Buddhism, for all its accolades and requirements, its notions of the sutras and of karma, for all the equanimity it offers to people of any social caste, is a relentlessly frustrating philosophy. For those who adhere to its principles as writ by human hand (versus the ‘divine hands' that decreed much of the West's more dogmatic religions) promised to them is the hope of release from the cycle of Samsara and of ultimate enlightenment, pure consciousness, Nirvana. Yet, whereas the steps undertaken by, for example, a devout Christian are explained and laid before them with canon law and constructs such as the Ten Commandments, Buddhism is never explained fully, never stringently enforced. The attainment of Nirvana hangs over the heads of Buddhists, and it is by the direct act of reaching for it that it hovers farther away. Buddhahood is fleeting; with Samsara and death and rebirth looming ever closer to those who follow Buddhism, it is no wonder that many lose sight of the Way.
[...] Yet it is from within that the means of escape are gleaned. As Hui-Neng offers to one who has come to be taught: “What I have taught you is no secret. If you reflect inwardly, the secret is within you.” (Page 13, paragraph lines Buddha-nature comes from within. The understanding of this simple precept is where Hui-Neng and Shen-Hsiu diverge. Shen-Hsiu attempts to focus his mind time and time again, an exercise both futile and detrimental to his success in the Buddhist teachings. [...]
[...] Yet, as Hui-Neng the Sixth Grand Master comes before the people of the Shao Province to expound the teachings many years later, he extrapolates upon all this, for there is much to be learned in his trials and tribulations. It is soon seen that the peasant Hui-Neng was thrown into a competition-of- sorts with Shen-Hsiu, who was widely considered the most capable candidate for the position about to be passed on by the Fifth Grand Master. Yet why was he considered so? [...]
[...] His understanding of the teachings leads him to believe that Buddhahood is something that can be attained, as if a person is devoid of the Buddha- nature until a personal epitome fills their mind and soul with it. Shen- Hsiu continued along this path fervently and nervously, as if he were a zealot attempting to appeal to his Lord through constant prayer or flagellation. Shen-Hsiu reflects what has been taught to him by the stuffy written teachings, and the Grand Master recognizes this in his pupil. [...]
[...] Shen-Hsiu only ever accomplishes a misled, almost childish understand of the Buddhist teachings, and this is reflected in his poem. He fixates upon the supposedly required effort, trying to master his uncontrollable and confused psyche, and in the end only distances himself further from the ultimate goal of attaining the teaching. Hui-Neng relies upon what we commonly refer to as ‘instinct,' yet it is a far more complex faculty. When he chances upon Shen-Hsiu's ghata on the walls of the monastery, his response is automatic, as if he had anticipated the poem and its message. [...]
[...] It is as if Hui-Neng had approached the man and implored upon him: Shen-Hsiu, can one fall victim to the pitfalls of humanity when one does not qualify himself as ‘human?' Enlightenment is contained within; we are all, in varying degrees, blind to The message is a clear one. He reinforces the non-dualistic nature of Buddhism—originally there's not a single thing—no ‘ego,' no ‘self,' no ‘me.' The proverbial ‘dust' that Shen-Hsiu is dealt with here: the ‘dust' presumably means what we understand as human vice and weakness: greed, malice, wrath, and so forth. [...]
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