must observe sila, the Rules of Conduct. If you do not observe the Rules of Conduct, the good dharma cannot grow. If you aim at incomparable bodhi you must first observe the Rules of Conduct, then you can enter [Nirvana]. If you do not observe the Rules of Conduct, you will not even be incarnated in a scabby jackal, how much less in the dharmakaya of the Tathagata, the reward of his meritorious deeds? Friends, if you study incomparable bodhi without purifying the three stirrings, without observing the Rules of Conduct, and declare that you may become a Tathagata, you try something that is impossible.
If you practice sila and prajna by action while bent on sila, prajna, and samadhi without action, you are miscalculating. If you practice samadhi by action this ill lead to incarnations among men and gods - a fruit which is not equal to imcomparable bodhi. Friends, for a long time you drift in the Ocean of Samsara, during many mahakalpas as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges River, unable to attain salvation, because you did not even once open your heart to the truth. Maybe you did not meet the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, your truly reliable friends. But even if you had met them you would not have opened your heart to the truth; in fact it is this reason that makes you drift in the Ocean of Samsara during many mahakalpas as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges River without being able to attain liberation.
Or did you open your heart but only to the truth of the two Vehicles which lead to incarnations among men and gods? When your Karma is exhausted, resourceless you will drop back into the lower realms. The Buddhas who arise in this world are as numerous as the Ganges sands; the great Bodhisattvas arising are as numerous as the Ganges sands. Those human beings whom each of these Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, their good friends, arises to liberate are as numerous as the sands of the river Ganges. Why didn't you meet them? That you are now wandering in Samsara without attaining salvation is surely because that the condition of your bodhi is absent, for you have never spent even a single thought on all the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas of the past, your truly reliable friends.
Or maybe your failure is because there are good friends who do not truly understand what incomparable bodhi really is. Teaching Sravaka doctrines of the two Vehicles which lead to incarnations among men and gods, they resemble one who puts dirty food in a precious bowl. In this simile a precious bowl represents a friend who opens his heart to the truth, and dirty food represents the doctrines of those of the two Vehicles which lead to rebirth among men & gods. Though he reaps the sweet fruit of a birth among the gods, which isn't too bad, he will again share the lot of the common people of today when his karma is exhausted.
Friends, now open your minds to the teaching which is in accord with Prajnaparamita, far greater than those of the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, not at all different from those which Sakyamuni prophesied for Maitreya. The numbers of eons which the two Vehicle saints spend in meditation are indeed great. But when the number of eons during which they practice meditation is over, the Bodhisattva Mahasattvas - if there is an occasion - preach the Dharma to them. Then, opening their heart to the truth for the first time, they are in no way different from my friends who even now open their heart to the truth. For, as long as they absorbed in meditation, the two Vehicles were not ready to grasp the dharma of incomparable bodhi preached to them. A sutra says: "The Heavenly Maiden said to Sariputra, 'Common people may lose their bearing, and regain it again, but not the Sravakas'."
Friends, all of you, every single one, has the nature of Buddha. The Bodhisattvas do not take the bodhi of the Buddha and hand it to you, nor do they settle things for you. Why? The Nirvana Sutra says that the Buddha has already foretold your destination, namely, that all the Beings are from the very beginning in Nirvana; from the beginning are they endowed with the gift of immaculate wisdom. Why do they not recognize this fact? Why do they wander in samsara unable to attain liberation? Because their view is obscured by the dust of evil passions. They need the direction of a good friend; then they will recognize it, cease to wander, and attain liberation.
When my friends are told to discard all they have previously learned as useless, then those who have spent fifty or even only twenty years in practicing meditation might be very confused. By "discard" I mean to "give up" deceiving yourself about the Dharma, not the Dharma itself. For all the Buddhas of the 10 directions couldn't discard the true Dharma, much less so your good friends. Just like the air in which we walk, stand, and lay down, you cannot separate yourselves from it. All actions and tasks are inseparable from the Dharma realm. In the Vimalakirti Sutra it says: "I can remove my disease but not the dharma of my disease."
Friends, listen attentively, I speak to you of self-deception. What does this self-deception mean? You, who have assembled at this place today, are craving for money and the pleasures of sex; you are thinking of gardens & houses. This is the lowly way of self-deception. To believe that it must be got rid of too is a fine form of self-deception. This you don't know.
