Hui-K'o and Student*

Student: Is it good to study the Sutras? As a master of the Lankavatara School, would you tell me if it is beneficial?

Hui-k'o: Not if one is addicted to a literary understanding of Sutras. Unfortunately, today, many students have failed to come to a real understanding of their predecessor's words. They cling to the letter and forget the insight. In my own transmission from Master Bodhidharma, the Lankavatara Sutra is meant as an aid for transcending words and the mental pictures they create. In that way, Sutras are not an obstruction.

Student: I must confess, I get confused reading scriptures. There is so much to learn and so many important words which I don't understand.

Hui-k'o: How true! This reminds me of my youthful days as a student when Bodhidharma set me straight. After I saw the inconceivable aspect of my true Mind for the first time, I realized how dangerous clinging to words can be if one does not have a concrete realization.

Student: That is interesting. I am not at your level. For me, studying the meaning of words is like counting the sands at the bottom of the ocean. There are so many difficult ideas to learn-I shall never understand them all. I feel like I am drowning in letters!

Hui-k'o: This is because, as yet, you don't comprehend the single principle which unifies the diverse aspects of the teaching and makes it coherent. I know it is very difficult to do this. It was difficult for me. I had to remind myself what the Lankavatara Sutra said: "Don't become attached to the letter and the conventional view of reality."

Student: What should I do first, other than studying scripture, becoming like a parrot?

Hui-k'o: First, it is important to realize our true essence-lineage, called the gotra. This is a big accomplishment in itself!

Student: What exactly is the gotra?

Hui-k'o: It is like a precious jewel lying in the mind that is entirely covered by the dirt of habitual mental-picturing and corporeal sensations. After I had my initial glimpse into the gotra, it was easy for me to set aside those states which didn't fit with its pristine nature. If you are fortunate, one day you will catch a glimpse of it also.

Student: I hope so! Would you tell me more about it?

Hui-k'o: Surely. After we have an insight into this pea-size gotra, we must direct our whole being towards it. In that regard, we are becoming a member of the Buddha's lineage. At this stage, it is only a tiny little spiritual embryo! As it grows, we get wiser, eventually passing beyond corporeal conditions, abiding no longer in this body, yet still able to work its fingers! This was what Master Bodhidharma really taught me. I had no idea what the true nature of Mind was at the time I met him. But when he asked me to show it to him and I couldn't-well, instead, I saw the gotra, you might say. In a split second, I passed beyond the pale of my worldly body and its inner world of mental pictures and sensations. Then after that, he gave me the Lankavatara Sutra as an aid; he then told me to deepen and cultivate my insight.

Student: So there is more than just this insight?

Hui-k'o: Oh. yes. Much more. One does not stop with this insight. Seeing an aspect of our Buddha Mind-the gotra-is like a seed which is yet to reveal its spiritual contents-the big Bodhi-tree! As we progressively cultivate it, we come to transcend ourselves and our previous old ways of perceiving reality.

Student: Is this the implication behind Bodhidharma's Two Entrances?

Hui-k'o: Yes. We first enter by seeing the pure image of the absolute which forms the basis of all existence. This is the gotra, or the same, the embryo of the Tathagata. In a finger snap we see something which is free from the veiling clouds of delusion.

Student: This is very interesting. So where does 'pi-kuan' (wall-insight) figure into this scheme? I heard that Grandmaster Bodhidharma sat facing a wall for many years.

Hui-k'o: As far as 'pi' is concerned, it is the 'unmoving' which is like a wall, as opposed to the ever changing quality of phenomena. Here, one sets aside the changing world of their corporeal body, including its perceptions and emotions. When Bodhidharma sat facing a wall, he actually faced the unmoving,, becoming the more of it.

Student: Ah! I get it now. Yes, pi-kuan is literally the insight into the unmoving.

Hui-k'o: Yes. 'Pi', means the unmoving principle. 'Kuan' means 'insight'. In this case a direct insight into the unmoving. Remember, too, kuan is Buddhist 'vipashyanâ' meditation. Pi-kuan is our version of it.

Student: Ah! I get it. Is this like the practice of the 'one pointedness of mind samadhi' meditation exercise?

