Hui-Neng and the Transcendental Standpoint
By Steven W. Laycock

Journal of Chinese Philosophy
V. 12 (1985)
pp. 179-196

Copyright 1985 by Dialogue Publishing Company

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Hung-Jan[a], the fifth Ch'an[b] Patriarch of China (c.601-675), would soon die. The elderly master had decreed that whoever should write the poem embodying the most profound insights into Buddhism would be his legitimate successor; and everyone at the little community of Huang-mei Shan[c] (Yellow Plumb Mountain) expected Shen-hsiu[d], a scholarly and highly-respected monk, to inherit the office along with the robe and begging bowl reputed to have been transmitted from Gautama himself,

    Moonlight bathed Huang-mei Shan as Shen-hsiu stole into the Patriarch's quarters and anonymously posted the poem:

Body is the Bodhi Tree,
Mind is like a bright mirror-stand.
Diligently wipe it all the time,
And allow no dust to cling.[1]

We can imagine the secret delight of Shen-hsiu when, upon waking and reading his poem, the aging master ordered incense to be burned before it, commenting that enlightenment would be reached by all who put it into practice .

    The following night. Hui-neng[e], a barely-literate rice-pounder from Hsin-chou, posted a second poem next to that of Shen-hsiu:

Originally, Bodhi is not a tree,
Nor is the mind-mirror standing.
Originally, not one thing exists,
So where is the dust to cling?[2]

Hung-jan immediately recognized the profundity of Hui-neng's under-




standing, and, summoning Hui-neng to his chamber by night, conferred upon him the sacred robe and begging bowl.

    This legendary account of the installation of the sixth Ch'an Patriarch of China - a story integral with a spiritual and philosophical tradition widely different from that of the Occident-yields profound insight when interpreted in the light of contemporary phenomenological scholarship. In particular, such an interpretation will help us to localize, within the categories of phenomenological investigation, the highest mode of cognition of which consciousness is capable: that of enlightenment.

    The current ascendancy of perspectivist, deconstructivist and anti-transcendentalist approaches to phenomenology has produced interpretations of Buddhist enlightenment of great interest and merit. In the present paper, however, I shall attempt to show that the Buddhism of Hui-neng is, in many respects, strikingly akin to Husserl's transcendentalism. Enlightenment, for Hui-neng, involves the assumption of something like the transcendental-phenomenological standpoint. In deference to more standard interpretations, it will be conceded from the outset that the hermeneutic transformations which Hui-neng's operative terms undergo in my hands are far from decisive. Much of what is said here is propaedeutic, and much belongs to the realm of speculative interpretation. At very least, however, this "transcendental" interpretation of Hui-neng has as its aim the stimulation of thought in what may prove to be a rewarding direction.

Originally, not one thing exists,

In Suzuki's view,

What distinguishes Hui-neng most conspicuously and characteristically from his predecessors as well as from his contemporaries is his doctrine of . . . 'from the first not a thing is'-this was the first proclamation made by Hui-neng. It is a bomb thrown into the camp of Shen-hsiu and his predecessors.[3]

Yampolsky, on the other hand, declares that "it is quite certain that this doctrine was never pronounced by Hui-neng, for it is not found in the Tun-huang[f] edition, and does not make its appearance until the Sung dynasty




version."[4] Without emerging ourselves in the scholarly intricacies of the issue, it seems that this dark saying attributed to Hui-neng is at least taken to be consistent, by the tradition tracing its root-system through the Sixth Patriarch, with the point of view developed in the Tun-huang manuscript. Hence, we may speak, more or less comfortably, of the view of a given possible "Hui-neng," a "Hui-neng" whose viewpoint is in rough accord with that of the "Hui-neng" of the Tun-huang text, without busying ourselves with the important, though for our purposes, circumventable, historical issue. In grand phenomenological style, let us, then, "bracket" the historical Hui-neng, attending exclusively to an important philosophical view emerging through relevant extant texts, deferring to Yampolsky to the extent that doctrines elaborated in other versions of the Platform Sutra are not to be attributed to our possible "Hui-neng" unless traditionally taken to be consistent with the viewpoint of the Tun-huang version. Henceforth, "Hui-neng" will refer to the real or imaginary author of this more or less consistent body of doctrine.

