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Hui-Neng: "Neither Good Nor Evil

The Case

The Sixth Ancerstor was pursued by Ming the head monk as far as Ta-yu Peak. The teacher, seeing Mong coming, laid the robe and bowl on a rock and said, "This robe represents the Dharma. there should be no fighting over it. You may take it back with you."

Ming tried to lift it up, but it was as immovable as a mountain. Shivering and trembling, he said, "I came for the Dharma, not the robe. I beg you, lay brother, open the Way for me."

he teacher said, "Don't think good; don't think evil. At this very moment, what is the original face of Ming the head monk?"

In that instant Ming had great satori. Sweat ran from his entire body. In tears he made his bows saying,

" Besides these secret words and secret meanings, is there anything of further significance?"

The teacher said, " What I have just conveyed to you is not secret. If you reflect on your own face, whatever is secret will be right there with you."

Ming said, " Though I practiced at Huang-mei with the assembly, I could not truly realize my original face. Now, thanks to your pointed instruction, Iam like someone who drinks water and knows personally whether it is cold or warm. Lay brother, you are now my teacher."

The teacher said, "If you can say that, then let's both call Huang-mei our teacher. Maintain your realization carefully."

Wu-Men's Comment

It must be said that the Sixth Ancestor forgets himself completely in taking action here. he is like a kindly grandmother wo peels a fresh lychee, removes the seed, and puts it into your mouth. Then you only need to swallow it down.

Wu-Men's Verse

It can't be described; it can't be pictured
It can't be praised enough; stop groping for it.
The Original face has nowhere to hide.
When the world is destroyed, it is not destroyed.

Although this koan is famous for challenging us to present our True Self, our Original Face that is neither good nor evil, today I want you all to be aware of your false self. Ming's great satori comes about because he has so totally become his false self in his pursuit of Hui-neng that nothing is hidden from him - when challenged he realizes he has lost himself in thinking good and evil, and his false self stands right there nakedly before his eyes, horrible and brittle, ready to shatter given Hui-neng's push. The false self is the self of duality, the self of self-consciousness and limitation. Our true self is as wide open and unstructured as this very moment. Sesshin challenges us to experience this moment without limitation, without thinking good or evil, without thought of "how we are doing" or what we are accomplishing or failing to accomplish by our sitting. Yet we all bring to sesshin a picture of what we expect; how we expect it to go, how we expect to handle ourselves, what we expect to get from the Teacher. All these are nothing but Ming's desparate pursuit of the robe and bowl, and yet unless become completely aware of our greed and desperation, we will be unready for the moment when the true alternative appears. Though the Sixth Patriach gets all the credit, Ming's example can be very important to us. Look what happens immediately after his great satori. Already he's asking what else is there! Right away he's turned what happened into a "secret" he's got! And the next minute he caught up in wanting to make Hui-neng his teacher. How hard it is to let THIS MOMENT remain our true teacher, even when it has revealed its face to us. Hui-neng cautions him to maintain his realization carefully. He has his work cut out for him.

We act as if our true self was something unique to us, what makes us "special," whether by virtue of our special talents or sensibilities, or on account of the particular traumas we've suffered, or group we belong to. But our Original face is neither special or ordinary, happy or sad, white or black, male or female. What pairs do each of you put in place of Hui-neng's good or evil when dividing up the world? But "It can't be described, it can't be pictured." Belonging neither to existence nor non-existence, how could it be destroyed? This face, this moment, where can it hide, if we draw no boundaries, set up no walls? Your Original Face is the one you wear each moment, the one each moment wears with you, but don't imagine it's only your eyes, ears, nose and mouth and skin.

To allow the Original Face to show through we must be willing to let the false face we put on to the world drop off. A frightening prospect for most of us, and one, that like Ming, we endure only when we can hold out no longer. Wu-men says that Hui-neng has peeled the lychee of realization and gently placed it in our our mouths. But digesting it is no simple matter.