No Mind, No Enlightenment 

Spoken by Chan Master Sheng-Yen



Usually at the Dharma gathering I tell some stories about what I've been doing. Today there are not many stories to tell, so I'm going to use this time to give a Dharma talk.

Throughout the history of Chinese Chan, there were only a few Chan masters who have had a profound influence on me. One of them was Master Bai Zhang's disciple Master Wei Shan Ling You, who lived from 771 to 853 AD. This was a very interesting person. He became a monk when he was fifteen. Me, I became a monk when I was thirteen, so he left home a little later than I myself. This master Wei Shan, when he was about twenty years old, he traveled to Mount Tian Tai. And during his journey to Mount Tian Tai he ran into two people, actually two legendary figures in Chan history. One of them was Master Han Shan, often known as Cold Mountain, and the other was Master Shi De. (Actually, it isn't correct to call him a master -- he was a monk, he never became a master.)

Nobody really knows the true names of these two people -- Han Shan and Shi De were not their real names. Han Shan lived in this place in the mountain called Cold Rock, so that's where his name came from -- Han Shan means "Cold Mountain." And with Shi De, when he was asked what his name was, he would answer that he didn't know because he was an orphan. Then when his master found him and brought him back to the monastery, he said, "Look what I 'shi de'," which literally means "picked up", I picked up something, so that's why his name was Shi De.

So, these two people never knew their own names, and they never lived in any monasteries, they lived in the wilderness, so they never had any disciples and never had any followers. Whenever anybody asked them to teach the Dharma, they would always just say some crazy words in some nutty way.

Today there is a book of poems called Cold Mountain. What happened was that when Han Shan lived in the mountains he wrote poems all over the place, on the rocks. After a while he just disappeared -- no one knew what happened, if he left the place or if he died. But there was one person who really missed him and went to his place, Cold Rock, and copied down all the poems he had written all over the place and compiled them into this book of poems by Han Shan. It's actually been translated into English -- has anyone seen it? One or two people -- did you like it? Compared to my poems, which ones are better? Can't really compare because I've never written any poems.

Back to the story of Wei Shan Ling You. Wei Shan was traveling to this mountain, and he ran into Han Shan, and Han Shan told him, here in this mountain all you have to do is keep going, keep going until you run into a pond, and you will become enlightened. So Wei Shan kept going, but before he ran into any pond of water, he ran into Shi De, and he asked, "I heard there is a pond of water here, where is this pond of water?" And Shi De said, "Yes, yes, just keep going, you'll run into this pond of water." Well, Wei Shan finally ran into a pond, but he didn't get enlightened, then he ran into another pond, but he didn't get enlightened, and he kept running into one pond after another, but he never got enlightened. Finally he ran into yet another person, whose name was Zhou Tan, and Tan means "pond." So the pond they were referring to was actually the second character of this person's name. Wei Shan thought, "This must be an enlightened monk; he'll help me become enlightened." But Zhou Tan only directed him to yet another person -- he told him to go look for someone called Bai Zhang. Have you heard of Master Bai Zhang? How many people have heard of him?

How about Master Ma Zu? Master Bai Zhang was Master Ma Zu's disciple.

Has anyone heard of Rebecca? She is my disciple. [Laughter]

At the time Wei Shan met Master Bai Zhang, he was already 23 years old, and he was not yet enlightened, but when Bai Zhang saw him he said, "Okay, why don't you become my attendant?" So wherever Master Bai Zhang went, Wei Shan Ling You followed.

One day Master Bai Zhang asked him, "Who are you?" and he answered, "I am Ling You." At this moment there was some doubt arising in Wei Shan's mind, and he thought, "That's strange, Master knows who I am, why is he asking me who I am?" Master Bai Zhang then told Wei Shan to go and check the fire, to see if it was still burning. Wei Shan looked and saw only ash, so he told Master Bai Zhang that there was no fire, just ash. Master Bai Zhang himself went to look and he dug deeper beneath the ashes and found there were traces of fire there, and so he said to Wei Shan, "Isn't this fire here?" Wei Shan Ling You saw the fire and at that moment, he was enlightened. Now, I'd like to ask you, how did he become enlightened?

You've heard this pretty long story -- Wei Shan traveling to the mountain, and hearing about the pond, and expecting to become enlightened, and finally meeting Master Bai Zhang... Then Bai Zhang's question "Who are you?" kind of shook him up a little bit. And then he was asked to look at the fire, and he said there was no fire, and then Master Bai Zhang asked, "Isn't there fire here?" That's when he got enlightened. What happened was that the whole time he wasn't paying attention to the wisdom he already possessed. He wasn't paying attention to the wisdom within himself. It was only when Master Bai Zhang showed him the fire hidden in the ashes that he began to see that he had always possessed this buddha nature hidden within himself.