    The cartoon commonplace of the life-sized picture of a tunnel placed against a solid mountainside (with its slapstick consequences) illustrates very clearly what Husserl regards as our "natural" tendency to be "taken in" by appearances. The fate of the villainous pursuer could be averted were he only to see the tunnel-picture as a picture. More generally, to recognize an appearance as an appearance "neutralizes" our tendency unreflectively to posit the apparent object as existing. Unreflectively to posit the apparent object as existing and to be "taken in" by the appearance are one and the same. Yet the appearance itself is unaltered by the positing act. There is neither more nor less presented to us through an appearance in virtue of reflection upon our existential positing, though "neutralization" of the positing act ensures that we are not deceived by appearances. Through appreciation of appearances as appearances we lose nothing of presence, but gain much in the line of philosophical vigilance.

    To be "taken in" by any appearance is thereby unreflectively to posit, not simply the apparent object, but the world. The existence of the world is presupposed by the existence of any given object. Hence, to throw in question this fundamental presupposition is thereby to cast suspicion upon all our existential beliefs. The "neutralization" (epoche) of this Primal Belief (Urdoxa) thus liberates us from deluded absorption into any




appearance. And this stance from which the very appearing of appearances may be recognized as such is what Husserl calls the "transcendental reduction."

    In this light, the third line of Hui-neng's poem becomes transparent. "Originally, not one thing exists." The operator, "originally" (pen lai[g]), determines the way in which the statement "Not one things exists" is true. "Originally" is a mode of truth, but not, obviously, for the Ch'an tradition, a mode of propositional truth. "Originally" is more faithfully understood as a mode of conscious revelation, a way of being conscious, an attitude or stance of mind. Whatever stance "originally" may refer to, it must be such that, for consciousness negated in that mode of conscious life, "not one thing exists." And, if we are to hear in this line echoes of the yogacara tradition, we must add that only in a non-original attitude do things appear as if existing independently of mind. If we are to find a counterpart within the Western phenomenological tradition, we have no choice but to take "originally" as indicating the transcendental-phenomenological attitude. For, indeed, in Husserl's view. existential positing is entirely "neutralized" within the transcendental attitude. "Originally" and "transcendentally,'' not one thing exists.

    In the transcendental attitude, consciousness rises, in Hui-neng's phrase, "above existence and non-existence."[5] The phenomenologist qua phenomenologist neither asserts nor denies the existence of any object, but simply enjoys the pure phenomenal presence of each object precisely as, and only as it appears. Whatever appears to consciousness engaged in transcendental reflection is simply noted or "described" without comment. The frequent image of geese which fly across the face of the sky, yet leave no tracks, eloquently expresses this point. Hui-neng incessantly prescribes the attitude of non-attachment. "When all things are illumined by wisdom and there is neither grasping nor throwing away, then you can see into your own nature and gain the Buddha Way."[6]

    The pure describing of phenomena is inconsistent with the activity of theorizing about phenomena. Theoretical explanations are necessarily underdetermined by the experiential data they imply, in much the same way that Wittgenstein's "duck-rabbit" underdetermines the way it will be seen (i.e., as a duck, or as a rabbit). To theorize is to take up a "perspective" upon the data to be explained, to posit more than is directly revealed through




the presence of the explicandum. Hui-neng, however, admonishes his disciples: "separate yourselves from views."[7] Hui-neng insists that in "original" consciousness, "the capacity of mind is broad and huge, like the vast sky."[8] that "our attitude of mind is as void as space."[9] Space, however, is at least the framework of possible "standpoints," "points of view." The mind is not "taken in" by the appearances presented at any such point of view, but, being "above existence and non-existence," moves effortlessly and freely from phenomenon to phenomenon, or equally, simply notes fleeting phenomena without attachment. Non-attachment is a supra-perspectivall achievement of consciousness. To be detached from a given perspectival phenomenon is to refrain from being "taken in" by it, to suspend the "'natural" tendency to engage in perspectival position-taking. And no less must be said for Husserl's transcendental attitude. It is only in its transcendental mode of life that consciousness is enabled to see perspectivality as such. Were it legitimate to speak of the transcendental stance as a "perspective" at all, it would necessarily be the decisive "perspective" upon perspectivality itself, the "view" of viewing itself. Yet this supra-perspectival stance cannot be so construed. Not only are there no perspectives upon the transcendental stance, but it cannot comprise simply one more perspective upon the totality of perspectives, since to be a perspective is precisely to be integral to that totality. It is, rather, that stance from which perspectival consciousness is revealed as such. Here, then, we have come upon something absolute undergirding the relativity of perspectival position-taking. We have come upon something adamantly essential, something presupposed by each perspectival seeing, or, in Hui-neng's ideolect, we have discovered the Essence of Mind. [10]