Hui-k'o: Yes. You could say that. One mentally envisions an exceedingly small point in which the content of it and its conceptual absence become exactly the same. In this practice, one has penetrated through a veil, you might say. It is like a little hole in a rice paper screen, letting in the sun's light. Another way to think about this subject is to realize that our sense organs have limits. The ear cannot hear all sounds; nor can the eye see all forms. In this practice we go beyond the sensory house. We leave by way of the sensory doors and walk outside. To do this, as strange as it sounds, we drill a tiny hole in the fabric of reality and keep our gaze steady on this tiny hole for a long time! [laughing]

Student: That sounds interesting. What happens to you in 'one pointedness samadhi'?

Hui-k'o: First, samadhi means that spiritual light envelops us. As I sit here before you, I am in samadhi. How do I know this? I feel the dynamic light of the Buddha constantly energizing me. Why? Because I am in harmony with it. Over the years, I have chosen to be more of this mysterious light and less of this old mortal body. Now, if I even think of 'one point', I am totally enveloped in a superessential light.

Student: That is fascinating. So, what is the second entrance about?

Hui-k'o: The second entrance is in response to the first. In a nutshell, it means to cultivate and expand the first entrance. However, I must caution you, both are coordinate. You can't really separate them.

Student: I think I see what you mean. The first entrance is like a seed. The second entrance is like being a farmer cultivating that seed.

Hui-k'o: Yes. Even though we possess a tiny clue as to what the absolute is, we are far from its blessed shore. We still have to fully actualize the first entrance-bring it to a bloom, so to speak.

Student: In other words, we still have a lot of problems to overcome. Is that what you are saying?

Hui-k'o: Yes. Habits run deep. What we did in the past is still with us. In the mean time, we have to bear our past errors as we move towards our true nature. This is where the Four Deeds come in, comprising the second entrance.

Student: What is the first deed?

Hui-k'o: The first deed is learning to bear our suffering because, in the past, we failed to have an insight into the absolute. So, we have to pay the price. The second deed is to accept the outcome of karma as we have, in the past, foolishly allowed ourself to become conditioned and seduced by phenomenal conditions.

Student: It seems that the basis for these two deeds is our failure to see and to cultivate our true nature-our gotra, as you put it earlier. Instead, we believe our true nature is to be found in living a worldly life, tied to possessions.

Hui-k'o: Yes, that is a good understanding. As regards possessions, this concerns the third deed. We have to give up the habit of trying to possess things. We must see that all things are empty-they're not sacred. There is nothing worth possessing. This world is no more than a burning house. So why stay in a burning house, hanging on to a piece of furniture?

Student: What does the house mean from a spiritual standpoint?

Hui-k'o: It signifies our corporeal body in which we abide and play like foolish spiritual children, unaware that the house is doomed. In Buddhism, the 'house' is a symbol for the body. To take up a house, therefore, means to take up a body so as to possess it and deepen one's involvement in it.

Student: How does one stop this?

Hui-k'o: This is the fourth deed. This is to be in accord with the First Entrance which is our gotric true nature. Some call this nature the Tathagata-garbha, meaning the embryo of the Buddha. It is like a Spiritual fetus which is immaculate; which all the time is maturing. Eventually, it matures. We gain a spiritual body not having thirty-two defiled marks. That is emancipation.

Student: Is this what Grandmaster Bodhidharma taught you?

Hui-k'o: Yes. He used to call this practice 'spiritual obstetrics'. He said the story of the Buddha's birth was actually a mystery which hid a Secret method for giving birth to a Buddha within oneself.

Student: This is fascinating. This would explain words like "Tathagata-garbha" and others like it. What ther things did he teach you about spiritual obstetrics?

Hui-k'o: Many things, which at the time, I didn't understand. Foremost, he said we must try to develop a Buddha-body which is essentially self-actual light. I must say, I was amazed by his words. I thought after my insight, I had really attained something big. But after his lectures, all of a sudden, I felt humble. I knew I was just a child in his presence.

Student: Was he a powerful person?

Hui-k'o: Yes. Just to be in his presence one felt a powerful energy. I can't describe it. But you could feel something very intense and at the same time blissful. It felt wonderful to be around this energy of his. All my worries disappeared. He was a joy to be with. He was like a warm fire in the winter.

Student: Did you ever ask him about this energy you felt?

Hui-k'o: Yes, of course I did. It was so strong at times I could barely walk. Anyone would ask under those circumstances. Basically, he said this is what comes from cultivation. He told me that his own master had the same energy. Interestingly, he said that without it, one is not much of a master of anything spiritual. [laughing]

Student: How true! What a wonderful insight. A spiritual master without spirit is like a merchant without goods to sell!