So, what is this fine form of deception? When you hear one speaking of bodhi you think you must get that bodhi; and so when you hear one speaking of Nirvana, emptiness, purity, samadhi, you think you must get that Nirvana, emptiness, purity & samadhi. These are self-deceptions! These are fetters, heresies! With that deception in mind you cannot attain liberation. If you don't know that you already liberated & guiltless from the very beginning without anything else needed, you then think of leaving the world and abiding in Nirvana, and this Nirvana becomes the same fetter. In the same way purity, emptiness, & samadhi become fetters. Such thoughts stall your progress to bodhi.
Be aware of the fact that the natural state of your mind is tranquil & pure, completely blank. It is unsupported and unattached, without views, like empty space, reaching everywhere, and is identical with the body of Suchness of the Buddhas. Suchness is inherent in the absence of self-deception. Because we know this we preach the freedom from self-deception. One who looks at things free from self-deception, though fully seeing, hearing, feeling, and knowing, is always blank and tranquil; in one act he practices sila, samadhi, and prajna simultaneously and fulfills the ten thousand conditions of virtue. Then he possesses the "wisdom of the Tathagata which is wide and large, profound and far-reaching." What does this mean, "profound and far-reaching"? When one's nature is clearly seen, then samadhi is profound and far-reaching; when one's nature is not seen, it is not profound and far reaching.
Use all your might, my friends, so that you may attain liberation by Sudden Enlightenment. When your eyes see a form, clearly distinguish every form, and yet be unmoved by these varying forms. When in their midst, be unaffected, and among them attain liberation. Then you have attained the samadhi of forms. When you ears hear a sound... when your nose smells an odor... when your tongue tastes a flavor.... when your body feels a sensation.... when your analytic mind (mana) distinguishes a dharma, remain unmoved by these various dharmas. When in their midst attain liberation. Then you have attained the samadhi of dharmas. When in this manner all the organs are clearly seen, that is original prajna; when nothing arises, that is original samadhi.
I shall succintly explain what is meant by the identity of the good man and the bad man, using the simile of empty space. In itself empty space neither changes nor ceases to change. In daylight it is correct to think it is bright, and at night it is correct to think it is dark. Yet, whether bright or dark, it is the same space. Brightness and darkness alternate while the space itself neither changes nor ceases to change. The same applies to good & evil. Don't distinguish between truth and lie; in reality, good is not different from evil. A sutra says: "It is the same whether one contemplates one's own nature of the Buddha." It follows that freedom is from attachment enables you to look into the heart of all the Buddhas of the past, and yet it is nothing else than what you are experiencing today. A sutra says: "Contemplating the Tathagata, he neither arrives out of the future, nor departs from the past, nor abides in the present." Who seeks the Dharma should not seek it in the Buddha, Dharma, or Sangha. Why? Because the Buddha-nature is found in your heart.
Set yourselves your own rules, and penetrate your own heart. Then you have penetrated to the understanding of all the sutras, [no scholarship necessary]. When the Buddha was still living their were beings of all kinds who left their families and followed him. All the Buddhas of the past prreached to the 8 kinds of listeners, not selectively or privately. As the sun at midday illuminates every spot, and as the dragon kind sends rain impartially and equally so that all the grasses and trees may be watered, each kind in accordance with its need, so are the Buddhas when they preach the Dharma. Then their mind is open to every need, showing no preference to one or the other, and beings of every kind understand their message. A sutra says, "The Buddha uses one and the same language to preach the Dharma; beings understand each in their own way."
Firends, when you study prajnaparamita, you must read extensively the Mahayana Sutras. There are Ch'an teachers who do not like Sudden Enlightenment but want you to awaken gradually by using the expedients that the Buddhas offer, but that is a method good only for a very inferior type of being. As in a clear mirror one sees one's face, so in the Mahayana Sutras one sees the true picture of one's own heart. First, you must not doubt; trusting the word of the Buddha you must purify the three actions, then you can enter Mahayana. The School of Sudden Enlightenment relies exclusively upon the word of the Tathagata for its practice. I am telling you the pure truth now. Rouse yourselves! If you have any doubts, feel free to ask. Fare well!