    The exercise of "original" consciousness-its "use"-is wisdom (prajna). Indeed, wisdom is described by Hui-jnng as the attitude of "[n]ot leaving not staying, not going or coming, the attitude of remaining "unstained in all things."[11] Prajna is the "Self-use of True Nature."[12] The Essence of Mind, according to Hui-neng, is "a state of 'Absolute Void," [13] the infinite "capacity" of mind. And prajna is the exercise of this capacity. The dhyana/Prajna relationship runs precisely parallel to that of essence/function (ti[h]/yung[i]), or capacity/exercise:

Good friends, how then are meditation and wisdom alike?




They are like the lamp and the light it gives forth. If there is a lamp there is light; if there is no lamp there is no light. The lamp is the substance of the light; the light is the function of the lamp. Thus, although they have two names, in substance they are not two. Meditation and wisdom are also like this.[14]

    We should be clear, however, that the Absolute Void is not the void of blank-mindedness. Hu-neng emphatically insists, time and again, that the expulsion of all "content" from the infinite space of the mind is of no avail. Blank-mindedness is simply a failure to exercise the essential capacity of mind. Indeed, the Absolute Void is parenthetically characterized as "the voidness of non-void."[15] "Voidness" refers, not to utter absence of mental conten,. but to decisive detachment from all content. There could be no "non-void," no presentational content, without the essential transcendental capacity of mind. But equally, there could be no detachment which is not detachment from presentational content. "Self-nature contains the ten thousand things ... The ten thousand things are all in self-nature."[16] Void and non-void, non-attachment and presentational content, reciprocally condition one another. They are interdependent opposites. Self Nature dialectically is primal presence in the sense in which space and that which fills it are indissolubly united. Self Nature is our capacity simply to let phenomena present themselves without our taking up a perspectival "position" with respect to them, without, that is, interposing ideation between void and non-void. "Original," transcendental seeing is not seeing-as. It is not constitutive. Or rather, while consciousness in its transcendental stance is perfectly free to see any object as presented under a given "interpretation," still, no such "interpretation" is preferred or singled out as especially revelatory, significant or correct. The transcendental stance is "supra-interpretive," as opposed to non-interpretive. Hui-neng admonishes his disciples to be "idea-less." to realize the state of "No-Thought": "What is no-thought? The Dharma of no-thought means: even though you see all things, you do not attach to them ..."[17] Indeed, Hui-neng advises,

... do not activate thoughts. If there were no thinking, then no-thought would have no place to exist. 'No' is the 'no' of what? 'Thought' means 'thinking' of what? 'No' is the separa-




tion from the dualism that produces the passions. 'Thought means thinking the original nature of True Reality. True Reality is the substance of thoughts; thoughts are the function of True Reality.[18]"

Primal presence, in Husserl's acceptation, the stratum of' "pure" experience prior to all interpretive or constitutive activity, is, as it were, the "space" of ideational "interpretation," its undifferentiated matrix, the fundamental necessary condition which "lets it be," which allows standpunctual position-taking. And in this sense, primal presence is to position-taking as transcendental capacity is to primal presence. The exercise of transcendental capacity necessarily involves the descriptive noting of whatever ideational determinations may be revealed within the "space" of primal presence.

    Accordingly, Hui-neng's assertion that "originally, there is not a thing" (pen l'ai w'u i w'u[j])may also be understood as indicating precisely that stratum of pre-determinate oneness prior to the bifurcation of the subject and its world-primal presence. What confronts "original" consciousness in the exercise of its transcendental capacity is the very matrix or source of ideational determination. "Original" consciousness is the revelation of the wellspring of all conscious revelation.