Hui-k'o: That is about it. In my own case, I have been content just to practice what my master wished. I had no goods to sell! [laughing]

Student: Well, I don't know about that! [laughing] What was it like to meditate with Bodhidharma?

Hui-k'o: As an experience, it was blissful beyond words. We sat and reclined our backs against meditation boards in the cave and abided in exhilarating ecstasy. Often he would guide me in this state, explaining various Buddhist subjects. Even when I read various Sutras with him, the words threw me into an ecstasy beyond measure. For many days after that, I would be in a rapture of sorts.

Student: Were you curious as to how he did this?

Hui-k'o: I must confess, I was devoted to figuring out how he radiated such pure energy. I walked the hills for days, following mountain streams, looking into my own mind for the secret. I remember that he said it was a good sign that I wanted to know, despite the bliss I felt around him. He said one day I would become a Buddha. I guess this is relevant, but Bodhidharma also mentioned that this energy is called Bodhisattva and without it, one could not achieve Buddhahood. I must say, I was surprised by his words.

Student: Why?

Hui-k'o: I guess like most monks I believed that being a Bodhisattva meant that one acted like one. How wrong I was.

Student: What do you mean?

Hui-k'o: First, it is ridiculous to imagine that a Bodhisattva has two legs! [laughing] I can remember one day sitting with Bodhidharma. He was looking at me strangely, as if to focus on something. Then suddenly I felt my heart open up like a flower! In the next moment I felt intense energy engulf me. It melted all of my human ambitions. I felt then like warm, wet clay. I was at a loss for words. So, I just looked at Bodhidharma and smiled! Then he grinned at me and said, "This is the Bodhisattva in you."

Student: I don't get it. I thought Bodhisattva was just a person who tried to save all sentient beings. You mean this is not correct?

Hui-k'o: Your view is Buddhism for toddlers. When someone informs you they are a Bodhisattva, run back to your house and hide your gold! [laughing]

Student: I am confused. What do you mean?

Hui-k'o: Have you read the story of the Buddha's birth when he was a Bodhisattva?

Student: Yes.

Hui-k'o: Well, read it again and pay attention to some of the details. The first one is that the Bodhisattva is born as a spiritual body called the mano-maya-kaya. This is to say that the Buddha-to-be was made of a spiritual substance. Next, consider the Buddha's birth to be like a mystery play. It is telling us, using poetic images, that we must go through some kind of spiritual transformation. This is what I am driving at.

Student: So if the Bodhisattva doesn't have two legs, what about the Buddha?

Hui-k'o: In the Sutras there are many clues as to what Buddha, otherwise called the Illuminator, really means. Bodhidharma also taught me that "Buddha" means "light-maker". In other words, the Buddha is a sheer, spontaneous power from which spiritual energy is born, you might say. When a master like Bodhidharma taps into Buddha, the area surrounding him is flooded with bliss beyond your wildest imagination. It is like a healing, compassionate force. All who sense it are redeemed and are shown a new future. One of emancipation. That is all I can say.

Student: So how does Buddha differ from a god?

Hui-k'o: All gods are just beings. They are different from us only in that they live in exalted states of being. After their karma has been used up they fall from their heavenly abodes. Buddha is not such a being, or even a non-being. Yet, Buddha is real. Bodhisattvas know Buddha is real because they could not be Bodhisattvas without being sustained by a lineage of primordial Buddhas.

Student: Are you then saying that Buddhas are ever-present spiritual powers?

Hui-k'o: Yes. They sustain us by a power we cannot imagine. Bodhidharma says that a true sage just makes himself available to this power and thus comes to know how it is generated.

Student: Are there any techniques for doing this?

Hui-k'o: When one is in harmony with the Buddha's teaching, that is the best technique. But when studying the teachings, it is also important to distinguish between mental concepts, true principles, and direct contemplation. Many today are stuck in the family of scripture interpretation-they have no idea about the family of direct contemplation. They are deeply attached to such concepts as 'quality', 'negation', and 'relation'. Well, this attitude is not very effective for insight into the Buddha's deep principles.

Student: Is it best to not follow the path of words?

Hui-k'o: It is best to use them as a means to realize one's true nature. What is the point of spiritual words if one cannot manifest the spirit within which liberates us from suffering? People who won't go past words are no better than idle poets who recite poems; who can only dream of sublime states.

* This is a fictional conversation created by Zenmar to correctly teach the Buddha-Dharma