Actually it's not so rare or so surprising that he got enlightened in this way. However, if you go to look for the fire in the ashes, you're not going to get enlightened, because the most important part here is the process itself. The whole time that he was looking for enlightenment, how could he become enlightened? He was looking for the path, looking for the path, and he couldn't find the path because he wasn't paying attention. The moment that he was paying attention, in that moment, he found that his mind was the path.

So Wei Shan was very happy and very grateful to Master Bai Zhang, and he described his experience to him. And Master Bai Zhang responded, "Oh, you have wondered off the road here." This is strange -- Wei Shan experiences enlightenment, yet Master Bai Zhang responds that he's gone off the road. Do you understand why Master Bai Zhang responded that way, why he had gone off track? Smart people, please tell me.

[Responses by listeners: "There is nothing to attain"; "Bodhisattvas have no obstructions..."]

Master Bai Zhang told Wei Shan these two things. First he told him that in order for enlightenment to happen, it has to be the right time, when all the causes and conditions have ripened. Without this, no matter what you do, you will not experience enlightenment. So enlightenment is really nothing to be excited or overjoyed about, because you haven't really achieved it, and you haven't gained anything. And Master Bai Zhang went on to say that actually there's no difference in a person before and after enlightenment, it's just that before enlightenment they do not know, and after enlightenment they know, that actually there is no such thing as an enlightened mind, and no such thing as the phenomenon of enlightenment. Why did he say that? And why did he say that a person is no different before and after enlightenment, why did he say that? Peter, maybe you can answer that question. Does anyone want to guess?

I believe with 100 people there will be 100 different answers. And I myself don't know which answer would be correct. Maybe, however, I can tell you a story, which is actually a koan in the Chan tradition. There was a monk who left home, who became a monk when he was very young, and who after many years decided to go back to his hometown to see what was going on. When he got there, the people actually recognized him. They saw him and said, "Oh, you're that little kid, you haven't changed at all, you look exactly as you did before." And this old monk thought this was quite strange. "How can I be the same, I'm much older than before?" What had actually happened was that everyone had aged -- the monk had aged, and the other people in town had aged as well. The old monk said, "I'm actually the same as before, however I'm not the same either." Do you understand this? I'm still the same me as the old me but I'm not the same as the old me. Is this a contradiction? Why isn't it a contradiction?

When we talk about the person being no different before and after enlightenment, we mean that the self before enlightenment is no different from the self after enlightenment. What is different is that before enlightenment one sees vexation as wisdom, and afterwards one sees wisdom as vexation. Let me repeat. Before enlightenment one sees vexation as wisdom; after enlightenment one sees wisdom as vexation. Do you understand? No, you don't understand?

What is wisdom? Smart people take vexation as wisdom; dull people see wisdom as vexation. Smart people, before enlightenment, have a mind of discrimination, a mind that is constantly discriminating, picking and choosing. This mind of discrimination sees vexation as wisdom. Without this mind of discrimination, however dull one is, whatever one knows is wisdom. And once one has understood that there is no such thing as an enlightened mind, and no such thing as enlightenment, one will see that holding on to the idea of wisdom is vexation. Why do we say that, that enlightened people see wisdom as vexation? Because when they give rise to the thought, "I have wisdom," they are aware that they have vexation in that moment. When there's no idea, "I have wisdom," then there's no problem, no vexation in that moment. Therefore, when people come to me and say that I have a lot of wisdom, it makes me very ashamed, because they are actually criticizing me, saying a bad thing about me.

So Master Bai Zhang went on, telling Wei Shan that there is no difference between ordinary beings and saints, and no difference between liberation and samsara. Liberation, and the cycle of birth and death, they are no different, they are the same. They are only different when you yourself start discriminating between the two, vexing yourself with the idea that you have to become a saint, you have to escape from samsara, you have to become liberated. Again, it's very important to understand that there's no such thing as an enlightened mind, and there is no such phenomenon as enlightenment, please remember this. So as long as you see your experience as something special, as long as you use your mind to attain this experience of enlightenment, then you still have a vexed mind. It's very important to understand that having experienced enlightenment doesn't make you a special person, you're still the same person. If you think, "I have experienced enlightenment... I'm special now... I'm different," then you're in trouble.

When one who has experienced enlightenment feels liberated from the cycle of samsara, and clearly sees that this is distinctly different from before, this is merely small liberation. In the truly great liberation, that of maha nirvana, one would see no difference between nirvana and samsara. One would no longer be attached to the idea that there is a samsara and a nirvana, so one would see no distinction between the two, and thus would have no sense of being completely different from before.

So Master Bai Zhang was trying to help Wei Shan turn his small enlightenment into a complete enlightenment. When he brushed the ash and showed his disciple the fire, and Wei Shan saw it and became so overjoyed, Master Bai Zhang could see that this was just a little tiny enlightenment, and therefore he continued his teaching.

And now our time is up this evening, so if you'd like to experience complete enlightenment you'll have to come next time. Goodnight, and thank you everybody.