The Bright Mirror

    The image of a bright mirror, like the lovely image of a pond of clear water placidly reflecting the autumn moon-an image typical of the Ch'an tradition-has a lilting and seductive quality about it. Perhaps, too seductive. Shen-hsiu, it seems, in claiming that "Mind is like a bright mirror-stand," was led astray by just such an image. For, indeed, according to Hui-neng," There is no mind-mirror standing."

    We find the following passage in Sartre's The Transcendence of the Ego which suggests, with admirable lucidity, precisely where Shen-hsiu's mistake might lie:

..the ego is an object apprehended, but also an object constituted, by reflective consciousness. The ego is a virtual locus of unity, and consciousness constitutes it in a direction contrary to




that actually taken by the production: really, consciousnesses are first: through these are constituted states; and then, through the latter, the ego is constituted. But, as the order is reversed by a consciousness which imprisons itself in the world in order to flee from itself, consciousnesses are given as emanating from states, and states as produced by the ego. It follows that consciousness projects its own spontaneity into the ego-object in order to confer on the ego the creative power which is absolutely necessary to it. But this spontaneity, represented and hypostatized in an object, becomes a degraded and bastard spontaneity, which magically preserves its creative power even while becoming passive. Whence the profound irrationality of the notion of an ego.[19]

Reflection-consciousness positing itself as an object-is undeniably a magnificent achievement of the human mind-but only so far as this "object" presents itself for what it is. a passive "locus of unity." Yet the siren allure of "productive reversal," of taking the ego-object to be constitutive of the very consciousness of which it is, in reality, merely the transcendent unity, perpetually tempts the unwary. In vivid contradistinction to Kant's view, the "transcendental unity of apperception" becomes, for Sartre, objectified, one of an indefinite range of possible transcendent objects presentable to consciousness. Consciousness itself is not to be confused with the ego-object.

    For consciousness, the agent of conscious intentional activity is essentially undisclosed, unthematized. Consciousness may posit itself as an object, but that "object" eo ipso loses its psychic "interiority," its subjectivity. It becomes simply one more noematic presentation in the field of pre-reflective consciousness. Subject can never become object, since the subject is precisely that to which the object appears. This insight is captured metaphorically in the philosophical tradition of Hui-neng in statements such as "The eye cannot see itself" and "The tip of the finger cannot touch itself." In more formal terms, intentional presentation is necessarily irreflexive. "The mind-mirror is not standing.'' Mind cannot "stand" in front of itself.

    The mere positing of itself as an object enacted by reflective consciousness is not, however, the "bastardization" of which Sartre speaks. Rather,




the "profound irrationality" of which Shen-hsiu was guilty is the confounding of representation and original. The "bright mirror," the reflected image of consciousness, is the "rerepresentation" and "hypostatization" of consciousness itself. Shen-hsiu uncritically assumes that mind can be represented, when, in fact, mind cannot even be originally presented.

    Hui-neng's verse explicitly warns against this fallacy of "productive reversal": "There is no mind-mirror standing." This line is meant neither to deny consciousness nor its posited object. No doubt, upon composing his verse, Shen-hsiu actually held before his mind the "bright mirror," the ego-object. This is not at issue. Rather, Hui-neng's line insists upon the necessity of recognizing the fundamental dys-analogy between consciousness and anything-be it posited consciousness, imagined mirror, or ego-object- which stands before it. "Original" consciousness cannot be represented.

    For Husserl, transcendental reflection is ''meta-reflection" surveying the lower-order reflective and prereflective activity of consciousness as emanating from a given "source," what might, to contrast it with Sartre's "ego-object," be called the "ego-subject.'' The ego-subject is a non-objectifiable locus of agency. Sartre's ego-object is an objectified locus of unity whose merely apparent agency is "projected" upon this essentially passive object by consciousness itself, not by an underlying ego-subject. Sartre denies the possibility of transcendental reflection on the grounds that the reflecting consciousness is itself to be integrated into the immanent unity of consciousness. The ego-object is essentially "incomplete," the product of of an ongoing process whereby every consciousness, reflective and prereflective, is synthetically unified. Husserl, on the other hand, insists that transcendental consciousness is of a wholly different order from every consciousness, reflective and prereflective, which lies open to its purview. This means that the empirical ego may be apprehended by transcendental consciousness as an horizontal structure of transcendental subjectivity, the "phenomenological residue" of the reduction. Transcendental consciousness cannot be synthetically unified with empirical consciousness or its empirical locus of agency, thus becoming merely one more consciousness on the same order: There are two orders of consciousness, for Husserl, transcendental and empirical, and, indeed, this duality is a precondition of transcendental consciousness.

