For commentary, info and to add your own comments, click here or on the discussion tab above.
Related links: Seeking_The_Ox
- Introduction to:
- The Hsinhsinming
- Seng T'san, Third Chan Patriarch
- The following is an excerpt from:
- Zen and Zen Classics Volume One
- R. H. Blyth
- R. H. Blyth
("Shinjinmei") was one of the first treatises
on Zen, at least, of those that remain to us. The author of this
Buddhist "hymn", Sengtsan (Sosan), the third (Chinese) Zen
patriarch from Dharma, the first Chinese and the twenty-eighth
Indian Zen patriarch, lived during the sixth century, dying in
606 A.D. His place of origin is unknown. The conversion of
Sengtsan at the hands of Huike (Eka), the Second Patriarch, is
recorded in the "Chuantenglu" ("Dentoroku"), Part 3:
Sengtsan asked Huike, saying,
"I am diseased: I implore you to cleanse me of my sin".
Huike said, "Bring me your sin and I will cleanse you of it".
Sengtsan thought for awhile; then said,
"I cannot get at it".
Huike replied, "Then I have cleansed you of it".
Sengtsan realized, not simply in his mind, but in every bone of
his body, that his sinfulness was an illusion, one with that of
the illusion of self. As soon as we are aware of our
irresponsibility, all the cause of misbehaviour disappears in so
far as the cause, (the illusion of the self) is removed. If we
have no self, it cannot commit sin. Yet, it must be added,
"I can't see how you and I, who don't exist, should get to
speaking here, and smoke our pipes, for all the world like
reality". (Stevenson, "Fables")
And from another point of view, our self is real entity, real in
so far as we know (physically) that, as Yuima said, your illness
is my illness. When one part of the body is diseased, all is
diseased, for "We are members one of another". In this sense,
there is no rest for any one of us while one restless *soul* remains.
But the real rest of "the man who has arrived", is something much
deeper than this, which no simile or metaphor can express, lying as
it does essential in the restlessness itself. An old waka says:
Do not think,
After the clouds have passed away,
"How bright is has become!"
For in the sky, all the while,
The moon of dawn.
It is the region of Arnold's lines, "In Kensington Gardens":
Birds here make song, each bird has his,
Across the girdling city's hum.
How green under the boughs it is!
How thick the tremulous sheep cries come!
To go back to Sengtsan. He became the disciple of the Second
Patriarch and practiced austerities and led a life of devotion and
poverty, receiving the bowl and the robe, insignia of the
transmission through Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch (of China)
of the Buddha Mind. At this time, one of the periodic
persecutions of Buddhism broke out. Sutras and images were burned
wholesale; monks and nuns were returned to the lay life.
Sengtsan wandered for fifteen years all over the country,
avoiding persecution. In 592, he met Taohsin (Doshin), who became
the Fourth Patriarch. His enlightenment was as follows:
Taohsin came and bowed to Sengtsan, and said, "I ask you for your
merciful teaching. Please show me how to be released". Sengtsan
answered, "Who has bound you?" "No one", he replied. Sengtsan
said, "Why then do you ask to be released?" Taohsin immediately
came to a profound realization. (Chuantenglu, 3)
This is very much like, even suspiciously like, the enlightenment
of Sengtsan himself. The question of historicity is quite
different, however, from the "truth" of the incident, which is
that of the "Hsinhsinming" itself, which owed its composition, no
doubt, to the fact that during these troublous times the wordless
message was in danger of being entirely forgotten, or worse
still, misunderstood. What this was may be seen in the Four
Statements of the Zen Sect [The originator of these seems to be
unknown. They are sometimes attributed to Bodhidharma, but are
more likely to have been formulated afterwards, during the Tang
and the Sung Eras.]:
1. No dependence on words and letters.
To apply this to poetry, whose medium is words and phrases, may
seem absurd. It is like pictures without paint and music without
sound. But words are a peculiar medium, in being the vehicle for
all communication, whether poetical or otherwise. In poetry,
parallel with it, living a life of its own apart from that of
the so-called poetry, is an unnameable spirit that moves and has
its being. It is the darkness and silence of things, of which the
ordinary poetical meaning is the light and sound.
2. A special transmission outside the Scriptures.
There is a transmission from poet to poet of the spirit of poetry
deeply similar to that of Zen from monk to monk. A poet knows
another poet by indubitable yet invisible signs; the same is true
of the artist and the musician. But the poet especially (in the
wide and profound sense of the word) feels and transmits
unwittingly that attitude towards life that is the real poetry of
Two came here,
Two flew off, --
~ Chora ~ (1720-1781)
In this verse, the ordinary poetical meaning is discarded; what
remains is that dark flame of life that burns in all things. It
is seen with the belly, not with the eye; with "bowels of
3. Direct pointing to the soul of man.
How can there
be such a thing as pointing without a finger? How
can art subsist without a medium? What is this silence that
speaks so loudly?
Beat the fulling
block for me,
In my loneliness;
Now again let it cease.
~ Buson ~ (1715-1783)
A fishing village;
Dancing under the moon,
To the smell of raw fish.
~ Shiki ~ (1866-1902)
The flame too is motionless,
A rounded sphere
Of winter seclusion.
