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Dust-wiping and non-duality: The Buddhist teachings of Hui-Neng

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The Grand Master of old.
    1. The symbolic robe and bowl.
    2. The peasant Hui-Neng - thrown into a competition-of-sorts
    3. Shen-Hsiu - a seriously pedestrian view of the teachings of Buddhism.
  3. The realization of Buddhahood.
  4. A perpetual state of reflection.
  5. Hui-Neng's spontaneous response.
  6. Conclusion.

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? [...]

[...] He had served in the monastery and endured the catcalls of the students whose ranks he longed to join, all the while gleaning what tidbits of Buddhist philosophies he could. He was uneducated, illiterate, and destitute. The effortlessness with which he assumes the symbolic robe and bowl is representative of all that is to be gained from Buddhism. The desired, coveted position is placed into his hands, while all the purists moaned. Ch'an Buddhism is an exercise in restraint, with the benefits only coming to those who do not seek, do not desire, do not crave. [...]

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