    For Hui-neng, also, there seem to be two "dimensions" of conscious




life. Again, Hui-neng does not deny the "bright mirror" as an aspect of phenomenal presence. "Original" consciousness is above such denial (or affirmation). Whatever is present is simply noted as such. But primal presence at least relatively "fills'' the Absolute Void, the infinite transcendental capacity which comprises the Self Nature of consciousness. Hui-neng's fundamental "duality," using this word cautiously to suggest only a duality of reciprocally conditioning "moments," identified through opposition, is that between void and non-void, the transcendental and empirical orders, respectively, not, as for Sartre, the duality of subject and object. For Hui-neng,

[n]on-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No thought is not to think even when involved in thought. Non-abiding is the original nature of man.[20]

    It must be emphasized immediately, however, that void and non-void are one. That is, for "original" consciousness, all is presence (recognizing, of course, that absence is itself a peculiar mode of presence). The "void'' is already filled by "non-void." Phenomenal presence is immanent. Its being is in no way distinct from its appearing. And the identity of empirical being and appearing is evident from the standpoint of "original" consciousness.

    There is a strong temptation to identify Hui-neng's ''original" mind with Sartre's prereflective consciousness. After all, prereflective consciousness is "impersonal'' and is not the product of an objective and substantial ego. One consideration, however, prevents us from making this identification: Sartre's prereflective consciousness is necessarily engaged. It is committed to the existence of its objects as ideationally mediated through position-taking acts. In principle, therefore, it cannot rise "above existence and non-existence." This, only transcendentally reflecting consciousness can do. One of the greatest obstacles to identifying "original" consciousness with transcendentally reflecting consciousness seems to be Husserl's transcendental ego. But this difficulty is somewhat mitigated by the recognition that, for Husserl, the transcendental ego is not the "I" of any particular consciousness, and thus, being "no-I," is, to this extent, "impersonal." The transcendental ego is neither an object nor an objectifiable substance, but a




source, a wellspring, the spontaneous agency of transcendental reflection. This, it seems, is precisely Hui-neng's view.


Body and Bodhi Tree

    I have rendered Shen-hsiu's first line as "Body is the Bodhi Tree," in contrast to Alan Watt's more literary, but somewhat misleading, translation, "The body is the Bodhi Tree."[21] The difference is important. The phrase, "the body," serves to direct attention to a particular human body (or perhaps numerous-or all-human bodies), or, like "the great blue whale," to the species of which such individual bodies are instances. However, the starker expression, "body" tout court, seems both to accommodate the Chinese "shen" more accurately, and to be more sensitive to a rather subtle point of doctrine shared by several Buddhist sects, including Ch'an: that (the) body does not terminate at the epidermis, and is not, ultimately, to be distinguished from its universal environment. The objective body is the universal embodiment of the Buddha-Nature.

    Moreover, the phrase, "the body," tends to suggest the body as seen from without, the body as it might be regarded by an anatomist or surgeon: Korper. The rendering of "shen[k]" as simply "body" leaves room for an appreciation of the body as lived from within: Leib. Hence, "body" is left to signify something at once universal and inwardly lived: the bodily interiority of the universe, the universe as lived from within.