~ Yaha ~ (1662-1740)
4. Seeing into one's nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.
means attaining manhood, being a citizen of
the world, of double sex; besides this Shakespearean state, it
means attaining childhood, beast-hood, flower-hood, stone-hood,
even word-hood and idea-hood, and place-hood and time-hood.
As for the skin,
What a difference
Between a man and a woman!
But as for the bones,
Both are simply human beings.
~ Ikkyu ~ (1394-1481)
A letter thrown away,
Blown along in the grove. ~ Issa ~
A camellia flower fell;
A cock crowed;
Some more fell. ~ Baishitsu ~
It was the inner meaning of these Four Statements that Sengtsan
desired to perpetuate in the five hundred and eighty-four
characters of the poem. In it he has condensed the essence of all
the Buddhist Sutras, all the one thousand seven hundred koans of Zen.
The title of the work may be explained in the following way.
First *hsin* is faith, not in the Christian sense of a bold
flight of the soul towards God, a belief in what is unseen
because of what is seen, but a belief in that which has been
experienced, knowledge, conviction. Second *hsin*, the mind, is
not our mind in the ordinary sense, but the Buddha-nature which
each of us has unbeknown to us. *Ming* is a recording, for the
benefit of others. The title thus means a description of that
part of oneself where no doubt is possible. This is the same
unshakable conviction that Shelley and Beethoven and Gauguin had.
They too recorded what they saw with their eyes and heard with
their ears, there to hesitation or indecision could enter.
Especially noteworthy is the absolute faith in the value of the
The old temple:
A baking pan
Thrown away among the parsley. ~ Buson ~
Fallen on the outer verandah,
The earth with them. ~ Ransetsu ~
What is the
Buddha? A baking pan thrown away in the parsley.
What is the meaning of Dharma's coming from the West? Young greens on
the verandah, the dirt with them. But these things are not
something outside the mind. As Dogen (1200-1253) said:
"If we seek the Buddha outside the mind, the Buddha changes into a devil."
But we must come to the poem itself.
The "Hsinhsinming", entitled "Inscribed on the Believing Mind",
was translated, extraordinary well, in 1927, by Dr. Suzuki
Daisetz, in "Essays in Zen Buddhism", Series 1, pp. 182-187.
[Reprinted in "Manual of Zen Buddhism", 1935, pp. 91-97. The
title is changed to "On Believing in Mind".] (The present
translation is in many places little more that a garbled version
of his.) It consists of 146 unrhymed lines of four characters a
line, shorter than the general run of Chinese verse, which
usually has five or seven. Perhaps the brevity suits the mood of
Zen, and prevents any literary or rhetorical flourishes. There
have been many commentaries on the "Hsinhsinming", the first
perhaps being by Chou Myohon, 1263-1323, who quotes the
"Chengtaoke" ("Shodoka"), in illustration.
Of other verse expositions of Zen, we may mention first this
"Chengtaoke" [Translated by Suzuki in "Manual of Zen Buddhism",
1935, pp. 106-121.], a hundred years later than the
"Hsinhsinming", by Yungchia, (Yoka Daishi), d. 713, one of the
chief disciples of Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch. It is three
times as long, and more flowery in style. In the Tang Dynasty we
have also the "Tsantungchi" ("Sandokai") [This means,
"Difference-identity-agreement", or "Phenomena-reality-ite",
Zen as the harmony between the sameness and difference of
things.], by Shihtou (Sekito), 700-790. Then we have
"Paochingsanmei" ("Hokyosammai"), ascribed variously to Yuehshan
(Yakusan), 731-834; Yunyen (Ungan), d. 841; and Tungshan (Dosan),
807-867. To the Tang period also belongs the most famous of the
strictly Zen poets, Hanshan (Kanzan), whose dates are uncertain.
An examples of his verse is the following:
The Mind is like the autumn moon,
Like the mountain pool, clear and pure, --
But what can I compare it to?
How can I ever express it in words?
This reminds us of Shakespeare's "Shall I compare thee to a
Coming to the Sung dynasty, we have the poetical
comments by Hsuehtou (Seccho), c. 1000 A.D., in the Piyenchi
("Hekiganshu") [Cases 2, 57, 58, 59 are based on the first lines
of the Hsinhsinming, which Chaochou (Joshu) seems to have
admired.], edited by Yuanwu (Engo), who was born in 1135; and the
verses composed by Hungchih (Wanshi) [One would expect "Kochi".],
1091-1157, for the "Tsungjunglu" ("Shoyoroku"), a similar
compilation of "cases" of Zen.
All these, including the "Hsinhsinming" itself, seem to me verse,
not poetry. It is true that, to parody Keats, the life of Zen is
the poetical life, and the poetical life in the life of Zen; this
is all we know, and all we need to know. But art in not life; it
is in some sense the very dissatisfaction with life, which if
perfectly satisfactory, (as in the case of the rest of creation,)
will never transform itself into those psalms and symphonies
Look before and after,
And pine for what is not.
The "Hsinhsinming" then, is rather the basis for a theory of
poetry, or the philosophic background, an expression of the
implicit *raison d'etre* of the composition of certain kinds of
poetry, like that of haiku, of Wordsworth and Clare, of Tao
Chinnimg (Toenmei) and Po Chui (Hakukyoi). In explaining and
illustrating the "Hsinhsinming" I have therefore quoted the poets
rather than the religious writers. The poetry is the flower, the
"Hsinhsinming" is the roots.
Related links: Seeking_The_Ox