Huineng (638–713 C.E.)
Huineng is a legendary master of Zen or Chan Buddhism
to whom the doctrine of sudden enlightenment is attributed.
He is believed to be author of The Platform Scripture of the
Sixth Patriarch, a classic statement of the Zen position.
Huineng was born in what is now Guangdong Province,
China, to a working class family. He began adult life as a peddler
of firewood. He was in his early twenties when he read the
Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture and left his home in
southern China to study with the Fifth Patriarch, known for his
teaching activity on the Diamond Sutra, who resided in the
north. According to legend, the Patriarch had his new students
compose a poem for him. Both Huineug and another student
composed a poem. The other student, Shenxiu (605–706 C.E.)
voiced a doctrine of gradual enlightenment, while Huineng’s
poem suggested sudden enlightenment. The Fifth Patriarch favored
Huineng, and in 661 C.E. he was given the robe as the
Sixth Patriarch. Huineng returned to southern China to teach
and is revered as the founder of the Southern School of Chan.
Shenxiu remained in the north and is recognized as the founder
of the Northern School of Chan. The Southern School was
by far the more influential.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Huineng
753
In 676 C.E. Huineng settled in Canton. At the age of 39 he
became a Buddhist monk. The following year he was invited to
lecture at Dafan Temple in Shaozhou. The lectures were recorded
by his disciple Fahai, and published as The Platform
Scripture. The essence of the teaching is that everyone shares
the Buddha-nature (or wisdom). It was believed if one turned
their mind inward and are able to keep from distractions, they
can receive enlightenment. Meditation and wisdom are identified.
Meditation is the function of the original nature. By implication,
Huineng stresses the necessity of practice to attain an
undistracted or direct mind. During practice one intuits the
unity of nature and knows that all dharmas are the same. Meditation
is not a matter of making the mind inactive, it is a freeing
of the mind from all things. Huineng continued to teach until
his death in 713 C.E..
Sources
de Bary, William Theodore, Wing-tsit Chan, and Barry Watson,
comps. Sources of Chinese Tradition. New York Columbia
University Press, 1960.
Dumoulin, Heinrich. Zen Buddhism a History. New York
Macmillan Co., 1994.
The Platform Scripture. Ed. by Wing-tsit Chan. Princeton,
N.J. Princeton University Press, 1963.

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