    One need look no farther than Sartre's Being and Nothingness to discover what appears to be an intriguingly parallel conception within Occidental phenomenology:

... to say that I have entered into the world, "come to the world," or that I have a body is one and the same thing. In this sense my body is everywhere in the world; it is over there in the fact that the lamp-post hides the bush which grows along the path, as well in the fact that the roof up there is above the windows of the sixth floor or in the fact that a passing car swerves from right to left behind the truck or that the woman who is crossing the street appears smaller than the man who is sitting on the sidewalk in front of the cafe. My body is co-ex-




tensive with the world, spread across all things, and at the same time it is condensed into this single point which all things indicate and which I am, without being able to know it.[22]

In Sartre's view, it is the very persectivality of the lived body-the body which I "exist''-which determines its universality. The "body-as-a-point-of-view"[23] is a point of view upon the phenomenal world. And reciprocally, the phenomenal world is a world only for a point-of-view, a lived body. Still, Sartre's view features merely a perspectival subject intentionally directed toward a transcendent and objectively observed "object": the world. The subject-body remains correlated with an object-body within the world. Hence, it seems, Sartre's "body-as-a-point-of-view'' is not, after all, coincident with the conception of a subjectively lived universe-body, the lived-universe.

    Understanding by "world" the presumptive synthetic unity of all views, the noematic correlate of perspectival world-viewing, we are led to recognize the "lived world'' as the interiority of transcendental consciousness, the inner subjectivity of that consciousness prepared to see each point-of-view as Such, and hence, to thematize the world. The "lived world" is the inwardly experienced "Leib" with respect to which transcendental subjectivity is the "korper."

    Hui-neng explains the Trikaya (Three Body) doctrine of Mahayaya thus:

... the pure Dharmakaya is your (essential) nature; the perfect Sambhogakaya is your wisdom; and the myriad Nirmanakayas are your actions. If you deal with these Three Bodies apart from the Essence of Mind, there would be 'bodies without wisdom. If you realize that these Three Bodies have no positive essence of their own (because they are only the properties of the Essence of Mind) you attain the Bodhi of the four Prajnas.[24]

For present purposes, we can understand the Nirmanakayas as the lower-order intentional activity, reflective or prereflective, of the empirical subject which comprises the field of presence for transcendental consciousness. The Sambhogakaya is the transcendental activity (prajna) of non-attached




reflection upon the Nirmanakayas. And finally, the Dharmakaya is the self-luminousness, the self-transparency, of the mind's essential capacity for transcendental reflection. The Three Bodies are structures of "original" consciousness. "The threefold body ... is within your own self-nature."[25] We may, then, say that the Nirmanakayas comprise the noematic aspect of transcendental consciousness, the Sambhogakaya being transcendental noesis, and that the Dharmakaya is the self-transparency of "original" noetic activity. For Hui-neng, both noema and noesis are immanent within the self-clarity of transcendental consciousness. "[E]nlightenment (bodhi) and intuitive wisdom (prajna) are from the outset possessed by men of this world themselves."[26]

    The Bodhi (Bo) Tree, of course, is the tree under which Gautama sat when he attained "unexcelled complete awakening." The word "Bodhi" (Chinese, p'u t'i[l]) has etymological and conceptual connections with the Sanskrit word for "awakening" or "enlightenment." The sense of Shen-hsiu's first line, then, may be rendered as: "The body is that under which enlightenment occurs," or "The body is the condition for enlightenment." Enlightenment is clearly the activity of seeing into Self Nature, thereby discerning the field of presence, the non-void, immanent to the Absolute Void. Hence, the "body" which Shen-hsiu posits as a condition for enlightenment cannot be the Dharmakaya. It may be best to interpret Shen-hsiu's first line as meaning that the Nirmanakaya is a necessary condition for the Dharmakaya, that the void could not obtain without non-void, the "form" of mind without the "content," much as the form of a waterfall could not exist without the water. It is clear that at least enough of a "distance" is suggested between "body" and "Bodhi Tree" to insert the more or less determinate relation of conditioning between them.

    Shen-hsiu's first line may also and correlatively be read as: "The body is the final and ultimate horizon within which enlightenment occurs." Enlightenment, the self-clarity of the void, thus becomes an object or structure within the ultimate horizon. It becomes contextualized--a "sub-text" set over and against the ultimate context. Enlightenment becomes something seen, not the "original" mode of seeing.

