How to Regard All Beings

Here is a quote from Huineng on how to regard all beings. Other than the quote, which is from, this is my recollection of his role in Zen Buddhism.

Huineng was the sixth patriarch of Zen. He was born in 638 and died in 713 at the age of 75. He began his spiritual life as a servant in a monastery, where he first learned to read and write. By the way, it is possible that he never learned to read and write, but had a friend read to him what was posted on the board and wrote his response.

A contest was posted by the fifth patriarch, Hongren. Shenxiu was the heir apparent to Hongren. He wrote, a verse in response to the quiz:

The body is a Bodhi tree.
The mind a standing mirror bright.
At all times polish it diligently,
And let no dust alight. (Wikipedia article)

When Huineng saw this, he countered with,

Bodhi is fundamentally without any tree;
The bright mirror is also not a stand.
Fundamentally there is not a single thing —
Where could any dust be attracted? (ibid)

To the dismay of Shenxiu, Hongren appointed Huineng as his successor. Huineng was the sixth and last patriarch of Zen. Shenxiu split off from Huineng to form the “Northern School.”

Huineng’s teachings on how to regard all beings is an expression of his worthiness of being dubbed the sixth patriarch.

How to Regard All People | November 3, 2014

The myriad dharmas, absolutely everything, are within the nature of all people. If you can regard all people, the bad as well as the good, without grasping or rejecting, free of any clinging, your mind will be like empty space. Thus, it can be called ‘great,’ maha.

– Huineng, “Prajna”

Mummy of Huineng

Mummy of Huineng from Wikipedia article

The above quote is an expression of compassion and equanimity. Compassion because of the way we are taught to treat all beings as being equal to us. And equanimity because of the lack of aversion to people we don’t like or craving for people we do like.

Craving and aversion, like grasping and rejecting, are two poisons linked to ignorance, the third poison. Dropping craving, grasping, rejecting, and aversion, our minds remain empty and we can be at peace. We reflect our true nature.

Practicing loving kindness meditation (metta) can help develop compassion, equanimity and joy. Then we can learn how to regard all beings as ourselves. This is the true insight of interbeing.

How would you respond to Hongren’s challenge? Do you agree with his choice of successor?

The Sutra of Huineng is also known as the Platform Sutra. It is one of the most important books in Chan Buddhism.

Books by Huineng

The Sutra of Huineng, Grand Master of Zen: With Hui-neng’s Commentary on the Diamond Sutra (Shambhala Dragon Editions)

Thomas Cleary

Hui-neng (638-–713) is perhaps the most beloved and respected figure in Zen Buddhism. An illiterate woodcutter who attained enlightenment in a flash, he
became the Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Zen, and is regarded as the founder of the “Sudden Enlightenment” school. He is the su… [Read More…]

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