    Hui-neng's reply contradicts this suggestion. Watt's rendering, "There never was a Bodhi Tree,"[27] distorts the literal intent, which is captured, albeit with less finesse, by Yampolsky's: "Bodhi originally has no tree."[28]




For transcendental consciousness, enlightenment is unconditioned. It is not an objective, contextualized feature of presence, but the very self-clarity of the ultimate context of all contexts, Self Nature. Again, it is not a "form" emerging from and dependent upon phenomenal "content," but the very "space" of all possible "content" which lets this "content" be. For Shen-hsiu, enlightenment is transcendent to Self Nature; for Hui-neng, enlightenment is immanent. For Shen-hsiu, enlightenment serves as the ideal telos of conscious life, a goal which may be proximated, approached, gradually attained; for Hui-neng, enlightenment can only be realized. "Intrinsically our transcendental nature is void and not a single dharma (thing) can be attained."[29]


Dust and Clinging

    A good mirror, of itself, has no color, but faithfully reflects the color of whatever stands before it. However, if dust is allowed to cling to the mirror, the faithfulness of the representation is destroyed. Shen-hsiu, believing the mind to be analogous to a mirror, advocates a procedure: wipe away the dust. Hui-neng's iconoclasm will not, however, permit the analogy. "So where is the dust to cling? " Self Nature is self-transparent, pure. But no amount of "dust wiping" or "purity gazing" will enable us to proximate enlightenment. The mind is already enlightened, Self Nature is already self-transparent, and no procedure which simply leaves us where it found us is of any avail in realizing the already-enlightened character of mind.

Purity has no form, but, nonetheless, some people try to postulate the form of purity and consider this to be Ch'an practice. People who hold this view obstruct their own original natures and end up by being bound to purity.[30]

Hui-neng here admonishes his followers not to mistake the "Form of Purity" for purity itself, the representation for the original. The self-transparency of transcendental consciousness cannot be approached from outside. In every "approach" it is already, as it were, "inside."

    Nothing within the stratum of presence accessible to transcendental reflection can serve as a means to the realization of enlightenment. And in




this light it is of considerable interest that Eugen Fink, one of Husserl's most influential disciples, perceives something of "mystery" in the very possibility of transcendental reflection:

In truth . . . it does not at all present a possibility for our human existence. The unfamiliarity of the reduction is therefore not only an unfamiliarity with it as a fact, but is also an unfamiliarity with its possibility.... The reduction becomes knowable in its 'transcendental motivation' only with the transcending of the world. This means that the reduction is its own presupposition insofar as it alone opens up that dimension of problems with reference to which it establishes the possibility of theoretical knowledge.[31]

For a mind engaged in the "natural" attitude, caught up in the delusory activity of position-taking, enlightenment is not so much as entertained, even as an abstract possibility. The possibility of enlightenment is meaningful only for a consciousness which realizes its enlightenment. "Original" consciousness is its own presupposition. Hence, the "suddenness" of the realization of enlightenment. It cannot be anticipated, since such anticipation would be meaningless prior to realization.

    At the same time, however,

... we know that, unawakened, even a Buddha is a sentient being, and that even a sentient being, if he is awakened in an instant of thought, is a Buddha.[32]

Enlightened and unenlightened alike are endowed with the infinite capacity of non-attached consciousness. There is nothing more nor less to enlightenment than the exercise of this capacity.

    In the foregoing pages I have attempted to call attention to those features of Hui-neng's "original" consciousness which coincide most strikingly with those of Husserl's transcendental reduction. For both "original" and transcendental consciousness, all doxastic commitment is "neutralized," affirmation and negation are put out of play, leaving consciousness to confront phenomenal presence in a purely descriptive, non-theoretical stance.




For both, phenomenologically revealed subjectivity is regarded, not from this or that particular perspective, but, as it were, from the stance of the very "space" of all standpoints. For both, also, phenomenal presence is regarded in a way which does not distort the apprehension of lower-order acts of prereflective or reflective consciousness. Again, for both "original'' and transcendental consciousness, phenomenal subjectivity is "immanent" in the sense that its appearing exhausts its being; there is no more to be seen of it than is immediately presented. And finally, for both, no lower-order activity of consciousness is sufficient to effect the ascension to its meta-stance. The ascension is empirically unconditioned, "sudden." No consciousness lacking any one of these features would be "original" or transcendental. Thus, the interpretation of "original" consciousness in terms of transcendental consciousness seems inescapable. A final passage from the Platform Sutra, understood in its phenomenological signification, vividly demonstrates the correlations I have argued for:

If one instant of thought is cut off [''bracketed"], the Dharma body [the self-luminosity of transcendental reflection] separates from [becomes positionally conscious of] the physical body [the empirical or "natural'' order of consciousness], and in the midst of successive thoughts there will be no place for attachment to anything [since all "natural'' commitment will be suspended within the phenomenological epoche].[33]






1.    In the translation of this and Hui-neng's verse, I have attempted to avoid extraneous literary flair and to provide as accurate and literal a rendering as standard English usage would bear. The following transliteration is provided to correct for any possible distortion in the translation:

Shen shih p'u t 'i shu [m]
Hsin ju ming ching t'ai.[n]
Shih shih ch'in fu shih,[o]
Mo shih jo ch 'en ai [p]




2.    Following is a transliteration of the Sung dynasty version of Hui-neng's verse:

P'u t 'i pen wu shu,[q]
Hsin ching i fei t'ai.[r]
Pen lai wu i wu,[s]
He ch 'u jo ch 'en ai.[t]

3.    Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind (York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1981), p. 22.

4.    Philip B. Yampolsky, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), p. 94.

5.    A. F. Price and Wong Mou-Lam, translators, The Sutra of Hui Neng (Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 1969), p. 27. For present purposes, Price and Wong's somewhat freestyle translation of the Platform Sutra is occasionally fortuitous and I have borrowed from this translation whenever it seemed that the phenomenological sense was thereby more perspicuously illuminated.

6.    Yampolsky, op. cit., p. 149.

7.    Ibid., p. 136.

8.    Ibid., p. 146.

9.    Price and Wong, op. cit., p. 26.

10.     Yampolsky translates this crucial operative notion as "self-nature," a rendering which I favor. "Self-nature" has the advantage of avoiding the attribution to Hui-neng of anything like an essentialist doctrine. "Essence of Mind," however, accords well with the essence/function (t'i/ung) contrast operating in Hui-neng's thought. In this context, "essence" seems less misleading than Yampolsky's "substance" as a foil to "function."

11.    Ymapolsky, op. cit., p. 148.

12.    Price and Wong, op. cit., p. 27.

13.    Ibid., p. 26.

14.    Yampolsky, op. cit., p. 136.

15.    Price and Wong, op. cit., p. 26.

16.    Yampolsky, op. cit., p. 146.

17.    Ibid., p.153.

18.    Ibid., p. 139.

19.    Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness, translated by Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick (New York: Noonday Press, 1972), pp. 80 -91 .

20.    Yampolsky, op. cit., p. 138.

21.    Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen (New York: Vintage, 1957), p. 91. Suzuki's translation, "Our body is the Bodhi-tree," fares somewhat better inasmuch as it makes plain that "shen " is not intended to refer to a given particular body among others. Suzuki, op. cit., p. 43.

22.    Emphasis added. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, translated by Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Washington




Square Press, 1971), pp. 419--420.

23.    Ibid., p. 433.

24.    Price and Wong, op. cit., p. 67.

25.    Yampolsky, op. ci't., p. 141.

26.    Ibid., p. 135.

27.    Watts, op. cit., p. 92.

28.    Yampolsky, op. cit., p. 132.

29.    Price and Wong, op. cit., p. 26.

30.    Yampolsky, op. cit., pp. 139-140.

31.    Eugen Fink, "The Phenomenological Philosophy of Edmund Husserl and Contemporary Criticism," in R. O. Elveton, editor and translator, The Phenomenology of Husserl: Selected Critical Readings (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), p. 105.

32.    Yampolsky, op. cit., p. 151.

33.    Ibid., p. 138.






a 弘忍 k
b l 菩提
c 黃梅山 m 身是菩提樹
d 神秀 n 心如明鏡臺
e 慧能 o 時時勤拂拭
f 敦煌 p 莫使著塵埃
g 本來 q 菩提本無樹
h r 明鏡亦非臺
i s 本來無一物
j 本來無一物 t 何處著塵埃